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!

Quilling miniature paper roses and a vase!

The Saturday has been particularly uninteresting, but I have gone back to an old interest of mine – pencil sketching! A few Saturdays back, I wanted to dabble into some paper quilling, but didn’t know how to go about it. What paper, tools, and skills go into making a nice piece of paper quilled art? Will it take too much of my time and more importantly, will it be worth learning?

But then, I said, “Let me just have fun!”

So, here are two tiny little pots with roses in them, created entirely by quilling paper. All you need is quilling paper, a little block of thermocol, some paper pins and fevicol, and you are good to go!
Quilling_rose

quilling_rose_orange

miniature_quilling_roses

Some helpful links:

To make the pot, I used the jhumka making technique and then flattened the bottom. Here’s the YouTube tutorial for it.

To make the roses, I referred to this YouTube tutorial.

Quilling: 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.

My personal tip: Use thinner paper especially for roses as it is very difficult to keep folding reverse with thick paper, as you can see in my roses. Also, it is better to buy the mixed quilling sheets costing Rs. 30, these usually have pink, red, yellow, peach, green and more in the same packet.

All the best and have fun!

Some art & craft to the rescue!

It’s been ages since I visited this space last. The thought that I have reached the middle ages and yet not found contentment in my life or the meaning of this existence, was too overwhelming and left me with a scary feeling. But, like they say, courage need not roar and so, I made feeble attempts to face the clear and now present. “If not now, then when?”, I said to myself, almost feeling like the last warrior fighting the lonely battle all by himself!

And, again, like they say, ‘art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life’, I surrendered to my creative pursuit in art and crafts. I can admit it’s true; art indeed is a very fulfilling activity and apart from helping you while away your wasteful hours, it charges up your worried and scared grey cells with new positive energy. You end up using your brain for what it is meant to be used for – creation.

I started with M-seal knowing fully well that my first and supposedly last project with the epoxy resin from Pidilite, was a disaster. Still, it left me with two vital lessons – a) mix small quantities so you can work on it before it gets hard, b) Break the form into little areas that are manageable, beforehand.

M-seal art

I bought the small packet for ten rupees at the local hardware store; now that’s not too much of an investment for a scared beginner like me!

The big question was, what do I make of it? Little people with varied expressions? Miniature forms of the seven wonders? Cute dolls or grotesque monsters? Dropping all these ideas, I chose something simple, something which I could do with confidence, some topic that always fascinates and cheers me up – flowers. I decided to make little roses out of them and stick them onto some thing – but what?

A few days back, we had ordered a ‘Handi Biryani’ from the speciality North Indian takeaway nearby. The Biryani was average but the pot it came in, was very ‘handy’!! I cleaned it up and voila, it was all ready to be painted and decorated with golden roses. Now you get the picture?!

m-seal art

Liking what I saw, I looked for more things to decorate. There was a square, wooden box with four little square compartments inside. Those had mini cupcakes in it once, a Diwali gift. The box was painted a dark brown and instantly decorated with the m-seal roses and then sprayed with some antique gold dust.

m-seal craft

By then, the contents of the ten rupees packet were over, and I felt so much contentment in this simple creation. Time to move over to some other craft, quilling maybe 😉

My maid helped me rediscover my passion for life

Time and again I get questioned on why I don’t blog here more frequently. That’s like asking my maid why she turns up at my place so few times of the year. It’s just that she has a ton of household chores to deal with in her home already. Like I have a ton of posts to write about at the Lighthouse blog – the blog we run from our home-office. So no big deal really. But, all this was in the past. It’s a new story altogether. Read on…

Yesterday I had this uncanny feeling that she is watching over me, smiling away to herself. Why am I day dreaming about her, you ask? That is because she has gifted me with her “indefinite absenteeism”, ever since the morning of my birthday last month. It was a crazy working Friday and I was looking forward to her making it to my house, so we (the Mister & me) could enjoy a clean home at least for the one special day that comes once a year.

goodbyeAlas she dashed our hopes! This despite saving more than a quarter piece from the Monginis Swiss chocolate cake for her. This despite wishing for her to visit us when I blew upon my birthday candles. This despite praying from the bottom of my heart.

In fact, she dashed our hopes the day after that and the day after that day too. She seems to have taken an oath to never visit us forever. I still await the day I catch a glimpse of her somewhere – you know I owe her 3 days of last month’s pay, if we were to ignore the 100 days she hasn’t turned up in the last year.

Somehow, she must have stumbled upon these blog posts I write about her. The first signs started showing right after I described my encounter with an assortment of maids and finally ending up with the best of the lot in ‘Maid in India’. Soon after I had complained about her frequent absenteeism, of course in my blog, she started showing up more frequently until she reported every single day. This I described in my blog post ‘My maid and her newfound efficiency’. But, alas she has chosen to desert me.

And maybe it is for good.

Now my weekends are more clogged with the laundry, the basin and sink, the floors, the bathroom, the cooking range, my weekly head champi, along with my lost-and-found love for art and crafts. Yes, the entire time I had all these weekends, I never did a thing except stare at beautiful and incredible pieces of artwork I explored on the internet. But, now after my maid has abandoned me, I have finally re-discovered my sole purpose for living – my passion for the arts. I have been busy in the weekends doing some kind of art, and of course the house chores.

There’s a silver lining at the end of dark clouds, they say. For me, it has been my maid’s uninformed disappearance for close to two months now. And I hope it remains that way.

Image credit: Photobucket/Vicki Berson

Just another day in my life…

It was a beautiful morning two weeks back. Despite being awakened by the rooster on my mobile phone alarm, I lay on my bed wondering about the mystery of life. Why are we born? This led to more meanderings of an idle mind – Who are we? Where do we come from? Where do we go to? Is there any meaning to our collective existence? Would the world be any different if any of us just vanished into thin air? This was followed by deeper mulling on whether mankind can ever find its collective soul and live in harmony with nature and so on.

Just then a stray thought entered and I realised it was my birthday; the shock of mid-life crisis had set in. Suddenly I did not want to wake up and face the day or do anything at all. What if I could just vanish into neverland and come back another day as if the birthday had never really come. What if I could turn back the clock and return to middle age when I was more equipped to handle it?

Talking about handles, I had tyres now, also laugh lines, a greying mane, a stretch of beard and a double chin to boot!

Goodbye teddy

Whoa! I am something to reckon with. But then, I remembered the mister and me having celebrated my brave entry into the terrible mid-ages, with a chocolate cake at midnight. It hadn’t seemed that terrifying then.

Why was it so scary now? I began to think – what if I live another three decades at the most and still feel the same? I couldn’t risk feeling this way forever. One has to somehow face the moment of truth and take it as it comes. And so, I make it out of bed and into the balcony to look at my plants. They are so freshly green and as happy as the morning. They only asked me for water, knowing fully well they had to prepare their own food using the water and sunlight.

I watered the plants realising that I have to prepare my own food for my own soul. Life will provide the ingredients but I was responsible for making something nutritious for my soul.

I listened to the many birds atop the trees. They were excited about the day, and chirping about as if there was no tomorrow. They seemed to be living for the moment – no mid-life crisis for them.

I looked at some birthday wishes on WhatsApp. These were the mandatory ones aided by smartphones; birthday reminders set up by friends from over the globe. It’s just that it happened to be my birthday too with many others. The day will move along and it will be like just any other spring day. The cake pictures on Instagram brought a few more wishes by virtual friends. A blogger uncle’s egreeting cheered me up – a dancing elephant clutching flowers in his trunk. That was it.

It was a working Friday and I had a dozen chores to do and age had nothing to do with it. I knew the day was going to be a good one, because age did not matter any more. It was my soul I needed to nourish.