Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Home Sweet Home.

When does a house become a home? Do we work hard all our lives to build houses or make homes? Living in a country where our primary goal is to save for a secure future (funny, how confidently we disregard the one truth of life--its end) so that one day we can settle in a place of our choice without worrying too much about bills etc., forces me to accost this question often. Too many options pop up as prospective places to settle down when we retire in a couple of decades. The choices are too many- it's not fair!

My grandparents didn't have to make that choice- history did it for them. All they had to do was leave their land of ancestors, their houses, their businesses, their farms and friends and even some members of their families behind in 1947. They were forced to move to a new country. They travelled with their memories and a determination to start afresh. Their Punjabi spirit and gumption translated the burden of this obligatory choice into an opportunity. They made India their home and embraced it unquestionably-- visiting their old homes (now in Pakistan) in stories laid open in front of their grandchildren huddled around a kangri; its embers igniting and fading like their memories, on cold winter evenings in Dehradun.

My parents' generation had it really easy. They were either born in free India or brought to it as babies or toddlers. They grew up there, found jobs, got married, raised children, built houses and turned them into homes. The question, 'where shall we live when we retire?' never surfaced. There was no need for it. You live with your family around you and you die the same way, right?

Then came my generation of yuppies working for MNCs. With our fancy trips abroad, paid by the companies we worked for, we started looking at the World as our home. With the right qualifications and pay packets, we were able to buy houses in any developed nation of our choice. We travelled back to India once a year to have chaat and gol gappe and reminisce about college days. Our children's delicate tummies faced defeat at the hands of Delhi belly, so we cut down our annual trips to once in two years-- choosing instead to explore the rest of the (developed) world. Global Economic Migrants (GEMs) that we are --we live where we find the best pay cheque to secure a future (we may or may not see).

We then spend a fair amount of this money to escape to a tropical paradise or go back home for gol gappe. We come back refreshed and pleased with ourselves. We share stories of how filthy Indian roads are and how delicious the chaat was at that roadside thela. Sounds confused, does it? That we are. Don't blame us. It's all these ruddy choices we've been inundated with:

Where to send our children to school, university, summer camp?
Where to eat lunch/dinner/brunch?
Where to shop for clothes/bags/more clothes/ more bags/ even more clothes....?
Where to go for a short break/a medium break/ a long break?
Where to buy to let?
Where to buy to live?
Where to buy to retire- seaside or mountain top?
What to wear?
What not to eat?

Choices. Ruddy Choices.

We meet other yuppies and share our travel stories. Somehow we end up discussing how awful our choices are-- forced to live this life of comfort in a place we can't call home.

Yes, our parents had it easy...they knew their homes were in the houses they had built in the country their parents had fought to set free.

We've  lived so long in foreign lands that we've forgotten our way home. Only kasore ki chai and spicy gol gappe ka paani remind us of our homeland.

Homeland...hometown...childhood home? Is it real? We go back and realise that it exists for the first couple of hours after we arrive and forever after we come back --in the romantic recesses of our brains- where the idea of what it was like when we were little lives and breeds. This part of our brain connects to our heart strings and makes us pine for a time which only exists in nostalgia. Yuppies who stayed on in India are as helpless as we are when it comes to locating this hometown of our memories. India has changed. It is changing  and poor sods like us sit with our glasses of wine or single malt in a beautifully done up sitting room and reminisce.

Out of the blue, an email from a dear friend in London opens with, " Merry Christmas darling. When are you coming home? I miss you. You've been gone long enough."

We've harvested a rich crop of dear, darling friends over these twenty vagabond years in many cities and countries.  I miss them, too.

Home is where the heart is, they say-- but the problem is this restless heart-- it always notices the grass is just a tad greener on the other side.

Sometimes, I wish I were a snail or a tortoise- at home, no matter where I go. But, most times, I get excited about pieces of art or pottery or a set of fluffy towels and I want to get them to take them home. Yes, that tortoise notion isn't going to work in this lifetime, but I do feel it sometimes-- especially when the cleaning chores pile up!

As a kid, home was the aroma of my mother's cooking. When I went to University, home was my grandfather's kiss on my head and his sideways hug when I visited him. These days, home is the nook of my husband's shoulder where I rest my head at the end of a day. Yes, that's how small and big a home is for me. That's all.

Houses, on the other hand, are hard work. They have to be cleaned and kept in order.

The tug-o-war between my Martha Stewart brain and Homer Simpson brain goes on forever--most days, Homer wins. Unless, of course, friends are coming over; then it's Martha Stewart on steroids!

Choices can be corrupting. They suck you into a vortex of consumerism and keeping-up -with -the Jonses. Luckily, we don't know any Jonses. So we keep up with ourselves.  And every time I feel trapped in this gilded cage, I remind myself of the day when I was not yet twenty and I got caught travelling without a ticket in a DTC bus because the choice I had that day was between buying a bus ticket or a hot cup of tea. I chose chai on that cold, foggy, January Delhi morning. The tut-tutting of the ticket checker's head wrapped in a thick woollen scarf, when he said, "shakal se to achhe ghar ki lagtee ho' (you look like you come from a decent family) snaps me back into reality.

The reality of plenty. GRATITUDE for the food on my table, a house to make my home in, a family to turn to and friends to talk to surges forth. We can't always choose freely; some choices may be unpleasant but essential. So, while I embark upon this free period of my life after quitting my job, I look to my husband with admiration and respect for choosing to support us- his wife and his children. Who doesn't want a life of gardening and reading? Luckily for me, I made my home with someone who lives in the real world-- he works hard without ever complaining and lets me live my days dreaming with my eyes open.


In September 2015, we stayed at Auli base camp for a night. Next to this camp was the most stunning house I've seen in a while. I don't know what this style of architecture is called, so if you do, please tell me.

I wish I had enough time to knock on their door and seek permission to admire the interiors as well. I didn't, so I had to make do with exploring the grounds around the house.

Feast your eyes on the treasures I discovered...

The view from the verandah.

The verandah--beside the beautiful house.

The beautiful house

and its doorway....chaukhat/ dehleej

When nature inspires man--
notice the colour combination in the following shots...

The choice is ours-
to be grateful, 
to smile,
to live
let live.

p.s. This is a kangri- this photo is from google images.

My grandfather used to hold this close to him, wrap us all in his big scratchy blanket, while we sat on his lap or next to him--looking up at his pink cheeks, floating like little soft islands in a sea of deep wrinkles. Wrinkles- he had earned working in his farm and his beloved garden for hours, tending his roses and radishes.
I miss those warm chilly nights.

Choose wisely and laugh foolishly:)

Have a peaceful and healthy 2016. Hope to see you soon. xx

Friday, December 11, 2015

Where blue poppies bloom-- Hemkund Sahib

"Ay kuddi kee kurdee payee hai?" 
What's this girl doing?

" Fotuan khich dee payee hai." 
She's takings photos.

"Fotuan? Ithey? 
Photos? Here?

" Aaho, phullan dee." 
Yes, she's clicking the flowers.

I hear these words crouched between a rock and ground, trying to get a good shot of the blue poppies I had spotted. Flattered by being referred to as 'kuddi' (girl), I decide to move my body out of its contorted knots, turn and face the two conversationalists. The glaring sun hurts my eyes as I try to look up.

"Phullan dee fotu kyon kud rahe ho, saadi fotu kuddo." 
Why are you clicking the flowers? Take our photo.

Even before I can straighten up and face them, the two pilgrims have issued me with their request as if we've known each other for years. Maybe we have.

I try to explain why I was clicking the flowers and impress them with how rare the Blue Poppy is and how lucky we are to see it growing here. They are not impressed.

They straighten up and get close to each other to strike a pose.

"But I won't be able to send you the photo!" I tell them as they pat their kurtas down and stand stiff as sticks to indicate that they are ready.

"Koyi gul na puttar, twanu phullan de naal naal saadi we tasveer mil javegi". 
No worries, child. You'll get our photo along with your flowers.

So I click and show them the screen afterwards.

They beam like the sun.

They are pilgrims who come to Hemkund Sahib every year. They don't need any climbing gear or fancy hiking boots. Their faith is enough.

They don't understand my flower photography, but they are curious. We speak. I share my love of flowers. They share their faith in Wahe Guruji. We exchange nods and smiles and carry on our paths.

The cold mountain breeze carries their words towards me as they walk away from me,
"Phullan dee fotu...?"
Pictures of flowers...? 

The blue poppies I was clicking ...

The second day of our trek started early. We had been warned of the long arduous climb and the effects of high altitude (after 13000 ft). Hemkund Sahib is located at an elevation of more that 15000 ft. I decided to take a second helping of the hot breakfast that morning to be prepared! BIG MISTAKE!
 Shabad kirtan (hymns and religious songs) rang out in the crisp morning air. The first kilometer killed me. I was out of breath and panting hard. Would I be able to carry on?
'One step at a time.' I told myself. 'One step at a time.' encouraged Yashpal.
One step, one step...and five hours later, I was there:)
Reminder from mother nature on the only as much as you need.

The mountains echoed "Bole So Nihal- Sat Sri Akal.

I loved it when our guide (who is from Garhwal) said it in a typical Punjabi accent --you know when the 'hal' is elongated to 'haal' --the 'aa' sound dips deep and comes up again for air as the 'L' is formed and then there is that Punjabi stress on the 'L'.

Bole So Nihaal kept me going. The sun scorched. The climb killed. The thin air forced me to gasp for breath often. Snippets of kirtan from the Gurudwara wafted down every now and then, boosting me on.

The long, long, path...
At last...Hemkund Sahib ji...

In the Gurudwara...

At first, the tears hang on-
aware that we are not alone.
The first drop escapes 
ashamed at
such public display of weakness.

What will Arshia think?

Guru ki baani floats on cold air.
Tiny puffs of smoke escape the kada prasad
as I extend my two hands forward.

Warm prasad waits
for my fingers to hook a bite
and pass it through my trembling lips.
Sweet, sweet prasad...
I taste all the Gurudwaras of my childhood.

The tears come thick and fast-

The words of the kirtan enter my pores with such meaning,
that I can't remember a single syllable now.

I stifle a sob, but it escapes anyway.

The trickle turns into a torrent
the tears come-

Why am I crying?
Is it the thin air?
Am I mourning the past?
Or worrying about the future?

None of the above. None of the above.
I hear a whisper.
You're just being-
being in the moment,
being human.

I'm in the moment so completely.
with all my senses
that I've forgotten the rules and the norms.
I'm just being me.

It is time for us to leave.
So I leave.
 Downstairs, I put my shoes back on.

Then something pulls inside of me.
I take my shoes off,
run back up
and sit down again.
The crying continues.
The tears tumble.

The heart sings with the Granthis who are putting Guru Granth Sahib Ji in Sukhasan

Satnam, Satnam, Wahe Guru ji ...

I scrunch up my cold toes on the carpet to warm up.

My time to be-
at peace with me.

"Sometimes, it's just time to wash away all that has build up inside."

says Yashpal when I finally join the rest of my group to take a dip in the glacial cold water of the sarovar (lake).

After the dip, we sat in the sun to dry our hair.
Langar prasad was kichhdi and sweet tea; not hot, but I was grateful.

These photos are of the area behind the Gurudwara. Our group seemed to be the only ones here. We posed and clicked and just soaked in the crisp blue skies.

Can you see a beak in this peak?
We did it!
On our way back, my camera and I explored a bit more of the surroundings.

'A.' said one.
'B.' the next.
'C.' the third.
And they carried on. They had obviously heard us chattering in English and decided to either review their letters of the English alphabet or just show us that they knew the language, too.

Reluctantly, we headed back to Ghangaria. My camera always delays me. 
I end up being the last person to join my waiting group. I don't mind;)
That sunny day, on my way back from Hemkund Sahib ji, for almost an hour, I was the only human among these mountains. 
It felt really really special.

The Blue poppy turns lilac in its old's still stunning, I think.

The Brahma Kamal...

Watering hole for the humans...

I've  added a tint to this shot...
And watering hole for the donkeys who carry pilgrims and supplies to and fro...

The sun was about to set when we reached Ghangaria. 

As I looked back around the last bend before reaching camp, I clicked. I have added a bit of tint to this shot. It reminds me of Japanese poster art. 
A foot massage was waiting for us when we reached camp. Yes, these are the perks of trekking in India, especially, if one happens to be on a pilgrimage route. 

And the lady who makes it possible (No, not the foot massage, the trek.)

If you are curious or interested, here's the wikilink that tells you more about Hemkund Sahib...

And here's a map for reference...
Hemkund Sahib Yatra

I hope to see you soon with a tour of the last Indian village.

Soak in the sun, or sleep in the shade -- have a great weekend. xx