Sunday, December 2, 2012

Heavier Things

I demand too much from the people I love. I demand that they listen to me talk, assure me that there's no rat under my bed when I'm alone at home, make the small decisions..the "what do you want to eat today" and "which film should we watch" kind and never ever hang up on me when I call them.

Conversely, I demand too little from the people I don't know. There is the neighbour who's rude to me and gets away with it, the colleague who dumps all the work on me or the shopkeeper who sells me a bad product. Oh! How can I forget the maid who thinks she can bully me into buying her a pressure cooker! (maid management classes anybody?)

I may be unjust to my people and not mean enough to the strangers. So I understand why most of mine need so much space... But at the end of the day, if you claim that the walls close up on you each time I call, then you can't be anyone I love. And neither listening to David Gray nor willing for things to be different is going to change that.

Right. Now that this is out of my system, time to go shopping!!


Friday, November 2, 2012

Poop project!


Smart idea. Who cares if his other idea is going down the hole! Geddit? Heheh.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Festival Season!

This month saw many communities celebrating the triumph of good over evil in many different ways. It also finally dawned on me that living in C.R. Park meant that Durga Puja is the new Diwali! It was a visual treat every evening with six beautifully decorated pandals, insane crowds pouring into the locality, beautiful women dressed in the best Bengali saris with big bindis, prayer, and oh-my-God so much food.. chuskis and aloo tikki and chaat and pav bhaji and chowmein!

The festivities culminated on Dusshera day with visit to the Red Fort grounds, to experience the triumph of good versus evil first hand! The Ramlila grounds were packed to capacity. I could feel the tension emanating from the crowd, as if one mishap would trigger panic and a stampede. Nobody was pushing, but people were breathing down each other's necks (literally!), talking excitedly, intermittently yelling "Jai Shree Ram!" and crowding around food stalls.



After perfunctory speeches from the chief guests, the process of lighting up the huge statues of Raavan and his two aides kicked off. First, there were pretty firecrackers lighting up the sky, followed by the eyes of the statutes lighting up - a deep dark red. The crackers then went off right before the statutes, pulling another "Jai Shree Ram!" from the crowd, at which point, one by one, each statue exploded. The sound, the flames and the cloud of fire, made it look remarkably similar to a nuclear explosion. With the first explosion, the crowd was momentarily stunned and collectively took two steps back, as if nobody was sure if this was according to plan or had the crackers gone out of control... But then the second explosion went off and the third and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. It was safe... "Jai Shree Ram!"


The fire died down too soon though...   merely in a few minutes and the crowd pushed on, to the second Ram Lila ground to enjoy another spectacle. We lost a wallet, lost each other for a while; then found everyone and finally, after much drama, reached the metro station. Despite the crowds, the stolen-wallet and the mass hysteria, this was one Delhi experience that I'm glad I did not miss!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Work-ed Up

I am working all the time. This means that my brain is processing all my usual angst on low simmer all the time. Because there is no space for the angst to blow out. I miss Bombay. I miss my friends. I feel guilty for not hating Delhi. Even more guilty for not wanting to travel to Bombay because it is so exhausting.

Two views on friendship are warring inside my head. One view that says you fight for your friends. Fight to not leave them when they're down. Push through when they're troubled and not let them drift away, because that will only make things worse. Another part of me is telling me to give up. To not be obsessive. Move away and move on. To not love. Or love them enough to leave them alone, because it was never just a friendship. But you know, I've had this debate before. I have made the "decision" to move away and move on, several times. But I always go back - like an alcoholic. Or a battered wife (you, no thanks for the title :P). Maybe I should go to an AA meeting and tell them about my problem. Pray to what I believe in. Take it a day at a time.. a minute at a time.

I'm scared that I'm going to be stuck in Delhi forever. Working for crazies who want to "change the world". For those who believe it is okay to make me work 15 hour days, alone, at no salary, because I believe in the cause. I'm scared that I'm going to let go of my best friends because I have no time to call and say hi. Because when they call, I'm at work and when I call back they're asleep. We have decided. We're all going to stay in the same city when we grow up or grow old. And I'm going to work for crazies who don't make me work 15 hour days. Crazies like me.



Thursday, October 4, 2012

When the going gets tough...

For the first time ever, I'm worried about not delivering a product on time at work. I can't get a handle on the people I'm working with and I don't know how to navigate the intense political maze that is my office.

In this moment, quite frankly, I hate it. So much so that if I had a choice, I wouldn't go to work tomorrow. As a friend of mine was saying the other day when his day was going down the drain.. "it's one of these days when you wonder why you're doing what you're doing and if it is adding any value to your life at all".

I'm just hoping I can get through this without getting fired. Or getting an ulcer.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The best house warming present ever.

Recently I visited Bunny's new place and was looking around by myself when she yelled that I should check out the soap dispenser in the bathroom. 
What I discovered was an automatic no-touch hand wash dispenser!! It looked like a cool space age gadget, all silver and black. It also had a sensor that would detect the hand (LOL) and push out some soap. Someone had actually presented this to the family as a house warming present! 

So cool. So hygienic. The best house warming present ever. Okay maybe not ever, but it will stay on top of the list until I find something so simple yet so awesome :D 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Food Coma!

Today I went for a food-walk organized by 1100 Walks. It was in Old Delhi for 4 hours starting at 4 pm. As I was leaving for Chandni Chowk at 3 pm, it seemed like a terrible idea thanks to the sun, humidity and heat. But as I sit exhausted on my bed, trying to get out of a food coma, I'm thinking that the walk was worth it despite the weather.

The greeaaatt things about the walk were

1. The food. Oh my, how I love Delhi street food! It's rich. Not too sweet or spicy, but with uhmazing flavour. It's full of desi ghee (no shady Dalda). In the 4 hours we ate kulchas, kulfi, paratha, lassi, kheer, chai... you get the picture :)

2. Old Delhi. It's a charming part of town. Full of history but still so alive in the present. I loved walking in Old Delhi and soaking in the sights and sounds

3. The route. We went pretty deep into old Delhi, basically walking around the Fatehpuri Masjid and all the way to Chawdi Bazaar. The lanes and markets were more mundane (think kites, metal parts, spices) and lesser tourist attractions.

4. Himanshu of 1100 Walks. He is charming and oh-so-cute! Doesn't give shady-guide-type speeches and genuinely enjoys the walk and the food with you.

5. The photo-opps. The light is good enough to click pictures in narrow alley-ways. Even a novice like me could take pretty pictures here!

Next time, must beware of:

1. The weather. I can only imagine how doing this in winter would be so so much better!

2. Footwear. Chappals were a bad idea. Next time I'm going with sneakers.

3. Water and my kidney. Too much water. Oh the last half hour was difficult!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chugging along...

Days are whizzing by. Work is taking over and the City seems more familiar and by extension, more welcoming. I'm getting used to the crazy drivers on the road and friends are commenting on how I now dress like "one of the Delhi girls", whatever that be.

******************

I'm feeling old with my new glasses and the floor moves in a funny way when I walk. I guess one doesn't realize how fast time is passng until some shit like this goes down. Age has a way of sneaking up on people and it's suddenly a very uncomfortable feeling!

*******************

EVERYONE must watch Barfi!. I promise that it will leave you feeling good and mushy for the rest of the day. The critics who argue that Barfi! doesn't capture the real emotions between lovers are completely missing the point. The film is about the emotions of the characters in those unique circumstances: the fear of being alone and everyone leaving you; friendship that allays this fear; possessiveness and longing. But above all it is the  innocent treatment of all these emotions that makes the film so lovely and must-watch. The film has also rekindled my Darjeeling-love. Must. Visit. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dedic

It was an unlikely friendship from the start. He, a shy, self-conscious junior at work - brilliant with numbers and a very keen focus on his personal style. Me, an extroverted, smiling, bumbling senior - good with people and not really caring about appearances.

When I first worked with him more than a year ago, I thought he was arrogant, self-conscious and worried too much about his tie, perfume and stupid haircut. On his part, I'm sure he thought of me as this over-bearing senior who talked too much and made too many excel mistakes to be counted as a real person!

But in the last few months, we became closer without quite realizing it. He was my light in the new city - exploring new places with me, distracting me with his own funny life problems and being around when almost everybody else was too busy in their own lives.

Now that I've said bye to him and he's leaving for London next week, I am suddenly thinking about all that I've just written about. And that I will miss him, more than I ever thought possible.

   

:)

Rainy morning. And Doogie Howser MD on TV.

Yay for Saturday!


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Saga of the Car - Part 1

Breaking news
August 22, 2012
7:55 pm

Car broken down on panchsheel flyover. Zen driven by some crazy woman who thinks she can survive in this city.

Her car was pushed to the side of the road by some looney men who waved and yelled goodbye in the creepiest way after helping her.

She's now waiting for help to arrive as she contemplates whether she should laugh or cry at her situation and the various ways she's going to carve out the flesh of the man who sold her this piece of junk.

Hah! Foolish foolish woman.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Fear

Recent events should have made me angry. Instead I'm scared. If this can happen in Mumbai, to a well-to-do lawyer, it can happen anywhere and to anyone.

My new motto: keep your head down and go about your business. And pray that someone up there is keeping you safe. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Oh, such a noob!

My gas cylinder went empty on me last night as I was boiling potatoes. Of course, my brain had started assuming that I had a gas pipeline with never-ending supply and the gas cylinder had become a blind-spot - so this was a huge surprise!

Since then, I have tried many many things to get some gas, to no avail. Friends with extra gas cylinders have either already given them on loan or can't because they are the official booked connections. The black market guys are notorious for being untraceable. "Agar aagayaa toh mei cylinder le loonga..." says the guard. "Kab aayegaa?" I ask patiently, to which he says "..... mei toh abhi aayaa hoon (like from home or have you just joined this duty?!).... jabbhi aajaaye mei le loonga... aaj, kal, parso..."

Oh well, I'm praying to get my morning tea soon.. kal, parso, narso...






Monday, July 30, 2012

Deflated /Delhi bitching - 2

As I made my way towards the car on Sunday morning, I had no idea that the next few hours were going to squash my Sunday spirit and give me plenty of reasons to add to my "Delhi bitching" series. I was groggy, just waking up after a long night spent in high spirits and as I reached  where my car was parked I heard a woman sternly ask me, "is this your car?"

I turned, looked at her angry face, nodded and the woman launched into a moralistic lecture on how literate people like me couldn't pay attention to little red and white sign boards saying "No Parking, Tyres will be deflated", how she had to "urgently" go somewhere at 6:30 in the morning (later I found out that this urgent trip was to the fucking gym) and how ashamed I should be. I sheepishly admitted to my mistake and said I was sorry, feeling terrible that the lady probably had somewhere urgent to go and was stuck because of my car. Angry at myself I got in and reversed the car when my friend shouted for me to stop and pointed to my car's deflated tyre.

I jumped out of the car, yelled for the woman and like a petulant child ranted, "If you've already punished me by deflating the tyres of my car, I don't think I should be listening to your lecture or saying sorry to you. In fact, I'm not sorry at all. **SQ!#D" In the same petulant-child-mode, I stormed away, driving my car in 1st gear to nearest repair shop.

2 hours, much sweat and 1 soiled jacket later I was back home with a replacement tyre that made my car wobble and a temper that refused to settle down. My problem isn't with admitting that I made a mistake.

My problem is that the people of  Delhi are unforgiving bullies. In other cities (read: Mumbai), there is ONLY ONE authority that can put up no-parking signs, and it is the traffic police. Even the traffic police doesn't deflate the tyres of your car and potentially damage your property. They calmly tow away your car and wait for you to pay the fine.

In Delhi, every resident is a police man. Each house has a default no-parking sign posted and every single person has the "right" to damage my property, yell at me and be terrorist-like in their behaviour. An eye for an eye. There is nothing I can do about it, but leave. And be paranoid about it the next time I park my car.

In the last two days, I've added as many reasons for not settling down in Delhi. People deflating my car tyres and friends moving out for better education and better cities.

The list is only getting longer.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Anddd it's done!

After the many many years of angst, screwed up plans, slave labour, studying and studying some more, the woman has done it :D

Renu Mehta, Chartered Accountant.

Yaaayyyyy!!!!









Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Oh. My. God.

All beginners mistakes to one side. But calling the Chairman instead of his assistant by mistake?

Oh. My. God.

Everybody who is reading, please give me a job if I get fired today.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dichotomy

Last weekend, Javed Akhtar showed his support for Satyamev Jayate, on the episode against alcoholism. He also came out with his story of how he became an alcoholic.

This week, McDowell's released an advertisement with his son, Farhan Akhtar endorsing the brand (of course, this was the soda extension).

Hmm. Interesting.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Things to Do in Delhi.Version_Weekends

When I looked at them from afar, weekends in Delhi held immense promise. However, after taking a closer look, the weekend scene in Delhi is a bit of mixed-bag really. One is required to take a lot of initiative to do something interesting on Saturdays and Sundays... it's not as easy-going and flow-ey as my home-town. Anyhoo, based on personal experience, here is an account of things to do in Delhi. Version: weekends!

1.  Invite people to your house, buy lots of beer/ any alcohol of your choice and food and chill with the television. Low on stress, high on fun and easy on the wallet.. these "scenes" work out especially if you have 4-5 friends who are equally jobless and socially unambitious on those particular days!

2. Tap the pseudo scene and catch events that extol the virtues of NGOs working in education, child rights and other cool sectors. Note to all who venture: Though these events are designed for individuals like you and me to speak with  people who have emerged victorious despite difficult circumstances and experts who work in the space, they are often a combination of the aforesaid inspiring conversation and other annual-gala type events with amateur dances and songs. Go for the conversation, tolerate the singing-and-dancing.

3. Walk around in Hauz Khas Village. Yes, everybody talks about the lal dora village and how cool it is, but this is one street that lives up to its hype. You can trust to find tons of information online about where to go, and also know that you will find a new store/ eatery every time you visit!

4. Go to Khan Market, buy a book from the Full Circle store and trudge up the stairs to Cafe Turtle... to drink their iced tea, stare at the weird concoction of people dropping in (firangs, fully decked out Dally-girls, occasional hippies) and read a few pages. 
It's perfect for the blistering days in Delhi when there is no electricity at home and you don't want to make conversation or go to the movies.  

5. Take the Indigo flight back to Bombay on Friday evening. Party the weekend away and fly back to office on Monday morning. I have vowed that the two days spent taking in the blissful Bombay weather are going to last me until Delhi can become more bearable. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ice Ice Baby

A friend suggested that I should sit in a tub full of water like a hippo the whole day to get over this stifling heat in the city. The many implications of that suggestion aside, it is SOOO hotttt!!!

Yes, it is dumb to crib about the weather when many in the world are dying of hunger and I sit in an air-conditioned environment 15 hours a day. But by God, I feel like a droopy dried-up flower :-(

I hear it's raining in Bomz. Please please send some this way soon!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Deja Vu

When I was in Malawi, late last year, one of the most frequently discussed topics was about the political crisis ravaging Malawi. They were ruled by an authoritarian, divisive and slightly crazy President who  insisted that all was well with his world. In the meanwhile, he succeeded in alienating many of the large donor countries (read: UK, USA) that resulted in a for-ex shortage, a severe fuel crisis and a breakdown of production throughout the small country.

Most of the discussion centred around how protests had failed to shake the President and his government out of a stupor and that the population would patiently wait for the 2014 elections to voice their opinion and vote for change. The real question was whether the country would survive to see the 2014 election.

Then in a sudden development, the President died of a heart attack and Malawi ushered in its first woman President. While the jury is still out on her performance, everyone in Malawi breathed a collective sigh of relief when the country didn't collapse into civil war, but continued to have a stable government.

*********************

Reading about India's latest GDP growth figures and the repeated criticism of the Congress-led government for it lackadaisical response to every crisis in the last 2 years, I am struck by a sense of deja vu.

The media is crying itself hoarse about a home-made recession, fewer jobs, more inflation and a confusing cumbersome government. Political parties aren't able to find any alternative leaders for the next general election in 2014 and with a whopping 10 States set for assembly elections in 2012-13, the government is sitting tight on all the difficult, rabble rousing reforms.

And what are we doing to change this? Waiting for 2014. Or a heart attack.



Thursday, June 14, 2012

Things to Do in Delhi. Version Mundane.


Talk to shop keepers while mimicking their own accent but confusing them with words like "bhaaji" for "sabzi" and "kaandaa" for "pyaaz".

Buy groceries, fruits and vegetables all by myself for the very first time and lug the bags home, almost breaking my arm.

Realize that I now have to make "grown-up choices and decisions" which are going to hurt like a bad burn.

Angst about that and whatever else comes my way (work, lack of a car, weather) to avoid thinking about the real issue at hand.

Give up on any pretense and cry in the auto, not caring that the auto driver is freaked.

Successfully push the issue under the carpet and plan a house party.

Buy a scarf and wrap it around myself to look like a terrorist every morning, while on my way to work.

Trade scary stories - who got mugged/ conned/ assaulted this week - over lunch.

All in a week's work. Making Delhi my own.

W00t!


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Monday Morning Rant/ Delhi bitching - 1

It's almost as if my  rote statement of "Oh, Delhi's not so bad - really almost everyone is quite helpful" , repeated many times over the weekend, jinxed my Monday morning.

Nobody. And I mean nobody had 300 rupees change to give me when I offered them a 500 buck note. Some even yelled at me for asking such a ludicrous question this early (read: 9 am) in the morning. Eventually I had to pay a HUNDRED rupees extra because the driver had only 200 rupees change. And this given my state of recent poverty hurt all the more.

Compare this with me hailing an auto right outside my house to go to the airport at 5 am in Mumbai, and you will understand why my Monday morning went to hell.

As my friend very aptly stated today - Delhi people hate you because you're new, hate each other and really just hate themselves. So so true.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reprise

Girl in the gym, on the treadmill watching Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Man on the next treadmill: What are you watching? Girls shouldn't watch such films! 
Girl on the treadmill: Why? It's such a cute movie! 
Man on the treadmill: But look at Bridget's weight! Girls ko yeh sab nahi seekhna chaahiye! 
Girl on the treadmill: Hmm. <should-I-kick-him-or-kiss-him-look>
So many levels of irony! 

************************************* 
There are some rare people in this world who can take your nice relaxed day and turn it into a nightmare full of violence and rage, with one small action or a 5 minute conversation. Such people need to reconsider why they're alive. 
Auto drivers in Mumbai often fall into this category. Someone else I know also falls into this category. But at least auto drivers are of some use. 

************************************
Thankfully, along with the bad surprises, there were some good surprises this weekend. The kind that I'm not going to forget for a while. After years of running away from all the mushy things, this year was a pleasant change :-) 


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Confession

I need a fixer. To fix my job anxiety. I loved the work I did for two years, but I don't want to do it anymore. Yes, my friends are right - it's weird to be unemployed at 25-going-on-26 and weirder still to be content to wait for the right job to come along, but my gut is telling me that it's the right thing to do for now. Once I'm older and have to be more responsible, I may not have the luxury to wait for the most interesting job and do what sounds like fun!


I need a fixer. To fix a broken friendship. I don't want to feel the faint heart burn when I'm talking to someone and I realize that a lot has changed and we're not the same people anymore. I want to feel happy for that person when he tells me about other relationships without feeling resentful that I was not treated with similar respect. I want to wipe the slate clean and start afresh so that I have no memories except that he'z ma frnd and that I care.  

I need a fixer.If you're reading this and do magic, send one my way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Culture Shock

Singapore was brighter and shinier than I had anticipated. Singapore emanates the efficient and convenient vibe, with the trains running on time, taxis always stopping in the taxi queue and never saying no to customers and with iPhone apps designed by Singapore Tourism to help me get around the city. All in all, Singapore turned out to be the perfect location for a holiday where I wanted no stress and nothing to bombard my senses.

The huge malls, the mega brands and the beautiful clothes were expected. So were the efficient trains, lovely food joints, the amusement parks and idyllic museums with convenient audio guides. The comfort provided by the sheer first-worldness of the city was enough to make me feel better.

**************

But now I'm home and down with a massive throat infection. Trust me to come out of Africa and fall sick in Singapore! The lack of activity and house arrest is adding to my anxiety about what the future is going to bring. I (vaguely) know what I want to do, but the thought of putting myself out there and finding a job and moving on in life is scary.



Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Before I Forget - 3

My favourite things! So I can really get on with it and write about other stuff that's eating my brain from the inside out. This post is peppered with food references, but I think that's more me than the country.

5. Peanut Butter. I know I know.This isn't Malawian or even particularly unique. But it's related to my visit, because I survived the first part of my trip on peanut butter and crackers. It was December, I was new to the place and always hungry. Not sure how much weight I put on because of the stupid peanut butter, but I was so enamoured at finding it in a Malawian super market, that I (almost) didn't mind.

4. Flashlight: I landed up in Africa without one of the fancy disco flashlights or the trusted head lamp, but was grateful for my phone light, which was strong and never died out on me. Stopped me from running for the woods on many dark nights without electricity when I couldn't see a thing and imagined some creepy thing crawling up my legs!

3. Chitenze (or some other spelling): 2 metre cloth with traditional African prints and perfect to make a dress, pants or even just use as a beach towel. The beautiful African hand printed cloth brought much fun and colour to our market trips.  

2. Beans. Eat it with Nsima, eat it with rice, it's still going to taste the same. Vegetarian, light on the stomach and wonderfully consistent in taste, it was like healthy comfort food - a concept that didn't exist before beans! It tastes even better when eaten with Nali, which brings me to... ONE!

1. Garlic Nali! Yes, it tastes better than mild or hot nali. It can be mixed with beans, rice, chicken, eggs or absolutely any other food! And yes it tastes good only in Malawi. I tried putting some on my eggs when at home in India, and it just didn't... work. But I guess it happens with food sometimes. It's like how Indian food tastes good only in India. Try having butter chicken or dal-roti in Switzerland, and it will make you want to throw up (sorry butter chicken!)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Before I Forget - 2

November to February. My favourite places in Malawi. Restaurants, bars, tourist towns - you've got them all in Top Five, Edition 2!!  

5. Harry's Bar :- the latest pub frequented by the expat community, people bitched about the badly stocked bar, the small menu, the slow service, but always went back. I think one of the big reasons was how flexible and homey Harry's is. You can hold quiz night, organize a party, get a guitar and drums and entertain the crowd with minimum fuss or even set up a temporary store with minimum fuss. The old couches, the long wooden bar and mismatched furniture, only add to the charm!


4. Bombay Palace:- makes the list for being the restaurant we went to the most number of times. Authentic Punjabi food and a central location combined to make the restaurant very popular in our circle. Miles ahead of its competitor, Country Lodge, this was one place where I could eat Dal Roti Chicken in peace.


3. Zomba Plateau: 4 hours from Lilongwe, this is not an obvious flat plateau but nevertheless a beautiful, green and lush mountain that finally makes Malawi less tame and more Africa-esque. It is surrounded by quirky temperate forests (yes, in the middle of a hot, south of the tropics country!) with a river flowing down the mountain. We didn't trek but you could!

2. Anna Khofi or Some-Such-Name/ Four Seasons :- the best (and perhaps only) Deli in town. They served brilliant sandwiches, salads and cake. Eating a late lunch at the Deli and staying on for Jazz at Four Seasons, where you could lounge on the grass and listen to music, had become a pleasant and comforting Sunday routine.

1. Cape Mac, Lake Malawi:- blue, pristine and dotted with small green islands, Lake Malawi at Cape Mac is pretty as a picture. While going there with 30 other people and Gecko's (backpacker's inn and the biggest party in town) contributed to the fun and frenzied weekend, I can still imagine spending many quiet days by the beach with nothing to do but read, float in the water and soak up the sun.   

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Before I Forget - 1

I put on Graduation Goggles in my last 24 hours in Malawi. I know the Malawi experience was intense and full of contradictions but in those last 24 hours I couldn't imagine why I was leaving the country because my brain only recalled the best moments of my time there. But now I'm back and Malawi already seems like a part of the distant world out there. So I figured I should make the traditional Top 5 list of the fun-nest people, places anddd.... things (?) seen in Malawi, before I forget!

So here is my Top 5 list of People. Not only the trippiest people with the most bizarre stories but also the ones who most affected me, make this list.

5. Greg. Scottish, tall, lanky, 42, absolutely yummie and affectionately called the Silver Fox. Currently working in the juvie prisons in Lilongwe, his life story is one of the most exciting I've ever heard. He grew up in the Middle East and decided early on that his life was going to be about travelling and seeing the world. Among his many jobs are bar-tending in Australia and being an extra in the Matrix films. He is the only man I have *ever* met who on meeting me for the first time hugged me, took my bags, held open the car door and made me gush like a little girl.


4. CarolAnn. Worked as legal counsellor defending juvenile delinquents in the Lilongwe prison. She had the most gruesome stories to tell over dinner and she left 2 weeks before I did to go start work in Afghanistan. Most ballsy and fearless person I know.    


3. Muthi. Malawian, educated in Paris and the USA is now back in Malawi to help her Mum and keep her farm functional. One of the most beautiful women I've met, I was in awe of her       when I first met her. She's a bag-full of contradictions with the never-say-no Malawian culture and the no-nonsense-American style continuously warring. So when you invite her for a dinner party she'll always say "yes, I'll be there!" even if she's actually in another city but will tell you about her fantasies about Bill Clinton when you get her drunk. One of my closest friends in Malawi, I don't think I would have survived without her :-)

2. Les makes the number 2 spot with her outrageous sexuality, her crazy adventurous streak and her very good judgement of her friend's needs. Having dated many Indian boys, she was the one person who understood my Indian jokes, my rambling about Indian food and culture and why exactly my parents called me every other day :D  

1. Blondey. Tall. Gorgeous. Canadian. She left her cushy job in New York to come live in different countries in Africa for the last 1 year. She's impatient, hyperactive and doesn't believe in layers. What you see if what you get with her. She took charge of my social calendar in Malawi and we were a couple for almost everyone who knew us in Malawi. And through all the parties, the Malawi-Gin-n-Tonic, the trips and the bitching, she became my best friend in Malawi.



Monday, February 20, 2012

Why I think my brain is made out of Cheese

I often read articles friends have "shared" on Facebook, just for the heck of it.  These range form superfluous, ridiculous, overly opinionated to downright lies. Maybe it was my state of mind, but I found this article, cheesily titled Why Love Matters More (And Less) Than You Think that hit home.


"Perhaps our celebrations of "love" are so often tinged with a quiet desperation because what we're really pursuing is a caricature of love. And perhaps by endlessly redrawing that caricature, we ourselves are lessened, little by little; as if we feel we don't fully belong in the human world, but can't quite understand why. None of us belong here. But we are here. And there's not enough time. Cut the bullshit. Love."


And I see what he means. A lot of us crib about being single, get angsty on Valentine's Day, scout out new people at social gatherings, have random sex with strangers all in the bid to get what we want. But beneath all this, we seem so afraid to articulate what it is exactly that we want. I have a friend who's been around the block a couple of times and she mentioned to me once that her biggest problem is often that she can't read the subtext of what the guy wants out of a particular encounter. You may want a casual no-strings-attached-sex-only relationship, but then you have no right to be cagey and make promises you have no intention of keeping. You may want to get married today and not wait for the next two years, but if you don't say it out loud, you cannot expect the other person to be ready. 


In all fairness, every time someone asks me what kind of person I would like to like, I make up vague clich├ęd statements and generally avoid the topic. But honestly, I want someone who will ground my life and also add some crazy to it. Someone who won't give me too much attention but will still let me know that I am special to him; call it as it is when I'm being an ass but respect the work I do; want to argue with me on silly issues without taking it personally and be comfortable with the space that he will occupy in my life without being scared of it. 


Of course, when I think that I've found someone who could potentially fit the bill and he turns out to be a jerk, it feels like someone's burnt me with a hot iron. On my part, I'm rather dramatic and filmi when I get hurt. I queue up sad, wrenching songs on my playlist, get into the shower, turn the water to scalding hot and just cry until I'm numb and I can't feel anything. 


But maybe what I should be thinking is that there's not enough time to cry over what happened any more. He's gone and I can't care because I need to find that person who's going to call it as it is when I'm being an ass.





Friday, February 17, 2012

African Safari


My fascination for animals is of the common variety. It's not deep or layered with strange titbits of knowledge about different species and how they behave. But just like others, I feel a thrill run down my spine when I spot an animal in the wild. The thrill of seeing something that is not entirely under your control and is glorious and free. Ironically, because of us humans, the rest of the animal world is never really free. But be that as it may, I went in search of that thrill last weekend to the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.

Zambia shares a lot more than a border with Malawi - similar climate, language, geography, food, clothing and even currency names. However, being blessed with a larger territory for an equivalent population and copper mines, Zambia is now coming up last in the list of middle income countries. This unprecedented income allows it to save it's forests and wildlife and exploit them for tourism. The income difference beteen the two countries shows starkly as the forests and wildlife increase dramatically once you cross the border. We saw this difference between Malawi and Zambia first hand as we flew over the border  in our little 5-seater plane captained by a gorgeous 24 year old South Africa pilot. 

The South Luangwa National Park flanked by mountains on one side and the South Luangwa river on the other, is a quintessential African park. The river is brown, muddy and infested with crocodile and hippos. The African bush, though green due to the rainy season, is still sparse and dominated by knee length grass, eaten by most vegetarian animals - elephants, impala, puku, zebra. The animals are a refresher course on the animals starring in The Lion King, from the "ugly but lovely" warthog (Pumba!) to the striking chilly bird (Zazu) 

The National Park weekend involved alternating between riding in huge open jeeps to explore the park and relaxing in the chalets in the camp. The chalets were oh-so-luxurious with one wall taken out to afford us a view of the river and eco-friendly with extensive use of local materials, preservation of flora (there was a tree right in my bathroom!) and no wastage of resources. I imagine the camp was more suited to honeymooners, couples and families with older children but since we were on a luxury holiday, having flown in from Lilongwe and spent 700 dollars on the weekend, I wasn't complaining.

On our many game drives during the three day holiday we saw some fun animal rituals. While most animals spent their day grazing and pooping and being boring, we did see a herd of impalas fighting over the female impala who was in season. However, more exciting was a unique Hippo ritual when a lonely Hippo who was lounging alone in the smallest possible pool he found, retreated when he saw us but still in a final Bond-like move sprayed his shit all over the pool using his tail! Yes, he was wallowing in his own shit and the smell successfully managed to drive us away. 

After three days of game drives and exploring, we had seen many birds (best of all being the magnificent Fish Eagle), many animals, but were still missing a view of the elusive cats. We heard the Lions roaring many times in the day, but the swampy terrain prevented even our giant four wheel drives from going to that part of the forest. But on our final evening, just as we were about to park the jeeps, we saw a Leopard, creeping through the grass, hunting! It was smaller than I had imagined. Sleeker and much more elegant than all the pictures can capture. Our excited whispering and camera flashes, however, alerted the Impala and the Leopard missed its dinner. The elegant Leopard shrugged ( almost saying, meh chance miss), gave us a bad look for ruining its dinner and elegantly strolled into the dark forest! 

So ended my first African safari. Luxurious, beautiful, decadent and a bit too intrusive for the animals. 


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Broken

And this time it's forever.


I think I'm going to throw up. 


"There will be an answer, let it be", the band is singing. Haha. So ironic.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dear Diary

Pizza.Wine. Fight. Need. Fear. Loss. Friends. Fun. Laughter. Hollow. Love. Beer. Cake. Hugs. Loneliness.

All in one Valentine's Day.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Finding comfort in beans and rice

Beans and rice is the (fake) national food of Malawi. The culture in most African countries involves one national dish that the junta eats day in and day out, literally, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nsima and beef  with Nali (hot sauce that comes in mild, hot and garlic flavours) is the (real) national food of Malawi - but since I don't eat beef, I have co-opted the vegetarian option as being my daily food.

There is something comforting about eating beans and rice with Garlic nali. I had this for lunch after a particularly gruelling morning of making phone calls to NGOs asking them why they couldn't send in required information within the deadline. There are some parts of this job that make me want to pull my hair out - and I have a feeling that the next four weeks are going to be terribly frustrating.

There is something comforting about eating beans and rice for dinner after a prolonged and bewildering conversation that makes me question parts of my life and makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong. I know I have actively hurt others in my life and yet I am always surprised when someone else hurts me - so silly to feel that way.  

I know I will find my way at my maddeningly slow pace. I just hope I get my beans and rice wherever I go :)


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Noke Noke Noking on Heaven's Door

Malawians love music. They make their own music, listen to Mozambique-an music (which happens to be ah-mazing!) or any African music they can get their hands on. The gospel culture and general joblessness means that small local bands form across the city and make their living playing live at restaurants - doing African music and covers of old and popular English songs.
As I sit working in my room tonight, the local band is regaling the captive audience at the bar with crowd favourites. And as the band does covers Noke Noke Noking on Heaven's Door (rhyming with Poke Poke); I can't help but think that they do a much better job than most of the cover bands in the English speaking world. They have a guitar and a drum and 4 men with stunning voices perfect for songs like Hey Jude :-)

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I know I've been gone only three weeks, but today I'm missing Bombay. Maybe it's because the rains remind me of my city or because I miss the frantic activity and shit-tonne of people on one small island.    

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"I need you you you (you you you)"

Getting back on the horse, I decided to do the first of my last-month-in-Malawi visits last weekend. I travelled to Malawi's big urban attraction, Blantyre and a small hill station called Zomba. Blantyre is the Bombay of Malawi - the country's commercial hub, urban, densely populated and with nice restaurants and places to hang out. But that's where the similarity ends. Surrounded by rolling hills and a few tall mountains, Blantyre in the rainy season is lush green, cool and pretty.

Our motivations for driving to Blantyre were less than noble as we were the designated groupies for a 6 member expat covers band that started playing the on circuit a couple of months ago. The Llongways are a quirky band playing the guitar, piano, drums, trumpet, flute and violin and a beautiful Italian voice to lead. It was entertaining to listen to them play a funny mix of the Blues Brothers, Chuck Berry, Bryan Adams and Patti Smith - honestly, one of the most fun times in Malawi. The follow-up to the concert was, of course, a forgettable evening of random club hopping with Indian men hitting on us and a Malawian pickpocket giving me the death-glare because I saved a firengi from his roving hands (What is it with me and thieves?!!!). 

We got over the night-out debacle quickly and drove to Zomba Plateau on Sunday morning. Zomba is a beautiful hill station an hour from Blantyre. Here I got a glimpse of the beauty of the African forest. It was a small hill station, by no means making an appearance on the 1000-things-to-do-in-Africa-List, but the sights still took my breath away. Although we passed up on any hiking/ trekking opportunities, standing on top of the plateau we could see mountains at the horizon and lush green plains covering the distance between. Relaxing at the Zomba Sunbird Hotel was also not a hardship :)  
As I was standing on the Sunbird deck staring out at the vast expanse of mountains, I realized this is what African tourism should be all about. Not cities, not nightclubs, not gory history. Only pure and unrivalled natural beauty stretching as far as the eye can see.

     

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Aftershocks


Today's CNN article mentioned that after the Tohoku earthquake hit Japan last year, nearly 700 aftershocks were felt in various parts of Japan for months after. Obviously, this became the inspiration for the title of this post on what has been bugging me for a bit today- aftershocks of my little incident.  

Of course, I've spent a lot of time telling people what happened and at some level, people's shock and sympathy made me feel better. However, incidents like the one that happened in the last two days are common for people (especially expats) in Malawi. People get mugged, their homes get robbed and they are generally attacked for being the moneyed, elite class of people who can afford to spend the poor-man’s-monthly-salary on one good dinner in town. My Malawian friends have also noticed an increase in robberies and mugging in the last few months and most predict that this will only get worse as the Malawian economy goes to the dogs.

Personally, I can’t seem to reconcile my (by some standards) minor incident with my rather extreme reactions one day after. Tonight as I went out for dinner with friends and hung out later at the Shack (yes, Wednesday is Shack Night!) – I was conscious that I was suspicious of every Malawian in the house. At one point, a Malawian guy crept up behind my friend to surprise her and I spontaneously yelled thinking that some unknown guy was creeping up on her. Turns out that he was her friend which led to acute embarrassment but didn't reduce my fear. Maybe the fact that I was stone-cold-sober exacerbated my reaction. I forced myself to go onto the dance floor where both expats and Malawians were dancing, but still scooted away every time a Malawian came in the vicinity.

My mind tells me that such reactions are extreme and unnecessary. But I can’t help feeling that every other guy on the street is watching me and wants to snatch my purse. At our girl’s dinner tonight we were discussing how we end up feeling guilty because African women get treated terribly on a daily basis and manage to lead normal lives despite being physically and mentally abused. And here one “little” incident is enough to shake us up and make us suspicious of everyone around us.

But I guess we live in different worlds. I can’t feel guilty for being lucky enough to have a safer world. My reality is that getting attacked is not on my watch-out-for-list. I have not been taught how to deal with situations where I feel insecure all the time – day and night. And I’m not going to feel guilty for having had that privilege. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

The day I (actually) got mugged

January 24th, 6:00 am
I forced myself to wake up at 5:30 am this morning to go for a jog. My friend Lesley was doing a very good job of dragging me out every morning by messaging/ knocking at my door/ being generally persistent about exercise. This morning I got out of bed, ran in and out of the bathroom, grabbed my ipod, tugged my shoes on and was out of the room in exactly 5 minutes.
I stretched, breathing in the cleaning morning air and felt like this was going to be a good day! As Lesley and I started walking, I recounted last evening's incident to her and she was pretty shocked. We also admitted that it may have been a little stupid to be walking around at 7 pm in Old Town.

We had  run about 500 metres when our 2 minute timer went off and we started walking. I saw two men approaching us on the road. I had a moment where I thought they looked sketchy, but there were many other people around so I ignored the feeling and continued walking. The next thing I know, these two men  grabbed us, snatched my iPod out of my hand and ran away. We struggled, yelled for help and tried to fight back, but obviously they were stronger than us. There were people on the road (including some guards) who watched the incident and did not help us. A Malawian lady passed us by and apologized, but at that moment all I wanted to do was abuse her so I stared straight ahead. We then realized that another friend was jogging alone in a different loop, so we jumped into a taxi and picked her up. That was the end of our morning jogging expedition.

For this to happen so close to last night's incident points to a few things. First, that people are watching us and know that we are long term guests at this hotel. Second, that the situation in the Old Town area has deteriorated more than I had initially thought. The tension is no longer confined to women wearing trousers or vendors being kicked off the side-walks. It has become a larger problem where walking on the street in some areas is unsafe even in broad daylight.

Sure I'm pissed about losing my old iPod with all the music collected over the years. But I'm more shaken up by the violence of the incidents. The grabbing, snatching of purses, yelling and pushing created a panic that I wasn't prepared for. I've been robbed before, in the train and in public places in India. The difference was that those thieves had class. They found cunning ways of getting my purse and my phone without me realizing. Today's incident made me respect the genius of pick-pockets, who are just after my money and not after me. Then, I was sad about losing my things, but not scared or worried about safety. After today, I'm going to worry about my safety in Malawi. And not go out jogging. Shit.

       

The day I (almost) got mugged


January 23rd, Monday, 7 pm
It was late evening and we had decided to go for dinner to Noble China, a local joint located a couple of blocks away from the hotel. It was twilight as we started walking the approximately 1 km distance and unthinkingly switched on our torches as we went down a street without street lights, loudly chatting in English about the day’s work. It was a street off the main road, with mainly residential buildings and large trees flanking both sides of the street.
Unconsciously, my friend Lyndsey and I had flanked our newest companion, who was visiting Lilongwe for a few days. About 200 metres from the gate of the restaurant I felt someone running towards us and turned my torchlight on our thief just as he went for Lyndsey’s bag.

What followed was a blur of the thief jumping for Lyndsey’s bag, me jumping for the guy and yelling loudly and Lyndsey falling to the ground holding on to her bag. After a brief scuffle the guy ran off with neither of us trying to go after him. We pushed ourselves up and walked quickly to the restaurant, all the time looking behind us. Obviously, we took a taxi on the way back.   
A few things struck me as we discussed the incident over dinner: 
1. The experience of being mugged is quite scary even if it’s not violent. Neither of us quite remembers what happened in that 30 second blur of activity, except for Lyndsey falling to the ground and me screaming. On my part, I remember feeling like I was stuck in a slow motion film while the thief was racing through with his moves. I couldn’t get to him fast enough while he tried to steal our bags. 
2. Typically, as the economic situation in a country deteriorates, the security on the streets deteriorates proportionally, with muggings slowly becoming more frequent and violent. Malawi is clearly on that path. Till last year you couldn’t walk on the street for fear of animals, but now I think I’m not walking down the street in the evenings for fear of being robbed.
3. From what I understand, similar security annoyances in other African countries don’t go away as the economic situation improves. For example, in some countries, even though the economy is stronger, getting mugged on the streets and getting your house cleaned up by thieves is so common that people have started factoring it in their regular budgets.
4. Later, our friend told us that she had noticed the guy as we left our hotel and that she should’ve followed her gut instinct and called him out earlier. It is a very weird experience when someone is following you or intently looking at every move you make – like someone is trying to pre-empt every move you make. I think I'm going to be a lot more alert and allow my gut to actually sense such people around me.  

Of course, we had our dinner and chatted happily about other things after this, but I think the bitter aftertaste is still there and my rating on the Malawi-is-a-shithole scale just took a huge hit. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Welcome back party!

17 January, 2012. The news.
Disturbance in Old Town, Lilongwe reported where shopkeepers attached women, ripping off their trousers and skirts. Randomness continued for about 2 hours in the morning before the police cracked down on shop-keepers "protesting" the relocation of the local flea market to a larger, authorized plot of land.

Some are saying the vendors were actually just pissed about the lack of fuel. Bah.

Dress code for the month is now the chitenje. With all the religious and saintly symbols on every skirt.


Welcome back to Malawi :) 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One more new beginning

The year long forecast for Aries was depressingly filled with adjectives such a difficult, lonely, introspective and stressful. 

I am, however, suppose to emerge stronger-  Like metal strengthened by the fire :P 

So begins one more year, full of hope!