Friday 31 August 2018

A story: Of four women on a road trip in India

"If you need soda or sprite for the evening, please get it when you go to the waterfall." informed the caretaker of the homestay when we checked in. 

It was almost time for lunch. The plan was to explore Elle Neer waterfall before sunset.

The caretaker's  simple and matter of fact suggestion implied that we may be pouring a glass or two of our chosen poison at the end of the day.

So what's the big deal?

Nothing, really. No big deal.

But there's a reason why I'm sharing this here on my blog today.

Let me explain.

Almost a month ago, I read Deepa Krishnan's facebook post of 21st July 2018. Her post was about the "singular lack of multiple narratives about Indian women" vis-a-vis women's safety in India. Krishnan had shared this Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's famous TED talk video focussing on the "danger of a single story" and written, "If you keep telling one story it becomes the defining image of a people." on her post.
Something in those lines nudged me to tell my story, our story: a simple story of four ordinary Indian women travelling from Bangalore to Kudremukha for a weekend to trek, to share dreams and disappointments, to laugh out loud, to make fun of each other, to plan the next rendezvous, to enjoy delicious food, to sip fresh filter coffee in the morning and vodka tonic in the evening, to ask for spicy peanuts to go with the drinks in the evening as easily as demanding (politely, of course) bhajias with coffee. 

Some of you who've read the last para may think: so what's the big deal? Where is the story? 

And therein lies my point. There is no story to spin. Four of us: all women, travelled in a car driven by a woman, found a beautiful home-stay to spend two nights, trekked a bit, got very, very wet under a waterfall, got bitten by leeches, cackled over silly jokes and then travelled back to our homes, lives, jobs, husbands, children etc. --all in one piece without a single man bothering us in any shape or form. 

The roads were Indian and the humans who guided us to step carefully over slushy mud to see a gorgeous horizon or to bathe under a thunderous waterfall were men (yes, Indian)--gentle, kind, caring men. Indian men cooked delicious dosas and prepared hot steaming coffee on demand and served us our food with a smile. 

The humans who sat and chatted on the little porch overlooking the gorgeous green and grey of tea gardens smothered in fog were all men, too: c0-owners of the home-stay called Thengaali. They were happy to receive feedback on how to make their place even more comfortable for future guests from our group of four women. Apu pointed out that they should put extra hooks for clothes in their bathrooms. They nodded and promised they'd get that sorted.

This is the 'other' story--the one that is repeated day in and day out in streets and on roads of India but never ever gets reported. Why? Is it because it's inconsequential? Or, perhaps, it's not spicy enough to sell?

Of course, there are exceptions. There are parts of India where we're less likely to travel like we did from Bangalore to Kudremukha. Those kind of places and areas exist in every nook and city of this world--from Chicago to Birmingham to Jakarta. Common sense should be the first thing you pack when you plan a holiday whether you're a man or a woman. 

There are states in India where the caretaker will not be happy to serve you sprite or soda with vodka--whether you're a man or a woman.

There are men who'll be reading this post and wondering how my husband allows me to go off gallivanting with my girlfriends like this.

There are women who'll be reading this post and wondering the same. Perhaps there will be more women than men. I don't know.

Perceptions and prejudices are part and parcel of the human story. I'm not an expert but I'd say prejudices and perceptions are evolutionary tools that helped us get to where we are today. One perceived danger and avoided it. Over time that perception morphed into prejudice. Or perhaps it did so when we lived as tribal nomads. Thus, helping tribes to keep their own safe against perceived or actual danger from other tribes.

That was then. This is now. We have moved from tents to tower blocks, but we insist to carry those prejudices with us like second skin. 

Single narratives protect and nourish this second skin.

Everything you feel, goes through the pores of this second skin. It becomes your reality. If you don't know otherwise, what you know becomes your truth--you don't question it.

So, the whole point of this post is to present a side of India that doesn't get talked about much: the safe and unbiased side--where men are so comfortable with themselves and their place in society that they have the courage to treat women as an equal and advise them to stock up on soda and sprite before the corner shop up in the hills of western ghats shuts for the day. 

It's become fashionable to call such men feminists these days. I'm married to one such man. He seems normal to me. 

After reading Krishnan's post, I've decided to share examples of ordinary men and women in India who live a life of equality as often as I can. I want to infuse my two pennies worth into the human narrative of the country I was born in.

I'm aware that reporting and talking about men behaving badly is very, very important. I'm aware that drinking alcohol is not a measure of liberty for either men or women. I'm aware that there is a long and arduous journey ahead of us before women can feel truly equal to men--not just in India but everywhere in the world. I may be a dreamer but my feet are firmly grounded in reality. Yes, I'm aware of the stark naked unfairness so many women face every day. 

But, stories that are ordinary and mundane and not anti-men also need to be shared. Otherwise, we are in danger of painting a single 'image of a people.' 

What's your story? Please share instances of 'good' whenever you can, no matter how small or inconsequential it may look.
Leaving you with this cheerful portrait of Ms. Bano (I forget her first name: sorry) who is a Gujjar from Madhya Pradesh. She, along with her family, is hired as a tea picker to work on daily wages on this tea plantation in the Western Ghats.
Enjoy a happy and peaceful weekend.

Sunday 12 August 2018

a gathering of drops on moss in a liberal democracy

every drop
has her own point of view.
the village of clouds that raised them is a liberal democracy.

even today
when they gather together
on a mossy bench,
they share their stories
the way their rain mother showed them to:




a complete collective
of eclectic points of view.

It's been a long absence from blogging for me. I'd thought I'd take a couple of weeks off after the April blogging challenge and get back to my regular pace in June. But June became July and July turned to August and apart from my short shares on Insta, I haven't written much at all this summer.

It's been a summer of amazing reads and graduations and short trips to those graduations and one to a monsoon soaked western ghats (near Bangalore) where the above two pictures are from. 

I hope you've been well and happy.

Travelling opens up ones horizons, they say, but it also highlights the polarization of thoughts among people who choose to feed on news as their source of intellectual nourishment. If I had my way, I'd put this statutory warning on every news item that peddles the us and them junk: "This is injurious to your and your planet's health." 

It's been a summer of listening and absorbing so far. And if political narrow-mindedness has shocked me for I found it in the most unlikeliest of places: on the lips of an evolved dear friend, some attitudes and stories I've witnessed have made me jump with joy for their open-mindedness and acceptance, even though I found those in unlikely corners too--far away from the city, in the words of ordinary and not very educated men. More about that in my next post.

Have a super Sunday dear readers and I do hope to get back to blogging a bit more regularly and visit all of your wonderful blogs too:)

Monday 7 May 2018

Reflection post #AtoZChallenge

Is this the sun
reflected in water?
have the waves given birth to many suns?
Are stars skinny dipping in broad daylight
to refresh and relight
before they go back up to twinkle in the night sky?

Coruscant! Deborah may say.
What will you?
This year's A to Z has been the most enjoyable one for me. This is my third year of diving in unprepared (just like the previous two times). So what was different this time round? I reckon it's the rhythm of this year's challenge that I stumbled upon quite by accident which made it such a treat despite the demands of posting daily.

April started with family visiting, so I had limited hours each day in which to post and visit. As a result, I didn't seek out too many bloggers--just four or five to read every day. By the end of that first week, I had fallen into a comfortable pattern of visiting bloggers who'd visited me and some whose comments on other bloggers' posts made me want to visit them.

This year, my heart's desires were more about seeing than being seen. So, after writing and  posting, I allotted my time to visit the blogs which pulled me towards them. I will be sharing a list of those in this post.

I'm a blogger and the reason I share what I write is because I do enjoy being seen. So, no-- I'm not heading to the hills to become a hermit just yet. But, there was a sense of calm that I felt this year. If I got comments, it was awesome and if I didn't, that was fine too. I visited the blogs I enjoyed at different times of the day.

Mornings were usually set aside for reflective posts from :
Yamini who ignited a desire within to explore Advaita Vedanta 
Susan who introduced me to Lilith
Deborah offered new old words and perfumed my mornings with her fragrant writing
and Beth provided the morning stretches.

Humour and giggles were provided by:
So anytime I needed a little respite, I'd visit them.

Evenings were spent with a cup of tea and fiction set in the EU with Iain Kelly and
sometimes discovering new weird things like a diamond prince in a rubber suit with  ZALKA CSENGE VIRÁG.

Post dinner time which till March was Netflix time, got assigned to visiting my blogging friends from last year's challenge: 
Jz who can make you laugh out loud with a post on zucchini--trust me.
Emily who was awarded the title of the Ambassador of all things wonderful from Ecuador by Deborah. 

This year I added the blogs I enjoyed to my blog roll, so it was easier to visit whenever I could snatch snippets of time in between washing dishes and tempering daal with cumin and curry leaves.

I met a bunch of talented bloggers from India:
Shilpa's travel inspired posts gave me some very useful tips.
Seema's art and words made me want to pack my bags and head out to India--such amazing talent.
Shalini's love of books criss-crossed my path and made me happy.
Kalpana writes and photographs and with the magic of her photos managed to convince me that I must see Delhi with fresh eyes.

And then there was poetry and lyrical verse: whimsical, beautiful, sometimes direct, sometimes wavy...
Lissa whose words and art are moon dust--whimsical and poignant, magical and real.

I couldn't visit TamaraShirley and Kristin as often as I'd have liked to. Thank you girls for dropping by:)

And then there is my old blogging buddy April who I visited the least number of times in April. I love her writing and she's a beautiful soul. I reckon I'll let April spread over my summer while I play catch up with all the missed posts.

Thank you for your visits Eva and Pinkz:) 

I met Ashwini on Z. So, I've not had a chance to visit her properly. 

I hope that the abundance of April will spill over into the rest of the year and we'll continue to meet and visit each other.

It's been an amazing month of seeing and learning. I'm grateful to all you generous souls who took the time to visit me. If you left a comment, it made me very happy. And if you read or looked at the photos and let me into your day for a few minutes, and didn't sign your presence, it made me happy too.  And if you chose not to stop by, that was cool as well. When it's time, it's time.

A Big Thank You to all the organizers.

As I said, it's been an awesome April. I'm grateful and so is my heart. 
May your days sparkle like stars 
May your nights keep you safe
May the in-between hours be filled with magic.
A list of A to Z that was a gift of April---in case you're in the mood to read or browse:)
Art bought from a tiny shop in Phnom Penh:
artist unknown
 joy of journey: known, felt and relished.

Monday 30 April 2018

Z is for Zaroorat and Zahrah #AtoZChallenge

Zaroorat means need in Urdu.

I heard an elder give this as a blessing to someone who'd bent down to touch her feet, "Bhagwaan khush rakhe, na zaroorat se zyada aur na zaroorat se kam de."

Translation: May God Bless you. May He/She give you just enough, no more and no less than you need.

Can you imagine such a blessed life? Just enough to eat, to wear, to read, to watch, to drink, to share, to walk on, to fly in, to escape to, to hold on to,to hug, to let go, to forget, to remember, to laugh, to cry, to sigh, to think about...just more and no less.

"What should I get from the shops?" My father used to ask my mother on his way to work, to check if she needed anything for her kitchen or home. His shop was in the bazaar so he would pick fruit and vegetables and sundries on his way back.

"Sirf zaroorat ka samaan." (Only what we need ) Mummy would say.

Our parents never made long shopping lists. We always had enough to eat--almost always fresh. I can't recall a single time when any food was ever wasted. Left-overs didn't usually happen because Beji, my gradmother, was a stickler for eating only freshly prepared meals.

Whenever I come across a bowl of food that's been moved to the back of the fridge or a can of something that's gone past its best by date, my Indian conditioning churns. Buy only zaroorat ka samaan (only what you need) Arti. I have to remind myself of this simple tip. 

So as I come to Z and look back at a journey of plenty, of sharing, seeking, reading, smiling, nodding, even guffawing every now and then, I thank the A to Z team for this month's 'just enough.' For just as the typing muscles are starting to ache and the reading cells are coming up to saturation, Z has appeared on the horizon.

After every day, there's a night. After every challenge, there must be rest.

I know that despite my best intentions, I will write less, blog in-frequently and visit the people I've visited every day, only every now and then.

Rumi's words: "And don't think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It's quiet, but the roots down under are riotous." point to a sleeping that is full of preparation and renewal. 

It's time, then, to wave a fond farewell to all the people whose words and pictures visited my days and filled my nights, woke me up before sunset (jet-lagged week that went by) and somehow managed to push Netflix out from my April. That's an achievement fellow A to Zers:) And I thank you for it.

Until we meet again...

I pray for all our lives to be blessed: may all our zarooratein (needs)be met and when they are met, may grace guide us to see we've reached our plenty, may our hearts then sing with gratitude for our life of enough.

Leaving you with another Z word but this time it's from Arabic: Zahrah meaning flower or blossom or beauty.
 These beauties are from the garden that sits by the kitchen where I type out my posts.
Zinnia, Lantana, lemon grass, sunflowers, mogra, chameli (jasmine) fill my needs.
Na zaroot se zyadae
aur na hi kam
No more
No less
Just enough.
Spring has sprung in many places I've visited in this A to Z.
Doha is heating up for summer. 
Spring is short lived here, so I captured it in a post and whenever I feel the zaroorat,
I log on to enjoy the the colours this garden once wore
Here's a beautiful ghazal by Faiz, sung by Tanya Wells.
It's spring with subtitles:)
I know you'll love it.

Saturday 28 April 2018

Y is for Yartsa Gunbu: the viagra of the Himalayas #AtoZChallenge

Jagat, our Nepali guide, pointed out to the ground and said, 'look.'

I looked but didn't see anything.

'Look...look.' his body followed his pointed finger and folded into a squat peering at the ground. 'Can you see?'

I looked but I could not see.

I felt exactly as I had when my driving instructor had asked me,'which way is the wheel facing?'

We were both inside the car. I thought it was a trick/funny question.

'How can I know? I'm inside the car?'

I saw him slapping his forehead like Punjabis do to suggest no-hope for this one. (i.e. idda kucchch nee ho sakdaa). His eyes were peeled at my hands holding the steering wheel. He was trying to tell me the clue was in my hands with his eyes.

I didn't get it then. I was almost thirty when I decided to learn to drive. He had told me more than once that I should've done this when I was seventeen. i.e. I was too old. So, I knew he was biased. 

Only after my legendary attempts at passing the driving test did I get it and then I felt as stupid as I was feeling that day at 10,000 ft above sea level trying to see what Jagat was pointing at in the lush meadows of Ali Bugyal.

Jagat scarped at the ground with his index finger and like an expert pair of pincers teased out a worm like creature from the ground.

'Open your palm.' he said and put the creature on it.

'Half plant, half worm.' he proclaimed.


'Yartsa Gunbu, very, very, very expensive Tibetan's plant for six months and worm for six months. Sells for 50,000 dollars for half a kilo!'
My eyes popped out at this tiny thing. He tweezed another one out and put in on my palm.

I trusted Jagat. All his information about the local flora and the peaks we were about to climb had sounded plausible up till then.

For better photos and a brief description of the biology of Yartsa Gunbu, please do click on: You have an option to listen to the article. It's very informative.

After I got back from this wonderful son and mother trek to Roopkund, I started digging up more about this super expensive fungus.

Like all elixirs of youth and life, Yartsa Gunbu comes with its fair share of bans, police chases, rules put by governments and flouted by people for survival or greed. 

'Locals, sometimes, go looking for it. It's illegal  ....But....' Jagat's eyes had said the rest.

I came across stories of gangs, a man killed by another for YarstaGunbu which prompted the local government to put the ban.

However, as an aphrodisiac and as a status symbol (especially in China, I'm told), this tiny fungus has been the bane of many small villages in the Himalayan region.

I read a story of a man who went missing and was later found dead. Such stories are not uncommon in villages of Nepal. The more I googled, the more disenchanted I felt.

My heart breaks when I see this beauty and the beast of human greed that's acting just like the caterpillar fungus: consuming some villages from within.
Yartsa Gunbu is being researched and googling it will tell you that they seem to have found it useful for treating cancer and arthritis.

I hope and I pray that right measures are taken to farm it and that locals, the guardians of these magestic mountains are not short changed by the mighty corporations or greedy men and women. Even as I type this out, I can hear the echo of the emptiness of my words. But, hope I will.

Friday 27 April 2018

X is for Xavier's College Canteen in Kolkata #AtoZChallenge

'Your one month's tuition fee is more than what my father paid for my entire education.' my husband often points this fact out to our son who's studying for his grade 12 exams at the moment.

Our son, like our daughter who's now at university so out of her father's earshot, hears this every now and then, especially when the topic of university fees comes up.

My husband likes to point out to them that he was awarded a scholarship in high school which not only covered his tuition fee, he even had a bit left over which became his pocket money. Yes, he's not winning the most popular Dad award any time soon. He's an Indian father whose two primary concerns at this point in time are:

1) his son should work hard to get the grades he needs to go to the university of his choice.
2) his son should know that money doesn't grow on trees.

June, 2016. My husband's alma mater informed him that if he didn't collect his degree (which had been awarded to him 25 years ago but he had failed to collect it as he was not living in the country anymore) it would be sent back to the University. And anyone who knows anything about offices in universities of India will tell you that it's easier to find a needle in a haystack than a piece of document you've worked hard for.

So one hot and humid June afternoon in 2016, we found ourselves immersed in his recollections of his dear St. Xavier's. One of his college friends joined him and the two of them dipped in and out of anecdotes from their days, teachers they loved and the ones they loathed, stories of wearing two or three underpants on days of caning etc.etc.

'What's your favourite memory?' I asked

'The only really clear memory I have is the 8 o'clock break. Bhookh zor se lagee hotee thee --we would be starving so we'd run down the narrow staircase to head to the canteen to be first in line for luchee aaloo and samosas.' 

College started at 6.00 am for them! 

Despite the heat, we relished luchee aloo (fried bread and potato curry) and samosas with tea that day. There's something special about sharing someone's food memories with them. It's a slice of their childhood you can taste. I think our children saw the boy their Dad once was and forgave him for his 'scholarship' toots (at least for the time being).
Jhaal Muri : jhaal means hot and muri means puffed rice.
It's a popular street snack in Kolkata.
No day in Kolkata is complete without a helping of this delicious, mouth watering, crunchy, tangy delight.
I used to stop by at a jhaal muri stall almost every evening after work.
 St. Xavier's College has its own jhaal muri waala. I was impressed.
My husband's friend made sure we were properly impressed so he gave the guy instructions on making a dish he makes for a living!
Yes, as Indians, we do love to give advice: lots of it and it's all for free:)
In case your taste buds are tingling like mine are right now, check out this recipe video:
It's Friday today. The husband is at home and he does make a mean jhaal muri. 
I reckon we'll have a snacky lunch today:)
Do you have any food memories from you school days you'd like to share?

Thursday 26 April 2018

W is for Wells #AtoZChallenge

WELCOME to Wells, Somerset.
It's the smallest city in England.
Wells Cathedral is the reason that this tiny medieval city is called a city.

Every inch and nook of the city is picture perfect.
So, it was hard for me to choose just a few pictures to post today. 
I tried. But, I didn't succeed. 

We stayed in Wells for a few days last August.
Let the tour begin.
Let the pictures do the talking (with a few words for company)

Wells High street: so quaint and small that by the time you've said high, it's over.
Wells Cathedral: Gothic and poetic

Ha! Do you see a W or two?
Spotted in August'17 in Wells. 
Who would've thought they'd appear in a W post in April 2018?
Such treasures come by when we keep our eyes open to see. Right?
We picked a couple to munch on. They were delicious: crisp, slightly tangy and very juicy.

The Vicars' Close
This extract has been taken from
"Adjoining the Cathedral is Vicars’ Close, believed to be the only complete medieval street left in England. The houses were built in the 14th century to provide accommodation for the Vicars Choral, who sing the daily services, and this is still the case today."

The Bishop's Palace tells us that its...
"Home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for over 800 years, the palace is surrounded by a moat, complete with resident swans trained to ring a bell for food." 
We were exploring the caves in Cheddar gorge that morning, so by the time we got back to Wells, the palace was shut, but we managed to walk in its beautiful grounds.

We didn't see any swans. Perhaps they'd eaten and gone to bed by the time we arrived.

The Sew Vintage shot that featured in V Post was taken in Wells, Somerset.
Well, that's it folks. 
Expecting to see you here tomorrow. 
Where are you planning to be this weekend? Any place special?

Wednesday 25 April 2018

V is for Vintage #AtoZChallenge

"Did you bring any body lotion with you?" asked the husband as he stepped out of the bathroom after taking a shower.

"You didn't ask. Besides, we're in a hotel. You'll be fine." I replied.

I happened to travel out of Doha to join my husband for the weekend. He'd been away for over a week. He had a free weekend in between his work commitments. 

"Why don't you join me?"He had called on Friday.

A to Z, I thought and then figured that I could carry on posting as long as I carried my laptop with me. The flights looked wide open to avail of staff discount.

So here I was. With him. Talking over the sound of running water, I was telling him what he should do with his free Sunday now that I'd made the supreme effort of joining him when he asked for the lotion. He's fond of the one he uses and usually carries it with him. This time he forgot to pack it.

The day's decisions were made, unanimously, of course. 

I entered the bathroom to shower.

"This body lotion is so smooth. It literally glides." I cooed to the tiny hotel bottle and got dressed.

Monday morning. He stepped out of the bathroom holding the almost empty bottle of body lotion in his hand.

"Is this the lotion you used yesterday?" I should've known. His honey eyes were twinkling.


"Well, it says hair conditioner on the bottle... thought you might like to know." He continued despite the soft chuckles that were beginning to muffle his words a bit. 

"You're so vintage Mrs. Jain." he guffawed at his own joke and almost tripped over his briefcase lying next to the desk.

Bless the Lord that I was keeping my eyes and ears open for V and all I heard was : Vintage!

He escaped to work unhurt. 

I cleaned my reading glasses and flipped the laptop open to write the T Post.
The venue of the pictures above will be revealed tomorrow with W. 
So you'll have to wait.
This one fit so well with his 'so vintage' remark  that I just had to use it today.
Any vintage moments you'd like to share?
Vintage wine kinda moments are welcome too.
I haven't been able to visit some of you on account of travel. But I'm back in Doha now, so I will be stopping by to say Hi:)