Featured

My Bohemian Spirit, Unfiltered

IMG_0327
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.  
IMG_0708
Meditative moments in GuniyaKhal, a tiny village in Uttarakhand

Where did this journey begin

IMG_20180321_112223
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

IMG_1364
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

IMG_20160622_094406.jpg
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.

IMG_20160621_154841.jpg
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?

IMG_20160622_071449
The Beauty to  be captured in one’s mind’s eye
Advertisements

ALLOW ME

Let me love, 
The way I know how.

Allow me the air,

Upon mine, your breath,

Sigh and exhale,

Inhale and gulp,

That You I sculpt.

Permit me won’t you,

To slow down time,

Sweet memory,

Our paths converging,

The slow dancing,

In the shine of the moon,

Two deer prancing.

 Let me be unrushed,

Moments granted,

Your vision met mine,

And brushed my canvas

Those long lashes,

Me burning,

To ashes turning.

Allow me a life,

With you,

Forever imbued,

With the black & white

Of love and loss,

Our joint grief-

Those wounds inflicted,

Bruise perfected.

And if you won’t, then,

Let me breathe just

a little longer,

Allow me to separate,

From my soul the danger,

You, my core.

Or die trying, to untie

The Black from the White,

Allow me, won’t you?

allow me my thoughts

EKAM, Chail (travel tales)

IMG_20181116_162317When a friend proposes a trip to the mountains before the chilly advent of winter, you nod your acquiescence in the blink of an eye. The heart knows, it always does, when the timing is right, as is the invitation, both of the season and from a dear friend. She proposes we make it a couple’s trip, and 3 others are invited to join us. Men are hauled along, as they are ready for an adventure. Did I mention the timeliness of a proposal of this nature?

We set off on a fine November morning.

IMG_20181116_074326
On board the Shatabdi, the journey begins

Here We Come- Ekam

So 4 couples, light baggage in hand, head off in the direction of Chail, in the Shatabdi train, via Chandigarh, where a tempo traveller awaits us. The drive is a 4 hour long journey, meandering along – then some, on to the lush mountains that is home to many little hamlets. It is a picturesque ride despite a very young, inexperienced and arrogant driver, who knows it all, but won’t share it all. So we wonder whether he does really know anything at all. Many miles later, as the hunger pangs begin to get to us, and the promised dhaba called ‘Modern’, not only does not make an appearance, but throws up a myriad Modern Dhabas, namesakes all, none of which is the real one, we woefully acknowledge. We end up at Nathu’s Café, one that is a branch of the Delhi one, much to our chagrin. Imagine that! But the distress is all but forgotten, as we reach our promised destination.

ARRival

EKAM- a 4 bedroom ‘resort’ tucked away in the hills, with a view that sets your pulse, no, not racing, but lulls it into a kind of somnambulistic trance. But that happens only after the beauty of it all hits you in the guts. We are so starved for the lush greenery that defines Chail, that at first you are breathless with sheer delight. The place is an artist’s haven- the décor is punctuated with leafless trees (photo inset), and is aesthetically on point. Some paintings and murals on display steal our heart immediately. We exclaim in a tizzy, and aahs and oohs fly like arrows, piercing the air around. We had high expectations of Ekam, all of which are met, one after another, and then some.

IMG_20181116_173923.jpgDusk sets very quickly in the mountains, but not without leaving mesmerizing colour trails in the sky. Awe is a good word to describe this time of day, or should I say, twilight zone, at EKAM. The temperatures drop and we all cosy up in the living room with chai and bread pakoras, a north Indian favourite snack. We are clearly content. The wonderful lay out of the living room, has us sinking into the sofas, with throws that wrap our legs, as we cosy up to our surroundings.IMG_20181116_153003

What sets this place apart is the fact that if you are in a group, as we were, it is all yours exclusively. Equipped with 4 bedrooms, all large and airy, attached baths, with beautiful décor, enough to make the experience of a shower etc., an extraordinary one. I, for one, couldn’t stop gaping out of the bathroom window!

IMG_20181116_163643
A bathroom window

Later that night, post-dinner, a merry fire is invitingly lit, and as we sit and stare, now quiet, after the day’s excitement has worn off. The golden flames crackle and give off warmth and cheer.

There’s a balcony that runs across from one bedroom, on to the patio, which gives over the vegetable garden. As one steps down from the mansion itself, you enter the green area, which has a wood-fired oven. Our taste buds were regaled with the best pizzas ever, on our 2nd afternoon. It would be better to not try and describe these thin crust pizzas, as they are those that one is better off tasting. We couldn’t have enough of them, even as we were acutely aware that we had over-consumed these.

Agenda- What’s That?

The following morning we awoke to ginger tea and the birdcalls. We also spotted many in the garden, some familiar, most unfamiliar and exotic to us city – dwellers. The vegetable patch, which we roamed freely through, sighting radish, eggplant and squash among others. It delighted our senses, as the fresh air we breathed reminded us of the lack of it in the plains. Laughter and amusement were the order of the day. We were in no hurry, we were where we were, in the moment, and were not driven by any urgent need to be someplace else. The moments strewn around us, garlanded us with their ‘now-ness’, inundating our senses with their perfume.

Later, after a sumptuous breakfast of stuffed paranthas, pickles, yoghurt and some more tea, we thought a hike into the nearby hills would suit us well. Secretly, I reckon, we wanted to also summon our fitness levels and test them. We passed.

 

The Hike

 

Getting off the beaten track was the only thing on our collective minds, and our spirits yearned to hit a mountain and ascend. This is exactly the kind of unplanned activity that we succumbed to. We climbed up, and then we climbed down, and this is what we did for the better part of an hour, meandering along this way and that. What can be more interesting for the spirit, that is perpetually engaged in plan A to plan B, then to let go- and simply surge ahead? Well, we all gave in, unpressured, as also eventually discovered that we were kind of, lost.

We hoisted the red flag, spying EKAM from the top of a hill, somewhere out there, but no visible path that would lead us back. The person in-charge, Tiwariji, heard us, saw us, and hoisted us back in a trice, much like a mountain goat. This was an adventure, and one that had us singing and laughing boisterously later.

Lunch was wood-fired pizza, as promised.

Evening found us engaging in childish banter, and games, and sipping our wines. Then, lo and behold,  GOLMAAL, a hot favorite comedy from back in the day, was played, and we were able to watch the movie, relaxedly and laughing at the very jokes we had laughed at, yet again. What a fabulous way to complete the experience of a day in the hills! As we nodded off, we acknowledged to one another that the entire day had been a delicious treat to all our senses, catering to each one of them.

Return we Must

IMG_20181118_120913
Goodbye EKAM, as we smile for Tiwariji

We returned home the following day, clambering into the tempo traveller with a new driver, chattering and singing all the way down, having recharged ourselves considerably. The older driver was a far kinder and humbler one, stopping at Modern Dhaba, as promised. Plain and pure joy pervaded each and every one of us as we dug into the tandoori paranthas, butter chicken, sarson ka saag and kadhai paneer. Satisfied, we continued our journey downward, stopping for a quick kulfi at another quaint eatery, just before we entered Chandigarh to catch our train.

The Shatabdi lulled us all the way back to Delhi, where we forced ourselves to take stock of the fact that we were back in the dusty plains. A break such as this one, be it well deserved or not, is a much-needed one for the spirit to refresh and reacquaint ourselves with the traveller spirit that recedes when tied down by plans and stringent routines. Thank you EKAM!

PurPle Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (a book review)

Purple Hibiscus purple

While this is not my first Adichie, it is definitely not my last. I had bought this book

almost a year ago, after devouring her Americanah, which had stirred many

strands within, those that linked me right back to myself, my ethnicity. This woman

certainly has what it takes when it comes to telling a tale that grips you from the very beginning.

Purple Hibiscus is the story of a young 15-year-old girl, Kambili, her brother Jaja and her mama and papa- the patriarch of the family, whose religious beliefs rule the home with more than an iron hand. The writing, as tantalizing and real as it is, brings alive the rich home of Eugene & Beatrice and their kids. Yes, these are rich folk, yet life in Nigeria, at the time was not easy. Nor is it today I am told.

It’s a complex story and is terrifyingly real. You travel to Abba, and Nsukka, in Nigeria, where Kambili’s paternal aunt resides. You smell the food, you taste it, you pound, you peel and you are there. The Igbo language (one of the four spoken in Nigeria), which dots the dialogues and exchanges, adds luster to the telling.

It is only when Kambili and her brother are permitted to visit the aunt Ifeoma, that the young girl begins to open to life’s myriad offerings. Her voice is a stutter, and she knows not to smile openly- laughing? No, that does not happen in her pa’s home. It is here that the first fluttering of love is felt. Her aunt says, “Being defiant can be a good thing sometimes. Defiance is like Marijuana- it is not a bad thing when it is used right.” And that may be said for most anything right? All in right measure, with the right intent.

Chimamanda has a way of getting under your skin, and making you sit upright, reexamining your own life, as it were.- She seems to redefine the meaning of many a word. I quote a passage that talks about the helplessness of the protagonist- when she realizes how much easier learning could be were it by the subtle method employed by her happy aunt for her kids:

“ It was what aunt Ifeoma did to my cousins, I realized then, setting higher and higher jumps for them in the way she talked to them in what she expected of them. She did it all the time believing they would scale the rod. And they did. It was different for Jaja and me. We did not scale the rod because we believed we could, we scaled it because we were terrified that we couldn’t.”

All they’ve ever known is their father’s tyrannical hand to eye coordination, if I might call it that, and the irony is that she loves him all the same. It is their ‘normal’, so when another life seems so much lighter in its breadth, the joys it throws up, the possibility of owning it also begins to form in the psyche of the girl child- however Jaja begins to rebel far sooner. The religious conflicts between their papa and his sister are a lot for the kids to handle. They are estranged from their grandpa who is a traditionalist and refuses to comply with his son’s demands- yet they watch their Catholic aunt take him in in his last days, and serve him lovingly. The children, while being conflicted, understand the meaning of kindness beyond religion and its diktats.

Kambili’s aunt Ifeoma is forced to resign from the University and move to the United States of America, and simultaneously so the does the Priest the young girl is in love with, she feels her life will fall apart. But then an incident calls for her focus, one that is even more devastating. It spells both a freedom of sorts, as does it the end of an era.

Her aunt writes from USA, encapsulating her yearning and longing for the country she fled from, her very own,

“There are people, who think that we cannot rule ourselves because the few times we tried, we failed, as if all the others who rule themselves today got it right the first time. It is like telling a crawling baby who tries to walk, and then falls back on his buttocks, to stay there. As if the adults walking past him did not all crawl, once.” How true, how painfully true!

Adichie was awarded the Hurston/Wright Legacy award for debut fiction, and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2004. She is a fabulous writer, and only got better in time. Her Americanah (2013) is a strong yet tender story of race and identity in USA. She moves me like none else, and above all, the writing is simple- much like an arrow that pierces where it must, finding its mark without fail.

BOUND Writer’s Retreat, Island House, Divar Island (Goa)

IMG_20180727_193220
Island House by dusk

 

IMG_20180726_183058
Goan greens as far as your vision reaches

 

When one reads an advert for a writer’s workshop lasting five days (not the advert) – one  jumps for joy; if it’s in Goa, one somersaults, I did. So I wrote in.

To gain entry I had to do the following :

a) send in a piece of writing (any format)

b) a short bio-note

c) get interviewed (subject to approval of said piece);

d) pay up and prepare to be treated as a grown-up with more than decent writing skills.

Most writing workshops end with promises, both to oneself and other participants: – that manuscript I’ve been writing, it’ll get done within the next six months; definitely finish all pending assignments, and submit at least one; I’ll get that blog up for sure etc. What happens once we part ways, that’s another story for another day. 

 

BOUND Retreat– Monsoon session at Island House

We were sent orders disguised as requests to – ‘read everyone’s piece, and get your critique mind sharpened’. We all rolled up our sleeves and got down to it. IMG_20180728_153430

On arrival at the retreat we were instantly bewitched : The Goan Portuguese House chosen, ensured that we abandon our urban hearts, and get into writer mode. An enviable ambience: rustling greens, earthy scents invading every pore of the property, cooing birds, and swirling winds, drenched in rainwater, were offered abundantly. The earnest business of writing was dappling with our creative genes. You get that kind of blend right, it’s magic!

 

The Bound Writer’s workshop is the brainchild of two young and beautiful girls- Tara Khandelwal and Sangeeta Patnaik. It is one, to both recommend and blog about. The two girls have devised means to bring together a group of like-minded folk who seek to better their craft, and leave an imprint in the published world: in the world of story-telling. They’ve done good. Their presence was quiet, unobtrusive and discreet, guiding us both by speech, or withholding it, and wielding a camera instead. 

IMG-20180728-WA0005
Tara, in her own world

IMG-20180728-WA0022
Guest author, Amrita Narayanan with Sangeeta Patnaik

 

 

 

A disparate group of twelve girls, women, boys, men, assembled on an evening in July, breaking bread, and ice. A sense of bonhomie spread rapidly. It abetted the process of culling out so much more than fabulously sculpted writing pieces over the days and evenings that followed.

IMG_20180726_092941
The Work Table/Dining Table/Music Table

  • There was bonding over chai, coffee and Hot Air (what’s that!? Shush, it’s an Island House secret drink), and wine and chilled beer, by the pool.

– There was bonding over similar pieces, as much as with the hugely contrasting styles of approaching (sometimes) the same subject.

IMG_20180726_183419
On a walk in Divar

  • There was bonding over music, and over life-stories that went a long way back, and lent each voice, a sonority that resounded through the workshop.

IMG_20180726_144128
In the alcove by the pool, chatter-chatter

  • There was bonding over mentor chatter : sharing feedback given, critique received and accepted by our two groups- the Chandrahaas group and the Prayaag Akbar group.

Oh there was major bonding, even with Jay and Susan, the warm and kind hostess couple- who were out and about, always there to offer us their zealous hospitality! A special mention of the meals is a must- we were offered delectable and diverse fare at every meal. The aromas floating freely into the dining area, had us struggling to stay focused on our mentor’s stories, and tasks at hand. Needless to say, every meal was awaited with great gusto and impatience! Dominant tastes were Maharashtrian and Goan – no one was complaining. How rich is this country of ours…it always astounds me… 

IMG_20180728_143012
Susan and Joy, our kind hosts

 

What makes BOUND so special : each working day holds enough to whet the participant’s appetite. There are spaces created to spur on the intermingling of participant-writers, sharing of their subject matter and lending their voices; voices were heard, and voices drowned, these very voices that became hugely familiar in the five days that the group came together; morning, afternoon, evening. A whole new communion was taking place. 

Each writing prompt undertaken, exercised a different emotional muscle. Sharing everyone’s pieces allowed us an insight; the charm and allure of our co-participant came into focus, and allowed us a peek into his/her story and craft: all telltale signs of what the future might portend for us in this world of make-believe.  Invigorating discussions followed, and many an observation into what is both right and wrong, and/or neither. Oftentimes a story is just what it is, and one’s got to let it find its own voice- then does the account itself become the hero- not meddling with it. So much of both learning and unlearning is key to create compelling stories!

The two celebrity authors : Chandrahaas Chaudhury (Arzee, the Dwarf) and Prayaag Akbar (Leila), mentored groups of six. It was a brilliant way of getting focused attention, playing with ideas, poking holes, and receiving criticism; an imperative when one is seeking true guidance. Being with them, with their distinctly different perspectives was sweetly enriching.

The author of LEILA
Prayaag Akbar

Two mornings were dedicated in entirety, to both mentors, and we soaked it all in, like sponges.

The author of Arzee, the Dwarf
Chandrahaas Chaudhury

 

 

 

 

 

BOUND seems to have hit all the right notes- balancing a workshop of this nature, without it seeming like ‘too much’ – With the right intent, choosing the kind of participants with whom a luscious rhythm may form, is a task that many would find arduous. Here, the bounce achieved, felt about right. Inputs from previous workshops that BOUND has hosted, all speak in harmony.

IMG_20180727_142750

Here is the community of my writer friends, formed organically, and is here to stay. Many are already established in the world of writing. Here’s the A List :

 

  • Nalin Pasricha, who is a telly script-writer with many successes to his credit. A smiling face, with a punch. IMG_20180727_105016

 

 

  • IMG_20180727_092313Sandeep Naryanan, an ace writer who gave up dentistry to become a full-time writer, and dabbled in advertising to get a feel of what it might be like before taking a full-on plunge.

 

  • Saritha Rao : a regular features writer who has many titles to her credit in many magazines : Arts Illustrated, Mint, Scroll, Architectural Digest India.IMG_20180727_104803

 

  • IMG_20180728_222342Priya Talwar : works with Down to Earth magazine and does copy-editing for a living;

 

  • IMG_20180727_105432Preeti Gupta : writes and runs her own education enterprise;

 

  • IMG_20180728_222434Anagha Unni : a film-maker who wants to also write, and does a very good job of it too, we all learnt;

 

  • Aekta Khubchandani : an actor- poet, a writer; IMG_20180727_142409

 

  • Aarya Naik : a young entrepreneur from Pune, who is beginning to ‘feel writing’ as a métier;

IMG_20180727_105314

  • IMG_20180727_104815
    Aparna Dedhia : has been ghost writing with élan. She is now keen to see her own name under that story.

 

  • Farida Patharia Kurian : a woman with many tales to tell, but fears what the telling might entail. An ace writer already from what we heard, and read.IMG_20180727_110326

 

  • IMG_20180727_105029Prashant Sankaran : writes to kill- his creative skills were more than evident, as he moved us with his flash fiction, and Haiku models. Has published in many magazines, including Sky-Island Journal .

IMG_20180727_104730

Kamalini: She writes compulsively. She blogs (lazychillies.wordpress) and her short stories, book reviews and articles on human interest have been published. Awaiting the publication of her debut novel. 

 

IMG_20180726_203856
Eclipse Night viewed from my verandah

 

The Buddha and the Bitch (Hay House Publishers) Rashma and Phebe

A Book Review

51hkxf3EukL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_ copy

 

Two women, from distinctly different cultures, travel beyond their borders, and ethos, undertaking a journey to write a book; a collaborative memoir, clasped together in a time capsule, showcasing notes from their mind’s heart, for us to savour if we will.

I did. I found both Phebe, one who teaches writing, and Rashma, a published writer, in me.

Phebe, the self-styled Buddha- her seeker spirit, the deep attraction to a spiritual life, as enmeshed in my physical world, as hers. She has taken the five Buddhist vows as well. She says of herself, “It seemed inevitable that a so-called Buddha such as I, would link up with a real Buddhist monk whom I found in my neighbourhood (a Cambodian temple)- Monk Sok.

Monk Sok laughed a lot, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. That is one thing I’ve noticed about the Dalai Lama as well. They seem to be in touch with an inner peace in spite of so much suffering all around them. Of course, I wanted some of that!”

This sums up Phebe’s fascination and longing to Buddhahood, as it were.

With Rashma, the writer, I quickly surmised that we share feistiness, ambitions and growth into the ‘bitch’- as she describes: “To me bitch is a n aggressive, ambitious, ‘no-shit’ female. Bitch is a personal epithet used to describe my metamorphosis from an idealist to a realist. This metaphor should not be extrapolated to other writers or women.

All chapters are written in either Phebe’s or Rashma’s voice, and we begin to recognize them; the resonance, their sensibilities and their influences. One might wonder. It is in the writing, which is simple, befitting a journalese style, lending this book its specialness.

The journey to Auroville-Pondicherry, is riveting; especially so, because I studied in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram School. This is familiar terrain. I travelled with them, as I read on, quite taken with the beautiful writing, and distinct voices. The light and detailed description of the sun and shade, the eateries, the driver, the roads, lined with coconut palms, the searing heat, and Hotel du Parc, is replete with nuggets of inner wisdom.

Later, as they search for meaning in every statuette, every stone in Mahabalipuram, which they visit on their way back to Chennai to catch their flight home, I regard their perspectives, certainly rather unalike.

As they leave Mahabs (as it is lovingly called down south), Rashma journals, in a reprimanding manner:

“We did not talk about our book on our way back. It seemed trivial after experiencing the ruins. Our words would not survive as many centuries as the rocks of Mahabalipuram. The sculptors who had carved the rocks and the temples had worked for two meals and meager wages. They had not worried about posterity or fame.”

The Buddha, the Bitch, could be either at any given time, flipped. They are travellers on a mission- a book must emerge after all.

Phebe is a poet, a lover, a seeker and is deeply influenced by eastern thought; Rashma, an Indian, already rife with an understanding of her own culture, is looking to something else- ridden by an ambition to ride posterity with her writing, often frustrated and anxious.

What makes this book as stimulating and charming as it is, are the eternal questions about life the two raise, and the thread that weaves in and out of it. This friendship between the Buddha and the Bitch, that might, on the face of it, seem unlikely, is an enduring one that teaches both to identify their differences and embrace them. There is love.

‘Phebe viewed anxiety as unharnessed creative energy. I was not so sure. I nearly gave up writing because it was driving me insane. The pathology of anxiety is more complex than just the lack of confidence.’ I do get that.

Phebe is calmer, and twenty years her senior. When Rashma arguably angry, says to her friend, “Who will discover us? Do you know how many scripts are submitted every year?”

Phebe’s refrain : “There’s a place for all of us.”

Rashma feels that Phebe lives in a feel-good bubble, while she is living in a pressure cooker. That pretty much is what they represent when they meet.

By the end of this ‘memoir’, Rashma’s play, ‘Melbourne Talam’, is produced by MTC (Melbourne Theatre Company, no less). It has a successful run in Melbourne, regional Victoria, and Tasmania. Most shows are a sell out. Somehow, this success doesn’t feel as epic as it should.

She says of herself, “Writing has hardened me. People think writing makes you more genteel, but I think it gives you a double personality.” I couldn’t agree more, on the double personality part. She later writes, more gently, “I have come to understand that writing is a reflection of our spirit, and that relationships enrich our soul and our art. The more you cultivate deep relationships, the more you understand life.” Touché!

 Pick up this book to understand how 2 women, who are worlds apart, can find harmony and a unique synthesis, blending together a travel memoir, and oh, so much more. Every chapter regaled, each nuance, noteworthy; both voices were as pleasant as they were dissimilar in their ethos.

An Ode : It’s all about Love

An Ode is a lyrical poem. What is friendship if not one long, lyrical one, that is written in blood, the red of one’s heart?  It is over-written, and rewritten many times over; it seeks out its own meter, a unique rhythm and a language all its own. I have gathered the blossoms of my long-distance friends, 7 in all, those that boarded my all-weather ship, and never dismounted. It’s the ‘bouquet garni’ of my life!  We’re riding this out together, loving beings gifted with an innate capacity to share of ourselves, braving the storms, and being lulled by the music of affection.

In order of appearance. 

To be noted: NOT in order of importance. 

 

7) Neer / Tini (Neerja) – 1988

Neer & me

We met as two young students, and lovers of the French language. Was it destiny that brought her back to India from Brussels at the exact same time, as i left my education in Pondicherry? Without a shred of doubt- YES it was!

She was the shy, intelligent girl, pretty as a picture; I was the boisterous one who spoke to be heard; she was seen in impeccably styled pullovers, and long legs, wearing a beatific smile upon her face. She spoke little, but when she did, she was heard.

Our friendship bloomed, without much effort, between French literature and samosas, burgers and patties in the Alliance Française canteen in south Delhi. A group of young people flocked around, and we formed an alliance that would go trekking in Dhauj, in Haryana.  We formed a bunch of eclectic adolescents – both girls and boys in their early twenties, seeking some meaning to their existence. It was a carefree era, full of laughter and romantic blues. We used buses, and spoke on telephones that stood in one place. Money was short, yet enough.

Between then and now, Neer and I formed an unshakable bond- one that has grown, with us, as we both got married, managing our homes in two different cities, and then as mothers. We’ve been there to witness our daughters’ births. We’ve talked through the night. We’ve wondered how and why life’s meanderings can be so challenging, and yet watched each other cull out the very best out of each dreaded, and dismal situation with equanimity. We’e admired each other from afar. We have written, yes, handwritten letters to each other, in another time. Later, we’ve bonded over emails, after their advent. We’ve celebrated our ups, and as we’ve wept together through our lows. We’ve played games, with our kids and hubbies in tow, and we’ve picnicked and danced. We’ve seldom fought, but later, apologized pretty quickly when it did happen. We’ve travelled and roamed together and watched each other evolve- retaining that essence of friendship, which warms the cockles of the heart on a dreary day. Distance does make the heart grow fonder. My husband loves her just as much, and they are so alike, in the way they analyse and think things through. It’s pretty amazing!

We’ve travelled away from one another repeatedly, to Bulgaria, England, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Gurgaon. She lives in Germany since 2013.

She’s taught me : a generosity of  spirit needn’t translate in over-zealous material gifting;  no tears does not signify an absence of pain; that often less is more, and more than enough. She has the wisdom of the sages, and she doles it out in her inimitable manner, in perfect measure. It has never failed me. She’s my best friend.

 

6) Anu (Aruna) 1996

Anu & meeMy first foray into foreign lands, to set up a home, was to England. I’d heard much about its cold beauty, in autumn. It was a lonely land, for starters, and our little two-year old, missed India dreadfully. Being bereft of any other human company made us both very garrulous, and very quiet, in turns.

The solitariness was getting to me, so I decided, as is my wont, I would seize the day. This was a week after we had arrived in cold, autumnal London. From the heat of Delhi, its noise paths, and the family, we had been flung into a void. The husband would leave home in the wee hours of the morning, and return, tired and hungry, in the dark- at 6 pm, when the shadows were all but gone.

So that morning, I left the confines of my little home, on Nursery Road, and went a-knocking. All doors were tightly locked. My disappointed heart wasn’t ready to give up just yet.  Our little girl, sensing her mother zealous mad hunt for human company- stayed quiet. All she needed was in her mom’s responses and the warm hand that clasped her little one.

I held my breath, when an ultimate knock was answered- will this pretty stranger be welcoming? What a beauty she was. She looked Iranian- or maybe Turkish? My mind was in a whirl. The lady’s smile reached her eyes. Her English diction was clear and Indian- wait, no way! Yes, she was a Gujarati no less, and a warm invitation was extended- I observed an Indian shawl draped on her elegant sofa, simple – classy interiors. I was in. She offered me chai, and twinkled at my daughter. A welcoming and curious encounter. We quickly made our acquaintance. I sipped the masala chai, and sat across from her, mesmerized. Within a matter of an hour, it became certain that  we might, after all, be the friendly neighbours I so needed, and desired. This was the year 1996.

It’s 2018 now.  We’ve been back and forth from London- and she was my neighbor once more in 2002.  I live in Gurgaon now, and Anu (Aruna officially) and i have remained friends through thick and thin. In the interim period, she lost her second child Sheel, one whose birth i had witnessed. I lost my boy too, who is on his way to becoming a girl called Aanya. We have our stories, we’ve been living our lives as best as we can- and we’ve loved and supported each other through it all, even if most of it has been long distance.

I draw from our friendship one huge lesson- distance is truly the line from one heart to another- and you can stretch it beyond measure, but the link remains unbroken.

 

5) Su (Suman) 2007

 Su & me

I was introduced to Su by one, I’m no longer in touch with.

It was a friendly get-together, and I can only remember Su’s raucous laughter, and twinkling eyes.Karan, her better-half, walked in later, a handsome sardar to boot. The couple, what can I say, they seemed made for each other. Her most endearing quality is that she makes herself the butt of jokes, and doesn’t take herself too seriously. That was that. We hit it off, as did our children. She has two boys- Anmol and Angad. We’ve never looked back since.

Karan, her man, a sporty outdoorsy fella, would take his family rope-climbing, trekking, picnicking, whenever he could. So my man was inspired too. If Karan could scale the walls around their condo, he would, was the impression we gathered. Together, we’ve roamed the wilds, as it were.

There has been no judgment – no envy – nothing that could take away from the core that we’d discovered- a simple friendship that has stood the test of time. We’ve spent evenings sharing more than just drinks, and having met as adults, we had a lot to catch up with. It was interesting that we were able to pretty quickly. Not all wine takes time to age.

Within a year of our acquaintance, she moved to England where she established herself beautifully. Her boys are all grown now, and she always says, “can’t complain.” That’s Suman in a nutshell. Only I know what she has had to plough through to get to where she is, both in India and England.

Suman, to me personifies the undying human spirit, working against the tide, with faith, and a determination I’ve envied ever so often. Never has she said, “No more, can’t do it!”.  Karan was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, after being sick for months, and being left undiagnosed. The news was devastating especially for a north Indian Sikh, who thrives on chapatis and paranthas, all made from wheat flour. But our Suman wasn’t one to buckle, no! She made paranthas for her hubby with potato flour, some of which I tasted! At the time, gluten intolerance was sounding a death knell- not being as prevalent as it is today.  There is so much for gluten-intolerants available today.

We’ve remained friends since 2007- and we shall remain friends till one of us calls it a night.

4) Jhunjhun (Nirupama) – 2006

Jhun and me

I met Jhunjhun in Spain, where she was visiting with her young son and husband. A common friend introduced us, and being among the few Indians around, we made an effort to exchange more than just niceties. By the end of our tour, we had bonded, exchanged numbers and email Ids. It had been refreshing and a lot of fun.

She lived in England at the time, and has made it her permanent home since. She is a clinical psychologist. In the ensuing years, we’ve visited each other and our friendship has deepened. She’s got a certain je-ne-sais-quoi about her that had me then, and has me now. We’ve spent hours chatting over our children and how special they are, about the relationships that define us, and about what it is we need to shed, and what to hang on to. We have a spiritual bond.

She’s full of beans, and easy to please. Her positive outlook to life, despite both professional and personal pressures upon her being, is what has salvaged her, kept her going, and continue to.

When we do talk, it could be for over an hour, and time ceases to exist. Otherwise, months go by and we don’t communicate. Having said that, when we do connect, it is from where we left off, almost. There is a thread, that binds us- and now that there are a million ways to feel the presence of another, we know we can conjure each other up at the press of a button.

Our friendship has taught me that often just picking up the phone is the best de-stressor; she’s proven that one can be down and out one day, and braving the cold English winds the next day, with a plucky smile on one’s face and never saying die. 11 years on, and it’s a resilient, and hardwearing friendship we share.

3) Chitra – Chitré (2010)

Chitra

I met Chitra at the same workshop as Katherine, in Goa, 8 years back. She was very giggly, and sweet and sang out loud with glee. I loved that about her instantly. She participated whole-heartedly and spoke with confidence, and with exceptional candour, especially with regard to what she churned out in writing. We got on just fine, giggly together. But it is only in the subsequent years, staying in touch, I observed a leap of faith in her. By the time we met in Pune, the following year, she was glowing in a different light. She began writing her books soon thereafter- which astounded me. I would question myself- how come I’m unable to. But her books were not the ones I would write, or even could: ‘Achieve your Highest Potential- Be the Best you can Be’, ‘The Art of Conscious Parenting’, ‘Stress-O-Paedia’.  Where was she sourcing the knowledge? Who was this Chitra Jha? I was flummoxed, and I was delighted, all at once.

Her son, a monk then, invited her, along with us to the Ananda Ashram, not far from Lavasa in Maharashtra. We drove down. The three of us were regaled not just by what we experienced there, but by the sattvic food, the ambience presented and by her son’s astute understanding of life, at such a young age! We saw Chitra, the mother.

The transformation I was watching in this friend was miraculous. I started following all her social media posts, commenting on them, and learning from them, almost daily.

Then I chose to attend one of Chitra’s workshops on Family Constellations. It was an eye-opener, and it transformed something in me. Chitra, a friend,  Chitra, the mentor- and there was no conflict, only respect, a spurt of growth in fact. This friendship with her, it has taught me that life is to be lived in a flow…from one moment to another as honestly as one possibly can. She shows by example, how a person evolves by surrendering oneself to the cosmos- the Universe as it were. She and her now retired Army man husband, Somnath, are roaming the world, house-sitting, and being contented nomads. May more like her inhabit our world. I am so inspired to be this person.

 

2) Mary Mary (M.Coates) – 1996

Mary & me at Gaudi

Mad auntie Mary is what she calls herself, for our kids.  We Natesans await her bi-annual visits with unconcealed eagerness. I met Mary in 1996, pre-second offspring era. Our little girl and us parents, had headed off to Liverpool to be hosted by this compassionate soul. She was a quiet, slim and kind woman. No longer since, is she quiet- but kind and slim she has stayed. Needless to say, the Liverpool outing was memorable.

Many years later, on subsequent visits to India, after our own return to our homeland, I had the good fortune of hosting her for two weeks in Bangalore. There has been no looking back since.

She has returned year after year, playing Christmas mother, loaded with cookies, chocolates, ready-to-bake cake flour,  fresh bread, and great strong English Cheddar- you name it. She’s quite like a whirlwind- she and me, we are out and about when she visits. Inevitably, every evening a board game is conjured up, and the family unites to play.  We  do catch up and laugh till tears drop. The entire family is in splits….Yes, that’s one thing about Mary- one core quality she embodies: humour. She can make you laugh over anything, and I mean, anything can be turned on its head transformed into a laughable thing, its previous earnest view notwithstanding.

What would I do without such a friendship? What does anyone do without a friendship that lightens the burden of daily living? She’s the one, the batty Mary, who comes and goes, and leaves a trail of great stories, much vodka, rolled up tobacco, books that she’s picked up from charities, read, loved and left behind for her Indian friend. She’s generous to a fault.

Mary bakes, and Mary makes a great ‘chilly’ – a pot of red kidney beans, mushrooms, and peppers with tons of tomatoes. She loves my cooking and eats with her hands. She’s part Indian- at least insofar as her un-English manners are concerned. We certainly share tears as well, because while humour might save the day, it can’t plug the gaping hole caused by deep grief, not forever.

She has loved my kids with the true affection of an aunt, and chided them on occasion, without a moment’s hesitation, and our kids and their father reciprocate this, loving her to bits. The man and she can argue for hours, and end up laughing too. Above all she has taught me to laugh openly, cry uninhibitedly, and adopt her mad ways, shamelessly so. She’s fun all the way, with a shoulder that I can lean on.  There’s more than something about Mary.

1) Katherine, my American artist friend (2010)

Katherine

I met Katherine during a workshop 8 years back, in Goa, at a writer’s retreat house, overlooking the sea, boulders and much sand. She was our mentor, and guide. Her quiet demeanour settled us participants very quickly. A lot of affection was floating around, among much artistry and luxuriant discussions, as is the way with Katherine. A lien was established during that weeklong stay, when we let both our hair and our guard down.

She went back home to the USA, only to return to India, the following year, 2011.

I love emailing, and she writes prolifically- we stayed in touch. Our next encounter was in Pune, the following year, again for a workshop. The bond of friendship strengthened. Among idyllic surroundings, shopping, food outings and laughter, we wished we could’ve stretched the sojourn.

Thereafter I met her, some years later, when I visited San Francisco in 2014. She made the time for a beautiful meal, on a sunny terrace near Berkeley. After we were all caught up, she drove me down to her adorable cottage home, with a garden edged with fruit trees, and sun. There it was, everything i could have dreamt of, all one needs. She lives in peace and harmony with nature. I was overjoyed to have seen her in her element, in her own ambience.

With Katherine, I’ve never felt the need to be other than myself. She is both soft-spoken and articulate. Her writing encompasses her artistry in the most fluid and delicate manner. When we visited Varanasi last year, together with another friend (Chitra), love  enveloped us. It was the togetherness leading to deep exchanges that make our every meeting, indelible. Before we travelled to Varanasi, she conducted a session at the writer’s workshop, at my home, using her sculptor’s heart as a valuable tool, very successfully too. Every participant was receptive, as she drew from her own life’s experience.

She has two sons and 4 beautiful grandkids, and has led a life worthy of the telling. I learn so much from her, from our email exchanges over the years. She’s definitely taught me to explore deeper and to continually refine, as well as to stop all inner noises to simply listen to the one that is meaningful.

In Varanasi, Chitra, Katherine and me, we shared the most cosy, amicable and intimate time- bonding. It was joyous and healing in so many ways. Ushering dawn, on the Ganges- unbeatable! Friendship in Varanasi