Silver Linings

Chapter 01

When was the last time someone asked you, how you knew you’re straight? Or better yet, why were you straight?

When was the last time, an entire society questioned your intentions or morality for liking someone?

When was the last time, you faced discrimination in education, career opportunities, medical treatment, or housing, on the grounds of your identity?

When was the last time, your family or friends called you a freak for being yourself?

Lately, a lot of talks have been flying around, about our lack of tolerance towards certain communities in the society. But the question that boggles my mind is this: Would you rather be tolerated or accepted?

Suhan (Name has been altered for intended purposes) is a 35 year old engineer, living in Bangalore. A Banarasi, whose familial roots stem from Tamilnadu, Suhan identifies himself as a transgender man: a minority within the marginalized LGBTQIA community in India.

Despite the persisting hetero-stereotyping in the society which makes one’s identity crisis, a strenuous affair in itself, Suhan considered himself a boy from his early years. He grew up playing gilli-danda and kanchi-goli, driving auto-rickshaws, and fighting with other boys on the streets. “I never felt like a woman. The stereotypical need of the society, to categorize infants as boys or girls, and dress them and address them accordingly for the rest of their lives, has never made sense to me. It came as a shock to me, growing up, when I realized I wasn’t like the other boys.”

Dressing up in Ganji shirts and shorts, hanging out with the milk and vegetable vendors, or the older boys outside the house, can only makes things worse for a girl born into a conservative family. A tom-boy is widely mocked upon, especially if the woman belongs to the middle class, regardless of the cheesy manner in which Bollywood has employed the term for the macho fuck boy’s benefit; where he “realizes” his feelings for the girl only after the tomboy-to-girly girl transformations (Thus insinuating, that a transformation is ineludible) Exhibit A: Main hoon na; Exhibit B: Kuch Kuch hota hai. (Thank you, Bollywood, for engraving sexism into our society, and resolving our dearth of it.)

Even though the society considers this a phase that wanes off with matters of marriage; the mockery, insults and abuses that follow her like a shadow don’t. Those scars can last a lifetime.

Expecting a girl to be seen in frocks and sarees, asking her to behave in lady-like manners, manipulating anything different into mediocre has been a rule of thumb of the patriarchy. In nature, a flock will attack any bird that is more colorful than the rest. Because being different is seen as a threat. After all, how different are we from animals, right?

As a high-energy child, Suhan knew deep-down that there was something different about him. All of his childhood and most parts of his youth were spent in a pretense to fit in. Distraught with early sexual abuses, Suhan felt lost for over a quarter of his lifetime. “Accepting the fact that I was a transgender and addressing my issues only happened in my early thirties. Until then, I’d lived a choked life. The feeling that I was hiding something from my family made me hate myself further. But I didn’t know whom to look for advice.”

Suhan had experienced sexual abuses, from the age of four. The same hands that showed support had laid the foundation of destruction. “Being different, attracted a lot of attention. I was molested by bhaiyya’s, cousins, uncles, the maid’s husband and her older son. It broke my heart that these father figures were only interested in me, sexually. It neither made sense to me, nor felt right. I didn’t speak up; I didn’t complain. I am ashamed of it. But in my mind, this was a compromise. Else, they wouldn’t talk to me or play with me. The horrifying part was that after a certain time, I think I liked it.”

Suhan was considered a problematic child, in his teens. The scars from his troubled past, coupled with the blackmails and abuses of his older girlfriend threatening to out him to his family, took a drastic toll on his academics and behavior. The people in his life resolved to the easier option of blaming and condemning him when things went south, than understand why. When someone grows to dislike you, even the way you breathe can seem annoying.

“As a 14-15 year old, when everyone in your family gangs up on you to dictate that there’s something wrong with you; you tend to believe it.”

When a child lives the life of an outcast, for no fault of his own; when the friends, family, and teachers in a child’s life, fail to recognize the underlying issue; yet criticizes, corrects and disciplines the child needlessly, how can the child not feel worthless?

“I struggled with my identity around my family. Being the youngest girl, I was my grandmother’s pet. Yet, I felt like a sham. I was betraying them of the truth. But, what could I possibly tell them when I myself didn’t understand why?” In some ways, Suhan was glad that he hadn’t let the cat out of the bag in a time when he was emotionally and financially dependent on the family. He was afraid they would have had him treated.

Alike many trans-men, Suhan initially believed he was a lesbian. It was only after two years of intensive therapy, did he come out to his family as a transgender man. “My sister believed that I was out of my depth. Even when she knew the whole story, she would try to talk me out of it, as though being transgender was a choice. It’s just a phase, she’d said. She was absolutely against the idea of me coming out to our parents. But at the end of the day, family is family. I had to tell them. Whether they chose to accept me, or not, either way, it was okay. So when I’d mustered the courage to come out, I flew out of U.S and met my folks discreetly (without my sister’s knowledge).”

Although his parents didn’t practice physical abuse on Suhan; they simply didn’t want to deal with it, due to the fear of disrupting the family reputation. After months of group-therapy sessions, when they were able to see beyond their deep-seated fears, his parents came around.

“Yet, to convince my sister to refer me by new name was a gargantuan task. Every time I brought it up, she would turn it into a debate. In those periods of my life, it felt as though I was falling into a deep abyss, with no bottom. The one person I wanted to count on didn’t understand me.”

In situations such as these, we only hear about the need for acceptance. But what about forgiveness? Even though, a lot of mistreatment towards the LGBTQIA community is rooted out of fear and ignorance how can we- as a society expect to be forgiven, just because we’ve finally accepted someone; especially when our un-acceptance had put them through years of shame and agony in the first place. Acceptance can only come half-circle; the other half must be forgiveness.

“A few years ago, I’d spoken to an elderly woman, about who I was. I’m not a girl- I’d said. Deep down, I’ve always felt like a boy, although I was born a girl. That’s just the way it is. The old lady neither tried to shame nor did she pass her opinion. She didn’t question me as to why I was- the way I was, or demand any explanations. She didn’t allude it was a phase. Instead, she’d replied- Its okay beta, don’t worry. Live your life the way god intends to, and be happy. And this lady was an illiterate; a villager. She didn’t know what gay, lesbian or transgender was. She hadn’t come across terms such as gender dysphoria, Transphobia, interpersonal relationships, cooperation, stereotyping, discrimination, in her life. But she knew the roots of human existence- compassion. When you have love and compassion for another person, you’ll never question their need for existence, their need for basic rights.”

We want each story to have a beginning, middle, and an end; wrapped up neatly in a bow, so that we can read it and move on with our lives. Our hearts wish for the narration of a tale with a happy ending, as the jigsaw puzzle of a life is put back together, piece by piece, and the picture finally makes sense when the upbeat music starts playing in the background. But real life stories are not made in the chunks of a beginning, middle or an end, although every story will have these, but not in the same order.

The fairy tale of our life is written in the little moments. Oh, those little moments? Yeah they aren’t little, in retrospect. They are the tiny pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, when life chooses to reside in us. Who knows what the big picture is all about, when the future remains an unknown constant. Maybe, we are meant to go about our lives, collecting and celebrating those little moments. After all, who said life is beautiful, only when the picture is complete?

P.S: Suhan hopes to get a sex-reassignment surgery done in the near future, and continues to take each day as it comes.

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The childhood adventures of train travel now remind me of a dark nightmare

28-May-2016: The Udyan express was en-route from Mumbai to Bangalore. Every compartment was brimming with passengers from the initial stop- CST. Within an hour, stowaways and general class commuters hitched every spot available in the nooks and corners of the train. Few cheeky passengers squeezed their way into the already occupied seats of the sleeper class, under a sense of righteousness which is used and abused with the line ‘Thoda adjust karlo’ (Adjust a little)- the unsaid slogan, burned on the back of the minds of every Indian.

Delayed timings, lack of safety for women, revolting toilets, overcrowded compartments, and stowaways- loitering by the passages and open stairs, are probably the five significantly depressing and well-known facts about our popular mode of transport- the Indian railways, which is responsible for the daily commute of 18 million people. It’s also why rail tr`ansport has been made the butt of several jokes.

A month early booking had served me with a last-minute RAC seat, by the door. The likes of which were shared between my mother and I, along with the innumerous strangers who snuck up on the vacant spaces of our 190 cm long berth. The silver lining to the day was that we got the chance to bond with the three families traveling in our compartment, who were kind enough to let us use the upper berths to rest, as it was impossible to stretch our legs in air, amidst the hullaballoo.

Things were mighty fine, until an enormous group of people hoarded our bogey at Dudhani, turning the sleeper class into a general compartment of a Mumbai local train at peak hour. It was 6 in the evening and people hopped onboard as though it were the last train on the planet, whilst they hung onto window railings, door frames and handles- A regular day in the Indian railways.

A family of 20-so Muslims treaded into the fairly breathable environment, after most of the day commuters got off at the next station- Ganagapur. The RAC seat now bore an additional passenger- our upper seat neighbor, who’d stepped down to temporarily offer his berth to a woman from our compartment who was travelling with her daughter, granddaughter, and daughter-in-law: Bhakti. During the two-minute break at the station, he swiftly darted away to grab some food. At which point, a lady in hijab, belonging to the fresh-onboard-gigantic-family, approached the vacant spot next to me. Out of instinct, I patted the seat with an empty bottle cradled in my hand, and plainly informed her that the seat was taken. Imagine those simple words tumult the situation out of hand in the next hour, so much so, that it almost sealed my fate on one of the three: Death, rape or both.

What I’d failed to notice during my honest revelation, was the bulk of a man, towering over me. He apparently was the husband of that woman, who’d somehow perceived my statement as uncouth, insulting, and demeaning. In the next five minutes, whilst he lectured me on how educated, civilized, and well off- he was, and reminded me how people such as himself should be treated, I simply reminded him that I’d merely informed the lady about the availability of the seat. How those words had offended and wounded his flimsy ego- was beyond me.

His eyes grew deeply red; his voice growled over several decibels, and his face appeared threateningly close to exploding. Out of nowhere, the man started barking on me to shut up. I’d had enough of his chauvinism. Yet, carrying on an unpleasant one-sided argument was pointless, as it was clearly a numbers game. Against the 20-so family of the immature meat-sack of a man, I was a twig. Within the fraction of a second, Bhakti jumped to my defense, and growled back at him. His fury had switched towards her, as they fell into a yelling fit. Each demanding the other to shut up, as their faces inched terrifyingly closer- every passing second. The fit ended with the intervention of his family, who frantically pulled him away like a meat sack, when he’d raised his fist at Bhakti- a girl who wasn’t nearly half his size.

The matter turned from bad to craptastically worse, after that exchange. Meat sack sneered at me from the doorway, whilst his ‘brothers’ persuaded me to apologize to his wife- who’d been watching the meaningless back and forth with unfaltering curiosity. The ground breaking argument being: Meat sack was only enraged, because I’d made his wife cry. Yes, yes, seeing an empty bottle and hearing someone say, ‘this seat is taken’, can be quite a traumatic experience. That’s why writers use such dialogues in movies, to make people cry. Apparently, he wouldn’t back down unless someone apologized. Flimsy ego, see? I wasn’t about to grovel and beg for mercy, with no fault of mine.

Whilst all this happened, the train had moved past Gulbarga where his family was supposed to get off. He hadn’t allowed a single soul from his family off the door. Clearly, they didn’t have a choice, since their Klazomaniac was on the loose, plotting his revenge by phoning up his gang-buddies (Rickshaw drivers) to pull me off at the next station. He wanted revenge. He wanted to teach me a lesson. He wanted me to know, what kind of a man he was, and why people should NOT mess with him. His words were loud and clear, backed with the dirty looks that he threw me from the passageway.

I was afraid for myself, yet disgusted by the whole lot of self-proclaimed, civilized bozos. Sadly, education doesn’t guarantee basic human civility. One glance at his wife, and it was clear to me that the nonchalance on her face was an attempt to veil the shame that she felt underneath. She was bound to a man, who terrorized and picked fights with girls half his size; whose acts were nothing but a travesty of his concerns for her. In that very moment, I felt sorry for her, because of what she was married to. There was a chance I could get out of this mess, but she was stuck with it for life. No wife should’ve to live with that.

I apologized to her, clarifying, that my intention wasn’t to insult her. It was the only way to put an end to the charade, considering the fact that I was traveling in a train with my frail mother. Deep down, I knew that if something were to happen to me, there wouldn’t be a lot of people who’d jump to my defense. It is after all a world, where each one fends for oneself.

My apology made no difference to the situation. In turn, it only stroked his ego, further convincing him of his power in the situation. Two armed guards passed us by, which temporarily stifled the situation, and his blatant threats. A second after they’d left, it dawned on me to seek their help. But they were far gone, by then.

I was six feet away from the maniac- plotting my assault right in front of my eyes. The only thing stopping him was the mixed resolve of a few women from his family, who’d blocked his way by the passage, so he couldn’t approach me. This nightmare had gone on for an hour. For an hour- I was afraid I wouldn’t live to see the morning. For an hour- I felt helpless, powerless, and regretful for taking the train in the first place. For the first time in my life, I was furious for being a girl. I was disturbed, to be a part of a pathetic society where the safety of a woman is disposed at the mercy of her assaulter.

A few minutes before the next stop- Shahabad, his mother stood guard in front of me and begged me to quickly close the shutters and windows behind me. Another woman sealed the door beside me. All this to protect me, while the men in his family, forced him out the other door. A mother had to protect an absolute stranger from her own son’s monstrosities; No mother should’ve to face that.

By the time the curtains had fallen, we’d rallied a minister of the state government and a politician of the district on our side (which was futile, as I knew nothing about the freak or his family). I refused to sleep for the rest of the night, aware of the unnerving truth that losing my dignity, freedom and life could come down to just that- an unavailable seat.

‘But thank god. Nothing happened to you’- was the consolation I received, every time I narrated this incident. Do death threats, Verbal assaults, cat-calling, ogling, and rape threats mean nothing? Why are women conditioned to believe that until the man lays a hand on her, every other obnoxious behavior of his can be tolerated and swept under the rug? Why are we okay, being not okay? Why do we adjust and compromise our aspirations, dreams and self-respect for crap-bags? Why is the society worried about women staying in toxic relationships rather than fixing the ones creating the toxicity? Why does the society slut shame women who can stand up for themselves and others?

We’ve been taught and reminded to be careful and alert all our lives. We keep pepper sprays and Swiss knives in our bags to defend ourselves, or clutch onto the keys while returning home late at night, we grow a thick skin to ignore all the lewd comments, wear unfeminine clothes to escape the bawdy looks, mold and break ourselves to fit in- into the ridiculous image that the society has perceived for us, for centuries. There are rules for us: Who should we talk to, and who we shouldn’t talk to. Who can be our friend, what kind of clothes are we allowed to wear, what kind of places can we go to, what kind of things are we allowed to drink, what kind of experiences we’re allowed to have, what time we should get home, what kind of things we’re allowed to speak in front to others. Every bloody double standard in this society is bestowed upon us.

It has been 5317 years, since the first civilization on earth was formed. But how civilized is this society, if almost half the population of this world has to fight and explain their need for equality, every step of the way?

I’d like to meet a woman who has never once faced sexual assault of any kind. If you’re wondering what classifies as one, here’s your poison.

Treat people the way you want to be treated. Perhaps, five thousand years wasn’t enough for that basic principle to evolve.

Ladies! Here’s why y’all should get married by the age of 24!

  1. You’ve probably just graduated. Certainly you understand yourself a lot better than when you’ll do, when you’re, I don’t know- 28, or 41.
  2. It’s easy for your parents to convince you over the following ground breaking theories. Honestly, they’re fool proof.
    1. This-is-the-right-age, it’s good for you. Absolutely. All single men are simply going to vanish if you’re unmarried by the time you’re 28 or 41 or 65.
    2. Sharma uncle’s daughter got married when she was 23. Look how happy she is.
    3. Grandchildren! I mean, there are other ways to do this. But who’s arguing? Adoption. I was suggesting adoption. Don’t get your knickers in a twist!
  3. You haven’t fully explored your sexuality. You could be straight, gay, bi, Demi, Pan sexual, or even asexual. But hey, knowing what you like is so 70’s, right. Why bother?
  4. You’re at the beginning of your career ladder. It would be misogyny to assume that you can’t be a juggler. Personal life, house, husband, family, parents, in-laws, oh and what did I miss? Career. That’s right. Toss it in the air and catch it right back, or don’t. No one is going to send you on a guilt trip.
  5. Your biological clock is going to tick-tick-tick and explode. Late pregnancies are a myth, people. If you don’t believe me, ask Shilpa Shetty, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai, or Farah Khan.
  6. No one would tug your cheeks at the next wedding, and shamelessly inform you (let alone ask you) – ‘Agla number tumhara hai beta…’ Bending over, due to social pressure is undeniably, a solid reason to get married.
  7. Traveling solo, playing in a band, getting a tattoo anywhere (anywhere!!) on your body, buzzing off on unplanned treks with your friends, volunteering for the peace corps, spending a year abroad, having wild adventures- we can do all of this, and a lot more, with the permission of…..wait, they’re all going to tell you it’s safe. Self-exploration is, after-all a prevalent job in India, with a 36% reservation, solely for women.
  8. Responsibility to yourself. It means, accepting the ‘behavioral manual for women’ handed out by every other person on the street. The authors are unknown, yet everyone is a contributor. From the sweeper gawking at you, when you’re jogging down the street; to the upstairs aunty who can’t even persuade her own son to return home, without reeking like the entire bar. And do I dare get started on the moral police, or the politicians who’ve found the fool-proof solutions to avoid rapes? People, who’re convinced that they’re a higher breed than women, sure are painfully afraid of feminism. Get married, get married, get married. It’s an automatic solution to all the travesties in life.
  9. Here’s a list of women whose lives have fallen into a swirl of misery, for not being married by the age of 30.
    1. Pooja Dhingra: Achievements? Oh, I don’t know. Best-selling books, innumerable awards, A-list celebrity clients, and a thriving business. How terrible!
    2. Zoya Akhtar: Do the movies Zindagi na milegi dobaara, luck by chance, or Talaash, ring a bell? Why isn’t anyone lecturing her to get married? Call all the aunties.
    3. Priyanka Chopra: I’m not even gonna…
    4. Barkha Dutt: A nomination for Emmy? A first for India. What was it all for? Surely, she should have listened to her parents at twenty-t-h-r-e-e.
    5. Ekta Kapoor: No, we do not watch her movies or long-running serials. Who has time for all that, whilst juggling our family, husband, children, in-laws, house, personal life…. Oh wait, what did I miss again?
    6. Kiran Desai: A winner of Booker prize? How is she ever going to face all that cheek-pulling at the weddings?
    7. Sushmita Sen: Good lord. Being jaw-dropping gorgeous at 41, holding the Miss. Universe tiara, bringing up two daughters all-by-herself, starring in hella movies must be a crime. Someone amend the laws. Her parents must be sighing for grandchildren.
    8. Mindy Kaling, aka, Vera Mindy Chokalingam: Starring in her own show The Mindy project, as well as others such as Ocean’s eleven, A wrinkle in time along with writing best sellers such as Is everyone hanging out without me, Why not me, must be horrendous achievements to bear.
  10. If you’re not yet convinced to get married right away, I might have to call the next door aunty to convince you.

Until next time,

The girl in the green shrug!

    Anything is to be preferred and endured rather than marrying without affection. – Jane Austen

    Build a home

    You know these thoughts and feelings that you keep dismissing out of your mind? They’ll keep coming back to you as time passes by, like haunted spirits on a new moon night. Because you never really gave them a place to stay. You never accepted them because it was unsettling to think about. Yes, someone hurt you and the only known way to move on was to let them go. You walked away from that place,  that person,  that time. You buried your feelings and assumed that until the day you ran into one of those three,  the feelings would never resurface again. 
    But they did. Didn’t they? 

    Everytime you heard or mentioned their name,  a painful feeling ran through your spine, you lost your breath for a split second, a familiar memory crept into your mind in the dark depths of the night. 
    Even when you promised yourself to never think of them again, as time passed by, you occasionally forgot why you made that promise in the first place. 

    You slip. That yearning to see their face, to hear their voice again overrules every cell in your body. 
    A lot of time has Passed now. Maybe they’re different. Maybe things can be different, you think.

    We never shelter the unrequited feelings of our heart- out of embarrassment,  out of pain,  out of fear. No matter how strong the relationship was,  we’ve found ourselves down that one way street, alone- waiting for the other person to see us, acknowledge our feelings and reciprocate them. 
    When we imagine going back to the person, we once walked away from,  what we really hope for,  is to return to the way we expected things to be. What we really want,  is for people to redeem themselves and treat us better. 
    Would you go back, to the same person who treated you in the same crappy way? 

    Build a home for all the feelings that you once shunned away into the cold darkness. 

    And if you still feel that your relationship can be salvaged, then open the door of your heart and let them in.

    Hampi- Remnants of an ancient era (Part 2)

    Our enthusiasm and curiosity to explore Hampi had resulted in sore foot and tardiness the next day, hence we woke up late and started off at noon. If we were aware of the sights that awaited us on the other side of the river, we wouldn’t have slept the previous night out of sheer excitement.

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    Patches of paddy fields on one side and large boulders and lakes on the other. If this isn’t heaven, I don’t know what is!

    On the banks of Tungabhadra river, a ferry service is available that can carry 20-30 people (along with a scooter or two) at a time, across the river at a minimal price. Upon reaching the other side, we rented a scooter and rode west, in the search of Sanapur lake. Unsure of the route (Absent-minded too, since we’d forgotten that we lived in the 21st century and Google maps were a thing!), we asked an elderly man walking by the road for directions but he pointed us in the opposite direction. Taking a U-turn, we rode back, hoping to confirm our direction with another local. A cozy looking café caught our eye and all the neurons in my brain screamed “Fooood”. It was a shack, with a board in front that read “Good Music and Home-made Food”. So, we entered the café, forgetting all about Sanapur Lake.

    Now, let me tell you something. All that civilization, architecture and fine art that the Vijayanagara dynasty had built and let go? You won’t catch a whiff of it, once you’ve crossed the river. Which is why, Hippies and foreigners from all over the world prefer to rent huts and shacks on the other side of Hampi.

    The tiny café had a few musical instruments (mostly broken) lying around. To my surprise, there was a finely tuned guitar with all its six strings in place. I picked it up and strummed a few chords that I knew. The aunty who owned the café had busied herself in the kitchen and within 10 minutes, an uncle (who, I presumed was the co-owner of the café) popped inside and sat in our opposite table. He patiently waited a few minutes until I stopped playing the notes and inquired our whereabouts. Once upon a time, he worked in the music industry and played with several groups, for several music directors. He was proud enough to proclaim his love for music but was humble enough to accept that it didn’t end well for him. It reminded me that,

    Talent, is not genius”- a quote from one of my favorite books- Little women.

    On our request he played a few songs, while aunty served us delicious, warm food.

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    Dum dum da rum da dum…

    The day got interesting when a man named ‘Gaali’, dressed in a loose cotton kurta and jeans, having shoulder length hair and a dark complexion (mercy of the hot sun), entered the café. Gaali runs a musical instrument shop by the river bank, and jams with the locals and foreigners at sunset point. He mentioned that he had a sliver of opportunity to perform at the Hampi Utsava (I hope he did. It must have been wonderful). He sung a composition of his own, written in the honor of Kannadambe (Mother Karnataka).

    If you ever visit Hampi, spare your evening to watch the sunset jam, where locals and foreigners gather to play music and sing along.

    We bid goodbye to the wonderful trio and made our way to the Anjaneya temple, Anegundi- the birth place of lord Hanuman. A flight of steep stairs (approx 570 steps) takes you to the top of the hill that offers a panoramic view of the landscape. From afar, large boulders appear like tiny pebbles strewn across and acres of paddy fields resemble pieces in a jigsaws puzzle. Later that evening, we took a diversion from the highway and headed to Pampa sarovar (Lakshmi temple)-a world of its own. It’s believed that Shabari, a devotee of Rama had waited for his arrival there. An abundance of Gray Langurs can be found in its vicinity. Unlike its mischievous cousins, these docile-intelligent beings kept to themselves and studied the visitors from a safe distance with a pair of eyes that could probably see through you. In front of the temple is the Pampa sarovar, protected by tall boulders on all three sides.

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    Spend a few peaceful moments here and I promise you, you can feel the cracks in your heart mend. (PC: Madhu)

    After spending a few calm, refreshing moments there, we embarked on our journey towards the final destination of the day- The Durga temple which is built on top of a hill, surrounded by giant boulders (I was paranoid the whole time that one of them may collapse downhill and would crush me like a grape). Near the entrance of the temple, is a small cave that remains cool throughout the day. It is believed that Lord Rama once took shelter here. A large tree, whose branches were laden with colorful bundles bearing coconuts (as a token of the devotee’s wish), stood magnificently in front of the temple. Paying our respects to the deity, we headed back, as the ferry service to take us across the river would cease at 5.30.

    Hastily, we returned the rented scooter just in time to catch the last ferry (which was extended to 6 p.m, thanks to the visiting season) and witnessed a spectacular sunset by the river. That same evening, we moved out to Hospet, collected our Luggage and boarded the bus back to Bangalore.

    Until next time,
    The Hippie Soul

    Hampi- Remnants of an ancient era (Part 1)

    The decision to spend a weekend in Hampi was a spontaneous one. On a whim, I asked my bestie to join me on a weekend trip. The destination was vague. She agreed, as she always does! Quickly, I did a little research and the tiny signs pointed me towards Hampi. We left Bangalore the following midnight, and due to some mysterious reason, all of Bangalore’s traffic was accumulated in the Majestic- Yeshwantpur junction. Our mighty bus took 2 hours to cover a km of the toll road. Though our ETA at Hospet was supposedly 6 a.m., we arrived four hours later. (Our driver had chosen an impromptu diversion. Spontaneity- A trait, I DID NOT appreciate in drivers).

    Now, the ideal place to stay while visiting Hampi is the hippie islands, but unaware of it then, I had booked a hotel in Hospet (a half hr ride away from Hampi). After freshening up, we caught a decent brunch at a local hotel in Hospet. An absence of fellow travelers was clearly obvious as the occupants at each table were either men-catching up on old tales or families having a quite meal. And then there was us- two girls, oblivious (at least, we pretended to be) to all the curious looks shot our way.

    An hour later, we found ourselves in Hampi talking to a rickshaw driver who had jumped into our moving bus while it was being parked. He sure was keen on catching a customer, and after a bit of haggling, we agreed for a tour of the city at 500 Bucks (Which, by the way is tad pricey as I later realized). Our auto-driver had sworn to be worthy of the price, or else there was a complete-refund policy (Yeah, right. We all know how that ends).

    We started off with Sasivekalu Ganesha (Translation: Mustard seed Ganesha; only because there was another idol which was fairly larger in size, as compared to this), moving on to Hemakunta hill temple complex- a large expanse bearing many temples, with no idols to worship in them (Emphasizes, why the city is now called Ruins of Hampi) and offers a generous view of the Virupaksha temple and its surroundings.

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    For miles and miles, you see rocks, boulders, sculptures and trees that have witnessed the glorious years of Hampi. (PC: Madhu)

    Built on varying leveled platforms, this art of architecture set in stone, with carvings on every inch is simply astonishing. It seemed to me as if the hill stood like a lone soldier, helplessly watching the catastrophe of a war that laid waste to the land, destroying everything familiar. A carefree evening on these hills, in the company of loved ones watching the golden crown of sunset, talking about life, sipping tea was all I wanted at that moment.I vowed to return, determined to capture every bit of the wondrous smithereens in a sketch.

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    Even time pauses here for a moment, imploring Hampi to re-tell its story. (PC: Madhu)

    One thing I found in abundance in Hampi, other than the buildings of course, were the brown squirrels, skittering about willy-nilly.

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    The Guardian of Hemakunta, savoring his meal- a tasty peanut! (PC: Madhu)

    Then on, we paid a visit to the Shiva temple and the partly-destroyed Ugra Narasimha. The original sculpture had a small figure of Goddess Lakshmi, resting on his lap. It was mutilated when the Mughals raided Vijayanagara Empire in 1565 A.D, also marking its downfall.

    We met a man, who once was a former member of the archaeological committee. Now, an artist who carved out beautiful sculptures out of Soap. He explained that during the restoration, a few features were added to the sculpture (such as the large distinguishable mark on the chest of the sculpture) an addition made to make the idol more stable.

    The second section of the city is the palace ground. One of the major attractions was the Lotus Mahal (a.k.a Chitragani Mahal or Kamal Mahal). A mesmerizing example of the Vijayanagara architecture, built solely to serve the royal ladies of Vijayanagara Empire. The structure was originally surrounded by four Watch towers, of which only three can be seen today.

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    Every monument at its best. It’s as if the craftsmen competed against each other and filled every inch with their soul.

    The foundation to a queen’s palace (which was never built) can be found near the entrance. An elegant-long building with beautiful domed chambers that once served as an elephant stable, now was being adorned with lights. The reason being- The infamous Hampi utsav. We were visiting only a few days prior to festival, and hence the city was bustling with foreigners and local tourists, while the major attractions were embellished. A stage was being set up for the performances and plays scheduled for the festival. The air was charged up, as actors rehearsed their roles and carpenters busied about, building wooden platforms and beams. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the forthcoming celebrations of a fabled empire.

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    Break time! What’s happening around the world?

    An archaeology museum laid within the same premises- a treasure trove to all the architectural artifacts, relics, coins, tools, miniature paintings, ivory items, copper plates and several other things from the glorious era of the Vijayanagara Empire.

    We then headed out to explore the Pushkarini (temple tank)- an ancient step well, located near the Mahanavami Dibba (a.k.a Dasara Dibba) constructed by King Krishnadevaraya to celebrate his victory over Udayagiri (Modern day-Orissa).Later, our Auto dropped us off at the final location of the tour- Vijaya Vittala temple.

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    One can choose between availing a government facilitated utility vehicle (at a fair price) or taking a good ol’ walk uphill, for about a km to reach the main entrance of the Temple. A ticket bought to enter the palace grounds, also can be used to enter the Royal temple. But, being the goofball that I am, I lost it somewhere on the road and had to buy it again.

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    Not the only goofball here! (PC: Me)

    Vijaya Vittala temple is the Taj Mahal of Hampi. The amount of effort, craftsmanship, creativity and art that is poured into every inch of the ensemble is exceptional. The stone chariot is an artistic marvel in itself, and bears a striking resemblance to the stone chariot situated in Konark Sun temple, Orissa (Incidentally, Krishnadevaraya was fascinated by the aforementioned chariot whilst his war against Udayagiri and thus, ordered an establishment of one such chariot in his own empire). The musical pillared temple is yet another marvelous contribution of the Vijayanagara Empire. Among the other structures are the shrine of the Goddess (a.k.a Devi shrine), Maha Mantapa (a.k.a Sabha Mantapa/ congregation hall), Ranga Mantapa, Kalyana Mantapa (marriage hall), Utsava Mantapa (festival hall).  Even in the middle of such loud ambience, I found a moment of tranquility in the Vittala temple, by the closed gates watching a horse graze peacefully. The winds whisked away my thoughts with their stories about distant lands.

    The sunset point, at the Matunga Hill is one of the most sought out places in Hampi. But, we neither had the stamina, nor the will to mount a hill!

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    Gateway to heaven. Care to venture? (PC: Madhu)

    On our way out, amongst many children who sold photographs /postcards of Hampi, I met an adorable little boy- Abhi (Abhishek).

    As it was the deepavali weekend, all kids had the week-off, ergo a golden opportunity to earn some extra cash. At every major tourist hub in Hampi, we’ve been pestered by children to buy postcards. (I for one ain’t a fan of it, but a friend of mine- an old soul, loves postcards for souvenirs). Unlike other children, Abhi didn’t badger us. Instead, he politely requested us once, took one look at our camera and before we could respond, uttered bashfully “Okay, thank you. We don’t want it” in an attempt to imitate every other tourist. His quick wit intrigued me, so I struck up a conversation with him, examining the postcards. A moment later, a family walked past us, as Abhi walked along with them. The older woman spoke kindly to him, laying her hand on his shoulder. I watched them walk out of sight; surprised that he would leave behind a stack of postcards in the hands a total stranger. (What if I ran away with it?)

    Few minutes later, he returned with a grim look on his face, stating “She just wanted to feel good about herself by talking to me, but had no interest in the postcards”.

    Smack! Truth slapped on the face.

    I felt sorry for him, but at the same time wanted to convince him that the world is not all black & white!

    As we walked back to Virupaksha temple, vaguely in the route of Kampa- Bhupa’s path- a walk along the rocky, boulder strewn trail by the banks of river Tungabhadra; Abhi opened up about his family. A drunk-abusive father that he resents, a mother-struggling to make ends meet, a sister- who’s quit college and is expected to be married off soon. The society burdens us all with its expectations and here was a boy sharing the burden of his family, trying to earn a little to ease the lives of the living. His dream? To become an engineer one day, move to the city and earn good money. I realized, this is the dream of most children in Karnataka who live in villages or rural areas. Their dreams- our reality. Yet, here we are trying to escape it. I wonder, if it’s the lack of imagination or support that refrains children from dreaming large, colorful, powerful dreams- that means something to them, instead of choosing the regular career path.

    A moment of a beautiful sunset graced us at the banks of Tungabhadra, while fishermen rowing coracle boats made their way home. En route, Abhi pointed out a fascinating spot, one that contained neat piles of stones. Apparently, it is a belief that by doing so, one’s wishes would be granted.

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    A castle of wishes! (PC: Madhu)

    We parted ways at the temple. He followed a supposed customer, and I took a tour of the Virupaksha temple. It boasts of a huge elaborate structure with an inner sanctuary, a large courtyard, an open pillared hall, 3 ante chambers, a stable for an elephant- a delightful little creature who accepts coins from your hand with his trunk and in return plants a kiss on your head, as a blessing.

    At night, the monuments of Hampi are lit up in shades of multicolored lights, intensifying the beauty of its intricate carvings. Seated atop the Hemakunta hill, we watched the mystifying dance of the lights on various structures, as the sky full of glowing stars reminded us that this wasn’t a city in ruins, but a testament to remnants of a grand era!

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    Abracadabra! (PC: Madhu)

    Until next time,
    The Hippie Soul

    A day Tour in Mysore.

    Mysore!

    The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word Mysore is Dasara. The grandeur of heritage and architecture of Mysore is well known to everyone. An empire left behind by the Wodeyars, stands proudly, boasting of its magnificent history, royal palaces, museums, and art galleries. Though Dasara is the peak visiting season in Mysore; it still remains the best time to visit Mysore, as one gets to relieve its history. Oh, the glory of the durbar (royal assembly), the Jambu sawari (procession of the royal sword and the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari on a golden throne) is majestic.

    Our visit to Mysore was a short one- on the third day of Dasara (luckily a weekend), assuming it to be a safe bet with regard to the coterie of tourists. We caught an early morning train from SBC (Bangalore) to Mysore that took approx 2.5 hours to reach. During our journey, we had the privilege to befriend this little angel- Janvi, who loved playing the game of choosing a different name for herself as per her whim.

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    The world is full of happiness as long as there are children-smiling!

     A friend lived in the city and let us crash at her place, also allowing us to borrow her scooter- A boon in disguise. The major attractions are spread across the city, and having a vehicle at your disposal reduces the efforts of advanced planning. Having begun our exploration at noon, we decided to randomly ride across town, instead of playing the tourist.

    The first thing that captured our attention was Karnataka Kalamandir standing in solitude, across the Mangalore-Mysore highway. It hosted a display of paintings, photographs, miniature models by different artists.

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    A click of a picture, in the game of reflections and shadows.

    The surroundings of the gallery were embellished with sculptures and a larger than life sized peacock- built entirely from wood and coconut branches.

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    Majestic, ain’t it?

    In the very same campus exists Rangayana- An institute that promotes theatre and stage craft.

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    Dancing along with the sunlight to the melodies of the wind!

    Vividly colored bamboo sticks placed vertically at various points imitated a maze like pattern and scintillating head-shaped clay pots were positioned on the ground or were hung from poles across the entire path which led to an open ground where we caught a glimpse of the scenes of an act, played by a small gathering of students.

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    Caught in the act… (PC: Madhu)

    Their mentors’- two women, one in her early thirties and the other in her late twenties, emanating an aura of wisdom and discipline guided and corrected them, by and by.

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    Show! Don’t tell. (PC:Madhu)

    The play was to take place each night during the Dasara festival in the open air theater- Vanaranga. The wonderful decorations were set up to create a wonderful ambience when lit up by bright colored focus lights at night.

    After a satisfying lunch, we rode to the Mysore palace- the first overcrowded destination of our day. The scorching sun didn’t allow us to explore the grounds.

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    A royal evening is being awaited, as the clouds play peek-a-boo with the sun. (PC: Madhu)

    Hence, we chose to take shelter inside the walls of Jaganmohan Palace, dipping our senses in the ocean of paintings, monuments, grandiose architecture, and history. I would never be able to justify in words, what I witnessed in reality. If you are a true lover of art and architecture, history and monuments, you’ll realize that the Palace itself is too small to encompass the richness of the Wodeyar Empire. On the outer gardens of the Palace, one can take a small tour across the grounds on an elephant, or hunt for souvenirs in gift shops.

    Later that evening, we proceeded to the sand museum, located on the way to Chamundi Hills. Intricate sculptures of Srikantadatta Wodeyar, Jambu sawari, Lord Ganesha, Goddess Chamundi, Laughing Buddha, Islamic Culture, Geetopadesh, ancient civilizations and tribes have been molded in the sand with fabulous precision. The interesting fact is that the artwork was created by a budding art student- MN Gowri, in 5 months. Unlike most sand sculptures that are put on display for a temporary period, this museum is here for the long run.

    A day in Mysore can never be concluded without a visit to the enchanting Chamundi Hills. Since it was Dasara- the peak tourist season, the cops had blocked the way to prevent private vehicles from traveling uphill, as it would cause congestion. Instead, there was an alternative option of traveling via the royal public transport- Buses. We waited in line for more than an hour, until we could finally board one (My only concern was that we would miss the sunset at the peak, thanks to all the waiting). Just, a few meters away from our boarding point, the government had stationed a landing pad, and a Helicopter facility that offered rides (at a fair price) across the city. Though, it was post sunset when we made it to the top, the view was breathtaking. Colorful miniature lights adorned trees and street corners, creating a festive atmosphere.

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    Light up the night! (PC:Madhu)

    The soothing wind combined with the pleasant music playing from tea stalls made our short visit magical. I befriended a dog, after I shared a lump of my ice-cream with her. But she kept following me around with no remorse, as if I was the gingerbread man. (Isn’t it shameful, when one can’t even shoo away a dog?) On returning, we made our way back to the Palace grounds to witness the marvelous view of the palace lit up at night, backed by a carnatic music concert.

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    These hallways were once the witness to an entire generation of a royal dynasty. But now? (PC: Madhu)

    Every building in its own shadow proclaimed its stories into the dark that night- A tale of a royal dynasty thriving through centuries ruling an empire witnessing love, loss, curses, wars and famines. One whose love for art and architecture transcended boundaries, whose richness and prosperity was a common knowledge to people, even across the oceans.

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    Mysore- An empire that once attracted awe with its elegance, heritage and richness. It will continue to so, for generations to come. (PC- Madhu)

    Until next time,
    The Hippie Soul

    Souvenirs from Wayanad!

    Wanderlust is something that was buried deep in my soul, a long time ago. But it’s only now that I fully see the vibrancy of its enchanting colors & ‘Wayanad’ was on my bucket list of ‘places to go’ for over 2 years now. If you compare the past 20 years of my life v/s the last 2 years, it would be evident that I wasn’t much of a traveler before. A tourist? maybe! See, there’s a difference between visiting places, and exploring places- and that’s what distinguishes a tourist from a traveler.

    I have never traveled alone/ with a group of strangers before; at least not without the company of a close friend. Though, this time I was traveling with a group of 45 people, who belonged to the same organization as I. This idea had initially frightened me, as I barely knew any of them. I know that a lot of people go on adventures with complete strangers, but I was never one of them. Crowded places, large gatherings or get together unnerves me, though I can be the chirpiest and liveliest person you’ve ever known, on one-on-one interactions. But in groups- I am no different than a lost puppy. Anyhow, I had to go, because exploring Wayanad was far more important than my innate fears as an ambivert.

    We started from Bangalore on Friday night in a bus that could put a Discotheque to shame. It was painted in bright colors with a caption on the side of the bus that read ‘Are you ready to Dance?’ The interiors of the bus were covered in mosaics of funky colors, The bus had large speakers that could boom loud enough to wake up an entire neighborhood. Various disco ball lights flooded the cabin of our bus, converting it into a retro dance floor.

    It felt like I was back in college having one of those trips when life was simple, reckless and carefree, when the prejudice and conditioning of the society still hadn’t seeped into our hearts. For a change, it felt good to be away, along with perfect strangers who knew very well, how to celebrate each moment. No one slept that night until the wee hours of the morning. We celebrated the birthday of a friend, danced mindlessly to the beats of the music, swapped Hulk & Dora masks like 13 y.o and sang along awkwardly to every song that emanated from the giant speakers but barely slept for 3-4 hours. When the first rays of Sunshine peeped through the foggy clouds next morning, we stopped by an old petrol bunk. A few of us stepped out and rid our body & mind of motion sickness by playing football while the others slept peacefully inside.

    A few hours later, we reached our dormitory- PI residency in Kakkavayal and quickly scattered to our rooms to freshen up. After munching on a minimal breakfast, everyone was recharged and we set off towards Meppady through the narrow winding roads where only one large vehicle can pass at a time. Incidentally, we encountered a large bus (alike ours) en route due to which our bus had to roll back for at least half a km, to find a decent spot to let the other bus through.

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    A bouncy- magical ride through the slopes!

    On reaching Meppady, our large group dispersed into packs of 8-9 and hopped into jeeps which took us via Chembra tea estates to the beginning of the trail path. One has to walk 2 km, via tea gardens to reach the trek starting point.

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    Oh! What I’d give to live in this moment forever!

    The difficulty level of the trek is moderate, though the path is a lot slippery during monsoon (a few friends dared to trek the entire path in slippers and sandals). I, being not a regular Trekkie, took a lot of breaks to catch my breath while a few of my groupies jumped across rocks like acrobatic monkeys. Halfway through the journey, one can find a large heart-shaped lake (believed to have never run dry) named ‘Hridayasaras’. Past that, the trek gets easier as it is just a steep path uphill. It took us almost 2 hours to reach the peak, and there is yet another lake at the top. Though, there are multiple peaks visible from the top, most of them have restricted access.

     

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    An enchanting view of Chembra tea estates.

    From the top, one can see almost all of Kalpetta and Meppady covered under the clouds, draped in lush greens. We got drenched several times during the trek and every single time, I had to encase the camera which felt like an annoying charade. The playful fresh wind and the timid rain showers along with the breathtaking view soothed our souls. We spent a little time by ourselves in peaceful silence, until the others made it to the top.

    Descending downhill was much easier, since we slid most of the way down on our butt, thanks to the rain showers that had turned the steep paths all the more slippery. We took tiny breaks, exchanging jokes, poetry, philosophies, bits and pieces of our own life stories, our dreams and fears. In a group of 48 people, I found a tiny family-even if for a small duration and I’ll always be grateful for that experience.

    At the end of the trail, we treated ourselves to several cups of lemon tea and a tummy load of pakoda’s (compensating for the lack of a proper breakfast and lunch). As our group was the first to complete the trek, we waited until the others reached back and finished their share of hogging. Magical as the day was, we were lucky enough to spot a faint rainbow across the sky.

    Thereafter, the jeeps drove us back to Meppady. Later, we visited Lakkidi view point (a scenic spot on a busy hair-pin curved highway), just in time to catch the sunset.

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    Hues of Blue at Lakkidi

    After a much satisfying dinner, we headed to our dorm, while most of us dozed off in the bus-drained from the physical strain from a long day. Thankfully, our group was full of enthusiastic people who wouldn’t let the night end that way. So, we started a bonfire, gathering around its cozy warmth, played games, sang and danced. As the night grew dark, everyone resigned to their rooms, one by one.

     

    Next morning, we were ready and replenished by 11 a.m. Though we had plans to visit Kuruvadweep and soochipara falls, they were both closed due to the rainfall. A quick breakfast later, we reached Pookode Lake and spent the afternoon there, exploring the fish museum and trailing the lake while a few tried the communal fish spa (Though, I enthusiastically turned it down, for I pitied the fishes that had to nibble down all that dead skin).

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    Spreading joy into the wind. Bubbles that carry the memories of our sweet childhood.

    After skipping lunch later that day, we traveled to Meenmutty falls. The water was extremely cold, the surrounding rocks were slippery and the current was strong. Undeterred by such challenges, we spent our evening frolicking in the water. The walk back to the bus (almost 2 km) was memorably fun as we were drenched from head to toe, cold & shivering, hungry, with no change of clothes in hand. Yet, that didn’t stop us from slurping delicious-hot Maggie and tea on borrowed money.

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    Meenmutty falls in all its glory!

    There were no specific changing rooms in the area, but we found an old-uninhibited house in ruins that solved our problem. I was so madly in love with Kerala, as I knew that I could spend my eternity in that old shack.

    As we returned, our driver raced the bus like a hurricane to the Karnataka-Kerala border at Bandipur since the police closes off the check post at 8 p.m., (which didn’t deter the singing, dancing and the havoc that was being created by us inside the bus). Luckily we made it in time, but unluckily we were held up in a long queue before the checkpoint and worried that the guards wouldn’t let us through as it was almost 8 p.m. But, after an anxious wait, we crossed the border and witnessed an elephant cross our paths (Which, let me remind you was the only ‘wild life’ we spotted on our entire journey).

    On reaching Gundlupet, we were delighted to find a hotel that was open at 10.30 p.m. Without a second thought, everyone rushed in and emptied their kitchens. At about 11 p.m., we vacated the premises (with not much option) as the police had rallied down, demanding to shut down the hotel (Since, there had been a few riots in the area over the past few weeks).

    The journey back to Bangalore was mostly uneventful, since most of us slipped into deep sleep while the ‘ever-enthusiastic’ bunch cracked jokes, gave speeches and awards (imaginary ones, of course) under several categories.

    At 4.30 a.m., our driver abruptly started playing songs over the speaker (Apparently, that was his way of saying- Good morning. We’ve reached Bangalore!), much to our annoyance. Angry girls yelled at him at the top of their voices while astonished boys stared at the outburst. If the music hadn’t woken us, the abuse that followed, definitely did. I bid goodbye to my new endearing friends and made my way home, as I had to go back to office a few hours later.

    Just the way the right book, finds its way to you, I believe the same goes with people and places. When it’s not the right time, even the right people or places can’t serve their purpose in your life.

    Like a caterpillar that reincarnates into a butterfly, my understanding of this world has changed, now that I see the world with a different pair of eyes. There are stories woven in every city, every street corner, every sunset, behind every wrinkled face, in every tide of the ocean, in every breath, every sigh, behind the twinkle of an eye that has shed a million tears, behind every smile that masks a million emotions and if it deems you worthy, those tales will be woven deeply into your memories.

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    Reach out, and you’ll find your tribe!

    Until next time,
    The hippie soul!

    Between Spaces… (final part)

    After his appointment with the doctor involving a MRI scan and the usual do’s and don’ts session, Sam decided that he needed a walk to process the new-found information. He roamed aimlessly taking random turns at intersections. An unsettling thought kept running in Sam’s mind, the kind of gnawing feeling that haunts you when you’ve left things unsaid.

    Deeply Immersed in his own thoughts, he abruptly stopped walking and took out the crumpled piece of paper that was buried safely in his pocket and opened it, trying to make sense of it. He debated the question in his mind whether he should seek out the place from the sketch, since he had a hunch that it was somewhere nearby; he just wasn’t sure where.

    As he walked further down the street, he noticed a girl afar, crossing the street at a junction. She was wearing a loose white shirt, faded blue jeans and a light blue scarf draped around her neck that wavered gently with the wind. As he was unable to see her face clearly, he jogged towards her to catch up with her pace.

    “Hey!” he called out loud, as he neared her.

    She turned around with a startled look on her face.

    “I have been meaning to…” Sam continued between breaths, and faltered mid sentence when realization struck him that she wasn’t the one that he’d been looking for.

    “Sorry! I thought you were someone else” an embarrassed Sam apologized to her and briskly walked off in the opposite direction, shaking his head. But, in a second he forgot all about it as he caught a tiny glimpse of a blue-green colored Ferris wheel in the distant.

    Sam leaped with joy, thrusting his fists high up into the air, hollering “Yasssss”. He ran towards it as if he’d found his long-lost dog. Sam stopped at the foot of the bridge. It overlooked a river, and at the banks of which, was a carnival ground boasting of a giant blue-green Ferris wheel, a carousel painted in red and yellow stripes, an establishment of bumper cars in multi-colors, a brightly lit tornado, Kiddies’ rides and several brightly lit game booths.

    A wide smile stretched across Sam’s lips which in turn always deepened the dimple on his right cheek. He was overjoyed that he’d succeeded in discovering the mysterious place from the sketch left behind by the enigmatic Asian Lady. A minute had passed when he suddenly had a Flashback:

    **A man and a woman are seated on a slow-moving Ferris wheel, laughing happily on a warm summer night. Frank Sinatra’s song ‘The way you look tonight’ starts playing faintly in the background and firecrackers light up the dark sky in bright patterns of gold, red, purple and blue. The wind plays gently with the woman’s hair, toying away with the light blue scarf worn around her neck. The next moment, the Ferris wheel comes to an abrupt halt and the man pulls out a ring from his pocket and holds it out in front of the woman.

    Smiling warmly at her, he proposes “Alaska Summers! Will you marry me and make me the happiest man alive?”

    The woman nodded her head wildly with joy and hugged him in sheer excitement; The sudden movement bobbled their booth from side-to-side. **

                                                                               ***

    Alaska walked out of the café in a hurry, and turned on the navigation on her phone, as the streets were still unfamiliar to her. She had planned to check out three apartment listings that ticked off all boxes of her requirements: Cheap & affordable.

    The first two apartments turned out to be a bust as the former had a queer smell as if a rotting dead body had just been moved out of the only room in the apartment which served as the kitchen, hall and the bedroom. The latter had a pesky owner problem. As in, the owner would not stop checking her out, with a nasty look on his face; meanwhile his muddy white Pomeranian kept following and sniffing her; probably because she had recently walked out of an apartment room that smelled like dead people.

    Half heartedly she reached the third and final listing, hoping it would be the least disastrous of the three. The owner of the third building was a woman named Maria who was in her late 60’s. She was severely short-sighted, wore thick glasses and couldn’t identify a face unless it was printed on a newspaper or until the person stood just inches away from her. She walked with the help of a can and limped a little towards her left.

    Maria behaved formally at first, but as soon as Alaska introduced herself, Maria’s face lit up like a Christmas tree.

    She took Alaska’s hand in hers and exclaimed “Oh dear child! You came back. I knew you would.”

    Before Alaska could say anything, or grasp the situation, Maria hurried towards the stairs and called out behind her back “Come child, follow me! Follow me!”

    Alaska obeyed without a choice, feeling a 100% sure that this was the weirdest encounter of all three. She climbed a flight of stairs and was taken aback to find that the old woman was already standing beside an open door. Alaska meekly walked up to Maria who was welcoming her in with a kind smile. Hesitantly, Alaska took a peek inside the dark room, acutely aware of her heart beating loudly against her chest and for a second she wondered if Maria could hear it too.

    Her heart skipped a beat, when Maria turned on the lights, as Alaska was faced with a large painting on an entire wall. It was a portrait of her and a man splashed in multi-colors, side glancing at each other. In the painting, her head was tilted a little towards the man, who gazed at her with a deep-set of eyes holding a broad grin which revealed a handsome dimple on his right cheek.

    With a blank expression on her face, Alaska whispered “Sam!”

    The next two hours seemed hazy to Alaska who stumbled out of the apartment without saying another word to Maria. Absent mindedly, she caught the bus back home; to her father’s and during the journey all her memories came crashing down on her. Her past life was crystal clear. How she had moved to the city after completing her college during which she’d found the one true love of her life: Art. How she’d rented a studio apartment which she could barely afford and worked multiple jobs – serving as a waitress in a local café; babysitting and working as a museum guide to survive in the city and other odd jobs. The day all her miseries felt unimportant when she had bagged the opportunity to showcase one of her paintings in a local exhibit. It was the day she felt most proud of herself because for the first time, she could pay her bills, doing what she loved.

    She remembered how she’d met Sam in the same café that she had been visiting for a few weekends. He had cheesily slipped his number under her coffee mug and at first she’d resented him, for his advances were too forward and his methods too cheeky. But she’d finally agreed to date him and thereafter they were inseparable. Magic was in the air, her life had turned beautiful once again after a very long time and within a month they moved in together. A few months later, Sam proposed to her whilst they were on a Ferris wheel chair, on a warm summer night. The two weeks after that, Alaska was joyous and in disbelief of her own luck. They planned for a spring wedding in the next year, and the wedding preparations were in full swing. But on one snowy November afternoon the miserable fate had collided with their happiness when a bus had hit them and another pedestrian at a red signal while they were crossing the street after finalizing a chapel that day as their venue for the wedding.

    As Alaska De-boarded the bus and walked rest of her way home, realization struck her that her own father was completely unaware of the wedding, of Sam! A chill ran down her spine as she thought about Sam, horrified that Sam may not have even made it through the accident and all this time she was oblivious to his existence. Alaska felt sick, as if her stomach had been turned inside out and had been set on fire. Her legs felt weak as she wobbled to the front gates of her house.

    As she opened the gates, she smiled uncontrollably and let out a happy sigh. In front of her stood Sam, waiting patiently for her, with that warm smile and deep-set of eyes that always made her heart skip a beat every time she looked at him.

    Alaska was Home!

    Between Spaces… (Part 2)

    Library bookshelves, Park benches, a metallic heart exhibit wound with wires, a bridge that overlooked the river, carnival grounds adorned with bright lights where a green-blue Ferris wheel turned slowly and majestically as the firecrackers set off and lit up the night sky. These were the images that kept coming back to Alaska in flashes as she recovered from the surgery post the accident. A drunken man had driven an empty bus and struck Alaska and 2 other pedestrians as they were crossing the road at a red signal on a snowy afternoon, seven months ago. She had had severe brain damage due to which she lay in a comatose stage for five weeks. When she gained consciousness, the painful trauma of a complete memory loss with little or no recollection of her life earlier to the accident was hers to bear.

    She remembered seeing only patches of her hospital room as her eyes adjusted to the scene, and an unfamiliar voice (who she later found out was her father’s, with the help and reassurance of the doctor in the ICU) whispering excitedly “Baby! Alaska! You’re okay; you’re okay, thank god!”

    “Alaska’s condition is complicated. Her memory may return slowly or never at all, depending on how well her brain copes. In any case, she shouldn’t be exposed to stressful situations or sudden encounters of past incidents or people, which may cause her emotional strain” the doctor had warned Alaska’s father.

    Over time, as she slowly rekindled with her life under a protected environment maintained by her father, she re-discovered the truths about her life. Alaska had lost her mother to lung cancer when she was six and had grown estranged from her father over the years as he had remarried and started a family of his own when she was teenager. The loss of her mother had left her broken, but the realization that her father had found a place in his heart for someone else- sent her adrift. She knew that deep down the rage she felt for her father was mainly because she herself wasn’t able to move on when her father was able to; though she’d never admit it this to herself.

    She didn’t have any siblings, and had severed all ties with her father once she moved to college. But, this accident had brought them closer. Alaska was desperate to know about her life in the city, but as her father didn’t know of any of her friends, he couldn’t help in that direction. Her life had turned into a jigsaw puzzle, whose pieces she didn’t know of, or couldn’t put together; almost as if it didn’t exist.

    At first when she started having flashbacks in her mind, she panicked. She didn’t understand what was happening to her, and couldn’t make sense of the images in her mind. Her father had advised her to ignore them as he was worried about the doctor’s warnings.  But even against all the good-will advises, Alaska knew that she needed to find out who she was before all this happened. It was the only way she could start over. So she’d reached out to a few friends from her college inquiring them about her own life, but there wasn’t much they could help her with as most of them had not heard from her since she’d graduated; instead she received unwanted sympathy.

    “We were inseparable back in college. How about I buy you a cup of coffee and we could talk things over?”One guy had even slyly offered, taking advantage of the situation.

    She had politely refused though his intentions didn’t matter to her, as she couldn’t move on to the future if she had no idea about her past life. When she’d run out of choices, she began sketching the images in her mind that kept coming to her in flashes. Though they didn’t make sense to her, she believed that at some point that it would all come back to her.

    Life had given her a second chance to start things over and she’d accepted it wholeheartedly. She’d discovered new light in the relationship with her father, making her wonder why she ever distanced herself from him in the first place. Even though her life seemed incomplete and out of balance, she’d slowly learned to make her peace with it until one eventful day when she ran into an old college friend. Alaska poured out her life story, concluding that she could no longer find the pieces of her own life. Her friend persuaded Alaska to move back to the city so that she could seek answers and find a way back to her old life.

    At first, her father was against the idea, afraid that it would affect her recovery, but they’d come to an agreement that she would stay at her father’s for four days a week and spend the weekend at the city.

    For the first few weekends, Alaska stayed at a small motel in the city. She simply roamed about the streets looking for apartments that she could afford. She was hoping that she would stumble onto something or someone that would jog her memory. One Sunday, she’d found a quaint little café during one of her exploratory walks. Something about the café appealed to her and she felt safe as though she belonged there.  So began her ritual of visiting the café every Sunday at 3 p.m., to put away the demons in her mind into the white Bristol papers.

    Week after week, she returned to that café, and though she knew that she was no close to discovering her complete identity, she knew that it was at least a start.