one night on the road.

‘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?’

unwrapping the gift that Coonoor is.

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.

7

11

10

Finally, I disembark at Sim’s Park. On the board outside, it boasts of having rare plant species from around the world.

12

I walk inside and roam around, breathing in the fresh air thick with an earthy fragrance.

27

28

17

13

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!

1

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.

16

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.

IMG_20180401_161925244-01 (1)

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.

5

21

I trek up to the highest viewpoint at Lamb’s Rock and take a fleeting glance around. What strikes me is, I am staring down into a deep, scary gorge that at the same time accommodates a breathtaking panorama of tea estates, coffee estates, and Coimbatore plains.

Surreal.

The path back meanders through a jungle and the experience is alarmingly enlivening.

Exactly how badly had I needed this rush?!

19

18

26

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.

20

22

8

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.

3

6

This is the 2nd post in a 4-part series on my travel stories from South India. If you like this part, you can read the other parts on Ooty, Mysore, and Pondicherry.

stepping into the new year in Goa.

You are riding by dense palm grooves lining the roads, forming a thick canopy over your head. You can see the sun filtering in through it, can feel it kissing your back as you sprint by, watching the world through hair in your eyes. The houses in every block around here look like the ones you have seen in storybooks, all decked up as colorful little present boxes wrapped in fairylights. The streets are laced with Christmas decor, there’s a shining North Star hoisted from the ceiling in one corner and a Santa waving from the balcony in another. It is a different kind of world around here, a magical one, a world so much more habitable than the one you’ve got in your own city.

You are staying in a cute little cottage which has got lush green meadows for the frontview. You think, it looks adorable. The quiet around here kind of grows on you. You can hear the cuckooing around here apart from the usual banter of the birds. It feels like a secret little world, tucked in a hushed corner away from the noise and clutter of the city. It feels so pristine and rustic that you immediately fall in love with all of it, the coconuts stranded on the roof, the bananas blooming in the backyard, sunlight splayed into fritters on the palm grooves.

There is sand in your hair, salt in your eyes, water in your ears, sun burning your skin. You uncover for the first time what beach feels like. You bend over and dig your fingers across the water into the sand trying to hunt down seashells on the sandbed. There are plenty of them, whites, and browns and every shade in between. You find a really pretty one, a starfish-lookalike, edges intricately carved out and buried in the sand. You immediately pick it up and keep it in your sling bag. Later when you will zip it open, you will find the entire bag reeking of a weird nauseating smell and you will need to buy a new one. But until then, you are ignorant and this shell is a token of love from the sea.

You are lying inside a beach shack gulping down spaghetti with beer as you watch the sun go down into the sea. It reaches the zenith of its beauty before it is wiped out from the horizon. You want to be like this. The lady whose place you are staying at, was telling you the other day, that she had always wanted a house like that, a cute little cottage submerged in greenery, nestled peacefully in the lap of nature. She said she feels grateful to God that He gave her exactly what she had wanted and that she feels content. You realize, you are chasing this feeling, the bliss that comes along with content and gratitude. You want this for yourself, the feeling of having done everything you have always wanted to, having realized all your dreams, having reached the zenith of your imagination, having been at your capable best. But to reach this feeling of having achieved what you have always wanted to, you will first have to know what you want. And to figure that out, you will first have to sift through your crap and create some headspace for new things, and may be, new people. You realize, all you are seeking is self-awareness exactly, and may be this year will bring that along too.

You are riding back home, your body aching for your warm cozy bed, toes yearning for the linen touch. Full moon night falls tomorrow but the moon is anyway, almost a whole, tonight. And it is going to be daybreak soon. It is 4 A.M. You have to ride 50 kilometers and there are still 40 to go. The cold is gnawing at your skin, and you feel like you have lost all sensation, except that of the wind whirring in your ears, so loud that you cannot hear your own voice over it. You ride on nevertheless, with your gaze getting gradually attuned to the thick intermittent white line painted out on the tarmac, screaming the kilometers skipping beneath your feet.

You stop by a small roadside cafe for chai. It has got indoor seating, so you quickly get inside those glass doors, craving for the warmth more than the chai. They don’t have chai, so they give you coffee, which turns out pretty bad unfortunately. But everything is welcome as long as it is killing the cold. So the bland coffee seems okay. Even the ‘Soldier’ playing on their cable seems okay.

May be this is a year of firsts, may be this will be a year of firsts. You want it to be. The first time you pick a homestay over a hotel lodging, the first time you watch a mind-numbingly expansive and seemingly-never-ending stretch of water sprawl before your eyes, and the first time you walk right into it, the first time you stay grounded against the waves no matter how hard your ankle might be slipping on the sand underneath, the first time you watch the sun vanish into the sea, the first beer on a beach, the first ever road trip mapping a city from one end to another, the first nightout under a beautiful glowering-white almost-whole moon making its presence starkly felt even through the branches, the first time you bring home gifts with your own money, the first time you leave a place with sand filled pockets and a bag stinking of sea shells.

One of your friends, from office, had told you the other day, that whatever you do on or around the New Year’s eve, you keep doing that for the whole year. You wonder if your whole year is going to be a string of beautiful explorations if you happen to be exploring around yourself and inside yourself around this New Year’s eve. Is this going to be the year of soul-searching? You can’t possibly tell rightaway but all you can do is have faith.

And then one day, many many many years down the line, may be you will feel exactly the same as that lady feels today.

All in due time, before the sun goes down.

 

IMG_20171230_083331070a glimpse of the first morning in Goa from the bus window

 

IMG_20180101_141413 (1)Benaulim beach, Goa

 

IMG_20180101_153308 (1)New Market, Margao, Goa

 

IMG_20180101_164255the beautiful home we rented in Majorda, South Goa

 

IMG_20180101_164313the entryway to our home, Majorda, South Goa

 

IMG_20180101_183458047watching the streets lit up with Christmas decor while riding along the way

 

IMG_20180103_145819_758Vagator beach, North Goa

 

IMG_20180103_145924_781soaking in the sun at the Vagator

 

IMG_20180103_150139_640Vagator, North Goa

 

IMG_20180103_162630_910Majorda beach, South Goa

 

IMG_20180103_163652_355Benaulim, South Goa

 

IMG_20180103_165149_012Agonda beach, South Goa

 

IMG_20180106_131730_638 (1)riding on the streets, South Goa

another day, another night.

This is one of those nights when you huddle in a corner of your bed and type. You contemplate your choices. In your heart you know what you truly want. But it is just not coinciding with your reality in the present moment.

Your head is a mess of things, more than you can comfortably accommodate. Perhaps that’s why you are calling it a mess.

You think you are like a mayfly. You live for the moment, in the moment, very well on guard about the impermanence of everything.

You cannot sleep most nights because there are dreams, not those that overpower you while you sleep, these are the ones that are tugging at your heartstrings to keep you awake, all night, until your eyelids become too heavy to carry their weight and you drift off.

You completely abhor people asking you questions about your whereabouts, telling you where you should or should not go. You have waited so long, expecting them to understand you are mature and wise enough to make your own decisions, to act out of your free will. And still it looks like, the knowledge has hardly seeped in. How long will you wait more,to be finally free of this burden? At one point, something snaps inside you and you just cease to bother anymore.

You are working in a domain you can hardly care about. And it reflects perfectly in your work, the nonchalance about it all. Still you take it as a challenge, the capability to focus on it, and try to improve on the performance everyday. At the end of the week, your truth glaringly stares you in your face and you know, that all that effort, all that time, has trickled down to a progress, if it can be called any, assessable only on some submolecular level. Fuck, you have shrunk down all the scales of measurement.

You look at yourself in the mirror, and see an average looking girl who will hardly ever amount to anything if not for her words, her stories, her laughter. You graze your fingers down the glass and smile. You are perfect for yourself in your head. And you will achieve all that you set out to. You notice that the curve of the smile has deepened.

On weekends you go out to watch the best sunsets in town. You are walking listlessly down a road and there it is ,the orange ball of gold glaring at you, some miles up the road. You drink the view in, gulp it down your memory lanes, along with a hot chai. The steam arises from the kullhadh as you soak it all in, and the experience is akin to heaven.

For the first time in weeks, you arrive at a decision. This one, you have made yourself, for yourself. This time, you have allowed no one to nose in and sit like an unwanted blob upon your life, to plague your mind with their opinions, to rewire your brain according to their mindsets, to pencil in their own crap in your to-do lists. And you are well aware that it is going to be hard, that the sail will not be smooth, but you are ready to put yourself all out, on the line, to pursue that flicker of a dream that keeps you burning through the night.

You come home, to a kitchen overflowing with unwashed dishes and bins overloaded with garbage.  You are hungry and scour your fridge impatiently but can only spot milk cartons and corn flakes boxes propped in a corner. The house demands cleaning and you know you’ve got a lot of work on your hands. It is quite exhausting, the cleaning , the maintenance, the daily chores, but never once did the thought of going back crossed your mind. You just cannot bear to live otherwise, devoid of your free will. You freedom is more important to you than home-cooked food and a squeaky clean kitchen. You are going to clean it anyway. May be tomorrow. Or soon enough.

Somewhere an analogy strikes. There are always good and bad sides to taking a leap,and just as this one you took months ago, has its beautiful and ugly moments, may be the ones you take next, will have their own set of paradoxes that will be fully capable of a safe coexistence. Do whatever you want to, have always wanted to. You are going to be alright.

You resign yourself to bed at night, holding a hot cup of Bournvita with the TV tuned in to Travel Xp. You wish to travel around the world like this one day and your head already buzzes with excitement.

But you’ve got office tomorrow.

It is getting colder now and you pull you blanket closer, turn on a side and sleep. But not before you have read a few pages of the book you have lately been obsessed with . Time crunch just doesn’t cut it. Responsibilities or no responsibilities, you’ve got to live for what you live for.

revelation.

You don’t know what’s real anymore. You come back home exhausted from a job that hardly feeds your soul, rather it crushes it, moulds it like plastic into forms you cannot recognize anymore. No, don’t get scared, it’s not a bad job to start with. Atleast, it’s not one of those jobs that are physically excruciating, or frugally paying. No, this one is diamond compared to that crap. Or, so everyone else says. But you, you just can’t wrap your head around it. You cannot dabble in numbers, you forget things, you attend training lessons you don’t remember after two days. It does not surprise you anymore, how you write down formulas in your notebook ( it looks like you are the only one putting your notebook to that kind of use in office!) and still manage to get the syntax wrong the the next time you type them into your computer. You send out wrong files, wrong emails to wrong people. You can easily imagine firing yourself had you been calling the shots, you are that pathetic at it. But they are keeping you. Persevering with you. Wow, they must be saints in a parallel universe, you think.

You come home to a terrace flooded with a full moon glinting at your face and your eyes light up more than the two 15 W LEDs you had had fitted in your room just because you are scared of being alone in a dimly-lit space even with the TV blaring out at full volume. But on the roof, strangely, you like the darkness, you dig it, probably even love it. You might be weirdly wired, you think for a split-second. ‘Probably’, you second yourself.

You get friends over, for a beer or two. Mostly, to drown your misery into that poison and coat ‘happy’ all over your day or atleast over the fagends of it. You gulp it down, one bottle after another and as the more of that goes inside, the more of you comes out. At first it is all frivolous talk, like how it is so cold up here and how the streets look all colorful and the night sky looks so beautiful. You are blurting out things you don’t usually tell people. You say, you love the metro ride back home from office every evening when it gets all dark, and that, you always stand glued to the glass doors, perfectly adjacent to them, and even when it’s all crowded you would kill for that space, to watch the lights glittering in the distance because they look like stars and make you think you have descended upon a magical landscape. You say, you love the chill, the terrace, the sky, the vastness of it all, encompassing you from all dimensions but oddly, making you feel more liberated than ever. You are talking so feverishly now, you just cannot shut up. Like someone has uncorked a lid somewhere and years of  subdued emotions have come bubbling to the surface and are spilling out, eager to make their presence known, eager to occupy a space around you, eager to fill the void of those usually-hollow talks with their weight and volume and density and all that makes matter matter for real . You cannot stop smiling. You are happy. Period.

And then it is their weight that pulls you down. Those emotions. They are all over the place now. You feel like your life is dangling mid-air and you are crying. You cry and brawl and shriek your heart out. You cling to that dusty piece of floor underneath you and let out screams that have been suffocating you from within, since what feels like forever, screams that come out, throbbing with an intensity that has compounded over the years, screams that have caught you unguarded, you were not aware what you were capable of unleashing . You are not conscious that you are baring the darkest corners of your heart to people. You are making it known that you are vulnerable. You always end up putting yourself in an inexplicable position like that. You are not too proud of it either.

The next morning, they will tell you that you had thrown them out of your house the previous night. You won’t believe them. You will beg them to tell you what had exactly transpired, and in the exact chronological order that it had , but they will be so mad at you, that they wont divulge a thing. They will break off from you. You won’t be able to process what’s happening or figure out the WHYs of it for that matter. Once the hangover lifts in the evening, you will go back to your phone, explore it more intricately, only to find thirty eight voice messages that you had sent out to them, drunk, the night before. Probably after you had actually thrown them out. You will listen to your own voice and cringe. You will feel embarrassed by your own words. You had never wanted to hurt anyone! Or sever your ties with them! And then you will recall how much you had cried. This will make you feel vulnerable again. You will feel exposed. No, overexposed. Like you have let on, more than you should have. Rendering your soul open to someone pinches you more than baring your body naked to them.

You will feel lost and helpless, because you won’t remember a thing and no one will be willing to give you the truth. You will feel bad about yourself, you will feel ugly, for having treated people like shit. So you will immediately call them up to apologize. But they won’t take your calls. You will text them. But they won’t reply. Or probably even read. You will feel hurt, broken, unsure of what the truth is, uncertain of what to do next.

You will live bogged down under the weight of this mess for a good many days. You will even think that you create problems for yourself on your own and that, may be, you have always nurtured a habit for it. You will live like a sorry soul. For days and days to follow.

But these days will pass.

Soon you will realize that you can no longer allow situations to get the better of you, that you can no longer let your circumstances exploit you. You will learn that you control your happiness from within yourself and that no external factor can tamper with it, if you don’t give out the permits.

And so you will heal. You will write. You will read books that will blow your mind, that will spring open pathways for you that you didn’t know, to have existed before. And you will write. You will meet new people whose words will not fall like mere ramblings on your ears, whose words will make sense to you, whose company will be fun and exciting. You will forge new friendships, even relationships, there are all kinds of it, and for the first time, you will not feel afraid of experimenting. And you will write.You will write down all your experiences, feelings, emotions, traumas and breakthroughs like you are lettering your soul on paper, lending it a tangible form and shape and color for real. You will laugh carelessly, talk unapologetically, fearless of being judged or shamed. You will hold liberal views but strong opinions on anything and everything. You will become your own person. You won’t be able to please everyone but you will hardly care for it anymore.

You had never been the one to wake up early morning, but soon you will live like you exist for watching the sun rise everyday. No matter how cold or sleepy you are, you will wrap yourself in that warm and comfy blanket of yours, plug in your earphones, tune in to your favourite song, unlock the door, head upstairs and watch the magic unfurl on the roof. Life will once again become beautiful. It will all make sense, the pink and orange and yellow smudged across the sky in uneven streaks, because in the middle of it all, a ball of red rising out of nowhere, gradually turning golden, will shine for you as a metaphor to your life.

And, you will not just start loving yourself, you will fall in love with yourself and though they sound almost similar, when it will actually happen to you, they will feel a world apart from each other.

And do you remember, how you had always been asking yourself to save yourself, from yourself?

Yeah, you will change in a way that you will no longer need to.

(moon)lit.

You are on the highway, propped on the backseat of a bike, flashing a wide grin at trees whizzing past you at 70 km/hour. Wind is tearing your skin, in attempts of chipping away at dead skin, or may be some rotten past or old memories. A full round moon stares you in your face, having left its fiery copper-red facade a while back,it burns pale white now, as if trying to stunt the dark expanse.

You are cold, partly because of the chill of the night that is biting into your bones but mostly because of the thrill that has engulfed you, the excitement, now very palpable at the surface, making your skin go plump with goosebumps and you know you are in pain and ecstacy all at once, so you close your eyes to soak it all in (though your hair is successfully defying gravity, poking at your eyes from all angles and you can’t see much anyway!).

You take a deep breath, then again and one again, and you realize that this is good, that your soul has been badly aching for something like this since a lifetime you remember not having lived enough.

You get a cold rush of blood to your head. A cloud of blur just lifted somewhere. Inside you, happy hormones are mad-hopping, they seem to have forgotten what being dormant means.

You feel someone has opened a pandora’s box and inside, you have found your way back to being alive. It is a gift, this moment, you know it won’t hurt tonight.

Life tickling you at all your right spots, you tilt your head an inch back, just enough to take in all the goodness the sky is throwing at you at supersonic speeds, right in this second, and just this silent second throbbing loud with life, you, sitting in this rippling puddle of madness and magic, grow.

Oddly, in dimensions way more profound than you ever have, in years before.

This post is in response to the one word prompt : Enlighten