19 August, 2011

Of Chalk and the Chilterns

A walk in the Chiltern Hills when its dripping wet? Not very inspiring. But when you have a guide as sarcastically humourous, warm and educated as Tony, anywhere seems a good place to go. So a motley bunch of seven set off for a trip on a very wet Thursday evening. This is what we saw: 

Insight: When the written word deserts, turn to thy stack of coloured pens! 
[Click on the image to make bigger. Duh!]

15 August, 2011

Saturday at Sonning

"When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
beside the lake, beneath the trees,
fluttering, dancing in the breeze."

~  Daffodils by William Wordsworth

[These are not daffodils, but they were just as inspiring.]

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one..."

~ The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep.."

~ Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Echinops sp. The purple globe thistle.

A job well done @ Bull Inn

Sonning Bridge (1775) sitting pretty upon the Thames.

Ah daisies and the dilemmas of infatuation! He loves me, he loves me not?

"A blackberry alley going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving.
Blackberries big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
with blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me."

~ Blackberrying by Sylvia Plath 

"What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails and puppy dogs' tails.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice."

"Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company."

~ Lord Byron

10 August, 2011

Do you want what you need?

I see you,
a very small boy
lost and bewildered
in this fast approaching dusk, 
I see your tear-stained cheeks
as you're looking at 
the half melted ice cream
in your hand,
and the tales of sorrow it has left on your clothes. 
I cajole, offering you another one
"It's bigger, its tastier",
but you want none of it. 
you are not falling  for my postponed promises.
With your wails spent long ago,
you just whimper now.
For a moment I hold your hand and
you clutch onto it
in that heart wrenching manner  
only children can. 
Slowly you allow me to walk you 
to the ice cream vendor.

As we approach him, 
your steps become unsure
"Is this what I want?"
I look down to see your eyes
threatening a fresh flood
and I hold your hand a little tighter.
You panic, suddenly feeling trapped
and pulling your hand free, 
you run.
As fast as those little little feet
can take you. 

I look back after a while and 
see a small figure 
hiding behind a tree.
Leaning your face  
to its trunk,
you believe
no one else can
see you. 
I walk up to you,
to be run away from again
and gently tap your shoulder.
You turn, relieved to see a familiar face
and clutching the corner
of my dupatta,
let those grubby little fingers
leave their prints.
We walk away now
leaving the dusk and ice cream vendor
to their lives. 
You kick a stone, the tears forgotten. 

07 August, 2011

Letters: London

[Image: Outline Editions]
My Dearest, 

What is it about some cities? As I sit in the noisy tube, squashed between a punk with electric blue hair and an old lady with varicose veins, I realise that very few people in London are from London. Does it not resonate with the spirit of my very own Delhi

"Where are you from?", they ask me. 
"Delhi", I reply, a tad wistfully, for you know I miss it so. 
They look at me with indulgent patience and pursue, "Yes Delhi, but where are you really from?"   

I'm watching the people around me, and a memory nudges me. You, quietly applauding my powers of observation. I decide to do you proud. A baby boy is crying at the far end of the compartment, its petulant rants drowning out the announcements. There are little blue sailboats on his shirt and they look like they are waiting for someone to blow a gust of wind their way. I watch a guy watching the girl with red lipstick put on another layer of that blood red colour. An old man is deciphering which station he must get off at, tracing the route with a very long, dirty fingernail. He talks to me in French and I shake my head in incomprehension. The doors open now, I hop off, obediently minding the gap. 

[Image: Blanca Gomez]
London, like every great city, is larger than the sum of its parts. I hear it heaving with the weight of its history, breathing and shifting, muddling heartbeats in its eagerness to impress. I look around me and everyone seems to be clutching onto a map of some sort, struggling with sheets of different dimensions and varying levels of illegibility. There seem to be more people who want to know London than people who know London. I watch the tourists and smile as they frantically flip mini-maps of the underground this way and that. All the colours and lines seem to merge for them, blurring into a mosaic of confusion. I smile again, wasn't I once just as lost, just as harried? Oh how quickly we change sides! Moving from the supposedly brown to the greener side. Sometimes so swiftly we barely catch our breath to count our blessings.

I enter the bookshop and wander along its aisles. It marries my passions of reading and traveling so beautifully that I am overwhelmed by the perfection. Travel books covering every part of the globe line the shelves and I pick out one and bury my nose into it. Remember that time we walked into every bookshop in CP, strangers reluctant to remain so for too long, and you spoke of how each book smelt different? The floor here is covered in maps and I dream of tracing patterns over it. I scan the notebooks and diaries of every shape and size, chiding myself for wanting to buy some more stationery. There is a respectable crowd around the shelves tagged India and I feel self-conscious as I browse through books about my own country, for I know that no writing can capture a landscape that is your own.   

"One day I'll be back (your blue room)
Oh yeah, I hope I remember where it's at (your blue room)
You see me slide on, won't you bring me back home?"

Perhaps every city moves at several different paces at the same time. There is the London of frantic underground travel: an incessant rat race, people metamorphosed into pieces of automated clockwork which reminds me of the video that haunted my childhood. There is the London of leisurely strolls in Richmond Park, with time standing still as deer prance through the grass. There is the boisterous London with people hooting as they cruise down the Thames in their party hats. There is the London of snapshots as people freeze frames against the Circus that is Piccadilly. I watch London trip over time frames and marvel how yet another great water body, the famed Thames this time, plays with my peace. It enters the recesses of my mind, channeling through words and ideas seldom aired. Somewhat like those thought experiments you urge me into sometimes. And suddenly, I realise that you were right, I am in some ways like Celine. I too feel like a very old woman inside.      

I find myself in front of the Royal Opera House now, eagerly waiting for my senses to be plundered by the promise of my first tryst with ballet. As the curtains rise, the stage comes alive. Gold and glitter, everything is lit with grandiosity. Oh how beautiful it is my dear, do you see the girls pirouetting on their toes, each one art in motion, delicate filigree dolls dancing to the genius of Tchaikovsky! Ladies use the programme pamphlets as fans, little girls sit at the edge of their seats, awestruck at the beauty they are witnessing. I am transported to another plane, allowing my senses to be plundered, humbled to be part of such beauty. Everyone applauds the victory of the Prince over the evil sorcerer. The fair Odette is rewarded with love at the end. But what of the supposedly 'black' Odile, I wonder at her fate. Do you remember that postcard you wrote about experiences moulding a person and how ours were diverging on so many scales it was hard to keep up with the flux? Sitting amidst the sheer brilliance of Swan Lake, I touched the truth of your words. But you know I am not built for remorse, and so when I walked out, though mellowed, I was satiated.   

Its raining outside now, what would this city be without its weather I wonder. Running for cover, I see the skies change moods again. An undefeated sun is lending me a few more hours of daylight. And then around the corner, I see a spectacular sight. A complete rainbow, so large, it draws an arc over me, a protective arch of unadulterated joy. People stop in their tracks, whipping out cameras of every level of sophistication. Tiny droplets are still falling and the sun rays catch them, colouring them into such pretty hues that I am transfixed. London's skyline has never looked so enchanting, famous landmarks are pointed out to me and I drink in the details. 

I am ending the day with a midnight ride on the tube. I see him kiss her, the girl in fluorescent stockings, she does a little twirl, oh the giddiness of a kiss and I shiver in the slight chill, it is quite late now you know. I see Baker Station pass by and its walls are covered with that famous silhouette; Holmes with his pipe, characteristically looking away from me in a studied silence. I look away too. The guy sitting beside me is bored. His Afro alone is as tall as me and I see him playing with his iPhone, scrolling aimlessly, too fast to read anything, slow enough to appear occupied. He stops randomly and then begins the fervent scrolling again. Perhaps he doesn't have anyone to write to.  

"Are you looking for answers, To questions under the stars? 
Well, if along the way, You are growing weary 
You can rest with me until, A brighter day and you're okay"    

03 August, 2011

Irish Dailyes

I was a very little girl when I met Ursula. A tall, slim blue-eyed Irish girl, in her mid-twenties who came to India on a holiday and allowed it to claim her. Wearing long colourful cotton skirts and carrying a beautiful hand-printed diary, she took leisurely notes as she explored the beauty of Mussoorie in the mist. She was my first exposure to Ireland and fueled my curiousity about a country I have wanted to visit ever since. 

All pictures courtesy the sunscreen loving Sahil
So when someone planted the idea of a trip to Northern Ireland, how could I refuse (yes, yes its not technically "Ireland" but why get so finicky)? And yes, I was in the midst of seemingly insurmountable deadlines, plagued by a particularly fierce form of lethargy and numbed by useless exhaustion, but since when did those be reasons sufficient to stop traveling? With all possible excuses successfully shelved, plans were hurriedly put in place, people quickly counted, tickets booked in the most unsystematic crazed manner possible over an insane Skype conversation, and bags packed haphazardly. 

After a night of almost-jaagran, the obvious culmination of an alcohol-fast well kept and inane jokes of whether Coke and milk is a real beverage or just an experiment gone terribly long, the trip began. Driving  across the breathtaking Irish countryside, we waged a constant battle with getting the music right and trying to make the uncharacteristically quiet GPS Aunty (rechristened PhoneWati to honour our strong Bollywood roots) talk and finally reached Castlerock, our romantic halt for the weekend trip.

Polka dots make me smile : )
There are some places you feel for, fall in love unconditionally, without a hint of hesitation. Downhill Hostel is that and a bit more. It was the colour of cleanliness: white with neat blue edges and William was its welcoming owner. Inside, this cosy house the drawing room was filled with records (Simon and Garfunkel, U2 and Abba rubbing shoulders with Dire Straits and Led Zep), books (the much loved Oscar Wilde comfortably nudging books of ghost stories), board games from Scrabble to Monopoly and friendly couches around a fireplace. But this was not what Downhill was about. Its claim to fame was these gigantic windows, each opening onto the sea: grey and blue, grim and gay, silent and cacophonous. From our room we watched the wave caress the shore, each ebb playfully frothing up before it receded. 

I have never understood the sea vs mountains question. It is like the Bombay vs Delhi delusional choice. If the mountains are mighty and proud, the sea is humbling in its vastness. If the mountains rise up and challenge you with their imposing strength, the sea awes with its potential to calm and wreck, its profound extremities. It always wraps itself around my consciousness in an uncomfortable silence, urging me into alleys I have long ignored, calming and upsetting me with careful precision, managing to eat into my calm and soothe me into a gentle oblivion all at once. And so as we explored the beach, scanning for shells and interesting sea life, it was pleasant to hear the moist breeze sing mellow tales. 

Giant's Causeway
 The next day we began the coastal walk from The Giant's Causeway to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. While the hexagonal volcanic columns were stunning in their geometric precision and the lovely view of the sea they offered, the 10 mile walk away from it proved to be one of the most stimulating experiences I have had in a long while. Walking along the coast among wild flowers and heather to the sound of waves crashing far below, sheep sternly looking your way and clouds flitting by across the mirror of the sea, perfection is redefined at every step. Towards the end it began drizzling, proving that sometimes beauty is only skin deep and my much loved polka-dotted raincoat was as water proof as a sieve. Carrick-a-Rede didn't provide the adrenaline rush we expected but it offered another stunning view of Rathlin Island and the Irish Sea. 

Along the beautiful Coastal Walk
The holiday had the slow charm of a cool long evening after a summer day. Humour reached alarmingly low depths at the hands of the boys (which they will vehemently disagree with!), meals of fresh seafood were relished with some delicious champ and our limbs ached with the pleasure of a walk well loved. 

Till the next trip, I remain
Strapped to my chair. 


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