Museum of Illusions

‘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.

Igloo Cafe- Gulmarg

The Igloo, in Gulmarg isn’t an abode for Eskimos and hunters, rather it’s a cafe for travellers, an attraction for anyone who likes the snow or kahwa to bear the chilly winters of the Vale. My solo trip to Gulmarg, wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the newest, trendiest cafe in Kashmir.

Syed Waseem Shah, the owner/ creator/ artist, of the Igloo Cafe, is the brain behind this innovative space. I didn’t get to meet him nor did I meet many people there, as I went too early. The tourists were busy skiing, so they would saunter in much later, told me the manager. He was kind enough to keep me entertained, by providing information and taking pictures of me.

If like me, you’re strolling around Gulmarg and can’t figure out where it is, look for the Kolhai Hotel. Pay the nominal entry fee and step into an approximately fifteen feet high, cave like structure made of snow, which can accommodate maximum sixteen people at a time. As of now, there are limited items on the menu, since there’s always the fear of the snow structure melting, with the heat of the food and beverages, I was told. I didn’t care. Give me any kind of tea, anywhere, anytime and I’m sold.

Solo travels- Pahalgam

Solo travels

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.

Posing with the girls, who picked me up after my fall. They all wanted selfies. Me too!
I was stopped while walking down the Main market road, for a selfie. I felt like half celebrity, half Martian.

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 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.

Faking snowfall

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.

With the photographer and the sledge guy

Solo Travels Srinagar

Came to Srinagar yesterday, armed with all that SB comes with-bitchiness, arrogance, anger, resentment and as soon as the plane touched the runaway of Srinagar Airport, SC was back in all her glory. I’ve been told by many, any place outside of Delhi, I’m nicer. They get to see the other one, I guess.

One’s recently becoming more and more aware of one’s privileges. To be fair, when you live a life, that your relatives term, ‘living under poverty line’, your view of reality and your privileges is quite skewed and mine despite all my travels and having friends from different strati of society, still is. Read an article before coming here, about how these three boys travelled to Kashmir and used public transport to go from one place to other and I realized twelve years down the line and that is something, I’ve barely done. I have no idea, what it’s like to catch a bus from the airport. So yesterday, I did. It cost 70 bucks and I met interesting characters, on the way. A girl from Ladakh who was coming from Delhi but staying in Srinagar, a man who was returning from hibernation and so and so forth. But if you are pressed for time, you’ll be waiting for forty minutes on the bus, as passengers fill the seats, slowly.

Hats off to those young lads, who managed going from one destination to other by local transport because to find a local bus, in the winter, to take you to Pahalgam or Gulmarg is impossible. I tried and even the local passenger taxis don’t take you to Pahalgam, straight. They drop you at Anantnag and from there you have to catch another one cab to Pahalgam. Since, one is here for work and not for budget travelling, I chucked the idea of doing that. Lugging my overweight bag around, in the winter, by myself, waiting for local taxis, isn’t a feasible option for me. The anonymity that it grants you, though, is quite enticing. Some other time, for now, Farookh Uncle (my cab guy) and I remain steadfast companions.

Solo Travels- Ganderbal and Srinagar

Chasing Autumn in Kashmir

‘Ajab bahar dikhai lahu ke chhinton ne, khizan ka rang bhi rang-e- bahar jaisa tha’- Junaid Hazin Lari.

At Hazratbal for the Jumma Namaz

On Thursday, Farooq uncle, my trusted taxi driver, took me to Ganderbal, in search of a particular place, where I’d shot autumn, approximately seven years ago. Ganderbal is around 20 kms away from Srinagar and one spent quite a lot of time there, initially. Though, not so much at the Manasbal lake, which gets a step sisterly treatment due to its famous siblings- The Dal and The Wullar. Nor at Jharoka Bagh, a Mughal garden which is said to have been made by Jehangir for Noor Jahan. But more so in the villages, of this particular district. One has sat around, on many winter nights and listened to stories of terrible atrocities. Have been yelled at by a grieving father whose son was torched alive, during the militancy. Have walked through the villages, had endless cups of Kahwa and have also been called a ‘ kofur’. But on the other hand, have also experienced the best of Kashmiri hospitality, in this district. The kindest people, I’ve met in the valley, live in these areas.

I needed an image from there, that can be blown up really big for a particular space and many of my photographs, were taken with cameras which were not so advanced (starting from a seven mega pixel) . As the years have progressed, so has technology. But of course as I went to the same spot, the tree stood there but everything else had changed. A wall, was blocking my view. So, you get what you get and then on days when you don’t get anything, you make lemonade. Though the trip, wasn’t particularly fruitful and one did not eat the fabulous rista that one loves from here, I did manage to finish my work in Srinagar, itself. In the midst of it all, also ended up giving a a few bytes, to some journalists. One looks like a balloon, so one has refrained from sharing those.

At a park in Ganderbal.

The next two days, I spent in the city. It becomes more and more problematic shooting, in Srinagar. People are angry and extremely suspicious of photographers but with good reason. These ring wing funded channels, are making it difficult for us lesser mortals , to shoot on the streets. If I was Kashmiri, I would also be weary. The security personnel too have become more cautious. Though, one has spent many a Fridays making images at Hazratbal, I was stopped and told that they are not allowing the media to shoot. ‘ Mein hu hi nahin media se sir, I’m a tourist.’ I replied. To know when to blend in and when to stand out, is an art that one continues to learn in Kashmir. Surviving in the Valley, requires the traits and skills of a chameleon, it requires extremely high levels of adaptability, that only the locals have mastered after decades, of living in a conflict zone, under scrutiny and lockdowns.

Solo Travels- Bijbehara

Solo travels in Bijbehara, Srinagar.

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.

Special Kahwa, served from this beautiful Samovar.

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 Travels- Pampore

In a saffron field in Pampore, Kashmir.
Solo traveller in Kashmir
Little babies and I. This one on my shoulder had as foul a temper, as mine. I just needed to call him ‘handsome’ and he was floored.

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.

All in a day’s work!

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!


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.

Koi Apna Nahin

Koi apna nahin sevaye ye Dal ke kinare ke,

Jisme humare ashq behete he.

Kal usne mere aansoone ke saath, meri duae bhi shayad kabul kar li. Ankhon se dard bahaa aur hathon se tazbi ki aadhi motiya pani mein shareek ho gayee. Shayad sab salamat rahen ge.

A few days ago, I got a message from an acquaintance from Punjab, who I keep bumping into at the hotel in Kashmir, with pictures of Srinagar, asking me to visit. I’d been meaning to come here, ever since mum passed away because no other place in the world, makes the enormity of my feelings seem so insignificant and make me feel more inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. So Kashmir is always, the slap that I give myself, my reality check. I got the message while I was sitting with my Dad, who literally pushed me, into going, which is hilarious. I said to him, ‘you have to be the only father in the world who will push his daughter to go and meet some man, you’ve never met, who will be staying in the same hotel, by himself. ‘ To which his reply, was the same as always, ‘ you’re not a child, I know you can handle men and right now, you really need some company. Go just talk to someone, you need to.’ He’s right, I needed the company, of the Dal.

So, I arrived here, armed with my camera and books, which I haven’t opened and got right down to it. Worked, walked and then informed this friend, who like me, comes here on official business. Since the restraunt is shut, we sat in his room for a couple of hours talking about politics, religion, being Sikh ( his version being very different from mine, as I don’t follow anything and he’s a Jato da Munda from Punjab) , Kashmir etc as the sun came down. I excused myself and walked towards my lover. Now, I have two. One is my car and like I’m apparently the love of Shets life, the Dal Lake has to be the love of mine.

Have you ever kept a long distance lover? Someone you meet once in a year and when you do the sight of the person, gives you goosebumps, your heart pounds in your chest, your eyes well up and you’re so overwhelmed with emotion you’re ecstatic and devastated at the same time. Those days are part of my history but it’s the way I feel each time I approach the Dal after a long haul. Unlike most lovers, though, it’s great at handling my tears and it does comfort me in my weakest moments.

Like I said, I’ve replaced men with technology. I forgot to mention what else.

Flying During The Pandemic

Rapid test at the Srinagar Airport
Flying Vistara- The airlines no longer leave one seat in the middle to maintain social distance. The flight was jam packed. Though, they were nice enough to give me an upgrade.
The person sitting on the middle seat, has to wear the coverall. Very few people chose to eat, for safety’s sake and because it looks so comfortable.
Air hostess giving instructions.
Air hostesses in their coveralls at the Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi.
Travelling solo to Kashmir. First trip since the spread of the pandemic. I chose to carry my own safety shield.
No one maintains social distance, at the airports.
This is the way Indians maintain social distance.

‘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.

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!

14 th September- 40 days later in Soura

A woman showing the press the wounds the JKP inflicted on her, while she was returning from the medical institute.

The women of Soura, are as passionate as the boys about ‘azadi’

An older woman narrates the happenings of the past month.

A spokeswoman from the locality tells me, ‘mein protest mein kabhi nahin jaati, interview deti hu, lekin jati nahin hu.’

A young boy who became handicapped in 2018, after pellets hit his skull.

They thought I was an agent of the GOI. The people of the locality, were suspicious of me, on Friday- the day of the Jumma Namaz but on Saturday it was a whole different story. The day before, they saw many local photojournalists and assumed I was with one of them. For the first time, I saw them, the female photojournalists of the Valley. Two of them, accompanied by a male photographer and a photojournalist from some part of India, pretending to be Kashmiri. When I was introduced to her, I did tell her it was obvious she wasn’t from there but she totally denied it!

These tactics make it hard for people to trust someone who is there all alone. My gaffer had promised to only drop and pick me up, from Soura. ‘Mein nahin ja sakta, they will pick me up and send me to some jail, in another part of India! I hope you understand?’ Of course I did. Hummare peeche koi rone wallah nahin he, other people have families that would be devastated. With hardly any trasportation running in this part of town, with no mobile connectivity and with no one in my family knowing that I was entering this place, I was by myself, shitting bricks in my pants, in a locality where neither the JKP nor the Army could enter, so I did what I do best, just say it like it is. ‘ I am not Kashmiri and do not mistake me for being Muslim, just because of my name. I don’t want you to feel I entered your houses, by telling you all a lie!’ The truth mostly works like a charm in Kashmir, trying lying to them and you are jacked, for sure. I am glad I did because the female photojournalists went around announcing to all and sundry that I wasn’t with them and I wasn’t Kashmiri, which ultimately lead to a sort of friendly interrogation by the locals- my ids were checked, they wanted to see my father’s photograph on my phone to make sure my Aadhar card was genuine, I was constantly accompanied by these two adorable girls, who took me all around but I had a gnawing suspicion that they had been asked to keep an eye on the stranger.

Whatever, it was, I told the truth, so I hung around practically the whole day. A boy had been caught, by the JKP, the previous day, from the protest . This was while I was interviewing someone in another corner of the locality, on Friday. Apparently, his sister went to the police station to check on him and she too was beaten up and had been detained. To protest against that, the women went to the Soura Medical Institute on the 14th. I was there while, they stopped people and told them their woes. Ultimately, three army men came to beat them up as I hurriedly went, hid my camera and sat in the corner with the patients. If any armed personnel would have seen me entering or exiting Soura, my cameras or chips would have been ceased. The girls ran back and some got hurt.

After twenty minutes, I snuck back into the locality. I interviewed people, hung around in the park and was invited over for lunch by plenty of women, which I politely declined. This was the Kashmir, I was used to, these were the people I was used to ( kind and hospitable) not the one’s who had been giving me dirty looks on the roads since the abrogation. Ultimately I went for tea, with the local girl who had chosen to accompany me. Her family was really hospitable and kind, feeding me lots, while they warned her to be careful about what she tells me.

I left a little later, than the time assigned by my gaffer. The girls still by my side, ‘Didi we want to make sure, you are safe!’ ( or what they didn’t say- we want to know who brought you here). People hung around in front of their shops, while I walked past, the shutters down, chatting about the terrible events of the day. ‘Now they will beat up our women, too!’ they discussed. There seemed to be more barricades by the end of the same day and a lot more boys hung around at the unofficial posts, protecting their locality and their women!

13.9.19- Soura

Protest in Soura, Kashmir on the 13th of September against the Abrogation of article 370.

The life of Kashmiris, ever since the government abrogated the article

‘We will get caught and booked, just because we live in Soura. It doesn’t matter whether we do something or not!’- Protestor at the rally

Women and the children come out to protest, in this locality.

The womenfolk gather around to check out the tear gas shells, which are being shown to me.

Silent observers of the Kashmir Clampdown.

‘We need to protect our locality, as the armed forces can hurt our women and children, if they enter this space!’- Boy, posing in front of the barricade created to keep the Army/JKP out

While I was shooting the barricade, pellets were fired at the protestors (stone pelters). Some of them were rushed back with injuries.

Boy being treated in the locality, for pellet injuries as going to the hospital would lead to being caught by the authorities.

Eid in Kashmir

Solo Date # 64-Hunger Club

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.

Solo traveller in Kashmir

I took the flight day before yesterday, hoping the journey would be less frightening than last times. More than a month ago, I got on an Indigo flight to Srinagar. Due to turbulence, the journey was so uncomfortable, that the thirty people who were returning from Umrah, started chanting Allah’s name, a woman started vomiting and I too was left feeling sick to my stomach. Due to my general absentmindedness, I told my Dad I was flying Go and throughout the misadventure, I kept thinking that if the plane crashes, my parents wouldn’t even know I was on this particular flight. But this was better, we landed ahead of time. Comfortably? Nothing about flying makes me feel comfortable, in the first place!

The lamba chauda Jat ( reminded me of the ex) who I met at the hotel last time, had sent me photographs of the tulips from his official, weekend trip. Assuming, I too would be able to find some, I dropped my bags and rushed out. I got on a shared cab, which took twenty bucks from me and dropped me, close to the garden. I walked, bouncing away to glory, as I usually do, listening to something cheesy, while the uniformed men, eyed me suspiciously. The sign at the door said, ‘closed to general public’. Since, I don’t understand signs, I end up pulling where it says push and pushing where it says pulls, invariably I’ve headed right into the men’s loo more times than you can imagine (absolutely sober,fyi) I just pushed the door and walked in. Once, I walked in, then they couldn’t throw me out. I searched for tulips and found a few, which had withered. Two older gentlemen working there, then took me to the official area, where I found the last tulips of the season. As I was walking out, there were a lot more men at the gate, who looked at me curiously. One tried stopping me, ‘aap aayee kaise, andar madam?’. ‘ Jadu, se sir, aur ab jadu sai ja rahee hu!’ Off I ran.

In the evening, I went for the Urs of Batmaloo Sahib. My experience with the boys of the area, hasn’t been pleasant. That’s the only place in Kashmir, where the stone pelters have hurled abuses at me and I genuinely feel scared of them. Not having any of the boys, who have worked with me earlier, doesn’t help. I no longer have a mediator. My main man, is sitting in a far away land, trying to earn money for his entire family and should hopefully, be back on vacation, before my next trip.

As soon as I walked towards where the Ferris wheels were, I wanted to crawl underground. There were so many young boys there, some who I recognised and most who recognised me. They stood there, pointing towards me, all their heads turned in my direction. ‘Mar gayee, aaj to tu mar gayee’, I hummed to myself. Tried to make some photographs but the constant surveillance, hassled me, too much. I called one of them over to clear things, ‘kyaa hua?’, I asked. ‘Kuch nahin, hum aap ko jante he!’ replied the eighteen year old. ‘I’m not here to take pictures of any of you, I’m not looking for trouble, I’m just here for the fair!’ I said, feigning a sternness, only SB can pretend to have. He nodded, smiled and then went to inform the rest. I took some pictures, went to the Dargah, to which I was followed but by then I knew, they weren’t going to do anything, for now. Made some more pictures, walked out of there, knowing I was being tailed, caught an auto and stopped at the Boulevard, went to a restaurant to eat (hide) and then came back to my hotel.

You would assume, this would stop me from going back but a girl’s got to do, what a girl’s got to do! So, last evening I went back. The rain kept most people away and the boy from my hotel reception, came to check on me. He took me around, showed me his family graveyard and then we stood in one corner, in plain sight, chatting as it rained. Once enough people saw me with a Kashmiri man, I knew I was safer. As soon as it stopped raining, he went away and I went back to my business. Made a live video, distributed my card, by the time I return today, hopefully, they will be rest assured, I am not an Indian spy!

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 #62- Peerzoo Island Restaurant, Srinagar

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.

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.


I stand at a distance, looking at the images from outside the stall. Ten years and too many tribulations later, the sweat and tears have turned into mere paper. People look at those pieces, some with fascination others with indifference and go on with their existence, soaking in the art around them. I go into flashback.

My memory is terrible, that’s why most of what I recall is through the videos I end up watching. There are of course plenty- from the solo drives, to the one’s in the winter where one was accompanied by a servant, maid, assistant, taxi driver, anyone basically who would give me company on a highway which gets blocked in the winter. Money makes the mare to go and it’s never ceased to amaze me how the domestic help agreed to tread the journey with me, come back to Delhi and twenty five days later got on a bus so that he could accompany me back, to make a few extra bucks. Chinni and Diya ka Safar , is a very amusing video. The assistants on the other hand have been as nutty as I am.

Over the years of course one has been joined by many family members. The Mother’s flown down a few times, so there are the cutest pictures of her dressed like a Kashmiri. The Mother’s family is from Jammu, so over the years they’ve joined me in Srinagar. Many wanted to come when I kept an apartment there but I turned them down as, I had neither permanent help, nor a chauffeur. A trip to Gulmarg with a nephew finds a place on my FB profile, so do the 2008-2010 pictures, with my favourite cousins, who shuttled between Srinagar and Jammu during that time as they owned a restaurant in Srinagar. ‘Di when are you going to send us those videos?’ they ask repeatedly. When I edit a making of my Kashmir project, I think. Every year, one thinks of doing that, every year one thinks not yet. Without the kind of access I got through those delivery boys, I would have never been able to go to some of the places, I’ve been to. They made Loss, possible.

There may be visual records of my journeys, well documented proof of the photography, my presence and the ownership of the cameras ( when one is a female photographer, one needs more proof than you can imagine) but there isn’t a single trace of the what I was thinking or feeling. ‘ ‘Why Kashmir?’ they ask me. ‘Why not? Kyun nahin!’ I see the face of a beautiful man I once knew. No, it has nothing to do with a man! I’ve left my heart by the side of the Dal, where I’ve prayed a thousand times and cried a million tears. I feel as if I’m a machine every where else, I just keep returning to make sure I’m still human.

The misogynistic bullshit, breaks my reverie. Soon one will be on one’s way.

Solo Date #60- pushkar

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.


I arrived last evening and as soon as I did, it was like coming back to life. Met a few people, ate and crashed. Since the past two days had been quite hectic, I woke up exhausted. But since I am supposed to be leaving tomorrow for a trek, (no, not alone) I decided to stay in Srinagar and look around. But before that, the car seat which had been damaged by a person who was trying to help me, in Ramban with some battery issues, needed to be fixed. Driving around with no back support, on mountainous terrains is harder than you can imagine.

So off I went to the service centre at Nowgam. They couldn’t fix the seat but they got it into a position where atleast I get back support. To recline it they taught me a jugaad method. So much for highly automated cars, they come with their own set of issues which local mechanics are too afraid to fix and the service centres in smaller cities, don’t always stock their spare parts. But considering how well behaved my car always is, I should’nt bitch about it.

Talking about cars, after the service station I went to check out the Motor Cafe in Srinagar. Situated in Raj Bagh, it’s a very hip joint, perfect for off-roading groups, biker groups or travellers in general. The theme based decor is fascinating with pistons, crankshafts etc adorning the walls and with an engine that stands near the entrance, greeting everybody. Everyone by now must have figured out, one of my favourite places to sleep, is in my car. I took the table, where they have actual car seats to sit on. Oh, I shit you not, I was so tempted to recline the seat and sleep.

Though, it was supposed to be a solo date, I was joined by a friend as soon as I ordered my chicken and iced tea. Which was great because ‘Khappu’ ( a nickname my friends have given me) has a sweet tooth and she could share a chocolate crepe, as well.

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…

Solo Date #57-Gorakhpur

Since I will be updating all the solo dates from the past years travels on the website, I am skipping the chronology. Anyway, having arrived at Gorakhpur at a reasonably decent hour, I stepped out for dinner.

It would have been better if I had stayed in my room. As it is the beautiful pimple on my lip, no it’s not a sore, I checked, is making me very uncomfortable. To top not only was the food bad…even the beverage was!


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.

An Ode To The Mother

This year I skipped the usual format for celebrating women’s day because we were all busy at the first public display of Women by Photowalli Gaadee.

This year’s exhibit is an ode to the one who has made me…look at the cutie in the picture…my Mommy. As the show will be on till the 22nd and I will be busy so bare with the irregularity of posts. I find my attention swaying from this to the other, at the moment.

It’s been an interesting exercise, up until now, an experiment if you please, on varied levels. A social experiment- as I hate this part of being a photographer, conversing with other humans. Also an experiment to gauge reactions, which I usually don’t give a rat’s ass about. Since, this project is a concoction of photography and about sending out a social message, one wants to observe the reaction of the viewer. So, let’s see how that goes.

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.


‘I am Anjuman. I am a mehfil, I am a gathering. Of everybody and nobody of everything and nothing. Is there anyone else you would like to invite? Everyone’s invited.’-from the ministry of utmost happiness. ‘Iss anjuman mein apko aana he bar bar.’-Umrao Jan comes to mind.

What is it about characters that live on the fringe of normalcy and society, that fascinates me I know not! With all their shades of black and grey, whether fictitious or real, they are oh so wonderful. Though, I barely get any time to read (my -7 and -8 eyes can only be strained to a point), the pages that will resonate, always do find me. Books, unlike people, find you when you’re ready.

Anyhow, the trailblazing that I am upto is going well. I drove into Indore the other day but unfortunately, as it was a Monday, most of the places I wanted to visit were closed. From there I drove to Mandu. In my early 20s, the exact opposite of my early 30’s , I surrounded myself with older men. One of the most interesting, I met at that point, who now runs a gallery in Goa, went from Delhi to Bombay via Mandu. I don’t recall what he said but I remember yearning to go. As I drove into Mandu, it was like revisiting a lover.

There are plenty of sites, which are protected by the Archeological Survey Of India. I did visit a few, the names and even the images of which will be erased from my memory, in a day or two. I’m not trying to undermine them in any way, it’s that my brain has very little storage capacity. It’s running on a 1gb pen drive, which is erased every few days. There are very few things which get automatically locked and therefore are protected from erasure.

The way a place feels, the breeze, a meeting with a random stranger, a few glimpses I take away for solitary nights, a few smiles and a few tears I leave behind for posterity. Roopmati’s Pavillion, leaves a lasting impression and makes one long for a simpler time.

Yesterday, I began my descent towards Dadra, later than I should have. It wasn’t a smart move. Though, Google baba predicted it was a 9 hour journey and Map my India, 12 hours. The latter, for a change was right. Bhai Sahab, peeth turwane ke liye, ye galiyaa aur chaubare, khuub he. Closer to Surat, the highway was a pleasure to drive on, though by that time, my feet had gone numb and my reflex actions were slower. So, I stuck to the better side of a 100 and reached Dadra at the ghastly hour of half two or was it three?

Our favourite app doesn’t come handy after twelve, so as I wandered the streets of a sleeping city, looking for a place to crash, which had it’s gates open, when a PCR that was doing it’s rounds found me. ‘Brilliant’, I thought to myself. During my last wandering, the Gujarat police searched and made a recording of my car, as if they were suspecting to find a rocket launcher. A day later, the Bomb Squad stopped me on the street. ‘Madam bag dikhao’, they said. Due to the frenzy of the crowd, at the procession of Lord Jagannath, I thought they were telling me my bag is open. I thanked them politely. ‘ Bag check karao, bomb squad se he!’. A part of me was so pissed and the other just thought, ‘well my cousins insist my children will become suicide bombers because their mother is crazy, maybe I have the vibe of a fidayen. Manisha Koirala , popped up in my head. ‘Let’s hope no Jihaadi group, thinks that!’ I thought as they searched and questioned me.

But since, I look like a woman (very rarely behave appropriately) after dark, the cops were not going to search my car but that did not quench their curiosity. So, as one feigned concern and asked me if I required any help, all the while trying to read my face and me his, two just peered and peeped into my car from all directions. ‘Akele ho?’, He asked. ‘ Nahin paltan he saath me, dikh nahi rahee,’ wanted to say my Father’s tongue. ‘ Haanji Sir’ said the adult ego state, that rarely surfaces. They stood around for a while making small talk, as I waited for the guard at the hotel, to open the gate. By that time, I just didn’t care where I crashed. As usual…the men and the streets felt unsafe when a woman loitered!

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


On the eve of my departure to God know’s where ( I shit you not other than narrowing down the state which is Madhya Pradesh, I have no clue where I am going) one has to wonder if one has any different thoughts from the previous wandering. Not really…the parting thoughts remain the same (if I pop it search for parting thoughts). Other than the men I inevitably run into while traveling, there have been no special additions and surprisingly no subtractions in the past few months. The feelings remain the same, for practically everybody I mentioned. The desires too remain the same.

Although there is sometimes a fleeting regret, that if it all got over today, what a pity it would be to have not been totally ruined by love? Majnu ki aulad banne ki bahut khwaaishthi humari! Aashiq mijaaz to tha, lekin dil phek type ke he zara…jo bhi pyaar se mila hum ussi ke holiye! But it’s ok…so what if not even one of the stories was as fantastic a chase as the Thomas Crown Affair or as complex a story as the Fountainhead.

So what if I was easier to ‘be fascinated with but so tough to live with’. So what I did’nt go on a tempo to a man’s house, with my brothers and serenade him with, ‘arre oh Jumma, meri janneman, baahar nikal!’. So what if I never did send a handwritten note with Narula’s lines-‘I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees’ or Ghalib’s, ‘ Ishq mujhko nahin wahshat hi sahi…meri wahshat teri shauhrat hi sahi.’ None of my fantasies have me playing wife, mind you!

But these are just passing regrets…With my commitment phobia and a world that’s moving rapidly towards online hookups, this dramatised version of a Love or even an unrequited one would’nt have been possible!

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 #48-Om beach

Over a hundred kilometres away from the hustle bustle of Goa, in the state of Karnataka lies the temple town of Gokarna. I spend the day, wandering around the Om beach.

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.

 Time on the road

Time flies by when there’s a lot to do. Unfortunately, one hasn’t been able to get down to sharing as much as one wanted to in the anniversary edition but the celebrations can continue. What’s stopping  me, right?

So what did I learn from my wanderings? If you know me, I am not the least bit interested in facts and figures, every extrinsic journey is in a way an intrinsic one, just a way in which I watch myself unfold and as I do, I become aware of just how little I know. But the peeling of the onion is a beautifully joyous and painful experience.

My time spent on the road is like my favourite song-‘Dhoop ki naseeb me dhoop mein liya he dum…chandani mile to hum chandani mein so liye….Dil pe aasra kiye hum to bus yunheen jiye, ek kadam pe has diye, ek kadam pe ro diye!’.

The road is a great teacher, it tests you and scares you. It makes you forget the consequence of time and makes you aware of the fragility of your existence. At the same it shows you the majesty of nature, of mind over matter and the glory of human achievement. Each hill, every mountain, each sunrise and every sunset makes you feel miniscule and irrelevant. Nature doesn’t need us, in fact it’s better off without us! Each road and every bridge makes you bow to the men who have travelled before you, for the ones who create the foundation, lay the gravel or build the piers. Man’s exploratary nature never ceases.

Though there are hardly any roads less travelled anymore, there are still plenty with potholes and there’s no dearth of adventure if you spend your life celebrating your existence. On the road, you are awed and grateful, you smile more and love easily. Every beautiful stranger makes your heart skip a beat, more words are spoken through silences and there is an urgency with which you want to open yourself up to everything and everybody. On the road you hope more and want less!

On the road you leave behind greed and are greeted by wonderment, you become a seeker and then a believer and then a seeker and it goes on and on. The end becomes the beginning and the beginning becomes the end and then it starts all over again. Each dawn brings with it the desire to move forward, just a little bit more. The chains of attachments, of love and family all start to break as you become aware for just a fraction of a second, of the potential of your own spirit.

On the road words loose their significance, actions become important but its the intention behind those actions that you become acutely aware of. The basic animal instinct, that raw power in the gut that directs us takes a hold over the mind. Fleeting thoughts, disappear into the clouds and teardrops into the rain.  The solitude makes you feel peaceful, detached and just a little bit wonkier than you are! After all, if you start to see the creator in the creation, you must be losing your mind!

Madam aap ka dharam kyaa he?

It’s been over two weeks since I’ve been back and of course there are million things to do. My mind is totally scattered, which was something I was partially expecting and dreading. When one spends almost two months barely having any conversations, just lost in one’s own world, assimilation into what should be but isn’t one’s natural state is hard. Naturally, man is a social animal, this woman on the other hand, has to try really hard to mingle with others and the time away has made me revert to a lone wolf. In a couple of months I will relearn the rules of the game.


Last evening, I sat down with the videos as last. There’s so much to go through… Wooh! I also said I would share my experience, which I was too busy to write down. So, before another month passes by and I look at you blankly when you question me about the trip, let me tell you a little about it.  Again and again, I’m asked why, so let me start from the beginning.


A series of things triggered this. Last year, I decided I either wanted to go abroad for a Master’s degree in photography or I wanted to travel like crazy for the next two years. Call it a fear of what is coming, meaning a commitment, or knowing that I will have to start behaving like a grown up, someday! Shittt! Anyhow, someone from my gym, went on a trip from Delhi to Rameswaram, last year. It took him a month and he did over 7,000 kms. Rajat was sweet enough, to tell me about it and I was really inspired to travel through the subcontinent by myself.  Then, there was the crappy talk which I heard from my well off, well-educated friends about how ‘Hindustan hummara he’, ‘How do you like Kashmiris etc?’. With all the lynching and lack of empathy I saw around…the growing audacity of people, officials asking -why have I been given a lower caste Muslim name etc, I started feeling rather frustrated. Over the past year, I have also found myself becoming awfully suspicious of the majority. Its terrible, I feel ashamed and I don’t like being like that.  After all, most of my sisters are married to men who follow Hinduism, which means most of my nieces and nephews are going to grow up following that path. Even if they are ‘bin pende de lotte’ like me, neither their first, nor their last names make any reference to their Mothers. As is the case, with my Muslim bhabhi or Christian bhabi or Bengali Bhabi or South Indian bhabi, whose children are known by the Father’s names and follow the Father’s religion. So, the entire concept of  carrying a map which states, India belongs to everybody stemmed from the need to know, if the entire country had gone nuts like the RSS. I am pleased to tell you, thank the Lord, No!


‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ Oh Shakespeare, did you get that wrong? Over here everything, is in the name. The religion, the caste, the creed and the gender (unless you are Sikh- Prabhjeet and Guneet could be male or female) is determined through the name, in a fraction of a second. Mine, thankfully is a bit confusing. Saadiya, is an Islamic name and Kochars are Hindu Punjabis or Sikhs.  Its my valid assumption that I am the only Saadiya Kochar you will find. So, when the Father starts to panic about the Islamophobia, these days and asks me to change my name, do you blame me when I retort, ‘If you had chopped off your hair during the riots or Mom had left you and gone to the neighbour’s house, I would have contemplated it. But since you didn’t teach us by example to be fearful don’t expect me to do that?’.  Why am I fussing over my name, you may think?  Well, it is the beauty of my existence that by design, I can’t be labelled. You can’t begin to imagine how entertaining it is, for someone like me to travel through the length and breadth of a country, where everybody who meets me is absolutely convinced that my Muslim Mother has married a Sikh man and my name is a logical conclusion of that union! What a lovely story that would make! It would be a story similar to the photographer Ram Rahman’s, whose mother Indrani was a classical dancer, the Father Habib Rahman an architect and his maternal grandfather, North Indian and Maternal grandmother, American. But alas! we have different stories to tell and this ain’t mine!


So much for first impressions! Moving around with that map was like opening up a can of worms. Either the first or the second question asked by the majority of the people I met, was ‘aap ka dharam kyaa he’? What is my religion? ‘Nothing’, doesn’t cut it, my friend, trust me I tried. So, the next reply, was ‘my parents follow Sikhism’. Then, they would look at me rather suspiciously and ask, ‘are you married?’.’No’. If I had a Sikh husband, it would put their imaginations to rest but I managed to puzzle them, a great deal. Just because I don’t follow a particular religion, doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. When I left from Delhi, the departure was as dramatic, as I can be. I was convinced I wasn’t coming back in one piece. My entire life, I’ve looked at the Creator as this worthy opponent who keeps winning the game. More often than not I have had a love-hate relationship with him. But after my brother’s departure, I’ve found myself softening. This time when I left, I made a deal with him. If I was totally and completely convinced he existed I would never, ever apologise to somebody for not taking good enough care of him. A load is off! When you spend days on the road and you see one accident after the other, when you’re saved by a fraction of a second a number of times, when people appear from nowhere to help you, you tend to start believing everything is by design.


Having said that, I have also become more vehemently opposed to organised religion. We have mangled, twisted and turned, our religious practices to suit  our convenience. I’m sure our prophets turn in their graves thinking about what we are doing.


I am not talking about going to the synagogue. That is a big thing. Leave all that to fools. There are many. And they also need some kind of engagement, occupation;those synagogues and churches, and temples provide it. But to you existence, nothing but existence, is the only temple. Nothing but life is the only God I teach. Respect your life you will start respecting life in others.-Osho.


I present to you a case against a few religions. The one on Hinduism will be another post. Lets start with the ones my parents follow.

Sikhism– There are a number of things I like about Sikhs, not because of anything my parents have said or taught me. But due to my exposure to dire circumstances, I’ve seen many Sikh organisations go out of their way to help people. The langar halls are famous for not discriminating and you will hardly ever see a Sikh begging. Plus, Sikhs are not interested in converting anyone. What I like the most, is that it is a martial race. During this trip, one illiterate Sikh man asked me about my religion, barring him no Sikh, I met anywhere in India, asked me this question. Other than the Gurudwara in Kashmir, no one was interested in knowing my name. In Patna Sahib, where singles are not given a room, they made an exception for me because of the stickers on my car. When I saw, a lady in a Burkha, coming out the Yatri Niwaas, I gave a thumbs up to the ancestor who chose to convert. Having said all that. Sikhs, are only 1.72 % of the total population in India and approximately 0.39% of the World. More than 76% of the total population live in Punjab where they form a majority. We may project ourselves as being incredibly liberal but we need to ask the families of the Hindus who were killed during the militancy in Punjab?  Lets ask Lala Jagat Narain’s family what they think about Sikhs? You may argue those were different circumstances, to me it seems like a majority flexing its muscles.


The reason we ( I include myself, since everyone will argue that I am one), are open to other people could also be because practically, we don’t have a choice! Look at like this, if you are Hindu and you don’t like the followers of other religions, in most states of India, you can afford to not work with them, live with them, have anything to do with them. But if you are a Sikh, living outside of Punjab or Canada, do you really have the luxury of hating other people? Of course not! For the sake of practicality, you can’t. That doesn’t make us any better than you! As far as being open to other religions, I don’t mean to disrespect the dead, but like the rest of my family my Naani, was perpetually worried that I would marry a Muslim man. It was my favourite retort, whenever she asked me when was I going to get married. My answer was always, ‘when you get me married to a Muslim man I will.’ Having said that the last thing, she said to me was, ‘Tune musalmaan naal vyaa karna he tu kar le.’ to which I replied, ‘hunn menu kuddi naal karna he!’. Thankfully, the family has evolved a great deal in the past decade and now I have a Muslim sister-in-law. My parents have also changed with time and my Dad says, ‘find someone who prays five times a day, he’ll be a nice person’! I just nod my head.


Sikhs, will not tell you this openly but in the smaller Gurudwaras in Kashmir, there are discussions about, ‘Ae Muslmaan saadi kudiyaa bhaga rahe!’. I once witnessed a woman crying in a Gurudwara, because her daughter had eloped with a Muslim classmate. So, some Sikhs are  also worried about ‘love jihaad’. We are going to hold on to what Aurangzeb did to Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1675 or the martyrdom of the Char Sahibzade in 1705 till kingdom comes but we don’t feel any grievance about the 1984 riots? How logical!  I have to wonder, how or why we don’t throw such a terrible fit when the girls or the boys find spouses from the majority? After all, idol worship is banned in Sikhism, discrimination based on caste is banned. I would assume in theory we should be throwing a larger fit about the other union. But everything is about convenience. Another, point which is not my own but my friend’s – We treat the Granth Sahib, like a person. I don’t- it lies over my bed, with the Bible, the Quran and the Bhagvat Gita. I can understand bowing down, in front of it out of respect for the ones who have departed. But really a book needs to be woken up, put to bed and fanned? Are we not treating it like an idol, then, a manifestation? We are not supposed to be discussing our caste, hence, the Singhs and the Kaurs are supposed to be used instead of our last names. Most of us don’t do that.  I can assure you, we are as ignorant and as arrogant as anybody else when it comes to this. Since my Mother’s side as well my Dad’s side both belong to the same caste, which is of the traders, for the longest time,  we didn’t grow up with a reference to our caste. Till my cousin’s who apparently belonged to a higher caste, due to union of the Mother and Father made references to their higher status. Oh, my Lord, I feel bad for the Gurus when I hear this . Do you know there are a few Gurudwaras in Punjab, where people who apparently belong to lower castes are not allowed? I was made aware of not being a Jat Sikh, when I was seeing a Sardar boy. I was quite blissfully unaware of the significance of it. I can go and on but lets move to the one, everybody thinks I have maximum affinity towards.


Islam- There are many similarities between Islam and Sikhism, therefore, the religion doesn’t seem alien to me. I don’t remember when and where I heard the Azaan, for the first time but it has always left a very deep impression on me. I have a natural affinity to martial races so I can understand standing up for what you think is correct. I love the languages associated with Islam- Persian and Arabic. I am fascinated by the architecture and the music, by how strict and systematic the religion is and by the namaaz. Its like doing yoga five times a day. Even the concept of sacrifice I get, sorry PETA, I think it was a great practise to teach a human being detachment and courage. Though, it has lost its relevance because its been twisted around for the sake of convenience. Since, Muslim women who choose the Hijab are constantly under fire by the western world these days, I will refrain from commenting on it. But I will say one thing-the hijab according to Islam is supposed to be for a man as well as for a woman. So, the one time I get angry about the hijaab is when I see a woman absolutely covered and her husband walking around in shorts or recently in Kerala, where a boy was taking a picture with these two girls, who I couldn’t differentiate between, due to their niqab and the boy who had accompanied them was happily taking selfies with them. They just seemed so uncomfortable, it made me uneasy. Most of the times, a number of Muslim women will tell you, that they have chosen it and we have no business of deciding what they can or can not wear.


There is just so much Islamphobia, I am not getting into a detailed criticism of Islam. But there are a couple of things that have personally affected me. Of course I have been called a kafir in Kashmir, on a few occasions (twice in 10 years is not bad) but I am not very affected by it because ‘bin pende da lotta, na ithe da na utthe da‘. People get damn pissed, they should definitely stop saying it and above all thinking it. This really gets my goat Just because I can chant, ‘la illah ha illah’, which to me means means’ there is only one God’, (like ik om kar) to you it may mean ‘there is no other God worthy of worship other than Allah’, does not mean that I’m open to the idea of being converted.  It’s not funny, when Muslim men I meet comment, that ‘its easy for a Muslim man to marry you because you will not have to change your name’ or ‘for a nikaah you just have to add Muhammadur rusoolallah’ . Some of these are men who don’t follow their religion. They drink, don’t go to the mosque on a Friday, they eat whatever is served to them-jatka or halal. My God it makes me mad. I recently gave a Muslim man a reason for not converting which left him tongue-tied. ‘My ancestors chose Sikhism, yours were probably forcefully converted…so out of courage and fear which one do you think I’m going to choose?’ He’s never passed any comments on what my religion is, after that.


This whole thing about ‘sajda’, confuses me. I have a Muslim assistant who will never miss his Friday prayer, will keep all the Rozas, is very particular about what he eats (he only consumes halal), who has never had a sip of alcohol. Yet, when he goes to the gurudwara, church or temple with me, will bow down out of respect, not because he believes it  is God. A number of Muslims will tell you Islam doesn’t allow this. In contrast, I have a friend, who doesn’t keep the rozas, follows the teachings of various spiritual groups, is a lot like me, yet when he goes to places of worship, stands in a corner because Islam doesn’t allow ‘prostration’. But if you follow the teachings of anything other than Islam, is that not actual submission? I get really confused by this behaviour.


Christianity-I grew up saying, ‘our Father in heaven holy be your name, kingdom come will be done’, because I studied in a convent school. Most of my aunts have a cross at home, a lot of us have the bible. Forgiveness, modesty, charity… there are so many wonderful things christianity teaches. But I really don’t get the part about Jesus being God’s son. If he was… so are we. Humans tend to elevate others to a God like stature because then we don’t have to raise ourselves to a level that God intends us to be. According to me, he was a teacher , like any of our Gurus or Prophets. Even the Christians are fascinated with converting others. Let people be! Plus, in my opinion, if you have an unwanted child, who you are terrible to, that makes you a sinner. By using birth control you don’t become one. Sexual abstinence, too has lost its significance in todays and age.



In any case the men in my life, have been categorically told-I can marry anyone who belongs to any religion, though I would prefer  someone who belongs to a martial race, as long as I get to choose the first or last name of the children. So, don’t be surprised if my child, like my dog, is called Raahat Kochar, Noor Kochar, Hillary Kochar, Satinder D’sillva or Jaswinder Khan and of course I ain’t changing my name for anybody!