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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...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Lost in Europe

Five years back on this day I wrote my first ever blogpost. So, despite the fact that I haven’t written much after I returned to India from my Euro Trip, I decided to celebrate the 5th anniversary of my blog with another blogpost. And although it’s been a month that I am back here, memories of Europe remain vividly etched on the canvas of my mind and I fail to not reminisce them every single day, every single night.

Some of the questions I faced when I returned (and I still face sometimes) were about how much I spent on the trip, more so because I was the one who had managed to spoil three cellphones and one laptop during the trip. But besides these major damages there were minute disappearances that kept on happening with my trivial belongings. Surprisingly, I felt happier when I lost my clothing items since it implied that I had to carry less in my baggage during the rest of the trip.

Here’s a list of items I lost during the Euro Trip and the places where I lost them because sometimes such are the marks we, humans leave.

1.       Jewelry Box in Aarhus, Denmark – The first loss, of course, needs to happen in the first country I landed in. And somewhere amidst all the packing and unpacking I did to make my rucksack sufficient to sustain me for the next two months of hopping from one country to another, I lost that little box containing the best pairs of earrings I owned and had initially packed to wear at various places.

2.       Miscellaneous in Mykonos, Greece – The next loss happened by the time I had realized that I packed too many clothes and shoes,  and if I needed to take my travel seriously I needed to let go of the desire to wear “that perfect attire” for “that perfect occasion” all the time. It was before heading to the beach that I washed a few clothes and hung them outside the camp where we were staying for the night. In the evening when I returned from the beach party, I found my essentials still hanging on the thin wire but two t-shirts, one pair of shorts, another pair of trousers were all gone. I was disappointed that the last pair of item was new and I wore it only once, but for the rest of the items – I was glad.

3.       Towel in Venice, Italy – Remember how the thief of Mykonos had left my essentials and stolen only the clothes? In the camp in Venice, just the opposite happened – I had washed and hung only my towel and around 7 pairs of essentials and returned in the evening to find nothing. Albeit funny and unexpected, the incident was, my next worry was that I had to urgently pay a visit to the Supermarket. :-P

4.       Jacket in Vienna, Austria – The fourth loss was heart-breaking. I loved the jacket I recently had bought. I vividly remember throwing my jacket on the bed before tucking my blanket and going to sleep. The next morning I searched everywhere in the hostel but I couldn’t find my beloved brown jacket.

5.       Warmer in Zagreb, Croatia – I had, in Aarhus, packed my rucksack for only two months’ travel and the travel didn’t include places covered with snow. (I was supposed to get back to my luggage after two months and get warmer clothes to stand the snow). But it was when I was in Marseilles, France that I decided to visit Switzerland for which I needed warmer clothes, having lost one jacket already. So I bought a body-warmer from that place, wore it in Switzerland and then when I went to the place where I didn’t need it - Zagreb, my first stop in Croatia, I forgot to pack it in while checking out. When I was walking to catch the bus from Zagreb that was booked previously, I recalled the black body-warmer lying unowned on my bed in the hostel but there was no time or reason to go for it.

6.       Scarf in Maribor, Slovenia – It was a cold rainy night. I had my raincoat on along with a cap to cover my head and a scarf for the neck. I was walking from the train station to the students’ hostel where I was staying. Minutes later, I realized that the scarf was no longer wrapped around my neck. I imagined it lying somewhere on the pavement, getting drenched in the rain deeming it unviable to be picked up and worn again. I ditched the thought and walked forward without looking back.

7.       Shorts in Barcelona, Spain - I eventually had concluded that I had stopped losing stuffs. My bag wasn’t very heavy anymore. I had thrown three pairs of shoes in Berlin, Germany to reduce the weight. My laptop had broken already. The selfie-stick, which didn’t serve any purpose had broken already. There were hardly more stuffs to carry so there wasn’t any. But when we were about to hit the sea in Alicante and I was supposed to find my pair of shorts in my bag which I had worn the previous night in Barcelona, I realized it was no longer where it was supposed to be. It was probably the last thing I forgot to pack.

Because post this, every stuff that I did not bring home were things that were supposed to go.

#LetItGo J

Monday, November 28, 2016


I let you go like some old habits of mine-
Checking your Facebook profile every minute I touch my phone,
Reading our old messages for signs that would tell you don't love me anymore,
Putting a burning cigarette in my mouth every time I thought of you,
Exhaling the smoke every time I realized you aren't with me.

But such are the habits that do not die-
You come back to me one more time,
You collide with me on a busy street on some Saturday morning, looking at someone else's photos from that phone in your hand;
I let you go like the wine of Venice I swear I would never drink again,
I let you go like the promise of never writing a poem again
Yet I hold a new bottle of wine dearly in Vienna,
A few blank pages and a new pen sit by my side in the cold nights when I would sit in a train and try hard not to think of you.

But such are the ways with thoughts-
When I close the doors, they find a new window to come in,
Rotten like the smell of the dried fish you used to cook,
Fresh like the love bites on your neck that I don't recognize,
Disturbing like the memories I have dug graves for some five years ago,
Like the way I don't forget my own mother tongue even if I hadn't spoken in that language for years.

But such are the ways with the way we talk-
That your dark grey eyes wouldn't look at me anymore,
That you'd speak but only to say something in a language belonging to people who once ruled us using words that don't resonate with your feelings, 
That you would look back but only to check if you forgot something,
That you would see my tears but think it is the lack of sleep in my eyes,
That you would see my smile but not smile back at me anymore,
That you would not understand why I do things I do the way you used to read my mind only a few years ago,
That you would see my burning cigarette but think it is just a new habit I picked.

But such are the ways of my habits-
That every hour is a closure, every hour I quit
Only for a new beginning but the same old shit. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Perks of Being a Crybaby – Paris to Port Bou

I always thought it was to my disadvantage that I can never hold back my tears when I need to. I have cried in places I swear I wouldn’t. I am the person in a movie hall who cries whenever the protagonist is in a bad situation. I am the person who is going to cry when you tell her something bad about your own life. And if I don’t, in front of you, I am going to run to the washroom a little while later to let the tears flow, after patting my back for holding them for a while. Reminiscing the conversation and crying later just before sleeping is my thing to. I have lost the count of the times I have cried in the presence of someone I wouldn’t want to show my sensitive side to. But that’s me – 25 and still a crybaby in situations of frustration, anger and sadness, with no consideration to whoever is around me.

I remember the time I cried in Venice in front of two guys I just met that day and two other guys I had known only from a couple of days. But that’s a story for another day; today it’s about how being a crybaby didn’t ruin my day.

I had to travel from Koeln HBF (Germany) to Madrid (Spain) via Paris (France) for which I had to change some four trains, the reservations for all of which I got done in Koeln itself. My hostel in Madrid was reserved too and paid for. I must remind you here that reservations in French trains are extremely costly, in comparison to everywhere else in Europe. While the reservation from Koeln to Paris costs around 25 euros, the reservation from Paris to Port Bou was for 22 euros; and this was despite me holding a Eurail pass of some 1000 euros.

I reached Paris Nord quite fine from which I had to take a metro to Paris Austerlitz. It was a wait of one hour in Austerlitz before the train would leave, and I, quite insouciantly, decided to enter the waiting train at the nick of the time. Pampering myself with some delicious hot chocolate, I finally decided to join the queue when there was only 20 minutes for the train to leave the station.

It was then that one of the Train Managers showed me that the reservation I had was for a wrong date and hence, I wouldn’t be allowed to enter the train unless I get the tickets changed. I had done the reservations in Koeln and I couldn’t even use my usual way of scolding the person at fault and get it corrected. So I ran to the information office at Paris Austerlitz station who answered that their office is closed and they can’t do anything about it.

I came back to the manager narrating the issue and also emphasizing on the fact that I really had to catch this train since all the subsequent reservations have been made. His solution for me was to buy another reservation now. Another 22 euros! I pleaded him, told him it is a lot of money for me, gave him various reasons so that he would allow me to board the train but he just shook his head uttering a firm no.

At that profound moment of rejection, I could have easily paid 22 euros for the ticket and then got the wrong ticket reimbursed later at Koeln without any hassle. But without any further thought, my dear tears decided to break down, like they always do.

After a couple of tears trickled down my cheeks, I took a deep breath, wiped them off and asked the train manager to sell me a new ticket.

Needless to say, I didn’t actually have to pay for a new ticket as he, the manager who saw me breaking down, just gave me a new seat and asked me to get on the train that was now leaving in some 7 minutes or so.  Yes, I am on that train now. J

Saturday, November 5, 2016

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 no longer feel that heavy;
What have they lost if not for a few coins, a few notes,
some letters written long ago, a few locks, a few clothes?
Or is it the loss of some fears, some shackles, some thoughts tied to their waist belts several years ago?
Where is the fatigue? Where are the tears that drenched my pillow?
Where is the inability to wake up early in the morning and the incessant desire to sleep forever?
Today, every time I close my eyes, I need to type, I need to write.
Where is the indolence, the procrastination, the lack of, as I would say whenever they ask, the "limited time"?
What is this insouciance called?
Where have eloped the eternal need for love, money and the things I've already sold?
Why Plath has shut her eyes today whom I so deeply adored?
Bukowski's Bluebird is set free now while Sahir's pleas I dearly hold,
Because when he asks his muse not to leave before the fall of the dusk
My muse cures my day, lures my night and finds some more of my trust..
Oh, what do I call this courage that I rely less on the metaphors today?
More than heard, more than understood, more than being just okay.
What do I call this love for the stars unseen, the aroma in the air
the sound of the leaves fluttering as they breathe the wind?
A stranger's smile, a traveler's note on my bed,
A black burnt pebble from the mountains,
A lock I stole the key of which I returned,
I have picked up with fervour, an orphan cone of a pine.
But how do I keep away the only fear I see now?
That someday, when I am back on earth, back on the ground
Away from these half-built walls, these lit up streets, these lost clouds,
Maybe I won't ever be the same, the way I am here now.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil: Movie Review

I needed to write something, as I always do, and I believe the best way of writing is when you’re on a train. Right now I am enroute Krakow from Wroclaw, Poland and listening to the song Bulleya from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which reminded me to share what I felt after watching the movie.
Official Poster Copyright to Publisher/Distributor/Graphic Artist of the movie

I think the movie is dispensable, despite the entire buzz around it. Glimpse of The Breakup Song did develop an inclination to watch the movie for me, but when I listened to the entire song it was quite a disappointment, thanks to the awkward opening of the song and Badshaah’s rap the lyrics of which reminds one of nothing but the movie Jab We Met. What’s with “use phone mila aur gaali de, photo jala ke kar de raakh”? Couldn’t find new or better ways, eh? I do like the songs Channa Mereya and Bulleya though, thanks to the lyricist. Most of the songs I love are for the lyrics than the music but of course, without a soothing music even a great song won’t be bearable. (Kitne dafe, subah ko meri, tere aangan mein baithe, maine shaam kiya, Say Waah to Amitabh Bhattacharya!)

Only last night I watched the movie and the first part, I felt, was such a cliché. A guy and a girl meet, they travel and have a lot of fun- don’t we have enough of that right from DDLJ? Are there no innovative ways of falling in love or am I asking for too much? It definitely reminded me of the recent Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone movie Tamasha. Thankfully, the love in ADHM is ek tarfa- something fresh and not much talked about in Bollywood.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan comes to my rescue after half of the drama is over. Well, watching Fawad Khan was soothing too but he didn’t really have much to do as an actor in the movie. Aishwarya, however, is a treat to the eyes, and a song to the ears. I have never admired her more in any other movie. Hats off to the dialogue writer, Niranjan Iyengar, for writing such beautiful lines for her to speak in the movie! Same relief I found after listening to the words coming out of Shahrukh’s lips. Had it not been for these two actors, who are neither my favourite nor have they ever been, I wouldn’t be able to tolerate the movie much.

I remember when we realized, in Budapest, that SRK and Anushka would be there in five minutes for a song-shoot for the upcoming movie ‘The Ring’ I was more excited to see Anushka than SRK. After watching ADHM, the exact opposite feelings have just overcome my little heart.
Pic Courtesy: Robin Singla

Aishwarya plays a strong character of a Shayara, the word I learnt only after watching ADHM, in an admirable way. Ranbir plays his role exactly the way his character demands him to. Anushka and Ranbir have been good actors, no doubt, and hence, their acting skills seem impeccable as they both do justice to their roles- more for Ranbir than for Anushka. However, the first half of the movie disappointed me so much that I couldn’t really feel empathetic about the characters which I usually do in other movies. Oh, I have cried my eyes out watching numerous movies and if I didn’t feel a thing for these characters, I am not sure how others are taking this. However, one characteristic of the central character Ranbir which I liked, and which I think is something new on the platter, is that he wouldn’t want to sit alone or be alone (although I don’t know how he turned up in the club alone if that’s so) but this is one behaviour we often find in people we meet, making his character realistic.
The airport scene had to happen, like most Bollywood movies that try to leave an impact, this time in a fresh way – Thankfully, although I had guessed it would be that way. Anushka didn’t succumb to Ranbir’s pleas – another thanks to the Karan Johar. Anushka’s Sukoonghar could have created better dialogues with the concept of Tedha love but, surprisingly, I see my Facebook News Feed flooded with this dialogue, so maybe people are embracing it.

I don’t have much against the movie because the concept on which it was built was supposed to be good, right from the beginning. But it just couldn’t make me not think of how the scenes are predictable, the screenplay a bit repetitive. For instance, Ranbir begins the movie with an Interview and I simple cannot not think of Two States.  In retrospect maybe one can survive after watching the movie once, but that’s it.

Watch this movie if you cannot become tired of hearing so much about love. Watch this movie if you have nothing better to do and you could certainly do by looking at some pretty faces. Don’t watch this movie if you want to watch something emotionally impactful or something feel-good Bollywoody happy-feelings wali movie. But do watch this movie if you do not feel the way I do.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Stranger’s Invite And The Transvestite: Night-Out At Nice, France

I am at Budapest now, in a safe and comfortable hostel, as I narrate my story of a few days back. Strange is this age when we think we are capable of experiencing all kinds of adventures. Maybe we are, when we leave matters at the hands of destiny, situations and have a strong belief that in the end all would be well. Or maybe we aren’t, maybe we just experience one fluke after another until the day the bank of chances will run out of serendipity.
It was at Nice where I was supposed to spend the late hours of night; I had a train to catch at five in the morning and I reached Nice at around midnight. The time from midnight till dawn was supposed to be spent walking around the city – after all, why would a youngster give in to spending money and sleeping in a hostel just for some five hours?
Europe has been a place of freedom for a woman like me. I can never imagine roaming around the streets of Gurgaon, where my college MDI is located, in the evening. Traveling around Delhi at night sometimes does send chills through my spine. And in Guwahati, my hometown, I am supposed to reach home latest by 7:00pm, always. Safety for women is probably not India’s forte.
No wonder, women like me find it liberating in countries like Denmark and elsewhere in Europe. I have traveled alone to a few places here and found it extremely satisfying being away from the inhibitions we, women of India, usually face in the dark. Aarhus, my student exchange location, in Denmark has proved to be the safest place I have ever been to. As a result when I traveled to Nice, I didn’t second guess if I could travel there alone; it was nothing to be asked here.
One of my college mates, Sarin did notify me that Nice is a “shady place” and hence, it would be safer to go for a night-out in Monaco instead. Yet, I met a stranger in Marseilles, who is a musician by profession and around 45 by age, who said there is nothing much to see in Monaco and hence, Nice would be a better and safer bet. I left the discretion to my situation – the first train from Nice was at 5am and that from Monaco was at 6; so Nice, I decided.
As I walked out of the train station towards the sea-side, I saw a McD open, relieving me of my late night hunger pangs. Groups of people walked around the city, and although I was a bit worried in the beginning for my own safety, I felt extremely happy once I reached the Massena square. There were figures of meditating humans that change colours after a little while – from green to orange to red to pink. It was beautiful as I sat on one of the seats, a guitarist sat on another and played a softer version of ‘Smoke on the Water’ (A Deep Purple song), two kids practiced stunts on their skateboards, and a bunch of youngsters laughed and talked loudly. There were homeless people, for sure, but they just found their own places to sleep and did not bother anyone around. I immediately wiped off all my thoughts about Nice being a “shady place”.
Courtesy: Wikipedia
The night proceeded into darkness as I traveled around looking at various museums, cathedrals and statues. Some pubs were open making the place not entirely devoid of people, and a patrolling car roamed near the port being vigilant about the happenings there. The cops in the car never stopped me for my passport but they did notice me whenever they passed by me, making me feel surprisingly safe. In India, I don’t remember the last time I saw a policeman at night and felt safe.
Courtesy: Panaromio
Thus four hours disappeared into the dark of the night, as I got tired of walking around and talking to strangers returning home from the pubs or camping near the beach. I decided it was time to slowly walk back to the train station and wait for it to open to let the passengers in. Most of the people had left by now – the tourists on their cycles, the city dwellers on rickshaws and trams, the boozers on others’ shoulders. As I walked towards the city I only saw two homeless men, one asking the other for a cigarette after being refused by me.
“I saw you in Monte Carlo,” said a man who just crossed the street to walk besides me. I smiled and explained that I was there earlier in the day time.
“You don’t have a place to stay?”
“umm.. No. I decided to spend the night traveling around the city,” I explained.
“But it’s not safe here at this time of the night, not in the city.” And thus, a chill ran through my spine.
He, who claimed to be a Nice-dweller, then started talking about how unsafe it is at night that “Mediterranean people can kill you for a cigarette.” His stories made me more and more tensed as he offered that I could spend the next hour at his place before I could catch the train. His offer seemed sans bad intentions and although I refused, I did mentally consider his proposal.
“Don’t worry. Just stay at my place till the dawn. I hope you have something to eat,” he reassured me and I obliged.
He then began speaking about how unsafe it is in Delhi when I said that my college is situated near the capital city of India.
“Rapes happen frequently in India, ain’t it so?” he asked as I gulped in fear.
It was when we reached the lane of his house, that I said I wish not to sleep at his apartment as there wasn’t much time to do so.
He exclaimed, “That’s okay. I can’t sleep too because I do drugs. So there is nothing to be worried about.” This scared me out of my wits. I tried hard not to show my surprise and asked what drugs he did.
“Crystals,” he said and smiled.
“I have no clue what that is.”
“You don’t do drugs?”
“Okay, we’ve reached my place,” he said and pulled out a key ring that carried a heart-shaped red pillow of the size of my palm.
“I am actually living at my friend’s place,” he explains as he opens the door.
I look up at the top of the door only to find out it wasn’t a house; it was the door of a hotel. The woman in me, having read so many crime stories before, now imagined ways to get out of the mess I dipped myself in. I still wondered if I misjudged him and he was a genuine person who was honest about his habits.
“Oh, you know what’s funny. My friend is a transvestite,” he added.
And no matter how much open-minded I have tried to be my entire life, no matter how many articles I have written or arguments I have gotten myself into to fight for the rights of those who aren’t straight and misunderstood or looked down upon, at that moment I couldn’t be anything else than scared. If there was one more person in the room, a transvestite or not, I knew I could be in trouble. Being on the streets was troublesome too, but at least there was a scope to shout for help or to be found by some cops or other civilians, the filmy me imagined. The benefit of doubt was out of question and so I excused myself, as polite as I could be, saying that I want to see the other side of the station.
“But it’s not safe,” he reasoned, ironically. At that moment, I could not tell what was safe anymore.
“If I feel unsafe I will knock on your door,” I lied.
“Sure. Your decision. Give me your phone number.”
I gave him my number, took his, left the place as fast as I could and did not look back.