Mar 16, 2017

My unexpected brush with bird watching



I saw something really beautiful from my kitchen window just now. If I were dancer, I would dedicate a piece to this moment. If I were an artist, I would surely try to capture it on a canvas. I am neither, but I am moved; feeling blessed and awed.

Yesterday, around the same time, I saw a flock of birds fly past a beautiful orange streak in the sky. I was lucky to get a decent picture, which I was too excited to share on Instagram. As I gazed out today – without the pressure f capturing the moment on camera – I noticed that the birds didn’t just fly past. They seemed to be flying in a circle. It was a large cloud like shape made up of tiny black specks, that swirled close enough for me to be able to make out the wings fluttering in unison! The sky seemed to be vibrating in the space where they flew. It was such a pretty sight that I couldn’t take my eyes off.

What I had expected was that the birds would soon disappear. However, for what seemed like forever, the swarm kept moving around in perfectly choreographed circles. At one point I felt that they were moving away, and guessed that this was probably how they travelled – by flying in circles till they reached the destination. Seemed like a very tedious, energy consuming way to get home! So I made a mental note to look it up on Google.

The sight had such a soothing rhythm though, that I found myself just standing and staring, feeling oddly calm and mesmerized. After what seemed like very long, in one beautiful sweep, they descended like falling leaves – though not all. The flock seemed a little smaller now. Around the same time a few lone birds joined the group, and started following the pattern – flying around in a large-ish circle path. A few minutes later, the same fall repeated. A flawless downward brush-stroke – though again, not all. A very small group continued the beautiful aerial dance, until in one final sweep, the sky was clear again.


Mar 12, 2017

Berlin - my first impressions

It is, perhaps, is too soon to say much. However, I have been here for a month now, and it's as a good a time as any for first impressions!

The first word that the place brings up for me is 'urban'. Well, it is a no brainer since it is a capital city! It's somehow much more urban than any other European city I have visited. Probably because  my experience is limited to tourist destinations (Paris, Rome, London, Venice, Prague, Brussels). Anyway, so Berlin feels like an  urban city. With organised roads and buildings, and under construction sites everywhere. There are people everywhere, though it rarely feels crowded.

Getting around is a breeze, thanks to the very efficient public transportation (and Google maps). The train and underground stations have ticket vending machines which are fairly straightforward to use. (Quick tip: There is an option to change language to English - click on the icon with flags).

Even though people speak English, the preferred language is German. I do feel quite out of place not knowing the language. So, even though you can get around even if you don't speak Deutsch, it would make life much simpler if you did. Or so I would like to believe!

Grocery shopping is way more challenging than I had anticipated. Again, my expectations are biased by my experience of Tesco and Sainsbury and Morrisons! (Major disappointment: Every European city does not sell Angel cake!!! Not even a close equivalent?!) So far, it has been a lot of trial and error - specially when it comes to buying condiments and cosmetics and cleaning stuff. The google translate app - with the option to translate using the camera - is a handy tool, though not always accurate. It chooses to leave untranslated that one word you do not know the meaning for!

Everything is closed on Sundays. So if you forgot to buy milk or eggs - too bad :P I am guessing there are a very limited number of stores in the city that open for a few hours on Sundays - but they are hard to come by. So if in Berlin, make sure you stock up for Sundays in advance.

The most easily available food on the go is sandwiches and croissants. There's a variety of these available all over. Another thing that seems to be common is Turkish food joints - especially the one with doner kababs.

People - mostly women - seem to be walking dogs or children at all times of the day! Beautiful, well mannered dogs - such a delight to watch!

There's lots and lots of "Apotheke" or chemist stores here. They seem to outnumber the grocery stores in Berlin.

Non-white people are a rarity here. In my four weeks here, I have only 'overheard' Hindi once. I haven't seen many African or Asian people, though there seem to be Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants everywhere! It feels much less cosmopolitan than London or even Manchester.

When I visited as a tourist last year, the city seemed to be steeped in World War 2 history. Not so much this time around. So, if you are away from the central, touristy places, it is easy to forget all that the city has been through and come up from. The museum island is, so far, my favourite place here.

Feb 7, 2017

I love Delhi

I love Delhi like I would love a person. It is more than a city to me. It is more than just 'home'. It is something way more than any other place. And not just because this is the place where I have lived for the most years of my life. I know Delhi has flaws. Who doesn't? But the biggest flaw perhaps, is that she doesn't foster apnaapan very easily. You have to give her time, sometimes a lifetime, to love and be loved by Delhi.

For me, Delhi is long summer days and hogging on litchi, chilly windy mornings, school and friends, India Gate and Qutub Minar, SDA and Pusa Road, Janpath and Connaught Place, chole bhature and butter chicken, warmth and familiarity, home and family, laughter and food, love and excitement, growing up and always being kid...and a lot more.

I don't have the words to describe how I feel when I am in Delhi. I feel a sense of yearning. The thought I-need-to-come-back plays on a loop in my head. And it makes me happy. So soooooo happy! I feel elated every time I get a glimpse of one of the monuments. And Delhi has so many of them. I feel a sense of ownership and pride. I feel owned by it all. Here's what Delhi is to me:

Wide tree lined roads. Home. History. School. Minar. Food. Evergreen. Mutton sundays. Hanji. Auntyji. Circles. Qutub minar. Children's park. Pandara road. AIIMS. Dhaula Kuan. South Campus. STS. Moti Bagh. INA market. Channa market. Karol Bagh. Metro. Monday Market. Madonna. Honey cookies. Paneer. Indian Chinese. Butter Chicken. Jholas. Cottage Emporium. Dilli Haat. Fab India. Lodhi garden. Picnics. Holi. Exams. Dreams. Day-dreams. VTC. Republic Day. Rashtrapati bhavan. Roses and dahlias. Sightseeing. Chankyapuri. Flower market. Gaffar market. Random shopping. Khan market. Big Chill. Anokhi. Parking wale bhaiya. Dennis. R block. Samose. Gulab jamun. Gol gappe. Galouti kabab. Statesman. Bookstores. Stationery. Diaries. Cold coffee. Aloo chaat. Pragati Maidan. Appu Ghar. Book fair. Science museum. Doll museum. Bal bhavan. First love. First job. Independence. Responsibility. Driving. Alto. Select City Walk. Vasant Kunj. Khurja pottery. Momos. CP. Nizams kathi kabab. Plaza and Odeon. Oxford bookstore. Embassies. Tents blocking lanes. Baraats blocking roads. Shaadi ka khana. Loud DJ wala music. Christmas. Anjalika. Mohan Lal book store. Bihari uncle and Susheel uncle. Choti diwali. Festivals. Patakhe. Say-no-to-crackers. Movies on TV. Summer holidays. Banta. Oonch neech ka paapda. Fatafat. Lal-jeera. Chacha Chaudhary. Tinkle. Sita. Rajma. Questions about where I am "actually" from. Wanting to fit in more. Taking pride in being different. Swanchetan. Trauma counselling. Police stations. Aurobindo market. Airport. T3. Outer ring road. Ring Road. Nehru Place. Lotus temple. Ice cream soda. Pande pan. Red fort. Purana qilla. Bouganvilla. Chidiyaghar. Rail museum. August moon. Swimming lessons at Kanishka and Samrat. Radio. Road trips. DESU/power cuts. Dilli darshan. Holidays. Sleepovers. Laughter. Earrings. Comfort. Ghar-wali feeling.

As I am writing this, I realised that this will be the first time that I am going to be away from Delhi for an entire year. Out of nearly the decade that I have stayed outside of Delhi, I have always visited every few months. No such plan now. Perhaps that's why the nostalgia. Perhaps that's why the need to 'hold on tight' before letting go.

To anyone who can't see Delhi the way I do (with complete and unwavering adoration), I don't blame you. Maybe she didn't embrace you the way I have experienced. But I do hope, there is some place in this world, that makes you feel the way she makes me feel. Because I just cannot imagine not having a place to call my own! Which makes me wonder about the need to have a person/people to call my own. But that's for a later day!

Dec 14, 2016

She sat with her back to the rest of them. She stared at her screen, listening in to every single word they said. Mentally joining the conversation with witty come backs and silly anecdotes. She did not mean to eves-drop. She was struggling to find the balance between cool and needy, awkward and self-assured, confident and anxious. Every. Single. Moment.

She hesitated to join the conversation - often wondering if it would be rude. Worried that they would suddenly go quiet, again. So she pretended to be busy. Typing or reading. All the while waiting for some cue to join in. Half-hoping that they would ask her a question, easing her way into the discussion. That never happened though. After a few minutes, she became supremely conscious of the fact that she was the only one in the room who was silent. Who was not 'included'. Maybe they were talking about her? Gesturing about how weird she was to always be quiet. If only they could hear the turmoil she experienced.

Every day she told herself that she would make an effort, that she wouldn't care about a possible reaction, that she would just be herself. But she WAS being herself. She was shy, and reserved and self-conscious. She didn't want any special treatment, she just wanted them to be a little welcoming. Maybe it was unrealistic to wish for this. After all, it was not their job to make her comfortable. She had to do it for herself. But it just wasn't happening. She had to admit she was doing better than before. She didn't feel her heart pounding out of her chest every time she heard her colleagues start a conversation. Initially it was the dilemma of whether or not to join the conversation. Now it was the pressure of not creating an impression that she was...that she was someone weird and rude and mean and didn't care to join them in their talks.

The people who knew and loved her couldn't understand. They were unable to comprehend why someone so cheerful and friendly was finding it so challenging to fit in. Truth was, she was not sure herself. Yet this was the reality she lived with every day. It was not a catastrophe. It was not like her world was crashing down. Yes, she was uncomfortable. But she knew she would get used to the discomfort too. Perhaps that scared her more than anything.

Nov 24, 2016

Demonitization, corruption and my two bits on it

Here's my two bits on a massive change that's swept India over the last couple of weeks. The first I heard of the 'demonitization' was through a forwarded WhatsApp message the husband read out while we were in Goa. My first reaction - it must be one of those fake forwards; ignore! Pretty soon, it became evident that the news was pretty real. This was around 9pm on 8th November.
The enormity of the change started sinking in over the next few days as we heard news and opinions about this change. (And of course the forwarded 'jokes' and images and GIFs!). The move has been politicized to no end, and rightly so, because above everything else it IS a political move. It definitely isn't the life saver, high moral ninja move that BJP would have us believe, but is it all bad?
Personally, I like the idea behind it. To make people accountable for the money they have. I do feel that it would - to some extent - start a trend towards discouraging demand for bribes. Some may say I am being foolishly optimistic. Quite likely, but I'd pick that over reflex cynicism any day.
Now about the flip side. I have witnessed and heard of the struggles people have faced in managing their work and lives in general due to the long ques at banks. I've come across people who claimed to be queuing up every single day for a week, only to be turned away stating that the bank was out of cash. People who have stood for hours waiting for their turn, while someone with 'contacts' flouts the que with no qualms. People who have struggled to fund the day's meal as they were out of cash and were only being paid in old currency. People who have had to miss work as they stood outside banks.
The idea of making our country and society free of corruption is a noble one. Sadly though, it seems to be failing because we are steeped in a mindset of entitlement and quick fixes. No one wants to stand in ques. No one wants to wait. So what do we do? We call up someone who knows someone to "arrange" for cash. We pay people to stand in line for us. We urge our domestic help to deposit our black money in their name.
So if you ask me, the demonitization is not causing all the trouble. It is us. The common people. If only we had the patience and discipline, this transition would have been way smoother! I understand that people dealing primarily in cash are struggling. I empathize with them. But I do not understand or appreciate people who have easy access to plastic money or online transactions, and are complaining about the "inconvenience". Since 8th November 2016, I have spent less than Rs.1000 in cash. And I have been alright.
So please, don't panic. Please don't add to the commotion. And for God's sake don't believe everything you hear. Go out, see what it's like for yourself before assuming the worst! You can actually contribute to reducing the panic! Please only withdraw as much money as you need. And spend it rather than hoarding!
And hey..change is fun! Enjoy the novelty of the 2000 and 500 rupee notes if you do manage to get hold of them ;)

Nov 2, 2016

Why "Ae Dil Hai Mushkil" was a disappointment

More than anything else, this movie was a disappointment for the sheer lack of depth! Whether it was the lead actors or their love interests...for me, not a single character was gripping. And that's a shame because the story had potential. It was not a new story, though it looked at the 'same old' from a slightly different angle. Instead of looking at boy meets girl and they lived happily ever after, I believe the attempt here was to hero unrequited love...or 'iktarfa pyaar'!
However, there's a difference between heroing Raja from Saagar versus Rahul of Darr. For no matter how cute the guy is, no is a no. Perhaps the disappointment is so much more since Pink had helped us refocus on the all important discourse on consent. And here we are, back to square one! Whether it is a crude moneyed guy from Haryana or a jet-setting Londoner, no matter where you are, who you are, forcing another person to reciprocate, either physically or emotionally, IS abuse.
So technically, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil champions the cause of Ayaan - an emotionally 'vulnerable' 30 year old - who just won't take no for an answer. Not when the girl says she wants to be friends 'only'; not when she marries the man she loves; not when she tells him she will never feel 'that way' for him; not when she slaps him. So this man is either has a huge sense of entitlement and just doesn't comprehend the concept of rejection. OR, he is just really dense. Owing to my love for Dharma Productions and all things Karan Johar, I tried reallllyyyyyyy hard to give this movie the benefit of doubt. But bro, this isn't 1985! We don't live in that era anymore! (It was amusing to see the likes of Ritesh Deshmukh and Hrithik Roshan tweeting in praise of the movie and the "performances". Seriously guys?)
Despite all of this, the movie does pull off some lovely songs with great lyrics. And beautiful people in beautiful places wearing beautiful clothes. The Urdu dialogues took it a bit too far though. Sounded like they were trying too hard. A few here and there would have been charming, but the way Aishwarya Rai's character Saba spoke was pretty hard to follow!! Perhaps the only somewhat sensible thing that happens in the movie is her breaking up with Ayaan!
Despite my rant, I don't think the movie is BAD like some posts on Fb make it out to be. It doesn't manage to get you hooked like a KHNH or K3G, but well...you need Shahrukh Khan to be around for  more than a couple of minutes for that to happen I guess :D

Jul 6, 2016

Fire

It scared her, how much she craved for his attention. For years, she had shrugged off his advances – always putting up a mock agitated front to all the flirting. She didn’t deny that she liked him. He knew it too. And they often talked about the strange bond they shared. Having never met, they had managed to maintain this ‘relationship’ for over a decade. Mindless conversations, harmless flirting... long hours spent talking about nothing and everything. It wasn’t as rosy as it sounds though. They had had their fall outs, lost touch for long spells of time. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, they ended up reconnecting; ended up reminiscing the good bits, happily forgetting the jarring reality.
One thing he made clear from the start: he was a married man. And no amount of flirting threatened his commitment to his family. She appreciated this. Perhaps even respected him for it. But it was hard to keep track of her own feelings. He had a way with words. He had a way of making her feel special. And invariably, she felt guilty. In her head, what she was doing was not right. Her values warned her against it. Yet she was drawn to him again and again.

The scene was different now. Many years had passed, and having been through her share of relationships, a little more immune to his charm. But his messages still made her smile. He still had an inexplicable hold over her. She flirted back without hesitation. Fully aware that this is what they would be, for as long as they remained in touch. And even if they stopped talking, the world would not come to an end.

This went on for a couple of years. They talked on and off. Sometimes about their partners, sometimes about each other. His messages sometimes took a sexual overtone. She hated it when he spoke to her like that. Not because she didn’t like him. But she felt angry. Angry that it affected her; that she wondered whether he meant any of it. Her rational self knew he probably said that to a dozen other girls. And even if he didn’t, how did it matter? She scolded herself for paying heed to his nonsense. But despite everything, she couldn’t break away from him. 

As long as she was able to label this as light-hearted fooling around, things were OK. But it didn’t stay that way. It happened around the same time that her relationship with her partner had hit a rocky patch. A break-up followed cruel words and angry tears.

She was not happy. And she would not let anyone know. Perhaps out of vulnerability, perhaps as a result of years of repressed feelings... for reasons she did not want to dwell on, she found herself turning to him more. The romance and warmth she found missing from her life, she looked for it in their interactions. A part of her warned that she was setting herself up for heartbreak all over again. She knew there were limits. She had no intention of being the 'other woman'. She knew she was playing with fire. It scared her, but it also lit up something within her. An excitement that was addictive. She recognized that, for the first time, she wanted more.