The Wind in the Willows

Oberlaa Park

I always loved secret little places as a child. An alleyway going down to somewhere I had never been before. The dark cupboard in the terrace room that anyone hardly opened. The makeshift tent I made in my playroom with umbrellas and dupattas.

Part of my fascination with secret little places was Enid Blyton, in whose stories the kids always found some sort of secret passage in the most unexpected ways. I stayed on the alert whenever we went out, hoping to tap some floorboards or panels or walls and find a secret passageway emerge.

As I grew up, it became more and more difficult to find such places. Everywhere I went, there were people. Everywhere I went, someone had been before and explored thoroughly. How did I know? The bags of chips and biscuits, cigarette ends, etc., shouted it out. It seemed impossible to find anywhere anymore that was unexplored, full of secrets, or solitary.

This is why, when I discovered the place in the cover photo, I was enthralled. It’s a sprawling park in Oberlaa, a neighbourhood in Vienna, and is full of quiet little walks. There are miles of beautiful countryside, dotted with streams, sheep and goats. Every turn you take leads you to new sights and sounds, and the air is heavy with the secret whispers of nature.

“By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world…”*

Oh, how much beauty there is in the world and how much to be explored! Perhaps, the saddest reality of life is how our energies and inclination to explore tend to fall as we grow older, ‘more important’ things taking precedence. But that moment in my newly discovered secret place was different. Oh yes. The only important thing was to listen to what everyone was quietly but fervently discussing – the trees, the winds, the birds and the stream.

*The Wind in the Willows is a delightful novel by Kenneth Graham where animals have glorious adventures in the countryside. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do!

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Find out more about 100 Happy Days here.

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Let’s Order Indian Today

The eight years or so that R and I have been together, trying out new foods has been a thing. Both of us enjoy trying out new cuisines, new ways of preparing traditional dishes, and cooking with spices we haven’t tried before. Before we got married, exotic restaurants – European, Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese – would be our date-night idea. And we spent as much time analysing the menu, or maybe more, as we did looking into each other’s eyes. We ate out at a lot of Indian-food restaurants too – from Bengali to Gujarati to Maharashtrian and others. Ever since, though we don’t eat out as often, we keep experimenting on our travels.

Indian food here in Vienna is very curious. Continue reading

Little Red Chillies

Red chilly plants in Vienna

I recently saw these adorable little fruits hanging in a bunch from their mother plant, their colour a brighter red than my new winter cap. From a distance – chillies or berries or cranberries. They fluttered a bit in the wind and felt soft to touch. I stood and stared at the plant for several minutes, my thoughts going back to a restaurant called ‘Cheetal’ on the Delhi-Haridwar highway. Continue reading

The Clocks Just Changed

Daylight savings

They went an hour backwards yesterday, on Oct 29. Who says time can never go back, or that we can never reclaim what’s once lost?

Daylight savings has ended for the year in Europe, which means we are now 4.5 hours behind India. This is a big situation for the families back home. Many members of R and my families can still never remember how it’s the wee hours of the morning for us when its noon for them. Continue reading

A Little Girl & Her Mom At The Anondo Mela

Durga Puja C.R. ParkSomewhere, in a parallel world, a little girl dressed in Durga Pujo finery is walking hand-in-hand with her mom. The two are going to the Anondo Mela in the Mela Ground Pandal, one of the biggest puja pandals in C.R. Park, Delhi.

“What all will we eat there, Mummum?” The little girl jangles her purse. It is full of new notes and coins that her family has given her to spend at the Anondo Mela. Continue reading

The One Threat That Lurks Unnoticed Inside Our Homes

“Oh, you’re from Delhi! How on earth do you manage to BREATHE in that city?!”

This was an acquaintance, sipping coffee while sitting in the chair opposite me, airing her views on everything about the world around her. She had lived all her life as “an international citizen of India” and really wanted nothing to do with the “filth that lurked everywhere” back in the country where she was born.

She displeased me – oh, a lot – but somehow, I couldn’t think of an appropriate response. What she said wasn’t untrue. Over time, Delhi had become this potboiler of dust, chemicals and grime; it had achieved notoriety as the home of all things evil – from air pollution to crime. And yet, it didn’t seem all that long ago when the air in Delhi had been fragrant with shiuli flowers on Durga Puja, chicken cooking deliciously in the neighbourhood, fresh leaves sprouting in spring.

I came back home that evening and looked around my home. My conversation with that irritating acquaintance had made me feel unsettled. But now I was home. And home is where nothing can get at you, right? Not the monsters who lurked in drains, not the smoke that lurked in Delhi’s air and triggered hateful diseases. Home is safe…

And yet, every other day, I hear of someone suffering from a disease triggered by pollution, when many of these people spend most of their time in the safety of their homes. Women, little children, senior citizens. Scores of people coming down with an eye irritation or a nose congestion every now and then. Nursing an allergy or a flu. Getting hospitalised for bronchitis, pneumonia and even heart problems. People who don’t walk around in traffic and on crowded streets, or inhale the smoke from factories. Continue reading

This Is Why I’m Giving Up Scrolling

Keep scrolling

Tap, tap, tap.

Scroll, scroll, scroll.

A friend checking into a shopping mall. A marriage. Baby’s first birthday. An advertisement for an Indian restaurant in Vienna. Random philosophical quote with a spelling error. New brand campaign, meme or GIF on the latest trending subject. Some food that’s bright red. A shocking video or two. A dozen pictures clicked with the same background and people starting petitions (oh, not for the dozen pictures). Continue reading

Mom, The Birthday Girl

Today is my mom’s birthday. I went to wish her in the morning and she wasn’t in her room. I wondered where she had gone. Usually, she’d be fussing about, dusting this, arranging that, making me some coffee. Mornings were supremely busy for her – not that the rest of the day wasn’t. She has never enjoyed napping in the afternoon and usually undertakes massive projects like turning out old cupboards, finishing an entire novel, cleaning my bookshelves, making me a new dress, or sorting out Papa’s documents. And these projects tend to continue all through the afternoon, often alongside me, both of us working steadily on something or the other. Continue reading

Poison Pen Writing

“We call this kind of thing ‘poison pen’ writing, when the writers are grown up, and they are held in universal loathing and hatred, considered the lowest of the low.” – Miss Potts

I grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton books – a new title purchased every week of my summer vacation – and this was among the little lessons I picked up from there. Anonymous letters were just not done. They were, I always thought, sent by people who hadn’t the courage to say what they wanted to your face. And courage was important.

Turns out, things have changed and how. Anonymous writing is now not only acceptable but even favourable. Recipients of such letters don’t burn the notes or throw them in the bin but publicise them on their ‘wall’ for everyone to see. Many do this even when the contents of the note are not complimentary – and this, it seems, is the new definition of courage.

In the past weeks or so, the Sarahah app has befuddled, puzzled and upset me. In case you have been fortunate enough to miss out on these notifications on your Facebook or Twitter timeline, Sarahah is an anonymous messaging service that lets people leave you ‘constructive feedback’. The recipient can then showcase these golden nuggets of feedback on their social media profiles.

Sarahah

Continue reading

Top 3 Tips to Survive an Awkward Phone Conversation

First, some creds. What makes me an authority on phone conversation tips? Just this – I am the queen of awkward. Many conversations with me are awkward, but phone conversations top the lot.

There’s something about not looking someone in the eye, not catching their facial expressions, and the very theme of talking on the phone (small talk) that just lends itself to awkwardness. Strange silences. Throat clearing. Repeating questions about the weather and “what did you cook for lunch/dinner?”. Asking whether “you can hear me?” a few times. Trying to sound chirpy and charged because hey, look who called. So, I have several years of experience in trying to evade, whine over, and eventually endure phone calls.

Awkward Phone Conversations

Here are the three valuable tips that have held me in good stead. Sharing this at the risk of personal offence to people I have tried these on – but hey, those times were genuine, I swear. Continue reading