Firdaus

Firdaus. Urf Jannat. Heaven.

 

There’s a popular saying in Persian about Kashmir – Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast. It roughly translates to “If there is a paradise on earth, it is this.”

 

I saw it for myself earlier this month. It’s been on Dad’s bucket list forever. And I’ve grown up listening to my grandfather’s anecdotes about the chinar tree from when he spent some months in Srinagar back in the 1960s.

 

As a family we’re making full use of the fact that I have all the time in the world (as of now). So we packed our bags and headed to Kashmir.

 

12 years of schooling etched CBSE into my DNA so I am only comfortable sharing experiences in points and lists. Read on to see how I struggle conditioned dispassion towards everything with genuine awe in trying to elaborate on my time in Kashmir.

 

  1. Will start with the one that is most obvious and hence, would get me max marks if this were an exam.

    Kashmir is stunning. Gorgeous. The many poems and songs in praise of its beauty have at no point overstated anything; if anything they’ve been rather modest, perhaps succumbing to the inadequacy of words.

    The hills are lush, the rivers crystal and ferocious, the roses across the valleys giant enough to put the finest bouquets to shame. The chinar trees spread across the valley are majestic and mighty; the matriarchs of Kashmir. (I was told by the local people that the Kashmiris regard the chinar as their mother) The wilderness is unkempt and unpruned; the closer you go, the more mysterious they get.

  2. As if the landscapes weren’t pretty enough, you have the people. Kashmiris are the most exceptionally attractive population I have ever laid my eyes on. Cheeks as if kissed by dewy roses and a jawline so chiselled, Sephora should launch a contouring kit named after them.

 

  1. Khoobsurati chehre pe hi nahi, dilon me bhi hai.Tots Bollywood but also very true. I’ve usually preferred travel destinations abroad over travelling within India for two reasons: cleaner toilets and more amiable people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting Indians are bad people. They just don’t find the need to be polite to tourists, especially domestic tourists. And they’re not always nice to women.

    Toilets were far from comfortable even in Kashmir. The people, however, are exceptionally wonderful. It took me a long time to wrap my mind around the fact that these people were genuinely nice, and I wasn’t experiencing a series of aberrations.

    Kashmiri people are kind, generous and unbelievably courteous. Sure, tourism is their primary source of income and they cannot afford to piss the tourists off. But they go way beyond common courtesies and efficient service. The staff at one of the lodges we stayed at prepared a whole host of Kashmiri dishes for our dinner, something that wasn’t included in the buffet we’d paid for. Another hotel refused to charge us for a halwawe decided to order in one night, insisting that it was their privilege to acquaint people with their local cuisine. They follow traffic discipline in a way that would put most Indian cities to shame (except in the matter of seatbelts). And these are just few of the many instances that left us absolutely floored. It’s almost idyllic in the way they help the ageing cross the streets and bring water to the homeless and ponies that seem to always waiting outside every window. Not exaggerating, aai shapath!

    These people are unfailingly warm and respectful, and this is despite their rather palpable issues with the Indian State (I’ll come to that in a bit)

 

  1. Speaking of lovely people, I must mention here our driver throughout the trip, Mr. Gulzar. (I prefer to say Gulzar saabthough, does more justice to the weight of his character)

    He saved the lives of 16 soldiers during the Kargil War and almost bled to death in the aftermath. Once he was done being a hero in real life, he went on to become quite the villain in reel life. It seems he was that guy in the bad guy gang that beat up Randhir Kapoor in Kasme Vaade and Rajesh Khanna in Roti. He’s also driven many of the 80s stars around in his car for shoots across the Kashmir valley. The man has several amusing anecdotes in his kitty, starring the brightest of Hindi cinema’s stars from the 80s.

    How do I explain his pleasant disposition except to say that I shall always fondly remember his hansmukh misaaj?

 

  1. I don’t remember having mentioned my obsession with rivers/oceans (water bodies in general) on this blog. So let me mention that now. I LOVE THE WATERS.

    I’ve been lucky to have grown up in a city situate on the coast of the massive Arabian Sea. The vast waters have always been a source of comfort and calm, and in that regard, Kashmir was my happy place. I had the fortune of dipping my feet in the icy cool waters of both Lidder and Sheshnag rivers and rafting across a small stretch of the Sindhu (Indus). And watch the foamy, ferocious flow of many others, especially the Jhelum.

    Couldn’t keep my feet in the ice cold water for any longer than 7 seconds at a time but the thrill was worth it. It makes me a little sad to think that the people living in the valleys have the fear of gunfire to mar the gurgle of its pristine waters.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

  1. About gunfire. We personally didn’t witness any; the trip was entirely peaceful. But there are armed personnel everywhere. EVERYWHERE. It’s hard not to be struck by the stark contrast between the vast saffron fields and the giant lethal weapons in the hands of those guarding them. There is palpable tension between the locals who feel like their homes have been encroached by the armed forces and the army that is probably just trying to do its job. This friction is the smog that clouds the heavens hiding in between the valleys. The elephant in the room, at least as far as tourists are concerned. We know its there but we don’t talk about it. You’re never quite sure what side you’re on, who is the wronged and who are the wrong doers.

    So you talk about the weather and the blooming fields and the saffron and the almond trees and the apple orchards and the walnuts and the cherries and the Mughal gardens and pretend that everything is fine.

 

  1. Speaking of elephants in the room, there is another thing that occurred me after almost a week into my stay in Kashmir. There is abundance of heritage and culture and yet, there is one thing that is strikingly absent.

    The Kashmiri Pandits. Had I not known about them, I would never have been able to guess that those people ever existed. All trace or evidence of their very existence is all but extinguished from the face of Kashmir. (or at least the towns and cities I visited and/or drove across) No sign boards, no shops, no houses, no temples (except the Shankaracharya, but that’s a heritage structure and there is no way to destroy that without inviting attention). Nothing.

    Our understanding of what happened to the Kashmiri Pandits is based entirely on stray media coverage (that gets little attention in light of the gravity of AFSPA) and heresay from refugees spread across the country. This is a tragedy. One I wish was spoken about more actively. I do not by any means intend to imply that other tragedies that have plagued the valley are in any way less significant. But the story of Kashmiri pandits cannot, should not, be erased from the pages of history, as it has been from the valleys that were once their home.

 

  1. There is one thing that every Kashmiri we interacted with asked of us when we said our goodbyes. “Pray for Kashmir”, they all say. And pray I shall.

    There are cinematic clichés about civilians paying the price for political power games on one side and extremist terrorism on the other. Now I see why the cliché exists. It is rooted in reality – a reality so evident and obvious it’s almost funny.

    It’s hard not to empathise with the people – so full of kindness and generosity, being eyed with suspicion by virtue of their very presence. They have got to be really, really nice if even someone as cynical and generally sceptical as me was so moved. There is such warmth in their welcoming smiles that even an atheist would perhaps wistfully hope for the cosmic powers to watch over and take care of these people, their homes, their fields, their rivers, their sheep, their children. (If I’m being blind or naïve or foolish or guilty of oversimplification – please don’t tell me about it. I choose to be foolish this one time)

 

  1. Too much sentimentality? Doesn’t sound like Twiggy, no? Moreover, I am not a fan of the number 8. Nine is way better. So I’ll come back to the hotness of Kashmiri men. I don’t understand why all of Bollywood is not full of Kashmiri people. Oh, and the men are very good at flirting! Old school, sledgehammer flirting. No time wasted in trying to be subtle or coming up with witty pick up lines. I’m going to miss being hit on by cute strangers who don’t sound the least bit creepy and actually leave you alone when you express disinterest. No questions asked, no dirty expletives spouted in a failed attempt to mask bruised egos. Such genuinely respectful people!

 

Okay so here are some photos. And CBSE also recommends ending every answer with a line of conclusion for getting that extra point. So,

Conclusion: Visit Kashmir, people! Beautiful place, beautiful people!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

PS: If you intend to buy Kashmiri carpets, pashmina shawls and other handicrafts, visit KCI Emporium on Shalimar Road, Srinagar. I can provide contact details to anyone planning a visit.

Advertisements

I went to Bangalore

A friend texted me this Monday asking if I was doing okay. This text was followed by another explanatory text – it seems she was worried because I had made no appearance on Whatapp or any other social media for a little over four days. Which is unusual.

I wouldn’t say I am addicted to social media but I do pay a visit at least once a day.

In my response I mentioned that she needn’t have worried – this prolonged (?) absence over the long weekend was because I was having way too much fun to bother with my phone.

And I did have fun. I spent four days last week(end) meeting up with friends in Bangalore and had the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time. Here’s all that I did in those 4 days:

  1. Chat/gossip/giggle/ with friends
  2. Watched a movie – Raees may have been a disappointing film but that was mostly made up for by the smouldering hotness of Shahrukh Khan. He is the Badshah alright. The King in Pathani suit FTW. Ovaries somersaulted in excitement. And those kohled eyes – Lord have mercy.
  3. Eat (Some Margarita may also have been involved. Also the best waffles ever. And a supremely cute attendant)
  4. Book shopping
  5. Cooking
  6. Trump bashing (while watching CNN on mute)

Oh and some time was also spent in the company of a fabulously cool and adorable kid.

I had nothing on my agenda – which is the best kind of agenda. So there was time – time to laugh and share and make memories. And memories we did make. Enough to make me want to sulk when it was time to head back home.

Ooh – and how many of you have been treated to the luxury of having someone to receive you at Bangalore airport, huh? MY FRIEND WAS THERE TO RECEIVE ME. Can you beat that?

Here’s the best part. The friends with whom I had so much fun are:

  1. People with whom I have shared a virtual, “online” friendship with for over 4 years now
  2. Older to me by a decade.

What better proof to affirm the already established truth that I am in fact an old soul? Or maybe my friends are all young at heart. It doesn’t matter. Because at the end of the day, everything was almost shockingly effortless.

It has little to do with me and almost everything to do with them. They are wise, kind, generous people who opened their hearts (and homes!) and let me in to have a most wonderful time.

I returned home a kilo heavier and several kilos happier.  And happy times must be documented.

I hope you all had a fabulous January 🙂

*Insert cliched New Years’ caption*

I make new years’ resolution(s) because it gives me an excuse to make the first page my yearly planner look really important and motivating.

I use a planner rather obsessively, at least until about October. That’s when I start to feel like I’ve been wasting time all this while and the year just needs to end ASAP. By the end of November I am already looking for a planner for the next year.

It’s not entirely bad — there are some achievements to be proud of every year. But it’s always the likes “exercise regularly” and “stay positive” that have remained unrealised for many years now.

Staying positive is hardest — because I am that neurotic idiot who worries about not having to worry. Anxiety is a reflex and trying to curb that very tiring.

In honour of my pretty planners, I shall list my resolutions for 2017 here. That way I can at least pretend to be less cynical and more hopeful about actually following them through. I have also decided to have more “Don’t’s” on the list – because abstinence is sometimes just as important as action.

  1. Drink more than 2 litres of water a day
  2. Do not buy any perfumes in 2017 (Dad, ignore this one. I will accept perfumes as presents, okay?)
  3. Build enough stamina to run 20 minutes without reaching for an inhaler.
  4. Read at least 5 non-fiction books
  5. Perfect the art of painting the nails on your right hand without making a mess. (Cannot afford to paint my nails like a 5 year old any more)

 

5 is a good number so I will stop there.

#1 requires constant awareness and tracking
#2 is about self control. Doable.
#3 is most ambitious. But needs to be done – this demands self motivation and perseverance. Easier said than done but maybe if I take this up and a challenge more than a resolution, it will help me push harder ?
#4 requires commitment. This one is the easier to achieve.
#5 Good lord. Herculean task, this one. Bless me, Gods.

You may all be forced to put up with progress reports on these “goals” on this blog throughout the year. Bear with me? Oh you could also share your goals. Then we could mutually bully each other into working on them.

Happy New Year, guys! I hope you all have a fabulous year ahead J

On Tinder-ing #2

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about my attempt at online dating via Tinder. Which  never really went much beyond downloading the app and trashing several drafts of limericks for “description” on my profile page.

Last week, I was reinitiated and re-encouraged by my friend (let’s call her N) to rethink that decision. It worked because she struck while the iron was hot – we were at a mutual friend’s wedding and N herself can see matrimony in her near future. I am the only vertex in that triangle without a Y chromosome-d partner.

So, I did rethink.

Apparently, when you’re sitting in a corner while your friends are busy smoking pot, creative inspiration comes without effort. I did manage to scribble a few decent lines to be put up on that dreaded “description” box. I nearly included something that would constitute an unsubtle innuendo with scope for a great deal of desi sex jokes, but decided to ditch that. Still too wary of online dating to get into those comfy PJs.

Men will have to wait a bit to witness my tendency to make crass jokes and say inappropriate things.

A little over a week into Tinder, I’ve learned a thing or two. And not just about online dating.

  1. Tinder is fantastic for my fat-girl-ego. Nearly everyone I swipe right turns out to be a match. It assuages the hesitation of the girl in me who asked N – “Why would any man want to date someone who is fat?”N was uncharacteristically patient with me and said, “Because not all men are so shallow that their prime concern is how a woman looks. There are men out there who are good people looking for companionship.” 

    I must admit, I was ashamed at my own cynicism regarding men. So much for my ideas on body positivity and my efforts not to generalise. Sigh.

    Anyway, now that I am on Tinder and all these men are “matches”, they act like power boosters for the ego. Which is something I could really use once in a while.

  2. Men might not be shallow, but turns out I am. I find myself itching to swipe left for anyone who is:- Unemployed (I am even tempted to read “self-employed” as “unemployed”)Who uses bad grammar in their description

    – Who has attended a college/institution I have little to no respect forOh and that is not all.

    A man posing with his Mercedes is a snob. But anyone with a job I know doesn’t pay squat also doesn’t seem attractive. Techies are boring and “freelancers” are jobless.

    In retrospect, I am a terrible person. Not to mention shallow. And a snob.

    Sigh. Either I change how I think about things or I stop expecting men to show more depth of character than I am capable of. I like the former option better.

  3. Having admitted my own failings, I can now go on to laugh at the many ridiculous things one sees on Tinder 

    – Men with spouses or partners in their profile pics. Dude – what the hell are you doing? Either you’re an ass looking to cheat or you think having multiple partners somehow makes you a stud. Or you have no idea what Tinder is about. Either way, you’re getting swiped left without a second thought.

    – So much patriarchy – I once got a request from a guy whose description said “Hope there are some sanskaari girls here; most girls these days either smoke or drink.” I experienced the ultimate pleasure of cheap thrills when I asked the guy to fuck off.

    – There are also ones with memorable quotes like, “Men will be men; what do you want them to be – donuts?” or “I am who I am because you are you.” or men who’s current employment is as an “Individual.”

  4. 9/10 profiles have something to say about the love of travelling or some *insert wanderlust quote*. Is this the new fad? I’d like to see a man honestly admit that he’d rather just sit at home and binge watch movies.

Anywhooo – I never did expect Tinder to send me down the introspection route but it did and maybe I can learn to unlearn some things. We’re conditioned to prize academics and career prospects over all other “unimportant” things during the formative years of our life. Love-life and matrimony are things that belong to the “future”. Now that the “future” is here, how do I reorganise and reshuffle my priorities?

I feel guilty every time the presence of IIT/IIM on the description bar makes me instinctively give the profile a closer look. It’s something I always dissed others for. Clearly, I am not immune to it.

But I need to be. When did I begin to look at degrees before people? Or is that just how you filter profiles in a country where being one in a million counts for nothing because that only means you have 1000000 others in the same spot?

I’ve now started to be less flippant about my Tinder “swipes”. I actually read the entire profile before taking a call.

But the bad grammar is a total turn off and that’s an immediate no. That’s shallow alright but I refuse to apologise. We’re all allowed one vice, right?

Remembering her…

It was my late grandmother’s birthday last week. She was (and still is) the strongest, funniest, most inspiring woman I’ve ever met in my life. It’s been over a decade since she passed away and yet not a day goes by without us thinking of her. And they’re all fond memories.

  1. She was only educated upto 10th grade. And yet she was more learned, talented and progressive than all of our other relatives put together. My grandpa often jokes that had she been allowed to study further, she’d probably be making twice as much money as he did. She taught me basic English, Hindi, Mathematics and Science. I still remember her pushing me to recite multiplication tables as she lovingly oiled my head and braided my hair.
  2. She has two biological children, yes. But the number of people who consider her a mother figure is endless. We saw that for ourselves the day she passed away. And the days leading upto it when she so valiantly battled with cancer. They were there – all of her children.
  3. She was well versed with Tamil, but knew little Hindi and almost no English. And yet, when grandpa was in the UK in the late-1960s, she flew to London all alone. She got a job. She made friends. They even gifted her a small necklace as a goodbye present when she left to come back to India. [For the rest of her life she’d envy the firmness of breasts of women in the West compared to our relatively saggy ones that could never do without a bra 😀 ]
  4. She could make anyone laugh. Crack anyone up. And her jokes could put the proudest creep to shame. Because perverted jokes are the best ones. I’ve been told that I inherit my love for crass jokes (and Shahrukh Khan! and an obsession with cleanliness and punctuality) from her. Am I delighted or what! I wish she were alive today. We could joke about Trump, the Kadarshians and Fawad Khan’s butt. I’d have company to watch SNL.
  5. She inspired everyone to move forward in life and understand the worth of independence, especially for women. She wanted my mother’s first pay cheque to be in her maiden name. And it was. It may sound simple, but for the era and the place that she came from and lived in, she was way, way ahead of her times. [Let me also take a moment to give some credit to my grandpa here. He pushed my mother (and still pushes me!) to get an education and a job before entertaining any thought of marriage.]
  6. She cooked like a dream. And with enough love to embrace the world. I kid you not. The last meal she cooked for me was less than a month before she died, at a time when cancer had already eaten through parts of her vertebrae. She cooked because I was her beloved granddaughter and was craving Aaloo Tikki.
  7. She knew how to love. She taught us how to love. Unconditionally.

Miss you, Paati. I hope you’re having fun and kicking ass wherever you are. And if I could ever be half the woman you were, I’d be proud of myself.

 

Update. And Some Musings.

Sorry about being totally MIA this past month. I had some legit reasons though:

  1. I participated in a moot court competition. I kicked ass. It was awesome. Law student pheelz just got super real.
  2. My stomach kicked my ass. I was down with gastroenteritis for a whole week. All better now 🙂
  3. I was disappointed about not completing my 2015 Goodreads challenge. So I plan to target reading an average of 3 books a month this year (minus exam months). So far I’m on track – 2.5 books down in Jan.
  4. I recently bought a new iPad. So I spent more time fiddling with it and my laptop was largely ignored. That means less typing. That means no blogging.
  5. I like lists of 5. So…

 

On a totally different note –

One of my judges in the Moot Court asked me an interesting question. He asked me what I found most fascinating during my research for the case. I cannot remember exactly how I answered that one, since it was one of the 50000000 questions he threw my way (To my credit, I must have answered well. He gave me a fabulous feedback.)

But his question got me thinking. What did I find most fascinating ?

One of the many reasons I love the law is because it holds answers. It holds solutions. There is solid text which sets the ground rules. It sets principles. I can refer to it anytime a question arises and it will point me in the right direction.

What happened during my research for this competition was the total opposite. I did not find answers in the law. My solution lay in my problem – in the facts. The only thing I could use to my advantage was my version of the facts. Nothing written in any statute could do for me what that could.

Does this change my perspective of the law? Not change… broaden, perhaps. Does this make me question my motivations? No… it does make me introspect though. Does it make my rethink my decision? Absolutely not. If anything, I think I am more fascinated than ever before. Because I felt most independent when I came to that earlier realisation.

While I’m sure that’s not the norm – and more often than not I will have to turn to the words of the law to find what I need, but I still learned something wonderful. That I can work with what I have in hand and that will show me how to get to where I want to be.

It’s the kind of kick you get when you crack an important clue in a crossword puzzle. Or you begin to see that rubik’s cube finally come together. It isn’t completely solved yet and there are many more steps to take. But each of those steps is fascinating and full of discoveries. It’s wonderful.

Rant over. Kthanksbye!

On Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani

I watched Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani today. Here’s most of what I have to say about it:

  1. It is easily one of the most visually appealing films I have ever seen. Absolutely stunning. A treat to the eyes. This element alone made it worth the money I spent on the tickets.

  2. Priyanka Chopra was great. Ranveer Singh was outstanding. Tanvi Azmi was brilliant. Deepika… she was great in parts but I think the others outshone her.

  3. Ranveer and Azmi managed to get the Marathi diction right to a large extent. It took no effort from my end to believe that I was, in fact, watching Peshwa Bajirao on screen.

  4. The first 20 minutes of the film are most memorable. It also has one of the most enthralling opening sequences. Spellbinding. At least for those 20 minutes. What happens after that is rather disappointing.

  5. Bhansali couldn’t have cared less about Maratha history and the facts associated with it. I am all for creative liberty, but I hope for a little more effort into staying true to the actual events when you decide to title your film Bajirao-Mastani. I don’t think this warrants protests or boycott; it is disappointing nonetheless.

  6. I need to check who wrote dialogues for this film. There is some poignant writing but I don’t understand how he/she could include so many Urdu words in dialogues for Maratha characters. I don’t claim to be a historian but I don’t think Urdu had percolated into Hindi/Maratha languages at the time of Bajirao I (1700-1740). It sticks out like a sore thumb – there are characters speaking in Hindi that is still deeply rooted in Sanskrit, interspersed with some Marathi, which I suppose is to lend some authenticity. And in the midst of that you have Urdu words that make an appearance way too often for them to not strike as completely out of place. Words like “ghuroor” and “ishq” among many others.

  7. Mastani is supposed to be a Rajput princess. Pray tell me, which Rajput princess dances in the Royal Court to entertain others at the slightest opportunity? Bhansali’s Mastani does this all the time. There are better ways to showcase Deepika’s dancing skills, no? Also – there are too many songs. TOO MANY SONGS.

  8. It could not be more obvious that the song Pinga was added just so there was a sequence with the two leading ladies dancing together (An old favourite of Bhansali’s). It doesn’t fit into the plot at all, not to mention how far it is from historical facts. It doesn’t add anything to the film; if anything, it just extends a painfully long film for another 5 exasperating minutes.

  9. This film needed to be at least 45 minutes shorter. The second half just drags aimlessly; towards the end I couldn’t wait for them to [SPOILER ALERT –SKIP TO 10] just die so I could get on with my life.

  10. There must be 10 points in this post. I like the number 10. What can I say? Oh – yes – Raveer Singh is an absolute dish. And I fine actor, might I add. But that is secondary when he looks like this. Yes, yes, I am being shallow. No apologies made.

It’s worth the money only if you enjoy great cinematography and visuals. If you’re looking only for plot and/or entertainment, I suggest you wait till they air this on TV.

Kthanksbye!

PS – This films also stars Milind Soman. And he’s pretty good. If there are others like me who have a perennial crush on this 90s heartthrob, give it a go 🙂