Scrambled August


Just like scrambled eggs, yes. Clouds of disintegrated thoughts and distended grump.

August was to be the year of our Spanish road trip. An epic journey lasting nearly three weeks to mark the year of my fortieth birthday. This would be the time we would have been sat making endless lists, marking places on the map, totting up a rough budget for the trip, looking up our hotel stays all over again and thrilling at the thought of basking in the view of the Andalucian mountains, desolate sierras dotted with pueblos blancos, the roll call of limestone villages that turn up perched upon the high mountain roads and clifftops like whitewashed visions.

We would have found seats in a small corner cafe in some town of exquisite medieval beauty and breakfasted like kings on plates of crisp churros and dark chocolate, and I would have shut my eyes to savour the pure pleasure that jets through the body when you have fried dough at your disposal, and a meal you have paid a measly four euros for.

A litany of would-haves.

A litany of memories from the winter of 2016 when we had an apartment in Barcelona, a hotel in Malaga, and later in Madrid, because Adi had an ongoing project in Spain. An entire February spent taking trains by myself at dawn, of roaming the atmospheric alleys of cities and towns that made me feel like I was walking the pages of a book not yet written, seeing cities with strangers, and returning bone-tired to Adi, who along with his colleagues would meet me at night for dinner — the Spanish eat so terribly late.

Sticking to my customary dinner-by-seven routine, I used to meet my husband and co. for post-prandial drinks. They meanwhile ordered up meat-heavy dinners that made my stomach churn, especially at the sight of rare-done meat, blood oozing from thick slabs of steak. Our Spanish friend was in charge of picking dishes for the night from menus everywhere, and I marvelled at his ability to put away all that meat. Loved seeing the passion with which he fell upon his plate of food, for no matter what our likes and dislikes, when it comes to our gustatory preferences, what matters is the singular passion for good food. Be it vegetarian, non-vegetarian, vegan or fruitarian, raw food or paleo. What matters to me ultimately is the way your eyes light up when you see a plate of food, see the world in a grain of food, to riff bravely on Blake.

Adventuring and misadventuring, I swooned over the moorish beauty of Malaga, walking all over town under the hot midday sun till the legs screamed in protest and I almost missed the train to Madrid because I had been ambitious enough to slog up its hills to the castle called Gibralfaro. There was Granada, the old lanes and bylanes of which I sighed over with a German woman, Sonja.

In Girona, I thought I was in another time and place, stood upon Emperor Charlemagne’s walls and staring at rows of cypresses guarding cathedrals and monasteries. I must have been.

The molten silver waves lapping up the deserted beach near the castle of Altafulla in ancient Tarragona. The haunting Islamic-Gothic loveliness of Zaragoza, the magnificent standalone Benedictine monastery at Montserrat, utterly charming Madrid where I walked in the footsteps of Hemingway, and then Barcelona naturally. With a start I realise, I have not written posts on some of these wonderful places and I intend to remedy this oversight in the next few posts.

After exploring all of these places on my own, I was delighted when Adi and I walked the streets of Ronda and Mijas together. It felt complete.

So, this was to be our summer of seeing places that live in my memory. Old for me, new for Adi. And I was bloody keen on him looking at them through my eyes, me looking at them through his, gaining fresh perspectives. I am gutted at the falling through of our plans, but there is no self-pity, mind you. I cannot, will not stand for it.

No, I am not your dealer of self-pity, wallowing in that self-absorbing emotion which gets you nowhere. I am simply your dealer of words, looking for a way out of discontented moments through a flapping horde of moods and memories.

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When sat in a churreria, talk less, scoff more. Easy, when alone.
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Slipping in a cheeky one of me from a cerveceria in Madrid. The waiter insisted on taking it, with the Hemingway poster that he took off the wall. He was, I imagine, amused by my enthusiasm at bagging this dark corner seat where the author once sat and drank beer while people watching.
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Fav hangout in Madrid
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The Colours are Gold & Black at Winston-Salem

My connection to the southern town of Winston-Salem in North Carolina is my husband. He lived and studied in this sweet sleepy place, laid out by a cigarette baron and his philanthropic wife. It is the town where they till late handed out cigarettes for free in offices, even at the university that the same baron funded in the mid-1800s. Shocking? Hell yeah, but you see how the world has changed for the better, even though we might carp about it from time to time.

In more ways than one, the story of tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds and his wife Katharine Reynolds is intertwined with the story of this institution that is sprawled over 300 acres of the couples’ property. Wake Forest University where Adi completed his masters in business administration. Three golden years of his life, he maintains, because it is here that he sprouted wings. He was living away from home for the first time, making friends who would last him a lifetime, meeting people from diverse cultures and professions. Truck drivers, military officers, biologists …you get the drift. It was suddenly so that he discovered the irresistible tug of living life on his own terms, inculcating the lesson of independence which we all need and prize at some point in life.

Eight years after passing out, he found himself back upon the rolling campus of his university, exactly a week ago. I do not need to spell out what he was experiencing because we all have our own bank of emotions to tap into. The kinds that well up our throats palpably upon return to beloved places that have been part and parcel of the formative years of our lives.

On a toasty hot Sunday, we were walking around its massive grounds. Adi taking me with pride to his familiar stomping grounds. The beautiful brick buildings built with flourishes of of colonial architecture; the ash trees in the compound draped in toilet paper, a beloved and curious tradition, the students refer to as ‘Rolling the Quad’, and in which they find self-worth in ‘tossing like a boss’; the photogenic chapel with its green steeple reaching for the skies where personalities such as Dr. Martin King Luther Jr., and former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, delivered discourses and addresses, to what I imagine to packed audiences, and which years and years later hosted Adi and his batch’s hooding ceremony; the cafeteria where Adi grabbed lunch, when the cook would rustle him up an indulgent plate of aglio e olio, it not being part of the menu. The black and gold colours of the school. It was rather a heady rush for my sweetheart.

Such were our rambles made of last Sunday. Peppered by a surplus of stories and memories.

All because hundreds of years ago, the power couple of their day, the Reynolds induced the college that Wake Forest once was, before it was elevated to university status, to move to Winston-Salem from a bucolic little town called Wake Forest a 100 miles away.

As it drizzles away this soggy Sunday, I think of this son of a tobacco farmer from Virginia who moved to Winston (then Winston and Salem were separate towns), innovated packaged cigarettes because at the time men were used to rolling their own tobacco, married Katharine Smith of Mount Airy, and used her sound business acumen to cement the fortunes of his tobacco company. Directed by her goodwill, R.J. allowed himself to be channelled into acts of goodness about town. And hundreds of years later, there was my husband and his band of friends, touched by the legacy of this man whose grandson went on to become an anti-smoking activist for a smoke-free America.

Isn’t life just the most fascinating and amusing business, made up as it is of emotions, of beginnings and ends, of ends and beginnings, wrapped in boxes of paradox?

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Meeting Adi’s friends from Wake Forest University. A warm and fantastic lot, with wives and tiny tots now. Thanks Heidi and Sachin for making us so comfortable in your beautiful home, and Bharath and Jyothi, for the splendid night of drinking and reminiscing at your place, with a generous amount of buttery popcorn and stirring debates. I don’t know why we did not take more photographs that night except for this dull, dark one.
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When three friends meet after 8 long years at the cool dark bar of one.
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The town of Winston dominated by the tallest building in town at 100 North Main Street
Winston is the home of BB&T Bank
The day was enveloped by dramatic clouds. The cloud-catcher in me was mesmerised.
Wait Chapel

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The Wake Forest Logo — and in the backdrop is Hearn Plaza
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Wandering through the many corridors of the various buildings

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At the former building for business studies where he sat imbibing lessons that were life changing
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Adi’s former home in Wake Forest that he shared with his friend, Sachin.
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Stories abound here. The most prominent being of a woman who washed her car in the shortest of shorts on weekends. I could picture the boys’ faces.
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When the years come rushing back, because let’s face it, there is no joy like letting nostalgia wash over you with abandon, and awe at the changes that time does wreak.

These Autumnal Days of Sudden Beauty

It has been a warm September. Every time that I walked to the nearest stores, which are admittedly 10 blocks away, I felt my pores opening up to the heat, trickles of perspiration coursing down the back. But yesterday, unexpectedly, there was a nip in the air. A beautiful evening had finally arrived. All I could do was bask in its breezy charm, let the breeze ruffle my hair and alongside rush through the rows of trees towering over me as it spoke to my senses in some strange tongue. Psithurism. Sonic and haunting. If there is heaven, it is to be found in the music of nature. In the gushing of that brook, in the breeze that ripples through canopies, in the ebb and tide of the waves…

Houses flanking the blocks with tamed and untamed patches of gardens, the ones matted with tangled ivy catching the eye because there is a certain something about wild overgrown beauty. The occupants of many house fronts: pointy-hatted witches, ghouls and skeletal figures swaying behind fences, a few macabre grins, autumnal wreaths in hues of gold, orange and russet upon doors, porches with autumnal leaves twirled around the balustrades. My kind of porch, I thought.

And then just like that, as I was strolling past an old rundown bakery, peering into windows scrawled with ‘try our cheese and nutella twists’, the feeling clamped down upon me. An intense wave of longing for the autumnal embrace of Northampton. The Racecourse, that sprawling park (you see it in all the shots) where I gathered leaves by the dozen every autumn, watched the seasons change in slow motion, where the trees were my beloved friends, where around this time the fallen leaves gather on the jogging path and trip merrily in the wind like children gone wild on a picnic, where the blustery wind threatens to rip the ponytail off your head as you run the length of its winding paths.

Below are the changes of season in The Racecourse which sprawls sublimely over 118 acres. How the scenes of life play out differently now from what it did centuries ago when cattle grazed upon its green vastness — a bucolic thought given that during the mid-1700s and 1800s it was the chosen spot for public executions. Convicts were brought over to the heath – that is now the park – in carts after they were allowed a last drink at the Bantam Cock pub a few miles off in Abington. In time, the gallows made way for recreational race meets before they were brought to a halt in 1904 after a fatal accident. Its final avataar was that of an army base and barracks during the two world wars before it was transformed into a refuge for pleasure seekers.

You would think that were might be dark memories clinging to the leaves. Yet it does not feel like the kind of place that holds onto disturbing memories. It is the stomping grounds of little girls and boys training in football, families armed with blankets and picnic baskets during summer, teenagers roller skating with abandon, school boys and girls romancing each other under the boughs of those trees, big and small dogs sizing each other up as they patter around with great solemnity, and the ubiquitous cyclists and runners. On the 5th of November, every year, when the Yeomen of the Guard search the Houses of Parliament in London ceremonially for whiffs of gunpowder-laden plots, in Northampton Guy Fawkes night is the occasion for a great bonfire on the green, hot drinks for shivering enthusiastic residents and fireworks beneath a star-laden sky.

There is a dragon too who lies half asleep at one end of the park as if in wait that someone should say those magic words, ‘Dra…’. Shush. Meanwhile if you keep running down the straight path, at the other edge of the park is a disused tram shelter and The White Elephant. From across the road, this pub taunts the hapless jogger with the wondrously warm smell of pizzas baking away in its wood-fired ovens. Now seasons may come and seasons may go, my friend, but that remains a given on Friday nights throughout the year.

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“If you haven’t seen your wife smile at a traffic cop, you haven’t seen her smile her prettiest,” said an American journalist called Kin Hubbard once. He has been gone a long while now but this man was funny. Look at another example of his wit, “Don’t knock th’ weather. Nine-tenths o’ th’ people couldn’ start a conversation if it didn’ change once in a while.”

See what I just did. Rambled at the beginning of a tag. Sigh.

I was tagged by the beauteous Kristyn who makes me roar with laughter. Lion roars. Thank you, Kristyn, I truly had a wonderful time taking part in this tag.

This is The SMILE TAG and I am going to tell you how it works before I get going.

Ciarralorren, creator of The SMILE Tag, wants to see your smiles! If you are nominated for this tag (which I hope all of you are), then simply post a photo of yourself smiling! There really are no rules for this tag. You can post as many pictures with as many people as you’d like solely under the condition that you are smiling in the photo or looking back at the photo makes you smile. It’s really quite simple. If you’d like, also share the story or stories behind the photos you post to let your followers gain more of an insight of who you are and what makes you happy. Or don’t. It’s really up to you. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter how you interpret this tag, so long as you spread joy and happiness around the Internet and in doing so within your own life. Let’s all be happy and share our smiles!

Just keep the tagging along and TOGETHER, let’s create a mass movement of happiness! So start posting and tagging people now! Go, go, go!!

The Telegraph India, Delhi. September 2009. With one of my closest friends in office. It seems a lifetime ago that we used to spend all our time eating, giggling, shopping and being silly apart from stressing about coming up with story ideas for ghastly idea meetings.  
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Delhi, May, 2013. A goofy moment of cupcakes and coffee in Khan Market which is one of the best hangouts in the city. This was in a cafe called Choko La where the cupcakes were a dream and therefore it was my choice of coffee and conversations with one of my dearest friends.
Gower Peninsula, Wales. June 2011. This was the first time we had reached the Rhossili Bay of the gales and gusts, where to stand still on the cliffs and not to be blown away is an achievement.
Delhi, December 2011. On a cold December’s night, we had our first cocktail party for the wedding, thrown by my generous in-laws for us at a beautiful garden restaurant called Magique. The food was delectable and the drinks flowed. How they flowed. Adi had to be carted back home at the end of the party because his friends poured shots down his throat. 
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Floatel, Calcutta, December 2011. A photo marked by relief. That my groom had reached Calcutta at all with his entire party of friends and family. The train from Delhi to Calcutta had been delayed for hours because of foggy conditions. So the night before Adi had to book a flight for everyone to make it in time for the cocktail party and the wedding. This shot is from the cocktail party which was thrown by my parents at a floating venue on the Hooghly river. The best thing was that it was night and you did not have to admire the incredibly muddy waters of the Hooghly. Oh, but it was pure magic. It was about dancing the night away.
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A shot from the cocktail party with my brother and his wife. And no, I do not look like him.
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With my four closest friends. The one on the extreme left was always my cupcake and coffee friend. The other two lovelies on each side of me are my former flatmates. They know me as well as one would know another when they have lived together. 
Dec 11, 2011. The wedding. It is an urban myth that Indian brides are coy. I for one had no chance to play the part since I was micro-managing the wedding. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. But our family priest wed us by chanting away mantras and interspersing them with his funny asides. We had such fun getting married. We had not expected it.
There were many tears and fears. Firstly, the photographer had forgotten the simple fact that he had to turn up. This was my newspaper’s photographer and I had great faith in him. “The wedding is today, is it?” he asked in an incredulous tone. Now this happened as I sat to get married. “Yes you cutlet! Get your behind here, NOW,” was what I wanted to scream. However to unleash bridezilla in public is not convenient. I bit out words into the phone, “If you can please just get here.” Secondly, there was the videographer. Another talented man. He found his way to some other wedding and started shooting it because he was convinced it was ours. Both these tools turned up midway through the wedding rituals. Most of my wedding photos, as a result, were taken by my journalist friend who is an excellent photographer-documentary maker. Thirdly, I had arranged a phuchka (water balls – street food) stall. No surprises. It did not turn up. Therein lay the three reasons I could not be a coy bride.
The Isle of Wight. October 2012. We went camping by the sea at a time when most sane people would avoid pitching tents on the edge of a cliff. The other tents were occupied by our friends and I was never happier than when the sun rose. Evenings saw me almost weeping with misery when I could spare tears from shivering.
Durga Puja, Calcutta. October 2016. The puja was held at my home this year. It is a 250-year-old family affair that is rotated amongst our uncles and us. It is that one time of the year when my whole heart belongs to Calcutta. The sun mellows, the breeze picks up and the kaash phool (wild sugarcane grass) sways its white feathery heads in the breeze when Goddess Durga comes visiting Calcutta with great pomp. I am not religious in the least but this festival does it for me. It is about dressing up in new clothes, gorging on delicious food all through the day, meeting friends and spending time with family. Those are my cousin sisters-in-law, who look sane but are quite not all there. So, it is easy to love them.
Santa Teresa Gallura, Sardinia. March 2015. Windblown in Santa Teresa Gallura, a beautiful beach town in Sardinia, with friends. I miss my overgrown pixie cut.
Hatching plans to steal Vespas in the alleys of Alghero, Sardinia.
December 2013. The last time Adi put his arms around Tuktuk. I will never forget that like an oaf I did not travel with him to meet our beloved boy. He passed away early in 2014. We were sleeping in Mechelen, Belgium, when we got the call in the wee hours of the morning.
Pulpit Rock, Norway. August 2015. The best hike we have ever done. We had almost given up on  taking the flight to Stavanger the night before because the weather forecast was doleful. Then the woman at the other end uttered her magical Norwegian belief, “There’s nothing like bad weather, only bad clothes.” We gave in. The result was that I got to dangle my legs off Pulpit Rock for a brief while before a nervous Adi barked at me that he was not ready yet to lose his wife. You see, it is easy to fall in love with Norway.
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Holyhead, Wales. April 2013. My sister-in-law was visiting us and we had driven down to Wales to one of our favourite lighthouses which is supposed to be haunted. It is there that I met this big boy. Now, I have long conversations with horses. When they perk up their ears and seem interested, it is rude not to talk, don’t you think? Plus it is not easy to find patient ears. My niece now sees horses and thinks of me. I have a reputation to maintain.

Happiness nestles right under your nose when you smile. Have you noticed that? Now if you feel like dredging up some memories to share them and smile, why just fire away.

Holi Kinda Day with Daffodils

Monday has dawned with clear perfection. The sun is shining in the clear blue dome above me and the spring air is sharp. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the daffodils are nodding their pretty yellow heads in the slight breeze as they almost seem to wish me a merry Holi.

It is the festival of colours that marks the arrival of spring in India. You essentially play with friends and family, coating each other in colour. The thicker the layer of colour on you, the whiter the teeth shining through the medley of colours on the face.  There are many stories behind the celebration of this Hindu festival which mainly revolve around the age-old concept of good triumphing over evil. The Hindu god Vishnu is said to have saved his follower Prahlada from a pyre in which Prahlada’s (evil) aunt Holika was burned. So there are usually bonfires of Holika the night before Holi to commemorate the tale.

But there is also a story of love couched in to the celebration. Originally coloured powders or gulal were popular (and thankfully for the last decade or so people have decided to go back to gulal instead of opting for synthetic colours). Now the Hindu god Krishna who had dark blue skin is supposed to have been troubled by the difference in complexion between his love Radha and him. To make the fair lady look like him, he mischievously smeared gulal on her face.

My earliest memories of Holi belong to my growing up years in Calcutta, as a 9-year-old, kitted out in raggedy clothes – not the super white clothes that people wear nowadays (just like everything else Holi too has had a fashionable makeover). Those rags were eventually going to be discarded or recycled next year. A bunch of friends would arrive at the door and I would promptly head out into the streets, smeared in oil carefully by my mother, so that the colours would not stick on the skin. The oil was of supreme importance. In those days, during the late 80s, synthetic colours had caught the imagination of all young boys and girls. They came in neon colours and would refuse to be washed off you. Seriously, they were bloody stubborn.

After an entire day of being out on the streets, doused in buckets of water into which colours (including opaque shades of silver and golden) had been generously emptied, I would ring the bell at home with some urgency. It used to get chilly by evening as the wet clothes dried out eventually under the harsh sun and I would return home with the colours baked into me. My mother would open the door to an urchin.

Every year she had the same horrified expression and refused to let me up into our upper floor. The routine never changed. She always came down to receive me, armed with a shampoo, a big bar of soap and a dish scourer. She would then go on to scrub me down with all her might in the shower downstairs in my father’s den-cum-office. There would be rivulets of purple-black-green colours streaking down my head and body after several rounds of shampoo and scrubbing. The end result would be raw skin, a very colourful visage even post my mother’s vigorous rounds of cleansing and a hungry, cranky little person who just wanted a lot of food. I continued to play Holi into my teenage years till I shifted to Delhi to study and work.

Suddenly I had left those years behind. I have not played Holi since and have not enjoyed it as much as I did.

In Delhi, I came across an aggressive, not-so-attractive version of the festival where it became an excuse for men to manhandle women they did not know and hurl water balloons at their bodies. It became a nightmare – the two weeks preceding Holi and the two weeks after the festival. I would come back home from work, often every alternate day with my blood boiling and tears of frustration and anger. My nice clothes would veritably be spoilt by colourful splotches from water balloons – which when thrown from a height like the balcony of a house or from a motor bike passing by can leave a stinging imprint.

But today as the sun shines beautifully from a blue, blue sky and I feel far away from the Delhi version of Holi, I remember the Calcutta version of it, the innocence of childhood making the memories rose-tinted.