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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Finding Nemo

Disclaimer: With this post, comes an end to the "Alive is Awesome" blog series. Also comes the realization that I have ended up writing 8 posts about my bathing, and I wonder how disconcerting that must be, for readers to visualize. Oh please, don't nod your heads so vigorously you… I look quite the Adonis when I have erm stripped to my essentials. Anyway, let’s not bare out such sensitive information here, what I meant to do was thank Cinthol and their creative team for letting us all be part of this experience, they have now given me enough Cinthols to last me for several life times. My bai looks quite shocked to see the pile of soaps and other Cinthol products sitting all over the bathroom shelves, book shelves, kitchen shelves, room shelves. The other goodies, my sister has taken off with, so Cinthol let me know if you want to gift me the Iphone 5, a house, my MBA loan balance amount, and I shall write about my bathing experiences for the next 13 years.  Every day. Post pictures too.

Jokes apart, it’s been a tremendous experience to be part of this campaign. Thank you. 

“Almost there now”, he said to me. He was quite thin, now that I try to visualize how he looked. Jumping up from my perch, I strode across the length of the ship and stared at the mass of land ahead, just like all sea captains do, puffing out their chests and putting on that nonchalant, conservative glimmer in the eyes.

“Land ahoy”, I muttered to the world in general and marched off importantly, leaving the thin fellow wondering why all tourists were consistently obnoxious. But to be fair to me, it seemed like the right thing to say then.

An hour later, I was moving back into the sea, this time on a smaller dingy boat, the waves flying all around. “Oops”, I blurted. It seemed like the right thing to say then. 

This time around I was wearing a scuba suit.

Earlier in the morning when the sun was yet to come out, we had rushed out of our hotel, and run across the jetty, a fine drizzle helping us hasten to the ticket-office.  “Four tickets, Havelock” Murali panted. A couple of hours’ ship ride from Port Blair, Havelock Island is the pride of discovered Andaman.  Its Radhanagar beach has been voted as Asia’s prettiest, a fact that inspired a surge in google clicks. I haven’t traveled the world, but today Havelock is my favourite place to be in. 

Sharp at 1130 am, we were standing inside the scuba diving school.  The floor was only sand, the dining table an upturned canoe.  “Welcome to Havelock” said Angelo, a wide smile rendering him handsome. As he ushered us to his ‘baby’ – a computer that was so ancient that it seemed to have descended from the middle ages –  and showed us a few diving videos, I realized he was one of those men that you could help but instinctively like.  His eyes twinkled as he made fun of you, he’d laugh warmly if you’d give it back to him and he loved what he did – exploring the sea and showing it to the world. I liked Angelo - our curly haired, dark instructor.

“I am not a great swimmer, you know “, I informed him. “Then we’ll have a little more space on the boat while coming back” pat came the reply.

We rushed into the changing rooms and wore our scuba costumes in excitement. A few moments later, we were all standing outside under the sun in one row wearing, in tight, body-hugging bright yellow-and-black suits, looking like a happy menagerie of exotic African animals.

All diving sessions in Havelock are preceded by a short half-hour training stint in shallower waters in the lagoons.  Once we were there, Angelo taught us the basic communication signs we were to use underwater - how to breathe with our mouths and the oxygen mask.  Finally, we set out for our first real deep sea diving experience in the Indian Ocean. Earlier Angelo had told us how it was absolutely safe inside the water and how marine animals never attacked humans. “What’s that deep scar on your leg?” I screamed over the din of the boat’s motor. “Shark,” he yelled back, helpfully. 

When we were in the middle of the ocean, he stopped the dinghy’s motor and asked us to jump into the water. The blue looked ominous. The fact that there were two trainers, each allotted to a set of two divers did not do much for our confidence.

It is hard to describe how one feels once they are inside the ocean. In the initial moments, all I could do was try to try to focus on my breathing. But soon, the corals appeared out of the darkness, and from their insides, flitted fishes in hundreds, and thousands. Puzzled at this sudden human intrusion, they came out of their homes and inspected us, up and down. Conscious, I put my best angle forward, slicing my hand through water hoping they’d form an honourable impression of me. As it goes, they looked quite disgusted with the effort and left soon, their cute bottoms swaying in the water as they glided away.

Spotting an elephant nose fish, I turned to tell Murali and that’s when I noticed that he was frantically showing the thumbs-up - a sign that he immediately wanted to go to the surface. Our trainer was nowhere in sight. Clumsily, I pushed my way towards my teammate, and pulled him to the surface. “Are you alright,” I gasped as we floated on the water, the water up till my nose. “Oh, I just wanted to burp,” said my friend casually.

If I could, I would have wanted to put a dagger through him right then, but keen observation told me that the sea was pulling me away from the coast. On the surface, I was now finding it hard to pull myself back into a swimming position and though I wasn’t under immediate threat of drowning, with every passing second the coast looked more of a distant speck. It didn’t look very macho, I think, to let that sea play with me such. Then just when I decided that enough was enough and only prayers could now save the day, Angelo emerged from the depths of the sea, just like those heroes do at the exact moment, not a second before.

When I splutteringly demanded of his whereabouts, he told me that he was just checking as to how we’d react under duress. I won’t say much about how I felt then, but as we resumed our dive, some of us were cursing while others guffawed. Once inside though, everything changed for everyone, to happiness. Surrealism finds its best example inside an ocean. It is only when you are there that you realize that there is a world, a life that you have never known of and here inside, you cannot help but feel overwhelmed by it. Everywhere around me there were fish in resplendent hues of orange, yellow, purple and a thousand other colours and my heart sang as we walked on the sea bed, putting out our hands gently to just know them, to feel them. Few sports leave you more humbled. If there is an 'Alive is Awesome' moment, it can't be very different from this. 

I stayed that night in Havelock. It was the only time when I lay on the beach for a whole night.  The next evening, as we left the island, we stood at the deck and stared affectionately at the shore for some time. Somewhere in the water, a little clown fish was telling its father, “Ooooo dad, you know I saw humans today! Isn’t that cool?!”
More from the Series,

7) A Fishy Affair - Part 2
6) A Fishy Affair - Part 1
3) The Merry Adventures of Hector Narayanan

A Fishy Affair - Part Two

Disclaimer: The 7th of the AIA Series, this post also comes as a sequel to the previous post - A Fishy Affair

For those who haven't read that one, let us give you a little background of what’s been happening till now. The author and his friend have sauntered off to a small village near Nainital, and have been doing nothing much other than sitting on hill tops, flicking stones and telling each other tall tales about how women find them irresistible.  If only they ever cared for fact, over imagination.

The previous day, they did go for a dip in a stream that was quite icy.

Flashback over. Present day.

“So we are back at our stream. Again to feel alive, I suppose?” he asked, but I am not sure if he was supposing too much.

“Your mother will thank me later.  For getting you to bathe the only two times that you did this month.”

“Remember those movies with waterfalls?”

So we both took a deep breath, and remembered those movies with waterfalls.  Those nice movies where the hero, seemingly innocently, wanders to a waterfall, only to find a pretty girl right under it.  Why these women start dancing as soon as they are under a waterfall beats me, and why they should get all seductive about it is an even bigger puzzle, but a good detective is one who finds his own answers.  After cracking a few jokes, though.

So, once we were done remembering, we wandered, a bit here, a tad there, hoping against hope to find our own Mandakini, our own Twinkle Khanna, our very own Zeenat Aman under a waterfall.  We ended up bumping into each other at the next bush.

“Must you have such a big ass? Even the birds are sitting high up in their nests, lest they bump into it and ricochet to the next village.”

So I pushed my nice little bottom a little in, and strutted off importantly towards the waterfall, careful not to sway it too much. The nice little bottom, I mean. It’s a difficult thing, to control, when you are thinking about it.  Quite unhealthy too, to be thinking about your own posterior.

“Feel like dancing yet?” he screamed as I stepped into the stream, and journeyed towards the waterfall. If I could, I would dance on his grave, jes, but I am not sure if this flowing creation of nature was inspiring me enough to go all Mandakini under it.

The sight was quite beautiful though - the waterfall gushing down with all the force that it could muster. A few plants stretched from a nearby rock, straining to feel the water on their leaves, and behind them, the rocks glistened a nice blend of black brown and silver. I was running to it now, taking off my shirt and tossing it to a group of rocks sitting stoutly in the stream. The spray had drenched me even while I was metres away. The water was deeper here, flowing above my waist, and I settled into a swimming position.

“Wait up, I am coming” he yelled, and jumped into the water.

“So that’s …glug glug… what they glug meant when they were saying Ram teri Ganga maili ho gayi.”
“Abey paapi, half the Ganga has gone down your lungs. Stop keeping your silly mouth open. Brr.. its quite cold.”

In seconds, we had reached the base of the waterfalls. When we went under it, with such force did the water fall on our backs, and so cold was it that we could not help but yell at the top of our voices. Swimming in a river is one thing, in it you go with the flow, it is relaxing; but a waterfall – all it wants to do is hit you with everything that it has. My whole body was shaking with excitement. I was shivering but it felt electric. In some way, it felt as if we were being purged, of every layer that the city had plastered on us.

“If only you had brought your camera we could have made our own  aesthetic Alive is Awesome ad”, he opined.

“With your potbelly, it would be anything but aesthetic.”

“Sigh. Remember those movies with waterfalls?”  

Sigh, Twinkle Khanna.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A fishy affair

“So this is when I am going to feel awesome”?

“And alive, too.” I updated. "Alive is awesome", he mimicked. We were standing at the banks of a river, watching the water rush past us. It looked quite alive, the water.  A bit too much, if I am to be candid.

“I still don’t know how you managed to convince me to come for this trip.” he said ruefully. Quite right to feel rueful, for it was cold and windy and stepping into the river, at this moment, was not exactly what I was dying to do.

“You know I have to write about adventure bathing experiences. And the other bloggers are writing about how they kissed dolphins in Singapore, dived in the Maldives, slept with a blue whale in Iceland. What was I supposed to do?” I argued.

“So you made me drive you all the way from Delhi to Uttaranchal, so that we could skinny dip in this stream and you could blog about it!! If ever a man felt violated, it would be right about now. That reminds me, you haven’t paid me anything for the fuel.”

“Now now, what’s a little fuel between two friends.”

“Don’t fuel my temper.” He was going a little red in the cheeks but it could have easily been from the nip in the air.

“A good story is one, only when the author has breathed it in his heart. Just think, how vividly I’ll be able to capture this entire experience now. A river that is out to hurt, bristling and roaring, frothing and hurtling. A sagely mountain in the background, looking down upon this beast of a river, and shaking its head sadly, wishing it had brought up the river well. You, descending into the river, and being purged by it. And I, generous that I am, I stay back on shore and let you enjoy the water all by yourself. And then I ..err..”

” I had to cut short my prose, for he was looking at me in a manner not very docile.

“Let’s enter the water before I kill you.” Righto!

And what was the big deal? We had always been the tough sort, the kind that could go into the wild, the kind who’s hearts shone bloody red, the kind that could battle a lion and whack the bejesus out of it, the kind who could take a spear in the stomach, and pull it out and toss it away and walk into the sunset.  Water, what could this mere, bristling, roaring, frothing river do to us.

So being those alpha males, we entered the water as gingerly as possible, and then sprang out, screaming because the water was too cold.

So maybe we were two alpha males who had just discovered that if they went into the wild chances are they would get lost, that their hearts were not actually red but a nice bright pink with a ribbon around it, and if as much as a thorn pricked our thumbs, we’d go howling to our mothers. But you know what. We looked at the water, we grumbled a bit, and then we stepped into it again.

“Are you feeling alive?” I asked hopefully.

“Cold yes.  Wet too. Maybe it takes time coming, this alive business.”

“Evidently, sarcasm doesn’t take too much time to come to you, land or river. The water’s lovely. Want to race to that rock?”

“Wait, I think I dropped one of my nipples. Yoo hoo nipple, oii nipple, where did you fall!”

“Good that you lost it. The water has already turned both mine blue. Hey, I see a fish, is that a fish.. hey Nemo, come here, little one”

“Quite fishy,  how you just behaved. Anyway, lets race to the rock.” And we set off, kicking and pushing, straining every bone to win the race, and the fish around just rolled their eyes. "Men", said one.

Half an hour later, we were sitting with our coffees, on two wooden chairs, in a small café. A small yellow bulb was all the light that the shop had, but it gave all the warmth that the place needed. A couple of pictures of Che Guevera stared back at us.

"I would have won if you hadn't pulled my shorts" he growled. 

"I almost lost my sight when that happened. The world has never seen a more grotesque posterior. My eyes will never be the same again." 

"Women have told me that its shapely. One of God's better works of art. A model of good geometry. 

"I think I even saw a fish throw up right then."

" It was good man, that river. Been quite long since I did something like that."

"You can thank me by paying for this coffee."

"That reminds me, you still have to pay for the fuel."

Now now, what's a little fuel between two friends.


You must be used to the drill by now. This is the 6th post in a series for the AIA Campaign. Here are the rest,

5) Vaikom Diaries: And that's how the Narayanans roll! 

4) The Heart of a Goof

3) A Night Adventure with a Croatian Backpacker

2) The Merry Adventures of Hector Narayanan

1) An Andamanese Affair

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Vaikom Diaries: And that's how the Narayanans roll!

“Come into the water, or I’ll pull you inside” I said to her. In return she laughed, nervously, for half of her believed that I was quite capable of such notoriety.  The other two hooted on, hoping as much as I did, that she would.

Lets open up the scene for you now.

It was not a dark, stormy night. Actually, it was a balmy summer afternoon. The Narayanan family, sans the father and the pooch or let us say sans the old man and the old dog, had driven down to Vaikom (near Cochin)  for a three day holiday. The distinguished party included a mother, one who would, throughout the trip, keep cutting off plant stalks from all over Cochin– the roadside, the resort, the farms, even the jetty – just so that she could plant them in her own garden once she was back home.  The party also included a sister, one who’s a journalist and the in-house bully. And it included a grandmother, she who thinks her grandson is a gem.  Last but not the least, it included me. The gem.

So yes, we had driven down to a resort in Cochin and it was quite a delectable place, with its cottages and lawns, small canals and moats, hammocks and birds. But the best part was that it was right on Vembanad Lake – Kerala’s famous backwaters.  The cottages opened up to the garden, and the garden opened up to the lake, without as much as a wall or fence to partition the two. The water was not as high as the garden, three feet lower perhaps, and all you needed to do to get into the water was to lower yourself till your feet touched the lake bed.

So right after finishing our tea, we had all plunged into the water, well all except for grannykins.
She just sat at the bank, happy that her family was happy. And we were. While Nishi and I were busy acting mature splashing water on each other, mother was busy losing balance, going under and coming up coughing and spluttering with half the lake in her lungs, and a little frog balancing itself precariously on her head. The water was cold, but not too much. Ahead in the distance, a man had gone kayaking. Granny, she looked happy.

It bothered me, that the woman we all loved so much had to sit by and watch us enjoy doing what she had loved doing all her childhood. It’s unfair, that we have all grown so much that now it is her who has to grasp my hand for balance.  My grandmother got married when she was 18. Mother says that before that, as a child, she was excellent at swimming and could beat all the boys in a race. Today, she is 78, has a balancing problem and walks slowly. Still, is as pretty as she always was.

“Come into the water, or I’ll pull you inside” I said to her. In return she laughed, nervously, for half of her believed that I was quite capable of such notoriety.  The other two hooted on, hoping maybe as much as I did, that she would.

“I don’t think I can” she said, “I’ll just stay here.” But she shouldn’t have smiled while saying that. It was too clear that, somewhere inside, she wanted to. In a trice, brother and sister were up, standing by her chair, coaxing her to come in. She stood up and looked down, testing her feet on the ground. Her mind were telling her not to go ahead with it, and we could see it in her face, but her eyes, they just followed the heart. And that’s the problem with these grandmothers.  They really can’t bear to disappoint their children.  And so, she bent, bent all the way down, till she was almost sitting on the ground, her knees hurting, her heart racing. I think all our hearts were racing too, maybe even more so.

And then the pain struck her knees. And when it did, I felt like kicking myself for suggesting that she go into the water. We rushed to pick her up, and did. But she said that she wanted to try again. No longer was I feeling as gung ho as I was moments earlier. And again, she bent and lowered her legs into the water, and we helped her down, all the way till her feet touched the lake bed. 

The next moment, both brother and sister let out manic yells and leapt in a most unsophisticated, un-Victorian unmannerly manner into the lake, just as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would have in those Twain books.

The only other time that I can remember being so, purely, happy in the water was when Hector (the pooch) swam for the first time.  They say that any emotion if sincere, is involuntary. And it was. For years, we had seen this old lady tend to her house, tend to people and live life as gracefully as can be. But today, here in this lake, she was just a kid. A kid in a saree, but a kid still. While the three of us hooted and cheered and yelled and laughed, she thrashed her hands and her feet, and  moved. It would be biased to say that she swam, for years and age and weakness had probably taken that away from her, but it did not stop her from trying.  And it did not stop us from surrounding her and splashing water all over her. At some point of time, the saree got stuck, but who cared. We had seen our aai swim, and not just swim but look as happy as can be, and the holiday had just become that much better.
Well, this happened last year. That night, her legs pained a lot, but she insisted that we go for a dip the next day too. This year, when I went to Kerala, we all went to Meenvellam waterfalls, old man and old dog too. When we reached, old man and his wife went off quite some distance into the water and yelled across the water insisting I click their pictures.  And grandmother sat again, looking happy that her family was happy. Such corniness, I tell you. 


Now Read:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Heart of a Goof

Disclaimer: This is the 4th in the series of 'Cinthol's Alive is Awesome Campaign'. This post is dedicated to the literary genius that was PG Wodehouse and it's an attempt to present the story as the man did in his book , 'The Heart of a Goof'. A lovely book, you should read it sometime.


I watched them, the two as they came into the pub, laughing and holding hands just as all those who are mad in love do.  He cracked a small joke, and she laughed again, almost resting her forehead on his shoulder. Dear puppy love.

“They weren’t always like that” a voice suggested from a somewhat south westerly direction.
 “They weren’t?” I questioned turning obediently to my south west and facing a rather venerable looking gentleman.

“She wouldn’t even as much as look at Robert once upon a time.  But err why don’t you hop over to my table, son, and I’ll tell you the tale right from the beginning?” said he, and his eyes shone, as he contemplated the various angles and dash he would add to the story, to impress his listener. 
“I should?” It was more a question to myself, than to him.

“But of course, one must always spread the tale of love”, he cooed.
“I suppose it wouldn’t be alright if we could do this spreading business tomorrow”, I was quite desperate now, but it didn’t look good for me.  “I have to be in some place in fifteen minutes.”
“It’ll but be over in a moment, done with and sent to the cleaners in a jiffy, perhaps even an iffy.”
“An iffy?”
“A small jiffy. Now come, be a sport.”

You can’t say no to a man who says he’ll end his story in an iffy and so I journeyed from my table to his, and sat down, feeling  as bright as a man who had just been condemned to the gallows.  He raised his cup of coffee to his lips and dramatically swallowed all that remained inside.  And then, he commenced on the tale of Robert Pinto, coffee droplets sitting rich on his mustache.

As a sixteen year old, Robert Pinto was just a good student. He could have had been an ace, but then they’d have to remove the first eighteen position holders of his class. He liked to draw, but not in art class, only in the back of his notebook.  He liked to sing, but when he did, it was akin to the sound that an ostrich mother makes during childbirth.

Not that he was much bothered by the lack of any skill in the aforementioned fields. Robert was at heart, a cricketer. He loved the game so much that every time his mother asked him to get dressed, he would rush up to him room and come out in his whites. That she sent him right back and forced him to change just tells us that not everyone is blessed with good taste like Robert.  When his family would talk of the bible, and how life started with Adam and Eve at Eden, he would get transported not to that orchard of poisonous apples, but to the delectable field in Kolkata, manicured and green. So strong was his imagination that he believed he could smell the fresh paint on the stadium chairs but that might as well have been the smell of potatoes that his mother had just dumped onto his plate.  That Robert loved cricket, nobody could doubt.

But there were two things bothering him that day. Lisa Mathew, and the lack of any batting form. While the latter is the devil that creeps into every batsman’s game at some point or time or the other and renders them mad till that day when they hit that perfect cover drive, Lisa was altogether a different proposition.

 Officially, she was just the prettiest girl in Robert’s school and the various profound lists drawn up by boys, such as the ‘Top Ten beautiful girls in our class’, would vouch for that. But what is math, when we can put it in words. Lisa was, and we must draw a deep breath when we mention her name, as lovely as lovely could possibly be. She could have easily been a princess, but only if her father was a king instead of an accountant. When she walked into the classroom, boys were ready to happily lie down on the floor only so that her feet wouldn’t have to touch the dirty earth. They would have readily fed her lunch from their tiffin boxes every day of the year and all years to come, if only they did not have to run out and play cricket during break.

And dear Robert, well he loved Lisa with everything in his heart. Loved her more than he loved himself, more than he loved the whole world, and almost half as much as he loved his bat.

“Half as much as his bat? That’s huge. He must have loved her a lot” I interrupted. The old man nodded, and continued.

Well, Robert chose well, especially because Lisa knew the difference between third man and square drive. Her father had been a wicketkeeper for his university and little Lisa had picked up the game from those genes. She wasn’t just pretty, she was the best batswoman in the school. As I said, Robert had good taste.

 “So what was the problem” I said, with the impatience of a man who cannot wait for the suspense to unfold. The old man would have smiled at that, but he had just brushed his mustache and having spotted those drops of coffee now on his shirt, he just shook his head.

The problem? Well, while Robert saw her face in the bedroom ceiling when he slept, saw her in the bathroom mirror when he brushed and the back pages of his notebook when he drew, Lisa was quite unaware of the power she exerted on our fellow.  She would not have even known of his existence, had he not been part of the school cricket team.  Not that she cared for the boy’s team much, her own team kept her busy, but the men had just won the finals of the school competition and Naveen Silva had become the talk of the town.

“Naveen Silva?

“The boy’s team captain. The most good looking boy in school and probably the whole town. His was the first boy voice to break in class when they were in seventh grade. His hair was wavy and smooth like a film star’s. In comparison, Robert’s hair felt like burnt hay.

“Burnt hay, eh?” I suddenly felt sad for Robert.

“It gets worse. Naveen had just scored a hundred in the finals, and had immediately become the most eligible bachelor in school.  Nobody cared that they dropped three catches of him. Three. Can you believe that?” the old man was getting quite upset now.

“Yes, you can’t win a game if you drop someone thrice. Urm anyway, what happened then?”

Well, the entire batch decided to go out over the weekend to celebrate. A camping trip besides a river.

When they reached there, there was music and food, tents and bornfires.  Lisa sat with Naveen and he told her how he had told the bowler he would hit him for a six straight down the ground, and he had. Lisa gushed, and Naveen said she was pretty. Everyone was happy, except for Robert.

“Yes, it feels terrible when you like someone and they are busy occupied liking someone else”

Not just that, he was upset about getting out on zero, too. Between you and me, I do not know what upset him more, the girl or the dismissal, but for his sake I hope it was his batting.  He got out on a full toss, you know.

“What happened then?”

They all sat near the river,  some kicking the water with their feet, some splashing water on others.  And then came Naveen, taking off his shirt and entering the water, his body glistening. Spotting Lisa on a rock, he flexed his muscles a little more and she smiled. “Pass me the soap will you?” he ordered one of this cronies and they passed it to him obediently.

“Don’t throw the wrapper in the river” came a cry. It was Lisa. Naveen just laughed and having chucked the package, continued with his bath.  Neither did he look too bothered when Lisa icily told him that what he had done was not very environment friendly.

"Not cricket, I should say", I was quite peeved at this Silva fellow's behaviour.

It is during these same moments that Robert had entered the water, hoping the water would take away some of his sadness. Seeing Lisa perturbed in the manner she was, he scanned the water for the packet. There it was, that yellow thing, floating away as fast as it could. But what can a packet do, when its at battle with a man in love. In swift, quick strokes Robert chased  it and having captured it, sped back to shore.

“You got that back because I said so?” Lisa said, and I am not sure if she was more moved or shocked or even pleased for the matter.  When Robert nodded, she felt this strange knot in her stomach. Was it because he smelt nice or was it something more.  Couldn’t be his hair, why did it look like hay. Nice hay, but.  Lisa could not quite understand why she was feeling the way she was.

With my experience in these matters, son, I think she felt special because she could not remember the last time someone had done something so selflessly for her.  Of course if you don’t count Hrishikesh Kanitkar hitting that last ball boundary to get India a win over Pakistan. But that joy she had had to share with the whole country, while this was hers, hers alone. In a movement that shocked Robert, the school and the sparrow that was cooing on the tree above, she stepped forward and gave Robert a big hug, and the packet fell out of his hand again. Thankfully, not into the water. Cinthol it was, I remember, because I was watching the Alive is Awesome Campaign the other day, and Robert said that if not for that, things could have been so different.

“You smell nice and lemony” she said to him, when they eventually stopped hugging. 

“Haha, and then?” I asked.

Well, they have been together ever since.  And Robert, he never has missed hitting a full toss ball again. 


You can read the other parts of the "Cinthol AIA campaign here,

A Night Adventure with a Croatian Backpacker

The Merry Adventures of Hector Narayanan

An Andamanese Affair

The Merry Adventures of Hector Narayanan

Disclaimer:  This is the 3rd post in the Cinthol Alive is Awesome Campaign series.

“Adventure bathing?” asked Nishi.

“Adventure bathing” nodded I, to my sister.   And Hector, well, he just raised a leg and sprayed the bush just the way all well brought up dogs do whenever they spot, well, anything.

“It’s not quite like the rivers and oceans they show in that Cinthol Alive is Awesome ad, is it?” she opined. And I looked at the water, and looked at it deeply.

Unlike the AIA ads, them that made us gasp with their stunning visuals of oceans, lagoons and largely roaring waters, our pond wasn’t quite feeling the same emotions.  In all probability, the depth of my stare was deeper than the depth of the water.  While I would have wanted it to bristle and stampede and hiss, here it was lying cool as a cucumber, not as much as breaking into a ripple. It was in character, like one of those old English gentlemen, those who sit in the stadium watching a four day country cricket game. So much the divine picture of lethargy are they, that even the sun would feel embarrassed to tan them lest they feel compelled to move a muscle to frown.

“It’s perfect for this lazy bum” Nishi said, looking at our yawning pooch.

Lets go in flashback now.

Hector has never been one to care too much for baths, be it the adventurous kind that our friends at Cinthol are talking of, or any other kind for the matter. Not that he can’t like a bath, he could I suppose, as long as there is no water involved in the entire procedure. You see, the fellow has always been the regal sort, quite the Brit, trotting about everywhere stiff upper lip et al, looking down upon the rest of the world as if we were all germs.  So, it really does not do much for his pride when mother, Nishi  or father  pour mugs of water on him and laughingly insist that he now looks more like a shrivelled up mongoose than the hot cocker spaniel he believes he is.  It does even less for his pride when the above mentioned are soaping his underneaths and all the street doggies are rolling on the earth near the outside gate, their laughter ringing loud in his droopy ears for long.

Back to the story.

So a few weeks back, the three of us walked from our home, through the farms and those coconut trees that curve, to the canal that runs behind our house.  It looked quite inviting, glistening as it did in the afternoon light.

The water was cold and both Nish and I yelped on entering it. Hector lingered about near the stones,  skipping on his toes and not at all interested in joining us. We went in a little further, gingerly testing the stones on the sandy bed with our toes, and soon we were in till our necks. The water was now feeling delicious to the skin.

It is at this point of time that Layla made her entry and changed the course of events completely.  Layla was, as you should know, our neighbour’s Labrador but her being thrice Hector’s size had never stopped him for being all gooey and mushy in her presence.  But as to what she felt for our chappy is not very clear. It’s a difficult business, to understand women.

Anyway so Layla had come with her master, an old man we all liked.  And on seeing Hector, she behaved as all girls should,  ignore him and stand afar. Think Hector barked to call her over to his own stone, but she preferred to be where she was. 

Taking out a bone from a bag, the old man threw it at her, but lo, the throw went long and the bone flew over Layla’s head, right into the stream. The bone that was meant to be her snack was now all wet and flowing down the stream as briskly as it could.

Commeth the hour, commeth the man. Or dog.  Seeing his lover so forlorn, Hector suddenly decided to do something that we or he would never have thought he would do, readily. To put it precisely, a young spaniel rocketed like a bullet, feet hardly touching the ground, long ears flying in the wind, and when he reached the edge, he sailed right over and landed and I quote, splash. The next few moments saw a flurry of events. Brother and sister swam towards pooch worried that if he would not be able to overcome the current, pooch swam behind bone sure it wouldn’t overcome the current, and Layla, well we don’t know what she was doing.  We yelled at him to stop, but there is no point telling a dog not to chase a bone when he is in love. Or maybe, he just wanted the bone all for himself.

Finally, he managed to  get the bone and turned back towards the bank.  The scene was one that National Geographic should have captured, a dimpled man coming out the water, chiseled arms and all; a girl who was err trying to remove water from her ears, and a dog with a wet bone in his mouth. And when he came out, he went right upto Layla, laid the bone at her feet and walked off as if helping damsels in distress was his every day past time. Attaboy Hector, tell them who’s your daddy! 

A week later, Layla moved onto Dennis, a huge Doberman that had just shifted into the neighborhood.  My sister, well she’s married for quite some time now. So, it just leaves Hector and I, both single. Saving damsels in distress is still our every day past time though.

You can read the earlier posts of the "Cinthol Alive is Awesome" series here,

A Night Adventure with a Croatian Backpacker

An Andamanese Affair

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A night adventure with a Croatian backpacker

“It’s just a little ahead”, he tells me before turning again and walking briskly. A stone slips from under his foot and goes hurtling down the cliff. I try to look down but its too dark and all I see are the waves hitting the rocks.

“I have never swum after drinking, you know” I tell him, laughingly. The next moment I am shaking my head. If I hadn’t laughed, maybe he wouldn’t know that I am nervous. He tells me that I look alright to him and we would be fine. We keep walking.

The path is narrow. And hardly used. Goran claims that no one knows about it. I think no one uses it because it is too steep and one false step, and you fall hundred metres down into the sea.
It’s a full moon night, and the sea looks silver from up where we are. I wonder if I should light a smoke but refrain. The mountain is too beautiful. We keep walking, briskly, but every time I look down at the sea, it still looks as far as it did the last time.

I have always loved the sea, ever since I was a child. The waves, the breeze, the boats on the horizon, they all play their part in giving me peace. I think back over the last few years. Of how life changed, of how it wasn’t meant to. If I am here today, because of what happened two years back. If only things had never changed.  Another side teases me saying that I am acting tipsy. Surely two pints can’t make me introspective. Dear Lord, how we have fallen.  Goran coughs, and my reverie is broken.

I have not known Goran for long. In fact, I know him only for three days. We met on the first night I reached Goa.  He is a traveller from Croatia. I like him. He has been on the road alone for over a year now, and I keep asking him about all the doubts I have of travelling alone myself.  To discover ourselves, sounds like a clichéd line, if not corny. Why should we? We speak of it at length. “It is important you know to be able to be happy, all by yourself”, he tells me, smiling. I wonder if I am. Sure I am, at the surface. I like my work, I have a few good friends, I am happy. But am I? The past comes rushing in, just like the waves that dash against the rocks. The answer hits me like a bolt of lightning.

We have reached the bottom. “There, can you see the caves?” he says, pointing at some dark cliff, along the coastline. I nod my head, and make an approximate calculation of the distance in my head. I have always liked maths. “It’s not high tide yet” , he tells me but I already know that.  I have never swum in a cave before, and I am not a great swimmer. Maybe he is, maybe he’s not.  Why I trust him, I do not know. Maybe because he speaks softly, and makes you feel comfortable. Or maybe because I am willing to try anything these days. I don’t care. It cannot be a good thing, to not care.

A strong breeze is blowing and we run across the water, towards the caves. We yell as we run, and we are the only two people for miles around.  I slip and fall in the water, and a wave sprays my face.  As I laugh and wipe the water off my eyes, I see Goran is much ahead. He does not know I fell. And I know if I hadn’t come to Goa alone, I would never have met him, and never would have been running at 2 in the night towards a cave in the sea. I am beginning to get some more answers now. I get up and run. With every step I take, I am leaving the past behind me. Or am I only trying to outrun it? I don’t yell anymore, I just run with my eyes closed, the water flying off the back of my legs.

We have reached the caves now. They look dark and ominous. “We have got about an hour”, Goran tells me, “after that the tide will come in high.” “We’ll cross the length long before” I tell him and go inside. He laughs and joins me.

When we go inside, the water is higher than our waists. I take a deep breath and put my head inside. It is icy cold. I feel it as it flows from my head to my shoulders to my back. I let go. Goran’s strong and he goes ahead,  in neat knife like strokes. I open my eyes and look at the walls of the cave. The water keeps swooshing to the edges, and here inside the sound is magnified. The water is cold but it feels good on the skin, and I am not thinking anymore.

I float for a while on my back, looking at the ceiling. A bat flies a few feet above us, and maybe it likes this new, strange company. 

What has happened, has. It was beautiful then, and tonight is another day. I have been working too hard these two years, it was important to forget. But maybe working so much wasn't. Maybe I needed this holiday to tell me that, maybe I needed this cave to feel free.

The bat circles around, and so do I, trying to keep our movements synchronous. When it leaves, I turn and go about my own path. I am not trying to outrun anything anymore, I am letting go. I smile, for I don’t feel the water flying off my legs anymore. Swimming here in this cave I am aware of all my senses, aware of myself, aware of the world around me.

Some time that night, I came out of the cave and saw Goran waiting. “Did you like that?” he asks enthusiastically. I smile at him and nod my head.

An Andamanese Affair

I look at him, that massive fellow about whom I have only read so far, and have always wanted to meet. When he’s finally in front of me, all I can do is smile. He looks past me in an absolutely unconcerned manner. He is used to attention, and he’ll happily do without it. “We finally meet, Rajan” I say, hopefully in as less a dramatic manner as possible.

He does not reply.

The history of Andamans has always fascinated me. One night while reading about the islands, I come across the story of its elephants.  ‘The swimming elephants of Andaman’ is the title of the article. Curious, I delve right into it.

The islands have a lot of timber, and in the 70s, the Indian government wanted to procure some of it. But there were no easy ways to transport the timber between the many islands. Soon, elephants were sent over from the Indian mainland, and once trained, they swam between the islands, the timber sitting dry on their backs. Soon came the 90s and an order from the Indian government to stop cutting timber altogether.  The temples of the South are quick to demand the elephants be brought to them. And they are, where they will spend the rest of their lives doing hard work and be meaninglessly dressed up during festivals.

It is during the same time that Rajan is at Havelock Island. The owners from a popular resort, Barefoot, like him and do not want him to be ferried across to the temples. So, they ask his mahout to set him free. The man wants money, tells them that they can have Rajan if they pay for him.

How does one set a price for an elephant, any living thing,’ I wonder.

The people at Barefoot do not want to give up. Painstakingly, they write letters to every single person who has, ever, stayed at their resort and ask them to make any kind of contribution, little or big, anything that they can for it would help Rajan. There is an overwhelming response. As it goes, there are nice people all over the world, and money pours in, and Barefoot is able to buy off Rajan.

The article ends by saying that, all that Rajan does these days is roam about Havelock, yawn a lot and eat ‘like an elephant’.  Sometimes, he goes swimming in the sea with people. It is as much of a ‘happily-lived-after’ conclusion as possible.

A year after I read the article, I stand in front of this famous, venerable elephant. I pat his trunk, thinking that delightful display of affection might just make him warm upto me. He raises his trunk and rests it momentarily on my head. Is he trying to bless me? Does he think he’s God? Clearly, all this adulation has gone to his head!  We must stop calling these fellows ‘venerable’, I muse.

We move towards the sea, two girls, me, the mahout and Rajan.  The girls are from Switzerland and they look terribly excited, just to see him. Who am I kidding, I am as excited as they are.

We step into the water, and oddly, it feels cold. Odd, because the sun is beating down mercilessly on this hot October day. But it renders several colours to the sea, and I can see seven different shades of blue and green. I have never seen the ocean as beautiful as that in the Andaman Islands. Rajan waits on the sand, looking right at us as we plunge into the water. Maybe he is judging us, checking if his partners for the day can swim half as well as he can. The mahout does not hurry him, we have already paid the money. What was once a noble motive by Barefoot has now become glaringly commercial.

We play in the water, the two Swiss girls and I. They can’t speak a lot of English so we just laugh a lot. But we are all waiting for Rajan.

And then he comes, putting that first giant foot into the water, as if to part it just like Moses once did. Soon, he’s fully entered into the water. He looks beautiful.

I strike the water furiously, I want to stay ahead of him, see if he can beat me in a race. I look back once, and almost gasp as I see a huge elephant looming over me. He’s catching up fast. I go underwater, and it is as beautiful a sight as it is strange. Watching those giant legs inside water , it is almost as if they were rubber.  It is the most surreal thing ever. I go close and wonder how much more I can. In a moment of weakness, I decide that it is all okay and I go touch his body lightly. He moves on, gracefully. I have stopped swimming now, I just hold on to him and let him guide me wherever he wants to. I have let go of all my fears. He moves on, gracefully.

It is an unexplainable feeling. Here I am, holding onto a beast that can kill me with one sudden movement of his leg. But I feel absolutely secure. I am not even sure if he can feel my miniscule weight tugging on to him, but I feel that he is taking each step carefully, making sure I do not get hurt.  One false movement and I could perhaps die. But the truth is, I have never felt as alive.

It is an unexplainable feeling. This feeling of suddenly being aware of every single sense of yours, and letting go of it, all at once.  It is as if we are the only two beings livng, and everything else, for that moment is inanimate. The truth is, this sudden realization of feeling Alive is awesome. Some day you must try this adventure bathing experience, for there is nothing like it.

Half an hour later, we are all sunning ourselves on the beach. The girls are polite and ask me if I would like to join them for lunch, and I agree.  I drape myself in a towel and we walk up to Rajan. The girls gurgle some sweet nothings to him. I look past them, at the sea, and beyond it. 

There is no sign of the mainland.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Love in the times of the Jaipur Literature Festival!

A man needs to have a certain focus in his life, a direction, a map of the things that he must do in the future. It is the mantra of good living. And that is why in that extremely philosophical and profound list of “things I must do in 2012”, eating Kakori kabab in Chandni Chowk and ‘kissing a Spanish girl found top ranks, right below ‘lazing and doing nothing’.

Somewhere in the list, I also scribbled ‘attending the Jaipur Literature Festival’.

And because I am a man of my word, on a cold, wintery January Friday night, I found myself standing at Old Delhi railway station shivering and cursing myself as to why that list ever found existence.

It all started making perfect sense the moment I reached Jaipur. For a sizable station, Jaipur was startlingly clean. As my companion confirmed, the city was also less lecherous than India’s capital. As the roads were less populated, even the air seemed fresher. Life outside a metro has its own slow pace, it is like a dog – not a frisky puppy that has to run about chasing every smell, or squirting every bush. But an ancient, venerable thirteen year old Saint Bernard that refuses to budge and yet looks stately and majestic, even when you are lying at full stretch and pushing its bottoms with all your might.

At around noon, my platoon and I marched into the venue of the festival – Diggi Palace. And with the same enthusiasm as the one that got me in, I strode back out because I did not have an entry pass. Not that I am a stickler for rules and I would rather die than turn my back on a task, but then fleeing does seem like a reasonable option when a battalion of cops charge at you with their canes.

It is said that the Saturday of 21st saw the highest ever recorded turnout at the festival – credible sources confirm that there were over 17,000 people that Diggi was holding, and bursting with. In a couple of hours though, the security let us make fresh registrations and soon we were inside the imperial blue gates!

The venue looked every bit as colourful as the website. Pink, yellow and blue streamers hung near the entrance. The lawns were festive – discussion tents, book stalls, snack shops found their own spaces, and around them we were all littered. My feelings remained mixed, though. While a part of me rejoiced at this festive spirit, the other half balked at a large section of the population – in their Ray Bans and Guccis and Zaras and Louis Vittons, their smart phones never leaving their hands. I had seen them before – in the World Cup finals with their ‘guest passes’ and surely they were also there at Noida’s grand F1 event.

The sessions found full houses. There were discussions on tigers, the publishing industry, regional literature, music etc. In between, we flitted around the stalls, weaving our way through thousands of others weaving their way through us. And then she came.

You know that thing about time standing still? And the world being a blur? As she came towards me, one pretty step at a time, as she moved past me, one delectable step at a time, the skies changed their complexion from an evil grey to a romantic bright sky blue. The sun, it came out from behind the clouds, as golden and radiant as golden and radiant can be. And my heart, it sang just like Shahrukh Khan’s did when he first spotted Shanti (Deepika Padukone) in Om Shanti Om.

“That’s Fatima Bhutto” someone screamed from the back. And I wanted to smack them, could they not see that the hero was trying to sing a song and woo his girl! I turned back to look at the lissome thing, and she looked as if she was in search of her hero too. Actually, she was deep in discussion with the Rajasthan royalty, but let lovers believe in what they must.

As the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Quick, a plan must be formulated. But right then she turned and passed me again and that familiar Om Shanti Om song started welling up in my bosom – “Kitna kuchh kehna hai fir bhi hai dil mein sawaal kayi…” Faint in the background, I could see the familiar small figure of the renowned music and film director Vishal Bhardwaj as he signed some fans’ autographs and I wished he had a casio instead of a pen in his hand so that he could supplement my baritone with some lilting music. Frantically, I looked around for loose threads about her that my cuff links would get stuck to, the way Shahrukh’s had in Deepika’s but sadly neither were her clothes tattered nor did my jacket have any signs of cuffs. The divine thing left, unaware of the greatest love story that could have ever been.

The rest of the day passed by as days do. From time to time, I would break into a line from the song, startling audiences that were maintaining pin drop silences in the face of profound discussions amid eminent personalities. At other times, I would stare at the sky piercingly as if to obtain unobtainable answers from it but it ignored the stare as an elephant would a shriveled grape.

Deluded one-sided romances apart, the festival was beautiful in the entirety of the two days that I was there. Unlike the huge controversy and clamour about Rushdie, the government and the Indian state that the media and twitter so happily and enthusiastically built in the country, back then in Jaipur that weekend there was hardly anyone upset or perturbed or giving the issue so much importance. We all enjoyed what the organizers had given us – a festival, a tremendous package of some of the best authors in the world, and books.

If only the media (social? Not really) could pay attention to some of the finer things the festival stood for… Jaipur, next year I’ll be back again, boarding a train on a cold wintery Delhi night, hopefully not cursing this time.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A short story on love

Disclaimer: Once upon a time the author wanted to be be a writer for, the leading cricket website in the world. And fuelled by optimism, he sent them across his credentials. Below is the text of that orginal cover letter. Yes, just after this neat line made of a lot of neat dashes.
                                        --------------- beginning of cover letter ---------------

‘You can know more about a person in an hour’s play than a year of conversation’

Right from that handsome age of nine when he first watched Sachin and Co crumble at the World Cup ’92, Neeraj Narayanan knew that he was destined to pursue a career in cricket. His conviction received further strength when he won every single match in his home ground, rather the house car park, against his sister. Since his neighbourhood only had bullies who refused to let him bat or bowl, he would run home after school, and grumble as his mother insisted he eat lunch before donning the whites. 

In his tiny white shorts he stood, bum jutting out like Roger Binny’s, bat in left hand. With his right hand, he would throw the ball onto the wall and before it could ricochet and reach him, he would grasp his bat swiftly with both hands, and drive the ball gracefully through covers, or two broken pots.
The intense and grueling work ethic saw him become captain of his colony and school, and when they appointed him leader of the set that represented the college team, he knew that there was a little spot in the Indian dressing room that was crying for his presence.

Our story of his heroics with bat, ball and ground fielding ends here.

Late 2005, he became a part of the Cognizant family, a clan that insisted on pleasing American clients by delivering software codes on time. But much as he tried, he never ran around the floor or screeched like a madman or pumped his fist on solving a difficult piece of code, the way he had when he was in his whites. Ecstasy no longer was part of his character. Expressiveness still held on belligerently though, and whenever India lost or Tendulkar touched a new realm of success, he wrote and sent it to all to his colleagues.
Exasperated by him, they directed him to the company blog and it was here he found respite. In 2007, they recognized his blogging efforts and transferred him to the ‘Branding and Corporate Communications’ team, just so that he stop writing eulogies on self, and do something similar for the organization.

Mica and MBA happened, and he wrote more. As member of the Sports Committee, he spent a lot of time thinking about the annual cricket tournament, campaigns for promotion, and writing articles on matches he lost, so much that when the yearbook came out, they only spoke of his deluded die hard love for sports , and a few tidbits on his writing. This, when he had expected long testimonials on his charm, dimple, brilliance and what not.

And when it all ended, he was staring at an office cabin that read ‘Communication Expert - the Government of Gujarat’. Gandhinagar, it has been rumoured is the capital of Gujarat but we don’t believe everything we hear, do we? It is in fact a country of old men and older women, a civilization that is set back in time, which has ancient written all over it. If Gandhinagar was Jambavan, the wise hundred and something year old monkey in the Mahabharat, Mohenjodaro and Harappa would be frisky two year old puppies, sprightly and full of beans.

 Since most sentences here began with ‘Under the dynamic leadership of CM Modi’, he observed that the only way that he would not forget the language was to write on other mediums. So he began writing his own book. Then when Sachin scored his fiftieth century, he mailed a piece to a friend. The clever fellow asked him to send it to Cricinfo, just so that he could avoid reading it himself. The article was then published by the website. Being of mediocre quality, he insisted on sending another article, this time on Rahul Dravid, and it was published too. Like someone said,
‘It is hard to write, but harder not to do so’.

Hi, my name is Neeraj Narayanan and I love writing almost as much as I love the wonderful sport. It would be my happy and fervent desire to be part of the Cricinfo team. I love the work that the team does, and believe that I have the potential to offer something both similar as well as distinct.  Do let me know if I could fit in somewhere.

Neeraj Narayanan

p.s Here are the links to my published articles on Cricinfo and two videos we made for the annual cricket tournament at Mica. Do remember when you are astounded by the absolute shoddiness of the video, that the vision was excellent, just that the actors (read: friends) and technology was pathetic. 

History will be kind to me …. because I intend to write it.

------------------------- end of cover letter ---------------------------------

Conclusion: Well, in reply they did call him for an internship, during the course of which he met Rahul Dravid, even shook a trembling hand with him. But, as things go, not all organizations accept siblings in the same setup, a sensible thought as Nishi Narayanan and I  do love lifting up computers and throwing it at each other. (I do wonder what Mark Waugh would have ended up doing if the Australian Cricket Board had thought the same way.)
Anyway, Cricinfo continues to be the wonderful website it is, with its tremendous dedication to the game. And I, well I have moved onto the travel world, a worthy second fiddle. Writing about travel is nice, reading about it even more so.

Sachin and Rahul, however, will always hold a special place.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Delhi 6: Walking in Chandni Chowk

Opening a blurry eye, I saw a blurry book in the hands of a blurry mother.  Twenty plus score years of caring Shravan Kumar son-hood warned me that she was in her most enthusiastic avatar, and it would be wise if my sleepy self should just pretend to be in a coma. The act lasted, only till she poked that heavy William Dalrymple manuscript in my sides, making me splutter. If visualized, my reaction was just like Saurav Ganguly’s when the fast bowlers bowled one into his ribs – awkward and jumpy.

“Get up! I don’t want to reach late,” the molester whined.  I wanted to tell her that Chandni Chowk was not going to run away, it had been standing right where it was for the last two centuries, but I am a good son. Also, she looked a little like Goddess Durga with that trishul, I mean book, raised high in her hands.

Half an hour later, we were in Delhi’s swanky metro, she beaming at everyone from her seat in the ladies’ coach, and me glaring at the wall as one more man stepped on my feet. When we got down from the metro, the crowd helped us reach the exit faster with their helpful shoves and pushes.  In chaos, lies India’s comfort.

When we were out of the small alley that connected main Chandni Chowk to the station, we manned the long road like a sailor would the sea.  “Ballimaran?” a shopkeeper said when we precisely asked him the same. “Keep going straight and turn left at the third red light. You’ll see the jooti market immediately.”

And just like he said, the shoe market of Ballimaran was right there, at the third left. Tens of shops with their colourful jootis, sandals, slippers dazzled our senses. A paints company’s catalogue itself could not do a better job presenting shades and colours. But our quest was not footwear, it was Mirza Ghalib. Among other things.

The greatest Urdu poet the world has ever known, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib lived in his residence in Gali Qasim Jaan, Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk for the last nine years of his life. In the words of eminent litterateur Ralph Russell, “Had Ghalib written in English, he would have been the greatest poet of all times, amongst all languages.”  Arguable surely, but an indicator of how great the man was. Yet, how many people know he lived there. We might be living in the times of the internet, the times of social network, the times of communication at its best, we have been to Chandni Chowk so many times, and yet the house of one of the greatest poets lies unnoticed and unloved.

A modest museum, the house has a small bust of Ghalib, two of his preserved books, an old shatranj (chess) board and insensitively, an Airtel PCO.  The walls are decorated with his quotes, and one wall has a fantastic life-size painting of him smoking a hookah.

“One of my dreams has come true today,” mum declared when we came out of the house. I guess I now know where my filmy streak stems from. 

“Right, next we head for Saint Stephen’s Church,” she said referring to the notes she took from her Dalrymple.  I flagged down a cycle rickshaw, and as the man weaved us in and out of the crawling traffic, the sweat shone on his muscled legs. Yet, he sang, to the street perhaps, and whistled at his comrades as we covered one metre after another, and only then could I realize the breeze that touched my face.

Also known as Fatehpuri Church, the red edifice of St. Stephen’s Church was built in 1867 and is the only church in the city where service is conducted in Urdu.  It stands as a memorial to the British soldiers that died during the famous first mutiny for Indian independence. A diamond shaped signboard outside the building read “Number 29, Heritage Building”.

We then backtracked our way to Fatehpuri Mosque. On our way, we crossed Number 27 – “Dharamshala Rai Sahib Lala Laxmi Narayan”.  In the midst of all the shops, it is easy to miss these heritage buildings even with their signboards, and we weren’t surprised when the shopkeepers had no clue about them when we asked. I tried to photograph the dharamshala but the entangled low-hanging, teeming electric lines running across the street would not help my cause.

The mosque was, just as all mosques, emanating a sense of peace. It stood at one end of the Chandni Chowk street, directly opposite and rivalling the building at the other end - the Red Fort.  When we went inside, it was as if we had entered another world, another era. One that moved at its own pace, unhurried, unfettered. Men sat in circles, talking and smiling. A Maulvi read from his book in a small room full of cushions, the ceiling fan clucking noisily. I did not do much, except for clicking photographs, but a sense of rest swept through me as I came out. While looking back to take a parting photograph of the building, I saw the clock at the top. It had no second or minute hands on it. Fitting, I think, for time really stands still in these parts.

Six hours from when we had started out, we were back in the metro. I scanned through the photographs, at the jooti market, at Parathe Wali Gali where we had had our lunch, and the famous terrace in the Gadodia Spice Market from where you can see all of Chandni Chowk, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid.

Through the crowd of men, I tried to look at mum, sitting in the nearby ladies compartment. Catching my eye, she waved out exuberantly. Twenty plus score years of caring Shravan Kumar son-hood warned me that she was in her most enthusiastic avatar, and it would be wise if my sleepy self should just pretend to be in a coma…