The boy who got me back to Bangalore- Part 2

You can read the first part of the story here.

To recap, I reached Kalpetta, the biggest town in Wayanad district in Kerala in the dead of the night without any adventure or mischief. Next day in the morning, I found that this town hardly got any tourists. There was a small tourism booth next to the Inter-State bus stop that provided the brochure of tourist attractions in Wayanad. As Hero had predicted there were no tickets available towards Bangalore on Sunday. However, I was told that there are plenty of alternatives available. I could go to the next nearby town Sulthan Bathery; chances of getting a seat from there are very high. Or I could wait for some private buses from the evening and board one of the many buses that run to Karnataka. All of them go via Bangalore.

Now when you are on an “adventurous” solo trip, you don’t really want to plan ahead and prepare too much. You know, it kills the entire concept of “adventure”, “living in the moment”, etc. If the man at the tourism booth says, it is easily possible to get back to Bangalore without reservation, it would be so. Since I am here only for two days, I can’t afford to waste time on going around, getting a reservation. Worst case scenario, I would return on Monday. It was possible in those days to fall ‘sick’ and not show up for work. So I didn’t care much about Hero’s words. He was probably trying to act too smart.

I decided to get started with my trip at the earliest, which basically meant visiting touristy locations around Kalpetta. I decided to take a local bus to go to Edakkal Caves. Bless 100% literacy rate and Christian missionaries in Kerala, language was not a big problem. The bus was rickety and broken just like it is in the northern states; the difference was that here I clearly stood apart in the crowd. There were fisherwomen with daily harvest, men working on tea estates and I, a light skinned, girl from a big town. I finally understood how Shah Rukh must have felt in Swades during local commute to remote areas.

1438087558_swades

To be less dramatic, it wasn’t a big deal at all. I got a place to stand and swing as the bus went around the hilly curves on the route to the caves which were on a hill top.

The caves were a big disappointment. They were hardly comparable to Elephanta Caves near Mumbai which I had visited already. Plus, I am not a fan of caves anyways. They stink, they are dark, dirty, and you can’t do much there. So I was standing there looking at all the families who were out there on picnics, making happy noises and cheer. It felt kind of stupid for me to be standing alone in a place which was certainly not recommended for solo travellers.

So I decided to move on. I wanted to go to a place of natural beauty where I can sit and meditate as I have seen seasoned solo women travellers do in travel pictures such as the one below.

Traveling-Solo-Women

If I want to make that picture, the timing was going to be right as the sun was rapidly moving towards the West. All I needed was a water body. I asked a nice man at a food stall about a dam nearby, Karapuzha Dam, another tourist destination. It turned out this man owned a van and was traveling in that direction. He offered me a ride.

Now, let’s review the facts. First of all, I had never hitchhiked in life previously. Also, I had always wanted to hitchhike badly. It was a dream. Standing alone on a highway, with my backpack on my muscular shoulders, looking like this. Ummm…

pretty-young-woman-tourist-hitchhiking-along-a-road

As I was drifting in my dream world of being that super confident cool hippie girl, this man in front of me was waiting for my reply.

Anu: No no no, I won’t bother you. I will go on my own. Can you guide me how to reach there?

Man: blah blah blah…. (Gist of what he said was that there is no easy way to reach via public transport.)

Now, I was kind of stuck. One option was to take the bus back to Kalpetta and figure a way to the next destination. Another option was to take this ride to the dam. The image of dusty noisy road and forlorn hotel (which by no standard was 2 stars, forget 4!) in Kalpetta made me incline towards this ride with stranger.

So how does one decide whether or not to take a ride with a strange man?

Appearances do matter.” [Quote: Me.] Though I usually don’t give a damn about my own appearance but that never stopped me from judging others by their appearances. I don’t care for brands or fashion, often that goes pretty low in my hierarchy of “trustworthiness”. Questions that I try to answer while looking at a stranger’s appearance are “Is he married?”, “Does he have kids?”, “What job would he have?”. I try to put a “no-nonsense” label: low, medium, high.

93% of communication is non-verbal.” [Quote: Management School Prof who taught my husband.]

Based on the above two signals, I took the call and became this girl. (While editing this pic, I realized I am blessed for not being a blonde.)

anu hitchhiking

It was one heck of a ride. Bumpy and Rough. Literally. There was no road. And I was in a strange man’s vehicle. All reasons to be supremely nervous and doubtful of the destination. However, this man was one gem of a person. Seriously, it is funny (& erroneous) how quickly we make impressions of a place based on small/tiny experiences/datasets. However, that is exactly what I did. Based on that one car ride, South India (especially Kerala) for me became the most reliable place in the country. If you know me, you must have heard me comparing the two parts of the country and vehemently stating how safer southern states were. This was an impressionable moment.

hitchhiking-free-travel-good-people

I will skip through some of the other details of my trip which included a visit to beautiful and enchanting Kuruva Islands, where you can walk the across river Kabini to reach islands in the middle of the river. However, let’s come back to the main story and fast forward to Sunday evening.

Now after two days of solo travel, I had quite enough of the adventure. Many a times, I ended up feeling quite lonely. A few times I remembered my office gang from Bangalore and wondered why I didn’t invite them along. By Sunday evening, I was quite packed and ready to get back to my friends and home. The only problem was that I had no reservation. I had exchanged a few smses with Hero in the meantime which more or less meant that there were no seats available.

There wasn’t enough time to go to Sultan Bathery, so I stationed myself at the bus stop on Kalpetta main road and would check with each and every bus, if they would go to Bangalore and if they would have a vacant seat. Starting at around 6 P.M., I did this till 10 P.M. By this time, everyone at the bus stop knew me. As it grew darker and late in to the night, number of people on the stop gradually decreased. Only others like me without reservation remained. None of them were girls.

Four hours is a long time to spend on a bus stop hoping to get a bus back to your home. It is a reasonable amount of time to retrospect and curse yourself. It is enough time to think about different possibilities that might occur. I might not get the bus after all. For how long would be I standing here out on the road? Yes, Kerala is safe, but until what time should I start searching for alternate stay arrangements? How will I go back tomorrow?

A little after 10, a private bus for Bangalore moved in. We, without reservation riders, all crowded in close to the bus door to plead the conductor to take us in. Just then, someone tapped me on my sounders. I turned around to see Hero standing there.

Hero: Are you still without a reservation?

Anu: Yes

Hero: You can come with me. I had reserved two seats in this bus. We can pay inside the bus after we get the seats.

Anu: thank you thank you

At the time, my status msg at FB would have been something like this: — feeling shocked relieved happy thankful grateful.

We got the two seats. I thanked him again and slept off.

It was 530 in the morning when our bus was gliding towards its platform on Majestic. I was still amazed how I reached back home safely, without any misadventures. All thanks to this guy. We, with all other passengers got down. I was wondering what to say to him. How should I express my gratitude? Should I ask him to meet me later in the week sometime.

We were standing near an auto, ready to go separate ways. I didn’t have the nerve to ask him out for lunch or coffee to show my thanks. We said byes and rode off. Until a few days later, I kept thinking about the whole thing. I was expecting a call from him. Usually guys do that. Especially if they know they have a favour on the girl. But he never called. And it was too late by then for me to call. Or so I thought.

I never really got to thank him properly at that time. However, after a decade, I understand that travel is all about meeting different people and helping them. We help strangers and friends, without expecting anything in return. It happens naturally. That is why travel is one of the most compassionate and patient teachers in life.

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The boy who got me back to Bangalore – Part 1

This story is about a case of male chivalry and getting your ass saved by a stranger.  

At the age of 23, when you land up in an extremely high paying job, live in one the most beautiful cities of the country, don’t have any responsibilities to take care of, it is very easy to get dissatisfied. Yes, dissatisfied. You know, if at 23 your colleagues/friends start buying houses, cars, looking for brides/grooms, it is as if you can see your entire life planned and organized in a google calendar. Monday to Friday, work. Wednesday, lady’s night out. Friday night, party. Saturday night, party. Sunday, chill at home. Get married, have a kid. Go to kid’s parties. Buy another home after 10 years. Buy another car. Vacations abroad. Have another kid. And goto repeat.

Even now, after almost a decade, this line of thought creeps bejesus out of me. At 23, it would make me go berserk. I would do crazy things. Go on solo trips. Join and work in NGOs. Give up all the money and comfort of corporate job! This story is of one such trip.

It was a Thursday. Remember this old cartoon? This is how a typical Thursday is for most of the corporate sector.

typical work week

In my case, the state of Wednesday usually continued on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and actually all other days of the week. So my cartoon worked like this:

sunday-to-saturday

 

And that’s what I did. I booked tickets for Wayanad. A beautiful forested district in Kerala. I had always wanted to go there to stay in the tree huts of Vythiri resort. But I couldn’t go to the resort, since it was somewhere in the middle of the woods and I was on a solo trip with no personal vehicle and no co-passengers. The next best choice was to go to the nearest biggest town and figure out the rest of the travel from there. So I booked a KSRTC ticket online (in the time of no redbus, there were government booking sites!) from Bangalore to Kalpetta in an A/C Volvo. I used TripAdvisor, a very new website, to book a room in Kalpetta in a 4-star hotel, close to the bus stop and still not the main road to avoid traffic noise. This was the first time I had used TripAdvisor to book a hotel reservation. I never confirmed the booking directly with the hotel. In fact, it never occurred to me that I might not even have a booking! In my defence, I get this insane trust/faith that everything will be okay from my mom. #23-years-old #risks #stupidity #innocence #genetics #recklessness #easy-to-trust

On Friday night, I reached Majestic, the inter-state bus terminal in Bangalore. For me, it was the pride of India. Amazing infrastructure, ease for passengers, safety, cleanliness. And when compared to Delhi’s ISBT Kashmiri Gate, it was a world apart! Bus terminals are a place of extreme excitement, just like airports. Even though you are still in town, you feel your trip has already started! I got into the luxurious bus, settled down, waited for my co-traveller in the 2-seat coach.

The co-passenger turned out to be a young boy, almost same age as mine. We introduced, exchanged pleasantries. As always, he was surprised to find a solo travelled. But the more I spoke about myself, he understood that this is one cuckoo case. I remember seeing some sort of sympathy for me in his eyes.

It was 4 A.M. in the morning, when he suddenly woke me up. We had arrived!

WHATTTTTT?!! It is still dark out there!

I found myself standing on a deserted road below a single street light at the bus stop of what looked like a very small town. There were a couple of people sleeping outside the deserted shops, dogs were barking and a few other passengers had quickly disappeared into cars or whatever conveyance was waiting for them. While my panic nerves were firing up, I asked my co-passenger how to find the hotel. He explained the way. It was about 300 mtrs away and I could see the road leading up to it. For the sake of brevity, and also because he really was, for the rest of the story, we will call this guy ‘Hero’.

Within next 2 minutes, I was really scared as I could suddenly realize all that can go wrong going further. A little too late, but yes, now I was thinking about it. What if the hotel doesn’t have a night desk? What if I do not have a reservation? What if the hotel is not safe? What if someone jumps on me in the dark before I reach the hotel? What if… While I was numb, thinking of all that could possibly go wrong, I heard Hero’s voice.

Hero: When are you going back to Bangalore?

Anu: Ummm.. Sunday night.

Hero: Oh cool, me too. Which bus?

Anu: Actually I do not have a reservation yet. I will find out tomorrow.

Hero: Oh, you know, it is really difficult to find the reservation this last minute.

Anu: Umm…  (Right now I can’t be bothered about Sunday!)

Hero: Would you like me to help you get a reservation? I would also be looking for one. I can look for both of us.

Anu: Hmm.. okay..

Hero: Give me your number so that I can confirm you about the ticket.

WHAT?!!! As always. Ladki dekhi nahi uska phone number pehle chahiye. Seriously, why the hell do I get caught up in such situations.

Anu: Why don’t you give me your number? If I do not get ticket tomorrow I will give you a call.

Wow! If I was a guy and offered help to someone who would not trust me with her number but was willing to call me back for help, I would be seriously offended. But, at 23, brought up in a gender unequal society, as a girl, being helped was my ‘birth right’. If I am in trouble, ‘good’ men were supposed to protect me, help me, guide me. Be chivalrous. Weird thing is, they usually were!

Hero: Okay cool. Here it is.

Anu: Ok thanks! How will I reach the hotel? (Current situation grabbing my nerves again)

Hero: Just walk down the road. It is so close. You will be fine.

 

He said bye and left. I walked on. He was right, it was quite alright. I reached the hotel quickly. Woke up someone to open the front gate. Woke up another person to check me in and give me my room keys. No one looked at me with leering eyes and threatening looks. They were all too sleepy to care. I slept off too.

Next day I realized Kalpetta was not a tourist place. It was more of a trading station for merchants and businesses. And yes, Hero was correct. There was no seat on the government operated bus back to Bangalore on Sunday. But I was too adventurous to care about it.

To be continued

What motivates each of you to get to work with a conviction and purpose?

Someone asked this question in one of the whatsapp group I am a part of. It was one those days when I didn’t have an answer myself. Being an owner of a company, people might expect that you should always be super motivated, jump right out of bed in the morning and get to work or might even start working in bed itself as soon as you open your eyes. Well, that does not happen always. At least not to simple mortals like myself. I have my ups and downs like anyone else. It was a day in the downs. So I waited for others to answer.

Someone said: “Finding out what I want to do and at the same time doing the best I can now. Second guessing takes up energy and who knows what doors will open when you try your very best.

Another one said: “For me, it’s about stretching myself, learning from experiences/benefiting others in the process.

Yet another shared their experience about working with developing countries in the field of education and how difficult but rewarding their journey had been so far. Having spent a few years, in the same boat I was happy to hear this.

It was quite encouraging to see others so positive and optimistic about their work.

A couple of days later, I got an answer for myself as well. It was one of those work days when I had to speak to quite a few existing clients/customers. Thanks to a motivated and enthusiastic soul as a teammate who helped arrange for all those international calls at different odd hours of the day, we got started.

In one of the calls, a customer, who is a student enrolled in our certification programme, who was not able to cope up with coursework and had almost give up, was encouraged to get back and we planned a strategy to study. He got motivated and thanked up profusely for helping him get back. Another one who had also missed on lectures, thanked us for not giving up on him and for giving him another opportunity to learn. There was a person who said she was afraid to call us since she was quite guilty for not attending the lectures and she is so gratified that we called her and get things sorted. It is easier to join a professional programme with an intention to learn but difficult to give time and commitment. If people get help regularly and stay commitment, it is easier for them to reach their goals. I know this from personal experience.

And then it hit me, what motivates me to work with conviction and purpose? It is simply “people”. Are the clients benefitting from the product/service? And are the employees benefitting from their work? Are people learning, getting opportunity to grow and improve? It is so easy to get side-tracked by sales and revenue numbers. There is no doubt that these numbers matter a lot. Without them, there are no people, no service, no product. Hence, they are the first step. However, equally crucial is the service and the benefits it provides to the people. Personally for me, that motivates me to work harder and better.

For me the formula is simple:

Create an amazing and beneficial product/service => Reach out to people who would ‘benefit’ from it => Help them get the benefits => Success

customer-service-culture

Do write in comments what motivates you to get to work with a conviction and purpose?

 

 

Meeting a Hindi speaking Tibetian in China

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On the third day of the trip, when we were in Kangding, which is Simla of Garze in Sichuan, I was quite bored of eating everything cooked from rice and was craving for wheat bread or parathe especially for breakfast.

So I found a beautifully decorated coffee house in the new town market and in hope of at least finding a muffin there, went in.

After placing my order, when I asked for water, the girl on counter said: “garam pani”? I was like whoa!! I would have never dreamt of meeting a Hindi speaking person in remote areas of China!

She was a Tibetian girl, who had lived for a while in Dharamsala, where she had picked up Hindi. She was also surprised to find me there! We both definitely made each other’s day!

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Why my husband is happier if I do not cook

or clean or dust or arrange or furnish the house. It is not that I am a terrible cook. In fact I have improved in all these tasks considerably over the past few years. When I was single and living alone, I used to survive on a staple diet of vegetable khichdi. Now I can cook an entire meal of 4-5 items including roti completely on my own. No, the reason why my husband insists that I do not cook is kind of similar to the idea of his insisting that I should regularly go to gym. The reason is my happiness. If I am happy, he is happy. 

The next logical question is, if cooking doesn’t make me so happy, why would I still do it? Simple. That’s the righteous thing to do. Same goes for other household chores. Though I claim and like to believe that I do not follow the rules of the society I was born and had grown up into, the fact is, I actually feel guilty when I divert from the normal curve. And I am not the only one. All the women I know, believe, that it is their responsibility to manage the house after marriage. Interesting thing to note here is, if they were living alone or with a roommate, before marriage, this feeling wasn’t there or wasn’t so strong. Before marriage, you can live in a mess, you can eat out, you can simply chill out. If a guest comes, s/he can drink directly from the water bottle. But after marriage, something suddenly changes, and now, as per your own self imposed rules, you behave in a different way. Now you serve water in a glass on a tray to your guests. 

Why such a stark change? Simple. The righteous behavior. The societal pressure. Julia Robert’s ‘Monalisa Smile’ was the perfect movie to capture this sentiment. So after marriage, you furnish your house, use dining sets which were your wedding presents, buy decorative items, learn to play host, cook everyday meals, generally keep the house spic n span. I was talking to a close friend recently who had learnt contemporary dance forms for a couple of years before her marriage, but now doesn’t get time for it. Even though her job is same, but somehow her work load at home has grown multiple times. 

So when my husband insists that I avoid all the household chores, as much as possible, he is actually playing a very smart move. First of all, if he tells me to do nothing, I can’t tell him to do anything. That is a very convenient situation for him. No one likes to do the chores. Secondly, I have a much higher sense of cleanliness than him. So, the house will always be clean from his standards, since the second it crosses my standards, I would have taken care of it. Again good for him, he gets to live in an arguably clean house without moving a muscle.These two are but very tiny benefits compared to what comes next.

He knows that I do not care about cooking or cleaning and just do that because that is what I expect from myself. So when he pushes me to utilize my time pursuing what I really care about: running, hiking, writing, reading, swimming, exploring, learning; I feel indebted to him. Now, how this helps him is the main point. Since, he doesn’t expect me to do the righteous thing, I can’t expect the same from him either. I can’t expect him to shop with me for household items or drink less frequently, or go pubbing only occasionally. If I want to go on a hike from 9-12 on a Sunday morning, I feel obligated to suggest him to go for a poker night on Saturday 9-12! The very boundaries of wrong and right have been crossed! I was the first one to cross them! And he is the one to reap the fruits!

Though it may sound like I am trying to make my husband look like a bad guy, the truth is far from it. I actually marvel at his ingenuity! Why does this strategy for marital bliss work? Because ‘breaking of rules’ behavior has to start from men. Women are by far much more rule-following, righteous kind of people. If more men suggest/ask/force their wives to behave in more non-traditional ways, they will actually get more “freedom” they desperately seek after marriage and not end up becoming slaves (ref: movie Pyaar ka Punchnama) themselves! Try it guys and let me know how it worked for you! ;-)

Why been born in India was the best thing that happened to me

When I was living in India, being an Indian didn’t really mean much to me. In fact, I used to think of myself as a global citizen. My fellow country people would also express their nationalist feelings very occasionally: either during cricket matches with Pakistan, during election times or on the national days. 

Now when I am no longer in the country, I am reminded of being an Indian almost all the time. Here, living among so many nationalities, when you meet anyone, anywhere, either on a street or in an office, the first identification is that of your nation, your origins. After that comes gender, age, and the other characteristics of your identity. So for me, while living in Singapore, ‘who are you’ actually means ‘where you are from’. 

What does being born and raised in India mean? A lot of things actually. It means developing a self-identification based on religion, caste, class, language, region. I remember in our school civics books, this diversity of India was always praised and glorified. I often thought this extreme diversity in India is a disadvantage in making it a modern nation. Now I know it has a huge advantage as well. Being born in a country like India, among so many different cultures, faiths and philosophies, you get a superb opportunity to develop a high level of tolerance within you. A tolerant and patient person finds it much easier to manage demanding and stressful leadership and managerial roles. Even though, at times we behave otherwise, I believe, growing up in such a diverse cultural background have given us an edge over other countries in developing these qualities. No wonder, India has a strong service industry with Indian CEOs and heads all across the globe!  

I realize how many opportunities India has offered me when I meet people of other nationalities. This usually happens during adventure sports or outdoor events. Since my country people are traditionally not too ‘sporty’, I am often the only person from the Indian sub-continent. I realize how everything is easy for me and how I don’t have too many dependencies. For example, not having paper tissue will not create an emergency panicky situation for me. The cleanliness level of bed linen in a hotel room doesn’t bother me as much. If go to poor countries, with dirt and noise and traffic, I feel at home. If I go to rich countries, I feel awed. When people look at a 500 yrs old building and get impressed, I tell them about Badami caves of the 6th century and they are fascinated! When people find it remarkable that 5-6 kids in Tibet have to ride on a single motorcycle for an hour to reach their school, I tell them the stories about our current PM and other leaders who had to cross rivers and walk for miles to reach their schools. When people find it appalling that there is no proper sanitation in remote villages, I find it perfectly normal. 

The cherry on top of the cake (of being an Indian) experience is when someone starts talking about mythology. Oh boy! I had no idea all those Amar Chitra Kathas and Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan and B R Chopra’s Mahabharat would become useful to me one day. I can go on and on about Hindu mythology for a rapt and enthralled audience of foreigners! While telling such stories, I myself realized how fascinating they are! The very idea of three Gods for creation-maintenance-destruction is mind-blowing!

Being born in India, in a household of plenty, I have had the best of all the worlds. I got the best education, best health care, could see mountains, rivers, birds, wildlife, beaches, plateaus, temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras, had friends from so many different religions and regions. I could see extreme poverty and extreme riches. I learned to live in contradictions and extremes. I got a chance to live outside the country to be able to appreciate all this. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether my being born in India was (one of) the best thing(s) that happened to the country or not. :-) 

Being an Indian in India is completely different from being an India in a foreign land. But that is an another post! 

Happy Independence Day to my desh! :-)

Traveling, for the rich and for the poor

Traveling means a lot of things. It could mean commuting, visiting, exploring in a pragmatic sense and journey, transformation, adaption in a more spiritual sense. It means different things to different people, who travel for different purposes. In India, it is the family’s disposable income which determines what kind of travel people would undertake.

For instance, take me. I come from a middle class family which rose a  higher after 90s financial reforms in the country. I went to college in early 00s. I was born in a society where there are no major career based ambitions from girls. My family had a modern outlook and there was no major family based ambitions either! In short, I was born in a household of plentiful with no major responsibilities or ambitions.  For me traveling started as a way to escape campus and college. Coming out from a prestigious engineering college,  I met people with no formal education running successful businesses, people in village farming for living, people who were living n a world which had nothing in common to my world. Meeting such people gave me hope. Considering my poor grades and no interest in getting a corporate job, going to remote hilly areas  showed me a different perspective and made me realize that there is much more to life and still a lot that I can do. In a way, I used to travel to find a warm place for myself in an otherwise cold world.

On the other hand, lets consider a  school history teacher I recently met in Kinnaur, an eastern district in Himachal Pradesh (HP) which shares its boundary with Tibet. She lives and teaches in a state-board school in Simla, the capital city of HP, with her daughter who studies in a more recognized English medium school. Her son is in the first year of college in Delhi and her husband lives in their hometown in Kinnaur handling the family business. This arrangement of living apart is necessary for the family to ensure a good education and future for the children and to keep the family business running for better incomes. The teacher is from a small town of Jeori, which is ahead of Rampur, the main political seat of Kinnaur.

We need to understand a bit about Kinnaur to get a perspective about our history teacher. Kinnaur has not been developed for tourism though it has one of the oldest roads from India to Tibet laid down by British in the 19th century, today referred to as Old Hindustan-Tibet road. Since half a century, alternate routes and roads were developed and used, this route was not paid any attention until last year, when the state PM expressed interest in developing this route into a national highway. In the last two decades, a better part of Kinnaur along the river Sutlej has been used for developing hydro-power projects. As a result of tunneling and landslides, the road after Rampur starts getting worsen after every mile. By the time, you reach Reckong Peo, the administrative capital of Kinnaur, there is no road at all. Just dirt and stones. I won’t go into details of the journey, as that is a different story and different blog.

This story is about me and the history teacher, who was my co-passenger and companion on our bus ride from Simla to Jeori, where she got down (I continued till Kalpa). So after more neutral topics like apple orchards and cherry blossoms which filled the view for as far as we can see, we both started poking our noses in each others lives. We got to know about each one’s family structure and profession, and background in general. She strike one as being an open minded hard working woman with good living standards. Since I was considering to go till Kaza in upper Kinnaur, I casually happened to comment to her, that she must have been to Lahual & Spiti. When she negated my presumption, I was overtly surprised. She must have seen the surprise on my face, and continued to say that she has never been any further east to her village! Not even to Peo! Not even to Kinnaur Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva!

Honestly, I couldn’t get my head around this fact for quite some time. She must be in her 40ies, lived her entire life in this region, but she couldn’t travel for 100 kms to visit these amazing places for which I have traveled in a plane, a train and a bus already, covering more than 3000 miles! Why such a complete lack of interest and respect for travelling? As the time passed and roads cracked and bus wobbled along, it dawn upon me what travel meant to me was different from what it meant to her. Probably, for her traveling means meeting her husband and son. An additional expense. A risky business. A series of distressing events. Broken roads, falling buses, escaping swindlers. To see what? To what result? To see the same struggles she sees everyday anyways? The rich and effluent me would think: since she is coming from hills, she would like to see a beach, the ocean waves. Why not go there? The practical me would answer: given so many family engagements and religious functions, who has the time. So basically, travelling is not her priority. How could it be among so many social commitments and responsibilities?

There was this German girl, Janina, I met in Sangla Valley and we exchanged notes about our travels across the globe. For both us, travel has been one of the main teachers in life. Even though we come from different countries and backgrounds, we share the same love for travel. For us, it was strange that most people like the comfort zone of their lives and don’t prefer traveling. As per her, people don’t travel not because of lack of money but because of different priorities. To some extent this might be true; however, in India, the priorities are different due to lack of money. So those who get monetary compensation for personal travel as yearly allowance, they usually travel and like it. Those who have to dig in reserves might find it a waste of time and money.

I wonder why the travel allowance has been scrapped for a hike in salary in most of the government jobs in the country. Do we all collectively believe that it is better to spend money on clothes, jewelry, house, cars and other possessions than simply seeing more of the world? If so, then Janina was spot on! I hope someday traveling would belong to the same moral standards as praying and forgiving. After all, historically, it was those who weren’t afraid to cross the seas, found the new lands!

Happy National Day Singapore!

Singapore turns 49 today! It marks the day on which Singapore separated from Malaysia and started its journey to becoming what it is today. One of the most beautiful cities in the world.

When I had just come to Singapore, I had found it culturally devoid. I had found it to be a very rich corporate jungle which financed fast paced lifestyles. People had seemed to be living in a very mechanical way. Work, tablets, phones, shopping, running, drinking. That was all I could see. Where were extended families, festivals, cultural symbols, religious symbols, old historical buildings, associated folk tales, ancestral stories? Coming from a rich historical and mythological background of a country full of symbols, I found Singapore very dry, to say the least.

After living a better part of an year here, I now understand this island country a tad better. It has a very interesting story of its own. Singapore is a phoenix country. It dies and comes alive, again and again. Being a port, it was always important for nearby countries. It was ruled by many rulers; starting from a South Indian emperors, Malay rulers, European countries, before becoming a British port around two centuries ago. For East India Company, it was a trading port and henceforth the city saw inflow of mainly three ethnic groups which are still predominant in the country: Chinese (74%), Malay (13%) and Indians (9%).

Most of the Chinese living in Singapore had come here during Opium Wars of the 19th Century or during the World War II fleeing the Japanese atrocities on Chinese. Recently, I met a senior Chinese origin Singaporean who told us the story of how he was the youngest in the family,until his older siblings were all killed, but he had managed to escape with his mother from China. Most of the Chinese-origin Singaporeans would have such a family story, though it is very much possible that today’s generation is unaware of it.

Unlike in the 19th century, when Chinese community of Singapore had a strong sense of belonging-ness to the main land and played a major role in Chinese revolution and establishment of the Republic of China, in today’s time the young Chinese origin Singaporeans have developed a national feeling towards their island home. Although, they obviously share the appearance with main land fellas, nothing else really matches. The demeanor, dressing style, etiquette and the spoken dialect-language, everything is different. And a Singaporean would be quick to notice the difference and point out it out while standing in airport check-in line! They want to be different!

The main festivals of the country are predominantly Chinese. I was pleasantly surprised to find the extreme similarities between Indian and Chinese culture and customs. Starting from following the Moon calendar, belief in ghosts and supernatural, respect and prayers for the dead, the ceremonies during birth and marriage are also very similar including the concept of ‘arranged’ marriages!

Horse Year 2014
Horse Year 2014

Yes, the country is filled with symbols. Old, new, of different religions and different customs. You just need to turn away from skyscrapers and shopping malls. You would surely find many interesting symbols representing ancient beliefs!

Traditional Medicine
Traditional Medicine
Multi religion fortune teller!
Multi religion fortune teller!

Today represent’s the day Malaysia expelled Singapore from itself. The current PM’s grandfather, Lee Kuan Yew, the PM at that time, had quoted “For me, it is a moment of anguish. All my life, my whole adult life, I have believed in merger and unity of the two territories.” The same man spent the result of his life in building Singapore what it is now. Have you ever heard of such a story of independence? Being expelled and then becoming great.

I bow to this country for it’s colorful and struggling past and beautiful present and hopefully a much better future for its citizens! Happy National Day to all Singaporeans!

Singapore Flag
Happy National Day

PS: Mentos Singapore comes up with most hilarious videos pointing out the present day issue the country faces. Must watch:

Religion and values

Here’s the story:

“Once upon a time, in the month of rainy season called ‘sawaan’, on the third day after the full moon falling, all the married girls celebrated the rains outdoors. They wore colorful sarees called ‘lahriya’ and swang from rustic jhoolas tied to the trees. A young girl, sister of seven elder brothers, also wanted to do the same, but she didn’t have the lahriya saree. So she went to her mother and asked for the saree. Her mother said that she didn’t have such a saree, but the girl’s sister-in-laws have and she might ask them.

The girl went to all the sister-in-laws one by one, in vain. None of them wanted to share their sarees with her. The youngest of the sister-in-law agreed to lend her the saree, but on, what could only be called, an eerie condition. If the saree colors get washed in rains or it gets tore anywhere, the sister-in-law will cut the girl’s throat and use the blood to color  the disfigured saree. The young girl agreed, happy to know she would get to wear the saree.

The luck not being on the girl’s side, when she went out to play with her friends, draped in the lahriya saree, it started raining heavily and in fear and confusion, her saree got caught in the swing and was torn. The young girl quickly dried and folded the disfigured saree and went to return it to her sister-in-law. The suspicious sister-in-law opened the saree, only to find it in ruins. Now she had to invoke the clause on the basis of which the saree was given. She went on a hunger strike and asked her husband, the girl’s brother, to kill the girl and fulfill the promise.

Meanwhile, this girl was married but not yet taken to her husband’s home. The time was ripe for her to go there. The brother, worried about his wife’s health, decided to escort the girl to her husband’s home and use this opportunity to kill her and color the saree. He did exactly that. The place where the girl was beheaded, in the jungles, a small flower plant grew. Everyone at her home thought that the girl has reached her husband’s place.

Later, when the dead girl’s husband’s family came inquiring about the girl, the truth came out. And when they tried to pull out the plant, where the girl had died, out came the Teej goddess.”

So, this is the story which is being told time and again across generations since a couple of centuries, if not longer, on the day of teej festival.

When I heard it, I had a lot of questions.

To begin with, why would we, as a society, keep such stories alive? Do we want to say tell our future generations that there was a time when people were more materialistic than now? Or do we want to tell them that violence was a part of everyday life or probably, it still is?

My teacher friends who have lived in different cultural societies such as japan, tell me that in those societies people don’t know how to steal because the concept doesn’t exist. So if there is an object lying on a bench of a park, you are just not supposed to pick it up unless it belongs to you. So people don’t steal, because the concept doesn’t exist.

In the same breadth, if we analyse this story, doesn’t it introduce the concept of killing and revenge to those who were otherwise ignorant of it? Why spread a virtue by introducing a vice? Why not instead, have a story where in the raining season, a young girl wanted to fill a tank of water, but the water would not go in that direction, so a goddess came to help her (if you insist to bring in the supernatural characters). Better still, the entire village supported her and together, they were successful in filling the tank which would store water for them in the dry season.

What values are we teaching ourselves and our future generations by these festivals and religious ceremonies? Or are we so busy and unconcerned and dumb, that we will merely play and act as told, without questioning or wondering?

Branding and hair cutting services

have much in common.

I don’t understand an iota of either.

What kind of knowledge do the service providers apply? Science, art, something else?

The industry in both the domains is out there to make a fool of general public.

Both can be done very well in-house if we can live with the initial few bad hair days.

Both are priced randomly.

Both have become a necessity to be presentable – either personally or professionally.

While getting a hair cut or talking to a marketing firm, I feel like I a dumb.

More because I don’t know why I am wasting time talking to them!

Someone save me from the trouble of hiring a marketing firm.