Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What is NaNoWriMo

Time and again, I have wondered about how one thing leads to another, and another one leads to third forming a chain of events, leading you to unexplored paths in life. When I stumbled upon Future Learn while looking for a course in October last week, little did I know that joining it will open up a big box of new possibilities for me.

I had an idea for a novel for almost5-6 years now but never took it seriously. At the start of 2016, I brought up the topic with my hubby dear and Ashish, a very good friend of mine, they both encouraged me to write it. So I set out to write a novel. Few tiny chapters here and there & some notes about key characters & incidents was all I could manage throughout the year. When I NaNoWriMo, which made me curious. A quick look up on Google told me that it is a fun filled approach to Novel writing. The contestants participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) set out on a target on 1 November to write at least 50,000 words novel by 30 November. It sounded like a perfect motivation I was looking for and I was only a week away from November. Without slightest delay, I signed up and started planning my activities for the month.

But luck wasn't on my side. I got terrible cold, cough, sore throat which developed into full-fledged fever and weakness. I looked gloomily at the calendar as each day of November passed. Finally, I recovered fully from the fever as well as a backlog of all the pending work by 13th November and I sat down. Chances looked slim. Even if I had a complete month, I was required to write at least 1667 words every day to keep up with the challenge. I was sitting on 13th and all I had was the few tiny, unstructured chapters I had written over the year. Finally, after a lot of hesitation, I decided to do it as a birthday gift to myself, whatever I can achieve in remaining days. I told myself, it's OK even if I don't complete the target, at least I will have the satisfaction of having tried and not a grudge of giving up my weapons even before the war started. And then I discovered the lovely WriMo India group on Facebook. The energy on the Facebook group was palpable. Before I knew it, I was participating in their virtual sprints, making friends who would support me and encourage me to write more, sharing their inspiring stories, doubts, troubles making it a lot more fun than it was when I tried to write alone.

As last week approached I was frantically working towards the end goal, I could already see dim chances of making it happen. Unable to find any other time, I resorted to starting post dinner. As I neared the target writing till 2 or 3 in the morning became a routine. On the night of 29th November (1 day before the end date) as I crossed the mark of 50,000 words at 1 in the night, I had my favourite music and a horde of mosquitoes accompanying me in my celebration. It was an experience worth million dollars and I wouldn't have it any other way. Though my novel is not yet 100% complete, seeing the major part of it already written has kindled a new enthusiasm in me to see it through.

As I was still wondering about how to publish and how to market it, a fellow WriMo friend - Amar Vyas offered to do an interview for his podcast and I jumped on the bandwagon. So here is the podcast from MyKitaab, which offers great tips on 'How to publish and market your book', perfect for first-time writers like me, aye?

The podcast has an interview of Puja Mohan, a fellow NaNoWriMo winner at the start and then mine (at 15:10), hope you enjoy it. Don't forget to put your comments, feedback & suggestions in the comment box below. Hope to see many of you in next year's NaNoWriMo.

Here is a link to the podcast and it's excerpts in case you prefer reading over listening -

Friday, December 16, 2016

Unique sensory experience

When a friend called me to invite me for a meetup about Bespoke Fragrances, I had almost said 'No' when I was reminded of the article I had written at the start of this year - Make 2016 your most memorable year ever with these 12 tips - 'Visit a place where you can't find a topic to discuss or where you feel out of place'. Following my own advice from 1 year earlier, I sat down and thought about why am I saying 'No' instantly?

First of all, I had no clue why he included me on the guest list. My knowledge in perfumes ends at knowing names of some perfume brands. Usually, when I have to buy a perfume, I walk into a store, try few of them and buy the one I like without even noticing the brand name. I have some friends who can identify the perfume by the smell and who sometimes ridicule me for my illiteracy in the topic, but the subject never interested me much. So when I thought about the meetup for fragrances, I imagined a room full of people like those 'expert' friends of mine, passionate about perfumes, who know everything there is to know about perfumes, who might be arguing about why Fresh is better than Floral? I found it hard to imagine myself among this group, having no clue what to say. I could visualise myself getting bored in a corner sipping on my tea quietly. So finally just to take it up as a challenge to myself, I said 'Yes'.

The venue was comforting, 'Taj tea house' which has been on my list ever since I read about it for the first time. I consoled myself that even if I find it difficult to be part of any conversation, at least I will have visited this place and tried at least couple of their teas (you guessed it right, I am a tea lover). We were greeted by Nisha, the host for the evening with a warm smile, a lovely venue and pleasing fragrance in the air. As I settled down and got to talking with 'the others', I realised that they were anything but perfume fanatics. The crowd was from varied background right from someone who is travelling 42 countries on a bike to the creator of Angry Maushi. In fact, I ran out of time to meet each one of them as each one of them was unique and had a lot to talk about. I was delighted to meet a fellow WriMo with whom I connected instantly. Before I realised the discomfort and apprehension I had at the time of accepting the invitation, evaporated with the lovely scent in the air.

To my surprise, the meetup had turned out to be anything but what I had imagined. The best part? I didn't have to know anything about perfumes, my nose did the job! Never in my life had I realised (or to be honest thought about) the fine details which go into perfumery. To make it easier to understand for naif like me, our host Nisha took us through the journey of perfume making. I was amazed by how she managed to give us so many technicalities without a single dull moment. To make it easier for us to understand, she had brought few basic, natural elements along with their respective extracts, for each tone. There was Rosemary representing herbs, Cardamom for spices, Blackcurrant for fruits, Bergamot for citrus & Rose oil for flowers. Smelling each one of them ignited a different feeling, emotion and sometimes memories. I started to imagine what would combination of few of these would spark in the end.

I was especially intrigued by the travel range where NIsha has created perfumes for certain places, Marrakesh spice souk, Balinese Temple Bay, Cotswold county & Miami Bay Marina. How could one capture the essence of a place in a scent? Having fond memories of Cotswold myself, I tried it the first thing and was taken down the memory lanes by it. Nisha had certainly done a good job of capturing the essence of Cotsworld, but the question remained how? But I didn't have to wait for too long. There was a game planned at the end, to capture the essence of Darjeeling in a scent. I rolled up my sleeves happily sharing the things which came to my mind about Darjeeling. As we progressed and shared our list at the end, there were many elements Fresh, Earthy, Pine, Eucapyptus, Green Tea, Flowers, Oak, Burny/smoky (reminding of the coal railway). We were witnessing a beautyful journey of capturing the essence of a place. How lovely would it be, if I could carry around the essence of all the places which are special to me and wear them to be in those places again and again? Sounds poetic. Our journey ended with an assurance from Nisha that she would go back, create the unque perfume for Darjeeling and send it across as a reminder of our wonderful experience there.

Though the clock had been whispering in my ear 'Traffic..Traffic...' I stayed back as long as I could to chat with as many people as I could, but ultimately I had to leave the cozy setup and get back to the honking, crowded roads back home. I carried a lesson back home, Perfumery isn't a rocket science as I had initially thought, but it is an art, making our lives rich.

Here is a snippet for all of you to get hang of the event, though it does no justice to all the lovely fragrances we got to experience -

#KaoriMoments #BespokeFragrance #Perfume

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Step beyond

Raise your hand if you aren't scared of height! Well... I thought so, who isn't, right?
What if I asked you to take a step beyond the edge of a cliff, will you?

Well... sometimes you have to take that leap of faith and take that final step or should I say the first step beyond visible ground trusting the ropes around your waist and those people on the cliff and at the base, whom you have never met before, and probably will never meet again.

When my hubby suggested we go for rappelling from Duke's nose near Lonavala, I felt my legs trembling while seating on a couch and I broke into a sweat (though it was the month of December, peak of winter). I am scared of height and who isn't? It is one thing to watch the videos of people doing all sorts of adventures at heights (including hiking, rock climbing, rappelling, and even tightrope juggling) and marvel, but it is totally different thing to stand on top of a 350 ft cliff with your back towards a valley, move with nothing under your feet, when you can't even see where you are headed.  


It all started with a trek up the cliff. The sun was shining bright and there was limited amount of water available on the top of the cliff. With a large amount of crowd, we had to wait for a couple of hours for our turn. By the time, my turn came, I was hungry, thirsty, scared and desperate to get down to a comfortable place to sit. 

I was all smiling, cheering for all those going before me. When it was my turn, my smile changed instantaneously as I crossed those barriers. The organising team was giving me instructions and I was cursing myself for signing up for this. I could have been sitting on a comfortable couch, watching my favourite movie, hogging on some delicious meal right now. What made me opt for this over that perfect picture of a weekend.

As I started moving towards the edge, fear started rising. Finally, the point came where I could not see any land.

The most difficult part of it was that first step off the edge of the cliff. I was in tears and had almost given up. How could possibly I take my foot off the land and suspend in the air hoping that the belt around my waist & the ropes attached to it, are enough to carry me all the way down safely? I wanted to run away, magically disapperate & apperate in my living room. I wanted to undo my choice. But it was too late. 

The only deterrent to turn back was memories of the trek up there. Climbing up there hadn't been that easy and the idea of going back by that route wasn't a rosy one. 

You can't see it, but there are tears rolling
down my cheeks
Once I let go of the visible ground and started hanging in mid air, it became a bit easier to carry on (probably because I knew that there is no turning back now). The only way was forward, or should I say down. 

I had decided not to look at the valley at all, to keep myself from panicking mid air. "It is enough for a starter to be able to complete it this time. If I survive this, maybe next time I will look at the valley" I told myself. 

It is funny to observe what all thoughts cross your mind in such situation, when you are there hanging between life and death, with nobody to talk to but yourself. Sometimes, you have to let go, to be in control, 'Let go of fear, to be in control of yourself'. That day I understood the meaning of 'Leap of faith'. Here I was trusting strangers with my life and I knew that they were much more than worthy of it.

A thought crossed my mind, what if I die today? But then another thought followed it 'We all have to die one day, what matters is how. People die in road accidents, train accidents, or for that matter even under collapsing buildings! You can not control when or how to die. But wouldn't it be better to die doing something you like, instead of in an accident? The idea is not to be afraid of death, but die without any regrets'. I could very much imagine two versions of myself presenting two completely opposite thoughts, one in an angel avatar & the other one as devil. I was realising that these activities are as much about your mind as they are about physical stamina & agility. The journey down there was hardly 10-15 minutes (to be honest I completely lost track of time while coming down). I was enjoying the silence only broken by sound of wind & occasional instructions from the volunteers. I had forgotten about the pain I took to get up there or even the pain which was waiting down there for me, was just living in that moment, enjoying every bit of it. I hardly got to enjoy that in busy city life, where the only mantra to survive is fast pace of life.

The volunteers were there to greet me at the bottom of the cliff, but the journey wasn't over. I had to cross some distance on a very steep path, with valley on one side & the cliff on the other. I found it too much after having been through the rappelling. But the thought that my lunch was waiting on the other end of that route helped me get through it. 

One thing was sure the person standing on the edge of cliff few minutes ago wasn't the same person who landed down. Something had changed in me. It was as if this experience had given me a new lesson of life, which was difficult to express in words, but it was etched somewhere in my subconsious mind forever. The sense of achievement which followed after getting back to base camp was huge. There may be hundreds of people doing it regularly, but it was definitely a big milestone for me as an individual. 

Now that it is over, if you ask me "Will you go for rappelling again", the answer will be "Hell yeah!". Okay, it won't be easy, I will be probably cursing myself for agreeing to do it again and may as well be in tears again, but it's all worth it. Weekends are not always about being cozy & comfy in your couch, wiping your tears while watching that mushy-mushy movie on 'Romedy now', they are much more than that. And for a change its ok to be in tears while fearing for your life than watching strangers in a movie and feeling their emotions. After all, those are their emotions, and they can't match with feeling your own emotions, ain't?

Here is a picture of Duke's nose we took from the base camp, before starting our trek up to the starting point.

The distance we came down Rappeling, from the top till the curve at bottom with tiny people standing (people who helped me with the landing and tough part of crossing the rocky patch to come back to the base camp).

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

बुवा आहे तिकडे

"भांडी घासायला एक बाई मिळाली असती तर वाट्टेल तेवढे दिवस मी आनंदाने इथे राहिले असते." नॅपकिन ला हात पुसत आई म्हणाली. लॅपटॉप मधून डोकं बाहेर काढत तेजस ने आई कडे पाहिलं, "तुला किती वेळा सांगितलंय डिश वॉशर लावत जा म्हणून." "अरे इन मीन ८-१० तर भांडी असतात, तेवढ्या साठी कशाला लावायचं डिश वॉशर? १० मिनिटात घासून होतात." तेजस ने मान हलवली आणि परत लॅपटॉप मध्ये डोकं घातलं. "बरं तेजस, पूर्वी कशी वाटली तुला?" आईच्या या शब्दांनी बाबांनी हातातला मोबाईल बाजूला ठेवला. "कोण पूर्वी?" तेजसने लॅपटॉप मधून डोकं ना काढता विचारलं. "अरे असं काय करतोस? नेहा च्या लग्नात नाही का भेटली तुला?" "हा, ती? टॅलेंटेड आहे. पण इकडच्या युनिव्हर्सिटी मध्ये ऍडमिशन मिळवायला खूप मेहनत करावी लागेल तिला. खूप कॉम्पिटीशन असते इथे. मी सांगितलं तिला, जॉब सोबत एक्झाम जमणार नाही तिला. त्यातून तिची कंपनी पण खूप डिमांडिंग आहे. जॉब सोडून एखाद वर्ष तयारी केली तर कदाचित मिळू शकेल ऍडमिशन."

"ऍडमिशन बद्दल नाही विचारत आहे मी. स्वभाव कसा वाटला तिचा? दिसायला छान आहे नाही? एकदम लाघवी आहे. बराच वेळ गप्पा रंगल्या होत्या तुमच्या.". आई च्या बोलण्याचा रोख लक्षात आल्यावर तेजस ने लॅपटॉप बाजूला ठेवला, "अर्ध्या तासात कुठे स्वभाव कळतोय. पण असेल चांगला. लग्नात बरेच जण ओळखत होते तिला. आणि आमच्या गप्पा नव्हत्या रंगल्या, तिला इथे MS करायला यायचं आहे, म्हणून ती मला युनिव्हर्सिटीज बद्दल विचारात होती एवढंच. तसंही तिथे तिच्याशिवाय माझ्या वयाचं कोणी नव्हतं बोलायला. मामांशी आणि आजीशी किती वेळ गप्पा मारणार?" "नेहाची  अगदी खास मैत्रीण आहे ती. मावशी सांगत होती की  लग्नाच्या तयारीत खूप मदत केली तिने. आवड पण केवढी चांगली आहे तिची. लग्नाच्या सगळ्या साड्या तिच्या सल्ल्याने घेतल्या नेहाने." "अच्छा" एवढच म्हणत तेजस ने पुन्हा लॅपटॉप मध्ये डोकं घातलं. "बाजूला ठेव बरं तो लॅपटॉप आधी. आम्ही आल्यापासून एक तर घराबाहेर तरी असतोस, नाहीतर लॅपटॉप मध्ये डोकं घालून." त्रासिक चेहरा करत तेजस ने लॅपटॉप बंद केला. "काय करू कामाची खूप गडबड आहे सध्या. अचानाकच २-३ गोष्टी नवीन आल्यात". "हे बघ, तुला मनासारखा  जॉब मिळाला आहे. कदाचित १-२ वर्षात तू इथे घरही घेशील. आता चांगला सेटल झाला आहेस. पुढे काय करायचं ठरवलं आहेस?" 

"बरं झालं विषय निघाला. मला तुमच्याशी जरा बोलायचंय". तेजस चं हे वाक्य ऐकून आईला जरा हुरूप आला, तर बाबांच्या मनात वेगळ्याच शंकेची पाल चुकचुकली.

"नेहा च्या लग्नातून इकडे परत येत असतांना मला फ्लाईट मध्ये एक माणूस भेटला. गप्पा गप्पांमध्ये मी त्याला माझ्या प्रोजेक्ट बद्दल सांगितलं. त्याला आयडिया खूप आवडली आहे. त्याचही मत आहे की, याला पुढे खूप पोटेन्शियल आहे. तो माझ्या प्रोजेक्ट मध्ये इन्व्हेस्ट करायला तयार झालाय. पण त्याच्यासाठी मला हा जॉब सोडून, पालो अल्टो ला जावं लागेल. सुरुवातीचे काही दिवस मला पगार नसणार आहे. पण तुम्ही काळजी करू नका. मी गेले २ वर्ष पैसे जमवतोय. निदान पुढचं एक ते दीड वर्ष नक्कीच पुरतील. तोपर्यंत बिजिनेस पिकअप होईल असा अंदाज आहे आमच्या दोघांचा. गेले काही दिवस त्याच गडबडीत आहे मी, म्हणून तुम्हाला फारसा वेळ देऊ शकलो नाही." तेजसने आई बाबांना श्वास घ्यायलाही वेळ नं देता एका दमात सगळं सांगून टाकलं.

"अरे पण तू ते पैसे घर घेण्यासाठी जमवत होतास ना? आणि समज नाही चालला हा तुमचा बिजिनेस तर?" आई ने शंका काढली. "नाही चालला तर जॉब ला परत जाईन मी. माझ्या कंपनी मध्ये १ वर्षाचा ब्रेक घेता येतो. सध्या ब्रेक घेऊन काम सुरू करेन. १ वर्षात जर वाटलं की नाही चालणार तर हाच जॉब परत कंटीन्यू करेन." "पण त्याच्यात तुझं एक वर्ष वाया नाही का जाणार? तूच  म्हणाला होतास ना की इकडे प्रोमोशन due आहे म्हणून. ते नाही का जाणार हातातून?" आई च्या शंका सुरूच होत्या. "प्रोमोशन चं काय आहे, आत्ता आत्ता नाहीतर २ वर्षांनी मिळेल, त्यात काय एवढं." "आणि घराचं काय? घरासाठी पुन्हा पहिल्यापासून पैसे जमावावे लागतील" "जमवेन की मग. त्यात काय विशेष!" "म्हणजे पुढचे ३-४ वर्ष तरी तुझं घर होत नाही" "तसाही एकटाच राहतोय. वीकेंड्स ना मित्रांसोबत बाहेरच असतो. घर घेऊन त्यात राहणार आहे कोण? आणि तूच नव्हतीस का सांगत की तुमच्या वेळेस रिटायर झाल्यावर घर घ्यायचे. मी तर फक्त ३-४ वर्षानेच पुढे ढकलतोय." "अरे तसं नाही, लोक विचारतात, म्हणून म्हटलं." "लोकांना काय करायचंय मी कुठे राहतो ते. त्यांच्या घरी जाऊन राहतोय का मी. तुझं आपला काहीतरीच." तेजस वैतागला. 

"हे बघ, तुझा चांगला जॉब आहे. लवकरच प्रोमोशन होईल, स्वतःचं घर होईल. चांगला सेटल आहेस. कशाला उगाच बसलेली घडी मोडतो आहेस. लोक विचारतात आम्हाला, लग्न कधी करणार म्हणून. मला पूर्वी फार आवडलीये. पण तुला जर कोणी दुसरी आवडली असेल तर तसं सांग, आमची काही हरकत नाही. अगदी अमेरिकन असली तरी चालेल." 

"लग्न? आई अगं  मी इथे सांगतोय की पुढचे २-३ वर्ष मला माझ्या खर्चाचे वांदे होणार आहेत. लग्न करून बायको ला काय खाऊ घालू? मला अजून ३-४ वर्ष तरी लग्न करायचं नाहीये." "अरे असं काय करतोस, लग्नाचं वय निघून चाललंय तुझं. लोकं विचारतात सारखे आम्हाला." "पुन्हा लोकं! कोण आहेत हे लोक, मलाही जरा कळू दे, ज्यांना त्यांची मुलं  सोडून माझी काळजी पडली आहे." "एकदा वय निघून गेलं की चांगली मुलगी मिळणार नाही. सतत स्थळं येताहेत आमच्याकडे. तुझ्या बरोबरीच्या सगळ्यांची लग्न झालीत. राघव कडे तर बातमी पण आहे. आम्हाला नाही का वाटत, तुझंही लग्न व्हावं, सून यावी, नातवंडं खेळवावीत."  "आई थांब जरा, लगेच नातवंडांपर्यंत पोहोचू नकोस. मला अजून ३-४ वर्ष तरी लग्न करायला जमणार नाही. आणि झाली असतील माझ्या सगळ्या मित्रांची लग्न. म्हणून काही मी म्हातारा झालो नाहीये. ते सगळे त्यांच्या जॉब्स मध्ये समाधानी आहेत, म्हणून केलं त्यांनी लग्नं, त्याची शिक्षा मला का? मला या जॉब मध्ये  काम करायला मजा येत नाहीये. एवढे दिवस शांत बसलो होतो कारण इन्व्हेस्टर शोधायला जाण्याची हिम्मत नव्हती. पण आता समोरून संधी चालून आली आहे, तर ती का सोडू?" "अजून ३-४ वर्षांनी तू ३३ वर्षाचा होशील, त्याच्यापुढे मुलं, तू रिटायर होण्याआधी मुलं सेटल कसे व्हायचे? आणि आमचा पण तर विचार कर. अजून ४-५ वर्षांनी आमच्यात एवढी ताकद हवी, सुनेचं बाळंतपण करण्याची, नातवंडं सांभाळण्याची." "नका करू बाळंतपण, आम्ही आमचं मॅनेज करू. मी माझं आयुष्यं तुमच्या टाईम टेबल प्रमाणे जगायचं का?" 

"बरोबर आहे, आता आमची काय गरज तुला? तुझं आयुष्यं आहे, तुझं तू मॅनेज कर. नातवंडं झाल्याचा कळवा म्हणजे झालं. जमलं तर एखादा फोटो पाठवा, त्यावर समाधान मानू. चुकलंच आमचं इथे आलो. " म्हणत आई ने डोळ्याला  पदर लावला. 

एवढा वेळ शांतपणे सगळं ऐकत असलेले बाबा आता मध्ये पडले. "हे बघ तेजस, तू या माणसाला किती ओळखतॊस? तो तुला फसवणार नाही कशावरून?" "बाबा, त्याने आधी पण काही कंपन्यांमध्ये इन्व्हेस्टमेन्ट केली आहें, त्याचा रेकॉर्ड खूप चांगला आहे. आत्तापर्यंत त्याने इन्व्हेस्ट केलेले  ९०% ventures successful झाले आहेत. हे सगळं चेक करूनच मी एवढा मोठा निर्णय घेतला." "असेल त्याचा success rate चांगला, पण १०% मध्ये तुझी आईडिया नसेल कशावरून? तूला आत्ता काय कमी आहे? चांगली नोकरी आहे, चांगल्या मुली सांगून येताहेत, लग्न कर, सेटल हो. हातचं सोडून पळत्यामागे कशाला धावायचं?" "पण बाबा, मला जॉब सॅटिसफॅक्टशन  मिळत नाहीये. आणि माझ्या प्रोजेक्ट मध्ये दम आहे. रिस्क घेतल्याशिवाय यश कसं मिळेल?" "तुला मिळालं तेवढं यश भरपूर आहे. शिकायला इथे आलास, स्वतःच्या जोरावर एवढ्या मोठ्या कंपनीत जॉब मिळवलास. लोकं हेवा करतात तुझा. जॉब सॅटिसफॅक्टशन कुठल्या जॉब मध्ये असतं? आम्ही आयुष्यभर नोकरी केली ती जॉब सॅटिसफॅक्टशन साठी नाही, तर मिळणाऱ्या नावासाठी, पगारासाठी. आपण साधे नोकरी करणारे  middle class लोकं, बिसिनेस वगैरे आपल्याला नाही जमत. छान नोकरी करायची, संध्याकाळी वेळेत घरी यायचं, बायको मुलांसोबत रमायचं, याच्यापेक्षा आणखी काय पाहिजे? मला तरी या तुझ्या विचारात तथ्य वाटत नाही. पुन्हा एकदा विचार कर." बराच वेळ कोणीच काही बोललं नाही, आईचं मुसमुसणं चालूच होतं. शेवटी बाबा म्हणाले "चला झोपूया आता. उद्या सकाळी लवकर निघायचंय रोहित कडे जायला."

तेजस सकाळी तयारी करून हॉल मध्ये वाट बघत बसला होता. आई बाबांची आवरा आवरी सुरू होती. शेवटी एकदाचे बॅग घेऊन बाबा बाहेर आले. "एवढं  काय सामान आहे, ३ दिवसांसाठी तर जाताय." तेजसने विचारलं. "रोहित साठी खाऊ दिला आहे आत्याने, आणि आई ने पण बराच खाऊ आणलाय त्याच्यासाठी. शिवाय त्याच्या मुलीला पहिल्यांदाच बघणार आहोत, तेव्हा तिच्यासाठी गिफ्ट्स पण आहेत." बाबा म्हणाले. आई काल  पासून शांत होती, तिचं नं बोलणं तेजस ला अस्वस्थ करत होतं. "तुम्हाला ट्रेन मध्ये बसवल्यावर मी रोहित ला फोन करेन, तो येईल तुम्हाला घ्यायला स्टेशन वर. तुम्हाला मॅप काढून दिला आहे, पण तरीसुद्धा कुठे डाउट वाटला तर रोहित ला फोन करा, स्टेशन खूप मोठं आहे, तिथे हरवायला होतं." तेजस आई कडे बघत म्हणाला, आई ने उत्तरादाखल मान हलवली. "मी परवा संध्याकाळी परत येईन, आलो की फोन करेन". नं राहवून शेवटी आई ने विचारलं "तुला कॅन्सल नाही का करता येणार?" "आई मी ६ महिन्यांपूर्वी बुकिंग केलं होतं, तुमचं यायचं ठरण्या आधी. आता कॅन्सल केलं तर सगळे पैसे जातील. शिवाय तुम्हाला केव्हा तरी रोहित कडे जायचंच होतं ना, मग आत्ताच जाऊन या. मी येतोच आहे ना परवा तुम्हाला घ्यायला." "आमच्या जाण्याचं काही नाही रे, पण तू आता हे सगळे ऍडव्हेंचर स्पोर्ट्स जरा बंद कर. आमचा जीव उगाच टांगणीला लागतो. काय गरज आहे, एवढे पैसे खर्च करून स्वतःचा जीव धोक्यात घालण्याची? उद्या तुला काही बरं वाईट झालं तर आम्ही काय करायचं." "तू काळजी करू नकोस, सगळ्या सेफ्टी प्रिकॉशन्स घेतात ते. काही होणार नाही मला" "मी बघितलंय TV वर, विमानातून खूप उंचावर नेतात आणि पॅरॅशूट लावून खाली उडी मारतात. एकदा एका माणसाची पॅरॅशूट उघडली नाही, फॉल्टी होती, गेला ना तो! आणि तू उडी मारशील त्याच वेळेस एखादं विमान तिथून जात असेल तर? आणि खाली कुठे समुद्रात वगैरे पडलास तर? जास्त उंचावर जाऊ नकोस, थोडा कमी वेळ हवेत राहिलास तर काही बिघडत नाही, कमी उंचीवरून उडी मार" आईचं चालूच होतं. "उद्या हात पाय मोडले तर कोणी मुलगी मिळणार नाही." आयुष्यातल्या सगळ्या गोष्टी लग्नावरच येऊन कश्या संपतात हे तेजस ला कधीही नं उलगडलेलं कोडं होतं. शेवटी बाबानी पुरे आता अशी खूण  केली आणि आई गप्पं बसली. 

ट्रेन मध्ये खूप गर्दी होती, जेमतेम आई ला बसायला जागा मिळाली. ३-४ स्टेशन्स गेल्यावर जरा पलीकडे बाबांना बसायला जागा मिळाली. बाबानी बॅगेतून काल घेतलेलं Architectural Digest काढलं. त्याच्या कव्हर इमेज वर Notre Dame cathedral चा फोटो बघून त्यांनी ते घेतलं होतं, स्पेशल फ्रेंच architecture issue होता तो. फ्रेंच architecture, बाबांच्या जिव्हाळ्याचा विषय. मॅगझीन वाचण्यात बाबा मग्न झाले होते. "Oh! you are interested in France?" बाबांनी दचकून बाजूला बघितलं, तर एक विशीतली मुलगी येऊन त्यांच्या बाजूला बसली होती. बाजूचा मुलगा उठून गेल्याचं त्यांना कळलंच नव्हतं. बोलतांना कळलं की ती मुलगी फ्रेंच होती, नाव Lucy . शिक्षणात १ वर्षाचा ब्रेक घेऊन ती जग बघायला निघाली होती. अमेरिका कव्हर करून आशिया मध्ये जाण्याचा तिचा विचार होता. बाबांना गम्मत वाटली. तिकिट, राहण्याचं बुकिंग, कशाचा पत्ता नाही, कोणी ओळखीचं नाही. बॅग उचलायची आणि निघायचं. मनाला वाटेल तेवढे दिवस राहायचं, मनाला वाटेल तेव्हा बॅग भरून चालू लागायचं. इच्छा होईल त्या स्टेशन वर उतरायचं, आजू बाजूला एकटीनेच हिंडायचं आणि पुन्हा पुढची वाटचाल सुरू करायची. जवळ पैसे फार नाही. मिळेल ते काम करायचं, त्या बदल्यात पैसे, राहण्याची जागा किव्वा जेवण काहीही चालायचं.

वयाने लहान असून सुद्धा तिला बरीच माहिती होती, वेगवेगळ्या देशातील culture, प्रथा, architecture, भाषा वैशिष्ट्य, भौगोलिक वैशिष्ट्य आणि बरंच काही. फ्रान्स तर तिने अक्षरशः पिंजून काढला होता. फ्रान्स बद्दल आणि विशेषतः तिथल्या जुन्या Chateaus, Museums आणि Cathedrals बद्दल तिच्याकडून ऐकण्यात बाबा तल्लीन झाले होते. आईच्या आवाजाने त्यांची तंद्री मोडली. तिच्या बाजूला बसायला जागा झाली होती, आणि ती बोलावत होती. "नको आता, इथेच बसतो" असं म्हणत बाबा पुन्हा Lucy कडे वळले. तेवढ्यात आईच्या कपाळावर पडलेल्या आठ्या त्यांच्या नजरेतून सुटल्या नाहीत, पण त्यांनी तिकडे दुर्लक्ष केलं.

त्यांना तिच्या आई वडिलांचं विशेष आश्चर्य वाटलं, तरुण मुलगी अनोळखी देशात एकटीच फिरतेय, रात्री झोप कशी लागत असेल त्यांना. हे विचारल्यावर ती अगदी सहजतेने म्हणाली "My parents told me, 'Life is to be lived. Dont settle in a bubble for rest of your life. Travel as much as you like, see every city and every corner of this world, there is so much to see, to experience. Marry only when you meet a guy you can't live without, and stay in a place you can't imagine to part with. Dont settle for anything less than the best for you. Marriage, kids are  just a part of life not the ultimate goal of life'".

Lucy उतरून गेल्यावर बाबा खिडकीतून भरवल्यासारखे तिच्याकडे पाहत राहिले. "गेली ती आता, जमिनीवर या" आई च्या वाक्क्याने बाबा दचकले, Lucy च्या जागेवर ती येऊन बसली होती. "आपलं वय तरी बघा, मुलाच्या वयाची आहे ती तुमच्या" आई नाक वाकडं करत म्हणाली, "तेजस पेक्षा लहान आहे वयाने, पण अनुभवाने आपल्या पेक्षाही मोठी आहे" आईचं वाक्य तोंडत बाबा  म्हणाले. "कुठल्या मुहूर्ताला अमेरिकेला आले कोणास ठाऊक, तिकडे मुलाचं एक, तर इकडे यांचं दुसरंच." आई पुटपुटली आणि शांत बसली. अनाहूतपणे बाबांचा हात मांडीवरच्या Notre Dame वरून फिरला.

"आई तू सांग ना अण्णांना " मोहन आई च्या मागे उभा राहून तिचा हात हलवत म्हणाला.  "आहे काय मेलं असं फ्रान्स च्या building मध्ये. इथून तिथून सगळ्या बिल्डींग्सच ना? त्याच्यासाठी एवढ्या दूर कशाला जायला हवंय? इथे पण आहेत Architecture colleges. तिथली भाषा माहिती ना लोक, जेवणार काय, राहणार कुठे? साधं पाणी सुद्धा मागता येणार नाही तुला त्यांच्या भाषेत."   "मी शिकेन त्यांची भाषा, एवढी काही कठीण नाहीये . आणि कॉलेज मध्ये बाकीच्या देशातले पण बरेच स्टूडेंट्स असतील, ते बोलतील इंग्लिश मध्ये. " मोहन  इरेला पेटून बोलला. "तूला इंग्लिश तरी कुठे नीट बोलता येतंय? अरे ते मांस खातात, आपल्या सारख्यांना खायला तिथे काहीही मिळत नाही म्हणे. आणि खूप थंडी असते, वर्षातले बरेच महिने तर बर्फचं असतो. आपले गोपूकाका गेले होते एकदा लंडन ला, ते सांगत होते." आई समाजावणीच्या सुरात म्हणाली. "गोपूकाकांना काय कळतंय, ते मोजून १५ दिवस होते तिथे. आणि लंडन इंग्लंड मध्ये आहे, मला फ्रान्स ला  जायचंय, हे दोन्ही वेगळे देश आहेत." "वेगळे असले तरी जवळच आहेत, तिथे काही फार वेगळी परिस्थिती नसेल. २ बहिणींमागे नवसा  सायासाने झालेला एकुलता एक मुलगा आहेस तू आमचा, तुला काही झालं तर आम्ही कोणाचं तोंड बघायचं ? तुला  जे शिकायचंय ते इथल्या कॉलेज मध्ये पण शिकवतात, काही गरज  नाही  एवढ्या लांब जायची." "आई पण इथे फ्रान्स ची हिस्टरी नाही शिकवत. मला फक्त architecture  नाही , त्यांची हिस्टरी पण शिकायचीय." "बिल्डींग्स बांधायला हिस्टरी कशाला लागते. हिस्टरी शिकून काही होत नाही, प्राथमिक शाळेत इतिहासाच्याच्या शिक्षकांची नोकरी मिळते फार तर फार." आई ने विषय संपवला . बाबांना साकडं घालण्यासाठी आई ला पेटवण्याचे प्रयत्नं फसले होते. आता मोहन ला स्वतःच अण्णांना सामोरं जाणं भाग होतं . 

संध्याकाळी अण्णा दुकानातून घरी आल्यावर, त्यांनी मोहन ला आवाज दिला "काय ठरलं मग तुझं? इंजिनीरिंग ची ऍडमिशन अजूनही आहे,  पण तुझा हट्टच असेल तर जा architecture ला . मी मोनेंशी बोलून ठेवलंय , उद्या सकाळी फी चे पैसे घेऊन जा " "बाबा, पण  मला फ्रान्स ला शिकायचंय architecture" मोहन ने  शेवटचा प्रयत्न करून बघितला, "हे बघ मोहन, तू कधी घर सोडून राहिला नाहीस, तुला कधी  एकट्यानं गावी सुद्धा पाठवलं नाही आम्ही, एवढ्या  दूर  विमानाने एकटा कसा पाठवणार. तुला वाटतं तेवढं सोपं नाही बाळा  ते. तिथे भाषा नवीन, लोक नवीन, तुझ्या खाण्याचे हाल होतील, आजारी पडलास, काही दुखलं खुपलं तर कोणी काळजी घ्यायला नाही. इथलं कॉलेज सुद्धा चांगलं आहे, तुला चांगली नोकरी मिळेल, आपल्या जोशींच्या सचिन ने पण त्याच कॉलेज मधून architecture केलं , मोठ्या कंपनीत नोकरी आहे त्याला आता. एवढ्या लांब जाऊन तू काय साध्य करशील? हे सगळं श्रीमंत लोकांसाठी ठीक आहे, आपण अंथरून पाहून हात पाय पसरावे.". "पण बाबा मी scholarship मिळवेन, तुमचा खर्च नाही वाढवणार. " "एवढं  सोपं असतं scholarship  मिळवणं तर सगळेच नसते का गेले तिकडे शिकायला. तुला वाटतं ते सोपं, पण अवघड आहे खूप. उद्या माझ्याकडून फी चे पैसे घेऊन जा आणि मोन्यांना  भेट. तुझा हट्ट आहे म्हणून मी architecture साठी तयार झालोय, जास्त डोक्यावर बसायला लागलास तर तेही मिळणार नाही. इंजिनीरिंग करायला लावेन, कळलं ?"

"अहो चला दारापाशी उभे राहू, तेजस ने सांगितलं होतं, एक स्टेशन आधीच दाराच्या जवळ जाऊन उभे राहा." आई च्या वाक्याने बाबा वास्तवात आले. खिडकीतून Lucy कडे बघता बघता, भूत काळात कधी हरवले त्यांचं त्यांनाच कळलं नाही. आई ने भानावर आणल्यावर, काही क्षण त्यांना अण्णा खिडकीतून त्यांच्याकडे बघत असल्याचा भास झाला. त्यांनी दचकून पुन्हा नीट बघितला, एवढा वेळ खिडकीत दिसणाऱ्या स्वतःच्याच प्रतिबिंबाकडे ते बघत होते.

दारात उभे राहून जवळ येत असलेल्या प्लॅटफॉर्म कडे बघत ते आई ला म्हणाले, "तेजस ला जे हवंय ते करू दे. नाही झालं त्याचा लग्न अजून ४-५ वर्ष तरी काही बिघडत नाही ." आई निशःब्दपणे त्यांच्याकडे बघत राहिली. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Going against the basic instincts

I am scared of water. In fact, my fear of water drove me to learn swimming in first place and still I can barely save my life if it comes to it. Even after learning swimming, I couldn't let water anywhere above my nose or ears forget about over my head.

So when we went for Scuba Diving in Tarkarli, it was scary and thrilling at the same time. I knew that there is nothing to worry and we have oxygen supply and trainer and life savers if a situation arises, But all of these things sound reasonable when you are sitting in a living room. But when it comes to the actually doing it, your brain refuses all that logic and gives you warning signals. After all, it is only doing its duty (the brain). Survival and warning of dangers are some of the human's basic instincts. So when it comes to overcoming those, the logical reasoning doesn't work. Same goes for Bungee jumping, Skydiving, Hiking, Skiing, Ice skating and those scary rides in amusement parks. The brain is programmed to give us a warning when there is a risk to our lives. What makes these activities interesting is Can you use logic in such situation and convince the brain that it's OK or just stop listening to brain altogether.

When I stepped into the water, I was scared to death. Breathing through mouth sounded easy enough on the surface. But when I went underwater for the first time, the weights tied to my waste started pulling me down and breathing through mouth seemed impossible. My trainer kept assuring me that there is a constant supply of oxygen for me, and he is there any moment if something goes wrong and there are others on the boat to jump into the water to save my life, nothing worked. So even after 10 minutes of patience from my trainer and heartfelt attempts from me, I was still on the surface. Apparently, I would get nervous as soon as the sounds around me stopped when I went underwater.

And then it happened. During one such attempt, I saw a bunch of beautiful fishes swim past me, those made me forget everything. Sometimes we want to be so much in control of everything that's happening to us, that we forget 'letting go of ourselves'. Ever tried floating on the surface of water without moving hands or legs? If yes then you know what I am talking about. If floating on water without moving anything sounds scary to you, try it with a float tied around your waste. It takes something to tempt you to let go, for me, those fishes did the trick. Suddenly I was OK to be dragged deeper by weights on my waist & it became natural to breathe through the mouth instead of the nose.

What followed was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. A different world altogether. Beautiful fishes, corals and most importantly serene silence. The silence which was making me nervous some time ago became a dear friend to me. It was worth overcoming all my fears and at the end of it, I didn't want to return to the 'normal' life. I wanted it to last longer, much longer.

In our day to day life, we forget how it feels to be alive. We just go on from one day to another, running on a treadmill, at the end of which we are tired but haven't moved an inch from where we started. This experience made me feel alive, appreciate life more, appreciate this beautiful world more and most importantly put me in touch with myself. Sometimes it takes going against basic instincts to have such experiences, be it taking a risk with life or career or relations. While doing it may make you nervous to break out of the control or disturb what seems to be settled, but at the end of it, you will be glad you took it.

And if going against basic instincts doesn't work for you, then look for those beautiful fishes, which will make you forget everything else, and tempt you to do it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dont think that the home is behind you......

Its amazing how one thing in life leads to another, and that another thing leads to third, fourth, fifth and life becomes a chain of events before you even realize it. But when you take a moment and look back, you realize that, that first thing actually led your life in a completely new direction, and you wouldn’t be what you are or where you are if not for that first step.

When I look back now, I wonder that what if I hadn’t travelled to UK 10 years ago, what if I had said no to that first long term onsite opportunity of my career.

I still remember when my Project Manager asked me if I was willing to travel to UK on a long term assignment, and my answer was “I am willing to travel to any part of the world where phone calls from India are so costly, that my parents cant afford to call me more than once a week”.
The thing was I was constantly being bugged around for getting married by my parents. It wasn’t their fault as they were under constant pressure from the society to get their daughter married off. And though we all knew that I was to marry my long time boyfriend, I was not in a particular hurry to do so. I wanted to take it easy, enjoy my life, let him enjoy his life, let both of us settle down and then think about marriage. Unfortunately my thoughts were not so ‘confirming’ to the place I came from and so I was being asked the same question at least once every day ‘So…. When are you getting married?’ And I was willing to go to any place where people wouldn’t be able to trouble me often with that question, and my parents would call me only once a week, and will have enough to talk about apart from that one question.

Dont think that the home is behind you, think that the world is ahead of you

Little did I know that, that one journey is going to change my entire life, how I live my life, what I do for livelihood, my perspective towards everything and ultimately rest of my life.

I still remember the day, 14 January 2006. I had been busy for over a week, wrapping up my rented place in Mumbai, shopping, packing and coming to the term with the fact that I was going to be away from my family, boyfriend, and friends for at least a year. It was the first time I was going to board a plane and I was collecting as much information from experienced people as possible. And yet I made a very preliminary mistake, I didn’t choose a seat when I collected my boarding pass. (This was the time when airlines hadn’t started online boarding process). After collecting the boarding ticket, I found out that the seat was already allocated and it was the least preferred seat (naturally). Middle seat in the middle row. The highlight of my journey was supposed to be looking at the clouds from up there, and it was ruined.

The feeling of walking to the security gates was horrible. For the first time in my life I felt alone…. alone and vulnerable. I had stayed away from my family for my education and for job for more than 7 years, but I had never felt alone. They were always a phone call away, and I had my brother in the same city during college days and had got used to making new friends in a new place. I had moved to Mumbai from Pune and yet never felt vulnerable, ever. The feeling was unnerving. I was going to a new country, where I knew no one but one cousin sister (whom I had met 4-5 times during my lifetime). That’s it, I knew only one person in that country. One of my colleague from Mumbai office was travelling with me (in the same flight), but he had already started disowning me from the moment we met at the airport. He hardly spoke to me at the airport or during the flight. He and his wife continued speaking in their regional language, despite me requesting them to at least speak in Hindi or English (which was known to all of us). Before landing in Dubai for changing the flight, I had realized that they were not going to be of any help. To make matter worse, when we landed in Dubai, I found out that my feet were swollen so badly, that I couldnt get them into my new shoes. We had to walk long distance between gates at the Dubai airport and I had big luggage (carrying possibly everything I might need during next one year). We were to land in London Gatwick airport at 6.30 pm (in mid January when the day light ends at around 4 pm), then take a cab to Worthing (about one hours drive from Gatwick), meet a colleague from same company who was working there for previous 6 months, collect our respective house keys, travel to each of our places and settle down. Looking at the indifference of my colleague and his wife, I was getting even more worried about myself. I couldn’t depend on them much and reaching a remote village in a new country, after it is dark, on my own, sounded terrifying to me. (Even though I had done many overnight travels alone, to and back from home since my college days). I repented not accepting offer from my cousin to opt for a flight to London Heathrow airport and stay at her place that night, before going to Worthing.

Life was every way trying to tell me, that nothing is going to happen smoothly. First the swollen feet, indifferent colleague and the prospects of being in a new place where you don’t know anyone depending on that indifferent colleague. I had heard stories of people changing after they travel abroad, but didn’t know that process starts right at the Mumbai airport!!

By the time I landed in Gatwick airport, I had made my mind. Before even collecting my bag, I headed for a public phone nearby and called my cousin “I want to come to your place today rather than going to Worthing”, was my first sentence when I heard “Hello” on the other side. Apparently Gatwick airport was far too away for her to start driving then. So she suggested me to take a train ‘Gatwick express’ which would take me to heart of London in an hour. And by the time I reach there, she could finish her work and come to pick me up. “Don’t worry, people here are quite friendly. You can approach anyone for directions and they will happily help you”, she told me after giving me clear instructions on what to do. I had to catch a train or lift (I didn’t know what to call it, as it was like a single compartment of a train, running on tracks but it was only for taking a person from the airport to train station. It was really a pleasant experience asking for directions whenever I was stuck. Whenever I got confused I looked around for directions, many of those times people would willingly approach me to offer their help even before me asking them. “My cousin was right” I was thinking to myself.

The ride to London Victoria was smooth, until…… I got off the train. I got off the train and followed the crowd assuming that everybody was headed to exit. Everybody was indeed headed to exit, but the exit which was convenient for catching a cab. Not knowing that a train station can have numerous exits, I got out and waited at the nearby bus stop. After waiting for 15-20 minutes, I felt something was wrong. I wanted to call my cousin to tell her where I was waiting for her (These were the days when there weren’t international sim cards available to buy before boarding a flight and be connected as soon as you land abroad). As there were no public phones around, I went back to the platform to find one and call her. She was waiting for me for more than 30 minutes and didn’t know how to find me or contact me. I explained her where I was and went back to the same spot, hoping to be found. Another 10-15 minutes went by and I started feeling nervous. I had hardly slept previous night due to anxiety, and had made some futile attempts to sleep during flight journey. I was exhausted. It was already past 8 pm there, which was 1.30 am in India (as there was 5 ½ hour difference between India & UK in winter) and all I wanted was a cozy bed. The temperature was dropping every minute and it was completely dark. I was carrying a 20Kg cargo suitcase, a 10 Kg Cabin bag, a laptop bag with the heaviest laptop the IT guy from my office could find for me and a purse. I made two trips down the staircase to the platform with all that luggage to call my cousin, and came back to the same spot after explaining it in more detail during each phone call. During my third travel to the platform, one person felt sympathy for me. He enquired after me and offered to help carrying the luggage. When he found out that I was doing rounds to the platform to make phone call, he took out his mobile phone and offered it as long as I was not making an international call. He not only offered his phone, but also offered to explain to my cousin where exactly I was standing. He gave her all the directions before leaving me with my 30 Kg bags, heaviest possible laptop and a purse.

God bless that angel, my cousin finally found me. I was standing at the least possible exit I could have taken. After seeing her, a realization struck me that I should have probably waited at the platform and told her the platform no. I felt really stupid. At the most she would have been required to buy a platform ticket to get to the platform. (It was only later that I found out that you cant enter a platform without a ticket for traveling somewhere, there are barriers at every entry point, and those don’t let you in till you punch your travel card or insert the ticket. Nor do they have anything called a ‘platform ticket’. Probably they never have a situation where one is required to go all the way to the train to drop or pick up someone traveling. Later I tried to explain the idea of platform ticket to one of my English colleague, and he couldn’t understand the need.)

She took me home, fed me dal, rice, sabji, chapati; put me in a cozy bed with warm quilt and most importantly the feeling of being alone and vulnerable reduced considerably after entering her house.
My torment had ended…. for that week.

She drove me to my place next afternoon, bought all the possible groceries for to survive for at least a month till I find out nearby stores, and made sure that I was comfortable in the new house before taking off. It was an apartment on top floor of a 9 storey building. Ever since entering the village (as I referred it until I became aware that it was a town as per UK terminology and wondered that if this is a town, what a village would be like), I had hardly seen a human being. The building was so quiet that it was hard to imagine that anybody lived in those 4 flats per floor x 9 floors = 36 apartments. I had read about pin drop silence many times in books, but I was experiencing it for the first time in my life. I opened the window hoping to hear at least some traffic noise, but surprisingly even the cars made hardly any sound in this country. Opening the window only gave me cold chills & I had to close it in few minutes.

I was given a huge 2 bedroom sea facing apartment. Being the only girl from my company at that location, I had it all to myself. The house was furnished with sofa set, TV, Fridge, washing machine, electric hob with oven, microwave, all the utensils, cutlery, dishes, bowls, 7-8 different types of glasses and possible everything I could need in first week, right from tea bags, coffee, sugar to soap, kitchen towel, toilet paper, washing detergent and what not.

I had laughed when I watched movie ‘Pushpak’ in my childhood, now I felt the same way. Wish I had recorded some noise of Mumbai and brought it here with me. The silence was just too much for me to bear. So much that I picked up a habit of talking to myself in coming days.

The following weekend I traveled to London to be fed well again, as my cooking abilities were limited to rice, omelet and few easiest regional dishes. After being all alone, it was bliss to be able to speak after a week of silence, and that too in my mother tongue! I was constantly chattering till last minute and off course…. eating. My cousin looked up for travel options on internet (none of the Indian travel options were available on internet at that time), and gave me directions to catch a train and then change to a bus. On the way back the feeling of loneliness crept in.  To make it even worse, one of my close friend got married that weekend, and the groom and all my friends had called me previous night, to make me feel terrible about missing it. They succeeded. I felt miserable, being in that country all alone, craving for human interaction, craving to talk, craving to laugh. And something happened. I started having pain in my stomach. It went on increasing as I neared my town and by the time I got off the bus, I could barely walk. After consulting with the same cousin (she is a doctor), I bought paracetamol tablets in a cash and carry store (which was luckily open, as the stores closed down around 5 pm on working day in that town, and at 4 pm on Sunday). As I was in a hurry to take medicine, I asked for some water to the girls at counter, and they replied that I could buy a bottle (I was in UK, and a glass of water was not something common to offer to anyone). I took the medicine, reached my place and tried to take some rest. But the pain didn’t go away, it only worsened.

Finally I decided to use the contact given to us in case of emergency by the office. He was an Indian, working in UK for many years for the same company as mine. He called up emergency no.112 (which I didn’t know about) and called for a paramedic. By the time paramedic person showed up, it was already past 9 pm of Sunday night. He came and said that he couldn’t check me. They had some rule that for a male paramedic to check a female patient by touching her body, he should have a female paramedic accompanying him. What the ****!!!  Why had he come in first place then, knowing that he could hardly help me. He offered me 2 options, one that he request a female paramedic and I wait till she comes which may or may not happen in next 7-8 hours or he could take me to nearby hospital in his car where a nurse or Dr. can check me. I saw better prospects of being checked sooner in the second option, so I went to the hospital in his car.

That day I realized how much we take things for granted. For me getting a medical treatment was easier than walking to school or for that matter saying ‘Dr.’ My father was a Dr. and my elder brother is a Dr. too. I had rarely visited Dr. even when staying away from home, I used to call my father, take a medicine name and buy those medicines from medical shop. Though I had visited specialists on several occasions, still the experience of seeking medical help was easy enough. Not only me, but in general I felt that we are lucky that we have many doctors available, and we are free to walk into any of their clinic and be seen in less than 1-2 hours, or sometimes just go to a medical store and buy medicines at the counter, without even a prescription.

Though I had heard that buying medicine without prescription is restricted to very few medicines in this country, I hadn’t imagined that it would take hours for me to get checked by a dr. in a developed country. I waited in the reception for almost 4 hours, in pain before they took me in and asked me the preliminary questions. During those long 4 painful waiting hours, I kept begging the lady at reception to give me at least a pain killer to help me with the pain, and they refused sweetly. As an Indian citizen, painkiller was my birthright, or so I had felt till that moment. But it was not the case here. They wouldn’t give you any medicine till they have found out whats wrong with you. And they wouldn’t find out what wrong with me for hours. I felt relieved while lying down on the examination table. First a lady came to me and started asking questions. After taking down my details & symptoms she looked up and asked me ‘Is there a possibility that you are pregnant?’ Recovering from my shock, I said ‘No, I am not’. She persisted “Are you sure?” I would have replied “Not unless I am mother Mary”, if I was at my wittiest best, but not after suffering from the pain for almost 5-6 hours. “Yes, I am sure” was all I could manage. She walked away. I was left wondering how many more minutes they will take before they give me something to make the pain stop. In came another lady, asked me for the symptoms and some medical history questions. At the end she asked “Is there a possibility that you are pregnant?”, “No, I am not” “Are you sure?” “Yes, I am 100% sure”. Sigh!!! Cant they read my marital status? I am unmarried!!!

And then came a lady who introduced herself as a Dr. So who the **** were the previous ladies? Never mind. Its now over, I told myself. This lady is a Dr., she prescribes medicines and she will give me something to make my pain go away or at least find out whats wrong with me. After doing few checks, came the question “Are you pregnant?” I was on the edge of my patience by then. “No I am not” “Are you sure?” “Yes, I am one hundred percent sure” only if I could scream it, instead of saying it through gritted teeth and clinched fist. The doctor looked again at the form in her hand (probably at my age) and gave me this ‘you are 100% sure at the age of 24, so pathetic! Look’ and left. I wish I could vanish at that moment or melt away or something. 

They took some samples, brought the results after a while and declared that there was nothing wrong with me. I was still waiting for that one miracle medicine which will make my pain go away. So finally they decided to prescribe me painkiller along with some medicine. By the time they were done it was past 2 am. They asked me to go home as they couldn’t keep me overnight.

While I was waiting at the hospital, my emergency contact (the project manager) had called the indifferent colleague of mine. He and his wife came to hospital for an hour and left when it was getting too late. But before leaving he had asked me to stay at his place instead of being alone at mine. I called him to inform him about my discharge from hospital and he again asked me to come to his place. So I booked a cab and gave the address he had sent me in text message. The cab left me on the mentioned address and drove away. I knocked on the door but there was no response. I knocked and pounded on the door few times, rang the door bell several times without any response. Panicked, I called him up and he said he was waiting outside his house for me.

Bloody hell, I was at some wrong address, at 2.30 am, in probably 0 or minus something temperature, with pain in my stomach and this guy was telling me only one thing over the phone ‘I don’t know where you are, but I am waiting outside my door for you’. I imagined myself sleeping on the cold street and being found dead next morning. Now that it wasn’t my colleague’s address, I wasn’t even sure what street I was at (I didn’t know back then that every street in UK has the name written at each end of it. Back in India, I used to read the name plates of the nearby stores to find out what street I was in. But this place was endless rows of houses with no sign of a single shop).

Standing on a completely deserted street, I didn’t know whom to ask for help. Unnerved, I dialed the same cab company, who had sent me the previous cab. I told the lady that I had taken one of their cabs sometime ago and told her the address I had given to their driver. She told me that no such street exists in that town. I was almost in tears, I told her that probably I was lost and she had to help me somehow. (I wasn’t aware that they maintained the records of pickup and drop points of all the taxis booked through them, as I knew only the black and yellow taxis in India. The radio taxis hadn’t made their debut in India at that time). She told me that she probably knew where I was and she was sending a cab to pick me up.

For the second time, I knew the real meaning of ‘being rescued’ when I saw the cab approaching me on that deserted road. I gave the cab driver my address and called up my colleague to tell him that I was going home, as I had no energy left to search for his untraceable address.

To my surprise, the manager from client’s location (to whom I was reporting) was much more kind and helpful than my wildest imagination. She not only granted me leave till I was fully recovered (it was only my second week in their office) but also visited me with some fruits and food from Indian takeaway next afternoon (thinking that I wouldn’t be in a situation to cook).

That first week in UK taught me many things in life - to be tough; not to depend on anyone; to ask for help without hesitation; stranger can be way more kind & helpful than the people you know & trust; cultural differences; its ok to be asked ‘If you are pregnant’ irrespective of the marital status in some countries, first world countries are not perfect, even they have their own problems such as waiting in a hospital for hours before being seen by a Doctor and many more. But the most important lesson was to think quickly in crisis and make decisions based on own judgment and situation.

For two weeks after this incident, I had my bags packed, pondering over whether to continue there or return to India on health reasons. But I decided to stay back. A fear in me made me stay back, that if I return to India now, I will probably never leave it again for rest of my life. I sustained. I made many friends, traveled London until I knew some of the streets like back of my hand, planned a trip to Scotland and got about 13 unknown people to join me, people who became my friends for life & ultimately got married as soon as I returned to India (dreaming about the days when nobody will ask me ever again ‘So…. When are you getting married?’.

Till that trip I used to think that everything should be perfect, life should go as planned to be happy. This trip opened me to the possibility of ‘mmmm… maybe ….. not necessarily’. ;)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Make 2016 your most memorable year ever with these 12 tips

My friend told me something which made me write this blog post. He said, that there are 6% things we know in our life, there are 14% things which we know that we don't know, but there are 80% things we don't know that we don't know.  While we keep trying to know those 14% things we know that we don't know, we never even consider the remaining 80% things. Confused? Lets say you know how to use a smart phone or computer, that goes in the 6% things you know. But you don't know how to use repair your bike or car, that goes to 14% things you know that you don't know. Now, have you ever wondered how does AC work, or there are organisms in deep sea, which can survive without Oxygen only on Methane or there are 35,000 different species of spiders or body releases some 'feel good' hormones when you exercise?

So how do you expand your horizon to those 80% things, which we don't know that we don't know?

Here are 12 simple things you can do in 2016 to explore a small fraction of that 80%. Some of them will help you explore outside world while some of them will help you explore a new side of yourself.

There are 12 things for 12 months of 2016. You can do some of them, or all of them. You can do them one in each calendar month or all in one month, it's up to you. One thing I can assure you is most of them are simple, keeping our day to day busy lives in mind. You don't need to go to Himalaya or spend huge amount of money on an international trip. You can do them all in your normal life, but the only thing is you have to be more mindful about what you are doing and observe the impact.

1) List down things you have never done in your life. 

Running a marathon, trekking, gardening, making a greeting card, stargazing, attending live concert, party all night, Yoga, Meditation, attend art festival, ......... and so on. I am sure there will be plenty.

Do at least one of them. If you don't know where to start, Google is your best friend. Nowadays most of the events, activities are available on Internet through websites, Facebook pages, Meetup groups etc.

2) Explore a new city/town/village, not like a tourist but like a local

India being a large country there are hundreds of cities and towns to visit. It doesn't have to be one of the city with tourist attraction. You don't even have to travel far, there might plenty on 1-2 hours drive away from your own city. When you visit this new place, look for local food, talk to local people, understand what is their life is like. Many times we take life and facilities so much for granted that we forget that there are tens of thousands of people who have different life, different problems and different life goals. It will widen your point of view.

If possible stay with the local family instead of staying in a hotel. This will take you even closer to their life. AirBnB can be a good place to start.

3) Remember your childhood? 

When you wanted to dance in rain or fly a kite or play in mud or wanted to learn something but couldn't due to lack of availability, budget or simply because your parents didn't allow you to. List down all such things you wanted to do as a child. It can be as simple as playing on the beach for as long as you want or learning horse riding or reading those comic books you weren't allowed to for the sake of study.

Well, now you are not a kid anymore, there is no one to tell you what to do and what not to do. And the chances are that you can now afford it (unless you wanted to visit moon). Do at least one of them.

No matter how much we grow up, it is important to keep that child in us alive.

I assure you that this will give you huge amount of satisfaction and joy. 

4) Learn a new skill 

When was the last time you learned something, not because it was needed (be it in your job or home front), but because you wanted to learn it? It can be a new language, pottery, dance, singing, fixing the fuse in your house, using screwdrivers, using gadgets, doing your own taxes or applying makeup. It can be any small or big skill. Our brain is a wonderful thing, nobody knows the maximum capacity of its abilities. It can store as much information as you go on gathering and sharpens with every new learning. I never heard of brain giving error message 'Memory full' or 'High resources utilisation, please close some applications to resume normal processing'. ;-)

5) Fear  

List down all your fears. Maybe you are afraid of water, heights, cockroach, going to unknown locality, talking to a stranger, speaking in front of crowd, expressing your views in a meeting, or simply taking the rides in adventure park. Do at least one of them. Your confidence will increase ten fold when you do it.

6) 'Don't ......'

How many times have you heard of 'Don't do this, what will people say?' or you stopped yourself  from doing something fearing what will be the reaction of others? List down all those points, watching movie alone, dancing in streets, traveling alone, shout aloud, going for a night out with friends, wearing clothes you like or something else. Do at least one of them.

If you are still hesitant about reactions, do it at some different place or different city where nobody knows you. Being yourself is much easier with strangers than with people who know you.

If you don't have a single item on this list then I must congratulate you, for living your life on your own terms.

7) Are you uncomfortable visiting a particular place or event?

A place where you cant find a topic to discuss or where you feel alien or maybe the sight makes you uncomfortable. It would be the place you would avoid as much as possible. It might be an orphan age or old age home or a party with people you cant connect with or area where poor people live or area where very rich people live or art exhibition where you don't know what to make out of it, the possibilities are numerous. Visit at least one of them.

                           Sometimes its good be uncomfortable

But try and observe what exactly makes you uncomfortable about that place. You might uncover some hidden side of your personality.

8) Make a new friend

List down what you think about people from other gender, caste, religion, generation, age group,
class, or society status than yours. Make a friends from any of these (which is not already there in your current friend's list). Talk to this new friend of your often about various aspects of life, their culture, beliefs or problems or simply about bollywood movies, politics, hobbies or cricket. You will be amazed as some of your assumptions or prejudices about that particular group (caste, gender, religion, generation) melt away and you get a new perspective.

Many times we are prejudiced about many things in our life, on the basis of what we hear or what our family and friends tell us. It is only when we experience it ourselves that we come to know that these prejudices were false, and after all we all are human beings, with different approach to life. It will make you appreciate the differences in every individual better.

9) What is your holiday type? 

List down all the holidays you have been to in last 4-5 years. You will identify a pattern in it. Maybe you like being in a resort, doing nothing or you go for adventure activities or you go for international destinations only, or you only prefer visiting beaches.

This year go for a holiday different from your usual style. I wont tell you more as it is you, who will come back and tell me what was the experience like.

10) What is your dressing style? 

Open your wardrobe and have a look at all the clothes you have. Maybe you are person who likes only casual clothes, or formals or plain colours or turtle necks or particular colours, patterns. We all pick up a dressing style knowingly or unknowingly. At least one day of 2016, wear something different. Buy one such outfit or if you are not sure about buying, then borrow it from a friend.

Pay attention to how people respond and complement you on this change of attire (no matter how insignificant it looks to you).

11) Hangout differently

Who are your everyday lunch, tea time, party, hangout or chat buddies? We all have a set group of colleagues, friends, neighbours with whom we usually hang around and chitchat with. If you observe carefully, you will realise that there are a particular set of topics which are discussed in this group.

For a change hang out with different group or go for lunch/tea with a different group. If it sounds too radical a change then try opening a completely new topic with the same group. You might find out a hidden interest or quality of one or more people from this group which otherwise you wouldn't have come to know.

12) Don't make a new year resolution. 

You heard me right. We all know that it hardly works. Whats the point of doing something which we know for sure wouldn't work.

Instead make a progress card. How past year has been, what was good and bad about it. What are the qualities you have improved upon, what were the highlights or achievements of the year, what mistakes you made, which you wouldn't like to repeat in the new year. Also make a list of qualities you would like to improve upon. Don't confuse the improvement list with your goals. You might have a certain goals in your mind for 2016 but this improvement list should list down what are qualities you need to improve to achieve those goals.

e.g. I would like to improve my fitness level, be more organised, be more disciplined, improve listening skills, negotiation skills, time management skills, social skills.

I have been always told to set specific goals with a set deadline, but this list is not about that. It is part of ongoing improvement program for you which may go on for years. Setting goals sometimes put pressure on you resulting in untimely give ups. This list will sit in your subconscious mind throughout the year and you will do minor things without even realising that you took those steps in line with your improvement plan, unconsciously. When you do a similar review next year, you will find out how these small things have contributed to the final result over a year.

So what are you waiting for? Get started on items from this list one by one and discover new things about life & yourself.

I wish you all the best and happy 2016. See newer version of you in a years time. Ciao.