Wednesday, November 26, 2008

i'm only sleeping

20 hours in cairo, 18 of which i sleep through.
then i head to alexandria to partake in the cafe culture there. i need some turkish coffee in me, so i can begin to wake up, finally, from the dream that has been..

Sunday, November 23, 2008

a sort of homecoming

in my mind, we step over the threshold, together, right feet first, and walk through the corridors of time- gently touching crumbling yellowing walls bearing memories of a lifetime- our lifetime.

we walk through the kitchen, with its folding table, noses wrinkled at the smell of ghee being made.
we run up the 32 steps to the terrace and watch the stars, lanterns in hand, and wait for the elusive night watchman, with his fierce whistle and rhythmic stomp of the cane.
we stroll through the garden overgrown with mint, and bend to pick up a pink and white flower from that resilient creeper, the one that survived all these years.
we walked to an organized closet labelled daddy's, and fold away a few stray, unironed shirts.
we gaze at the wall and straighten the collage of happy times- birthdays, weddings, graduations, anniversaries.
we walk through the dining hall- wiping the dust off the table under where mitu once slept peacefully while everyone searched for her frantically.
we scramble up the attic, where mini was given time-outs for biting the infant me
we follow the laughter to the corner with my mothers handprints, pasted on mitu's wedding- carefully hidden behind the couch, the same corner where i, when 4 years old, hid after the tv "slapped" me.

in my mind, we, three sisters, like the three asoka trees in the garden, still standing tall and proud oblivious to the surrounding havoc wreaked by time, hold hands and walk out- empty handed, yet so full of memories, together..

Saturday, November 15, 2008

running to stand still

to me, the journey has mattered more than the destination. i still can't get enough of bus and train rides. but here, in pushkar, i just have to stand still and its a journey in itself. by now, i have had a lot of Rs 5(10 cents) "cuttings" at tea stalls in india and observed life on the move without moving a muscle myself.

its as if everyone breathes life into this city during the fair.

there are dirty, blanched roads never deserted even in the sweltering afternoon heat. a wave of pilgrims edges on, carefully avoiding a mongrel snoring in a shady patch in the middle of the road.
women balancing heavy loads on their heads- clothes, home-made food for a couple days, as they shop and bargain for the best deal on bangles.
old men in white dhotis and colorful turbans, at times indicating their caste or profession, sit and chat over a cup of tea.
the lady at the laundromat avails the hot afternoon to dry filthy travel clothes from the backpackers hostel across the road.
there are urchins with prodigious bellies and maimed and disfigured men, lying on the road, with begging bowls.
children from behind counters taller than them, offer cold mineral water. a cow saunters about the road trying to suck the leftover juice from sugarcane bits.
foreigners move about hastily on their 'sandaled' feet, mineral water bottles in their hand, big cameras around their necks, some covering their nose to escape the overpowering smells of india.
a man sits outside an art and craft store in a colorful turban and poses for photographs across the road from me.

i welcome the unfamiliarity here that sometimes makes me anxious in other countries, as i travel through india like any other country i have been to. at the same time, i appreciate the chance to be able to connect with so many people with the language i grew up talking, getting compliments from strangers about my "beautiful hindi"- mummy would be so proud.

i start to walk to the fair grounds.

women, a corner of their dupatta tucked in their mouth, turn around, whisper something to their friends and giggle, shyly- hands decorated by intricate henna, big noserings to indicate a healthy husband, outfits the color of the rainbow.

i instinctively fold my hands and wish Sat Sri Akal to some Akalis walking by. they stop instantly and talk to me in punjabi, curious where i am from. their jaded faces light up when i mention punjab, as their companion takes pictures from a nokia phone.

i stop to feel the texture of a silk blouse, when a family sitting in the courtyard inside waves at me, inviting me to join them for supper.
i oblige, unstrap my sandals, sit next to the beaming daughters, and eat home-made paranthas in my hands. they laugh when i hiss at the spicy chilly paste and garlic chuntey and are amazed at the Rs 400(abt $8) I pay for a guesthouse. they ask me to move to the courtyard for the night and sleep next to the daughters, 12 and 16, bimla and seema devi- i am one of them and i will be secure. they get excited when i ask for pictures and go on to pose with ornate umbrellas casually picked from the shop next door. i take their leave and move on.

a kid runs by me trying to sell me flutes- in english. he stares at me in shock and disperses the moment i answer in my impeccable hindi. the daypack, sandals, sunglasses, my "solitude" confuses them and i refuse to give up any of those.

a family sits on a camel cart, covered by rajasthani motifs, children screaming in delight, their legs dangling from the back.

camel herders cook a morning meal under the protection of their carts while the camels chew on stored food. strangers wave and call me for a cup of tea. i scribble notes in the grubby notebook, i carry with me everywhere. smothering a smile, they touch its chinese silk cover and marvel at its cost.

theres head nodding, shaking, hand waving- words are never exchanged and yet, these are polite conversations.

i pet camels named mr. johnson, kishan, argentina and horses named mangal, pintoo. there is an abundance of bedecked camels, anklets jingling as they walk, proud and nonchalant, looking down upon people who have descended upon the little city of pushkar.
argentina "speaks" when i pat him on his head- he is young, the caretaker asserts. the older camels don't "speak"- they bite or kick (so i heard) or sometimes run away.. not too different from humans, i suppose.

a mare kicks another before a beauty contest. do beauty contests always bring out the worst in people and horses?

i sit on the steps to watch competitions- there are competitions between visitors and locals. most of the time the locals win - kabbadi, matka phod ( breaking an earthern pot hung at a height), musical chairs.

a little girl of about 12 sits in front, her palm out, begs for money. i hold my ground and refuse, instead offering peanuts or tea, if she wants. suresh, a boy of 16, in 10th grade, takes a break from selling roasted peanuts and sits next to me. he opens up about his family- 3 brothers- 2 drivers, 1 craftsman, parents are into handicrafts. his only sister is married. he comes to the camel fair every year to sell peanuts for Rs 10. he quietly admonishes the girl.

another little boy lingers around, struggling to carry a cumbersome open box with stamps and alphabets around his neck. i give in and wave him over to get a bracelet made. its that expression on his face, representative of all the children of pushkar, thats etched in my mind.

i ask him his name, he points to a bracelet. yishai tucks the lighter that he carries around, in a tight corner of the box right by the red ink used for henna prints.

rajesh smiles weakly, lowers his head and continues, silently, to string my name through colorful threads.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

from a distance

I sit on the steps, biting on a sugarcane, waiting for the cultural extravaganza of the evening to begin. I am at the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan.

a little boy of about 8 comes, sits right next to me- hands on his knees, and, inquisitively, cranes his neck to see what I am so engrossed in.

I glance at him, laugh and straighten up- so he has a clear view and together, with an idle power, we breeze through my memories of Rajasthan in the nikon.

space and distance are like myths here- there is as much distance as there are myths and as less is space in India.

I have learnt to share space, while keeping my own intact. the distance is decreasing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

something different

from Kerala, after sacrificing a cell phone to the gods of the backwaters, I make my way to the the southern tip of India- where the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea meet- Triveni Sangam at Kanyakumari.

it seems like all of India has decided to take the ferry across to the Vivekananda Rock memorial at the very moment I do. an hour after the wait, we see the spectacular sight that is Kanyakumari from the memorial.

then comes a ride aboard a local bus to see a nearby palace- after which, I, with a fellow traveler, wait at the station for the bus back to Kanyakumari. I inquire about the bus from a man standing next to me.

the best thing about traveling in Asia is that there is always someone around who adopts you. at that moment, it is this stranger. the next half hour, I simply turn to him every time a bus comes around the corner and he shakes his head. of course, as soon as ours does arrive, he nods emphatically and announces the arrival, even before I throw my questioning look.

the next day, I am off to Madurai. In a cramped private mini-bus, while sitting on the last seat, I get into a conversation with the lady sitting next to me. she mentions Rameswaram as one of the four most sacred places for Hindus.

I am not particularly religious myself. but I respect all religions, and their holy places and other's belief in them,. I am intrigued by them, I want to know as much as I can about them. I like visiting religious places- I like the experience of being in a place, where faith and trust is in abundance, even if in an outer-worldly being, especially while living in a world where there is so less of it in each other.

the next two days, I spend in temples.
first is the Meenaxi temple in Madurai- with scaffolding shielding every gopuram- I was pretty sure the temple didn't look like this in my 8th grade history book. It is being repainted, i am told,- a part of the conservation program done once in 13 years and of course, this year happens to be that one year.

olympics, US elections, repainting of gopurams- indeed an important year in the history of the world ;)

the second stop in my self-proclaimed pilgrimage is the temple at Rameswaram. I barely reach the temple when a dark, wiry man appears from nowhere, with an aluminum bucket in his hands. He hastily pushes me through the throng waiting in line before me and leads me to the 22 teerthas.

then he goes on to inform me about the 22 teerthas/wells in the temple, and that I need to pour a bucket of water from each one of them on my head and drink some of that water. a precious little detail that the lady in the bus missed and I did too, being immersed in Malgudi. I find myself unable to turn around for fear of offending someone, once I have begun the purification process and so I follow him hurriedly to be absolved of my darkest sins.

the cast on the right ankle feels all guey, the bandage on the base of my foot all muddy. but even in this state of post-purification, I want to see Sri Lanka from a distance, if I can't go there. I get into an autorickshaw only to be told after half an hour that Lanka is actually not visible from there due to the earth's curvature! and it is only 33 Kms away from Rameswaram.

I catch the overnight Volvo bus to Bangalore the next day, in time for the biggest festival in India, Diwali.
there's just enough time to create a rangoli in front of my sister's house, pick a sari to wear from her vast collection and burst firecrackers- I can't recall the last time I did that.

this year will be different, I have reminded myself time and again. there are bittersweet endings, new beginnings and not much in between.

its the 10 months that I took out of my life for myself to follow a crazy dream. and while there may be many such months in the future, these are the most special.
its these 10 months that give me the hope of endless possibilities, the wisdom to separate dreams from reality, the courage to dream again and the strength to fulfill them.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

finally woken

while munching on an aaloo parantha dipped in yogurt, my eyes come to rest on the TV, with bollywood stars dancing to rhythmic tunes, and headlines being flashed as footnotes- results of the US elections coming in.

I am at the Jaipur bus station waiting for a bus to Jodhpur. I survey the little room for a sign of any fellow american, who would want to celebrate. but I am their only customer at 11 AM in the morning.
so I dial my go-to girl's number in SF. little surprise when she takes the call with a noisy crowd behind her. everyones watching history in the making and drinking, welcoming the winds of change.

I, too, raise my masala chai and whisper, "Obama's America'..