Hello From Wien!

There are large trees lining the lane outside my little home. Their leaves keep moving relentlessly all day, catching even the slightest wind. They seem to be soaking in every bit of sunshine they can – and delighting in it. In a month or two, sunny days will be rare, the skies grey and heavy. That said, I feel none of this heaviness inside me. Not just yet. I am lapping up the sunshine too and slinking inside my blue Jaipuri quilt at night. I carry a jacket with me while going out but sometimes don’t get a chance to wear it at all. The weather is playing with me and I don’t know the game. It is, after all, my first week in Vienna.

This is partly why I have been away all this while. Both R and I have been going through multiple changes in life. R is here on a work delegation and I am here with him. I get startled every time I get out of the house. Inside our cozy little studio it’s quiet, warm and familiar. Outside, it’s chilly, bubbling and vastly new. I do not speak the tongue, indeed I find it difficult to even pronounce the name of our building. German words seem immensely intriguing – long, set together strangely, almost like a code. Everyone speaks German – from the vegetable sellers at a market that is very like Pune’s Sunday mandi, to the people you meet by the river Danube. I wondered briefly what language the swans speak. Pieces of fruit-bread seemed to work well enough there, thankfully.

Swans in the Danube
A brief walk across the streets feels like you have entered a live-in museum. The buildings all look like intricate pieces of art – a cross between the historic and the modern. Every piece of construction looks beautiful – from the fountains at the crossroads to the ancient churches, from the large plazas to the palaces that have seen several empires. Every now and then, I am struck with something familiar – a takeaway-shop by the U-Bahn (or the Metro) and I find they sell kebabs. A red bus that reminds me of Delhi’s Connaught Place and then I realise it’s actually a tram.

R is excitedly making plans to travel. He has picked up the language considerably and charms me all over again by buying vegetables like a local. He knows the stores that remain open (most retail outlets here shut by 7 PM every evening) and remembers names of Metro stations. He grins as I struggle to store German phrases in my memory and reproduce them later, all contorted. “Stop laughing. Or I will force you to eat sushi and salad for dinner.” That shuts him up; he despises both.

Churches in Vienna

This city is the closest I have been yet to the wintry world that so fascinated me when I was younger. All through my childhood (and even now, let me admit) I would pore over books that described the snowy landscape – how the kids snuggled by the fire during Christmas holidays, their breakfasts featuring steaming hot coffee and macaroons. Tucked in my warm bed in Delhi, a hot-water bottle by my side, I would imagine the world in those books come alive. “But your toes surely hate the cold.” Mom would say, rubbing them hard. “They always turn so red and itchy.” We often planned to, but never did, visit Mussoorie in December. The only snow I have seen is on television. Honestly, I have no idea how the European winter is going to treat me. But the very prospect is thrilling.

Vienna is awe-inspiring. As I sit by the window, typing away, the late evening sun persists. It doesn’t get dark until very late – something I know is soon going to start changing. For a while longer therefore, I am going to sit here and watch the street below bustling. Auf Wiedersehen!

No, Don’t Ask Me When I Plan to “Start” a Family

One of the rather uncomfortable side effects of marriage is the constant pressure to procreate. And the even more discomfiting fact is that this pressure comes from people you have never and would never discuss the mechanics of procreation with. Now, while I’ve been reasonably fortunate so far in dealing with the curiosity about my childbearing plans, that’s not what compelled me to write this post. It’s something a bit more disturbing.

After marriage, there is a host of people who enquire when you’re planning to “start a family”. And this always, imperatively, bugs me. No, not because it’s personal and nosey (which it is) but because it’s founded in falsehood. You see, I already have a family! Continue reading

Back To The Jungle

* Winning Entry in Disney’s My Mowgli Memory Contest *

Jungle Book

It was a late-winter Sunday morning in Delhi and still dark outside. The household was asleep. I tip-toed out of my bed, put on a jacket, and rushed to the washbasin. The floor-boards were chilly, the water even worse. But I didn’t mind. Before everyone woke up, I had to shower, put on fresh clothes, pray, and finish my homework. Erm, in case you have pinned me down as this ideal, unreal kid, let me burst the bubble. There was a big reason for the big rush.

Jungle Book aired on TV on Sundays. I couldn’t miss it for the world.

Outside our living-room window, the sun was now high up in the sky. The kitchen was fragrant with weekend-special breakfast, and I knew it, a chocolate pastry for me. Meanwhile, in the jungle, Mowgli the man-cub was being raised by a family of wolves. He had two excellent friends – Baloo, the bear and Bagheera, the panther. They hadn’t a soft bed or fluffy paranthas, and lived in perpetual fear of Sher Khan. But despite this, they were a bunch of happy folk. They were also my role models.

My family, predictably, latched on to my Jungle Book love, and used it to sell whatever point they were making. So, when I came back from school one day, my shirt all soiled with mud, Granny would go “Looks like our Mowgli jumped into a jungle puddle!” Or, if I crept behind Mom when the neighbours brought out their dog, she would remind me “Darling, he’s no Sher Khan!” You get the idea. This is why even though my home was well-lit, comfortable, and in the heart of the city, there was an aspect of the jungle to it. In my mind, there were mysteries right behind the fridge, or in the store-room, or in the dark of the attic. Almost within reach.

I say almost because I could never hold on to time. To be honest, I didn’t even try. Growing up seemed so tempting, so full of big and new experiences. So I grew up. There was holiday homework, then college assignments, then work deadlines. Unlike the freedom of the jungle, and the simplicity of those early Sunday mornings, life now presented complicated challenges. There was a time when achievements the size of Colonel Hathi came easily. Memorizing the lyrics of “Jungle Jungle Baat Chali Hai, Pata Chala Hai”, for instance. And now, one of the most daunting achievements was finding satisfaction.

I wonder how it will be to see my favourite people from the jungle all over again. They will have new and interesting voices, in a virtual world more real than ever before. In the Hindi version, I especially look forward to Irrfan Khan as Baloo and Om Puri as Bagheera – rich, powerful voices to portray the most adorable friends (and bodyguards) ever! Times have changed since the Jungle Book of my childhood, and we have reached new, fantastical standards of film-making. 

This Friday, I will sit with 3-D glasses over my spectacles, and let Disney carry me effortlessly into the depths of the jungle. There, waiting for me, will be all my friends of yore – the happy-go-lucky Mowgli, the affectionate Baalu, the strong and sensible Bagheera, and all the rest. Together we will re-create the beautiful and innocent land of childhood, still untouched by time.

*             *             *

I’m blogging about #MyMowgliMemory at BlogAdda.

Picture Credit: The Hindu

Chirp No More

He was there when I opened the door to the balcony, chirping away with all the strength he could muster.

“What is it?”

He replied in monosyllables. “Chirp. Chirp. CHIRP!”

Confused, I looked around into the evening. The sun was setting, lending a golden glow to the plants in our little, slightly messy, garden. The sky was alive with groups of birds returning to their nests, in time for the evening snack – a freshly caught worm! In fact, some members of his family could also be seen near the roadside shrubs, chattering away about climate change.

“Why are you sitting here all alone? Go out and play.” Continue reading

The Real Reason I’m Fixated On C.R. Park Food

CR Park Market No 2

“I’ll have some of the Radha Pallobi.”

A friend of mine, a newcomer to Market No. 1, Chittaranjan Park, had just wiped clean a plateful of Bengali sweets – chomchom, rajbhog, sandesh and yes, rasgullas.

“Splendid idea.” I told her. “You’ve had far too many sweets anyway.”

“Wait, what? Isn’t Radha Pallobi a sweet? It sure sounds like one!”

I shook my head and handed over to her a plate of steaming hot Radha Pallobi – stuffed luchis with delicious aloo dum. She was taken aback momentarily, but soon dug in with enthusiasm, much to the shop-owner’s joy.

My friend was no exception; most people on their first trip to C.R. Park are gastronomically overwhelmed at the sheer expanse of this mini-Kolkata. There’s the chaat corner, for instance. They have soft fuchkas – or panipuri – which they fill with a yum mixture of mashed potatoes, chillies and fragrant lemons. They have mangsho-ghughni – chickpeas infused with delicious spices, and hold your breath, mutton. And then there’s jhalmuri too – tall cones of puffed rice flavoured with green chillies, onions, tomatoes, spices and namkeen. Continue reading

Why Some People In a Movie Hall Just Can’t Shut Up

Tangy Tuesday Picks – 8 March, 2016

Silence

Okay, picture this. You have booked top notch seats in the over prized multiplex (wait, they are all overpriced – redundant adjective). You are all geared up to see this movie with widespread acclaim. And then it begins. But not only on the screen. Oh you denizen of utopia, not only on the screen.

Lately, I just can’t seem to watch a movie without being surrounded by people who talk as if its their living room, kids who cry as if their umbilical cord has just been cut, and mobile phones that constantly sing obnoxious ring-tones that their owners are too obnoxious to turn down. It is a cacophonous Rohit Shetty film and you don’t even have a helmet. So, I decided to try and enlist the various reasons behind this curious phenomenon. Continue reading

Hiding In The Hills Of Mussoorie

Mussoorie

It was a cold morning. Jackets, socks, caps and gloves kind of cold. The clouds lined the sky unforgivingly. Even the monkeys were unusually quiet, the regular spring missing from their step. Just then, the sun trickled in through the dense foliage. Only a minute and the world was different. Up and away in Dhanaulti, around 30kms from Mussoorie, the sombre, wintry day transformed into a February paradise. Continue reading

A Winter Love Affair

I turn to you like I would turn to a drug. Except I don’t do drugs. But wait, I believe compulsively soaking in the morning sunshine and sinking my nose deep into shiuli flowers also count as drugs, minus the grave bodily damage – ta da! But, I digress.

So I turn to you like I would turn to a drug. You lighten the darkest of my afternoons, when all I can see from my silly, corner desk at work is a sombre sky. I have such a love affair with you that it seems sad beyond the grave that you will be gone in a month or two. Relegated to cold storage, ignored, graying and dehydrating. Continue reading