The only times I stepped into Post Offices was to buy postcards and stamps for keepsakes – be it the dusty but spacious one in Port Blair where on the wall was put up the expected days to deliver posts all across the mainland of India or the small house up a steep flight of wooden stairs in Landour, marked as a Post Office where a family of three resided and all things post office were neatly stuffed in a bag. But I have not been to a Post Office to post a letter in more than two decades of my existence in India. And how many of my generation have really? In all likelihood, the only letters we’ve written were in school as part of the curriculum or to relationship managers in banks and cover letters as part of our search for jobs.
I want to frequent my trips to the Post Office because I am craving to write letters and find myself some penpals! I’m sending an open invitation to everyone reading this – come let’s write letters to each other. I’d love to know how you spend your day, what you read, what holds your interest, what irks you, how cold is the ice in your country, what your culture finds appropriate. I’m looking for inspiration, more than glad to provide motivation and excited to ignite my creative spirits! Also, use my wrist a little more to write – the handwriting to going to dogs! So are you ready to write a few letters? Because I surely am!
For international contributors, I understand if you’d rather send emails, taking into account the cost impact – but you have to, you just have to, attach a handwritten note or a sketch or doodle as part of the email.
Reshare post! And leave a comment if you’re interested. ❤
Every once in a while, the city closes in upon you and you choose to run after the sereneness of the outskirts, the hill stations, the backwaters, the mountains, don’t you? I almost managed to do the same. I say managed because we had failed to acknowledge how many more would also be looking for sereneness there! I visited Dehradun and Mussoorie recently, and if you think this post is about how pretty the landscape is and quiet the hills are, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Ruskin Bond’s books were my mates while growing up and the writer is famed for basing his stories around these few towns in Uttarakhand. I was obviously excited about the trip on that account too – to find myself facing those shops, houses, to walk in the trails of woods and the warmth of the people he’s written about. But I’d forgotten about the two big words – commercialisation and globalisation. With the ease of access to the towns, better roads and influx of tourists, Dehradun no longer is the regular hill station – there’s nothing hilly about it, all flat land and roads marked by McDonald’s and Bengali sweet shops, malls and Park Avenue stores. We picked up drinks from a Tibetan township thinking it’s a concoction they’d brewed at their place only to find it spread all across shops later on. So much for trying to experience something local. Well, at least, I sort of learnt to use chopsticks from one of the diner owners in the Tibetan township. Sort of.
Mussoorie has a dual face though! It’s got the ups and downs of a hill station, the roads which allow vehicles but has no space to fit two of them side by side, a mall road – typical of hill stations, which seemed commercially successful and now stretches for almost 3 km with people flocking it all times, even as late as 10:30 pm at night. The mall road boasts of eateries, brands, shops selling insignia for surrounding hill stations to be carried back as mementos of the visit and countless shops selling the same clothes! But if you take a diversion from the mall road, you’ll find the cobbled roads intact, men and women silently going about their lives, no tourists in sight and the clamour of the mall road light years away! The peace, though short-lived, I was hoping for. I also found the quaint coffee shops that take you back 50 years ago at Landour, where Bond is supposed to reside currently. On further observation, I realise the town was being redecorated to capture the old world charm by Dharma Productions for a film. Well, at least this commercialisation is pleasant to the eye!
Oh and don’t even get me started on the waterfalls! They’re no longer natural. They’ve been cemented and structured to flow the way man wants them to, with water rides, fun activities, shops, tea stalls, changing rooms set close to the rock bed of the fall. Ain’t saying it’s bad, au contraire, it’s brilliant for the people who live there. It’s just not what Ruskin Bond had written about. And no longer the spot for a getaway for me.
I came away from the hills renewed, of course, but disappointed with what we had done to places remote and almost preserved naturally till a few years ago. The human touch, we should call it.
I am angry. Seething with anger, if I may so until I go on to the next news piece which arouses the same emotion in me. This probably has something to do with the click bait theories and algorithms being run by all social media outlets and even news agencies these days – all that they wish to do is get a response from us, mostly in the form of outrage, or surprise, or any sort of reaction. So here goes mine.
I understand not celebrating Valentine’s Day. A lot of people consider it a commercial gimmick, which it is, and they do not want to succumb to it. There are others who call out a day of love as unnecessarily famed, because they treat all days with love. Then there will be people who think a Western concept has no place to hold in a country like India, a concoction of cultures in itself. What I don’t understand is marrying a dog to a goat as a mark of protest against V-day?! What on Earth were you thinking? And this was not a thought which crossed across only one person’s mind. There were several others who agreed with the perpetrator of the idea and that led to a group protest, a mass protest more like.
What’s more – the media reported it, social media sites lapped it up and then like every action has an equal and opposite reaction, there came a protest group protesting against these protesters and filed a divorce petition for the marriage of A DOG AND A GOAT!!!
I am not even making this up. I don’t think I am this creative! I am just stating the facts as reported in the news.
My questions, the ones just off the mind would be – was the marriage even registered in the first place? And who really married them? And as per Hindu rituals, Islam or Christianity? And who’s going to be hearing the petition and awarding a divorce?
Also, did anyone care to ask the Dog and Goat if they want a divorce, because we in India sure as hell don’t ask if they wanted to get married!
Karma, they say, bites back. Sometimes in the cold.
When you’re sweater-less!
Taking you back to a couple of months ago. A friend returned from Kashmir, the ‘Paradise on Earth’, having toured among the snow capped mountains and under the blazing sun, in the cold, dry and biting winds and by the sparkling lakes. He came back to Bangalore rejuvenated and a pair of jeans short. Which he somehow, quite conveniently didn’t realize until a week later.
Of course once I knew about it, I didn’t let him stay in peace. Poor guy, he couldn’t even mourn peacefully his expensive, recently purchased at a massive discount (but still expensive) pair of jeans.
But before you start snorting away in laughter like I did, at his plight, wait and think. Read the title of the post again and if that doesn’t tell you what the rest of this post is about, well the rest of the post will tell you what it is about!
Coming to the matter of karma. Technically, this post would have been about the wedding I attended last weekend in Agra. But as fate would have it, or rather, as karma would, it’s about a sweater. And yes, you guessed it right, if you did guess, that is. A lost sweater.
I lost my inexpensive, low on market value but extremely high on intrinsic value sweater, the one I used to wear and twin with my little sister. This was the sweater which kept me snug and warm on my first trip almost two years ago with practically 15 strangers! This was the sweater which first came to my mind each time I thought of wearing one. And it was in my favourite colour. Damn. And I forgot it in the hotel room’s cupboard. My lone piece of clothing lying in the dark depths of the cupboard.
Though it didn’t take me as long as him to figure out what had happened, the housekeeping staff says it was already too late. I’ve now lost it. Forever, maybe. Unless my sister agrees to donate hers to me. (Could you all please be kind and request her on my behalf too?)
So, I guess my friend has the last laugh, even in his sorrow.
And signing off, a tad sad, though actually laughing at the post I’ve come up with,
As I sweat in the Bangalore heat, while doing absolutely nothing apart from just breathing, which you would all acknowledge is a very crucial, and from what I know the most important factor for our existence, I think back of the vacation I recently took. And promised a second post on.
In my mind, as I say the word, Valparai, I close my eyes to be welcomed to memories of our four wheeler rushing through the short winding roads through hills, while green stems and young branches fell out of line by the side of the road, swaying to greet us. We are rushing past them, honking at each hairpin bend, serpent turns, waking us out of the slumber of hill travel every now and then, fascinated by the depths which greeted us to our right and the heights which beckoned us to our left.
I see a kaleidoscope of butterflies pass us, yellow this one. My reflexes are too slow to brandish the phone camera for a shot of them. I simply close my eyes to capture the moment. Sometimes, I wish I had a pensieve to keep these memories untouched. But in its absence, National Geographic will have to do. The Sun, which at the base of the hills was unforgiving, seemed to be playing hide and seek with us as we travelled upwards closer. The clouds ran helter skelter, giving us a peak a boo of the scorch every now and then. It was almost lunch hour when we reached the outskirts of Valparai and unbelievable as it may sound, or read, there was rain, just like Google weather had predicted! Bless technology and the genius minds that worked behind it.
Valparai is so untouched by commercialization, that it was difficult to find a place to stay. We ended up finding a place that seemed like it had been vacated after its occupants had packed bags and moved to the city for better earnings. They offered us a single room for ten people when actually advertising as a home stay! I wondered how the others would react for I was already prepared for a little adventure. Standing at the crossroads of the little town, I sighed audibly with relief when I looked up at the three storeyed building, catching the occupants of the top floor room, my friends, look out at the tea estates as far as the horizon permit, with enthusiasm and unwavering excitement.
The evening that we spent there has to be my most memorable in quite a while. Walking through tea estates, and (this time) long winding roads, with no vehicles to honk at us, no bikes to rush past us, no traffic at all, paradise was not even on my wishlist then. We sang as the sun set, clicked photographs of trees that formed patterns different to each of our eyes, posed by the side of the road wanting to post pictures online but never doing so, because we knew words would fail to describe the serenity we felt then. And we also didn’t want to lose those minutes buried in the phone. That says a lot about the place, doesn’t it? We saw people though. Some smiled at us knowingly, others gave us a pass, ignoring us as a brief little intrusion in their small town. A shopkeeper asked us our religion, offering a temple, mosque or a church to visit around accordingly. He chatted with us for over five minutes, but did not once try to sell his wares to us. So much for calling it a small town.
As I stood by the the window of the balcony, my nose was pressed to it, my breath frosting the glass around my lips, I saw the winds outside swirling, droplets of water being bullied into submission, lights from the night lamps streaming through the air, making the paths of water borne air above the road, visible.
I yearned to step outside of my house and go play basketball in the rains, with the people below, kids I presumed. Their shrieks of delight floated uptil a dozen or so floors above. Instead I did something better.
I slid open the windows of the balcony, that kept the water borne winds out and was welcomed to winds so cold, no air conditioner could compete, the freshness of ice and spring combined! The hair at the nape of my neck stood in attention, out of excitement.
Back home, whenever it rained, torrentially as it was looking to today, my sister and I would sit at the window sill, legs hanging out into the dark, lightning flashing us time and again, shrieking in delight at every wave of wind that whipped through us.
As the water hit me, wave after wave, I shivered in excitement, and cold, but nonetheless not agreeing to go back inside! After all, the heat of so many days needed more time with the rains to sod off!
Staring up at the skies, blinking at every lightning flash, I felt the water seeping to the roots of my hair, the sides of my neck. I stood with my arms by my side, shaking but not willing to go into the house again. I looked down at my feet after a while. I was soaking wet from the top to bottom! Giggling, rubbing my arms, I slid the balcony windows shut, greeted with warmth in the hall. I’d missed the rains. I missed my sister more now.
As another three day long weekend came up, the crowd of Bangalore, like me, decided to move away from the city to the surrounding hill stations where temperatures dipped and the real feel was more in the fresh early 20’s rather than the tiring late 30’s!
What do you expect when seemingly an entire city starts to move away from it? Well, apart from a lot of money for the tolls and travel agencies? A lot of traffic! So much so that at 2 AM, we were stuck in traffic for almost an hour. Well, a lot of people got to see a SpiderWoman on the top of our vehicle! Shh. Well, the vehicle carrier was lying unused. It must have been lonely and sad.
The SpiderWoman was tired after her two minute stint. After all, greater responsibilities requires greater power! So what would the next stop four hours later be for? Food! Breakfast combined food with ogling at a cute little bundle of joy, who was peeping out of his father’s arms and watching the early morning bustle at the road side eatery while his mouth hung open and eyes remained wide and bright.
The places we crossed, cities, towns all seemed to wake up the same way. The faces change, but the places remain the same – similar yet different in ways a traveler can’t distinguish in passing but only admire. The lone milk vendor on his cycle, the newspaper guys distributing the morning’s load, the vegetable sellers lining up for a swift morning, the jogger here and there, the early risers already on their way to work, more men, less women, more elders, no children, some yawning, others charged for the Sun’s next rotation.
A full belly and long travel dozed me off to sleep! I woke up next to find myself away from the cities and into the forests of the Western Ghats! Not to mention with a ‘Nearly Headless Neck’ and an almost bursting bladder.
We stopped to answer nature’s call at the open air toilets provided by the Forest Reserve at one of the checkpoints, and lo behold! Their grit was eye opening! And their ways, harsh reality.
Let’s break this down for you. The gritty stuff? Well, their toilets were not gender biased – all unisex. Go figure, how! The harsh reality? Well, only 1 out of the 10 toilets had running water available. And when I say running, I mean 24X7 running, because the tap was broken beyond repair. Just like the 10% among us hold 99% of the wealth and waste it because they have no idea what to do with it.
What do you think when at an elevation of 340 metres, the heat is blistering and burning your skin but Google Weather reports that the 3400 metres’ elevation which is your destination is expecting rain? Well the obvious one is, ‘Google must be wrong. Finally!’. Apart from the obvious, I came up with, ‘Is it really possible that this same high and mighty Sun and sky will be shy and cloudy in another hour and 3060 metres?’. And after that I hit my jackpot!
‘Did the women of India really choose to cover their heads and faces with their attire because the men culture wanted it or because the women wanted to save themselves from the heat, the open countryside is subjected to? As if breathing fire wasn’t enough, they’d have to let it simmer their skin too.’
He looked visibly frustrated. And he had reasons to be so. He’d been on his feet for almost half the day and the ordeal was not over yet. He kept shuffling his feet across the floor, trying to visit each table more than once. He knew his boss was keeping a tab. He had to sell the offer they had just rolled out. He collected the offer pamphlets from the doorman’s podium.
He walked to the nearest table. The occupants were conversing. “It is bad manners to intrude,” his teacher had taught him in school. He didn’t want to intrude but his job demanded otherwise. He went up to the table, excused himself and started explaining the offer to the customers in the middle of their meal and conversation. Halfway through, they took the pamphlet and resumed their conversation. Not a smile, not an acknowledgement, not even the plain old nod. He called it the ‘wallpaper theory’ – he was like the wallpaper, essential but not cast a look at, never smiled at and walked past. Well, at least they were better than those customers who turned around to shout at him, or be rude, or asked him to go away! Oh yes, there were such too. They’d look up and say, “Could you go away?” If only they knew how to even say please.
Every trip to the bathroom involved washing his face more than peeing. Waiting on tables wasn’t his dream job, this was no one’s dream job but if he wanted to get a monthly cash deposit in his bank, this would have to do. He had to remind himself every couple of hours that this job was more important than rude and impolite customers, than being treated like wallpaper, than having to carry people’s soiled plates, sleeping with a pain in the feet which seemed like it would never go away again, and a bruise to your self respect each damned day. But it would have to do. They say no job is small, yet the way they behave each day belittles him.
I met Bhanu, who works at a fast food outlet here in Bangalore. I don’t know what his story is, why he does what he does, how he motivates himself to wait on tables all day long, how he lets out all the frustration that is more than visible on his face, but I am sorry I couldn’t get a smile on his face! Probably one smile from me wasn’t enough to make up for his tough day!
Let’s try harder next time and be more polite to the ones who have jobs that could not be further away from the term ‘job satisfaction’. Can we do that?
As promised (to no one in general), here’s a continued set of anecdotes from my trip to Gujarat!
Let’s begin right from the beginning of the trip, like is the norm unless I choose to write in reverse chronology. That’s a good idea but for another day!
Anyone who’s spent even a day on Bangalore roads would know how terrible a nightmare they can be, especially if you have a flight to catch. So for my own mental peace and for all practical purposes, I left from home, four hours before my flight was to take off! And lo behold, I reached in just about an hour and a half, much to my annoyance and my cabbie’s surprise at my annoyance. The good people at the flight customer support counter however sent me off on an early flight as reward for my unacceptable promptness.
We came across not one or two but three locations where there were rubber band sellers – and when I say rubber band sellers, they were only selling rubber bands! A handcart full of crimson, kale, azure, gold, grey, fuchsia, violet, saffron, striped, polka dotted rubber bands! Out of curiosity, I asked one of those vendors what the price of the bands were and he said 1 rupee! Yes, you read it right – freaking 100 paise! 1 rupee! My first thought was how are they even surviving! My second thought was to buy a dozen or so of the bands. My third thought was exactly how much is the production cost of these bands if people are managing to sell these at such a nominal price!
At one of the beaches, my sister was polite enough to do the human thing of clicking a picture for a couple of guys who requested her to. One of them started making small talk with her asking her if she was a resident of the town, did she know any good places to eat, et al. Having answered in monosyllables, we started walking away when one of them called out to her asking her, “I’m from the States. Would you want a picture with me?” Surprised, she refused. He insisted again asking, “Are you sure you don’t want a picture with me?” While I was wondering if I could place his face to any of the Indian Americans I’d seen on the USA shows, my sister was muttering, “He’s freaking flirting with a 20 year old! He is almost double my age!”
We had visited a set of caves, to which there’s dispute about whether it was a geological formation or dug by the Portuguese for formation of the Diu Fort. Either ways, it was a beautiful maze of earth cut out in a variety of eerie and curiously un-human ways. There were stairs ending into nowhere, rocks hanging out precariously, cuts in the ceiling which didn’t seem to explain the purpose or history of its creation! And because it was so huge and devoid of many tourists, there were spaces where you couldn’t see another person as far as your sight and the maze allowed. The silence was harsh enough for you to hear your own breathing and each step you took creaked the twigs and dry grass below. I was thankful to have gone there during the day! In the midst of this little nowhere, was a bunch of DSLR equipped photographers capturing a to-be married couple’s shots. The pictures will turn out to be pretty, I tell you!
When I recounted the saga of being stuck on the highway in a three hour traffic jam in the early hours of a new day, I did not mention a first I encountered! I managed to locate and confirm my first constellation sighting in the skies! It was the Big Dipper constellation, as confirmed by the StarTracker app I use, when I was very sure that it was Big Dipper! I wish I could have captured the night sky as pristine as I saw it, but technology has its limits and sometimes, what you see is too beautiful to be captured as is on camera. The camera just cannot do justice.
Once in a while the Life Notes series of posts should be revived. They are so easy to title! 😉
I went on a tour to the Indian state of Gujarat with family recently. It was fun filled, exciting, adventurous, reminiscent of the two decades we have spent together. Sure we had our tough moments too but very well overshadowed by the good moments!
The driver we’d hired was peculiar though. He had a fascination with keeping the car clean! Within an hour of starting the drive, when food was mentioned he immediately requested us to not eat in the car. As the trip progressed, his fancies for taking care of the car started to become nightmarish for us. We couldn’t use the pouches at the back of the seats because they’d become shapeless then. We couldn’t put up our cramped feet on the seat. We had to check the soles of our footwear before getting into the car. We had to try and dust every grain of the beach sand from our clothing lest we carry it into the car – even if it meant waiting in the noon Sun for an extra half hour drying ourselves, our clothes and the stuck sand! There was a moment when a couple of us were sitting in the car waiting for the others to join and there at the side of the road, as our car stood, replete with dust (because well, Indian roads are dusty, especially when travelling between cities) our driver was dusting the car’s body with a cloth. Why on earth would someone do that in the middle of a 50 km drive? It would all just come back!
So needless to say, in our seven day trip I was dreading spending the 40 hours or so in the car travelling, with that guy at the wheel!
The last night of our trip was planned such that we’d be travelling overnight to our final destination. It was also our first night travel while he was at the wheel. Around 1:30 AM, we got stuck in a traffic mess on the highway. And we’d just crossed a scene of an accident ten minutes ago. In the pitch darkness of the roads, the night only lit by star shine and vehicle headlights, even overturned stones may seem like human skulls. If that wasn’t enough to spook me out, we found out that there was another mix up that had happened ahead and we would be stuck in the car for a while ~ too cold to step out, too stuffy to stay in. We switched off our car lights and music to save fuel. And good we did, because the jam finally cleared three hours later! About 25 kms from there, we again crossed an accident spot. By now, I had tremendous respect for the driver because not only did he have a steady hand but he was very careful while overtaking other vehicles or maintaining the speed limits! Though I had noticed this over the week, that thought never got a chance to come to the foreground, because of his affinity to keep the car clean.
His sole job was to ensure that we travelled safely and on time. And he did that brilliantly, not failing us even once. Yes, he wasn’t the most charming talker or accommodative enough when it came to his car but that is not what was earning him his bread and butter. His driving skills were, and they were top notch.
Note to self : It is so easy to judge people, make fun of their personality if it differs from ours, without thinking or asking why they do what they do, without bothering to know what makes them them. Where’s the fun in being empathetic and sensible all the while? But would you rather live easy or live right?
In the background is a 15th century well cut out of hard rock to preserve water. It has 162 steps of descent and is located in the Uperkot Fort in Junagadh, Gujarat, India.