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?’

swaying to a flicker of the heartbeat.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Auroville opens itself up to me at a rather calm and unhurried pace. I wake up to noisy chirping of birds in the backyard.

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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!

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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).

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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!

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Soon I am traipsing down the long sidewalk at the Rock Beach.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Shutta_20180904_130241-01Later, on the Paradise beach, I take baby-steps into the sea.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Suddenly it’s drizzling, and the sky turns darker shades of blue, that eventually escalate to grey, and soon black.

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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.

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And this wild, wide smile is exactly the one I leave Pondicherry with! 😀

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This is the 4th 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 Coonoor, Mysore, and Ooty.

about the time when I fled to Ooty.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

IMG_20180331_171430731-01At 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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

monkeys

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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.

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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.

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It feels damn weird but beautiful.

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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.

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This is the 1st 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 Coonoor, Mysore, and Pondicherry.

the fumble for a path.

Tripping yet again upon a choice, you fear a trap. Unable to view the choice for the gift it is, you frown at the privilege, of having possibilities to pick from.

But no, you are not being ungrateful.

Rather, you know yourself. Your indecisiveness. Your impulsive decisions. Your sudden quirks. Your weird whims. Your idiosyncracies. Your screwed sense of direction. Your ambiguity. Your failed sense of judgement. It’s all happened in the past!

So, fear paralyzes you at the crossroads.

It’s funny when you get lost on your way and accuse the GPS of betrayal every time. But alarming when you have no idea what you’re doing, where you’re heading. In life.

Wedged between what to do and what not to do, you are scuttling through cities, flipping over jobs, tipping on the edge of aspirations and apprehensions.

But then, you have never been a calculative one.  You would never weigh the pros and cons in and out.  You wouldn’t tread lightly over gunpowder.

You have always been this frivolous, this turbulent, whose impulse would flutter like butterflies refusing to be bottled up, who would shrug all conscious rationale, at one bend of intuition, at one slant prick of psyche.

And so, even knowing the magnitude of impending change that will rock your world, may be, even upend it, you turn the page to the next chapter of the book, and watch anxiety melt into excitement!

Okay, you might be clueless. But you are not naive.

You attempt to sketch your own path.

You realize that, you yourself are the anchor to your chaos. You might be the epicenter of your quakes but you yourself are your recovery guide too.

You have this storm raging inside you.  And you use it to arm yourself to meet the one brewing in the outside world.

And even if it churns you to dust, and you end up gutted under the rubble, you would not fold your cards. You would rather choose to learn from your mistakes.

It’s hard, daring to defy the odds. But you have this thing knotted in your memory that you can’t forego.

This moment is all that’s there to live, and whatever you choose to do right now will become what you will have ever done at all.

 

when you unbottle to unbother.

you watch the stars parcel you an invite into a night

so perfectly pinned to the sky at its fuzzy dark corners

that you don’t want to dim its beauty with your inhibition

or dissipate its magic with your fear

or ruin its romance with your indefinite whys and why nots

so you ask reason to pack its bag and leave

and tell responsibility to stop weighing down its burden on you

and as the duo give in and walk away

you lean over the parapet

into the glass in your hand

and roll your head an inch back

and exhale

what had been asphyxiating you since eons

tonight, you let this roof become your salvation ground

and as you sprint around the terrace

and giggle into the moonlight

and dance without watching your step

you realize that you are capable of seeing beauty

even in the darkest nights

that you are capable of being happy on an unfamiliar roof

when the roads leading home seem illusory

you had been feeling unreasonably displaced

or rather like a misplaced LEGO piece

made to fit into blocks

that bulge and dip at all the wrong places

only if you had realized any sooner

that your universe is different

that you cannot fill, with what you don’t have

so you stop caring anymore

about anything at all

and from among the billions dotting this night sky

you point your finger at a random star

wish upon it, a countless fantasies

then unclench your fist in sudden keen

and let all go.

15 days.

You realize in 15 days, what you never could, in all those 120 days of working.

15 days of not having a job or rent money or a backup or any kind of plan and still choosing to stay rather than giving it up all and running back where you started from.

14 days of feeling a searing helplessness inside yourself as your bank account stares at you with a fat zero in your face.

13 days of trying to sell yourself out on a piece of paper which fails to identify with you as closely as it rather should.

12 days of taking rejections in your face and not bending the knee.

11 days of clinging on to a tiny voice inside you that keeps reiterating, everything will fall back in place.

10 days of drowning in your own mess, while trying to breathe through your sudden seizures and emotional downpours. Additionally, you learn what insomnia feels like.

9 days of having forgotten, how looking up at the sky and guzzling the sun, felt like.

8 days of not knowing where you’re going, not knowing where you’ve come.

7 days of nurturing your grit and learning to believe in yourself, though learning it the hard way.

6 days of making wild acceptances of your truth and making peace with what now is, rather than regretting what then used to be.

5 days of working hard, chasing opportunities and decoding your self worth all along the way.

4 days of catching new possibilities blossom while you stand at a crossroads yet again, wrestling with your indecisiveness, bubbling with a hunger to leap in all of the directions beckoning you to explore them.

3 days of setting foot in new shoes and walking on, though knowing inside that they are the same old feet who will wander off, wherever they want, and not where they are made to.

2 days of relearning to look at the sky the same way again, and  flashing the sun, an overwhelming smile, across all those lightyears in between.

1 day of buzzing overwhelmingly with new expectations, standing at the plinth of your new beginnings, not afraid of the fall, now that you’ve already uncovered what the bottom feels like.

‘normal’.

They tell you that you are not good enough, that you don’t fit in, that you don’t meet their expectations, that even though you have been putting in efforts, this ‘you and they’ thing is not working anymore. Funny, that is also how your relationship panned out in the end. ‘It is not working.’ He had said to you that night, the last night you ever talked to each other, that you had not put in enough efforts to save the relationship, that you would have had, had it meant the world to you but you never did, that you had failed him miserably, that in that case, you were not good enough, for him.

May be, you fail everybody in a way. Atleast that’s what you can make out of it all. You feel your incapability to live upto people’s expectations, your brokenness. You feel you are unfulfilling. You feel unfulfilled yourself. You feel like a defective part, incapable of being pieced in with anything, anywhere.

You start looking for new opportunities, places where you would fit in, work that will appeal to you as much as the people present around. Alt+O+C +Afit inside the box or may be stretch it enough to accommodate all of yourself inside it. That’s what Excel does with its data, when it has to make sure that everything looks pretty normal. You have been using these keys all day long, every day now, and you wish, someone could press those buttons on you in real life and then everything would become so much more accommodating than it really is. Then you would have stayed. You could have stayed for as long as you like.

What’s ‘normal‘ anyway? Everyone has their own normal and two normals never run parallel to each other. So normal is a relative term, you conclude. And your normal does not necessarily need to coincide with those of others. Or even to your previous self’s. Infact, you keep bending your own normals and drawing yourself new ones, every once in a while. Which, in turn, is a perfectly normal thing to do.

You think you will miss people. But you don’t want to start that cassette now. You know you are an emotional disaster who feels stuff on inexplicable levels and once you start, there’s no going back. So you avoid even saying it out loud. To them. But you know it in your heart, that some words have been exchanged and some moments have been lived and they will stay with you forever. That’s what happens anyway, right? Whomever you meet, a part of them lingers on with you forever, in some way or another. And  a part of you leaks through and appends to their life, though they might never become aware of it at all.

It is 2 A.M. You tap open the gallery in your phone and look at the photo for the fifth time today. You and he, together, smiling. May be, both of you could have done pretty well together, you wonder. Reality spells otherwise. You didn’t even wish him a ‘Happy New Year’ a few days back. You couldn’t bring yourself to, after all that has transpired between you and him. All those years together and can’t utter three words to each other now. Some day he had meant the world to you, tonight you just lie on your bed and wish the world for him and go back to sleep.