Tag Archives: Travellers’ tales

Corn Chips

Expressions painted on faces saying,

Welcome to Goa.

A stranger two feet from my elbow, chuckles as he reads from a Paperwhite. I want to say, I know that feeling!

That inside joke that you share with the writer,
and then in your memory with someone else the writer doesn’t know,
a secret from the creator of this word-universe.

And in these secrets that I can’t read
but i know are there (because I have those too),
I’m a little heartened over the company
(chosen by chance)
of those who take this journey with me.

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Ideamarked Mar2013: The Language & Poetry of Everyday Life

I’ve been zealous through March and done a lot of reading, listening and viewing. Earlier in the year (yes, a quarter has gone by and it’s fine to say that now!) I initiated a social media clean-up across my feed-reader, twitter following, pinboards and Quora following. I was looking for great content rather than multiple connections to the same people. This may be what has caused this outpouring of great reads, viewing & listening. I’m considering making this a weekly feature from the month of April. Also, The Idea-smithy’s Facebook Page is a community and not just one person’s broadcast. I’ll be happy to take on suggestions for posts and even guest posts. Let me know what you think of all this in the comments. Here’s what glorious March was like:

Colour

I buy a bottle of sandalwood scented sunscreen lotion. Yes, yes, I hate the fairness-driven notion of beauty as any self-respecting Indian should. But I don’t particularly want splotchy multi-coloured skin either.

Along with my lotion, sits my spray-on foundation. No.5 is closest to my skin tone, according the salesman. I wondered how he can tell since all three (identical-looking) shades he selects for me, turn up reddish patches from being rubbed vigorously into my arm. Hooray, my blood is still red and turns up under the dermis to say hello!

~o~o~o~

I go shopping on Tuesday evening, Wednesday morning, nights after work and weekends to prepare for a fourteen-day (and night) journey. Among my purchases are a grey vest with red lining on the neck. To be worn with black cotton track pants with a red lining down the sides. For deck wear, for nightwear, for ‘I’m so sporty-I’m so cool’ wear, never mind the fact that I’ve never seen the inside of a gym.

The next day, dad decides to play homemaker with the laundry. I pull the clothes out of the washing machine and in horror, exclaim,

What happened to my grey vest????!!!

It is now very pink with a red lining. Pink and Red! Ghastly, ghastly, ghastly!! And I don’t have matching trackpants to wear it with! Dad looks quite contrite and then asks, rather timidly,

You don’t like the pink colour?

~o~o~o~

At the airport, I discover that my flight has been delayed 4 hours. A discreet door tucked away at the far end looks interesting. Entry only for travellers who have a Gold Card. At 4 a.m. as I walk out, stomach full with delectable cutlets, sandwiches, hot soup and fine tea, I conclude that life in plastic, is fantastic indeed. And Gold continues to open doors.

~o~o~o~

The breakfast shift is packed. I spot an empty table, the plates of its previous occupants bearing mute testimony to their appetites. I sit down.

Five minutes later I stand up so I can see over the bar and beckon to the servers. In vain.

Then I approach a tall, blond steward standing at the bar and wait for him to finish whatever he is doing and turn around. He does but his gaze glides smoothly over my head to a distant table.

Can I have someone take my breakfast order, please?

He fixes steely eyes on me and mouths,

Sit down and keep waiting.

Twenty minutes later, I flag down a Filipina waitress who smiles sunnily and brings me my breakfast immediately.

————-

The next morning, I arrive early and have the satisfaction of bagging a prime seat with a view of the deck as well as the serving staff. I can be patient today, I decide, ignoring my growling stomach. At the table in front of me, the blond steward is charming two Americans. He dashes off and swishes back with the menus, in a smooth move and a pleasant,

And what may I bring you lovely ladies today?

I wait for him to finish. Waving now would be rude but I’m sure he can see that I’ve been staring steadfastedly in his direction. He finishes, snaps the menu shut and looks up and away.

Another group of girls approach. I’ve noticed them the last evening. Youngish, mini-skirted, very made-up. They never seem to leave the ship and a video camera follows them around everywhere. Models for a cruise brochure, I guess. One is blonde, another looks like a teenage Catherine Zeta-Jones and their friends are various versions of Christina Aguilera. They sit down, chattering and fluttering. The steward materializes from nowhere and a gaggle of giggles break out. And a few minutes later he brings them their breakfasts – yoghurt as white as the young Zeta-Jones and fruit.

I’m still hungry.

———–

The next evening I join two couples for dinner. We select the biggest table. Ten minutes later, in good cheer, we move to another (equally big) table on the other side of the room where we decide the serving staff is hovering. But we don’t seem to be able to catch the steward’s eye.

As he swings by us for the fifth time, one of my group calls out,

Could you please taken our order?

He spits out with breaking his step,

It is not your turn. Keep waiting.

————

The man who runs the ship restaurant offers a polite apology adding firmly that it has never been his policy to discriminate on the basis of nationality or race. He also tells us about his life in another country as an alien and promises us that he understands what we mean. An hour later, after many anecdotes about travel, belief and culture, he leaves us, charmed and smiling. I’m forced to conclude that Greeks are marvelous story-tellers…indiscriminate of their audience.

~o~o~o~

Maybe it is windchill, maybe it’s skin unaccustomed to clean air but my face has turned a funny shade of orange. It isn’t tomato-red like the sunburnt Brits, not pink like the pretty Ukrainian stewardess, not chocolate like the African-American passenger in the neighboring cabin. It isn’t even brown anymore.

My friend laughs at me and points to his sneaker lining to show me what orange looks like. I scowl and think to myself,

Orange-flavoured caramel, then.

~o~o~o~

“A city like every other”, I think to myself, remembering my own Island, home. The malls, the skyscrapers, the busy people, the money and the flash. Then I look at the gray pavements and the white kerb-stones, stainless and clean. It’s Mumbai minus the paan-stains, I surmise.

~o~o~o~

Everything in Europe is so expensive! I complain. I’ve gotten used to not converting to rupees in my head by now but even so the shops seem to be trying to palm off touristy junk to me for 10 or 11 euros apiece. I walk down the roads thinking of Colaba Causeway and I tell my companions,

Shopkeepers world-over do this!

I stare at the ocean and then I chance upon a man sprawled on the ground, next to an array of trinkets displayed on cloth. I can never resist these.

What’s this?

I ask, holding up a curious black stone. He tell me that is from the ancient island of Delos, where he brought it over and carved it. I smile back and inform him that I was in Delos that morning and didn’t see any black stones since they were all white pebbles and blocks.

He doesn’t bat an eyelid as he says,

You, an Indian. I am Indian too. I won’t cheat you. You also don’t tell me what you say to Indian shopkeepers.

I shrug and say,

How much?

20 euros.

I sputter and tell him that all the stuff in the shops is 10 euros. He leers and says,

Okay you go back to India and buy there only.

The firang couple next to me bursts into loud laughter, apparently very amused. I toss it back and walk away.

I hope it turns their pink fingers green. And I hope that racist pig never shows his brown face back in the country that links him to me.

~o~o~o~

The sea varies from turquoise to ink to cerulean, depending upon which island I’m on. Each time it has a personality of its own and each colour introduces itself to me in its signature style. Indigo, at the start of cruise looks at me through lidded eyes and tells me that I can take my time but I’ll have to come to it, eventually. Blue, mornings, welcomes me with a bright cheery ‘Hello!’ and asks me to come out and play. Turquoise crooks its mischievous finger at me and commands me to follow it without a splash. And silver makes me bow my head in respect as it reminds me that water covers most of the planet that human beings haven’t been able to conquer.

~o~o~o~o~

Lunch alone since everyone is sleeping in. A friendly, American co-passenger waves to me as he passes but he declines my offer to eat with me telling me he’s already eaten. He’s on his wave to relieve his wife from her vigil on their sunning chairs on the top deck.

She arrives a few minutes later and sits down with her plate. We eat the unfamiliar casseroles and savor the fruits in companionable silence. Then we talk about what we’ve seen, where we are from and what we do for a living. She tells me that she works in a tanning salon. I listen, interested and then tell her that the concept is completely alien where I come from. She looks surprised and says,

But you are such a lovely colour!

~o~o~o~

Over the bay, the water has turned steely-grey, like the sky. The wind is chilly too so I shut my book and prepare to move indoors. The tables next to mine are emptying too.

At least the night is is the same colour over everyone.

*Based on a fortnight-long cruise tour of Europe in October 2008

Things I Wrote At Sea

Yes, I did think of the world that makes home – friends, blog, work, people – a lot. I promised myself I wouldn’t blog or worry or stress or do any of the things I normally do, while on vacation. But two measly days in, I found myself reaching for my pen and notebook. I couldn’t help it anymore than I could help thinking, I realized. When I stop writing, I’ll stop being. So here goes nothing – my scribbles from my two weeks away. There’s a lot more where that came from. Thank you so much for reading.

It is the knowledge that you have someplace to come back to, that makes travelling delightful.

~o~o~o~

Does distance really make the heart grow fonder? If you care for someone, aren’t they in your thoughts, often, alive and well? And conversations and meetings are just taping sessions for records that may be played over and over again for years and years.

~o~o~o~

Romance has been lost, this is true. Waiting as a concept exists no more. There are no long, yearning waits for people long absent. There aren’t any waits for news, patience the only alternative to insanity in a world of dangers and no returns. We don’t wait for letters to be delivered, for people to come back or even long-distance calls to be put through. Everything is available, yesterday. And there’s nothing left to wait for. Isn’t that supposed to signify the end of life?

~o~o~o~

Two men flirted with me today. A Greek, suave, confident and smooth – conversing easily without slicking it and holding my interest in his gaze. And a Turk with a broad smile and a mischievious wink, his intentions perfectly clear, his gaze entirely appreciative. I was wearing shorts.So my body draws attention. I love it myself but my face leaves me short. Never mind, I’ve gotten used to thinking that my assets lie elsewhere. But when they change, stay assets no more, what will I do? Will I remember my own adage that there’s no greater beauty than a body that can perform every function that it was designed to? Legs that hold me and carry me places. Hands and fingers that do…so much. Eyes that see, read – the most wonderous gift of all. A body that runs near perfectly requiring little aid and only some care.

I stay beautiful as long as I can do all that. And as long as I can remember that.

~o~o~o~

Sometimes it is nice to just be by yourself, not because you don’t like other people but simply to experience yourself every now and then and see what other people see…and what they don’t.

~o~o~o~

What bonds people together? A common need – like vegetarians huddling together on this adventure of non-vegetarians? Or a shared past – classmates, colleagues, neighbors, playmates? Shared interests like books, music, photography, wine, travel? Similar demographics – neighbors, religious communities, parents of school-going children? And yet we labour under the delusion that relationships are about compatibility or love.

It seems like we select the most convenient people we can and mold ourselves to fit the association. Human beings are enormously flexible.

~o~o~o~

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

I’m back!

Two weeks touring two countries. This is the first time I’ve been away from the blog for so long and I can’t even remember when I was ‘offline’ for such an extended period. It was good, all good.

Tarun says, every blogger needs to do this every now and then. As he predicts, I’m brimming with ideas and inspiration right now so The Idea-smithy is going to see a rush of posts soon. For the time being, I’ve got too many thoughts knocking about in my head, a myriad of impressions and experiences and I’ve got to figure out a way to put them all down. I’m thinking they’re like a thousand splendid butterflies and fireflies zooming around and I’m running around with a net trying to catch them all down.

My Blog Stats show me that the readership hasn’t suffered in these two weeks, which is deeply flattering (and heartening) for any blogger. *Sigh* My bloggy-baby is growing up and can stand on its own without my help now! I just want to say thank you to all of you. It sounds cheesy but in this day and age of instant clicks and flash media, it is exhausting to keep up. I’m so glad you’ve stayed interested in my writing and ideas and let me have the break I needed.

There, now I’m bouncing back in full form so more posts and news to follow!

A Day In Chennai

*Yawn* 0430 is just too damn early to start the day. So much for early mornings…it ain’t morning if it still looks like night!!!!! But ah, Chennai is a city that wakes up at ungodly hours and if I have to be there to catch it, I’ve gotta be up and running too.

At least the flight isn’t bad. Not that bad anyway. The absurdly early hour ensures I meet no traffic jams on my way, no long queues at check-in. One gleeful haha moment breezing through security check (since I was the only woman!) while the men trudge through a long line! I think I like airports. I’ve always liked airports.

Everyone is in business suits, toting laptops, black shoulder bags, business newspapers and mobile phones. Of course. This is a rare moment I know I’m with a group of people just like me and am not appalled by what I see. Why? I don’t know. Nothing makes sense at 0530 in the morning.

The man behind me at check-in, ends up sitting next to me, getting up politely to let me in and by way of polite co-traveller conversation asking about my mobile phone. At least none of them were hitting on me (Oh, I’m not boasting….thrice men have tried to pick me up at airports…two of them on the same journey). Apparantly the airline-love/lust hormone doesn’t work at 6 in the morning. During the safety procedure, they mention that seats number 9 to 21 can also be used as safety floats in case of emergency.

Isn’t that a really stupid announcement?

my companion remarks.

Yes and I’m really going to remember that if the cabin is low on oxygen and everyone’s scrambling to jump out of the plane!

I agree. We chuckle quietly, briefly like two naughty kids whispering behind teacher’s back before smoothly transitioning back to our respective ‘we’re strangers so cordial but not over-friendly’ demeanour. We don’t exchange another word.

Then I settle down to a quick nap. I can doze standing in the middle of a crowded Churchgate fast, sleep like a log through earthquakes (yes, I did!), whirring fans and loud religious celebrations…but I have trouble getting to sleep in a comfortable bed in a quiet, dark room. Well search me….a cramped airline seat in a noisy, bumpy craft is probably closer to the first and hence I drop off in approximately 7 seconds. Woken up rudely for breakfast of course. Actualy it wasn’t that bad. Weird since I hate idlis especially those not made at home. And these were drenched in sambhar besides (which in my mind is the South Indian version of torture).

As we start our descent I start to remember why my early airline flights started with glee and ended with tears. My ears are hurting so bad, my eyes are going to start wattering any minute. And what will happen to the person I’m being then? This I’m-so-busy-I’m-so-cool stuff? Mercifully the attendent brings me cotton just in time. Hallelujah! I can’t hear a thing but at least the buzzing ache is gone.

The first thing that hits me in Chennai was not the heat or the noise or the cut-outs of Tam superstars. The very first thing I notice is not the city, but myself. How I had changed. From five years back. From five minutes back.

Let’s track back in time. A quick rewind reveals the hot summer spent trudging across the city with a sales team on my summer project. Hot summer with power cuts. Hot summer with mangoes. Hot summer with multiplication tables and holiday homework. Hot summer with thousands of relatives who were pleased to see me, appalled by my Tamil, indifferent to my Hindi and overall surprised that this Mumbaiker/non-Chennaiite was human-suspicious that I wasn’t. Hot summers in uncomfortable long-sleeved, loose salwar-kameezes (mandatory Chennaiwear by Mum’s dictate). Hot summers trying to be inconspicous and quiet and not get into trouble with the elders. Hot summers spent wistfully thinking of friends who were ‘having fun with cousins at their native places’. Hot summers stealing away to corners to read while the household slept. Hot summers trying to digest idlis and sambar-rice day in and day out, morning-noon-night with no snacks in between. Hot summers trying to understand and vainly be entertained by an onslaught of Tamil on TV, books and family.

No wonder I hated the city. But odd, I don’t feel a speck of that when I watch the flashback in my mind. Its like a movie of someone else’s life running through. That time has passed. That life has gone long ago.

And then the realisation that I’ve smoothly made a transition into Tamil. I find I’m even reading the signboards and hoardings, just like I do in Mumbai. Yes, I can’t actually ‘read’ Tamil but the alphabet is familiar, I can pick out letters….and well…..learning a language has always been more intuitive than logical to me. The driver asks me,

Madam, Bombay lerundu vandirukingo, aana Tamil nalla payasareengo?
(Madam, you’ve come from Bombay but you speak Tamil well?) 

Hahaheehee, Thatha, I hope you heard that wherever you are. I didn’t take those Tamil lessons but twenty years later, I can still fool a taxi driver into thinking that I actually know the language. Hell, I do. I survived the trip without anyone’s assistance-thank-you-very-much, didn’t I? Petty is that, being vindictive towards a long-dead grandparent? Who cares, making peace with the past looks to be a lifelong project.

It is actually a lovely city, I muse. Of course I can afford to say that now. When I can walk into the city alone, sporting my trademark short, windswept hair (oh, it is so me! It got a few stares I have to say), buy lunch for myself and others at the table, blow up handy cash on too many sweets (somehow I end up doing a lot of shopping for other people while travelling, never for myself…possibly the experience is reward enough for me?!) and return as I please. I can dress as I like, travel where I please and I don’t need to think of anyone else!!! Freedom can make any place seem beautiful, after all it makes even dirty, crowded Mumbai my favorite place.

Coming back, I admire the trees and shrubs everywhere. Even the air smells different. I know its in my mind since I’m not passing any eateries but the faintly sambar-scented air is as Chennai as the dust-blowing, carbon-monoxide-fumed odor is Mumbai.

It is a crazy day. And hot. Oh why oh why have I been so disdainful of people who complain of Chennai’s weather? Mumbai is hot and humid too, I sniff….the weather in Chennai is the least of my concerns. So as my sparkling pin-stripes droop in an hour of my touchdown, I eat my words . Also some delicious curd rice for lunch. And coffee….ah, forgive me for I have sinned. After years of abstinence, I’ve downed three cups of steaming, filter kaapi in a few hours.

My head throbbing from heat, fatigue and over-caffeination, I get back to the airport. I’m early so my companion suggests that I try to get onto the earlier flight, the same one he’s on. Yippee, the lady at the counter likes my unruly mop apparantly since she makes the new boarding pass for me. I hear a man after me asking for the same thing and being refused. Oops, after making him wait all this while, I’ve lost my companion. As the doors to the bus shut….I sigh in resignation and ‘hold my chin perpendicular the ground, shoulders squared back’ like Scarlett O’Hara in my book-for-the-trip. The things I think of to amuse myself……good, it keeps my new shirt from creasing too much.

On the bus, I bump (literally) into my co-passanger from morning. Hey, there, good to see you, did you have a good day? I blurt out before biting my tongue, realising he is still a stranger. But he smiles back and replies, complaining of the heat and the traffic, while telling me without words, that’s fine, I didn’t mind, a little friendliness can help you get through this madness. This is getting to be a habit. Or more like the Mumbai local trains now. Travel with the same people up and down. Yes, everyone looks familiar, if not slightly rumpled after the hot day. He’s in the seat just behind mine now and I can see him if I crane my head and lean my seat back. But I don’t. And ah, I’ve ended up sitting in an all-woman arrangement which the other two remark on. Why is it unusual? It isn’t. More of us have joined the ranks after all. And the woman next to me is wearing the exact same white Van Heusen shirt I bought two weeks ago and almost wore today, before changing my mind and settling on the pinstripe instead. I wonder why that doesn’t annoy me but I keep that thought to myself.

Instead I mull over random thoughts. Usually I’m so busy doing things, not enough feeling things, that it feels like I’m recycling emotions. But this like a few other things, brings me a new emotion every second, new thoughts, new impressions and ideas. Its so delicious that later, I fall asleep over my dinner to return to the haze.

We sit in the plane for an hour and a half due to something called ‘radar trouble’!!!! Every 15 minutes the captain thrills us with decription of where in the queue we are. I fall asleep over and over again. Literally, just drop my head and tumble into sleepy-land. Only to wake up with a jerk. It happens several times and I apologise to the Van Heusen lady who smiles with genuine sweetness and says,

I was thinking that you must be really tired if you took the morning flight!

You see, our first conversation includes our respective schedules for the day and some shared agony over how we’ll all get home if the flight is delayed. Yes, three women with similar lifestyles can and will always make conversation.

When we finally do take off, the passangers start clapping. It is subdued….fatigue and the understatement as required by the lives we lead.

The flight doesn’t land on time either. We spend 45 minutes circling over Mumbai since we are now ‘thirteenth in queue but have been marked for special clearance…anytime now!’. I wonder sometimes what to think of the fuel shortage in the world, when airplanes are hovering around aimlessly in the air.

We land. Someone in the rear is staring at me. He was doing that in the bus too. And from across the aisle in the plane. He’s cute but an hour to midnight isn’t my time for flirting, unless I’m at a party. So sorry, no one’s getting picked up this time at the airport either. I walk out, say goodbye to my friendly lady companion, smile another curt ‘Bye’ to the gentleman from morning and step onto the road.

I’m back. I don’t feel restless like the last time I got back from an airport. It is a sudden realisation that I was more at home travelling, in the airport, on board, in the other city and travelling back….than I am, in the city I lie down in, each night. Maybe I’ve lived in Mumbai too long. The roles have reversed. I’m now apprehensive when I return, excited when I leave. I need to get out more often, explore more. Since other places don’t scare me anymore, Mumbai isn’t my refuge anymore either. All it is, is where I am at the moment. Home, that wonderful feeling is when I feel myself – curious, excited, thoughtful, invigorated, enriched. Home is when every minute is delightful discovery. Home is when I’m messy but charming vivacity, not cold,rational and numbed-to-the-point-of-dead. Home is when I am feeling like I have a world still to discover. Home isn’t Mumbai anymore but somewhere out there…I don’t even know if it has a name. It’s a concept, a feeling, not a place anymore. I lost home and I’ve found it again.

That’s my last thought before I settle in for the night.

Losing Home

I’m usually a real home-bird. That will surprise a lot of people who know me because I spend so little time in my house. But that’s a place with four walls. The fact is that I have a strong attachment to places, especially those with memories. I relate to places almost the way I do, with people. Leaving a place feels like a part of me is getting torn away, much like parting with a loved one. And being in a new place, much like meeting a new person, fills me with a mixture of apprehension and excitement. Apprehension since the new experience is so different from the ones I’m used to. Excitement over the very same thing. And oh, actually a new place (and a new person) always remind me of why I love home so much (or the people in my life). Travelling has always been a learning experience and one that ends with the exuberant feeling of “I’m home!!!!”.

I travelled to London this week. It is my first trip out of the continent. And for a long time now, I’ve looked forward to visiting the land of Enid Blyton, the Beatles, P G Wodehouse, Harry Potter and Bridget Jones. The first thing I felt when I walked out of Heathrow was the cold, crisp air on my face (bundled up as I was everywhere else). And then the thought that I finally understood the meaning of ‘cold, crisp air’.

I got a lot of work done, met a lot of people from different countries. It was interesting. But something was missing. What? The apprehension. And the excitement. I wasn’t a bit nervous as I usually am with new people. I didn’t develop stage-fright even as I made a presentation to a panel of the top management. And would you believe it….I was dressed in an orange pullover and jeans in a roomful of suits and business skirts. It wasn’t intentional but situational…but I can’t believe how easily I breezed through it, unflinchingly. I did fret a bit about it to my friend, but really I was more worried about the fact that I wasn’t worried. Isn’t that odd now? Either I cared a helluva lot for what I was going to say (too much to worry about other things) or I didn’t care a damn about anything. I still can’t decide.

And oddly enough, when I touched down at Mumbai airport, walking down to customs, I realised there was something missing. Passport…check. Baggage tag…check. Backpack, purse, mobile phone….all in place. Ah.

I didn’t feel excited about being home.

I wasn’t sad about being home. I wasn’t happy. I just didn’t feel a thing. No more “I’m home!!!!” feeling. And then it occurred to me….I don’t feel like I’m home. I actually squinted out into the sunshine to check that I had, indeed gotten onto the right flight to the right place. Everything looked right. But it doesn’t feel like home.

I don’t know what or where home is anymore. All this is, now is a place with most of my memories and people I love. But home is a feeling, not a place. One I haven’t had in a long while.

I fly far and I fly wide
But I always come back home

This time, I flew out
But I haven’t come home
Because I don’t remember what home looks like or feels like

Could I maybe come back to the place I took off from
And find you waiting there
And perhaps find that home is indeed,
where the people who make you happy, are?

Will you be the home I come back to?

Also cross-posted on IFSHA.

A Tale Of Two Cities

When people ask me, “Born and brought up here?”, I have to pause to think how to answer them best. I’ve settled for the bombastic and somewhat pretentious sounding “Born in the Capital and grew up in Island City.”

Its an odd feeling to belong to two different places simultaneously like this. Just like our relationships with people, there are invisible bonds that link us to places too…places that contain strong memories, places we’ve experienced life most in..

Each visit to the capital brings up parallel voices inside of me, conflicting, contradicting and highlighting the differences in the two places. If a city could be the motherland, I’m the proverbial Krishna, originating from one and flowering in another.

Mumbai has left an undeniable ‘chappa’ on me, shaped my thinking and attitudes. Visiting Delhi however invokes odd feelings that I’ve never quite been able to explain. I suppose it is a symbolic return to the womb, a reminder of how life could have been, still could be. Having a birth certificate from a city links you to that place for life. Mumbai is in my every waking moment and movement, in my brisk ‘lets-get-down-to-it’ attitude, my indifference to crowds and noise and precision-honed efficiency. Delhi however, whispers its hidden influences in my intellectualising, my love of the good life and long conversations.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Its cold. But not coooooooooooooold. That’s the first thought that hits me as I alight at Nizamuddin. What’s the fuss I think, remembering the dire warnings I’ve received over the past week about the winter in Delhi. Sure, everyone looks plumper (and that’s saying something….the average figure pays testimony to well-fed stomachs) and brighter draped in woolens and feathers (And I always thought these were the grey things that pigeons shed!).

As the day progresses, I can’t help reflecting that in Mumbai food takes longer to cool than to heat up. And oh…what an odd feeling to keep feeling hungry every hour! Mom is delighted and hints that my weight-gain plan might succeed if I shift here.

Shopping is always a great experience in Delhi, even for shop-a-phobics like me. I love the colour, the sheer feel of the ‘arty’ look, kurtas, jholas, mojris and trinkets. Idly I muse that I’ve never seen Delhi-ites wear all of this, though its considered the ‘Delhi look’. And oddly enough I’ve only seen all of this stuff on Mumbaikers who proudly say “Picked it up on my last visit to Delhi”…ah, umm.

The people look different, even their skin ailments look different. Can’t see any of the familiar pimples and acne that adorn Mumbai faces. There are instead, red splotches and little bumps which I assume must be a combination of colder weather and skins endowed with far less melanin.

Every single person I arrange to meet offers to pick me up or drop me back or both. Hmm…I think…I can’t imagine my Mumbaiker friends doing that any more than I can imagine my permitting them to. As always I hate not being able to travel around freely but I take note of the gentle solicitousness it seems to invoke in people here.

Books, books, BOOOOOKS!!!!! I’ll never be able to hate Delhi so long as it has its books. Mumbai’s workaholism drowns out any possibility of culture appreciation.
What is this life, if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare?

If Mumbai is the place to make money, Delhi’s the place to spend it.
I also saw a band playing in one of the corners of Connaught Place. Intrigued I stood and listened to the music belting out of the makeshift speakers. How wonderful….the drummer’s a girl! Can’t imagine amateur musicians making music at street corners like this. Come to think of it, where would they play….Churchgate station?

I gape, all open-mouthed wonder at the neat manicured lawns, shining signboards and broad roads all through our jaunts. I make snide comments about how Mumbai pays at least 1/3rd of the country’s taxes and gets so few benefits in return while the Delhi lives off the rest of the country’s earnings in splendour. I remind my co-passengers of the meaning of the word ‘parasite’ and get muttered threats for reply.

No trip to Delhi is complete without the mandatory visit to the chaat-wala. Yum, yum I drool as I watch potatoes and unidentified stuff being mauled in as unhygenic conditions as possible. Oh, to hell with hygeiene I tell that nagging voice and tuck into the ‘halka masala mixed fruit chaat’. My mouth was on fire for an hour afterward. Grr…Delhi-ites must have cast-iron cauldrons for stomachs.

Somewhere in the back of my consciousness floats pictures of homeless people…victims of the tsunami. I wonder, if a natural disaster had struck up north, would Delhi have been so complacent and matter-of-fact? Out of sight, out of mind is a phrase that springs to mind.

Not that there aren’t conversations. Politics, politics….does every single Delhiite from age 7 upward own a degree in Political Science??? I feel woefully ignorant in all this chatter. That’s until someone mentions a movie and the talk turns to Bollywood. Then I inform them that I’ve stayed within a kilometer from the Big B’s residence and that Vivek Oberoi was my senior in college. HAH! I love the grudging admiration that shines in their eyes as I throw out these facts with an air of disdainful nonchalance.

Saturday and its time to leave. As the capital gears up for a weekend (what’s a weekend to a city that seems to be either lazing or partying during the week?), I pack my bags. On my train I’m glad that the other family in the cubicle is from Mumbai and I won’t have to endure tales of “Dilli sabse number one city”. I take an almost devilish delight in graphic details of Mumbai trains to a group of youngsters on their first trip to Mumbai. I see one gulp and I smirk. As the train whizzes into Borivili…I sigh..home sweet home. Its odd but nothing reminds me more about how much I belong here than a visit to Delhi.

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