Seychelles, a Victim of Sea Piracy

Seychelles is no more a paradise for rich holidayers and tourists. It has become  a hunting ground for  pirates, Somalian pirates. Their operational  area is from Seychelles to Mahe, gulf of Aden and Maldives.

The pirates’ target is any ship that passes by in their working area,  be it a merchant ship, a cargo ship or an oil tanker or even a passenger ship. Once they boarded a passenger ship which probably carried a thousand passengers.  Completely outnumbered, the dozen odd pirates were hammered nicely and thrown into the sea. So, they avoid  ocean liners.

What is their aim of  hauling up ships?  Their merchandise or oil?  None of these.  The ransom  money from ship owners for releasing the ship and  crew.  They demand millions of dollars and the owners find no  way other than paying up the amount  and getting the ship back.

The pirates do abduct crew and other passengers  sometime. The purpose is the same – ransom.  A retired couple set sail in their private yacht  one day. They had traveled hardly 60 nautical miles and they were cornered  and taken prisoners along with their yacht. It is not known where these two persons,  60 and  56 are.  Probably they are held hostage for any negotiation in the future.

The interception could place any where up to  Maldive islands.

Don’t the ships have any protection?  Yes, the Indian Navy does come to their rescue.  They did capture some pirates also and in some cases, after destroying their small ships the men were thrown into the sea to make them fend for themselves or die a horrible death.  The UK and American Navies also do help.  But then a distance of some 1500 nautical miles cannot be protected every inch.  The pirates choose their target and according to their timing.

The greatest sufferer is the Seychelles government and its people. Their tourist traffic has dwindled down to almost a trickle. No honey mooner or holidayer would venture into this area.  The island’s income is thus affected.

The other source of income is ‘tuna fishing’; tuna is exported to the European countries.  The  French and Spanish trawlers who do the fishing for the island have slowed down their activity.  So much so, from 2009, the catch has reduced by 30%.

Tuna processing and  canning system  in Seychelles is a highly automated one.  At one end of the conveyor belt, the trawlers unload the catch and at the other you collect the canned tins.  The factory has been producing 450 tons of tuna fish daily which has reduced to around 300 now. Some 3000 Seychellians are employed in the fishing industry. Not only the income of the Seychelles population has decreased  considerably but  also many have become unemployed as well. What will the  people do?

Why are the Somalians  indulging in this immoral practice?  They say, their fishing business from Gulf of Eden has been affected terribly due to poaching by other nations.  Next, the gulf has become a dumping ground for all kinds of wastes including toxic waste.  This has affected the health of the Somalians.  Thousands  suffer from mouth disease and stomach disorder.

Somalia is a very poor country and underdeveloped as well.  And yet people have to live.  What could they do?

In the circumstances, piracy appeared to be a very tempting and  a quick money earner method  and they had  grabbed the  opportunity. The Somalian piracy has the public’s support and not considered immoral at all.

The navies of other nations do capture the pirates and try them out in their own courts.  Recently there was an agreement among the nations that the convicted Somalians must spend their jail sentence in their own country and should be sent to Somalia after trial. Since the Public have given their open approval for the piracy , will this measure reduce piracy by any significant  percentage? Very doubtful.  We don’t know  what the Somalian governments’ stand is in this regard.  Are they for or against piracy?

Possibly thousands and thousands are indulging in this trade.  Suppressing or eliminating this  large scale professionals  is not an easy task through the small help the island gets from neighbouring nations. If  fleets of ships are deployed, it may be possible to eliminate the menace.  But then, isn’t this asking for the Moon?

The next alternative  for the exporters is to send armed escorts in each ship.  This should not prove very expensive at all. Since the pirates come only in small numbers, a  dozen odd  well equipped soldiers on board  could easily overpower the thieves of small groups. This seems to be the final solution at the cheapest cost. And the ship owners must consider this option in the interest of their own business and safety of their goods and crew.

 

 

Answer me, God!

One incident took away almost everything from my world. Aayush, my younger son was only 4 months old then; I could have never heard the word “mamma” from him  neither would I knew how well my elder son, Aryan could sing or how handsome he looks in his all white cricketing attire. It all happened little more than a year back but it is still so vivid in my mind as if it happened just a week before. I am writing this on the eve of my birthday, thanks to the saviour for he gave me an opportunity to celebrate my birthday this year with my family.

We met with a  road accident when we were coming back from Pondicherry to Chennai after spending a superb holiday. Our red car, as Aryan recalls, “Papa’s red car fell and broke into pieces so papa bought a big black car.” Our car was rammed by a xylo from behind and the world became darkness to me.

When I was back to my senses, a month had passed and I was still in the hospital with a severe head injury. The worst thing that happened during this accident was that I suffered from retrograde amnesia and lost my last one-year memory. Due to that, I even forgot my younger son, since he was only 4 months then. Still, I keep on urging everyone individually, not to disclose this to him when he grows up. He will be very hurt when he will know his mother did not remember him. Many more things happened in that one-month period when I was in the hospital, but I was simply clueless.

Finally, one day I was released from the hospital, still on a prescription to continue my high dose medicines for an indefinite time. One day I was just lying in my bed, and found my aunt’s digital camera. She came down from Kolkata during those wretched days to help us. I took the camera and started browsing the pics in it. I saw the first pic, and then the second and then as I pressed the next button, the third pic came up. I stared at the picture blankly. It was Aayush’s pic, with one of his leg wrapped with a white plaster. I immediately ran to my hubby to enquire further. He didn’t hide a bit and told me Aayush fractured his leg during the accident. If that was not all, the fracture got detected after a couple of days when the leg started to swell. Poor Aayush underwent a massive pain for those two days.  In addition, my elder son, Aryan who was only 3 and half years then, broke his left collarbone and was in trauma since he was the only one who saw the whole thing. I became numb and only my tears, which do not follow any rules, continued to roll down my cheek. He also said that every night both the kids kept on crying. The younger one tried to pronounce “mamma” and kept on crying and the elder one, kept on asking everyone when his mother will come back to him.

For better care, my hubby sent me to my mothers place to Kolkata after a few days post my return from the hospital. During that stay, I would ask my mother about all that happened when I was not in my senses. She would always start her narration with Anirban, my hubby, how he took care of me. He was badly injured too in the accident, 21 stitches in his head and with a broken shoulder, still he spent all the nights in the hospital sitting next to me. His routine was somewhat like this; he joined his office few days after the accident – he would go to his office in the morning, return by 5 pm, then feed and make Aryan sleep (He was not allowing anyone to feed him and making him sleep).  After Aryan slept, hubby would have his dinner and go to the hospital with my dinner. He would feed me and then used to sit the whole night awake next to my bed and the next day morning again the routine continued…. I always love my hubby a lot but after hearing all this from my mother, that love increased manifolds and the respect I had for him increased too. He too was badly injured and required proper rest after the accident, but due to his commitments then he did not get any rest and now he is suffering from the side effects. 6 months after the accident, he started getting tremendous back pain, for which he still have sleepless nights. After a check up from the doctor, we came to know during the accident, he badly hurt his back, if he would have taken proper rest then after the accident, now he would not suffer from the side affects. I am very lucky to have him as my best half; he showed me what life is and where happiness lies.

I had no clue what my parents went through as i am their only daughter. Few months back when I was visiting  my aunt, the topic reappeared. She disclosed that my mother kept fasting because I could not eat properly when I was in the hospital. She used to tell, “I will leave my fasting only when my daughter starts eating normal diet.” ‘Hat’s off to you maa, you have shown me what mothers are for and thanks baba for your support.I know you too went through a lot of pain !”

A year flew by but the stigma of the incidence is still crystal-clear in my mind. Very frequently, I get the memories flushing my mind and I always ask with moist eyes – ‘why it was me and my family, who had to experience such a horrible fate.’ This is the only question that I have for Him, the power known as God!

Travel in India: Perspectives From An Outsider

To most of us coming from the UK (or most places in the West), India is as culturally different as it’s possible to get. On arrival in India, our senses are bombarded with vivid colours, air that’s heavy with spices, blazing heat and a general sense of total chaos that we rarely come across in our daily westernized lives.

At first, this can all seem a little overwhelming. It is important to make some time to gather our thoughts and take the sightseeing one step at a time. Personally I think the best place to begin your journey is Southern India. This is where I began mine. Places like Goa or Kerala present you with beautiful tropical beaches and a more relaxed vibe. Here you will get a chance to become accustomed to the food and culture of India without having to tackle the mind bogglingly busy streets of the bigger cities.

When you feel ready to embark on the ‘real’ India experience, be prepared for a few other differences from the usual organised comforts of the UK. Throughout India, transport is readily available but does not run to a prescribed or orderly timetable. Be prepared to wait and wait and wait some more, as buses and trains leave when they’re ready and not before. This may sounds like a headache but it quickly becomes an enjoyable, freeing experience. Travel is not about timetables and keeping to schedules. It should be about freedom, adventure and letting things happen. Simply turn up with a good book about India, plenty of food, and you’ll be at your destination within a day or two!

On the subject of travel and transportation, there are now plenty of airlines that fly to India from airports throughout the world (example: UK – India options). In fact getting to India has never been easier – a far cry from the lengths people had to go to when India first started hitting the guidebooks in the 60s. Although it may seem obvious it’s important to remember that India is a big place. A very big place. Many backpackers forget this and don’t realise the sheer distance it is from the top of the country to the bottom. Vertically, India is more than 3,000 kilometres which feels even longer if you’re travelling by train!

On arrival in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta be prepared for very little elbow room, cows on the road and a heck of a lot of noise. It may take a little getting used to but again, once you’ve adjusted, the smells, colours, sights and sounds will captivate and enliven even the weariest traveller. Haggle in markets, try tantalising street food, explore hidden temples and hop on and off rickshaws that will wiz you around the city at breakneck speed. It won’t take long for India’s chaotic and haphazard way of life to charm you. Returning to the UK can often be more of a culture shock then arriving in India!

Hectic it may be but with a strong spiritual culture, India always has yoga and meditation retreats to take refuge in if the pace has become a little too much and you need some time out. If you want to get to higher ground, the Himalayas also offer a spiritual experience of a different kind. Take the Darjeeling Express train into the mountains for some of the most stunning views in the world, and escape to the misty tea plantations for a cuppa and a good long hike.

If you can find a festival happening during your trip they will enchant you with their rich colours, carpets of flowers, music, dancing, feasting and celebrating. They also give a real insight into the country’s religious culture, traditions and spiritual beliefs. A little background knowledge goes a long way to making you feel a part of the country you’re in.

India is a complex, diverse and challenging country to travel through, but an eye-opening, wonderful and unique one at the same time. Travel around India is guaranteed to broaden not only your horizons but your mind too. Be brave, bite the bullet and embrace all that incredible India has to offer. It’s well worth it. Well, that’s my experience at least.

Tadobaaa…ah!

The desire to visit a jungle sprung up when my school friend Sumit mentioned about his desire to visit Tadoba Andheri Tiger Reserve, Nagpur, Maharashtra sometime soon to add to his elaborate list of forest visits… well, they are not ordinary forests, but have to be tiger reserves, that’s how passionate this friend of mine is about tigers and seriously concerned about their dimming count. I was sure that irrespective of the Oppressive (with a capital O) summer heat, tiger sightings or not, I will have a good time with him given his experience in the wild. Another friend Debu, from my college tagged with me, so it was a threesome gearing up for a ride of expectation.

We took a train that starts from Kolkata in the afternoon and reached the heart of India, Nagpur early morning the next day. Then it was a car ride till a town Chandrapur, and then another 30 km ride to reach Tadoba. In-between Sumit’s experience warmed (literally) us to the fact that we have to purchase (and eat) lots of water melons to keep the body cool. In the meanwhile we had come to know that the temperature touches mid forties easily and the effect could be felt at Nagpur or Chandrapur… everyone on bikes seemed to have hit the road after robbing the bank, that how they have their faces covered, revealing only the eyes. We managed to load our car with two jumbo water melons, lot of grapes, and of course our bottles of chilled bear and headed towards MTDC (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corp) resort

When we reached Tadoba, it was 2 PM and the first ride into the Mohrali Range set off at3 PM. We changed, had a light lunch and hit the open green Maruti Suzuki jeep that we had booked. We were told that only petrol jeeps are permitted to ply in the forest area, keeping in mind the pollution and probably the sound that the diesel engine creates. The driver Bandu was a confident, strong lad, for whom we developed a liking in an hour of conversation. Slightly late for the first trip in-between a sea of cars, we set into the core with lot of expectations and thrills. Add Stayed at MTDC Resort. The first animal we saw within the first km was a langoor busy shuttling between trees. Our fingers started clicking the camera shutters to savor the moment of the first capture. One thing we, the first timers observed that there were lots of pools of water, locally called Taka constructed by the side of the road which feeds the animals with much needed water during the hot days and gives us opportunity to take their pictures in the process. As we went a little deep, we saw few cars huddled by the side of such a pool, waiting in expectantly with their cameras outstretched. Their cameras wore huge lenses and our digicams looked like toddlers to those. Bandu was quick to understand the situation and parked the car instantly to join the rest. The forest rule does not permit us to get down from our cars, all we could do is wait patiently without making much of a fuss in the stinging sun.

Then came the moment when the tigress made a grand entry and became centrestage, the cameras went berserk in burst mode. Content with everything going around, we thought “And it is just the start”. From that trip onwards, once we became bored, we came back to that waterhole for a sure sighting of the royal family, and they barely disappointed us.

The Royal Family crossing over...

In-between, we saw various kinds of deer, the spotted ones were plenty, the barking ones (they actually bark and also the smallest  variety) and the sambars (the biggest and as legend goes, the stupidest). The sambars were never scared to have their profile been shot, and it was fun filling up our cameras with their pictures. Then there were huge bisons (Indian Gaur) sipping from some waterhole or the other. In a place called Katezari (a range), which is greener of all ranges in the forest and holds subsequent amount of water even in the oppressive summer heat, we found bear footmarks on trees laden with honey bees, but always remained short of coming across one of them.

Been through so much in so little time, the male tigers stole the show. There were two of them one of which fondly called teri-poonch, meaning slanted tail (nothing more than a demarcation). We reached that in a cinematic way when our car followed the trail of a male tiger in a narrow road. After almost 20 mins of search, finally got to check out the huge species. Our meeting with the second male happened when we were only 20 feet away from each other, almost ignorant of our presence, he walked the other way and into the forest.

A dam called Telia-dharan (dam)... sighting Green and plenty of deer for the first time

Going through this, we may feel Aal Is Well with the gorgeous beasts, but it is far from so. Poaching is still active is few reserves, villagers in-between the forest throw tantrums when asked to be shifted somewhere else, politics in taking up responsibilities, are all burning issues. So much so that our PM Manmohan Singh had to step up and comment on the conservation of tigers in India. Precious little are being done since while we keep our fingers crossed that the count of tigers surpasses all expectations and crosses the official figure of 1411 till now.

Unparalleled beauty

If you  are  willing  to  hide  and  seek  with  nature than   get  your  bag  packed  for  one  of  the  craziest  wonder  on   Earth; Sikkim.

I  have  had  my  Goosebumps  when  I  have  seen  the  3rd highest  mountain  peak  in  the  world; the Kanchenjunga. Eternal  beauty  of  Kanchenjunga  is  the  main  source   of  tourism in  the  surrounding 4 states.

At  first I have  taken  the  northwards  bus  from  Kolkata  to  visit  Gangtok, from  there on  I  could  see  the serenity  that  Sikkim  can  offer. I  live  in  an industrialized city called  Durgapur in  West Bengal. So  this  kind  of  natural  beauty  seemed  new  and  breathtaking  to  me. I guess  you  would  feel  the  same……….

From  Gangtok  I  had  gone  to  Runtek  cave. The  place  is  situated  at  24  Km  SW  from  gangtok. It  is  one  of  the  richest  cultural  monastery situated  on 1550 m of  Rainvul  valley. Except  that there’s  so many  other  beautiful  places  to  visit  that  no one  could  imagine. Jaharlal Nehru  botanical  garden, Lingdun Monastery   to  name  a  few. I  have  visited  all  the  places  in  one  day, the  day  after reaching  Gangtok, but  I  would  love  to  suggest  to  take  few  more  time  to  enjoy  the  beauty  of  those  place  if  you  have  time.

One  of  my  favorite  spot  is  Changu  lake. Which  is  situated  a  35 km from  China-Tibet boarder.

The  calmness  of  this  lake  is  something  new  and  the  beauty  is  really  inexpressive. Eco-tourism  is  having  a  burst   in  Sikkim, thanks  to  this  lake  and  all  those  beautiful  places  I  mentioned, but  above  all   ,the  place  is  having  a  cover  of  lush green  greenery  which  is  the  prime  reason  of  sustainability  over  here. 36%  of  Sikkim  is  covered  with  natural  vegetation; shal, oak,maple, chestnut are  some  mother’s  nature’s  son  here.

I  have  my  special  moment  from  Sikkim  when  I  have  seen  plentiful  of  color  through  beautiful  Orchids, as  I  have  never  seen  them  before. Thousands  of  butterflies  were  flying  over  those  colorful  wonders. Another  specialty  of  this  place  is  adventure  sport. Whoever  love  to  stick  around  and  fly  over  the  valley, trekking, rafting  are  all  here  to  be  done.

I  had  spent only  4  days on  the  top  of  the  world. I  had  my  mood  filled  with  serene  and  pure  beauty  of  nature. The  day  I  have  come back  I never  really adjust  to  the  noise  of  artificial  life. I  always  would  prefer  to  go back  and surrender to  the  calm, uncomplicated, fresh  beauty  of  Sikim, What  about you?

Direction:  BY  plane from  Kolkata  to  Bagdogra, then  from  there  on  take  Sikkim  tourism  bus  or  hire  a  private  cab.

Murudeshwar – A Must Visit Destination

Murudeshwar is a scenic place known to be a pilgrim centre. This place attracts lots of tourists and devotees from all over the world. Famous for its Shiva Temple, this place has a long history which takes us back in centuries.

It is said that the Shivalinga present in this temple in Murudeshwar has erupted when Ravan, flung his cloth while lifting the Atmalinga, in Gokarna. Since this situation had arisen lots of complicated events, Lord Shiva had declared Murudeshwar as one most important sacred, holy place.

Murudeshwar is located 165 kms, approximately from Mangalore. This place is one of the most visited picnic spot famous for its crystal clear beaches. This place has finest guest houses, eateries known for their authentic coastal foods and beautiful gardens.

The best part about this place is the way the sea surrounds this temple from three sides. One gets to view the most beautiful sunset, right from his hotel’s balcony. There are two huge elephant statues, which welcomes one while stepping towards the temple. A huge idol of Lord Shiva has been erected recently, which adds to the beauty of this place.

The idol is approximately, 123 feet high and can be viewed from a very long distance from the Arabian Sea. It is said that this Shiva idol happens to be the tallest of all around the world.   Few other points one can visit and are located closer to this destination are namely, Jog falls, Udupi, Gokarna, and Bhatkal.

One can easily reach Murudeshwar by rail. Konkan railways are said to ply on this route daily.  The closest airport is Manglore and Goa, and from here one can carry on his journey by road, from Udupi to Bhatkal and then Murudeshwar.

The best of both worlds!!!

Just a month back, I saw one of the most hilarious sights I’ve witnessed of late. It was like, as soon as I witnessed that funny sight, I just cracked into a smile—In fact looking at the intensity of hilariousness involved in the sight, anyone ( may be even I) should have burst out laughing aloud. But the fact that I was travelling in a public transport and had to be keep that social awareness etiquette intact, I didn’t dare to burst out laughing aloud. Though later on, I repented, having contemplated that I should have loudly laughed about it; that way people travelling with me too would have got some reason to lighten up their day. But somehow that thought- What will people say; how will they react, if I just laugh out loud”– this thought refrained me from laughing out loud.

Anyways, so, what I saw was something like this— there was this posh, sophisticated joint of Papa John’s Pizza in this up market neighborhood. And just imagine— there was a bullock cart standing right outside this joint. Yeah… that is the hilarious sight I’m talking about. Now, to a cynical, not-easily- shedding off smiles- what’s the big joke about it type thinkers, this won’t be such a funny sight after all. But for me, a layman who’s otherwise leading a drab, monotonous, routine kind of life, and who’s always on a look out for gathering in his memory bank such tickling the funny bone type sights or episodes- this indeed was that one sight which brought an instant smile on my face.

The first thought that raced my mischievous mind was “What on earth is a bullock cart doing outside a pizza joint; and that too—Papa’s John’s!—Voila! The bullocks must be really well off…And top it all, look at their guts!…Of all the diet being set out for them, they are settling on a crunchy pizza, baked right out of the ovens of one of the most indulgent pizza parlors of the city!… And then I thought “Have these bullocks stopped eating fodder, or any other related cattle food, which they are supposed to be having?” And why so? Just then I thought, I should bring this to the notice of Laluji, just to keep him in loop about the changing dietary patterns of cattle!!!!…

The otherwise conditioned mind would have anticipated some plush cars coming out and going in the parlor parking lot, or maybe even swanky bikes with college goers doing the rounds of the pizza parlor— these wouldn’t be such out of the place sights. But suddenly out of the blue, when I saw a bullock cart cozily standing outside the joint, I couldn’t help but control my blissful emotions!

And then another naughty thought crossed my mind—had the bullocks ordered the Pizza themselves? Or maybe their owner might be a hungry chap, I thought, and he might have ordered one for himself, maybe one for his bullocks!!

One curious part of my brain asked me to get down the bus and walk back a few steps near the pizza parlor, just to see what on earth that bullock cart was doing there. In fact, I was all set to get down at the next stop. But then I abruptly stopped. I gathered my thoughts and stopped there and then. I instead decided to store in my permanent memory bank this funny sight which I’d witnessed; rather than unnecessarily wanting to remain fully informed about everything around. Maybe going to the roots of the million dollar question lurking my mind might not have brought much humor to the situation, as much as the amount of humor I gathered after having seen that sight just for a few seconds. Having thought so, I continued travelling, and got down where I was slated to; but only after experiencing and smiling end to end to one of the most hilarious sights.

And then, I quietly said to myself “Look, even the bullocks are trying to capture the best of both the worlds—the urban lifestyle as well as their native upbringing”.

And thus I walked on, in this urban milieu, trying to figure out, how I can imbibe the best of both the worlds…..

The Endless Wait

According to me, one of the most painstaking act is to go and receive someone at the airport who’s about to arrive from some long hauled or short hauled destination back to your city/ home….

It’s another thing when you go to see off someone at the airport—you wait for a while, and then the traveler buzzes off in that crowd for the check in formalities.But when it comes to awaiting someone with open arms, endlessly wandering around the Arriving Terminal, it’s a completely different story.

The glittering Arrival Status Board outside the Terminal is all that can be said as the waiting person’s “Information Point”. If the Board is showing up the status as “On Time”, then so far so good…..But, just in case the Board flashes the status as “Delay”…..then the waiting person’s patience is on testing grounds! And his cool, calm, and composure is in testing waters! ….

In that case, the ones who are waiting have no other option but to continue waiting…especially if they have driven down a substantial distance to be at the airport, so they see no point going back, and then coming again. With this contemplation, people wait and wait…They eat, they yawn, they wonder—at the back of the mind, they might even get frustrated a bit—but they wait—after all they have but no choice. They’ve chosen to test their own patience, so they feel—so be it.

But on a slightly less lighter note though, it is really one of the most boring things to do—to wait for somebody whom you are expecting. Now, the question is—Is Waiting for someone in other situations also to be compared to this airport wait. I mean, people wait for a friend to join them at a restaurant, people wait for a train/ bus to reach so they could board it, people wait for examination results to be out, people wait for a “most expected phone call”….etc…etc. So that way, there are so many “waits” which we experience in our daily lives.

But to come back to the question– I would plainly reply—those “waits” and this airport arrival wait is not to be compared literally. All are “Waits” no doubt, but still, you see, the degree of patience, or the degree of frustration or the degree of relief or elation you’d have when you would see that near or dear one arrive outside, those degrees vary. So the experience in all these, vis a vis this one varies, according to me. So the airport arrival waits are to be singled out from the rest of the waits.

Since I’m in that zone of been there and seen it all, I can most definitely say this very assertively.

Okay, so what options do the ones who go to airports to receive their near ones have? Should they just not go? No way. They should go, but they should try and keep themselves occupied all the while that they are expecting their family/ friends. May be carry along a book, a bite, music for company just to make sure that in case delays do happen, they won’t run out of patience. That’s the least one could do in such a situation.

So the next time you are toying with the idea of going to receive someone at the airport, do make a note of this “Delay” possibility, and do go prepared with all the activities planned out for you, instead of simply dragging your feet every two- three minutes to the Arrival Status Board, and hoping against hope, when you know that the delay has become inevitable.

Once you keep the occupational therapy for yourself up and running, your frustration will be less. And then once your friend/ family does arrive pushing that huge trolley, your degree of elation and joy will surely exceed your degree of sight of relief!

The Honeymoon!!

PROLOGUE

Kuhu, can you spot the saptarshi  Mandal over there?”, asked Debasish

Wait.. lemme see.. ummm YES!!! . The  seven stars or the seven sages. It’s such  a clear view here. We never get to see  such a sight in Kolkata.”, Kuhu replied  with her gaze still fixed at the sky.

When was the last time we  got time to  gaze up at the sky to see the stars at  night in Kolkata?“, Debashis held Kuhu’s    hands as  he said this sitting in the long veranda of  the bungalow in Balasun Tea Estate,  near  Darjeeling watching the night sky.

They were on their Honeymoon!

*******************************************

Debashis and Kuhu did not have a marriage which could be called a “love marriage” at once. They worked for the same MNC bank in Kolkata and were colleagues. With time they realised that they liked each others’ company and when both of their parents’ started searching a match for them, they decided to marry each other.  It was actually an arranged marriage with the difference that it was them who had arranged it and not their parents. Both the set of parents were glad with the match and soon the date was fixed for their wedding.

It was about two weeks before their wedding that on a Saturday afternoon they sat together in a Coffee shop with their laptops planning their Honey Moon.

Deb, Lets go to Goa.”, said Kuhu as she excitedly checked the travel sites.

It was done and frozen and with a package that they could well afford they planned a seven days trip to Goa just few days after their wedding day.

I understand that one’s Wedding is a once in a lifetime affair but why are they so stressful?”,  whispered Kuhu to Debashis’s ears who  sat beside her in the stage. It was the day of their Wedding reception party.

Don’t worry. It’s already 9 PM so just few more hours to go.  Day after tomorrow we leave for Goa…. Then it’s gonna be the sun, sand and just you and me. Wow!”,  though Debashis was then on the stage smiling at guests yet at that time he was almost mentally in Goa wondering the fun they would be having there.

However, Debashis and Kuhu couldn’t make it to their Honeymoon. Debashis’s  mother tripped from the stairs and broke her leg the next day of their reception party.  She had to be hospitalized for few days and then at complete bed rest at home. Debashis’s grandmother was old and needed care and attention. With his mothers’ illness there had to be someone taking care of the house and grandma.

It was Kuhu who volunteered and asked Debasish to Postpone their Honeymoon for sometime.  Within a month Debasish’s mother started walking slowly and by then Kuhu had won all hearts in her new family with dedicated and tireless service to everyone.

With things falling in place,  everyone in the family started pressurizing Debasish and Kuhu to set for their Honey Moon again.  It was just two months that they  had got married and when the leave application reached the desk of the Branch Manager,  he  rejected it outright.

They hadn’t any option left but to agree. Their Honeymoon got Postponed  once again.

Life moved on and both Debasish and Kuhu got busy adjusting into their new life and managing work.  Debasish was transferred to a far off branch as by rules both husband and wife couldn’t work for the same branch in the bank. This meant he left early from home and reached late. Weekends went off taking their much deserved rest and catching up with family and social visits. Before they realized, time flew off and they were eight months old in marriage.

Their Honeymoon was a forgotten affair by then for everyone.

Debasish’s aunt Sutapa,  lived in Balasun Tea eastate near Darjeeling.  Debasish was her favourite nephew and she was especially fond of Kuhu.  Sutapa Auntie’s husband was the Garden Manager there and they lived in a huge Bungalow with four orderlies.

It was Sutapa auntie who suggested to Debasish that they visit her.

Durga Puja was arriving, which meant few holidays. We wouldn’t have to take any leave and the visit to the quiet and picturesque Balasun Tea estate would make up for our long awaited Honey moon.”,

Debasish told Kuhu that night and she readily agreed.

The next morning in the breakfast table Debasish placed it to his family.

” Sutapa Auntie has been insisting me that we visit her during the Durga Puja. She says Balasun Tea Estate is a nice place and it would be a wonderful break.  So, I was thinking….”

Excellent!!! It’s an excellent proposition and you should go there. Sutapa wanted me and your mother to visit her once and had insisted us so many times in the past. However, something or the other always kept us from visiting Balasun.“, Said Debasish’s father.

Their Honeymoon trip was planned but  with a slight modification. On Debasish and Kuhu’s insistence Debashis’s parents would also join in.  When Debashis’s grandmother heard that everyone was planning to visit her daughter Sutapa’s house in Balasun she requested that she should accompany too.

Sutapa had wanted me to visit her so many times but how could I have gone there alone without company. Since all of you are going,  this time take me along too.“, said Debashis’s grandma.

However, In a few days time they got to know that two of Debashis’s uncles, Uncle Suren and Uncle Niren who were based in USA with their families and kids were planning to visit them during Durga Puja. Debashis’s family at once decided to cancel their trip to Balasun as they couldn’t be rude to guests by saying that they wouldn’t be there in Kolkata at that time. Debashis and Kuhu were sad  as their Honey Moon was again on the verge of getting canceled.

Perhaps Sutapa Auntie was a God sent…. ” No dada. Do not cancel the trip. Why don’t you guys ask Niren da and Suren da to also accompany you all to visit my place. In fact, I have not met them for years now.  It would be great to unite again with family and they would also love the visit.“, said Sutapa Auntie to Debashis’s father on telephone .

It was finally done and the trip was planned. It was fifteen heads altogether officially on Debashis and Kuhu’s Honeymoon. On insistence of the group two of Kuhu’s sisters also joined in.

Deb, We are finally on our Honeymoon! “, said Kuhu  amidst enthusiastic cheer of the entire group of fifteen people as the home made dinner of puri and aloodum was served on Darjeeling mail.

******************************

EPILOGUE

Can you spot Venus?”, asked Kuhu to Deb resting her head in his shoulders.

It has been four days  that they were in Balasun Tea Estate.  It was two in the morning and  as they sat beside each other in the long veranda of the bungalow watching the stars they heard from the background loud bursts of excited shouts, laughter and singing. There was an ‘adda’   (chat) session going on in one room and the younger cousins were playing ‘antakshari’ in the other… while Debashis and Kuhu sat beside each other celebrating a quiet moment of their unusually loud honeymoon.

Dada you guys come and join us in Antakshari. why are you both sitting there alone?“, shouted out one of Debashis’s cousins to them from a  window.

Debashis rose up…” Come along! “, he said to Kuhu…” Lets’s go.”

Where?” asked Kuhu in surprise as she saw Debasish walking out of the house.

It’s two AM now and in sometime everyone would be asleep. If we ask the driver to start now then by dawn we would reach  Tiger Hill. They say the sunrise in Tiger Hill is a must watch. Lets go.”, said Debashis as he pulled Kuhu by her hands.

They set off, in their night clothes to watch the famous sunrise in Tiger hill on the last morning of their Honeymoon.

Sea Connection- not a coincidence!

All of us have heard the term accident prone. No superstitions associated with somebody being accident prone, but it is an underlying fact that some specific people around us are accident prone.

I have a cousin who is not accident prone so to say; but has a very uncanny connection with sea. It might sound strange but it’s true.

Every time she visits seashore/ oceans/ beaches on her holiday spree, she comes home with some piece of thrill to share!

Like the first time, I myself was traveling with her. She was on the wheels of her Maruti 800. This must be more than a decade back. No sooner than we hit the shores of Bordi- Dahanu, she zoomed onto the beach, full speed. The wheels began to go deeper and deeper into the stubborn sand. But her attention was perhaps fixed onto the beckoning sunset! (That is what she later on explained to me). We, sitting in the car were yelling to her; pleading her to stop, but she was in no mood to listen. On the contrary, she raised the accelerator and tried to drive in 3rd gear! Wonder who taught her to drive! And then finally, at one point when she realized that the wheels were 60% under the sand, she stopped. It happened to be high tide that evening, and our nervousness knew no bounds. All sorts of fears grappled our minds, and we scattered around to look for some help. On that deserted beach, that late evening, the only ones we found were a young couple sitting hand in hand, behind the rocks. ( only expected place for such blooming buds to be present!) The last thing on their minds must be to get disturbed! And there we were. Standing before them, narrating our sand encounter! The guy got up immediately, and ran fast to rescue our poor car. He too mentioned of the possibility of high tide, and that made us all the more tensed. It was only then that my cousin realized that she had put everybody, including the car in a grave situation. Finally after 45 minutes of jugglery and loads of sweat, we managed to pull the car out of the sticky sand.

The second time my cousin had this unique sea connection experience was when she’d gone on a holiday with some friends to Murud- Janjira. Although her mom discouraged her to carry her recently purchased digital camera with her, she didn’t budge. (After all, her mom knew too well, what a messed up absent minded person her child was). But in vain! On the second day of the trip, all the friends hired a boat to go explore the Fort. After reaching ashore, one by one they all got off. My cousin started clicking pictures from her camera, as soon as they reached the fort. From one of the slippery rocks, her leg slipped, and so did her camera! It took 3-4 days for her twisted foot to heal, but her camera couldn’t be revived till the end. The sea ate it up in one big gulp!

On yet another occasion, our guest of honor for this write up was in Goa, enjoying herself with her family. This time round in one of the boat rides, her Nokia handset fell into the water by mistake. (all the blunders are by mistake itself!). This time the boat man helped her with the handset. She was obviously very grateful to the boat man, and generously paid him Rs 10/- extra. However, she soon found out, that the handset was like a vegetable! It was there, but it was not there. The gadget had given way. She quietly reached the hotel and exchanged her SIM card with her brother’s.

So now every single occasion, when she mentions to me that she’d been to some beach resort, or to a coastal holiday, my first question to her is- “Any new expeditions?”. And literally every time she has something to share. Isn’t this whole thing funny? I mean, not once, or twice, but each and every time she heads for a coastal trip, she comes home with a story!

And then heart has no choice but to call her life a “Sea Connection”. These aren’t mere coincidences, but some kind of a unique connection she has with the sea.

Thank God she’s not serving in the Navy!

When honey took me to the moon!

It was another routine day for Ria. Boredom and isolation were her companion as her hubby Rishav had flown to a different city on yet another official trip. Ria hated Rishav’s official travels, first reason was that she could not tag along during such trips and the second was that eternal tedium that at times almost engulfed her. She was wondering what to do that evening, when her eyes caught an album on the shelf. She went closer and saw the letters written on the top of it. Our second honeymoon – it read. She smiled and pulled down the album from the shelf. She made some coffee for herself and became cozy into a couch along with the album.

Ria became nostalgic as she flipped the leafs of the album. The photographs took her back to those fascinating days couple of years back. It was a surprise trip and it was like magic. She once decided that she would pen down her feelings about that particular trip. It was just to make people realize that how surprises can make life worthwhile! She fetched her diary and started to narrate the story of some of the most remarkable days of her life!

It was just a few months after our marriage. I was instructed to pack the bags and I only know that we are going to Kerala. I knew Kerala is called as “God’s own country”, so I was pretty excited and got into my shoes ready for the trip. Next morning we took our flight to Trivandrum and reached there by ten in the morning. The hotel car was waiting for us at the airport and without much of hassles we settled into the car and to my surprise the car took the road which was supposed to lead us out of the city rather than taking us to it. I understood that out final destination was not the capital of Kerala but someplace else! I was already impatient and asked my hubby quite a few times about this but he was hard to be molded by any such sweet attempts!

It was just over an hour’s drive from the airport and when the car stopped I was astonished to see the surroundings. However, I did not see any hotel or resort around as the place was surrounded by serene backwaters. There were a few boats waiting there and even before I could ask him that what’s happening, we were instructed to get into one of those boats! The boat ride was breathtaking as I was glued to see the heavenly beauty all around! We reached to an isolated island after a while and I was excited to see the cottages from distance. The boat stopped at a small jetty in front of the resort and I understood that we have reached our destination. There was a board welcoming the tourist and it declared that we had just landed in the Poover island.

We got down from the boat and he left for completing the check in formalities. I was walking leisurely across the green patches when I saw him coming back. I have him a smile of acknowledgment as if to convey that I liked that place. But to my bewilderment, he declared that I am yet to receive my surprise! I started to contemplate what else can be there and started to become impatient. We took our keys from reception and walked towards the cottages that I had already seen from the boat. But to my dissatisfaction, I was told that we are not staying in those cottages. I felt really blue from within, however I did not show him much. At the end of the road, we took a left turn and I simply could not believe my eyes on what I was seeing!

There were five floating cottages lined up side by side in front of me. The cottages were literally floating on the backwaters. There were concrete slabs laid to connect the cottages with the land. I think he understood that I was feeling little jittery about stepping onto the slab and he lent his hand towards me after stepping on the same, as if saying me not to worry as he was around! I held him tightly and we crossed the slab and entered the cottage. He unlocked the door and moment we entered the room, I hugged him tight and kissed him on his cheek and said him “Thanks”. He smiled back and said there was more to come! I pressed him hard but in vain. He never disclosed the secrets!

The cottage was adequately furnished. There was a queen bed places at one side of the room; a big mirror attached to the wall; a couple of chairs and a small table. The room looked more spacious as there was lesser furniture. There was a small balcony at the back of the cottage and the complete backwaters were visible from there. The most exciting fact was the gentle movement the cottage was making since it was floating on the water. I simply stood there and the view seemed to be out of world to me. I never imagined even in my wildest dream that there can be a place like this present; romantic to the core – a perfect place for honeymoon J

Far away there were tiny islands in between the waters. Few small boats were on cruise, which seemed to be the only mode of transportation available there. I saw a boat to cross out cottage and the boatman smiled and greeted me seeing me standing there. I smiled back and after he left, I stood there and gazed towards the water casually. Suddenly I felt his hands to wrap me from behind. He kissed my earlobes and whispered – “Hey did you like it?”

“It’s awesome honey! Just like you are!” – I replied. I turned around and we again hugged each other. Then we came inside the room and locked the door for some privacy.

We went out in the afternoon for a snake boat ride, included in our package. We sat side by side in the boat, hand in hand and relished the green around us. Coconut trees were all around on the Virgin Islands around Poover amidst the backwaters.

Later in the evening we walked through the well maintained garden to reach the restaurant on the other side of the resort. As we occupied ourselves on a corner table, I saw most of our fellow boarders were foreigners with just a handful number of Indian couples. After some sandwiches and coffee, we walked to the garden and occupied ourselves inside two hammocks hanging side by side. The darkness was setting in and the halogen lights were glowing. The entire island resembled like a bright twinkling star amidst all the darkness around. We relaxed, still reclined watching at the full moon in the sky. Suddenly I recalled his words and asked him, “Hey lover boy, what is that actual surprise that you said is in store?”

“We still have a day to go baby! Just wait and watch” – He smirked.

We retired into our cottage after dinner. The movement provided by the floating cottage produced enough vibes for us to start romancing and once that was on, it just continued until very late!

Next morning I wanted to explore the resort properly. It was actually quite big and occupied the entire island. It had a tempting swimming pool, pool bar, lovely gardens and facilities for indoor and outdoor games. We planned for a dip into the pool. After a few laps in the pool, we sat at the pool bar and sipped some drink. It was one of the most romantic experiences that I had ever had. We were in wet costumes; our legs inside water and playing with each other; our eyes were looking deep into each other. We ignored the people around and continued to get engrossed into each other’s feelings. It was almost fire set on water!

That night during dinner, after ordering our favorite Lasagna and Pastas, he suddenly revealed that he had forgotten his purse in the cottage. He took excuse and came back almost after twenty minutes. The food was served by then and after dinner we went back to our cottage. When he opened the door, I was left spellbound! There were candles lit everywhere on the floor and around. I was dazzled looking at those bright stars. Meanwhile he arranged the table and put the chairs on either side of it. The table contained two Belgian cut glasses and a bottle of champagne. I didn’t know how to react and just looked at him. He smiled and said – “Happy 6 month’s anniversary! This was the small surprise that I wanted to give it to you!”

“Thanks for everything, lover boy” – I said and felt my eyes were clammy and a drop of tear rolled down by cheek. He put his hand below my cheek and caught the drop and said,“There is no place for tear, only love is in the air! I will never allow even a drop of your tear to roll down. That’s a promise!”- He kissed me passionately. Then he took my hand and guided me to the table and opened the champagne after shaking it hard. The cork blew with a sound and the splashes were all around. We raised our toast and I said – “Cheers to our togetherness!” The remaining night was like heaven on earth.

Next morning we checked out and boarded the flight from Trivandrum. When I looked out in the sky, I thought of sharing this experience with all, just to let all know, about this surprise which made my life worthwhile!

Ria was back to her senses when her cell phone started to buzz. She closed her diary and took the call. It was Rishav on  line.

“Hello?” – She said.

“Honey, I am returning tomorrow and guess what? I have a surprise in store for you!” – He said and disconnected.

Ria simply sat there all in her smiles!

Loving You In Hong kong……

” DRIVER  STOP!!!”, I shouted to Ram in front seat and he pressed the break in a jolt. While I got down there, I asked him to take the car back home.  I waited for the car to leave and then slowly proceeded towards the Metro Railway station. It’s been ages that I travelled through public transport in Kolkata but this has been my regimen for the past few months. I walked up and down the platform and was waiting for the train to arrive.  Wish this was not India and I remembered my first weekend in Hong Kong, when I met him in the underground railway( MTR) station in Admiralty Hong Kong.

I was travelling to Hongkong for work and I had to stay there for ten weeks. That was my first weekend and I decided to be spirited and adventurous enough to opt for sightseeing by the local public transport MTR underground Railways.  On the way back, I had to change the train at Admiralty station to board another to Causeway bay where I was staying in a company provided Service Apartment. After about moving aimlessly  here and there  for 15 minutes in the underground station, I realized that I was lost. Every symbol written seemed Greek to me and I just could not decipher the platform from which I had to board the train back home.  It was then that I spotted him, munching popcorns.

You speak English?“, I asked worriedly.

Only little speak, little understand. I Cantonese.”, He replied back almost immediately looking at me with surprise wondering what a foreigner was wanting to tell him.

You know what, I am lost. I need to change the train and board another to Cause way Bay, where I stay but I am just not able to locate the line and the platform. “, I looked at him with anticipation and continued…” Do you understand me, could you help?”

He looked blankly at me with wide opened eyes and  gave me a feel that he didn’t understood anything of what I said in English. It was then that he said,

I understand….but  I no words to explain.“….. I pouted in frustration and turned my back to him when he spoke again….

I no words…. but I take you.”, he said and before I knew anything, he took me by my hand and climbed up the escalator. We climbed up few fleet of stairs and then reached another platform. When the train arrived he pointed at me to board it and I ran inside it.

Bye“, He said and smiled .

Thanks so much.”, I smiled back at him.

The next weekend, I didn’t try to be experimenting and decided to visit the Local library near my apartment. I went there hoping that apart from Cantonese books they would also have some English ones and was glad to see their collection in English. I picked up the latest book of Paul Coelho and sat in the reading corner.

Hello!”, a voice said from somewhere and I looked up.

It came from the gentleman seated opposite me. He was the same stranger who had helped me back home.

Hello! nice to meet you again.”

I Fred Yo Ming. “, he said his name and shook hands with me.

Little did I know that this introduction will win me one of the most dear friends in Hong Kong.

Fred was the sweetest and one of the most gentle guys Ihad ever met. Ever since that weekend, we met every weekend in the Library towards the evening. We didn’t talk, just exchanged a Hello with a smile and concentrated on our respective books. After we were done, on the way back, we stopped by the Star Bucks coffee shop for coffee.  If he treated me this weekend, I would treat him the next, that was the rule  we had set for us.

Fred spoke very little, smiled a lot and expressed even more through his wide triangular eyes. In small but meaningful ways he was a good companion of mine in a country where I knew no one but Fred.

It was about a month but I had not seen anything in Hongkong.  On Fred’s request, one weekend we went sightseeing. I must say it is an amazing place with beautiful warm people around. We went to the Avenue of Stars, Thousand Buddha Temple, Disneyland, Hindu Temple, Times Square, Cruising in the awesome picturesque of  Victoria Harbour and the amazing Lantau Island.

Fred gave me company in all but in silence.  He couldn’t speak  in English so wasn’t able to tell me the history of all the places we were visiting. Yet, like a caring friend, on our way to each spot, he would take out the respective chapter from the Hong Kong Sightseeing book in English and ask me to read it.

I thanked him for giving me such serene undemanding companionship through my lonely days in Hong Kong. He took me shopping to Ladies market in Mong Kok and bargained to the last penny with the shop keeper in Cantonese for every little thing I bought.

Three weeks passed and my scheduled work ended. It was the last weekend we were meeting in the coffee shop. I was speaking in slow broken English telling Fred how much I enjoyed his company and friendship, how much I liked Hong Kong, but he sat quiet as usual.

I gave him a book on the Taj Mahal, something which Indians always like to boast about.  As I turned to leave, he handed me a small packet.

For you.”, He said.

He pointed to the packet and said,” Next time.”

I didn’t understand what he possibly meant by “Next time” in the packet.

It was only in the flight back home that I had opened the packet. It was a small memento of a place called Victoria Peak and on top of it were written some scripts in Cantonese which I couldn’t read.

It’s been a year that I left Hong Kong and even amidst the busy hustle bustle of Kolkata I always miss those peaceful ten weeks that I had spent there. I am back to the city where I belong to, where I have loads of friends, people who can chat with me for hours… but some how, I always missed the  quiet companionship of my sweet, caring friend Fred. Little things reminded me of something that we did together and I don’t know why but sometimes I did things which dated back to our days of friendship in Hong Kong…. my latest stint being foregoing my car and travelling by Metro on my way back home. I knew this was India and Fred was not to be found here, but I don’t know why  I felt as if by travelling in the Metro, I was cherishing memories of my friendship with Fred. For the last few months, I was going to the Evening and Weekend classes to learn Cantonese. I didn’t need to do this, and I don’t have any reason of doing this too but I just loved doing it.  Every lesson I learnt in Cantonese, I imagined sharing the same with Fred. If he were here, we could have chatted at length in Cantonese now.  I thought It was all so foolish of me till today…….

I had taken the small memento of Hong Kong that Fred had given me to my Cantonese class today. After the class, I showed it to my teacher. She took it in her hand and toyed with it.

Then smiled at  me and said…”Could you read what’s written in  here?”

Confusingly I swayed my head saying no and she said…

It’s written in Cantonese……

The day you feel for me what I am feeling for you now,…. Come back to me. I will miss you a lot but will wait for you.. Always.. Till you come back.

I froze and couldn’t believe what she just translated for me.

Two days later I was in Hong Kong. I had informed Fred in Facebook and he  had sent a car to recieve me from the airport. I had hoped that he would be there too but there was only the driver. Surprisingly enough, I realised after sometime that the car was not heading on the way to the hotel.

I kept on asking but the Driver  didn’t speak English and couldn’t answer me.

I almost panicked but after a while the car seemed to drive up a hill. On a milestone, I saw an arrow written,”VICTORIA PEAK “.

Victoria Peak? , the memento Fred had given me. So… is this all planned by him?

The answer was clear as the car had stopped and Fred was standing outside it.

It was so good to be seeing him after a long time and I came out of the car and stood facing him.

” hóu hòisàm gindou néih”,  I said In clear Cantonese. ( It’s so glad to have known you.)

I thought he would be surprised but I was stunned at what he replied…..

Thank you so much Ma’am, The pleasure has been mine utterly for the absolutely mind blowing companion that you have been for me in my life.“, Fred was speaking in fluent clear English.

His pronunciation and diction was clear.

I learnt to speak English to converse with  you dear.”, said Fred looking at my eyes.

He took me by my hand and we climbed up till the last sky tower of Victoria Peak.  I looked down and it was a sight, I could never forget in my lifetime. The entire Hong Kong stood dazzling in front of my eyes.

I knew you would come. Now that you have, be here forever, with me.“, said Fred as he took my hands in his.  ” In my life forever, because I love you.”

That moment has been the most special and defining  moment of my life for what Fred told me amongst the glistening lights of Hong Kong In Victoria Peak.  All I could barely manage to say was…. “Ngo oi ney” ( I Love You).

The Red Leaf

autumn-colors-in-the-forestIt was a cool, crisp, unruffled afternoon. Autumn had already set in, and the wind was adamantly chilly.

A sumptuous luncheon at my cousin’s house, with his heartwarming hospitality left no scope for a siesta. In fact feet had to be dragged out, enforcing them to take a short walk down the edge of the avenue.

With a thin overcoat on and a soft muffler wrapped around the necks to protect from the chill, we left.

As we got down the stairs, my cousin exchanged a few “good afternoons” to his neighbors he met downstairs. Later I joked about his smirk, saying it looked more like a “plastic smile”, than a genuine one.  He didn’t seem to be bothered though about my comments. On the contrary, he just shrugged his shoulder and gave me a “never mind” kind of expression. So I too left my pursuit of bothering him unnecessarily and left those pranks aside.

As we walked aimlessly, I noticed that nobody seemed to be in the mood for a snooze in the middle of the day; for the street was alive, with people scattered all over. Somebody getting a quick bite, somebody walking their dogs, somebody engrossed in a novel on a wooden bench, yet each one appearing so laid back…..so in sync with the surroundings. It was I who was feeling out of sync; especially because of the heavy power packed lunch that I was hosted.

The breeze was bitter and dry, as if sending messages and soft swishing whispers about the furious cold which was to follow few weeks down the line.

Two blocks away we were greeted by a huge canopy of vivacious and the most fascinating tree line on either side of the road one could ever view. Leaves were multi colored—with random shades of orange, red and yellow. It was picturesque!

Just as we entered the shade of these trees, the coolness felt on the skin all the more.  The sun was trying hard to pierce through this thick tree cover; and as a few rays shone through, the hide and seek looked marvelous.

Any other road and I would have definitely started walking back. But somehow I didn’t feel like reverting to the comfort of the house with this spectacular sight unraveling in front of me. Nor did my cousin insisted to go back home; in fact he silently kept trotting along.

And then suddenly as we found ourselves in the middle of this tree cover, something fell on my head—it was a red leaf with an orange tinge. It swayed to the breeze, floated on the air and dropped itself soundlessly on my head. My cousin, who apparently watched the leaf settle down, rubbed my arm and asked me to hold the leaf in my hand. He remarked that the fallen red leaf was a sign of good luck and good charm. He mentioned that I should preserve the leaf carefully with me forever.

My eyes blinked twice as I heard him. Then I watchfully admired the leaf. It was the most attractive shade of red-orange. Till a few months back, this very leaf might have been dark green, full of chlorophyll. And now with the sweeping autumn, it had turned deep red, with shades of orange thrown in; now having fallen from one of the majestic trees, making some room for newer shoots of green leaves to reappear on the tree once spring comes back.

Every step of the way there was Nature’s surprise waiting, in every moment that was unfolding before my eyes, I was visualizing Nature at its best; autumn at its peak. And I quietly saluted the mystical beauty of Nature.

I didn’t pass on any reaction about the “good luck” aspect that my cousin spoke about. I simply tucked the leaf in my overcoat pocket. Half an hour later, we headed back home.

I don’t know whether it was the superstitious remark, or mere love for Nature—what exactly made me preserve that red leaf. May be it was his “luck” remark; or may be the fact that every time I flip through the pages of my “Thoughts to Remember” booklet and see this lovely red leaf intact, I go back down the memory lane, vividly recollecting that enchanting autumn day I lived (in true sense of the word), every moment of which I breathed in, I felt like I was breathing Nature’s fragrance.

Whatever be the reasoning, the actuality prevails that the picture perfect enthralling autumn afternoon few years back in time gave me the most precious gift I could ever hold dear—a beautiful red leaf.

Lessons From The Road

“On the road, it is not the question of whose mistake it is, but it is the question of whose life!   Lessons from the road are helping me in driving the relationships to the destination of happiness”.

As I was driving on the road, of the many rights and lefts that I took, I took a turn on one of those rights, and was driving on the left side of the road. Suddenly I saw a truck charging at me from the opposite direction. In this situation, though I was driving as per the traffic regulations, and I knew I was right, still I had no choice but to helplessly make way for that rashly coming truck, the fact remaining he was wrong. Little upset, I made way for that truck and continued to drive, trying to regain my composure.

Hardly a Kilometer further, to my utter shock,  I saw another truck speeding towards me from the opposite direction, which was again wrong. That was irritating. I wanted to shout at the driver, but at that speed at which he was driving,  he won’t  care to lend a ear.  I gave way to that senseless fellow. Of course I was saved but was frustrated on the road. I was blabbering about their driving inabilities ; did traffic department give them license to drive or dash?

In the midst of all these chaos playing havoc in my mind, I found to my horror another vehicle speeding at me. I told myself that this time sure they need to be taught a lesson. Whatever might happen, I was not moving and giving way. But, as the vehicle moved closer and closer my heartbeat was beating faster. Within me inside,  Should I move or not ? The vehicle was few meters away. Fear swallowed me. Scare of death, one more time I moved my car aside and allowed the vehicle to pass by.

The fear of that instance left a psychological scar, if not physical, in me. I learned:

1. The objective of driving is to reach home safely, alive. If this is the objective, then I cannot let EGO get involved on the road. I have to cooperate to coexist.

2. Just because the other is wrong, it does not give me the license to be wrong. Two wrongs don’t make one right. Right is the only answer even for the wrong.

3. Helplessness, Irritations, Frustrations, Anger does not aid in smooth and happy driving.

4. If every next vehicle is coming at me, then should not I check whether I am wrong by mistake, on the wrong side?  “I am always right” is the greatest myth and “I may be wrong” is the greatest truths of life.

5. This is exactly how I should conduct myself on the road of relationships, the objective being happiness. All the lessons of the road are definite doctrines of enjoying and maintaining harmony in all my relationships.

Lessons from the road are helping me in driving my relationships to the destination of happiness. I am learning, I am correcting, I am improving and more than everything I am happily doing that. Don’t drive away relationships. Drive with them. Happy driving.

A Ride in The Dark

One night after dinner, my cousin simply suggested a ride around the town. I laughed it off saying, night in these parts are meant to cuddle and sleep. A persistent person that she is, a few minutes later I found myself at the steering wheel all buckled up. My ma was not happy, she started her usual ‘good girls are’ song. However, we set out promising ma to be back in ten minutes.

road at nightDecember winds are pretty strong and in the night they put everything into sleep. Our car sliced through the town gulping miles swiftly, slicing the wind gracefully. The town at midnight had a sinister look, almost like a ghost town discarded by its inhabitants. A few helpless ones remained hugging themselves against the winds, lying comfortably on the pavement. Its strange how men find comfort, even on the hard rock concrete they sleep  so peacefully almost making us envy them. Even the wind couldn’t shake them out of their slumber. Perhaps, that is the reward of a back breaking day or yet, it is the solitude of  souls who had nothing to lose. We swept past slowly, almost hoping sadistically that  they might awake.

Passing by the bus station, we saw a few men gathered around a small fire. The chilling December wind is disturbing someone at least. There were a few men tugging their cycles around selling tea. Then of course there were the creatures of night, clad in plain saris, face caked with powder, lips reddened and stale flowers polluting the nostrils. A few perched on corners, hard to find but easy to understand.

We did see human owls too, people who just can’t sleep. They sat, inside their blanket, pondering upon the still silent world, asleep around them. They sat, moving not even one muscle, perhaps not even their eyelids.Then again, we went ahead and saw dead houses, all silent with a few occasional illumination, cracking the dark in shock. Some soul at gun point over exams, desperate. Or even perhaps, another human owl.The street lights stood like solitary sleepy giants, the electric lines cradling a few birds to the lullaby of the winds.

I reluctantly turned around when ma’s ring shook the silence of the night. She screamed through the phone and my feet pressed the accelerator in reaction. The same scenes went by me swiftly. It felt as if I was fast forwarding, nothing had changed, not even the sleeping ones had shifted positions. Getting home and settling to my ma’s angry lullaby, I too lay still becoming a human owl. I looked out at another world which had nothing of the warmth that I had here, but which was so silently free and yet scary.

Know about Memphis!

memphisKnow about Memphis! Memphis is a popular city which is at the southwest corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee. Memphis is famous for its libraries. However apart from libraries and universities, it is also popular for its art, culture and tourist attractions. Memphis, Tennessee is popular as a metropolitan city which has been the birth place of Elvis Presley. But apart from this, it has many good things in its credit. There are around 23 hi-tech libraries serving Memphis.

Thus Memphis is an educational hub. Memphis Public Library, Bartlett, Levi, Cordova, Central, North, South, Parkway Village etc. are some of its popular libraries. The list is still longer. The best thing about libraries in Memphis is that most of them provide internet access. There is also availability of computer classes. However, programs and events of each library in Memphis are different. You must check them out in advance. Memphis Public Library has a wide range of collection of books, information material and everything that a voracious reader or a researcher would ever need. There is everything right from fiction to stories and from travelers interest to children reads.

Memphis Public Library caters to the needs of almost everyone. Some of the popular reads that you can find at Memphis Public Library are: The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary, The Shack by William Young, Gaudy Night by Sayers, Riddle-Master by Patricia, A Lesson before Dying by Earnest Gaines. And how can you miss out on the traveler’s Odyssey like Bermuda, Let’s Shop Singapore, South African Safari etc. East Shelby Public Library is the recent addition to the Memphis Public Library. It is located at 7200 East Shelby Dr. (East Shelby Dr. & Old Germantown Rd.). This branch serves many people. It is one of the biggest branches with 30,000 sq. feet. This branch is the only branch having the self check out machine. This library like others is also internet and computer equipped. This library serves as a boon for the researchers of history and genealogy. This large library works as an important source of information and knowledge for many students, researchers, and readers. This hi-tech library is distinct in its own way.

You can get the list of libraries located at Memphis on the official site of Memphis Library. This will be the best place to get all the required information right from location to contact numbers. This site also has details about the timings of library, the holidays and the facilities and services. Memphis Libraries are truly a boon for those who want to know what libraries are like. Memphis libraries have collection of almost everything including books, tapes, information material, research materials, DVDs etc. Apart from all these things it is really impressive that Memphis Libraries offer internet browsing too. These hi-tech libraries are the real gold of Memphis.

Kedarnath

uttranchal-gangotriKedarnath and Jaisalmer are my favorites. One is all green and the other golden yellow. In this post I’ll write about my Kedarnath visit’s experiences.

Even if you are not a very religious type of person, do visit places like Amarnath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Jamunetri. The tougher the mountain the more beautiful it is.

I am myself not a very religious person, but I do believe in God. And a visit to Kedarnath reaffirmed my belief in His presence. It’s a totally different world from what it is where we live. It’s simply heaven up there.  Kedarnath is a 14 km. climb, which can be done either by foot or pony. The beauty of nature begins unraveling right from Rishikesh, from where the drive starts till Joshimath. As you drive through the mountains and green valleys, if you are lucky you can also spot herds of elephants in their natural habitat. There is divine silence and peace all around. The calmness and the beauty appear to seep through every pore of our body and soul. As we drove towards Kedarnath, Alaknanda and other rivers were flowing with us. The place where three rivers meet, flowing (rather dancing I would say) through the mountains is simply breathtaking. As we go higher there are mountains on all sides and gradually the snow clad peaks appear shining with an orange tint under the sun. Half mountain is dark and the other half is shining. It felt as if I was surrounded by humble, strong giants. They are so huge & great, yet they are so peaceful. Huge mountains on all sides, is truly a very humbling experience. More so when you witness the remains of some avalanche which might have occurred just a few days ago. The trail that it leaves on the otherwise green mountain and the rocks lying on the road reveals the fury of the calm, silent mountains. Often the chilling roar of an avalanche happening on some other mountain is also heard. We also witnessed houses destructed by a recent earthquake in Rudraprayag.

We halted at a place to spend a night (the place, where according to fables, Shiv-Parvati got married. The Agni kund (for the pheras) is always kept lit.). I have forgotten the name of the place, but I’ll never forget the hospitality we received from the caretaker of the simple two room lodge we stayed in. You know why? Actually we ordered dinner and thought, the caretaker would bring it to our room. But instead he offered to host us at his own one room home. The reason? It’s so cold outside; the food will get cold as soon as he steps out. Avery simple dinner it was, just rice, chapatti, dal and aaloo ki sabzi (no other vegetable is available at that altitude). We ate sitting on the floor in the warmth of the stove. The caretaker offered chapattis direct from the flame and chatted with us. Never before have had I felt so much warmth and comfort in a stranger’s house. Later as we proceeded on our journey, I found that the Garhwalis are all a very simple-hearted community. Maybe the mountain life of beauty, peace and danger & hardships, all together make them humble. They are closer to nature and life. Whereas we have lost track of our true nature & have become strangers to ourselves in the lap of luxury.

Through all these we reached Joshimath. From here we started climbing on pony, crossing waterfalls passing through our path. The weather is most unpredictable on high mountains. One moment the sun shines brightly and the next moment it’s raining. So we had to be in our waterproofs all the time. The best thing is, there are no food stalls on the way except when we reached half the total distance. Nature is untouched there. The actual temple is certainly there but I found many Shivalinga shaped peaks. As if the almighty was all around me, appearing in many beautiful forms. I really felt His presence everywhere.

After Kedarnath we went to a less traveled mountain, Tunganath. Although distance wise Tunganath peak is only 6 km., but because it is very steep, the climb is almost equal to the 14 km of Kedarnath. Because of the steepness the climb is difficult, therefore our parents didn’t climb. This place is a bit out of the way and difficult. Therefore less people go there. As a result the natural beauty is in its original form, untouched by human greed and carelessness. There were wild flowers and vast green natural lawns. As we reached higher, a view I’ll never forget was that of a white eagle flying in circles  in the valley below, with mountain peaks all around. Our ears were aching as we climbed higher and we were getting so tired, every single step was becoming an effort. Although we had almost reached the peak and even the temple was now visible, we were totally exhausted. We decided to rest for a while. Just then a sanyasi standing by the temple shouted- Bum Bhole! I don’t know what happened, we looked up, smiled and on climbing again till we reached the temple. The sanyasi must have guessed we were too tired to climb anymore.

When we were climbing down and almost covered halfway it started raining. As it is the risk of slipping was there when going down, rain made the path more dangerous. We sped up very cautiously. The thunder and lightning up there was frightening. Our parents were worried. So were we. Praying to God and shivering in the cold we did manage to reach down on time, before the rain became heavy. That was a real experience of the mountains. Beautiful, dangerous, awe-inspiring!

Lastly, an advice. Don’t wait for old age, as most people do for pilgrimage. Climbing needs stamina. The younger you are, the more you can enjoy. But visit you must!

Pepper Spray Point

Crowded-Bus-1A ride in the public bus, thickly packed, made me find 2-3 prospective rapists and eve-teasers. Comfortably perched on my back seat, I could make out what’s going on at a distance towards the front of the bus and also towards my side at the back. It’s strange the sort of people you share your journey with.

A journey is almost always associated with destination and change, well in today’s times for a woman, a journey is of self preservation, preserving and protecting her body. So as I saw a potential rapist doing what he does best, I couldn’t help but notice the victim doing what is worse, cringing in fear. Now, fear is a very potent emotion, victims fight back when cornered.  So by the intensity of fear and disgust coursing through the victim’s face, she had to break at least a few of his bones. But all she did was cringe and try to dissolve in the fat crowd around her. For some reason my sympathies evaporated into disgust.

Well, I didn’t expect her to fly in the air and kick the life out of that culprit; the least she could have done is shout. Most of the time that would have done the trick. Or better yet, she could have used pepper spray, something every woman ought to have along with her wallet and mobile phone. Hailing from a small town, I relied on my very popular ‘freeze’ look for self protection. But somehow, I always walked off like I had to do something other than just retorting. So when my friend gifted me pepper spray, just for the fun of it, I immediately made it into my funky accessory. My handbag was more than happy to have it. Walking around with it was like walking around with a loaded machine gun that no one could see. The security and confidence that it bought is indescribable.

Our roads have become pepper spray points, perhaps many won’t agree with me. But that’s ok. The very fact that today the outside world is no longer secure for women is all that I mean. Its time we stopped merely retorting verbally, a stinging retort will go all the way down in the memory line to never be forgotten. Hence we need to stack such self protection technique that would do the talking by itself. We must also educate the young girls of having such measures observed since we don’t know, whom we might run into and what might happen.

Women Porters in Bhavnagar

train in India

Ever imagined a woman porter carrying your luggage at the railway station? ‘Impossible!’ you say. That’s a natural attitude because we never get to see woman porters but such porters we do have. Yes! In India! They are at Bhavnagar in Gujarat carrying on this tradition or profession for the past 69 years! No little thing this!  For a profession dominated exclusively by men, this comes as a surprise and a courageous surprise at that. Having been branded as the weaker sex, women seem to be breaking many barriers now-a-days and when it comes from uneducated, economically backward women, it is really welcome. Many of our very own educated sophisticated urban bred women are not willing to walk that extra mile!

There is news now that the city of Allahabad will be recruiting 19 women for the posts of porters, taking the inspiration from the Gujarat women porters breaking the shackles of sex and gender. But not many know how the concept of women porters came out. Interested? Well, according to reports, Maharaja Bhavsingh of Bhavnagar had got a new railway station  constructed around the year 1940 and valiantly declared that all the porters at this new station would be women. Kudos to the Maharaja! It is from then on that women have been applying for this post and working as porters. They say that this generous declaration by the Maharaja has been keeping their fires burning at home! In fact, currently there are 22 women out of the total 26 porters in Bhavnagar railway station. Most of the women porters are above 50 years old and are grateful to this job that has been carried over generations. Mothers give the badge to their daughters or daughters-in-law and so on something like an inheritance.

But of course, there are murmurs in the air inspite of the 69 year long tradition. The present procedure of the appointment of women railway porters is raising a few eyebrows and the Union Ministry of State for Women and Child Development is stated to have demanded ‘details’ about this appointment. Though the idea of women carrying heavy loads of luggage is shocking to most people, it is a fact that many women do similar kind of work selling vegetables and fruits and, even carry heavy loads on their heads in villages. People are not very happy that another male dominated field has been barged into by women; they are also upset by the procedure test involved in recruiting the currently 19 short listed women for the posts. This test involves a 200 m run with a 25 kg sack on one’s head with a qualifying time of four minutes (it is three minutes for the men). The other reason that people cite for not allowing women to work as railway porters is the danger of pregnancy while carrying heavy loads. (Of course, the alternative for this would be using trolleys, which has been suggested by some). Apart from that is the usual reason of exploitation. But which profession is free of exploitation and misuse today?

The reality today is that another male dominated profession has been busted by women. It makes no difference what kind of job it may be. The woman can do it all. Almost! What do you say?

The Salt Pan Workers of the Rann of Kutch

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Do not be mistaken … I am not into social work, as you would expect. It is just a course requirement, which opened a small window for me into the lives of the socially trampled and marginalised. Please be assured, again, that the biased tone of the above statement hardly signals the arrival of a new crusader-against-poverty on the block, but it is just that it is the truth.

Our society has, over a period of time, defined and redefined the ‘poor’. Poor sounded hackneyed … so we decided to call them ‘needy’. But needy had a self-defeating connotation to it. How can anybody with an iota of self-respect be called needy? So, he became ‘deprived’. And then ‘underprivileged’. When underprivileged was overused, he became ‘disadvantaged’.

He may not have a single dime even today… but he has a great vocabulary.

I have no take-away from this course. The window that I had talked about had a collapsible hinge. It is shut now. The salt pans are a fading memory.

But the assortment of emotions … pride … self-belief … gratefulness … the feeling of being recognised … and a ray of hope that the video writ large on the face of a salt pan worker … I would like to carry that along with me.

[Influenced by and drawn from Feiffer, Jules’ quote]