Party for one

I’m a shy and introverted being, and have always been as far back as I can remember. When my dad took me to my first interview, I was all of four. The little me held on to my dad’s lap for dear life; I was certain the principal was a monster in disguise, and this interview was just a front to catch children.

The gentleman placed a colour chart on the table, and pointed out at the squares in random manner, while I whispered the name of the said colour into my dad’s ears. This is the only man I trusted, and would only tell him what I knew. “It is my supreme right to keep my knowledge of colours a secret, only meant for my dad’s ears.”

I flunked the personal interview and test.

It must have been a traumatic experience for my parents to see their intelligent, creatively-inclined but painfully shy last born, not make the cut for her admission to kindergarten. The road to ‘getting her an education‘ is already a bumpy one!

That is my earliest experience of stress caused by panic I caused to my parents. They tried a few local schools but our education system is full of assholes – they are trained to say No! “We cannot take this kid, she just hides behind you tugging at your trousers, or climbs onto your lap and replies into your ears. How do we know if she has any cognitive skills at all?”

My dad – the impossible optimist and a teacher in his early career – had a long talk with the first principal. He got him convinced that there is no learning hurdle here; this child is only shy. I guess writing and some drawing assignments ensued. It saved my life. I was cleared for Junior Kindergarten!

I am 40 now. From 4 to 40, nothing has really changed. I am awfully shy still, and yes I can write and paint to save my life!

In fact, if someone were to harm me like an assault or something, I choose to get my revenge by writing about it. It could take the shape of poetry or prose, but write I will. No revenge is as sweet as describing all the bad things I would do to that person. In hindsight, I believe my parents should have taken me to a counselor, or probably enrolled me in dance or martial arts classes.

Let me not digress. This isn’t about failed parenting, quite far from that in fact. This is about my anxiety that could be at best a reluctance to step ahead and say a ‘hello’ even if I’m dying to be friends with a particular person, and have already imagined a lifelong bond until death do us apart types, and at worst a sudden choking by this invisible monster, a feeling consistently experienced when I enter a party, a meeting or a group interview.

I had so many chances I blew cause I was too damn shy!

One time I nearly began gasping for air, my throat went dry and I forgot all about C and C++, programming languages I was supposedly good at. I felt like I was speaking but words were stuck somewhere between my head and my voice box.

I knew later this was a repeat stress interview, just like the trauma I underwent to get into kindergarten. Nobody cares if you know the right answers, they just want to see you speak while looking at their eyes.

The perks of being shy are none really. Like an old Hindi idiom goes: ‘Jis ne ki sharam, uski phuti karam‘, meaning ‘The shy ones mess up their own destiny.’ And I’m a shining example. I revel in my shyness. I also got sick due to it.

I used to avoid having lunch for a whole six months, during my very first job as a ‘Field Researcher’ with a market research firm, at the tender age of 17. You see I just couldn’t face the stares. People are really rude when it comes to staring at a girl eating her food alone. This is trespassing and should be treated as such.

But, the worst part was me choosing to store all my waste liquids in my bladder, because to empty it, I would need to use the loo – the keys to which were kept at the reception. This was a common toilet, shared by many of the offices in the nearby buildings.

Shyness just didn’t affect my overall well-being; it has kept me away from discovering new friendships. I hardly socialize with new groups. I prefer to stick to my old ones. But, some things are good  with being shy – I don’t talk much and that makes me look intelligent. First time acquaintances are under the impression that I probably know a lot about the discussion at hand!

The other by-product is a focused channeling of my expression. There is no anxiety or a sudden welling up in my stomach when I indulge in creative writing or painting or just reading a book. It’s like my life is so happening – I’m writing this on a Friday night while relaxing Zen music plays on SoundCloud.

Party for one is my kinda life. My kinda Friday chilling out. At 40, there’s no changing that. In case your kids are shy, don’t yell at them. My parents never did, and see how I turned out! 😀

That shining ball in the sky

I saw the sun today. A glowing ball of red and yellow gradient, It’s not so often that I happen to steal a glance at the sky, early in the morning when I’m watering my plants. But, this one time I did, and I found myself transfixed. It felt like I was shoved inside a time machine, and transported back to the days of little me looking at the sun in stark wonder.

This shining ball in the sky, its purity, its simplicity and it being the source of all life on earth, never ceased to fill me with wonder. It looked like a beacon of hope for all of mankind. And so, I became a morning person, not like an early riser and all but more like a person who craved for the beauty of the sun!

My mom was really happy to know her youngest always wakes up once the sun rays hit her eyes. A sureshot way to wake me up was to pull the window curtains, letting the majestic sun rays do their magic. At first, I had all kinds of creative excuses, very much justified for a little mischievous mind. I would complain that the early morning sun rays were harmful for my eyes, and I could go blind if she continued to do this. Thank the Sun God, my mom didn’t stop. I got addicted to those sun rays.

It became my early morning dope. The rays injected me with a sudden explosion of consciousness. The wall between my deep dreams and the everyday mundane school life would fall apart. I would slowly come into a reality zone, brushing aside that fantastical world I was at, a little while ago, fighting strange creatures and protecting my people. Yes, I was the king of a mythical world and my sole duty every day was to kill the enemy forces attacking my people and bask in the glory of victory that was always mine!

A look at the sun was my reality check. Today is school day, slaying monsters can take a break now. I would usually have to run to school, along with a friend of mine, to avoid the punishment of having to run the school grounds a whole ten rounds. But, again in my class, through the window I would stare at the sun. One teacher named me “Dream girl.” The truth is I never dreamt when I looked at the sun, I was just amazed by its breathtaking beauty. That shining ball in the sky!

A few years ago, a mentor-like personality told me we should strive to be like the sun. I was stunned by that statement; how can human beings be like the sun. Then she explained: be like the sun, an entity that only gives and does not expect anything in return. That is so humanly tasking an effort, we are so hardwired to get something in return, that when at times we do good, we wait for good to come to us, and when it doesn’t we are quiet disappointed. The sun never asks for anything. Point taken!

Elon Musk’s Solar City is hedging our future energy resources wholly on the sun. The visionary believes only the sun will save mankind from total extinction, even if our planet is destroyed, we could colonize Mars and other planets by harvesting energy from our good old sun. The man has concrete plans in place to make that a reality. That is a smart move because his raw material, the sun will not have any demands!

There are many odes to the sun. In ancient civilizations, the sun is a male God worshiped for a whole list of reasons. In Hindu religion, there is the Gayathri Mantra dedicated to the sun. For me, the sun is a representation of the divine. The ultimate creator of all life. It fills me with hope and charges me up for the day, just as it did when I was a little girl.

That shining ball in the sky is my aerial charger. My messenger of hope saying “You are loved.” The sun makes me feel significant, however small I may be feeling inside. What does the sun say to you?

FOMO in 2018

We are all together in this – this Fear Of Missing Out on the best things in life, actually the best things in other peoples’ lives. This endless scrolling through our social feeds right through till midnight – lest we don’t miss out on Ms. Darjeeling ki Babydoll’s special surprise birthday party, which surprisingly was planned by her two BFFs (read sidekicks), and executed by Babydoll herself, of course without her knowledge!

We never fail to amaze ourselves with our ceaseless energy to troll others. Glancing through ex-colleagues’ LinkedIn profiles, trolling through a target individual’s Facebook and Instagram feeds, carefully scrutinizing the hashtags, decoding the meaning between the lines and arriving at our fantastical conclusions about his or her’s glorious life. What to do – we are like this only!

Like ‘eavesdropping’ is a legit human instinct, so is ‘trolling’ in this social networking age.

The Fear Of Missing Out is so acute and widespread a phenomenon the world over – the first world that is – that most of us have quietly succumbed to the fact that FOMO is the new normal. Everybody has it, so it must be OK. Which implies FOMO equals OK. When was the last time you heard someone is OK with their phobia?!

Most of us live with phobic disorders for the larger part of our lives without being aware of how acute our condition is. We walk back when a black cat crosses our path, heaving a sigh of relief from the horrors that would have been the order of the day otherwise.

We do not share our pregnancy news early on, lest evil eyes kill the baby in the womb itself. We do not tell about the recent slip disc episode that kept us from being oh so productive at work and somehow uncool in this age of the fitness rage. And we certainly do not share about our secret love affairs, despite the umpteen conditions that form the foundation of it, cautiously sticking to the – ‘We are just buddies’ phrase.

We thrive on FEAR. Our insecurities make up for most of our pseudo hashtags.

FOMO drives trolls, some of whom go to the extent of making sarcastic posts or comments, bringing upon themselves more harm than they could have possibly brought had they not trolled in the first place. We know our lives are good, we are often reinforcing it every time we share a picture on social media with the hashtag #lifeisgood, but we hardly believe it. For most of us, the grass is always greener… on the other side of the fence.

But, this is far from the truth. Because, the grass is greener, where you water it, my friend!

Fact of the matter is that true FOMO is essential, the Fear Of Missing Out On Real Life. FOMO ORL. FOMO in 2018 must be relegated to missing out on what truly matters to us, what brings us inner peace, what remains with us till the grave.

In 2018, we must fear missing out on the best things in life, like savouring a hot cup of tea at ease, without indulging in the pointless affair of sharing a picture of it on Instagram complete with the hashtags #hotcuppa #teaporn #iamatealover #teaaficionado #chaipanti #ifeelnaughtea and oh, not to forget the universal hashtag – #lifeisgood! (Fun fact – Yours Truly is a certified criminal in the use of #lifeisgood :))

In 2018, we must fear missing out on holding this little bundle of joy in our arms, lazily enjoying its cooing, rather than subjecting it to pure mental torture with endless selfie attempts to get the perfect one – baby nephew and bua all smiling away inside the perfect happy family frame. You know Instagram feeds have a short shelf life just as babies who grow really fast. Enjoy the purity of a baby, these little humans do not ask for much.

In 2018, we must fear missing out on the joys of travel. Getting lost in the wonder that is a sunrise, is way better than clicking a snapshot of it and sharing it with sleepy people on the other side of the planet. Clicking selfies with the locals only because it looks cool on your social feed is nothing enriching compared to the experiences you would have, had you spent time talking with them exchanging tales of love and longing.

In 2018, we must fear missing out on the joys of cooking for our loved ones. We cook in haste and spend most of the time in making the dish look good, for our social feeds. Missing out on the ingredient of love is like missing out on salt, well almost! What is the point of #homechef #instacook #sundaycooking #notagreatcook when the taste buds aren’t happy?!

FOMO in 2018 needs a new definition. Let us resolve to FOMO on the best things life has to offer this year. Cheers to #FOMO on the best of 2018!

like a dried up petal

like a dried up petal
between your pages,
like little chirping birds
flying inside cages,
I feel squeezed –
like truncated messages

like the first drops of rain
slipping through your fingers
like the first kiss of love
glowing through the embers
I feel numb –
like auto reminders

like a wafting sunny breeze
tugging at your justifications
like a guilty conscience
caught in endless multiplications
I feel so wasted –
like app notifications

like an abandoned sea shell
swept across the shore
like the ghosts of the past
knocking at your door
I feel stagnant –
like the ‘Read more’

like a soft healing touch
filling up an abysmal gap
like the smell of dead roses
lying still on your lap
I feel so petrified –
like an uninstalled app

Adios 2017!

Tosh

It just feels like yesterday that we rang in the New Year. January 1, 2017 was an eventful one in so many ways, little did I know this new year not only would I experience the amazing feeling of snowflakes falling all over me, but also ushering in an absolute change in origin and scale of my life. For starters, I was at a very high altitude at a village called Tosh in Himachal, with the kinds of temperatures I’ve never felt before. I was as Madonna crooned: Frozen, at many levels than just my body.

I was certain this was my last night on this beautiful planet, I remembered my mother fondly nursing the infant me. I was chilling to the bone the whole night, but miraculously stay awoke and alive to see the morning of January 2, 2017. Well, Happy New Year to me!

Now as the year draws to a close, my life needs a closure too. The many expectations from this year that came crashing down just a few months ago, the many goals that were left untouched as I didn’t feel worthy enough, and the million unsaid words that will remain so, all of it now deserve a closure.

I imagine myself writing them all on a sheet of paper, or perhaps a bunch of papers, folding them and shoving them inside a bottle and throwing it in the sea. Swaha to the Sea Goddess!

A wise man once said that for the things we have to learn, we learn by doing them. I have to learn watercolour painting. I have to master the medium, else I might just shrivel up and die. The last four months I haven’t painted at all, it all felt so pointless. How do you laugh when you are being strangled?!

A harsh truth had revealed itself, the beautiful world I had so lovingly built came undone. The reason: a human parasite, a being that sucks out your light, your energy, your dreams, all the while flashing a crooked smile at you while you are looking away. This being was always there: hidden, discreet and a smooth operator in stealth mode. But, The Universe always gives you what you need and not what you want.

I needed this. This tight slap of reality. This series of lies, deceit and mind games needed to come to an end, And, it did, thank the good lord for that. Now I am empty. My slate is clean but with a thousand words wanting to weave themselves into poetry, a thousand colours wanting to blend together as a painting, a thousand wishes waiting to come true.

2017 was as much filled with love as it was with loathing. You know love and hate are two sides of the same coin, they are mutually dependent; without one the other cannot exist. And I also met with a new personality, a new me – a human being with a kind and compassionate heart. I almost want to embrace myself in a big tight hug!

Part of this is credit to my upbringing. “Forgive those who sin against you, as it is your own Karma, else it would have never happened in the first place!”

It is so true when they say that character is what you are in the dark. I could have become a monster out on a journey of revenge, but as an old Chinese adage puts it so wisely, and which I so followed, When you go on a journey of revenge, dig two graves,” the rainbow is back in my life. I no longer seek to hurt this parasite, it is anyways sad that it is incapable of surviving on its own.

But, I do feel a lot disappointed in myself that I did not achieve the 50 paintings target I had set for this year. I barely touched a little over a quarter of that number, only 16 paintings to be precise but painted with heaps of gratitude nevertheless. It is really fortunate to be able to earn a decent living while you go about following a deep dream that’s been brimming forever inside of you.

I hate goodbyes but such is life. Adios 2017, you have been thus far the most significant year of my life. I have grown a truckload wiser!

Cheers to all my loved ones and admirers, may you have a great 2018 ahead. Sharing some of my works from this year:

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Laugh under a veil, my dear!

“I’m very scared,” she whispered softly.
“Don’t be,” he reassured calmly.
They had just recovered from a hearty laughter.

“But, I’m not used to so much joy. Every time they catch me laughing out loud, they send one of theirs to restore balance… I hate to cry.”

“Oh! Then laugh under a veil, my dear!”

Life lessons from my maid

I’ve been wanting to write this for the longest time ever and just kick it out of my system. I was always fed up with my maids and their idea of professionalism, but couldn’t risk fighting against it for anything in the world. Mediocre cleanliness is way better than a super shiny, nice smelling, deep cleaned home sweet home. My frustrations often took the shape of caustic posts: Maid in India, Maid 2.0 and My Maid and her newfound efficiency. However, a little compromise is essential for survival in any relationship, the wedded ones would know!

It’s been a month with my new bai and she’s much much better than the earlier one. My home feels like home now and not like the society compound below. The floors are shiny; I can sleep directly on them or just about flop down in any part of the house. She reports everyday and what’s more she arrives just in time!

Given my track record with ‘The Bai’, I should be partying around, zipping away from one room to the other on a broom. But, I’m kinda sad… there’s an inexplicable void inside that’s been eating at me.

It so happened one day last year that my ex-bai got talking to me, when the Mister wasn’t around. What started as a friendly little chat ended into an hour-long session, much like what therapy looks like at a psychiatrist’s clinic. The woman was actually just a girl of 21 from a neighbouring village, packed off to the big city of Pune to earn for her in-laws. Yes, you read it right – the wedding was just an excuse to bring home unpaid labour, anytime access to a woman for the useless son, and some extra income for the family.

Chapter 1 – The beginning of the end

Back when she’d turned 18, her parents got her married to a distant relative, who they thought was well off and well settled in Pune. Her father was promised the girl will never need to work for a living. The wedding happened, the marriage started and little did she know her small town dreams are going to be shattered soon.

For starters, the family did not have a house, not even a rented one, they lived on a parking lot near a construction site. The newly married girl, all of 18, had no privacy to call of her own. The father-in-law, the mother-in-law, the husband, and sometimes the brother-in-law all shared one tiny area, as their ‘home’. Finding a place to relieve herself was a nightmare in itself.

Within a fortnight of the wedding, she was told to begin this jadu-pocha work. First one, then three, soon it ballooned upto ten houses, including one entire office space in a tech firm. Soon after she found herself pregnant, lost her mother in a road accident and between this game of life and death, went into a depressive daze.

The day we got talking, I was shocked to learn that she was five months pregnant with her second child. And the best part in all this is, even after she returns to that so-called home for the mid-day break, there is no food for her or anybody else. The mother-in-law does not even make an effort to move that fat a** around in the house.

Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow – Mary Anne Radmacher

She prepares lunch – 15 rotis and 2 bhajis, spends some time with her now 3-year-old son while getting some food into her tummy as well. She needs to rush again to other homes that prefer afternoon and evening time for the maid. She gets free just before midnight. The tech firm opens early in the morning, so they prefer the cleaning to happen after office hours!

In all this, she has no time to rest, absolutely no time to lie in peace and give those aching bones and muscles some me-time. 15 to 16 hours of pure menial work that may not require evolved skills, but is sure backbreaking as hell.

*****

Chapter 2 – The fight to survive

I asked her if she had a bank account. The poor soul has never had a chance to create one, she doesn’t have any proof documents nor any money to put inside. All that she’s been earning has to be handed over to the bossy mother-in-law. In fact, if any of her homes discontinued work with her, her mother-in-law, also her manager, promptly found another home within days, so that the sum salary she brings home is always at optimum best.

One day her eyes were swollen, actually she had also come after many days, she explained how her husband suspects her of having affairs with the men in the homes she works at. He was very envious that she earned more than him, he is the watchman at the tech firm. I told her to take some action and if need be, we could help her.

There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for – J. R. R. Tolkien

She said that the 10 days she had taken uninformed leave during Diwali was actually her plan of action. The pregnant woman had traveled to her village all alone, and finally confided to her father. Furious that she hadn’t informed in all these years, he asked her to stay and planned on calling a panchayat with the elders of both families.

Alas! Few months down the line, all anger had subsided and they had compromised their feelings: it seems she has two younger sisters to get married off, and nobody in the village would be ready to associate with this family if they went to the gram panchayat!

The girl-woman-mother-sister has found a smart turnaround though. She works at extra homes in stealth mode, that is away from the eyes of her prying mother-in-law. The payments from these homes, close to INR 2000 every month, is then promptly saved in a human bank – a trusted neighbouring girl who understands her plight. Every time she visits her dad back in the village, she hands this money to him. Some smart strategy there!

*****

Chapter 3 – Every end is a new beginning

Life is a cycle just as the eras. What comes into this living world of ours, also leaves one fine day; nothing is forever, nothing is permanent. Like I always say, oceans turn into deserts, mountains become plains and living beings just find a new livelihood from scratch. My ex-bai might not possess all these philosophical insights, but she sure follows it all the same.

When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one and a lily with the other

She is ceaselessly fighting a lone battle day in and day out, never once believing that it’s all over, always on the lookout for an opportunity and staying positive when it comes knocking at her doors. She is what I now look at as a living inspiration in my life, a person in dire straits always looking to wish upon a star.

The Chinese say, “When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one and a lily with the other.” My ex-bai always draped herself in beautiful sarees with gold jewellery and glass bangles, the glitter and jingle hiding away her blues.

In moments of despair, I am reminded of her silent courage, her never give up attitude and that dazzling smile. So no more bai bashing posts on my blog, unless my new one acts funny!

Your age is your discount!

This 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.

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.

Happy 38

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!

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 🙂