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.

Marble Beach, Trinco

 

Sunrise, Trinco, a few years ago.

 

As a child, most of our holidays were spent in Trinco. Despite the war, the pull would be too great for my dad to resist. He was in his element only in Trinco, and holiday after holiday, to Trinco we went.

I have two pictures of Trinco embedded in my mind. One was near the harbour. We’d been out for a walk early morning. My grandfather looking curiously out of place in the backdrop of the sea, standing tall with a walking stick, woollen vest (he felt cold in the mornings) and hat; my sister, chubby and shiny eyed and I, young, bespectacled, awkward, grinning at the camera. I loved walking along the harbour. My grandfather would point out interesting sights and if we got up early enough, we’d be able to buy fresh fish as soon as the fishermen pulled into the harbour with their catch.

The other picture is at Fort Frederick. I’m posing with a deer and I’ve got the most delighted expression on my face (‘Maa! Look! I’m feeding a deer!’)

I’ve ‘done’ most of the touristy stuff ages ago so when the war ‘concluded’ years later, I was all ‘been there, done that, bought the t-shirt’ when everyone rushed to Trinco.

The Fort Frederick I remember was a solitary one with heavy security and lazy deer. Earlier they wouldn’t let vehicles in. So that long drive that vehicles take from the entrance to Koneswaram Temple? We had to walk it. Lovers leap fascinated me. There’s something morbidly beautiful about the sheer drop into turquoise waters, lined by rocks.

We’d been to the Hot Springs years ago, taken the ferry to Kinniya (the ferry has been discontinued now. There’s a bridge instead. Safe, but terribly boring. I miss clutching the edge of the railing, looking at the murky waters, thinking I’MGOINGTODIETODAAAY), eaten oysters in Kinniya, barfed out oysters in Kinniya, visited Muttur, wandered through old cemeteries and been to Nilawali.

When I went back home for the Summer, we returned to Trinco for a very overdue visit. We hadn’t visited Pigeon Island before, so that was priority on our agenda. We were also given a tour of the Prima Factory (we knew a guy who knew a guy).

View from the top of the Prima Factory. The little, obscure dots at the bottom are trucks.

 

Pigeon Island was beautiful but I was a little appalled at how crowded Nilaweli had become. The once pristine, isolated beaches had been taken over by grandmothers gallivanting in kaftans and bus loads of school boys.

Pigeon Island

 

Pigeon Island

 

Crowds at Nilaweli. Please note man chilling in the sand.

My dad casually mentioned that this was a good bathing spot which he used to frequent as a boy and we wanted to get away from the crowds, so we headed to Marble Beach. I don’t know if it was because we went on a weekday or if tourists haven’t caught onto it yet, but apart from three families the entire beach was deserted and the waters were absolutely heavenly. Think blue skies, perfectly still water, clean shores and coconut trees – the kind of stuff postcards are made of. I don’t have any good pictures, sadly (I was too excited about getting into the water).

Token picture. Marble Beach, Trincomalee

I’m a little curious as to how the name came about but Marble Beach is maintained by the Air force. You aren’t allowed to take any food beyond the car park and there aren’t any hotels in the vicinity so you’ll have to rough it out with sparse, open air shower areas.  The thing is, for all my love for the sea I *shuffles feet* can’t swim. And Marble beach is perfect for the aquatically challenged like me. The boys went snorkelling (the Air Force has instructors who supervise) but I was perfectly content floating along.

After we returned to Colombo I was told that the Air Force runs a beach resort here. They also have a site with a very long domain name.  I didn’t feel any ‘whispers of the wind’, but I can vouch for the sunburn. Listen to Baz Luhrmann. Wear sunscreen.

I wish I’d discovered this place a little sooner. Its tough finding nice, isolated beaches back at home this days – definitely heading back here the next time we head to Trinco.

 

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.

 

 

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.

Sir, there appears to be a cow in your establishment

Spotted in Mussoorie

Mussorie is a town around 270 km away from Delhi. It lacks the laidback vibe of Dharamsala and there’s not much to see but it’s one of those places you’d want to go with your family and indulge in some excellent food. We were staggering back to our hotel (the food in Mussoorie took a toll on our waistline. Also, amazing coffee) and to our amusement saw this lady casually sauntering into this store.

Discovering Dharamsala

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Dharamsala is probably one of the most laid back places I’ve seen in a while. The climate is excellent, the cheap cafes which dot the roadside are absurdly affordable and the people, incredibly chilled out. We visited it recently and true to form, I was the FOB tourist lagging behind (not so) subtly trying to take pictures of the Tibetan people and drinking the atmosphere in. This post is mostly pictures – I haven’t done any proper writing (essays don’t count) in a while and I’m struggling to get my groove back.



We visited a monastery,

Which had vivid wall paintings,


 There was also this line of wheel-things (no idea what you call them) which you are supposed to turn in a particular direction to bring you good luck. We happily turned them only to discover that we were turning them in the wrong direction. If my legs suddenly fall off, I’ll know why.


We hiked for 18 fricking kilometers and stopped for a break inbetween

By the time we reached the top, we were too exhausted to enjoy the view.

We collapsed onto the chai (tea) huts at the top of the mountain to coax the owner for bowls of steaming maggi and proceeded to devour it with a ferocity which startled our newly acquired canine companions

A visit to the McLeod Ganj market was made.
(sadly overpriced) stoles

I bought a pair of – wait for it – drop crotch pants. I have no idea where I will wear it but I can say with utmost pride that I now own a pair of bright blue and black printed drop crotch pants. Other unnecessary items (bright pink and orange trousers. No, I’ve no idea what I was thinking either) and bunch of gifts for assorted people were also purchased.


I had to stop myself from buying this woollen sweater,

these wooden cats

and this gorgeous horse. (“You have no money. You have no money. You really don’t have any money!”)

Food porn




Our return journey was… eventful. Our travel agent promised us that the entire coach had been booked and when we got into the train at night, we were rudely shocked to find it full. The problem with the ticketing system over here is that anyone can walk into the station and get onto the train. The ticket is checked only once you’re actually on the train. This, as can be expected, is brilliant for free loaders who hop onto the train, claim empty seats and slip the conductor a bribe. So we found ourselves with no seats, a coachful of lecherous men and a very, very drunk travel agent. Fun times.

 Bonfire at night

 View from the hotel

Cool cardholder
More stuff from the market.

Supposedly haunted church
I have a feeling I left vital body parts at the top of that god awful mountain we climbed and we could have done without the eventful train ride back– but all in all, no regrets.

Notes from Delhi: New beginnings

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To you,

I had to sit for an exam before admissions. It was completely unexpected and came at a time when all the chaos was at its zenith. Half way through analyzing the most awfully ambiguous piece of poetry I had ever read I put down my pen and paused as the magnitude of what I was about to undertake washed over me. Did I really forfeit my family, friends, a job I enjoyed and four legged companions simply to study something I thought I was good at? And for what, really? Every time someone asked me what I wanted to do afterwards, I would smile, shrug (seemingly) nonchalantly and say I hoped I’d figure it out as I went on.

That moment of insecurity was probably a result of everything that transpired over the past days. I wish I could explain to you how the past two weeks have been. Being catapulted into a foreign country isn’t easy. Being catapulted into a foreign country where you will have no kin and no support system is doubly difficult. You know that if something were to happen, there is no one you can turn to and that knowledge isn’t a very comforting one.

You’ll be relieved to hear that I’m much better now. I’m still very overwhelmed with the new-ness of it all and coping on my own. But I’m less angst ridden about it.

I’ve been venturing out cautiously, exploring the city over the days. I think the key to appreciating this city is to constantly remember that it is a city of contrasts. From the designer stores at Khan Market, malls in the South to the beautiful Islamic architecture and street attractions in the North, this city constantly surprises me.  I know I promised to take pictures of the sights I’ve seen and the places I’ve been to, but I’ve been strangely reluctant about taking my camera out. So all I have to offer to you are words.

Gurgaon is the call centre capital of the world and is home to a multitude of multinational companies.  It’s predominantly an industrial and financial city and is well, a plastic city, if you know what I mean. All gild, glossy surfaces and ornamental plants. It was nice and shiny, but oh so cold and artificial. My dad had colleagues to meet and meetings to attend so after the first half hour of watching old episodes of TV shows in the lounge room, I slipped off to see the rest of the city.  After it became clear that venturing out in peak traffic jam and to return only a while later, was a little pointless I brought myself a sandwich, settled myself in a corner of the bistro and (camouflaged by a paperback) watched as the day came to an end in the city.

I watched as the chain smoker stopped at the fountain, shrugged his blazer off and with a visible sigh of relief light up a cigarette. Two cigarettes later, he’s still there now joined by more yuppies (Young Urban Professionals, for the uninitiated) lighting up.   I watched as the Barbie brigade patted their hair in unison (after seeing the chain smoker) and discussed their day in low voices, handbags swinging in sync as they strode past. Office cliques walk into the bistro for an after work coffee loudly discussing week end plans. There’s a lot of air kissing, back patting and uproarious laughter, and they’re gone.

The ‘backside’ bazaar (just telling it like it is!) behind the Jama Masjid we visited the day before my dad left, was Gurgaon’s nemesis. After encountering Gurgaon it was surreal stepping into the bazaar .The mosque itself was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and can hold up to 25,000 worshippers. The bazaar behind the mosque sells everything from gaudy shawls to compasses to prayer mats and street food.

 The store keepers were setting up for the day while the women darted swift glances at us as they drew the fall of their multi hued saris around them and hurried along the alleys. In a city which prides itself on constant development, time has stood still here. As we hurried along (we were ever so late), I gaze enviously as two white guys armed with SLR’s document the day’s proceedings. Both are ecstatic at the visual explosion before them and are wonderfully trigger happy.  My hands itch to reach out for my humble compact but I feel kitsch about brazenly taking pictures. So I soak in the atmosphere instead.

Rickshaws ply their way through the crowds and goats leisurely amble through the alleys amidst the bustle over here in old Delhi. A man in a road side restaurant stares unabashedly at us while he deftly kneads the roti dough into flat circles and places them on a grill. We stop to ask a bearded man reading outside his shop, for directions – “that which you seek, lies further down the road” he solemnly informs us in quaint Old English. We found what we were looking for and swiftly leave before the temperatures started to soar and the crowds poured in.

Yesterday, coming back home after an evening out it started pouring. We ambled in the rain, splashed through the puddles, came back home, deposited our bags and then walked some more. All the little worries the past week had accumulated soaked our clothes and dripped into little rivulets of water as we silently walked down the pathway with the wind whipping against our faces. Very Hindi movie-esque, I know.  

These are just a few glimpses of what I’ve encountered and seen over the days, and I’ve been told that I’ve barely scratched the surface of this vast place! Needless to say, I’m excited about getting to know the city. I think we might even like each other. Who knows?

This is long enough already. More later, perhaps?  
                              
 I hope this finds you well.

From,

Me