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 🙂

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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.

Photography and I

Photography and I fell out of love a while back. It wasn’t pretty. Tears were shed, tantrums were thrown, hearts were broken.

My fling with photography started off about five years back. I took pictures for three years with my trusty camera phone before I advanced to a compact point and shoot, which has accompanied me since. There were instances when I was unfaithful. More talented, capable friends lent me fancier cameras to play around with and I was only too glad to accept their equipment to meddle around with. I’m not proud of my moments of infidelity but I would be lying if I say I didn’t enjoy them. There’s this exhilaration and an inexplicable high that taking a great picture brings which my compact (I’m very sorry. It probably wasn’t you. It was me) has never given me throughout all these years together.

I entered photography with the unbridled enthusiasm I leaped into marble papering, candle making, art and all my other abandoned relationships along the years. You may say I have commitment issues, I say you’re young once. The early years with photography were beautiful. You know, the twilight days where your rose tinted glasses are still firmly wedged on your face. No dish was too menial to be digitally immortalized; no event was complete with multiple pictures and I could not pass a flower or a baby without kneeling down to photograph it/her/him. Quantity took precedence over quality (I think I have 20 pictures of a tiger lily in my garden. At least a 100 of my cat) In a flood of mediocrity, there were a few good ones. There were moments when I would be inspired but they were few and far between. When I moved to India, I was dizzy with delight. This place is a photographer’s haven. All the Indian clichés you have seen in Hollywood movies unfurl around you, alas, minus the exotic, Eastern soundtrack in the background. I was going to conquer Delhi, one mega pixel at a time.

Somewhere down the line, the romance fizzled out. I’d take pictures reluctantly, as though it was something I had to do, not because I wanted to do it. The experimentation stopped abruptly. I even stopped gazing wistfully at the many SLR toting people I’d encounter. The once tangible chemistry was no more, the conversation, dried up.

The streak of disinterest and mediocrity continued and the rough patch snowballed into an estrangement. I stopped making an effort and feigning interest and the fissure gradually deepened more and more.  Long hours spent watching youtube post processing tutorials and stalking my favourite photographers became a thing of the past. My incessant need to document Delhi abated and I started listening to a lot of Adele. What was once the pride and joy of my life was banished to the depths of my cupboard along with the Kiran Desai book I’ve picked up countless times but never been able to get through. In retrospect it was a strange time. Even people around me noticed the absence of my better half and saw through the veneer of my watery excuses.

Like all broken relationships, I played the blame game. There was nothing wrong with me, I told myself firmly – it was my camera! And the answer, I made up my mind, was a very fancy, very expensive SLR. Upgrading, I am told is the norm.  Your clothes, your car, your phone, your computer, your house; maybe it was time to end things with my compact? Hell, if the 16 year old kid on my Facebook friend list could own a SLR, take a bad picture, stick a vintage vignette, chuck in a profound quote and call it photography, I could too.

Fortunately or unfortunately, financial practicalities prevented me from immediately sauntering in to an electronics store and I dislike running to my parents every time I want a new toy. Plus, the timing didn’t seem right so I reluctantly accepted that I was stuck with my compact for better or for worse, or at least for the time being. I wish I could tell you that we patched things up perfectly and walked off to photograph a red and gold sunset but Walt Disney lied. There are no fairy tale endings in the real world.

Things haven’t been all that bad though. I like to think the romance is still there. A few weeks ago, I stopped to check the ISO settings and played around with the composition. While on holiday recently, I switched on to trigger-happy mode and went a little crazy with the picture taking (picture beautiful people, mountains and the bluest of blue skies. You couldn’t be immune to the atmosphere if you tried). Another day, I even opened up photoshop.

People have overcome bigger ruts, made tastier lemonade and every chick flick I have watched has informed me that all relationship have its ups and downs. I haven’t taken a picture I’m proud of, in a very long time but I like to remain optimistic. Let’s see how everything goes over the next few months, shall we?

 

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.

Feline Tales

I’ve been getting along better with animals than with people of late. I was at a friend’s place, we’d stumbled in late after a night out and settled down to study – we had a paper two days later – late into the night. I got acquainted with one of the dogs there and soon he curled up on my feet and promptly fell asleep – cutest thing ever.

 I’ve always wanted to have a dog. For the longest time as a kid, I had a pet balloon (in my head, he was a dog) which I would drag along on a piece of string all over the house. His name was Timmy (inspired by Famous Five. I was very original) But balloons burst and our garden was too small for a canine, so that was that.

 I think it began when a half starved, scrawny kitten landed in our garden, meowing piteously. My mum gave her a saucer of milk and this kitten adopted us and spawned the next few generations of cats which peppered our household. Kitten V.1.0 grew to be a magnificent, lofty creature who could hold her own anywhere, anytime. Our backyard used to be dotted with her vocal admirers. It used to get so bad that we weren’t able to sleep with all the caterwauling going on. But a quick jug of water fixed things.

 There was once a time when the cats outnumbered the humans in the household 3:1 (both mother and daughter became pregnant at the same time. We suspect a common father. So much scandal).  Sadly, we couldn’t keep all of them.  My allergies started acting up and my parent’s sanity and the furniture started to fray rapidly.

Assorted cats over the years.

 So the cats came and went.  My favourite to date was Lilo. We named her Stitch initially, after the Disney movie but she refused to acknowledge her name.  I’ve always suspected that she was really a dog trapped in a cat’s body. I’m yet to see that kind of loyalty and affection in any cat. She was a cat among cats but she had two premature pregnancies and died during the second one. I was heartbroken and the cat population in the household dwindled to zero for a while because I didn’t have the heart to get attached to another feline all over again.

 Somewhere down the line afterwards, a cat walked in into our house and deposited her trio of kittens . We’d never seen this cat before and we desperately tried to shoo her away but this eyesore of a cat (she was every conceivable colour possible) just looked at us placidly in utmost condescension as if to say, ‘Humans these days’. The thing with cats is that they do exactly as they please. All the cat blogs, memes and cartoons were right – you never own a cat. A cat owns you.

 Four years afterwards, one of the trio still remains with us.  He’s the only cat who’s stuck around with us this long and he’s the laziest, scrawniest cat you ever saw and he’s constantly getting into fights, coming home with patches of fur missing. Age hasn’t treated him very well. He’s deteriorated from a serial heart breaker to the pervy old man who hits on nubile young things in bars and airports. But he’s my old, scrawny cat and I miss him terribly.

 

I don't think I have many pictures where he's actually awake.

His girlfriend lived with us and left us with a litter of kittens. I think she might have been abused as a kitten because she would get all jittery the moment anyone approached her or tried to pet her.

I returned home briefly a few months ago to visit my grandmother and during my visit he fell horribly sick. His leg had gotten infected (another cat-fight) and we took him to the vet for a shot. The vet, after a cursory glance gave him a shot and sent us away. What we didn’t know was that my cat wasn’t well and the shot the vet gave him resulted in an adverse reaction. He completely spazzed out and ran next door in a frenzy when we came home. From our balcony, we saw him on the next door neighbour’s doorstep having a series of fits and foaming at the mouth. After climbing over the neighbour’s gate we brought him back home in a blanket. His eyes were glazed, his thin body kept seizing violently every two minutes, peeing  and foaming constantly. With all our experience with cats, we’d never seen anything like this before. He was in so much pain, but we had no idea how to help him. I was in tears, my vet wasn’t answering my calls and everyone was freaking out. We honestly thought that he was going to die. The way he was foaming and seizing left us little hope.

 A quick tweet,  some frantic googling and responses from various people later (thanks so much to everyone who  directed me. You have no idea how much I appreciate it. Twitter can be a saviour sometimes) I called Pets V care and a mobile unit was on the way.

 The team arrived within an hour and were extremely thorough, they worked on the poor fellow for well over an hour and the foaming and the seizing finally stopped. They hooked him onto a drip and came back the next day for a follow up. On an aside, I would completely recommend their services. They’re a little on the steep side because you’re charged for the mileage but they’re well worth it. Here’s their site http://www.petsvcare.com/

 The thing is as soon as you begin with the words “So my cat was sick..” in a conversation, people begin smirking and you can almost see the neon ‘Aiyo. Another mad cat lady’ thought bubble flashing above their heads. Doting on dogs is deemed normal, but for some strange reason cat adoration conjures up images of this.

 I think that somewhere deep down buried in the cat hair settled in my body, I’m a secret dog person (they’re so gloriously needy and make you feel so wanted) but I’ve embraced the cat lady-ness now. Despite their self centeredness, cats like other animals, possess that innate sixth sense that we humans sorely lack. Whenever I would feel low, he would clumsily clamber on to my lap and fall asleep on my lap, purring quietly. Instant perk – me –up.

He was on the mend soon afterwards – completely pimped the bandage on his leg and perfected the survivor swagger.

Recovery night

He’s not a very domestic cat – his taste in food is primitive, he smells sometimes, he’s always out, deigning to come home for hugs, meals and the occasional nap – or we’re not very good pet owners. I don’t know, which. You can’t keep a cat cooped up in a house, just isn’t right. So we let him do what he needs to do and trust that he’ll come home every now and then – and he always does.

Update: Although I wasn’t aware of it at that time, my cat had already died even before this post came out. It turned out he hadn’t made a full recovery like I thought he had and had passed away a few days after I’d returned to Delhi in October. I wish I had known before. Thinking he had gotten better and getting my hopes up to return home and find that he hadn’t, hurt a lot more. I know he was ‘just a cat’ and I feel stupid for even acknowledging this , but I miss him. 

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.