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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
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Who’s the Good Person?

I watched The Good Wife, then have managed some episodes of the Good Fight.The word good, by its very presence, made me sit up and take notice of all that wasn’t good in the series, in my mind. Why did they name it thus? Simply because it teases your definition of the word ‘Good’, it cajoles you to watch a series with such a simple name- and you know you’re in for an entertaining, imaginative and creative time as soon as you’ve watched an episode or two. That’s my experience and it’s in the name as much as it’s in the word Good.

Saying of good folk

Good, in exceedingly common usage, denotes so many things, and covers a myriad emotions. Yet I find myself struggling with its definition occasionally. I’ve told many a friend, you know you have a good husband, be happy, stop complaining you ingrate! What I do mean is- ‘look around you girl, so many wife-beaters, so many drunkards posing as husbands and partners, so many men who wouldn’t think twice of looking you in the eye and saying, “you know I work so hard for you, and the kids, the least you can do is fetch me my drink, make my bed, cook for me and give me my share of lust!’ So a man who doesn’t pronounce these needs openly is considered a good man, he is!

 

MimosIs the adjective good a rip-off and a mere comparative with ‘not-so-good’? Is good always relative? Is good not good enough to mean what it wishes to mean?

When the rest pales in comparison and looks less wonderful, good is our go-to word when all others don’t match up or aren’t the best fit, and that’s the best definition I’ve come up with lately.

 

I imagine I’m a good person and I’ll tell you why without a moment’s hesitation; it’s cause I don’t want to hurt nobody. Now isin’t that good or at least good enough? No, it isn’t insofar as I’ve understood the mechanics of ‘Being good’.  I need to spruce up my act- I need to balance that account of good in order to be clearly seen as the good person I evaluate myself to be.

Dictum : It’s not enough to be good, you must be seen as good. That’s how it works. That’s how it is in this world of ours, where each one of us vies with the other to out-good. Haven’t you thought about how good you should look, and how, were you not to be your best person in a get-together or at a dinner at home, you wouldn’t feel as good? I know I have.

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So good is good as long as there is enough bad going around- the balance is tilted in its favour.

You have variants aplenty:

  • Ah, this curry’s really good mom!
  • Hey, did you see Priyanka’s latest movie, it’s bloody good!
  • Is that a good restaurant, like superbly good, or just one of those ‘good’ restaurants?
  • She’s a good person (never speaks her mind).
  • He’s a terribly good lover (interpret as you will).
  • They are good people. (a very common phrase for those who wouldn’t deliberately hurt others, and live with a religious zeal to be seen as good)
  • She’s a good writer. (this is the worst of the lot of goods)
  • He’s a good priest, you can confess to him. (ahaa, now this one’s tricky)
  • My dear, this here is a damn good essay, but…….(now now, what do we have here 🙂
  • My mom is a good cook, but my dad’s an even better one. (she’s below average and it’s the father who actually cooks well)
  • The concert was good. (not nearly good enough).

And the list is endless. Such a variety of uses, right? Pretty amazing that a single four-letter word does the job so effortlessly- well there are other four-letter words, but for other uses, which are also hyper-efficient I believe. And of course the tone plays its part, and matters hugely, when spoken out. It always does, the gravity, or levity of it. 

Good is the practice of being right, and being seen as right. As long as others see our good side, we are good. What we are suppressing, the jealousy and envy that eats us up, or corrodes our goodness, the tears we don’t spill, the meanness we don’t acknowledge of ourselves to ourselves, the words we don’t shout out, those that our hearts cringe upon, when we’ve been wronged, or wronged, and when there is injustice we can’t call out- all that can go to hell- we are good, because we have learnt to make that façade shine and outshine. Our ugliness is barely seen even by ourselves, how can we exhibit it to the world at large, right?

We often hear one speak of another, “Oh he’s good at heart!” whatever else the person might do which appears wicked, she’s good at heart. It’s quite the cover, and an expression we hold close to our Indian chests in most every Indian language. This is how it goes : after all he’s good at heart- and I’m hearing, ‘he won’t harm anyone physically.’

“Forgive her, after all she’s good at heart!” ah the sister-in-law- ‘she won’t slice you up in your sleep’, or so like that, she’s good after all.

In an attempt to sum it up, I’d like to say, good is good as long as it covers the base; the base being: – look well-showered and made up, sound kind and say all the right things, make all those noises that are empathetic in nature. However, when alone, take a good look at your reflection, in the eye, and ask yourself if envy, greed and mean thoughts didn’t pervade your being and come knocking by, and if you’ve been able to summon the courage to see these, and acknowledge their occasional presence, you’re good to go. Smile and continue to be good, more than just at heart.

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A Strange World

A short essay on our world- thoughts that arose like fireflies, ones i could not ignore. Do share your views, and comment unreservedly :
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Childhood in Defense colony was simple, active, fun and happy. But when I ask myself what it was that constituted all of this simplicity and joy- it was cycling around the colony which was free of vehicles most times; it was falling and dusting myself off and getting on with it, it was climbing the mulberry tree in our tiny garden and throwing down mulberries into an old sheet my mother knew not existed; it was colony friends I played hopscotch with and it was devising new ways of writing plays- enacting them verbatim that would then be presented to the neighborhood clan.
It was also inventive, this childhood, it was fresh air and fresh food; it was full of childish patter, and laughing loudly for no reason (other than at a mate who’d been clumsy). What was it in such a childhood that has disappeared beyond a horizon we can barely see. Is it because we’ve raised so much dust that it has clouded it? Have we grown beyond what nature meant us to be, simple and uncomplicated?
What a strange world we now live in.
Our children are the cause of much anxiety while they are labeled as dyslexic, or have ADHD, or could be hypo manic or borderline bipolar. Their own anxiety and anxiousness is causing all sorts of unheard of maladies that in turn, we are rushing to psychologists and psychiatrists for. We’ve lost sight of the hills and prairies. There are too many hybrid cars around, along with the gift of hybrid disorders.
We are breathing in technology driven days, and breathing out names, that now roll off our tongues with ease- names of international schools and their curriculum, and names of disorders that we did not then know, existed in a time when life was utterly, sweetly uncomplicated. What a strange world!
I’ve often pinched myself and wondered whether I haven’t moved stations- from the world of my childhood, to an adult world which bears no resemblance to the one I grew up in. What is this world? It is so disparate in its ethos that I fail to come to terms with what I’ve had to put my kids through. They are both adults now, yet the reach of this distinctly tough childhood has left its mark on their souls as it were.
The millennial is happy, is she?

On my part, I’ve tried to be me, a product of a happy childhood with my kids, showed them it’s okay to not fret about one’s marks in a test or exam; we’ve tried to remain fun people and travelled with them to lands where the air still moves freely; we’ve attempted to continue playing board games. We’ve made efforts in imbuing all interactions with a lightness of being. It is not easy protecting both oneself and one’s offspring from the onslaught of ‘progress’, yet one can only keep trying to reach back, or into, a lost world of simplicity and joy. It remains a strange world that tends to swallow us, unwittingly, as we turn into strangers ourselves.

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Kamalini, 2nd May 2019

HOME & not alone

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When I was told I was born and this was home, I took it all in and eternally inscribed its meaning in my head and heart :

a) a warm, loving area with few walls;

b) a structure that is not limiting, yet needs some adherence to certain unsaid rules;

c) a place where both air and breath move freely in harmony;

d) a hearth where people thrive;

e) home is free of judgment;

f)  The Home Tree can be planted anywhere, and all other definitions take with the seed, and grow organically when nurtured and watered regularly;

f) the heart of the matter is in each member of Home.

So having culled the above as home-awareness dawned on little me, I grew up tenderly nursing these ideas, and they were engrained in me, subtly taking root. With a wonderful childhood in the exciting lanes of Defense Colony, Delhi, I bounced around, a happy, cheerful kid with not a care in the world. Home was a fat Frigidaire full of goodies; a place where I could be the most carefree version of myself with no obligations to complete school homework, or worry about anyone picking on me for anything at all; Home was love, Home was all fun. But it didn’t last, since nothing good is meant to last, is it!

The familiar and good was rudely snatched away, and I had to be put in a hostel, which was not half bad, however it wasn’t Home. No mother jingling her bangles and wiping the sweat of my brow; no elder sister to squabble with, or tease; no tasty home-cooked food, no bread to roll up with dollops of condensed milk and overeat, none of that. These lacunae lasted a few years, but the sentiment that I must return home, persisted. When I married – I got my chance to recreate the magic of Home, with me at its center.

The rest of my life has been spent recreating all of what Home meant to me then, and continues to mean to me in the now.  The thing is, as a married person, I’ve had to do this recreating over and over. We have been nomads, moving from one city to another, and at every juncture, I’ve pulled out all the stops. Folk, those steady folk, who have lived in one city for over twenty years, marvel at how quickly we bring it all together. Then there are the army kids, who get it. There are others, who’ve never moved, and find it appalling that we do, and say it out loud too, ‘but why, how, for what? Don’t you get tired, and miserable?” Nope. Nah.  Moving became a part of our married existence, and we always carried Home with us. It meant being ready, being cheerful and warm and welcoming all the time. Were we? Most days, yes.  Home has become the symbol of a steady stability, in the middle of unsureness, and limited time capsules, and far more than pots and pans, and wall decorations. Home on the move, is a concept we developed.

An ‘On-the-Move-Home’ is an expensive proposition, but it’s what we chose as a family- different cultures, varying degrees in seasonal offerings, and many different schools, because education was happening anyway- ours and the kids. The colors we drew on our palette challenged many a canvas. It was okay. We were okay. The world whizzed by, but not in a haze. There was clarity and there was learning and we were hardier than we knew. By the time our kids grew up, so did we. Not to say, we’re near done. What did growing up mean? It meant fighting for admission at a good school, after researching extensively; it meant waiting patiently for our ‘stuff’ to arrive and live within limited means sometimes; it meant ensuring that we had a good vet for our dog, a psychologist and medical help at hand, it meant that we chose our physical quarters with some amount of wisdom, i.e good gentry who wouldn’t mind noisy dogs and kids, it also meant that we had our work set out for us- every time, building a new life with new folk, at a gentle pace, or rushed, depending on our tenure, which was often unknown. 

I learnt that people are the same everywhere- they also love people who are kind and are willing to cook, for one. As for other stuff, don’t leave your garbage out, don’t yell on the terrace, avoid confrontations with your spouse right at the front door, and above all, invite them over on any pretext, and they just love the attention! Neighbours we discovered, make wonderful family as well. There’s a lot of love out there, did you know that? We do. We’ve had very few nasty experiences- one of them being an over-zealous landlord who couldn’t stand our continuous flow of guests, and ensured that we knew it too, alas! We, needless to say, did not obey his command, and were saved by the skin of our teeth. We only stayed a year in that beautiful home, although we thought we could teach our landlord a thing or two about hospitality before departure!
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Everyone of us is carrying our home with us, in us, and when we poke our heads through the window of life, we believe, we are more empathetic toward others, because even while we were putting together a new home, another one was calling out a few years ahead. Knowing that we can put up our tent, and shelter anywhere, anytime, can be very energizing. It is also a strengthening thing. We made friends, and we carried the friendship with us. The only drawback, if any, is that we don’t get to see our friends in one place as often as we’d like, but on the other hand, we’ve earned visiting rights to all of these homes and places that touched us. Heart’s got to be in the right place, because that’s where Home is, is it not!

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an open sky meets us every time

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.

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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!

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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

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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.