Notes from Delhi: Shadow Days


Every now and then I see traces of familiar faces on strangers.

Yesterday I saw my grandmother’s nose. The other day I saw a lady who could have passed off as a friend’s mother – the same thin eyebrows, the hands and even her gait were all remarkably similar. Once, on the metro I came across a man who reminded me of my dad. Physically, there was nothing similar but his unusually upright posture and the way he would peer over his glasses every now and then resignedly, while his grandchildren played and climbed over him, struck a chord. Suddenly for the first time in months, waves of home sickness washed over me.

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I love the ephemeral connection of reaching out to a complete stranger. Even if it’s simply a casual recommendation to a stranger at a cafe or striking up a mundane conversation about how late the metro is. It’s not always groundbreaking conversation or extraordinary epiphanies but for those few minutes, it’s a link of sorts with a person you don’t know. I think it’s also one of the reasons I like this site so much: http://missedconnectionsny.blogspot.in/

I shared a three-wheeler with a lady a few weeks ago. I had gone to Gurgaon and needed to head back to the metro station. Three-wheelers were scarce and terribly expensive. The driver said he had a usual hire, but he’d drop me on the way. My companion gave me a cursory glance and then remained formidably silent until I hesitantly broke the silence with a commonplace remark about the traffic. Within minutes she was showing me pictures of a beautiful, almond eyed baby and telling me about her shift to a new neighbourhood.

There’ve been multiple times when I’ve fervently wished I knew better Hindi, the people in this city are brimming over with stories if you’re willing to take the time to stop and listen.

I like flying alone for this reason. I have this fantasy where I find myself seated next to a stranger and we end up conversing for hours throughout the flight and then wind up the best of friends. Sadly, I’ve had some horrible experiences with flying companions but I still board every flight in hope of finding that elusive stranger.

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I’ve started asking questions and I’m not sure how to stop

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There’s an old perfume shop in Old Delhi that I usually go to buy soaps for my grandmother. It’s one of those places where (pardon the cliché) time has stopped still. Perfumes are stored in large glass containers with circular stoppers, the packaging of the soap is simple and unadorned and a heady cocktail of varied scents assail your olfactory senses as soon as you enter. On a whim I decided to pick up some perfume and attar along with some soap.

Firstly, the perfumes have such lovely names. Strangely, they were easy to choose because the scents sort of reminded of certain people and I ended up buying them as gifts for said people. The attar was stronger, more pungent and there was one which exuded the scent of the earth after rain –how lovely does that sound?

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We were travelling in a cab when suddenly our driver halted to a stop and pulled over to the side. When asked what happened, he informed us that a black cat had just crossed the road and he was waiting for another car to pass by before continuing. I was a little amused by this but my companions nodded as if it was the most normal thing in the world to do.

Outside a Tailor’s shop in Wellawatte

I was reading up on some superstitions and customs followed in India and was reminded of the ones followed in Sri Lanka. The devil’s mask to ward off evil, the boiling of milk for prosperity, the lime and chillies hung on vehicles and doorways – it’s all really very fascinating, regardless of whether you believe in them or not.

Even at home, there were certain rituals which were ingrained unconsciously from an early age. I remember my mum telling me not to cut my nails during Maghrib, my grandmother carefully packing a lime into my food to ward off evil spirits and being told not to sweep the house after sunset.

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I decided to go to a park and study the day before yesterday. I’d been cooped up for days and I was starting to feel restless. I don’t thrive very well in cramped spaces, I could feel the beginnings of the flu taking over my body and I figured some fresh air would do me good. Plus, Delhi’s evening weather of late has been fantastic and so I went.

I sat on the grass and unpacked my bag. I had my camera, a pack of juice, an apple, two pens, a pencil, a highlighter, a notebook, a file, rough paper, a sketch pad, hand sanitizer and a bottle of water… But I had forgotten to pack my text books.

Beautiful People

Darjeeling and Gangtok were filled with some of the most evocative faces I’ve had the pleasure of encountering.  (Last of the Holiday posts, I swear)

The story teller.  Our driver to Changu Lake regaled us with the most fascinating stories about some of the myths surrounding the lake.  He also took some excellent pictures with my friend’s camera. I have a feeling he might be in the wrong profession.

Karate Kid

The Barbershop

Little boy doing a big man’s work

Left: Boy-priest who became visibly agitated when tourists insisted on posing with the various Buddha statues in the monastery and tried to coax him into posing with them.  (I loathe that kind of blatant irreverence at places of worship. My sympathies were with the monk)

The chap with the snazzy headgear is Wong. He refused to pose for a picture but then graciously deigned to be photographed when I complimented him on his hat. Bottom left, adorable, serious faced little girl we met along with her dad at Darjeeling. Also, isn’t the smile on the girl at the top right  too cute?

Thai Priestess, Gangtok

The two ladies in the middle have been friends since childhood 🙂

Notes from Delhi: R is for Random

We were treated to a potent dust storm yesterday. I staggered on to the terrace only to be blown back inside, blinded by dust particles. To make up for it, there was ample lightning and a spectacular sunset though. Instead of the milk and water sunsets Delhi glories in, the sky exploded into a surreal yellow-orange.  Plus, rain after 4 months! I feel like I should add a few more exclamation marks to commemorate this moment. There you go —>  !!!!

My housemates stared in bemusement as I stood there, face turned skywards, eyes closed for a glorious half hour. Then I started sneezing and reluctantly went inside. Terribly anticlimactic.

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Second hand book bazaars are a god send. Trainspotting is painful to read. I can feel my vocabulary slipping away with every expletive.

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It was supposed to be an evil eye charm. It’s common enough over here. There are keytags, bracelets, chains and all kinds of souvenirs made with it and I didn’t for a moment believe that it was going to protect me. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel an irrational sense of dismay as the keytag slipped out of my head and exploded into blue shards all over the room.

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Visited East India recently. Loved it and would love to go back if possible, when finances and time permit. For now, I’ll have to be content gazing at the ridiculous amount of pictures I took while there.

At Darjeeling, one of the tourist attractions is the sunrise at Tiger Hill. We woke up at 4am and sleepily joined the multitudes who braved the bitter winds and cold (Frozen fingers, cold noses, fun times) to see the sunrise. Once we reached the ticket point we were asked if we would like tickets for a standard sunrise or a deluxe one.  Ah, the things we put a price on.

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At Gangtok, the wine shops open at 7am. The grocery shops, at 9.

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Meet my yak. His name was Changi. He was a nice yak – old, slow fellow. We got along swimmingly.

My guide was also incredibly sweet. After watching me gracefully scramble onto Changi, he gauged quickly  that I was not built for clambering over snow covered hills (In hindsight I think my loud cries of ‘I am an island person! I am not built for mountains! These feet were meant for flat land!’  may have given me away) He very patiently guided me and held me firmly as I flailed about spectacularly in the snow, the graceful ballerina that I am. He also realized that it was my first snow experience and proceeded to provide me with a steady supply of massive snow balls. Thank you, sir.

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Picture above shows a girl who has just slid down the hill on a blue polythene bag and is overcome with hysterical laughter. The poor chap at the bottom is the man she has just knocked over like a bowling pin while she hurtled down.  No one was hurt in the photographing of this picture.

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M has left the house and will be leaving the city in a few days. Delhi will not be the same. All my memories of discovering this city are intertwined with her and I’m more than a little hesitant to face my next year over here without her. M was the first friend I made here and definitely the closest. It was M who introduced me to the fantastic concoction that is badam milk and the vast spectrum of Delhi’s street food. It was M who made this strange city feel like home. M was also my exploring partner; equipped with her expansive knowledge of the city and my enthusiasm, we’d take on Delhi’s cafes, seedy streets, monuments, cultural festivals, the music scene and exhibitions every week.

I’m going to miss her.

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Happy holidays to everyone back at home. Here’s wishing you a peaceful Sinhalese and Tamil New Year. Stay safe.

Notes from Delhi: Baby, it’s cold outside

The weather is changing. There’s a chill in the air, the days are getting shorter and we’ve just convinced our landlord to install the geyser in our bathroom. Within a week, I’ll have to drag my winter wear out and pack away my Summer clothes for the next few months.

Winter is around the corner and it basically boils down to thermal wear, comfy sweat shirts, hot chocolate, living in converse, huddling under my quilt and spectacularly over sleeping through my morning classes. It also means frozen noses and fingers, borrowing M’s hair dryer to warm ourselves and being left to the mercy of hot water bottles.

The advent of winter also means that I’ll be dreaming of an island in the sun a little more often.

Of shores dotted with palm trees.

Frothy waves,

Sunset skies,

Lazing on the sand

And beach getaways.

I’m a little more prepared for Delhi’s brutal (I’m an island person. Anything less than 18 Celsius chills my bones) winters. I’ve also made up my mind that I will battle the winter blues with lots of prawn fry, movies, books (Hello flipkart. Goodbye money) and making use of the weather by doing more exploring around the city.

Plus, on the upside, the lack of humidity really does wonders to my hair.  Let’s see how it goes, shall we?

Shimla

 

When I moved to India, I promised myself that I would try and do as much travelling out of Delhi, as I could. A lot of stuff that goes on with me, goes undocumented on this blog but I vowed that at least my Indian excursions should be recorded for posterity. I’ve posted one here but I’m already two trips behind. But Shimla was the latest.

I kept vacillating, wondering whether to go or not. We were leaving soon after our last exam and while there was a part of me that really wanted to go, another part kept yelling ‘homehomehomehomehome’. As you’ve probably realized, I went and I’m glad I did.

 

Down Mall Road

 

Shimla constantly reminded me of Musoorie (forgive me, I’m prone to generalization). It had the old-town feel with all the colonial architecture and general laid-back atmosphere. A bit Nuwara Eliya like really, but with higher mountains and large sloping hills.

We stopped at a river called ‘thattapaani’ (literal translation: hot water) I loved the pebbles by the banks and lugged a whole bunch with me back home. They’re currently chilling in a bowl of water in my living room.

 

Policeman in snazzy uniform. Kept shooing tired tourists who kept coming and sitting at his post.

My friend had the quaintest (I hate using this word. I sound like such a tourist, but there’s no other word for it) cottage about 3 hours away from the main town, surrounded by orchards filled with fruit trees. How adorable is this?

The cottage

View from the top.

 

Most of our family vacations were spent by coastal areas. We’re all beach people and the mere thought of even heading to the hills was blasphemous. My family likes chilled out vacations. Give us a bunch of books, the beach, good food, good music and lots of pleasant weather and we’ll be content.

So I’ve never gone hiking or done any semblance of any sporting activity with my family. Also, I possess the magical ability to trip over flat surfaces so you can imagine my apprehension when faced with a massive mountain or any other vertical surface. I didn’t know that you’re supposed to walk zig zagged when you hike downhill etc. Hence, I’ve started to realize that my knowledge of the outdoors is hopelessly inadequate.

 

Played my first game of Monopoly.

 

 

Also read Asterix after ages! I loved Asterix as a kid and now, as an adult I love it even more. Goscinny and Uderzo were geniuses. And the English translations bring out the hidden humour and sarcasm brilliantly. Tintin who?

 

 

Tried making friends with cats and cows. Bit of a fail though. The cat ran away. The cow just stared.

 

On Mall Road, I was a little surprised to see tired looking parents pushing children as old as 6 or 7 in prams. But then we passed a ‘pram point’ of sorts with lots of prams for hire whenever the kids got too tired to walk up the sloping hills. Damn things had pianos and buttons which emitted the most horrible sounds on them. The kids loved it.

 

Mosaic interior at Cafe Sol

 

From home cooked food, soft ice cream to walnuts picked from trees, food-wise, everything was excellent

 

 

 

 

Shimla at night was beautiful.

 

Ps: No, I haven’t ditched the poetry challenge. Just a bit stuck. I’ve scoured my collection of poetry twice but I don’t seem to have a poem that is a guilty pleasure. I could probably just skip it or substitute something for it, but I feel like I should have a guilty pleasure. That fact that I don’t just bugs me.