Get Set, Go!

It’s that time of year again, tourist pamphlets and summer offers from travel companies litter both my desk and my inbox. ‘The 100 Places to Visit before You Die’ guide has been referred to countless times by now, there are multiple browsers open on my laptop and a flurry of illegible scrawl fills the pages of my notepad. There’s even a new folder on my uber organized desktop and it has been labelled with the name of country number 17! Inside it, countless PDFs and word documents tell a compelling tale of someone in a serious wanderlust state of mind. Occasionally during my research, I stop to take a deep breath – to recompose. In some fleeting moments, I start to feel confused by the sheer amount of planning travel takes, but then as suddenly as it comes, the fog lifts and is replaced by the joy a new adventure brings with it and that familiar feeling of itchy-feet.

Calendar blocked, tickets paid for, hotel rooms confirmed – I have officially initiated ‘Travel Research’ mode – the part where I start putting my dreams into action. This sometimes results in serious air-fist pumps and a surge of joy and excitement as I begin to check things off my list and start planning out the things I want to do, the sites I want to visit and the experiences I have been waiting to have.

In a few weeks’ time I will be exploring country number 17. As I stare at my computer screen and switch between tabs, I soak in all the information I can, stopping intermittently to make notes in my diary. I check the location of my hotel, its proximity to the beach, restaurants and tourist attractions in the area and the best ways to get there. I download route maps and check on ticket prices, I read through all the websites looking for the best deals and day passes, I even watch YouTube videos of scams I should be aware of. This btw is one of my top tips for travel, the more aware you are of possible scams (and there are scams everywhere, including the country where you live) the safer you will be.

Reading done, notes made, *air-fist pump*

I can recall distinctly the first trip I took with my family. Back then, maps were paper pamphlets that you picked up at a station/ airport or found at the back of a guide book, and figuring out your location involved some thought and getting help from actual people. You did not have the luxury of pressing a button on your phone and having information within seconds. Also back then cameras still used a thing called film and the anticipation of seeing the photographs developed and slipped into the cellophane sleeves of a photo album, prolonged the wanderlust for a few days after the holiday had actually ended.

Fast forward about 26 years and in a few short minutes I can know all there is to know about a location, restaurants and best places to stay and things to do. Sure nothing beats getting lost in a new city only to stumble upon a true gem, but I am still so thankful for Google, Zomato, Uber and travel apps.byylw-kz.jpg

As with all things, you need to take travel advice with a grain of salt. Be it a blog, trip advisor review, or Instagram post everyone always has a different opinion on what they like and dislike. The trick is to take in all the information you can and then make your own decisions. There are some amazing travel blogs out there – I am trawling through many of them now and using their experiences to hopefully enrich my future travels.

Having said that, I must confess that maps, plans, itineraries are about knowing for sure, about owning your path, about control. That’s a good thing, or else you could end up in a bit of a mess in a strange place. Direction is important but what’s equally important is sometimes, throwing away that schedule and allowing yourself the freedom once in a while to not know where your next wow moment is coming from.

You see, I am a zealous planner, not because I need to plan (and ironically, I disregard 40% of my plans once I’m “on-site”), but because I love the reading and research ahead of time almost as much as the travel itself.

Life is like that too, sometimes you need to really plan and chart out a clear pathway for yourself, and sometimes not planning things will still lead you to exactly where you’re supposed to be. NO?

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Darkness Brings The Light Too

I, like many, got lost within the darkness of this past week. Watching news unfold of unimaginable horrors and horrific violence against a little girl – so tragic, the unnecessary loss of human life and the shattered worlds of all those who loved her. I sat in my room, shades drawn to block out the sun, and watched TV newscasters speaking to women and activists – the faces and stories of all the beautiful souls fighting for justice.
Lost within news like this, the world seems to grow darker somehow, doesn’t it? I know evil exists. I am not naïve. I’ve seen it firsthand. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the depths of deplorableness humans can sink to, and the absolute devastation humans can do to one another. We have all seen it. Sadly, many of us have experienced it. Over the course of our lives, we will, at some point, be touched by it. Evil lurks next door to us; down the street, around the corner, one city over, or sometimes, under our own roof. It’s not just in other countries, other states or places we will never step foot in. It’s everywhere and strikes without warning. Evil changes humanity.

But I have come to see how evil also brings out the most amazing good this world has ever seen. Good this world desperately needs. Evil unintentionally brings Good to the forefront so that its light can scatter the darkness of all. Not in any grand, sweeping gesture. Oh, no. But the quiet, suddenly present good that shows because it’s the right thing to do. Light born from a darkness that threatens to overtake us, the good shows up in force to help, to heal and to love.

Yes, there is evil in this world. Yes, it demands and takes headlines, it overtakes our airwaves and generates millions of sound bites. News stories, photos all in real time make it feel like we are in the middle of a war of good vs. evil, and the evil is winning. And the truth of the matter is – we are. Sad fact, evil wins a lot. It does. Just watch the news, read stories online; you see it right in front of you every single moment of every single day. It draws you in, breaks your heart and if you are completely honest with yourself makes you feel some small token of relief that it wasn’t you. Then, the guilt overtakes you, and you are spinning down a road of an uncertain life now. Scared to do things you’ve always done because next time, it could be you. It could be someone you love. It could happen anywhere, at any time.

It’s true. It could.

There is so much good in this world, yet it is so easy to lose sight of. Until moments in time like what we have been living lately – when darkness shows the light of humans reaching out to other humans. Start where you are, with what you have inside of you, right now. Start with your neighbors, strangers at the grocery store or wherever in the world you find yourself. Stop judging people who are different than you. Stop letting your fear control your actions. Stand firm in your beliefs and live your life by them but, for all that is good in this world, give that same right to others.

Sometimes the darkness shows you the light. Sometimes within the darkness, you are the light. Love will always heal. Love will always be a way out. United we are a force to be reckoned with. But, we must first be open and willing to unite with others who live and believe and love differently than we may. Because if we don’t, if we fail to come together and listen and appreciate where others are coming from –evil will always win and all those lives lost will have been in vain.

We live in a world where we will always need to remain vigilant, aware of our surroundings and willing and able to defend not only ourselves but those around us as well. A sad but true fact. However, that being said, we also live in a world that is filled with amazing souls who do good  and who put as much love and light out as humanly possible.

Be a light.

The Eighties’ Child – Guest Blog by Melissa Payne

We, the eighties’ children, are a strange bunch. We long for the simplicity of the past and the technology of tomorrow. Born at a time when every house didn’t have a television and landlines were a mark of social status, we have seen cable television, the mobile phone and credit cards sweep the nation.
Born in pre-liberalisation India, foreign goods were scarce, and the thus the arrival of foreign relatives was a much waited for event. We know what it is, not to have, and what it means to own. For most of us born into the middle class at this time, we were taught early that life was hard. Caned and punished at school, we were taught not to fuss, but to overcome. When I look around at the millennials I know, I am struck by the quality of endurance I see. I am amazed at those who have struggled out of poverty and dysfunctional homes, to be stable individuals with careers and families. I am aware too, of the tremendous need that millennials carry for things to ‘be real’. We are unfazed by the spit and polish, by the ‘show’ that enthralled previous generations or the superficiality that stupefies the next. We long for that which is ‘real’. That which fulfills.
The millennial is tired today. Tired of strategy, tired of the constant packaging of hard truth to tickle one’s ears. Tired of empty schemes that don’t fulfill. Disillusioned by authority figures of the previous generation. When we see corruption, we will not have it explained away. We will not put our heads in the sand, we cannot close our eyes to the evil that stares us in the face. We cannot ‘unsee’ what we have seen. We cannot pretend it doesn’t concern us. We, cannot separate the message and the messenger. Instead, we must react, we must have an opinion. We must make change. We will have justice. This generation has ground in its heels and refuses to go quietly into the night. Don’t shut us down or count us out. Call on us that we may build with you. We have seen the promises and the pitfalls of the transitioning era. How good ideas and intentions ran aground, causing more damage than they did good. We have learned the bitter lesson that everything new is not good. We started out naive, but have seen much; much that has turned us away from the decision makers of the previous generation. We are aware that heroes have feet of clay and that the strongest have weak moments. Our champions have fallen off their pedestals and lie in the dust beneath… Yet, in the midst of all this, we hope. We hope that change is possible, that the tide will turn, that sleeping consciences will awaken and be appalled by bad things happening in good places. We hope that justice will be done. We hope for tomorrow.

The 40 Rules of Love

I  always love to read about a book within a book and so ‘The 40 rules of Love’ by Elif Shafak with its parallel narratives  started off so promisingly. The contemporary story is about an unhappily married Jewish homemaker named Ella living in Northampton, USA.  The second narrative of this novel, ‘Sweet Blasphemy’ is actually about the wandering dervish Shams of Tabriz, who is a mystic Sufi and Jalaluddin Rumi, the now famous Sufi scholar.

The fact that the novel catapults the reader from past into the present and vice versa, from the world of Shams of Tabriz in 13th century Turkey to the world of Ella Rubenstein in 21st America, is deeply symbolic. The fluidity gives the novel a surreal timeless quality, where even the characters from the 13th century seem relatable today. This is where Shafak is brilliant, for this is an underlying message that Rumi and Tabriz’s message of love is not and cannot be limited to encapsulations of time and space.

Bear with my contrived analogy but if Shafaks’ works (the 3 that I have read) were compared to a box of Turkish Delights the delicious and beautifully crafted ‘Three Daughters of Eve’ would remain my favorite while ‘The 40 Rules…’ will have to come in third place after ‘The Bastard of Istanbul’. Unlike the historical storyline, Ella’s narrative is limited to one point of view—hers—and it’s a fairly dull place to be in repeatedly.  Ella’s story proved to be too predictable and her transformation almost expected, because Shafak rarely allows you to see her life from any other vantage point. When you compare it to the multiple voices you hear in in the Konya pages, you begin to see that as a disadvantage.

That being said, the novel is a mastery of words – whether thinly veiled symbols, masterful wordplay, clunky dialogue or fat clichés… the pages are a Bibliophiles delight and Shafak’s attempt to illustrate how and why Rumi continues to exert such a powerful hold over many readers even today is skillful and beautiful.

Now that I am done reading the novel, it’s just a matter of time before I pick up the complete works of the great Rumi and perhaps some more of Shafak herself who is undoubtedly my favorite author this summer.

Eight books down…I think I might just have enough time for one more.

Ghachar Ghochar

I have just finished reading @VivekShanbhag0’s #GhacharGhochar in one sitting even though I wasn’t intending to. I was astounded by how it progressed and at first my only grouse was that some closure would have been good for the story. I hate open endings and the uncertainty of not knowing if I am in or out, I dislike hazy scenes but somehow this works well in #GhacharGhochar.

DGeGzgHU0AAZl2aIn a handful of deftly drawn strokes, Shanbhag constructs an amazing commentary on class, gender and urban life without ever getting too close to any of these topics. Also the pages discussing ants (regardless of any metaphorical intentions) are just perfect, and will ring true to anyone who has ever lived in India.

Brevity is the best part of Shanbhag’s storytelling and it left me with a familiar feeling of awe mixed with wonder, like I experienced after reading Mansfield’s ‘The Ox’ and ‘The Fly’ for the first time. The way they re both able to say poignant things in such a seemingly simple way is testament to their literary genius.

The splendour of this work doesn’t lie as much in the plot as it does in the narrative and the way in which the characters reveal themselves. The novella is a great look at contemporary life in Indian homes as people learn to walk the tightrope of tradition and modernity.

While this is Shanbhag’s first foray into English writing, I am quite certain it will not be his last.

Three Daughters of Eve

image.jpg-largeSometimes a book comes along that speaks boldly to our times. As it chips away at the brick and mortar, the ideas contained in it overwhelms and perhaps unsettles, forcing readers to sit back and confront truths that plague modern society. ‘Three Daughters of Eve’, Elif Shafak’s novel, is that kind of book. My 5th read since the summer began and undoubtedly, my favorite.

It is scary how polarized humanity is in our time; where every faction boasts of the certainty of its own ideas and beliefs and religion continues to be at the center of all the raging debates be it cow vigilantism or equal rights. The novel, constructed in elegant and poignant prose makes complicated theological and political questions readable and relevant. It does not matter where you are or what the political climate of your nation, the ideas transcend boundaries of several kinds and they do so, unapologetically. The things the book has to say and the way it says them are extraordinary.

‘Three Daughters of Eve’ is an intense, discursive and absorbing novel about three middle-eastern women, each studying at Oxford, with dramatically contrasting views on faith and personal identity. A spiritually ambiguous female lead character guides us through parallel stories set in Istanbul and Oxford till at least the two come together seamlessly through her soul-searching and persistent questioning.

I will not give away the plot as I am hoping that some of you will pick this book off a shelf or download it onto your devices to read it when you can, but the central character ‘Peri’, is so well fleshed out and wonderfully presented, I could not help bonding with her from the first time our paths crossed. Peri defies the stereotype that Muslim characters are sometimes relegated to and her own quest for answers to questions around her conflicting ideas of faith and identity is the arterial idea of the novel.

 “God was a maze without map, a circle without a center; the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that never seemed to fit together. If only she could solve this mystery, she could bring meaning to senselessness, reason to madness, order to chaos, and perhaps, too, she could learn to be happy.” 

Having spent time in both Istanbul and Oxford I welcomed the chance to immerse myself in their sturdy presence in the story. They are as much central characters in this novel as the people are and Shafak writes about them in beautifully vivid prose all the time her love for the complexities of her homeland strikingly evident.

By the time I got to the end, the novel had pushed me to consider so many ideas – life, love, friendship, faith, God, humanity, forgiveness and revenge but instead of closure and answers, it left me with more questions than I had when I began reading.

How well do we know ourselves?

How perfect do we think we are?

How would I respond in a moral crisis like the one Peri is faced with?

How exact is our self image?

How hard is it to say sorry?

I’m certainly going to raid Shafak’s back catalogue after this fantastic introduction to her beautiful writing. If you happen to read the novel I would love to her your views.

Ever since I turned the last page, I have been experiencing that familiar sensation you get after reading a fantastic book. That intuitive feeling that something within you has moved, been affected, changed perhaps? How wonderful is the power of 366 pages of parchment paper and some spectrum ink.

 

The voice in which she read to me…

maTomorrow is ‘Mother’s Day’ in some parts of the world and so, at 7:00 am I’ll get on the phone, dial the only number I know by heart and wait for her familiar voice to greet me. I can gauge mum’s mood instantly, it is instinctual. Some day’s she’s excited to tell me the latest family gossip, on others, her tone is reflective and poignant. I can tell what my mother is thinking, before she has gotten through two lines of conversation.

My mother does so many voices!

Mum has a morning voice, a voice to call out my dog’s name, a voice for my dad, a shy voice, a ‘dinner’s ready and I am waiting’ voice that can get my brother and I out and about in under 30 seconds, an ‘I said so’ voice she rarely uses, a voice reserved for family and a voice that says she means business. My mother is voice-over artist waiting to be discovered.

But of all the voices my mother does, one of my favorites will always be the voice in which she read to me.

By the time I was four or five I was dreaming of pirates and forest sagas. By middle school, I was listening intently to her voice, guiding me as I climbed the ladder at a local books store to retrieve my weekend stash of Perry Mason novels. Sometimes she read me fiction, most times she read from her Bible. Planting permanent truths in my mind and in my heart.

I’m grateful for this childhood experience for many reasons. Having mum read to me meant that I could greet a large number of the stories and ideas that I encountered throughout my schooling as old friends. I had a frame of reference for things which would otherwise have been incomprehensible. It means that today, I get an additional layer of nostalgia when I see an Earl Stanley Gardner paperback sitting on the corner of a library shelf.

Because of mum, I have chunks of The Psalms and Paulo Coelho in quotable memory. The voice in which she read to me still reminds me of the power of words and the manner in which they can impact people’s lives.

Today, I thank my mother not just for giving me life, but giving me the ability to live several lives, and for introducing me to a shining multitude of worlds to experience them in. It is because of you, Ma, that I look at life a little closer, go deeper, travel further, and ask what if I try….? You’ll never know the full extent of what that means for me, or perhaps you do already?

Happy Mother’s Day Ma. ‘Love you heartful’