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 #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.

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…


‘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!

 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!