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A Traveler's Saga

Photo taken at Plitvice National Park, Croatia by Vibhor Dhote Oh! What are these days I have found myself in! The bagpacks I carry n...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Atrocity in a Smart-City - Bhubaneswar

I haven’t had a decent cup of tea in a long time – the kind that refreshes you within seconds. Bhubaneswar has no dearth of tea stalls that do not shy in putting enough milk in the cup. However, the hot weather doesn’t allow one to drink as many cups of tea as one would have while living in Guwahati.

After the third cup of the day, I feel nauseas. And when tea isn’t there to sweep you off your worries, everything else starts bothering you.

When I first landed in the city last year in September I was impressed by how the cabs arrive just minutes after you’ve booked one, how the roads are free of potholes in the major parts of the city, how the highway helps me travel anywhere in twenty minutes even when I live a little outside of the main city.

Perceptions do not take long to change and I am now often reminded of the quote in Sanskrit that says दूरस्थाः पर्वताः रम्याः – the hills look lovely but only from a distance. For when you see them closely, you see the unevenness, when you try to know them, you experience the climb.
Bhubaneswar, for me, despite its geological evenness, has been a climb.

At first it seems to be a peaceful lazy city. Most shops would put their shutters down in the day-time so that they could go for their siesta after indulging in a rice-full meal. There won’t be any hustle-bustle in the streets after 10pm so that it would appear to be almost post-midnight. There would be crowds with families near temples or any other touristy locations on weekends. The people here would swear by their beaches, suggesting me often to go take a visit to Puri or Konark, and if possible, both.
Konark, Odisha

I loved the dalma in the Oriya thali we would often have for lunch; I would rejoice to see luchis occasionally on the breakfast menu. I would go to restaurants and enjoy anything that was served- everything had a good taste. The Oriya thali would have a lot of varieties when you opt for veg but only the meat curry with salad when you go non-veg; but that’s the culture here, I would say. And in the evenings when I wouldn’t have much to worry about, I would go for the latest trash movie to happily waste a couple of hours of my day. But those were the times when Domino’s was still serving Pepperoni Pizza in India.

Times have changed now and it’s been a little more than four months since I moved here. Now I know this place enough to realize that the peaceful city from a distance holds in itself innumerous quarrels on a day-to-day basis, most quarrels would arise for no reason. Being one of the poorest state of India, things don’t work here (not even in the capital) the same way it does in most cities – the prices of meals are low and so are the certainty of any service being done or product being delivered even though you pay handsomely for it, more so if you pay in advance. People may not mean what they say in other places, people may not stick to their words; in this city, you can be certain that they won’t. You can trust only a handful of people and that would be it. Whatever happened to meeting great strangers in my history of traveling?

I lost my trust in professionalism here ever since my rummage for a flat began. How easily I had found a place in Delhi when I was 20 and in Mumbai when I was 22 from brokers who would look no less than goons. Here a sweet lady broker outsmarted me big time for putting too much trust on her words.

Now I know the roads of the city well enough to comment on the rules of the road here – while I love the dancing traffic personnel (see Youtube videos to know more) I absolutely hate sitting shotgun while traveling here. The less you observe the unruly movement of the vehicles, the less you’d worry for your life.

Now I know professionalism in the city well enough to not expect to be served a glass of water unless I ask for so.

Now every time I go to a restaurant I cannot un-see how bad the management or the service is, how this lazy peaceful city gets restless when they are asked to work- for the coffee shop waitress would be quick enough to say no to the menu item you choose without offering you an alternative you would prefer, for the restaurant waiter would be quick enough to say the option you choose is going to take longer than expected.

“How long?”

“Sir… oops, Madame, fifteen minutes.”

“I don’t mind.”

The waiter would then take the order oblivious to the fact that fifteen minutes isn’t long for a restaurant cooking fresh meals. Pardon the joke, but customer service isn’t really the forte because people here are so afraid of their bosses that they might as well disappoint a repeat customer.
If you’re a woman in Bhubaneswar, do not mind if people call you “Sir” by mistake. They are not used to madams in their lives. At first I thought it was because I hadn’t threaded my faint moustache off.

 It took me some time to accept that it had nothing to do with my appearance, that most women aren’t treated with the same respect the men are, when female colleagues would share similar stories- experiences I can’t pen down.

An acquaintance of mine once told me- people here are not used to fiercely independent women like you, give the city some time. Now all I can do is give it some more time…

Sunday, April 8, 2018

When I Stopped Writing

People I usually meet in person first, often come back to me with this statement later – Oh, I didn’t know you write. Some acquaintances have often declared that I don’t look like someone who would write. I don’t ponder upon such words much but I am slightly bothered by the one I heard last week – “Why did you stop writing?”

I was taken aback. I never stopped writing. Who said I had? So I went back and looked at the source she was referring to- My blog. The last date said October 2017. It’s indeed been 5 months; maybe I did stop writing after all.

The last time I wrote something I was in Rourkela, a peaceful city in Western Odisha where life was as slow as it could get. I moved to the capital, Bhubaneswar in late November where every morning I would wake up late but still manage to write a short poem while rushing on my way to work. Within two months I found myself loaded with responsibilities that made my shoulders bend. I would wake up as early as 6 in the morning, I would dream of work and I would talk of work. And sometimes on a quiet Sunday morning I would wish that I wasn’t so tired so that I could sit and write. ‘Next time,’ I would tell myself.

It’s the fourth month of this year and I don’t see the next time coming any time soon. So I look back to see what I did if not write-
I picked up Ayush’s idea of reading every morning for half an hour and I just finished reading Sadhguru’s Inner Engineering. I feel wiser already.

I learnt to cook some awkward khichdi in the microwave for dinner after work. And even when I forget to put salt in it, it would make me happy just for the fact that I cooked something for myself.
I put great efforts to keep my house clean- something I would never do when I lived in hostels. For home should be a place I look forward to going to from office. For home should bring in nothing but peace.

I slept too early to write. There were nights when I dozed off at 9.30pm and forgot to send my daily reports to my boss which I usually send at 10pm. I would wake up too early but would begin my day with the official daily reports we receive so there was no scope of writing in the morning. I would read when I would make my morning cup of tea.

So I started making tea in the morning for myself. One of the things I look forward to as soon as I open my eyes to welcome the new day.

I worked every day but I also learnt that there is more happiness in doing something unusual than doing the regular work. I started counting only the unusual work as productive. The regular were just duties. It made me unhappy most of the times- mostly when the unusual work wouldn’t turn out to be greatly impactful.

I made friends in events and found cafes to eat and hide for a long time. I discovered restaurants serving Odiya delicacy just the way I like. I found small shops that would serve me tea that would make me forget my worries.

I held hands with adult-ing reluctantly and I would be nostalgic most of the times. I could write then but there was too much to grasp already, too much to understand, some things to react to and some things to digest. Growing up is indeed a trap, but the less I grow now, the more shackled I feel.

So I visit beaches to feel free, and collect shells that would remind me of the vast sea.

I embrace the adult life and I forget to write. So, I listen to new music every morning in the cab so that I would feel just right.

But no matter what I did or what I learnt, and no matter what I am yet to read and yet to learn, there is nothing that makes me happier than the point of time when I sit down to type.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Self-Help Book

He slicks his dark black hair back with his fingers. Outside, it was broad daylight, offering his dark brown eyes a view of the western part of the city. The neighboring tall buildings remind him he is on the 22nd floor of his workplace. He finishes off the remnants of his black coffee, already cold by now. The half-smoked cigarette burns out on the ashtray. He pulls the ropes of his French window and his cabin is no longer reminded of the world outside.

 He turns his swivel chair with the support of his desk to face a laptop in front of him that wastes no time in taking him to another world altogether. The white striped shirt he is wearing with his dark grey tie match the colors on the back of his laptop that flaunt the initials “S. R.”.

An unexpected knock on her door wakes Sheena up from her siesta. She reaches for the yellow dupatta lying carelessly on the other side of the bed, as if it was equally tired from the previous day’s work. She wears the dupatta around her neck covering almost half of the orange kurti she was wearing, and walks to the door wondering who it could be. After all, it wasn’t time for her husband to be back.
“Ma’am, your parcel,” a thin man on the doorstep wearing a cap that shouts out he is a delivery person from an e-store reminds her she had ordered a book a week back. Usually she gets her orders delivered at her office address. This time she had mistakenly entered her home details- a mistake that turned out to be fate for she was home that afternoon. Taking a sick leave when she is not sick helped her this time.
She opened the parcel to find her book perfectly wrapped in thin transparent plastic – Managing Time, the title read.

It was a long and tiring day for Shravan and he kept looking at the clock at his office wall. He couldn’t wait to leave, every day. He couldn’t wait to go back to his home, sleep on the comfortable bed and pick up a book to read. The work drained him but what drained him more were the never ending meetings. He was attending one such meeting – his boss talking, his colleagues nodding their heads and uttering an occasional ‘yes’, him nodding his head as if in a trance where there was no effort required to agree to what was being discussed.

His boss congratulated him for having over-delivered his targets again – completing three projects by the time only one was due. His colleagues clapped - some inspired by his performance, some admitting that it was expected of him, some wondered if the projects were really that difficult and the rest plain jealous. Most of the times Shravan, an excellent reader of expressions, could tell who was feeling what. At other times he was too tired to learn such trivial details about his coworkers. He took another sip of what seemed like his 5th cup of coffee that day, as cold as the drop of sweat that trickled behind his ear. It’s been a tiring day. He couldn’t wait for the weekend.
Sheena tore off the sticker that contained her name and address from the wrapper of the parcel. She had a habit of destroying such stickers – she felt it was safe if her address and phone number is not found in some dustbin picked by some mad man. She had a last look at her name printed in tiny black letters – Mrs. Sheena Rao. Whoever invented salutation must have been a bachelor who made his life-long search of a soulmate easier. Soulmate. What a pretentious word leading to an entire Universe of make-belief!
Sheena decided not to tear the sticker but keep it pasted on the cover of the book with whatever glue was remaining on its back. Her cellphone rang a little to indicate her mail box had a new entrant. She picked up the overpriced cellphone and kept the book on its place.
It was a mail from work, a deliverable she had to submit yesterday but couldn’t. The subject of the mail contained the word ‘Urgent’, and so did the couple of mails right below the latest one. She decided to work on it before her husband came back from work.


Shravan decided to leave the meeting abruptly and go home early. His back was paining from the all-nighter he had put the previous night. As soon as he left the conference room, his boss shook his head in disappointment. The meeting the latter had conducted to inspire the others wouldn’t leave a good example for the other is the star performer had to leave this way. Nevertheless, Mr. Sharma apologized to the team on behalf of his star employee, defending how hard he had to work to deliver all his projects before time.
Shravan found himself in the parking lot only to realize he had left his car keys in his cabin. It took him another half an hour to get back to his cabin on the top floor, before he could run back to his car with the keys he was surrounded by his coworkers congratulating him and asking him why he left the meeting but not the office.
The meeting apparently was already over and he realized he could have just tolerated a few more minutes and save his boss another reason to reduce his increment in the next appraisal meeting. Shravan sighed and set out to go home, this time in a lot more slower and dejected pace.
 He drives his car as slow as a man who had nothing more to be taken away from. All he wanted was his bed a few minutes ago and now he could hardly stop thinking of the bad decision he made at the meeting.
The watchman opens the gate for Shravan’s car to enter while gesturing him to stop for a while. Shravan lowers his window and the man hands him a couple of books. “Sir, some fans had come for your autograph on your book,” he clarified.
Shravan opens the book and writes his best wishes to the reader on the blank first page with a simple note – always value your present.


Sheena had hardly finished her work when the bell rang. Her husband was back and she hadn’t even completed her office work. She hadn’t even taken the rest she had taken a day off for. She opens the door to find her man with slouched shoulders. Another bad day at work. She hugs her husband, Deepak and reassures him for a better tomorrow, like always. She rushes to the kitchen to make tea for both of them. The book she had ordered lies untouched on the bedside table, probably to find the warmth of touch on another holiday. Managing Time by Shravan Rathore.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rest in Peace, Old Friend

Dedicated to Partha Deka, a friend I had known since I was a child, a friend fate had brought to me back this year, only to be taken away again 

Remnants of a smile on a stone-cold face
And maybe you can fool everyone again
That death isn't as painful as we make it to be...
Some tears bottled up from months gone by-
You'd say judge not how one deals with loss...
Dying dreams like drops of dew under a rising sun,
You'd laugh they don't chain your ankles anymore...
We'd cry for we wouldn't know any better
And make stories of your new whereabouts,
Playing MJ songs and laughing at your own jokes...
Or in a make-believe world of hope,
Somewhere in peace in a dreamless sleep...

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Boy in the Train

"You'll always be late for the previous train, and always on time for the next.” 
― Piet Hein

I rejoice whenever I get a window seat on Indian trains whenever it’s a chair car (otherwise Upper Berth would be my spot), more so when it is the last seat near the door, usually marked 4. There’s always more legroom for those who get the last seat. The TTE (Train Ticket Examiner) sits in the same seat on the other column, marked 1, which feels quite safe for a single woman traveller. When I need to leave my seat for a short break, it’s the TT (in short for TTE) who would watch over my luggage. When I need to ask how delayed the train was, it was again the TT, my neighbour for the journey.

However, sitting near the TT comes with other experiences too apart from the sense of security. There would be travellers without a ticket, looking for a vacant seat, who would sit on the TT’s seat itself pretending it’s theirs and later being laughed at, when busted. There would be people coming to him complaining about this or that on the train, disturbing my long-journey-nap.

One such gentleman found his way to the TT quoting a boy disturbing them, begging for money. The TT, a middle-aged man wearing his black-and-white uniform, at once stood up from his seat and followed the young gentleman to find the peeve. I craned my neck to see a little bald head running away at the sight of the TT. A scene deserving a little giggle.

Minutes later, the TT comes back to his seat. Whatever was the issue must have been sorted by now. There’s a little guy wearing a dirty brown shirt and short-pants sweeping the coach with a tiny broomstick. A little bald head, a sheepish smile and a husky little voice that surely needs some spoons of honey to gulp, made him appear adorable to me.

He picked up two empty bottles from the floor and declared decently to the TT in a voice that was yet to attain masculinity, “ye main bottles le raha hu. Mere paas nahi hai na.”

 I smile at him and he smiles at me back. The TT shows approval and advices him all the things we wish to say to little children whenever we find them begging or working. It was evening and the boy had his excuses.

I hand him some money along with a tiny piece of candy, apart from the empty bottle that went to his collection. I realize I cannot abide my own policies of not giving money to beggars and giving them food and an earful of advices instead, so that they choose better paths. The little boy smiles at me, a front tooth missing and my heart melts along with my conscience while he shows off his earnings to the TT.

The boy later finds a sack of rice under one of the chairs and asks the TT, “TT babu, ye kiska hai?”
The TT sits straight alarmingly at his question and then relaxes once he realizes it was an innocuous rice bag. “Hoga kisi ka,” he says casually.

The boy, before leaving the coach, declares his motive, “Last stop tak nahi gaya toh main le lunga.” He smiles at me playfully after stating his point and leaves. The TT says, mostly to himself, “haan, sab le lena.” I cannot stop laughing.

My stop was the last in the train, which was delayed by more than an hour. When we finally arrive at the last stop, I scan my seat one last time. Charger picked up from the plug. The novel I was reading, kept back inside my backpack. My neck-pillow attached to one of the handles on the bag. When I saw there was nothing more I may have missed, I leave the coach to get down from the train.

I secretly wish I didn’t need something I carried, I wish I could leave something usseful to someone else. Somewhere a little boy would be gleefully looking for mistakes and forgetfulness. His little gifts.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Writing like No One's Reading

Write like no one’s reading. The thought came to me on a train journey I hadn’t expected much from. It was always about taking a nap and snoring the distance away for me, avoiding eating anything from the mobile vendors selling dubious tea and untrustworthy coffee. I’d forcefully close my eyes, plug in my earphones, till the point a part of my brain would give up and turn itself off.

It’s different this time- I find myself on a comfortable seat, near the window, with enough leg room to keep both my bags and still not feel suffocated. I couldn’t sleep so I read; I couldn’t read any more so I drifted away in my thoughts- a practice I had left years ago.

Like encountering an old friend on a strange road that somehow feels familiar when you see the friend smile, my thoughts embrace me back. I allow myself the freedom to let them fly away as far as they wish to. I allow myself to steal my waking time to do nothing, instead of occupying myself with thoughtless texting or data analysis work for my job or playing games on the tiny cell-phone screen. ‘Il bel far niente,’ the famous Italian proverb I used to love so much, made itself significant in my life again. The beauty of doing nothing.

And so, it questioned me with the same right an old friend would have of asking if I’ve changed a bit or not, “Where were you all this time?” 

When was the last time I did absolutely nothing, enjoyed it and allowed my thoughts to be? When was the last time I wrote so peacefully?

It was back in 2013 when one of my short-stories got published nationally through a competition in a book that later turned out to be a bestseller. I remember I have been writing ever since I was 10 years old. It would always bring me peace. If it got published, it made my parents happy and that’s it. There was no pride for me in seeing my work published in magazines or newspaper. If there was some remuneration involved, it made me happy for I could indulge in some fancy expensive food item in some restaurant I hadn’t been to before.

But times had to change for me after 2013. My social media usage was at its peak. I was overwhelmed by the messages of appreciation I got frequently. My other short-stories got published in other books too. I started calling myself a writer without knowing what the world truly meant. Of course, I didn’t consider myself an author but a writer for sure. I received mails by readers who would even ask for suggestions and advice. I would respond gleefully.

Things changed for me. I was always a writer, right from when I was just 10. But when I started calling myself one I failed to become one. Expectations of colleagues and bosses and friends and family piled up on my wrists- they asked when I’d publish my novel and my fingers ceased to type.
The next time I’d write even a sentence I’d think what’s in it for the readers. And as I started thinking for the readers – strangers I never met – I stopped thinking what made me happy. So the novel I was working on sat on one corner, covered in dust, untouched, unheard of. It was difficult to meet with all the expecting eyes – in their minds I still was a writer. In reality, I wasn’t.

I stopped writing fiction because it was difficult to write something when so many people were watching – in my head. Is this sentence correct? Would this be something meaningful, something different?

I started writing non-fiction – putting my true feelings and adventures on paper – I couldn’t do that wrong. I was vulnerable with my emotions but that was alright because I owned them. There wasn’t any the-ending-could-have-been-different messages. The beauty of true stories.

Of course, people hardly have the time to read these days. Those who would ping me about my next blog post wouldn’t give a second thought on just dropping a Facebook like on my blogpost and then moving on without reading it. That made me more confident in being so vulnerable about revealing trivial details of my life on my blog. If no one’s reading, what’s the harm? I was amused by people who would start a new blog and ask for advice. I’d ask them – who are you writing it for? I was amused by people who would get their articles printed in some magazine or some book. I’d feel like telling them not to fall in this trap. For I once made the same mistake - an editor would call and demand a story to be written on one theme, I’d feel stressed about not being up to their expectations.

There’s no perfect story. There’s no perfect book. There’s no perfect author. But there’s a perfect writer- the one who would write just for the fun of it. The one who wouldn’t care what one’s readers would want to read. The one who wouldn’t even care if one’s work is not published. The one who would write because one enjoyed doing so. The one who wouldn’t change a word, who wouldn’t change the ending and who wouldn’t read the reviews. The one who wouldn’t convert this art to some exercise that one could do till perfection. The one who wouldn’t edit and re-edit like a taior trying to make the exact match of another outfit. The one who would write because the story has come to oneself and not writing wouldn’t let one be in peace. The one who wouldn’t think of publishers, rejection, critiques and feedback. The one who isn’t writing marketing plans for one’s book to drive sales. The one who’s writing because one wants to. Not an author for the world, but a writer for one’s heart. The one who writes like no one’s reading.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Pee Journey

If you’re someone who has traveled long distances holding the urge to pee and hence, doubtful of drinking another gulp of water, you’ll probably understand what I’m going to talk about.
Every time the vehicle I’m traveling in gets a jerk because of the bumpy road, I fear I’ll get back to being the 5-year old who peed her pants in her sleep.

If you’re a woman and traveling, here are some pee stories that may act as a caveat or a tip for your next journey. :-P

Mumbai to Hyderabad

I remember taking an overnight bus from Mumbai to Hyderabad which I had boarded at 8pm. By 11pm I knew I couldn’t sleep if I didn’t pee. I go to the driver and ask him to stop at a hotel I see ahead. He doesn’t. I stand near him for more than fifteen minutes asking him to stop because I had to pee but he just wouldn’t stop anywhere else but the dhaba he usually stops in. He would say we would reach there in ten minutes. I finally had to hold my pee for around two hours walking to and fro the aisle of the bus, too uneasy to lie down on my sleeper seat. So much for the driver’s fear of losing his commission.

Madrid to Barcelona

We had hired a car and hence, stopped at every fuel station where it was certain that there was going to be a store and a clean washroom awaiting the arrival of my precious pee. I believed in visiting those washrooms even when I didn't really had to pee. 3:-)

Guwahati to Tezpur

Driver decides to give a pee break exactly when I need it. I board the bus at 8am and the driver takes a stop for ten minutes at 10am.

However, there is no proper urinal nearby. All the men in the bus get down from the bus while their female companions stay seated. In front of my eyes I see around ten men, not bothering to go any further or hiding away from our sight, showing their backs to the bus and the people in it, taking various spots in the land in front of us and peeing their heart out. After ten minutes the bus starts again and no one bothers if the women wanted to pee too. It stops later for lunch in front of a dhaba at 11.30am and the women then finally get to queue in front of a morbid toilet.

Hyderabad to Mumbai

The driver was so nice that he stopped the bus only for me and my pee at 8am even when I was just one hour away from my destination, even when it was my mistake that I didn’t wake up at 6am for their breakfast stop.

Gurgaon to Jaisalmer

There are few chai shops on the way as we get closer to the destination. Some toilets are so dirty that it is safer for women to pee outside in the open to avoid germs climbing their way up. This is because when you sit and pee the probability of catching germs is way higher than when you’re standing. Those sexist E. Coli bacteria. Damn!

 Traveling indeed gets difficult when one’s monthly chums have come for a visit and you don’t find a decent washroom. During those days, I make sure to then find a decent restaurant that would have all the sanitation facilities required. In case you don't, hold the thought and the pee. It’s never safe to pee anywhere especially when you’re on your periods. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Binary Life

My car moved when I typed 1
It stopped at each 0
I type 1 and the lights were on,
At every 0, it was dark again...

I look away from the perfect screen
Through a glass window covered with dirt,
And I see beyond the translucence
A dimly lit house on the hillside,
A broken door left ajar,
A worn out roof that'd still let
A few raindrops seep in,
A man limping his way home
the way he would have run if he could.
I see the imperfections 
Of the enormous tree
Under which a child could still be drenched-
One drop at a time.

I see a half-torn ten dollar bill,
Lying near some worm-ridden mangoes
The owner of the tree couldn't pluck on time,
Useless as both could be, the way
A writer would think away his time,
Without words to put on the paper.

I come home late at night
Another day of programming  LEDS
and wheels of the tiny robot car,
Coding 1 or 0, I kill my day,
Only to find my night dimly lit
Like the house on the hillside,
Not dark enough,
Not bright enough.
I paint the walls of my room white,
The furniture in it- all black
Only to find my life a little grey-
Impossible to love,
Improbable to hate..

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dark Nights of Plitvice: Croatia, Europe

My stories of sheer stupidity needs documenting. This one needs to be a blog post for when my memory wouldn’t remind me of the glorious night that kept from an epic trip to an epic failure within minutes, this post would always be there to remind me of my experience.

It was all going well – as planned. I met Vibhor (Dhote) in the Zagreb Bus Terminal on an early morning to reach Plitvice by noon. Of course we had some trouble finding each other in the terminal because I had no internet connection and I went to the wrong shop at first, but my memory doesn’t aid me with those details for what entailed in the evening was far more chaotic. In a nutshell, we met each other just in time to catch the bus Dhote had booked. Yes, the credits of planning the trip goes to Dhote for I love it to just show up and go with the flow. I remember the previous evening at Zagreb, all I did was ask the hostel receptionist to tell me about the important spots, take a map from him and just walk wherever I wanted to and see whatever I felt like till I could no more.

It was our first trip together and just from the moment we met, we had a lot to talk to. From his stories of theft to my stories of loss, the four hours long journey was probably short to tell everything. Anyone who has been to Plitvice Lakes National Park, and mostly in early October, would know that it is a land so close to nature you almost think it is unreal, you’d believe you’re almost in a different world – a world made of magic, crowded by fairies or witches or other magical creatures you read about in books or see in movies. I remember a person I met later in Nimes, France saying that at that time of the year, the habitation in Plitvice had more than 60 different shades of colour. I didn’t count for myself, but I sure hadn’t seen so many colours at one time at one place.

It was raining so we had our raincoats on even when we were on a ferry with a roof over our heads. The chilly wind made us stop for coffee and by the time we emptied our cups, the sky cleared to let us finish the rest of the trail, witness seven waterfalls meeting together and climb our way back to find the train that would take us to the exit by the time the park closes.

It was at around half past six, and we reached the exit well on time but the only issue was that our bus from Plitvice to Split was at midnight. The beautiful sunset made us stop for some more time to take pictures of the surroundings. After all, how many sunsets do you get to witness without a crowd blocking the view?

At around half past seven, it was pitch dark and we realized it wasn’t a great idea to wait so long there. The buses stopped at entrance 1 and 2, and we were close to the second one. The first bummer was that when we reached the spot, there was no one else there. It was just us waiting beneath a hill that had a thick growth of some unidentifiable wild plants, on a dark highway that saw some light only when a vehicle passes by. The bus stop looked like some wooden planks kept together where no one ever came or probably someone comes twice a year to put the bus schedule up. Dhote appeared tired and I was scared - For me, it was a scene picked directly out of some horror movie. After spending some fifteen minutes there, we realized no one else was going to come there. I was in no mood of waiting there and being fed to ghosts so I insisted we keep walking to Entrance 1.

“It’s more than 5 kilometres than from here. And we have our backpacks to carry,” Dhote probably hadn’t heard of ghosts as much as I had for he was in no mood of walking so much. I remember following a couple till a certain distance until they either walked away too fast or disappeared in thin air. I was scared out of my wits. Suddenly I was strong enough to carry my backpack and walk slowly but surely to Entrance 1 and hence, meet more people there and be safe.

“Don’t worry, Sanhita. There are no bears,” Dhote exclaimed when he had hardly climbed some 300 metres uphill.

Bears? Amidst my thoughts of the moonless night we were in (because it was too cloudy to see the moon) and the ghosts I had imagined in my head, I had forgotten to worry about something more possible – being eaten by wild animals. We had no internet to check the facts and I still am not sure if it was a joke that he said, but I did start thinking about our ways to fight or escape a bear. Playing dead was not one of them.

After we climbed some 2 kilometres and when it was around half past eight, we saw a restaurant and hotel we could never afford to eat in. But a foreign country and a freezing night means we at least check the place out before forming our conclusions. We go inside and sit on the sofas in the lobby, relieving our shoulders of the heavy weights we carried all the way, waiting for us to be thrown out.
 Surprisingly, it was more than ten minutes and no one blinked an eye lid to ask us what we were doing there without looking for a stay or ordering something to eat. Being thankful and delighted, we pulled out our chargers to charge the electronic devices we were carrying. But Dhote checked his bag to find his Kindle missing, utterly dejected.

 It was then that I showed him the distorted balloon-shaped tattoo on the back of my hand.
“Let it go,” I said.

The bus was supposed to come at midnight so we decided to kill some time staying in the lobby of the warm hotel like drenched people waiting outside the extended roofs of shops to protect themselves of rain, without buying a thing.

At around ten in the night, we ordered the cheapest thing they had- some hot chocolate, just before leaving to finish rest of the journey till Entrance 1. It was another long walk on the same dark highway but this time, we were rejuvenated by the warm break we took in the restaurant. Some of the clouds gave way to the moon and to some soulful conversation as we walked slowly to the destination- just a few more steps and it’s all going to be okay.

We reached the place to be delighted – there was light, there were people, there was a bus. We talked to the driver and he said that bus was supposed to leave at 11.30 and then ours would come and we would hop on it. And everything would be okay.  We saw people boarding the bus one by one and the bus driver smiling at every passenger who would climb in. In front of our eyes, the bus left and with it left all the people we saw there.

Once again, it was only the two of us waiting.

“But there’s wi-fi,” Dhote sees the silver lining. I shiver in the cold. Our bus was at midnight so that we reach Split right at eight in the morning and hence, have a good sleep during the journey and be ready to check out the city in the day time. From Split we would leave in the evening to Dubrovnik where our stay was booked. Dhote had it all planned just right.

But the midnight never came on time. So we waited in the cold night some more. It was half past one now when I started asking for lifts from strangers. One vehicle stops offering us a lift, but he would only go till a certain distance, drop us at a certain place at around three in the morning from where we had to again ask for a lift from someone to reach Split. There was no other way.

Dhote was okay with the arrangement, but I had other ideas on my head. What if it’s a bad guy? We carried all our important stuff with us, we don’t want to be taken somewhere we don’t want to. What’s the point when we can’t sleep while hitchhiking? We are just going to be tired when we reach Split and we won’t be able to enjoy. What after he drops us somewhere at three in the night? What if we don’t get any lift from there, even this time anyone hardly stopped? Haven’t we lost enough of our stuffs already to take this risk?

 My heart said yes, but my mind said no. Dhote wanted to follow his heart. But like most of the times in life, the mind wins over the heart. So, we argue a lot and then settle for the fact that we either wait a while longer or search for a place to stay.

It was getting darker, scarier and colder, making us more tired than we already were. We started looking for a place to stay. The bus never came.

P.S. The next morning, we caught the first bus from there to Split.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Being Desi in a Foreign Country: Sweden

“I am not hungry,” he said with a visible frown on his face.
 Tim was a Russian musician who was tired having traveled all the way from Bangkok to Stockholm without proper sleep that day. We both were couch-surfing at Stockholm for the first time, the way many travelers do when they wish to meet new people, and our host was out with his friends for some time. It was a crazy evening and the three of us had gone out but I had to return mostly because Tim wasn’t feeling well and he didn’t know the way back home and partly because I couldn’t afford the club we were in.

The clock had struck 12 in the midnight and I knew I was hungry. I am not sure if this is because I am a foodie, a fatso or an Indian but I simply cannot sleep if my tummy indicates it needs something nor can I imagine others not being hungry when I am. Tim was adamant that he’d not have anything, since he was too tired to get anything and too upset with the sudden change in temperature he observed between the two countries, while I knew he hadn’t had much to satiate his hunger from the evening. I insisted and he said he’d just drink some cold milk since he doesn’t eat very late at night. I hate doing kitchen-work, more so for someone else. But like all the times when the mother India in me wakes up, I saw myself warm a glass of milk for him and serve it in a tumbler. Imagine the plight of a girl who always had food served for her in a plate on the table, no matter if she is in India or any other foreign country, no matter if she is living with her parents, friends or acquaintances. But somehow I realized the plight would have been mine to keep forever had I not kept my ego aside and shown some hospitality although I wasn’t the host.

Later when I believe his hunger was satiated because his hours-long frown was gone, he thanked me and I think he also smiled.

Sometimes, such gestures keep you smiling whenever you recall them. Sometimes, success isn’t an accolade you won or a large amount of money you received but a smile you’re able to bring to someone else’s face.

 It’s only when we step in a foreign land we get the opportunity to focus on how we react and/or act when faced with certain situations. When in India we are hardly bothered about ourselves, focusing more on the next goal, on the next day. But when I stepped into one country after another in Europe, mostly solo, for three months I had more time than required to ponder upon my own ways.

If hospitality is one way Indians relate themselves with, the other would be ‘Jugaad’ – a low-cost solution to problems also seen as some sort of frugal engineering. My budget for my travel in Europe would not be preceded by the adjective ‘shoe-string’ when it came to my eating habits; but when it comes to buying any other material I’d shy away from spending anything.

It was when I realized my Snow jacket got torn at a visible place that I attached a tiny owl badge on top of it, hiding the embarrassment. It was when my backpack was torn at places that I simply took out some band-aids from my first aid box and put them to cover the tiny holes on my bag. Whenever I met people and they asked me why, I’d say it’s my style statement and sometimes, they’d agree.
I remember not buying another phone for weeks when both my cellphones fell in Greece’s water rendering them useless. I’d then just pick a tourist map from any nearby store and go visit the places with its help.

My ways were more Indian than I ever saw them to be. I go to continental restaurants but still insist on eating Biryani with hands in Biryani joints. I love eating French bread but a hearty meal is the one that has rice or roti in it. A polish guy I once met said I don’t have the typical Indian accent he had expected, maybe because I have an Assamese accent he hadn’t heard before, but I still nod my head the way Indians do, somewhere between a yes and a no.

This reminds me of Lufthansa’s new TVC of the service being #MoreIndianThanYouThink. Having done my MBA in Marketing from MDI Gurgaon, I notice advertisements from the customer’s point of view as well as a marketer’s POV. The ad is humorous and it tells a story and maybe that’s why it has struck a chord with everyone who has seen the ad. The brand recall is great since you not only remember that there is an airline that excels in hospitality and serves Indian food but you also remember its name. And when there are so many Indians flying to and out of the country, it is good to have an airline to prefer over the others.

Do check out Lufthansa’s latest ad below and about the campaign here, and drop in your comments if you’ve experienced Lufthansa’s Indianness

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Dress Up

It’s funny how one’s life goes through highs and lows
But we put some kohl and brush our brows.
We someday realize we have no one but foes;
So we sit back to paint the nails on our fingers and toes.
For that might be the way one can drop that frown,
To let not the world and its people pull you down,
For I can see my life all blue- the hue I dread
But I can change my hair to a better shade of red.
I may wake up to find a messy work life
But I can neatly braid my hair and pretend it’s all fine.
I can find my job dull or whine that it’s not fair
But I can take out a magic wand and curl my hair.
I may cry all I can, as if I’m trapped in Medusa’s lair
But tomorrow I’ll still show up with a confident flair.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


My favorite color is the shade
of your cheeks
wet with drops
from the salty sea of your eyes
when you are guilty of
making an innocent mistake
like writing "writed" for "wrote"
doubting if you can still write a good quote,
calling yourself not a writer
even when the pages of your diary
are filled with a million notes,
even when you die everyday
but wake up to write
for a theme called Hope.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Embracing Change

(Article written for 2017 issue of The AECian, Assam Engineering College)

When Professor Satyajit Bhuyan asked me to write an article for The AECian I had absolutely no idea what I’d write on. What can I write for the magazine I was an editor of some four years back? What do I write for its readers that they haven’t read before?

Having found no specific answer to these questions I sit down to write just the way I blog – pouring my heart out. When Bhuyan sir mentioned “The AECian”, it took me back to 2013 when I had worked relentlessly for it. At those times the students would write articles on paper, instead of MS Word, and submit it. Imagine the pain of first decoding someone else’s handwriting and then editing it, not to mention, the typing and re-typing required by the publishers. I remember having a discussion with Bhuyan sir regarding changing the submission method so that our writers submit soft copies making it easier for both the parties. Our tech-savvy professor welcomed the idea and I was glad about it. 

When our environment changes, it makes no sense if we stick to our old ways. We need to embrace the change and move forward. Of late, each year, each month I have embraced nothing but change – from changing locations in India and abroad, to experimenting with new habits, new things to learn and do.

When I write about embracing change I cannot not mention how Guwahati has changed over the time. I remember my last year in AEC when we used to take the college bus to go to a certain part of the city and hop on city buses to go further. Today I’m back in the city after four years and find myself not having the first instinct to call a cab via Ola or Uber. I wait for city buses and get a shock when the auto-driver doesn’t ask for a fortune to go till a certain distance. 

With this apparent increase in commercial vehicles comes the rise in Black Carbon pollution levels in the city. Thanks to urbanization- the change businesses embraced to move forward with constructing malls, showrooms and hotels. 

Oh, how we hate change when it is not in our favour! The same change I would love to show off when my friends from Delhi give the city a visit and notice the brands available here. The same change I hate every time I need to use my scarf to cover my face when I go out.

With the changing city, there are other changes our hearts wish to resist. The current placement scenario in India is not that great (Demonetization, Trump and what not?) and hence, those who’d be in the final year at AEC might not be having a clear idea of the future ahead. Grieving about leaving the carefree college life behind and then worrying about the uncertainties ahead.

 However, sometimes ambiguity leads to great things – pursuing Masters in a domain of interest in the country or abroad, putting some efforts and risk for a new business in the city, being a contributor of the ever-increasing start-up culture in India, indulgence in social welfare and so on. People leave high-paying jobs to follow their passion. People leave studies to go for a job of their interest. An MBA after a MBBS degree and a masters in physics after leaving successful businesses – the world has probably seen all kinds of stories. I know some AECians who are on their way to break-even their newly started businesses. 

These stories are nothing but patches of hope for a changing future. And all we as witnesses to these changes can do is to gear up to embrace this change and move forward. Adaptability is a skill only life can teach you, a skill that only ameliorates itself as and when we embrace change. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Story of the Bitch… Face -_-

For those of you who haven’t met me in person, I must, before writing about the miseries of wearing a bitch face, write why I say I have a bitch face. I am a plump woman with a round face and I vividly remember my batchmate at MDI, Nikhil, claiming that my “default face” is similar to a sad smiley, which implied people who didn’t know me would find it difficult to approach and talk to me. Similar were the thoughts of my Capgemini FLP (Freshers’ Learning Program) mate Alakananda who had said that if one sees me from a distance one gets the impression of someone with an attitude of arrogance.

When a person is not smiling, it is quite understood that the person is either thinking something or listening or doing anything but not smiling. When I am not smiling people ask me, “What’s wrong?”
I remember my first job at Capgemini when our senior Sashank would complain out loud, “ye ladki roti kyu rehti hai?” And since he would not give much opportunity to me to reply, I would just vent out at Rahul Ghosh, whose seat was right next to me, that I was not sad, I was just not smiling.

I think of myself as a jovial person but every time I cannot smile during a conversation because either I am thinking of something or I am just listening like I am gathering information, my face would just give up on me. Being void of any facial expressions, my train of thoughts would be interrupted by, “Did I say something offensive?”

I remember explaining to people that because my face is fat I need to put much more effort to smile the same length in comparison to a skinny person, hoping that they would buy this logic and not trouble me more when met with a weak smile by my face.

If you’ve seen even one episode of any stand-up comedy you’d know that when they make a joke they don’t laugh themselves, keeping a serious face while the audience laughs out loud. When I make a joke in such a manner, my close friends laugh while others just wonder if they have been told something offensive. When I’m sarcastic, people sometimes, when they don’t think I’m stupid and I meant what I said, laugh. But when I’m not sarcastic and I ask a question I genuinely want to know the answer of, people do assume that I’m being sarcastic.

Do you remember the last time you’re exhausted when you’re about to call it a day after hours of tiresome traveling or working and all you need is to lie down and sleep? I can’t remember the last time I was so exhausted and sweating but not asked if I had a bad day, because every time I have to wave my good-byes after going on a trip together people ask me either via a text message or in person whether I was upset with something.

People often ask me why my candid photos on Facebook or Instagram are such that my face isn’t facing the camera while I look at somewhere distant. This is because those of my candid photos where I am reading or looking at the camera, I look as if I am going to kill someone.

Have you ever just walked into a party where everyone is having fun but you just walked in and are just looking for a friend or everyone’s looking at their cellphones and so are you? In such a scenario, people would ask me, “Why are you so judgmental?” and leave me wondering if that’s how my face looked to them.

 The saddest part of this story is that my face still hasn’t learnt. It didn’t learn when I was a pampered kid and my father would sometimes wonder why I turned out this way that I had to cry to get the things I want while I concluded that because I sulked so much my face turned permanently sulking. And even after years of being told to smile or being asked why I am sad, my face seems to still have not learned a thing.

I write this post because I find these humorous memes on the internet and I do not wish to laugh alone. I write this post in the hope that someone would comment saying they have this problem too. I do not know many people who have this problem because those who probably have this issue wouldn’t be approached by me and vice versa for mostly the same reason. -_-

Monday, February 27, 2017

Writing Something New

Words engulf him
The way he gulps his scotch
One glass after another.
He grabs his pen
And writes down his love
Pages after pages.
He passes a smile at me
At times when he isn't bothered
About how he looks
When his teeth is shown,
When his hair is uncombed
And she passes him by.
He writes a note for her
Without reading
The stories I've to tell.
He asks me, sometimes,
As he drops his note
In her old letterbox.
His thick eyelashes flutter,
A gulp in his throat,
Drops of sweat 
On his forehead,
He fumbles as he utters,
"Have you written anything new?"