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.

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.

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?

How autism changed my travel

Tanvi

My latest article went live on Matador Life today. Two years ago my daughter Tanvi (now four) was diagnosed with autism. At that point, my world collapsed and I felt unequipped to deal with the changes and struggles that it brought to my life. Looking back, I think autism struck me more than it struck Tanvi.

Autism Awareness

Image via Wikipedia

We have come a long way since then. This piece chronicles that journey and how it has significantly changed and affected one of the biggest loves of my life-Travel. In writing this article I have tried to take another step towards embracing my child as well as autism for everything that they bring to my life.

I would love to hear what you have to say- here or on Matador. Please see link below-

http://matadornetwork.com/life/how-autism-changed-my-travel/

Notes on being part of a Maori Hangi

Maori Mask

Maori mask

I was part of a maori hangi ceremony once. Unique and spiritual, it was an experience of a lifetime.

My husband Baroon and I shared a home with Ian and Penny for the first year that we lived in Christchurch. The ceremony was held in our backyard to celebrate their recent wedding. Only close friends and family were invited. We had the good fortune of being both to them at the time.

‘Hangi is how Maori used to cook their every-day meals in the old-times. Now, they are mostly just a way of marking special occasions.’ explained Ian as we ate dinner, a week before the ceremony. ‘Not very often too, because of the work that goes in.’ added Penny. ‘I’ve never been to one in my whole life.’ I found this strange to start with. Penny was kiwi, she’d lived in New Zealand all her life. Ian wasn’t. He was part Indian. The importance of what we were going to be a part of began to dawn upon me from this point onwards.

The day started early. At 7:00am, Penny and I sipped coffee in the kitchen and organized the food in the order that it would go in. ‘The pork goes at the bottom, topped by chicken and then lined by potato and kumara (kiwi word for sweet potato). Everything has to be carefully arranged for it to cook evenly.’ she explained. In the backyard, Baroon, Ian and four of his friends worked out where the pit would be dug up. The last two days had been spent in getting everything together- coal, old railway ties, hessian sacks, metal baskets and digging equipment.

Penny’s mum, Sharon and her sister were the first ones to arrive. The house was full by 10:30am. Everyone was trying to help. The party had well and truly begun.

I knew by now that hangi, meant earth oven and was a kind of slow-cooking method where food was cooked by being buried in a self-made pit oven. It could sometimes take up to five hours before the food is ready to be taken out. In the old days this method of cooking was part of everyday maori life. Today, hosting a hangi ceremony was a way to connect with ones culture for third or fourth generation maori’s.

I stood on the porch and watched as a fire was lit in the newly dug out pit. As soon as the flames subsided, the railway ties were placed at the bottom. A layer of wood and coals covered the ties and another fire was lit on top.

English: Preparation of a modern hāngi for tou...

Preparation of hangi

‘It’s the steam from the iron ties that eventually cooks the food. All extra burnt out coal and wood will be shoveled out once the ties are hot enough,’ Sharon said leaning over. ‘Baroon is lucky to have been one of the guys that Ian chose to help put in the hangi. They must be very close,’ she added. She was right. This gesture on Ian’s part had re-enforced their friendship.

The food, arranged in foil-lined metal baskets was now being lowered into the pit. ‘What are the wet sacks for?’ I asked. Sharon had been my official guide ever since the ceremony started. ‘For moisture.’ she answered. ‘They are used for lining the pit as well as the food.’

At this point, I decided to take a closer look. Before I knew it, I walking in the other direction. Ian was holding my upper arm and walking beside me. Baffled, I looked at him and stopped.

‘Women are not supposed to go close to a hangi pit.’ he frowned. ‘Caught you just in time, before one of the elders told you off.’ He turned away. I stood there, staring at his back. Startled beyond my wits, it took me a few minutes to recover.

English: Ingredients using for preparation on ...

hangi ingredients

Last basket in, the pit was filled up with earth. Extra rail ties were placed on top to keep the steam from getting lost. Drenched in sweat and beer in hand, Baroon sat next to me on the stairs. ‘I’ll never forget that.’ he said. I smiled.

Four hours later, the men were back at work. Top layer removed, the food baskets were pulled out. One of the older guys came forward to inspect the food.

‘Sweet as!’ he said in true kiwi lingo giving a thumbs up.

‘Come on guys, let’s lay the hangi!’ yelled Ian as everyone around clapped and whistled.

Presiding over the food and the ceremony, Penny’s grandfather read out a Maori prayer in the midst of complete silence. Looking back, I should have asked someone to translate it for me.I didn’t at the time.  I suppose, at the time it was enough that I understood what it stood for. Prosperity and well-being.

English: A hāngi dinner as prepared for touris...

cooked meal

The food took over from there on. The meal tasted great. The meat was tender and falling off the bone. The flavor was strong and smokey. Quite unlike anything I had ever tasted. Juices from one ingredient and flowed into the other, creating a whole new mix. We ate for nearly three hours.

The hangi finally came to an end around late evening.

Leaning on the railing of the porch, I stared into the empty backyard. A few hours since everyone left, Baroon and Ian too had gone to bed.

As for me, standing there it was almost as if I was trying to prolong the experience. Just for my consumption. This was the closest I would probably ever get to old Maori culture. I realized I was lucky to be there in the first place. It had left me fascinated and intrigued.

‘What are you looking at?’ It was Penny. I shrugged my shoulders in reply. ‘Thank you for being here today.’ She was standing beside me now.

I should have been the one thanking Penny. The irony of it seemed to be lost on her. Finally I did.

‘This means a lot, Penny.’ We hugged.

Living in New Zealand for six years, I never attended a hangi again. However, the one time that I did was more than enough. I like to tell that story often. It almost always starts with:

‘I was part of a maori hangi ceremony once. Unique and spiritual, it was an experience of a lifetime.’

O’Hare or O’Harrow?

I walk as fast as I can, even running in parts. Carrying my backpack and holding Tanvi’s hand, I am trying hard not to bump into people who I cross. It is turning out to be a constant struggle. Heading towards gate number 6, I look up at the overhead sign for direction. We still have eight gates to cover.

English: O'Hare_International_Airport - Termin...

Chicago O'Hare International Airport

Ten minutes ago sitting in the boarding lounge of gate number 16 at Chicago’s O’Hare International airport I was beginning to relax. It had been a rough morning but it was over now. Our flight to Kansas City was to leave in 45 minutes. Baroon, sitting next to me was reading on his iPad. Tanvi as always, was unaware and self-entertained.

I stop to catch my breath. I look around and the terminal is full of people. Most of them seem at ease. This annoys me. I have swapped my backpack with Baroon and am now carrying Tanvi instead. I figure this will make us move faster. In actual fact it has managed to slow us down. ‘ We’ll make it, don’t worry’, says Baroon. I huff and I puff. I have just about had enough.

‘I think we will be there by ten’, I’d said to him this morning when boarding the CTA for the airport at 9:00am. For an 11:30am flight, that sounded good. Turned out, it wasn’t. For starters, the train has a couple of extra stops in the morning which we did not know of. To top that, there was a twenty minute mid-way halt due to technical issues. It was twenty minutes too much.

Tanvi is back to walking. I have to drag her now. We are going past gate number 8. ‘Nearly there,’ Baroon declares. I can’t believe how calm he is.

‘Run..’- was the call as soon as we got off the train at 10:30am. O’ Hare is big and difficult to navigate especially on a Sunday morning. Losing our way twice, we finally made it to the check-in counter. We knew we were pushing our luck.

‘I’m sorry, check-in for this flight is closed,’ we were told. There was nothing we could do. The next flight was in an hour and we would be kept on stand-by for that. Thus, began the real ordeal.

Three hours gone and we were still waiting. Two flights had since flown and we had missed both. The first was full and a frequent flyer family was given preference over us for the second. Hearing their names being called out over ours had been excruciating.

I see the board that says Gate 6. I go over to read the flight number on screen. With only twenty minutes to go, most people are already standing up for boarding. Deflated, I flop myself on one of the lounge chairs. ‘Don’t let this take the sheen off Chicago for you,’ says Baroon. He can read my mind.

We had made it the third time. Boarding passes in hand, we sat in the lounge of gate number 16. ‘Finally!’ I sighed, looking at Baroon. We were all set. I was wrong. ‘The departure gate for American Airlines flight 197 has been changed to gate number 6.’ I found myself running again.

‘Morning from hell’, I mutter. ‘Come on, these things happen’, says Baroon. ‘This is O’Hare after all.’

‘O’Hare or O’Harrow?’

Baroon sighs and sits down next to me. ‘Does it matter?’ he asks.

I close my eyes. I ask myself the same question. I answer is simple. No, it does not matter. The essence of traveling is experiences, both good and bad. What I learn from them is what matters. I have learnt my lesson. Chicago to me will always be the two brilliant days that I spent here. Not the Sunday morning that went wrong. Suddenly, I feel better.

Holding Tanvi’s hand I walk towards the gate happily.

‘Hare not Harrow’, I say to Baroon as we enter the aircraft. He grins. We both chuckle and take our seats.