Monday, 30 December 2013

Christmas in Munnar

What's so different about Munnar, you might ask. It is just another hill-station, just another group of tea gardens, just another set of winding roads that lead up to overflowing hotels, just another place to buy a few more spices and tea packets and eucalyptus oil, just a  few more viewpoints where busy travellers click pictures and spend their money and time recovering from the madness of their daily lives.

This Christmas in Munnar, even as travellers did all the above, I walked, oblivious of the crowd, in the search for something new.

The lilting strains of the carols beckoned me towards the tall and imposing structure that sat proudly above high, winding, steps. As I climbed up the steps and reached the church gate, the crowd mingled with me - tourists along with the local people, impossible to distinguish one group from the other, all united in the search for peace and silence.

The Church, which dates back to 1898, was the first Roman Catholic Church in the high-ranges and its gates are wide-open even today as people filter in for a moment of quiet worship.

The high ceiling of the Church echoed the beautiful strains of the oft-repeated carols, some unknown tunes in Malayalam adding to the magic of the moment.

The Christmas service over, the crowd started walking back, the tourists looking for the next attraction, the local people back to their own lives.

I sat on the wooden bench, alone, the carols still ringing in my ears-the child that had learnt to sing the carols in the chapels of childhood now teaching the true meaning of the blessings amidst the calm they showered on the restless mind.

Picturesque Poovar

Legend has it that many years ago King Raja Marthanda Varma was ousted from his throne and sought refuge in a tiny island called Poovar. He was so captivated by its beauty that he named it Poovar - the river of the flowers.

Today, as our boat navigates the silence of the backwaters and takes us deeper and deeper into the forest of ripples and shimmers, we are greeted by tall coconut trees bending over the shore as if protecting its secret from indifferent travellers, a lone crane that nods a gentle hello and glides gracefully forward, the orange Sun that takes a quiet dip in the pristine sea beyond the golden sand beach, the black lines of the fishing boats where the fishermen measure their catch of the day, the floating cottages that jut out on the green waters and rock gently in rythm.

Poovar still offers a refuge for those seeking silence and beauty, away from the bustling madness of the city and the hustling tourist traps. Poovar offers nothing else but a hint of mysteries untold, stories unheard, ripples unseen and beauty untouched.

The pictures can say it better. An hour away from Trivandrum, accessible only by boat, Poovar offers a rare combination of land locked by sea and the backwaters and silence broken only by the sound of the waves and the flight of the birds.

The orange glow spreading its warmth
The golden sand separating the quiet backwaters on one side and the restless sea on the other
Footprints that will get washed away in the ocean's fury

The boat inches closer, the silence grows

The trees bend over, hugging the water
The cottages that float on the bed of the water
The Sun peeks through the wall of trees



Friday, 29 November 2013

How green was my tea?

A few years back, when I used to be slightly heavier than I am now, (read 20 kgs heavier, give or take a few kgs), I used to go green with envy on seeing the elegant and slim ladies in their designer sheaths tastefully sipping tea from their cups and holding forth on weighty topics such as global warming and India's emerging future.

What's the secret of your glorious fitness? I wanted to ask them.

As if divining my unspoken question, they all declared, in various poses and gestures, all the while daintily holding on to their cups, "Green Tea, the panacea for all woes." If that sounds quite like a bad weight loss advertisement, well it wasn't, except in my mind, maybe.

Now, I have to confess I am quite the tea person. Since tasting the first sip at a young and impressionable age of perhaps 5, I was hooked for life and had no option but to become quite the incorrigible tea addict.

Tea before breakfast to summon up courage to speak to the tomato-hearted, stone-faced cook who is sure to ask, "Where is the tomato, madam, I cannot cook without tomato."
Tea for dipping Marie biscuits and betting on when they would melt.
Memories of 1 small cup of tea over shared dreams and bunked classes.
Tea for meeting friends in office and finding new targets for our word game pot-shots.
Tea for the latest crime novel guess-the-murderer stage.
Tea for the evening rain-soaked hug.
Tea for the mad run in the playground with kids.
Tea for post-dinner soul searching with friends.

Tea, anytime, anywhere. Tea for friendships, tea for love. Tea for being alone. Tea for me.

Strong milky tea, lemon tea, ginger tea, masala chai, women's health tea (yes, that's available at our office, if you don't believe me), tried them all.

These days, I am personally inclined towards Darjeeling tea. The flavors, the aroma, the richness. Not a drop of milk to spoil the originality. 2 sips and I can tell you good tea from bad.

But then, am stumped by the elusive green tea.

My quest for the perfect green tea seems to be the most difficult tea-trek of all.

Tata, Lipton, Kerala Ayurveda, Chinese, Japanese. Tried all brands. All flavors.

That they all taste like varying versions of mildly flavored boiling water, uninspiring to say the least, nauseating to say the truth, is quite shameful to even write about.

And of course, I am loath to admit that, even to myself.

After all what sort of tea person am I if I can't like green tea? And so the quest will continue.

How long can green tea flee?

Green tea and me,
Best friends, we tried to be,
But, alas, the lack of flavor and taste,
2 sips and ugh...I ran away in haste,
Pray, show me the perfect cup of green tea:)







Thursday, 31 October 2013

Dance lessons from a 7 year old

Between my husband and I, we definitely have 4 left feet, if not more. Imagine our shock, then, when our enthusiastic 7 year old daughter (yes, by some miracle of God, she actually loves dancing. Since it can’t be genes, we can only thank the school, the daycare, her friends or just her God-gifted twinkle toes) decides to take matters into her own hands and teach us dancing. And she is, of course, one strict teacher. She won’t allow us us breaks to peep into our laptop screens for mails which might have come from bosses or respond to facebook likes and philosophic comments that might have come from friends. The word stops. We need to dance to her tunes.

So, that night after dinner, we clear the table and our throats and stand in attention. The lesson starts:

Twirl
Point
Turn
Twist
Drop

The fact that we almost collapse in a heap and hardly manage to get a step is quite besides the point.

As our daughter, by then, her inept students forgotten, stands, lost in her perfect ballet stance, it strikes me, what more can she teach us, if we allow her to?

Do parents always need to be the teachers or we can leave aside our egos and let our children take the lead at times? What lessons can they teach us?

-“She was hungry, Mama, I gave her my tiffin”. Lesson – compassion and kindness, ability to give regardless of what we have. The most powerful lesson our children can teach us.

-“Don’t use the plastic, Papa, let’s get a paper bag” Lesson – they care for the environment and refuse to take short cuts even if we do at times.

-“Today is Saturday, time for a long story” Lesson – not plan every minute of our lives but just enjoy unhurried and unstructured moments that unfold leisurely.

-“Eat this Papa, I mixed chocolate in the chicken” Lesson – creativity, in the smallest of things, the wonder, the amazement of learning and the complete lack of cynicism and ‘I know it all’ that some of us get used to displaying, as adults.

-“No problem, Mama, if you have a call till late, just talk quickly and come home early” Lesson – solutions before cribs, when we often get lost in stating the problem.

-“You are the best Mummy, Papa in the world, and now give me a Kinderjoy”. Lesson – Inspiration in the people around us – maybe appreciate friends and colleagues more, they might also be happy and give us our version of Kinderjoys.

In her own amazing, funny and creative way, she teaches us something new everyday. 

We may never be able to learn the complicated ballet steps, but hopefully we can at least do some Bollywood jhatkas with her and in time, maybe dance the Lungi dance together a-la Sharukh Khan. 

And learn to be a parent worthy of being called her mother.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

From Salads O No, to Salads, Hello

"Salads, Yuck" has been my motto for most of my life.

Growing up in a staunchly Bengali household dedicated to the unwavering search for the freshest fish and the sweetest sweet, I grew up in blissful ignorance of the vast world of salads.

Fibre be damned and greens, well, who on earth heard of that?

The only taste of salad I remember were the customary, large, round, pieces of onion, cucumber and tomato that used to be the standard accompaniment to the Sunday morning, post-Mahabharata, feast of Mutton curry and rice. But well, with the omnipotent Kosha Mangsho around, did anyone else stand a chance? We had so much more to chew on than just cucumbers and onions.

Little wonder then, that I stared in amazement when Popeye extolled the virtues of spinach and wrinkled my nose at the occasional "shak" that dared to venture near our fish-laden plates.

Experimental trips to taste continental cuisine in restaurants mostly had me scraping off the pieces of chicken with utter concentration leaving the bland, bits of boiled carrots and beans to wilt away in abject disgrace.

Till the following kicked in:
  • A 7 year old, world travelled, Masterchef watching daughter with her own gourmet demands
  • An urge to finally battle the post-motherhood weight gain
  • The world of BBC Good Food Magazine that made salads look good, mouthwatering, even
  • Nigella, Masterchef Australia and a host of other cooking shows on television that showed salads not just as side-kicks to the glorious meats and fishes but as delicious dishes by their own, healthy rights
  • Salad talk did sound way cooler than cucumber when Matt Preston spoke about it in his trademark style in Masterchef Australia
  • And did I mention that salads are the easiest to cook and amazing to try your hand at creativity with myriad salad dressings sitting invitingly in Natures' Basket counters?
So, our Sunday morning lunch is a far cry from those good, old days. Mutton, or no mutton, yummy salad is always the first course on offer, much to the surprise of my parents.

Did you know there is a salad for every palate,
Cold pasta, Chicken Ceasar, Waldorf,
Spicy Thai, Gourmet Italian, what's to hate?
Easy to try, just mix and toss,
For extra spice, add chat masala or a dash of pepper sauce,
And say hello to weight loss!

Greek salad with grilled lemon chicken..Source - Internet



Sunday, 20 October 2013

The shades of life

We know them well,
They who ruled our dreams and our nightmares,
The angel of white,
Of hope, of love,
A mother’s undying love, a friends’ unshaken belief,
Childhood’s caress, love’s unspoken faith.
The devil of black,
How well we know him.
The black loss of despair,
The swirling snake of hatred.
The empty seed of envy, the ruthless power of ambition,
We grew up watching them, Dancing to their tunes,
But where are they now?
And who are these shapeless forms, watching us instead? 
Unknown, unseen mass clouded by grey,
The mangled web of mediocrity, The naked face of fear,
The shaking hand of indecision, The laughter of cynicism,
The insipid lack of inspiration, The fake smiles of polite disdain,
All shrouded in grey,
They surround us. They engulf us.
We look for the known faces,
The familiar world of black and white,
But they recede further,
The quagmire of grey rises.
It shifts, it turns, the faces change, the faces leer,
You gulp, you gasp, you try to breathe, you try to run,
But your legs give up, you stand rooted, tranfixed.
It is too real to be a dream, too real to be a nightmare,
It is too real,
This endless, rising, blanket of grey.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Sponsored Video: Help a child reach 5!

At 1,
You are working nights, planning her first birthday party,
They are working nights, fighting to get food and safe water for her.

At 2,
You are running for her school admission,
They are running to save her life; she is fighting diarrhoea.

At 3,
You are reading bedtime stories to her,
They are reading the hospital bills with tears in their eyes.

At 4,
You are teaching her about the world,
They just lost their world-
As they stand in front of the small pyre; life and dreams up in flames.

At 5,
She is with you, today and forever,
But for them, she is lost forever.

This is the plight of millions of children in India. Millions who die even before they turn 5. Millions who never get a chance to live, to dream, to learn.

This is the India we never stop to think about as we shower all our love and our riches on our children.
India, a country which has one of the highest number of child deaths due to diseases which can be prevented by simple preventive measures such as washing hands.

Diseases such as Diarrhoea and Pneumonia.

Can we help? Can an action as small as awareness about washing hands help them? Yes, it can. Please watch the video and spread the word. This campaign has adopted a village called Thesgora in Madhya Pradesh which has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest number of diarrhoea cases.
We may not have the magic wand to get rid of poverty but we can do our bit to spread awareness in our neighbourhood, in our schools and in our homes. 

And if we want to do more, we can donate at
http://unr.ly/16W4RWa

6 lakh children under 5 die this way every year in our country. It's not their time to die. Not yet. Not this way.
They need our action. They need our voice.

This post has been sponsored by Lifebuoy.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

What do we really give?

The eyes, you notice them first,
Eyes that have seen too much,
Eyes that know what’s false and what’s true,
Yet eyes that smile, warm and pure,
As you stand at the door; transfixed, unsure.

The smiles, yes, you notice them too,
Uncertain, yet bright, full of hope,
And dreams, untarnished by the past.

Their bodies frail, their clothes faded,
But nothing about them seems tired or jaded.

They may be
Children of war,
Or of abandonment,
Or of unimaginable terror.
But they want to live,
Are we really able to give?

Rushing every moment through life's giant schedule,
When did we lose time in this maze and riddle?
The money, the gifts, yes, they need them for sure,

But before you drop them and flee that door,
Do you feel this too?

That you might respect yourself more if you give them that lost time,
A long minute, frozen, just to hear them laugh, loud and free,
A gentle touch, a hug, a smile; will all that take up too much time?

But maybe innocence disfigured does still make you flinch?
You turn away - hey aren't you giving, standing at the fringe?

That clock, do you wish you could turn it back? To heal those scars?
Before the abandonment, or the terror, or the wars?
But then it’s all over, it’s time to run again,
To the giant schedule, the maze, the pain.

Does the mirror show just your own battered soul?
A futile attempt to feel again cleansed and whole?
Or does your heart skip a beat, do you feel that tug,
That glow of warmth that you cannot dismiss with a shrug?

Do the smiles and the eyes stay with you
Long after you leave that door?

For they may be
Children of war,
Or of abandonment,
Or of unimaginable terror.
But they want to live,
Are we really able to give?

image sourced from google.com




Sunday, 1 September 2013

All that we cannot share

Don’t share with me your golden smile,
They need it, those that with you will walk a mile,
Or maybe two. Let them see you sparkling always.
Don’t share with me your glorious mornings,
Full of laughter and charm.
When you feel invincible,
Free from hurt and harm.

Share with me but your silences,
Share with me your fears,
Share with me the rush of sudden, unbidden tears.
Those unimaginable nightmares that 2 a.m. in the night, seem so real,
Awakening the demon of self-doubt, the mad urge to flee your dream.
When you are no longer the tower of strength that you may otherwise seem.

Let the world see you in your glory,
Share with me, you.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

This ain't funny - A corporate limerick

A limerick for the funny ones who are scared of unleashing their humor on the poor unsuspecting souls lurking around the 'serious' corporate corridors. And they have every right to be scared. After all, 

a) people might laugh at them rather than at the joke
b) people might not laugh at all
c) people might stare at them as if they just landed from another planet
d) people might banish them to another planet (meaningless roles) in office


“Hey, is it true, I just heard a terrible rumor,

That you dare to show signs of wit and humor!”

The office gossip shares,

And conspiratorially declares,

“The Boss says cut it out, this may be a non-benign tumor”



Saturday, 3 August 2013

Shades of Rain

In your gentle whisper, in dreams that got woven and in stories that got told,
The innocence of childhood, my outstretched arms tried to hold.

Yes, the paper boat washed away but the color of memories, will they ever fade?
The first taste of freedom, white and clear; the fresh smell of pain, raw and red?

The times when you lashed out in a torrent of utter rage,
Wiping out all that was practiced and scripted, leaving behind just the blank page.

Insidious and relentless, you hammered away, at times, in vain,
Washing away reason and control with bleak madness and pain.

You teased and tormented stoking the ache of longing in the play of love and hate,
Amid the stolen glances, the forced distances, and the seemingly endless wait.

But they said run away, don't dream in the rain,
Beyond the poetry and pain, lie the everyday mundane.

Muddy shoes, endless snaking traffic and a sick child’s cough,
Did you wonder why none but children found you gloomy and tough?

But I loved you best, rain, when you drenched me senseless and free,
Happy sharing you with a smile, a caress, a book and tea.

I see you today again,
The pellets of dreams, the drops of hope,
I see you today, rain,
Not your whisper, not your anger, not my happiness, not my pain,
But a second chance to relive,
My lost childhood again.


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Nursery Rhymes: Are they really for children?

They are meant for children, it is true, but do you ever wonder how scary some of them sound?  Sample this:

Hush-a-by baby
On the tree top,
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall,
And down will fall baby
Cradle and all.

And what happens when the cradle and the baby fall? When we stop singing them and really try to understand the meaning of these rhymes, don't some of them just sound too shocking and too violent to be sung for children? So "Humpty Dumpty had a big fall", "Jack broke his crown", "Peter Pumpkin put his wife in a pumpkin shell", "Down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose". These are just a few illustrations from so-called popular nursery rhymes.

Agatha Christie, the queen of crime, had often used nursery rhymes as clues and even as names in some of her murder mysteries, realizing perhaps, long back, the sinister implications that some of them had. "One, two, buckle my shoe", "Sing a song of sixpence", "Five little Pigs", were all catchy titles and more in Christie books.

And if you don't believe me, read the links below for the sinister historical background and implications of some of the famous nursery rhymes that we sing for our children.

http://www.pinkheartstring.com/2013/03/truth-behind-nursery-rhymes.html

http://listverse.com/2012/11/28/10-sinister-origins-of-nursery-rhymes/

Maybe we should start singing classical music instead to rock our children to sleep.



The voice of a rebel

"No" cries the voice emphatically. The head shakes vigorously. You give up the battle even before you had even started it. The plate of mashed apple that you had prepared with great care looks equally defeated and dejected. And she declares victory, your one year old daughter who has just learnt how to say no. Do we ever wonder how and why our children learn to say "no" so early and so clearly? It is because -
  1. that's what they keep hearing from us when they start their journey into the world of naughtiness exploring the unknown world of forbidden corners
  2. its easier to learn to say "no" than to learn to say "yes" when you start speaking
  3. all children are born rebels till life teaches them otherwise
1 and 2 may be fine but I believe the answer is 3. And that our natural rebellion is subdued and wiped out by years of conditioning, rules and perennial "no" from higher authorities. So much so that we often end up becoming cogs in the wheel, indistinguishable from each other, devoid of rebellion, reminding one of Tennyson’s Crimean War poem “Theirs not to reason why, theirs just to do and die”.

And then there a few rebel souls who keep saying no all their lives. History speaks of rebels from Spartacus to Garibaldi who dared to be different, leading their teams to revolt, war and victory. Not just rebel leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, social leaders, business leaders, a lot of them are often looked upon as rebels. They are the ones for whom George Bernard Shaw would have said "You see things as they are and ask, "Why?" I dream things as they never were and ask, "Why not?". And they are the ones who often ending up changing our age-old perceptions and indeed, the world.

But rebellion doesn't come easy and its never without a price. For all the would be rebel souls, those at crossroads in their lives and those who are rebels-in-waiting, here’s a rebel theme song from me. For, to rebel or not to rebel should not be the key question.

I am not a fly on the wall,
You can’t swat my will, you can’t make me fall.
You can’t make me a cynic try as you may,
I still have a dream and I will find a way,
To be free from being a cog in this wheel,
Have the courage to be different and to feel,
And to think and to reason and question why,
Not just do what I am told till I die.
Stupid rebel you may label me,
And I know you won’t walk with me,
But I’ll stand for things I believe in,
I won’t always play to win.
I won’t sell my soul; your wallet is not big enough,
I can live with my dream, the world is big enough.
They say,
“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears”.
I would rather take my chance, be myself, even if it leads to bitter tears.
Stupid rebel you may label me,
And I know you won’t walk with me,
But I’ll stand for things I believe in,
I won’t always play to win.

So, next time my child shakes her head with a vehement no, maybe I won't feel like hitting my head against a wall. Maybe I'll listen and I'll say to myself, "relax, this maybe the voice of a rebel". The mashed apple may be the beginning and just a sign. Who knows if she will create history one day? Today's rebel could be tomorrow's leader.

I end with this quote on rebellion that defines a lot of rebels. “Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being." Albert Camus, The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt

Monday, 29 July 2013

Death by a pothole

No, it wasn't the torrential rains, nor was it the open manhole,
They didn't cause the death of the forgotten and unknown soul,
He died in utter ignominy,
Unable to believe the blasphemy,
That death could come by a pothole.

And who's there to take the blame?
To take action and to shoulder this shame?
Will the faulty roads ever see repair?
Or will common people just have to risk their lives and beware,
Caught in the trap of this nasty and dangerous death game?



Does it look like a crater? Beware, it kills too. Image - google.com




Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Death comes again

The rain beats steadily against the window like an uninvited guest.
The room is dark save for a lone light in the centre where a figure is crouched alone.
The knife, with its sharp glint, inches up slowly and stealthily.
The killer strikes the unsuspecting victim. Again and again.
Till the page of the book is turned.

Sounds familiar?
Sounds like you? Not the killer, I mean, the reader…
Let me guess –
  •  Sherlock Holmes, Byomkesh Bakshi, Feluda, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple – been there, read that?
  • Your idea of a perfect day – an unread Agatha Christie where you could guess the murderer?
  • Does everyone else in the family thinks you must have gone nuts as you sit and watch back-to-back Criminal Minds and/or Law and Order episodes to relax at the end of a long day?
  •  You wonder who let CID be launched on Indian Television as a crime show rather than a comedy one?
Well if the answer to majority of the above questions is yes, then, like me, by now you would have finished all the classic murder mysteries and wondered, now what?

Where are the real psychological crime thrillers now?

That book which you can’t put down, which keeps you awake at night, which sends shivers down your spine and which unravels the dark corners of a criminal mind?
The stories that do not just read like fast paced action drama or like gruesome accounts of blood and gore with DNA analysis thrown in for good measure but which challenge you to unravel a puzzle and match wits with a ruthless and highly intelligent killer?
The good old-fashioned "whodunit" which reflects the changes in society and the dangers of the human mind?
Well, the good news for all crime-starved souls like us is that there do exist crime authors in this genre. The bad news is not many of them are based out of India.

My top picks for a few interesting crime authors and the unforgettable characters they have created:

1. PD JAMES
    About the author: She's 90 and still quite a presence! Worked in the Home Office
    Backdrop of the stories: London
    Detective: Adam Dalgilesh; celebral and private, fond of writing poetry
    What's unique: precise prose and sharp insights into human mind
2. RUTH RENDELL
    About the author: A journalist; believes in exercise of the body and mind even at 82!
    Backdrop of the stories: London
    Detective: Inspector Wexford; well-read, witty, solid, calm, women love him
    What's unique: often tackles issues of social injustice
3. HENNING MANKELL
    About the author: Been a seaman and dabbled in theatre. Lives half the year in Africa
    Backdrop of the stories: Sweden
    Detective: Kurt Wallander; loves opera, grumpy but upright, battles diabetes and more
    What's unique: beautifully incorporates changes in Swedish society
4. JO NESBO
    About the author: Been a financial analyst and a rockstar; also played footfall
    Backdrop of the stories: Norway
    Detective: Inspector Harry Hole; a rebel battling the bottle and his own demons
    What's unique: absolutely chilling crime descriptions; often about women in danger
5IAN RANKIN
    About the author: Has been writing since his graduation in 1982
    Backdrop of the stories: Scotland
    Detective: Inspector Rebus; lonely, troubled, tries hard to stay sober
    What's unique: music plays an important part as a backdrop in his books
6. PETER TEMPLE
    About the author: Former journalist and lecturer
    Backdrop of the stories: Australia
    Detective: Jack Irish; former lawyer turned investigator and others
    What's unique: rich detailing of atmosphere including Australia's urban and rural       
    landscape

There are a few of my current favourite picks. There are many more.
The detectives of these books are not paragons of virtue but believable and flawed characters with their own insecurities and fears. They are at times disillusioned, at times rebellious, they battle alcoholism and/or diabetes. The darkness they see around them affects them deeply; their personal lives are often in shambles. But they are characters one can root for and characters which develop further with each novel rather than remaining static with a few stock and trademark characteristics like some detectives of the earlier days.

Well, naysayers will keep saying crime fiction is all about formula. It will never win the Booker Prize or be called literary fiction. Could be true in many cases. But the best of crime fiction do not just aim to thrill, they feature good language and gripping stories apart from brilliant characterization and a chance to understand the frailties of human mind and the changes in society that we never stop to think about.

I will return later this month with a few new Indian names that can be added to this list. And yes, if you are part of the crime-starved community, please also do share your new favourite authors.

And now returning to the crime scene we left. Did you just guess who the murderer is? 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Death by Tourism?

"What's your dream holiday destination?"

Chances are, when asked this question, many people, across the world, would definitely include one city, Venice.

The mysterious city surrounded by water, with its picture postcard beauty, is etched forever in our memories; a city whose history and beauty have been captured so beautifully in countless novels and not so beautifully in some less than forgettable Bollywood movies.

As I stood in St. Peter's square, trying in vain to look for pigeons to feed, I realized, that I was not alone in my dream. Apparently 26 million other tourists share the same dream and turn up every year for a glimpse of this city, choking its streets in a mad rush to soak in its beauty and history while choking out its residents and even its pigeons.

"The best way to discover Venice is to get lost" our guide told us above the din of voices and the sea of human faces of all ages and nationalities outside St. Peters' Basilica on a pleasant and breezy, May morning

So what made Venice so magical? What could be said about the place that was already not said a 100 times over?

-That's the answer we were looking for as we walked down the narrow roads with its 400 year old buildings that kissed the edge of the water gently even as they seemed to be sinking deeper and deeper into the very canals that ran along the sides.

-The arches above the narrow canals where the men in the black and white striped shirts (gondola boatmen) expertly guided the gondolas and tirelessly ferried another set of tourists for a taste of the Venice experience. 

-The blatant tourist traps almost at every corner with colorful Venetian masks, t-shirts with "I Love Venice" printed in large letters, street art displaying the images of the Venice in its various shapes and forms, all being sold by eager street hawkers to gullible tourists.

-The quaint trattorias that jotted the narrow roads alongside the expensive restaurants, places where one could sit and gaze at the canal and enjoy a glass of wine over a plate of Seafood Linguini.

-The famous glass-blowing factory at Murano, where the masterglass blower literally seemed to be breathing life in the glass figures of horses and vases that seemed almost too ethereal to be true.


the first glimpse of Venice


an old house, note the lovely flowers

Pisa is not the only place with leaning towers, Venice has them too

Master glass blower at work in Murano

the narrow canals that run along the old houses

The Basilica stands proud

The Venice  we all know and love

The gondolas
the winding stairs in one of the old houses - these were used for protection against enemies in the old days

We walked and walked some more and saw it all. All the magical memories that made Venice what it was.

And at every arch, every corner, every canal we crossed, we found other people with cameras and maps, probably in the same quest to discover the magic of the city.

As evening fell and  we came back, as always, to the water, strains of beautiful and hauntingly lilting music bathed the entire quayside in a magical fairy-tale like atmosphere. There seemed to be nothing modern, nothing 21st century, about the city at that moment. It could be a scene straight from the Merchants of Venice. 

And then I saw her, a woman sitting quietly by one of the arches, conspicuous not just by the lack of a camera and map in her hand but but also by the sad look in her eyes, a look which seemed to ask a mute question to those restless tourists who had no time to stop and listen.

"Is tourism killing Venice?"

And no, I did not click her picture. But the pain in her eyes will haunt me forever. The city that was once a flourishing port and trade center, now has hardly any jobs except in tourism. The city that boasts of thousands of hotels for tourists hardly has affordable and inexpensive houses for residents. The city that lures over 26 million tourists annually has less than 60,000 residents today. The city which was famous for its history and its beauty seems to have fallen prey to its own irresistible charm even as it sinks further into the sea and more people leave its choked shores to find home in other and more modern places.

Can Venice reinvent itself and revive its glory? Can Venice be as beautiful for its residents as it is for its visitors? Yes, I fervently hope so. The magic of Venice should not be left to fade away and pain in the woman's eyes should not be unseen anymore.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Motherhood and the art of letting go

The hope of holding on vs. the fear of letting go. What is the right balance in motherhood?

For the first one year, as you feed your child each morsel of food and watch her take her first tottering steps holding on to your hand as an anchor, you feel pain and love as you probably have never felt before. Your world expands, your heart contracts, each time the two small hands unerringly turn to you in her sleep, each time she smiles her toothless smile at you, each time you soothe away her irrational fears, each time you read her favourite bed-time story and she falls asleep, curled up in your lap. You hold on to each fragment of memory, even as they pass by in a blur.

Then comes the day when she steps out, alone, for the first time, to her playschool or her daycare, leaving home and you. She cries, probably only for few days but you cry longer.  You agonize about each cough, each cold, each bruise, each bullied hurt, each imagined hurt, each moment of her life away from you, in her own, growing world.

Time flies.
Her world expands. The sandpit, the playground, the books, the toys, the friends, the teachers.
She finds them all.
You are still there but no longer needed every step of the way.
You watch her grow.
Your heart fills up with pride.
Yes, sometimes also with unbearable pain, when the first sign of rebellion strikes and tantrums replace the sunny smile, when the door slams in your face, when angry words and silence meet your futile attempts at disciplining the unreasonable demands.

But you know this too shall pass.
“You are my best friend”, Mummy she laughs when you cook her favourite food or take her on a holiday.
Your eyes fill up with tears, tears you hide quickly, tears you dare not show. You smile.

And you know that very soon that day will come.
Each year, you will have to let go a little bit more.
Each year, she will grow older and be more independent, a little bit more.

Till the day she leaves home and starts her own life, ready to face the world with the knowledge and courage that you have given her.

You hope you will be ready to let go then. And you hope that at 17, just as at 7, she will still consider you her best friend and share with you her darkest thoughts, her deepest fears, her wildest dreams. That by letting go, you will forge forever the unbreakable tie of love and friendship, love that has no expectations, no boundaries and no end.

You let go.