Thursday, October 28, 2010

THE LITTLE GIRL’S TOWN

It was a whim and driving to the airport, besides being amused I was a little intrigued. Off the top of my head I had picked the place and here I was off on my own adventure- my first solo holiday.
Sure people do that all the time yet for me it was a first. A coming of age in many ways. If I could do this I could do anything! Taking a break from work was tough enough and when I got time off, suddenly planning a break was stressful. I knew I needed time off to be by myself and take stock off where I was headed. Part of me was tempted to stay home and do that. Better sense prevailed when I had a sneak peek of the kilos of pending chores that I would have to look into at home.
Goa seemed like the most obvious choice. It was literally in the backyard and I knew the place like the back of my hand. I had 48 hours to plan and decide where I would go and this seemed simple and uncomplicated. I did ask a few pals if they wanted to join in. Then came the options of other places. Some places were on my to do list and some came heavily recommended. Yet there was a voice telling me that I needed to do this by myself and go some place that just sounded exotic and like it was calling me.
A friend recommended I try a new company that tailor made holidays in Karnataka. They are called The Bucket List and that had me hooked. Seemed like they had already got what I was looking for. So when I was sent pictures of a gorgeous resort in a coffee plantation, with a great spa, I instantly said yes.
I didn’t realise it was six hours away from Bangalore and when I began the drive I was wondering what I had gone into. That’s when I realised that sometimes going with the flow and trusting the universe is the only choice you have. Solo time is what I had yearned for and here it was all mine...so I gingerly trod ahead into this not so familiar territory.
Of course calls and messaging with family and friends didn’t help. Some called me mad and asked me to come back. Others said the peace and quiet would drive me mad. That egged me on. Surely I couldn’t me such a slave to the bad life?!!!
Mr Srinivas, my guide and driver set the tone for the next four days. Tough but interesting if I made the effort. He looked like a bank manager and spoke like a doctor. We both didn’t know what to make of each other honestly. I got to know that Chikmagalur, my destination, actually meant the little girl’s town in Kannadiga. It was to be gifted by a rich merchant to his little daughter as part of her dowry. Seemed ironical that I had chosen a town thus named when I needed to feel that I wasn’t the little girl any longer, who needed to be chaperoned even on a break!
Googledeva threw in more surprises. This was the place from where coffee, my constant companion, first entered India. It was also Indira Gandhi’s constituency before Amethi. A friend’s anecdote about how her brother called the lady chikmagalur as a kid, I thought was adorable. With my camera suddenly the landscape begun coming to life. It was a festival of sorts and all the women in their finery lined the streets, at times blocking traffic. Mr Srinivas showed some mock anger which was totally endearing. En route we stopped for south Indian filter coffee and steaming hot idlis. I was liking this...got into the groove listening to cheesy tamil songs and discussing the phenomenon called Rajni Sir.
My phone and computer were allowed to take a break as well. There was a coffee aroma in the air as we drove uphill. It isn’t at too much of a height yet chikmagalur has a hill station vibe. Old british structures with green roundabouts. A colonial air where if you saw Mr Brown, riding past you would be tempted to tap your hat. Then there was The Serai. Calling it just a resort would be unfair, it honestly is something else.
Luxury takes on another meaning at this place. What is amazing is the understated elegance with which it unobtrusively spoils you. It takes a couple of hours getting used to a private villa with a diving pool, a jaccuzzi and an outdoor shower...
Early morning walks in the coffee plantation is what I picked. Well trained staff, showed me around and let me wander when I felt like. The place is set in the cafe coffee day plantation. Felt like I was home. Maybe I was a coloumbian coffee planter in a previous birth? From green to red to brown saw coffee seeds in different stages. Also got to know how coffee and pepper grow together in these parts. Both need each other to flourish. Set me thinking. Peace and chaos in the right proportions?
Hot stone massages. Meditating in the forest clearing. Sampling local cuisine in the finest china. I knew I had made the right choice. What for me, was a first and a great beginning, was the fact that I did not miss my phone, tv or social networks. It was a revelation and an achievement.
I was sleeping by eleven and was up at seven am. The best part is that the routine continues even now that I am back to real life. If I can keep that and my no smoking stance, this has been the clincher for me. The life changing holiday. Got some amount of writing, a fair amount of reading and lots of thinking done. Rid of toxic people and situations in my mind. The sheer joy of not having to second guess what your partner is thinking is inexplicable.
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that I had to go to chikamagalur since I was the little girl of the little girl’s town! Solo holidays are hugely recommended 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The man with the blue suitcase

I saw him sitting on the park bench every evening. Well dressed, looked educated. Someone who must have been well to do and good looking a couple of years ago. I was intrigued. He always had this blue weather beaten, solid VIPs suitcase close to him every day. The kind that everyone had before soft luggage was discovered. He also strangely seemed to belong to that era…
He never spoke to anyone or smiled. He stared into space and sometimes was writing feverishly into a notebook. Always keeping an eye on his suitcase. He was there every evening. If I went for a walk at 5 in the evening or 10 at night. I tried smiling at him once and was met with a stony silence. He had about 3 shirts I guessed, all a little frayed but always well ironed. Shoes polished. Like he could walk into some place important instantly if summoned. I always wondered who he was, where he lived, what he did, what did his bag contain?
Then the furious Bombay monsoons descended on us. I stopped going to the park and felt caged in my little one bedroom apartment. Sometimes I thought about the man and wondered where he went in this weather. Then one day, I was really down and felt like a brisk walk would help. It wasn’t raining and I was walking preoccupied in my thoughts. Soon it was pouring and I was grateful. I could cry unnoticed. Like the Charlie Chaplin poster…
That’s when I noticed him. Sitting in the rain and staring at me. He smiled when I crossed him again. This time I ignored him.
I was tired and the rain was relentless. I walked into the shelter at the kerb and there he was. Our eyes met and there was an empathy that was disconcerting. We got talking and I heard his fascinating tale. He was Gurinder Tangdi from Nakodar in Punjab. Had been in Bombay for the last 15 years and was still a struggling lyricist. He had a lovely wife, two children and aging parents back home. They believed he was a success in bollywood and went by a pen name. So every time the so called “pen name” had a hit, they celebrated. They understood when he said he was too busy and could only see them once a year. What his wife didn’t understand was why she could never come see him, even though she believed him when he said he was faithful to her.
Very tentatively I asked what he did all day? How did he survive? He just smiled and looked away. It was clearly the end of the conversation. I thought about how I could help him for the next twenty four hours. Being a banker didn’t make things easier and yet..
For the next couple of days I got busy and yet when I went the next time, there he was writing feverishly. Wasn’t sure if he would acknowledge me. He didn’t. Gestured that he was busy. Who was he writing for? Had he got an assignment?
I looked forward to my walks and chats with Guri. He was writing songs that he could pitch to the new superstar, since stars called the shots these days. And shekhar looked the kind who would recognise talent. He didn’t know him but at the cybercaf√© where he worked as an assistant there was a customer who knew his driver. So he was sure that his time was coming. I felt sorry for this delusional man.
Often we chatted, I asked him to join me for a coffee or a dosa but he always declined. Despite penury, the male ego was intact. He never asked about my life or for any help. Just said he liked that I seemed to understand his worth. Told me about three hit songs that were actually his. They were robbed from him. One he put up on his blog, the other he read out to a stranger in a seedy bar and the third he wrote with chalk on a wall outside a music director’s office, along with his phone number. I didn’t know if he was telling me the truth or his version of the truth.
He said writing in the park was what he loved. Now he was careful so he carried all his creations with him wherever he went. In the blue suitcase. His optimism was scary. He also wrote here because in his home, there were seven other people and a lot of noise.
I once asked why he didn’t go back to Punjab. He looked hurt and said he was an “artiste” and stay in the “industry”, how could he go back. He would rust there. He actually believed he was just biding time for his big break here. Some day someone would spot the genius in him. He had decided who he would thank in his filmfare award speech and I was in the list.
After a month he read out some of his creations. They were awful and clich√©d. I told him that and Guri stopped talking to me. I was irritated with myself for letting this weirdo affect me so much. Yet I felt sorry for this earnest idealist…
Through some friends I got to know that a new music director was looking for a writer who understood the Punjabi sensibility. I rushed to the park and ran up to Guri to tell him. He stared at me while I gushed excited and he nodded his head saying no. didn’t want to get slotted as a Punjabi writer. I could have slapped the guy. Why couldn’t he get it? He thanked me and said he needed no help.
I yelled at him and he sat there benign, in a Buddha like state. Said something
I gave up on Guri. I also stopped going to the park because my building got a gym. I didn’t want to see him. It pained me to see someone ruining themselves because of some silly ideas they had in their head.
I often wonder what it is about this drug that the damn film industry is. Normal sane people losing it and still hoping…