Wagah Border: An Ode to Friendship


An odd combination one would think: Border and Friendship. Borders itself have come to symbolise alienation, territorialism and identity. As if humans were born within borders. We may now, but as origin of species we were but one. The land one big mass. But today we are nothing if not divided, or defined by the borders we live in.

Anyway. This year I have been on a sabbatical. And the various travels posted have been my journeys of a time well spent with new co-travellers: friends and family.

In the middle of December, three of us school friends decided to hit off to Amritsar, famous for its food and phulkari work. However, we also wanted to see the Wagah border retreat which in recent years has become quite popular.

I say recent, cause 15 years back when I had witnessed the same, as a young school girl, there were hardly a bunch of us. But now there is a stadium built to accommodate the bulky crowd, which I think needs a special task force all of its own!

Imagine hordes of people marching towards the Indo-Pak border. The security check was intensive. A large LCD had been set up so that people who could not make it to the stands can watch the proceedings, and there were many of us. The Army officers, polite but firm, were having a hard time controlling the crowd. But it was great to watch them manage the show.

The retreat began accompanied with hoots and cheers from crowds on both the sides. The patriotism, the soldiers, the charged atmosphere, the beats, women soldiers marching smartly, everything was out of this world.

But most exciting was being able to see across. People from another country, just sitting on the steps like we were. Hooting for their country. It was like being in a football match with each side cheering their own. It was fascinating to watch the retreat. We friends were discussing how since they have been doing this for ages together, the soldiers must be friends. And then a thought came to me unbidden, if they are friends, how do they fight each other in war, wouldn’t it be impossible?

Anyway we got an opportunity to go close to the border. The other side was . . . just like us. They didn’t feel foreign. A small girl shouted a big hello and waved. We looked up grinning but both sides kept going  not exchanging any words. As we stood there hearing the history, of how there is a no mans land and the barbed wire. I felt a pang of sadness. We are all one, as a nation we were all one once. My friend asked a soldier if they have become friends now? and he looked at us incredulously saying how can that be? We came back sad. Sad because, as common citizens that small child’s hello, who is the future of that country, expressed the desire to be friends. Sad because, citizens here, us could smile at them across and see human beings just like us. All around you can see greenery and the Pakistan side had a beautiful park.

But an ideal, the politics, and many forces divide us.

The significance of the retreat is that we have ended another day in peace. Even as I go back to that day and I remember that moment and us, all I can think is, hope one day the power of shared humanity will be more than the power of the divisive forces. Today, both countries are about to restart their friendly relation efforts. As citizens I am confident both sides would hope this time we will succeed and that one day India-Pakistan will be known for their friendship, even if today that is a distant dream.

 

Rishikesh


I love the mountains. Not only do I love visiting them but I think I carry them around in my life all the time. Its fascinating. I don’t know why. I guess I get a sense of majesty and strength and calm that I can’t seem to find anywhere else. Just like some people might love the expanse of the sea.

It always reminds me that we as humans are one part of the universe, one of the living beings. However, the damage and control that we seem to have done far exceeds our role as one of the rest.

But this blog was not about that. I had visited Rishikesh a few years ago and loved it. Though it was really hot, the place seems to evolve all the time.

Since it is one of my regular haunts, I did not travel around so much this time. The one place that I always go to is the walkway the government has built near the ghats. It truly is world class and a treat to visit. As the summers had set in, we would go there at 5 am for a walk. On one side of the walkway are the ashrams and hotels and on the other the Ganges with forest and mountains clearly visible on the opposite side. Surprisingly the place is popular with locals but not the visitors and it just serves everyone best. There are no dustbins with signs to keep the place clean. And for a change people actually follow it which is a change for any Indian city. At small places there are steps for people to go into the river and dip. The Ganges was overflowing, and the sound of water, people and the breeze truly gave so much peace to my city-wearied heart. It was like being embraced by the universe and at the same time gave strength to go on no matter what.

The next day we bravely ventured out in the evening to Ramjhula and Laxmanjhula. We managed to find off beat ghats and places to sit, despite the crowds milling in the streets. Of course one has to really be willing to explore all strange looking alleyways to find them. We were not the only adventurers. It was refreshing to see the local residents dipping in free abandon, taking baths and really enjoying themselves in the ice cold waters of the Ganges. I used to think only the tourists ran berserk at these places but the sheer joy on their faces told me otherwise. The confidence that they can anytime just come out of their homes, and dip into the river waters was enviable.

Bunches of people river rafting would break the silence with their shouts and cries of delight; one couldn’t help but imagine and participate in their happiness. It was so palpable.

Recently I heard that the rafting has stopped since the River and the ecosystem is under threat. However, I will go back again, this time in winters, experience the magic again.

 

 

 

The Mists of Fagu


One fine day, two friends, women mind you, decided to do what they had never done before. Go on a road trip. Both were adventurous, willing to risk it on a wing and a prayer, and drive on the hills, something which at least one of them had never done before, and the other had done only once.

So with passion, good wishes and an extremely supportive family, the two of us set off on a never before trip. After much soul searching, looking at blogs of all kinds, surfing the net for lesser known weekend getaways from Delhi, we decided on Fagu. Coming from a family which has a travel bug, it was easy to get feedback for the place. After all both of us preferred less crowded places and were the sort of travellers who like being parked in one place, with a book and coffee, and mountains for company.

And boy, what a journey it turned out to be.

Fagu

On researching, this is what we found out, Fagu is a small gem of a place 22 kilometres ahead of Shimla. Shimla, a preferred destination once, is now akin to Chandni Chowk of the hills (courtesy a friend). Located on the Hindustan-Tibet road, a tiny hamlet, it offers beautiful views of the valley and mountains around including the Greater Himalayas (as some sites claimed). One can see beautiful apple orchards, and hills all around. It is conveniently located near other sites such as Kufri and Narkanda. The most dominating part of the landscape is the fog, which descends on the hamlet everyday, as we were soon to find out.

The Roadtrip

With a lot of excitement we set off on our journey driving for the very first time, with the Google Maps as our navigator. We made good time and were in Shimla, by afternoon. The journey was uneventful, as we stopped at Macdonalds for breakfast near Chandigarh and then started to ascend the hills. A few wrong turns later we were on the right track. The greenery, the cool air and the roadside small shops were a delight. We couldn’t wait to reach Fagu. After google map sort of gave up in Shimla, we did our usual Indian Google Map service, which was to ask the roadside pedestrians and traffic police. As we turned onto the road to Fagu, the air instantly became chilly. It was the middle of June, but the hills did not disappoint despite the global warming. As we approached Fagu it started to rain, a good omen for us.

The Apple Blossom

Our destination was Apple Blossom, though the websites we checked out before coming really gave a sad picture of it, but people who had stayed there before, had given good reviews. Suddenly, we saw this colonial looking white bungalow seemingly placed on a ledge. As we took the winding road towards Fagu, our gut feeling said this was it. And suddenly on the side of the road appeared the sign welcoming us to Fagu and right across was The Apple Blossom.

To say our stay was dreamy is an understatement. On the first day morning, clear skies welcomed us. But being the only good hotel in the vicinity, it was packed with tourists, screaming children and people stopping over for tea. On top of it one of us fell sick. All this almost threatened to upset all our plans but the weather saved it. From afternoon onwards fog could be seen settling in and chilly winds would start blowing. By night the hotel would take on the look of a setting for a perfect ghost story, and you could only see nothing around you. The trees from the window would take on a fantastic look as if floating in air.

The service of the hotel was not bad, and the food ok, though they tried to feed us dal and chawal mixed as a substitute for kichidi!

We spent two beautiful days, reading and sipping tea, parked in one place, enjoying the views of the hills and white gauze covering the apple trees.

The Return

Soon it was time to return. We packed our bags, checked out, and then the unthinkable happened. Our car did not start! It had choked up in the weather. Well, the two superwomen got into action, and then began  a harrowing tale of drivers and other tourists pushing the car, to trying to reach Volkswagen help service, which happened only to be in Chandigarh. After coordinating for hours with various tow companies, and taxi drivers, by afternoon we were on our way back. We had to stop over one more day in Chandigarh. But even as we headed back admist the rain and fog, we could not help but feel that we would be back.

 

 

 

Zara and the Culottes


I first spotted a Culotte (or I think it was one) in Inglorious Basterds, the classic Quentin Tarantino movie. I love Tarantino, his humour, his vision and his intelligence. So going back to the Culotte and Tarantino: in walks the fearless heroine in grey culottes, black high boots and a grey sweater. And I was floored. No, I didn’t watch this movie yesterday, but in 2009 when it got released and I have never stopped fantasising about it.

I searched stores, kept my eyes open when I travelled abroad and then slowly gave up. Though forgot about it? No. I don’t know if it was the actor who impressed me, by the way she carried it, or the look itself.

Imagine my surprise then, when I walk into the Ambience Mall, Gurgaon, headed towards my all time favourite store, Zara, and see the Culotte hanging on the mannequin. It was a dream come true. In I rushed, happy to finally see “the look” materialise, and bought everything else but that.

I simply forgot. Zara does that to you. I could sound very shallow eulogising a brand. But how I love their styles. If I could, I would marry the store!

And then I saw it on the App that I have on my phone. Yes, I am obsessed.  Being the curious researcher that I am, oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you that by this time I did Continue reading

Haider, Hamlet, War and Common Man


To be or not to be…

Hamlet:  one of my favourite plays. I love the existential angst of the protagonist. The dilemma of a man, caught in a web, not of his making. The price someone, who is sensitive, intelligent, and ahead of his times, can end up paying for being in a role he doesn’t want to play. Trying to fulfil it to the best of his ability though his heart is not in it.

It was with much trepidation and excitement that I looked forward to watching Haider. What I like about classics are their eternal themes. Each successive generation can interpret it in its own way, and still stay true to the story. I love Vishal Bhardwaj’s body of work. The intelligence, creativity and boldness, evident his cinema. However, I was warned that this movie is brutal and violent. So I stayed away when it was released. Till it came on the cable (or whatever its called these days!)  After all I was studying literature, how could I miss it!

And I was not disappointed. I could never imagine how a politically sensitive issue could be handled so brilliantly. How this timeless story could come alive and be relevant even today. As I watched the closing credits, my mind wandered back a few years. It was 2003, my father was insisting on a pilgrimage to Amarnath, and though I am not much for temples and crowds, I couldn’t let him go alone. Thus, we found ourselves packing and preparing for the long trek. The only time I had visited Kashmir was as a toddler. My cousins lived in Srinagar. In later years their stories of brooks near homes and apple orchards, would leave me envious and in awe, that a place could be that beautiful. Over the years Kashmir was destroyed by a war which not only seems unending but makes me wonder if the people fighting it, and making sure it never gets over, even remember why it started!

Going back to 2003, our plane landed in Srinagar. I can never forget my first impression. The clean pristine air, the beautiful mountains, and the slight chill. It all reminded me of nothing less than London! Where I had travelled as a 19 year old. So this was Kashmir, the beauty left me stunned. I remember thinking how can people be turning this heaven into hell? Alternatively, so this is why all the quarrel. I can write a whole story of how the trip went: of the hospitality, the amazing food, the almost orchards, the empty homes, the villages, the half open shops, the weather, the desolation and the security. However, what haunts me the most were the common people. All protecting us, guiding us, telling us, “see our lives are almost over, the livelihood gone. When you go back to Delhi please tell people, we would love to have them visit here. It will be fine. We want tourism to be back. Please tell them it is not so bad.” Yes, that year terrible things did happen. But as I read the rolling credits of Haider and the line, “tourism is back and the crew didn’t face anything”. My mind couldn’t help wander back in time.

This is where I thought lay the beauty of the movie. Yes, there are ideologies, yes war is on, yes there are real challenges. But in the middle of all this who suffers? It is the common people. The mothers who lose sons. The wives who lose husbands. The families that are torn apart. As I look at conflicts across the world. I cannot believe that the story would be any different. I wonder that if the trees and mountains could talk, what would they say? They would speculate “what is with this human race? Why do they do this to each other?” Yes survival of the fittest, but they are an overkill.”

What is the purpose of war: religion? ideology? territory? politics? economics? crime? In the end Haider ended differently than Hamlet. But it proved its point: Revenge begets revenge. And raised a pertinent question: when will this cycle of hatred and subjugation end? Yes there is no ideal world or man (for that matter woman!), but I refuse to believe that the highest potential a human can show is nothing but murder.

14 Stories that Inspired Satyajit Ray


I picked up this book on a whim. I am a fan of Satyajit Ray but more than that I believe in the classics. Timeless stories, be they be from anywhere in the world always speak to the heart. And he was one of the most well-known filmmakers: a true storyteller. However, I was a but apprehensive, will the stories be like scripts or too serious or too real. After all fiction should take us away from reality sometimes.

This collection of short stories is priceless. From Rabindranath Tagore to Satyajit Ray’s own stories to Rajshekhar Basu. It’s true: books and stories open up a whole new world. I had heard so much about Goopy Gayne and Bagha Byne. But had not been able to watch this movie and then there was the all favourite Shatranj ke Khiladi, a much loved movie. It was amazing to read the stories in original. And be taken to another world, timeless. To see fiction bring out values and good win in the end. Or simply to enjoy a beautiful story.

Edited and superbly translated by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay, one does not feel the loss in translation. Infact it brings out the best essence of the stories. Published by Harper Perennial.

This is a must read. A priceless jewel filled with timeless classics.

If You Leave


What an interesting thought? Just when I was looking at my life and wondering how I was again at a place where one does not want to be. And this is what I realised. If I leave I would love to leave chasing people in my head. Of not being forced into the game again. Its funny, you think of person A as good, as someone who feels the right one and next thing you know the spoken, unspoken have done their bit and you are at the receiving end. They are now giving the looks, in your face, to someone else. And the first instinct is- I can win this. And then the obsessing begins.

This is when I decided not anymore. I stop. STOP this now, no chasing, no being in the game. Life is not a game so I leave the chase behind. Despite the reality that there is nothing ahead, the prospect of chasing phantoms is worse and losing one’s own self-respect. So walk away.

I leave the attitude that anything goes and welcome my self home. I leave old habits and thinking and raise my head high and say no to this behaviour. Yes, I slip. And stand up again. Wait for that right time and person. Is it scarier? maybe. Is it right? absolutely.

So how about yes to oneself and one’s own life. Like my mentor always says, phantom is a phantom and reality a reality. You are you nothing more or less, being caught up in momentary superficial things and losing sight of the purpose of life will not help. Adopting a bigger purpose, that is more critical.

Makes sense doesn’t it.

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Books, Writing and the Weather


Well, maybe it is the weather. Delhi has been enveloped in this fog, is freezing cold, and is slightly windy today. It is very chilly and just the weather for a good book, a cup of coffee and a warm bed. But duty calls.

By sheer chance I came across this uncanny book yesterday, called ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’. I am still trying to figure out how I got there. One thing lead to another and the next thing I know I was reading this book. As often happens on the net, I followed one link and then another and then here I was. I took no time in buying the book and then started reading it. And could not put it down. It is a masterpiece. I had a feeling I had seen the photos before. Maybe I had read about the book when it came out. Anyway the parallel world the author creates and the mix of mediums in a novel is sheer creativity and brilliance. It’s a book which could easily have been a horror novel but its suspense just does not let you down. You are sucked into the madness with Jacob the young hero and intrigued by Miss Peregrine. The plot is taut and the story interesting.

But then I think I started to review it rather than read it. It is really an unputdownable and for the umpteenth time I was intrigued by someone’s creativity. How did he think up of this or write that?

As I reflected on that I remembered a fellow blogger’s post on writing and not giving up. I loved reading it, and started to think, why is it that I write? I was having a tough day yesterday, and after a long time, I just started to write on a topic like law. Because I wanted to. And next thing I knew, all the disturbance, the pain, the anger and frustration were forgotten and I was in my element. Yes, it was a dry subject but as I re-read the words, I was amazed with how I came up with it at all. Where did I think of this or that? I seemed to be flowing. Yes, writing is art, it is life, it makes sense of all that is non-sense and in the end it is therapeutic, It creates worlds, inspires and maybe gives us an identity, we do not know we have.

Frozen in a Bubble


eMORFES

frozen-bubble-kelly

Washington-based artist Angela Kelly, took advantage of the cold temperatures in early December to capture the ice in an interesting form. Using a homemade solution from a recipe that she found on the internet that combined dish soap, karo syrup and water, Kelly with her 7-year-old son, blew bubbles and then she took pictures of them.
Kelly explains to the KOMO News, ‘We watched in awe as each individual bubble froze with their own unique patterns. We noted how they would freeze completely before the sun rose but that once the sun was in view they would defrost along the tops or cease freezing altogether. We also noted how they would begin to deflate and implode in on themselves making them look like alien shapes or in some cases shatter completely leaving them to look like a cracked egg’.

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