Saturday, December 24, 2011


I've been on the road for a while now. My travel is mostly such - that when it is travel time, I end up traveling up to 10 days a month, and when it's not, I don't travel even for a couple of months at a stretch. And most of the times, I can decide if I want to travel.

So recent travels took me to Mumbai. I don't dislike Mumbai, but I am not a huge fan either. I have mostly traveled to the city for work, and haven't stayed in the city for more than a week at a time. Plus, I haven't traveled extensively within the city as well, since mostly I end up staying close to my office, which is far from where most of the friends stay, and I hardly get time when traveling for work.

Of whatever I know and have seen, Mumbai has not been my cup of tea. Needless to say, Delhi's been my fav, and I could never get used to the pace of Mumbai. Too fast for my liking. And what puts me off most in Mumbai is that it is not conducive for self driving - I love driving, and staying in a city where I can't drive would kill me. Reading this (Delhi vs Mumbai) doesn't change much either. The debate on which city is better is endless, and I know I'm bull headed enough to stick to my gut.

Well, this time around, I ended up spending the weekend in the city as well. Friends insisted [and who am I to resist, when friends insist ;)], and the plan that chalked out was to make merry through the night, and go to WK the next day. Awesome fun, mind you. Can't describe better than P has, in her blog.

So what I was coming to, was that traveling this time was so unique in ways more than one. Firstly, I ended up spending some quality time in the city. And second, in those 2-3 days, we chanced upon traveling on a bike, an auto-rickshaw, a cab, a bus, a ferry, a train, a local, an airplane, and even a raft! It was as if we were destined to travel by all modes - where we could not get a taxi, auto was the saving grace; where we could not get an auto, a bus saved us; en-route airport while I could have missed my flight, a local came to the rescue. So net net, realized that all means of transport have their own niche.

And I guess I left Mumbai with a few brownie points to its credit.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Country Roads, Take Me Home..

My previous post did raise a question - whether big cities are the place to be, or should it be the small towns where one would find happiness. Going one step further would be to ask if countryside is what shall provide the much needed stillness in life?

One of my schooling stints did take me to countryside, where I ended up spending a good part of my childhood. And glad am I not, to have spent those years in the campus. Every time I cross the highway leading to my school (which is a good 100 kms+ away from Delhi), I would give a nostalgic look in that direction, wondering who would be going through life altering changes in his life, in that school of mine, sitting where I used to sit, sleeping where I used to sleep, playing where I used to play; wondering who's that Abhinav for today!

Tryst with destiny, and I ended up driving in that direction for a friend's wedding two weeks back. And there was no way I was going to let go of this opportunity to revisit those times. Not that I could enter the school campus, since no one is allowed to enter without a valid ID. I remember that even during the times when I was a student there, if not for valid documentation to allow my entry, I wasn't allowed to. Defence services and their rules, I tell you!

So we reached my school and I ended up driving around the campus. I was looking for the forests through which we used to run every morning. I was looking for the river front where we used to culminate our morning jogs, to sprint back to our hostels which were more than 3 kilometres away, just to make sure we'll be amongst the first in line to take a shower and be ready for classes. I was looking for the horse stables in the forest where all the horses of our school were kept. I was looking for the canal where we used to sit on second Sundays of the month, throwing pebbles and stones in it, waiting desperately for our parents, who could visit us only on this particular day of the month. I was looking for the fields where we used to sneak through at nights, tasting the fruit and vegetable gardens.

But the times have changed! The forests have been replaced by habitation. Fields and vegetable gardens have been replaced with hutments. Lost my way finding the river, and the canal had lost its prestige. That's when it hit me - that it has been so long - more than a decade. Things have changed so much - but not people from the school. Still when I talk to friends from the school, the relationships are so intimate, so warm, that it feels we all still get up together early in the morning, ready to run up to the river again. Every time I wake up early, the early morning sky reminds me of the foggy riverside from those 90's mornings. Every time I am talking to these friends, the same childish persona comes out, that used to be the distinct quality of those determined kids in their early teens. 

After circling the area, we stopped at the main gate (inset), for a memorabilia photograph for keeps. Nostalgia grew on me, and I had to pass on the wheel to A for further driving, while I sunk deep into the memories, relishing the awesome times we had at the school.

Not many can understand how disciplined and sincere the life would be in such a school run by the defence services - what they show in movies is not even the tip of the iceberg. And when my friends ask me, I do tell them that it's hard! Hard as in, I may not have the guts to send my kids to that school. (And I'm so glad my parents had the vision and guts to do so - they knew it was what would make me what I am. That has made me who I am today!) Hard as in, as hard as it was to cycle from Kullu to Khardung La. (Just like I wouldn't do the cycling trip again.) But ask me if I'll ever want to rewrite my past and not go in those directions - and the answer would be, "are you kidding"?!

Life gives us chances, and it's up to us to grab them with both hands. Hands could slip, hands could bleed - doesn't mean the chance wasn't meant to be grabbed. Just like I was telling a friend last week, if given a chance, I wouldn't change a single thing in my life, not in a zillion years!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Big Fish

I have lived in a big city all my life (actually, most of my life); Delhi is the city I have called ‘home’. Though I have stayed away in other cities for a few years at a time on multiple occasions, I still like to call Delhi my home.

The quiet, yet bustling metropolis is an epitome of diversity. It is dotted with scattered houses, shiny skyscrapers and green in between; and filled with eateries that have been the inspiration behind the new word “Delhi Belly" recently added to the Oxford dictionary.

Work has taken me to quite a few towns and cities in last few years, and last week was no different. I ended up traveling to these towns of Jhansi, then Agra, briefly Karnal also, and I realized that if I were based in one of these towns, the life would have been different altogether.

I find that, although small towns in India do not have the kind of traffic jams that the big cities have, the crowded areas of the town are not entirely free of traffic. Here the traffic is of the unruly kind with vehicles, cycles, carts, bulls, cows, dogs, cats, vendors and pedestrians all on top of each other. To drive a car in a small town requires unlearning the rules that big city driving schools teach and learning new learn-as-you-go rules.

To drive a car on the road means to dip and rise as if riding a ship in a sea storm; or to ride the auto rickshaw, which is more suited to the four foot wide, tiny, ancient streets, means to be tossed about like a marble and, even after you reach your destination for a few minutes, to have your teeth clatter and eyeballs continue to roll in your head. If you prefer to take the wider roads on the outskirts of town then be ready to wade through oceans of black and white goats that often flood the roads.

Time in the small town is a different concept, from time in the big city. When people give you an appointment for 10 in the morning, it means that this is just one of the possible times that they might appear. As I wait with my big city time precision, I find instead of losing my happiness at their casual attitude, it is a lot less stressful to loosen the hold that time has held over me all these years. The next time someone says they will come at 10 sharp, I find myself saying, “10 o’clock sharp means I might meet them some time today, if not, tomorrow, or if not, sometime this week, this month or two”.

I find more than once that small towns have the capacity to surprise. For example my first such surprise comes on the very first day I spend in Jhansi. I am tired with traveling and as the evening falls I settle down for my read before going to bed. As my city trained ears prepare to fight their accustomed battle against the “whirr” and “honks” of the city traffic so that I can concentrate on my book better, I hear something I have never heard before.

This sound is so unfamiliar to me that I put my book aside and listen to it with my full attention. It is the sound of silence. So complete and deep that it caresses me like a soft velvet auditory blanket. I close my eyes to take in the full feeling of complete peace that it brings. My breathing eases. My stressed out city senses covet this experience with unimagined thirst.

After spending some time just listening to the silence, I pick up my book again. In this magical silence, reading a book, I find, is an experience not ever duplicated in the city. The book covers your senses softly with its contents in the manner similar to the beautiful, deep silence. The lack of noise, I find is truly, truly beautiful.

Next morning the auditory pleasure of the night before continues when I wake up to an orchestra of birds. In Delhi, the birds would compete with the traffic sounds. Here in Jhansi the birds compete with no one but each other. They hold center stage with their performances. And as I sit with my steaming morning coffee cup looking out at the early mist through which the birds sing, I feel as though I have a box seat to their performance: a performance of so many maestros.

A few days have passed since I came back. But I still have the reassurance that I have the magical silence and the talented birds waiting for me when I get there again. I came home and was again reminded of the comforts and the system the city has which a small town doesn’t.

I am not calling myself best suited for a small town yet, but I am at a stage where a small fond place for such small towns has developed in my heart that is growing at an alarming rate. I might yet be in the danger of turning “small town”. I do not know when, or if, that will happen, but right now, I can comfortably say I am glad I know now what it would mean, to me.