Sea shells in Seychelles

22 July – 31 July 2017

It was a rather random plan that was floated among the four of us – a trip to Seychelles. The name sounded rather exotic to a geographically challenged person like me, and simply the mention of beaches was enough for the idea to be sold.

My husband and I often travel to the forests of India. These trips usually have a fixed itinerary – wake up, go on safaris, eat, go back on a safari, sleep and do the same thing the next day. As routine as that may sound, the real thrill is in discovering the hidden beauties of the forest. So each minute in each safari is unpredictable, although the overall trip is planned to the T.

This time however, the destination was a little out of the comfort zone, and we struggled to wrap our heads around it. What do we pack, how much do we pack, do we need to carry food, will we have to wear a new set of clothes every single day?! Questions troubled us on the prior evening as we sat amidst a pile of clothes and wondered why we chose such an ‘offbeat’ destination….

My first impression of Seychelles was a thin strip of runway, flanked by sea on both its sides. Suddenly, I was restless for the plane to land and to get out there and smell the ocean breeze.

We landed in Mahe and rushed to catch a jetty that would take us to the island of Praslin. We had planned our vacation around the three islands that are usually preferred by tourists – Praslin, La Digue and Mahe. Unlike my traveller husband, I had not read anything about these places. I was ready to embrace whatever came my way, the good or the bad. Although looking around at the beautiful landscape, it didn’t seem like any bad would come our way for the next 9 days.

The boat ride to Praslin was the first reminder that you need the bad to help you appreciate the good. As the boat rode the rough sea at high speed, our stomachs churned and each one of us dealt with our first bouts of sea sickness. When the boat finally reached Praslin an hour later, we walked out with pale faces and weak knees, but eager to have reached the first destination.

The only plan for this vacation was that it was going to be entirely unplanned. We had a few destinations in mind, which we absolutely wanted to check out, but other than that….we could laze around all day in the house, on the beach, or wherever we wanted.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Was, too! 😉

We lived in self – catering apartments on all the three islands, and that was a rather fun experience as opposed to living in a typical holiday resort. You get a taste of what setting up a home in a foreign country will feel like. You get used to a different kitchen set up and new tools around the house. You get used to the neighbourhood and the cheapest bread and butter options around! And above all, you get acquainted with the locals and their way of life.

Each island we visited had a different perspective towards life. Mahe was a typically bustling city, filled with supermarkets and branded stores. People rushing about their work, not having the leisure to share a smile with their neighbour. Praslin, on the other hand, was a little more relaxed. Random strangers greeted us and wished us a Good Day ahead; taxi drivers struck up conversations on the most weirdest of topics!

But the best of the lot was La Digue. A tiny island, the only way you could move around was on foot or by bicycle. For the lazy, there were battery operated cars too. Everyone here had more than a minute to spare and we were ‘my friends’ to all the locals. This was a place where everyone had the time to see the sunset, every single evening.

These 9 days on pristine beaches and foreign soil, somehow put my entire life in perspective. I wondered why we miss out on admiring nature’s beauty so often and prefer to stay glued to our computer screens instead. Why don’t we look out of our windows more often? Why don’t we take a moment to think about why we are doing what we do, but just prefer to work right on? A taxi driver in Mahe further strengthened this thought, when he casually commented, “See, only Indians working on Sunday. Rest everyone takes break, Indians work!” Does that mean we are extremely hard working people? Perhaps! But doesn’t that also mean that we are losing out on so much that there is to offer, beyond our four walls of comfort?

When was the last time you appreciated the sunset and let it envelop you in its romance? When was the last time you walked barefoot through the silvery sands of a pristine beach? When was the last time you stood still and just let the waves wash you around? When was the last time you lived all day in your swimsuit and didn’t mind the sand trails you left all over the house?

I hadn’t really done any of these things till date. But at Seychelles, I lived them to the fullest. It was hard to come back to a life of traffic and pollution and deadlines…but come back, we had to. It was a mental break definitely, but it was also a great learning experience for me.

It taught me to take some time off from all that routine we get ourselves into. It made me look beyond the hazy polluted air and smile at the orange hues of each sunset that I daily drive back home in. In fact, it made me leave office in time to catch each sunset.

Almost 12 days later, I am still suffering from the Seychelles hangover. I have a tan, evidence of all those hours on the beach. I have a swimsuit filled with sand, souvenirs from the waves I jumped into. And I have a smile on my face that refuses to diminish, proof of how effective that vacation was…

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The Kanetkars at No.39

7 August 2017

When you are born an Indian, you grow up accustomed to a crowd. Be it at your local supermarket or while waiting in the enquiry queues at Government offices; if there is one thing we as Indians cannot escape, it is people. And people by the dozens!

Little wonder then that families aren’t an exception to this rule. But with today’s fast – paced and ‘busy’ lifestyles, we tend to hole up in our own spaces. And hate it if asked to share that precious privacy that is solely ours, at the end of each hectic day. A colleague muttered on his way out of office today, “This is all I do, rush from this place to that; find myself trapped amidst the hands of a clock! I don’t seem to have any time for myself!!” That is exactly how each week pans out for so many of us. It is not surprising then that we prefer to just enjoy the silence of our nuclear homes rather than setting foot out into the maddening crowd!

It was just another Monday morning that I woke up to. A Friendship Day Sunday was just past, and though I had been overwhelmed with emotion toward all my friends, I had preferred to maintain a rather low profile. Talking over the phone seemed to be a little too much, texting them seemed much too distant. I shot off some quick “Same to you” messages, but my mind carried over a slight regret on to the next day. Ironically, the next day was a day dedicated to brothers. So yet another wave of emotion and yet another “I’ll talk to them later tonight” excuse to drown it.

Luckily for me, this time someone else took matters in hand, and decided that tonight will literally mean ‘tonight’, for once. A relative had taken the initiative of inviting all of us over for the Rakhi celebration. We cousins always make it a point to meet up on this day, but we never make it to everyone’s houses. So although we do keep up with the tradition, it is still as ‘nuclear’ as it can get! However, this time after a really long time, it was the Kanetkars (and the additions and modifications!) under one roof for an entire evening!

It was with tremendous excitement that I finished up at office that day, and made my way to the relative’s house. Some of the family had already gathered and enthusiastic hellos welcomed us in. People kept coming in over the next hour, and soon we were switching places and accommodating everyone that came in. In a sudden moment of nostalgia, I caught myself looking around and realising that as a family, we had lost some but we had also gained some. Where once we were the ones being the centre of attention, causing all our parents to come rushing behind us; we were now running behind our niece. In narrating to her our childhood stories, we relived them once again. In sharing with her our favourite spots as children, we visited them once again. In helping her discover new relations, we acknowledged them once again. And in seeing her build new memories, we walked down our own memory lanes yet again.

As 4 generations sat down to share dinner that night, I realised that the Kanetkars at no. 39 had spread themselves all over the world in the past few years. Our surnames had changed and so had our preferences. But none of that seemed to have affected our excited chatter that evening. There was no awkwardness, but only a deep sense of security that comes from being a family.

And at that moment, it felt like no matter how many friendships you may build over the years, there is something about family that will always makes you feel ‘at home’…No matter how much the crowd, you will never once feel lost in it!

Cooking Lessons

26 January 2017

Finding good help (or maids) is hard to find. You need to be extremely lucky, they say. But I believe, what is harder is not just finding a maid, but finding someone who is ‘maid’ to be a part of your family too! (Excuse the pun, I couldn’t resist!) I have been having my share of struggles with a new cook in the house. I am not someone who loves to cook; in fact spending too much time in the kitchen is something I am averse to. Thus, after 2 whole years of ‘learning to cook courtesy the Internet’, I gave in to the suggestion of hiring a cook for the three meals in a day.

It is tough, training a third person to develop your taste and presentation of food. It is tough, to teach someone how to please your palate, every day and with every meal. I don’t know how to do it…but I know someone who knew this so well!

It was a text from my mother a few days ago, which brought bad news and ironically also good memories. We had a wonderful cook in the family, ever since I was a baby. A few years ago, she had to quit work because of a severe illness. And a few days ago, she succumbed to it. The day she quit cooking at our house, was the last time I met her. I must have been a school – going child at that time, which seems a long enough time now. And yet, the taste of her food still lingers in my mind…I don’t think I have ever tasted such delicious food, ever again.

She cooked, not just with the ingredients, but with love. She cooked, keeping everyone’s likes in mind but also taught us to respect each other’s differences. She fed us till our stomachs were fit to burst, but she also taught us how to feed ourselves.

She taught me how to roll my first chapati, and then teased me when it puffed up. “Look, the chapati is angry on you! See how she has puffed herself up with anger.” As a child, I used to panic and say Sorry to the chapati, hoping it would forgive me for putting it on the flame. I also believed it used to soften up with my heartfelt apologies and so wasn’t hard to tear up into smaller morsels. I could never roll them round, but she never scolded me. She just taught me Geography, calling those random shapes I rolled as ‘maps’. There is a wall atlas installed in my house, and I think those were the only times I studied it with interest….trying to find where in the world my latest shape fit!

She was someone on whose cooking all of us cousins grew up. She taught us the meaning of family, as we sat together and shared the food. She insisted the entire family ate together often, and she cooked up a storm in the kitchen on those days. Cooking for two people is a task in itself for me, and I wonder how she did it or at least made it seem so easy, even while cooking for almost 13 people, 5 of which were growing – up bodies. We lapped up her food, and we fought over it. We grew up on her food, and we were spoilt rotten for it too.

There are some people you respect in life, and some who you admire. But there are very few people you hold in reverence, and for me, she was the strongest candidate in that list. I don’t have any photographs with her, but I have her memories to keep me going on. She wasn’t related to us, but she never made us feel like strangers. She was, and so we could be.

She will remain, and so will we….bound by the thoughts of her love and the taste of her food.

Rest in peace, Gangubai 🙂

A Quarter Down *hic*

14 November 2016

It is past midnight and technically the 15th of November. I should have been fast asleep ages ago, and yet there’s a deep reluctance tonight to do so. Because if I sleep and when I do, it signals the end of the day. And after waiting an entire year for this day to arise, it is tough to accept it has come and gone already.

The clock struck midnight and the dates switched. A new day has begun and yet I am still caught up in the memories of the day that just was. 25 years ago, on this very day, a teeny tiny red – faced me came wailing into this world. Happy to be here finally and just raring to go. A chubby baby with an unruly bob of curly hair. My baby photographs capture me giving toothless smiles to the camera. Photographs lovingly captured by my photographer dad. My family remembers me as a baby, and I watch myself grow up through the flipping pages of the photo album.

There I am, lying on my back, enjoying being the centre of attention. Learning to stand on my feet, taking a shaky step on my own. I wobble, I stumble, I fall. But out shoots a hand and holds me up. My first lesson at rising up each time I fall.

Sulking behind a cake, hiding behind my mother… I was a shy little child, with never much confidence. Somewhere in those photographs though, I start peeking out. Looking out at the world that has so many opportunities to explore. I wobble, I stumble but I don’t fall. I slowly start to accept me for who I am.

Engrossed in telephone diaries, flipping through a picture book… My obsession with reading captured at each stage of life. I fell in love with a language and the romance blossomed into a lifelong affair. It not only gave me a hobby but it also helped me walk on my career path. I wobble, I stumble but now I do not fall…

I flip through the photographs and cringe at my teenage years. Awkward and an introvert to the core. It took me a trip across the globe, a run around a playground and an hour of conducting tuitions to finally learn to open up. To acknowledge strangers and not peek at them while hiding behind my mother. To conduct conversations and build new friendships. To accept heartbreak and take it into my stride. To sustain a relationship through the growing years and make it into one of my most valuable assets.

I smile at all the memories that run through my mind as my fingers fly over the keyboard tonight. I want to capture it all through words that may live longer than the photographs. I struggle, I falter but yet I continue to type on.

I am a quarter down today. High on life and in no mood to stop drinking in the many experiences that’ll come my way…some good, some bad, some awesome and some that leave me awfully sad. My smile is tinged with some hurt too, as I realise how much life has changed since the day I was born and how much it is going to till the day I cease to exist.

I heave a sigh that is tinged with regret, at the opportunities I denied and the people I’ve lost along the way. I shake my fist at the wrong decisions I’ve taken and the grudges I’ve held. “How does it feel to be 25?” a friend asked me today, and I wish I had an answer. 25 feels an awful lot like age 3 and 9 and 15 and 18. 25 feels like age 21 was just yesterday and 23 was ages ago.

Cheers to a quarter that was full to the brim. Tonight, I am a quarter down, with three quarters to go! *hic*

A ‘grand’ personality…

01 October 2016.

It was a night like no other. Eerie silence pervaded throughout the house. Light sobs broke out occasionally. All the lights in the house were on. Our house was filled with people. Everyone was gathered around, trying to find comfort in each other’s company. It was the first time I had encountered such a situation. And there I was, peeping at it all from the gap between the stairs.

I had been studying for my SSC prelims in my room, when the doorbell suddenly rang. I was startled, and looked up to check the time. It was past 10, on a Sunday night. ‘Why would someone come home right now?’ I couldn’t help but wonder, as I quietly crept downstairs. There was something weird about the whispers that were flitting through the house. The door was ajar, but I couldn’t see anyone around. ‘Where was everyone?’ I shrugged, but thoughts of Geometry occupied my mind and I ran back upstairs. I sat down, got back to struggling with the theorems….tensed about the prelims which were to start in 2 days. Yet again, I heard someone enter the house, the whispers getting louder. I tried to concentrate but curiosity got the better off me. So I was back to creeping downstairs, when suddenly my grandfather’s brother intercepted me. “Shivani…” His voice broke into a sob. A chill ran down my spine as I looked at him with a questioning glance. “Half an hour ago…” He couldn’t go on; instead he just silently lead me down. Into the room where my grandfather had taken residence almost 3 months ago. There he was, sleeping peacefully. Finally at peace. Having left behind all his pains. And us.

It was the first time I encountered Death at such close quarters. I gasped and ran from the room. I looked around for my grandmother and there she was….sitting in a corner, lost to the world. She wasn’t crying, but her eyes had a vacant look. My mother was in another corner, just staring at the floor. My father was near the telephone, informing the rest of the family. My aunts were there with their families; my cousins looking at me. People just kept coming into our house, but I had stopped registering their faces. Someone hugged me; someone else patted me on the back. Someone tried to console me by saying ‘Everything will be alright’, but my mind was in utter shock. How could he leave? How could the most stubborn man I’ve ever known, give up his fight so easily? How could the head of the family walk away, without a Goodbye?

wp-1475316714415.jpgHe was overjoyed the day I was born. My uncle tells me how my grandfather couldn’t wait even a second to see the newly born me. And the moment he saw me, he fell in love. He was a strict man, but always lenient with me. He let me sleep in long hours, he let me get away with my mischief around the house. He laughed at my attempts to speak, and he lovingly nurtured my love for reading. Each birthday and achievement earned a book and my language flourished over the years. The first time I actually tried my hand at expressing my thoughts, ironically, was the night he died.

I thought back to all the memories with him, and the words flowed that night. I kept writing at a furious pace, hoping that the void filled itself up. Ten years later, I am still writing at a furious pace, knowing well that the void will always remain so.

A void that I call ‘Nana’. A man who built some famous bridges across the city; and also built relationships who outlived him. I was often asked by complete strangers if I was Narayan kaka’s granddaughter, and my heart always filled with pride as I nodded my head. There was a news article about him a few days after he passed away. I had read it hungrily, and was shocked to realise I knew so little about him. And perhaps, that was his biggest achievement.

That he never flaunted, never bragged. He was a family person, who cared and looked after his loved ones. He helped me with my homework, played cards with me, sat himself in a discreet corner of the audience when I faced the stage for the first time. He was proud, and yet he never let on. He encouraged us to be better, he made sure we never backed down. He was his own man, never dependent on anyone.

So perhaps it was no surprise that when an illness left him bedridden and dependent on others for every little thing, he preferred to die. We saw him sink and heard the doctors tell us ‘It is only a matter of time.

wp-1475316726327.jpgHe used to always sit across me, at the dinner table, looking over at me slowly eat my food. He was always the first to finish, I was always the last. He always asked for my help while changing the bed sheets, and till date I feel him tugging them from the other end. Looking back, I don’t remember ever directly joking around with him. I was in awe of him and even today, I wonder if he approves of my life decisions ever since. He wasn’t there when I passed my SSC and HSC exams; he wasn’t there when I chose English as my major subject for graduation. He wasn’t there when I flew to the UK for my Masters and he was missing from my wedding. So many milestones in these ten years, and each witnessed only by the photograph hanging on the wall. What would he say, had he been there?

I think I know. Because although that night, he physically left us, he still lives on in various ways. My father has his eyes, my cousin has his hair. His grand children have his stubbornness. And the entire family has memories, some exclusive and some shared.

With this ‘grand’ personality who once lived.

My grandfather.

 

The Friend Who Was… 

8 August 2016.

Dear The Friend Who Was,

I was reading the posts on Terribly Tiny Tales tonight and as part of the Friendship Week, they are posting all kinds of letters addressed to all kinds of friends… And one letter hit me right where it hurts. A letter addressed to an ex-best friend. And it made me think of you… But I’m not sure if that letter accounted for all that I had to say, because I am not sure if I can actually call you an ‘ex’. 

We never had a showdown, no horrible words exchanged, no nasty looks. We just woke up one day and the world had changed. Our worlds had changed. And while dealing with a world that didn’t include each other, we forgot to officially terminate the friendship. So you aren’t a thing of the past…not yet, anyway.

I see your silhouette, watching me as I walk down the other side of the street. I wave to your retreating back just as you drive past, in a hurry to ignore who you had just seen. I see you at cafés, joking with friends… Someone else sitting at what was once, my place. I dream of you some nights, catching up on those chats that have ceased in real life. I listen to songs you dedicated to me, just to make me grin. I still do break into a grin but now, it is tinged with nostalgia. Of a helpless kind.

I still walk down those lanes where we used to meet each other. Timed so perfectly that you walked up the street just as I turned round the corner and walked toward you. I still peer through the gates of what was once our childhood playground. I haven’t been inside the gates for quite some time. I can’t. Not without your welcoming eyes standing there, once again. 

I still drive down those roads but my gaze is flitting around, hoping for a glimpse of you. All those memories, all around the city…they distract me, they haunt me, they disturb me.

I hear your laughter in my ears, late at night. I miss our random chats, up to date, right till the latest sneeze. I long for a loooong phone call, across continents. I wish to ring your doorbell once, and ask you, ‘What happened?’ 

I know you wouldn’t answer. I doubt there is an answer that both of us would agree to. We walked away, wrenching our hearts away… Leaving behind a friendship – shaped  void. And without a parting glance. I don’t know what really happened, why we are where we are today. Your image is fading, day by day, in my mind and yet your memories are as fresh as ever. I keep them close because they are the only reminders of you.

The Friend Who Once Was…

Raining Happiness… 

03 August 2016

Some mornings,  you just wake up with a black cloud floating over your head. You walk around with a sullen expression, your patience wears thin and you keep to yourself, as much as possible.

This ‘rainy’ mood is unlike the usual you and you mutter to yourself, ‘It’s not gonna be a good day ahead!’ True to your word, the black cloud keeps you company as the day moves, oh no, draaaags ahead. At work, things go wrong…frustrations rise high, irritation levels go overboard. You prepare yourself for what seems like an endless work day. 

As you leave for the day, you bundle up. It has been raining pretty consistently for the past two days and you don’t want to get wet. Or perhaps you do… You ditch the raincoat pant and think, ‘What does it matter? Anyway, I am going home!’ Perhaps you also have faith on the Rain Gods…that they won’t make it pour so much. 

But remember the black cloud? Of course it is going to pour! And pour it sure does!! As you manoeuvre your way through endless traffic, you feel the patience wearing thin again. You get drenched from the waist down, puddles dirty your footwear, and you get sprayed by mud enough number of times to lose count. 

Yes, it has been a bad day. It has been a long day. But maybe, just maybe…it wasn’t that bad after all. Because while you were muttering under your breath about the irresponsible citizens who jam up the roads, there were two young boys cycling their way home. Dressed in simple Tshirts and shorts, they cycle past you. The you so bundled up in rain gear that you don’t let a single rain drop tickle you into a joyous mood. The you so busy being mad at the world that you overlook the refreshing wetness of the rains. The you so tired of routine that you don’t realise this unexpected escape offered to you. 

The pouring rain brings back childhood memories. The pouring rain brings along with it the whiff of roadside eatables. The pouring rain brings back the deliciousness of mud that has currently painted you over. The pouring rain washes away all your day’s troubles and reminds you that a fresh day awaits on the other side.

The black cloud drains away, as it rains happiness on me…