Airport Observations

I hang up my phone in amusement. My ride was still at home, in a half-sleep stupor but awake enough to brush away my insistence to take a cab. I didn’t mind hanging around for a while. The arrival section of the airport is a lovely place to people watch and I’m usually in such a hurry to leave that I pay little attention to my surroundings. I settle down in a corner, with my luggage at my feet and a book on my lap so that I don’t feel too awkward.

The duration of the flight is visible on some passenger’s faces as they make their way past me. The long haul flyers have pained looks on their faces as they lug around their screaming children and attempt to balance hand luggage, infant, headache and trolley. Too tired to muster a thank you to the cleaning lady who helps them with the trolley, they don’t walk; instead they flop with fatigue towards the luggage belt.

I spot pockets of women wearing abayas but minus their head scarves. My curiosity is piqued. This is rare. The abaya is always, always accompanied by some form of head covering. I suddenly realize that the Middle Eastern flights must have landed and these must be housemaids (or Domestic Help, for the politically correct) returning home. Having landed in Katunayake, they had clearly discarded  the head covering which is compulsory for women in the Middle East.

There are certain staple characters at every airport and as I sat there, I spot a few.  There is the Frequent Flyer. Usually a business man/woman, impeccably attired – not too casual, not too formal – completely at home in the airport, equipped with a enviable mastery of being able to stuff a week’s worth of clothes and necessities in a smart, medium sized travel bag (usually a Samsonite).  I say, enviable because I’m usually the Overweight Passenger (luggage weight, not body weight. I feel it necessary to clarify this) who resolutely attempts to get the poker faced flight official to wave the few excess kilos away. I’m not proud of it but I’ve reluctantly come to terms  with the fact that I will never be able to travel light.

Then there is the Well Dressed Woman. You know the kind. The WDW is a rare species which steps in and out of the flight flawlessly attired, lipstick immaculate and hair in place. While the rest of the populace attempt to smoothen their plane hair (twice removed cousin of helmet hair) and crumpled clothes, she breezes through the airport in 6 inch heels effortlessly without a single trace of the flight visible on her demeanour.

There is the foreigner who has arrived to ‘find herself’ and immerse herself in the Exotic Orient. Harem pants, beads, tattered backpack and a Lonely Planet guide are key indicators. There is also the Elderly Traveller with a perpetual look of bewilderment, determinedly clutching onto their baggage and passport lest someone runs away with it. Every flight is a new adventure and the ET is usually the only person who pays close attention to the emergency rules announcement at the beginning of a flight.

There is always a tourist in every airport. The Tourist travels in packs or clusters of 5 or less. The more obvious Tourist is usually found with a fanny pack and sports shoes. The clusters are loud groups which congregate at the airport, cracking jokes among their peers, crumpled printed itineraries stored in their bag.

I hear someone call my name and I look up in surprise. There’s a face looking down at me expectantly and I find myself in a SSM (Small Social Pickle). I know I know this person but I can’t remember how or where I know him from or what his name is. One of the things which strike me as I struggle to place him is that he has a kind, sympathetic face and I experience a strange déjà vu  feeling of having this thought before, when I first met him years ago.

“You don’t remember me, do you?” Clearly I’m more transparent than I realize. He remembers my name and so I’m forced to lie to save face. Of course, I do, I reply. He’s nice enough not to call my bluff and after some cursory small talk, he leaves and I return to pretending to read.

The Duty Free heavy weights are making their way. A mother-son pair emerges from the lift. The mother is beaming and there is a proud (but not in an arrogant way) tilt in the son’s chin as he pushes a fridge on a trolley. A gift for his mother maybe? As I sit there, the flight crew of various airlines pass by frequently. I keep a lookout for familiar faces – a few friends work in the industry– but don’t spot any. There was a time when the travel perks of being a part of an airline had a strange fascination for me (and seemed worth the toil and flak I’ve seen cabin crew put up with). I was much younger and the attraction of a new country every week was extremely alluring.

There’s a man hunting for a pen to fill out the declaration forms for his brand new LED TV. He’s approached four people by now and the frustration on his face is apparent. He’s yet to ask me, strangely. I’m afraid my Alone Face is also my Leave Me Alone Face – a Delhi survival mechanism I have unconsciously adopted – and I probably don’t look very inviting or pen-friendly. I take out a pen from my backpack and signal him over. His furrowed face breaks out into a grin and he heads over to the other side of the lounge to fill out the paperwork.

My phone rings. My ride is here.  I’ve only read 6 pages of my book. As I clumsily get my belongings together, I realize that I’m exhausted. The frantic dash during a brief transit was finally taking its toll.   It feels good to be back. I wish I remembered that guy’s name though.

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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: Voyeur

I like art.

I also like watching people look at art. I think one of the best things about it is the humanistic element.  It’s fascinating watching people’s reactions to pieces of art.

Once I stopped hyperventilating about being in the same space as an original Dali and Picasso, I walked around the India Art Fair. I watched as people stared at cracked mirrors and giant black concave installations with complete bemusement or squirmed uncomfortably in front of the overly sexual, more provocative pieces.

My exposure to art on such a mass scale has been limited to the Colombo Art Biennale and the annual Kala Pola so the art fair kind of blew my mind. It was visually exhausting moving from one piece to another rapidly in an effort to ‘do’ everything and despite this, I still missed out on an entire hall.  I fervently wished I had another day to come back and go through everything in my own time and pace.

I can’t lie. I didn’t understand a lot of it and I think my lack of aesthetic refinement might have hindered my art appreciation. Hopefully one day I will be able to gaze at a 15 minute video installation of a woman gnawing at a raw onion and have an epiphany. Till then, I’ll have to make do.

This chap remained absorbed by the TV journalist covering the fair.

This piece left quite a few people confused.

She took a liking to Tapas Sarkar's sculptures and insisted on saying bye to each and every one of them before she left.

A bit of context might be necessary here - the installation was one of two boxes which had knives sliding in and out of it, automatically

Pictures of people taking pictures of pictures

Ps: He probably won’t read this but thank you to Spanish artist, Gines Serran and his son, who took pity on a poor student and took me on a tour of his work and demystified some of the context and process. It was lovely getting insight from the inside.

Ps 2: I’m starting to realize that I may come off slightly stalker–like in this post.  I’m really not.

Notes from Delhi: Etcetera, Etcetera

It’s 4.30 am. I’ve just finished four loads of laundry and downed a particularly potent cup of lemon tea (3 tea bags in one cup).

I’m a little appalled at how dumbed down my writing has become. Sentences have become alarmingly staccato like and the content vacillates between touristy Delhi posts or ‘OMG. I miss home’ posts. So instead of griping about lost mojo,  I’ve forced myself to sit down, write whatever pops up into my head and try and get into the groove once again (I can’t believe I just used that phrase). I can’t promise that everything is going to make sense but at least I can get some of the thoughts festering in my head out there.

Also, the left side of my keyboard stopped working a few weeks back and I’m left to the mercies of the onscreen keyboard because I’ve been too chicken to battle the Hindi speaking computer guys at Nehru Place and too afraid of being ripped off.

My work is cut out for me.

*

I believe that everyone has a story to tell.

Some stories are meant to be shared over drinks and raucous laughter. Some are let slip hesitantly, over a rare, reckless moment of confidentiality, often regretted later. Others speak for themselves and remain etched on faces, on hands even.

Some stories remain blissful secrets – replayed in your head, a slow smile spreading over your face as you’re about to turn in for the night.  Others, cushioned in pain and denial and locked in the darkest corner of your mind, never to be let out.

These stories have varying names – scars, baggage, anecdotes, issues, memories, snapshots.

Call it what you will, but everyone has a story to tell.

*

I love meeting new people. It’s not a popularity thing (I’m strangely anti social at times). I’m just constantly in search of kindred spirits. Kindred spirits are sadly far and few between so instead I now look for conversation chemistry – because there are conversations and then there are conversations.

While kindred spirits are in short supply, conversation chemistry can occur in the most unexpected places. Throw in a few interesting people and good atmosphere or even an email thread and decent spelling and the results are positively electric. Good chemistry is completely independent of the content and context of the conversation. The secret is in the people who partake in it and sometimes the most unexpected of people have the most to offer. I may not always be the most vocal in discussions but I love basking in the atmosphere of great conversation. Honestly, it’s positively intoxicating.

*

Delhi is an exceedingly complex city. It’s easy to lose faith in a city like this. There are times it welcomes you and times, when it repels. This city leaves its mark on you – whether good or bad, is entirely dependent on your survival mechanism. But at the same time, it’s a city which constantly surprises you. And I love that.

One of my favourite memories of Delhi so far is at a little cafe in Paharganj. M  hdn’t been to Paharganj, so I took her there. It was Ramazan and it was time to break fast. The owner of the cafe ushered us to a table. He asked if either of us were fasting (rohza, it’s called in Hindi) and upon hearing that I was fasting, insisted that we sit with him and break fast. He waved aside my protests firmly and I was pushed into an Ifthar banquet of sorts. Picture three tables pushed together and white bowls piled high with apples, grapes, pineapple, dates and oranges. Plates of pakoras and samosas, bottles of juice and even more  plates filled with exotic middle Eastern dishes I’d never seen before dotted the table.

The thing is, during Ramazan, I used to break fast with a cheese sandwich, dates and water. I don’t make a fuss about what I eat – I’m far too tired by the time the sun sets and I just grab some dinner later on. So when this stranger sat me down at his table and fed me this veritable fest I was so grateful I could weep.

Thank you sir, you may not have known it but you made a very tired, homesick girl’s day that evening.

Notes from Delhi: The Black and White Couple

Hauz Khas Village is a nice enough place with plenty of cafes and shops, but there’s something about the place which I can’t put my finger on. It seems like it’s trying too hard and its general atmosphere exudes hipster-kitsch, which doesn’t help things sometimes.

After lunch at a cafe at Hauz Khas last week, we came across a vintage store crammed with an assortment of some of the most random stuff I’ve ever seen in a shop. From buyable stuff like vintage posters, postcards and antiques to arbitrary stuff like old photographs and stamps. The sales person was friendly and good naturedly let us root through the place to our hearts content.

On an impulse I rummaged through the box containing old photographs and came across this.

The black and white couple

Don’t you think this couple have so much scope for a story? I mean, look at them. Ignore the complete lack of body language to indicate the fact they were a couple – if you root far enough through old family pictures you’ll come across a gamut of awkward pictures of people sitting ramrod straight in studios glaring at the camera – their faces itself are immensely interesting.

The man’s (unusually well shaped, may I add) eyebrows have the slightest hint of defiance in them and the flare of his nostril and thinly drawn lips are telltales of a stubborn personality. I’d love to guess at his age, but his hairline recedes into the darkness of the background and as far as I can see there’s no indication of greying.

There’s a barely visible slump in the woman’s shoulders and well, I think she looks beautiful. I was inclined to dismiss her as a ‘typical’ Indian housewife at first glance, but her eyes beg a second glance and (I’m probably reading too much into things here) there’s something achingly poignant about her face.

The couple and the composition of the picture was so out of place at that exact moment, in the sweltering heat as my friends laughingly burrowed among vintage posters and browsed old pipes.

The basket was overflowing with similar vintage photographs; I can’t put my finger on why I was so drawn to this picture. I just can’t help thinking there’s a story behind this couple.  I wish I knew what it was.

This Blog is Not Dead

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This post has been in the pipeline for way too long. Every time I sat down to write it, the door bell would ring, someone would call or I would remember something urgent I have to do. I’m running late, I’ve only just finished packing my bags, and I have an awful feeling that I’ve forgotten something stupendously important, but I knew I had to put this out on the world wide web before I go.

So, I leave the country in a few hours. ‘Home’, will not be home for the next three years (save for the holiday visits) and I am being yanked nose first out of my comfort zone, and will be plunged into all things unknown for the next few months. True to style, I have finished everything only at the 11th hour, and everything that can go wrong has gone wrong (crucial discrepancies in forms, new regulations etc etc) and as you can very well, imagine I’m nervous as hell.
This post is twofold  – one is to put up a post to remind everyone, that I’m alive and the other is to thank certain people.


People are absolutely amazing, and wrapped in our little bubbles, we tend to lose sight of this sometimes.
So this (at the risk of sounding like an Oscar speech) is for you. For those of you who took the time to visit and meet up. For certain people who unrelentingly bullied me into making time for them in-between my errands (I love you guys!). For helping me pack and sort out all my stuff. For the surprise shindigs, impromptu visits, amazing gifts and long calls.
Thanks so much. I really appreciated it, and you guys made me feel incredibly loved. You know who you are. 🙂
I’m off now. A long shower and a series of phone calls beckon.
So very very nervous about the next few weeks. Fingers, toes, strands of hair and everything crossable has been crossed. Await developments and many I-miss-my-cat posts.