not that usual ‘burnt bread’ morning.

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.

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.

and that’s pretty much everything you want to know about change.

Every time you step into the woods, the breeze encircles you and bares your gasps, loud into the presence and absence of everything.

At first, you flinch, you waver, you look back for a return.

But then you walk further and feel the earth digging into your toes. Whatever direction you walk, becomes ‘the’ path.

You watch the sun filter in, through the canopy of trees. Nothing, however wild, could hold it back.

Ans so it dawns on you.

Every small step, an undaunting of you.

Every dare, your metamorphosis.

With every rise of the foot, a newer you.

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.

hanging in there.

It is difficult to unsee it once you see it, this magic beaded into your nerves, this power that stems from your soul, and once you do, you feel like you are high on your own depths. You have been called out ‘unproductive’ and ‘incapable’ and ‘undeserving’ of love, but you have also been called irrevocably strong and a go-getter and easily-blending-in-with-anyone lovely, so may be you are a labyrinth of opposites that melt into each other and you cannot perfectly label yourself on who you are and what you are because may be, you really belong only to the betwixt and between of everything.

It doesn’t matter, you don’t want to be caught up in this mesh anymore, you want to be no-thing, nothing. It is what makes you feel above and beyond all the tyrannizing mess, anyway. It is what makes you feel akin to the birds, gliding above the rest, watching the world from a distance.

You think, may be, you were not cut for being categorized and put into boxes depending on your skillsets, possibly because you don’t have many (or any!). To be blatantly honest, if at all you were asked to recount your skillsets because your life depended on it, you would say, you excel in laughing out loudly, you are at times clumsy, at all times non-elegant, you hold high honors in not being able to keep things from people, and that you know to draw yourself a line to tell apart your intrinsic parts from the extrinsic ones so that you bare out only the extrinsics but over time, everything just bubbles up to the surface and exposes itself and you, to the world.

You are learning to go from ‘terrible’ to ‘tolerable’ at your job. You are bumping into deadlines more than ever now. Meeting them offguard like that, you feel stupefied, your past-self would have never thought its future-self could upgrade so high.

You gather, it can always be learnt, what is expected of you, to learn. But what they don’t tell you is, it cannot always be found, what you don’t even realize, is missing in the first place. You know what you long for. Openness. Clarity. Liberation.

You don’t see a clear path ahead, but you do see a path. You decide to take that anyway. How lost will you be?! Your innateness will catch up with you soon enough. After all, no matter how much you try to blend in, you are never able to contain all of yourself, inside yourself, somehow the essence always spills out and every path you walk on, starts reeking of you, becomes home. May be, there never is a sureshot destination for real, and whatever it looks like, exists only in your head. May be, the path in itself is magic, strewn with signs for you to pick on, and carry on from there, but to nowhere really, the journey is all the magic that is there to unfold.

You have this memory, ringing constantly at the back of your head and though you have been trying so hard, for days now, to wipe it out clean, you actually haven’t been able to erase it quite completely. You have often desperately wished it were material so that you could get rid of it, the way clean out your closet. You have tried to rearrange your thoughts around it just like you reorganize your clothes on the shelf, but now you are howling for change so bad and there’s no point in repositioning the clothes when what you really want to do is throw away the closet.

You have got problems, and so everyone has. But you are unique in your own way not everyone is. You learn to stop generalizing every thing around you, every trait of yours inside you. You learn to replace the word “everyone” with “I”. You learn, no boulders are big enough, no muck is grimy enough, no wind is bristly enough, and no cold is biting down enough on you, because you are a different protoplasm, there’s stubbornness mired into all of it, into all of you, in disproportionate inconsistencies, disproportionately aplenty.

This is your canvas, you planted the easel here and you will finish your painting, replete with the exact grace that you had wished upon it. 

And if you run out of acrylic, you pick up your bottle of water color and start brushing in and if all those bottles break and spill out, you smudge pastels over the piece and if you lose your pastels, you fill crayon inside those lines and if you exhaust your crayons, you pencil your sketch with insane undertones of graphite and if you misplace your pencil, you ink your heart out and if you drain all ink, you glaze oil over the sheet and if you have burnt out all the oil, you claw into the magnificent white space with your fingernails but you bring out that damn picture that you have always wanted to see. Means or no means, you don’t shy away even if it comes down to your own blood to evoke the scene in the painting you had set out on arriving at. After all, you got only this one canvas to sport.

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