When panda eyes are worth it!


The arms of the clock in our living room are inching towards 6 p.m. And that’s our deadline to leave home for the airport.

I am a spinning top, as I check and double check the gas, lights, fans, aircons, windows, doors and the hundred other things that one needs to do. I also know that the moment I board the taxi, paranoia will hijack my rational thinking process, and will force me to keep asking myself if I had switched off the lights in the bathroom before locking the door, and many such things!

It takes a while for the paranoia to be replaced by a sense of calm. We soon reach the airport, unload our suitcases, check-in and head towards our boarding gate.

We go through baggage screening and security checks. Finally, we can all sit and relax. Each of us is busy, sucked into our smartphone screens or the pages of a book.

People are walking up and down, babies are crying and it is business as usual, the scene similar to the one at every boarding gate.

Suddenly, a voice on the intercom announces that our flight has been delayed by an hour and a half; and that we have to board the flight from another gate.

Many many groans and whines and grimaces later, all of us move at a snail’s pace to the new boarding gate. We repeat baggage screening and security, and wait.

Image courtesy – iStockphotos.com

The flight is uneventful. I drift in and out of sleep, aching to stretch my body.

Soon the pilot announces that there is air traffic congestion, and that our landing would be delayed. Sigh!!!!

When we finally land, we realize that three other flights have also landed at the same time. The queue for immigration snakes beyond the dividers used to guide the queue.

We walk, bleary eyed, in an S-shape, right and left. The line is moving, albeit slowly. I watch people. Some are glued to their phones, some are staring ahead at some point directly in front of them, some are having animated conversations about the merits and demerits of a particular model of smartphone. A small boy drags a small suitcase with a cartoon character on it.

As we move left, we meet the same people again, as they move right. We do this so many times that these people start looking familiar. At some point, the little boy with the suitcase lets out a rebellious wail. He sits on his suitcase and refuses to move. He has had enough of this late night adventure!!! His dad lifts him up and places him on his shoulder. The boy smiles, his old irritation forgotten, so quickly replaced by another new adventure.

And, finally we are at the carousel, where our bags are already on the belt, moving lazily at this unearthly hour. We haul them on to our trolleys, and walk out to the taxi stand.

Our eyes close involuntarily as the taxi leaves the airport, taking us to meet our loved ones.

As we drink cups of hot filter coffee, and catch up with family, we concur that all the pain and panda eyes were totally worth it!

Letting go in bits and pieces…


The excitement at home is palpable. My son is scurrying about, double-checking, triple-checking and quadruple-checking with me; ensuring that all the items on the checklist given by his school have been packed.

He is going away on a three-day school trip, the longest he has been away from home and from all of us.

We have to drop him early tomorrow, so we try to get him to sleep early. He checks his big backpack, and a smaller backpack, one last time, before he hits the bed.

His excitement is contagious; we are also caught up in it all.

As his mom, I hope he will be fine, and able to manage on his own. Above everything, I want him to have fun.

His elder sister, who has been on many such trips, gives him a few tips. He is after all the youngest, and it is time to let him go!

The next morning flies by in a flurry of last minute checking, and driving to school. Many children and parents are already there. In what seems like a jiffy, the children board the coaches, and with a few waves and yells, they are off.

Picture courtesy – wikiclipart

I head back home. It is like any other school day, when the kids are not around, but the house seems a tad emptier. I go around the house picking up stuff. On my son’s table are some eraser shavings, a half-done sketch of an animal, and a pencil. Suddenly, it hits me that a bundle of energy will not rush into the house at 4 pm, for the next two days. There will be no non-stop chatter about the school day or animals, or the cats in the neighbourhood.

Soon, when I check my phone, I realize there are some photo updates from school. Lovely photos of the kids and their activities; what fun experiences they seem to be having.

I zoom in, and eagerly scan the innocent faces for my son. There he is, smiling, with his friends, looking happy and cheerful.

Soon, the day’s chores catch up with me, and my daughter and I also take some time out together, catching up on some mom-daughter time.

The three days fly away, and my son is back home, enriched by his experiences, and bubbling with stories about the trip.

As I hug my little one, I realize that he has taken an important first step in his life. The first of many such experiences and challenges he will face in this journey called life.

As his parents, my husband and I hope we have equipped him to do just that!

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 Great Wall and Time


The sun’s heat is scorching. We walk at a steady pace, completely awed.

We are at the Great Wall of China.

Before we reach the starting point, our guide briefs us about the Wall and its history, and loads us with many interesting nuggets of information. We agree on a time to meet, and proceed on our long walk.

The valleys on either side watch us in silence, as we walk, stop and marvel. How was this feat even possible!

At every turn, the wall winds up and down into the rugged terrain, an off-white line that stretches away into places that the eye cannot see.

We feel humbled. We walk up steps, climb down others, pausing for breath, pausing to take pictures, wondering, only wondering.

We can picture the soldiers at their viewing decks, and the invading armies.

My son and I sit down, as we wait for the others. There is a deep silence. Except from two crows that caw on and off, all is quiet. Our hats give us some semblance of protection as the sun’s hot rays reflect off the stones.

I look up at the clear blue sky and smile. A merry little jet is whizzing importantly across the sky, leaving behind a fluff of white lace.

Time seems suspended between history and the future.

The Wall is unchanging, a witness to thousands of years of history, culture and human development. The jet is too busy to stop, it is after all, busy carrying people to appointments and meetings.

The word ‘time’ as I know it seems pointless, as I sit on the Great Wall, knowing that even after we are all gone, this architectural wonder will still remain.

Tropizens 


I keep reading blogs that talk about Spring; and am reminded of the animated movie Bambi, where all the animals in the jungle celebrate Spring by breaking into a song-dance routine. Spring – when flowers bloom, when butterflies flutter, and when there is green everywhere!

Sigh! I can only read or watch movies about Spring. Living in the tropics as I do, the word ‘seasons’ is only useful when teaching my kids about seasonal changes in other parts of the world.

Where we live we have only three ‘seasons’ – warm, very warm and unbearably warm.

Our bodies are conditioned to easily handle temperatures of 33 deg and above.  We are used to thunderstorms and rainfall almost every day.

I am a Tropizen – a citizen of the tropics. Why am I saying this? This is because, like any other group of people, Tropizens exhibit certain behaviour patterns.

Take for example our handling of cold weather. Tropizens grow brrrrrrr…if the aircon temperature is set at anything below 24 deg. We feel cold in airports.

Imagine this – our family of Tropizens went on a trip to New Zealand a few years ago. It was in December, which is summer time in New Zealand. The internet told us that the temperature would be between 18 to 20 degrees during the day and around 12 deg at night. Rattlleeeee….!

For a Tropizen, that is winter..Brrrrr. We stocked up on caps, scarves, mufflers, gloves and thermals.

Picture courtesy – Cartoonstock.com
When we landed in Christchurch after our long flight, the fresh air seemed invigorating, initially. However, in a few hours we were wrapped up in our wollens.

As it was our first day, we decided to take a walk around the neighbourhood. The locals were enjoying their summer in cotton clothes, and were probably shocked to see eight people walking down the road, covered from head to toe in warm clothes.  They must have wondered if we were headed to some camp in the Antarctic.

Most restaurants had their tables set outside. People enjoyed tall glasses of drinks, with ice cubes tinkling in them. The thought of ice cubes made us chatter. We wanted hot coffee!

We were probably the only few people who asked to be seated indoors.

But at home, in the tropics,  we can survive the heat and humidity without batting an eyelid. We can guzzle big buckets of cold juice…with clinking ice cubes! We can take on lightning and thunderstorms, and anything else.

For us, comfort starts at 33 deg!

A moment in time…


Recently, as I browsed through my digital photo archives, I came across this picture of my son, when he has 3 years old.

I still remember – it was a cold, windy day, and we were on a windmill farm in The Netherlands.

My husband and I stood transfixed by the old windmill, but my son was mesmerised by this beautiful duck that waddled across the grass. 

My son got his arms together and imitated the duck’s waddling as he followed the bird, making a ‘quack’, ‘quack’ sound with his mouth.

Seeing this photograph brought back memories of that holiday, and memories of the little boy that my son was then, whose day was made by that little duck.

How time flies! When I showed him the picture, his eyes grew big, and he asked, “Is that really what I did?

A simple moment in time. A moment that can never be replaced. A moment when a three year old followed a duck.

The Anatomy of a Ladies Trip


We are in Chennai. A bustling metropolis. Four women, who have travelled to this city to attend the dance debut of one of our mutual friends’ daughters.

All of us arrive the night before, from different places. The excitement of meeting like this – without husbands, children, work and everyday mundanities is potent.

We are staying with another dear friend. We wake up lazily, indulge in hot cups of aromatic filter coffee, gossip and sip more coffee. We laze about, finding this strange abundance of time so refreshing; where work, chores and children seem unreal. We catch up and discuss our lives.

When the sun hangs directly above our heads, we decide that we are famished. We are food-sisters, if you could call it that. We love food and enjoy eating out. So, the ubiquitous South Indian Thali gets our vote.

The four of us wait to hail autorickshaws for the short ride. We think we may need two autos to accommodate our frames. All the autos seem to be busy. Finally, one stops for us. The auto-driver bravely agrees to take the four of us. We squeeze in, with one of us spilling onto the side bar. Amidst a lot of giggling, we get dropped off at the restaurant.

The server asks us if we want the ‘limited’ or ‘unlimited’ Thali? The vote is unanimous for the Unlimited Thali, meaning you get more of any item you like.

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The delectable Vegetarian Thali with its tantalizing aroma, and vibrant colours, is placed before each of us. We tuck into the delicious food, mixing the gravies with rice, crushing the papads, tasting the tangy pickle. The eating process is made more enjoyable as we tease each other, and continue to be amazed at our appetites. We finish all the courses and wait for the dessert of hot gulab jamuns with icecream. Pure bliss!

We walk out into the afternoon, content with ourselves, and living in the moment, our busy lives temporarily erased.

We amble back, to burn off some of those calories. We then laze about discussing our wardrobes and what each is going to wear to the dance debut. We catch a few winks.

After another hot cup of coffee to revive  ourselves, we start getting ready. We leave for the function, enjoy it and head back to change into our everyday clothes. Back to airports, train stations and bus stations. Back to the routine.

It is so wonderful to be back home with the children and husband. The trip feels like a dream now.

Letter mirrors


A few years ago, when my Dad passed away, and my mom was clearing out some old stuff, she chanced upon a bundle of letters that I had written to my parents, when I was in my twenties and  working in London.

She had preserved them carefully, organized by date; each letter safely tucked in its original envelope. The envelopes had frayed edges, where my parents would have opened or torn them to get to my letters.

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          Courtesy – http://www.123rf.com

A few days later, when I visited my mom, she asked me if I wanted to keep the letters, because they were filled with my everyday observations of London (one of my favourite cities), to my dreams and aspirations, and lots of photos and humourous observations. Of course, every letter was an outpouring of love to my parents, my aunt, my sisters and to my adorable niece, who was 2 months old then.

I took the letters with me, and sat down to read them. I must have had lots of time, especially in winter, for no letter was shorter than 14 pages!

Through those letters, I relived my life in its twenties. I could see that young woman, with so many dreams and aspirations, looking at her future and its immense possibilities.

I loved reliving London, with its tube stations, and the weather, and the long walks I often took. I remembered the scones and jacket potatoes. I remember how many books I read on my trips in the tube. I learnt so many, many things. I travelled, I walked and I read.

I fast forward to the now. How have I changed? Lots of things are still the same, but I have mellowed. I am a wife now, a mom now. My priorities are quite different.

Many of those dreams are still inside, waiting to be realized, maybe after the kids go to university.

Life was independence, fun, young and filled with lots of possibilities ‘then’.

Life is dependence, love, ageing and filled with dreams and possibilities for the family ‘now’.

Different phases, both beautiful. Wouldn’t trade either.