Five Years Time

I’ve had a serious sit down to take stock of the past 5 years. In the same breath, so much has changed and yet so much is the same.

2010 – 2011

Zanzibar

I was in Tanzania mid-2010. I had quit my 7 days a week, 16 hours a day job that I thought was helping me “save the world” and “make a difference”. Oh to be young and naïve. My mental and physical health had deteriorated and in desperation for a change or on a whim (I can’t remember which it was) I decided not to wait for the ‘someday’ and just book my tickets to Tanzania. I decided I’d go there for a few weeks and if nothing worked out, I could just as easily come back. I stayed there nearly a year. I went in blind and made up the next steps as I got there. It is an adventure close to my heart. Being as list-crazy as I am, I managed to list all the things I managed to do while there so I don’t have to rehash an old subject. Read more here.

2012 – 2013

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When I came back from East African adventure, I was so jaded I stayed at home and decided to enjoy just being. When you’re on the go for so long, you crave moments of being rooted. One day turned into two years. I stayed at home, I took care of grammie (which was gratifying and yet very mentally and physically exhausting). For work, I consulted with a few NGOs and conducted workshops, I also took a step towards moving to my dream career of writing. I blogged more, I sought out freelance projects and got lucky to be hired by the Day Zero Project (I still contend it is the best job I have ever had). I went through emotional rollercoasters of a very extreme kind – I lost a mentor (you can read the requiem here) and just the baggage of being someone’s caretaker, of staying at home and never going out pushed me to a whopping 105kgs of weight. When I hit rockbottom and there was nowhere else to go, I decided to get my fitness back on track and also decided to pay for an international trip for my brother.

I know, I know. It isn’t as glamourous as it seems. We went to Malaysia and Singapore and had the time of my life (I had to tag along you see. Make sure my money was being put to good use. Shortly after we came back, I got to see the Taj Mahal which is every bit as beautiful as they say it is.  I felt like I found a fresh lease on life – I suppose you are always optimistic when you are travelling.  I got back home to find myself in the same rut. Something had to be done. I decided to do a drastic – I’m leaving – step like I did with Tanzania. Only this time, we found out the li’l sister was engaged so I made a deal with the parents that I will stay till she got married and then leave the nest (about time too!)

The Baby Pea got married in 2013 and I used that as an excuse to get some more travelling in. After visiting large parts of England, Wales and Scotland (including hunting for Nessie and visiting the mother of all henges!), I saw my dad walk her down the aisle and it was as if the whole world came a full circle. Later that evening, I realized I was falling in love with a guy I had met at her birthday party – that silly guy that turned my life around. Thus started the long distance phase – the phase that was never meant to be.

2014 – 2015

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I started the year with a visit from said silly man. All those people who looked at me like I had cancer when I said we decided to give long distance a try – I wanted to show them that for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on, it was working and I was happy. I stayed on at the parents but got a job as a full time writer. We decided as a couple to try India for a while and so Adam moved all the way from England to a third world nation that somehow suits him more than it suits me. He must’ve been an Indian in a previous life. We moved in together which also meant I moved out of home. Despite all the stress of “OMG what will people say” and the many fights that come from it, it has gone very well. While there is still some pressure to get married because I’m “old” and living in – which is a big sin – I have had an amazing 6 months so far. My family has gotten to know him and he’s gotten to know them. We’ve had a couple of family trips and I finally got to spend so much time with my little niece who is (no bias) a complete sweetheart.

Some of the things we’ve done in this phase makes it feel like we’ve lived lifetimes. We met and saw Alt J and Daniel Waples (who was a revelation) in concert (Rudimental played, but meh!), we’ve been to Thailand, to Pondicherry, to Mysore, we watched RCB play live – which was always a big dream for Adam, we saw the little niece grow from a little baby to a restless ‘I need to see and touch and taste everything’ crawling creature. I’ve also been offered a job in Thailand that may see me there by the end of this year. Or maybe not.

Life is every changing but not one minute of it has been boring. I can only wish that the next five years be as full and adventurous as the last five have been. I’m looking forward to every second of it.

The Odd Even Dilemma

I wouldn’t exactly say I’m a walking talking Indian stereotype. I am 27, unmarried and have a white boyfriend. However, I live with my parents, work in an IT job and love cricket. Whenever I have travelled in India or abroad, there’s always been a good long soul searching session to figure out how Indian I am. The verdict, maybe a 2.5 out of 10.

Streets of India

I truly felt the guilt of not knowing enough about my culture when I was in France as a teen and had to conduct a 2 hour workshop on India. I drew a blank and my peers took over. I had spent so much of my youth trying to get out of the country that I forgot to take a look around.

Shame on me!

I spent the next few years growing to love the quirks that make India who she is. All communities in India are usually divided by language they speak, geography next. The language you do speak is usually an indication of the culture you grow up in. Despite how we are typecast, India is not of homogenous language and culture. We don’t all speak ‘Indish’ or ‘Hindu’. Those are not even languages. It wasn’t till I was at a work lunch that I realised people identify which community/religion you belong to by your surname.

ROTFLMAO

Of course. I don’t have a surname.

And while most situations go like this –

“What are you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, Kannadiga, Tamilian, Malyali …”

“Erm, I don’t know”

“What language do you speak at home?”

“English”

“So you’re Anglo-Indian?”

“No. I don’t have a single British ancestor”

“What is your mother?”

“Erm, I don’t know”

“What did she speak at home?”

“Kannada”

“So she’s a Kannadiga? So that means you are a Kannadiga”

“No, she just grew up in Karnataka so they learnt to speak in the local language”

The conversation gets really, really confusing after that. If I were to sum up, we are a non-traditional family. Mum’s parents were from two different communities and spoke two different languages. But, they both grew up in the same state and so the local language of Kannada was their go to language. It’s the same with my parents. Their common denominator in terms of communication is English. So what does that make me? A cultural melting pot of South India with a hint of Malaysia? Or just plain old confused?

My despair at being a terrible Indian has gotten less intense after I started dating an Englishman. I notice everyday how some of our conversations start with me saying “In my culture …” and then I wax ad nauseum about things I’ve been told not to do (or do 3 times a day) because that’s the Indian way.

 The latest in this string of conversations was about the Indian gift giving etiquette. I am visiting the UK this month and I was starting to make lists of presents to take for everyone to the sound of the boy’s great confusion. Apparently, I’m a weirdo for wanting to buy everyone presents because the gifting culture among the youngsters has a motto – ‘meh!’

However, we have very specific rules here. Everyone we meet after ages gets a present. If this everyone stays in your city or country, it’s usually a box of sweets or dried fruit. If it’s someone abroad, it would be something that screams India. If you are just returning from a trip abroad, EVERYONE gets chocolates. Even your colleagues whose name you don’t know.

Raj Kootrapalli Gif

We have this odd rule about gifting in evens. If you don’t want to invoke a butterfly effect type disaster, you have to make sure to gift in pairs. You can’t take just one cushion or throw, it has to be two. I think that this comes from a wish that you won’t ever be alone and that you will always have someone to share it with. So gifting in even numbers is a blessing of sorts. This rule does not apply to money, if that’s what your preferred present is. At weddings, birthdays and any big event, we always add a Rs. 1 coin to make it an odd number. So you would gift Rs. 1001 instead of the boring old Rs. 1000. There is a feeling that odd numbers in finances are lucky and will lead to your wallet being quickly filled up till you reach the next 100 and then another 100.

All this to say that I’m really confused – my Indianess dictates that I buy presents. I am in no doubt though that I am going to viewed as a total weirdo. So just in case, I’m looking up YouTube videos so I can blend in the rest of the time.

Oooh look. Already found one about pub lunches!

F.R.I.E.N.D.S E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E

For some odd reason, F.R.I.E.N.D.S is really big in India. It came out on TV when I was in highschool which meant that we would watch it when the parents were asleep because OMG, kissing scenes. But it’s just one of those shows whose catchphrases have stuck with you even after all these years.

Case in point, sometimes I go running in the morning with Broseph. Today he did something like this –

He overtook me with a "That's not running. LET'S GOOOOO!". Erm, thanks Phoebe!
He overtook me with a “That’s not running. LET’S GOOOOO!”. Erm, thanks Phoebe!

But then I realised that these are somewhat worldwide.

I was in Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) getting ice cream when I heard the nasly “OH.MY.GOD”. I nearly dropped my ice cream when the other person said “Oh hi Janice!”
I was in Inverness on the eve of Rockness 2013 and we were all jamming the good old jams – Beatles, Clapton and as the night wore on, a million renditions of Smelly Cat!
Broseph and I walked around, sometimes the whole day, in Malaysia. We’d work up monster appetites and when we sat down to eat, we’d always get interrupted by some tourist or the other, talking non-stop about their adventures. Till one of those days, Broseph really lost it and actually said “That’s a great story. Can I eat it?”
Men (and a few women) have actually tired to pick me up with Joey’s classic “How you doin’?”
When we were in school, and mind you, this is a catholic school, we’d do the Ross Gellar hand curse when we really wanted to get a certain point across
The number of times my male and female friends have used the “We were on a break” excuse, phew!

And lastly, I had a really intense conversation with Broseph last night. It went something like this!

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Have you ever walked into situations where F.R.I.E.N.D.S references were being used? Or has Breaking Bad taken over the Empire Business these days?

Universal Languages – Travel Tuesdays

Amidst the concrete jungle that is the heart of Kuala Lumpur, you often find lush green gardens and parks that you could stroll in for ages. Quite like magic, sometimes you happen upon cool lakes and fountains in which you can rest your sore feet. This is an amazing place to not just get away from the noise and restlessness of corporate Malaysia but to find yourself in the middle of vibrant stories.

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The garden just behind the Petronas Towers

Like of old men who walk slowly but with purpose with their canes and backs bent without a care in the world. They have little bags under their armpits – old, faded, leather. Sitting on one of the benches of the park near a water fountain, I observed how the whole park was dotted with similar looking old men.

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Eventually they made their way to these unique benches and took out their priced treasures from their leather satchels – well used chess pieces and begin some of the most entertaining matches I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Sometimes, there are languages that transcends words – the li’l grunts on frustration or victory, the fist bumps, folding your hand over your chest and the most impressive of all, the toothless grin. These are universal and wherever I go, I keep my eyes peeled for them. They tell the best stories.

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Read more of my adventures abroad here – a story about my first time in Europe and the things I had to teach myself! : )

The South China Sea Fish Delegation – Travel Tuesdays

Those of you that followed my journey in Tanzania will probably remember the time when our guide for the day threw us to the sharks for “ snorkeling” purposes.  The thrill of that moment soon changed to crippling phobia like it usually does when you’ve had a near-death-experience. So when I went to Tioman Islands in Malaysia, I felt an anxiety attack coming on.

There is a local legend that a Dragon Princess was once on her way to Singapore from China for her wedding. Exhausted by the long journey, she settled down over the South China Sea to rest a while. The sea was so calm and magical. The sun was warm on her back and filled her with so much peace that she decided to stay and turned herself into Tioman Islands.

(Click photos for larger image)

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The Islands are beyond stunning – with pristine beaches, the place is literally a paradise island with reefs bordering it on all sides and a rainforest to trek through whenever one was tired of the sea. It wasn’t long before I said meh and rented out Mr. Naruto Uzumaki Coconut’s life jacket. I was there for an adventure and even if I were to be drowned AND eaten by the great whites, I’d die knowing that I didn’t back out from a challenge. I mean, how bad could it be? (By some unfathomable miracle, Murphy’s Law didn’t go into effect even though I was filled with dread the minute the thought came into my head)

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The water was so clear that you could see the corals and the fish right from the boat and once you got into the water, the riot of colours that assaulted you was just mesmerizing. Of course I went to pieces the minute I touched the water – even with my life jacket on. My brother let me latch on to his life jacket and then told me stories to distract me from having a full blown panic attack and then slowly eased me into the actual snorkeling. I’m so glad I gave this a try. Snorkeling would make my top 5 list of the most awe-inspiring activities one should undertake as soon as possible and as many times as possible.

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Travel Tuesdays is my attempt to get myself to blog regularly. Every Tuesday I will write about an experience I had while on the road, stories I heard while chugging down local beer, local legends that were shared by bonfire and photos of things that took my breath away. If you have stories you want to share as well, feel free to leave me a message so I can feature you.