Friday, October 12, 2012

Dolly in Bali

The most energizing experience in recent times... our trip to Bali.

Taking off from the buzzing and colossal Suvarnabhumi and landing in a homely little airport at Denpasar I thought we had come to a retreat for rejuvenation and rest. No running around, no passionate search for things to buy- just a peaceful interlude between two stages- the end of our superb stay in Thailand and the beginning of our rehab on native soil. We were in a state of limbo and were enjoying being in no man's mindspace(read were stupid when we thought that in this low season we would be a few of us on the beach with hibiscus flowers behind our ears and some striking red beads around our necks, with Bintang beer and curried crab for company. And the biggest bottle of 50 SPF sunscreen next to us, because we the wheat-complexioned, smooth skinned Indian women (and also men, though they hate to admit it!) do not like to mess around with our derma. Sun tan oil is on the other side of our spectrum.
How different it turned out to be...
And but really! We were in a place so full of surprises and so full of action even in low season.There was the beach, and there was the beach, and then there were oh so many more beaches.Whether it was Kuta, or Nusa Dua or Seminyak or Jimbaran or Lovina, (and some lovely names which I cannot pronounce or spell) there was always a spectacular sunrise and a stunning sunset. And we had to catch each such spectacular episode somehow, often missing it by seconds because we browsed too long at a painters' gallery in Ubud or hung around too long at the 11th century Pura Desa temple. But ultimately managed to see it all, thanks to our guide.

Ah! the guide....Our dear and humble guide was one of the finest we have met; and we have travelled quite some. He had a smile and an attitude which endeared him to us instantly, and his advice was so well researched that we never had a moment of regret or "why did we go there and waste our time?"I felt like a connoisseur when I went to check out the batik village and the wood carving village.... the artists themselves were so unassuming and so respectful, they just did not know or realize what a goldmine they had in their hands (read fingers). Artists so profound in any other part of the world would have laughed out loud at me for my stupid questions, or maybe even decided not to pay attention. I educated myself at the expense of these simple islanders and brilliantly right brained wizards in Bali who taught me the difference between crocodile wood, hibiscus wood and ebony..... without taking advantage of my ignorance. They had magic in their fingers. And you only had to peer into their eyes to see the crystal clear heart and soul.

The Balinese attire was so utterly comfortable for the hot weather, I could just go on wearing the sarongs and the net blouses with the bright little tank tops. And I did not look so fat in them either....the myriad strings of coloured beads did the trick when I wore an encouragingly low neckline long dress made of balinese batik. The lulur massage had anyway brightened up my skin and in the candlelight at Potato Head I glowed. Flattered to the core, I had my fill of pasta and No-jito!(the non alcoholic mojito, as the menu at Potato Head proclaims). And glowed some more.

Development has touched Bali but synergistically. It has not upset the nude charm of island flora and fauna.The aircraft landing on a runway made on reclaimed land was a breathtaking experience, and now you know why I always, always take the window seat. If I just sat there and looked out it was like I was skimming on water in this big fat aircraft, only when I peered deep down could I see the strip of land. Take off was a repeat delight, but lets save that for later.

The houses that Balinese residents live in were straight out of storybooks... the carved niche, the wooden lace bordering the lintern and the hand carved tiling frames around the house, the vivacious touch of gold and dalliance with vibrant colors all added to the magic of all my moments. Believe me, the Hinduism I experienced in Bali is very different from the Hinduism I experience in India, the home of Hinduism. In Bali, Hinduism is peaceful, a karmic journey to pure joy, expressed in the simplicity of lifestyles and mutual behavior and interaction. It is not differentiation, structurization as we seem to have interpreted it in India.(I think I have coined a new word here, guys, but 'structurization' exactly expresses what I want to say.... even my Scrabble dictionary does not ratify this word, but I beg to use it, nevertheless).

So the synergy of positive natural instinct and urban development or modernization has made the average Balinese life very comfortable. Relying on tourism as the main source of foreign exchange with integrity and hard work, the Balinese woman complements the man, is very hardworking and supportive for her family. It is good to see a balanced man woman turnout at work. However, most of the fine craftsmen I observed were men; the sculptors and painters we met while there, were mostly men. The girls soft-spoken and dignified, were specially gifted in performing arts and engrossed in music and dance.

An interesting event known as the kecak (pronounce kechak)fire dance told me the epic ramayana in a way that I had not seen in India. Equivalent to the "Ramlila", the fire dance or Kecak dance was a recital and dance combo. Ravana, who is the brute and the bad man in India, looked sad and old; Hanuman was so handsome; and Mareech, the rakshasa disguised as the golden deer to captivate Seeta's heart was such a winner. He cavorted and pirouetted and looked so cute, it was impossible to hate him for what he did. The story was the same; victory of good over evil. But then, don't all religions teach us the same?

As all islanders, the people seemed contented and very proud of their island. Our guide would speak of every tourist attraction with such pride, it was touching. The roar of the waves was majestic; they would thunder ashore and literally shake the ground with sheer force. I sat on the shore and felt the power. I went into the water and felt the comfort of the warm waves. I sat in the patio and felt peaceful. Never for a moment did I get any negative vibe or unsettling emotion. What else do you want on a holiday? Some beer perhaps? and a hibiscus behind your ear? 

Friday, September 14, 2012

her love is ageless

It was raining heavily and  every ten or fifteen minutes, there would be a clap of thunder and lightening would roll across the dull skies- what little of the skies I could see from inside the french windows looked really gloomy. Anyway, the papers have been carrying front page news about heavy rain forecast and temporary inundation in some areas. Today was no different.

As I looked across the open french windows towards the balustrade, I saw her standing, a bit stooped and a trifle bunched up. She was looking down I guess, so stooping, and she was bunched up because she may be feeling cold, I presumed. The raindrops were bouncing into the open area due to the gusty wind accompanying the shower. Both her hands rested on the balustrade and she had an inscrutable expression on her 79 year old face- maybe she was thinking inwards. She was always thinking inwards these days; she often gave me the impression that she had stopped looking outwards now- while she still avidly looked forward to her children's happiness and success, I felt she really did not look forward to her own life. When anyone would try and talk to her, she would just withdraw.

She loved the rain; often she would tell a story about how, as a child,  she would run home from school with her schoolbag on her head. She would get fully wet but her head would stay dry. Even in her own home, when she was grown up and married, whenever it rained, she would just dump whatever she was doing and go and sit out on the patio in a red and white caned garden chair and listen to the music of the falling rain. The rain smells would make the weather husky and she would just sit there with her cup of tea and some of her friends would join her. She loved those days in the sun and the rain.

She did not like thunder though, even when she was very young and so fearless. Even today, as I watched her, every clap of thunder made her wince and bunch up some more. When she walked in she told me that whenever she is alone, and she hears thunder she sits on the edge of her bed and waits for it to subside because she is so scared of the sound...and now she is always alone ever since  the light of her life, her husband, her everything, left her and quietly passed away to the next world. How scared she must be feeling, I am unable to come to terms with it.

She used to be a strong woman-a girl guide, an NCC cadet and a volleyball player. She was tall and tough.... with a 'never say die' attitude. She ate well and she slept well....and also kept a good house and brought up three healthy children who are doing so well today. Her husband was so proud of her though her complaint is that he never said so. And what about her now? Today she is quietly elegant and simply old- she lives alone and often when she is very lonely, she has a date with her past. She has countless albums which she knows like the back of her hand. Her drawer is full of old letters written when we all knew how to wield a pen. Letters from her parents, siblings, inlaws, husband, children, grandchildren... she spends an entire day transported into her past via the letters and the pictures. And then she goes out and inspects her garden- that is one passion that has not left her- she is so green thumbed, its amazing. It is her connect with the present too.

When she talks of her past she has a glow on her face- the glow of a life well lived, the happiness of a job well done, the satisfaction of having loved with her heart and soul. Even her fingertips exude love. Touch her and you will know.

There are times when she forgets and other times she is not very careful about what she is saying. But then she is 79.

As I see her now, I see a body which is spent and old but so full of love that she can never run out of it. It may be low on enzymes, and perhaps some calcium and vitamins and energy, for which she takes supplements. But full of love she certainly is.

Guys, she is my mother. 

Friday, August 24, 2012


अब कुछ इस तरह से है कि लैपटाॅप के सामने,
 दिमाग़ के कुछ पुर्ज़े खुल से जाते हैं...
जो इन दिनों लेटे हुए सोते रहते थे...
वो अरमान भी ज़रा ज़रा जाग जाते हैं।

सोचकर लिखने जब काग़ज़ कलम उठाकर चलते थे
कहानी नीरस हो जाती थी,... बेमानी,
नहीं, बस यूँ समझो
अनजानी बन जाती थी,
मन खोने की कोशिश करते करते थकने लगता जब,
तब इकदम से यादों की लहर भरपूर भिगाती थी ।

गूँजी जबदिल में आह! तो बाहर भी सुनाई पड़ा,
यूँ कि कोई बेबस मन खो जाने का बहाना ढूढं रहा है...
या फिर कुछ यादों ने बरबस ही लम्बी साँसें ले डाली
इतनी लम्बी साँसें कि बस हलक मे फँस कर रह गई
दिल से निकल कर आह! आँखों में उतर आई।

याद उन पलों की ताज़ी हो चली थी...
जब जिंदा होकर भी  मर मर कर जीते रहे थे...
और मरने की ख्वाहिश में जीना ही भूल गए?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Haircut and a Memory

I badly needed a haircut on my recent visit home to India - it was just for a week so initially I had thought maybe I could come back to Bangkok and take one. But that was intercepted by my daughter's firm belief that a haircut must be had.... "Today!". So that was it and we decided to fit it in our Saturday ramblings and started out visiting bookstores where I expected my book would have arrived. That it had arrived nowhere was what we found out later; perhaps our search was too preliminary. It would still take a few more weeks for it to be stocked in the bookshops.

For those of you who dont know, I have just published my first fiction novel, "Painted Years". Contemporary fiction is what the jargon calls it, and by the way, this is Mumbai I am talking about- this time I paid some extra money to the airlines and bought a multicity ticket- entered India through Mumbai and exited through Delhi with some smaller stops thrown in. FYI, just this evening I received an email from some travel agency who claims to book a return ticket to Kolkata for just 6000 baht and something! Money wasted and opportunity lost! Wish I had known- anyway remember this for next time.

So as I was narrating, we were Saturday rambling, my daughter and I, and I needed a haircut. In Mumbai. So we called up my fav parlour on Waterfield Road in Bandra and took an appointment. Then we called up a salon in Colaba and took another appointment. Another well known exclusive hair stylist agreed to meet us at 5 pm. But finally, we landed at a parlour in South Mumbai, part of a fashion and cosmetics chain! And sat there waiting for our turn while we cancelled the earlier appointments. Actually, the idea was to catch a movi after that- 'Cocktail' or 'Bol Bachchan'. I get to see special shows of Hindi movies in Bangkok; but these two were just released so watching them on home ground was a delicious idea. So the haircut had to be quick and then lunch was to be had- how could I not eat the amazing malwani coastal food and the paalak khichdi on a Saturday afternoon? Between the haircut and the cocktail?

As I sat with shampooed hair, waiting for the hair dresser to appear, I found this petite girl with frank eyes smiling at me from behind. I wasnt sure she was the hair dresser (I hadnt seen her ever)  so I just smiled back- maybe she was a customer who had noticed my un-touch-upped hair and was thinking i was such a careless country bumpkin and what was I doing here in this parlour in stylish South Mumbai... this certainly wasnt the place for me! Or perhaps she had stumbled upon the secret of why my picture on the back of my novel looked good (everyone said that... i am not saying it, ok?)...maybe coloured hair was the secret of my youth! It certainly was not botox, in my case. Neither was it a nose job or liposuction.

So she smiled and then she fished out a black apron from the chaos on the trolley.... now I was convinced that she would cut my hair. Almost instantly she began talking. Believe me, she had me so comfortable in less than five minutes, I could have allowed her to cut my hair all day! And was she eloquent- she spoke fast but her voice was soft and her conversation was interesting.

And when she got to know about where I came from, she smiled some more and told me she had great respect for the people here in Thailand. Very recently she had visited one of the islands here and while climbing up the picturesque mountains to a breathtaking viewing point, she had gotten lost in the jungle. She was there for just a day, and in a couple of hours she had a speedboat to catch which would take her to mainland and then she had a flight that same evening. She was worried; and her other group buddies were nowhere to be seen. Prolly they were also looking for her....

The mountain looked lonely- very sparsely populated. The resorts were only at sea level and she was a few hundred feet above sea level. She appealed to the one or two local residents she could find. She did not know their language; and they did not know hers. But her panic spoke amply and instantly she had help- very very graciously, the gentleman with the bike escorted her to the jetty; the last speed boat to the mainland which had left a few minutes ago (she had missed it) actually came back to the island to pick her up and she could finally catch her flight. And land safely home.

She asked me if everyone here is like that- helpful and kind and willing to go that extra mile (literally!) I said YES... I deem it my greatest good luck that I have had an opportunity to experience living here. Not just touring, but living- there is a difference. The richness of culture and the deeply ingrained values can be felt only if you live in a place.

I promised her I would write her experience. Noori, this one is for you. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Painted Years

Our first glimpse of Rya is through her diary.

An investment banker by profession, Rya has written a book called Windblown and is now experiencing the success of having authored a story liked by many.

Little did she expect it, but she is a successful author now. Teana the protagonist of her novel, is a powerful girl who knows her mind.

‘Painted Years’ is all about what Rya is, apart from being an author. Or what an author is, when she is not autographing her books!

Our visual of an author is one who sits at leisure and always has a large mug of coffee and a computer around her.  When we see Rya we see a really busy and thoughtful girl, going through a life packed with pleasant surprises and unpleasant shocks, determined to make the most of every moment. This is a story of  a daughter, a wife, a mother, a worker, all in one.

Rya’s illness adds to the piquancy of the story; she is terminally ill; and is balancing her life to suit that of her family and people she loves. And she loves everyone with her whole heart.

Read about what goes on in Rya’s life as she prepares to live and die in turn.

Trailer on

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Irreverent.... sounds different, doesn't it?


The good old girls were singing a song
And just for fun, I sang along.

They prayed for their honor, they prayed for their bread
And I prayed for getting married, instead.

At fifty the girls felt young at heart
That’s because they had never seen life, for a start.

I was gauche at 16, and stupid and shy,
And a hopeless bore with the boys.

I felt like time was slipping away,
Would I find a boyfriend, or die an old maid?

I played poker on mobile, I was so bored,
Good God, with all the singing, my throat was so sore!

It seemed never ending, and I was hungry
Singing for my supper- oh the height of drudgery.

I would rather watch a movie, and eat some chicken wings
Sleep till noon, who really wants to sing?

But I went along and sang that song,
And sang the song some more….

My head hummed hamburger, and my hands played poker
And the feet did a bollywood disco.

Its time to rise and shine lazybones,
Its time to say hello!
To the tide and the moments that are passing you by
So stand under the mistletoe.

Some wandering nomad may come by and kiss you
Who knows, he may just decide to love you.

A genie may drop by with a lampful of luck
Perhaps a bucket of wine and a bushel of slush.

The sun smiles on you, the skies are so blue
It cannot get better, for me and for you.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Stayin' Alive!

“Hello there! What do you want? A book to read, a game to play, a movie to watch? A dress to buy? A whopping big burger? Food that is familiar to your palate? Some shoes perhaps? A house? A job? Some chocolates, just for  a badly needed high? Kicks, maybe. And perhaps some friends? …”
Now maybe you think I have come to the punchline of the advertisement, which will say something like…..”Why worry? We are there for you. Trust us. Yours truly.”
And to mind will come a visual of a robot holding Aladdin’s lamp! Imagine!
Isn’t this what you are looking for? A robot with Aladdin’s lamp?

Loaded with memories of home, I kept asking myself these questions about what I want, and how to get them, as I came in and tried to settle in a new country in a service apartment, and tried to order my breakfast and figure out where to buy that book from. Friends would come later; once that physical and intellectual craving was taken care of, I would sure go out and make friends.

And the robot with Aladdin’s lamp was so elusive, believe me. He would peer at me from behind the windows and then run away… just when I thought I had him to sort out all my woes, I would hear him chuckle, and hide.

Right then, I just wanted to stay alive. Didn’t want to be hidden behind piles of curtains and heaps of cushions. And rows of plates and boxes of cutlery, stickered black and yellow. Wanted to open my eyes and appreciate the freshly painted apartment we were going to hire and move into, once our cargo arrived. I just love the smell of a freshly painted house. Have always loved it.

And figure out where I could keep the marble top wrought iron table or the heritage sandstone artefact, and where to hide the shoe rack. Considering that we had shipped very basic stuff for the house, and that we would be looking for a bigg-ish apartment, I knew it would take time to fill it up and make it look as cluttered as homes usually do! Comfortably cluttered…. I am not the kind who believes in a house done up in five-star style with not a hair out of place. So I could go mad about shopping because there would be so much space to put all that into.

All the rambling made me confused. What did I really want? I knew what I did not want: I did not want to be doing mindless things. I did not want to just hang around doing nothing. Its in the mind, you fool! Screamed my head. Stick your neck out and see- this is the land of smiles where the warmth envelopes you. There is so much to do! As my head screamed, I was already feeling better; more like I belonged. More like I should really stick my neck out and listen, read, learn, imbibe. And do.

So where do I begin? I searched for a clue- for two days I read the papers, end to end, sitting in that service apartment and had myriad mugs of coffee, both black and latte. No clue. Asked the service desk, the concierge, the taxi driver, the tuk tuk man. Everyone tried to help. I had so much of information and again I asked myself: “Where do I begin?” Was clueless.

A long weekend was drawing near so my husband and I went out for a trip nearby; a small non commercial beach village called Cha Am with Hua Hin, a bigger, better beach town, in close proximity. Saturday was a really lazy afternoon, we had had enough of beer in the October sun, so sitting in one of the shacks which proudly proclaimed free wi-fi for its customers, my MacBook Pro beckoned. The famous apple glowed and looked irresistible. Sat and began typing random words in the search engine. Top of mind were words like expat, new country, job, housing, holiday, places, shopping…… the search threw up some astronomical number of links- I was too ‘beered’ to read each one. A link on the first page of the search took me to I was pleasantly surprised to read that whatever I had shyly written on my blog was all here too, by so many different people in so many different parts of the world. How close I felt that day to each one who had shared their hearts and mind on the blog!

I turned to my husband to tell him about this treasure house of empathetic emotions and proof of our sanity, but I found him taking a power nap. He looked so cute…. I realized I hadn’t felt this light for a long time. Maybe I was too full of the pressures of relocation. Maybe I felt I was all wrong? But now, I sure felt good! I am glad we came for this weekend break. I am glad I surfed. I am glad there are so many people in this world going through a similar experience. This is a lovely place and we are going to enjoy ourselves! I know it.

Having worked all my life, I wanted to see what I could do here to make it worth my while. Would I go on being a trailing spouse? Or was there a way to productivity. So back to, where I could understand what it takes for an expat to work in Thailand…The rules, the documentation, the opportunities.

I was sure I wanted to have my own blog listed here. I would be so happy if everyone who read my blog would feel as good as I did, when I read theirs! Was easy! I did it!

And then, when we got back to Bangkok, it seemed much smarter, easier to manouevre. I began learning the language and loved it. I am still learning the tonality though, with each passing day,  and it is difficult for me with my deadpan cultivated voice which is the requirement for debates, elocution, lecturing, training. But I am sure I will learn.

The robot with Aladdin’s lamp is not so elusive anymore and gets my work done. In fact, I have had many house guests and the robot has been kind!

The house is big and I am still shopping. Though sometimes I do wish I had stayed on in the service apartment- their bruschettas were amazing and I can eat them all my life and not      grow tired of them. I used to have them for breakfast, lunch, dinner. And they only have it in the room service menu. So am seriously thinking of spending a weekend in the service    apartment! Only for the bruschettas. Oops! did I spell it right? The 'bruschettas', I mean?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

if you have to push back.....

..... if you have to push back, who do you push back? those who try to get too close or those who believe in their own dignity? those who love to criticize others or those who introspect and then speak about everyone else? those who love to hear the sound of their own voice or those who simply appreciate? those who take the horse to the water or those who try and make it drink? those who love you till they smother you or those who hate you and want to speed up your destruction?

......if you have to push back, push back those who are negative in their thoughts - whether they love you or hate you should not matter. Even age and relationship must not matter. They may appreciate you, but then they may be biased.You must, must push back someone who is selfish though they may be good to you. Never listen to an idea which is limited to you or the idea generator- the idea must maximize the positive fallout of any activity.

"....... it little profits that an idle king, matched with an aged wife, I meet and dole, unequal laws unto a savage race...." (From Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson).... this is just what has inspired me since I read it and understood it. I live by it; it is my mantra.

........ and then having understood that doling out unequal laws(read ideas), biased laws(again, read ideas)and laws(yet again, ideas) which are partial and unbalanced will most certainly result in less profits and more losses, I now ponder over whether there is one benchmark or many permutations and combinations for which thought or idea is right and what is wrong. I then arrive at the conclusion that while there may be many rights and wrongs, we again benchmark any action against the positive impact, and we will find the success rate gets higher- better- more assured. The decision then, to push back or not to push back, will be more correct than before. Before means when we were just not evaluating. Just going by who loved us and which peer group we belonged to; and who was coming forward with an idea or concept or simply who was asking us to do something. The idea was overshadowed by the person- the thought was eclipsed by who it belonged to. pushing back is a science because its a studied decision which determines the growth path of an initiative or idea.

........also pushing back is an art because any idea can be pushed back and re-formed or re-stated in a positive manner to be of any use. When something is generated, it is only fair that we explore how best to use it. I dont believe in flatly refusing to look at it because on the face of it, it looks negative;

I never would blindly say no.

....... as for pushing back people, once we are clear about the good or the bad, and we feel responsible for lesser mistakes, or minimum error, then we are eligible to judge them  and then push back. But before attaining that confidence level we all need to look at ourselves closely. Are we being fair?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

i the proud indian

Wrote this on March 20, 2012, but just kept it on my desktop- you see, the wifi had timed out by the time I could upload this post :)
But i am determined to share this thought with you, so here goes.......

March 20, 2012: I am at Terminal 3 at IGI airport and i feel like i am in one of the best airports in the world- this is domestic departures, by the way. Its so impressive. Just so good!

Just now a group of some 40 men, women and children went past, with "thaila" and tin cans and "gathris" on their heads- their women wore shocking pink saris with shiny sequins and the children kept on shouting with joy and exploding with "amma re!" sounding shouts and just ran on the carpeted walk to the gates in their shiny moccasins and plastic flip flops. As I can see they are travelling by air, and that speaks so much for itself.... the men had big holdall looking things on their heads and wore dhoti kurtas, with salt and pepper stubble and sinewy hands which have worked hard in the fields and farms.

Well, we use to read a fairy tale where one princess wanted to marry a man who was at once the richest and the poorest... so she found a man in tattered clothing who was sitting on a golden throne in a palace and she proposed to him. That was a fairy tale, but in my lovely India, this actually happens. 

All these shocking pink saree clad women and the dhoti clad men and the semi clothed children shouting with joy are rich in their enthusiasm to enjoy whatever life throws at them- the group I saw had no hangups at all. And here I sit and keep looking at my hair wondering whether I am presentable or looking like I have tumbled out of bed! Its five in the morning, you see!

This is why I love India. Its all there for us to see... we have no pretentions. We talk and blaspheme our country and our people whenever we can; we spare no one. We are not shy to talk about how bad we are; we are also very proud about how good  we are. We love to make ourselves heard; and we love to hear our own voice too! Wish I could change this bit.... wish we could look at the good side and help others recognize how we can make it better for all of us.

Other than this, I adore my country the way it is. The dusty leaves, the true natural flower fragrances unspoilt by hybrid cultivation and the raw eagerness of the people far outweigh the negative aspects like corruption and politics.Why cant we just take this enthusiasm and and spread it so far and wide that every negative vibe gets smothered in its warm embrace and turns around to accept the good things just waiting for us?

OK, now my free trial time is getting over. The wifi will snap in a bit and I am not going to buy more time! so see you later.