Tag Archives: a 100 reflections of me
Mirza Ghalib and Nawab Jaan
Solo travels- Pahalgam
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.
Solo Travels- Bijbehara
The last time I visited Bijbehara, was in 2016, for Mufti Sahab’s funeral. The Dara Shikoh, Mughal Garden is his final resting place. Brijbehara, is famous for it’s Chinar Trees and is known as the Chinar town. Also known as Vijbor or Vijbror, it’s around forty five kms away, from Srinagar. The oldest Chinar tree in the region can be found in Paadshahi Bagh. Both the gardens were closed, due to the ongoing pandemic but my taxi driver- Farooq Uncle, is a real hustler. He convinced the guards at Paadshahi to let me enter by telling them, I’ve come all the way from Delhi. The one’s at Dara Shikoh Garden, wouldn’t let us in because there were a lot of young boys, who were loitering around, trying to gain access.
Anyhow, on the way back we were famished and stopped midway, to pick up something from Hattrick. Right next to it, an older gentleman was serving the best Kahwa, I’ve had in Kashmir.
The only way to survive Kashmir on your own, is to miraculously find, soft spoken, kind local men, who like you, don’t like to listen to the word no. Now, before you start judging me, it’s in the context of work. I’ve never liked flexible people and especially when it comes to working with me…I like people who can lock horns, are stubborn in a quiet kind of way. They mitigate the effects of my aggression with their voice, yet manage to get the work done by not budging. Uncle is like that. He’s like a much older version of my former assistants. Plus, SC adores him. He calls her beta and fusses over her. ‘ I’m bringing a doctor for you!’, he told me yesterday. ‘ Na, I‘ll bounce back’, I reassured him. Like I say, this is the best place to travel on your own. From the hotel owner to the staff, everyone is awfully kind.
I find it unnecessary to look at different things or visit different places. It’s when you see the same thing over and over again, each time it starts to appear different and this is Jannat. Firdaus- jahan asli mein sadko par hure chalti he, where the women are stunning and the men gorgeous. Jahan sirf roshni badalne se sab alag lagta he aur mausam badalne se sirf ped, paude nahi badalte, aap khud andar se alag mehsoos karte ho. Yeh Jannat to he hi, jahanum bhi he, jahan itni khubsurti aur itna dard he. Both heaven and hell simultaneously, exist in Kashmir-there’s unparalleled beauty and gut wrenching pain, everywhere!
With the change in the technology and the increased megapixels that the cameras offer you now, the quality of the pictures is far superior, from my earlier works in say 2010. But when you live somewhere or spend an extended period of time there, drive around all the time, literally chasing the seasons, the moments you end up catching, can’t be caught that easily in a shorter span. But nevertheless, we try.
Solo Date #67- Mehrauli
One has fallen in love, with where the Stones Speak. On Saturdays I don’t work before 9 p.m and since one has to catch an early morning flight tomorrow, it was nice to spend the day lazying around in Mehrauli.
In the afternoon, I caught the poetry walk organised by Ramit and Prerakh, a semi bathak of sorts discussing the various Urdu poets, in the park. Nicely done, though, one would have wanted to hear a few more anecdotes about the poet’s lives. I guess, when you’re moving from one place to the other, it’s distracting. Plus, one isn’t a fan of the herd, one likes things to move at snails pace. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable afternoon, the facilitators friendly and easy going.
But, miye ki daud masjid tak and one is a creature of habit. So, off I headed to the Dargah, where I sat for probably fifteen minutes as the qawali came to an end and got invited to the Qawal’s son’s wedding. Which I regretfully, had to decline due to the travel plans. I love this part of my job, getting undeserved access into other people’s lives. While walking back, I just stopped for a quick bite, picked up a kathi roll, sat on the steps of Bhool Bhulaiya, which has become my favourite spot in the city after my flyover and eat. Just when I was thinking, this would be a nice spot, for a date- Qutub minar on one side, a monkey climbing the board infront of me, sensing this, a stray dog came and sat next to me.
We had a few moments of what I think dates should be like, with plenty of non verbal communication -looking into each other’s eyes and eating. His stomach full, he went off to sleep near my foot, as I listened to Ahista, ahista and watched the shabe roz ka tamasha, mere aage, the hustle bustle of a street in Delhi. After what seemed like time moving in fast forward, I got up and started to walk towards my car. Tomorrow, it’s going to be a different place but one will remain, bheed me tanha.
Might sound like a cliche’ but sometimes all you need is God. Received a forward from the Gaddi Nasheen, of the Dargah, informing me that the Urs is taking place, from tomorrow and all the provisions are in place, the guidelines related to the ongoing pandemic are being followed. I may be impulsive enough to go for the shoot but I’m not silly enough, to not check how safe it will be.
So, of course I went to check out the place today, to prepare for tomorrow. As I was leaving, my help Bhaskarji, looked at me very suspiciously. ‘ Didi, aap jahan jaa rahee ho wah par woh ladka hoga? ‘ ‘ Kaunsa ladka?’ I asked him impatiently, as I was getting late. ‘ Jisko itni bari hum raat ko TV pe dekhte hein!’ My face turned crimson. So the ladka in question, is this boy I’ve had a crush on, for a year, now. Someone you just see on a YouTube video and find fascinating na, like I have a gigantic crush on Ravish Kumar, something like that. I never realised Bhaskarji, will put two and two together just because he heard me asking my father the other day, ‘isn’t he so cute?’ and make it forty. He tells me so the person in question, is Muslim and you’re going to going to a Dargah, that’s why I thought. I should learn to keep my gab shut. As if travelling, to Kashmir and Pushkar was not bad enough, with people wondering who I’m meeting there. Anyhow, it’s when the love life, is non existent, there are plenty of stories that do the round.
So back to God- to get anyone to wear a mask is difficult. But to get kids to wear them, I realised today, impossible. Plus, since I have become this round ball, children because of my height and size, assume I’m their age. So they like to come near me, pull my cheeks, hug me. For the first time, I realised today, It’s so difficult to shoot a kid and not let them touch you. I don’t think shooting is going to be very easy or safe or smart on my part. But like my favourite lines go, ‘apne aage na peeche, na koi uppar neeche….’ or like dad says, ‘ Sheikh apni, apni dekh!’ I think, I’ll just distribute the masks I’ve bought to give away, there only.
Anyhow, if you are hurting, lost or like me scattered in the brain and the heart, listening to some live qawwali at this particular Dargah, of Khwaja Kaki, might give you some relief. It felt like an out of body experience, so overwhelming, a stream of tears just flowing into my mask, while I was clapping and singing with the qawwals. Since, there were hardly any people there, it felt like sitting at home, in Ibadat and unlike the Nizammudin Dargah, which sends a shiver down my spine, each time I visit, which is only and always for work, this one has a brilliant energy. I think I’ll get some sleep today. But for now, if you have people who care about your well being, I would advice you to stay away.
Solo Date 64- Wok The Walk
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.
Flying During The Pandemic
‘The world won’t fall if you’re not holding it up…just take a minute, put your mind on ice. And you try and you try and you’re trying. But the burden is heavy and overgrown. And God knows that we all get tired. It’s a long night, when you have to do it on your own and I hate how you talk to yourself. It’s not weak if you need to be held. So cut off a little slack and roll all your cavalry back. My love take care of yourself.’ The song by Maisie Peters plays on and I wake up from my slumber, thinking I’m in bed listening to it on repeat as usual, SC trying soothe SB.
But I was on a plane, landing in Kashmir, after the ordeal at the airport. So, if the travel bug is biting you, drive down because flying is a terrible idea. Now, don’t go blaming my fear for it. The pictures should be self explanatory. The chances of picking up an infection are terribly high. I should have worn the PPE kit, I had bought and covered my hair. Also, it would have been a good idea to get the boarding pass printed, instead of downloading it because the wait and the chaos at the airport, thanks to that, was maddening. Incase, you are planning to fly, reach there not 2 hours earlier, in fact I would suggest two and hours before your departure. There’s absolute chaos at the airport and flying would have been a better idea, two months ago, when the flights were empty.
More than seventy percent, of the people on the flight were of course from the CRPF, BSF and the Indian Army. How I know this is because there was a separate queue for them at the airport. We should brace ourselves, the shit is just beginning to hit the ceiling.
Can’t believe it’s been almost six months since you left. SC misses you a lot, sometimes just the sight of something that you wore makes her sob uncontrollably but SB quickly shuts her down. ‘ Wait a while,’ she keeps telling her. For an hour a day she lets her out, when I go for a walk or exercise but SB keeps SC on a very tight leash. She can get all of us into a serous jam and get the system, spiralling out of control.
Though, right now, she’s out and nothing SB says will calm down her nerves. Your husband is a little unwell, has a cold and is slightly feverish and you know how panicky and anxious SC gets, always imagining the worst. Its unfortunate that the people who would do anything for me , are either not in this city or have elderly parents to take care off. I wouldn’t want to impose incase of an emergency. Hopefully, he should be up and about tomorrow but I am sleeping in the drawing room. I should have done that, on your last night, had I known it was your last!
Sometimes, when I feel like this, I do long for ‘my person’, someone I know for certain would be around without any conditions. But alas! unconditionality is an illusion, like love. The rest of the lovelies I know, have been cribbing about coming to the hospital to meet me when I was unwell, picking up flowers for your funeral and what not, you don’t want to know. Fills my heart with joy! What you taught us, we should do for strangers and we did, is apparently too much to do for friends.
That’s why this midnight disturbance. Otherwise, all in all, I look like I’m better, na? I’m sure the love of my life ( Dustu) and the light of my life (you) are having a ball. I worry less about him, since you’ve gone. What crazy stories we tell ourselves! Sometimes, I imagine you both are the stars that I look up at and smile. Makes it easier. In any case, who the hell knows where you are? Ahh, your son, the saint, of our house may have landed in heaven but you my darling, I doubt would have got an entry there! Your lovely escapades, would have landed you in trouble and you would be getting a rap for them. The last minute pandering you were doing to the Big Man, should have made me suspicious, you were about to split. So, stars in the sky is a better story! Your tat which the Wall is helping me with, is going to have a few stars, too.
So, talking about the Wall, on nights like these, I wish I would have listened to you. If I would have, he would have been sitting here, right now, holding my hand, telling me not to worry and I would have worried less. You were right, he is the most dependable man, I’ve ever met. No games, no drama, he always says what he means and means what he says. He knows about every man, every aspect, everything about my life, so no one can yank me around via him. No one can spring something on him, that he wouldn’t have heard. It’s a different story no one will dare to. You knew he was fiercely loyal because once you jokingly tried to crib about me to him and he very politely asked you not to. After that, you were floored! How much you insisted I should marry him! But I was busy waiting for love. What’s love got to do with it? Apparently, nothing!
You know my greatest fear about marriage is – that people will control me through my man. My life can’t be a repetition of yours, I keep telling myself, otherwise I too will be given electric shocks!!!! Use the ‘ good guy’ to keep the lady in check!. You know the drill, you experienced the whole drama, it’s not the man’s family, it’s your own people who do it. If the man will pander to them, they’ll switch sides in a second. He could be doing the worst things to you but he should listen to them and you’ll be the bad one! But this one is quietly fierce, very sharp and hard to manipulate.
Though, men are different, when you’re friends with them and very different otherwise. At the end of the day most of them end up marrying someone like their mothers. Do I behave like anyone’s mum? Amma, how can I? I’m a terrible mix of you two, coupled with shit loads of cynicism. So fleeting thoughts, tomorrow morning I will wake up and if your husband is alright, yet again, I will think, ‘ I don’t need nobody!’ Hopefully, he will be.
P.S- It’s a good thing that we have cameras in the house and I wear a Fitbit. It seems technology is my only counter, since conversations are out of the question! Thank God I have never chucked a single phone/ camera/ letter/ photo/ card in my life. This Truman show that they all seem to interested in, should at least have some grain of truth to it. I’ve decided, to deal with the grapevine, I should wear a go pro on my head all the time. Then at least I’ll have proof against their malice. Before I die, it can be be put up, with ‘ fuck you, assholes!’ as it’s caption. Just kidding! But on a serous note, this how much money, where, what time you do what etc etc makes me wonder what kind of upbringing most people had. I know I have a self deprecating humour and my flaws are out there, for everyone to see but at the end of the day, God and you know what I did. I just hope it’s enough for you, two. Thank God you were not ‘normal’. I find these normal people, to be quite a strange lot -conference calls, call recordings, call up people to get info, my God! How boring are their lives, that they are sooo interested in our’s?
Solo Date- New Year’s Eve
As no one is a celebratory mood this year, after the death of so many people, one’s working on New Year Eve. So this year New Year’s Eve is on the road with the one’s who want change!
Solo Date #63- -Daawat, Srinagar
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.
Solo Date #61- Safa sweets and Veg Restaurant
Nestled inside the Akbar Residency in Sonwar, is Safa, a vegetarian restaurant, which I chanced upon on one of my walks. At eight in the evening, one would expect more people but unfortunately there were hardly any tourists in Srinagar.
If you’re vegetarian and want to skip the overcrowded Krishna Dhaba, this is a decent option. The ambience is better, the service too, as for the food, it’s quite decent.
Children in the City
When the tables turn
There was a time in my early thirties, when I was convinced that the gold old days- where boys would write poems, sleep outside my house and do all kinds of crazily romantic things were done and over with. After all I was older, twenty kilos heavier and a lot less complicated than I was, in my teens.
I’ve never been beautiful or nice for that matter but good men like good women, want someone to fix and who requires more fixing than moi. But what I know now, I didn’t know, then. At the time, I was between the fire and the frying pan, with my self image at the lowest ebb.
The tables have turned and how! So, this is how my day went, in between shit loads of work. Got a series of very sweet messages from a friend, whose worked up about my BP. Then received a call from my crazy Shets, saying all the things, he’s been saying for as long as I’ve known him. Those being the cherries and this photograph, from the sweetest man being the cake. Wells me up.
When you live in a society which is obsessed with fair skin, the right weight and the ripe age it is but natural to believe that as you grow older, you won’t find love. But that’s so not the case. In a year, I’ll be all of forty years old and I have never been looked at with more admiration, treated so lovingly and held in higher esteem, than I am now. It’s only because of how I treat myself that the men in my life know how to treat me or because no one has me (highly probable). As the the wrinkles set in and a few strands turn, grey, I’m convinced life and love get better as you age.
Jammu Kashmir Police Troubles Woman For Being Alone
I sit in my favourite seat watching all the vehicles pass me by. In front of the forest check department in Ramban, trucks as well as private vehicles pass me by, while they stop me under the garb of my security but actually to check and cross check my credentials, repeatedly.
Giving up is not my strong suit unless it’s on men on whom I give up, before I even begin. You would think these hindrances would deter me but it’s the unpredictability of the place, the beauty and the conflict that holds the interest of the opposing characters within me. It’s an adventure yet so bothersome for the people who care about my well-being. As they make frantic phone calls back and forth I’m fascinated with the scene that plays before me, infuriated yet fascinated. SB is at her abusive best and SC for her everything is like an Ali Bachchan film, larger than life, everyone a character and every instance a story.
More and more cars pass by. The number of armed men reduce. One hour of waiting after the tunnel and another goes by at Ramban. Slowly the masked men doze off on their chairs The JKP makes half witted attempts to check people. After all it’s 3 o’clock. They wait for me to back off…I wait for them to back down.
‘It’s only through death that we understand the meaning of life.’
Another year has passed by and here I am inching slowly and steadily towards forty. Yeahhhhhhhh! I’m famously cranky on my birthday, always have been and probably always will be! One of the reasons I avoid human interaction but since I am about to make my grand exit out of a decade that has been nerve wreaking, painfully depressive but oh so enlightening, I thought I might as well make a thing out of it. Plus, my uncle’s passing has had me spiralling downwards while giving me sleepless nights. The entire process had me reliving a time my mind conveniently blocked out and simultaneously imagining going through it with both my parents. Standing alone next to the pyre will be a bit much even for this lone wolf.
Do you think people change? I don’t think so! I think we add on a few more masks along the way, get a little polished but essentially we remain as we were. As I look back I find very little difference between the 9 year old me and the 39 year old other than the fact the head has taken over the heart, completely. But the head and the heart have remained the same.
The fear of other humans, especially of the herd has remained intact. Though, I have gotten better at handling people and apparently reading them (if you spend more time listening and less time talking you do pick up a trick or two), I’m still baffled by most. You would assume that heart ache and loss may have put a dent on the defiance but I remain just as incorrigible. There was a period when there was a drastic change in my behaviour. But it wasn’t like the metamorphosis of a butterfly but rather just the chameleon changing it’s colour. The self deprecation and the masochism have started masking themselves as humour and eccentricity and the inability to tow the line has become a boon from a bane!
The innocence has unfortunately disappeared into thin air and SC ( super clingy) is hardly ever allowed to come out to play. With her lies to rest the softer, romantic, idealistic, dreamer who lives in lah, lah land and wants a big wooden house which has a plaque with home sweet home on it and lots of babies in it. Every night for a few minutes when the moon shines brightly in the sky and the wind blows through SB’s hair, SC peeps out of her shell. They have both remained the same, one wanting and the other one protecting.
The cloak of mystery or ambiguity that lies on my shoulder which has drawn men and lots of gossip, I’m still covered by. Therefore, neither the men nor the gossip have reduced in all these years. Though the average age of the men has varied there has been a type. The type most women find undesirable, one has dated more virgins than are granted in Jannat ( just kidding). Oh and of course I still love to shock, probe and appall other people to find out more about their so called higher moral ground which they have gained not through their own experiments with good or bad but by prostrating in front of a set of rules which have been shoved down their throats. ‘This is not right!’ they tell my questionable morality. ‘How would you know?’ whispers my defiance, ‘ I’ll agree or disagree when I have done it!’
Ps- For all those who claim mein kitni Sudhar gayee hu because I no longer stick out my middle finger at the drop of a hat, next time you are speaking some patriarchal bullshit and you see me scratching my forehead, notice which finger does it. Doggie ki tail siddhi itni aasani se kaise ho gi, mamu?
Iftar Jamia Nagar
Solo Date #59- Hyderabad
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.
Solo Date #58- Kushinagar
One wishes one was in Kushinagar, on the occasion of Budh Purnima. The Parinirvana temple, which I visited this April is a Buddhist stupa and is said to be the death place of Gautam Budh.
Notes from the road- Guzarishe or Shikayate
Random thoughts that run through my head while driving…incase you are wondering what I do by myself. Mein aur meri tanhai aksar bateein karti he…
As the first public display of Photowalli Gaadee nears the end, one is so impressed with one’s own ability, to mingle. Driving over 16k kms is easy peasy compared to socialising, for this pokey creature. One finds oneself missing having a man, for this purpose. Did I forget to mention that the only common traits between the men I dated were- fabulous memorising abilities and great social skills? I have been unconsciously compensating for my lack of both, I guess.
Anyway, since neither the brother nor the boy nor the bodyguard were there to hide behind, one has handled all social protocols as well as one can, but of course with a few goof ups like forgetting to invite a lot of people. That’s ok, I guess.
To sum up for now, there are things one has learnt from this experiment.
About the work- 1 out of 10 people who walk into an eatery actually care about what hangs on the wall.
The people who do care are curious enough to want to know more.
The intellectuals and the liberals seem to appreciate the work. ‘You keep screaming, till they get it!’ one said to me.
Interestingly, most people like the same photographs in order of preference and for the same reasons.
About people- In my head, I’m constantly amused and frustrated in equal measures by most people but I am most entertained by the practical! It never ceases to amaze me how tangled their thoughts become with my impractical ways. Of course they are the ones who want to know the logistics, the conversation rotates around the Moolah baby. How much you have? How much will you spend and how much will you earn?
About myself- It seems one is starting to loose one’s ability to maintain the poker face. One had perfectly, mastered certain expressions and phrases, which due to tiredness or ill health have been failing me, the past couple of weeks.
SC, who has been kept under the radar for a while, has been frantically trying to get out, I guess. So, of course she has had a very tearful reunion with one friend and totally contrary to SB burst out laughing and spilled coffee on herself when someone was trying to mock her. That’s why I like the other one more, she’s better at playing dumb and giving it back lock, stock and barrel.
So, it seems one will be taking this body of work around. Though, when one does realize it’s of no consequence, in the long run. If there is anything one has learned from her travels -one on one all human beings are tolerant. Put them together and then watch tamasha. One does wonder then, what is a person’s true nature? That which one is, when one is alone or what one becomes, in a herd? Also, if intrinsically we did not want to be surrounded by homogeneousness, to make ourselves feel safer in the first place, wouldn’t it be harder for people to manipulate us, into hating each? The acceptance and the hate exist in equal proportions, though people who have lead more tumultuous lives, I find are far more tolerant.
Last night, I went out to celebrate New Year’s Eve (I am going to sleep today) with the Anonymous Aunty and as we went chin chin, I went ‘what a year it has been!’ And what a year it has been, indeed. A year of -learning, of validation, of gratitude, of bucket loads of endurance!
Do you believe in destiny? In a pre-determined plan? In astrology-the guessing game? I, myself am not much of a believer of anything, actually! The only thing I believe is I don’t know (even when I do, it’s my all time favourite reply). But this year after spending an enormous amount of time on the road, I am turning into one.
You know, many moons ago, a few months before my brother passed over to the other side, he went to an astrologer. He was crazy about a girl, whose parents thought he wasn’t ‘well settled’ and like a lot of girls, we all know, she did not want to go against her parents. Needless, to say, our Majnu, was very tortured. So, he tried everything to get over her. Started seeing someone else ( nicer and more attractive), went into therapy, went to Malaysia to work but you know how that God forsaken useless organ works, it just wants what it wants. Ironically, his time of death (given by the hospital) and the last call he made to the love of his life, are a minute apart.
Anyway, he went to an astrologer with my Mum and when this person made his chart and mine, he wanted to meet me. At that time, I was in Pushkar and was young enough, to discard everything as rubbish. I didn’t go. His chart said there would be a death in the family before the end of January. He passed away on the 29th of Jan!
Four years later, I went to the same person and he said to me, ‘you were the only one who could have saved, him!’ Now, I am no God but the guilt of that and being at the boy’s house ( fast asleep), who was recovering from a major accident, the night my brother passed away , would have forever burdened my soul. But the no of times I got saved in those 54 days, where I was just a fraction of a second away from being hit by a truck or a bus, the number of accidents I saw on the road, just being on that trip itself, where the money appeared from to keep me moving, makes me suspect what is meant to be, will be!
That astrological chart, my brother got made for me, states that the years 2014-2017, would be some of the most trying years of my life. They were horrendous. It states from a person who is driven by emotions, I will turn into someone very practical. Sounds about right and the only person who will be able to ‘control’ me, will be my husband. Oh, hell no! Hatho ki lakeeren din bar din, badal rahee he! So, who the hell knows what all of it means! Where are we coming from and where are we going to, will forever remain a mystery to me.
Through, the lows of the previous years, I tried to learn forgiveness. But this year, I also learnt before letting new or old people back into my life, I also need to watch two things. Watch carefully, who claps when you soar and who gloats at your failures. That will just save lots of heartache. Forgive but don’t be foolish.
Other than this priceless lesson, there have been plenty. ‘ Karma doesn’t work on the whims and fancies of your reputation.’ Has this year validated me or what! I will refrain from getting into how, out of respect for all parties concerned. But let’s just say, you can lie to the whole world and it’s mother but what goes around definitely comes around! Jo karo ge, vo bharo ge!
I come from a family, where all my sisters are better educated, better looking, better human beings than I am.When I look at their lives, I wonder how our stories turned out so different and I know more than ever, it’s because of my Mother. My Mum, hasn’t taught me anything, that a woman should traditionally learn- cooking, taking care of the house and least of all playing second fiddle to a man. There are plenty of women out there, who have had the guts to fight the age all traditions and not play the conventional roles, their mothers played. But in my case, being like my Mum, teaches me to be myself. That’s a tremendous advantage. Though, it’s like having a child rather than being one, which comes with it’s own challenges and frustrations, the lesson is to appreciate her more as a human being.
An important one has been learning how to channel the angst. A yoga teacher told me when I was little, I should stop eating non vegetarian food, I have ‘too much garmi’. Before your mind goes into overdrive, he did’nt mean what you think he meant. My teachers over the years went on to call it my, ‘mental energy’ and my ‘ excessive passion’. I just call it my Mother’s genes. But whatever this surge of energy is, which takes me up and down various roller coasters, at a time, on the downside turns me into a masochist. On the upside, up until very recently, I have been unable to channel to my advantage. But I am learning and it is slowly becoming an asset more than a liability. If transformed correctly, it could turn into ‘Chardee Kala’- a state of positivity that Sikhs are expected to be in.
One of my student’s recently broke down in class, for being yelled at by her parents. ‘But Ma’am they have never said anything to me!’, she said as she wiped her tears. It’s not the first time a student has cried in front of me. Like all teachers will tell you that is the most important part of our job, to be someone they can talk to. But this just took me aback. ‘My God, how hard it’s going to be for her to get used to life,’ I thought. I remember, in that moment thanking my Mum and Dad, for all the beatings I got. It toughened me up, enormously! Our irregular, not so normal, childhoods are a blessing!
Other than the question, ‘ aap ka dharam kyaa he?’, on the road I was also asked by most of the older people I met, why I wasn’t married and then given a lecture about it. Usually, if my relatives or friend’s ask me, the standard reply is, ‘ I want a hot, 18 year old boy.’ Trust me most people just don’t say anything after that. A friend’s Mum had a funny rebuttal, ‘ beta ye to matrimonial valo ko nahin, placement valo ko bolna padega.’ Of course boys are never told that.
My relationship with men, has become like smoking. I quit both a few years ago and if I sometimes, engage with either, the next day, I realise why I quit. Men are like cigarettes, highly addictive and injurious to my health. But nevertheless, I did find the answer to the question,’ but at least tell us what kind of a man are you looking for?’ I’m sure, if you’re single, you’ve been asked that. ‘ Doesn’t it make you wonder if it’s a man or a McDonald’s meal, you’re ordering? ‘I would like a large with extra mayo!’
But I shit you not, I gave it a serious thought. This is what I came up with-‘Fearless, Fuckable and Fun.’ Doesn’t matter if he is poor or rich, unattractive or good looking, a Gavaar or well educated, I can work with all of the above. But someone who is entertaining, isn’t an imitation of most and someone who likes everything I don’t (sports, science, maths). Superficially- Age is no barrier but would prefer someone much younger or much older, would prefer someone taller ( for procreation). Most of all, someone who is not the least bit intimated by my aggression and who would take on the World for what he believes! Try giving this on Jeevan Saathi.
Over 16,700 kms of driving through this country, a total of 66 days spent on the road and one incredibly long drive from Raipur to Delhi ( by 7 a.m I fell asleep and almost drove into a tree), later, I realise it’s an incredible life and I am so blessed to be able to do what I want, when I want to. Every less fortunate person, I meet on the road makes me realize I lucked out. Gratitude, gratitude and more gratitude, is the biggest lesson.
Here we go
‘Aap Ko Dar Nahi Lagta?’, they keep asking the coward of the century. The coward smiles, ‘lagta he!’ and answers the slew of questions that follow a reply like that, all the while feeling like a hypocrite. The long list of things she’s afraid of include- even the slightest mention of ghosts, using any toilet at night that’s not her own, sometimes the dark, intimacy, that everybody she loves is going to die before her, heights, closed spaces, crowds, hurting her legs, going blind…it’s an endless list.
Chatted with a group of women from Diu, while I sat on the steps of an eatery waiting for the man of the hour, to make me his famous sandwich. They told me how green and beautiful it was. As per my plan, which you know by now, I follow to the T, not:I was supposed to be there. But my gut, which will get me killed one of these days, wanted to bring me to Chhattisgarh and since I keep feeding the beast, here I am! From Daman to Raipur according to the Baba is around 1,153 km. From Daman to Delhi is around 1, 254 kms. But Raipur to Delhi is another 1,228 kms. So effectively, my butt is screwed.
Spent the night before leaving, listening to a song from Dangal on repeat for 20 minutes, as the gaurd at the Hotel, wondered why I wasn’t stepping out of the car. ‘Kuch nikalna he gadee se madam?’ he asked. I just shook my head and kept listening. As I got off the car, I chanted ‘Sava lakh nal ikk ladava!’, all the while shitting bricks in my pant. After all, I was heading towards one of the most dangerous places in India. All the threads on the auto sites, suggested not driving at night. Apparently, the border between Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh is a bit unsafe. Self hypnosis works well on the coward!
I left Daman the day before, to drive through pothole after pothole till Dhule and then the route got better. I halted after almost 400 kms at Jalgaon. The next day, the Great Eastern Highway, made my life easier, as I drove to Raipur. The sun had set and I had still not reached the border but the route was good enough to keep going, so I did. At a particular stretch, it was like driving through the Western Ghats, greenery, the stars twinkling in the skies, a two lane highway, which was thankfully not deserted. Till Rajnandgaon there was enough vehicular movement.
Honestly, I expected some drama but nope, nothing. No searches, no cops, no check points, nothing! It was smooth sailing. Checked into a hotel and spent the day shooting. Even contemplated driving to Bastar but decided to put a lid on the adrenaline rush that courting danger gives me.
Though I was supposed to leave a day before, the gut said-‘ not today’. (The gut is always right, unless it is a matter of the heart and in that case it leaves it all to the head!). So I listened and left last morning. The alarm rang at some God forsaken hour, though I did haul my ass out of bed, I still only left at half seven.
After spending a couple of hours on the Yamuna Expressway, I realised that the Rs 415, you spend on the route is worthwhile. I did take the same route while returning from my last adventure but leaving Delhi at dawn, my dear, always has me grinning like a Cheshire cat. It’s freaking magical!
But the minute I got off the expressway and on to something called the Ab Road all hell broke loose. Mind you, despite the 54 days I spent driving through the best and worst highways this country has to offer, I have yet to get accustomed to traffic coming from both sides, on all the lanes of a highway. If you want to test your patience, your driving skills and your Gk of cuss words, try driving from Agra to Bhopal! Almost 13 hours later, I reached the city of lakes.
Delhi- Agra-Gwalior-Shivpuri-Guna-Bhopal route that I took, had me driving on potholes and being diverted towards villages as the Highway is under construction. The almost 800 km journey only offered some respite, when I reached a district, about a little more than a hundred kms from Bhopal called Rajgarh. Though, my butt and my back will beg to differ, the journey was worth it. Bhopal is an incredibly beautiful place, with the right mix of traditional and modern and I absolutely loved the vibe. It has one of the largest mosques in India, which I spent the afternoon debating over and the evening researching to come up with no conclusive answer. Let’s say there is a tie between the Jama Masjid, Delhi and the Taj Ul Masajid, Bhopal and thankfully we shall soon be able to put the matter to rest as the largest Mosque is being built in Kerela.
I navigated through the city painlessly today and other than a couple of fussy women I chanced upon, near a statue of our dear Mother India (yes there are those too), the people seemed open and welcoming. If you like me enjoy being a Single, Single, Tanha Begum, this is the city for you.
P.S- I still have to update all my solo dates from the previous adventure, so give this one some time.
Solo Date #56-Tirupati
Though Tirupati left a bad taste in my mouth due to the intolerance, the food at Fortune was fab.
Solo Date #55-Chennai
Solo Date #53-Rameswaram
Solo Date #51- Kochi
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.
Solo Date #50- Backwaters
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.
Solo Date #49-Kanyakumari
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.
Solo Date #47 -Goa
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.
Solo Date #45- Le 15 Cafe Colaba, Mumbai
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.
Solo Date #43- Udaipur
Natraj Restaurant, Udaipur.
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.
Solo Date #10- Nehru Planetarium
I’m sure I must have visited the Nehru Planetarium as a child, on the usual school trip but I don’t recollect it. Have I found the second most romantic place in Delhi, after my flyover? Hell Yeah! It’s also the perfect place to take yourself out on a Sunday afternoon before you head out for the evening. That’s exactly what I did.
Caught the 3 p.m show at the planetarium, that was once the official residence of Jawaharlal Nehru. Forty minutes in a darkened auditorium, looking at projections of galaxies merging into one- one devouring the other, the planets and their moons-juxtaposed with the screeches of little children. If you don’t want the disturbance, visit on a weekday.
The place was packed… in fact the 250 seating capacity was full to the brim, for the four p.m show. The exhibition area, the bookstore and the souvenir shop are soon to be upgraded.
Address– Teen Murti House,
Teen Murti Marg
Nearest Metro– Race course (Yellow Line)
Show Timings– English-11.30 a.m and 3 p.m
Hindi- 1.30 p.m and 4.00 p.m
Solo Date #7-Crafts Museum.
It’s the birthday month and one is just looking to spend more and more time with oneself. Although, there are fewer cars on the road than usual, there’s a lot of hustle bustle at the Crafts Museum. A few years ago, the institution that was set up by a freedom fighter to preserve Indian arts and crafts, would be quite deserted even on weekends. But Cafe Lota, that is nestled inside the Museum has managed to increase the footfall. I’m not there to enjoy the ambience of the completely packed restaurant but to check out the Folk Craft Festival Of Gujarat. I interact with craftsmen, pick up a few tit bits and enjoy the performance (although the music is playing on a phone and isn’t audible). The only thing that hasn’t changed about the place is the mismanagement.
Address-Pragati Maidan, Bhairon Marg.
Nearest Metro Station-Pragati Maidan
Closed On Mondays
Is blood thicker than water?
It’s the month for melodrama and yet there’s no mental turbulence…no depression…no need to make any life altering decisions. Maybe it’s because one can smell change in the air. Intrinsic or extrinsic? It all seems entwined, now. After all, it’s begun like this-
“Do you remember why we stopped speaking to each other?”, he asks sipping the Merlot.
“You were angry with me for going to Kashmir!”, I promptly reply to the man who was once my hero.
“You know if my daughter decided to do that, I would lock her up! I love you and I figured you are just not going to listen to anyone. So we might as well salvage this relationship before it’s too late. But there’s another reason why I was angry. It’s because you stopped tying Rakhi to me. If you had two brothers the thought wouldn’t have crossed your mind. But you made me feel like that’s it! He was your only brother!”
I stare at the trees outside B-11, nursing my drink and flashing back to all the Rakhis. Growing up, I tied that thread to practically all my cousins, my best friend’s brother and most of the domestic help. Not because I needed that much protection but because it was a family tradition. The year my brother passed over, a cousin left the festivities at home and came to meet me. I of course did what I do best – shunned him away. Barring, the one I sat opposite now and the little one who has never forgotten to message even once in the past decade, everyone knew that for me – Rakhi went away with my love.
“If the rest of them were this angry, I would have understood. But you’ve never been like a brother. Growing up, you were a substitute father to me!”, I replied. As a little girl, I was crazy about the Father. After Mom’s illness and some escapades he fell from grace. The closest resemblance I had to a Father figure between the ages of nine to fourteen, was a teenage boy…three years older than I.
A minute of silence and we know enough has been said. Six maybe seven years of ignoring each other wiped away, in ten minutes. There’s non stop chatter after that. We chat like long-lost friends. He no longer seems fatherly though he is a father, now. ‘Wow! I’m actually getting a handle on the Daddy issues,’ I think to myself.
On the way back I wonder if blood is really thicker than water. I find family members gravitate back towards one another irrespective of how far they go. Not necessarily in dire straits but somehow the bond doesn’t break that easily. It maybe due to proximity, a common social circle, marriages, the birth of a child or the death of a relative. My mind wanders to the boy who called me ‘family’. I’m suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude. The letter ‘G’, has very thoughtfully not been mentioned, once.
I head home, leave for Rishikesh with Mom the next day. Bicker over her sleeping habits (she’s a complete nocturne) for three consecutive days. I want to step out and she wants to sleep. Argue and make up every twenty minutes. Laugh, cry, kiss and hug every couple of hours. Our moods swing like pendulums, synchronously. The one thing she gets excited about is the Air Safari on the Flyboy. I make the booking for the two of us. We reach the destination which is on the Haridwar highway. The pilot suggests that in her condition it isn’t a good idea. I board the damn thing and it suddenly hits me, ‘shit I hate to fly!’
The excitement over Mom wanting to leave the hotel makes me forget my discomfort with this kind of adventure. After two failed attempts at taking off, we finally do! I look down and plead, ‘please Death, please take me when I’m in my car alone. Not like this with an amateur pilot.’ The amateur is a certified commercial pilot, by the way who is thoroughly enjoying the terribly windy conditions. I on my part keep chanting, ‘like a bird in the sky, free in it and bound by it’ (a dialogue from my movie Loss) for ten whole minutes. The landing is a bit dramatic for my liking but it’s a must do for people who keep bucket lists of silly things.
A few nights later, I get a call from my friend Ocean at the usual hour (1a.m). I’m awfully chatty. ‘When are we meeting?’, he asks. We haven’t seen each other for a really long now. ‘God knows! I don’t know when am I meant to meet anyone, anymore.’ As I sleep that night I think, water can be pretty thick, too!
Solo Date #6- National Rail Museum
The heat is slowly getting to my head, reducing my capacity to be around other people. I long for a few hours alone, so I head to the National Rail Museum, assuming its going to be deserted. But that’s not the case. Even in the sweltering heat, there are numerous enthusiastic children, accompanied by their parents. The toy train is going to return in five minutes so I make my way to the indoor exhibit.
The photographs of an era gone by, to static models of trains, signaling equipments, to the beautiful antique furniture, make the exhibit interesting for someone who is not a ferroequinologist. “Stand here, we need a picture for your homework,” yells excitedly, a father at his six-year-old. One of the most well-kept museums in the city, the majority of the visitors here are below the age of twelve.
I head towards the toy train, pay Rs 20 for the ride and wait. Six minutes later the train arrives. I hop on board and wait. The compartments fill up as the Aunty behind me, tells her companion how unfair it is that as a married teacher, she isn’t allowed to take her child on a school trip. The train starts at last and we ride through the acres of land- the outdoor exhibit of locomotives and through the tunnel. Six minutes later, we get dropped off at the station. I quickly buy a souvenior- a key chain and a fridge magnet and go back to work.
Address- Shanti Path, Chanakya Puri, New Delhi-21.
Nearest Metro Station- Race Course.
Entry-9.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m
Closed on Monday.