Thursday, July 22, 2010

Of Vacations and Hippies!

        It has been quite some time since I took off on an impromptu vacation. Last evening, when a friend mentioned it, I told him I was totally in the mood for a vacation, the only condition being that the crowd must consist of people who don’t get into ‘picnic’ mode. I don’t know how it works for you guys, but for me, it really does not work if the crowd travelling with me on the trip consists of people who get into “picnic” mode and start getting all hyper-excited about it. You know what I mean? There is always one guy in the group, who draws up a “strict” plan and crams the itinerary with a list of a dozen “must-visit” places. So basically, when the trip finally happens, it’s going to be a string of “go,see,click pics-run to the next spot” events. That’s so damn boring! And then there is the “hoarding of snacks” ritual. One person runs to the food market, packs up heaps and heaps of chips, cola, chocolates and other blah stuff. A little food is always good. But these guys go overboard and start piling the cart as if they are never ever going to see food ever again in their lives. And more than half the travelling time is spent in digging into the pile of snacks, pulling out a pack of chips and munching on it like noisy racoons :-|
         Another major turn off for me are these mindless, juvenile games that people come up with. The occasional fun game is ok. But if you have plans of spending the entire time on the road, playing “truth or dare”, “ antakshari” and similar kiddo stuff, no thanks, I would rather sleep through the entire journey than get myself into singing loud, throat-wrenching, blaring bollywood songs , which by the way, people never seem to run out of, thanks to the consistency with which our movie industry churns out the noisy crap. I mean seriously, who would want to croak and induce headaches, when you can actually spend the time sitting by the window, watching the little towns and villages pass by and enjoy being on the road? Call me boring if you will, but half the joy of going on a trip lies in the journey itself, and the other half is in the destination. And I like my journey to be a time meant for myself, to indulge and do things that I enjoy doing…An interesting conversation with a fellow traveler, a good book , lilting melodies from a flute and even doing absolutely nothing suits me just as fine. Anything…except noisy bollywood naach-gaana!
         The fondest memory I have of a vacation is of this trip to a beachfront, where we spent an entire night on the beach, in the pitch dark night, sitting around a campfire, the sea roaring away in a distance, the sound of the waves amplified by the stillness of the noise, half the people around the campfire were strangers who were hanging out at the nearby shack, eating their dinner and got lured to the warmth of the campfire :) It was an amazing night...full of stories from people we barely knew and people we would never even see again. Anonymity is such an aphrodisiac. Stories that would never be told in familiar company came out that night, with wicked details! It is just this kind of break that I yearn for. Where every conversation is a new discovery and every stranger is an acquaintance waiting to happen! Where you remember their faces only with the glow of the fire on it and where the night grows into dawn and yet there are stories waiting to be told.Where at five in the morning, everyone just get up and walk back into their shacks, feeling lighter in the heart and richer in experience!
         It is such breaks, free from the drone of the incessantly ringing mobile, the boring hours spent in conference calls at work and free from the lure of the social networking sites, that we need once in a while to recharge the life forces running through us..
        While I write about the amazing night, the image of the American hippie, who sat at a distance from the campfire, crosses my mind. The lady and her male companion were both drunk and high on weed and totally out of their senses. They hardly ever spoke, but sat through the entire night, staring at the group around the campfire through their glazed eyes. Once in a while, she got up and wandered around aimlessly for a minute or two and then went back to sit with her friend who was now lying down on the sand like the Vitruvian man. In the morning, when we were all walking back to the cottage, an Indian roadside Romeo, waiting for the crowd to leave, approached her and asked her name. “Nancy Drew” she said. I am not sure if that was her real name, but it cracked it me big time :D Sunday evening, when we were packing up to leave, Nancy Drew and the Vitruvian man were sitting in the front porch of their cottage, looking as normal as ever in all their hippie glory (tie dyed clothes and all)! We saw the Roadside Romeo talking to them in his broken English, grinning from ear to ear, while his group of friends, whom we fondly named The Hardy Boys, stood ogling at Nancy Drew. There is something incredibly alluring about hippies :D
       Bangalore has it’s share of hippie tourists and whenever I see one, I am reminded of Nancy Drew :D Thanks to her, all my childhood images of Nancy Drew, conjured in my mind while I read about her, are now heavily altered..LOL..Not that I mind it one bit ;) Nancy Drew just became cooler :D
       Talking about hippies, here’s a link to watch my favourite hippie songstress :D Enjoy!
                                             Phoebe you rock!!
God...From vacations to hippies...Am I on a roll or what!!
Here's to happy times people!! Cheers! :)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A tribute to my Thatha - the best man in my life

      The past weeks have easily been the most painful weeks of my 25 years of existence. The loss of my beloved grandpa or ‘Thatha’ as I used to call him, has left behind a void that can never be filled.On July 2nd this year, the worst fear of my life, one that I have dreaded every day of my life, came true when my otherwise robust and healthy grandpa slipped into a coma induced by a fever that lasted for less than 2 days. He breathed his last in peace, unaware of the pain that was eating away his life. For a life so nobly lived, any other form of death would have been blasphemous.
       I was 2 years old, too young to realize the finality of death, when I lost my father. In spite of having lost a parent at that young age, I never really did experience his absence, thanks to my grandpa who effortlessly slipped into the role of a father, doing all that he could to keep his daughter and his grandchildren safe under his expert care. My summer holidays every year, were blissfully spent at my grandpa’s palatial home in his native village, which has stood witness to many a happy times that our huge family has spent in its vast expanse. People from the streets, children who had lost their parents, students who could not afford their fees, old people who were on their death-beds and many such people, not related to our family in anyway, became a part of our family when my grandpa took it upon himself to feed,clothe,nurture and educate them. He was selflessness personified. People who lived through his youth were lucky enough to witness his deeds, but for us, every little story we hear about our grandpa, makes our hearts swell out with pride.
     During my childhood days, I have stood witness to his extreme generosity and love. His love was understated. He never really hugged and kissed us. But when we saw him sitting in the front yard, listening to our stories intently, the gleam in his eyes spoke about his love for us. Whenever he visited us at our home in Bangalore, he came home carrying a load of luggage, packing up goodies made by grandma, fresh produce from my grandma’s garden, grains from his fields, chocolates from the neighbourhood bakery and his favourite snack, dumroti, specially cut into little triangles for us to share. Not once did he walk in empty handed. We used to sit around him, eagerly waiting for him to unpack all that he had brought for us. Right up to the last time he visited us in the month of May this year, my grandpa treated us like little kids who loved surprises, always walking in with something for us, tucked safely away into his deep pockets.
      I still remember that summer day in 1994, when he saw me writing a story, sitting by the water tank behind our home. He immediately insisted that I post the story to Champak, my favourite fortnightly magazine during those days. Half an hour later, I was posting my handwritten story into an envelope, while my grandpa proudly told the village postmaster that his granddaughter was a budding writer. If not for him, I, a fourth grader at that time, would never have had the courage to pursue my hobby seriously. Five years later, when my first article got published in THE HINDU, I proudly showed it to my grandpa. Half the village knew about it when I reached there for my 9th grade summer vacations! The summer nights were spent in our front yard, lying next to him, watching the sky, full of stars and listening to his stories, full of knowledge and wisdom. My grandfather was a farmer. A man who tilled his land to fill his stomach. But the knowledge he had of the outside world and the keen interest he expressed in learning more, was rarely surpassed by any other gentleman his age. His collection of books was amazing and he spent all his free hours reading and re-reading his favourite books. For someone who held the responsibility of running such a huge family, pursuing hobbies would be a distant dream. But my grandpa made time for his books and remained a student right up to his last days, learning all that he could from them.
      At my grandfather’s funeral, many a stranger’s eyes wept as he was laid down to rest. Later, standing there, alone, and lost in the crowd, I overheard stories of how he had helped the poor labourers in the village conduct the weddings at their home, by buying the mangalsutra( The Indian equivalent of a wedding ring, it’s a chain worn by the married Indian women) for their daughters. My grandfather was no rich man himself, but he always had enough to spare for a needy soul. If anyone of us can live up to a fraction of what my grandpa has done, we will earn ourselves a happy place in heaven. That is how selfless this man was.
     Every important milestone in my life was achieved in his presence and he always made it a point to discuss my plans each time I met him. He enquired after my working hours, my team, where I would have my lunch, was it safe to stay out late? Considering the fact that I worked in the software industry, one would believe that my job would be alien to him. But my grandpa floored me completely when he spoke about the board of directors of the company I worked at, how much profit we had made that year etc. He had his own quiet way of knowing things. Understated, sophisticated and perfect.
     He was 84 this year. And even at this age, he refused to give up tilling his land and attended to his fields with utmost love and devotion. He was the King in our lives, the Supreme Court of our family, our very own Majesty. His dignified presence added a strange kind of divinity to any family gathering. Not one person in the house had the courage to raise his voice is my grandpa’s presence. Not out of fear, for my grandpa never raised his voice himself, but out of the respect that my grandpa so naturally deserved. Our home in the village now echoes with silence and each time someone laughs in the courtyard, a little part of me hopes it’s my grandpa.
     He has left behind my lovely grandmother, who has been the pillar of strength is my grandpa’s life. It breaks my heart to watch her weep in sorrow at her loss. My pain is incomparable to hers. Theirs was a strong, happy, married life of close to 60 years that lasted the test of time. They have been through the happiness, the sorrow, the pain and the laughter together, sharing everyday of their lives in each other’s presence. Theirs was a special kind of relation that needed no exchange of words for a message to be conveyed. One glance, one look at each other and they would have spoken a million words between themselves. In their own special way, my grandparents were deeply in love with each other and that true love reflected in everything that they did. My strong belief in the institution of marriage stems from the divine union of my grandparents that has unfolded the true sanctity of a marriage right before our eyes. It hurts me deeply to watch one half of this strong bond now gone. But it’s a transitory phase in this world. True bonds of love carry on to attain eternity in the other world and I am sure my grandparents love will continue to live forever.
     With him gone, a huge part of my emotional strength has been drained. Not a day goes by without fervently wishing for him to come back. Death’s finality is finally seeping into my head. But the fact that my grandpa has gone to a better place, rightly deserved by him for all the good deeds that he did during his lifetime, gives me solace. And the fact that I was lucky to have Him as my Grandfather and spend 25 years of my life under his guidance and care makes me feel proud. I thank God for giving me the best grandpa in the world and pray that I get him back as my child someday, so that I can do unto him, all that he has done for me.
     During his lifetime, my grandpa was a living God. Now, he is God himself and I find myself going to bed every night, directing my prayers and wishes to him. He never left any of my wishes unfulfilled and now I rest in peace with the belief that He will answer my prayers and continue to keep us under his able care.
     When you were around, I never really thanked you and I know you never expected it either. But Thatha, thanks for being a part of my life. I cannot put into words how much I miss you right now. Someday, we will be united. Until then, continue to be with me and give me the strength to face life without you. Love you with all my heart.....

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