Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Books And The Wishes


       The book waited  with the smell of  fresh ink trapped between its unturned pages. Another climbed up it's back. Then another. Till they built up into a stack of books. All waiting for mastication. Each of them had been brought with much fondness, with thrill of anticipation  of a tete-a-tete. 

     They waited patiently on the shelf while the  chores spun their barely visible threads. In dimly lit evenings they peekaboo-ed when the lights went on to fetch a file containing bills, a new pack of pencils or the medical report. A wistful smile went their way, a quick brush with the fingers, an assurance of their presence. Hoping for  'the one day' when they will all be savoured. Will 'the one day' arrive, curled up by the window while the rain danced outside sending in stray sprays? Or that summer evening while the Rangoon flowers assailed with its heady fragrance? 'The one day'  could well begin with the wintery slant of the sun rays while the orange segments burst into a tangy freshness between the teeth. Or an evening maybe snuggled under the quilt.


     The ominous hours passed by and the pages remained unopened. Dormant lay stories of different worlds that tumbled around as the earth cruised ahead in its journey. Wisps of ideas caught in verses remained frozen. The time to open up to new ways of thinking was yet to arrive. Mere points and shaded regions in the atlas waited to be transformed into places offering unique experiences. Pico Iyer, Joyeeta Sharma, Anuradha Roy, Cyrus Mistry, Debopriya and Saurav, Markus Zusak, Hiren Bhattacharya, Zia Haider Rahman, Bono, Waheed... They waited with  their voices muted. As did myriad other mental notes, things to do and the ever lengthening bucket list. 

        Somewhere between chaos of the internal and external cosmos, jostling amidst the crowded days, and ever demanding urban living, the books held on. As did the things to be done. Resolute in their silent persistence for attention, waiting to emerge from the shadows of procrastination.    The journey had begun, unnoticed, without an opportune moment marking it. Stealthily, a page had turned. And then a few more. Before realisation dawned, only a few pages were left. The books finally heaved a sigh of relief. They, after all, were  going to see the light and feel the air.


    Time had taken a bend in the corner. A new year was waiting to carry the baton forward. Like those pages waiting to be leafed through, hopes and wishes of the muffled self too waited to be unfurled. But the pages had turned. So will those jottings in the bucket list. They too will see the light of the day. Everyday life will continue to spin its entangling web. To remain unfazed and reach beyond those tensile silken threads would lead to newer paths and stories. Paths that will make the journey more meaningful and fulfilling. For that, the first page has to be turned...

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Bells And Trees On Cards


                   Oriental motifs of curls, paisleys, little tendrils were sketched on Christmas bells. Two leaves of mistletoe with red berries  adorned the top of the bell ( a mistake many didn't realize till late). A  huge golden bow with  its trailing ends hung from the sides. Come Christmas and the art periods in schools were busy with the single activity of making Christmas cards on art books. The more industtrious of the lot attempted replicating a Santa Claus. But bells were the most popular on drawing sheets followed by the tree. Some where vaguely the mistletoe hovered mostly as a filler.


                 Back home from school, more bells and Christmas trees  were made on white chart papers cut out for cards. And more mistletoes.  Nobody had the vaguest of idea why the parasitic twig found it's way into Christmas notions. Of course very few knew, in the pre Google era, that they lived off apple treees and oak trees. But they were aware of romantic allusions  of standing under the mistletoe. Wasn't Betty forever trying to get Archie and herself under it so he would be compelled to kiss her?The only other reference to this twig was of course, by Goscinny. That was when he alluded to the pre Christian era. His character, the Gaul Druid Getafix, was mostly found emerging from behind oak trees with a golden sickle in hand. For mistletoe growing on oak trees was a rarity. It was  the most essential ingredient of his famous magic potion, and had to be cut with a golden sickle. Most of this reference got burried under peals of laughter that his characters generated starting with Dogmatix to Cacofonix. Fed on the other popular 80s comics, a whole generation grew up lapping up white Christmases; of  Moose dragging the yule tree for decoration; Veronica showing that chink of generosity in her haughty demeanor; the entire Archies  gang singing carols against a white landscape; of brightly wrapped gifts under the Christmas trees  and a general  atmosphere of festivity, joy and charity...

             Friends who went to Missionary schools came back with stories of Christmas carols. Those who didn't, listened awe struck. There was a mystical  feel to the Christmas festivities in a land where celebrations of festivals  were over the top, flamboyant and well...very familiar. The quiet warmth  of Yuletide were confined to a few who went to churches, midnight mass and waited for gifts in stockings. For people spread across a land where December meant pleasant sunny climes in tthe coasts or  foggy cold days in the plains, a  whitewashed landscape with a thick icing of snow on sloping rooftops held a charm of the unseen. That there were many hill stations in India that saw white Xmas was an exotic idea. Travelling to places other than home towns had not yet  caught the popular imagination in the pre liberalised India. If anyone did go to the hills, it had to be summers. 

       The idea of  Xmas began with the alphabet book as a  toddler and reinforced  with the Archies and Hallmark cards. Or the Helpage, Cry and Unicef ones for those who were conscious of  doing their bit. And these images continued to be  replicated on art sheets and chart paper cards during the season. What excited, was a sense of partaking in a festival  in whatever way it could be emulated. a festival that seemed distant and elusive. What began with cards, gradually moved to listening to carols, bringing in the tree, the gifts under them, the roasted chicken and the pudding. What started off as a tentative  feel and acceptance of a festival  that very few grew up with, had burst into a joyous anticipation  a week prior to its advent. A Santa will be sauntering at most street corners  of the city or walking around the malls. The Chinese Xmas trees in all sizes and their ornaments  will be tumbling out of every store and Kirana of the neighbourhood. Children will continue to draw  mistletoes with red berries not realizing they are actually hollies. And that mistletoes have rounded spoony leaves with yellowish white berries and hollies are prickly leaves of shrubs with red berries. 

    But who cares, as long as an occasion brings people together and spreads warmth and cheer, the right leaves or the correct order of rituals doesn't matter. Mrs Sharma's son will be tugging at his mother's pallu, " Ma, I also want a Christmas tree". A small plastic tree will be packed in a jiffy and pushed over the potatoes and the phul gobis in the shopping bag.


Thursday, 10 December 2015

Responsible Travelling Building Relationships

    I waited patiently while he wrapped the curio in an old piece of paper. And then he looked under the counter, inside a box, asked his neighbouring stall owner and finally found what he was looking for. Fishing out a polythene bag he dropped my ceramic memorabilia into it.
  " Thank you, but I'll not need the plastic. In any case these will travel safely in the suitcase" I said returning the offensive thing.
He gaped at me for a few seconds before blurting out, " I am sorry, I thought you were Indian..."
" But I am! "
It was my turn to look confused.
" see...Oh! Never mind! "
Then curiosity got the better of him.
" All Indian tourists ask for this. Why don't  you want it?"
     It wasn't a flattering observation but he wasn't wrong. We have been guilty of walking out of shops, plastic bags dangling with the goodies because it was convenient. As many bags as the number of shops visited.

   Littered streets and loud crowds. Ugly concrete structures pierce out of hill slopes and barricade the sea side. In all the cacophony and visual chaos, the charm and the very identity of a place is hammered, built, boarded and gagged into a homogenous backdrop. It is sad to see Mussorie, Shimla, Darjeeling, Goa, Kovalam remain just a heavily made up belle desperately trying to peddle her charms. Their fault? They were stretching out their limbs, allowing the sun rays to kiss the hill tops, slide down their valleys,  letting the lapping waves send them into a blissful slumber in the warm sand.  Until the roving eyes discovered them.

Respect In A Relationship


    There is a wide chasm between lust and love.  It is the absence of respect in the former that reduces any relationship to cinders. Travel is a relationship forged in many ways - with the journey, with the place, with the people. But most importantly, it is a relationship with the self in the ways it nudges the many facets of the self and the many thoughts that bubble up.



   A responsible traveller is like the seeker who will tip toe around the bend and watch the place unravel and 'be'. There is no demand to 'show' it's wares or to please all and sundry. A responsible traveller will accept it the way it is and not expect it to change with a plush hotel here or a night club there; authentic North Indian food in Rameshwaram  or the perfect sambhar in Pahalgam. Respect for the local people, their lives, their culture and their cuisine is the key to a traveller's enrichment. It is like being nourished with healthy seasonal food rather than the quick titillation with fast food. While the latter will have you hungry again filling you with empty calories, the former will have you satiated for a long long time, working to heal and fill your body with nutrients.


  We have travelled. And quite a bit. With each journey we have grown as individuals and probably turned a wee bit wiser. Where once we were happy to take in the sights and taste of a new place, thumping our backs for having ticked off yet another name from our travel list; that list is of little consequence now. We would rather let the place, any place, work its way into us and unfold it's charm in the many unique experiences it can steep us in.

Public Transport


   Having driven down the Indian West Coast once before, the best way to do this, we have discovered, is to hop onto a public transport. The ride from Mumbai to Kudal on Konkan Railways, through the many tunnels in the Western Ghats and chugging by the red roofed hamlets, has been one of the best so far. On another trip, an impulsive change of plans before reaching Amsterdam took us on a delightful cycling spree in Kinderdyke with the ancient wind mills watching us indulgently. It was a metro ride from the Rotterdam railway station to Zuidplein, from where we boarded a bus to Kinderdijk through the Dutch countryside. Chatting with the Korean student, lumbering down with us in the bus, who was keen on exploring the Northern Italy rather than the touristy South Italy; watching a senior couple cycle their way around the place; we promised ourselves to grow old exploring the world. It is these little twists in the journey that add that zing to a travel experience making them memorable.


 Walk Along 



   Walking around Malvan, a corner of a nondescript fishing village opened up a sliver of the Arabian sea with fishing boats passing by, reflecting the sunrays off it's white hull. Sitting down there my open book lay idle  it's pages ruffling in the gentle sea breeze, the mind wandering here and there, bouncing off the waves. Or  the time when the ears picked up the faint plaintive melody, carried over the cold barren fields near the Hemis Gompa in Ladakh while we stamped our feet to keep ourselves warm in the subzero temperature. We have not barged but quietly let ourselves into these different worlds that hold so much of truth, beauty, and if you listen carefully, a whole lot of wisdom. 


   Next time you plan a trip, remember to keep some time aside for walking. If you are an early riser, this is the best time to 'feel' a place as it quietly emerges and sets the canvas for the day. You may find an interesting nook to explore which could have easily been missed in the crowd. Walk along the shore in Havelock, jump around the rocks or spend some time lying on a low branch looking out into the sea. Walk into park in Thiruvanantapuram and listen to a carnatic recital in the jasmine scented evening. Stop by an autumn field in Dhemaji and watch them reap the golden harvest in a Bodo village. There could  be a small kiosk waiting with some steaming appams in Gudalur. What a pity it would be if you missed bringing all these little memories home!


Adopting Homestays

  Homestays is what we look for now, for it offers a slice of local life that no other hotel can ever replicate.  Allowing an existing accomodation to take in guests, lies easy on the conscience in the fact that additional structures were not built to add to the burden. Come to think of it. In fact, the existing hospitality conglomerates could take up homestays as viable and sustainable projects. Places that are opening up to the travel circuit, the conglomerates could adopt a few homes or a village, upgrade and make comfortable to accomodate guests.  An extra income for the local people, an exotic experience for the traveller and a worthy CSR for the hospitality chain! Best of all, those ugly structures are restrained from popping up.

  While the onus lies on the traveller to choose and plan so as not to disturb the existing social, ecological and cultural balance, the service providers too need to be sensitized on this important aspect of travel. On our trip to Malvan, we had booked ourselves into a homestay in the middle of a fishing village. While we had the entire Malvani home to ourselves right on the beach, we were treated to some of the sumptious local cuisine by Vishal, the caretaker, and his mother. On one instance when we did try out an eating joint in the town, one that came with rave reviews, our final verdict was that nothing could beat the home cooked food. A famous restaurant chain of Mumbai popular for its Malvani cuisine, came nowhere close to the lady's sol kadhi, to speak of basics. These words immediately pepped up Vishal's mother who was pretty let down after we had ventured out.
" Why do you spend so much money on that outside food? I give you freshly cooked meal here at home..."
And that was the end of the matter. One such finger licking meal, had me traipsing to her kitchen to figure out what she did to the ingredients that had us asking for more. So with live demo, the spices that went into that unique touch, the exact way to mince the condiments, I came back armed with a couple of authentic Malvani recipes.



  Lazy evening conversations with Vishal revealed that the people in the town have been trained in their existing skills to participate organically in the tourism sector. In addition to fishing which is the main occupation, they earn extra by providing services to the visitors. That night we slurped down some more of the delicious Surmai curry, happy to be contributing a drop into the sustainable ecosystem. 

Encouraging Local Craft

  Part of this ecosystem is the local handicraft that tell the stories of its people. Hordes of tourists have been seen lapping up woollens and garments in the famous hill stations not realising that these have arrived from the plains travelling up the same route as they did, from places like Ludhiana. And worse now,  those plastic hats and toys that come from China. A bit of research before the trip will tell, the availability of raw materials of a place and the things made out of them. A Toda embroidered product from Ooty, the little black wooden men from the Andamans, the brass lamps from Thrissur or the robust hand knitted yak wool socks from  Leh will keep their hearths warm and the conversations going in your homes.



    Down the years, we may want to return to some of these places to rekindle the relationship and go back feeling nourished. To find them empty, bereft of a soul whimpering under all that jazz would be tragic. The worst we could do is to raise clones while the best we could ensure is to let each destination breathe and grow as unique individuals. Little conscious efforts is the beginning of responsible travelling. It doesn't take much time to develop it as a habit. Before you walk out of the hotel room, er... did you drop your bath towel on the floor after the first shower? Or use a fresh plate for your buffet meal after every sampling? 

   There is a whole wide world waiting to be loved. All it needs is to be nurtured with responsible travelling.

“I am blogging for #ResponsibleTourism activity by Outlook Traveller in association with BlogAdda