sweeter than the coffee that we sipped all night long,
that seaspoon of salt.
sweeter than the coffee that we sipped all night long,
that seaspoon of salt.
‘You should be fully covered. Wind should not be able to touch your body by any means.‘ He’s giving bike ride 101.
You end up doing what you end up doing.
Quickly scramble your way up the backseat. You had already saved yourself a seat in the last bus to Chikmagalur. Plop yourself up, careful. But then at the last moment, he had confirmed. Budge. Stop. Shift. Still. Fidget. Adjust. Settle. You didn’t want to keep yourself waiting so you had booked. Soft into the comfort of the hard leather caress. You don’t like it. Legs flung apart. Making yourself feel dependent on someone else. Feet clutching tight, the opposite footrests. But it’s great that you are finally riding, together. Fingers digging hard into whatever they can find to dig into. A bike ride would be more fun anyway. This time, his shoulder. Should be.
It’s cold. It’s fucking cold. Hours later, the wind will make your eyes water. You shiver uncontrollably. Numb fingers fumble to change the song on the phone. But eyes, unrelenting. Even dreamy. Look at the stars above through all the mist. Stare.
The outside reduces to a blur, passing you by like a dream. You wonder if the haze mirrors your own.
Inside of you, unreal aspirations mount. You hear voices. Urgent, unusual, all your own. You hear yourself demanding things of yourself. Let’s collect all the stars, shall we? God! Change the song. Change the damn song! Play that one, that. Remember?
Stranger fields on dark highways do that to you. Or maybe it’s the moon. The moon. You suddenly want to befriend him. Maybe both of you could become welcome trespassers in each other’s territory. Maybe you already have.
You discover new blankets in the harrowing winds. Burrow deeper into them. Suddenly cold voids turn a temporary home. But how can home be a temporary thing? After all, it’s home. But home is a feeling, isn’t it? And feelings can be fleeting too. Or maybe they always are?
4 AM. You uncover a blessing in a small roadside bonfire. You had spotted it from far, burning golden into grey air. You immediately pull over. Walk towards it. Crouch on the tarmac. Hunch over the glowing amber.
You notice its embers. It’s mostly smoke now. It’s going to burn out completely. Pretty soon. You lose interest, walk away, order chai. ‘Fuck the dying fire.’ You settle for steam from the hot tea.
But this is unsettling. Giving up on things. Underestimating their true power. Slapping the ‘diminished’ label on them. Walking away. Settling for something else. It’s easy. It comes naturally to you. Because you’ve always known this. You’ve always known how to. You have been doing this to yourself. Invariably. Since forever. You are that ‘thing’.
He stokes a few wood pieces around and it flares right back to a comforting spur. To glory.
How a few gentle strokes save it from thinning away into its own ashes! How with a few conscious prods, it learns again! To defy the cold. To give away warmth and light. To everyone who extends a hand, wanting to soak in its fire.
Could you learn too? Could you be as defiant? Or perhaps more?
The fire unconsciously reminds you of your own. Still burning somewhere within. How it had been edging towards its death a few months back! But a few acts of kindness had saved it. Had saved you. How understated generosity is! You want to scream and tell the world what enormity little kindness is capable of. You want to offer it to others, just like someone had, to you, when you had been flickering on the margins. You know it now, you want to do the same. To someone, somewhere, seeking help. Or worse, not seeking at all. Badly in need.
You squat down there, a small puddle of borrowed pants and socks, clutching the plastic cup full of tea, tighter, as you inch it closer to your lips.
How infectious the warmth! How beautiful the light!
You feel almost dizzy. Out of place. Or perhaps back in place? Your own place. In your element. Suddenly you want to be feisty again. Suddenly you want to conquer the world. Suddenly you don’t want to be dismissive of yourself. Like, ever again. You make a promise to yourself by the fire. You make another promise to keep that promise forever. Fire’s a great galvanizer, but you earnestly want to break-proof everything.
Squinting through the light, with all the smoke getting in your eyes, you wonder if you have ever seen clearer before. You almost tear up. Notice a tiny waterfall running down your cheek. But all of a sudden, feel grateful once again, to the fire that silently picks up the blame, as you somehow bring yourself to mouth the words, ‘the smoke’s getting too much, can you please direct it a bit that way?’
7 PM. At the 2nd beat, he says, you have to stretch enough to bend over your back but not so much as to crouch at your knees. Your fingers try hard to reach your toes but the expanse somehow still falls short of the touch by an inch or so.
After the class, you feel unusual. Like baptized by the sweat. The sudden endorphin rush. The euphoric high that follows after. All feel like unexpected remittances earned on a whim. You haven’t felt quite this way in days, even weeks, perhaps months? And you can’t really put a finger on what exactly is working for you this moment, just that it is, and unparallelly well. You watch your reflection in the mirror. A body shifting and swaying. Swirling around and strutting its parts into shapes it has never worn before. Inside these walls now, there is no place for inhibitions. You immediately fall in love with the shadow dancing behind you.
11 PM. Winter doesn’t touch Bangalore half as intimately as it permeates Delhi. There, it marks its territory on your body through the cracks on your lips. There, when it arrives, you come to know it and know it well. But here, things are different. Subtle. And for once, you miss the harshness of it. For once, you miss Delhi. But maybe it’s just the memories. Maybe it’s just home and the roots and stuff like that. Snap to the next second and you’re like, chuck it! Delhi isn’t half as fun as Bangalore.
Anyway, the chill in the air is still well perceptible. You have been riding against speeding winds. Slapping your face. Trying to cut you into two. Biting a freezing hole in your chest. Your fractured self almost wonders if it could bury all its bruises in there.
12 AM. The hotel looks like a swanky place. You doubt if you should hit the bar here. One beer shouldn’t burn a hole in your pocket a size that big. But R says you are just overestimating the place. So you walk in, into the lobby, up the elevator. There’s some corporate party going on. You grab one of the chairs and blend in. Blame the fruit tarts and the green tea cheesecakes for their hypnotic pull.
You watch the city from this roof. A sea of bright dots punctuating the space all around. It looks beautiful. And the night’s perfect. Everything of it. The time, the place, the table, the view, the beer too. Eventually, you muster enough courage against your own self and try to articulate into words what you have been fighting, for a long time now. You try to put a name on your pain. Maybe, giving it an appropriate identity will make it ordinary, cliched, usual, normal? Maybe, just maybe, it will take away its power so that it tones down its wrath. So you try to label the source, categorize the hurt. Also so that you could outright blacklist that thing from your future. Everything else too, that comes bearing the slightest resemblance to it. You dread all that. You build walls now. But, funny thing: you don’t always get to pick what you experience. And weirdly, the party’s too loud to allow your pain to touch the right decibels. Nothing heard is nothing said. You quickly chuck it and settle with gobbling up the white chocolate swan. Sometimes, little pleasures are the biggest things in the world.
1 AM. You crash at the next door bar at Hammered for a while. R says you don’t have to figure out your life this very night. You don’t really understand what he implies. Would there be ample time for it later, or would there never be enough time so there’s no point at all?
Anyway. Distractions are good. You never imagined they could be reassuring. Like stepping stones through a puddle. Helping you skip past the middle of nowhere. You learn to identify them for what they really are. All the bardot dresses choking your Shein e-cart? Passion weighing down on an app closet. The body craving the satiny caress of the scallop suede halter top that you cannot even slither into (will! one day, will!), but are still ordering anyway? It’s a waist-sized revolt. And this proud collection of rust, nude, and cocoa lip colours in the frayed pocket of your handbag? Palm-sized flags reminding you to also feel alive while you be. New folds on the pages of old books? Creases marking your reclamations of personal time and space. That tiny assorted pack of 12 sketch pens lying on your bedside table? Wilderness sealed in plastic. You pick a pen, implode inside a notebook, and take back the world.
2 AM. IISc Campus. You park outside the N Block. The institute air has something about it. A whiff of those days. Delhi. NSIT. Parking. MPAE block. You tiptoe into the jungle, and back in time, simultaneously.
4 AM. Chai-hunting all around Bangalore. Even the railway station doesn’t have shops open this late. (Or this early?) You end up grabbing some banana cakes on the road. It is an upbeat morning. Today you won’t feel small. Today you won’t run to the corners of the corners and hide. Today you won’t need to stain ten china cups with coffee in their bellies and lipstick marks on their rims. No. Today you already feel like devouring a slice of the sky. Today all mishaps are going to be merry. Today they can go ahead and break the melody in your head and you will totally forgive them for doing so. Today you can be a beatrice. ‘She, one who makes happy’. A beatrice. By yourself, to yourself, and perhaps then to some.
I arrive at the Green’s Guesthouse that turns out to be the loveliest little place in all of Auroville. An entryway dotted with pebbles and a pail full of pretty flowers greet me inside.
Enveloped in greenery, the place has a rustic appeal to it. The walls are haphazardly dabbed with several shades of green and look more like an artist’s giant canvas.
The staff is very friendly and welcoming. Perceiving the exhaustion in my eyes (I had travelled overnight and the bus was not kind enough!), they ask me to take a nap first and pay later when checking out. Happy surprises!
Anyway, I ask for some coffee to snap myself out of my weariness. However, they claim to have been using only “organic” products at their cafe. So, I instead have their soy milk tea and a toast with maple syrup, and enter the dorm room, pull down the net and sprawl out on the cozy bed by the window. Peace.
Auroville opens itself up to me at a rather calm and unhurried pace. I wake up to noisy chirping of birds in the backyard.
Weather is unpleasantly hot but the unusual old-world charm of this place keeps me hooked.
A short walk lands me at the Visitor’s Centre that has nice boutiques where I can buy all the cute stuff that I might want but don’t actually need. I end up buying pairs of earrings nevertheless. They look super cute!
The town exists as an isolated, dreamy world of its own kind, lined by jungles and strewn with densely canopied roads. It is not frequented by too many visitors and is fascinatingly laidback in its essence.
Its name translates to ‘City of Dawn’ and the town stands essentially to foster human unity. Admiring the concept behind its creation, I take a compulsive walk to Matrimandir (Temple of the Mother Mirra Alfassa).
But unfortunately, I find out, it is closed for the entire month of June, so I do not get to experience any actual yoga or meditation practices there. With heat beating my spirits down, I skip the rest for later and barge out of this quaint town to head to Pondicherry.
Wandering around, I reach the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a Catholic church known for its Gothic-style architecture and cherished for the immense peace it offers. Which is true but my heart somersaults for the beaches!
Soon I am traipsing down the long sidewalk at the Rock Beach.
An old lighthouse stares back at me from a corner.
A towering guide to the ships during the 19th century. An inseparable part of the identity of the town in the 21st.
A right turn later, I enter White Town, the most gorgeous part of the city. It traces India’s history back to the time when it was entwined with that of the French.
This colony flaunting European-style streets and French architecture has villas in pastel colours of pink, yellow, rust, green and what not! These border the roads blanketed by a shade of Bougainvilleas. Exotic fonts yield recognition to these vintage buildings. Classic elegance abounds everywhere.
Later, on the Paradise beach, I take baby-steps into the sea.
Waves are crashing onto the shore, curling up against me and dissolving into foam. I try to stand firm as the water recedes from under my feet, eventually merging back into the sea where it belongs. But no matter how hard I clutch at the ground with my toes, sand under my feet gets carried away with the ebbing waves and I am thrown off-balance. Swift, high waves come roaring back at me and before I can even process their intensity, I am tasting salt in my mouth, am feeling a burning tinge in my eyes, and am having an irresistible urge to scratch my ears out.
My hair is all sand-flecked, with its tiny grains caught in my curls. Tiny lumps of salt adhere to my scalp, and refuse to come out, like they were glued there for life. Funny? Absurd? Whatever, there’s more grazing my toes, smearing my legs, smudging my feet.
And. Yet I don’t mind any of it. I am too lost in my carefree abandon to mind any part of the mess. Isn’t that the whole point of living the moment anyway? To celebrate the unabashedly-uninhibited abandon.
A woman clad in a gold-embroidered red sari is collecting seashells, and tucking them carefully inside folds of a corner of her sari. Notwithstanding the waves swamping her beautiful golden-brown drapes, she bends over to quickly seize any exotic shells she spots tinkling against her silver anklets or rubbing against her feet. Emboldened, I walk deeper into the water, digging my feet deeper into the sand, stiffening up against the waves.
In front of me, the seamless horizon stands as the perfect metaphor for endless possibilities. I feel a sudden rush of happiness tugging on my heart. Turning my head back, I watch as the sky morphs into a pretty canvas for the sun playing with the clouds.
I look up, only to find a curve of rainbow curled up in the sky.
A sweet gesture from nature, smiling back at me, in all of its raw, vast, and expansive surrealness.
Suddenly it’s drizzling, and the sky turns darker shades of blue, that eventually escalate to grey, and soon black.
The sea is hitting against the shoreline even more uproariously now. I spot ships in the distance, shimmering like tiny dots of light, floating against a backdrop of immeasurable darkness.
A smidgen of hope on the horizon.
Lightning and thunder trill the sky. I ride out of the place, craving for the peace and quiet of Auroville, where my cute little home awaits me, amidst the silent wilderness.
And this wild, wide smile is exactly the one I leave Pondicherry with! 😀
Walking through the gates, I find magnificence standing tall before me in brick-and-mortar. The cream-colored facade gracefully embraces the fine granite structure within. The deep pink marble domes concretize royalty. It is the Ambavilas Palace (also called the Mysore Palace), that was once home to the Wadiyars (meaning Lords in Kannada) who ruled the Kingdom of Mysore for over 500 years.
I am asked to take off my footwear before entering the palace. The warm weather and a long queue turn me a bit grumpy. But unfazed by the crowd, I persevere anyway. I know, the interior is going to be a spectacle to behold!
A step inside, and I am gazing all around the palace, filled with wonder. The kaleidoscopic murals gracing the walls. Vivid colors glistening bright, off the ceilings. Intricacies patterned out with rare finesse. An artist’s golden touch, subtly caressing the walls, the roof, the floor beneath my feet. The perfect interplay between shadow and light.
Every speck mirrors the grandeur of the Wadiyars who once lived here. And adeptness of the artists they patronized.
How they must have worked at it!
Hands chiseling just the right quantity of stone. Poised at the exact angles that were meant to be tore into the masterpiece. Shaping it nimbly to its last millimeter.
The palace perfectly encapsulates the glory of the kingdom it once adorned. It is an epitome of its power. An ornate jewel. An architectural splendor. A fusion of Hindu, Mughal, Rajput, and Gothic styles.
Influences from several eras coming together to birth one piece of art.
It’s already 4 by the time I leave the palace. On the way back, I come across a local restaurant, Hotel RRR, that seems to have been beckoning me to try out their typical Tamil food! Here, they serve food on a long banana leaf. The platter is luscious, all decked up with rice, daal, rasam, sambhar, kofte, curd and sabudana kheer (made of tapioca pearls). And I savor it well with all my fingers digging in! 😛
Then I’m headed to Chamundi Hills, to visit the famous Chamundeshwari temple. It has been named after the Goddess who was worshipped by Mysore Maharajas for centuries. Chamundeshwari (Durga) is the fierce form of Shakti who killed the demon Mahishasuran. His colorful mannequin greets me as I reach the summit of the hills.
The exterior of the temple is fascinating, embellished with numerous images of Nandi (the bull mount of Shiva). A small market, sprawled just outside the premises of the temple, is buzzing with color and life. I buy a beautiful Ganesha idol, having grains of pulses glued together to materialize His form.
A perfect souvenir to carry back home.
It’s almost evening now and rains have swamped the streets of Mysore. Having been stuck badly in traffic for an odd hour or so, I take a detour, back towards Bengaluru.
The rain-ride is so much more beautiful anyway.
A delicious dinner at Thalassery later, I am back home, happy and (almost) warm, save for the cold I catch the following morning! It’s worth the ride though. 😉
Winding around pine thickets for the past half hour, I have been adoring the midnight-blue silhouette of the Nilgiris painted against the pale-blue skies. Looks so much like those pretty picture postcards.
I walk inside and roam around, breathing in the fresh air thick with an earthy fragrance.
Having experienced the storm in Ooty last night, I find Coonoor surprisingly sunny. And so much more beautiful that I snap out of the auto midway to dash for the tea gardens flanking either side of the road.
Coonoor has acres and acres of them!
Ambling around, I soak in the overwhelming essence of tea leaves. The Blue Mountain tea that grows here is dark and is known for its intense fragrance and flavour.
Further up the road, I stop by the Highfield Tea Factory and watch the end-to-end process of tea being made from these tea leaves. The entire place feels immersed in a strong aroma. It permeates me. Tickles my senses. A few refreshing cups of Chocolate Tea, Masala Tea, and Green Tea later, I feel grateful for the little sips of happiness.
Walking on, I come across coffee beans being ground into powder. Feeling my love for coffee scream inside me full-throttle, I instantly pick up a handful to take back home as a souvenir.
Few steps ahead, a sharp and pungent scent comes wafting across the room. Inquisitive, I find out, what I had just sniffed was the odor of eucalyptus oil being procured from the eucalyptus leaves lying heaped nearby.
I step out and see small shops selling natural oils and creams. Feeling whimsically compelled, I immediately buy the cucumber one. Downstairs, they are selling handmade chocolates and I don’t leave without packing all the dark chocolate that I will need for the month.
Driving off to Lamb’s Rock, past cultivated plantations, and unguarded wilderness, I uncover Coonoor more intimately on the way. Lying sheathed in clouds and mist, it is a beauty enveloped in the embrace of blue hills, that appear melting into the blue skies.
The path back meanders through a jungle and the experience is alarmingly enlivening.
Exactly how badly had I needed this rush?!
At last, I arrive at Dolphin’s Nose. It takes me a while to register for myself how the tip of the peak resembles a dolphin’s nose. A beautiful wind blows in my face, as I stand there watching the Catherine Falls pound in the distance.
Later in the night, I lie snuggled up under my blanket, back on my way to Bengaluru, and the moon through the window feels like a welcome trespasser.
First weekend in Bengaluru and it’s pouring down hard! After scouring through Google for about half an hour and skimming through the top suggestions it algorithmically throws my way, I pick Ooty at random and book the bus tickets for the night!
The bus is unusually (or usually?) late but the weather Gods are bizarrely happy today. I watch a dark cloud canopy growing over the night, amidst a low rumble of thunder. I witness lightning bedazzle the sky. A cool breeze and light drizzle later, I am still waiting for the bus sigh! but am nevertheless feeling all cheerful and pumped up. After an hour of fiddling around with whatever, the bus finally arrives and I trundle off to Ooty with an overjubilant smile! Dragging his grumpy one along.
I have never been to the South before, so as the bus goes coursing the lanes of Karnataka, all through to Tamil Nadu, I don’t care enough to doze off for once, and rather keep peering out the window all night. By the time morning comes knocking on the stained glass, the signboards change, and I spot people in lungis and saris, and there are vast green farms flanking the roads and the sun overwhelming those green farms.
I stumble upon Iyengar’s bakery while walking around, in the Commercial Street, on my way to the hotel. They offer me the softest bread encasing thick layers of jam and cream within, and my tired, hungry soul washes everything down maniacally, with a hot cup of tea! A tangible piece of bliss when I have been hungry since dinner last night.
At the Hotel Eden, I come across a weirdly funny receptionist who keeps iterating “just 1 minute, just 1 minute” over and over but never seems to genuinely help me out with any of my needs. But it had been the cheapest last-minute gamble I had pounced upon (courtesy booking.com!), so I bear with it.
I am inside an autorickshaw, spiraling around the Nilgiris, on my way to the Doddabetta peak, crowned the highest in the Western Ghats. The path leading up to the summit is densely forested. Tall pine trees lie shrouded in mist. Clouds have embossed themselves over distant peaks, that are standing bathed in innumerable shades of blue.
I come across rare flowers, blossoming at every other turn, spilling open into a cute, vibrant bunch of colors, gleefully juxtaposed against green that has invaded all the space around.
The fresh air breezing through the Nilgiris feels so enlivening, that I keep bobbing in and out of the autorickshaw, throughout my way uphill, to rest my feet at the edge of a cliff, feel my nerves come undone, and breathe. It feels magical. Unburdening magical.
At the summit, there is a Telescope House that should supposedly enable everyone to catch stunning views of the valley but honestly, it doesn’t serve its purpose. At all. So I stroll around, gaze at the sky ripping itself apart to allow the sun flood the wilderness, watch life unwrap itself in the valley as giant trees branch out, to make home for monkeys prancing on their edges, dangling from one, hopping on to the next, nestled careless and free and content in their impenetrable abode.
I see a tiny market nearby and excited, trail a bit down to reach for a cute rainbow-hair-prop and wear it over my head and try to pretend I am something exotic until he says it is time to leave. In my defense, it was fun! Ample fun. Okay. Whatever.
Later in the night, weather takes a magical leap and I find clouds fogging my view, floating beside me and beneath my feet, sliding over and under the moon, and enveloping almost everything under their white haze.
It feels damn weird but beautiful.
Back at the hotel, I devour the handmade chocolates I bought from the Chocolate Factory, a few gorgeous hours ago. Tomorrow will be a happy day for sipping tea in the woods, as I make my way to Coonoor. But for now, I just snuck my pillow close and zone out.