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!

My Parents’ Home

For the longest time, I didn’t really see what the big deal was about visiting Kerala. When people talk about going there as if it is an exotic holiday destination I find it slightly amusing, considering it is my parents’ home and I’ve always gone there as a kid during summer vacations.

Of course, when I went as a child, it basically meant spending half my time in a white ambassador, being driven around from place to place and visiting countless relatives and giving them “gifts from the gulf” (just call me Santa Claus! :P). I was used to getting pinched on my cheeks and them asking me if I remembered them from when I was 2 yrs old (I didn’t,duh!).

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself ! My grandma lives in the middle of a sleepy little village, in an old house with a lovely large verandah where you can sit and watch the heavens open up during the monsoon rains! The raindrops fall thick and heavy, and I used to watch the the earth soak it up and then overflow into puddles and little rivulets of brown water that eventually get soaked up by the thirsty trees. Guess that explains why the place is so vividly green!

The front yard was shaded by huge mango and jackfruit trees  and there were lovely bushes of jungle geraniums, hibiscus and fragrant jasmine flowers bordering the yard. Beyond the border was a tangle of wild trees and bushes and I was asked to never venture out there on my own (for fear of snakes!).  The flora and fauna spilling out of the place was amazing! For a kid who lived in the desert in a tiny little apartment where the view had nothing more interesting to offer than sand coloured buildings and parked cars, this was all very fascinating!

We had all kinds of fruits and vegetables growing in our “garden”. My aunt used to pluck pineapples from the heart of the thorny shrubs and make me the most delicious pineapple juice ever!  It was thick and pulpy (yeah, I like pulp!) and sweet as honey! I used to be on a steady diet of fruits there – jackfruits, custard-apples, guavas, rose-apples, bananas, mangoes… oh! the mangoes!

My granma’s sister who lived up the hill (a 2 min climb away) from her, used to have a little vegetable garden where she used to grow fench beans and tomatoes and chillies and root vegetables like yam and tapioca. She used to potter around the garden in the mornings after breakfast, to figure out what to make for lunch! I used to follow her around, see her pluck the fresh veggies and turn it into a lovely meal in the afternoon – delicious!

We used to keep chickens and rabbits and goats and cows, not to mention dogs… and I used to “help”  take care of them by “walking the goat” and trying to milk the cow (didn’t work!).

It doesn’t feel like that anymore when I go to Kerala. I feel quite the outsider – the stubbornly-single, independent(said in a bad way) girl whom everyone immediately places as ” not from around here”.  The endless questions that intrude on my personal space and defy the bounds of social norms – Why are you not married? Why is your hair brown? (! ! Born that way?!) When are you buying a car for your mother? (Why the hell would I wanna do that after the way she drove here?!)

We have a flat in the city now, which is where I spent most of my annual 2-week long trips there. Things are very different now.

But I get why people want to go there I guess. The place is beautiful, in a wild, untamed way. The beaches are still lovely,  the weather is balmy, the food is as amazing as ever. And the monsoons still beat down on us like it always used to.

I guess the major change then, is me.

monsoon in kerala

Born Lucky

I met these two girls at the landfill we were shooting at in Andra Pradesh, at this place called Anantpur. I can’t speak Telegu and they don’t speak anything else, so communication was a bit difficult.

I was waiting in the car for the others to finish shooting. I had already had an encounter with dumps in Tamil Nadu a few days ago, which was depressing enough, so I decided to wait this one out. After all, the others might have been working, but I was on vacation right?

Even though we were parked at the periphery, the flies were buzzing all around us and the stench was quite unbelievable.I was sitting in the car, wearing my travel-cap and shades to protect myself from the heat and the dust as much as possible, when I saw these two peeking into my window, staring at me like you would an animal at the zoo. They were very friendly, giggly little girls and we tried very hard to communicate.

What I managed to discern was that they were sisters, worked at the dump with their mother, sifting through garbage day in and day out, did not go to school and thought the ABC’s ended with G.

When I look at their lives, and countless others like them that I encountered along the way… It’s difficult to explain the assault of emotions… shock, disbelief, shame, guilt…

That could so easily have been you if you were born into those circumstances. Makes you feel so lucky that you are where you are. And you realize that that is all it was… luck.  It could so easily have been me looking in through the window at someone else if I’d been born into those circumstances.

It shocks you out of your complacency. It is too much for your senses to take… the heat, the dust, the smell. Oh Goddd the smell!! The first dump we went to (in Tamil Nadu), we were shooting from a distance, from the top of a bridge.. and the smell was so bad it brought tears to my eyes! And there they were, people walking in the muck, rummaging through it all to figure out what can be kept and what can’t.

We went there to shoot the plight of the animals, and while that is quite an important issue… it was the plight of the humans that really got to me.

It makes you feel guilty… for living the life that you do, for the extreme disparity between the haves and the have-nots, especially when you realize how much they don’t have! For all the food you’ve wasted in your life, for all the times you picked up something without worrying about the price of the item (I usually do this in India, cos of the conversion rate being in my favour)… for all those times you complained about everything you’ve ever complained about!

When people ask me how my trip to India was… it’s difficult to explain. No one really wants to hear all this… they can’t understand. So I mostly tell them of the places I went to… the whirlwind pace that took me through 6 states in 11 days. And while I did have a lot of fun, while I did go to a lot of interesting places and meet a lot of lovely people… this happened too.

And this, I want to not forget. I want to remind myself what all I have to be thankful for that I’d taken for granted. For clean food and water,  fresh air to breathe in and water to bathe in, with soap and all! The fact that you know your ABCs all the way to the end… the basics! Or so you would think.

We have no idea how lucky we are!