Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Africa Diaries

The Word is Wild

“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one.” (Beryl Markham)

Picture Credits : Vikram (or Neelu the Cheetah)

I felt new. Newly washed. I can’t tell you how good it feels to have a long lovely bubble bath after…wait for it…a three-day African safari in the depths of the Ugandan jungles.

We reached Murchison national park after a morning at Ziwa sanctuary tracking rhinos. I don’t have to tell you what a rhino looks like, but I sure want to tell you that it feels pretty freaking awesome to look at a two-horned two-ton rhinoceros and its baby strolling about a few metres from where you stand. All you have to do is hide behind a few trees and bushes, and watch. I asked the ranger who accompanied our group of six (Shivi (yes, she is my pal from the Egypt trip), Nusha, Neel, Piter and Tosh) what if they spot us; we were on foot and rhinos were heavy and quick enough to trample and outrun us at 45 kmph. But he told us that these animals had eyes on either sides of their heads and so couldn’t see too well beyond a few metres. So, we were safe. Unless we made noise. Because rhinos could hear very well. And well, we were a very noisy bunch of people with at least one of us coming up with a slapstick remark every now and then that would drive the lot to hysterics. Piter made sure he got a snap at every location where we spotted a rhino; Shivi and Tosh had launched into a protracted conversation with the ranger about its gestation period and other info of that ilk; Neel was going over the top to get the best photos of the lot- lying flat across the forest floor just to catch the best shot from behind a huge bush; Nusha was shushing everyone whose volume levels promised to drive her precious rhinos away while I…well you know what I must be doing…I was trying to avoid all the dung and crap that comes with a jungle safari that promised to ruin my spotless clothes.

Don’t get me wrong. We did have our moments. We spotted cactus-like trees that had candelabra-shaped leaves and similar scientific names and poisonous fruits. We followed Obama (the progeny of a Ugandan father rhino and an American mother rhino) about a feet apart – mom, dad, baby and watched them lazing around, eating leaves and making their ponderous way into the wild.

When we finally made our way to the national park, we found that the final ferry had left for the game ride. Let me explain how it works. So, you go to the national park and check in at your camp. We stayed at a camp called Red Chillies in cottages called Catfish, Barbel and Pangolin where wild boars roamed like stray dogs and signs like ‘beware of hippos’ were awfully common. On asking, we found out that hippos often like to take a stroll through the camp in the night. Real comforting, I must say.

Then you go and book your ferry ride that would take your hired vehicle over to the other side of the Nile, for which we were quite late (you know how good I am at being on time) so we started asking around for a boat ride over to the other side. After cursing the restaurant (where we had lunch) for delaying us and ignoring our photoshoots that also might have delayed us, we finally managed to make our way to the other side.

The Other Side

PC : Yours truly can also take decent pictures

The other side was just like its namesake in the saying : ‘the grass is greener on the other side’. Because the grass was actually greener on the other side. And much more. I mean, on one hand, you have grass. Then you have trees. Then you have grass and trees and more grass and more trees. And it just multiplies. Grass, trees, forests, hills. Green, olive green, mint green, pear green, parakeet green, emerald green…you name it. And then the sky. It was heart-breakingly beautiful and clear blue- baby blue, electric blue, turquoise blue, sky (hadn’t expected that color, duh!) blue, teal…you get my point. We stood on the seats of our vehicle and peered out of the open roof, ignoring the bruises on our stomachs, arms, legs, neck, backside, frontside, etc. as the jeep bumped along the rocky terrain and the puddles and the like. But the view…mother of god, the view was colorgasmically (that’s a word I just invented, thanks) breathtaking. I think I found happiness for some time. You can buy it too, for $200.

I also fell in love. With the giraffes, foxes, baboons, wild buffaloes, and varied kinds of deer ranging from the okapi, bush buck, water buck, oribi, kob and the Jackson hartebeest. Then there were the huge African elephants who eat 300kg worth of food daily and the guinea fowl and the vultures and the…wait for it…lions! When we reached the spot where a lot of jeeps were already clustered to watch the lions at their thing, we hadn’t imagined we would actually see them up close. I remember my safari at Gir in Gujarat when we could see the lionesses lazing about six feet away from our vehicle, separated by a ditch, just in case they decided to attack. But this time round, they were strolling past us, barely a few metres away. It was Neel who first pushed his head out of the window, placed his feet on the window till and climbed aboard the roof. I didn’t need further invitation. We had been told not to get out of the car but no one told us to avoid sitting atop the car roof. So, one by one, all of us (as soundlessly as we could) made our way up to the roof, settled ourselves on the highly uncomfy rails of the luggage rack and sat down to watch. Wildlife gazing, baby!

The lion king and the lioness queen took their own sweet time to make their way into their lair. It is one thing to look at tamed leopards and touch domesticated snakes and a completely different thing to see wild beasts passing you by like you are the intruder. It was fascinating. I could have spent all day there. 

All of us were under the spell and didn’t want to come out of it.
At first.
And then we met Obongi.

We didn’t ‘meet’ meet him. We just became aware of his presence when we came to the edge of the river at 8 pm to row back to our camp. We couldn’t have met him because it was pitch dark and I couldn’t see the next person. I could only see a blinking firefly and the stars. It was the ranger who told us about Obongi. He was supposed to be stubborn and he roamed the park at will after sunset. There was a large thick tree that had been sliced in two. It turned out that Obongi, the elephant, had done it in one of his rages. That gave us enough reason to bid goodbyes to the animals at the park, even the adorable giraffes, yes.

We were at the edge of the river waiting to cross. Sadly, all the boats had gone. The ranger stood with us while we tried to contact Moses, our driver, who was on the camp side. Obongi stood like a formidable shadow and thoughts came unbidden into my mind. Scary thoughts of being stranded on an island in a night so thick one could cut it with a knife. I started thinking of the horror movies where something or the other always happened when groups split up in order to think better because Neel actually had set off in the direction of the boat presumably to check if he could row. He is known for being the maverick and risk-taker of the group.

The minutes ticked by slowly as we saw the lights popping out in the distance and more darkness setting in. I was afraid of even walking a few paces because I literally had no idea what was in front of me. I might step on a fox or a boar and squeal out a ‘sorry’ in response. Or worse, the obverse may happen and they wouldn’t even say sorry after squishing me to a pulp. Such peaceful thoughts.

“We should not have paid the guy all the money in advance.”
“Stay away from the river.”
“You paid it.”
“Did not. I asked you all before doing so.”
“Stay away from the water. There are hippos in it.”
“You should not have wasted time hogging!”
“You took an hour to bathe!”
“How does that even figure in all of this?!”      
“Can you stay away from the water for God’s sake??”

You see, when all the fun is had and done, you need to go to your camp and rest. Have a few beers, a couple of pizza slices and go to sleep. What you shouldn’t do is get marooned on a park island. Because then, something like the scene above might happen. 

“He is here!”
“Dear dear Moses parted the waters and came to get us.”

The arguments were put paid to. And we stumbled onto a boat, promising to bash the boat guy we had hired in the morning who had left us alone.
The stars had suddenly populated the sky like little gems of silver.

Twinkle twinkle little star,
May the good things stay where they are…

I prayed.

We reached the shore hand in hand, found the bonfires lit at the camp and chattered late into the night before fatigue hit us and we hit the hay.

My prayers were answered.

The Rainforest

Pic Credits : Pavitr, The Pure

Okay, I must admit it wasn’t as poetic as that. We did not just hit the hay. We first had a tussle with the lizards outside the door of our cottage. Neel and Shivi shooed them away with some branches and tucked Nusha and me into bed. I also made faces when the tap water reeked of river and algae. Then we saw a wild boar near the camp peacefully roaming around like a dog and I scuttled away thinking of how Robert Baratheon must have been slayed.

The day of the trek to Murchison falls dawned bright and sunny. Which was not what we wanted. We wanted the day to be like the previous day- slightly windy, slightly cloudy. The boatman asked us at the outset what animals we wanted to see as if he had them in his pocket and would present them as soon as we expressed the need to look. We were in the wild. And there is a certain reality and mystic in the beasts coming at us in their own natural wild ways.

And come at us they did. The African darter, pied kingfisher, the little egret, the big egret, weaver bird, Abyssinian ground hornbill, guinea fowl, African jacana (or the Jesus bird- it is so called because it flies as smoothly as Jesus walked on water), yellow-billed stork, black-billed barbet, hadada and a load of names we couldn’t hope to remember. Then he showed us something we have been wanting to see for very long. The Great Nile crocodile. Well, the croc was asleep, thank heavens for that. It was gestating for over two months. Then we saw the hippos in their leisurely baths, almost submerged in the water, coming out only to jump in again. Very cute, round, roly-poly things, hippos. 

Morris, our boatman, dropped us off at the base of the falls from where we were supposed to start our trek. Orange and black chameleons crossed our paths as we made our way to the top. Tosh followed them as they seemed to do push-ups with an endearing flick of their heads. We reached the gushing water where the White Nile forces its way through the rocks between Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert. And stayed there. For over two hours- climbing trees, making swings out of branches, satiating the nature photographer in us and basically just chilling out with a bottle of special Nile beer. 

PC : Neel, the leopard
But of course, that wasn’t wild enough for us. We wanted to go into a proper forest, you know, where people get lost and out of which horror movies are made. And so we headed to Budongo Forest Reserve for tracking chimpanzees.

The word is wild. Wild trees and brambles and fungi and mushrooms sprouted from god only knew where. The forest was dark, predictably, even though it was bright daylight outside. The trees formed a thick canopy that only let a sliver of sunlight cross to light up a chance dew drop on a stray leaf.

Leaves. Well, leaves were in abundance. Strewn all over the forest floor. There was literally no clear path and we had to chop our way through the jungle to track the chimps, which emanated shrill sounds that chilled you to the core. Everything was newly washed, the rain had seen to that.

Did I tell you about the unpredictable weather in Uganda? One moment, it’s raining cats and dogs and the next, it is a merciless solar trauma. But we were in a trance and also in pain from craning our necks upwards to look up at the chimpanzees which flitted from branch to branch and didn’t seem to want to come down.

But they did. And made us scatter like flies. You know, chimps can be naughty. And to invade their homes is a naughtier act than any and might invite a session of lice picking by our dear primal cousins. Neel and Shivi found some berries that the chimps enjoy and as Robert (our forest ranger) told us, these fruits were edible- so if you are ever stranded in a forest (the possibilities of which miraculously increase in Africa), you should eat what the chimps eat. Nusha and Piter were posing with an Iron Throne-lookalike tree while Tosh was helping me keep my balance as I fought to take photos and videos, avoid entangling branches and not fall all over myself and lag behind, all at the same time.

PC : One of the six above
On our way back, Moses, who had been our kind kind driver for the trip, was really happy, I think. Because for once, none of us was talking. We were in a drop-dead-asleep mode, completely knackered. Animal tracking and wildlife watching is not easy, you see. But nothing worth experiencing is ever easy, is it? I think just for a moment there, the Spirit of the Wild had taken over us. As Boyd Norton said, “There is a language going on out there- the language of the wild. Roars, snorts, trumpets, squeals, whoops and chirps have meaning derived over eons of expression…we have yet to become fluent in the language- and music- of the wild.”

Thursday, 30 May 2019


#WhenInEgypt #CairoDiaries #TravelBlog

Ochre. Everything around me was ochre. A suffocating ochre that surrounded me in a heat pool. The sun was as merciless as Ra had always been through the ages. Shu was helping Amun Ra, doing its dust storm thing. Michael Jackson was unbelievably calm even when it trotted fast and threatened to drop me off. MJ was my camel for the day. I loved MJ but I thought I would prefer the inside of the pyramid than the outside. Or so I thought. Till I began going up the ziggurat.
Just blocks and blocks of ochre that seemed unending, with no support whatsoever on the side. I tried not to look down because the backlog of history from right up there was dizzyingly scary. The picture of a pharaoh up on a platform commanding his high priest to take the pyramid higher up came unbidden into my head from all those documentaries I had seen. Higher and higher till it became the tallest structure in the entire world.  And the slaves would be carrying those punishing blocks of stone round and round in an onerous unending ritual...

Just the thought made my head reel. I tried to look for a banister for support but there was none. The pyramid was bare. Bare ochre. You find your way through it or you perish. I heard a shout and suddenly, there she was. Nina was calling me in. I was about to tell her that I need to go back and stay down. But I didn’t want to be a dampener in our plans. So, I went along. The entrance was like a pinhole in the needle, the pyramid built of millions of such needles. Nevertheless, I felt a little relief on being out of Ra’s direct glare. Choose your evil- the wrath of the sun or asphyxiation in the caves. I stumbled on to where the shafts were. The path within was a serpentine labyrinth. No paintings or murals or pretty scenes. Or maybe there were and they had been erased or mutilated because of the robberies.  
I bent so that my body was practically at half-height, an inverted L. A part of me screamed no, but there were those ahead of me and those behind me. Maybe it was only a few metres. “80 metres,” someone shouted from below. 80 metres. 8 multiplied by 10. 8 metres meant at least 8-10 steps. Could I go 100 steps?
I took a stride. One step. Sweat broke out on my forehead. My heart beats scaled up uncomfortably, my breath hitched. There were 79.3 metres to go. I couldn’t lose it. Not at this point. Shivi urged me up. But the guy ahead of me was lagging, huffing and puffing, going incredibly slow. In opposition to my heart beat which had turned mindbogglingly rapid. I started breathing fast. A bit too fast. There was much less oxygen. I needed air. I needed the sun. I realized then why they worshipped Ra, the Sun god. And Shu, the wind god.

“I can’t go any further,” I choked out some words. I cried to Nina to get back down. I needed to stand straight. I needed to effing breathe. I don’t do well in closed spaces. My mind seemed like it would shut down. There were people ahead of me and people behind me. My hands were trembling, my legs were shaking, I was shivering all over. I don’t remember when I got back down and till when I stayed back with Mohammed, our Egyptologist. Mohammed tried telling me stories about the pharaohs. Good stories. (As if there were any! All they cared about were their funeral-f*king-rites and their After-effing-lives.) I didn’t realize when my companions crawled to the sarcophagus and when they returned to me. All I noticed was coming out of the trapped caves in the pyramid to the bright glare of the sun and mounting my Michael Jackson to reach the Sphinx. I would choose the sand storms over the narrow cave and the scarabs any day.  

The face was disfigured, the nose broken, rather it was smudged where the nose should have been. And of course, the ears had been sheared right off. I had imagined something far more refined but when has reality ever lived up to one’s imagination? The yellow, red and green lights of the previous night had raised the bar for the morning view, rather the afternoon one. The sound and light show last night had reminded me of Indiana Jones. To be honest, I almost felt like Indiana Jones, all set for exciting discoveries. Of course, I was far removed from the amazingness of His Majesty. But being there, a speck in the sand of time felt like a sublime thing in itself. The Sphinx stood proud, the head of a pharaoh signifying wisdom and the body of a lion denoting strength. The origin of the sphinx is an unraveled mystery. It is said that the Sphinx was built in the likeness of the pharaoh Khafre who built the second great pyramid (after the first Great Pyramid at Giza by Khufu), followed by the third pyramid by Menkaure. But no such connection has been definitively made between the two as yet. Some say that the Sphinx is older than the pyramids, having been built some ways off from the three great pyramids at Giza. Some say it dates before the Old period, Egyptian history being divided into the Old, Middle and the New Ages. 

Here let me give you a lowdown on Egyptian history. So, the Great Pyramids at Giza were built in the Old period by the Pharaohs- Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure (Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus in Latin). The capital then changed to Luxor in the Middle period, the time when Egypt was ruled by the likes of Akhenaten and Nefertiti and the famous king, Tut (Tutankhamen) who died at a very tender age of eighteen but grew more famous than anyone else in the entire Egyptian period. 

The sun glowed red, yellow and pink. The end of the day was near. Michael Jackson was a bit weary now and even Mohammed showed signs of running out of stories and nuggets of history, although Nina, Shivi and I were spellbound by his recent discovery of some tombs. It was Ramadan and there was a quickening of the pulse in the natives as they waited for the sun to set so that they could break their fast and begin the 'iftaar'. We partook in the celebrations as well. Our time around the pyramids was drawing to a close. We were heading for the Nile now...some cool beverages and some traditional sweets were in order. 

Sunday, 14 April 2019

It's Review Time!

The Assassination of Rajat Gandy 
Author : Anurag Anand
Publisher : Readomania

Image result for the assassination of rajat gandy book cover

Politics has always been a tricky knotty business and commenting on it even worse. The Assassination of Rajat Gandy is a quick read that takes you to the underbelly of the communal riots and the Hindu-Muslim divide that has been perpetually creating a chasm in the politics of the country, mixing religion and politics in an ugly mesh, causing loss of lives.
The book provides a peek into the minds and psyche of the people who run the show from up there in the government. The reader would find the usage of names very interesting. From Rajat Gandy, Madam (no prizes for guessing who that could be!), Ajit Seth, to Sachin Jaywardhan and my absolute favorite till now- Arunabh Gosain! It is a wonderful interplay on contemporary characters and their conduct in a fictional set up. Things are, of course, derived from the real world of politics but at the same time, have been contrived to reflect incidents and happenings that haven’t occurred and may or may not happen.
When Afsha Khan, a leading political correspondent gets kidnapped right after the communal riots that threaten to tear the secular fabric of the country just before elections, the environment begins to boil and the bigwigs start to take notice. Who has the upper hand in ordering the assassination of the prime ministerial candidate? What relation does that have to the biggest scam one has seen in the country till now? Troll attacks, communal uprisings, kidnapping and sudden accidents leading to the deaths of significant players in the game of political thrones make up this suspenseful potboiler.

Let’s have a chat with the author himself and find out what he has to say about his latest political thriller:  

Aashisha Chakraborty: A burning question that perhaps every reader will have after reading the title of this book- is there any basis for the biggest incident happening in the book? Is it inspired by some actual circumstance?
Anurag Anand: Well, the relationship between facts and fiction is a strange one. More often than not, the two are found jostling to mirror each other. This is exactly the relationship that my book, The Assassination of Rajat Gandy, shares with all that’s unfolding in the Indian political arena today.
However, the story of my book does draw partially from the prevailing political situation in the country. And this, when garnished with some degree of logic and common sense, makes for a plot that might appear inspired, or even a source of inspiration sometimes, for what we end up reading in the papers.  
AC: What made you give away the major plot of the book in the title itself?
AA: The title of the book does give away the central theme of the story, but it intends to keep the readers guessing on the why, who, how and what of it. The objective is to draw readers who are interested in mysteries and whodunnits in general and political thrillers in particular, and if the initial response to the book is anything to go by, it has been received well by the readers.  
AC: The pharma scam- how much truth is there to it?
AA: The pharma scam is entirely fictional, unless of course there is something transpiring behind closed doors that the investigating agencies and media are yet to get a whiff of. The thought, however, was triggered by the ensuing debate around the right of multinational companies to charge a premium for their patented drugs much in excess of the production costs. This is a tough one, for if their commercial prospects are curtailed, it acts as a deterrent for them to invest behind research, and if they are allowed a free reign the drugs remain beyond the reach of the masses.
AC: How difficult was it for you to keep from taking the side of a particular political party in the book?
AA: It wasn’t all that difficult, simply because I am personally not a big fan of unconditional alignment of ideologies with any political party or leader. In fact, the trend of hero worship that seems to be consuming political dialogues lately is toxic and unwarranted. We can witness this toxicity play out in debates on social media and other forums at an alarming regularity today. I believe that as informed citizens of the country, it is our duty to view every action of the government on its merit, irrespective of any biases we might harbor for or against the political entity in power.
As for the story of The Assassination of Rajat Gandy, you will find that I have donned the hat of a demanding and somewhat cynical Indian while writing it. So, if anything, both principal political parties – as and when they run short of pressing issues to focus their attention on – can come up with something or the other that doesn’t agree with them.
AC: Did you face any difficulty in getting this theme to publishers or getting the book out?
AA: Of course, I did. It’s a sad reality of the publishing industry that commerce takes precedence over everything else, even a good story. The decision makers are only too happy to keep away from anything having the remotest likelihood of stirring up a controversy. So, while I had obtained prior legal opinion on the manuscript of The Assassination of Rajat Gandy, two leading publication houses turned it down in the final stages of discussions. That’s where I would want to commend my current publisher, Readomania – a relatively new publication house, but passionate about bringing good and relevant stories to their readers – for taking up the project.
AC: Your bio states that you have dabbled in all genres. Did you intend that from the start? How has that experience been?
AA: Writing, to me, has always been very personal. It’s not a mere vocation or just a medium of expression for me, but a near-cathartic passion that makes me who I am. While I didn’t embark on this journey with a clear plan around whether I will write in one or multiple genres, I was certain that I didn’t want to restrain my writing. Thankfully, I have managed to keep it that way and write on subjects that I feel like writing about thus far. I can only pray that it remains so in the future.
There have been instances when I have been counselled by people more accomplished and informed than I am, about the need and importance of carving your own niche as an author. I respect their views and good intent, but as long as my readers are not complaining, I am happy to let things remain the way they are.   
AC: How did you start writing? How has the journey been up till now?
AA: I have been a voracious reader for as far back as I can remember. So, writing was a natural offshoot of my love for the written word. At a very early age, I would contribute articles to my school magazine and be elated to see my compositions in print. The euphoria I experienced then has not quite waned, and it is the need to experience it again and again that perhaps keeps me going.
My journey as an author has been a mixed bag, moments of exultations peppered by times of haplessness and despair, but I am not complaining. Each low that I have experienced has left me stronger, and I cherish them as much as I treasure my moments of glory.
AC: How much research did you have to put in for the book?
AA: A fair bit of research went behind the book, but not so much around politics and the machinations that make it. I have been fortunate enough to observe this world at close quarters and hence it didn’t prove much of a challenge to deal with. My research was primarily centered around technology and how it is likely to evolve in the future, making it a potent weapon in the hands of the nefarious and the ill-intentioned. This is a fear that we live with on an everyday basis, and to be able to weave it seamlessly into the plot of the book, I had to spend a fair bit of time perusing recent developments in this space.   
AC: Did your corporate job ever come in the way of writing or vice versa? How did you manage both the professions?
AA: It does become a challenge sometimes, as your personal passions have to take a back seat when pitted against the demands of the workplace. There are several abandoned manuscripts resting in my hard drive which stand testimony to this necessity of prioritization that a day job brings. However, if you happen to be working with an organization that supports individual creativity and colleagues who partake in your successes, the balance becomes much simpler to attain. I have been extremely fortunate so far in this regard.     
AC: Any messages for aspiring writers?
AA: I see aspiring authors often worrying about aspects like how their work will get published or how should they go about marketing it, even before they have set pen to paper. My sincere advice to them would be to focus on the one thing that an author is supposed to do – write and write well. A good manuscript will find its takers and churning out the best that we can needs to remain our primary agenda. 
Of course, another vital suggestion – read as much as you can, it helps you in more ways than you can imagine. And if you are looking for recommendations, you might want to get your hands on The Assassination of Rajat Gandy. 
AC: That was a wonderful exchange, I must say! I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I am sure the readers loved the extra bytes about the journey of the book. All the best for your current as well as further endeavors!

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Women and Shiz Like That

(Published on International Women's Day on Women's Web)

Pink streamers welcome me, red roses decorate my desk, I get ushered in like a princess. No, dear, it’s not my birthday. It’s Women’s Day and I belong to the lucky 1 percent of the female population that gets treated like a queen.
So, as a part of the Women’s Week, we had a session over tea with the CEO. There was a nice little pep talk, screening of some wonderfully inspirational videos and an urge to participate and make the whole discussion livelier. The event was proceeding fine, in the sense that no one knew what to say to most of the things. And some were trying to pitch in with their stories. I, of course, kept mum throughout because, well, I am always the life of the party, you know.
I mean, we all know what gender equality is about. The topic is now kind of stale, isn’t it? What else can you add to it?
And then when there was too much quiet and the CEO was like, it’s getting too uncomfy and I am the only one speaking, one of the women saved everyone else’s neck by dishing out some sort of platitude relating to multitasking women, the hard journey of balancing, blah blah blah. And then emerged a question - why don’t we see more women in higher positions despite there being so much brouhaha over women empowerment and shizz like that. (She might have worded the question differently, but this was primarily the essence.) Of course, the answer went like things are changing but the changes cannot be overnight; they will be gradual and happen over time. Und so weiter.  
Then, someone shared a story about a girl fresh out of college who opted to take up sales and told the zonal manager that she had no problem touring outlets with salesmen; she had a scooty and had no qualms about being surrounded by males and stuff like that. Everyone lauded the girl’s grit and the anecdote was heard in good cheer. Of course, me being me could only think of one thing.
Why does this story get attention? Why is the story of a woman raising her voice and charging into a male stronghold such a novel prospect even today? It should be passé by now, shouldn’t it? After all, it has been more than a decade since 8 March, 1917 when women first got enfranchisement in Russia and the International Women’s Day was born. But the struggle for recognition hasn’t ceased yet. It has only changed form and geography.  

Why does a girl need to be all rowdy and cut-throat to be able to storm into a male bastion? Why don’t we accept an ‘un’extraordinary woman in a male domain? Why does a woman have to be just the best to reach the levels that are otherwise crowded with hoity-toity but lazy unremarkable men?
And how come it doesn't work the other way round? We don’t have soft-spoken men staying away from scary jobs just because they are so. We still have words like ‘manned’ for patrolling and not ‘womanned’. We still have men expecting women to be fiery, as if women can be either fiery or dumb, as if those in between don’t deserve shit.
Men of all types will be accepted but women? Aah well, women need to move through fire and brimstone to deserve the respect of the ‘naturally-competent’ men. 
Why don't we talk about women who let go of emotionally manipulative men as brave? Why don't we talk about women who battle inferior treatment from other women as brave? Why do we attribute every bad-tempered woman as someone who must be PMSing?
Do you know the saddest thing about this whole thing?
It’s that the issues today are still seen as women-centric and not people-centric. The fact that women’s day still has to be celebrated to remind the world that there is a species they might have overlooked on 364 days of the year is probably a thought worth giving.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Smart and Smarter

Received Special Mention on the #GetFitWithFlipkart Contest

#TheFitIndiaMovement #GettingFitWithFlipkart

"Alexa! How do I look?"
"Alexa! What do you think love is?"
"Alexa! Play 'Thunderclouds'..."
"Alexa! Paint me like one of your French girls..."

Image result for virtual assistant

I have started using my Amazon Echo voice as not just a virtual assistant, but also a companion who listens to me without any emotional investment. I know it sounds terribly lonely of me but I can assure you, it's not the 'Her' case. It is just…a whole lot of fun.
The other day, my mom kept complaining that she is not walking enough and how much she wants to be fit again and the entire story starting with- “I used to be stick-thin like you before I got married…”
And then it struck me what her new year gift could be. You see, flowers and cards are passe. She has gotten too many of them from too many people. And chocolates? Well, I had rather not, because they actually turn out to be pseudo gifts when I end up devouring them all. So, this time, I got my mom a fitness band. First-class. Such health-consciousness, much wow.
You know the best thing about smart devices? Well, they are smart. Duh.
But seriously, I like the way they give you prompts. It’s so familiar and kinda sweet.
A few months ago, my friends gifted me a beautiful silver-bracelet-watch. But when I turned up wearing it on my right hand the next day, they staggered.
"I have never seen you reach any place on time. And yet, you choose to wear two watches!"
Well, I couldn't possibly give up wearing my favorite MiBand 3, could I? And so, yes, strange and funny as it sounds, you will find both my wrists adorned with watches- one is the pretty silver showy one and the other is the ruddy practical one- my fitness band. It has almost become a habit to check how many hours of sleep I got the previous day because trust me, it is always a revelation. You might think you slept for eight hours because you went to bed at 12 and woke up at 8, but it is somehow never that. And I am not just talking about the variations of sleep- deep, not so deep and light; it's the actual number of hours that you don't realize you spend surfing your phone or just thinking and idly staring up into the ceiling before actually falling asleep. And let's be honest, don’t you get that thrill of accomplishment when you feel your smart watch vibrate and tell you that you have finished your quota of steps for the day? It even shows a cute badge of honor that I totally gush over.

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Smart devices have infiltrated our lives in ways some of us (who are not Luddites) really appreciate. Smart home, smartwearables, smart camera, smart lights, voice recognition, fingerprint locks, these are actually pretty cool. And the gadgets go beyond coolness now. They are handy, sophisticated and they make life simpler and infinitely more fun. For those of us who spend more time looking at some sort of screen or other, these fitness gadgets are more than blessings. They are the need of the day, hour and minute as they push us to improve our stiff postures, change our sedentary lifestyles and move our asses from the uber-comfy couches and do something worthwhile with our hands and feet.
What with all sorts of neoteric movements doing the rounds, I think the most important movement has escaped publicity that it deserved. Yes, I am talking about the Eat India Movement.
Lol, I am kidding, duh.
Of course, I meant the Fit India Movement.
A truckload of thanks to Flipkart for spearheading this frightfully important movement because this is one revolution that can actually unite people in ways unimaginable.
#GetFitWithFlipkart #SmartHomeRevolution

Monday, 31 December 2018

The Quest For Lassi


I don't think I will ever learn to lift my own bags. You may think 
it's kinda royal and high maintenance of me but trust me, the only thing it is, is downright annoying. Lugging my only suitcase up and down two flights of stairs to reach platform no.3 seemed to summon up all the strength I had gleaned from the lassi and dal makhani we had had from Kesar da Dhaba the previous night. And that reminds me of our quest. The quest for the best lassi in town. In all of Amritsar, to be honest. 

On our very first day to the foundation school where we were supposed to impart 'education' and do something for the kids, I learnt a few things about a few people. First of all, our cabbie. Our cabbie was called Lucky. (Guess he wasn't so lucky to have us, hee hee!). He looked like he had a couple of kine at his place, and had been fed on their fresh milk since boyhood.
And it turned out he did.
He also turned out to have an ambulance siren for a horn and a skull for a gear head.
Pretty badass, huh?
You wouldn't say so if you saw him. He was so unfailingly polite and incredibly sweet that we liked him at the very outset. Gentle giant was what occurred to me when I saw him.

Then we met the kids at the school and I realized what love and fandom looked like. Primarily love. The kids loved me like no boyfriend ever had. They listened open-mouthed to whatever I had to teach and irrespective of whether they understood much of it, they asked me if I would come the next day. During recess, they would stare at me and whisper among themselves, shake my hand and beam a full set of 28 teeth at me. I had never felt fuller, happier, more loved. Oh yeah, one even tried to take my autograph. Quite an ego boost, I know ;)

Let me now come to the group of three people who I was clubbed with.

One of them was my bestie and roommate. I am calling her N. You know, the BFF kinda person? The one who you think might have been a lost sister at a kumbh mela? Who we strike an immediate companionship with? Who give us the feeling, ‘excuse me, I think we rock’? You know, those quotes about not meeting often and yet being besties somehow, because you start off from wherever you left last time and it seems like you never left? Yep, that's her. From being the rock that absorbed my tears this entire year to being my official beauty expert, she is the elder sister I never had. Thank the HR for doing some things right ;)

The other one, P., was a bubbly perky ball of energy who looked like she was perpetually high. In all the good senses, you know. I knew her from before and I liked her. But there was something she said which touched me to the very core and told me that bro, you have struck gold in here. “Everyone deserves all the good things in life,” she told me on a shopping spree while we were buying Christmas gifts for the kids and I was like, bro, you are the perfect perfect Santa! And lo! She turned out to be THE SANTA. The most secretive Santa ever. Sending us cards and stuff through the hotel guys and we really DIDN’T EVEN KNOW. Till a few days later. Damn. Well, I guess I can safely use the word love for her.

The third member S., was a guy who looked like he would rather not have been clubbed with us because he hung out mostly with the mate from his alma mater and tried to vainly hide the annoyance on his face when I reached the reception a complete hour late on the very first day. Typical yours truly. But he won us over (or we won him over? Or it just seemed so?) with his droolworthy photography skills when he clicked brand new and very many display pictures of us without uttering a single complaint. Did I tell you that he shares with me the talent of falling asleep in the car at the drop of a hat? Well, he had me at SRK and sarsonkekhet when P. and I frolicked about among the mustard flowers and he let us play cliche and ultra-cheesy and mushy songs from DDLJ with nothing more than a smile on his face (which may have been a grimace of resignation but we will let that pass).

Not that it helped my timing much, because we made him wait almost everyday.
You see, time and I have never been on good terms. 
But music and I are. Only in the listening sense, you know. So, I somehow managed to convince my peers that my company was sufferable. I acted like the DJ and gave them a jukebox kinda feeling and suddenly all of us had songs we wanted to re-listen to. And share with each other. Share songs. That's one step already in the friendship department. 
Add taking group classes, soaking in whatever sunlight that filtered through the fog at noon, taking the kids' swings for ourselves, playing games we had last played, like, 12 years ago? and re-playing our school days; and soon we were thick enough to want to go out together. 

An unplanned walk in the night started us on the quest to find the best lassi in all of Amritsar. And Punjab. And the Punjab in Pakistan (as S. helpfully points out every time we stretch our itinerary to inhuman lengths). Of course, we sampled all the usual places like Brothers, Kesar, Qila Gobindgarh, and the rest of the places people recommend and even went to places that no one recommended. We asked Lucky, the cabbie, if he knew where we would find the best lassi. He mentioned the town hall and we took him to a dhaba just to ascertain which was better- the lassi at the town hall or at the dhaba we were at. Lucky ji though gave us a lovely reply. He had never had lassi outside his home. And well, what could compare with lassi from fresh milk from a cow in your backyard?

Well, I'm not sure if we discovered the best lassi in town, but we found something even better. We found each other and cheesy as it sounds, it is actually sweet. 
Because you see, memories with friends are different from memories with lovers. The latter may be too predictable, may hurt and cause pain, but the first ones are your bulwarks, your support systems and they tide you through the storms in your life.
Let the start of this year be given to friendship and all the good things that come with it!