Solo Date #18-SPS Museum

Sri Pratap Singh Museum, Srinagar

There are a number of activities  one can enjoy in Srinagar- go for a shikara ride, paragliding, take a bus ride on the hop on-hop off, visit the floating post office but the winter, especially the chilian kalan-forty days of the cold, put a damper on everything. Since most of the locals leave for the summer capital of Jammu and there are hardly any tourists around, everything kind of comes to a halt. But the museum is open-sort of.

Though the new wing is yet to be inaugurated and the old building is closed to the public, one is pleasantly surprised. A few years ago I had sent an article to GK (which was never printed),  about how mismanaged the museum was, with broken cases and bukharis being used close to national treasures. 

The staff remains primarily the same so it still not like a nice, quiet, well organised place but it’s a great initiative, a must see for the different kinds of galleries. On the ground floor are the Archeology gallery, Numismatics Gallery  and the museum shop. On the first floor are the Culture and Society, Jewellery, Arms and Armory and Decorative Arts Galleries. On the second floor which is at the moment non functional,  are the Textile and Painting galleries. 

Solo Date # 17- Wazwan at Pakeeza

Pakeeza Restaurant, Srinagar

Pakeeza Restaurant, Rajbagh.

Though there are a number of fancy restaurants in Srinagar that serve the wazwan- kashmiri cuisine, which consists of various non vegetarian dishes like seekh kabab, rista, gushtaba, tabak-maaz,waze kokur, kashmir methi etc, eating at a local dhaba has it’s own charm.

The best rista I’ve ever had, is at a local nameless  dhaba close to Ganderbal. The Pakeeza restaurant in Rajbagh, which comes a close second also serves the juiciest gushtabas and the lahabi kabab is to die for. The two young waiters from neighbouring  villages, always have the tele on, so one can enjoy a meal, while watching some old bollywood flick. 

Solo Date #16- Tuji at Makai Point

tuji at makai point

Makai Point Srinagar

The Makai Point  is a favoured haunt of the locals as the delectable, local, mutton barbecued dish-tuji is served by a number of vendors at this spot.  I wouldn’t suggest going there late in the evening by yourself, since it has a notorious reputation. 

Though tuji isn’t my favourite local dish, I would rather have harisa downtown or the trami at Grand, or even a mirchi korma at Ahdoos, at 4.30 in evening one seekh, with a lavasa (bread) and radish and curd chutney, is enough to fill up my tummy. Plus, I can catch up with my buddy. 

So off I go, on the Boulevard road, towards the Nishat/Harwan side. I can’t find my favourite tuji walla-J. One quick phone call and he appears in five minutes. ‘Chal ghar chal, chai pee!’. I decline the offer, promising to drop in next time. Since, he’s not working, I ask him to sit in the car and have a tuji. All the other vendors are very amused as we enjoy the meal and chat about the haalat.

In one corner a man washes utensils. J points towards him and tells me that once upon a time, people were terrified of this particular person as he was a militant. He was caught -imprisoned but by the time he was released he had lost a bit of his mind. ‘Itna accha aadmi he, kissi ko kuch nahin bolta he, ‘ he tells me, feeling bad for M.

I hang around for a while and then bid him farewell. ‘Mummy ko salaam bolna aur kehna agli dafa milne aongee.’ He sulks a little, ‘marzi he!’, but I know his mum will fuss over me, like she usually does and it’s an inconvenient hour to drop in. ‘Next time’, I promise him as I speed away.

 

11th

Dear Love,

Not much has changed in the past year. Your face hasn’t totally disappeared from my memory, like I frequently worry, it will. 

Before I forget Majnu, the love  of your life sent a message on your birthday. Turns out you will remain in everyone’s heart…for a long time. Zyaada khush hone ka nahin he! Thank your stars I didn’t tell our father. He hurls abuses at your impractical ashqui.All your childhood pranks are etched in his memory and he gets drunk and cries about his ‘changa puttar’, at least once a week.

So our Mom was all set to have a rendezvous, with you last year. Though you remain her favourite- at least once every couple of days I’m told,’you’re very bad, if my son was here, he would have done…..’, but she worries about me, now. So sorry,  she’s staying  here for a bit.  You have half the khandaan to keep you company. Manage without your mommy. She’ll come when it’s her time.

Me? I’m good..mujhko kyaa hota he? Once in a blue moon, on a drunk night, I make terrible company. You were such a cry baby, so is our daddy and the mamas..I don’t understand men who can’t stand tears. Uff, it’s a terrible turn off. Prerequisite for a consideration for a relationship should be- the man should be good at handling tears. 

God, I miss you when I got to deal with the boys. No one is around to warn them (nicely) about me. No one tells them I have the temper of a ‘jungli suar’. There is no one who tells them, ‘tum meri bhen ko jante nahin ho!’ and there’s no one who smiles and says, ‘But she’ll always love me most!’….You didn’t have to die on me to ensure that.

The Friday After Republic Day at Jama Masjid

Jamia Masjid, Srinagar stonepellters

Friday protest at Jama Masjid

Jumma Namaz Srinagar

After Jumma Namaz

Stone-pelters in Kashmir

Stone pelting continues after demonetisation

Nawhatta, Srinagar

At Nawhatta

Lazed around in my apartment all day, with no electricity.Since the phones were miraculously working on Republic Day after a long time in Kashmir, most of my fb friends from here, had changed their status to comment on it.

 My apartment has no heating, so spending a day in it is an incredibly unpleasant experience. Thankfully, I spent a few hours eating lunch, in Dinesh’s  -the landlady’s young help from U.P, quarter.

We- the Sugar man, Dinesh and the neighbourhood caretaker ‘chacha’,hudled around the bukhari, eating rajma chawal and  to chacha’s stories about Kashmir, as it snowed outside.I had nightmares off dead bodies, the flood and militants, last night.  

Woke up to a lovely message from the Night Rider. ‘Khappu ( because I eat a lot that’s what the boys call me), I miss you.’This time around, everyone has been on tender hooks, since I’ve arrived. The Anonymous Aunty has  been checking up regularly, even my Daddy, wants me to come home. 

Looks like you’re stuck here!’, called up T, to inform me about the closure of the highway.’Kashmir is a good place to be stuck!, I reply. ‘What’s your plan for the day?’ ,he inquires. ‘Batmaloo or Jama Masjid’, I reply. He makes a plan to accompany me but eventually doesn’t turn up. 

So, off I go with the Sugar man. ‘Stay in the car and don’t open the door for anyone!’, I tell him as I step out in Nawhatta. There are too many vardis around. 

Solo Date #15- Chai Jaai

Tea Rooms in Kashmir, Chai Jaai

Chai Jaai, Srinagar

My darling Sara, the part time help comes to visit. After numerous hugs, kisses and blessings, she starts to fuss over how much weight I’ve lost (haven’t, it’s just love). She yells at the Sugar man, ‘are you feeding her only vegetables? Give her some mutton.’ ‘Yeh sabzi khatti nahin he, isliye itni garmi he khoon aur dimaag me!’, argues my vegetarian cook. 

I bid them adieu, as I have a lunch date with my ex assistant’s parents. I hog the delectable meal and chat about the ongoing encounter in Ganderbal,of course I am dissuaded from going. T, my photo journalist friend calls up. ‘ There’s an encounter taking place close to Eidgah! Do you want to go?’ I excuse myself and leave in haste. 

By the time we meet, he’s figured out it’s a false alarm. A quick coffee at Books and Bricks later, we go our seperate ways. It’s been snowing since morning and I don’t want to spend the evening, freezing in my apartment. 

So I head to Chai Jaai, a tea room on the Bund, with a fantastic view of the Jhelum and the snow. It reminds me of the afternoon I spent last year in Darjeeling holed up in a tea room/ shop with my friends sipping white tea, while it poured outside. At Chai Jaai, a variety of those teas are available and so are eight different types of Kashmiri teas like-Noon Chai and Dam Tout . I order a classic cup of Kehwa with a shirmal (a local bread). 

It’s a romantic evening spent by myself, listening to  Adele and some Kashmiri songs , playing softly in the background, while sipping tea and admiring the paper machie wall. If you’re not a big tea drinker , drop in to Chai Jaai only for the wall and the photographs that adorn the corridors.

Solo Date #14- Gulshan Books 

Gulshan Books and Cafe Nehru Park

Gulshan Books, Srinagar

After a day spent in Gulmarg, I’m feverish and all I want to do is spend a day in bed with a book. So I head to the best place in Srinagar to find one.

Gulshan Books is a quaint bookstore on Residency Road. It’s the place to find practically, any book that has been written about the Valley. I was heartbroken when it got damaged during the floods but it’s revamped version is even better.

Though, now there’s a cafe on the Boulevard too, I prefer the familarity of this one. Plus, with my ADD( it’s an assumption), I find it difficult to concentrate on a book, in public spaces. I buy a copy of Rahul Pandita’s, ‘Our moon has blood clots’.On the 19th of January, the Kashmiri Pandit community marked their 27th year in exile, from the Valley and Pandita’s book narrates the pain ofthat displacement.I  head back to my apartment for an afternoon of reading. 

Just Another Friday

Yasin Malik arrested

Yasin Malik arrested from his residence in Maisuma

Kashmir through my eyes

Waiting for the arrest in Maisuma

Friday protests in Batmaloo

A Friday in Batmaloo

Burhan Wani protests

Strike in Srinagar

Graffiti in Batmaloo

Kashmir through my eyes

Waiting in Batmaloo on a quiet Friday afternoon

Solo Date #13-Books and Bricks

10 things to do in Srinagar

Books and Bricks, Srinagar

After a morning spent making pictures in different parts of Srinagar, I head to a quiet cafe in the afternoon. I’m on a mission! I need to figure out if Srinagar, is still safe for female travellers.

Though, there are a number of places to hang around-Cafe Arabica at  the Broadway, Chinar-the coffee shop at the Lalit and the coffee shop at the Taj, I want to sit somewhere, which is bursting at the seams. So, Books and Bricks it is!

Nestled in Gogji Bagh, the cafe looks like someone’s personal library, what with all the books stacked up. With only around eight to ten tables, this American diner has a perfectly cozy feel to it. I warm myself up with a coffee and some waffles.

 Though, there isn’t a single couple around, the place is swarming with young girls, chatting over burgers and coffee. I’m glad no one is bothered by my existence.The service is prompt, the food delicious and the conversations, I accidentally eve’s drop on ( the tables are too close to each other) are  highly entertaining. 

Solo Dates in Kashmir

Before I post anything from my trip…the Valley clad in snow, the conflict or the cold..I want to dedicate the next few solo dates to Kashmir. 

Yesterday, as I walked around taking pictures of the snow, I bumped into one of the journalists working for Star. He wanted a bite about the cold…I urged more tourists to visit. As I tuned into take my staple diet of Fb, last evening, a Kashmiri writer’s post, gave an account of the harassment she faced while strolling through Srinagar. A decade of wandering around the city in the worst circumstances, plus being here at the same time at the same spot, with the security forces around, I am baffled by it! I am sure there are a few rotten apples every where, it’s unfortunate when someone encounters them.

There are a number of things I dislike about Srinagar . Personally, I like cities which are melting pots of various cultures, with a diversity of religious practices,  clothing and thought. Though, I would love to live in Kashmir, I would hate to bring up my kids, here. Plus, I don’t know how to fit in, which is a prerequisite to surviving,  two- three tier cities and small towns in India. But the good outweighs the bad. As a woman, I very rarely feel unsafe here…around the security forces, yes, (a number of times, I have faced their brunt) around a local kashmiri man, nope. Barring, a few instances last year, in a very  specific area, where the boys were heckling, I’ve never been harassed. 

I wish I could give an unbiased, account of my travels. But we all suffer our prejudices; some of us are just honest enough to claim them. I don’t wear tags, therefore I don’t need to see the world through feminist eyes. 

So these solo dates are dedicated to my decade in Kashmir. A place I have no connect to but which feels like home. To all those who made an outsider, feel like an insider … thank you.

Knocking on heaven’s door.

Fategahr Sahib


All the anxiousness that one has been feeling for the past couple of weeks magically disappeared the minute I stood at one of my favourites spot (I’m a creature of habit-in each city I have one). All one required was more than a day spent in the car and the freezing cold.

But it wasn’t a drive I particularly enjoyed. Between menstrual pains the flu and looking at the cook-Sugar Red sleeping away to glory, all I wanted to do was sleep every couple of hours. The 17-18 hr journey which took me more than 30 hrs to complete, was quite the adventure though. Visiting the gurdwaras, car trouble, sleeping by the side of the highway- not stuff I wished for, but definitely worth experiencing! If every journey, in the past decade had been smooth sailing,  I guess I would have quit on this place a long time ago.

But looks like there ain’t going to be any solo tripping this time. Since, I’m unwell and the trip is rather short, the Father has insisted I keep the Sugar man around. I think I shall succumb, since not only is the house deserted but apparently most of the locality is. So much for some alone time. I guess it will have to be somewhere else, sometime soon.

350th Birth Anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh

Rakab Ganj Gurudwara, Delhi

350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh at Gurudwara Rakab Ganj.

Super

December came and went sooner than I could say ‘winter’, what with the cousin’s wedding and all the happenings around it. The last week of the year, the time that I usually spend trying to sort out my head, travelling and working; were spent rejoicing and being a part of the festivities of what I called, ‘the last wedding of the Kochar clan’.That and meeting the man from Cr Park.

‘You should read the Alchemist again. Follow your intuition-wherever your intuition takes you, that will be your destiny,’ told me the Father after the Bengali Babu departed to the Queen’s land. Much to my surprise, I remained relatively calm through his visit . The combination of knowing it was a short visit, the warnings from the men in my life-that they have a bad feeling about this one and the timing (still not ready), made me sure, I didn’t need to be my usual selves- Super Bitchy and Super Clingy. He did bump into subtler versions of both but the two only come out roaring when they feel afraid (which is bad news for me and great news for a guy). Barring, the conversation about the boy, ‘you need to get over’,  I made him quite comfortable. I was easy-going and chatty and we had a pleasant week.

Though, within all of us are many mini mes and I’m convinced, within this body also lies a 18-year-old tapori character, who wants to get on top of a tempo and serenade a guy with the song, ‘tera dhyaan kidhar he, ke tera hero idhar he’ or ‘Jumma chumma de de’, these two are more prevalent on a daily basis.  So when I say, my single status is an ‘act of altruism’, I’m shitting you not! Let me introduce you to the Yang and the Yin, that make me an absolute delight to love (not).

  1. Personas- S.B is the more dominant personality type. Though, they both come out periodically in phases, S.B flips into action much more easily. She believes she can manage to get herself in and out of any kind of trouble. Untameable, her voice is deeper, her style of speaking similar to her male friend’s and her favourite  phrase, ‘bhaag ja yahaan se’. She expresses herself through, the tilt of the head, a raise of the eyebrow, a smirk and a defiant stare.  S.C,  on the other hand is incredibly shy, cries at the drop of a hat, lives in lah lah land and sounds like a nine-year old. She expresses herself only through her eyes, how frequently she looks at your hand and alcohol. The quality of the voice and the stride, give both up easily. S.B, walks in a bouncy, masculine manner, with her head facing the sky, as if she’s either ready to take flight or hit someone. S.C, walks with her gaze lowered, arms wrapped around herself looking like she’s perpetually trying to steady herself. S.B, loves adventure, S.C just wants to snuggle in bed with a book or better still on her Mommy’s lap.
  2. Emotions and dealings -S.B is cynical and totally self-centered. Though, naturally aggressive she rarely goes on the offence, until, she’s convinced that she can not trust you and then there’s  hell to pay. Highly intuitive, her mind automatically starts to store, people’s tells. It’s her armour against the world. Extremely secretive, she rarely let’s people know, what she knows about them and how she knows it.  There isn’t a forgiving bone in her body and push comes to shove, she’s more ruthless than most people. S.C, on the other hand loves for life, neither betrayal nor distance changes that. If she loved you once, she’ll care about you forever. She’s an incurable romantic. When you hurt her, she’ll throw a fit, yelling, screaming and crying like a child. On the rare occasion that her other polarity allows her to trust you, after much analysis, she tells you all her secrets, every damn emotion she feels, every thought that runs through her head. If you continue to hurt her, she hides behind S.B, who turns Stone Cold. While S.B,  if she likes you will say, ‘the world will give you roses and all that I will give you are thorns.’ S.C, will say, ‘tamasha na kar ae taskeen-e- aina dari, hum kiss tamana se tujhe dekha karate he’.
  3. Reactions- To the same words both polarities have unusual reactions. To the phrase ‘I Love You’- Nothing makes, S.B crazier than this particular phrase. The response can range from’ I want to throw up on your face’, ‘ Do you think I was born, yesterday?’, ‘ I know people say this when they want to get into each other’s pants!, or the all time favourite ball buster, ‘Do you think you’re the first man who has said this to me or do you believe you’re going to be the last one?’. S.C, on the other hand, will well up, ‘Really, me, you love me? But I don’t deserve it!’.  What’s ironic is S.B has heard it more times than she cares to recall and S.C hasn’t  heard those words in a long, long time. To the questions- ‘Have you had dinner? Taken your medicines? Where are you have? Have you reached home?’, S.B always has the same reaction- ‘ Are you my Father?’ S.C, smiles and nods her head while S.B coaxes her to, ‘wipe that silly grin off your face.’
  4. Desires- When S.B was a little girl, she perpetually wanted to escape. Her notebooks were scribbled with the words,’Run Away’. Till date that’s her desire-to travel like a gypsy with no attachments to any man or any land. She likes the boys young, under that guise she doesn’t have to work on her commitment phobia. Her greatest fear is being stuck in a rut. S.C, on the other hand would draw a tiny hut and write the words ‘home sweet home’, besides it. All, she wants is three to six babies (it’s reduced from 12), a small house, a baby grand piano and a large garden. She wants an epic love story, with all the twists and turns, with someone who likes her more than S.B. Her greatest fear is, that if she loves you too much, you’ll die on her!