It’s been too long, but things have been hectic. So many times I thought of writing something but nothing felt like worth it. Today finally its desperation that is making me write this. Have you ever been just going about your merry way and then Wham! Out of the blue something hits you so strongly. Your emotions go haywire, brain stops responding. Your body freezes, senses stop working. Ya… and the worst part, this happened to me because of the most ridiculous reason.
I was walking home from work today, and out of nowhere, over my headphones I heard a bark. Call me crazy but it was as if the dog was calling out to me. I stopped turned around. I didn’t even make a sound, but that dog ran out to me. He was so happy… he was so happy…. He kept licking me, biting gently as if unable to contain his joy. And what did I do… I froze. All I could remember was Buddy. I don’t know why, but it was as if every fibre of my body accepted that this was my Buddy.
Why, I mean why, he didn’t look anything like my Buddy. And most importantly my Buddy is dead, I know that, heck I buried him myself. I know it wasn’t him! So why did could I not shake of the feeling.
I forced myself to walk away. I walked away!!!!! Literally dragging my feet away. Why you ask, because my mother wouldn’t allow us to keep another dog. That’s it, that’s the reason I fucking walked away.
He followed of course, happy to be trotting next to me, running ahead a little bit, sniffing in random places. He stayed within a few feet of me. All the while walking those few feet home, I couldn’t think straight, heck I can’t think straight now. I just kept hoping he would try to follow me inside our society compound. I prayed he would. I don’t know why, in some twisted logic, if he tried following me home he was my Buddy. I mean I know it’s ridiculous, he is not my Baby, but I don’t know why even after five years, the instinct came so naturally. I don’t know whether to be relieved or upset that he didn’t even pause. He just trotted back to his place.
He trotted back happily but I…… I don’t even know what I am feeling. I thought I was over this, I thought I had made peace with Buddy’s death a couple of years ago. But all those memories came rushing back today and I am barely keeping my head over the water.
I don’t even remember the last time I posted anything, apologies up front for that. My personal life has been a little to entertaining of late, some good some bad. One of my good friends got married, and one is about to, I made some new friends, got my heart broken, assisted my brother in figuring out his next career move, closed two super big projects (I am personally proud of my performance on those), struggled with my parent’s health etc. etc. that’s life for you, and honestly, I love it. However, all this excitement also made me a little reflective, as it usually does.
As probably everyone knows by now, I travel, a lot. If you ask me, one of the things I absolutely love about travel is the taking off and landing of an air plane. Whenever I leave Delhi, on my way to the destination, the initial thrust of the take-off serves as a snooze for me- somehow it always manages to put me to sleep. Except today, I am writing this mid-flight (I just haven’t felt like writing at any other time), though I have a feeling the triple shot cappuccino has a role to play in that. But yes, back to the point, the take-off serves as a snooze alarm, the landing serves as the gun shot in a race- ready set go. That’s when Akshita the Consultant comes out to play, and Tanu, the over grown child gets put away. When taking off from Delhi I was always love looking at the city and trying to find my home- I usually can see it pretty clearly and for some reason it reassures me.
While coming back, it’s a slightly different experience. While taking off from the city, I like looking at the city- a fond good bye (well 90% of the times it is fond) and a thank you for the memories. The thrust at this time serves as the finish line- Akshita the Consultant usually goes for a break at this time. However, the best feeling in the world- touching down in Delhi. Somehow it always fills me with a sense of peace, of homecoming – and I instantly feel tired. People say you get this kind of feeling when you return home to your mother and allow her to take care of you. For all of its fault- Delhi has always been my home and always fills me with the same sense of comfort that my home does. Of course, that’s only till I hit the roads and the inevitable traffic jams.
However, the other day, I passed the airport on my way to work, and noticed something I learned to tune out as a kid- numerous people standing by the main road, waiting to watch an air plane take off. That got me thinking, they were all adults and had undoubtedly seen numerous planes in their life time,, so why stop. Why wait- sometimes as long as 30 minutes, just to see a flight take off. What is it that makes us want to show this spectacle to our kids. That is one of my fondest memories- sitting on the roof of my car, or my dad’s shoulders watching the magic of physics play out.
Is it just that – the thrill of physics? Or is it imagining yourself in one of them? Imagining what it feels like to experience it from the inside? Or maybe they are remembering their childhood memories- reliving the good ones, just like me. Or is it more philosophical? The reaffirming of the faith that we Humans; are the masters of innovation. That there is next to little that we can’t achieve if we really put our minds to it? Is it the manifestation of the whole idiom of try and try till you succeed? Though I doubt people are really thinking of the Wright brothers and other’s struggle to come up with the flying machine. Or is it the feeling of freedom, of an escape from reality and the mundane problems, while fighting everything stopping us and moving against us?
I suppose each of those people stopping there have their own reasons and it could be any or neither of the ones I thought off. I just know one thing, even after more than 100 flights in my own lifetime; I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the spectacle. When the front wheels left the ground, I had an unexplainable feeling of satisfaction.
So here is to freedom, to having enough thrust and power within us, to defeat the odds. To overcome the hurdles life sets in front us. Leaving behind every naysayers- everyone who said (or says) you can’t do it, of conquering each and everys fear and leaving behind obstacles in a blaze of fire (Ok fine, air planes don’t have fire coming out of them in normal circumstances, but you get the meaning). Here is to each and every one of us being our own air planes.
Each site visit is different; each travel is a story that deserves to be told. Some for the fun, some for adventure, some for the life altering experiences they are, some for the sadness and loneliness they bring. No matter what, each story deserves to be told. As I sit in the Mumbai airport, waiting to go home, there is a sense of Melancholy.
The last 10 days in the city have almost flown by. Mumbai is one of the cities I love coming to. I have friends here, some at work and some outside and they always try to make me feel welcome. My mother once accused me of using my travel to escape, escape my family. I forgave her a long time ago, but those words still sting. I agree at some level travel is a much-needed escape, and I understand why she, who doesn’t have to, would resent my travel.
But see the thing is, my mother hears my stories, hears of the fun I have. What she doesn’t hear, what she will never know, is the times, when I have been lonely in a hotel room without anyone to talk to, when I can’t sleep because the bed isn’t my bed. She will never know of the times it felt weird because the toothbrush I used wasn’t my usual one (I have a separate one for my travel kit), where my towel didn’t feel the same. She won’t know of the times when I had no hot water, but still took a bath, because I stunk. She won’t know of the times when I got acidity burns because of the food I had to eat for days on end, or when I almost threw up because I was so repulsed by it. My brother will never know how many times I think of him. How many times I crack a joke that no one’s get, no one will get but him. They won’t know how many times I have been scared out of my mind because I can’t get through to them. How scared I was when I was held captive by some local villagers or when I was almost arrested in a foreign country for no fault of ours.
My home is troubled, yes, but my family is my safety net, and when I travel, when I am on site, I don’t have that.
We were having a discussion in office the other day about our favourite sites to work on. That basically got me thinking and motivated me to start penning (or blogging, whatever) my all time favourite site visits. In the past I have usually blogged about current site visits. However, this series will be completely a trip down memory lane.
The first site visit that comes to my mind, is Amlapuram. Amlapuram is a small coastal town in Andhra Pradesh, known for its oil and gas industries and made popular by a Bollywood song. That is all I knew of the place when I was told I had to go do a project there. The site visit was for an expansion of an existing project and was in a remote corner of the town, far cut off from population. While now I remember the project with fondness, it was one of the worst site visits I have ever undertaken.
Let me try and paint you a picture. The town was so small, that it had no hotels, just one lodge. The lodge thankfully had clean rooms, but no restaurant/kitchen. We had to order food from a nearby restaurant. That restaurant had a five page menu, boasting of dishes from north India, south India and Chinese! However, no matter what we ordered, even Chinese, it was always the same curry. The only way we could tell Chinese apart from Indian was because for Chinese, they used diced vegetables ! We landed up eating biryani for seven days. It was thankfully quite delicious.
We would daily drive out of the town for about 2 hours, to our site and do our work. This was such a remote location that there was no source of food. If we wanted lunch, we would have to drive back to town. Also, the restaurant did not have a facility for packing us lunches. So basically we had the following options: a. no lunch, b. have lunch in town but lose an additional 4 hours a day just travelling, c. eat bananas for lunch. Guess which option we chose? yup, every day we would buy a big bunch of local bananas and a bottle of Mazza (a mango drink), in the morning, and that would be our lunch. This continued for seven days.
On top of that, we were in a coastal town, in summers. This meant that the average temperature was 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and humidity was over 80%, no matter what time of day. Basically what this meant was that by the end of the first day, we were already tanned and I looked as if someone had tried to write braille on my face.
The next issue we faced was language. Our Telegu (local language of Andhra Pradesh) speaking colleagues were all unavailable for this site work. So the team was comprised of people who spoke Hindi and English. Which is usually fine, except for no one, not one soul, seemed to understand either languages! not even our drivers. Though thankfully they understood the words ‘go’ and ‘stop’, but that was it! we eventually had to resort to hand gestures to communicate. Try finding directions to a government department or locating a person’s residence without knowing the language, its really fun. Not.
But then why is this trip one of my most memorable trips? All because of one day. Towards the end of our visit, it turns out was the Telegu new year. What this meant was that we couldn’t get any work done that day, since no one was available. So we decided to spend the day on the beach, with our biodiversity expert, helping him identify the biodiversity along the shore. Basically what that meant was that I spent a day collecting sea shells and watching crabs fool around. The beach was completely deserted and it was just us three for over 5 hours! Heaven!
you cant see the crabs, but this is the trail they would leave
After this amazingly peaceful day, we headed back, in search of proper food for a change. On our way up to the city, we noticed a small room (it was literally a room) tucked away in a corner by the road, completely obscured by the vegetation around it. But the board outside it indicated that there was food to be had. So we stopped and asked (again by hand gestures) if they had any food we could eat. Lo and behold! This small little place, with a capacity of seating six people, was serving the traditional new year’s feast! Sadly I don’t have a photograph of that. But it was by far the most amazing meal I had had in God know’s how long. Simply cooked, served on a banana leaf, the food was amazing in the affection put it into it, which in my opinion always translates into taste. more than 3.5 years down the line, when I think of that afternoon and that food, I can’t help but smile.
So yes, Amlapuram is definitely one of my favourite site visits ever.
Approximately one year ago a small country (approx. the size of Arkansas) witnessed one of its worst natural disasters, possibly the worlds worst natural disaster in recent history. This was followed by numerous after shocks (more than 5600 and 4312 recorded landslides till date) and finally another major earthquake a month later. For weeks the whole world rallied to help, every eye was on this small country and its people, with ‘help’ pouring in from all corners, in the shape of food, shelter, medicine, clothes and donations.
That was a year ago. As is usually the case, the world soon found more interesting stuff to focus on, NGOs found new target areas and objectives and slowly everyone exited the place. While last year there were more than 200-300 NGOs in a district in Nepal, now only 20-30 remain, of which not even half are actually doing work.
I had the privilege or fortune of being in Nepal last year in January and February and had been pained to hear that the place I had spent almost a month in was almost completely annihilated. This year I got a chance to go back again, and see first hand how everything is even after a year.
When we reached Kathmandu, I was apprehensive and then as the day passed on, impressed and shamefuly a little let down. Looking at Kathmandu you couldn’t say it had suffered so much. All that was visible were a few broken walls. But otherwise life seemed to have gone back on track. How I regret my thoughts now. Despite the fact that one of the primary aims of my visit was to understand how the earthquake had impacted a specific district (as usual no names or locations can be disclosed), it almost felt like nothing major had happened. As if the earthquake was no more than a bad memory.
How I wish I could take those thoughts back, for it is the interiors of the country that you truly see the devastation of the quakes. A year on, people are still living in shelters, their families dead, houses destroyed, livestock and livelihoods lost. while some camps are located on government land, most of the camps are established on private land, which has been procured by the local community themselves on rent. Everyone recounts with saddening clarity those first few days, where due to the nature of the terrain in the country and time taken to mobilise enough relief, they spend days on top of the mountains, injured, hungry and scared for their lives. While most injured were eventually evacuated by choppers, the healthy had to find their own way down the mountains, where no one was sure of when the next aftershock or landslide would hit. Those who passed away in this were crudely buried only to get a proper funeral weeks later when their family dared come back.
A year on, people are still residing in the relief shelters made, dependent on charity for food and basic supplies. While earlier most had a sustenance livelihood of agriculture and livestock, now most are dependent on a few days of wage labour for running their houses.
The people are ready to move on with their life’s, but also express apprehension over what that means. They don’t own any land in the camp areas, the land they do own may not be safe and is full of horrific memories. The government wasn’t able to help most set up their camps and now doesn’t have a clear stand on where the people should go, how they will be resettled. The INGOs working with them are ending their projects and withdrawing, the NGOs are running out of money and sponsorship.
Furthermore, the agreements for the land for the camps were only for a year. Thus it is possible that come June, these camps may have to be dismantled and the people forced to move to another location or worse, back to their villages. Even if that doesn’t happen, they will have to pay a higher rent, along with continued costs of electricity, food and medical bills. Add on top of this, the fact that disease, rising cost of living, human trafficking (especially of children), threats to women safety and overall vulnerability are rising, the picture isn’t pretty. And the world seems to have forgotten.
We need a revolution by Sachin Garg, is a book that I believe was released in February 2016, however since the book doesn’t have a publishing date I am not so sure. I came across this book while window shopping at a crossword store in the Bangalore airport in India. Let me be honest, I have not heard of this author or book before, but the title got me intrigued. Also, what interested me was that it was apparently a book on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which form one of the most secluded and southern tip of India. I have always been fascinated by the Islands as I like to call them and have them on my bucket list of places to visit in the country. I don’t know much about the islands, but have friends who have worked there as part of their doctorates and so I have heard a lot of stories. Of course, the islands also have a place in our colonial history, when they were primarily used as a place to exile anyone who caused too much trouble, what was called ‘Kaali Paani’.
To give a quick summary of the book, it is based in the Andaman Islands and charts the story of a young couple who come to Islands for a visit and leave with a different world view and empathy for the plight of the aboriginals residing in the Islands. Samar and Navya, are on their last leg of the journey when Samar gets arrested for disorderly conduct. That is where he meets the intriguing and mysterious Shubhrodeep Shyam Chaudhary and gets exposed to a different world view and gets involved with a British activist, a Muslim lawyer (read the book to understand why his religion is important) and Shubhro himself, in their fight to protect the Jarawa tribes (one of the last, quickly dying, aboriginal tribes in the Islands, now number around 300-400 individuals in total). I won’t go into the details of the book or their struggle as that would spoil it for everyone who wants to read it. The book, in short is about how a revolution is needed for the Jarawas, as was said by a freedom fighter, Bhagat Singh, “you need an explosion to make the deaf hear you” (loosely translated from Hindi). The book attempts to highlight the plight of a section of citizens of the country, a section that most “mainstream population” don’t even know about, forget give equal rights to. Citizens, who are no more than tourist attractions or worse, hurdles in the land grab race.
I discussed this book with a friend who works in the Islands, and she rightly pointed out that the book does not do justice to the Islands or the people. If you want to develop an understanding of the Jarawas or the Islands, this book is not the way to go. I completely agree. While this book is set in the Islands and is focused on the Jarawas, it is definitely an outsider’s perspective. The Islands are this amazing place, characterised by a unique ecology and way of life. However, the book sadly, fails to capture that. However, in the defence of the writer, I don’t think that the intent of the book was to provide such an insight, and if it was, then he failed splendidly.
The book serves better as a lesson in humanity, in the apathy that has set amongst all of us, especially us ‘civilized’ people and the need to end it now! It’s a story not about the Jarawas, but about five people who decided to do something about the injustice they were witness to. Each came with their own motivations, some because they had lost the purpose to live, some because it was their job, some because they saw a similarity in a past injustice done to them and some simply because they had to be with the one they loved. Each person’s motivation was different, but what kept them together was the simple desire to do something! In that sense, it’s definitely a thought-provoking book, a book that makes you reflect.
However, having said that, I have one major issue with this book, and I seem to have this with most of the works I read, it doesn’t sell the characters to me. The story is interesting and thought-provoking but not gripping! it doesn’t keep me at the edge of my seat. I am known to be an emotional person, and can cry at anything really, and if you manage to invoke my empathy; then beware of the waterworks. However, this book, I didn’t feel anything, not enough anger, not enough outrage, not enough joy, not enough pain and not enough triumph. I had no stake in the characters, I had no personal interest in them and most of the relationships didn’t make sense, simply because the author did not make an attempt to make them! Shubhro is an incredibly interesting character and had my interest peaked in his introduction, but that is where it ended. The book is narrated through another character, and thus does not provide enough insight into any of the other characters.
Overall, I felt one major problem with the story telling and that was that it was not very good story telling! It was more a loose narration of events, devoid of human emotions. Like I said before, this is something I feel is a problem with a lot of the writers today, the books don’t emote enough! Human connect and emotion is what gets people going, and some of the best writers are those who are able to tap into that, J. K. Rowling, J. R.R Tolkien, G. R. R Martin to name a few. Unfortunately this book doesn’t do that.
In my opinion, this book isn’t bad by any means, but it isn’t mind-blowing either, so overall a B!
An American actor, Misha Collins once said, “I want to live in a world where being normal is considered an insult.” A similar theme was adopted in the Indian movie ” Tamasha” which highlighted the importance of accepting the differences amongst individuals and not trying to fit everyone into one mold, and on an individual to search for a purpose of life for oneself without being restricted by societal standards. I think these are lovely thoughts, where difference and uniqueness would be valued and cherished.
However, these also led me to introspect a little bit today, and I found that surprise surprise; I am one of those who constantly walks the line. I am one of the hundreds who get up every morning, rush mindlessly to work, come back home and finish my day in front of the idiot box and scrub and repeat the next day.
I am not unique, I am not someone who is looking to fulfil some larger destiny. I am not destined for greatness, or even to be remembered by many after I am gone. But surprisingly I am okay with it. I am ordinary person, who will probably only matter to a handful of people. The most important work/achievement I will probably have in my life will amount only to my family. But what is the harm in that.
Today, nerd is the new sexy. Today the buzz word is to be different, to be a rule breaker. But isn’t it more important to be happy, content and at peace with yourself. Yes, its a good thing to embrace those who want to color outside the lines so to speak, but that should not result in those who do stay within the lines being declared weak. There are some who are born to make a difference by doing amazing grand unique things. On the other hand, there are those who are meant to serve a purpose by just being ‘ordinary’.
So don’t worry if you are ordinary or unique! embrace your personality and don’t apologize. I am completely ordinary and I refuse to apologize for it.