Sunday, April 24, 2016

T is for Ta Prohm

What you seek is also seeking you.
Painting bought at Apsara Gallery, Phnom Penh
Have you ever felt an instant connection with a total stranger? I'm not talking about love at first sight. That kind of connection happened quite regularly to me in my teenage years and even in my early twenties and every time I was convinced, it was the ONE.

I'm talking about a pull, an energy or a strong feeling that makes you stop in your tracks. You feel like you're home, like all the events that day or even before were leading you to this point. It overwhelms you and grounds you at the same time.

It happened more than two years ago.

The four of us found ourselves in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to celebrate Christmas in 2013.

Shopping is always high on my list of 'things to do' wherever I go. But, malls and shopping centres are not. I like to read and research about local artists, artisans, crafts people etc., so that I get to meet the person behind the piece. 

With two addresses in my bag, and two teenagers in tow, my husband and I took a taxi to Russian Market. 

Ta Prohm Souvenir stands squashed between shops in the southeast corner, outside the Russian Market. Colourful silk scarves hung in all hues at the entrance. The children took one look and decided to hang outside- this is their way of saying, "Hurry up Mum! This shop doesn't interest us."

The bright sun outside had blinded me a little so by the time my eyes got used to the light inside, I had almost reached the other end of this small shop. A man and a woman (the owners, I assumed) were counting a pile of scarves. I nodded to show my presence. The lady looked up with busy eyes and smiled. She went back to her counting. I kept staring at her prosthetic leg.

Or maybe, I wasn't staring. Maybe it was just a quick glance and then I looked away to look busy. Right above me, Lady Diana was beaming next to the lady I'd seen, from a blown up photograph.

'Lady Diana! Wow! When was this taken?' I couldn't help myself.

The teenagers had come in to escape the heat and hassle outside. They had found some cool stuff to look at and I'm glad they were there when Ms. Chim Kong started talking. She is the lady who was counting scarves; the one I'd felt this connection with even before I'd seen Lady Di's photo and even before she'd told me her story and even before I'd spotted the prosthetic leg.

'I want to get a purple one for my sister-in-law.' I told her as she started showing me the scarves while telling me about the day she met Lady Di. 

Chim Kong was twelve when she was injured by a landmine and lost her leg. Today, she exports her scarves and other products internationally. She's a landmine survivor.
The above extract is from their shop brochure and its tag line reads: 
Ta Prohm Souvenir: A self-help team of women with disabilities.

Not once did she come across as sorry for herself during our chat.
Not once did she seem arrogant of her achievements.
Not once did she try to push me to buy more than I wanted to.

She oozed humility, love and so much warmth that my eyes were brimming over by the time the husband had done the conversion and told me how much I was spending. The teenagers were transfixed by this petite person who housed a giant of a gentle soul inside her. I had to hug her. And you know what, I'm teary eyed as I type this. She didn't let go of me. We hugged like long lost friends who had found each other. I can't remember what she looks like, I can only feel her embrace. She is the reason I've not been able to write about Cambodia as another travel venture of ours. It didn't feel right. 

Tea is what I was planning to write about when I sat down today (a day late, actually). But, it turned out to be Ta Prohm. This brochure of theirs sits on my desk, on top of Maya Angelou's books and on top of Gibran's, too.

I haven't been in touch with her. I don't know why. Maybe, sometimes we need a lot of time to absorb before we can act.

You may/may not read this post and you may/may not believe me, but I have to tell you this: writing about Ta Prohm and remembering Chim's embrace has made my day. I feel this scarf and smile:)
If you head out to Phnom Penh, check out Ta Prohm and Apsara Gallery. You'll come back with much more than mere souvenirs. I can promise you that. 
The teenagers bought wallets made out of recycled jute bags...

House move is on the cards and yesterday was spent outdoors, in the new garden, talking to the plants, encouraging them to take the transplanting in their stride. I hope they pay heed. Hence, this post is a few hours late; it's Sunday. Enjoy your day off. It's the first day of work week here in Doha.


  1. Awesome blog! Very touching and a wonderful connect to the trip. Now I feel all the more blessed with the purple scarf. I just love it and match my clothes to the scarf instead of the other way around. Will plan a trip to Cambodia some day...together! Happy shifting!

    1. Thanks Manu:) People like her make mundane activities like shopping an experience to cherish. Glad you like the scarf. xx

  2. What a touching story... those moments are treasures in life. The scarf is really beautiful! I love the color.

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

    1. Thanks you Zalka. Blues and greens and aquamarines are clours I find hard to resist. Glad to see you here.

  3. With ease of your words I was instantly transported to her perite store. Love the way you pen down so beautifully Arti. I find myself keep spying on G+ for your next alphabet :)

    1. Thanks Pinkz:) Her spirit shines in her work and humility--it was a privilege to spend a few moments with her.
      I hope to do justice to your blog and visit you when I have more time. How was Saturday class?


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