Gokarna (Part 1) – Kickoff

It all started with my friend getting engaged. Like all girls our age, she was worried that her bachelorette life was nearing an end and wanted to tick off one thing off her bucket list : an all-girl-gang trip. Friends were called, dates were discussed, excuses were heard, last-minute dropouts were tolerated and finally, tickets were booked. We were going to gokarna!

The final girl gang included me, my just-engaged friend and my room mate. Extensive planning was done throughout the month before the trip. I helped my roommate stalk all our Facebook friends who had visited beaches and zero in on outfits that she later ordered online. We made a list of beach essentials – sunscreen, beach hat, canvas backpack, sunglasses. Through all of this shopping, we missed a crucial piece of information, we would come to realize later.

The day of the trip arrived and we were as excited as kids in candy stores. I called up our Airbnb host to confirm our reservation and became privy to the missing crucial information. It was July. Peak monsoon season. Meaning, it was raining cats and dogs in gokarna, so we were advised to bring our raincoats. So much for the sunglasses and sunscreen! Sigh!

We refused to get bogged down and continued with the last minute shopping of cupcakes and treats(and raincoats) for the weekend. Unfortunately, the irresistible cupcakes couldn’t last till the trip but we managed to save the rest of the snacks(well, most of them). We excitedly packed beach clothes, snacks and not-so-excitedly, raincoats. We were all set to board the bus!

Soon after we boarded the bus,we realized that sleeping that night was going to stay a dream. At every turn on the road, I banged into my roommate next to me, who herself held on to dear life with the help of metal guard rails. At every brake that was applied, I slid to the end of my seat like I was on a water slide. At every bump on the road, I jumped like I was on a trampoline. At every acceleration, the bus shrieked like a haunted house. The driver was either an ex-F1 racer currently in the wrong profession or was hammered. (Or was a maniac. Or a fugitive trying to speed away from the cops.)

My friend, in the neighboring seat was busy praying for her life and preparing her unofficial will. She generously passed on the caretaker rights of her dog to her fiancé, after declaring her undying love for him. The bus journey was itself turning out to be an adventure. A tumultuous one.

If the bus journey was this eventful, we wondered what the weekend had in store for us.



Gokarna (Part 2) – Trekking to beaches

I woke up to the sound of rain pounding on the windows. I groggily drew the curtains to welcome the refreshing sight of greenery and morning light – the bus driver had managed to bring us unscathed to gokarna. We thanked our stars, got off the bus and an hour later, reached the home stay we would be staying at for the next couple of days.

The host was a warm person called Siva, who owned the entire estate with his French wife, Sita who was visiting her parents in France at that time. Their friend and trusted aide, Raghu, was kind and attended to all our needs.

The place was BEAUTIFUL- we walked on narrow bunds through paddy fields to reach the humble cottage, accompanied by the friendly dogs. The cottage was surrounded by nothing but trees and clouds. Raghu instructed us to contact him if we need anything – by shouting his name into the wild. And true to his word, a few shouts of “Raghu! RAGHUUU!” used to bring him running to our cottage with hot tea, fresh pineapples, star fruits and biscuits.

The home beach

Armed with raincoats and umbrellas, we headed to Kudle beach(Beach no.1) , a short distance away from the cottage. Raghu led the way through a maze of fields and huts to a broad crevice that opened up into the breath-taking view of the clear water swaying to the rhythm of waves against rocks. We had sandwiches in a rundown shack (that surprisingly accepted cards) overlooking the beach, with tiny kittens scurrying between our legs (and scaring the living daylights out of my room mate).

Kudle beach was serene – we sat on the rocks watching the waves and the greying sky. Next beach on the list was Om beach that could be accessed by a short trek past the hill.We braved the feeble drizzle, thanks to the handy raincoats and started off on our little adventure.

The chic beach

We took the road route to reach Om beach (Beach no.2) and settled into a cozy corner of Namaste cafe, with a view of the Om-shaped beach shoreline. Namaste cafe is a popular hangout for all the chic youngsters visiting Gokarna and is always crowded. After binging on pastas and cold coffees, we strolled along the beach, shoes in hand and sand in toes. When the skies opened up again, I dashed to the cafe while my friend settled comfortably on a rock. After enjoying the monsoon until evening,we headed back to the cottage – this time through the hill.

We followed a group of people on the trek back to Kudle. The lime-green weeds contrasting on the wet black rocks guided us back. We saw the group pause at a place and went there to see the beach in the distance – a fascinating sight! The clouds were getting laden and we hurried down the muddy path downhill. We reached the cottage and called it a day.

The pilgrimage beach

The next beach on the list was Gokarna beach (Beach no.3) that was on the other side of the hill. This turned out to be our longest trek, on neat roads curving through villages. This time also, we went off-track to pause at the spellbinding view of the beach and rocks – a picture that I am not going to do injustice to, by painting with words. We then had chilled lemonade at a quirky cafe owned by a friendly guy who played regional songs for us.

Gokarna beach is located near the Mahabaleshwar temple which is considered an important pilgrimage place. We loved the Gokarna beach,too, inspite of the crowd of pilgrims. We then visited the temple where I came across the concept of Atma Linga – a deity that can only be felt through touch and cannot be seen. Post this, we started on the trek back to Kudle.

There were 2 beaches (Paradise and Half-moon) that couldn’t be accessed during the monsoon and we missed it. There was something about the beaches that kept drawing us back – the soothing rhythm, the tireless waves, the pattern created by them on the sand, the expanse of water, the laidback rocks, the unadulterated air – something that we couldn’t get enough of. Something that made us feel closer to nature and fall in love with the beauty of Gokarna.


Gokarna (Part 3) – The cottage

After two days of trekking to beaches and drooling over them, we spent the last day of the vacation exploring the estate. Siva, our host, owned the huge estate with sprawling paddy fields and a humble house where he stayed with his wife, father and brother. Raghu stayed in a hut on the hill, near the paddy fields. Fortunately, we were there at a time when the closely-planted paddy saplings are picked out and transplanted after renewing the soil by tilling, with more space between them for uninterrupted growth.

We spent a few hours of Day 2 picking out the paddy saplings and Day 3 planting them back in the soil. It was not an easy task- standing barefoot in the slippery soil with the sun feebly beating down our necks, bending our stiff backs to pull the plants from the roots, mud sticking to our fingers and wedging between our nails. The workers were doing it cheerfully, with seemingly little effort, chatting and laughing the whole time – making me contemplate on my corporate life in an air-conditioned cubicle with all comforts and little joy.

I was tired but didn’t want to show it. So when Raghu turned up asking if I would like to see a well/pond with pristine water that Siva had dug in the uphills of the estate, I jumped at it. Raghu with his long umbrella led the way through muddy steps and slippery paths while I unsteadily followed him in my unprepared flip-flops.

He took me through areas filled with dense, damp trees that allowed little sunlight to pass through. I saw lemon, star fruit, banana, bamboo trees and patches with pineapples and lettuce. There was an unpretentious house leased by a gentleman in England who comes down to India once a year and has no demands (apart from privacy) during his stay.

Further uphill from the house, was the spotless pond filled with water from the well. It was quite a sight to see the emerald-green water protected from man and pollution, by the opaque cover of guardian trees. As I drank the water, I felt it purify me as it’s refreshing coldness washed down my throat.

Raghu moved with ease while I huffed and puffed precariously behind him. Thanks to Discovery channel’s expedition programs, I even picked up a thick branch for support but threw it after realizing that looking cool wasn’t the need of the hour – not sliding down the hill, right into the paddy fields was.

To my dismay, it started raining. Raghu lent me his umbrella but I wanted to go back to safety. He assured me that the well was close and after a good 10 minutes of trekking, we reached the top of the hill and the end of the estate. And I saw the well – so deep that I was scared to look into its depths, filled to the half with crystal clear water. I was marveled by the fact that Siva had dug it all by himself.

We then started our descent, joined by my friend who had also wanted to see the well, accompanied by Siva. Siva and Raghu invited us for tea at Siva’s house. Over piping hot mint and lemon-grass tea with honey, we heard tales of water sources in the estate discovered using coconuts in hand, how the earth helps you in utilizing its resources when you respect it, the tourists mindlessly throwing garbage, Siva not visiting the beach because the present condition angers him, the villagers traveling to the nearest city every month to dispose their plastic waste, Raghu’s time in Italy, Siva owning a tea stall on the beach when he met his wife and fell in love with her. It ended with Siva showing off his strength by doing push ups and his brother doing a headstand. The conversation left us pondering over our misplaced priorities that destroy nature and the joy that simple lives gave.

Special mention to the friendly dogs who visited us everyday and took us on a small exploration on one of the hills, leading the way and making sure we follow them by waiting for us at every step. And also for escorting us to safety till the cottage door every evening.

We visited Kudle beach one last time. This time when it started raining, we didn’t take cover. We sat on the rocks, in silence, enjoying the divine blend of soft raindrops and the restless beach, it’s big waves swallowing up the tiny raindrops. We bid adieu to Gokarna with a whole lot of beautiful memories, peaceful minds, refreshed energies, promises to be back and bags filled with sea-shells, pineapples and star fruits.

The End.

Night at the stadium

The IPL season was on and everyday lunch table conversations revolved around it in office. It came as no surprise when one of the guys suggested watching the semi-final live at the stadium and the others jumped at it. Me? Not really. The tickets cost a bomb and I was penurious from a recently-joined art class and a recently-attended friend’s wedding. The team I had been rooting for was not a part of this game. Moreover, None of the few cricketers I knew were playing in the qualified teams(Kolkata Knight Riders and Sun Risers Hyderabad), except Yuvraj Singh. 

But I had never been to a cricket stadium or watched a game in action before(neither did I want to be a wet blanket to their plans). I promised myself that I will curb my dessert cravings for a while and make up for the ticket cost (spoiler – lame consolation. Never happens). I agreed to join them.

The day of the game arrived. We wrapped up work early and by 7.30 pm, we were on our way to the stadium. I felt excitement gush through me as I walked up the steps leading to the stadium. The bright floodlights swamped the area with light, giving the delusion of a sunny afternoon, and the crowd eagerly chit-chatted away while the food vendors noisily hawked Lays and vada-pavs in the background.

The players entered the ground and the crowd broke into thrilled applause and whistles. The first ball was bowled and the shouts grew louder. I sat there, wide-eyed, like a kid watching the circus for the first time. 

While the guys concentrated on the technical aspects of the game (a few words I caught were offside, mid wicket, good pitch,…….vada pav, Lays, samosa), I was looking at the smaller unnecessary details. Wouldn’t the player standing near the boundary be bored? Did the cheer leaders run to the podium every time there was a six? Does the umpire stand still throughout the game? Will the spider cam fall on a player’s head? How is it balanced on thin strings from the beams? Was that multicolored hair or was it a wig? It was natural that I missed all the important wickets and a couple of sixes. Bummer, there were no replays.

Two wickets down and Yuvraj walked onto the field. The atmosphere turned electric with shouts of “Yuvi! Yuvii!”. Ten balls down, he walked off the field. There was a brief minute when the camera concentrated on Shah Rukh Khan waving and I spent the rest of the game trying to spot him in the crowd. I did successfully spot him (or rather an insect-sized version of a person wearing the same color dress  who I conveniently assumed to be him) at the other end of the stadium.

The first innings were coming to a close and that’s when we noticed it. The winds brought with them a thin white fog – the first signs of a downpour. The drizzle grew stronger and the players sprinted to the safety of their changing rooms while ground workers rushed to cover the play areas with tarpaulin sheets. We stepped out into the cafeteria to grab something to eat.

The place was overcrowded with hungry people hurriedly wolfing down pizzas before the second innings started. A needless worry, they would discover later. The guys discussed the game in great detail while I intently listened to the drumming of rain on the aluminium sheets. 

An hour later, we went back to our seats to see people inspecting the ground and rollers with sponge wheels on standby. The torrent reduced to a drizzle and the ground was abuzz with activity, with people on the stands hollering with relief. The ground workers got cheers as loud as the ones Yuvi got. The sheets were removed, the central pitch was broomed, the ground was inspected by the umpires and the sponge rollers got to work. I was fascinated by the whole process and how the ground seemed clear of any sign of wetness. The guys educated me about the draining system beneath the green carpet and how some football fields had a heater underneath to melt and drain snow (general knowledge dose for the day). 

The final sheet was removed and the crowds went crazy. The rain gods must have heard it and misinterpreted it as cry for more rain. To everyone’s dismay, the shower started again, with more intensity this time. One hour down and the skies showed no signs of stopping. It was 11 pm and people started walking out. 15 minutes later, we followed suit, grumbling about the wasted money. 

As I walked back on the dimly-lit streets under the drizzle, I felt oddly content at the memories made from the day. The rain had played spoilsport for some, for me- it had enriched my stadium experience. The scenes from the day flashed before me as I hit the bed – the cheering crowds, Yuvi at the crease, Shah Rukh Khan waving, the ground being cleared, the sound of rain drumming- and I drifted off to sleep.

(PS. We came to know that the match resumed an hour after we left. So much for waiting out for hours on end)

Brunching with the girls

Our house is right opposite to a much-celebrated breakfast cafe thronged by hip, jean-clad-goggle-wearing spirited youngsters on weekends. Located in a posh neighborhood in the center of the city, it attracts people from the remotest corners. My friends have travelled 20 Kms and gladly stood by the street until the cafe opened- just to bite into the juicy burgers, relish the maple-syrup-dripping-pancakes and drown in the whipped-cream-loaded-waffles.

After a year of peeping through the windows and stealing stealthy glances at fashionable people patiently waiting in the hot sun for a table, we decided to find out what the big deal about this place was.

The smart folks that we were, we cleverly planned of beating the afternoon crowd by going in as early as 8 am. After multiple failed attempts at waking up 3 sleepy/grumpy girls on a Sunday morning, I was hoping to atleast join the afternoon crowd. We finally crossed the street and made it to the coveted place at 1 pm and to our table at 2 pm.

It was a quaint little bungalow with a small garden and colorful pots that had been converted into the present American cafe with an old world charm. The wall was painted bright yellow and adorned with American pop star caricatures, movie posters and cute food phrases in colored chalk.A winding wooden stairway led to the terrace dining area. Our table was near the garden beside an attractive wind chime dancing to the soft tunes of the warm afternoon breeze and glowing in the smooth sunlight streaming in.

After ordering waffles, pancakes and burgers, we settled into our girly gossips of who-is-wearing-what and whose-colleagues-are-nastier.

The waffles arrived and everyone fished out their phones and started clicking away merrily. In the flurry of activity that followed, a water glass toppled over the burger and a maelstrom erupted with 4 pairs of hands frantically grabbing tissues and stopping the water drifting over the table, while the waiter rushed over to help us.

By this time, the entire restaurant was looking in our direction, wondering what the fiasco was. We were red-faced with embarrassment. Then, one of us started laughing at the scene we had just created. Laughter erupted with people recounting accounts of personal embarrassment – from dropping cutlery at a 5-star hotel to wardrobe malfunction during a vacation, each of us had our fair share of embarrassments.

We devoured on gossips and feasted on the food. As I looked around at the girls dropping sauce on their jeans, struggling to handle the knives-forks, stuffing their mouths with food messily, testing maple syrup’s adhesive capabilities and complaining to the waiter about the quantity, I felt oddly at ease. Here was a bunch that didn’t throw airs, act sophisticated but danced in pajamas and face-packs and made sure we had a good time. I walked out, glad that I was part of this happy-silly goofball club.

(P.S. This is the wily(and delicious!) mango-cream waffle that resulted in the toppling of the hapless water glass)

Home is where the heart is!

Found this little surprise post in my drafts from over a year ago (2015) when I was in my first job, away from home for the first time. Though I have become headstrong now, I can relate to this younger-naiver-me. Here goes a blast-from-the-past post from the archives-

First job -> New city -> New friends ->Independence ->Excitement!

Fast Forward 3 months : Long working hours -> Alien city -> Indifferent people -> Melancholy.

From excitement to disappointment, from dreams to nightmares, from hope to despair. Been there. Done that! The initial elation at finally being able to earn and sutain myself was soon deflated by the dawn of reality that corporate life is very different from the blithe college life when people were more innocent and less avaricious.  The occasional showers on this barren land are the monthly visits home.

The whole journey is nothing short of an adventure.Starting from the hassle of booking tickets to the teary-eyed return back to the concrete jungle, every task can be made into a high-octane emotion-laden Bollywood movie.

Preparations: The preparations start with the booking of tickets. The custom calls for calling up all your friends(from childhood to school/college)  and enquiring about their home-visiting plans. If, by coincidence, both your plans match then as per the unwritten rule-book, you book tickets together.

The D-day: Excitement creeps in a couple of days before the eventful Friday. The day starts early, with the packing of unwashed clothes and goodies from the month’s shopping. The entire office has happy smiley faces on Fridays. And on such days, I readily add to the cheer! 😀 

 As the clock ticks 6 pm, I make arrangements to leave. The scene usually starts with a meek me requesting for permission to leave early and then a high-speed sprint to board the overcrowded bus. This journey usually lasts a couple of hours post which McDonalds gives me refuge until 11 pm, when my bus is scheduled. On days with monstrous traffic/days when my manager is less considerate, I skip dinner and dash to the bus stop, a heavy rucksack on my shoulders and a massive handbag in my hand, disheveled hair and panic-stricken eyes( I must have been quite a sight).

The trouble of travelling a long distance in a bulging-at-the-seams bus fueled with the traffic and tension and just managing to hop onto the bus is totally worth the affection I feel at home. After all, I survive the month by feeding on the weekend affection that I accumulate over these 2 days. 

I doze off in the bus – a peaceful, self-satisfied sleep with the realization that at the dawn of morning, I will get the chance to look at familiar faces that smile back at me and welcome me back to where I belong. Home is where I truly belong. Home is bliss. Home is where my heart is.

Beauty is the beast

I was in the “quest for perfect gift” phase that everyone goes through when their friend gets married. I did a clean-sweep of the limited operating parts of my brain and ended up with ‘bouquet’. When the 3rd page of google wouldn’t throw passable results, I called on my girl friends to pick on their brains. This endeavor led me to believe that owning a Victoria’s Secret product was every girl’s zealous desire.

The next couple of days were spent on finding the cheapest(read 1000 bucks) VS product on Amazon. I finally settled on a perfumed body lotion (with a fanciful name – love spell) but to my dismay, the delivery would take longer than expected. This prompted me to take a stroll to the nearby beauty shop.

Enter beauty shop. Aisles and aisles, rows and rows, tubes and tubes of whitening creams and body products.There was foundation in 100 different shades, then a tinted moisturizer, bb cream (lighter than foundation but better than moisturizer),cc , dd creams and a zillion other products of these combinations. And this was just a small corner of the “Face” section.

 I was disconcerted by the assortment and expanse of products. Beauty products were supposed to enhance our looks, not force fit it into an actress’s look. Earlier, multani metti and gram flour face masks were used before important events like weddings. Now, concealers and mascaras are used everyday.

Cosmetic industry’s advent in India started in the early 1990s and is expected to grow by ~20% each year. 1990s – does it ring a bell? Flashback 1994 – Miss world pageant when Aishwarya Rai won is alleged to be a corporate move by the cosmetic industry to penetrate the Indian market. Well, seems to have worked perfectly well for them.

What is the need to live up to the set standards of beauty? Why strive to reach there artificially ? Why even set standards in the first place? I am who I am. If I try to look like someone else, won’t I lose my identity? If all girls are tall-legged, slim, fair, powdered ‘beauties’, won’t that make this world a delicate, sculpted doll-house? Time to teach ourselves to invest more in self-development rather than temporary appearance. Time to feel confident about ourselves and how we look. Time to embrace who we are. Time to accept our looks with pride. Time to love ourselves.

(P.S. I walked out without Victoria Secret’s Love Spell that day. Apparently, it wasn’t part of the gazillion products they sell, but “we have similar ones – passion spell,love struck – in other brands , madam!”. Phew. I will never understand this beauty game. So much for the gift hunt)