Posted in Life, Mumbai, Nature, Places, Quick Thoughts, Travel

coming back home

Still immersed in the smells and sights of my trip, I came back home yesterday after twelve days. On way back, I was a little irritated by the return journey and worried about going back to normal life. An unclean house awaited me with an empty kitchen and fridge. The suitcase in my hand reminded me of mandatory upcoming laundry time. My mind indulged a bit in the memories of the people I met and places I saw. But the discomforts of the trip would soon be replaced by convenience of a home. I was looking forward to the familiarity of home while missing the strangers and friends I left behind.

Every time I come back home, there is a mixed set of feelings. Happy and sad. A little annoyed. Sometimes tired and numb. Followed by confusion. But as soon as I enter home, there is always something that brings in a sense of comfort. The turmoil inside settles down.

Mostly its a small item kept in my room that spells home for me like the Ganesha idol on my dressing table or a pile of books lying next to my bed.

Yesterday, it was just the balcony and the view outside. It started raining as soon as I entered home. The vast landscape was covered in mist. I stood there for a while soaking in the sound of heavy rainfall, cool breeze, misty view and gorgeous patterns of streetlights in rains with city melting away in the background.

Mumbai in rains. Life is back to normal.

 

 

 

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Posted in Life, Nature, Places, Travel

A common mistake we make in love

 

What do you think about when you think about love?

What do you pray for when you pray for love?

 

Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true!

 

I learnt an interesting lesson about love during a trip to one of my dream destinations. It might sound obvious enough but most of us make this common mistake anyway.

Ever since I can remember, I had fancied Cherapunjee, a small town in Meghalaya widely considered the place with most rainfall in the world. It was one of my dream destinations. I love rains and I love mountains. I don’t know when but sometime as a kid I remember reading that somewhere far away in the North eastern part of the country, up in the mountains, there is a town called Cherrapunjee which is blessed with abundant rainfall. I was fascinated.

I dreamt of being there at least once in monsoons and get drowned in the love nature bestowed upon us in the form of this beautiful green mountain village. It was not a popular tourist destination of India like Kashmir, Kerala or Goa. I was laughed at for the desire of visiting Cherapunjee in monsoon, an unlikely tourist destination in an off-peak season. But I reveled in my blind love for this mythical land.

As I grew up, opportunities for me to travel increased; the world changed; travel and communication became easier; and the global environment saw a shift. Cherrapunjee dropped to the third wettest place on earth. My love only grew stronger and more stubborn. I had to go there once.

Finally… finally I managed a trip last monsoon. And guess what I discovered. I had been in love with a false image. Cherapunjee is beautiful… but… not even close to the image in my dreams. There were no clouds and no rains. Five days in Meghalaya and I saw only a light drizzling on one morning. And on other days, I saw tons of tourists who gorged on its pristine beauty. I was late by a few years (before tourism took over) and late by a few months (when monsoon was at its peak). I went with different expectations. I was in love with an image. This was not my dream.

I was disappointed because I went with wrong expectations at the wrong time. I can blame the people, government, environment or cry in front of God. But the truth is that having expectations of a dreamland from a real world village is probably just stupid. I also refused to accept the changes that are inevitable with time. I refused to let go of my fairyland image. And most importantly, I just wished for the wrong thing.

The real reason I fancied Cherrapunjee was because of its beautiful rains. I fancied clouds, incessant rains, cool breeze, grey roads and muddy pathways in mountains. I fancied myself getting drenched in the rains and drowned in the mesmerizing beauty of mountains. What I instead wished for was a visit to a place with the name Cherapunjee. I asked for the gift box, not the gift. I received the gift box but when I opened it, it was just empty dark space.

I have extremely fond memories of my travels around Western Ghats in Maharashtra & Karnataka in monsoon… treks and drives through the beautiful hilly pathways in rains. I was in love when I was there. I was immersed in the beauty of rains and mountains. But I kept longing for Cherapunjee. My heart defined Himalayas as the real mountains and Western Ghats as small hills. I loved Western Ghats and Mumbai monsoon with all my heart but there was always a little corner in my heart reserved for Cherrapunjee.

 

Don’t we all make the same mistake with the love of a man or a woman? We long for a perfect image. We pray for the gift pack and often we receive an empty box. We think we want a specific man or woman because it perfectly fits the definition of ‘the ideal’ partner. That crush, that college friend, that person you had a great vacation with, that person you dated once, that person from work, that person… that name… that is not necessarily what you want. We pray for a specific name. But how often do we pray for love… real love? Love can come in any form, the one we think is right or someone we ignored. And often we end up in relationships with no soul.

Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true!

Wish for the soul, for love… Don’t wish for a name, a particular man or woman. That specific person may or may not be the one who can give you the love you want and deserve the love you can give.

 

 

Posted in Mumbai, Nature, Places

Nature Reclaims. Lower Parel, Mumbai.

The history of Mumbai is strewn with unplanned inorganic growth. More than a billion people now inhabits the city, most of them being migrants from all over the country.

With changing face of commerce, government and population, the city’s infrastructure has developed a very unique architecture.

Every neighbourhood and commercial district has a very interesting story. But I doubt if there is any with more colourful and painful history than Lower Parel. I must admit my knowledge is limited to Internet. Also I am a little more interested in the story because I worked there for about 5 years. Back then, I cribbed about the travel woes and garbage dumps on the streets. But the story of Lower Parel still intrigues me.

Apparently, it was a posh area sometime in the 18th century after the official residence of Governor shifted in Lower Parel. It went through a facelift over the next few years and gradually turned more industrial. For larger part of the twentieth century, it was occupied by textile mills. In parallel, emerged a new habitat of factory workers. By 1980s, it had become a buzzing community where everyone lived as a tribe… an enlarged family with their own inside stories of love and brawls. Their festivals and celebrations were public. The streets were narrow, flanked by small community buildings with one-room houses. Their life revolved around the community. The infrastructure from houses to shops to streets developed around a community life.

And then one day, everything changed. The workers went on strike in 1982 and mills had to stop operations. After the strike lasting almost two years, community fell apart. Cotton mills shifted out of Mumbai, workers went out of job and the factory premises were abandoned.

Today Lower Parel tells a different story. The old mills were taken up by new age offices bringing in glass and steel. Builders made high-rise residential towers for the new white-collar employees of global conglomerates, financial companies and media houses operating out of there. Streets and footpaths were taken by new slum dwellers. Some old mills were turned into fancy clubs and fine dine restaurants bringing in a very unique character to the party outlets not to be found in other planned urban settlements. One of the mill compounds was converted into a shopping mall, aptly named Phoenix Mills.

The streets are still narrow. Some chawls, old buildings with one-room houses, still exist. The entry to a few office complexes is through eerily abandoned mill compounds. New expensive residential apartments stand over small clearings near the slums.

The juxtaposition of new, old and refurbished in Lower Parel feels like a sore to the eye and baffles the confounded mind. This place has seen grandiose, flourishing jobs, happy communities, hunger, violence and dawn of a new world. It’s also a reminder of unplanned urban development in an ancient city of traders.

In this urban jungle with its complicated history of human colonization, I found a forgotten citizen living in oblivion… a tree trying to find a little space of its own. It makes its presence felt vehemently with the roots spreading all over the wall in what appears to be a desperate attempt to live.

On my way back from office a few months back, my colleague’s driver pointed out, ‘doesn’t this look like veins in a human body?!’ Beautiful.

 

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Posted in Nature, Places, Travel

The color of Earth and Sunshine

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It’s Brown. It’s bright. It’s beautiful. Ladakh. It’s a cold desert. It’s cold and dry. The colours of Ladakh had me in shock when I reached there. And then I was mesmerized. Ladakh is an uncanny combination of dull and bright. Because of the altitude, the sun is especially bright and sky clear and Blue. However, for miles, I could only see huge rocky Brown mountains and winding Grey roads. A part of me yearned for another colour, especially Green. I like Green and Blue. I like them together. I have never before seen so much Brown and Grey. The part of Ladakh that is Green wasn’t a part of the itinerary. If I had known the overpowering feeling of Brown rocky mountains and bright sunlight, I would have probably altered the plan a bit.

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I wonder if the lack of colours ever bothers the native population. The people from the deserts of Rajasthan make up for the dull monotony of Brown and yellow with extremely colourful clothes, interiors and food. But Ladakh’s clothes are also Grey and Maroon.

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The overpowering feeling of being surrounded with Brown was especially bothersome on our way to Nubra valley from Leh. The route was long and tiring. It was absolutely beautiful but so very Brown and rocky. The journey ended in a sand desert that inhabits double hump Camels. More Brown and Grey.

Two-humped camels from Nubra Valley

The key highlight of the drive was Khardungla pass. The route can get really scary as you keep going higher up. As far as the eyes could see, there are rocks. The Blue sky meet the Brown rocky mountain near the hairpin bent of the Grey road. And you are a tiny little blip on the landscape.

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Initially it was fun searching for variants of Brown and Grey and playing with the sharp contrast created by sunlight and shadows on majestic mountains. After a while, I felt a little tired. The prayer flags brought in an interesting relief providing a beautiful contrast to the otherwise dull landscape.

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Brown has a very unique appeal. The first association of Brown for me is Soil and Trees, which remind me of the beauty of nature and the simplicity of existence stripped away from the artificial world created by man. Surprisingly enough, it’s also a very comforting color. It feels more natural than the other brighter colors. It doesn’t have the fire of Yellow, Orange and Red. It doesn’t have the icy coldness of Indigo and Violet. Just like the pleasant Green, Brown is also very comforting and motherly. It’s soothing to the eyes. The color reminds me of Petrichor, the beautiful fragrance rising up from Earth after the first rains. However, in Ladakh, we encountered Brown without the rains and the trees. The dry rocks were rough. The beauty was lost on us initially.

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It was on the last leg of our journey, in Pangong Lake, that I found an absolute love for the magnificent mountains. Early morning, on our way back, we decided to stop near the lake for a while more. The beauty of the moment was unparalleled. The reflection of the glorious mountains in the lake filled the landscape with Brown… a much softer shade. And it was gorgeous.

Pangong Lake

Ladakh is Brown, Grey and Blue.

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Posted in Life, Mumbai, Places

The city lights

 

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Deep in the heart of city nights

I find million flickering lights

 

I stand by my window at night and feel the pulse of city lights. Lights fade in and out. Lights go on and off. Shadows move quietly around the dim streetlights and dark corners.

The city lives. The city breathes. The city is awake. The city waits for sleep and a moment of peace. Drowned in sorrow, the city weeps. Sometimes the city dances with joy and celebrates life.

The city hides behind those tiny lights. Who are the people looking out of those tiny windows? What are their stories? Why don’t they sleep? Do they dream with open eyes? Are they away from their loved ones?

Billion stories hidden behind those tiny lights. Billion awake or dreaming. Billion counting the stars and wishing.

Billion tiny lights. Billion stories.

Posted in Places

Purushwadi

“You went to the valley of men?!”, said one of my friends when I told them about my visit to Purushwadi. It’s an interesting name for a small sleepy village in Maharashtra. But a visit up there at the onset of monsoon can be as exciting as it can get. We never expected it to be a little adventurous too.

As always, this was an unplanned trip. Only thing we knew was that we are going to some place called Purushwadi, somewhere in Maharashtra. The first thing I checked was Maharashtra map to locate this village and thankfully I was able to find a landmark called Bhandardara where I have been before. With the confidence of some familiarity, we left from Mumbai in a hired cab with Bhandardara as destination and the hope that the rest couldn’t be difficult to find if map says its 28km ahead. How completely wrong we were!!

We did all things wrong on this trip; everything that two women travelling alone shouldn’t ideally do. We left late from Mumbai; we reached Bhandardara late in the evening. We didn’t book a hotel in advance despite it being a popular picnic spot in a lovely weather; we ended up in a safe looking but really bad hotel. We left late from there when it was almost dark. We were trying to search for Purushwadi village on the basis of instructions from electronic maps and locals. Nothing wrong with that. But of course we didn’t consider the fact that there was little habitation on the way, villages tend to sleep earlier and our mobile network went on and off in that wilderness. So there we were, two women with a driver, looking around for some place called Purushwadi somewhere within 28km radius of a popular dam called Bhandardara. And of course, we had no clue where exactly to go once we do manage to reach Purushwadi! Only thing we knew was that we were hoping to see some magic. And hopefully some 30-40 more people would probably be there on the same quest and perhaps we can just follow them.

With dreamy eyes, excitement of a kid and just a little sense of thrill, we were off on our way to Purushwadi from Bhandardara, with a quick stop in Rajur to visit the only ATM out there. Of course that’s another wrong of the trip; we didn’t leave Mumbai with enough cash, knowing that the moment we step out of Mumbai, we would be on a highway and then a village.  Nevertheless, we found our ATM and started towards Purushwadi. What we didn’t realize was that our driver was on his way back to Bhandardara. Somewhere after 10km, it dawned upon us that we haven’t reached Purushwadi yet because we are off track. So we, like sincere sheharwallas, started our gadgets and Google maps to check the route and found that our little arrow on the map is moving in opposite direction. We stopped the driver and told him you are on the wrong route. But he believed and said that we are on the right route; this is how you reach back. “But, hey, hold on, we want to go to Purushwadi.” “What, at this time, oh ok… but what’s there?” And we are like, yeah!! Let’s just turn the car around please. And hence got added another 45-60 minutes to our journey. Back in the wilderness. We decided to keep checking our maps this time. And yes, the network went off sincerely just then.

So back on the road, we kept going and didn’t know how long we are supposed to continue to drive. The locals kept pointing and we kept following. And then we reached the critical point, end of the road! We were now on a kachcha road with bushes on both sides; it started to go slightly downhill and we couldn’t see a road ahead; just this something which looked like a bridge which would probably collapse the moment someone steps on it. And of course there was no one in sight but stars and the bridge in the distance lightly visible in the car headlights. The driver by now completely freaked out. “Where exactly you want to go in this wilderness and there are no ‘gents’ with you!” We vehemently told him to just check once more with the villagers. So we went back some 5 km where we last saw habitation; the kids on the road pointed us back towards the bridge and assured us that our small car can cross that; even SUVs do. And we made the driver go back near the bridge and check. I wonder if he was abusing us under his breath. Nevertheless, we went back to the end of the road and my friend with all her courage stepped out of the car to survey the bridge and decide if we can indeed drive on it. She came back with conclusive looks that we can and we will. So we did.

And now what? The locals said purushwadi is just a km ahead of the bridge. We kept going on. By now, we had decided amidst the driver’s cribbing and his worried looks that we will return back if we don’t find something within the next 5 km or so. Just then we saw some 3-4 foreigners with flashlights in their hands walking down the road. That was reassuring, we were close! And a few steps ahead were this bunch of people also trying to walk down the road. We stopped to chat with them for further instructions. And we realized that we are right there, at the very spot we are supposed to be; no further drive or walk is required; just switch off the headlights of the car! And we did, and there it was… one of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen. And it was drizzling. Weather couldn’t get any better to add romance to that view. With impatience, we gave instructions to driver for the parking area and after how long to expect us back. Right after the car left from the scene, the place turned into what we expected to see. We walked a few steps ahead and I turned around to look at the landscape in front of me.

I was surrounded with millions of fireflies… million of flying little dots of light blinking in an inexplicably beautiful rhythm. It was almost lyrical. I felt like I have just stepped into a magical kingdom where all trees in a jungle are lit up with Christmas lights just hanging together, flying here and there, flashing on and off in beautiful patterns. I was mesmerized; I was delirious. I had never imagined this scene even in my dreams. The light drizzling, the cool breeze, millions of fire flies and the in the midst of it all I was standing with my eyes wide open and my entire being transported to a place I didn’t even know exist. I felt disconnected from the real physical world for that very brief moment. I felt like I have entered a fantasy land; and my belief in the nature and its magic strengthens. Magic exists; I have seen it.

Posted in Mumbai, Places

Rains in Mumbai v/s Delhi

Come June and my heart fills with the anticipation of monsoons. As per general rule, rains are supposed to hit Mumbai by first week of June and Delhi by end of June. Like every year, I wait and long for monsoons to arrive. While I wait, I came across a few words I wrote last year in my folder. And now that I have a blog, I couldn’t resist publishing the same over here.

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An affair to remember

It was around 4:30 pm and like every other late afternoon at home in Delhi; I was sitting idle watching TV and surfing on internet. All the doors and windows were closed, which always is, as a rule during Delhi afternoons.  All of a sudden, indoors became darker and cooler. I walked to the other room and opened the balcony door and… wow!!! I was in for a pleasant surprise. The sky was full of dark and black clouds… really dark. Light and cool breeze added to the effect. Since it was happening in Delhi, there were abundant trees, plants, flowers all around to bring colour to the view. The end result was nothing less than magical. I was spell bound for a moment. I had almost forgotten the beauty of monsoons in plains like Delhi. I guess Mumbai rains have occupied my heart and memories, almost to the extent of prejudice against Delhi.

Anyways, today that moment was beautiful and happy. My expectations started to mount. Especially after all the news of heavy rains in nearby areas, I was anticipating something similar for saddi dilli. I waited anxiously, looking up at the sky, hoping for heavy, really heavy rains to drench us mortals. After a few minutes of waiting, I went back inside to my TV. Soon after, I was making impatient rounds in and out, walking across rooms and balcony. And there I saw little droplets on ground, followed by a coin-sized large water drops. I was ecstatic and looked up at the sky in awe. There it is. It’s going to happen. The single most beautiful event of nature on this earth! The few drops turned into many and what followed ‘officially’ classify as rains. But, it wasn’t enough to satiate the dry earth and me. I was disappointed. The light drizzle went on for about 10 minutes. I was standing there in my balcony… I kept standing there. Rains drops touched my clothes and vanished. Oh, how I missed Mumbai.

This moment, this very moment brought a flashback of all monsoons spend there. In a flash, past 5 years of Mumbai passed through my eyes, followed by a bitter pain somewhere reminding me of the only stupid decision of my life… I left Mumbai at the onset of monsoons. I had already missed a whole month of rains. My heart was crying, shouting at me to pack bags and rush back with the first available flight. What stops me is a different discussion. Coming back to the main point, monsoons in Delhi v/s Mumbai.

Delhi rains are a lot of noise and little substance. There are strong winds, dust spiraling in air, trees moving around violently. It sends ahead its messengers like a queen to prepare all for the grand entrance. What finally enters the stage is usually less than grand. Delhi rains start with dust storm, lightening and some more thunder storm. Sometimes it’s accompanied with beautiful breeze. The rains are very light, usually not enough for desperate souls like me. Though I must admit, there are bonus points, like inexplicable pleasant smell of wet earth and the nice breeze.

Mumbai rains, however, are beautiful, romantic and memorable. It just shows up, at any fine moment, like an old friend. No signals, no messengers. Surprise entry, longer stay. It comes and stays. Sometimes it stays over night, sometimes throughout that lazy afternoon. Sometimes it pours heavily and embraces the dry earth with an absolute intimacy and join in the celebration, with all life on earth thoroughly drenched. Sometimes it comes in the form of small string of drops to accompany for a little road-side chai and bhajiya. It makes its presence felt… the skies are cloudy and the streets are wet all over. Even the sea gets ecstatic with the kiss of raindrops. The sea is youthful, vibrant and vivacious when the monsoon pays a visit; it’s almost delirious, splashing water all around. Mumbai experience monsoon in its true splendor.

Delhities who have never gone to Mumbai during monsoons (or pune, lonvala, kashid, and the endless list of nature’s pretty faces around Mumbai) do not have an iota of a clue what they have missed in life. To not live in Mumbai is my decision. That city will never be my home, but it will stay with me forever as that unforgettable but impractical love affair. The beauty of the city during monsoons charmed me away.

– Sonali, 7th July 2010, Delhi

P.S: The above is dedicated to the lovely rains and the metros of Delhi and Mumbai (the cities I love and hate)