Sunday, January 22, 2012

Eternity In An Hour - 'Going With The Floh'

"To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour."
William Blake's words ring in my ears as I look back on a Sunday where waking up at 5:45 am was richly rewarded  with several memorable hours spent in Lalbagh, Bangalore's famous botanical garden. It was one of those experiences that was at once fun, reflective, informative and had me longing for more; and to tell you the truth, it's been a while since I came upon one of those!

As you might guess from the way in which I started this post, I'm really not a morning person. If I am to wake up happily, short of 7 hours of sleep, there had better be something that I consider worthwhile and exciting. Today was one of those days - and for it, I owe my thanks to Floh, arguably one of Bangalore's most innovative start-ups, that for once has nothing to do with technology! 

Floh (acronym for Find Life Over Here), started by a charming couple, Siddharth and Simran Mangharam, is an invitation only network of single people who enjoy an active lifestyle. Their mission is simple - provide a safe, engaging and interactive space for single people to meet each other in the context of a shared interest. In a country like ours, where there is a section of society growing uncomfortable with the arranged marriages, Floh comes as a welcome gift for singles who are interested in meeting others like them - people who care about similar things, pursue similar passions, value similar ideals. They're typically looking for a match where an astrologer and caste stipulations are not involved. They're looking for mindsets and behaviors that match rather than any societal "shoulds". 

No surprise for me therefore, when some months ago, my mother enthusiastically urged (almost-thirty-and-still-not-married) me to learn more about Floh, after reading about it in a magazine. When I did get around to reading about it, I liked the idea at once - especially because I am fairly new to Bangalore and don't yet know a lot of people of my age and sharing similar interests. I figured that this was a win-win situation. Quite simply, the best case is that you meet and begin a relationship with a wonderful match. If you don't, you still have a great chance of making friends with people who share your interests... how often is it that you can work such a situation out for yourself, really? I saw Floh taking responsibility for a tremendous amount of effort that I would otherwise have to expend in building my social network in a new city. I was quite sold on the idea...

So it happened today, that I jumped out of bed before the sun declared it a Sunday, having signed up for my first Floh event - a Green Heritage Heritage Walk, guided by Vijay Thiruvady, the 70 year old Bangalorean businessman who happens to be a world class conservationist and clearly in love with the marvel that is Lalbagh. Floh partnered with Bangalore Walks, to have Vijay host this event for its members. 

The Lalbagh rock - silent witness to an eternity
We met at the base of the Lalbagh rock at 6:45 am - a group of about 20 people including Vijay and Siddharth. Sleepy eyes stood out in some faces (probably my own included) while others appeared positively chipper. I saw some people greet each other happily, having met at previous Floh events, while freshers like me made a few introductions - the initial awkwardness eased away by Siddharth's relaxed, gentle style of making people comfortable. Birds called as the sun climbed higher and higher into the sky, the occasional two wheeler was parked noisily near the parking lot adjacent to us, snatches of laughter went up from the group as people got ready for the walk. And then Vijay started...

A septuagenarian, sprightlier than many people decades younger than him and speaking in clipped, impeccable English - Vijay was our guide for the next 4 hours, in a walk that started from the "Hero Stone" near the Lalbagh Rock, meandered through a bewildering variety of trees, each with their own unique story, and ended in a delightful breakfast in the historic Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR) near Lalbagh. 

Facts, dates and insights poured out of Vijay as he took us on a trail that he has guided many a group over, Sunday after Sunday for many years. I learnt that the Lalbagh rock is more than 3.5 Billion years old - formed when the earth's crust was just settling down! It is older than the Himalayas, making those mountains appear infantile at a mere 50 million years. I learnt that a certain fig tree has fruits with flowers inside its fruit -  flowers that would that would never get fertilized if not for a species of tiny wasps that live within the seed and unerringly fertilize only the flowers of similar trees. I learnt that bamboo specimens from the same grove will flower and even die at exactly the same time, even if kept in separate countries. He shared example after example of the miracle that is nature - showing us how everything is linked in an intricately networked cosmos, of which we are all parts. We breathe the air that these trees fill with oxygen, forgetful that our lives are linked inextricably with theirs. They are more complex and hold more secrets than I had ever thought possible. They are as alive as we are...
In the height of summer, it is 4 degrees cooler in the shade of this fig tree than it is outside

Amla, the Indian Gooseberry has more vitamins than an orange could ever dream of having!
Vijay drew out startling insights that linked plants with history, culture - facts that I would never have gained otherwise. Did you know that potatoes played an instrumental role in the French army's successful conquests, before an unwitting move saw it decimated in the wastelands of Russia? Or did you know that the curvilinear scripts of Orissa and the states of South India developed because they had to be written on parchment made of a palm leaf that would stand no other form of writing? Did you know that 75 per cent of the vegetables we eat today are originally from South America? Or that opium grown in India helped the British in their attempts to get tea from China? If you didn't, and if this sort of stuff interests you, you need to go on one of these walks!
Vijay tells us how amber forms from the resin of juniper trees

OK, and now you might ask, what was special about the people that were on this walk? I could go on and on (and I have!) like an excited and nerdy schoolboy in a science-club outing, but wasn't one of the objectives of this trip to meet new people? Yes it was, and I don't intend to skip over it at all! 

For me, the best thing about being in this group was that everyone had come happily because they were interested in the theme of the walk. They were there to explore something special with others who thought it was special too. They asked questions, offered their ideas, exchanged facts and experiences over the 3 hours in which Vijay guided us through the gardens. They related to the glimpse of Eternity that Vijay was trying to give them and they enjoyed the fact that there were others like them experiencing the same curiosity, excitement and moments of wonder. They were, for the most part, going with the flow (or I should say, going with the Floh!) because it was so easy to do that. Jokes, laughter, beautiful smiles rippled through the group all through the walk. Nobody was trying to manage impressions - it was easy to be yourself around others who were being themselves. As we sat down to a superb breakfast in the original MTR, I found myself chatting happily with everyone there, feeling quite at home with a bunch of people that I had never so much as laid eyes on before!
A real Ashoka Tree - the kind that Sita sat under
Will some relationships emerge from this? Probably - and Floh has a great track record of relationships that have formed in the past. It's probably the only network that celebrates when members leave, as you cannot attend Floh events if you are no longer single! Will I attend another Floh event? Most certainly - and Vijay hasn't seen the last of me either!

As I take your leave at the end of this long and meandering trail of thoughts (quite typical of me), I want to leave you with something to reflect on. It is this... Like the bamboo plants that share an invisible connection, installed in the very fabric of their being... we too are all connected in some way. It takes only a little effort to reach out and discover what we have in common with each other. Make the effort to discover this - find out where you are linked and how. You may find a soul-mate, a companion, a friend, or even a family along the path - but the path itself is the greatest destination and the greatest discovery.

Be Happy!

Saturday, January 01, 2011


Each year, I write to all my favourite people sharing with them a special thought of love and some lessons learnt from my experience of life. Each year, the number of people I write to grows, showing me how blessed I am that I get to share my life with an increasing number of wonderful people. This year, I figured that just in case, I've accidentally missed someone's email ID or misspelt it, I'll put my message here too... Happy 2011 all!


Hello! :)

Another year has passed and just before I stride into 2011, I want to take a moment (well… several moments, really!) to wish you and your family a wonderful new year, that brings you an abundance of everything that you need in your journey through life.
2010 was another year of non-stop changes in my life and it taught me more lessons than I can count. My experiences took me from the pain of bereavement to the exultation of winning a new job for myself (a recent development that I’m very excited about!) with many more events in between… a right roller-coaster of challenges and triumphs! I want to take this opportunity to thank you for being there in my life, through everything that has happened. I couldn’t have done it without all the wonderful people that have supported me through the lows and celebrated the highs with me.
I don’t often cite quotations but I want to share this one, just because of how relevant it was for me in 2010. An unknown but very wise person said "A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." As I write, I feel so blessed that I have friends, who make it impossible for forget this song… and I know from the experiences of last year, that they’ll never let me forget the things that make me truly happy. What sense could be better, as one steps into a new year?
So, thank you for the joy you bring to my life, just by being you. In this new year, and in all the years to come, may you receive all the happiness you could desire and more! See you soon!
With love,


Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Cooling Sun

A few days ago, I walked into my colleague H's cabin to chat about some usual work-related stuff, when I noticed a couple of oil-pastel pictures pinned on his soft-board, undoubtedly made by his daughter, who is probably 5 or 6 years old. For a moment, I forgot everything about work as I looked at them, a sense of happiness creeping over me, as can only be experienced by observing something that a child does. I don't know if you agree with me, but I find that there's something incredible about the innocence and intensity in a child's art-work... every line, every scrawl is made with so much effort as little fingers pour thoughts, feelings and spirit onto a piece of paper. It's something that us "grown-ups" could probably learn a few things from!

So anyway, having observed the picture, I simply had to go ahead and ask the oh-so-obvious question... "H, has your daughter made these pictures?" 

My answer was preceded by a big smile that lit up H's face as he turned for a moment to look at the pictures I was referring to. "Yup!" he said. "The first one she made when she was three, and the second one when she was four." The affection and pride in his voice was crystal clear. It was impossible to resist stepping up for a closer look at the pictures. 

The first picture was the one you see attached in this post. On first glance, a bright, smiling sun... something you see in most childrens' drawing books, probably the most common archetype of light, life and happiness that exists today. In this picture too, the image of the sun had all the known markers, a bright yellow fill, a pair of eyes, a little nose and a happy smile. But the rays were strangely different... they were blue, when you'd usually expect yellow or orange or red, right? I stared at them for a while, trying to figure out whether they were supposed to relate to the morning sky or some such thing, when H noticed my interest and helped me with the meaning. 

He said that when he asked his daughter about why the sun had been coloured in this manner, she told him a couple of things... and this is when she was about three years old. She said that the sun had to be yellow because that's how it looks in the sky... OK, pretty good so far. But the rays were blue, she said, because while the sun should give light... it shouldn't make things hot! At this point, I was COMPLETELY bowled over! What an incredible thought in such a young mind! She expressed through her colouring, her simple desire for there to be light, but no blistering heat so typical of the Indian summer. Equally interesting was her associating the colour blue with coolness, at a time when it was unlikely that any direct attempts had been made to teach her to relate colors with sensations. 

You know, I'm no fan of summer or heat... I can't stand perspiring and I much prefer feeling cold to feeling hot. I've often complained about the fact that the entire planet is not cooled by Carrier ACs! But in this picture I saw a child's idea of how she thought the earth could be air conditioned... just by a sun that gives you light but also provides cooling! 

Now, a part of my adult mind is screaming that this is not possible because of various "scientific" reasons, but the child in me is busily socking that part into submission, telling it to take a "chill-pill" and probably think about getting some chocolate! Science be damned... just the thought behind her picture is enough to make me think that we're probably born as lateral thinkers, but as we grow older, we have to pay hundreds of thousands of bucks to a few people who try and teach us to be that way again! When does the conditioning set in? When does our ability to think without boundaries, love without constraints, dream without restraint really get terminated? When do we give up the freedom that exists in a child's mind? ... and WHY... why do we allow any of this to happen? 

The answers are sort of there for us ... it's not really in our control, it's in societal and familial conditioning, the education system etc. etc. But are these really good enough reasons? Maybe it's time to take a call about when and whether we want our kids to become "adults"... think about it and let me know your thoughts :)

God bless!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Butter from a drawer

Clearing out a big ol' drawer or cupboard is usually a terrible drag, but it does have its moments. Just a week ago, on a Sunday morning, Mama, my mother, was rummaging through the various storage areas we have in our home, as I watched in a mild stupor (having woken up to a flurry of spring cleaning activities that I joined with a good deal of reluctance). Halfway through our efforts, something interesting happened.

"Nani's handbag..." I heard her say, and I looked vaguely in her direction, struggling to shake off the last bits of sleep that still clung to me. "Nani" is the name by which my sister and I called our late maternal grandmother. She's been gone for over two years now.

Once I focussed completely, I found Mama sitting before an open drawer, the contents of which were mostly out on the floor and roughly sorted into keeps and discards. In her hands rested a beige leather handbag which she had kept while clearing out the last home that Nani lived in. The bag had made its way to Mumbai from Bhuvaneshwar, where Nani breathed her last, right into the drawer that Mama was now clearing out. Seeing the bag instantly brought me a pang of grief... one that I knew was echoed in Mama's heart. I suppose you can make your peace with the departure of a loved one, get on with your life and be truly happy... but there will still be moments when you wish he/she was still around to share your life as tangibly as you experience it.

Wordlessly, Mama started going through the bag and I realised she had probably not done so till today. Nani's handbags had always been capable of storing the most incredible number of things... actually, that's not very different from a lot of women I know, but Nani had just a slight edge over them! While growing up, I don't recall actually seeing the inside of her handbag because she was usually very careful with it, but I do know that it had, on different occasions, provided her with cash, make up, combs and hairbrushes, clips, tweezers, nail-clippers, medicines, tissues, stationery, small religious books, toffees, photographs and LOTS more. As Mama proceeded to go through it, a few things came out that were so in line with Nani's ways that it felt as though she was right there.

First came a bunch of money, Rs. 900, extracted from the bag's most well concealed pouch. Nani always had a secret store of cash for emergencies, having raised a large family that went through some very rough times. She carefully put small amounts of money away, just in case there was an exceptionally rainy day that called for it. We decided to let the money be where it was...

Next came a bunch of keys all tangled up with string and rubber bands. There was no sign of locks in the bag and we knew at once that we'd never be able to figure out what the keys were for. They reminded me of how many little boxes she used to have and how her keys often got jumbled up. Unlocking anything later was such a comical task (as long as you were a third party observer) because everyone involved would be poring over all these little keys, trying them out on different locks, grumbling, griping and laughing all along!

A few odds and ends later came the last item - a little zippered pouch that she usually kept coins in. There were no coins in is this time, just a few scraps of paper and two passport sized photographs of my father, Nani's first and arguably favourite son-in-law. That was the MOST typical finding :) Nani had a habit of keeping something precious to her in places where someone else would never think of looking. None of this was ever anything of commercial value, but it was always something that meant a lot to her. Photographs of her family, a handwritten letter, drawings or paintings made by her grandchildren. Small things like these keep surfacing as we go through her things, each of them a reminder of how much she loved us... or as I think, how much she loves us!

It's odd that today, more than ever, I am aware of Nani's love for me and for our family. It's as if she moved out of her body and spread herself, like butter on toast, all across our lives. Isn't that something to think about?... Butter melts and gets absorbed in the toast - and you really sense its presence when you breathe in the aroma or take a bite of the toast... And in just the same way, great love goes deep inside everything it touches... and every now and then, when you take a moment to go through a "drawer", you find it there :)

Much love! God bless!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Saturday Rated "R"

Like I've said before in many posts, and in many different ways, there are moments when I realise that the Universe has conspired to give me a lovely gift, with its trademark subtlety, probably rejoicing in the waves of thanks that I keep giving once I'm fully aware of the gift and it's meaning. The last Saturday was one of those gifts - a period of almost uninterrupted and very meaningful experiences, mostly because of my friend "R", who is a big part of that gift (if you've read more of my posts, I'll understand if you feel irritated at my preference for referring to people by the first letter of their first names - but just bear with me please... it's a quirk I'm fond of keeping).

I met R two weeks ago, in Pondicherry, where we both attended a training programme. In sharp contrast to everyone else, I found him to be intensity personified. Whether he's working, chatting, joking, cooking or even shopping for something - R has a quality that immediately sets him apart from everyone else. I suspect that it is sheer confidence in his voice and the disarming openness (sometimes even challenge) in his eyes that distinguishes him, as he strides through situations with a great sense of control, which coexists somehow, with a childlike curiosity and fondness for learning new things. Actually, come to think of it, that's not very surprising, is it? Oh well... that's a whole new post, all together!

While our other classmates left the previous night, R and I had to extend our stays in Pondicherry for some work. Being a complete stranger to this place, I wasn't really certain about what I'd be doing over the weekend. R, on the other hand, knew Pondicherry pretty well, from several trips in the past, and had a very clear idea of where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do. I was already very comfortable in R's company, having found in him a shared fondness for cooking and an unusually engaging conservationist. What felt particularly nice to me, however, was his spontaneous suggestion that I accompany him on one of his jaunts... I accepted and so began the most fun day I have had in Pondicherry.

I've you've read "Vroom!", one of my earlier posts, you'll understand the thrill I felt while sitting in the pillion seat of the "Activa" scooter that R rented for the weekend, with the world streaming away behind me as the little vehicle bore us towards Auroville, R's chosen destination for the day. R told me much later that he was squinting furiously the entire time he was driving, because he had to sunglasses... a good thing too, because I might have been considerably less thrilled, had I known of this earlier! :)

I had no idea what the day ahead and Auroville would hold for us - I had decided to let serendipity take charge of the day... That, and R's plan! I'm SO glad that I had no agenda, because he took me to some of the most interesting places I have visited in any town. Being a designer and artist by instinct, qualification and experience, R gravitates towards the best local craftsmen, wherever he goes. He finds out where they are through goodness knows what means and tracks them down to spend time with them, watching what they do and placing orders with them, for his home and loved ones. So over the course of the day, we had made stops at a bronze statue maker who used the ancient "lost wax method", a couple of cobblers that make footwear to order, a stone carving shop, a factory for handmade paper products, a potter, the famous Kalki boutique at the Visitors Center of Auroville's Ashram, a shop selling exquisite cane products from the Northeast and a charming little coffee shop that sold lovely ceramic cups in addition to great organic coffee and tea. Fortunately for us both, I'd carried my trusty knapsack which was soon filled to the brim with our shopping at these spots.

The highlight of all the shopping was the time spent picking out leather slippers that we had made at by a cobbler that R had discovered on an earlier trip. Utterly fascinated, I watched as the cobbler and his assistant engaged with R in an elaborate ritual of selecting leather of various shades and textures for the designs that R had in mind. The blueprints of some truly stunning designs emerged as I looked on; R chose rich browns, tempered with accents of dull gold, bright green and red laced with a hint of white - colors that I had never associated with footwear now came together in an impressive display of his elegant design sense. Far more arresting, however, was the sheer love with which he watched over the creation of the red and green slippers for his wife, supervising the measurements himself, making timely corrections whenever the cobblers seemed to be off track, and occasionally pausing to give me some tidbit about the process, but clearly focused the entire time, on what it would be like to go back home and give the gifts he'd made with such care . By the time we left, I too had also bought myself some slippers; great designs at a fantastic price thanks to R's bargaining (another surprise from his "bag of tricks"). Of course, he did lament a couple of times that my appearance was far too touristy (i.e. shades, cap and backpack) and prevented him from bargaining as much as he could otherwise. My response was only to remove my shades a little before we visited a vendor... I mean there is a limit to which a chap will go, right? :)

When we finally reached our guesthouse, I felt the way a little boy feels when he gets back from a day at the amusement park or zoo - tired and exhilarated all at once. I'd been given a guided tour of some of the most interesting art-forms I've seen in some time, by a most excellent guide, who was clearly in the flow of things. So what if I was so absorbed with the musical instruments at the Kalki boutique that we didn't make it in time for lunch at any other place than a wayside shack, which served the most peculiar veg chowmein at around 4 pm? Not even the love of food could come in my way that Saturday! And through it all, R never tired of cracking his trademark jokes, many of them at my expense, as he observed my child-in-a-candy-shop approach to the day! In an odd way, those jokes reminded me of a very valuable lesson - never to take myself too seriously because there's almost always a lighter side to things, often as valuable as the not-so-light.

And so, quite by chance and pretty much unasked for, I was treated to a day of endless discovery and amazement that I will remember for many years to come. It was one of those days that makes you feel happy to be alive and drawing breath in this world, because you share it with some wonderful people. There's so much to learn and so many to learn from... and truth be told, all you have to do is ask....

God bless!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Roughin' It Out with S

The following post was inspired by a recent trip to Mahabalipuram, with my friend and colleague, S, who is currently with me in Pondicherry, for a training programme...

On first sight, my friend S (not to be confused with the 'S' I wrote about in the lunchtime post) comes across as the picture of composure - very slim, very calm, bright-eyed and sharp featured. She speaks in clear, measured sentences that constantly hint at a clever and observant mind.

If you know S for even a couple of weeks, you will figure out that she is quite the traveller, with an incurable wanderlust that drives her to discover and visit quaint places around any city that she happens to be in, the moment there is any free time at all. With the internet as her faithful ally, she scours the map for such destinations and figures out meticulous plans for reaching them - ask her some nitty gritties and she'll either know them or convince you that they are unimportant. Lots of people I know have been drawn to her infectious spirit for travelling and have gone along with her for all kinds of treks, picnics etc. around the Mumbai area. I haven't been on a picnic/trek with them yet, but just this morning, I had an "S-Uninterrupted" experience, that I'd like to share with you - as yet another example of the indefatigable human spirit (quite literally, might I add - the girl just doesn't get tired!).

So, if you know me, you know that I'm fond of comfort (and clearly not ashamed to admit it!). I like the "good life" and try to get the best that I can possibly get within my means. When it comes to travel, this usually implies air-conditioned transport arrangements (I don't do very well when it's hot and I'm perspiring with no sign of it stopping), accommodation in any place that has super-clean sleeping and bathing arrangements, proximity to great eating options (if the food is really good, I don't mind spending the extra buck at all). If I'm on the road, I'd always pick an air-conditioned car, where I can relax in the backseat and stare dreamily out of the car, watching the trees, lakes, pedestrians zip by... I'm sure you get the picture by now!

Well, S, is apparently the exact opposite - being inclined to find the most rugged options for travel that are humanly possible - and seeming to be of the opinion that if you've roughed it out enough, it doesn't matter what food option comes your way... it WILL taste good (and by George, she's right, as I discovered today)!.

So this morning, as per S's plan, I half climbed-half fell out of bed at 5:45 am, panic mounting with every second, as I realised we had only 15 minutes before our car left (it was air-conditioned - a small mercy, because someone else was travelling in our chosen direction and we hitched a ride with them). Somehow, bathed and shaved, I made it down to the hotel lobby in time and we left - me sitting in the front seat, bleary-eyed and disoriented, S chatting merrily with the other passengers sitting at the back, until drowsiness and the steady drone of our speending car had her and the others fast asleep too.

About a 100km later, we entered our destination, Mahabalipuram, the driver winding us through small, overcrowded streets towards the sea, where the Shore Temple waited for us. I was dimly aware of some large rock carvings as we drove, but by the time I was fully awake, we had reached the main entrance of the Shore Temple compound... and I had noticed the Sterling Resort hoarding on the way. At least our breakfast spot was fixed!

The only thing I didn't like about the Shore Temple was the fact that it is not an 'active' temple any longer. No chanting to match the cadence of the magnificent sea that rumbles just a stone's throw away; no flowers adorming the temple walls or the massive Shivalingam... just a silent testimonial to the glory that marked the reign of the Pallavas... and the occasional punctuation of clicks coming from S's camera. She's quite a photographer, preferring objects and scenery over people - most unlike me; I like capturing places and objects in the context of humans around them (well, mostly!).

Having spent some time wandering around the weathered remains of the Shore Temple, we decided to have breakfast at the Sterling property. The apparent lack of other safe eating options (probably because it was too early for them to have opened shop) sent us hurrying there - stomachs a-grumble with the need for a hearty breakfast. The resort turned out to be quite charming - we ate in a restaurant that was once a British campaign site, filled with labeled artifacts of that time - odd things like a vegetable boiler, an earthenware cooking pot etc. each with a card bearing its history and significance. Omelettes, fresh juice, warm toast with butter melting into it came to us, as we cooled off in a spacious veranda, staring out into the dense tree cover that shrouds the resort. I can tell you, that it was with a tinge of regret that I tucked away the last bit of my omelette, savouring the taste of the mushroom bits that nestled in its folds. S, by this time, was already planning where we'd go next(!). It was time for the beach...

Clearly, the beach was the highlight of the day, a 5 minute walk from the restaurant, uninhabited and dotted with colorful seashells, caressed unceasingly by a brilliant blue sea that mirrored and equally vibrant sky. Speechlessness is not something that comes easily to me, but this time, I was truly and honestly overcome... S had also fallen silent (apparently the sea has that effect on her) sitting down happily on the warm sand, staring out into the blue. Before I knew it, I'd taken off my shoes and walked far enough into the water to feel the incoming waves lap over my feet and threaten to pull the sand out from under them - a game that I kept on for quite a while - revelling in the play of sun, sand, sea and wind that swirled all around me, as I closed my eyes and turned my face heavenward. Long moments passed as I experienced the cleansing that nature offered me - a reminder of the delights that I need to provide for the Child in me - delights that cannot be found in any store or book. When it was time to leave, I found that I didn't want to budge from the spot...there was much more I wanted from it, but not nearly enough time to spend there. Oh well... I reasoned with myself that I would return to this place or one very much like it, at another time and place of my choosing and stay there as long as I like. By this time, S had already got phase of our adventure sorted out...

With a couple of bottles of Oxyrich, a 7Up for S and an Appy Fizz for me, we started clambering about the undulating land that bears the famous rock carvings of Mahabalipuram - enormous depictions of famous mythological events, some more silent shrines, the famous "butter ball" etc.etc. - warding off some pushy salesmen who wanted us to buy either postcards, stone carvings or a guided tour. I had to decline the 'tempting' offer based on what I overheard these chaps telling the wide-eyed Europeans that dotted the landscape in little groups. There is a limit to which I will let myself be led!

The noonday sun blazed happily in it's place, when we decided to head back to Pondy. Now came the most interesting part - a much reiterated and long drawn debate, where S strove to convince me of the merits of travelling in a State Transport bus, oblivious to my obvious affinity towards air conditioned volvos or taxis or even an auto rickshaw. "You have to see the locals!" she claimed "Experience the real journey!" she exhorted ... What could I say - the sun left me lightheaded; I succumbed despite my best efforts to uphold the spirit of comfortable travel and air-conditioning!

An endless walk, trying to locate the elusive bus stand, took us through markets with hole-in-the-wall restaurants sporting names like "The Ritz". Heat and dust rose in waves and every passerby that we asked for directions told us the bus stop was just "five minutes" away... I wanted to ask them to try saying forty five, when I finally reached there. The bus that supposedly comes every 20 minutes came only about 30 minutes later. Till it arrived, the ever-bright S pulled out the charming "shun" game from her impressive collection of SOS entertainment methods - basically this is coming up with as many words that end in "tion", as you can, the game going on until someone is out of words or repeats a previously stated word. I won (and that's that, S!).

Finally, the bus came; a reddish monster that hurtled down the highway and came to a heaving, clanking, honking stop near us, barely pausing long enough to gobble up the few mortals that were brave enough to enter it. The driver was kind enough to give me a moment to secure my footing before he took off; S managed to find a pole which she could hold on to somewhere in the middle of the bus - I got a seat right on the bus engine, thanks to the driver, who told me I could sit there. Thus started the 100km ride back to Pondy - S eventually got a seat when someone got off at an earlier stop. I was content to remain on the engine, as I figured it was actually quite a great place to cool off - lovely breeze pouring in from everywhere, knocking away the odour of perspiration (and goodness knows what else) and partially muting the bus driver's primitive horn that blared at an astonishing 14 instances per minute, daring any pedestrian, two wheeler, car and probably even the occasional disembodied spirit to get in the way of our bus! The bus paused for a bio break, only once, during which S made the bright observation that the ONE good thing about sweating so much, is that you don't need to go to a public restroom! :)

At around lunchtime, we came back to our hotel, much fatigued, but with a sense that we'd done quite a bit for a random Friday morning! You know, as much as it may sound like I would have liked to do things differently, when I look back now, I don't think I would have tried it any other way. There was an element of spontaneity to the day, a quality of simple enjoyment that I felt even through the heat, sweat and thirst. Back in my hotel room, as I let the shower wash away all the grime of the morning (and rejoiced in the air-conditioning!) I knew that I'd had a very special day - and a boatload of fun too, thanks to S and her relentless enthusiasm, which most definitely rubs off on anyone by the end of the day - or even halfway through it. Next time, though, we're trying things MY way! :)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Follow That Rainbow

There's a little doll hanging over my desk in the office... a small red and white figure of knitted wool. It's probably no more than a few grammes in weight, but it's loaded with meaning...

Having quit her job, "CD", my friend and ex-colleague, gave it to me just before she walked out of our office for the last time, last Friday. There's one like it on the desks of all her other team members. When she gave it to me, she just said "Remember me..." 

One does not easily forget a colleague like CD; attentive, analytical, efficient, team-oriented and caring. I have chosen to look at her parting gift, not as a reminder of her, but of a principle she exemplified... that of following your heart's calling... following your dream.

CD's decision to leave her job came as a surprise to me, especially because she had just been acknowledged as an outstanding performer and been given a suitable raise. I wondered why she would quit at such a point... it seemed inconceivable that one would leave just when a tangible improvement occurred in the current situation. The answer was even more surprising; she was not moving on to another job in another company, but instead taking a break from work, in order to study further. She is already a top-notch psychologist, in terms of her awareness and command over the subject;  she has now decided to pursue her passion for languages and complete advanced courses in German. What I find most commendable in this is the difficult choice she had to make, i.e. leaving her relative security and stability of her job, to return to life as a student for some time.

I must admit, I was all admiration for her decision. It takes great courage to forsake the familiar and embark on a different journey, even if it is one that will take you closer to your dreams. I thought of CD and noticed the quiet determination with which she had been pursuing her dream all along, even as she balanced work and family life alongside. Even while working, she had completed a course in the difficult language of Sanskrit, preparing hard for her oral and written examinations. She followed this path, even when work through uncommon hurdles in her way, persevering in places where I know many others would have grown weary and given up.

Her decision to pursue German at this point in her life is a bright example of the importance we should give to the dreams that put a smile on our faces, as we think of what it would be like to realise them. It's important to never lose track of them, even while we might be treading on a different path for external reasons. There is always a choice and there are always options... we have to try and be open to them... and sometimes take a little risk as well.

Our team's parting gift to CD was a picture of her realising a long cherished dream in London. It was a picture of her in Lord's, the stadium she had always wanted to visit, being an ardent fan of cricket. She went to London on a project, and took the first chance she got to visit the "hallowed grounds". In that moment she achieved something rare... a moment where her current path coincided with a long held aspiration. It's just wonderful when that happens...

We gave her a picture of herself in Lords as she came up some steps into the galleries, contentment written large all over her face. That's the expression I wish we will all have, sooner than later, if we don't have it already.

Think about it... what are your dreams?