Monday, 17 July 2017

Of Happiness

We'd been driving for quite a while now. The winding road led deep into  forests and areas yet to be to be scarred by humans. It was quiet. Trees on either side enveloped the road and hugged its sides. Even the road had someone by its side, I mused.  The canopy gave glimpses of a cloudy sky now and then.

It had been a tough week. Work, family, and relationships, everything seemed to have taken a downhill road. I felt like I was barely holding everything together and not breaking down in the middle of a  meeting seemed like a great achievement. Nights were getting harder, for sleep had become more elusive. Haunting memories of how it was before returned, I had promised myself I wouldn't let myself go through something like that again. But lately that promise had been harder to keep. I didn't want to spend nights drowning in tears and pretending I was happy the next day, again and again. The idea itself was tiresome.

I was broken out of my reverie when his hands laced through mine and held them tightly. I hadn't realised we had stopped. The view was breathtaking. Miles and miles of forests and lush greenery, and a distant river glittering like diamonds in what little light the clouds let through. I heaved a sigh and looked at him. He had already been looking at me...we smiled and stayed, I don't know how long, but it didn't seem like such a long time.

"Are you happy now?", he asked, his brow furrowed with worry. It was so very tempting to straighten those lines of worry.

"Yes..", I replied, "so much." One silent tear rolled down my left cheek. I felt his hand squeezing mine, I squeezed back, and we smiled again. "Thank you", I whispered. He turned my hand and brought it up to his lips, and lightly kissed the back of it.

And we sat like that for a long time, silently, holding hands, perhaps both of us wishing for the moment to never end. And as we sat, for once, the universe did seem to be conspiring for us. If ever there could be a perfect day, it was this and my heart grew lighter as time grew more envious.

Monday, 10 July 2017

The Weekend Getaway

Having finally made up my mind to get at least one thing on my bucket list, while I was still a dependent student, I finally took one to Mysore, during my internship at Bangalore. A small trip, nevertheless baby steps to hopefully something greater. J

The initial plan of taking a train to Mysore completely flopped, it resulted in me standing in quite a bit of awe at the number of people standing outside the Bangalore Railway station at 5:30 am to get a general ticket. I learnt that the reserved compartment ticket counter does not open until 8 am (sighing-I should have booked it online earlier, but no, I wanted to get the experience of booking a ticket just before the journey).

So that resulted in me looking around for a bus to Mysore from Bangalore. Thankfully, previous research helped. I took a bus from Kempegowda Bus Stand to Satellite Bus Stand, which is about a 5-10 minute journey (witnessed a speeding bus hit a bike at a crossroad), and from this bus stand, took a bus to Mysore(they have regular buses from here to Mysore).

The journey was pleasant enough, I was drowsy owing to the early morning waking up (3 am, I kid you not). Soon enough, the half empty bus, filled to capacity, and a man in his late forties sat beside me. Drowsy me chose to ignore everyone until we reached the mid-way point and stopped for tea. Then, I just couldn’t sleep. Soon enough I found an enthusiastic talker in the man, and having received his opinion on how I should proceed, what I should do and what I should never buy (scarves are over-priced in Mysore, he told me), I thanked him for his kind suggestions, he disembarked one stop before me, while I got off on the next.

Google Maps is a life saver, I must admit, and within a 5-minute walk, I was at my booked hostel. A charming, old building, wonderfully placed in a nook, with its own quirks, made me wish I wasn’t just here for one night. It’s a backpacker’s hostel called, The Mansion, 1907, situated within walking distance of the bus stand, Mysore Palace and the zoo. I stayed in a mixed bed dorm, with three bunk beds. A girl from Quebec and two guys from the US were the current occupants, however, there was one more who was never really around (later that night I found his presence in the shape of a human-shaped body on the lower bunk of the middle bed). Having struck up a conversation with the girl, who has travelled to about 11-12 countries(talk about goals), and is still visiting more, led to a conversation among all present.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear an exclamation from the door, and on looking up, finding a colleague I had previously worked with at the door. Such coincidences. A quick discourse revealed he was travelling with his friends and a family member and was here for pleasure.

Having already planned an itinerary and hell-bent on visiting every place I had jotted down after much debate, I embarked after those, after a pleasant lunch. My first destination was Somnathpur Temple, situated about 35 km away from Mysore. Due to perhaps the distance of the place, the place was not much traversed by tourists. A quick talk at the cab agency led me to conclude that I’d be way over budget if I chose to take a cab. The only other option was a bus (unless I chose to hitch-hike, which is a huge no-no in India). From what I had read before, there were no direct buses to the place, I was supposed to take a bus to Bannur, and from there a bus to my destination. The locals I talked to supported the claim. So a bus to Bannur was what I got on. Having no clue as to how I was supposed to change buses, or where, I talked to the conductor of the bus, a lady. She turned out to be one of the sweetest and most helpful people I met there. After we reached Bannur, she got off with me; talked to the conductor of another bus about my destination, and made sure I got on the bus safely. I ended up feeling like a little girl, but hey, I was grateful for the help. The new conductor was another cheerful fellow, who kept reassuring me that he’ll get me safely to my destination, much to my amusement. And voila, within no time, I had arrived. I was bid goodbye with the correct directions to the temple, and a girl who had got off with me, pointed it out while we walked together towards it as well. It was hardly 100 meters away. When I think about it, I am still amazed at the helpfulness and concern of the local people in Mysore and near bouts. It makes me happy and all warm inside.

The temple with its gorgeous architecture did not disappoint; so many stone carvings depicting age-old stories of Gods and Goddesses. Not being a frequented tourist destination, it was serene and retained its magnificent voice, not yet drowned by the crowding hordes of tourists. There I met a young lady, who had travelled one boring Saturday afternoon all the way from Bangalore on her scooty for a quick-getaway, two different Malayali families and the prettiest little girl I had ever seen, she was visiting with her family I supposed.

Soon enough, I was back in Mysore and on my way to the famous Vrindavan Gardens. By the time our bus got through traffic, it was already 7 pm and the sun had set some time back. A short walk down a road had me stare aghast at the sheer amount of humans crowded in there. I decided to move forward anyway, I wasn’t going to go back after travelling for almost 2 hours to get here. I walked down the path that led to the gardens, I didn’t notice the group of men/ boys I had passed until claps and leers drew my attention to them. I glanced back quickly and was a bit shocked to find they were intended at me-a girl travelling without company. It was crowded and it was dark. I chose to ignore them and walked quickly towards the gardens, thinking perhaps I was wrong and simply over thinking this. In order to convince my brain, I walked into the garden, off the path through some bushes and proceeded to stand near a fountain. I was lost in the moment, it was night, the fountains sprayed water on you, and it was pleasant. A few pictures later, I figured there’s more to explore, and started to move away. I turned to move deeper into the garden, but as soon as I did, I got a definitive shock; the bunch of men had decided to follow me into the garden through the same bushes. I admit I was freaked out, I didn’t think they would actually come through the bushes, the same way I had (it was not a path; I had simply used it as a means of escape). I circled around back to the bushes and onto the path again, praying I wasn’t seen. Things that ran through my mind- I singled out a family to whom I could ask for help and prepared whatever resource I could use, just in case something happened, including my voice. So I stood behind the bushes and watched these men look around for me (I could understand pieces of what they were saying, it was Tamil I believe-“where did she go”, “where”). I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw them move deeper into the gardens. I quite literally semi-jogged the opposite way, across a bridge, through those garden, back across the bridge, a short walk, and onto the next bus back to Mysore. Yep, that’s how my visit to Vrindavan Gardens went. Exhilarating, to say the least. After I had calmed down enough, my mind wandered over to more important things, like dinner, and a sudden craving for pasta surfaced. A quick search led me to this quaint little Italian place called The Old House, and I admit the pasta was delicious.

Back at the hostel, I made my getaway to the swing upstairs to just relax and soak in the night. There I found my colleague with his friends. An hour or so passed just conversing, after which I moved downstairs. I thought I could use the time to introspect. Soon, I was joined by my colleague and one of his friends, and before we realised, it was almost two hours past midnight. I can say I genuinely enjoyed our conversation, and there are very few conversations I’d skip sleep for.
The next day dawned quickly, and after a quick breakfast, I went around to the zoo, which was about a kilometre away from the hostel. It would not be wrong to say that it was worth the time. I hadn’t been to a zoo since my middle school and my childish fantasies of visiting zoos seemed to have disappeared. Additionally, all the animals in the zoo seemed to have made a pact the night before, to show their backs to the eager onlookers, and well, that was that. At the zoo, I met a vivacious school-girl of 13, who was on a school trip. She wanted to become a chef and baked quite often, from what she told me. I was glad to have such an animated person to accompany at the zoo, it made it all the more interesting.

Next stop on my list was Bangalore Palace, to which I was running late, having set up a meeting there with the two Americans. The place was teeming with people and it was hot. I have to admit, in its time, the palace must have been majestic in its grandeur and luxury. In its stateliness, it still managed to reflect the opulence it must have once boasted of, a century or so ago. A detailed audio-tour of the private rooms of the palace, and we made our way outside. Our fancy was caught by a horse driven carriage, on which we made our way to look for a place to eat. It was easy to pretend that I was a part of the royal family and was being given a tour of the family’s land, in a decked up private horse-carriage. With such romantic notions in my head, we finished a lazy lunch and made our way to St. Philomena’s Cathedral. One of the tallest churches in Asia and built in Gothic style, it is said to be inspired by the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.  Very soon it was back to the hostel. A short rest, wherein I chose to fill in my travel diary and it was back to Bangalore again. 

I was happy. I had my few brief moments of respite from reality, met a lot of wonderfully helpful people, made momentary memories, and like all things, I let these memories wash upon me one final time and let them be just that- memories- the kind of memories to be smiled upon while absent-mindedly looking into the distance when some fly away thought or a floating word reminds of this place.
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