Wednesday, February 22, 2012

As I Traveled, I Happened To Meet...

The reason I traveled so much in my childhood days was because of my father. He is someone who has ‘a taste for traveling’. Having  grown up in a small town in West Bengal, I wonder if he ever imagined that one day he will travel all across Europe and America. He got to see places that most Indians don’t even know about- Slovenia, Croatia and so on because his work would always take him to new places. The unfortunate thing was that I could never accompany him on any of his tours, except for the one time I went to Russia. But that doesn’t count, because I was still a fetus and you can’t really see much from the womb.

But just because I didn’t get to go abroad, doesn’t mean I didn’t have any fascinating journeys. When it came to traveling, my father tends to be inclined towards the unconventional. So, when most of my friends in Delhi went to Shimla, I went to Kashmir. When my friends from Mumbai went to Goa, I went to Puri. I could go on and on  about all the places I’ve been to, but the thing is that I don’t remember the picturesque locations as much as I remember the people I met there.

The first person I remember is an police officer I met in Amritsar at the Wagah border. I remember watching the retreat ceremony performed by the jawans and although I was too young to think deeply back then, I now marvel at the geographical closeness of India and Pakistan. As the Border Security Force of India and the Pakistan Rangers perform their routine, you can’t miss their perfect harmony, which is exactly the kind of harmony the two warring nations probably need. I was a cute child, even if I say so myself. I got cuddled a lot and everybody loved me. But that day, people realized how powerful a child’s innocence can be. Somebody from the other side of the border, a man with a bushy moustache and cap, called me to him adoringly. To me, he was just another person, and I started marching in his direction, ready to cross the border to an unknown Pakistani stranger standing just fifty metres away. I still wonder what would have happened if nobody had stopped me. Would I be tried and sentenced for trespassing, or would I be peacefully returned to my family after a good deal of cooing?

All I know is that I don’t have a clear memory of the retreat ceremony, but my memory of that man hasn’t diminished over the years.

Then there was the Kashmiri family that invited us over to their house after meeting us on the bus. It was quite an impulsive decision to actually accept the invitation. Given the safety hazards of traveling in Kashmir, it’s not always advisable to go to places that weren’t part of the original tour plan. We went to the most beautiful house in a small locality. I quickly became friends with the children. They even gave me a lehenga to wear and I played around in that lehenga. No matter what the political situation of a place, you can still expect to get warmth there. I can safely say that we have never been treated as well as guests as we were that day by the Kashmiri Muslim family.

(clockwise from top left:1. Me and my sister with girls from the Kashmiri family that invited us over to their home.  2. The locality their house was in. 3. My sister with the Kashmiri girls. 4. Us enjoying their marvelous lunch)

I also remember the night our bus broke down in Nepal. Even though my strongest memory of the night is the sky- living in a city doesn’t allow you to witness a starry night sky which has less black, more sparkle- I also remember the people I met. There was a man who kept his mouth covered at all times I an effort to save himself from pollution. I wonder what he would do if he lived in Mumbai. Everybody was friendly, and for once, I thought that the stereotypical notion of ‘people living in the mountains are easygoing’ had some substance to it. Everybody was patient in waiting for another ride to come. My grandfather, who speaks Nepali, overheard some of the locals talking about our parents, saying my mother was good-looking and my father would have been too if male pattern baldness hadn’t got to him. Many years have passed since then, but I still remember that night because my trip wouldn’t have been the same without our bus breaking down and us having to spend a night with the locals.

There was another time in Puri when we met another Bengali family. The coincidence was that the older son was friends with one of my cousins that we were close to. It’s fun getting to share a holiday with people who have so much in common with you- language, culture and even address (because they lived just a few blocks away from the our home in Kolkata). When my family checked out of the hotel, I got left behind because I was in another room, watching TV. It was because of this family that my parents managed to take a U-turn and come back to get me without turning into nervous wrecks. When I was safely reunited with my family, everybody shared a good laugh at my expense.

We also met a child actress in Puri. She acted in a TV show that my mom watched religiously and she and I became friends. We tried to make her spill what would happen next in the show but she didn’t. When we got back home, more excited than ever to watch the show, but in the days we had missed watching it, the show had undergone a ‘time leap’- all the characters were now older and our child actress had been replaced by somebody else.

But the people we meet while traveling aren’t always the best company to be with. In Jaipur, we stayed in a guest-house with the nosiest, most eager to please and interfering caretaker ever. He wouldn’t even let us have our meals in peace. Literally every two minutes, he would pop into the dining room and say “Can I get you achaar?” or “Do you need water?” or “Where will you go tomorrow?” It wasn’t just the things he said but the way he acted. The frequency of him coming to say something or the other to us was so high, we finally had to ask him to stay away because he was getting a little frightening.

And then there was the worst of all- a Bangladeshi couple we met in Puri. The woman was overly talkative and the man always looked stoned. They were neither the same age as my parents nor the same age as me and my sister. They had nothing in common with us. Soon, they became really irritating, but we couldn’t tell them because they’d think it rude. Finally, when their pestering threatened to ruin our entire holiday, my father adopted a very clever idea- he found a hotel with great discounts and took them to that hotel, and seeing the heavy discounts, they decided to stay there. The hotel was quite a few miles away from ours and we thanked God as we wouldn’t be seeing them again.

But for every pest we meet, there is someone equally adorable. I am talking about the little children I’ve met on my travel- all different to look at, all equally cute. I usually try to keep pictures of them so as to remember them.

A baby girl we met in Arunachal Pradesh
A little girl in Nepal
A baby boy with his mother in Arunachal Pradesh.

All that being said, what makes our trips truly worthwhile are the people who make our trips possible. It’s our travel agents, our tour guides, our tour bus drivers and our hotel staff. I thank the tourism industry for making our trips the wonderful experiences they are.

Next time you go somewhere, remember this- nothing can help you absorb the culture as much as meeting local people. Instead of always eating hotel food, try to eat at a local’s house and know that’s what real food tastes like. Ask the people which are the best places for entertainment (music, dance and stage shows) instead of just relying on brochures and travel guides. Become a part of the place you’re in. I promise you won’t regret it, because a holiday just isn’t the same until you truly interact with people who make the place what it is.

(This is an entry for blogging contest held by Expedia. For more, visit

Monday, February 13, 2012

Farewell to School

School's over and college bckons. That is, of course, if I get into a good college. For the past two days, I have been thinking about how Farewell could have gone differently. I've been thinking about the pictures I could have taken, the things I could have said, the moments I could have had. But every time I let these thoughts creep back into my head, I realize how I am actually trying to live int he past and hoping my school life or rather, the culmination of it on Farewell, culd have gone differently.

My day bgan with me anticipating the evening when I would be in school, all dressed up for the occassion. But I still had duties. First of all, I had to study (Boards and Competitives can ruin the funnest of days). Secondly, I had to call my friend Siddhesh to make sure he was going to show up. No matter how socially awkward he is and how difficult he can be at times, due to some inexplicable cosmic alignment of stars, I am friends with him. So, I thought of it as my responsibility to call him up and tell him to show up dressed appropriately. As it turns out, my call hadn't completely been useless, as he had found out about the Farewell just a day ago and was still in the process of arranging for shoes, a suit and so on.

Me with Siddhesh- Two people had to chase him into a corner to make him pose.

I decided to take a nap and when I woke up late in the afternoon, I realized I didn't want to get off the bed. I am extremely bad at handling change and Farewell is a symbol of change. I didn't want to go through with it. Besides, I had spent a lot of time anticipating the day and now, the fear of disappointment came into the picture. What if the evening didn't turn out to go as great as planned. Nevertheless, I got up and got dressed (hats off to all women who wear saris everyday).

I was just in time and the tilak ceremony began the moment I sat down. I congratualate the eleventh standard students on the great research they did on us and am honoured to be titled the school's 'Literati'.

The next was the Mr. and Ms Apeejay Contest, which is basically a pageant. The first round was the written questionnaire round. I couldn't help but feel a sense of deja vu in this round because I had hosted it last year with Sanjeev Kanan. What's more, the question 'Name the two temples near the school' was in the original draft of the questionnaire I had prepared, but was cut in the final draft. That question was asked this year. Also, I had asked a question about Gita Mam's last name (Guruvayurappan) and this year, we were asked Prabhakar Sir's full name (which I was ashamed to not have known).

All things considered, I guess I did quite well on my questionaire because I was selected to go into the second round. I thought they would ask us to do a walk and speak two words, but this year, we were all asked to display our talents. I am not sure if my talent is something that can be displayed on stage, but I had to do something. First of all, I must say I loved the dancers (Krittika, Charvi, Neha, Pravallika, Fenny- my apologies if I missed out on any names), and they have my respect because I have been kicked out of two dance classes and have come to the conclusion that dance requires something that I don't possess. Full points for innovation to the football players, because the magic they displayed with the ball shows not only their passion for the game but also their general preoccupation with it because who could've thought the football could make it's way onto the stage which is mostly reserved for speeches, songs and dances. Divya, the well-spoken, clever and tactful Ujjain House Captain, did what she does best- singing. Another noteworthy mention was Chinmay on his guitar, but he really shone in the final round with his sense of humor.

But withoout any doubt, the top performances of the night were these-

1. The waltz by Azaan and Prerak- Funny and nostalgic as the same time, as this clearly was insipired by their performances in the school play.
2. Akshay's song- All I can say is, he's not as bad as I would have imagined. I am wondering if 'Pee Loon' is his favorite song. Nice tie, by the way. Hats off to Akshay for being our best source of entertainment for the whole year.
3. Shweta's dance- Classiest belly dancer ever.

I, being dull and a closet stage hater, settled for a speech which wasn't nearly as good as I wanted it to be. But here's something nobody knows- four years ago, I started writing a satire on my four years in Apeejay. Since I couldn't predict the end, here's what my ending was- I get to make a speech on Farewell. I won't go as far as to say the scene was an exact ripoff from my satire but I secretly thank God for that.

I never really got to say the things I wanted to say, so here I give myself a second chance. You might want to read closely because your name might pop up somewhere in the speech I never gave-

Four years ago, a girl walks into her school and is taken by her new classmates to the wrong class. At the time she though, "What a clingy lot". But now when she looks back, she realizes she would probably have ended up sitting in nursery if someone hadn't shown her around. So, thank you Aditi Gandhi for that day when you helped me.

I am amazed by fow many friendships didn't materialize in the last four years. First example from my life would be Aninidta, who was my first friend in Apeejay. We couldn't stay friends, but I just wanted to say she is a very interesting, sometimes entertaining and in my oppinion, a very beautiful girl and I wish her all the best for her future.

Two people I have always admired are Neha and Shervanee. Given my suspicious nature, I have always wondered how they could be friends with everybody. But now, since I am at my positive best, I realize maybe it's just because they are plain and simple nice. Neha is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met because she is the onyl one who helps not only her own friends but everybody she knows, and I don't think it's because she wants to be liked, it's because she is a good person.

The next thing I wanted to talk about is the talent in the school. Firstly, I would like to mention Arjun Ravindranath, a superb singer with a very unconventianal, understated voice, who never lets his talents overshadow who he is. Next mention- Yash Wanwe, who should keep on rapping. Pallavi and Shaista, the onyl reason I've won so many writing contests is because you guys always failed to show up. Pallavi Goswami, I'm pretty sure you can make Audrey Hepburn turn in her grave. Rohan Coleho, I'll never forget your act with the biscuits during the play because I know it was improv. Aparna Bhattbhatt- we all know you're a great dancer, I just feel it's your passion that makes you dance so well. I realized exactly how good you were not in your classical performances, but during the ballroom dance, when you clearly stood out. Harsh Tomar, my favorite boy in twelfth (and I say that in a very platonic way) who is one of the most humble, decent people I've ever known and that's why he is such a star on and off the basketball court. That's why everyone, including me and me friends, cheered when he got 'Best Dressed'. Pramada Jagtap, you probably don't know this but I was busy winning a lot of art competitions before I came here, and you make me so jealous with your talent. 

Apart from all these people, I have two very special mentions- Shobhit Patoria and Ashish Prem. Without their effortless humor, the past year wouldn't have been the same. Think of all the laughs we've shared because of them and you'll realize just how important they are to us.

(After this, I would probably give a shout out to Ashutosh, not because I have something to say, but because I think a lot of the girls would want to take a good look at him).

Last but not the least, I want to say that I love my friends. Besides Pallavi, there hasn't ever been a single person on the planet who is more in tune with me. I look back at all the fights I've had with Shruthilaya about who will take the window seat in the bus, and I realize how pointless it all was because we always ended up staying friends. One person who has not only my love but also my respect is Shreenidhi, who couldn't be here tonight. She is the epitome of simplicity and level-headedness. Shreya, Akshita, Sayali, Shefali, Sudeshna, Akanksha Puthran, Namrata- I will miss all of you and I say this from the bottom of my heart.

So what I'm trying to say is, it doesn't matter how we're feeling now, because in a matter of four short years, it's going to feel different and at that point, you're just going to live your first day in school again just so you can meet these lovely people all over again.

My full group- God, will I miss these guys.

Given the sheer length of the speech I wanted to give, I think you realize why I didn't end up with it.

I don't know if I've missed out some people or not, but I think you all understand my sentiments. Farewell is th culmination of our school life and regardless of all the grudges you hold against your school, they dissolve into nothing on this one day. I have always felt like a misfit in the prefectiorial body. I have attended school fourteen days in a row because of the extra-curricular activities I participated in and my participation hadn't always been willing. I have taken buses and trains from Ghansoli to Nerul because school buses didn't ply sometimes. I don't feel guilty for having held grudges, but now I am ready to rise above them

Lastly, I love all of you and won't forget you and hopehully, you guys will some day feel the same about me.
Me with Arjun
Me, Pallavi and Hemant. I actaully think Hemant is a nice guy.
The very truth was spoken about Anant that day- The pillar of support behind all his friends. For me, he is also the patient reader of all my bad writing and an unrelenting campaigner of Facebook.
Me with Anindita, my first friend in Apeejay. I blame the bad picture on Anant, not my camera.
I hink Shweta was the one who taught me divas exist in real life too.
This is not a very good picture, but at least I captured most of this friend circle.
Shakuntala Ma'am- Withou you, I wouldn't have been able to survive 2 yrs of Bio
Me with Shubhayan and Arjun
I have to admit there are some pretty hot girls in our school.
It totally makes sense that I lost Eliza's role to Pallavi because she really is something.
I am still waiting for Ruchir to open because I know if he ever dos, he will give all the studs of the school a run for their money.

Shruthilaya and Pallavi.

Me with my best friend. I saved the best one for last.