Wordless

I’ve started to travel 3 hours a day again. Working from home obviously has its enormous perks but there something about being on the road that just thrills me like nothing else.

For one, there’s always something exciting happening on the road -travelling from one corner of Bangalore to another is in itself an adventure. But then there are days like today when instead of rolling your windows up and looking away, you look into the eyes of a homeless old lady and smile, even if you don’t give her any money. There is something about acknowledging the presence of a person that does more to their day than any other financial or material resource.

Homeless Lady Smiling

I know this because the old lady had a smile on her face, tears in her eyes and she blessed me – she held her hands up in a “Namaste”, told me she wishes God would bless me and make me happy as I had made her. She really sounded like she needed it. And it would be a lie to say I wasn’t overwhelmed. I did nothing but smile and yet, someones day was infinitely better for it and my level of energy shot up a 100%

The power of words is often overstated, don’t you think? Today, I’m campaigning for the power of a wordless zing.

Signs of Life

I know that my last few posts have started with me apologizing for not writing for a long time but fuck it, my life has been pretty sweet of late and I’ve been more outdoors than actually at home. It’s not likely that I’ll forget how lovely it is, most days, to live out of suitcases but it’s nice to do it every few weeks, just so you don’t become too stuck in your comfort zone.

So what have I been doing? Erm, everything – because and I quote “YOLO Bitches!” I mean, all this time we were living multiple lives and if it weren’t for Drake, we’d never have realized that we have just one life to go crazy over, okay?

“YOLO Bitches!”

Well, that brings us to lists and photos – because the awesomeness has accumulated more with every day I pushed off writing this. And because I’m so nice, I’m just going to post the highlights!

I saw the Petronas Towers – isn’t it featured on a lot of bucket lists? It’s quite impressive and is best viewed at night, all lit up and making the street life that much more magical looking.
I spent a couple of days lounging in Tioman (Dragon) Island. It really is untouched beauty, coral reefs just a short swim away and one of the most spectacular places for a snorkel and sunset.
I visited the Taj – the crowds kinda freaked me out but it was a lot calmer than Delhi, which was alright. Plus, it’s TAJ MAHAL. Enough said.
For obvious reasons, I’ll never stop loving the Mysore Palace. Specially when she’s like this.

 

Bylakuppe is one of my most favourite places to visit in South India. It’s really peaceful and has so much history. It’s people have so many character and the food is to die for. I take all my visiting friends there – for selfish reasons, obviously.
You’d love it just as much as I did if you love the performing arts. Just on the bay of the Singapore River, the Esplanade (Theatres on the Bay) is one of the best hangouts in Singapore. We even got to hear a Brass band play – it was a lovely evening.
The water levels on the river Cauvery were so low that they discovered a new Chamundi temple in the water. It was breathtaking and we went to visit just as it was being restored (before the crazy crowds could come, looking for miracles).
I love tribal customs and traditions. I visited a village near a rocky hill with holes in them at regular intervals (like seen in this photo). The children have made a game of it, where you are supposed to run on the surface of the hole without your feet touching the bottom. Sometimes, up to 5 children have run this at the same time and not touched the bottom. I, of course, failed miserably at this!
Look at all the crocodiles? They are such fascinating creatures to observe. Went to the crocodile park for the first time since I was a kid and I was just as ecstatic!
Old Delhi is something else, if you have the guts to explore it. The crisscrossing electric lines, the old movie posters, the cha-wallah, the ride in the cycle rickshaw, the MIND-BLOWING food at Karim’s (I would go back to Delhi every week just to eat here), the world heritage sites – Jama Masjid, Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort, India Gate- these are all things that I had only ever read about in history books. The entire vibe was just magical.
I rode this elephant (she’s fine, I promise) – take that bucket list! 🙂
No trip to Malaysia is complete without eating this nasty fruit, Durian. When I say NASTY, I mean it. I don’t know how I survived but I felt really brave for having tried it. So this has to be on my list. Deal with it.
When you’re travelling non-stop for 7 weeks, it’s places like these that you need without even realising it. This is a small french run restaurant called La Maison Rose (in Pondicherry)
Because no monsoon trip is complete without a trip to the sea.
And the highlight was that when I got back from the trip, I got to manage and meet and greet with the Poets of the Fall who were really down to earth and friendly and nearly squished me to death! Also, their live concerts are CRAZY! Loved every second of it.

THAT IS ALL! 😀

Don’t over-think it bro!

I had never been to a holiday for the sake of a holiday till I was 24. This shouldn’t be surprising considering I’m born to self-realised Social Activists/AidWorkers who can never really draw the line between work and anything else and it would be hypocritical of me to complain because in this field, work is life. And I’m pretty much the same. Still, any holiday we took as children would be combined with a work detour. When we went to the beach, we also made a side visit to the fishing villages that were struck by tornados or a giant tsunami. If we went away elsewhere, there would be villages with a flood situation, with food scarcity and with sheep I could kidnap.

For every essay we had to submit on Shakespeare and the Skeletal System, we had a summer of adventure to look forward to, so much so that the idea of just getting away to do nothing seems preposterous even after all these years. I went backpacking across Europe to end up volunteering in a small village in France. I went to Africa to see the place but ended up working for 7 straight months – even in places where I went to take a break. You know where this is going right? Classic movie sequence of epiphany that hits because of something a stranger observes that you hadn’t even realized before? Yeah, that.

That was my first holiday, and like all firsts, you remember it fondly. I went to Zanzibar thinking I’d spend one day looking around and the evening at the beach and the next day, volunteering at a Madarasa. I ended up staying a week and doing nothing but sipping gin cocktails, making friends with a cat that was older than the island and taking in sunrises and sunsets on the Indian Ocean. I had quite a bit of unlearning and letting go to do.

Stone Town – Zanzibar

Earlier this year when I realised I could go away again, I picked a place because my grandmother, who I’ve come to know only through the stories I’ve been told, was born there and came away to India by a treacherous ship journey that took months and months. I learnt that she used to be royalty in Malaysia and when they came to India, they lost everything. And she had her adventures- she was the first of her family to study in a British School when they opened up the schools to Indians (It was the same school my sister and I studied in) She fell in love and married an orphan boy and lived a life she never thought she could/would.

When I booked my tickets and got my visa, people asked me why I was going – I had a massive Sméagol fit.

2 weeks on a holiday doing nothing but exploring? Not going near a volunteer project or a social cause? Not on any freelance travel writing project? An empty itinerary/list of things to do? Just going with the flow? And then I was finally able to say it.

I’m going for me.

It’s officially summer

I haven’t blogged in over a month – shocking? Not really. I’m the queen of procrastination when I’m in between travels but then, I have been busy this time. Not really trumping around the woods near Kilimanjaro, but just as exhausting and thrilling.

I was asked to facilitate a summer camp for 10-14 days for 40-50 teens, some of who were first generation learners in their communities, their parents having never been to school. More than that, they had just finished writing the big 10th Standard exam which has been a rarity in the villages from where they were coming. A few years ago, we had just 5-10. The numbers itself show that somehow, something good is being done.

It was the first time the children were getting out of their villages and experiencing this kind of freedom. They didn’t have to study Algebra and Math anymore. They could sleep in. The “lessons” were all activity based so they never had to take notes or try to take a nap subtly behind two other students which meant that apart from all the drama that comes when you put 40 teenagers in a room, there was a LOT of energy and fun to be had. I was given creative liberty so in typical fashion, I really went for it.

The activity was for the kids to draw how they saw themselves - things they loved, hated, what they identified with. Then we made a gallery to show them they're not as alone as they think they are.
The groups were given an egg which would be dropped from the highest terrace. This had the most innovative packaging
Making the longest line possible with the things they had on them at that moment
We opened a study centre in one of the villages. This is the village band celebrating
To celebrate, we treated everyone to ice-candy (for dessert)
The ice-candy man had a busy day
Back at the camp, an evening game of Kabbadi
Group Discussions under my favourite tree

Clay Modelling Day
Love how they used leaves for the keypad
Clay Modelling slowly turned into Zombie wars.
The boys making a vow in front of the girls that they will not take a Dowry.
The highlight of living in a village? Views like these.

What did I learn? That I’m more confused than ever. I love working with children and youth as much as I love writing. So instead of my life being a series of “Harry Potter > Hunger Games > Twilight” sort of equations, it’s “Travel = Writing = Art = Training = Social Work = Family = Mangoes”

Is this the balance they talk about in old Kung Fu movies? Needless to say, I’m in my happy place – instead of me whining about how restless I am to my friends, I get to listen to their problems in a Zen like fashion. It’s also a great opportunity pretend to be this wise old turtle

or this tea-brewing uncle

Or just call them “young grasshopper” . Oh yeah, I live for the cheap thrills

Yata!

This is my way of being Zen and restoring the imbalance caused my endless lists of “Things to do”. Here is the list (in no particular order) of the top 50 things that I have ticked off in the past year.

  1. Lived on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro for 3 months and have explored the lower slopes a million times
  2. Got hopelessly lost in a cornfield and walked the entire length and breadth of a coffee plantation
  3. Explored a 1.5 million year old cave
  4. Shared millions of plates of Ugali, Machalari & Nyama Choma (traditional Tanzanian food – stiff porridge made out of maize, banana stew, grilled meat) with Tanzanians
  5. Lived and worked with the Masai
  6. Spent a couple of early mornings at small town/village markets
  7. Listened to church singing and dancing
  8. Celebrated Christmas in Summer and Easter in Winter
  9. Practically owned local transport with the amount of travelling I’ve done on them – which also means I conquered my claustrophobia and agoraphobia
  10. Watched the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti and watched Cheetah’s hunt
  11. Watched the sunset over the rooftops of Zanzibar’s stone town
  12. Lived on a volcano and explored the pre-historic looking Ol Doinyo Lengai
  13. Sat through the proceedings of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
  14. Pinched myself silly while watching the animals do their thing from the rim of the Ngorongoro crater
  15. Watched the Zanzibari mafia load unregistered cars to the background of locals play fighting on the beach
  16. Watched the moonrise – including the infamous super moon
  17. Lived through 8 back to back tremors in Arusha without passing out from the stress
  18. Saw Freddie Mercury’s house in Zanzibar
  19. Took the traditional Dhow and nearly drowned
  20. Went snorkelling in shark infested waters
  21. Discovered Zanzibar in the rainy season
  22. Folded a 1001 origami cranes for my sister
  23. Read 150 books in 8 months
  24. Watched a movie in 3D – no, not Avatar
  25. Slept under the stars many times, even camped out with hyenas *shudder*
  26. Helped someone give birth (4 births in a month)
  27. Learnt how to play poker
  28. Danced in the rain
  29. Climbed many mountains
  30. Started cycling again
  31. Met and befriended real Rastas
  32. Watched a Solar Eclipse
  33. Was in two countries at once (Kenya and Tanzania) – had quite a bit of stretching to do
  34. Jumped into the Indian Ocean fully clothed – jeans and the works 😛
  35. Was a teacher at Kindergarten, College and an Adult Learning Facility
  36. Started a fire with a magnifying glass
  37. Got my nails painted African Style
  38. Participated in local festivities (Traditional Marriages, Baptisms and funerals – and boy do I have stories to tell)
  39. Ran an art class for children
  40. Went backpacking without a plan
  41. Learnt Swahili (and a bit of KiChagga and KiMasai)
  42. Wrote a blog post every month for over a year
  43. Changed my name for a day and did things I wouldn’t normally do
  44. Wrote myself a letter to open in 10 years
  45. Had my palm read my a Masai witchdoctor
  46. Ate insects – a local delicacy called Kumbi Kumbi’s (Tastes like ash)
  47. Went on a picnic after ages
  48. Spent a rainy day watching movies in my PJs
  49. Spent a whole day at the beach (actually, read 5)
  50. Volunteered in Africa for 8 months

In the words of Hiro Nakamura, “YATAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”