Experiencing India: Sounds and Sights from an Indian Train Journey

It’s surprising how train journeys closely mimic the cycle of life. We meet people, make friends, only to let them go and find new ones- thereby knitting an endless chain of emotions- only to be felt but never to be broken. But again, what is life, but a collection of such journeys.

The following passage is an ‘as-it-happened’ description of a journey with the Indian Railways (the 12.30 Passenger train from Madurai to Rameshwaram, both of which lie in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu). Try not to find for a story in here, rather, seek to experience the billion personalities that make India Incredible. Here it goes.

Chug, Chug, Chug! The 12:30 passenger train from Madurai has just started to sing its rhythmic song, a melody it will sing for the next few hours till it reaches a mystical island called Rameshwaram. It is an overcast day of November 2015, the rain clouds looming over the horizon as I attempt to traverse, and hopefully document, the lush green landscape of Tamil Nadu, India.

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Tamil Nadu country side with the looming rain clouds

I yearn for the rain, as I am aware of the power of the raindrops to elate even the most dolorous environs.

As I try to get comfortable in my cozy window side seat, I am greeted by a distinct sound. ‘Wooooooo…’– a loud cheer, emanating from the far corner of my train bogie, surprises all the five occupants of the compartment I am in. The train had just passed over a small river causing a group of seven children, sitting at a corner of the bogie along with their parents, to let out a loud “Woooooo..” sound in a seemingly pre-planned unison. From that moment onward, the children failed to hide their excitement towards any river, tunnel, or even an old bridge that our passenger train crossed.
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Bhangarh : The Ruined City and The Ghosts I Met There

 

Ever been compelled to watch a horror movie in the dead of night even though you know it would lead to countless sleepless nights? Ever been infatuated with the idea of exploring a haunted house? No? Yes? I was.

So were four of my friends. The big question was – where? Residing in Delhi which has seen its share of cold-blooded assassinations, bloody battles and betrayals, we thought it would be easy to spot restless, revengeful souls here. After making trips to the Khooni Darwaza, the Malcha Mahal, Agrasen ki Baoli and even a neighbouring house in the residential area of Lajpat Nagar, and not meeting any ‘other worldly’ (just because it is an accepted term, if they are in this world, how are they other-worldly? Anyway more on that later) creatures, we couldn’t decide where would our efforts find fruition. We finally zeroed down upon Bhangarh. What better place to get the thrills than a ruined city which is famed to be India’s most haunted place?

Archaeological Survey of India board

Archaeological Survey of India has put up a stone inscription outside the fort describing the construction

On the D-day, we rose early and started preparing ourselves according to the lengthy to-do list put together by our friend. She insisted that the place was infested with djinns who cling to open hair – which made all of us pull our hair into tight buns. Applying perfume or fragrant shampoo was a definite invitation for ghosts – hence, avoided. We had breakfast with an uneasy sense of foreboding and then drove away. Throughout the 60-odd km drive to the destination form Jaipur, we were excited and discussing details with our jolly driver – Param bhaiya (In India men are ‘bhaiya’ until they become ‘uncle’ at about the age of fifty or so. It is the polite way of addressing them).

It was a bright December morning. As the majestic ruins loomed towards our eyes, the Sun warmed our souls and we walked on towards the fort from our car. And I thought, would it be just as beautiful had it not been chaotic? If this is its state in abandonment, how did it look at the peak of prosperity?

Stairway of Bhangarh

The stairway leading upto the main fort complex of Bhnagarh

Immersed in thoughts, we came upon a notice by the Archaeological Survey of India, prohibiting anyone from staying inside before sunrise and after sunset. After reading this proclamation of the dangers inside, we ventured onwards into the realm of ghosts.

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SLOWROVER SNAPSHOTS #18

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Title: Her First Smile
Location: A village near Munsiyari, India

Her name is Keenu. She, alongwith some other naughty kids of her village, had come to visit us, while we were camping a few hundred meters away from their remote Uttrakhandi Village near Munsiyari.

While the other kids were busy running around our tents, little Keenu had her eyes fixated on my cell phone. It suddenly dawned upon me that it was probably the first time that she had come across this miracle consumer product. Not only was she delighted by the bubble like icons on my phone screen, she giggled each time the phone made sounds.

Perhaps her major delight was reserved for the last. For when I finally started my phone camera on ‘selfie mode’, she gave an expression that was part happiness and part disbelief. After all, this was the first time she was watching her own face on a phone screen! I’m glad I pressed the click button right then.

Not all selfies are bad, ay?

 

 

SR Travel Tip: If you ever visit Munsiyari in Uttarakhand, India, do not forget to visit the ‘Master Ji’s’ Museum. An overnight trek to the Khaliya Top is also highly recommended.

 

Vibhav

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Feel free to post questions/suggestions for the author in the comments below.


 

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Valley of Flowers, Travellers and Pilgrims

I feel quite smug when I look at people performing rituals to appease Gods. I have never been compelled to fast and hope for redemption. No, that definitely does not mean that I haven’t tried to appeal to the better Nature of Gods on the morning of many an exam to ensure I score more than I deserve. But I think, that if there is a person called God, that person wouldn’t be so corrupt as to dole out marks, money and marital bliss in return for renunciation or offerings. Honestly why would a God care how many fasts you have kept and why would that God choose to praise you by rewarding you with your heart’s desire. It’s all too simple isn’t it?

In short I believe I might uncomfortably occupy that space called religious agnosticism.

This makes me quite capable of stepping into a place of worship to enjoy moments of calm, while observing the architecture, the paintings and murals.

The beautiful Badrinath temple in Uttarakhand (India)

The beautiful Badrinath temple in Uttarakhand (India)

But I have never quite believed in the rituals that people engage in. For me they are mere formalities to facilitate my visit.  Take the practice of taking off one’s shoes before entering a religious sanctum for instance. During my formative years, I was exposed to my mom’s friend who was finicky and expected everyone to take off their shoes before entering her living room. I started thinking of temples as similar places owned by finicky Gods. Like I listened to the aunt hoping to get chocolates, I followed rituals to visit temples in order to be able to observe.

You may enter - after you take off your shoes

You may enter – after you take off your shoes

My understanding of such demonstrations of faith such as walking barefoot to a pilgrimage, is limited to say the least. I can’t help but engage in a fierce debate when such instances meet my eye. A similar opportunity presented itself to me during my sojourn in the Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand (India).

Valley of Flowers – if you haven’t taken a look at the hyperlink, I’ll state the obvious, it is a valley of, guess what? Flowers!

But these aren’t just any flowers. At least not the ones you can order online for your mom’s birthday. They are flowers which are a part of the sacred Himalayan alpine vegetation.

A beauty seldom found beyond the valley of flowers

A beauty seldom found beyond the valley of flowers

Unique, bashful, temperamental, the flowers live and breathe in the valley, watched closely by the guardian mountains of the Himalayas with their burly bodies and beards of soft white. Streams which simmer with shy gaiety keep them company with their gurgling and shimmering warmth. And pretty butterflies and naughty wasps are aplenty.

Flowers being looked after by the Himalayas

Flowers being looked after by the Himalayas

No wonder it features prominently on many a traveler’s ‘bucket list‘ and finds mention in some of the greatest works of literature. Such is the enchanting beauty of the valley that Frank Smythe, the British mountaineer froze in his tracks when he accidentally chanced upon the valley and his encounter resulted in a book – The Valley of Flowers. Oh and of course, it is also listed in the UNESCO World Network of Biospheres.

Counting stars would probably be easier than counting the flowers on this plant

Counting stars would probably be easier than counting the flowers on this plant

Well, I for one don’t really have a bucket list. A place catches my fancy and I start planning a trip (sometimes when it doesn’t work out, I add the name to a secret ballot from which one day when I run out of places, I shall draw a name at random and scurry off to sip tea there).  So, with great eagerness, I set out to explore what promised to be an unforgettable rendezvous in the Himalayas where there are several species of flowers, names unheard of, some dangerous, fatal even, nevertheless beautiful.

You can find several winged companions buzzing with excitement

You can find several winged companions buzzing with excitement

Now when I head to the mountains, I do it for the vantage point above the world that the peaks offer. I do it for the emeralds swaying on the boughs of trees, the majestic robes of cloud which flutter in the wind and the Sun which blushes a deeper red while setting in the hills than in the plains. Distance from the chaotic network of roads in the cities which make life run like clockwork, from the hands of soot outstretched to hold and wring my wind pipes, from an armor of people who protect me so well that I’m at no risk of discovering myself ever. The kilometers which span between the city and the hills, bring this distance for me.

A flower which would give Black Beauty a run for her money

A flower which would give Black Beauty a run for her money

As I began the ascent to Ghangharia, the village which offers lodgings for the travelers aspiring to visit the valley, I was hoping for all of this and more. However, what greeted me was not a pristine picture but a picture which had been knocked clean off the wall and the inhabitants of the frame were swaying in the wind. An iron bridge and wide concrete roads on which vehicles were plying with great urgency, more hawkers selling more goodies in shimmery plastic packets than the New Delhi Railway Station and more people around me than I was likely to meet at a party in my city.

People clicking pictures around concrete structures on their way to the valley

People clicking pictures around concrete structures on their way to the valley

What was the reason? Apart from being a major attraction for nature lovers and Himalaya enthusiasts who throng the village to see the marvels of the Valley of Flowers, Ghangaria is also swarming with pilgrims who come to visit the shrine of Hemkund Sahib. Many of them walked beside me during the ascent, holding a polite conversation before quickly overtaking me. Some of them preferred to walk barefoot and that’s perfectly not unusual for pilgrims in India.

Sikh pilgrims I met en route Ghangharia

Sikh pilgrims I met en route Ghangharia

Now I am a perfectly jovial person as anyone who would have met me knows. However, I have a daily quota of joviality which is directly proportional to the number of people I meet. Hence, I was becoming increasingly irritable, aloof and the backpack started to feel much heavier than it was– when finally the respite came as I turned another dreary corner. It was as if I had crossed an invisible barrier dividing two countries. The air was a playful child which greeted newcomers with an enthusiasm which could knock down unprepared souls. The assault on my senses became pleasurable all of a sudden as the surroundings became beautiful. And amidst the new-found liberty of the mountains, I set the pace for the rest of the journey.

This twisted tree is the last post before the village Ghangharia

This twisted tree is the last post before the village Ghangharia

The path meandering through the mountains abruptly came to an end, vanishing within a huge intersection of a small village which by no means looked empty or quiet. I found myself moaning again. Would I never be rid of people on this trek? I had reached my destination for the day, tired and spent, but excited because of the promising aspects of the next day. I waited for the morning like I had waited for the morning I was to be awarded a Student of the Year (or something along the same lines) award in 6th standard.  Unlike that day, I did not have a nest of butterflies in my stomach who threatened to fly out through my windpipe. I had a cheery breakfast and made more acquaintances before setting out.

We cut across the village diagonally at a brisk pace to get to an official barrier. All the jagged, chaotic beauty I had been yearning for remained elusive. There still spread some beautiful, soil and moss-covered rocks between the valley and me. Had I not been so preoccupied with getting there, I would have probably paid them the attention they deserved.

Entering the valley is like going through The Looking Glass

Entering the valley is like going through The Looking Glass

I feel obliged to give a slight warning to future explorers. Don’t bother going there if it is order that you seek. I for one, usually tire of order and the chaos which it sows in my city life, the burdens of which are noticeable within a week of turning my back to the mountains. I love the mystique and the exotic chaos of the mountains which calms my mind and gives it the depth I seek. And this valley, an abode of the beautiful chaos whose song is sung by the countless species which come into existence in the delicate habitat, is perhaps the best chaos I have witnessed.

Mr. Leaf here looks really good with the yellow hair, doesn't he?

Mr. Leaf here looks really good with the yellow hair, doesn’t he?

As I rested by the river bank, soaking in the glory of Nature which surrounded me, my mind wandered. I thought about sundry things. From the botanist who had lost her life to this valley and its mysteries to the Lord Indra who sought his pleasures here. And then I thought about myself. The valley meant so much to me while I probably meant nothing to it. Just another of those thousands who flock to see the wonders it holds in its arms.

A flower shining like a beacon among the greens of the valley

A flower shining like a beacon among the greens of the valley

Then something interrupted me. Not something actually, someone refilling their bottle at the stream while making what seemed to me as much noise as possible. Another possible acquaintance, another interruption, who I observed chose to walk barefoot. Another pilgrim! But why walk barefoot to the valley? Not really, a splash in the stream led to wet shoes which were now drying on the bank. But my presumptuous query about the shoes managed to start a debate. Lots of words cropped up – renunciation, salvation, and beliefs – yes, all the stock phrases basically.

Then the conversation started taking an interesting turn. My acquaintance wanted to know why would I climb mountains, why would I walk when I could ride, why would I eat sparse meals in the villages when I could afford lavish dinners in the cities? Choice – was my simple answer. And then that victorious smile spread upon my new friend’s face and something dawned upon me.

The message reads

The message reads “enjoy the view of the mountains from here” – Nandadevi National Park, Joshimath

My friend got up to leave. So it was as simple as that. Being baptized in a certain religion at your birth makes you a devotee. Many a times the lifestyle choices prescribed do not appeal to your soul, your being. So people like me start thinking of religion as a factory, working through the machinery of rituals trying to manufacture identical individuals in the society. But does that mean we don’t need that kind of influence? One might choose to live by a different set of rules, or by no rules. Even negating makes you a believer. That becomes your own personal religion, albeit with fewer followers than other religions. Like the flowers of this plant, alike yet different :

Cluster of flowers spotted at the valley of flowers

Many musings later, I found myself getting up to join the rest of the group to head back. I was reluctant. I did not want to leave, not yet. But I had to. This view would have to do for now.

I was, after all, a pilgrim!

-Swetambara Chaudhary


Tripoto
The author served as a staff writer at Scoopwhoop! and is a freelancer
Send her virtual chocolates on her Twitter and Facebook.

© Copyright for all the images owned by SlowRover and Swetambara Chaudhary. 

SlowRover Snapshots #10

Lama, renunciation

Little lama and a lesson on renunciation

Title: Little Lama and a Lesson on Renunciation
Location: Ladakh, India

While exploring the Hemis monastery, I ran into this young man. Instantly, my hands whipped out my camera, thinking about how good his red robes would look against the white. But he shook his face in anger and turned away. But as I stowed away my camera, he beckoned. He simply took the chocolate I held in my other hand and asked me to proceed with the photo.

So, by renouncing a bar of chocolate I managed to click this image.

SR Travel Tip: Don’t plan a trip to Ladakh which doesn’t have Pangong Tso in the itinerary. You could enjoy amazing street food in Leh, but if you want to have a sit-down dinner, head to Gesmo or Bon Appetit.

-Swetambara

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SlowRover Guests: On Recognizing Traveling is a Privilege

Our friends at Unexpected Wanderlust has written an insightful piece on – Why Traveling is a privilege. Check it out!


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So there’s a trend I’ve noticed in many travel blogs and it’s a trend I both love and find troubling: The “No Excuses!” trend. You know what I’m talking about. The posts that tell people that there are absolutely no excuses at all to not travel. Anyone in any circumstance can find a way to travel if they simply get off their butts and work!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love these posts for inspiring me, and countless other people, to dare to dream about a life we had thought impossible. Whenever my family tells me that I can’t travel indefinitely without being a trust-fund child I direct them to these posts and spread the “you can do it!” attitude.

But I also think that there is an underlying problem with this type of “No Excuses” mentality, which is that it focuses on a specific population for whom traveling is actually a possibility. Yes, there are lots of people who come up with excuses and who don’t allow themselves to break the boundaries of the possibilities, but there are also people who just cannot give themselves the luxury of traveling. If you are a single mother working two jobs and barely making ends meet, what are the probabilities that you will have time and money to take a trip to anywhere? Yes there are people who travel without money, I’ve been able to travel even though I have no money by working, earning scholarships, finding jobs abroad, etc, but the fact that I can save money to travel and that I have an education and skill set that has helped me get scholarships and jobs are in themselves a privilege.

Another thing I find troubling about this trend is that it’s a bit ethnocentric. Everyone claims how traveling around South America and South East Asia is SO cheap! Which is true…if you live in a country with a stronger currency. But what about people in South America and SE Asia? Is traveling around their own continents as cheap? Not to mention the fact that as citizens of the US and Europe we don’t have to worry about visas as much. The grand total I have ever paid for visas is $76 for a student visa to France. I never understood what a privilege this is until I was helping my best friend plan her family trip to Europe. The visa fees were exhorbitant! They spent around $700 getting both the UK and the Schengen visas for the family…and keep in mind $700 is a LOT of money in Colombia. Then consider having to spend in Euros and Pounds, which are almost four times the value of Colombian Pesos, and you can see how, in some countries, traveling can be limited to the very privileged. I mean, this is a family that lives a few blocks away from President Santos (not the presidential house, his actual house), and they struggled to afford it! What chances does a fruit vendor or a window washer in Colombia have of making their travel dreams come true?

It’s not that it’s impossible. I know people in Colombia who have packed their bags and traveled the continent with just $500.000 COP (~$250 USD) to start out. But these are people who have just graduated from university and have time and no financial or family responsibilities, which means they can live on a budget and take it as it goes.

I’m not saying we should stop pushing people to follow their dreams, or recognize that people break their backs to make these dreams come true. I myself feel very proud for having worked my butt off to be able to travel, and I know many other people who have done it too. But I am saying that we also need to recognize that there are certain circumstances in life that have allowed us to travel, and that people who can’t do that aren’t necessarily making “excuses”, sometimes life gets in the way. We need a balance between being proud of our hard work and being thankful that we’re privileged enough to see the fruit of that hard work go into our dreams. I think Amile handled this balance perfectly when she said “While I feel incredibly privileged to be able to make this choice (sometimes more than others), I think I’ve earned my stripes as well.”

So let’s keep encouraging people, let’s keep making success stories that feed dreams, let’s keep kicking ass and working hard. But let’s also keep in mind we’re extremely lucky to be able to travel.

-Lucia

Originally published here.


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SR Guest Posts: NIK & MAYHEM SHORT STORIES SERIES by Anahita

SlowRover presents the first part of Anahita’s NIK & MAYHEM SHORT STORIES SERIES.


Chapter 1: The Stairs

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He sat there with a cigarette between his lips and a worn out Polaroid of two.

“She used to live on the first floor and I used to live down here. The outdoor staircase was our safe haven. It was secluded and this is where our fingers nervously found way to each other. This is where we shared our first kiss. This! This was the place where I finally found someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.” His voice rose with every word, he uttered.

I wanted to ask the inevitable, “but” or “so what happened?” But he sensed my hesitation and added “a week before our wedding, she realized, she didn’t love me anymore.” I gave him a quizzical look, because either he was taking me for a fool or this was some Bollywood romantic gone sour.

Before I could ask him again, he cut me off by adding, “I am an artist.” and it was then when I could relate to what he was going through.

As artists, if someone falls in love with you, it’s extremely difficult to figure out whether they love you, the entirety of your existence of are they intimidated and enticed to your most prominent/highlighted face, “the artist”.

He took a long drag and rubbed his palms together and spoke in a grave voice, “I remember her telling me that I had too many flaws, that she loved me but she wasn’t ready to handle my past or be a part of my future. That there was a part of her, that was not ready to accept a part of me.”

And so we sat under the cracked roof of a staircase in silence because that was my only means of providing him compassion. It was my only way of letting him know that I understand because sometimes silence is louder than words.

Chapter 2: First 

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We met again.
I was pacifying myself with a salad on a rainy day while everyone around me sat in their bubble of happiness.

“Is this seat taken?” He smirked at me.

“Do you have a thing for movie like dialogues?” I snapped, hating the intrusion in my private moment.

For a second, I saw his no-care-I-own-the-world-sheit-eating grin disappear.

Then he abruptly sat down. “So Mayhem what’s that story on your lips?”
I was taken aback because his voice was serious and his eyes were intense.
I gulped down the fear because this was the first time someone was able to trace a speck of gloom in my pristine face.

“Why would you say that? Is it because I am enjoying a meal on my own accord. That’s kinda sexist of you, considering you’re an artist.” He laughed loudly.

“You’re adorable. But no that’s not why I asked you that question. For you and I both know I can list all the reasons to the question I asked which will leave you in tears but that’s something I fear. ”
I stared at his incredulous behavior.

“Who do you think you are? Just because I am your neighbor and we shared a moment on the stairs you think you know me.”

“Moments make a lifetime Mayhem. The increase in your tone & the rise of your chest & lets not forget the rather beautiful red on your cheeks is indicating otherwise.”

“Stop staring at my chest.” I blurted mad & ready to leave.
But then it made sense to me, he was forcing me to give in to the situation like all the times in the past.
Our past, is like worms dipped in a jar full of HCl. As soon as they are provided with the smallest inlet, they seek revenge and freedom.

“You know Mayhem. It would do you good, if you just shared. Stop being a Disney princess like Elsa hiding behind your frozen castle when you’re supposed to be slaying like a khaleesi.”

“Did you just quote a Frozen and a GOT reference in one?” I started laughing oblivious to the warmth that had developed in his eyes.

“So friends then?”

Chapter 3: Second Tilt 

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We decided on taking a joint trip to the land of tranquility, since it was peace that we were both craving. 

It had been a few weeks since the restaurant incident and Nik had been considerably docile and understanding, minding his own limits.

We sat on the steps of the monastery, enveloped by the peace around us.

“Do you believe in this?” He started. “In this concept of actually healing and acclaiming your inner peace?”

I pretended to think about it, when in reality I had the answer on the tip of my tongue. “No, I don’t.” He looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

“Okay, I am listening.” I got nervous again.

It had been these little moments with Nik that were forcing me to pull down on the fortress walls. Because, for the love of all that is food, I couldn’t figure out why I felt comfortable with him. 

Perhaps it’s the knowledge of his warm brown eyes or how his bearded face splits into dimples when I say something stupid or the way his raspberry lips paint themselves with a calm & accepting smile.

“I…I don’t think anyone ever heals per say. Pain stays with us for long and it leaves only when its course of time is done. Meditation is equivalent to a glass of whiskey for pain, it doesn’t completely erase it but it sure dulls the ache. So you understand? It’s like one day this pain will dull significantly and acquire a shade that doesn’t fit with our dress & that day, that day it would lift from our body like a dragon fly and fly it’s course away.”

I lean up because I had started to ramble again and I see him smiling gently trying to suppress a laugh. 
I feel dejected, had I made a fool out of myself again?

“Let’s go Mayhem, we have some orange and purple to get rid off.”

And he drags me by the hand. 
And I let him. 
Because our colors were merging and they were creating a beautiful composition. 

Chapter 4: Third of Line.

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It was another blissful morning.

“Are you done with the evil scheming for the day?” Nik stood besides the wooden frame of the door to our joint hotel room.

His hair was wet & damp & his face was void of the lines that hid with it his grievances & his pain.

“Come dear soldier, give me your advice?” Little did I know, aversion was the last thing on his mind.

“It’s been a week.” He said and I was reminded of the promise that I had made him that a week into the vacation I would try to open up.

“Nik, don’t.”

“Mayhem there was a reason we took this trip.” I could feel my breath galloping like the horse bitten by the snake. Now this was definitely “anxiety”.

“Nik, it’s morning. We could..”

“We could what? Talk about this later.” He spoke sarcastically.

“Wtf is your problem? Why are you so hell bent on knowing stuff? I am here, is that not enough.”

“Is this what you do Mayhem. Do you like the thrill of enticing people? Of knowing how intimidating you can be? How people are affected by your presence? Is this how you use them to subdue your pain? Is this your drug?”

“How dare you? Wtf is wrong with you?” He suddenly held me by my arms.

“Let me go. This isn’t your quintessential teen drama, where you hold me & intimidate me with words & I will be telling you everything about me.”

“Then what about this trip Mayhem. Why rip me apart more than my previous girlfriend? How long do you expect someone to wait around? Love…”

And that is where world stopped for me. That was the last endearment I expected to ever hear from a man again.
We often cut parts of our life story from people, for fear of judgement or fear of them proving our virtues wrong.
But every soldier has a chink in their armor.

“My fiancé was murdered in front of my eyes.” I suddenly uttered & for the first time since we stepped into the Himalayan hill station, I could feel the silence of the hills enveloping my being & piercing through every door I had kept locked. …..

There are stories which are not meant to unfold.
Ask the snow that sits atop on the mountain peak of all that remains in her soul, of all that she wish, she could have told.

Chapter 5: Magoa 

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Nik and I sat awkwardly at the coffee store.

After the dramatic confrontation, screaming & confession, we’d decided to end our time in the mountains. I touched my glass of ice tea & then stared at that book again.

“Do you remember how every childhood fairy tale used to begin with a once upon a time?” He didn’t reply, just nodded following my gaze.

“I know you need answers Nik, but you have to know that Kai was the one for me. That I was supposed to get married to him.”

“How do you know he was the one?” He raised his eyebrow in mock fashion.

“You’re incredulous. Nik I am trying to give you your answers & you have the nerve to judge me that the man who was killed in front of my eyes, that the man I loved more than anything wasn’t the one for me?”

“If he was then what are you doing here with me?” The cold of his voice seeping into my bones. I pushed the table aside,

“Why are you being a prick to me Nik? Is this some sadistic male pleasure of yours? Do you not understand how difficult it is to confess? I feel like I have been wasting my time on a prick.” I ran away tears brimming.

After Kai’s death, every guy had been a one night stand to a two date protocol. But Nik he had been different. 
I hated in accepting it, but his comfort slipped into my soul on levels where even Kai had never reached.

“Mayhem” he held my hand as we stood there under the beautiful white entrance arch of the cafe.

“You have to understand my insecurities. I can’t have you building your recovery around me.”
“I am not.”
“Who are you kidding? Did you see yourself a few months back? You looked like if you had your way you’d exchange places with Pluto. Look at yourself now, the day you put kajal for the first time I couldn’t stop staring at you, because in that hour I knew you had started healing. I care for you but you need to know I can’t take another break-up, I can’t take another you’re not enough.”

“And I can’t take another bouquet of flowers & then get stuck in the cage admiring the one thing I had & I lost. I can’t watch my pristine white gown, rust & turn pale & yellow. I need to be sure this time.”

And in that moment we had found our moment of sorts.

Chapter 6: Fragments 

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“Nik” I screamed, gushing down the common staircase that separated our flats.

“Nik, open up.” I kept banging on the door & was soon met with his sleep deprived-ruffled hair-perfect beard face that I had a secret itch to kiss him senseless.

“Mayhem it’s 6:00am. What is wrong?”

“I had a dream.” He arced his eyebrow in mock sarcasm.

“You don’t say. Is that even human?”

“Nik seriously. It was an important dream. Psychologists claim it only happens once or twice in a lifetime.” I pushed him aside & entered his flat. He shut the door & joined me on the couch, “tell me about this dream.”

“I had a dream that my tooth is falling.”

“Mayhem seriously, superstition.”

“No, you fool. Look even Freud & Jung have theories on this particular dream.” I said shoving my phone in his face.

He read intently & gave me the “go-on” nod “Nik this dream is both positive & negative. Freud says it means emotional repression & a great loss. Jung says its re-birth? Back to square one as a kid with inquisitiveness for the whole wide world. I don’t know what to assume of it. Am I about to lose someone & myself again. Am I?..”

“Mayhem, remember when we were in the hills & we stood at the edge & you asked, “fall or fly.” The same applies to you, if you wish love, you could believe in Freud & fall prey to a million doubts or you could believe in Jung &” he paused “and soar to your new life with me.”

I stared at him, he’d always leave the ball in my court, it was my choice.

In a lot of ways he had/no has become my person, but was I ready to fall into a vortex only to fly.
I closed my eyes, scooted closer to him & gently pressed my lips to his plump ones.
The decision was made.
I did rather go cliff jumping with a happy smile & a hand held out, rather than a suppressed sigh & a band of doubts.

Chapter 7: Equinox

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IG: kashmirichaii

And as we stared at the canopy of bliss above our heads, I couldn’t help but laugh at the way we’d found a way out.

“What?” Nik spoke from where his head rested above mine.

“We met on a staircase taking solace from the rain. Now here we sit an entangled mess under the rain seeking solace in each other. Don’t you think this is mystic?” He took a deep breath & pulled me over him.

“Love” he spoke with warmth gently pushing away the hair that had escaped from the French bun I was sporting.

“I always told you we were meant to be. But you & your neurotic ways were such a roadblock.” If it wasn’t for the way his eyes got all crooked when passing a genuine smile, I would have categorize this as a “typical jerk move”.

“Oh Ya. I am the only one who is a neurotic bitch. As if you don’t throw a fit when I re-arrange your paint brushes or call out canary yellow as Kodak yellow.”

“Cause they are not the same.” He replied incredulously.

“They are.” “They are not.” He said pushing me up with him.

His silent laugh rumbled through me as he laid his head on my chest.
And I couldn’t help but smile and envelope him in my arms while passing a thankyou to the skies above.

We were still stuck in a vortex.

We were yet to fly.

But from the white clouds spilling into our dark domain, there was nothing but hope & a will to fly & fight against all odds.

Two deranged half found freedom in the sanctity of being whole.……

Fin.

-Anahita

Originally published at Anahita’s super awesome blog: NinjaPotatoFry


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Lithuania – My Visit To The Country Which Had Intrigued Me Since I Read Hannibal

My curiosity about Lithuania, was deeply connected to Thomas Harris’s works. I looked at it as the majestic country where Hannibal was born and which shared Hannibal’s fate of destruction at the hands of the Nazis. And like all booklovers, I would like nothing better than to go and visit the country of the anti-hero. So when the opportunity to travel there cropped up, I was extremely happy.

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The World Wars had ravaged the landscapes of the beautiful country in the narrative. And in fact it has been an uphill climb for the country which knew such prosperity before the war. A considerable number of Jews, were forced to abandon their homes and migrate to other countries because of the imminent threat of German occupation in the early 1940s. With them they took a huge part of the country’s soul.

If that was not enough, Lithuania faced Soviet occupation in 1945. It was finally declared an independent country in 1990. And now, slowly and steadily, Lithuanians have come to a place where they can actually look back at the painful history and take lessons from it. The Grūtas Park, which won its creator an Ig Nobel Peace Prize, is a step in this direction.

Source : Andreas Moser

Around a two-hour drive from the capital city, Vilnius, the park houses the remnants of the Soviet occupation. Several statues of Soviet activists and leaders like Stalin which lay strewn about the country have been procured by the founder Viliumas Malinauskas and now adorn the theme park. According to Malinauskas, it is a way to criticise the ill-effects of the Soviet ideology which held the country captive. This is a bold step I believe. One visit to the park and you will know.

Lith4Source : Andreas Moser

The best way to prevent something horrific from happening again is perhaps to keep the memory of the event alive and breathing. However, just remembering is not enough. That is the tragic flaw of Hannibal (yes I do think he is a Shakespearean hero). He remembers each and every detail with the help of the memory palaces. But he is seething with the fire of revenge. He does not condone the actions itself but the people. Condoning such events will prevent us from making our future, a mirror of that past.

Lith5 Source : Daily Mail

The Hill of Crosses is one vantage point from where I could clearly make this observation. Twelve kilometres from the city of Šiauliai, is a hill which has over time become a mark of solidarity, a symbol of peace and hope for Lithuanians. It is here that the people found strength during the November Uprising when they decided to take their lands for their own from the Russian authorities. And again, during the Soviet and Nazi occupation between 1940-1990.

Source : Wikipedia

How did they manage to do achieve this feat? By turning to religion. They showcased their strength by leaving Crosses at the hills. This silent gesture reminded them again and again that they were not alone and their cause was not lost. The pile of Crosses keeps growing and it is a burden. A burden upon the hearts of tyrants and usurpers, upon the hearts of those who wish to take what is not rightfully theirs. Maybe Hannibal should have made this pilgrimage once. Maybe he would have if he had not been forced to elope from the country. Maybe then he would have been different? Who’s to know!

*****

Though Hannibal did not spend much time in Lithuania, it was his birthplace. Would it be too much to expect that his tastes, his elegance and sophistication were in some way a result of this ancestry? I was thankfully not proven wrong.

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The cobbled streets of Vilnius which greeted me as I walked on the cobbled streets of the city. The rustic appeal of the streets was enhanced by the maple leaves strewn all around, reflecting all the hues of autumn – from a mild yellow to a deep orange.

The buildings of the old town are a legacy of the Baroque movement. Beautiful cathedrals beckoned at me, to observe the peace that lay inside alongside the beauty.

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Food in Hannibal’s country was a treat for the traveller in me. Not only do they make the best potato dumplings, they also call them Zeppelin! (The fan inside me was singing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ the moment I set my eyes on the dish).

Lith7Source : Ausrine art 

Another favorite was the beetroot soup which is kind of the ‘national soup’ there.

Lith8Source :Pinterest 

My trip to Lokys – the most highly rated restaurant was rather dull because of the mandate by my parents to abstain from eating meat during the Holy period of the Navratras. Still, the eggplant dish was delicious. I can’t wait to go back and try some their special stuff (though I LOVE and adore bears).

Could I forget Hannibal’s love for music? I was waiting to be enchanted by Lithuanian art and the opportunity presented itself when I got invited for a violin recital at the town hall. The first half of the recital was dedicated towards expressing feelings of great joy. i could feel my feet moving in a happy tap-tap as the bow moved against the violin. During the intermission, I felt as happy as I could, drinking some espresso and treating myself to some handmade chocolates. Then came the second part of the recital. The range in the artist’s work was clear as he drowned me in a sea of sorrow as I felt the bow move across the violin with short twangs and lengthy movements.

*****

I was deeply affected by the music the previous night. But then the puff pastries happened. When in Lithuania, watch out for all these wonderful bakeries which dole out goodies made in HEAVEN. They taste magnificent. And I thought what more could I possibly see around here?

I did have the ancient Trakai on my list though. and so I was driven to the castle town. The magnificence of the castle greeted me across the bridge.

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  As I walked in towards the gates, I took in the size and architecture and the beautiful lake amidst which it was majestically perched. Happy school kids out on a trip, families showing their kids around and lovers walking with their hands linked – it was the perfect place for all.   l8 (1)

I read up all the information put up in different corners regarding the glorious past of the Grand Lithuanian Duchy of the fourteenth and fifteenth century. (Yes, the castle is THAT old. My proud Indian father kept comparing the fort to Chittorgarh – that grand abode of the fearless, warrior clan – the Rajputs. That’s another story) The tales of the Civil War were narrated by our friend and the impressive armory had much to say.

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Unknowingly, almost naturally, I had become friends with a bunch of schoolkids who were there for a school picnic. They kept following me, playing peek-a-boo at times and making much noise in general. You know what was the most entertaining thing for them? That someone could be called ‘swaatee’. To avoid causing great agony to non-Hindi speakers, I like to use my shorter pet name ‘Swati’ when introducing myself (in fact even Hindi speakers at times).

Indians are taught the importance of speaking English, and speaking it correctly early in life. Most of us have no problems in pronouncing a certain English name like James or Thomas. Now sometimes, the child in me thought everyone puts in efforts to get someone’s name right. Boy was I wrong! Those kids ran around the entire castle shouting out my name with an absolutely unique pronunciation of their own. Hannibal would probably put in a lot of effort.

While walking out, I set my eyes upon a pillory that was used to punish criminals and set to take pictures. And those kids ran out and trapped their friend so that I could get a perfect shot.

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*******

I stayed at this comfortable modern establishment called ‘Comfort Inn’. The buffet breakfast was great. But I think I would love to go and stay at the Shakespeare Hotel. There is something absolutely enthralling about it. The hostels like July are amazing to stay at.

Another of my biggest regrets is not having visited the Curonian Spit. I hope to take a trip soon and walk on the sand while the Baltic sea rages on one side and the Curonian lagoon on the other.

Lith10 Source : Pinterest 

I did fall in love with the country. With the architecture, the food and the people. Making friends with people allows you to come closer to yourself. And that is the whole point of travelling. Isn’t it?

-Swetambara Chaudhary


Tripoto
The author is a staff writer at Scoopwhoop! Send her virtual chocolates on her Twitter and Facebook. © Copyright for all the images owned by SlowRover and Swetambara Chaudhary, unless stated otherwise. 

Getting Rid Of Sexist Ads Will Help Us Build An Equanimous Society.

We try to tell ourselves that we are progressively moving from a predominantly patriarchal society to a more equanimous one. In this progressive society, women have equal opportunities of education and men cry when they want to. Sexism is a textbook concept, a reminder of an era that was. But are we actually that progressive?

Something contradicting these claims surrounds us everyday. What? The advertisements which grace our screens and our newspapers, which cling behind buses and decorate walls like this one :

Source : Adrants

Are they trying to tell us that there was no better way of showing a drop in prices? Personally I think a parachute launch would have been more logical than a girl dropping her pants. Just as illogical as this playstation ad :

Source : Forbes

Or this jewellery ad :

Source : Find a wedding venue

Or this organ donation ad :

Source : Hoyden about

These ads are sexist in two ways primarily. One which aims at the objectification of women and the other which is building the male power fantasy. Now objectifying women is a simple enough concept to understand. Here are some examples :

Source : The Richest

Source : Metro

Source : Girls on Pitch

Source : adrants

Logically, I don’t see the relation between naked women and alcohol, naked women and cars or naked women and chips. All of these ads focus on marketing their products by objectifying the female body.

How is this different from other ads where scantily-clad women appear? Like this one?

Source : Pinkvilla

Well, for starters, it is an ad which is supposed to cater to women and hence her presence here is warranted. Then, she is in a confident position, not a vulnerable position like these ads :

Source : Adweek

Source : Pagesix

Source : Business Insider

Now, it’s not like naked men are not featured in advertisements. This ad which wants to sell salad dressing is a case in point :

Source : Adsoftheworld

And it’s not like gender stereotypes don’t play against men in ads. Aren’t you tired of all those ads proclaiming why men need to be real men? Like these ones :

Source : Aurora

Or these ads which proclaim that a husband is responsible for all financial expenses:

Source : Coloribus

But when scantily-clad men appear in ads, are they always objectified? That’s not how simple it is. More often than not, they are being chased by women. Like here :

Source : Tinypic

Now that is a boost for men, who again see women as objects. Something like a raise or an expensive car?

The prevalence of such images of men and women in advertisements is highly problematic. It normalizes their objectification while perpetuating stereotypes.

I wish these ads would stop asking women to eat something to get their husband’s attention :

Source : Blogspot

And these ads would stop telling men that finances are solely their responsibility :

Source : My ad post

And these ads would stop telling us that a man’s responsibility is limited to buying good detergent while a woman’s duty is to use it :

Source : Blogspot

Abandoning such marketing measures will go a long way in changing the gender stereotypes and thus contribute towards building an equanimous society.

-Swetambara Chaudhary


The author is a staff writer at Scoopwhoop!
Send her virtual chocolates on her Twitter and Facebook.

What Is Love?

What is Love? Is it what makes us try a little harder everyday? Or what makes us give up everything to follow one person around? Is it what make us look out for one person or what makes us look for ourself? Let’s see what Anahita Fotedar has to say about Love in this guest post.


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We live in a paradigm of fantasies & fault in our stars. We live in a paradigm of text message break-ups & instant attractions. We live in a paradigm between the social right & what we feel is right & somewhere along this road, we tumble our way out, without giving ourselves a moment to recover.

We hardly give ourselves time to acknowledge our feelings & then we hardly give time to ourselves to heal because we are so caught up in the rat race to reach the end, to keep up with the peer pressure & most of all to not be called out as an outcast, a loser, a nobody.

There are so many books & NYTimes guidelines these days on, “how to figure out you`re in love?”, “guidelines to love?”, “guidelines to relationships!” and so on & so forth. I don`t get it, how can you base love on empirical results, how can you treat love like it`s  a scientific experiment?

And this is post, is just a rant, so before I begin on my opinion, please keep an open mind & even if I don`t make sense, just read it out, maybe you`ll agree on a very significant point or disagree on the insignificance of this statement.

We`ve read about love in books & often times we wish to relive the kind of expression & emotion the book conveys to us, in our so called “real life”. But what exactly is love, how do you define love? Does it necessarily have to be something that stems out of a relationship that has grown from friendship to best friends to lets finally play Romeo & Juliet or is it something we acknowledge while sitting across that handsome man reading Jeffery Archer and looking all dapper & oh.my.god I am already imagining how sex would be like or is it something we fall for when we get a snippet of a persons personality in the way they type down a tweet?

Seriously what is love?

I can`t possibly fathom the number of times, I have fallen in love with the way someone tweets, or with someone sitting across me in the metro indulging in an extremely intellectual conversation or the way I am itching to write this post, because I am in love again. By this it doesn`t mean that I carry my heart on my sleeve & I wanna sleep & open up about my past to the person sitting next to me giving me the heart eyes. Seriously no.

Love makes you feel happy. Love makes you wanna do things with a 100% intensity. Love makes you wanna dress a litter more sassier. It makes you do a little twirl occasionally. It makes you healthy, seriously it happened to me. 😛

And when it ends, sure there is pain, a feeling of dejection, but there is also growth. There is that slight maturity, there is that slight knowing what suits you & what doesn’t.

And if you`re not going to indulge in these small little experiences, how are you ever going to learn about yourself? How are you ever going to spread some joy? Take it from someone whose gone through every possible thing in this world, if you can but spread even 5 seconds of joy in someones life, even if its just commenting on how well they eat the goddamn apple (I don`t know why I come up with such bad anecdotes) but it will make there day, somewhere they will either laugh it off or appreciate you, the fact is love gives you the strength to be a little happy, to be a little reckless.

And there will come a time when you will know, you`re in love again & you will know it`s intensity & you will also know whether it will end in a heartbreak or a surprise.

The fact is that if you don`t give love a try, you`re missing out on the greatest roller coaster ride of your life.

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Are you in love tonight?

P.s.- I will die an optimist & perhaps that would wrap my soul in layers of pain. It`s okay, because at least I know what living & loving feels like.

– Anahita

(Originally posted on Anahita’s Blog. Check it out here. )


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My Visit To Vrindavan Showed Me how Small Towns Retain Their Identity In The Face Of Globalisation

The homogeneity of big cities is nerve wrecking for me.

The malls, all with different names, but same shops. The roads with different names, but same cars. The cities, with different names but populated by the formal banter of “excuse me” and the rudeness of honks.

Tired of the daily gruel, I headed to Vrindavan – a small Indian town located about a four-hour drive from New Delhi.
IMG_1802
Vrindavan is an important city for the Hindus who believe it to be the place where Lord Krishna grew up. After the Mahabharat, Lord Krishna was destined to die a death of ignominy and his kingdom was submerged in water. The town’s real beauty was lost and rediscovered only in the late 16th century. However, what was lost in terms of time has more than been made up for. The town is teeming with temples and people. People of all races, religions, even nationalities. And what brings them together, is Krishna.

IMG_1576Lord Krishna idols (in his Banke Bihari avatar) at Vrindavan

The ISKCON temple of Vrindavan is home to believers from several countries in the world. They flock to the town of Vrindavan to listen and tell stories about Krishna and his love for his companion, Radha.  I heard stories of Krishna following Radha around, of him making a pond for Radha and her best friend, of Radha stealing Krishna’s flute to teach him a lesson. They told me the stories with utmost devotion.

They had all found their rightful place, in Vrindavan.

IMG_1822Nidhi Van- The playground of Krishna and Radha

IMG_1832The Lalita Kund, believed to be dug by Krishna for Radha’s best friend Lalita



Surprisingly, in trying to give the people their place, the town has not lost what belongs to it. It is extremely difficult to escape homogenization at the hands of globalisation. Greater connectivity, better communication channels because of a uniform language have helped us grow as a race. But haven’t they also led to terrible losses in terms of the decreasing usage of local languages? But this has not happened in Vrindavan. Though people are happy to chat in all popular languages, which are Hindi, English and Braj, they retain a special love for the indigenous culture.

It is not surprising that their identity draws upon their faith.

Radha’s name is considered holy by all believers. Legend has it that by calling out Radha’s name, one invites the sacred blessings of Lord Krishna upon oneself. Thus, honking – an industrial language is replaced by Radha’s name in this town. It is kind of an unspoken rule to roll down one’s window and yell “Radhe Radhe” instead of honking on the road. This shouting about might sound crass to you, but it is music to my ears in comparison to the city honks. In my opinion, cities bow down to globalisation quickly. So do big towns. But small towns, somehow retain their identity. And never did I feel this more acutely, than on my visit to Vrindavan.


IMG_1799‘Shri Radha’ inscribed outside a house in Vrindavan


Radhe Radhe.

-Swetambara Chaudhary


Tripoto
The author is a staff writer at Scoopwhoop!
Send her virtual chocolates on her Twitter and Facebook.

© Copyright for all the images owned by SlowRover and Swetambara Chaudhary.