Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Moving On.....

A colleague and a fabulous writer, Bishwanath Ghosh, in his last column for The New Indian Express wrote about moving on. I so loved and agreed with everything he said.

I agree the expression moving on is a very convenient excuse. He had written....

"Any new dream, alas, has to be built on the grave of an old dream. Whether you rejoice at the new dream, or shed tears for the old — the choice is yours. But the bottomline is, you have to move on...."

I am moving on too. I am trying to weave a new dream out of the frayed threads of the old one. Its like that line from the movie Motorcycle Diaries where Che Guevara says (I para phrase) 'Every moment is split into two, you rejoice in anticipation of the new, even as you feel a pang of sadness at leaving something behind.'
I agree. The place I am in currently gave me so much joy. Lessons I here, stories I wrote here will always be closest to my heart. A heart heavy with all that I learnt, lived and wrote, I move on too, to newer stories, newer lessons and a newer life.

The journey continues.......

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Gin Update

My dog Ginger. Age 10 years. Spoilt to the core by a very loving family. Extremely arrogant. Sleeps 22 hours a day. Extremely fussy about food. And barks, once in a while, when he has nothing better to do!

The poor thing is growing old, and the delicate darling that he is, he keeps falling sick. And has been growing all the more arrogant and short tempered! Both pics were taken quite some time ago. He looks sly and cunning and arrogant in the first na? That's his real face, people, don't be fooled by the next one. That's his innocent, nobody-has-given-me-anything-to-eat, feed-me-I'm-so-cute face that he puts on to blackmail all of us in to giving him biscuits and sweets and anything that we are having. Uff, wonder where they learn such tricks!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Those Little Things Called Memories

I sit in my room on a lazy Sunday evening, thankfully the neighbourhood is quiet. I still wonder what I want to write about today. Rahul Sharma’s Ladakh- In Search of Buddha plays on my laptop and I close my eyes for a moment to imagine Ladakh and the stark beauty of its landscape, a picture drawn to me by my friend Naresh, a native of Leh. My eyes wander to the shelf next to where I sit. Ah! There is my topic for today!

The house I live in is a home to me because of this shelf, the one that has several books that I bought over the last 20 months that I have been living here. There are some soft toys, my silver jewelry, more books, a compartment that serves as my makeshift prayer alcove, a painting of Michelangelo’s Birth of Adam I picked up somewhere, a picture of Ruskin Bond that an old man who runs Select Book Store in Bangalore gave me, several of my journalism notes and souvenirs from I travels, little things with beautiful memories attached to them, the ones I want to tell you about today.

One of the things I rue every time I travel is that there is hardly anything that you can carry back with you as a souvenir, everything is available everywhere these days! You might as well have bought it from that fancy gift place in a fancy mall for a ridiculously high price. Still I try to pick up something from every place I go to, not because I can’t buy it in Bangalore or elsewhere but because I associate my entire trip and all my little anecdotes and memories with that souvenir and carry it my head, a visible part of my past adventures.

On my shelf there are two very beautiful miniature paintings, done on a gold leaf and framed in wood. One is of a scenery with two trees overlooking a hillock and the other is a view of a row of houses next to a lake with boats, a tower on the shore, some people, down to the last tiny detail. Somebody gave this to me when I went to do a story on this nice store (I forget its name) in Indiranagar, Bangalore. The store sells reproductions of old furniture, paintings, statuettes, guns and the like. That was a good story….

And then there is a little green hour glass that I got from a store in the rather desolate Konaje (that the village where the uni I studied in is). There is a Cross pen that someone who loved a story I wrote long ago gave me. A little red, rather gaudily painted piece with figures of tribal Gods from Orissa. A beautiful little silver box that Raksha gave me for my birthday. Another lovely silver soap dish that granny got on her wedding, some 65 years ago! A colorful toy from Channapatna.

Sometime back, my family and I had traveled to the Ajanta and Ellora caves near Aurangabad. We took a tour bus and I had had the misfortune to be seated next to the very talkative guide who told me his entire life story and insisted that I visit the caves again with my husband for my honeymoon! He was from some distant village and spoke with longing about his family and fields. From that journey, I have with me a little Buddha. Next to the statuette lies a little key chain in the shape of a hockey stick, from a small village in Kodagu where the Kodava family hockey festival was held last year.

My favourite among the things I keep are things I got from Dasara at Madikeri every year. From last year, there are two glass tubes filled with water and sequins, one gold and another in silver. From this year, there is a colorful and very noisy pipe. There is also a glass paper weight with a tuk-tuk inside that I got from Bangkok, silk cocoons from Ramnagaram near Bangalore. Best of all is a little model of a house that have had for ages, don’t even remember where I got it. It is this beautiful little thing, the perfect little house that I would ever want to build with the front door at the end of a long flight of stairs, another entrance in front, a stone wall on the side with a door leading to, probably, a library, ivy running up the walls, a skylight on top….I have always loved this model. Below all this stands an antique wooden box I bought recently, one with six little drawers and the cutest designs in bronze on top.

I hate admitting this, but there are also two McDonald’s Happy Meal toys that I keep, souvenirs from trips to that horrible place with friends (I hate the food there, the people I went with are the only reason I keep these). A metal deer, some Rajasthani puppets, key chains from Kochi, Singapore, Delhi, apsaras from Bangkok, a little Taj Mahal, a metal lamp, a coconut shell tray that holds my jewelry from Bangkok again, some wooden hand painted whistles, a framed tribal painting….. Gosh, I just realized, my house is rather full!

There is something about souvenirs that bind you to a memory, to a day long ago when you were at a different place with different people. Pictures capture the moment there, anecdotes enliven a conversation, people amuse you awhile but souvenirs are what help you retain that memory. To me, my travels are condensed into these little things, they hold my memories, reminisces of another me, of another part of the world, of beautiful lands and the stories that I tell.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Bangkok Story---Part II

Part two of my Bangkok story……

A bit of shopping and souvenir hunting done alone (the best part of it all), we had to go to this huge mall in the city centre. Since it was a work related trip, we had to take in several malls, despite none of us being quite interested in them. Malls there are just like those you would find anywhere else, though they were much more spacious than those in Bangalore. Some were so huge that our poor feet got sore walking from one end to the other.

We saw several international brand stores, some traditional Thai artifacts, listened to some pleasant music, saw tons of Thai youth… After a whirlwind tour of malls and some more shopping, we were taken to this show at Siam Niramit. And that was simply wow! It is advertised as the greatest show on Earth and though that might be disputable, it was certainly one amazing piece of art and technology I saw.

Read the story I wrote for Sunday Express magazine section about Siam Niramit here.

An exhausting day over, mot of us were done for the day, though some in our group went out to see the notorious Bangkok night life. The next day was more relaxing, the highlight being a nice, really nice and long foot massage I got. Thai body massages are very well known, by the way.

In all, it was a nice trip, I would say, though a very short one. Like I said earlier, there was nothing extraordinary I found about the city. It reminded me of several other cities I have been to. Though if you look closer, there are several uneasy things too.

Bangkok is known as the sex capital of the world and I could see why. Every few minutes, I saw an aging/bald/middle aged/fat/rich white man walking by the street with a gorgeous/skimpily dressed/very young/stylish/poor Thai girl. Politely they are called escorts of course. But just a cursory glance was enough to see what exactly was going on. The girls would cling on to the men, make them pay for their shopping and give them company in return for a few days and weeks. The girls I must say were all beautiful, often classy even, with beautiful clothes on, high heels, lovely skin and makeup. But when you examine the conditions they live under, it is heart wrenching.

At the airport, I picked up a book called Sex Slaves- The Trafficking of Women in South Asia, I forget the name of the author. In it, she examines the reasons and methods by which women get trapped into sexual slavery. A very disturbing book. Several examinations of the Thai society talked of how the flesh trade was not viewed the way it was seen in most other countries. Parents of little girls in rural Thailand seemingly even encourage them to get into the trade as it would bring in not merely food for the family, but also a TV for the house, better clothes and a better lifestyle. The beauty I saw on the faces of these girls were but another makeup they wore to accentuate their naturally straight hair and good skin, a fa├žade to the lives they led. What they get is momentary company, a small glimpse into a rich, jet set life, a diversion to the tourist on the look out for some fun during the holidays.

It was extremely disturbing to see such couples everywhere in Bangkok. Nothing is discreet. It was as if poverty and social conditions had removed even the last shreds of dignity and hope that held the Thai society together. A beautiful culture, a beautiful people, victim to that age old demon of poverty, of wants, of not having a means to a better life. It is very sad indeed.