I’m told I should get my act together and start doing things, that make me ‘feel like myself’. So, one has yet again, started going through the motions-solo dates, driving needlessly while blasting music to literally, deafen myself and of course smoking bidis, occasionally! For five minutes, they teleport me to a sand dune in Pushkar. Works but that can’t be a solution.
The newly opened Diggin cafe, in Connaught Place, is a pleasant beanery to spend an evening alone. Next to the Museum of illusions in A block, this is the third outlet of the Diggin chain. The ambience is just as pleasant and the food is as palatable. Though, there’s no outdoor seating available but the bar will make up for that I guess, as none of the other outlets serve alcohol.
For an evening out by yourself, it’s safe and friendly. Anyone who likes to hang out by themselves, in this city will tell you how people always raise their eyebrows, seeing a person enjoy their own company- that’s a given. When you’re alone, you’re given the worst seating and ‘is anyone joining you?’ is asked, in a rather condescending tone, sometimes. Not at Diggin. The staff was very friendly and the service, fabulous. So, drop in- alone, with a lover, with your family, whatever pleases you.
Since one is adamant to not take the medication, that is being repeatedly recommended by the professionals, one has to come up with other ways to try to keep oneself (relatively) sane. The verdict it turns out, is that one’s a bit loony ( someday when one is in a better space, one will share more). Well, if you’ve ever read any of my posts, I bet you already knew that!
Par, janemans humme dava ki nahi, dua ki zaroorat he aur kitabo ki. Since it was raining one couldn’t go to the Dargah today, so the next best alternative was a bookstore. Gurudwaras are just too crowded for one’s anxious heart. I wish the paijis sang kirtan like Harshdeep Kaur or Jagjit Singh, I would sit near the Sarovar and listen to it but they don’t. There’s no crescendo, most of it just makes me sleepy.
As it poured, one found solace in a familiar space- The Full Circle Bookstore, in N block market. Books have a way of finding us at the right time and the first few I chanced upon were – Healing is the new high and Failosophy. Though, one is having a hard time concentrating, so one invariably only reads poetry these days but they seem like interesting reads. Let’s see if they help.
Calmed my tumultuous mind with a cup of coffee at Breads and More, with the books and the rain keeping me company. Gobbled up a lemon tart, that reminded me so much of my mum. Whenever she would get angry with me, she would recount what a good kid I was and how painful I’d become as an adult. She told me, apparently that when I was younger I was low maintenance and quite a content child. I would never ask for anything, when we went out to shop, other than lemon tarts. I have no recollection of it but lemon tarts will forever remind me of Ma.
When it stopped, I parked myself on a bench in the garden for a bit. The luscious greenery would have normally pleased me to bits but ……….It will get better, I’ll make it better, somehow.
‘Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.’ This famous quote by Albert Einstein can be found on the walls of the newest museum in town- The Museum Of Illusions. Situated in the heart of Delhi- Connaught Place, right above the iconic Wenger’s.
The concept is highly unusual-to teach you more about your brain. About how we perceive things, and how easy it is to miss the tiniest details. From Visual Illusions, that play with your retinal sensitivity, to size illusions, to Kaleidoscopes, to 3 D images, to Upside down rooms, the tricks will leave you bewildered. The 50 illusions that are part of the exhibit have been studied by some notable physicists and psychologists like Ehrenstein and Jastrow. Hence, they would be of great interest to anybody with an inclination towards science or the arts. For six hundred and ninety rupees, you get an hour of brain twisters and fabulous imagery.
Since, one navigates the city, primarily by oneself, as soon as I entered the space, for a fraction of a second I regretted going alone. But the staff was so attentive, that they immediately figured out I would need some assistance, as selfies don’t work with the tricks. So, all my pictures were taken by the crew: mostly by Neeraj who accompanied and took pictures of me, while giving me a guided tour. Since, the cases are spiking, the museum is very strict about COVID protocols and the only time people are allowed to remove their masks is when pictures are being taken. So take your kids, a date or just yourself without hesitation.
The museum in Delhi, is the first of its kind in India. The backgrounds used here, have local references- from a picture of Gandhi to a backdrop of CP. Initially, it opened up in Zagreb, Croatia in the year 2015 and now there are around thirty such museums around the world in – Athens, New York , Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Riyadh etc. I hear, Bangalore and Bombay, too, will be getting their very own Museums of Illusions.
Pahalgam, also known as the ‘Valley of Shepherds’, is frequented by yatries as well, as tourists in the summer. But in the winters, it’s relatively less crowded than the favourite destination of Kashmiris and tourists alike-Gulmarg. Neither the shepherds, nor the locals crowd the main market and most hotels and shops are still closed. Yet, this time around, I saw more tourists here and everywhere else, than I have ever seen in Kashmir, during the winters.
A few years ago, I journeyed to Baisaran in the winter, with a couple of Kashmiri photographers for a day. That’s when I realized, that Pahalgam has it’s own charm in the winter. The mini- Switzerland or so it’s called is a quaint place, surrounded by snow capped mountains. Of course, I was driving then, this time around Farookh Uncle (my cab guy) traversed the terrain, with me. Being driven around by someone who can handle the winding roads of Kashmir and not be afraid or maniacal, is a bit hard. How I’ll explain later. But Uncle, is an experienced older man, with tremendous skill. For someone who hates being driven around, to say that, means the man must be fabulous at what he does.
Shot around Pahalgam, met a bunch of people, who wanted to take selfies with me. Slipped and fell on the snow and hurt my back badly but my models were kind enough to pick me up, while giggling non stop. Saw breathtaking scenic beauty and actually enjoyed being there for a change.
This time around I had my customary solo date, at a restraunt in Pahalgam. I sat by myself, ordered some yakhni, butted into someone’s conversation about Kashmir and got told, ‘You’re lying, I’m sure you’re Kashmiri!’ Each time someone says that to me, I can always imagine my mum’s fairness obsessed family going, ‘ae, andhera kum kerah!’ ( as dark as a dense, dark night, that’s what they used to call me, when I was little). I get a tan and it stays for months, plus I love the sun and I happen to work outdoors..so mostly I’m a shade of beige to light brown. That’s apparently horrible coming from a family that’s primarily been born white as milk or has got fairness treatments done, to look as white as milk. So, this statement always amuses me.
Anyhow, Uncle wanted to eat by himself but I somehow managed to drag him into the eatery for one of my favourite beverages- kahwa. We shared an awkward few minutes, as he sat on another table, facing me and talking, making me acutely aware of my gender or class. We rarely meet others, where that doesn’t come into play. After, which we headed to Betaab Valley.
The entry fee at the park is around fifty bucks, right now, goes upto a hundred later. There were more than enough tourists from – Punjab, Bengal and Kerala, who had flocked this serene spot. I had the best time, as I met the cutest guide cum photographer. ‘Ma’am, please let me come with you. This is how we run our homes.’ he kept trying to coax me. I kept trying to convince him that I was there to take pictures and not to pose, but eventually gave in. I’m so glad I did. After I finished my work, he made me slap a ball of snow, to fake snowfall. Took me around various spots and made me pose. Oddly enough, none of the photographers that you meet at the gate carry cameras (they use your phone to take the pictures), only when you walk inside, you find DSLR’s swinging from the shoulders of men, sitting next to different colours of velvet phirans. But I would personally vouch for these cameraless guides calling themselves photographers. They make you have loads of fun.
I hate flying and especially to Kashmir, as then one gets confined to the city. But last time, I was here, I found a very patient and polite gentleman who dropped me to the airport. So, Farooque uncle and I have been in touch, ever since I left and he’s probably the only person other than my ex assistant, and I, who knows what my plans are. See, dealing with my trust issues, trying to prove the father wrong, kissi pe itebar kar sakti hu mein, just a little bit!
So, FU, picked me up from the airport and drove me straight to Pampore, as the last of the flowers were being picked. The Saffron bulb, is said to have come with the Persian Sufi saints and traders to the Valley and though growing it helped the locals , it’s now fast disappearing from Kashmir. The farmers claim the land in the area, can only grow saffron and without it they will have a tough time surviving.
I spent a few hours working, then checked into the hotel. Charged my phones and then started walking towards Residency Road. To hell with Corona, that seems to be the attitude in Delhi as well as in Srinagar! Women and children, thronged the road , accompanied by their husbands and fathers, to the Sunday Market. I was followed by what seemed like 20 year olds. One slowly approached me as I stopped to tie my laces. ‘ Kyaa mein aap ke saath chal sakta hu?’ he asked very politely. I looked at him, SB growling at him, just itching to say something terrible but SC, replied, ‘ Mujhe akele chalne ki adat he!’ He tried to convince me politely, that there are armed men around and he’s just concerned for my safety but I just shrugged and kept walking.
It was past three and I was famished. A Kashmiri Thali at Grand, was what I was craving. The place was packed and a few people stared as I sat down to eat but I just looked at them and smiled as they gawked. Let’s not even pretend, people don’t gawk at women in Delhi, over here at least they don’t say, ‘ kyaa kare madam aap jesso, ko dekh kar hilana parta he!’ Yes! A man said this to me in Delhi recently, when I asked him, why he’s peeing on a flyover. Kashmiri men are probably the most decent of the lot, not all, but most.
Age has caught up with me, for sure. I finished the Thali, which had everything from Meethi Maaz to Gushtaba, accompanied by Rista, Seekh Kabab, Roghan Josh and of course Tabak Maaz ( which is the only Kashmiri dish I’m not a fan off). I polished off the food, with the same kind of pleasure I feel, as I land in Srinagar. Sheer bliss, total and complete love. ‘Please Death, whenever you come let it be here’, I find myself wishing when I feel, eat, do or see something that tickles my senses. It seems just the air tickles my senses, pleasure and pain are intensified!
Anyway, for the first time after gobbling the said Thali, one felt as one was going to explode but duty called. So I walked around making pictures, according to the brief. By the time I was done, it was getting dark but somehow I managed to drag myself to the Dal. Walked or bounced around is more like it (bouncing slowly up and down like a ballon, is more how you would describe my walk) prayed fervently, froze completely. By quarter to eight, I had spent almost two hours, just walking and sitting by the side of the Dal and my bottom was frozen by the end of it. Surprisingly, I caught myself thinking about MJ, a couple of times. ‘Mujhe kissi dewane ne kaha tha, ki mujhe koi dewana, Kashmir dikhayga!’, his message came to my mind. ‘ Would be sweet!’ SC thought, as I walked. ‘This Pathan is just messing with your head and your head is quite screwed up in any case!’ SB shut down the thought, quickly.
Rushed to a small cafe at Nehru Park and gulped down a cup of hot Kahwa. ‘Biryani Madam?’ asked the owner. ‘ I told him, I eat Wazwaan and couldn’t get a bite in. We chatted about Kashmiri dishes, Harrisa which is my all time favourite and Ab Ghosh. His father joined the conversation, as we talked about Kangris and village life. They asked me to stay longer, but it was already 8.15 and it would take me a while to walk back to Dal Gate, so I politely declined. As I walked back, I put the songs ‘ Hawa ke Saath Saath’ and ‘ Paniyon sa Paniyon sa’ on repeat, so that somehow I could miraculously, reach my hotel. They got the job done and here I am all set to call it a night!
Sometimes I don’t realize that this blog, is not my private diary but a platform, that is followed by my friends. The minute I posted last night, I started getting messages and calls from concerned friends. This year has been especially good at sieving the good from the unimportant.
Went to grab a meal to clear my head. On the Boulevard, there’s Wok The Walk. A quaint little place with an open kitchen and decent chinese food. The food is alright, the view and the service good. It seemed like the kind of place, which is frequented by students. Check it out.
SB looks at the cake and flowers and has no reaction. ‘Bachke rehna re baba, bachke rehna re!!’, she tells herself. ‘Hi baby! I love you. Happy Valentine’s Day!’ she yells excitedly as she plants a kiss, on the only person, who she doesn’t look at with suspicion.
‘Dead, you’re dead inside!’ , SC tells her. ‘ You ‘re too dramatic…songs make you howl…forget the men…the songs that remind you of people make you cry. Please sleep for a decade. You can take over at 50.’ Their tussles begin in the morning and go on throughout the day. For the past few years, SB has won most of them.
She zips to Noida and races with a cutie on the DND. Sex on V day? No! Adrenaline rush ( orgasmic) from racing? Hell, yeah! It’s funny how we hide our true selves, under so many layers and yet the smallest things, betray us, to reveal who we are. The bookshelf- shows ours interests, the way we dance-how we are in bed, the way we drive- our attitude and of course our eyes, the damned eyes- exactly how we feel.
A day spent, splitting time between the studio and the father’s work, in the evening lots of presents are bought for the baby, to cheer her up. After kisses and cake cutting, one heads for some ‘me time’. If you think watching a movie alone is problematic, try watching one alone on V day. You’ll end up raising more eyebrows than you can imagine. From the guy at the ticket counter, to the guard who is supposed to hand out roses, everyone seems surprised. But we are swag se solo!
The movie is amazing, not just because it won the Oscar, for best film. The way the two families are portrayed, is rather interesting. The smell, the rain, lovely. Two contrasts, in the extrinsic world, the duality within. Hmm.
A drink and a few conversations later, V day is over. Until next year, SB shall keep love at bay. Unless of course she finds a Howard Roark or a Thomas Crown, who says, ‘ Here’s to the fear of being trapped!’
On an afternoon in March, when I had a couple of hours between two appointments, I went to Hunger Club. The previous night, I had eaten at my favourite haunt in Kashmir-a small dhaba called Paakezah and opposite that is this newly opened, swanky restaurant in Rajbagh.
Post lunch it was fairly deserted- too late for the locals to eat and no tourists in town. The chicken was delicious, but it was the company that was quite interesting. No, I didn’t go with someone, it was while I was there, by myself, enjoying my meal, that I met the owner. I was just going about my routine, eating, chatting with the waiter, in this case making a few suggestion about the place, when the owner overheard the conversation and asked if he could join me. Anywhere else in India, I will look a man up and down, think ‘what the hell does this one want?’ and utter something quite obnoxious to make the man split. In Kashmir, I’m someone else, quite chatty, unlike my usual porcupinal ways.
The conversation of course remained about Kashmir, we were joined by a friend of the person who sat opposite me. Before I knew it a couple of hours had passed and though I was asked very subtly, if I was a Khalistan sympathiser (which is the the rudest thing I have ever been asked. I didn’t want to stay in Hemkunt Colony and I definitely would never move to Punjab…so I don’t need a Khalistan, thank you very much) it was a fairly engaging, well spent afternoon.
After one of my evening strolls, I dropped in for dinner at the Welcome Hotel. The meal was decent, of course for Mughlai food, Shamyana is a better option. But it was a nice change from the usual, the ambience better, the place quieter and the staff was extremely courteous.
A photographer’s life is full of adventure. But it’s physically trying and a lot of the times, risky. On this particular day it was cake walk, as it was the launch of Jammu Kashmir People’s Movement. It’s nice to bump into all the photographers, who one usually only meets under more strenuous circumstances. But hanging around fraternising isn’t my cup of tea!
So after the launch I took a stroll on the Bund and eat at the island restaurant. There’s seating on the deck but there were a group of boys busy taking pictures of themselves…I didn’t want to spoil their frame. So I sat inside, which was quite interesting. I ordered some noodles and watched couple after couple, walking in. Part of the room had demarcations between tables made with cane which were like small cubicles, that give the utmost privacy to young adults who don’t want the entire city to know, who they are hanging out with. It reminded me of my first solo, horrific trip to Srinagar. So some fellow (like I always say, if you don’t want trouble stray clear of the wealthy men in Kashmir) who had apparently visited the Osho Ashram, was taking me around town. After a trip to Shalimar, we went to some restaurant to eat. Of course it had this kind of privacy and of course the meal and conversation was meant to flatter me but they didn’t.
Surrounded by water, the landing for speed boats makes it accessible from various parts of the city. I should have been on one of them, rather than strolling through the busy Sunday market and then walking up towards the Jhelum.
One is travelling for leisure, for a change. Three days without the camera, away from home ( In Mumbai too but over there it was a family emergency) is a first. Ofcourse it lies in the room with the many books that lie on my bed. I don’t sleep alone, you see.
As I wandered around aimlessly through the market place, picking up gifts, I heard the sound of the Nagara coming from the ghats. It pulled me towards itself as my body moved with the rhythm. A group of foreigners played the nagara with two Indian drummers. I was invited to join them. So there I sat with drum sticks after ages, playing away with the rest of them as the sun set infront of me. Jamming with Nathulal Solanki’s boys on the ghats of Pushkar, is a first. Starting the year with that priceless.
A visit to Hyderabad, is incomplete without visiting the old city. The famous Charminar a monument and mosque, stands tall in Laad Bazaar. There are various accounts of why, the Minar was built, some mention that when Cholera was eradicated, the spot where the Minar stands is where Qutb Shah prayed for the end of plague. According to folklore it was built on the spot where he glanced at his future wife- Bhagmati.
Whatever the reasons for the construction, the security personnel came under scrutiny in 2016 , when they tried to stop a single female traveller from entering the terrace. Apparently, they said it was for her own safety as a woman had committed suicide from there in the past. With my camera bag and all, I usually don’t have to prove that I’m a tourist, unless one is in Kashmir, that’s where I’m going around pointing at my Dad’s Sikh name on my Id, to prove it! But in Hyderabad, I face no issues.
I make my way to the Makkah Masjid, which is one of the largest in India; break some bread at Nigeen Naan, which makes me nostalgic about cold winter mornings in Kashmir and then head to Bawarchi for the famous Hyderabadi biryani. Nothing about the city, makes me uneasy.
After Kashmir, if there is any other place where I can see myself settling down, it is in Kochi (if I miss Kashmir, there are lots of Kashmiris to chat with especially around the Fort area). Quaint, with the right mix of traditional and modern, I absolutely fall in love with the vibe and the people.
I am too damn claustrophobic and paranoid to stay in a houseboat. Spend the night in a cheap motel and take a shikara ride the next day. I’m short on time, so I don’t do the whole nine yards. A bite and a few photographs at Tasty land later, I make my way to the next destination. Alleppey, goes on the ‘to do with a lover’ list. Though, I have yet to find one whose company, I enjoy more than my own.
After a month of meandering through the countryside, I feel relieved at reaching Kanyakumari. After a day of lazing around, I start to look around. A walk along the seashore, a meal and a refreshing juice later, I make my way to the Gandhi memorial.
Drenched after a shoot, I head towards a charming little coffee shop-Black Vanilla, to dry up and indulge in a cup of magic beans, that I rarely drink and a piece of sin that I rarely say no to. A few hours later, I make my way to a place with bittersweet memories. Since, I spent my birthday driving from Ahmedabad to Goa, a meal at Fisherman’s Wharf is my celebratory dinner. The last birthday I spent in Goa, was a freaking disaster, so to erase the memory of that I’m going an extra mile to make this visit, extra special.
I take a quick detour towards the Osho Ashram, which took my breath away (I managed to step in to take a leak…perks of being a bibliophile). After a lovely meeting with the Ma at the bookstore and promising myself and her that I will return, I head to a cafe for breakfast and some reading.
Since I have practically as many extended family members living in Mumbai as I have in Delhi, there are plenty of childhood memories of the city but none of the Gateway of India. I decide to wander around and then drop in for a bite at a quaint little cafe.
If you land up in Udaipur, don’t leave without visiting the Natraj Restaurant. The Rajasthani/ Gujrati Thali is delectable and of course I love playing dress up…I never miss a chance to pose for the local photographers.
This should have been date no 36 or 37 but it skipped my mind. A day in Amritsar can be spent visiting the Golden Temple and the Jallianwala bagh and eating at the famous- Beera Chicken and then visiting the Wagah border- which I skipped. Instead, I spent a couple of hours taking respite from the heat at the Subway, in the vicinity of the temple.
Of all the places you want to go alone, I wouldn’t suggest going to this one by yourself. It’s beautiful, safe and the people are hospitable but it’s so incredibly erotic, it’s a pity not having someone by your side, while the guide points towards the most erotic of postures and talks about passion.
Maybe you’re Mount of Venus isn’t as protruding so you’ll be fine but whether the women are French, American or Korean they all giggle like school girls, when their guides talk about Blow jobs and threesomes. The Indian tourists are given a subtler version. I wonder why though, since it is there for all and sundry to see, including the 5-6 year olds running around the vicinity.’Look at how the woman is pulling the man’s beard! Iss liye aaj kal admi dardi nahin rakhte!’, they tell the Indian tourists, who are so amused -the men more than the women. All the while skipping to mention that she’s pulling other parts of his body, too.As I leave, I pick up the souveniors- a copy of the Kamasutra and Kamasutra playing cards. Don’t get excited, I have no one to use them with. If I knew someone this interesting, I would have been dating!
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.