Trapped!


The roads are jammed, and most drivers have switched off their engines. I stare absently at the scene outside. An old lady is standing under a bus shelter. As I watch, she pulls out something from the waistband of her saree. It is a small cloth bag of the drawstring variety. She rummages inside and pulls out a few betel leaves and pieces of broken areca nut. She patiently tears the leaves and folds them, places the areca nut in the center, and puts it into her mouth. Her eyes have a faraway look, as her hands tighten the drawstring pouch and tuck it back into her waistband. She chews the leaves, and is deep in thought.

I watch in fascination.

A young girl soon joins the old lady. She is in her teens. As I watch, she stretches her arm into her bag, and pulls out her smartphone. She is soon completely absorbed in her own world!

I laugh at this contrast.

The old lady has stopped pondering. She looks around now, and looks at the young lady, who is completely oblivious to the goings-on around her; her neck bent at an awkward angle.

This makes me think. When did we become this way? When did we stop looking out at the world? When did we trap the world into a smartscreen and start looking for all solutions in that small screen. Instead of looking out and going out into the world, we have brought the world into our palms, to the point where we don’t need anyone or anything else to keep us occupied.

Image courtesy – http://www.dreamstime.com

As I watch, the old lady chews her leaves and watches the world curiously. Her eyes fall on me. She smiles – a toothless smile, her mouth stained by the red of the betel leaves.

I smile back. There is still hope!

Walking down market street for Pongal


It’s been raining non-stop for the last week. The streets are wet, and water puddles gently splash around people’s footwear.

My friend and I are walking down market street to shop for our harvest festival, Pongal, which will be celebrated on Sunday.

All shops on the street have makeshift stalls outside the main shop to cater to the many hundreds of people who will shop for this festival.

Tender plants of ginger and turmeric are neatly stacked in bunches of bright green, the yellow turmeric roots contrasting beautifully with the green of the leaves.

Fresh and green mango leaves are on sale. Beautiful sugarcane plants are stacked along the walls of most shops.

Most shops also sell pieces of sugarcane for those who want less.

The street is teeming with people, all looking for the perfect mud-pot or stainless steel pot to cook pongal in, on the day of the festival.

Bright colours everywhere – red apples and pomegranates, yellow bananas, golden mangoes.

The flower stalls are doing brisk business, and the heavenly smell of jasmine is in the air. Beautifully threaded garlands hang neatly in every stall. Full coconuts and banana leaves await new customers.

The excitement is palpable. My friend and I get caught up too, as we soak in the spirit of this beautiful festival of harvest.

We offer a quick ‘thank you’ to all the farmers, who toil so hard to bring food to our homes.

Happy Pongal everyone!

Up in the clouds….


We are up in the hills, on our way to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, also known as the ‘Scotland of the East’ and ‘the abode of clouds’!

The road snakes right and left, as our car makes its way up the hills. As we go higher, we are literally in the clouds. It’s as if the clouds have come down to play a game of hide and seek. Our car slices through these clouds, as they glide past us, busily going about their day.

We see flashes of green, then white, and then green. The sun shines on a glorious, blue sky. The world looks happy and cheerful.

All along the way, we see the locals going about their day, busy with farming and mining. This beauty surrounds them everyday. I feel envious.

We stop now and then at a viewing point; to stretch our limbs and soak-in the beauty all around us. The distant calls of birds can be heard, and the occasional vehicle. Otherwise, there is only a deep silence. There is harmony, there is peace.

At one such viewing point, we sit down to look at the merry clouds and the sedate hills below.

We sit down, each of us wrapped up in our own thoughts, trying to understand this beauty and to relate it to our crazy lives that have so many deadlines.

Here, there are no deadlines, life seems simple and peaceful. We are in no hurry to leave.

There are fresh pineapple stalls along the way, and hundreds of varieties of Indian pickles on sale.

We sink our teeth into the delicious and succulent pineapples, watching the road fade away into the distance.

As we go higher, the clouds envelope us completely, in a welcoming embrace. We stop at the Lake Umiam view point, where trees, mountains and lake have all merged with the clouds.

Brrrr…it is cold. We watch the lake from above, visible on and off. Faraway lights are twinkling through the cloud cover.

There is a mobile tea stall (in the boot of a car), where we slurp cups of hot, masala chai. We walk up and down, exclaiming at everything.

After all, we are not up in the clouds often..!

A walk down Howrah Bridge, Kolkata


It is only 4.50 p.m. and the sky is pitch-black! The city’s lights are glittering gems!

As tourists, we had spent the day taking in all the ‘must-do’ local sights – the monuments, the temples and the zoo, with a little shopping thrown in.

We are now out to experience the city by foot. Our taxi driver drops us off at the ferry terminal, from where a ferry takes us across the river to the Howrah Bridge.

We are the only tourists on the ferry. The rest are the locals; who are in a hurry to get back home. They smile at our excitement. For them it is business as usual. Another day, another ferry ride.

For us, it is the highlight of our day. As we get off the ferry, we are sucked into a huge wave of people that forges ahead towards the train station. At the train station, people branch off in different directions, and we head down a small alley.

The alley is filled with vegetable vendors, whose stalls are lit by candle lights and small lanterns. Business is brisk, and there’s a lot of haggling going on; veggies are weighed, put into bags, money exchanged, and the cycle repeats.

We observe the scene as tourists; for us ‘vegetable shopping’ seems so far away. Everyday chores and ‘things to do’ lists seem unreal.

We enjoy the bustle and walk up towards the bridge. Here, we see the fruit vendors. We stop to load ourselves with freshly cut guavas – crisp and tasty!

Further ahead, we treat ourselves to juicy oranges.

We finally arrive at one end of the bridge. As we begin our walk, we soon realize that we are walking against the tide. Hundreds and hundreds of people are walking towards us. People scurrying back from work, people running to catch a bus or train. Men and women carrying baskets of vegetables and fruit.

We carefully thread our way through this maze of people, enjoying the liveliness and the chaos. We stop to click pictures. The water looks peaceful, as lights shimmer and dance on its surface.

When we reach the other end, we start looking for a cab to get back. This takes us nearly an hour, because it is peak hour and the roads are jammed everywhere!

We stop by the roadside to have a cup of masala chai.

We finally find a cab, and head back. We walk down the last hundred metres, and stop at a local paanwallah’s shop to enjoy the famous Kolkata Meeta Paan. It tastes delicious.

I have fallen in love with this city, Kolkata. So full of life and energy, though chaotic at times; a city that is a perfect blend of both the old and the new. The Bengali language sounds like music to the ears. The beautiful women with their big bindis and sindoor. The absolutely delicious mishti doi, sandesh, jalebis and rosagullas. The innumerable cups of ginger tea….!

And as we travel to our next destination, it is these beautiful memories of Kolkata that we carry with us – an evening spent on the Howrah Bridge, and soaking-in the spirit of this beautiful and warm city.

Chance meeting


We are in a cab, making our way across the city of Bengaluru in India.

As a mother, I have reached ‘that’ stage, where I am not given a choice to opt for a window seat in any vehicle. I am sandwiched between my kids. It is a pleasant day, and we have rolled down the windows.My husband sits in the front, lost in thought, and I suspect, also trying to catch a few winks.

There is heavy traffic, and our progress is stilted. The kids play a game of word building.

After a while, the congestion eases, and we start moving.

All of a sudden, an autorickshaw pulls up alongside our cab. The auto driver waves wildly at our cab driver, and shouts out a loud greeting.

Our cab driver is pepped-up now. He recognizes an old friend. And for the next hundred meters, the two vehicles drive in perfect synchronization.

Image courtesy – Clipart Panda

A time during which the two men exchange pleasantries and catch-up on each others’ lives. Their grins are infectious, their excitement palpable.

Our cabbie sits up straighter, and looks recharged.

Soon, the time comes for the two friends to part ways. One takes a left, the other takes a right. They say their goodbyes.

Our journey continues.

This makes me think. We meet many people who travel with us on this journey called life, who share our time, space, emotions and memories.

For reasons unknown, we do not meet most of these people ever again; but sometimes we do bump into someone we know from our past.

Life pauses for a bit for us to rewind and remember, and then moves on, taking us towards new experiences and people.

The Vegetable Vendor


My husband’s parents live in a close-knit community of independent homes; where people have known each other for many decades.

The streets are always bustling with chit-chatting neighbours, children playing on the streets and vehicles weaving in and out. There always seems to be some excitement, amidst all this bustle.

Neighbourhood shops are a mere stone’s throw away, and one can pick up most anything from these self-contained shops that are tucked away all around the community.

What makes the atmosphere more vibrant are the street vendors, who have their regular ‘beat’ around the various streets.

Their calls, as they hawk their goods, are distinct. Each vendor arrives at a particular time – some on all days, some on alternate days, and some others on the weekends.

I am standing at the doorstep watching the goings-on in the street. The vegetable vendor arrives, parks his push cart outside our door, and calls out, “Tomatoes, beans, onions, potatoes…”.

The ladies saunter towards the cart, with their own bags. They carefully examine and pick and choose the veggies. The vendor’s eyes are hawk-like as he weighs, bargains, and closes multiple deals.

He throws in some coriander leaves, curry leaves and ginger for free, making every customer happy!

There is some personal banter – after all, he meets these people every day. Money and vegetables are exchanged. He takes a breather, someone brings him a cup of tea. He relishes it, while delicately balancing his cart.

I ask him if I can click a picture. He happily agrees. He smiles. His veggies look happy too!

He is on his way soon, to the next street on his beat.

Beckoning Backwaters – Travel Diary


My friends and I are on a houseboat in the Vembanad Backwaters of Kerala, India.  Truly, God’s own country.

We lounge on the deck, soaking in the serenity, the lush greenery and the rippling waters, as our boat glides in silence.  A silence that is only punctuated by cawing crows, flitting butterflies and rustling reeds.  Water plants float in merriment, in celebration of all that wonderful beauty.  We are awed by this experience, as we keenly observe the lives of the people, who have made the backwaters their home.  Our raucous laughter and incessant chatter are sucked away by the beautiful silence, where we do not exist any more.

Later in the day, we board a small wooden boat, which takes us through the villages in the backwaters.  Life is happening all around us, everyday life – a woman is cleaning fish in preparation for dinner, three little girls are waving out to us in sheer joy, an old man is sitting on the bank, fishing, as he ponders over the mysteries of life.  Small fish and water snakes give us company, as our boat cuts through the waters.  Kingfishers sit on electric cables, waiting for just the right moment to swoop down.

Coconut trees flirt with the water,  some of them arching down to the water’s surface for a good gossip.  We wave out to people on other houseboats, and a sense of camaraderie prevails, at having enjoyed something exquisitely beautiful.

There is a sense of timelessness, as we sip strong tea and munch on ‘pazzha pori’ a local delicacy.

We feel distanced – from our everyday lives and from the mundane.  We feel content, we feel complete.  Life was meant to be lived like this, in the company of nature – rippling water, singing birds, swaying reeds and majestic coconut trees. Where a sense of completeness prevails, where solitude is the best company, where there are hundreds of thoughts as we took it all in, and then no thoughts at all……just bliss.

Sharing some pictures!

 

Vibrant traditions


My husband and I are walking down a crowded street in Bengaluru, India. It is late in the afternoon, and the sun’s rays form net-like patterns on the pavement and the road.

Hundreds of small shops line both sides of the street. The shopkeepers and street hawkers are doing brisk business.

We need to stock up on cotton wicks (for our lamps), incense sticks, and a few other items. There are four shops that cater to our needs. They are all adjacent to each other, for they know that if we do not get what we want from the first shop, we will head to the next.

All four shopkeepers nod, and welcome us enthusiastically. We stop at the first shop. As I place my order, I am transfixed by the display of turmeric powder and kumkum (the red powder used for the Bindis that Indian women wear on their foreheads).

Art and Science are both at work here. The shopkeeper has painstakingly created mounds of these powders, by compacting them. They look so vibrant and colourful. The shopkeeper has planned this with precision. Just the right amount of powder to maintain the balance and prevent it from collapsing all around.

I ask him if I can take pictures. He obliges. I ask him, how he manages to take out powder from these mounds, if a customer wants to buy some!

He shows me how; I watch with bated breath. He does it with the ease of a seasoned professional. This is his turf and he smiles at my surprised look.

He packs our wicks and incense sticks. Deep from the recesses of his shop, a little boy comes running out. Presumably his son.

Family businesses that have been around for generations, carrying on the traditions of their forefathers. Selling simple, everyday things with so much creativity and beauty.

Tender Coconut


Our car is parked under the shade of a few big trees. We are on a road trip in the State of Odisha, in India.

The late afternoon sun casts long shadows. The kids and their father have gone to buy some supplies. I stretch my legs and randomly take pictures.

Close to where I stand is a banyan tree, its buttresses reaching out to the ground below.

Under the huge tree, is a man selling tender coconuts. The coconuts huddle one on top of the other. People keep stopping by for a drink to refresh themselves.

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The tender coconut seller deftly uses his curved knife to chop-off the green cover on the top of each tender coconut. He carves the top, and with precision and skill, manages to nick the top, just enough, to provide access to the coconut water inside. He grabs a straw, puts it inside and hands it over to the customer.

His customers savour the cool and sweet juice, their eyes faraway. The moment they finish their drinks, he takes the shell back and cuts it open. Using a piece of the cut-off shell, he scoops the white and tender kernel from within and serves it to them.

He catches me watching him. He asks me if I want to have a drink. I nod in the affirmative.

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I walk up to him, and he works his magic on the coconut shell again. Soon, I savour the first mouthful.  I begin to understand the difference between ‘cool’ and ‘cold’. Refrigerated soft drinks are cold, this was sweet and cool.

He scoops out the kernel and I wolf it down with relish.

The sun is setting and the seller clears up the huge mound of shells that has gathered through the day. I ask him what he does with them. He tells me that a lady buys them from him. Soon, the said lady comes by with a gunny bag to collect the shells. The seller sweeps the area clean and walks into the street, nodding to me.

Walking down a busy street


In India, most cities and towns have these streets (the equivalent of the high streets that one finds in the West), which are the nerve-centres for everyday shopping. Ranging from supermarkets to cafes and clothes retailers, these streets have them all.

It is early evening, and there’s a nip in the air. Winter’s setting in and wollen caps and sweaters are in evidence.

I am walking down the busiest street in our area, looking to buy some footwear. There are hundreds of people on the street. The street slopes downwards, and from where I stand, I get a wonderful view of the bustle.

People are getting home after a long day at work and stopping-by to either pick up supplies, buy take away dinner, buy vegetables or stand around – eating piping hot samosas and drinking masala chais.

I stroll down and soak-in the spirit of the place. My first stop is before a lady who sells flowers. She is a street-hawker and has a cane basket with different flowers.

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I see that she has these lovely purple-mauve flowers, popularly known as the ‘December Poo’, meaning flowers that bloom in December. The flowers have been beautifully threaded into long rolls. I ask her if I can click a picture and she obliges, as do many others.

Twilight sets in and the birds are flying back to their nests, flocks of them dotting the sky. Below, people are also in a hurry to get home.

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The peanut seller and the corn seller have set up their trolleys at vantage locations to catch the crowds. The lady selling corn has a burning coal pit, over which she lazily turns a corn cob. The smells are delicious.

There are many more stalls that sell flowers and vegetables. The ladies are seated adjacent to each other, their stalls lit by single electric lamps. The veggies are neatly arranged in baskets.

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At every stall, people are bargaining. We Indians (both the vendors and the buyers) love to bargain. So, back and forth go the discussions, till finally both sides are happy.

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There are stalls selling earrings and clips and rubber bands. All those small things that make-up our every day lives.

There is so much energy all around me. A slice of everyday life. I click a few pictures.

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I stop by at a famous bakery, famous for its butter biscuits and honey cakes. I order butter biscuits ‘to go’, and sink my teeth into a deliciously soft honey cake. I observe the street, as the cake melts in my mouth.

Twilight has transformed into night. Stars make their appearance, a twinkle here and a twinkle there, as I head homewards.