Travel isn’t just about places

I believe that one of the greatest things about travel is the chance to meet new people. While that is definitely true and I have had great interactions while on the road, recently, I had a new experience of sorts. Traveling to California led me to re-discover an old friendship from seventeen years ago. It was one of the best trips I’ve had in years. My musing about the same has been featured in the Huffington Post today.


 

‘We drank ourselves silly that night. Starting with tequila shots, we polished off two bottles of wine between the two of us. We cracked dirty jokes, fell off our chairs laughing and fought over a bowl of peanuts. We made plans to go backpacking around Australia together. She made me promise that I would take her when I went.’

Travel isn’t just about places- Huffington Post- 30th July 2012

You can read the entire piece here. Comments and feedback are welcome.

The other face of India

The image of India as a country is plagued with cliches. I’d be damned if I don’t admit that a lot of times, these stereotypes are fueled and perpetuated by travelers who visit the country.

For a very long time, I have felt the need to speak about this issue. As someone who has grown up in India, I have wanted to raise this question and also offer another perspective.

My article about the same titled- The other face of India, went live on The Expeditioner Magazine today. Here an excerpt from the same:

“Every country has elements associated with it that represent and symbolize it — something new that it has to offer. In the case of India, the novelty element manifests itself in the form of the elephants on the road, the beggars on the traffic light signals, the sadhu on the ghats and the villagers carrying pots of water in sweltering summer heat.

The exoticism of India lies in the picture of the old, emaciated rickshaw-puller or the eunuchs dancing on the streets. This is the picture of India that sells.”

-The other face of India- The Expeditioner Magazine- 23rd July 2012

Please click here to view this entire article and offer your comments.

How to stuff your face in Delhi, India

English: India Gate, Delhi

English: India Gate, Delhi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love food. I grew up in Delhi and was spoilt for choice when it came to lip-smacking fare.

Since Delhi is home to food from almost every state in India, the choice is mind-boggling. What I would really love to do however is to go back home just for a day and stuff my face with as many dishes as I can.

In lieu of this, I wrote an article titled How to stuff your face in Delhi, India, that has been published on Matador Nights today.

Go and check it out but here a small tip- Don’t do it while you’re hungry.

Music and Sport- The legacy of Punjab, India

(Tip: Watch video first.)

Music. Sport. Energy. Agriculture: the essence of rural Punjab in India.

This video, recently composed by musician Sneha Khanwalkar for Sound Trippin, a music show on MTV India, captures all these elements powerfully.

Sneha and her team traveled to Qila Raipur, a village located six kilometers away from the city of Ludhiana in Punjab, to record sounds and visuals at the Qila Raipur Rural Olympics. The Rural Olympics are an annual event hosted by the village since 1932. Along with regular events like foot races, gymnastics and jumps, there are special events and races by various animals such as bullocks, camels, horses and mules amongst others.

The most anticipated race of the Olympics is the bullock-cart race. The event is popular amongst Indian and International Sports enthusiasts.

Sneha spent three days at the event recording real ambient sounds including those of the commentator and then fused them together to create this song using DubStep technology.

The State of Punjab in India is the largest agricultural state and is well known for its robust culture and high-energy. It is also the state popular in India for producing a large percentage of sportsmen especially in the heavy weight category sports.

The song, sung by two sisters who are folk singers from the village, was composed over a day at their house. Sneha had met the sisters four years ago, when she spent time in Punjab composing music for a film. The sisters who had learnt music from their father growing up in the village, had impressed her even back then, and this time she went out looking for them.

The different sounds recorded and used in the video complete from the siren, the tractor, hand pump along with traditional Punjabi instruments such as the DhadhTumbi and the Algoza are culturally ingrained in Punjab.

The music, the smiles, the people, the atmosphere offers insights into the life of rural Punjab, something even I as a city-bred Indian was not aware of.

Now that I am, I know for a fact that it’s worth sharing with the world.

Rethinking Muslim stereotypes

A Muslim woman wearing hijab

A Muslim woman wearing hijab (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had pre-concieved notions about Muslim women, lots of them. All of those and some more were challenged recently when I met a young Muslim girl from Saudi Arabia at JFK airport in the middle of the night.

This was an encounter that left me touched and provoked in innumerable ways. My article about the same went live on Matador Brave New Traveler today. Titled- Rethinking Muslim stereotypes, it raises the question of how we perceive Muslim women but more than that it also is an attempt to unravel how these women perceive themselves.

I’d love to hear what you have to say, here or on Matador.

Failure is an option, fear is not

“In whatever you are doing, failure is an option but fear is not.”

I came across this TED talk by James Cameron purely by chance. The timing however, could not have been better.

In this deeply personal lecture, the noted filmmaker reveals details about his childhood and his fascination for science-fiction and the deep-sea world that in the later years of his life resulted in undertaking many underwater expeditions and manifested itself in the creation of Titanic and Avatar.

While this aspect of the talk was extremely fascinating, for me that was not what hit home.

What really struck was the greater message that he was advocating and spreading via this platform. The message of not imposing limits upon yourself, of being curious, of nurturing your imagination, of not being scared of failing, of taking risks and of lessons learnt in ones journey of self-discovery.

To a lot of people this might be nothing new. To a lot of people this might be the natural course of their life that they are pursuing anyway.

I am not one of those people. At least, I wasn’t until recently.

All set!

Last week I came back home from my first solo trip. At age thirty-three, I believe it was ten years later than it should have been. Also, I wasn’t alone. My four-year old daughter was with me.

Up until three years ago, I had undertaken an extremely conventional path to my life. I grew up in a reasonably sheltered environment back home in India. In saying so, however, the choice of not exploring beyond the obvious was entirely mine.

In hindsight, I don’t even think it was a choice at all. I doubt if I ever even thought about it much. It was a close-minded, one-sided approach towards life and I never really bothered exploring anything else. Personal growth and evolvement were never high on the agenda.

Until, I was abruptly rattled out of my comfort zone.

I can very safely say that life happened to me thirty. Personal circumstances and results of certain life choices that I had made landed me in a situation where I was forced to question a lot of things- the course of my life, my actions, the purpose of my being and where I was headed.

The time that followed was the most personally rewarding and enriching time of my life. It shaped me into the person I am today and I would not change that for anything in the world. Through the trying times, I realized who I was and what I wanted to be.

That to me is priceless.

Which brings me back to this talk and the context of it with regards to my present situation.

Hold on tight

Before I left for my trip, there were a lot of questions – was this going to work? We knew nobody in the city. A fist time solo trip is scary enough on it’s own but with a young child the stakes are of another level. What if something goes wrong? Who will I turn to? Is this crazy?

The answer to all that was just one- I was willing to take my chances, simply because, I hadn’t for so long in my life. I wasn’t going to let fear deter me from taking this opportunity. Yes, there was the off chance that something might go wrong but I wouldn’t know until I do it.

I had been stuck with being the stereotype for too long. This was my chance to prove otherwise, more to myself than anyone else.

I landed in New York with two backpacks, one stroller and a four year old. We couch-surfed, we rode the subway all along, we got lost in the city, walked a lot and even got stared at. Almost everything happened but nothing went wrong.

I lived through my trip to write this piece.

Happy

In embracing failure as a possible option, I let go of my fear.  The rewards of that will stay with me for all times to come.

Though Mr. Cameron has expressed the lessons that he  learnt in the form of advice that he gives to young filmmakers, I believe it validates itself as something that applies to anybody and everybody in the course of their lives.

Be curious, take risks and let go of fear.

I am trying to break the shackles, one step at a time. In doing so, I am getting closer and closer to living the life that I want to.

If that isn’t gratification enough for courting possible failure, then what is?

The Kansas Dilemma

It’s a warm Sunday afternoon and I am at home, watching a documentary. It’s called 10 MPH and it’s about two guys who decide to do a cross-country trip from Seattle to Boston on a Segway scooter. It’s a neat idea and fun to watch. I am feeling a little inspired. I like that feeling.

spring flowerThey are moving from state to state sharing their thoughts about what they see while on the move. There are comments here and there about every state, little trivia kind of stuff. Most of it has been good, so far.

They are about to enter Kansas. I am curious to hear what they are going to say. This is what follows-

“We are now going to enter the state that holds the dubious distinction of being termed as – the most boring state in the United States of America.”

Right.

I am laughing now. Kansas is where I live. I say Kansas City, but it’s actually Overland Park, about 40 minutes out of the main city area.Kansas was my introduction to the United States. Eight months down the line, I am not sure what to make of it.

I never aspired to live in America. Visit, probably. In saying so, if I ever did think about living here, I figured it would be in one of the bigger cities, maybe Chicago, Atlanta, New York? I didn’t even know where Kansas was, till about a month before I got here.

I was open to the idea of moving to a new city. In this case, the choice was not mine and I was even more determined to make it work. It was going to be fine. A day after I landed, I discovered through an acquaintance that there was no public transport. Except cabs, which were extremely expensive.

Really? How do people commute?

Everyone owns a car. Everyone. I met a forty something woman the other day who told me that she had never been on any sort of public transport ever in her life. She thought it would be something fun to try out at some point.

Hmm.

Our decision of not buying a car resulted in sympathetic reactions and long boring weekends spent at home.

We live on a quiet street, in a quiet neighborhood, which in turn is located in a quiet suburb. Don’t think it can get any quieter than that. I always thought I was a big city girl. Now, I know for sure.

I used to go for long walks. There are some nice paths around our complex. More often than not, I was quite really the only one on them.

I’d been warned about winter, more than once. Extreme weather and bone-chilling temperature were to be expected. I hate being cold. I made it through winter, only just.

It’s evening now and the documentary is long over. It has left me reflective. I have questions I want answered. So, what do I think of Kansas anyway? Haven’t I been here long enough to know? Have I ever even thought about it seriously?

What is it about this place that I will take back home with me?Fall colds from the balcony

I have always believed that it is the people that make a place. The longest lasting impressions that I have had from my travels have been of the people that I met during that time.

The answer came to me after some thinking. Kansas has redeemed itself in the people that I met here.

People who have been warm, friendly and smiling. As a visitor to their country, I have felt welcome. That means a lot.

The forty something woman who had never been on public transport told me so when she was dropping me and my daughter back home from school so that we wouldn’t have to pay for a cab. Our house was completely out of her way. That means a lot.

I didn’t meet many people during my walks. The few that I did though, always asked me how my day is going? That means a lot.

Five years from now, that is what I will remember.

I am standing on the balcony now. It is late but there is still some light left. There is a tree right outside with white flowers in full bloom.

It’s a beautiful spring evening. Eight months after I came here, I have finally discovered Kansas today.

Writing and I

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

Writing and I were old acquaintances.

We first met years ago, spent some time together, enjoyed each other’s company, kept in touch for a while. Then, we drifted apart. I believe it was my doing. I liked writing, not enough though. My effort towards our relationship was half-hearted and inconsistent. Inevitably, we lost touch and did not meet again for a long time.

Six months ago, writing re-entered my life.

It happened by chance one fall morning while I was sitting alone having a cup of coffee in my small apartment. I must have been lonely. I had been flipping through old pictures on my laptop for nearly an hour, stopping at nothing. And then I did, to read something I’d written two years ago. It was the last time writing and I had seen each other.

We spent the morning together.

This was the first of many such meetings. We started slowly, every other day for a start, few stolen hours in the day. I had commitments and responsibilities. I had to choose at most times. Writing lost out on more occasions than one. This time however, it lingered.

Our relationship was growing slowly and I was more aware of it than I had ever been.

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: Pascal Maramis)

I’d think about writing often. I’d think about what I’d say the next time we’d see each other. I’d think about how I would approach our conversations. More than that I’d think about how I felt when we were together. The answer was always the same.

Writing made me feel one with myself.

I felt guilty, more with each passing day. I knew I wasn’t giving writing the place it deserved in my life. There was always something else to be taken care of, something else that needed my attention. I was scared.

I wasn’t prepared to lose again.

And then it changed. Not in a moment, not in a day or in a week. Somewhere, somehow the realization came- the fate of our relationship lay nowhere else but in my hands. It always had been me and this time was no different. Writing had always been there, silent, undemanding and giving. I was the one who had failed it in the past.

Finally, I made another commitment, for the love of writing, for the love of me.

I have been reaping the rewards of our friendship ever since.