Travel Theme : “Street Markets” – The face behind the cart

I live in a part of the world where street markets are a norm rather than the exception. Here, in India, we don’t necessarily look at them with wonder. To our accustomed eyes Street markets are not exotic, quaint, or “oh so lovely”!They are just there! We don’t give them any more thought than an American may give to say a lane lined with trees, or a cemented motorway. Thus when this challenge came up, it got me thinking about street markets. How they affect my life? How they function? Why these  mundane and ordinary  features so typical of a poor country like mine, continue to exist and flourish despite government regulations against them. What are the economics behind a street market and who are the people behind these markets. The ones who run the show. The “shopkeepers “.

A street shop image courtesy indianbazaars.blogspot.com

As many of you know I live in a small town.  For years after I got married and shifted into this small city, I felt like a complete stranger.Asked for a million directions before I ventured out of the house and continued to drive down to my parents city to do all my shopping! And then slowly with time and responsibility this  “strange city”  became “mine”. The transition came about so stealthily that I hardly noticed when it happened. I developed “links”. Became familiar with lanes. I think one starts to belong to a place,  when one walks down ones “block” or “colony” (as we call it here in India), and finds oneself nodding to at least 3 or 4 people on the street. And at least in India, the litmus test of belonging is when you acquire  your own “sabji wali”.

‘Sabji wali‘ (loosely translates as ‘the  vegetable woman’) The person who greets you as soon as your car stops near her cart, smiles and says “bhindi achchi aayi hai bhabhiji – baby ke liye aadha kilo dey doo” which again, loosely translated means “ fresh ladyfingers today “sis in law/ madam” should I pack half a kg for the little one” .  She knows what my family eats, and more importantly, what they don’t eat! She knows how I like my apples! “Not red and perfect but the stained natural looking ones please”. She has seen me struggling as a new homemaker,  not sure which vegetables to pick. Rubbishing my clumsily picked  ‘lauki‘ (bottle gourd)  she picks two pieces that look almost like the ones I had picked and  says “Those were too ripe, Make these. They will come out well”. Patiently with a bemused smile at my inexperience, she has taught me how to pick ripe tomatoes, avoid over ripe gourds, choose the best cabbage! She introduced me to new vegetables, varieties of local produce I had never seen. Generously sharing with me her recipes, giving me tips on how to cook them.    “Just add a little salt and let it simmer for ten minutes – don’t add any water “. She doesn’t speak English, has hardly been to school, I would never see her in a party or visit her at her home! But if friendship is about learning and guiding and counting on each other. We are friends! Or at-least she is my friend and I hope some day I can return the favor.

For the street market theme I wish to introduce you  to my street market friend!! Bharti the proud owner of a small vegetable street shop in a locality in my city, Ajmer

Meet Mrs Bharti Bagdi

Bharti – My sabji wali

Bharti is 29 (I got to know this only today! Always assumed she was older than me. she sure knows much more than me.)

She is married to Mr Shambhu since 2002 and has two sons. The older one is 8 years and studying in class 3 and the younger is 6 yrs in class 2.

Bharti, says they started this shop two years after her marriage. Her husband used to work in his uncle’s juice shop for many years. With tears in her eyes,  She remembers the tough period when the uncle cheated them and the family was stranded literally on the roads. Her husband found odd jobs at a brick making factory and other places, to make ends meet. Then after a lot of thought, he purchased a sugarcane crushing machine and set up a small juice stall in the spot, where Bharti’s shop today stands. He chose this place because it was a relatively new locality and there were no juice shops.

(street markets cater to un-catered areas)

Realizing that there was scope for a vegetable shop, Bharti’s husband took a loan and expanded the business. As the business expanded they had to hire help. Two young boys were hired to help in running the vegetable shop.

(Street shops meet unmet needs of their localities and provide employment )

The boys they had kept to help the husband look after the shop started to steal money and had to be removed. Bharti says, “I had sold my jewellery to help get the boy married and he cheated us, we were crushed, my husband was crushed. The interest on the loan we had taken had to be paid and it started pinching us badly. We did not want to leave the cart, because working for someone though “safe’ is not like working for one self! Then I decided to do something. I decided to join  the shop.

(Street shop vendors are usually the epitome of entrepreneurship. With modest means, and a spirit of courage,they wish to create their “own” business )

I lived in a large joint family. I have 6 brother in-laws and there were many  responsibilities that I was expected to fulfill. My older one was three at the time and the younger was a baby.  I used to get up very early in the morning, cook for the family, wash clothes, get my children ready, drop them to my parents home and then come to the shop by 12 noon. I have three younger sisters, they pitched in  to take care of my children. It was difficult in the beginning, I had never stepped out to work. My In laws were not happy, but when we saw the difference it was making to our profits I decided to stick with it.

(This is when Bharti left the confines of her home and stepped out for the first time. In the Indian context this was a bold step and shows Bharti’s courage)

We live a tough life. our days are long, starting at 5:30 in the morning (when my husband leaves for the wholesale market to buy  fresh produce) till 12:30 in the night.    My parents have been a great help. My mother comes to the cart at 4 p:m to relieve me so I can go home and eat my lunch and check on my children. My father works as a peon and joins her here at the cart after 5 p:m. Together my parents look after my shop till my husband and I reach back by 6 p:m. They return at 11 p:M  to help us wind up the shop. “ It takes the all of us more than an hour each day to close shop. All the vegetables and fruits need to be packed and carefully transported back home.  If my parents did not pitch in we would not be able to get home before 1 in the morning.

(Not only Street shop vendors themselves, often their entire families also pitch in to make these modest shop work. In that sense they are almost like little family run businesses)

(A street shop poses its own unique challenges. A street shop vendor is his own supply chain, sales man, cashier, transporter etc. etc.  The lack of a solid safe structure means that everything has to be taken out each night to be physically stored in another location and rearranged each morning!)

shambhuji offloading the day’s purchase

I like working here, even if the hours are killing and I get almost no free time. The shop means freedom. I get to spend the day by my husband’s side. I get to learn  a lot. It also means money. It is our hope for the future. I have three younger sisters and no brothers. It is also my responsibility to settle my three sisters and my two sons. My husband and me are making sure they all study well. We have recently fixed the wedding of one of my sisters.The boy is a computer engineer.We want to do the best for her. The pride is evident in Bhart’is voice.

(A modest street shop is the ray of hope for many people. A way of stepping out of the circle of poverty for its proud owners)

Now my in-laws have also accepted my work. My husband’s older brother had a mental problem and had been sitting at home for years. He was unable to find any work. Now we have got him also into the ‘business’. He has started coming here everyday and my in-laws are happy! We also find the help useful.

(Street shops can be a good alternative for providing employment to people who do not fit into traditional  ‘workplaces’)

With tears in her eyes she says “we have seen very tough times. This shop, though not much is our hope for the future. We don’t wish our children to see the hardships that we have. Recently the government has taken back the shops that they had leased to us. Now , more than ever we are victims of harassment from the local authorities. They take away our baskets, crates even fruits. Recently we had to pay Rs 2, 500 to get our stuff back. There is so much corruption in every office of the government that there is no other go but to pay bribes. But we are not complaining.

(Often uncarefully thought out government rules and regulations are the biggest hurdles in people’s progress: street shops need to be recognized for both – their usefulness to the community and the employment they create. Improperly placed street shops do create chaos and traffic hassles. But sympathetic and better planning can open many options that are viable and even healthy for the whole community)

We try to do what we can for the society. We serve chilled water to everyone free of charge. No matter how busy we are we drop everything and refill the water tanks. Its not much, but right now its all that we can do. We wish to do something big. My husband is a great man. He is very intelligent. I know he can do anything. Its just that we don’t have the means to do anything bigger. Some day, with god’s help we will be able to do much more!

Bharti with her husband Shambhuji


In this day and age when millions are being spent by the government on teaching entrepreneurship as a subject in schools and colleges to encourage self employment. People like Bharti and Shambhu are role models. One can not help admire their courage and grit. Fighting against odds they have been able to create not only livelihood for themselves but hope for a better future for both their families besides being a  friend to me and many like me. Kudos Bharti! and shambhu ji!

for more posts on this theme please visit http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/05/25/street-markets/

Weekly photo challenge: “summer”

Here’s something that I had written earlier, but so apt for this week’s challenge – summer

My friend, koel is back with her summer songs…

Perched outside my window she urges me to sing along!

She cocks her head and looks at me…

As if, saying come on! Why won’t you sing with me?

She still remembers the fun we had last summer…

When she sang and I was the drummer!

But dear koel don’t you see?

Then, my heart beat a different beat.

In winter when you left for warmer lands…

The snow froze my inner “band”!

Spring rejuvenates, restores, recreates, revives…

But can it make my dead heart come alive?
Image

Unfamiliar with “Koel” : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koel

 

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  33. Summer Night | IsobelandCat’s Blog
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  36. Summer | Somewhere Reminiscent
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weekly challenge : “hands”

hands

As I place my hands in thine,

Today, Tomorrow and forever in time 

I promise to be yours,

and wish you remain eternally mine

This photograph was taken at our wedding 14 years back. It is easily my favorite picture from the entire collection!

My hands – Your Life

Your hands they summon me,

rudely

“clean up that mess”

” go fetch that bag”

“tidy the room”

“wash those clothes”

” sweep that floor”

“scrub the sink

“that plate’s dirty”

“put your bed on the floor”

always pointing, always showing,

calling, sending, summoning, telling,

ordering, dictating

My hands always doing

cleaning, scrubbing,

mopping, washing,

fetching, carrying,

cooking, cutting and then

cleaning some more.

servant cleaning utensils

Your hands they come upon me

stealthily

as I sleep.

Touching, probing,

caressing, groping,

kneading, poking, hurting.

Their touch

sends a cold shiver

up my soul.

My hands,

praying,

god whatever this is,

please make it stop.

Don’t touch me! Please stop!

Your hands they hit.

They push,

shove,

pull,  snatch, hurt and break.

They  pinch, slap and take.

Powerful, they point,

accuse, threaten and abuse.

“Me” they  always ‘blame’.

For what?

I don’t really understand the ‘game’.

My hands

weak, frail, wasted and hesitant.

If only they had

some of your strength.

Your hands beautiful,

soft, white,

dainty, elegant

Delicate, long red tipped fingers

move  gracefully

mesmerized

I watch

admiring,

captivated by their beauty

Your hands they smell

wonderful like rose petals

and a hint of fresh lime

I’m tempted to reach out

and touch

but then

I look at mine.

Hard,

calloused,  stumpy,

blistered

they smell of detergent and sweat and grime.

When I am alone

and have the time

I think

If  god ever asks me

what I want?

Doubtless

I will ask

for your hands

for

with your hands

I may get your life.

“Travel theme: Summer”

When I was a kid, studying in a   residential school for girls. For us the “boarders” summer meant getting away from the hostel, where we lived all year.  As the summer holidays came closer, we made the  annual visit to the dingy boxrooms in the basement to retrieve our trunks and  dusty holdalls . The musty smell still fills my nostrils when I think of summers.
image courtesy mgdgirlsguild.org

My school – the home we loved

The other thing I remember is the last day at school. Parents would start dropping in even before the school hours finished. And by lunch time girls would begin to leave. Hostel gate passes were signed, and byes were shouted as cars rolled away, creating a cloud of dust and diesel fumes on quiet mud roads that were unaccustomed to any traffic.

last day of school

By evening 4 p:M the dormitories would be empty. Bunk beds looked naked without colorful bed-sheets and  pillows. An eerie silence would descend on UN-naturally neat rooms. The few of us that remained would roam the gardens, sit in the porch and generally kill time. At tea, which was served sharp at 4, there would be no queues for getting in. No loud banter, none of the usual seating order and hardly any seniors to show any deference to. The fact that only a few of us remained behind meant a sudden stripping of social order that was strangely unnerving. No one seemed to have any appetite and even though second serves we’re abundant, no one desired them. Everybody was kind of stuck in a limbo. The conversation would be about who was leaving next, when and how.

girls at MGD school

And when ones guardians came to pick one up, the feeling in the tummy was weird. There was happiness at the long holiday, at going home, away from schedules but also a strange apprehension. Apprehension of the outside world, caused undoubtedly due to living all year in a confined place with a handful of girls one’s own age and almost no exposure to the  world, except letters and weekly phone calls from parents. Everything in the hostel was predictable –  classmates , the teachers, the schedules, the food , the rules. Somehow leaving all that even for a short time , no matter how exciting was also a bit scary. Causing a strange sensation in my throat and belly that I can to this hour remember . I call it “the summer holiday sensation”
As I have grown up, and come out of the confines of a boarding school,  summer has come to mean roadside vendors selling impossibly large glasses of chilled sugar cane juice , “golas” in a myriad of colors and flavors that no lecture on lack of hygiene can make less tempting. Ice cream sessions with my children, and fancy plush holidays to exotic locations.

Golas – the quintessential summer thirst quencher

I have also come to appreciate, with travel, the true significance of “summers”. I belong to a hot region of a warm country. Summers for us meant uncomfortably high temperatures, unquenchable thirst, unending sweat, stifling heat, killing sun. In these circumstances one could hardly appreciate William Shakespeare’s “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”. In Rajasthan, that would be equivalent to calling someone names! During my trips to Europe, I began to understand what “summer” meant to people from colder regions. Why the ballads and the songs, the unending reverie of the sun.

a dusty summer day in rajasthan

Yet, in the pit of my stomach when I think of summer I become the young 10 yr something girl, seeing friends leave and waiting for my turn to be taken away. Feeling in equal parts the strange sensation that comes from a  strong desire to escape and an equally, if not stronger desire to remain at the place I knew, better than home!
I have been tempted by Alisa  to write this post for the summer challenge on her wonderful blog Where’s my backpack?

Weekly Photo Challenge: “Blue”

Blue the most common color of all

The blue bottomless sea

Blue the bottomless sea

Blue the topless sky

what are we

but a speck in the horizons of its infinite hand

Blue – maybe  the color of god

Is that how it was created?

his favorite color

like a two year old he splurged it all over

first dropping  an entire bottle

to form the endless sea

then like a child who hadn’t had enough

smudging  his hands with some

and painting it all over the canvas gleefully

lighter, marked with white where he couldn’t be bothered to fill

to create the never ending sky

Blue – the color of infinity

Blue –  a confusing color

It’s the color of  ‘refreshing’ in countless  “toothpaste ads”

It’s the blood of  royalty

Peacock _ the graceful blue bird

And the color of the graceful Peacock

Its the color of  depression,

and the color of  feeling “low”

Blue  the color of Indigo

The harbinger of India’s slavery

because that’s where it all started!

Blue the Indian team that many of us are so proud of

And yet its the game that came to us through defeat

Blue the color of poison that Shiv drank to save us

The neelkanth

“The Neelkanth” – Blue – the color of the savior

Blue the color of  “krishan” our beloved child god

And even of Ram, because we don’t wish to admit that he may have been dark

somehow its better to be Blue than dark

Blue for boy

Sri Ram

So lauded in my society that

anything can be done to have one

Blue the color of death

because in the wish for ‘Blue’

the ‘Pinks’ die everyday

Blue – The color of nature, and God and misplaced hopes

Blue – the color that confuses me!

This week’s photo challenge was “Blue”  This post is my take on the color Blue and its many connotations

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Men in Blue – the Indian Cricket Team

Blog for change – “Satyamev Jayate” – Bane or Boon?

I am writing this post as a part of a new initiative started by one of my blogosphere friends , Arindam of “Being Arindam”. The blog for change , initiative  by Arindam , envisages that bloggers will write about social causes close to their heart. You can read more about this here. Though this is supposed to be on Saturdays, I know Arindam will not mind the delay! And I hope more of us will join in this initiative.

The burning topic this week seems to be female foeticide/ sex selective abortions (the term I prefer to use) . Whatever, one’s feelings may be towards Amir khan, as an actor, one can’t deny that his heart is in the right place. And that he has regularly tried to use his star status to talk about larger social issues. And if while doing so, he also manages to make some money, well hats off to him. “Satyamev Jayte”, is his latest attempt on this front and quite commendable. The show has got major media coverage and as far as Rajasthan goes, has definitely made an impact. Forcing the chief minister and the Rajasthan government to sit up and take notice and take some urgently needed action.

And yet, there has been some disquiet about the episode. The uneasiness relates to the somewhat simplified understanding of sex selective abortions (SSA) created in the show. Due to obvious reasons, all the women who came on the show represented one end of the spectrum, the end which was forced almost inhumanly by husbands or in-laws to go in for SSA. While this is quite common, there is also the other end of the same spectrum. The woman who may wish to go for  SSA herself, out of her own choice or somewhere in the middle, where the pressure may not be as obvious and physical but more psychological and implied. In these situations, are the women then to be blamed? Are they then the witches or “kumatas” as our Hindi newspapers like to call them?

What one needs to understand is that SSA in itself is not the problem. It is the symptom of a problem. A very ugly symptom. And while banning doctors who carry out SSA (almost like a business) and severely punishing husbands and in-laws who force women into taking such steps is necessary. It’s akin to applying balm to reduce the headache. To cure the headache from its roots, one has to go more deeply into the root cause of the problem. Which is the patriarchal mindset of our society.The lowered status of women, in every aspect that makes women more prone to all sorts of violence in every phase of her life.

As a girl child she is deprived of education, proper nutrition and medical care. Even if you as a parent do not discriminate between a girl and a boy child, as she grows up you are forced to accept that she can not roam freely like your son can in the city. When you do decide to get her married, her well-being shifts from your hands to the hands of another family who see her as a “child producer” and a “24 X7 maid” . Even a career woman, apparently self-sufficient and independent often faces victimization at work and home. A woman hardly ever has control  over property and assets. Her labour at home or at farms is unaccounted for  creating the image that she is a dependent/ a responsibility/ a mouth to feed. Her birth family considers her a drain on their resources because when she grows up she leaves them to work for another family often with high dowry. Her marital family always considers her an outsider, a cash cow to be exploited at will. Early marriage, dowry, bride trading, eve teasing, physical violence and abuse, at home and in the streets all are indicative of the abysmal status of women in our country.

Is there any wonder parents do not wish to have a girl child? Even well-educated, well to do parents! Read this first person account of divya. Who drives a modern, independent girl like Divya, to conclude its a crime to bring a girl into this world?

The second issue that one must be aware of is the language used and its implications. Abortion in India is legal. We recognize a woman’s right to her body and allow her to exercise  the right to choose if she wants to give birth to the child in her womb. Even when abortion is legal many women do not have access to safe abortions in India. It is thus imperative that we ensure that the fight against SSA does not become a weapon in the hands of the anti-abortion lobby. Banning abortions or making them more difficult to access may seem like an easy solution to tackling SSA, but in fact it will only make women’s lives more miserable and unsafe and further dis empower them.  Thus when choosing our words while campaigning against  SSA we need to be very careful. The term “female foeticide” contains connotations of  person-hood for the foetus  and murder and smacks of right-wing, anti abortionists lobby lingo.  A show that aims to bring attention to women’s issues must try to not fall prey to such traps.

There is another issue. While speaking on respect for women, most of us talk of a woman as a mother or sometimes as a wife or sister. While these are important roles that a woman plays. A woman is more than a mother or a sister or wife. This psyche is derived from the patriarchal society that sees women as being venerable only if they fulfill certain roles. By that logic is a woman who is not someone’s mother/ wife less respectable? A woman should be respected because she is a human being. Whether she is a wife or a mother or not should not matter. To give respect to her only because she can bear a child is akin to treating her only as a womb that can produce children. By this logic  a woman who is infertile, or unmarried becomes more dispensable!

So, is it all bad? Is Satyamev Jayte ! just another rhetorical way of grabbing eyeballs and increasing TRPs and making money! I don’t think so. Yes it did have some simplistic arguments and used rhetoric to increase the emotional quotient. But, it did manage to stir the hornet’s nest. It did manage to catch people’s attention and get them talking on a topic that even middle class educated Indians pretend doesn’t exist. In that it has served its purpose. It has instigated a discussion.

It now remains in the hands of the experts in the area to ensure that the debate becomes more nuanced and layered. That the hype created does not die down. I read an interview by Amir khan, in which he says.  I am not a 24X7 activist. I am an actor, I make movies, I reach out to people on an emotional level…. I think he is right. He has done an important part of the job. The show has instigated a debate that decades of campaigning article writing and statistic analyzing was unable to do.  And for that it should be applauded. I personally think, that the show could be aired once a month to allow for the debate to continue on the selected topic before shifting the focus to another equally relevant topic. Or maybe there could be a series of shows on just one topic like SSA. Slowly developing a deeper understanding and bringing forth the nuances and the difficult debates within the issue. Or there could be a panel of discussions independent of the show organized by channels to carry on the debate. But it would be wrong to condemn “Satyamev jayte”! on that account. A step taken in the right direction does not lose its commend-ability just because its only one step! Every step in the right direction matters and is laudable.

There are no easy solutions to social problems. no one movie or one show or one person can bring about social change. Social change is a slow tedious process. It comes with active change at all levels, legal, attitudinal, political, economic and social. Lets applaud SJ for what it is. A new experiment in TV programming and much healthier than the “saas bahu” sagas that have become the staple of Indian TV

If you wish to further understand the debate also read this well written article http://kafila.org/2012/05/09/dil-se-nahin-dimaag-se-dekho-thoughts-on-satyamev-jayate-episode-1-shohini-ghosh/

The butterfly tree

They hang by the dozens

richly embellished

vibrantly hued

be- jeweled

colorfully stroked

by the creator

each one a masterpiece

floating on their stone studded wings

gracefully they land onto their haven

the peerless butterfly tree

who knows why

amidst all trees

in my humble garden

this one gets

to be

touched by divinity…..

Weekly photo challenge : “unfocused”

In the midst of a dream

there you are

just outside the haze

peeping in

there but not really there…

a little of your laughter

a strand of your smile

the lilt of your voice

Just outside the realm of my reality

there but not really there…

A drop of your tears

the way you called my name

the warmth of your breath

Just at the brink of my wakefulness

there but not really there…

the smell of your skin

the feel of your touch

the warmth of your hands

just a buried  memory in my mind

there but not really there….

the noise of your dilemmas

the list  of your complaints

the maze of your feelings

Just outside the  boundary of my life

there but not really there….

the shadow of your aura

the sound of your stories

the memory of your promise

Just outside the reach of my hand

there but not really there…

A little unfocused

The shadow of you

and me

and

us

there but not really there….

Weekly Photo Challenge: “Together”

Wise men say “Life is a Journey”. Isn’t that true? It’s a remarkable journey where we all know the final destination (Death!) but are clueless about the route.  It’s a journey that we as humans undertake with others. – Together. And it is this togetherness that makes life so exciting to live.. For this week’s topic, I will talk about a journey, that I undertook with my “then newly acquired” husband.  It was through this first journey, we took together, that we learned, that as long as we were together…. nothing else mattered – the luxuries, worldly comforts, could all be forsaken happily, when we were together. Together we created fun, together we created our own security, together we created our own world and while we were in it, nothing could harm us!

 To put the trip in a context, let me backtrack a bit and say, that S and me were 22 years old when we married in the summer of 1998. We were both very young, very much in love and had very little money. Keeping the last in mind and the fact that S (That’s what everyone calls him!) had jaundice, we “forego-ed” the “traditional ” honeymoon. So in August when the chance came up for me to travel to Banglore  for work, we jumped on it and decided to make a trip of it. Being young/ foolish/ adventurous/ vagabondish (take your pick! ). We did the following..
  1. We booked a sleeper class ticket for S to reach Banglore on the day my assignment finished
  2. We booked a return ticket from Cochin for both of us for  a day, 25 days later from his date of arrival (sleeper class again). And..
  3. We  indulged and bought a second hand copy of “Lonely Planet
We booked no hotels, made no schedules, no itinerary, nothing. We just decided to take things as they came. Wherever we found ourselves, we spoke to the locals, took their suggestions about where we should go next and hopped on to the next state transport bus that took us there. We traveled at night (saved time and money on hotels!) reached mornings, saw the sights, ate at local joints and moved to the next spot. We traveled light. A rucksack with one spare pair of jeans and three  T shirts each. A few essentials.
The memory of every day  of that 25 day trip is etched in my mind forever. I could write a treatise on it. But, considering most readers are short on time, I decided to restrain myself. And write only about my favorite parts of the trip. But, like a mom who can’t choose a favorite from her many children. I couldn’t really decide on any one or two. Which one should I include? and which one could be left out? Should I write about..
  • The day we reached “Jog falls” after 10 hours of bone breaking bus ride to realize that the falls were completely covered by fog and hadn’t been properly visible since 5 days. Disappointed we sat at a wayside joint sipping tea. We could hear the loud thunder the water made as it fell from the cliff and had resigned ourselves to not seeing the famous falls. Just as we were to leave. I closed my eyes and fervently prayed to God. Suddenly, almost magically , the fog disappeared. And there right in front of our eager eyes was the most amazing sight of the highest waterfall in India

Jog Falls, 400 kms from Banglore (picture from internet)

.

Jog Falls - Shrouded in fog

  • Magically, the fog disappears - jog falls

  • Or the time at Kovalam.. when we found ourselves on the wrong side of a gun! Earlier that day we had alighted at the local bus stand. A skinny guy had offered to show us a good “cottage”. The cottage was beautiful and located right on the sea and surprisingly well within our budget. After settling in we went, hand in hand for a walk by the deserted seaside. On return we found this huge man standing outside our cottage, gun flailing in his hand, making threatening gestures at us and speaking  a strange tongue. In an unknown land, surrounded on one side by the desolate sea and on the other by a group of threatening villagers who seemed bent upon using that gun, as complete darkness enveloped us, we were terrified. we told each other what we imagined were our final words. At the last minute a “kashmiri” (Kashmiri in Kovalam!.. Life is strange) came and rescued us. As he spoke to the angry group we sensed the tension lower, the anger lessen and the nozzle of the gun lowered to a point on the floor…rather than us! When he spoke to us in his broken hindi we understood, that the guy who had rented us the flat was a local “Afeemkhor” (Drug addict) . The cottage that he had so magnanimously rented to us wasn’t his, and the money we had trustingly paid him , hadn’t reached the owner . The  huge angry man determined to “teach us a lesson” Assumed, we had broken into his “cottage”.   unknown to us, the “kashmiri’ had seen the transaction and vouched for us. We stayed in that cottage still feeling vulnerable. But in morning, the angry man with the gun, became a friend and we ended up staying in his cottage for four days.

Kovalam - Night creeping in

  • Or the day we felt hugely homesick. Tired of eating coarse rice, sambhar, tomato dosas  at small wayside eateries. Sitting in a small dhaba! A group of young men occupied the table near ours. When one of them approached us asking if were from IHM, we weren’t sure how to respond. S was wearing the IHM T-shirt and it seemed pointless to deny. A bit hesitatingly we accepted that he was an IHM, Bombay graduate.It turned out the boys were studying at the local branch of IHM. Backs were slapped, hands were shaken. And just like that we were surrounded by friends. They invited us over for lunch to their college the following day. We were served north indian food, family histories were exchanged, college stories were told  and we were homesick no more!
  • A couple of years before this trip the movie “Roja” had been released. Besides liking the movie immensely , my imagination was completely captivated by the round basket boat ride so beautifully captured in the movie. I just had to do it! But no one we met or asked knew anything concrete about it. The Lonely planet had one short line on it being available in a place called “Hogenakkal”.
We decided to chase it.  Three bus changes, 20 hours later, we landed in “Hogenakkal” . At the time a small village like place. We could see no eateries or hotels. No tourists or any tourist amenities. When we asked about the boat ride, almost sure that we had wasted our time on a wild goose chase. Somebody nodded and pointed us in a direction. We walked on a lane flanked on both sides by vendors selling fried fish. Unlike the usual we had seen, these were finger size fishes dipped whole in a batter and fried. To me, a vegetarian all those fishes cooked whole with their eyes and tails looked eerie. At the end was a non descript river bank. We asked a thin, severely tanned man about the round boat, using signs. He gestured us to wait. Soon he was back with another equally famished looking man carrying a big round cane basket (the kind flower sellers use) only much larger.. on his head. And we set off.
What a ride that was! I have been on many boat rides since.. glass bottomed boats in andamans, speed boats in europe, snake boat in kerala, cruise ship in Europe, even a luxury yacht, once. But nothing matches in my mind. The sheer joy and excitement of that simple basket boat that is rowed by one man using one oar. He spinned it fast enough to make me laugh, he tied it to a rock to let us see the most fearsome waterfall I have ever seen and each time land came in the way, he simply lifted the boat  to his head and carried it to the other side, to plonk it again and row away!

Carrying the basket boat - Hogenakkal

  • Or the night when dead tired and in the  mood to sleep in a proper bed we approached hotels after hotels in Salem. But none would give us a room. Dog tired and frustrated, when the next guy refused. I demanded to be told why we were not getting a room? Red faced he said because we didn’t look married and he didn’t want any trouble by shielding “runaways”. We showed him a wedding photograph (That someone had smartly advised us to carry!). Convinced , we got our room and slept like never before.
There are numerous memories of that trip in my mind. Memories that bring a smile to my face even this day, or make us laugh enough to bring tears to our eyes. The town where every hotel was owned by one smuggler, the majesty of the  chinese fishing nets that lined the sea side in Cochin, the “spice plants” we saw in the spice garden. The story we heard about the “sin door” tree. That it is a slow poison and no animal will ever eat it. It is applied by women on their forehead everyday in the hope that they die before their husbands. S made me promise that day to never use it! “I love you too much to live without you. If one of us has to go early… Let God decide. Lets not do anything to bias the decision!”. The pubs in Bangalore, The sunrise in kanyakumari, The children using dinghy boats to ride upto the buses that will take them to school in rain-flooded Kerala. The friends we made on the long train ride back home.. every moment of that trip is etched in my mind forever.

cycling in Kodaikanal

The isolated beach in Kovalam

Almost fourteen years later.. we have travelled .. S and me.. to many place. The beautiful but quiet sad valleys of Kashmir, the enthralling jungles of Ranthambore, the gorgeous Scotland, Historical London, Stunning Paris, Hitler’s Germany, breathtakingly beautifully Salzburg, Romantic Vienna, my all time favorite Prague, Dazzling Dubai, Children’s paradise Singapore.. and yet the trip that I remember most fondly. The one that till date makes us laugh till our bellies ache.. is that trip we took. With no set destinations, nothing to cover. No schedules, no bookings. Nothing. Just a desire to see the world together..

I have mapped the journey we undertook here

The original  post was written by me some time back and has been published at @indiauntraveled: 14 years ago, a journey with no destination – ow.ly/azECz

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