The journey of a lifetime… begins with a wedding!

The Canopy machan

The Canopy machan

The Wise have often said, “a couple that travels the world together, will always live together.” I and the Mister are like chalk and cheese, and it’s only by divine miracle that we are still married to each other. When I say, ‘trekking’, he’ll blurt out, ‘sleeping’ and then emphasize with a yawn. When I say, ‘kulfi, he’ll say, ‘ice cream’. When I say, ‘chai’, it has to be ‘coffee’… you get the drift. The idea is to agree to always disagree.

It so happened this month that we both agreed to make a small trip to celebrate a BIG occasion – yes, the Mister & I completed five years of this roller-coaster of a journey called ‘marriage’ on the 6th of May this year. Monday, the 2nd of May it finally dawned on us that Friday would mark our fifth wedding anniversary. And that it was a hot summer weekend too!

Although I’m sure I’m the soul that deserves an award for putting up with him for five years, he believes he should be given a bravery trophy for sticking by me all these years. Whatever our beliefs are, deep inside we knew we had to make it big. None of our close friends or family expected the two of us to stick together for so long, yet we did it and how! The celebration had to be a very special one indeed!

We live in Pune and the sun is not so kind in this month. We did not want to travel too far and feel all dehydrated and exhausted for our getaway celebration. We also did not want to increase our travel budget via domestic airlines. Our best bet would have to be a cooler hill station nearby – perhaps Lonavla, Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani or our favourite, the quaint old Matheran.

We opted for ‘The Machan’ – a serene tree house resort 17 kms from Lonavla and 80 kms from Pune. And, much to our surprise, we got a 25% summer discount for booking in May. So that’s a Yay!

The morning of Friday the 6th was a busy one, we finished with the packing and tried to wrap up our work for the day, as we needed to push off early. We got into an Alibhag bus from Shivaji Nagar bus stand at sharp 12 noon, and reached Lonavla at 1:45 pm after a slow, not-so-bumpy ride in that rickety bus. Then we headed to Annapurna Pure Veg located right at Lonavla market for an amazing lunch – masala papad, roti, naan, bindi masala, veg pulav and glasses of chilled lassi to wash it down with.

It was hot, sweaty but the excitement of staying in a tree house got me all energized. Every moment was tugging at me badly like a perseverant kid pulling his mom’s saree pallu. We were to stay at the Sunset machan for day 1 and the Canopy machan for day 2, as we were a bit late in planning for our anniversary celebration.

Sunset machan verandah

Sunset machan verandah

The most popular machan is the Sunset machan and everybody wants that, why you ask…you’ll know soon from the pictures. It is the best machan ever: you can lie in a giant bathtub on the wooden verandah, watching the sun set amid the mountain peaks, while surrounded by trees all around you. Or you can laze around in the lounge chair beside. The feature image of the canopy machan is what I clicked when on our nature trail around the acres of trees in the evening.

So, we got into an autorickshaw from Lonavla and reached the resort in about half an hour. We checked into our machan – the Sunset 1 and knew in our hearts that this must be in the list of ‘Top 10 holiday getaways for nature lovers in India’ or at least in ’50 Best Holidays In A Tree House’. As you can imagine, I immediately got into the bathtub though it was sunny at 3 pm.

There was pin drop silence except for the cicadas playing spoilsport for most of the day. It seems summers are mating time for these insects that make a horrible sound by rubbing their legs, and there were millions of them.

Being inside a tree house with the tops of trees for company, is an altogether heavenly experience. I felt like a high flying eagle at times and also a monkey at times, which I most often do, machan or not!

We went out for buffet dinner at the fireside, though the heart was still in my little wooden house. Dinner was what you’d expect at a decent Indian restaurant, and finding the same here was super cool. Then it was back to our machan and back to sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor and just gazing at the view outside. The Mister had already had his time in the bathtub with some wine and pristne nature for company.

I had indulged in some doodling, then some reading and then stopped everything to just ‘get lost’ in the view. the night was dedicated to star gazing. Whenever the clouds parted, you could see a black blanket embedded with a million million glittering stars. I was lucky to see fireflies flitting away beside me, and began to feel like a magician. A monkey magician, if you may!

machan view

A view from Canopy machan

The complimentary breakfast is a never ending spread: there’s  french toast, pancakes, baked beans, boiled eggs, masala omlette, as well as mini idlis, medu vadas, uttapams and tea, coffee or juice. For the health conscious, there were fruits too. Lunch was at the fireside too, it was a shorter version of dinner, very few of us guests had come to have our lunch in the company of the hot sun.

the good life

the good life

All the food and the heavy dose of nature proved bad for me. I began to get attached to the place, where I was just a weekend guest. Anyways, the stay in the Canopy machan was good too – the antique brass switches, the lamps salvaged from a ship and everything wooden was there too, but no giant bathtub in the verandah.

The Mister made himself comfortable in the wooden rocking bench in the verandah instead. There is also a hammock, but the sun was shining right on top. I waited for the evening to set in, but lying in a hammock in a machan makes you sleep like a baby. I got up and began jumping around my machan like a monkey!

The Mister went for a full body Ayurvedic spa massage, there are other types too, while I lazed around in the bench and promised myself not to cry when we leave this place the next day. Shortly after, we went for a nature trail that ended at sunset point, on the trail we saw special trees and medicinal plants as well as poisonous plants.

A tree called Anjan actually stores pure water in its stem, leaves and branches after distilling it from the ground water. Standing around a bunch of Anjan trees makes you feel like standing beside a natural cooler!

We checked out a little while after our breakfast where we ate like kings and queens. The return journey was a quiet one, the autorickshaw guy sent another driver of his, we reached Lonavla in no time, and got a bus to Deccan in Pune. Lunch was at KFC in Deccan and then back home to Kothrud. Our 5th wedding anniversary has indeed been a memorable one, despite the last minute planning.

The journey of a lifetime… begins with a wedding!

For all of you who’ve completed at least a year of marriage, the Mister & I wish you many lifetimes together so you continue to fight over tea and coffee like us, and make your yatra a memorable one!

Your age is your discount!

Happy 38This April the 4th I turned 38. It may not be a big deal, in fact it is just a number, but it is a significant one nevertheless. From a size ‘M’, I’ve grown to a size ‘L’ if comfort is what I’m looking for. I need to stub out a few beard hairs every week, else risk looking like ‘she-man’. I carry around a tyre like a stationary hula-hoop around my waist. I’ve begun to eat more than I need, exercise less than I must, talk more than I should, listen less than what is good for me.

My thought processes have chosen their absolute paths around my cranium and the connected nervous system. Everything there is to learn in life to sustain a decent livelihood has been done with, and my grey cells have gone into hibernation. I feel a terrifying vaccum inside me is sucking in everything from my insides, forming a lump of non-renewable mass to be never transformed into energy or set anything into motion again in life.

Apparently, this is what is termed as mid-life crisis, or the perceived notion of reaching a ‘dead end’ in one’s journey, because everybody (read society) says so!

The so-called ‘People of the Society’ now have a fair understanding about me, and by that qualification, they can now advise me on what exactly I should be doing in the 38th year of my life.

A coincidence off-late made me mull over my age. It so happened that I was seated at a popular Chinese takeaway, waiting for my parcel, when right adjacent to me was a standee, displaying loudly: “Your Age is your Discount”. A beauty salon was looking to boost its haircut sales.

I wondered, “Can my age be discounted in real life?

38 tells me how much grey has begun to set in; how fatigued is my body; it nudges me to go for a health check up so I could wring any hereditary or lifestyle diseases right away while the nasty things are still in stealth mode. 38 tells me I’m closer to 40!

38 defines where I am in life with respect to where I should’ve been in life as per my life goals. It tells my government to put me in the next demographic. It tells the people around me that I have now arrived at a ‘big’ juncture in my life, that I should now take life seriously, that I need to now worry about my aging body and not flush my eggs down the toilet bowl – and here is where it all ends, sadly!

38 also throws up some very vital questions: Am I sporting an age-appropriate waistline? Should I colour my greys? Have I under-achieved compared to my peers? Do my friends and family miss me? Does my age bother my other half? Can I still reach the finishing line? Am I a failure?

Wait…these don’t look like vital questions, in fact, these aren’t even questions!

These are fears implanted over the generations, in you and me; like a wheel it goes on and on in a never ending cyclic path, consuming every fresh idea that comes its way.

These are fears implanted over the generations, in you and me; like a wheel it goes on and on in a never ending cyclic path, consuming every fresh idea that comes its way. Satan’s other name is Fear!

Age can be discounted had we been told how many years we would exist. Let’s suppose a human life was designed to live fully till 100 years, and then the aging process would set in. In this imaginary world, I could avail a 38% discount the whole of this year, and really look forward to turning 39.

But, we are mortal beings with no number attached to the lives that die every second. They could be 3 or 8 or 38, and still mean so much to the people in their lives.

The only way to keep going on is to ‘unlearn’ everything they tell you to. Stay in the ‘now’ and not worry about the future and certainly not about age, because as someone wise once sang, “Que sera, sera.”

Cheers to all of us who are 38 years ‘young’ this year!

Look into my eyes…

eyes

Look into my eyes and you will see

Little pictures of you and me

The promises you made

The dreams I wove

Together building the story of ‘we’.

                         *

Come closer and you will hear

The silent cries hidden in my tear

Of promises broken, of dreams crushed

Of the many magical stars

We never touched.

                         *

Open my diary and you will feel

Between the pages a sweet love poem

My secret wishes also lie bare

A few dried petals, their fragrance

Captured forever in there.

                         *

Look into my eyes and you will see

Little pictures of you and me

Come closer and you will hear

The silent cries hidden in my tear

Open my diary and you will feel

Between the pages a sweet love poem.

                         *

(Dedicated to ‘World Poetry Day’ today.)

3 days in Varanasi but a journey of a lifetime

Varanasi jolted us from the illusion we called as ‘digital age’. Every corner street has a cyber cafe, but the famed Banarasi silk sarees were still being painstakingly woven through wooden looms. We were fortunate enough to experience one such beautiful cream-red silk saree being woven in a loom at the Sarnath Art Gallery in Sarnath city, 12 kms from Varanasi; the gallery houses handicrafts, sarees, blankets, carpets, sculptures and more made by the ‘Poor Labourers Buddhist Society’.

We ended up buying three sarees here, not only as a gesture of support but also because they were very pretty. Every silk thread was made of 108 silk threads that the weaver artfully inserted into the holes in the wooden loom, weaving and designing gold silk motifs on the way – paisleys, roses, flowers, leaves all weaved with the help of mathematical calculations and the will to create the perfect Banarasi saree.

Banarasi silk saree weaving

A weaver at work, Banarasi silk sarees

How we ended up at the Sarnath Art Gallery is also an interesting story, will reveal more of it in my Sarnath adventures below.

People visit Varanasi for a number of reasons: the most prominent of all being religious. Also called as the spiritual capital of India, Varanasi is the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism and Jainism, and played an important role in the development of Buddhism. In fact, Guru Nanak Dev had visited the city during Shivrathri in 1507, a trip that played a significant role in founding Sikhism. But, the Mister and me visited as tourists, pilgrimage can be pushed for old age!

Varanasi is such an ancient city that it’s been called by many names over the ages. The present name comes from the two tributaries of Ganga – Varuna and Asi that bound the city. Ancient name Kashi was used by the pilgrims from the Buddhist days, and has been mentioned in the Rigved and Puranas as well. Legend has it that Lord Shiva founded the city, calling it his royal palace.

The Mister and me had pre-decided that our three days in the city will not be hurried ones, having us jump from one tourist must-see, must-do to another. We wanted to soak in the city, its culture, its people.

For a city built around the banks of the Ganga, Varanasi has 84 ghats, many of which are private. Our guest house was at the Assi ghat facing the mighty Ganga, with the Ramnagar fort looking hazily at us from the right. We started with a walk across the ghats, after casually browsing through the Ravidas Park nearby.

The first half was spent walking, sitting, clicking pictures till Harishchandra ghat, the ghat for Hindu cremations after Manikarnika, the ghat dedicated only to cremations. These are the two ghats where cremation will ensure the soul is truly free. There’s amazing cups of ‘lebu cha’ or ‘lemon tea’ to be had while you are on Assi ghat: small cup Rs.5 and big cup Rs. 10. You can also watch out for the fishermen with their varied techniques, to catch fish along the banks. People taking morning boat rides are also a beautiful sight to see.

Ghats buildings

A few of the random ghats for the beautiful architecture

But, there is everyday life also mingling with the ancient and cultured city. Along the steps of the ghats are strewn numerous washed clothes left to dry. Men are taking baths too, the water was foamy near them. The Ganga takes it all – effluents, washing soaps, clay lamps, human and animal waste, and possibly some of their sins too.

The Ganga

The Ganga

When our feet began to complain a few ghats from Harishchandra ghat, we climbed up the steps to enter the city streets. Very congested roads with shops, establishments and more on each side. There’s food, handicrafts, woollen wear, silk sarees and an assortment of Indian languages being spoken in the streets. And, watch out, these are two way streets meant for the buffaloes, bikes, three-wheelers and you the pedestrian!

The Mister bought short kurthas in cotton and khadi fabric, while I bought a woollen poncho at one of these shops. We somehow survived our way out to the main road. We ate at the local hotels where the kitchens are on the outside. Rice, roti/puri, sabzi, dal, pickle and jalebis. I bought some glass bangles and an embroidered chappal too, off the streets.

Top left: kachori-sabzi and jalebi, Top right: laung laata, Bottom left: Dahi wada, Bottom right: Puri sabzi

Top left: kachori-sabzi and jalebi, Top right: a sweet – laung laata, Bottom left: Dahi wada, Bottom right: Puri sabzi

We returned to Assi ghat, our guest house, atop one of the cycle rickshaws that form the main transport in the old part of the city, while devouring more cups of lebu cha and bhuja. This is a snack made from puffed rice, several types of grains mixed with a special type of spicy chutney, and not to be confused with jhaal-muri of the Bengalis.

Bhuja is made right in front of you, the maker carefully measures each portion of rice, daals, and heats them along with a salt-sand mixture. Then he filters out the puffed things through a sieve. Now it goes to another guy who adds the spices and the chutney, shakes it all up in a small vessel and gives it to you in a paper bag. This process is repeated for any quantity you buy: rs 10, rs 20 or more!

While on our way back, I learnt there is nothing non-vegetarian served anywhere, except for one place that was selling chicken tandooris. Streets are teeming with paan dukaans, our regular ‘Calcutta meetha’ was replaced with Banarasi paan, a must-have if you are a connoisseur of good paan. The Mister explained that the khattha and chuna used is just perfect for a juicy paan, post lunch. Besides, there is an option to have ‘gulkhand khattha‘ too, the rose adding the royal essence. Here, people were eating one or two, and also taking back with them packets of paan to be eaten with friends (or alone) for the rest of the day!

Making of bhuja and paan

Making of bhuja and paan

The temperature was down to 13-14 degrees C as we made our way out from Assi again, to experience the famed ‘Ganga Aarti’ in the evening. The ritual begins at around 6 pm and goes on for an hour or more, in between of which you only experience a show of lights, camphor vapour and the magic of Hindu religious rituals.

Day one involved absorbing the city and embracing it fully. In the beginning, I was shocked when our auto-rickshaw driver slowed his vehicle at regular intervals just to spit. I was equally shocked that every time anybody opened their mouth to speak, they would first spit some paan on the side. Basically, spitting in public was not considered offensive at all!

***

Day two began with a walk to BHU (Banaras Hindu University), one of the biggest residential universities in the world, after having breakfast at ‘Pehalwan Lassi Bhandar’ close to Ravidas Gate. I must have had the yummiest kachori-sabzi here that Varanasi had to offer. A plate of hot golden jalebis is a must for the sweet-toothed ones like me. Then, how can one forget thick white lassi topped with fresh rabri and served in a clay pot?

Lassi, Malaiyo, Thandai

Lassi, Malaiyo, Thandai

There’s something new we discovered, don’t know any other place that serves it. It is available only in winter as it requires thick milk to be laid out in the sun, at that particular temperature to form a frothy, creamy, all natural dessert, served in a clay pot. It’s called ‘malaiyo’, meaning ‘of malai/cream’. We had two cups but the heart wanted more.

The BHU has many centres of research; students both girls and boys wore woollen jackets over their uniforms, cycles seemed to be the mode of transport for many of them. We headed to the mini Kashi Vishwanath temple within the campus and basked in the beauty of the natural surroundings and the architecture of the temple.

We returned to Assi to rest for a while, while we bought some street jewellery, woollen wear on our way back. The evening was reserved for the Ganga aarti at Dashaswamedh Ghat, the main ghat where the rituals are more elaborate and crowd-pulling. We headed to the Dashaswamedh from Assi via a sharing boat at around 5:45 pm. The lighted ghats shone like jewels while we made our way through the crescent-shaped bank in a boat.

The ghats in the evening

The ghats in the evening

Dashaswamedh is a sight in the evening. Five priests stand on wooden stools facing the Ganga and perform a series of rituals. The Ganga Aarti at Assi ghat is also the same, only the scale is smaller.

***

Day three was dedicated to Sarnath museum. After having breakfast at our favourite ‘Pehelwan Lassi Bhandar’, we headed out in an auto-rickshaw to Sarnath, 12 kms from Varanasi, armed with well-meaning advice to ‘not visit’ the city at all!

But, visit we did and it was a special trip. A guide appeared from no where, and offered to show us around for Rs 20, we were not keen on having a human walk around with us in the historical place, and push us from one place to another. But, he was hellbent and later we learnt why.

First we visited the Thai temple – Wat Sarnath, which is part temple and part meditation place for Buddhists. There’s another temple, probably a Sri Lankan one nearby, both temples show the four important stages in Gautama Buddha’s life – Birth at Lumbini in Nepal, Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, First sermon at Sarnath and Death at Kushinagar, Gorakhpur. There’s the Sri Digambar Jain temple too; Sarnath is the birthplace of the Eleventh Thirthankara of Jainism.

Deer at Sarnath

Deer at Sarnath

Sarnath, also called ‘Mrigadava’ meaning ‘deer jungle’, was a densely forested place teeming with deer when Buddha came here. Now, the deer can be seen through an enclosure at one side. Our guide knew quite a lot of things, he has been trained at the Buddhist school nearby, although he isn’t a Buddhist himself.

Our guide then took us to the Sarnath Art Gallery and showed us the handloom, I was given the privilege to touch the silk threads and feel its fineness as it makes its journey into a beautiful silk brocade saree. He left us to shop there, but returned promptly to guide us to other places. We had bought three sarees and a wooden Buddha in the meditative posture.

Sarnath, in its peak, was a major centre for monks and Buddhism flourished in the city. Today the site is in ruins, after being invaded by Turkish Muslims in the 12th century. They looted the site for building materials, while taking away a very significant part of history.

Dhamek Stupa Sarnath

Dhamek Stupa, top: site, bottom: ancient engravings on the stupa

Much of the excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India shows a beautifully structured city with stone-carved sculptures of the Buddha and Boddhisattvas. All these finds are now in the Sarnath Archaeological Museum, carefully documented and preserved for those who believe ‘history repeats itself’. There’s rich history to be found from 3rd century BCE to 12th century AD of Sarnath. Although photography isn’t allowed at the museum, the stone sculptures will remain in your mind.

The Lion Capital from the Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath has also been found and restored in the Sarnath museum. The Dhamek Stupa is at 128 feet high and 93 feet in diameter, no wonder it was impossible for the Turks to break it. There are many such Stupas in the city, our guide says Buddhist monks face the stupa while in meditation. A stupa is a solid dome structure build in layers of bricks.

An 80.9 feet high Buddha statue was built in layers by a Bangalore architect recently. The base takes you through the four important stages in the Buddha’s life through replicas of the place. Do make a note of his mudras or sacred hand gestures.

Buddha postures Sarnath

Little Siddhartha Gautama in Baal mudra at birth, Bhumisparsha Mudra at Bodh Gaya, Dharmachakra Mudra at first sermon in Sarnath,

Apparently, the Buddha inspired people to do great things, one small layer at a time!

We returned to Assi in Varanasi, bodily tired but mentally enriched with what human civilization had and lost over the ages. We did not eat anything, a glass of lemonade sufficed us.

The second half we decided to visit the main Kashi Vishwanath temple near Dashaswamedh. Kashi Vishwanath temple has an interesting survival story. It has been destroyed and re-constructed a number of times in history; the last structure was demolished by Aurangzeb, who constructed the Gyanvapi Mosque on its site. The current structure was built on an adjacent site by the Maratha monarch, Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore in 1780.

The temple has three domes made of pure gold, and is heavily protected by police teams. You cannot take your bags, wallets or mobile phones inside, everything must be kept in lockers. The temple does not provide lockers, but one can hire a free locker in the numerous small shops nearby. In return, one needs to buy flowers and other offerings to the god.

Our journey was never a religious one, and also we didn’t want to be late to check out the cremations at the Manikarnika ghat. Looking at the crowds and estimating our time here, we knew we had to take a call. Both the Mister and me decided to walk into the ghats and watch corpses being burnt instead!

I looked from far, the Mister went closer. He saw half burnt bodies, an endless stock of firewood, men ensuring that corpses burnt nicely while casual mourners watched in silence. I clicked one picture, reluctantly. They say the funeral pyres at Manikarnika have been burning ceaselessly, since the first ever cremation ages ago!

We walked across the Lalita Ghat and then to the Dr. Rajendra Prasad ghat adjacent to Dashaswamedh. The Ganga aarti had started at the Dr. Rajendra Prasad ghat, and it wasn’t much different from the other evening aartis. This time the Mister and me sat right in the front and experienced the whole series.

We returned to Assi in a cycle rickshaw, while breathing in the cold Varanasi air. The Mister had his last Banarasi paan, while our cycle guy was also treated to his favourite paan. Nobody said a word, we didn’t return to our guest house, we stopped at the Assi ghat instead.

We sat on the steps and hoped to turn back the clock. But alas, life only moves forward!

Mary and her 3 little lambs

Mary and her 3 little lambs

A good while later, we walked to our guest house and returned to our reality, thanks to the Wifi setup there. I checked my inbox, whatsapped a few images, listened to Bengali numbers on gaana app, while the Mister went about photo-blogging his Varanasi travel diaries on Instagram. All we were left with were hashtags – #varanasi, #traveldiaries, #instatravel but they meant so much more now.

Happy 2016 to all my readers! May peace be with you 🙂

A train journey to the spiritual capital of India

It was just last month, one exhaustive weekday that the Mister and me figured the only way out to give our brains a detox is to go on a vacation. The last time we went on a vacation was four years ago: our honeymoon to Coorg, the Scotland of India. Our British rulers preferred exotic western equivalents to the scenic beauty that was India…sigh! Before British, Coorg was known as ‘Kodava Nadu’ but for the stiff British tongues, we have a city name that’s quicker to pronounce than to visit!

Before I deviate further, let’s go back to the brain detox, the vacation we both deserved but hadn’t earned until now. Then we took a call – a unanimous call to take out a little from the savings for bad times. (Startup life is unpredictable that way)

But, where do we go? They say, “The journey is the reward,” so it does not really matter whether you choose to visit one of the “50 places to see before I die” or not. The Mister suggested Varanasi; I was lazy, exhausted, and too mind-toxicated to suggest otherwise.

We were able to reserve our seats too; Divine Providence was at work, otherwise getting reserved seats 20 days prior is next to impossible. Varanasi, also called Banaras, ancient name Kashi (It’s strange how a cute, short city name evolved to a longer one in this digital age).

So, that’s where we are headed to – in the Varanasi Express starting from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Kurla, Mumbai and going straight to Varanasi Junction – a 27-hour journey across the two states of Maharashta and Uttar Pradesh, not very friendly states, yet the two share a symbiotic relationship with each other both in economics and state politics.

The wait for it to arrive. #varanasi #indianrailways #traveldiaries2015

A photo posted by Prasant Naidu (@prasantnaidu) on

The train journey started after midnight, 12:35 am to be precise. And let us all join to clap our hands for the Indian Railways. Our Varanasi Express engines began rolling at sharp 12:35 am. It was way past my bedtime but the excitement kept me awake. We were finally on a holiday!

Varanasi is a temple town. Hindus visit the city at least once in their lifetime, the river Ganga – the most sacred of all rivers in India – flows through the city. An annual trip to Kashi to bathe in the Ganga was the “one must thing to do before I die” for many Hindus. Today it’s a tourist destination – the ghats teem with more foreigners than Indians but that’s a great sign.

The week before, Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe was at Varanasi – news being he had come to sign the deal to make India’s first bullet train – Modi’s most ambitious project after becoming PM. While Abe and Modi were at the city and the ghats to experience the Ganga Aarti, the entire area was cleaned up of its mess. (read relocation of beggars and hawkers).

Abe, in all probability, has studied the city’s structure and plans on building a mini-Banaras back in Japan. That will save a lot of Yen and shift tourists to Japan. Japan also has signed an MoU with India in 2014, to clean the Ganga.

Our Varanasi Express crossed many important places, I’ll remember them by the food we had there. Wada, samosa, bhajiya, idli-wada, jalebi, kachori and more. And how can one forget the assortment of teas, Indian Railways is never short of tea. The rail network – the world’s largest – carries trains across the length and breadth of India to 7112 stations, but there is a cup of tea for everyone!

Shaam ka nasta #instatravel #instafood #indianrailways #traveldiaries2015 A photo posted by Prasant Naidu (@prasantnaidu) on

How food changes with every Indian state. The best part of travelling with #indianrailways #instafood #traveldiaries2015

A photo posted by Prasant Naidu (@prasantnaidu) on

My co-passengers have been keeping themselves busy; eating seems to be India’s national pastime. We eat almost everything that’s coming our way in the train, and also not letting go of any speciality at the stations we halted at. Whether we are hungry or not, isn’t the question. Every age-group sports a pot belly!

But, what’s a journey without food, and what’s a country without its politics – my co-passengers are reading newspapers, magazines, news apps, while discussing food, state politics and new business ideas. After Modi’s clarion call to ‘Make in India’, nearly every corner street is making plans to make something in India.

While urban India is keen on starting up new app-driven marketplaces, the larger agri-based India is looking at making what else – new snack food ideas! One elderly man was advising a man, a few years younger than him, to get into the manufacturing of rice puffs; all it takes is a handful of rice to make many packets of puff snacks, little costs and lots of profit.

And when there’s food, there will be guests, uninvited of course! I’m talking about cockroaches, but they weren’t there, thanks to the housekeeping staff. The teams did regular rounds of the entire train, back and forth, mopping and cleaning no matter how many times you drop tea or visit the loo, the berth’s were clean and also smelt fresh. After sunset, mosquito repellents were sprayed at the corners. Everybody slept most of the time.

Ready for a quick afternoon nap #indianrailways #traveldiaries2015 #traveldiaries A photo posted by Prasant Naidu (@prasantnaidu) on

Morning Varanasi #varanasi #traveldiaries2015 #instatravel #instapic #varanasidiaries #varanasilife

A photo posted by Prasant Naidu (@prasantnaidu) on

By 4:00 am the day after, we reached Varanasi Junction. The temperature was 10 degrees Celsius – super cold for Puneites like me where even winter months have the mercury levels at not less than 16 degrees Celcius. I borrowed the Mister’s jacket and prayed for a miracle – like the Sun God blessing me with some warm sunshine – but hard luck!

The pest repellents had become ineffective by now. Baby cockroaches had invaded my berth – they were all over the place now. The seats were a mess too. White bedsheets and brown woolen blankets, empty mineral water bottles and cranky kids. My mind was too frozen to mind.

The train emptied at the junction. Strangely, there was discipline. Passengers alighted one after the other, no soul was in a hurry, their bodies were equally frozen. Besides, there was no gold medal to be won.

After whiling away two hours in the waiting room, we dragged our frozen bodies out at 6:00 am to the 10 degree cold city. We managed to get a decent bargain with the auto-rickshaw guy to our guest house – the Yoga House near Assi Ghat, facing the Ganga.

Our Banaras travel begins now, though the train journey had come to an end. Like all train journeys we’ve made so far, it will remain in our memories.

All images courtesy the Mister…do follow @prasantnaidu on Instagram for more pictures capturing our Varanasi journey.

Blogging isn’t dead, it’s only transformed into a new and multi-faced avatar

An old time blogger just quit blogging. She blogged about it. That’s how I came to know. The last blog post ever in that beautiful online and very much public diary she maintained began with ‘Bloggers are a narcissistic lot’, which got me wondering. Is it really true?

Am I a narcissist? I’ve been into blogging for close to 7 years now and I’ve never called it quits. Is it that I love blogging so much or is it myself that I love so much? A personality analyst would read this paragraph and easily conclude that I am indeed a narcissist. Look at the number of ‘I’s I have used in it!

To be fair I’ve not been a regular blogger unlike her. She was a prolific blogger; one superb blog post was churned out daily from her writing stable. She is a journalist whose articles made it to the Dawn quite often. Reading through them only made me know her better and begin a long-distance relationship with her in a way only fellow bloggers would relate to.But now everything has changed…

The world is not the same. The very world of ‘blogging’ as we knew it has ceased to exist a long time ago. Old time bloggers have migrated to other virtual lands in search of readers. A lot many are now on ‘Medium‘ with its varied community of readers who are a serious lot. You can know from the kind of interactions and comments left – even at each paragraph level – on the writer’s thoughts. The readers read, recommend, comment, and sometimes help the writer create a mini-history on the social web. Highly viral articles are picked up by mainstream publications.

There’s another type and a majority of bloggers fall into this category. This chunk was formed when Facebook became very popular in 2008, and it claimed everyone from Orkut, Yahoo groups and blogging platforms. This new category of bloggers chose to blog on Facebook. Likes, shares and comments became the best adrenaline rush to them. They began feeling superior to the ones who only shared party, cats and holiday pictures on Facebook. This category has now permanently settled on Facebook, quite happy with the online adulation.

Something happened at the same time. There was a seismic shift in virtual space then. A new species of bloggers had evolved and they began infesting the space in large numbers. They blogged too often – sometimes even several times in a day; they are called the micro-bloggers who weave magic in 140-characters, on a little-known platform called Twitter. The ones who ‘cracked the medium’ found a massive number of followers, and have now been crowned as ‘social media influencers’ or like someone tweeted the other day – ‘Twitter jockeys’!

Others who are only into photo blogs or video blogs went into either Tumblr, Instagram or YouTube. Now they too have evolved and become influencers or stars on the platform.

My teenage niece asked me whether I’m on ‘Wattpad‘ but realized a while later – when she had to spell it out – that I hadn’t even heard about it. Wattpad is not a fad; it claims to be the world’s largest community of readers and writers. At least, I know an entire school that swears by Wattpad, and the volumes of teen fiction they can get on it.

So you see, ‘blogging’ did not die. Blogging just took many other forms of self-expression in different virtual platforms. Yes, I choose to call ‘blogging’ as a means to expressing your ideas, thoughts, random meanderings and whatnot; it is definitely not a ‘narcissistic’ journey because bloggers also read other bloggers and about their mundane thoughts. Narcissists cannot think beyond themselves!

Ultimately, there’s a force of nature that transforms everything and that holds true for virtual spaces too. Eventually snow caps melt into oceans, oceans become deserts, desserts become fertile and living beings just migrate from here to there.

P.S: I wonder how many will read this here, even as I proceed to the publish button 🙂

Maid 2.0

Uborka-2

My bai woes are unending. This year we shifted our home-office to a new place in the same locality, an extra room with an additional balcony meant more space between the Mister and me. Life had become so peaceful that I almost began to worry, remember the Universe’s first law of Happiness – “This too shall pass”. Now picturise a happy sun saying this to you.

Little did I know that my inner peace would be ruffled soon by the new maid. Her name means ‘Poetry’ and just like they say, “There is magic in poetry”, there was magic in her, or rather her work. Dust vanished into thin air, as she walked into every room. Things sorted themselves as if by divine reconfiguration. The Mister and me lived like the King and the Queen in their squeaky clean apartment…until.

She came. She saw. She conquered.

The day we set foot in our house after all the packing and the moving and then the unpacking, we saw a quaint figure watching us from a distance. The next day, a lady deliberately crossed paths with the Mister and ordered him to employ her as our maid. He placed the ball in my court. She came to me the next day and pleaded for the job.

Maids and me have always been in an abusive relationship. They set the rules and I quietly abide by them. Do read “Maid in India” and “My maid and her newfound efficiency” for an accurate context.

The new home ushered new hopes, so I decided to let go of past trauma. I told her to come from the next week, but she started that very day. She sweeped and she mopped, then she mopped some more and left me a happy soul.

Days went by and just as the Mister and me were getting newly accustomed to our clean home, and hassle-free maid, things took an ugly turn.

It started with her reporting time that swayed anywhere from pre-breakfast to lunch-making time. Some days she came even before I could open my eyes fully. When I complained, “It’s too early”, she’d say, “I have to go out.”

Some days she comes in when I’m preparing lunch and offers no explanation whatsoever. When it turned into a daily habit, I asked her, of course in a feeble voice, as to what is the matter in her life. Is she going through some mid-life crisis? Does she need a break?

She said, “I got more houses to clean now.” I kept mum.

Then came the holidays. One time she went on a vacation for ten days, of which only four were informed ones. I didn’t dare to ask her this time!

Dust can be neither cleaned nor be destroyed, but it transfers from one place to another.

Dust is transferred from one place to another, just like the law of conservation of energy that states – Energy can be neither created nor be destroyed, but it transforms from one form to another. The dust law applies to all maids.

My house is as much clean as it is dusty!

This month, she has set a new rule, well two actually – one we cannot ‘not be present’ at home whenever she comes, and second, we need to inform her in advance if we will ‘not be present’ at home whenever she comes.

The Mister booked Sunday tickets for ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ on a Saturday evening. I had to have them cancelled, as we hadn’t taken requisite permission from The Maid.

Life has come a full circle when it comes to maids. It’s almost poetic. She says she has a very tiny child (this is a new story) who acts as per his whims and fancies (look who’s talking).

I have almost given up in my hunt for the perfect maid. They say, “Life is finding love in the imperfections” and it is true. We don’t look eye to eye anymore, and I don’t dare occupy the bathroom…whenever she comes.

Image credit: Vectors 4 all

quilted thoughts

of scattered feelings,
and quilted thoughts
a little here,
and a little there

sewed together
with a broken thread, and
leftovers from a time gone by

of little whimpers and many whys
of little joys and many sighs

once ethereal, beyond dare
now lethal, full of scare

let me go, her muted screams
stained the silence
of strangers nearby

pierced, shattered
but quilted with care

her thoughts lay strewn
within the crease –
of the bare

they laid the quilt
over waters welling by
the brook stood still –
but, she floated by

of scattered feelings,
and quilted thoughts

now neither here, nor there!

Handmade Quilling Jhumkas

Midlife crisis had set in bad, but it left me good. This year has been one of learning and discovering the little joys of life. Now I know what the wise ones meant when they said, “When life gives you scraps, make a quilt!”.

When life gives you scraps, make a quilt!

So here I am making little pieces of craft from M-seal and now quilling paper strips. I started first with learning to make a paper rose and then one thing led to another and I ended up learning more types of flowers and 3-d quilling too. Quilling is a simple paper craft technique with many applications.

Here a few pictures of the jhumkas I made in the last few months:

quilled jhumkasHow to make them and useful links:

For the jhumkas, I referred to this video tutorial on YouTube.

The materials you will require from the craft shop, apart from quilling strips, are: fevicol, quilling/paper varnish, eye pins, jewellery pins, earring hooks, beads, stick-on beads, pearls, stick-on pearls. You will also require a plier and a wire cutter to attach your handmade jhumkas with the hooks, these may be available at the craft shop or you can easily find these at a hardware shop near you.

Match paper colours with the outfit you will be pairing it up with. Experiment with the number of strips and add different colours to create 2-coloured or 3-coloured jhumkas. Add a nice shine by brushing it on with the paper varnish, this also makes your jhumkas water-proof and strong, apart from adding the finishing touch. Decide what you want to create and make a list before you enter the craft shop. Or else you can just have fun. Like I did!

Here are some variations, because what’s life without some masti! Here I stuck on some craft rope on the jhumkas with fevicol, and another white one is covered with the off-white stick-on pearls. My nieces are calling these party wear jhumkas!

quilled jhumkas

When life gives you quilling strips, make a jhumka!

Quilling or paper filigree is an art form that involves the use of strips of paper that are rolled, shaped, and glued together to create decorative designs. The paper is rolled, looped, curled, twisted and otherwise manipulated to create shapes which make up designs to decorate greetings cards, pictures, boxes, eggs, and to make models, jewellery, mobiles etc.

 

Quilling miniature paper flowers in a vase

I just loved the experience of quilling miniature roses; it is quick, fun and happily satisfying. I explored further into making miniature flowers using quilling paper and tried to make a vase instead of a pot this time. Now there are quite a few little flower pots and vases in my home!

Here are some pictures of the miniature flower vases, with the leaves and some fancy variations: from up close, a little far and on the table.

quilled flowers

How to make them and useful links:

To make the quilling flowers, I referred to this basic quilling YouTube tutorial.

For the vase, I made two hollow pieces, the top one with a hole like a doughnut and then pulled it up longer. In the bottom pot, I put a tiny pebble so that it can balance all that weight. Then I filled both the pieces with little rounded thermocol bits and stuck them together using fevicol. For the stems, I used a thin metal wire I’d bought from the craft shop earlier and attached it to the flower with fevicol.

When things have all dried and your vase is balancing well, you can add a nice shine to the flower vase by painting on some quilling varnish. You will get this bottle from any craft shop; it makes your paper water-proof and strong, apart from adding the finishing touch!

Good luck and happy quilling!