THE UNWANTED GUEST

One morning I woke up to the pesky sound of the doorbell. Usually, I don’t get to hear it much often—just once per day when my husband returns from work or occasionally (twice a week) when I order a box of Ferrero Rocher (which I devour within three days) from the departmental store conveniently located a few steps past our apartment building—thanks to my residence in a foreign country. So, this sudden shrill racket at an unusual time startled me, almost tricking me into believing that it could be a dream. Or a nightmare.

When I opened the door, a bright smile greeted me. Yes, a smile, because I literally couldn’t see the face amidst the teeth. When the grin subsided, I recognized the owner of the visage. My penny-pinching uncle, who is so far up our family tree that he wouldn’t be visible even if I searched through the branches one by one.

Two days back, I received a call from my mother saying that he would be temporarily shifting to Qatar, minus his family, and asked me to call him over the weekend just to be polite. But looks like someone dropped him my address instead of a phone number.

Honestly, I wasn’t happy to see him. I mean who would be happy to receive a guest at eight in the morning, the hour at which even your husband wouldn’t dare to stir you awake?

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It’s okay. He’s here on his way to work. Mom might’ve missed out on an important piece of detail—that she gave my freaking address to a man, whom I have known only from an old photograph of an ancient get-together and the new one she whatsapped for reference. But it’s okay. Not a big deal.

I shook my head to ward off the residual languor and invited Uncle in. We exchanged pleasantries. We exchanged awkward looks. Then we exchanged apologies. Me for not calling him after he landed; he for not informing me before dropping at my place like a thunderclap.

He stayed for breakfast. Predictably. He returned after work in the evening alongside my husband, sharing his cab ride. As expected. Annoyed us with some irrelevant and silly anecdotes. Embarrassingly. Stayed for dinner. Unanticipated. Returned the next day. To my horror.

He kept bouncing back to our place persistently like a boomerang and we could do nothing but accept him, although my warm welcome smile receded with each passing day.

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Among our relatives, he had a name for being a miser. He’s a reputed freeloader who would stop at anything to retrench even if it’s a single buck. I concluded that he was trying to save money through meals and got entertainment at our cost by tagging along to malls and picnics during the weekends, leaving us no room for privacy.

Although it had been a challenging few months, the whole thing introduced me to a new perspective on life and I’m going to get a little philosophical here.

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Just like an unwanted, troublesome guest, problems knock on our doors when we least expect them. As long as we face them headlong, without fear, a solution will always show up. If we don’t, then they would just keep coming back.

Sure, in my case, the “problem” vanished after three months. But it won’t always be the case. That’s when we have to develop shatterproof resolve and wear it like a body armour before getting down to engage in a battle. The longer we fight, the shorter the distance between you and victory would get.

In order to drive the unwanted guest away, we first need to dispel the fear and uncertainty from their comfortable abodes of our minds.

Back to my undear moocher of an uncle, who, after three months, has left the country with three Tupperware boxes (mine) containing three different varieties of curries (cooked by me) packed to last for at least three days.

Let’s just say each of the dishes missed out on some key ingredients that would keep him off from leeching for a while.

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BEST DAY EVER

When I say, ‘Best Day Ever’, I’m talking about the novel I have recently read, which deals with the subject of narcissism.

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We all have a Narcissus wandering the depths of our minds searching for a way out. Sometimes, he manages to materialize but most of us are good at repressing him, thereby preventing the dolt from taking us over.

But if and when the good old Narcissus asserts control over our body and mind, then it would be a recipe for disaster.

So in the book I read, the story is told from the point of view of a narcissist named Paul (why are the bad guys always named Paul?), thinks he’s the best and he has it all—looks, job, money, women, everything. In reality, Paul is a pot-bellied forty-something guy, who loses his job, cheats on his wife and hasn’t a single penny in his bank account.

Basically, he’s a megalomaniacal loser with psychopathic tendencies.

He has the balls to presume that his wife would leave him a love note before leaving him for good, despite discovering his plot to murder her. (Oops, a spoiler!)

Laughable, disgusting, and appalling, right?

Naturally, he loses everything in the end and shifts to another city in search of another prey.

This novel, besides being entertaining, had made me think. We see narcissists everywhere—at work, school, college, street, restaurant, even at home.

Even I act like one sometimes. For instance, I believe that I have better taste in movies and music than anyone else and sometimes I tend to judge people based on their choices. But that surely isn’t harmful to either party and I forget my appraisal almost as immediately as I have made it.

The point is, sometimes the self-admiration gets out of hand leading to a mental disorder called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. That’s when things start to get shoddy.

I had a friend back when I was in college. Now, I’m ashamed of my poor judgement of character. Anyway, all water under the bridge. Let me continue my story.

In the beginning, this friend of mine used to be as introversive as me, which was precisely why we got along. But as days went by, I noticed a change in her behaviour. She would start jumping like a zappy lemur, high on coke, whenever any human being passed along. It didn’t matter whether it was a classmate, senior, lecturer or even a peon. She just had to make an impression.

Then came the fresher’s party. While I was relaxed and focused on winning the frivolous games that have been organized, she displayed an air of superiority and viewed every pretty girl in disdain.

‘Look at her cheap outfit. I’m hundred percent sure she got it from the roadside thrift store,’ she would whinge, contentedly ignoring the Tommy Hilfiger logo belting the targeted girl’s waist.

‘That’s a . . .’ I begin to point out when she steers her laser eyes towards another girl, who I admit was truly a walking fashion disaster. But of course, we don’t have the right to comment because to each his own.

‘Give it a rest. Let’s enjoy the party,’ I said and tried to drag her onto the dance floor.

‘Eww, no, I’m not dancing with those people. Soon I would be crowned Miss. Fresher and if I’m seen mingling with these cheapos I might lose the title,’ she said indicating our classmates with a scrunched up nose.

At that moment, I wondered if she viewed me that way too.

‘Those “cheapos” as you call them are going to take the call on who will win,’ I said in a mocking manner.

She waved her hand in the most contemptuous way possible and said, ‘Ah, to hell with them. They have no choice but to vote for me. I have it all. Look at me!!! Are you saying I’m competing with those idiots? Come on!’

I shook my head in hopelessness and left her alone looking like a friendless dud. She didn’t seem to care given her vanity.

Obviously, she was royally snubbed and didn’t win a single title. And she lost a friend as well. But one thing remained and that’s her conceit.

She used to squirm with jealousy whenever people noticed me. She used to resent me when my friends ignored her and chatted with me. And whenever I scored even a single mark more than her, then hell hath no fury.

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She was clearly suffering from a disorder that was damaging to herself and also to the people around her.

It’s easy to recognize a narcissist. A person who craves for power is a dictator. A person who is under the delusion that he is already the most powerful being on earth is a narcissist.

A narcissist loves to slight every one around him just to feel more powerful and in control. If we let him be so, it would lead to dangerous consequences that might wreak unimaginable havoc.

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Expectation of a narcissist

It’s always better to be on your tod rather than have a cocky cod for company.

 

 

PARTY PHOBIA

It happened. I was invited to a birthday party where I knew absolutely no one but the host.

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For the millionth time, I have missed my sister so much that day because when we were young and tailed along with my mom to various functions, boredom was the least of our worries.

We used to fret about losing our hunger and not being able to stuff our tummies with all the food on display since we ate those five almonds mom forcefully shoved into our gullets. We used to get stressed about which outfits to wear and whether we would complement each other instead of outshining one another. And when we couldn’t spot the ice cream; we used to get into a state.

 

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Our mouths were always working so much so that people who saw us often wondered what we talked about nonstop. Most of our talks were filled with blather but that kept us from getting bored. That also precluded us from socializing since we always isolated ourselves from the rest of the humanity and were lost in our silly little games and gossips.

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Hence, I’m finding it difficult to mingle with strangers all of a sudden because I was never used to that. I had my sister.

So yesterday, when I went to the party, I thought of doing an about-turn as quickly as I had walked into the door because a) I thought I was at the wrong party owing to the fact that not one . . . and I mean not ONE looked familiar. Obviously, what was I expecting? Being welcomed by my long-lost friends? b) The hall looked like a cornucopia of kids.

First, I was invited to a kid’s birthday party. So, it’s only natural to find toddlers streaming across the stage hovering near the birthday cake like houseflies around a gobbet of jaggery.

Okay, that was a mean comparison but I couldn’t think of a better one. Anyway, as normal as it is and as much as I love kids, I couldn’t bear the overload.

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Before I could escape, the father, whose wife invited me, greeted and ushered me in, scotching my only chance of getaway. He pointed to where his wife was and I followed the direction dodging past the running and screaming kids to meet her on the dais. She said her hello with a bright smile and we exchanged pleasantries before a server brought drinks. I turned to pick a glass and when I spun back again she was gone. Poof. Vanished.

I looked around and found her on the other end of the stage, welcoming more guests with the same smile and sparkle, and I stood there, awkwardness shrouding me like a blanket. I waited for her to stop by me once again so that I could stall the boredom for a minute or two. But she busied herself with arranging the table, the cake, chocolates, candies, etc. all of which were already neatly organized. Her friends too joined her and I was the only one left there, feeling purposeless and wondering why they were pretending to spruce up the already shipshape disposition.

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Then I debated walking over to the chairs and finding a space to ease my tense body on, since I was of no use to the ladies, lingering like an unwanted shadow, blocking the paths of the oncoming guests.

I finished the drink, put the glass on the tray and walked towards the chairs arranged in a semi-circle. I settled on the left side and to my utter dismay, most of the guests chose to sit on the opposite side.

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I was alone in the whole line of chairs and I could do nothing but stare at the now empty stage like an idiot. The large two-tier cake, with the big “ONE” digit stuck in the center, was mounted on the fragile table that looked like it could crumble under its weight. Then there was a vase holding flowers that I mistook for cupcakes and even pondered sneaking one. There was another glass vase holding colourful lollipops, which I shamelessly admit, made me drool. A large bowl contained a mix of chocolates and candies, which were shunned by the kids, for they too, like me, instantly took to the lollies. I saw them holding those shiny things with swirly designs and felt the intense urge to climb the stage and grab one for myself. They looked so soft like jelly.

Then there were the balloons the children were playing with. Occasionally, a balloon would sway in my way and the more I swatted it, the more it came floating back towards me and stopping right in front of my face, probably making me look like a giant balloon-head to the people facing me.

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I wondered how many of them laughed at me—the lone unwanted girl at the party. Then I remembered that this wasn’t freaking high school. Plus, I didn’t know anyone there so how could I socialize?

My friend, who must have watched my ordeal from a distance, came and asked me to shift to the right side where most of the human beings were. She introduced me to her friends and I thought this would be my chance to mingle and looked to sit beside one of the ladies.

Well, the amicable woman already had a friend by her side and it was her handbag. That’s right. She reserved a seat for her handbag and I was left sitting beside it, thereby slimming my chances of socialization. I couldn’t really talk to an unknown person, who was four feet away with a friend circle of her own. And the damned lady didn’t even look my way. So, I concluded that she was a cold woman who enjoyed the company of herself and her stupid white tote bag.

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But I was relieved nevertheless that at least I was surrounded by humans and not balloons and empty chairs.

After the cake-cutting ritual, I scooted to the dining area, and hurriedly ate to just fill my stomach and flee the spot.

Well, this whole experience had sent me on a trip down the memory lane where I didn’t have to worry about being ignored, I didn’t have to panic that my companion would ditch me for another friend, and most importantly, I didn’t have to fear parties as much as I do now.

But next time I find someone securing seats for their beloved handbags or hair scrunchies, I’m gonna tear them apart and get some more chairs to accommodate their mangled remains.

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Relax! I’m talking about the objects. Sheesh! I’m not a criminal.

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MY CREATOR

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM…!!!

Amma. That’s what I call my mother and in my opinion, it’s the sweetest word in any language.

Whenever I utter the word to call my mom, especially now that we’re living in two different countries, a range of emotions swell up inside me.

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There’s absolutely nothing in this world that equals a mother’s love for her child. That’s a universal fact. But we never seem to understand the magnitude of it, for a mother is often the most ignored despite the numerous quotations and proverbs indicted to extol her virtues.

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I was prone to doing it as well. When she scolded me for not spending enough time with books, I viewed her with contempt. When she admonished me for not finishing my lunch at school, I rebuked. When she chided me for not cleaning up my room, I was annoyed.

But now, what I wouldn’t give to have her roam around the house ticking me off with her constant grumbles. She visits occasionally but never stays. Her memories linger though, and there isn’t a single day when I don’t reminisce about our little disagreements and arguments that usually culminated in her becoming a child and me trying to quell her ire.

She never took a break all through my childhood and cared for us like we were precious gems. Even now, she doesn’t intend to rest. She dreams of cooking my favourite dishes whenever she’s here, instead of relishing the interlude.

In retrospect, I realize that I have never been fully worthy of her immense love because I have never valued it enough. Like most kids, I have taken it for granted. She nurtured me into a self-sufficient individual while I being a difficult child, still remember the trouble I have put my parents through in the process. My sister successfully managed to pull off the goody two shoes act but sadly, I couldn’t; blame my irascibility.

(My sister stole my share of mangoes when she was ten and I was sleeping like a log. You thief!)

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All right, okay, that was immature of me but the weight of watching my little one walk away with the Miss Noble title while I’m taking the blame here is too onerous and I needed to get it off my chest. Phew!

So, essentially my folks endured that immaturity and more.

I can try to atone for my mistakes although it wouldn’t amount to much because their love can never be quantified.

I want to serve them just like they did when I was a child. I want to pamper them with presents and nag them when they neglect their health. I want to love them like crazy.

Despite me living 2000 miles away from her, I still endure my mother’s protests about my disregard towards my health, and carelessness when it comes to spending money. Sometimes it’s grating. But immediately, I remember that this is what mom is all about. Who would feel responsible enough to pester me like that?

She grouches about my love for fast food and I’m miffed. But then who else would berate me for my poor dietary habits?

She raves about my photographs despite me looking like the Grinch most of the time.

She goes gaga over my hairstyle even when it resembles a porcupine’s backside.

She loves to goof around in Snapchat.

She contributes to at least 100 views for each of my blog post. So when I see the stats and the views are 100 but the visitor is 1, I instantly know that it’s my crazy darling, mom.

 

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I cherish every single reproof, all jokes—both funny and inane, countless banters, myriad laughs together, silly accusations, ambrosial dishes and the proud moments when my friends envied the splendid beauty of my mother and called me lucky. Well, I’m lucky with or without the beauty. She’s an angel, who has come to demonstrate what a heavenly privilege being her daughter would be. It’s time to return the favour to the best of my capabilities.

A word to my Amma—because of you, I came into existence; without you, I would be inexistent.

 

 

 

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY

PRIORITIES

Realize the importance of family and relations before it’s too late.

There are so many relations in our lives that we tend to forget to prioritize and end up ignoring the most important ones. Parents, siblings, spouse, friends, grandparents . . . everyone deserves a special attention—especially the ones you’re sharing your lives with.

 

Imagine going home to a negligent wife, who doesn’t care whether you had your lunch or not.

Wouldn’t it feel terrible when you go out alone to get groceries, don’t turn up at home until four hours later and your husband doesn’t even bother to call why you’re running late?

Think about a bullied child’s misery when the tech-savvy parents are busy fiddling with their phones instead of asking the kid how their day went.

Scary, isn’t it? But that’s the situation of our present world. We are so caught up in our own affairs that we don’t bother to take a peek into the life of the person living under the same roof.

Let me tell you a story.

Meet Tanya, a garrulous woman, who loves to talk and keep everyone around her engaged with her vivacity. Her family, which consists of her husband, C, and an adult son, J, is the complete opposite of her. In fact, they’re sometimes repelled by her volubility and take her warmth for granted.

Tanya does notice that her husband is quite talkative too but only on phone. Her son is bustling with activity too but only around his friends. She often wonders what she did wrong to be ostracized by her own family but that doesn’t urge her to retaliate because if she does, then they won’t be a family anymore.

She would strike conversations with J’s friends much to his chagrin, discusses her views on politics only to be made fun by C, expects a compliment on her new dress but receives none. Yet the smile on her face never leaves.

One day, Tanya meets with an accident and slips into a coma. Of course, C and J are worried because after all she is their family. The doctor tells them that her chances of recovery are favourable but the time it might take is indefinite.

They return home and are hit by the sudden realization that there’s no Tanya greeting them with her Cheshire cat smile and irking them with her “How was your day?” “What did your friends say about your new shirt?” “How was the food at the restaurant?” “What did you eat?” questions. It feels odd and lifeless.

They face no problem with food as they take on a cook, who makes dishes of their wish. But the food lost its magical touch lent by Tanya.

They face no problem with house cleaning as they employ a maid to scrub the house spotless. But there’s no Tanya running around the house arranging things, and dusting tables.

Without her voice echoing through the walls, the house feels like a graveyard.

Without her bright face beaming at the threshold, going home feels stale.

Without her dainty form offering to fulfill their every whim, desolation becomes their constant companion.

They set aside their duties and jobs, pack bags and decide to spend a few days with Tanya at the hospital doing her favourite thing—talking. They would fill her in with the details about their lives, which she craved before, they would hold her hand like she did whenever they were upset and assure her that she would be up and about in no time.

They promise that once she wakes up from sleep, they would treat her like a queen and would put her above all.

The moral of the story is—never ever ignore the person who loves you. Being a priority is a blessing. A gift that’s rare and should be treasured.

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Your friends on your contact list can wait a minute or two for your response to their text messages. But the person sitting in front of you, hoping to catch your eye and share their day is much more important.

Those TV shows you’ve been binge watching all day, ignoring your mother, ain’t gonna vanish by tomorrow. There’s always tomorrow. And if there isn’t then what are you gonna regret more—an unwatched episode or a one-hour long colloquy with your mom?

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Share with your spouse, make time for your grandparents, giggle with your sister, peeve your brother, adore your mom, worship your dad, meet your friends, play with your cousins, talk to your kids, have meals together, make memories because these are what matter over the long haul.

Realize the importance of family and relations before it’s too late.

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A quick note to my readers.

My next blog post is going to be on Sunday, two days from now. You’ll find out why

 

HAKUNA MATATA – PART 3

Anthony picked a perfect spot, under a lone tree, surrounded by grassland, and laid a blanket. There were no animals in the vicinity, obviously.

He handed us our lunch boxes and we opened them eagerly, unable to wait to devour the contents.

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All the while, I imagined a cheetah emerging from behind the veil of grass or a hungry lion approaching us, following the trail of our scent. Would I have the courage to raise alarm and propel my husband and our chaperone into safety? Or would I jump up instinctively and run for my life?

We finished our lunch, clicked some photos and hopped into the vehicle, hoping to catch the remaining two animals.

The radio crackled to life and they spoke, what I assumed to be Swahili but I understood just one word that sent up a rush of thrill up my spine—leopard.

He drove us through the grass, into the marshes where the vehicle got stuck for a few moments before roaring back to life and took us to a place where there was a colony of evenly spaced trees. But just one tree was under the spotlight, girdled by land cruisers and jeeps.

As we crept nearer, I examined the tree for any signs of spots. Before I could resign, Anthony directed us to the topmost branch, where we found the kitty curled against the piece of wood that was as thin as a rake. I wondered how it sustained the weight of the animal.

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The little rosettes strewn over its body stood out under the bright sunlight and its skin glowed as if it were coated in gold.

There was no movement at all, except for its ears twitching occasionally, probably registering the mild sounds of vehicles disturbing its sleep.

If the tree branch were a few feet lower, I would’ve been able to touch the leopard’s tail hanging like a rope. I would’ve even gone as far as giving it a tug to wake it up.

After waiting for about ten minutes, we concluded that the leopard was playing possum, putting aside the fact that leopards are nocturnal. We clicked a few uninteresting pictures (you can’t get much out of a sleeping animal unless it’s a cuddly baby) and drove off in our next pursuit.

We watched some more scavenging vultures and more zebras and more buffaloes until we came to a stop near the Masai river to view hippopotami and crocodiles.

A Kenyan ranger took the reins from there and we walked alongside him towards the river. On the opposite side, spread across the muddy bank was a large colony of hippos. They were living like one happy joint family. Well, joint and happy don’t go together in human lives but I hope at least the hippos are living in peaceful harmony.

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They certainly don’t fight about who gets to do the dishes. They definitely don’t try to find faults with each other. And most importantly, they respect each other and value their presence in the family.

Oh god, I’m watching too many Indian soap operas.

Anyway, the ranger says that every hippo family that consists of about thirty members (Whoa!!!) will have one male dominant.

The feminist in me raises like the hood of a cobra and hisses in my mind, ‘Here too???’

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Dear, Feminist Me, let’s get real. Males are stronger. So obviously, they dominate. Would a preggy cow hippo fight enemies if it’s given the leadership? It can’t, right. For practical reasons, the bulls are given the lordship. So, let’s not drag the animal kingdom into this dispute. Jeez! If it makes you feel any better, elephants are matriarchal.

Alright, so the ranger was saying that although hippos come across as flabby, cute creatures, they could be more dangerous than any animal given their surprising agility despite their enormous sizes.

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I watched the stout animals wallow in the water as if they were on a beach vacation. The calves did nothing but follow their mothers’ every movement and learn how to be proper hippopotami.

A few feet further, another hippo rested on the mud just inches away from a crocodile. They both were facing each other. It looked as if the hippo had welcomed the croc into its jumbo family and was instructing it to stay away from the kids.

‘If the crocodile tries to attack the calf, the hippo will crush it into a paste. Crocodiles know very well that they don’t stand a chance with hippos and hence they try not to mess with them,’ the ranger explains.

We walked further along the bank and watched more crocodiles lying like carcasses. Ugh, they’re so darn boring.

Our next pursuit was the elusive rhinoceros. Apparently, they are shy animals and run into the woods when they hear a vehicle. Hence, we had a hard time arriving at a spot where there was a somewhat clear sighting of the rhino.

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It was slowly marching behind the dense curtain of trees and we were able to catch a few glimpses through the leaves and branches. There were two of them.

They stopped walking suddenly and looked at each other. They looked like they were discussing something and after arriving at a decision, they turned and started strolling towards us. We were about a kilometer away.

As they ambled like two lovers, one of them came to a halt. The other gave it an introspective glance and both of them swivelled back, once again finding their way back into the woods. It didn’t charge at our vehicle like I had expected/hoped to.

Satisfaction was writ large upon our faces as we had a superb day, catching all the big 5 in one day. It was an accomplishment of sorts.

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We resigned for the day and were relieved that the next day was going to be short as we had a visit to the Masai village instead of a game drive in the evening.

The following day, we saw more lions, elephants, giraffes, and buffaloes. We also saw some naughty baboons and monkeys running into the bushes the moment I raised the camera as if they were all being camera conscious.

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Anthony drove us to the Tanzania border and a few miles into the Serengeti Park. After an hour-long joyride, he dropped us at the lodge. We weren’t that disappointed at the lack of activity as we saw almost all animals, including the cheetahs, once again, except for the leopard and rhino. We also got to catch the last batch of migrating wildebeest, near the Sun River, probably readying themselves to cross and enter the grasslands of Tanzania.

We actually waited for about twenty minutes to see if they would make a move towards the river because earlier we saw a pride of lions resting in the riverbank. If only the feeble animals lift their heads from the grass and move into the water, we might get to see some action. But, nope. They kept on eating, eating, eating. And we threw our hands in.

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In the evening, Anthony introduced us to a Masai villager, who was about seven feet high and would be showing us around.

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It was a ten-minute hike over a rough terrain, until we reached the village. But the man, whose name was Joel, kept us engaged by describing the medicinal properties of the plants we came across on the way. He plucked out a leaf from one of the plants and handed it to me. It looked like any other leaf except for the texture, which was rough. It was apparently used as a nail file.

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We arrived at the village where we were greeted with a welcome dance performed by the young red-haired Masai warriors. The dance consisted of a series of feet pounding, thrusts and jumping all to the music of their guttural grunts. It was strangely foot tapping.

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Then we were escorted into the fenced village that had tree branches for a barricade. The huts inside the village were made with mud and cow dung. There were stray dogs playing chase and mud-caked children, using everything from scrap papers to polythene bags as toys.

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Joel took us into a hut to show us their way of living. The inside of the hut was shrouded in darkness, except for a shaft of sunlight from the tiny square window and a small kerosene lamp directly below it. That tiny shack had four rooms—one for the baby cows, a living room where cooking’s done, a bedroom and a guest room.

Tea was brewing in a large vessel in front of us and three children sat on the benches as if they were writing an exam.

I enquired Joel about their diet and he said that their staple food includes cow blood, rice and occasionally meat.

Their attires were unseen as every one of them, mostly men, covered their bodies up to thighs with a dark chequered shawl. And both men and women sported shaven heads. They wore sandals made with tyres and I was impressed by their resourcefulness.

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Mom being protective. Baby struggling for freedom. Classic.

We shook hands with Joel on departure and took some time to take in the surroundings one last time before leaving the country the next day.

Strangely, mild sadness crept into me as the trip came to an end but I wiped it off with a tranquil smile as I bid goodbye to the host country, vowing to return some day when the great migration is midway so that at least then I would get to catch some macabre killings. Mwahahaha…!

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HAKUNA MATATA – PART 2

The adventurous day in Nairobi set the bar a little high and I was worried if I would get the same kind of buzz out of the wildlife safari, which was basically why we went to Kenya in the first place.

Obviously, I would get to see all the animals I had already seen in the orphanage and giraffe center, and more. But would I experience the thrill of watching lions treading in mud barely four feet from us, the delight of feeding a fascinating giraffe, graceful and prepossessing with its spotty skin, the hilarity of observing a warthog, lonely and restlessly pacing in its enclosure? Those were the questions I asked myself.

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The six-hour drive to Masai Mara was exhausting, to say the least. I thought I would enjoy it because road trips are usually glamorized in movies, books and also real life. I being a nature lover was, at first, excited at the prospect of a long drive.

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My mind cleverly chooses to block out the history and shoves me into this fantasyland full of expectations.

My last road trip was two years ago and I puked my guts out every half an hour. It was only a three-hour spin.

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Of course, I didn’t carry ginger or mint candies that are known to keep motion sickness at bay, because I was under the impression that I would take in the breathtaking sceneries and observe the nature during the journey.

I climbed onto my seat with a calming expression on my face, joyous that I’d be in nature’s arms for the next six hours.

The queasy feeling started almost immediately. That was when my true, uncalm nature came to the fore. I started checking the time every five minutes, counting the hours left. I cursed myself for acting like a serene saint. Then I began to silently weep as nausea kicked in fast. I didn’t let anyone see though, lest it tarnished my image.

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Luckily, I fell into a shallow slumber before I could turn the vehicle into a sick sack. It was fortunate that we woke up at four in the morning to start the journey early or else sleep would have been a struggle.

I was jolted awake by the bumpy road but before I could slip into depression again, Anthony, the tour operator, assured that the destination was just twenty minutes away.

Along the road, we saw several wildebeests hopping in a procession that reminded me of my school days when the teachers used to lead us into our classrooms in a disciplined train. It also spurred a spark of excitement at the hope of catching the migration, although the season usually ends by September.

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We finally arrived at the lodge that was barely ten minutes away from the reserve’s entrance. Anthony spilled some water on my burgeoning exhilaration by giving me unnecessary details like how two tourists got trampled by a wild elephant two kilometers down the lodge and how he once escaped from a fatal attack by a pack of hyenas while he was dining with his friends near the entrance.

Uh, too much information, dude!

We had lunch, checked into our room and were back in the land cruiser for our first game drive. I didn’t even wash my face. I was too eager to roll.

Let me be honest and say that what excited me more than watching the animals in their natural habitat was the vehicle with a pop-up roof. It has always been my dream to stand in an open top car and let the air whip my face as I pose like a heroine from a Hollywood movie, letting my scarf flutter in the wind like sails of a boat.

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Well, I couldn’t exactly do that since it wasn’t completely open top. But I could at least feel the breeze on my face and welcome the fiery rays of the sun.

So, we set about on our adventure and entered the game reserve.

We were promptly welcomed by a sea of grazing zebras, along with curious gazelles peering at us with their beady eyes and grunting warthogs busy with their meddlesome activities.

The game drive lasted for about two hours and we didn’t get to see many animals due to the short duration but we got the taste of how the next two days were going to be like.

Except for a wake of feeding vultures that gave us the first real peek into life in the wild, there weren’t many active animals around, given that it was nearly dusk.

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The guide dropped us before it was dark and briefed us about what we could expect the following day and—get this—we were going to have a picnic lunch in the middle of the forest. Yippeeee!!!

We woke up by five in the morning. Yes. Five. Me. Shilpa. It was a battle, I admit. But it was worth it.

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By seven, we were inside the vehicle and were driven into the depths of the forest with startling speed. Apparently, Anthony received the scoop about a pride of lions sunbathing.

He had this little radio thingy, which availed communication between tour operators. Whenever one of them spotted an animal—especially one among the Big 5—they informed the whereabouts to others so that no one would miss the spectacle.

The lions were sprawled near a bush and were least bothered about the presence of a bunch of vehicles. They lay there like doormats, lazy and lethargic to even bat an eyelid.

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One particular lion though rose into a sitting position. We were just five feet away. If it decided to have an early lunch, then one leap was all it would take. But I stood in the car, gaping through the gap between the window frame and the roof, as the regal beast fixed its stare on me.

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I thought we had a connection. I mean, it looked at me with such depth that I felt my heart beat rise. I was slowly slipping back into my fantasyland. I would get down the vehicle, slowly wend my way towards the animal and then lower my hand into its gorgeous mane while the lion would welcome my intrusion with a friendly nuzzle.

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I was zapped back to reality, thanks to the spoilsport, Anthony, who said that he was probably hungry.

Ugh.

Then we went on to watch a herd of elephants from a fairly close distance. Anthony was trying to feed us some fun facts about the massive animals while I was busy observing the shenanigans of a certain baby elephant.

Now, I have to say this. Baby elephants are probably the cutest creatures on earth. I know for certain that I would change my mind the second I see a leopard cub or any other baby animal but for now, elephant calves are my favourite.

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So, this adorable little imp, instead of following its mommy, chased invisible flies until exhaustion and fell to the ground, rolling over, probably trying to scratch its butt. Then the mommy threw one glance behind just like my mother would when she realizes that I stopped near the expensive gadgets section, instead of blindly following her while shopping.

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Soon the mother and child duo was joined by another large elephant, which I presumed to be the father, because it’s just lovely to think of it as one whole family.

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We reluctantly moved on to a herd of African buffaloes. They looked huge yet so docile that no one would suspect them of causing harm to humans. Supposedly, young ones even chase vehicles and ram them to destruction.

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Anthony only drove us around the aged ones that were too weak to hurtle. He’s one nervy tour operator.

 

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Looks like they had a fight.

 

By then, we covered three of the big 5—lion, buffalo, and elephant. We still had leopard and rhinoceros.

We agreed that we needed more energy for more scouring and drove towards a safe place where we could unpack our cold lunch boxes.

Aaand that would be reserved for part 3. Trust me, I didn’t intend to extend this into a trilogy but I being a chatterbox didn’t have the heart to leave out the interesting details and here I am with a blog post that might as well be a novella.

But the real thrill started after lunch and I’m not baiting. Pfft, that’s unlike me.

HAKUNA MATATA – PART 1

I bet ninety percent of the 90s folks will be familiar with the phrase “hakuna matata” from the “The Lion King” series and the animated television series, “Timon and Pumbaa”.

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Well, I never really bothered about the origin until I heard it in abundance during my vacation in Kenya. I was such an indolent, unenthusiastic kid. I can’t believe I never cared to at least know the meaning of the wonderful phrase. I simply presumed that it was “YOLO” in Spanish, French or whatever. Jeez!

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Yeah. I can be real stupid.

Anyway, so I switched on my James Bond mode as soon as I exited the airport in Nairobi because I heard pretty scary things about the crime rate there. I held my purse close to my chest, narrowed my eyes to slits, imagined an invisible revolver in my hand and started scanning the people around for any suspicious profiles.

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My mom, as usual, thanks to her high anxiety levels, had asked me to observe the movements of human beings in the vicinity and cautioned me to raise alarm if I sensed anything dubious.

My grandmother went an extra mile and asked me to dress as frumpily as possible. ‘Wear old, antique clothes that don’t attract attention. And don’t carry valuables. No cellphone, no camera, no purse, no anything. Okay?’

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Okaaaay.

We packed everything that my grandma asked us not to. And coming to the clothes, I bought new ones just for the trip! Let them rob me but ain’t no one stopping me from rocking the safari in some fetching outfits.

All right, so I did several Lara Croft-style twists and twirls in order to cover every human being from every direction as we walked towards the taxi arranged by the hotel we’ve booked our stay in.

Even the driver wasn’t spared. I observed his features and was wary about the information I gave him. I kept an eye on the routes we were taking so that I would have a better chance at escape during a kidnapping.

Oh, shut it, you drama queen! My mind admonished.

But once the vigilant in me is up and about, there’s no stopping her until I’m safe and sound in the confines of my hotel room.

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Although it seems a bit too much, I urge people to be cautious all the time, especially if they’re travelling to a new place. Better be safe than sorry, right?

Nonetheless, I must add that the locals were super-friendly and charming. Not one seemed like a threat.

We finally reached the hotel and I relaxed.

After freshening up, we met up with our guide for the day who was an amiable Kenyan. He drove us around the city giving us bits of information about the place and suggesting just about every tourist attraction in Nairobi.

We decided to visit the animal orphanage and the giraffe center, skipping the crocodile park and the snake park. I wasn’t particularly interested in the croc park because I believe they are, despite being one of the most dangerous creatures on earth, the most boring reptiles to watch. They literally do nothing but just . . . I don’t know . . . they just stay. Static. Like a stone. That’s too insipid for me.

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Unless you throw them some meat and I get to witness the death roll, I think I’ll pass.

I need activity, variety, excitement, all of which I got from the animal orphanage and giraffe center.

I got to see lions at arm’s length (within an enclosure obviously). I had to resist the temptation to stretch my hand and tangle my fingers in its fluffy mane. The guide was almost vexed by my unsettling behaviour as I gazed into the round amber orbs that seemed to bore into my soul. Of course, they were probably registering the presence of a potential meal but my mind filtered out the savage thoughts.

And then its meal arrived; the spell broke. It jumped towards the fleshy meat with such aggression that my heart leapt out of my chest. It dragged the pieces to its sitting place and began the ritual. First, it started licking the meat as if it were its favourite pet. Then it ripped the flesh apart with ample ferocity that slightly scared me.

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Of course, it’s a natural instinct. Yet, I couldn’t help but goggle at the regal beast as it fed on the remnants of another animal.

Lions demand that feeling of awe.

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Awww, look at the cute cat wallowing after its meal. Except that the cuteness would warp into terror if you try to get close.

 

After surveying the other inferior animals at the orphanage, we proceeded to the giraffe center. I have been looking forward to this long before we have even booked the tickets to Kenya.

It was then, with my husband still by my side that I have met my love. Eddy.

Oh, Eddy, that long, long, neck of yours that could double as a slide

That bob of your little head as you move in a glide

Tongue as dark as my hair

Stretching far up to your ear

Eddy o Eddy, you’re my best buddy

Your presence makes me giddy.

Am I weird for writing a song on a giraffe?

Gosh, but I really fell for the charms of that cute tall animal. Its innocent eyes, unceasing hunger, beautiful spots just got to me.

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Besides the safari, the giraffe center remains the highlight of my trip to Kenya.

Watching the giraffes eat, lions prowl, cheetahs sidle, monkeys frolic, reminded me of the excited child I used to be whenever I saw an animal and the resolve to never let my inner child grow, strengthened.

As long as we don’t hide behind the mask of pretence and never let the complexities of our lives kill the shreds of naivety in us, it’ll all be hakuna matata.

Ahem, before signing off, I just want to clarify that I meant whatever I said in the above paragraph. It’s not just an excuse to end the post with the titular phrase.

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TRAVEL DIARIES

So only last week, I jabbered about vicarious jaunts through books. And this week, I happen to be travelling for real. Hurrah!

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Now I won’t be solving a murder on a luxurious cruise liner or falling in love at first sight with a complete stranger at an airport but sure enough, I would get to go on an oh-so exciting wildlife safari in East Africa. Whoopee!!!

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I love travelling. I have so many places that I want to visit and so many things to do at those places that the list I created in my mind stretches endlessly along the nerves in my brain. About three-fourths of my cortex is registered for the bucket list, which is always going through constant improvisation. I just hope to cover at least the ones within eyeshot before I grow so old that I won’t be able to walk from my bed to the couch.

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So, I have heard some things about Kenya—the crime rate, the risks of travelling in twos, and the extreme climate. Although I must admit that my main concerns are the mosquitoes and tsetse flies, which carry deadly diseases in their tiny probosces.

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And I’m not at all affected by the fact that the freshly formed zit right by my nose has no intention of disappearing by tonight because, hello, I’m a confident girl, who doesn’t let a single spot on her skin jangle her nerves, remember? Except that the bloody little rascal would be etched in our memories for eternity thanks to our shiny new SLR.

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Oh, God, I hate my life.

I can already hear my mother saying, ‘Yeah, right. You hate your life because you get to travel to places you’ve only dreamt of, wear outfits you’ve only seen on television and have a big family that’s right out of a Bollywood movie.’

Okay, Mom, first, enough with the hyperboles. Second, those things don’t make me feel better when a single pimple threatens to ruin everything for me. I’m all set to wear the red dress I’ve been saving for the trip and a zap of raised pink flesh appears out of nowhere as if to complement my attire.

All right, I need to get a grip. Breathe.

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So, I was talking about my trip to another country, another culture, another world. I believe that every country has its shortcomings. No one can run a perfect paradise where everything’s ideal. We are humans, after all. We should take precautionary measures wherever we go, be it Iceland or Iraq, extra depending on the chosen country, but nothing should stop us from embracing the beauty of nature.

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Kenya is crime-ridden. But it also has spectacular wildlife, picturesque hills and forests, and beatific view from the majestic mountaintops, all of which I’m looking forward to.

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Hiking is something I’m supremely fond of given the adventurous streak in me. Of course, if you say there are going to be lots of jagged rocks with creepy-crawlies ready to ambush from underneath, then I’ll probably chicken out but other than that I’m game for pretty much anything that doesn’t involve doing vertical or horizontal splits.

Anyway, so, I’m super psyched about my short vacay to an exotic place and I can’t wait to open my treasure chest of memories in order to accumulate some more.

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And I can’t wait to share them here.

Well then, “hadi wiki ijayo”. (until next week)

That’s my lame attempt at Swahili, official language of Kenya and I have no idea how to even pronounce the words. God, someone slap me out of my puerility.

 

THE THING ABOUT BOOKS

Here’s another post in “The Thing About” series.

I’m making it sound more and more like a book series, aren’t I? Harry Potter series, The Twilight series . . . ugh, I need to be less condescending. But trust me, it has nothing to do with conceit. It’s just something I figured would make things easier for future reference since I’d be writing quite a few under the title, with different topics.

Okay, now I’m blathering like a gormless eejit because I have slept only for three hours and maybe I’m also showing off the new words I’ve learnt from my crazy binge-reading session, which is yet to end. Sleep-deprivation makes me mentally unbalanced although reading negates the side effect.

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Because I’d be reading

I’ve been reading ever since I have received my first fairy-tale book as a birthday present when I was four.

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But never had I been bitten by the reading bug as hard as now because I devoured three books in a week and still counting. That might not be a lot for some but it is for me given that I have countless chores to attend and a handful of duties to fulfill on a daily basis. Kindle has become my constant companion and Goodreads has ended up being the only “social medium” I’m active on; apart from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Oh boy!

Please don’t hate me, I just can’t keep my hands off the big “F” icon and I’m still talking about social media before you guys let your minds wander and ponder about what the F could mean.

Anyway, let me get back to the topic.

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Reading elevates me. It takes me to places I can’t go, gives me knowledge I have pined for and lets me escape into a magical world where everything ends on a happy note. Mostly.

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I’m not talking about the novel where the protagonist meets a grisly end and the serial killer goes on his next hunt. No. It messed my brain up for days. I’m referring to the beautiful book in which the maid falls in love with a prince and they live happily ever after; the cop catches the culprit and the prospective victim escapes a horrible fate . . . and lives happily ever after; the married couple resolves their misunderstandings and decides not to divorce each other . . . and live . . . well, you get the drift. Happily ever after is almost like a binding requirement for me because I have seen too many unhappy endings in real life. The story has to come to a reasonable, gratifying conclusion.

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I have been to London, New York, Spain, Rome . . . and even Antarctica when I read the book “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? How you can imagine a whole new universe in your head as you embark on a reading adventure.

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Excuse my cheesiness

The only downside that comes with it is now I want to go to Antarctica for real. It’s a firmly fixed goal of mine—Mission South Pole. Obviously, that has left my family members in an unsettled state especially ever since they have read somewhere that to work in Antarctica, one has to have their appendix removed. Somehow, they missed the keyword “work” and no amount of assurances and evidence to prove their beliefs otherwise would do.

I’ll figure out someway. So, getting to the point, today I want to share the marvelous benefits of reading, besides the ones I have already mentioned above.

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Previously, I used to ruthlessly abandon a book if I found it even remotely boring. But later on, I have developed a habit of finishing what I start no matter how painful the task is. As long as the task is “reading” all right. Now, don’t expect me to try solving the Rubik’s cube or keep scrubbing the toilet till it’s spotless.

There are three possible reasons why I could be reading a particularly insipid book.

  1. I have no choice.
  2. I don’t know that it’s going to be terrible.
  3. I want to see what shot this wretched piece of work over to the top of the bestseller list.

So, whatever the reason might be, I usually end up with a takeaway—a treasure-load of vocabulary, a flash of creativity, an awesome idea for a story and if all else fails, then maybe, I could at least learn how to see a potential hero in the solemn, brooding, lonely, handsome guy with a dark secret, talking to himself in the car by the roadside. Okay, now I’m worried. I should probably call the cops.

Book reading is on the top of every successful individual’s daily routine and there’s a reason for that. The activity stimulates brain cells, thus supplying with a creative edge one needs to make headway. Just mechanically drudging all day would never give us the result we hope for. Success requires a level of effort so as to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. And that effort comes in a simple form of entertainment—books. For those not used to it, the beginning might be uncomfortable but the journey is incredible; and the fruits are invaluable.

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I want to encourage, persuade, urge and even implore my readers to take up the habit of book reading because I believe if there’s anything that’s both entertaining and illuminating then it’s a good book. I don’t want people to miss out on all the fun.

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