Holi Day

I’m feeling inexplicably nostalgic today about Holi. I love this festival of colours and very badly want to celebrate it this year, but it looks like it’s going to be just another regular day for me.

My first holi in a city that actively celebrated it was in Delhi. Winter had just about started to melt away and spring was in the air (of course, this is a given considering Holi is a celebration of Spring!). I’d recently broken up with my first boyfriend and we were in that delusional phase where we thought we could still be friends. Thankfully, we managed to play along and keep peace that day. My friend and I went over to his house, a sprawling villa that he shared with a bunch of his friends, and we started our war of colours with the neighbours! I don’t remember much of it, but I know it involved a lot of running around and a lot of laughing! I also remember that blue was the dominant colour that day, cos someone thought it’d be fun to use ink (ink!!!) instead of gulal.

Afterwards, we took the bikes and rode out to the Delhi-Gurgaon highway to find a place to eat. We stopped at a dhaba and ordered tandoori roti, chicken kadai, and mattar-paneer all topped with a huge dollop of ghee right before serving. By the way, you can’t avoid paneer if you’re in Delhi. There’ll always be at least one vegetarian in the group who’ll order it in some form or the other. But I digress…

It was a warm day full of sunshine and the food, like all dhaba food, was delicious. We had bottles of Limca spiked with vodka with us which we would sneak mouthfuls of from the bottle. Riding back, I noticed that the entire city was awash in colours, like everyone had been through some kind of rainbow explosion. Everywhere I looked, people had the faces smeared in reds, yellows, pinks and every colour imaginable.

Regrettably, I don’t have any photographs of that day. It was before smartphones and instagrams became the norm and if you wanted pictures, you’d need a film camera. I remember going back to work the next day with my fingernails still stained in red and blue and laughing at colleagues who had tinges of colour in their ears and hair. It would take a while for the colours to be washed off, sure. But the memories… they last a lifetime!

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Sometimes, Love is Enough

I was walking down the street with him and talking about how I’d lived in Delhi so long, but I’d still not taken the time out to go to Agra and see the Taj Mahal.

“Let’s go now!” he said.

I stopped walking and looked at him. Yes, the crazy eyes told me that he was bloody serious! And I guess the madness was infectious cos I grinned back and said ” Okay! Let’s go!” I ran back home and packed a toothbrush and a change of clothes into my gym bag and rushed out. He was waiting outside for me with a backpack.

We had to take the bus (it was 11am and we were too late for the morning train). But that was okay. We stopped to eat at questionable dhabas. But it was okay. I had to pee in terrible loos on the way there. But it was okay! We stayed at a hotel that wasn’t exactly going to win awards on TimeOut, but that was okay too!

The Taj Mahal is one of the most marketed things about India and I’d seen a million pictures and tacky little marble replicas of it before I saw it in real life, as I’m sure you have as well. But when you do see it, it still manages to take your breath away.

When you see it looming in front of you, peaceful and calm, everything around you goes quiet. You begin to have an inkling of how much love this man had for his wife. I still find it amazing that a man capable of so much love was also capable of so much cruelty that he cut off the hands of the workers who built the monument. I guess they didn’t have the concept of copyrights at the time huh!

It was a cloudy, gray sorta day, the kind that I love, and we walked around holding hands, taking in everything- the intricate work on the walls, the Yamuna glistening behind the Taj… everything was beautiful.. everything was perfect.

For me, that trip is one of the best trips ever. Sure, we didn’t stay at fancy hotels or get spa treatments. But we were full of joy and good spirit, and the sense of adventure trumped any slight discomfort that comes with making plans on the fly.

And of course, we had Love! And when you’re that young, that’s pretty much all you need!

A Day in the Park

One of the things I absolutely love about Delhi is the number of parks they have (not to mention forts, but this is not about that).  All the neighbourhoods I’ve been to have at least a small patch of grass in the middle of a residential block, where kids play and people go for walks, or have laughter-workouts and whatnot.

The one in my neighbourhood wasn’t built around a block though. It was a short 5 min walk away but it was much bigger than usual, with a lovely, mostly tree-lined, track built around it for walks and stuff.

I was dating a guy who was a fitness freak at the time, and he would be outside my apartment building at 5:30 in the morning (seriously! NOT kidding!)  where I’d meet him to go for a jog around the park. Early mornings were perfect, as the park would be all misty and surreal-looking, and there was still a nip in the air, but not as cold as the night.  In spite of the early hour, the park would be quite busy, with groups of people doing yoga, jogging, exercising, walking their dogs etc. And despite so many people being there, the mistiness of the air would cloak the sounds making everything seem a bit more distant, and that much more peaceful.

After our jog, we’d exercise. And by we, I mean him! :P  I was the lazy one (of course!), and I’d sit on the swings and count the number of pull-ups he did on the monkey bars.

We’d then go to the nearby Mother Dairy booth and buy elaichi-flavoured  milk which we would take back to the park. There was a tree there with broad, low-hanging branches that grew almost parallel to the ground. That was our treeWe’d climb the tree and sit on a branch, chatting desultorily and just relaxing for a while before starting our day. It was the most indulgent time of day, where we’d talk about the future, dream and laugh and just be.

At the time, I don’t think I realized how damn near perfect life was. These little dates of ours cost almost nothing, but are more precious to me for the memories than I can ever explain.

Life only seems to make sense in retrospect doesn’t it?

Of Forgotten Moments Revisited

I’ve been a bit under the weather, and have a slight fever running even now. I guess it must be the weather, Dubai being  it’s sand-stormy best, whirling all the sand in the desert into small typhoons and finally settling it all around my house, which of course gets my allergies going! So I’m a red-nosed, sore-throated, cranky person who wants nothing but hot soup and sleep to numb my senses!

During my 2 year stay in Delhi, whenever I fell ill, there was this little north-eastern place that I used to go that was just down the road from my house, and have their soup.  It was a tiny little place, big enough for two tables, no more. But the food was delicious and cheap, and this soup in particular, worked wonders on an ailing soul!

It was unlike any other soup I’ve had before or since! It was thick with dollops of chicken and fat hakka noodles, along with a myriad of roughly chopped veggies – carrots, onions, garlic, mushrooms and velvety bamboo-shoot, floating merrily in the thick broth. It was spicy and loaded with flavour and was perfect for cold winter evenings and of course, for when you were sick! It’d warm you up from your toes to the tip of your nose and make you feel cosy and rested. All that was left for you to do was sleep and you’d wake up feeling rested and refreshed!

Living in Delhi was one of the best decisions I ever made and it’s one of my favourite places in the world! You can come up with all the reasons for why one should dislike the place, and I’ll agree with you as well, but I will still love the place for the memories I have of it and the experiences I had there!

I remember towards the end, I was walking down the road with my friend, commenting on how soon 2 years had just flown by and how I’ve so much left to do and see.  ” I haven’t even seen the Taj Mahal for heaven’s sake! And it’s just a train-ride away!” My friend turned to me and said “let’s go then!”  I stopped for a beat, we both looked at each other while sizing up each other’s crazy-eyes, nodded and took off!

I rushed home, brimming with excitement, packed a toothbrush and a change of clothes into an overnight bag and ran down, ready in 10 mins! It was too late to catch a train, so we took the bus.  I remember the bus stopped mid-way for lunch at a dhaba. We had the kadai chicken and tandoori roti and drank sweet lassi! We bought a couple of bottles of water for the remainder of our journey as we were told the water in Agra is worse than in Delhi.

My memory of this little sojourn is sketchy, it was in 2005! But what little I remember is wonderful!  We got to the Taj Mahal around sunset and the place was just magical. No matter how many pictures you’ve seen of the place or how jaded you are by the miniatures of Taj Mahal you see everywhere, the real one will just take your breath away!

It was quiet, though the place still had large groups of tourists being taken around by the guides. I think the sunset accentuated the magic of the place.  It was all so beautiful and peaceful! Standing there, looking at the Yamuna flowing by serenely, you feel this sense of wonder at the magnificence of the place and the amount of effort it must have taken to build this memento to a man’s love for a woman, one that seemingly blinded him to everything else ( how could he have ordered the artisans’ fingers be cut off?! How can one love so much and still be so heartless?!)

The thing about Delhi is, it’s got so many of these old monuments just along the road from you that you tend to take most of them for granted after a while.  My favourite was the Qutub Minar.  But I’ve only been there once. For some reason, I found the place very romantic, but I never went there again cos, you know… I can go there anytime! But I didn’t!

I had the same experience with Old Fort, I went there once on a sunny winter’s day, roamed around, went on one of those cheesy looking boats (which was a lot of fun!), and just walked around, marveling at the place! It felt so old! You can almost believe that you’d been transported back in time as you walk around, feeling the rough walls beneath your fingers, still warm from the sun’s rays but cooling now,  readying itself for another night in eternity.

Even now, the beginning of summer brings with it an air that reminds me so much of Delhi!  Of early morning jogs around the park where people did yoga with the sun rising behind them.  Of breakfasting out in the balcony on kesar-flavoured milk and egg burji with toast. Of bike-rides on cold nights and mango-milkshakes on hot summer days.  Of friendships made for life, of romance and heart-break.

I keep going back there to recapture these memories. And every time I go back, I find myself with a whole new list of things to love about the place, new memories, new experiences, new things to eat! ;o)

Ah! I could write a book about Delhi! Maybe, one of these days, I will. :o)