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My Bohemian Spirit, Unfiltered

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Boats awaiting their traveller companions
I am looked upon as one who’s rolling- hither and thither, who’s unstoppable, by my family and friends, and am often asked, how do you manage to stay afloat and grounded? Do I need to in a world where there are too many ‘sane folk’ with an opinion? I sought to define my world, my way, and travelling has grounded me more than the ground beneath my feet, honestly.
I have a feeling because I’m a traveller, intrinsically, and not just from one place to another, but within too, I stayed cheery and survived the onslaught of living the human life. My mind, in a whirl, bursting to tell stories- mine, hers, theirs, anyone’s really, is my raison d’être. Travel brings me those stories, on the wind, on wings.
I recall, my baba (father) was called upon to read horoscopes, although he was a lawyer by profession. “Your baba,” mother would say, “he’s good, he’s really good, so people trust him to tell them their futures.” I was fascinated. I so wanted to know mine. He repeatedly refused to divulge anything, saying that one doesn’t look into family’s futures. Bemoaning this fact, I ultimately walked up to my father, whose favourite I was, and said, with a pout, “Well, at least tell me if I will get to travel to distant lands!!” He did. He told me that I had mercury in my feet and I wouldn’t stay still. That was good enough information for me at age 10. Since I would watch him leave and return after days on end, armed with gifts from distant lands. I sensed there were treasures to be dug up, and the only way I would get to them, would be to undertake such journeys myself. So yes, I became a treasure-hunter, one that explores, culls and makes one’s own- and hunts down immeasurable lengths of land, and lives the pleasures of unearthing the spoils.
Discovering new people, with whom I found both commonalities and sweet differences, is a habit I wish to refine and continue to polish.  
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Meditative moments in GuniyaKhal, a tiny village in Uttarakhand

Where did this journey begin

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Where to next, she ponders

My mother: yes, she’s the one who wrote the first chapter of my traveller book; she’s the one who’s the true bohemian. Maa would bundle my elder sister and me, and take us with her on her sprees. We’ve travelled in all sorts- and we’ve travelled with zeal, hers transferring to us pretty rapidly. She carried us with her on her projects – to Shillong in Assam, to Calcutta and ChandanNagore, in West Bengal (where we had a home), to the south (Tirupati, and thereabouts, and not for religious purposes), Tamil Nadu, Kerala in the south, and Gujarat and Maharashtra in the west. As little girls, we were immensely proud of our mother, who spoke to people in their language, amiable and fun, and sometimes in stricter tones, were they to overstep boundaries. She was our hero. We were awestruck, as she seemed invincible. She’s an old dame now, but the undaunted spirit is alive, and kicking. She remains a no-nonsense person, and we now want her to stand back, to be tame, and quiet, but she? No way! She’s frail, but oh-so-strong!

We travelled in all classes (in trains back in the day) and unreserved, when deemed necessary. It was all very adventurous and stimulating. Today, I cannot imagine travelling this way at all, not alone, not with my kids, or my partner. The times now, well, what can I say, are not quite the same, and leave it at that.

The seeds to go forth and seek adventure had been sown early on, and the blooms continued to burst forth through my adult life, into marriage and motherhood. I was fortunate enough to find a partner with a similar seeking spirit; one that is ready to up and run when the calling is loud and one that refuses to be ignored. I’ve been very lucky, to be nurtured as a true Bohemian, and accepted and loved for that very spirit that speaks to the world, and receives from the world.

What Travelling means

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a Hungarian Rhapsody

Packing my bag (overzealously and over-packing is my second name), is what sets my pulse racing. Putting clothes together for the journey ahead, the thrill of it, courses through me like an overcharged rubber ball- bouncing within, and am bouncing without. There’s a spring to my step as I run to my wardrobe, and pick and choose.

There’s the camera, and the binoculars, and then there’s jewellery and footwear, to match the voyage- beach, mountains, cities, very touristy, visit to daughter (so lots of walking gear), a writer’s retreat- so better be well-dressed and ensure that the look matches the writer, chargers – all to be packed in last minute. My backpack is the heaviest of all. Which personal bag to carry- which purse should it be? There’s ten days to go, but I am readying myself, having already arrived at my destination in my mind.

The frissons that pervade every inch of me, are here to stay till I board the aircraft, or bus, or undertake a journey by road in a car, or a train. It is something I’ve lived with forever, and it’s not something I would exchange for any other. I simply love it. People think I travel far more often than most, but I know I would travel at least twice a month more, if I could. Yet when I return, I’m happy, and pleased to repossess my home, as it were. I love the stability of home, and the regular meals and all of that which make up my routine. I also am acutely aware that I love it, because I know I have the choice of travelling when an opportunity presents itself, that I can afford to now leave for the unknown destination when it comes calling. I am blessed to have a family that yearns to visit new places, that loves to explore, to stroll, to taste the mysteries that abound in countries and cities and landscapes that meet our vision, and reach our heart.

The Travel School

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Birds of a feather

Travelling has been exceedingly educative. It has been an eye-opener for the children as well, and we’ve learnt that people are both the same and different anywhere we go. Kindness, a welcome spirit, a need to be loved, attention, shopping, exploring, admiring and imbibing- it is all there, be it on our Turkish voyage, or the one to Sedona- be it in Odisha, or in Kanya Kumari, and Rameshwaram. Every place has stirred, and inspired. Everyone is beautiful, and kind. Nothing and nowhere leaves one untouched. We’ve carried away something from the experience of having walked on that piece of earth. A part of us has seen, felt and imbibed, lending an afterglow to our innerscape.

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Opening the door to knowledge, are the kids,  in Bhutan 

Yes, I would have loved to have our kids take off a year from school, and travelled the world, or at least tread parts of it, putting together a scrapbook of pictures, essays and conversations we would have had with natives; the education of it!

What can a child sit at a desk and learn- more than sitting in a field of poppies, or daisies, or yellow mustard shoots? However, it did not happen, and now my kids are travelling with and without us. They continue to learn, as do we, the parents.

What I would wish to do, and might still, is house-sit- the new traveller can now stay in places and for longer periods. One might ask, what is ‘House-Sitting’? Well, one definition is : House sitting is the practice whereby a person leaving their house for a period of time entrusts it to one or more “house sitters”, who by a mutual agreement are permitted to live or stay in the property temporarily, in exchange for assuming any combination of responsibilities.

 

House sitting allows one to live as a native, immersing oneself in the culture of the place. I would like to be of many cultures, and many nationalities before I leave here. Is that possible? Oh yes, I believe it is.

So as an itinerant traveller, I would say, more than school or college, travelling far and wide has been a true university education for me, and I continue to thrive in this Uni with no name, where education continues, and my boundaries thrive and swell. There’s none other to match its expanse, is there?

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The Beauty to  be captured in one’s mind’s eye

The Odd Hairstylist

 

It was nearing 1 pm, and I was nowhere near completing my goal of 5k steps. As I hurried up the stairs that leads from Central Embassy to Central Chidlom, my eyes fell on my reflection in the glass that gives to the outside world- chaotic yet green, along a canal that’s hidden from the main Sukhumvit Road. I usually peer out as I glide down the escalator. Today, as luck would have I observed myself instead, and hurriedly tucked a stray hair behind my ear, and tied up the rest in an unwieldy knot, cursing my hair’s terrible state, and the untidy mess it was. My hair had become unmanageable and unpretty, and the bane of my existence. I wanted a stylish mane. Of course that was a bit ambitious, I’m not stupid, but could I at least have a bunch on my head that did not quite resemble a weak horse’s tail!! Woefully I marched ahead to the sale. I had already lost the feverish excitement that seizes me when I go for such sales. My steps were slower and I meandered around aimlessly. Nothing at all appealed and my focus was now on getting out of the mall with too many glass panes, all of which were out to get me.

 

As I re-entered the corridor between the two posh malls, I spied many a salon- nail, spa, beauty aesthetics and hair! That struck a chord- should I go check them out, I asked myself. Tonsuring my head was a tempting option- pretty drastic but might be just the ready solution to all hair issues. The new crop might be better suited to my needs. What were they, who knew!

The salons looked expensive! Before I changed my mind, I walked into the one that said HAIR~

New hair do joy

“Yes Maadaam, I hep you?”

“Ya, need a hairdresse’…you have?”

“Yes maadaam, many we hab” saying so, she thrust a large sheet of hard paper in my hands, something like a business card but ten times larger- it had pictures of old and young men and women alike. I was to choose my hairdresser. I prayed and pointed at a face that appealed.

“Him.”

 

“Odd” she responded – pronouncing Aud, the name written under this mien.

“Odd.” I repeated smiling. “I come back at 2.30, ok naa?”

“Okay khaa,” she replied with a smile, and shouted out to Odd, informing him of his new Indian client.

 

Later, after counting a 1000 steps, I was back, emboldened by my impulsivity.

 

Aud was a nice man- in his forties I take it, thinning hair and a very pleasant smile. He asked me to let loose my tresses, and as soon as I’d done so, he clucked, a sound I have come to recognize.

“You need short, very short, medium…?”

 

I stopped him. “I need medium to short hairstyle Odd.” Then I flicked out my mobile, scrolled through some very stylish girls, with hyper stylish hairdos and thick hair. He glanced through them all, clucked some more, and then with some finality, “Okay, you no mind short hair then. I cut and I cut so maach,” with that he lifted my hair off the nape of my neck and gestured with an imaginary scissor – chopping and grinning. I couldn’t but laugh. We hit it off. We had grinned together and then some.

He didn’t like the way I’d washed my hair this morning, so he had me wash them again. He wasn’t asking, he was commanding already. What had I let myself in for?

 

Now we were ready to get rid of some fine Indian hair off a lady with some ambition.

He was slow, and diligent and in an hour I could sense he wanted to impress his client with some very delicate snipping.

A conversation was happening :

“You phrom?”

“Soi 20- ah you mean country- India, but I live here now.”

“You phrom India, so nice country. I been many year – Kashmee and Derhi.”

“Many years ago- when? Wow, Kashmir and Delhi.”

“Yes, 6-7 year ago. Kashmee very pretty but many gun there. Plobrem with Pakistan. Delhi, no like- clowded, noisy. Kashmee vayee pletty.”

 

Ya, Thai folk do have a problem with the ‘r’ and the ‘l’ too. But we had a good thing going. I convinced him that all was well now. He must return to my land. He didn’t seem convinced I hasten to add.

 

“You kon Thai?” I ventured to ask. Kon means person of a certain origin. I am kon India.

“Ya, thai but I come phrom Suphanburi, you know Suphanburi?”

I did.

“I go sometime, my mae there (mom) I visit. Stlong woman, like you. You look stlong too. Good, stlong woman, naa?”

 

Now I wondered whether he meant, I was aged like his mom and yet strong- or that he now knew two strong women- his mom and me? Somehow, I wasn’t feeling very strong as I saw the length of my hair reducing rapidly- now rather short. It wasn’t looking half bad though.

Aud paused, moved back and admired his work.

 

“Sooaai maak, younger aulso, 10 year!” he announced with flair.

 

He was calling me very beautiful and younger by 10 years. He had liked his own work. Who was I to argue, I also liked his work.

He carried an allure of genuine warmth- as he touched my shoulder telling me to feel happy. He ran on then to fetch me a mirror, that would then show off the back of my head to my vision. I was content. I had got rid of unwanted sentiments regarding my lack of style and hair, and had found a good hairstylist – as Odd as he might’ve been. I liked the guy. He could put on some weight and muscle, but his gentle demeanour and very endearing Thai’ness was exceedingly pleasant. It had been a kind hour.

 

On my return home, my mom exclaimed, “Oh, you’ve cut your hair, it looks so good!”

My friends, on sharing this newness, “so good Kam, suits ya!”

My day was made.

I’m off to play squash now!

 

B&W smile me

SO CAN I

Don’t you dare
Weep at my bedside,
Eyes half-open, half-shut,
light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel
Dripping upon little broken
pieces of me,
I have assembled afresh.
Don’t you dare,
Stop watching butterflies
sipping nectar all day,
Or the sky, a deep blue
At midday lunch-break,
And dare wonder if I’m
nourished too.
Don’t you dare
write me another long note,
that reads like a newsletter
from the club
they send out every Tuesday.
Don’t you dare call me,
I’m changing my number,
blocking you out,
coz what’s left to give,
that which I relinquish.
Dare feel, dare imbibe,
The world is a happy place, they say,
Dare to be confident –
with all you’ve undone & made
yours without permission.
I’ve emptied myself,
I’m now ready to regain
That which I had sworn
never to reclaim.
Because if you can go back
On your word,
So can I.

Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)

658 pages

(Vintage Publishers)

3591262._SX318_A national bestseller it says, and I know why now, after spending 3 days on this book, which seemed endless in its expanse, its rich narrative and emotional sweep.

Would I say it’s unputdownable- yes, but once you’re past a hundred odd pages or more. At first, you observe the literary magnitude of the author’s language, sweeping you in its bends and curves. It reminds one of yesteryear literature, one that held you spellbound by its very narrative, its command and hold over the core story. It leads you wherever it wishes you to follow, and you are captivated: Ethiopia in the sixties, its aromas, its people, its landscape and its language.

There are too many lines that I underlined to quote, too many paragraphs that made me wish to reread, to be able to grasp the enormity of their reach. Verghese has written a mammoth novel that is both deeply disturbing as it is endowed ever so generously with medical jargon. By the end of it, you begin to feel like a medic yourself.

The story of Sister Mary Joseph Praise, even after her passing and Dr Thomas Stone, embroiled as they are- and their twins Shiva and Marion- or MarionShiva as they are referred to- is strewn with truths- yours, mine, ours. The story spans a few decades, and crosses continents in the latter half.

Is Cutting for Stone a love story? Yes. Is it a story about Ethiopia in the throes of revolution and beyond?- Yes. Is it a story about the medical profession back then, as it was getting more and more advanced? – Yes; Is it the story of a family? Yes and no- it is indeed the story of a family that is one beyond ties of blood, one that is bound by ties so strong, that even a sledgehammer, or a saw would be incapable of untying.

Some chief characters in this tale: doctors all, Hema, Ghosh, Ross, Marion, Shiva, doctor by choice and not education, a genius- solid people, with finely etched bearings. You feel for them, you watch them, you feel with them and when you’re not reading the book, they are with you anyway, developing their story.

Some quotes from the book I have so loved: ‘…where the bottlebrush was so laden with flowers that it looked as if it had caught fire.’

A description of food being prepared on page 225, in my edition-

‘Mustard seeds explode in the hot oil. She holds a lid over the pan to fend off the missiles, Rat-a-tat! Like hail on a tin roof. She adds the cumin seeds, which sizzle, darken and crackle. A dry, fragrant smoke chases out the mustard scent. Only then are the onions added, handfuls of them, and now the sound is that of life being spawned in a primordial fire.’

Verghese specializes in descriptions, this one here of a place:

‘I remember the air that night, and how it was so brisk that it could revive the dead. The fragrance of eucalyptus stoking a home fire, the smell of wet grass, of dung fuel, of tobacco, of swamp air, and the perfume of hundreds of roses— this was the scent of Missing. No, it was the scent of a continent.’

A little story that Marion and Shiva hear, and its motto – struck me as deeply significant : ‘if you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions become our destiny.’

I’ll end with this. If you have the patience and the time, and a wish to let a story get under your skin, then Cutting for Stone is an epic tale, one that doesn’t leave you easily. It is emotionally-charged and one that might enlighten you to the vagaries of the medical profession while taking you on a roller-coaster of a ride of Ethiopia, albeit in slow motion, as contradictory as that sounds.

 

23rd September, 2019

Full Recovery

light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnelDid she close the door?

Yet the light enters,

Ah, chinks in her armour,

to plug she forgot.

Easy, said the Light,

I can find a way,

I always find a way.

Did she remain tight-lipped

When it hit her heart?

she baulked, shook,

brushed away the tremor

that accompanies such light,

‘Entry prohibited’

Disregards and slips in

unnoticed.

bathed-in-light-michael-james

Did she find

what she sought?

she did perhaps, perhaps not.

Her dismal song,

what poet wrung?

Whose hand tears down

her veinous walls then?

allows neon bulbs

to crack, splinter, unsoil?

Does she know yet,

it permeates her every pore?

The Hour will burst,

as it must,

climactic, epiphanic, cathartic,

gather the spirit scattered,

absorb all opaque matter.

Fully recovered,

Light itself will she be.

 

KN 14th Sept 2019

the Other Life must be Lived once more

She stares,

Thru’ the looking glass.

a reflection perchance,

From the other Life,

I lead, Or do I?

An enquiry escapes,

Merely a sigh.

Uncertain here,

Or is she there?

Selfsame image on

an uncertain threshold:

my colours, my perfume,

my street, my smell.

All too familiar,

Yet long gone.

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Then these words I hear,

“Wishes do assume forms.

This life you don’t lead,

is your bidding true.”

I lean in, I listen,

No music, surely no charm?

Then blinks, she is gone.

A peculiar thump,

In this breast resounds;

no eloquent knowledge

this ‘now what?’

Recover, expose must I,

the music,

reclaim the charm,

wiser, smarter perchance,

when I do, if I do rearm.

Breathe life into

this alternative realm,

yet to realise.

Hush the unsure,

Fathom & grasp

The whys & wherefores,

a spirit-sag, gather up,

live happily once more.

.

City Places

 

  1.  

    Creeping in and out,

    Without permission.

    Paved with poisonous

    Veins of gas and fire,

    Your unfashionable streets.

    Not quite streaked hair,

    That flies in the winds,

    hope and vanity displayed.

    If only we’d met

    in another era

    Of flowers and perfumes

    When you were all garden,

    Not just narrow ways.

    Now suffocating, choking.

    Yet you rewired, changed me,

    When I left to return.

    You forced on me,

    An aggression unbecoming.

    I took you on, became you.

    Our union readied me

    for voyages to follow.

     

    Accidental tourists overstaying a welcome,

    Were we, a family of four.

    You of boulders, blazing sunlight,

    And parks and biryanis

    Of sunned castles and

    Stunning vistas.

    I heard Allah, I heard Buddha,

    Loud and pure,

    Climbed to descend,

    Bowed in the wake

    Of the clarion call,

    In you I found refuge.

    a sober, youthful then,

    you made of me a gypsy,

    But our affair, dear city

    Of lovers and dialects alike,

    Was not to last.

    3.

    A motherboard,

    Stretching your memory,

    brittle components, a peopleness

    infecting my every pore.

    I roamed your markets,

    Embraced your greenlessness,

    Haunting a new beloved’s dwelling,

    In search of redemption.

    Winter’s breath, stole my heart,

    Inebriated, I hugged my collar,

    Then you cast aside this glorious robe,

    Threw open the skies,

    The sun-God’s  oppressive

    harsh march onto parched earth,

    slayed joy, shorn gladness

    merciless in its onslaught.

    I loved you even so,

    Smiling when distraught.

    I would return I promise,

    In the hope that saplings

    Will be trees,

    those friends would be keen,

    and hail the mecca with me,

    of foodies & drunk alike.

    Traffic bangaloreTraffic bangalore

Station Ggn

Two Gymnasts

She was eight,

He, four.

They rolled, bent double,

Stretched, tumbled.

The beam beckoned,

Balancing act,

Perfect landing,

Fleet-footed suppleness.

Straight-backed

Two budding gymnasts.

 

Then the questions,

Entire week of fun,

The usual run.

Why must we?

Fitness, Flexibility,

self-mastery? whispered I.

 

“Look, look,” said he,

Around back garden dashing,

Speed contesting

The neighbour’s dog’s.

“I’m fit, flexible,

master of my land.”

I laughed, father laughed. gymnastics

Our 8 year old, smiled,

“Worry not, let him be

I am Game, I be,

the family gymnast.”

“Disciplined flexing,

Beam balancing,

I shall,”

wisely said she.

 

The one needing discipline

On the double, ran.
No twisty acrobatics,

Yet mental gymnastics,

On vast long walks,

Only mastery acceptable,

To him remain.

As slithers up & down

A pole, the older,

No more budding gymnast,

But a dancer untrussed.