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.

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  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!

 

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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.

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Adieu

 

Farewell, dear friend,

You are my lover and my beloved

I take your leave, I must go

But I leave here with you, all of my soul

And take with me a piece of your heart,

the one I stole

 

On dreamless nights I stayed awake,

And in your dreams I slept in peace

Warm breath, lashes of a child

half of a smile, I was beguiled

Did fairies hide behind your lids?

 

Do you remember the beach?

Warm water and cool sand

Roasted corn, one for each

My palms pale, and your’s tanned

We watched the sun set

 

The bells of my anklets

The clink of my bangles

Wax poetry and sing the songs

Of where my heart belongs

In their tinkles, I cherish

Many memories, an impossible wish

 

Thank you, for the all the love

The friendship, the warmth

For evenings I spent,  pirouetting in joy

 

And as we part, I wish you well

Forgive me ?

In another life, we might retell

Our story,

Where the sun eclipsed,

I kissed your lips,

And then the world was bright again.

 

Note to Dad: Don’t read too much into this, please? Just a poem. And don’t cry. 

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.

 

Cat Chronicles #1

I met my cat yesterday! Wohooo !

I am finally doing it. I am getting a cat! Wohoo !

I am adopting a stray (no more) from a lovely lady who rescued and fostered a pretty little Calico kitten a few months back. I was able to contact her via World For All – an awesome NGO that that rescues strays, helps foster them and treat them till they are healthy, and then puts them up for adoption. Several thousand animals have found their forever homes through WFA! Isn’t that lovely ?

Her foster mom has lovingly named her (the cat) Mimi. I had first considered changing that to Molly after I brought her home – because I always dreamed of having a cat named after a Potter-verse character. But I met little Mimi yesterday and realised – she is really a Mimi. Plus, how could I take away the name that was given to her with so much love by her rescuer ? I cannot take away that legacy 😀

Mimi’s foster mom, Mrs. N, was a lovely lady! She was wonderfully sweet to me and it’s obvious she adores Mimi to no end. Mimi loves her too. I breaks my heart to think that I am separating these two. But more cats need TLC and lovely fosters like Mrs. N. And Mimi deserves a forever home.

Oh and did I mention that Mimi is an absolute beauty ? She is slender and graceful and quiet and all things beautifully feline. A bit reticent with strangers – but gentle and lovely! She follows Mrs. N around the house all the time. When I entered that apartment, Mimi was enjoying herself, snugly sitting on the couch. And I fell in love. Well, as deeply in love as the permanently anxious heart of mine would allow me. I would take her home right away but I am travelling a lot for the next few weeks. So Mimi will be coming home around mid-June.

Until then, I have several things to get done :

1. Get over my nervousness. I’ve always wanted a pet. I need to stop making up excuses to make it look like a bad idea just because I’m worried about actually taking this decision. Even though I am sure about it. How does that even happen?

2. Buy a scratch post. Mom will wring my neck if our couch is ruined. I am hoping I can train Mimi to use the scratch post before that can happen.

3. Buy kitty food and a litter tray.

4. Read every online resource on having a domestic cat.

5. Ensure I don’t still have allergies to cat hair. I was super itchy after I met Mimi. But the itchiness started before I even entered the foster’s apartment – so I cannot be sure what caused the allergy. Must meet her once more to make sure. *Fingers crossed* Like my friend Sookie said, it would suck to be allergic to adorable. Plus I am already in love with Mimi

6. Find a good pet store and a good vet around the area where I live.

Twiggy is both super excited (very much in love) and hopelessly nervous! Cannot wait to have Mimi home! Here you guys, take a look! Isn’t she the cutest ?

Mimi3

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On Packing and Moving

We are moving to a new city.

When I think about leaving the city I was born and raised in, the city I have spent all but a year of my life in, and the city I love more than any other place in the world, the sense of nostalgia and loss that overwhelms me is inexplicable.

But before moving, there is packing. Packing is both nostalgic and interesting. And often makes me wonder if I’m a hoarder. Or someone who never lets go of the past. Or a world-class collector of plastic bags and gift-wraps and rubber bands.

Here are some of the things I discovered in the process of packing. [It was less of packing and more of gutting the crap from all our cupboards]

  1. God is everywhere. No, not metaphorically. He is actually everywhere. In calendars and key chains and pen stands and boxes and paperweights. And no one in my family, including me, can get themselves to throw these away. You can’t actually, physically, throw “god” into the garbage. Just, CANNOT. But a lot of these things are of no use to us. How many key chains can one really use? So we just keep them all in a box. Stationary inside a box inside a box inside a box. And these will stay inside the box forever. Because, you know, theres god inside it.
  1. God is everywhere. Really. My father is named after one of rather popular Hindu deities. Everyone we know has at some point thought it rather ingenious to gift him a small or big statue of that deity. Now we have hundreds of them. Will have to set aside a shelf at our new house that can be bedecked by these beauties. [To be honest, not all of them are beauties. But as I said, one cannot throw god into the bin :D]
  1. I have collected and preserved every single letter and greeting card I have received since I was 11. EVERY SINGLE ONE. All those inside a big box that won’t close any more. What is wrong with me? Some of them are cute, some are special and hold many memories. But why do I have a card from someone who says “Happy Birthday! Can you help me with my math homework tomorrow?
  1. I store empty boxes and bottles. Of lotions and creams and oils and spices and cookies. Some because I think they will be useful in future, and some because they are too pretty to be in the trash. I think I have used one of them just once in all these years. It will break my heart, but I have decided to throw these away.
  1. Cassettes! I was a mad collector of audio-cassettes before Steve Jobs and the iPod. They were my dearest possessions for the longest time. I spent hours listening to them. How can I discard them? Some of those cassettes are so rare – there are songs that are difficult to find even online. I hunted down every music shop in the city to get hold of some of these. I am okay being called a hoarder. I shall NOT throw these away. There is Dil Se, the album that made me fall in love with A.R. Rahman once and forever. A recording of one of Jagjit Singh’s concerts. A collection of Runa Laila’s songs. The best of Illayraja. S.D. Burman. Hemant Kumar. Pink Floyd. All the creepy Bollywood albums from the 90s. And the non-creepy ones The time when Sonu Nigam looked like an overgrown child and Bipasha Basu wasn’t sexy. So many memories. They are staying with me. No debate.
  1. I love stationary almost as much as I love lists. Diaries, pens, post-its, bookmarks, pencils, crayons, highlighters, paper, fountain pens – the list is endless. I’m sorting through these. Only some will stay. The fountain pens and post-its I guess. The rest – TRASH.
  1. Old footwear. My foot size never grew beyond 3 and half so I still fit into most of my old shoes. But I think I’ll just discard the ones that are old. Pretty sure I won’t be wearing them. Ever.
  1. Plastic bags. I think this is a pathological disorder with many Indian families. This firm belief that all plastic bags must be stored safely for future use, and that they will be of use at some point. I think our family switched to paper and cloth bags quite a few years back. So the plastic bags – TRASH.
  1. Wires and USB cables. Over the years, we may have discarded several electronic devices once they were too old for use – music systems, phones, MP3 players, VHS players. But somehow we managed to forget the poor cables that connected them to power sockets or other devices. The cables are still there. Yards of them. They need to go. TRASH.
  1. Photographs. These don’t go anywhere near the trash. Cherished moments – all stored on film. The ability to revisit old times. When I slept on my grandmother’s lap. Film is the best invention of mankind. Really.

There it is. I know I am yet to discover many more of my idiosyncrasies. But here are some of them.

Have you also experienced something similar? How did you feel when you were moving to another city? Have you also collected inane things? Let me know!