Goosebumps

During my summer vacations, my banker parents would often take me along on half-day working Saturdays, and leave me in these rustic, nostalgic wonderlands called the public libraries (God bless the Chandigarh administration). Of course I made myriad friends there, but off late, the funny way that our brains work, I was reminded out-of-the-blue of these peculiar gems by Mr. R.L. Stine, called ‘Goosebumps’. And more so, the specific category called ‘Give yourself Goosebumps’. This series of books was designed and written in the form of a sinister, adventurous horror game. As the grim story unfolded, there were milestones at the bottom of certain pages, where the reader was asked to participate and make a decision, ‘what would you choose at this stage?’ Accordingly, you were asked to jump to a certain page and the story unfolded similarly, urging you to keep making decisions and seeing the consequences of these. Hence, there were almost 10-20 alternate storylines and endings a reader could possibly witness.

The epiphany this absolutely ingenious storytelling and writing format brought forth was multi-fold. Initially, I was awe-struck by the parallel this draws with much of our life. All of our lives essentially boil down to a series of unending decisions we make. And in doing so, no matter how well-informed or ably supported these decisions are, they end up steering the course of lives.

But the good or bad news is, we all will end up leading seemingly analogous lives. Much like the books, irrespective of the tree you end up following, it will be a spooky ride through and through. What’s the good news in this, you ask? The good news is you will enjoy it nevertheless. The point of the multiple detailed, intricate storylines was to give the reader a thrilling journey, with jumps, scares and nervous laughter and maybe even relief or the sweet victory of having defeated the monsters, who knows! Essentially, the focus was to make the ‘journey’ the focal point, instead of the ‘ending’ and taking the burden off the ‘decisions’.

In the times we are currently living in, of ‘goosebumps galore’, it is only wise to remember this very fact, to take some stress off our already exerted minds. Over a ‘life philosophy’ kinda discussion with a friend, one day, I ended up discussing the matter a little differently too. Of how we often catch ourselves ruminating over ‘what ifs’ of the past. How your life could be different, if you had done so and so. And the futility of it all, and the entrapment of it all aggravated by constant comparisons through social media. I was yet again nudged towards the ‘Goosebumps’ analogy. How ‘ridiculously similar’ lives we all lead, in a very broad, philosophical sense.

I don’t know if this literature reference eases things you may be going through. But, I sure hope just remembering the moot point, helps you overcome the baggage of the past, I know I carry oh-so-dearly. And a decision-analayis-paralysis that frequently accompanies it. But, most importantly, you learn to enjoy this haunted, spooky roller-coaster ride for what it is worth (bad bosses, diseases, education, money woes et al inclusive). Because we are all traversing conspicuously similar paths differently.

“After all, we are all just walking each other home.”

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

A friend of mine, after attending my wedding, once quoted that I had a wide-ranging variety of friends in my bouquet (not objectifying the little puppers in my life, just let me get to the point). Up until then, I had always seen having different groups of friends, as a norm to the stages and ages of life you pass through. So, school friends, neighborhood friends, college friends, workplace friends etc., you know the whole shebang. But the overthinker that I am, I couldn’t stop myself from dissecting my friend’s statement. What this well-meaning friend gently nudged me towards was a wonderful insight. It was true that in my entire set of friends, I had people of such contrasting and varying personality types, that put together, they could very well form the collective ‘MBTI Personality Type’ spectrum. And this came with sound reason and logic backing it too.

As I moved from one city to another, with my parents, early on in childhood, or when I transitioned from a frog-in-the-well to a ‘hosteller’ for the first time, my personality evolved with the changes; well so did its needs and requirements. And I firmly believe, we have a way of attracting the right set of people, as and when we need them in our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to paint a rosy picture here, even the right set of  ‘wrong people’ are required, for us to learn those painful but essential aspects of life.

But the point is I ended up attracting friends who complemented, taught me, or filled in those parts of my personality that needed attention at that particular point of life. And the myriad needs I had, were met by these myriad, colorful, wonderful beings. And still continues to do the same:

  1. The Bubbly Extroverts: Who relentlessly yet gently pulled me out of my hard-core Capricorn introvert shell and helped me loosen up. They showed me endless ways of accepting myself, enjoying the simple joys of knowing new people and of becoming confident in being just me. The sunshine givers, who invited me to chase butterflies through green yards with them.
  2. The Maternal/ Paternal Instinct Possessors: They were so fiercely protective of their friends, including me, that they let me effortlessly feel, I matter. Needless they taught me unconditional love and how to care for, work for and safeguard what is yours. They are wise, reliable, consistent, and you somehow bewitchingly so, always end up picking up your friendship where you left it, days, months or years ago. Much like parents, huh?!
  3. The Deep Conversationalists: Conversational wizards and witches, the ones who made me fall in love with ‘bare-it-all’ (even vulnerable) talks, and yet feel safe, under the moonlight. Countless talkathons (on metros, in rickety rickshaws, in hostel beds) later, they magically left me much better at tune with my feelings and insecurities. The ones who lent me a whole new perspective on right and wrong, and introduced me to beautiful greys. They were always there with a comforting listening ear to be loaned and made me aware of two key things; one, being there for someone is a superpower and two, reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness.
  4. The All-or-Nothing Ones: These scrappy ones, let me understand that you fight, scream, shout, but do not give up on people you love. You grow with each dissonance, argument and conflict, learning about each other’s boundaries. They even encouraged my deepest darkest demons to come, sit and have a drink with us. Letting me realize that we are all crazy and imperfect here, and eventually you find buffoons who love your idiosyncrasies, for just what they are.
  5. The Say-Yes-to-Life Ones: These are the ones who showed me the beauty of solo travel, or constant self-improvement, of agreeing to random trips and adventures; of always trying harder; and of learning-adapting-growing with each new curveball life throws at you, just because they choose saying yes to life over everything else. They had all faced hardships I could only imagine the pain of, yet they resonated the belief, that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

The Beauty (in) Routine

Man is a creature of habit. Not all these habits are willingly adopted, of course. Like, for me, I have been made to travel every day to office, since August 2020. While most of the people I knew relished the luxury of working from home. While simultaneously gyaan-ing me with “grass is greener on the other side”, “hum bore ho gaye hain ghar pe”, “oh work from home is so much more strenuous” and the worst, going “ooops” on my situation (really this oops should be banned on digital texting media, right alongside “K” and “Yeah”, ugh!).

But, since I have been repetitively told by well-meaning friends and family, to limit my ‘Whine Stocks’ (heck! Boo even said I was becoming like Leonard from The Big Bang Theory :/, and here I was aiming for Penny :D). So, I started listening to a fresh playlist on my way to and back from work. And just what music does to your head in a moving vehicle, while you stare out of the window, something flipped. In the midst of a mundane route, I started noticing the tiny beautiful things around me.

  1. Have you ever felt the magic of a freshly opened store in the morning? It rings of hope for a new day, a better future. The shopkeepers lit agarbattis (incense sticks) of myriad fragrances, that wafted to my nostrils as my auto rides passed through marketplaces. The auto-wallah himself more often than not spoke of a ‘bohni’ (opening payment of the day) and thanked me profusely.
  2. Water, oh blue, pristine water! I am so privileged to cross this one gorgeous Agara Lake, on my route, which was not only brimming with water in these months, but also had some pretty lil avian visitors. As I halted at the traffic signal right next to it, my vista comprised of a specific bench overlooking the calm waters, and a naked tree branch, with a bird (so very bad at identifying them) perched luxuriantly atop it. Gradually, the trees around the lake started blooming and hosting the pink Bangalore blossoms, which are just too hard to capture in words (will try a dedicated post on these later maybe).
  3. You remember how we were told that a lotus can grow in the midst of a ‘daldal’ (pool of stagnant muddied water). Well the flowers of Bangalore seem to have taken the competition a tad bit too seriously. Pink, purple, white flowers gleaming proudly in the sun, on abandoned, dusty properties and in the midst of concrete-ridden under-construction sites. My favourite though is this big bunch of yellow beauties proudly leaning in the wind, right over a shanty, which I only noticed later was a roadside ‘Sulabh Shauchalya’ (hell! was this a part of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan?)
  4. The Girl in the Window. We all see these postcard-ish images from leading photographers across the world on the ‘gram right? Well, imagine if one of those images came to life? I was blessed with one such sight, on a very Monday-like Monday morning. I cross a small vintage Government Urdu Public School. on my way. The ‘verandah’ (open space) on the first floor of the school overlooks the road. While my auto was stuck in traffic right in front of this spot, I saw a tiny lil girl, laced with a flower-patterned ‘hijab’. She made eye-contact, and smiled unabashedly at me, with a wide toothless grin. And involuntarily, I felt my hand rise up and swish itself into a wave, accompanying a warm smile on my lips that radiated within (till of course my first client meeting that day).
  5. Finally, there is an intriguing charming thing that starts happening when you take the same route at the same time day-after-day. Other people are also doing the same thing right? (Creatures of Habit revisited). So I started noticing one common set of characters, at specific spots every day. A young lad, smartly dressed in school uniform, begrudgingly climbing the stairs of a foot-over bridge to his school. An old uncle standing on the steps of an open school cricket ground, waiting patiently for the gully-boys’ game of the evening. And a guard staring into his phone, outside a pharmacy at the edge of the dropping point for my office. Such is the meticulous nature of these routine characters, that without a glance towards my wrist watch, I could tell the time when I came across them. 10:12 a.m., 5:46 p.m. and 10.28 a.m. respectively.

This hidden, often overlooked Ruskin Bond-ish beauty has now become a companion, as I navigate and tackle a still heavy, still mundane routine. And it does make it a little more bearable, a little less hopeless. What are some of your favorite beauty (in) routine hacks?

The Cusp (of Life)

A fellow friend, who also cherishes the charms of writing, recently asked me, if I had written anything in a while. And my response was a nonchalant ‘No’. I was quick to justify it with the quintessential “didn’t find anything motivating enough”. Funnily, this very statement would have left me in a tizzy earlier, on vain fears of having hit a ‘Writer’s Block’. But this time around, we both agreed, that this was ‘Ok’, and neither of us had the urge to push this too. You know, like “it will happen when it happens”.

This newfound acceptance of things is a weird feeling for me, because I have always been a restless, troubled soul. A natural worrier, I can fret about things that don’t even bother fretting about themselves. And it makes me wonder, if it is the dawn of the thirties that has crept in this pseudo maturity, or just the fatigue of adult life (that honestly leaves very little energy to fret about things beyond a point, because adult life is essentially a fret fest, if you let it be one). But I am sure of one thing, just like I lie on the edge of a Zodiac bracket, or the more popularly known, Cusp, this time and age of life too has become one, in its entirety. The traditional quality of a Cusp is that it is influenced by two differing sets of strong forces, colluding into one single chaotic, yet beautiful confluence. Which is how, I like to describe my life and how I feel about it, off late. A paradox, yet a managed mess.

Speaking of cusps and transitions, this also happens to be the Cusp-ing of one year to another. And I like the first day of the year to be dealt with great care, because I have hung onto these words, once spoken by my mom, oh so sagely, “What you do on the first day of the year, becomes the dominant spirit for the rest of the year”. Prophetically so, these words have rung true too, for the past few years, tried and tested by my curious lil experimental spirit. Or you could say, because I believe in the saying, either I will it into fruition or see the year through those glasses only. Either which way, seems like too much of a risk to play around with THE FIRST DAY.

But my better half, better known as my boo, is quick to remind me that “you can only control so much in life, so try letting go of the illusion of control”. As luck would have it, things did spiral out of my “control” and it is so, that I will be working not only on the first day of the year, but also the first Saturday of the year. You can imagine the quantum of ‘frettiness’ this could have triggered in me, and it did, a well-acquainted Kraken arose within me. “It’s not fair”, “Why me”, “This is not how I want to start a new year”. But then, thanks to the earlier mentioned fatigue, a numbness quietly lulled me into a mode, I never knew existed within me. A mode that met the Kraken with awe and acknowledgment, but responded with “You have a job that pays that funds your Myntra binges”, “You are surely not alone”, and “You can still control how you feel and how you conduct yourself on THE FIRST DAY”. Which essentially triggered this post/ rant in the first place.

Considering the kind of year that ahs been and the year ahead looming with equal part hope and uncertainty, this Cusp-ian start to the year, or the Cusp-ian swan song to 2020, only seems befitting. Much like the time we are in, THE FIRST DAY, will be spent controlling what I can, trying to stay as cool, composed and happy as possible, making time for self, friends and family. All the while managing the chaos outside, navigating work pressures and taking it one day at a time.

Will close with this one beautiful line from an old Christian prayer song, we were made to recite at my lovely Convent school, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”.

छत्त और सोने चांदी का कारोबार

सांझ के पिघलते सोने को बस अलविदा कहने पहुंचे थे हम,
धरती अभी गरम थी, हवा में लेकिन शीतल लहर पैगाम दे चुकी थी,
पंछी दिन का रोज़गार समेटे घर को लौट रहे थे,
चारों ओर अलग अलग छत्तों पर इंसानों की चहलकदमी का नज़ारा था,
कहीं बच्चों की पतंगों की नोंकझोंक की चहल थी, तो कहीं मोबाइल फ़ोनों पर बॉस से होती पहल थी,
बचपन में तो छत्त पर खेल लिया करते थे, सर्दी की धूप ओढ़ लिया करते थे, और गर्मी की बत्तीगुल रातों में मछरों से समझौता कर, तारों तले सो भी लिया करते थे,
अब ‘lockdown’ ला पाया है छत्त से फिर एक बार गुफ्तगू करवाने,
जैसे जैसे आसमान अपने रंग बदलता गया, दूसरी दिशा में चाँद इतराता हुआ चढ़ता गया,
कुछ नशा था इस सोने चांदी के कारोबार में,
और फिर मानो कुछ जादू सा हुआ,
दूर किसी अनजान घर की छत्त से आया संगीत, बांसुरी की एक मधुर वाणी,
कोई अनजान दोस्त कुछ अंग्रेजी, कुछ हिंदी फिल्मों के जाने माने नग्मों को अपने सुरों में पिरोने लगा,
हवा के झोंकों में उड़ता आता वो संगीत,
इस मुश्किल समय में मानो कुछ पल की राहत भी दे गया, यह भी कह गया की तुम तनहा नहीं,
बस फिर कुकर की बजती सीटियों के बीच, हम चाँद को हेलो बोल के चल दिए,
एक और सांझ की उम्मीद और ख्वाहिश में।

Something about Everything and Nothing

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different”, this famous saying by British writer, C.S. Lewis, has always intrigued me. Partly, because I think truer words have not been spoken and partly, because I keep debating whether everything does end up being different or in actuality remains the same.

A long due Sunday brunch phone conversation with a friend had a similar ring about it, whilst we discussed day-to-day happenings in each other’s lives. The conversation also brought topics of social media detox and not having written something in a while. To the latter, my response was, “I have been scribbling a lot in my notebook, but struggling to mesh it up into a post”. But then I thought, why not, in the absence of having the luxury of posting small diktats on Instagram, use this platform to string together the random musings, like a collection of disjointed short stories. Maybe this could be a ‘Schroding-ian’ experiment to see if the daily brainteasers add up to reflect the veracity of Mr. Lewis’s statement.

Hello 30: I recently turned 30. And just typing that out, still gives me a shiver down my spine. I still don’t know what is the big deal about it. But I do feel the big deal in my head. Maybe because I still don’t know what I want to do with my life and maybe because I already have three decades of life behind me. I definitely have not done most of the ‘Things to do before you turn 30’, or had the opportunity to be in the Forbes ‘Thirty under Thirty’. I can feel my body showing signs of ‘ageing’ (to use that loosely), and I ‘hear’ the proverbial biological clock ticking. On the other end, I welcome a new found acceptance for things, and new found non-acceptance of a lot of others (let that shit go? eh?).

But above this all, I still don’t know what I want to do with my life.

The Millennial Dream: Speaking of being 30 and not knowing what to do with my life. Given the recent turn of events in India, a constant thread of discussion among peers is, where are we headed? Surprisingly, and unsurprisingly, my millennial peer group, broadly concurs on a similar idea of ‘India’. And in their own ways, big and small, they are making an effort towards turning that idea into a reality, and trying hard to not let the ‘Animal Farm’ prophecy come true. But, in the midst, is also a subset, that has become hopeless and seeks refuge in seemingly metaphorical ‘warmer waters’ of Western lands, who are welcoming them with the winning pitch of ‘higher value of life, ALL Life’.

Legend of the Great Indian Corporate that Values Work-Life Balance: Oh, to answer your question, that corporate is a myth. More and more men and women, alike, at least in my peer group, seem disgruntled, with the way corporate India has taken the term ‘resources’ to heart. Value of life, work-life balance, open communication, ambition, higher managerial responsibilities, bids and wins, we seem to have lapped it all up, as-is from the American system and juxtaposed it with our innate sense of ‘bhaagoge nahin to peeche reh jaaoge’. But what are we running after, really? And whatever happened to ‘making the journey worth it’? Oh that was another legend, you say!

Nirbhaya, really?: First and foremost, I just want to say this out loud. I don’t think she was ‘Nirbhaya’. Also, tagging the incident and the victim ‘Nirbhaya’ does not make me or any of the other women ‘Nirbhaya’ at all. And further, giving gang rape ‘brutalists’ the full width of legal recourse (which is a marvel to behold, in my lifetime at least), is definitely not making any of us any more ‘Nirbhaya’. Every time the hanging is deferred, or the convict is allowed to make statements like “Delhi pollution is already killing me” or “I was a juvenile”, or even when senior lawyers bring in the angle of human rights and mercy (mind you, after almost a decade of justice delayed), the chapter infuriates me with a ring of ‘justice denied’ and ends there. Period.

Tolerance hai, ki hai nahin?: On the topic of legal recourse, action and inaction. Another legal marvel is the swiftness with which comedians are booked and sanctions put upon, and the non-swiftness with which say property dispute cases registered. Agitating students and actresses taking a stand (for personal gains or not), are touted as ‘agents of fear’ and it is getting easier to get a gun and flash it around, than to open a restaurant. Auto rickshaw wallahs are offended if I offer them money with the left hand and we co-exist so beautifully with a herd of cows on the main road, utilizing the space left to its fullest, winning the tag of hosting the most traffic congested in the world.

If you have reached this paragraph, I would like to answer the last question for you. Thank you for your immense tolerance to bear with my random set of musings, that I was too lazy to carve into dedicated posts of their own. And for your participation in the ‘Schroding-ian’ experiment. Would like to hear your comments on whether these things that to me, just do not seem to change, will, eventually end up being different or not?

Finding our Ikigai in Japan

For anyone who has arrived at an international airport, especially one of us, with the oh-not-so-privileged-Indian-national-passport, would know the impending doom that awaits you at the immigration counter. It’s almost like going through a dreadful job interview with an interviewer bearing the deadpan yet murderous expression conveying the morbid sentiment – “choose your words carefully, they could be your last”. With the same fear and a mental count of  “Ok, this is your last hurdle”, my husband and I entered into the Narita airport of Tokyo. And voila! what do we chance upon; anime characters peeking out of walls welcoming us to Japan, warm-smiled assistants bowing down while guiding us to simple single-step scan-and-go immigration counters and amiable septuagenarians asking us where we were from and giving us recommendations on where to find good ramen in Tokyo. The jetlag and sleep deprivation do not let this happy albeit drastic change sink in fully. But, cynical as we have been bred to be, the ensuing warm “seemingly genuine” hospitality that continues through the remaining airport procedures, makes you confused, as to whether to keep your guards up with suspicion, or to allow yourself to be ‘welcomed into Japan’ on this soft magic flying carpet.

Sleepless eyes gaped in awe as the pinks and oranges of the setting sun segued into a million shades of bright neon, as our bus from the airport inched closer to Tokyo main city. At first glance itself, the city seemed to be a beautiful paradox – a multitude of lights but all shining in unison, bustling with people but not chaotic, modern yet traditional. Adding to the charm was a light drizzle, the drops of which made every ray of color and light, shine many times over, and there was this rare moment when you say to yourself   “Hey! this is exactly like the pictures I saw”.

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Gathering our happy, overwhelmed, tired selves, we stood at the junction where the bus had dropped us, trying to make sense of directions on a surprisingly relentless Japanese GMap, to our oh-so-close-yet-so-far hotel. The lost puppy vibe must have radiated itself as a call for help, because a sweet voice sparkled suddenly over us, asking “Hi! May I help you?” As we looked up, we saw an amiable-faced, young woman smiling at us with genuine concern, eager to assist. Oh but wait! It was Monday evening. She was dressed in corporate attire. This was a busy city district. It was 8 p.m. There were hordes of people rushing home. And had we really asked for help? Could this really be true? Could she really be trying to help us, of her own volition, at this late hour, after a tough Monday in office, without any ulterior motive? We obviously did give in to the goodness of the human race, and let Nami walk us to the Tokyo metro station and demystify the puzzle of puzzles that is the Tokyo metro chart, only to de-board at the end station and still be 1.5 kms away from our hotel. Lost puppy vibe repeated itself, GMap still buffered in its attempt to make sense, and this time a deep baritone boomed above our heads. And, yet again, an amiable gentleman, in his mid-forties, voluntarily assisted us out of the station, got us a cab, thwarted further discomfort we could have faced because of the language, and bowed in happiness that radiates your face when you help a fellow human being for the sheer pleasure of it, and welcomed us to Japan, wishing that his country gave us beautiful memories to carry back. Oh and this nameless helpful stranger, also walked back in the opposite direction, of his home, having taken that road, it seems only to get us a cab. Well, my Japan travel blogs sure did not prepare me for the welling up of tears I could feel as my mind and heart smiled away at these daily-life superheroes of Tokyo.

This kindness accompanied us throughout our stay in Japan, across cities big and small, across train stations and roads, across retail stores and restaurants. Sometimes in the form of a woman leading us to the right platform right in time to avoid missing a train, and at others in the form of an old man welcoming us for hot food, as we scrambled for shelter tired and drenched. I am a firm believer of the power of words, and to ensure our little giving back to this very warm culture, tucked away in a small restaurant in a quaint old charming town of Nikko, 2 hours away from Tokyo, lie scribbled in that old man’s restaurant guestbook, are the words ‘Thank you’ in Hindi, English and Japanese. If ever, and when ever, you find them, we would know we have embraced a tiny bit of Ikigai.

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But is Japan, just all great culture? Not that, that is a ‘just’, but Japan is not limited to a ‘just’. Until more stories of other places we bumped upon our Ikigai, ‘mata ne’ (see you/goodbye).

*”Ikigai is a Japanese word whose meaning translates roughly to a reason for being, encompassing joy, a sense of purpose and meaning and a feeling of well-being. The word derives from iki, meaning life and kai, meaning the realisation of hopes and expectations.” ~ Wiki

Hello Spring! Shootouts. PRs. INdian weddings. Gully Boys.

You have all seen the magic of a Spring wish-flower right? The way you blow on its soft demure frame and its myriad pollen float away carried by the warm yet cool Spring breeze, in different directions. Set against the azure sky and a yellow sunshine, it is easy for your mind to float away with them, your thoughts and wishes running in as many directions. My mind drifted away as well, and here are some pieces from my ‘Spring catalog’:

  1. Winter coyly segues into Summer through the season of Spring, a time of transition and transformation they say. With the wave of jingoism and protectionism running strong throughout the world, will we, as a generation manage to find our Spring?
  2. While leaders across the world become protectionist, there are some that are welcoming ‘young bright human resources’ to contribute to an ageing/underpopulated economy. And with a surplus of that at home, our generation seems more and more enticed by the extended handshake. The ‘Great Escape’ also seems to be a solution for so many of the incurable social maladies, which we are unable to fight or tolerate. But is it?
  3. What do we fight and what do we tolerate seems to define the new age ‘courage’, in popular parlance known as ‘the rebel streak’. But maybe, courage, really is, just a glorious moment in self-love, when your body, mind and actions sync up, be it walking out of a marriage pandal or simply knowing when to say no?
  4. And while we figure out the things we say ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ to, we do not forget to dream. Sure the odds are stacked right up against us, sure we have one of the toughest competitions in the world, right at home, sure the sheer size and number may scare us, but will the ‘gully boys and girls’ still remember that “mereko God ne yeh gift diya hai, main wapas nahin karega”?

The wish-flower pollens fly away with a single-minded purpose of maintaining perpetuity. So that generation after generation may continue to wish upon them, against the azure sky and yellow sunshine. So that we may continue to find our ‘Spring’. But will we find our purpose in life?

The more I see, the less I know, the more I like to let it go

You know how you have often been told in no uncertain words by a well-meaning friend, who has lent his/her ears, shoulder, time, mind-space and patience to your endless whining about an issue that seems like the end of the world to you. That, YOU ARE BUT A TINY SPECK IN THIS UNIVERSE, AND HENCE THE WORLD MIGHT SEEM TO REVOLVE AROUND YOU ON OCCASION, BUT it does have the sun, other planets, and even other galaxies to manage its ‘going around’ business with.

Well, Travel is just that well-meaning friend we all need, to shake us back into senses, when we become too full of ourselves or too overwhelmed about our ‘troubles’ or too bogged down by the so-called harsh realities of life. Now, I know, the digital world is full of ‘100000001 reasons why you should travel mega lists, medium-sized listicles, and baby listices (if those are words). So, this isn’t gonna be a rehashed version of that. But of  connecting the dots between something I read a while ago and my recent travel to the European continent.

“How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined. Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens have thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations.” ~Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari

Every time I visit a new country, two thoughts immediately strike me:

  1. I am an ‘Indian’
  2. The others are ‘Austrians’, ‘Croans’, ‘Slovenians’, other ‘<Add country here>-ians’

It’s amazing how much this ‘imagined reality’ of being a ‘country-ian’ binds us and separates us, at the same time. Its almost like a deer knows its a deer and a lion knows its a lion. While this analogy seems so unlikely, but it really is reflective of how we behave. We as nationalities, communities, cultures have stuck to our ‘ways of living’ so much, that they have become our ‘masters’, instead of the other way around. How starkly we identify ‘yeh apna hai’, and how vehemently differentiate ‘yeh alag hai’, basis a certain set of man-made traditions, norms and rules, and other differences endowed by evolution. And how History has been witness to these differences leaving indelible marks on her existence.

On the other hand, it is equally amazing to see what this imagined reality of ‘being the same’ or ‘being different’ makes us do. Case in Point:

A travel through Croatia right after FIFA 2018 ended, with the ‘Croan’ team securing the runner-up position, meant encounters with ecstatic, overwhelmed, proud Croans. One such rendezvous was with a 70 year old Croan lady on a train journey from Zagreb to Vienna. She ended up telling me about the tough past the tiny nation has been burdened with, the conflicts and the economy that never really saw an upswing. And how this victory not only brought the country on the world map, but lent a sense of pride to its 40 million odd residents, an ode to their spirit, of how far they have come. She narrated the rags-to-riches tale of the team’s star player, and just started crying, unbridled, unabashed tears of joy. The conversation further added dilemma to my thoughts of whether this imagined reality brought us together or we only used it selfishly to our advantage, thereby becoming a source of immense pain.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” ~ Mark Twain

Well, the more I saw of our (homosapien-ish) ‘sameness’, the less I knew of all our ‘differences’, the more I let go of the ‘troubles’ that weighed upon me. What is your take on this?

 

 

 

 

 

Taxi no. 9211

Travel and stories have long been partners in crime ~ adding colour to the otherwise routinised monochromatic human lives, since (I would like to believe) the birth of the locomotive engine. Train journeys spent day-dreaming while gazing outside the window or befriending strangers and exchanging life notes has formed the backdrop of many a classics and great adventure tales. But the humble daily mode of transport more often than not misses the spotlight it deserves.

While on the backseat of an auto or cab, I have often thought about the colourful bouquet of vignettes that are created over those early morning before meeting rides to the metro station, over frustrated day end pickups from offices, over heartbreaking drop-offs to divorce case hearings at the court or over joyous new beginning pickups from the hospital.

 

My perennial muse Bollywood lends me a brilliant scene (yet again) from the movie ‘Tamasha’, where an estranged Ved (Ranbir Kapoor), in conflict with his identity and the rejected love of Tara (Deepika Padukone), finds solace and answers in a conversation with an auto-wallah. He asks the auto-wallah humming away to glory if he wanted to become an actor; in a moment of delightful candour, the auto-wallah ends up narrating his tale of star singing back in Allahabad and shattered dreams of making it big in Bollywood when ‘life’ hit him in the form of running a household, wife and children.

I too have had my fair share of interesting anecdotes, with front-seat cab rides, constant flipping of radio stations and finding that one song that the cab-wallah and me end up humming together ‘maana janaab ne pukaara nahin’ (Kishore da’s magic); of funny navigations following Google maps, opinion discussions over the odd-even rule, religious tolerance and demonetisation; and even education counselling for an auto-wallah’s daughter (explaining what MDI and MBA are).

 

 

I am however self-critical of viewing the world overtly through rose-tinted glasses. So am I throwing caution to the wind? Am I ignoring the notoriety accompanying cab/auto rides today? No! But I am emphasising the pursuit of that charming thing that travel does, to elongate time enough to bridge the gap for development of a human bond. Believe it or not, I have found great advice, tummy-tickling laughter, and heck even insights for a job-related GD over a cab/auto ride! Would you care to give it a try?