You can read the piece here on In The Know Traveler.
The New Year hasn’t been the productive spool of writing I’d imagined it would. Not yet, at least.
My return from London saw me carry back a slice of what was to become the winter freeze. Firmly lodged in my chest, this TB look-alike has ravaged the first weeks of the shiny new year.
I’ve spent the days chugging cough syrup and popping pills. One makes me dumb and drowsy; the other puts me to sleep. Take about being productive.
There’s no winter freeze here, but the weather has been downright moody. It rains, it snows, and then the lot of it melts into white-brown muck. Given the conditions, I prefer coughing indoors. When I do venture out, wrapped up and inflated in wool, I pop a dozen mints into my mouth to block the incessant coughing. I do it mostly out of vanity (who wants to be looked at as a highly contagious terminal element?) but also to maintain public order and peace (who wants to trigger a seemingly contagious episode?).
It’s a short term solution that seems to work. But when the mint supply ends, another hell awaits. The suppressed cough pounds its way out; I shake and roll like the subject of an exorcism ritual, maybe worse; my lungs and windpipes are on fire, and my head hurts.
Worse, any good idea that flits past the drugs is thrown right out with a swarm of angry spit. Instead of writing, I sit crumpled in front of the TV watching reality shows. The headache worsens.
I (try to) convince myself at the start of everyday that I just need to power on. Sit and be stubborn. Once the words come, the cough will subside to the background. Oh well. No, I’m not off to a racing start but then I’ve always liked the tortoise, haven’t I?
I watch four squirrels run up and down a pair of snow-lined trees. The wood is damp and dark; the branches arch off in different directions, striking poses that remind me of oriental dancers. The squirrels disturb the comfortably sitting snow; small, furious flakes fly down from the branches and bark. Their running forms create shifting smudges on the white canvas.
Something about the furry with which they moves spells panic. They run up and down, up and down, up and down. Their little paws work furiously and their eyes dart around; the scampering continues. Maybe they were lazy. They thought they still had time to gather their nuts and pile up for winter. Maybe they are lost, searching for the rest of their party, but all the holes are filled with snow. I understand their confusion. Just a few days ago it was dry and bright. You could still spot the odd flowers and fallen leaves. Now everything is lost under an icy slush.
Even the benches in the park below, benches that are never empty, have lost their daily patrons to the snow. I miss the clique of bakas that gather in the afternoon. From my balcony I watch their hands talk, and their heads fall back in laughter. The playground is empty too, as it tends to be at this time of the year. No sequels of joys, no screeching tantrums climbing up the slope. My afternoons have become very quiet.
Twice a day, in the mornings and late afternoons, I spot a dog or two shuffling along the walkway; the owners follow slowly behind, hands stuffed deep in wool-lined pockets and head bent low. The dogs themselves do their business with little fuss; no summer curiosity, no sniffing around for hidden treasures or adventures. I sometimes wonder if they’d rather pee into a potted plant at home. Despite their coat of fur, surely they must get cold.
I am. From the minute I wake up to long after I’ve fallen asleep. I can feel slices of cold creep in through my soles and up to my fingers forming icy webs in between. It’s putting me in a state of permanent brain-freeze. Everything I do is iced with lethargy. I even type slowly these days – q-pause-w- pause-e-pause–r-pause-t-pause-y. And my mind prefers to slip back into warmer memories than tackle the to-do list. I give in and take the trip. Later, as a deadline approaches, l’ll panic and scamper, like the squirrels, in search of the now covered holes.
The Trip Base Three Travel Secrets Tag floating around the internet has found its way to me, via Rob, Candice, Lauren and Nancy; people really want my secrets! And why not, there’s a master-list taking shape and I want to have a (small) say in it, so here goes.
Beyond the Bridge in Llanrwst, Wales
It’s been raining all morning. I splash in and out of puddles on my way to the tiny tea house beyond the bridge. Tu Hwnt i’r Bont (Beyond the Bridge) is covered in green creepers and a summer aroma. Inside, a pot of tea and the best (and by this I mean I’ll trade my writing hand and throw in an iPod, best) scones await.
An Istrian Konoba
It’s noon, we are starving. We stop at a cosy little konoba, a traditional Croatian tavern, on the winding streets of Groznjan. We order some house wine and pick up the menu. This will take a while – everything, and I mean everything here, comes with truffles, even the ice-cream.
Sunset on the Backwaters, Kerala
The day is winding to an end. We are in a wooden boat, drinking cold beers (Kingfisher) and listening to two local musicians playing classical strains that reflect the mood of the fading light. We watch locals heading back home on their own tiny boats; they smile and wave. The sun beings to set.
I was fourteen when my world tumbled around. My parents had decided to move us back to India, and for the first time I had the freedom to step out of the over-protective cover I lived under and explore the surrounding chaos. It’s not as dramatic as waking up in an alien land, amidst and alien culture and having a personal revelation. But it was a gradual reshaping of everything I knew, a process of unlearning and re-learning, and in that sense it was dramatic enough.
The first lessons were as tiny and uncertain as an infant’s first steps. I watched pint-sized first graders with bulging school bags jump into the red and yellow bus, one hand held a tattered bus pass, the other an ice-cream. Seasoned pros. And there I was, four years from adulthood, shaking uncontrollably as I crossed a busy, traffic infested road on my own for the first time. I laugh at the memory now, but in that moment the fear was real.
I still remember the first time I took the bus. I had signed up for dance lessons that week. I had been a Bharatnatyam student since the age of seven or eight, and my parents wasted no time in finding a prestigious dance centre in the city (our boxes and bags were still unpacked, but I had a dance class and my brother a piano teacher). The classes were held on the weekends, which worked perfectly for me. My Mum accompanied me for my first class. The next day, a Sunday, I was left to my own devices. My parents assured me that the 15 minute bus ride would be easy. It was. The bus started a few meters from my house and terminated at the local railway station, a few minutes from where my class was. There was no jostling, no squashed up nightmare usually associated with Indian buses. Yet at the end of the journey I was giddy with joy. It was unspectacular but in the little bubble that I live in this was revolutionary.
But it wasn’t just the travelling or the exploring street corners and by lanes, or even the sneaking a snack at the street vendor before meals, that had me overwhelmed. There were smaller things, much smaller things that wouldn’t even strike you on a regular day that turned my world. As a kid I remembered Saturday as Shopping Day. We ventured out with multiple baskets to stock up for the coming week – vegetables, milk, and everything in between. Now I woke up to the luxury of stepping out of the house on a Sunday morning, running to the corner store and buying fresh eggs and bread for breakfast.
At the shop (a small space filled to the brim and smelling of spices and shampoo) I could pick as many eggs as I needed and not necessarily the whole carton. The eggs were white and not the cappuccino coloured ones I was used to. I’d give the vendor a few coins – before moving back coins were obsolete articles for me – and he’d hand me change! Change for coins.
The temple a few steps away was busy with morning prayers; the brass bell would ring thrice each time someone stepped in. I’d catch the soft, sweet aroma of incense as I walked back home, past the day’s first vendors ( hawking fish and vegetables, shouting out their wares to the windows embedded in tall buildings. They were followed by used newspaper and scrap collectors – all of whom I’d encountered for the first time), and cutting between multiple cricket games; the kids shouted their instructions in Hindi, I knew the words and yet they were unfamiliar. This was a new world.
I love having a piece published on Fridays. It keeps me smiling all weekend.
You can read the piece on National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel Blog.
You can read the piece on the Matador Network.