Recently Recovered Musings

I recently returned from United States after touring the Puget Sound region, Las Vegas, and the San Juan Islands. In true Las Vegas fashion, not only did I lose money but also managed to get my phone stolen. Why is this relevant? Well, while I was in Seattle (the city that claims to be the coffee capital of the world, also famous for being the birthplace of Starbucks), I frequented many cafes and continuously discovered the wonder of micro-roasters and freshly brewed caffeine fixes, almost every day. Embracing this lone-traveler-late-morning-coffee-drinker persona on my café excursions, I’d sometimes feel the urge to ponder and write (rather type) and would often churn out some words, typing away on my phone while sipping a cuppa’.

And then, alas, Vegas, that consuming city of sin, took from me my beloved phone and with it, my many little musings.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there – yes, there is hope! Today, as I was browsing through various online forums for some work research I came across a thread that outlines very simply (and in retrospect, extremely obvious) steps on how to restore notes online. I tried it, and it turns out that my phone had automatically backed up a couple of my older notes to the cloud. So even though majority of my ponderings are now roaming freely in the Las Vegas ether, I was able to recover some of my mini reflections, which at this point I’m pretty thrilled about. Here’s a slightly edited version of something I wrote specifically for the blog, while thinking about Pondicherry on one of my aforementioned café jaunts.

“I’ve been gone from Pondicherry a while ago now, and sadly, haven’t put up an update on what was one of the most exciting phases of my life.

I think the reason for this is simply that Pondicherry allowed me to be so many different people, that I didn’t know which “me” to really write about. Let me explain. As things stood, on the one hand, I was the ultimate working hippie (if that’s a thing) – chilling on rooftop cafes with cane chairs, in palazzo pants and able to work from wherever my heart desired. On the weekends, I was a scuba diver, learning things about India’s marine ecosystem and feeling one with the ocean like never before. And my third avatar was that of the female solo traveler – a part time typical tourist, outsider in some ways but an Insider in others, exploring the cuisines, people and overall culture of the Pondicherry and it’s surrounding areas.

As I sit in this quaint Seattle café, surrounded by black and white portraits of mean and women, their eyes all somehow unintentionally converging on me and sipping on my perfectly made café au lait, I can’t help but introspect about the past few months of my life. My time in Pondicherry was transformative, to say the least. Something about the city ignited a creative spark in me – a spark that was raw and simple. I think this was one of the reasons that my writings in Pondicherry took the form of pen to paper, rather than keyboard to blog. The physical act of being able to write, draw, doodle, sketch, (whatever you call it) yields a different (and in my opinion, more fulfilling) sense of satisfaction, one that I wasn’t able to find through blogging.

And so, in my selfish interest – I scribed and scribbled little notes and anecdotes on scraps of paper, napkins and my handy travel journal, rather than on here. I’m still in the process of deciding what to do with my musings: whether they should remain randomly strewn about as they are, whether they are blog worthy, or whether they could potentially synergize into something more – a memoir to make up #ThePondiPages? What happens is yet to be decided, and maybe these morning coffee sessions, world away from Pondicherry, will give me clarity on which path to take. Right now, all I know is that there is much to reconcile in terms of my experiences in Pondicherry, and with time, I’m hoping my reflections come together into something more, something that is beautifully whole.”

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P.S. After almost 7 years, I’m back in Bombay for mango season, and have been cooking with these juicy comfort fruits. I put a delicious Mango Rum Tart recipe in the Recipes section (with pictures of course), so if you need some mango motivation, head over and take a look.

 

 

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Of Diyas and Rangoli –  #The Mussoorie Diaries

Diwali 2015 was full of firsts. After seven Diwalis away from home, this year, I was able to spend the festival of lights with my family and close friends. And obviously, I went all out. Mom and I created a stunning (if I do say so myself) Rangoli, a modern-art-gradient-esque Ganesh complete with some jhataak gold and silver glitter. I threw a party for all my old school friends,  a mini-reunion of sorts,  that turned into a night of watermelon mimosas, wine, gossip and lots of laughter.IMG_20151106_183152

By the time the Wednesday of Diwali finally rolled around, I’d already watched a firecracker show, eaten probably half my weight in desserts and mithai (there goes my diet) and dressed up in varieties of Indian attire. The day I was anxiously waiting for though, was New Year’s Day, the Thursday I would fly out for a four-day vacation in the beautiful town of Mussoorie.

Mussoorie is two flights and a three-hour driving trip away from Bombay. It’s definitely far up North, but the journey is more than worth the destination. Nestled in the Garhwal mountains, part of the Himalayan range in Uttarakhand, Mussoorie is a picturesque little town, that was initially a retreat for the Britishers during colonial times. The winding roads are lined with stalls that are almost hanging off the mountain faces, all promising a wonderful view and a bowl of hot Maggi.

There are many people that criticize the overwhelming amount of urbanization that has taken place in some of India’s most rural and scenic areas. While some may say Mussoorie is a victim of the same, the impression I left with was slightly different. Mussoorie has indeed been modernized, but arguably to a point of necessity. My three days showed me that Mussoorie is one of those places that perfectly balances the onset of urbanization with its abundance in untouched natural beauty. In short, one of the masks of Mussoorie could be described as “classy traditionalist”, what with it’s modern day conveniences melded seamlessly into its rustic core.1447496205606

I was fortunate enough to go for a 3-hour trek on Day 2 of my trip. We climbed up a narrow forest path, our guide frequently stopping to point out the healing properties of various leaves and berries. As we climbed higher and higher, the green waters of Kempty lake faded away into the distance, and the smell of fresh earth and clean air thoroughly enveloped us. I’ve only gone trekking in the North once as a child and back then, my sole goal was to “win the race”, and reach the destination faster than the rest of the group. So really, this was my first trek in the North India where I enjoyed the journey and was able to fully take in the beauty my surroundings. After an hour and a half, we reached an area of flat land, a platform that was surrounded by pine trees in every imaginable direction. A lone cow stood on our right, oblivious to the loud family that had so intentionally stumbled into this abode. My pictures don’t do the views justice, as it was more than just sight that made this made this place wondrous. An experience for the senses, it was the smell of purity, the feel of a breeze, light but powerfully cold, and the sounds of silence punctuated by the soft gossip of villagers from huts on the mountainside that resonated up to where we stood – it was all this combined that made the little opening in the trees perfectly mesmeric. Very modestly called, “The Pine Forest Trek”, I would recommended this expedition that is really so much more to anyone that makes it up to Mussoorie.

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It’s safe to say the magic of Mussoorie left quite an impression, further stoking the fire of wanderlust that seems to perpetually course through me. I’ve added a couple of pictures here, but more can be seen in entirety on the new “Memories of Travel” section on this blog. Considering my return to India has led to multiple weekend (and longer) “adventures” if you will, I thought it only fitting to start a section to display the beauty of the places I visit. On that note, I’m thrilled to announce that come January 10th, I will be spending around two months in the coastal city of Pondicherry! I’ll be scuba diving every weekend, completing my PADI Divemaster certification, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m going to try and document my time in this quaint city – my Pondicherry Ponderings – somewhere on this blog, so keep reading!

 

The Architect’s Apprentice: A Review

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

After a short internal debate with myself, I decided to buy an approximately $14 e-book – the much awaited “The Architect’s Apprentice”. Normally, I would wait till the price went down by a little bit, but with this Elif Shafak March 2015 release, I knewI wouldn’t be able to wait. So I debated with myself only for a short amount of time, mostly because of the ritual of doing so and not because I needed convincing, and with the click of a button had Shafak’s book sent to my Kindle.

Two days later, I definitively knew that this was one of the best $14 buys ever. “The Architect’s Apprentice” is a magical novel that follows the story of Jahan, a mahout or elephant tamer in the Sultan’s palace, who soon becomes one of revered architect Sinan’s apprentices. Historically, Sinan was the Chief Architect serving under Sultan Süleyman (the Magnificent), Selim II, and Murad III. Sinan was the mastermind behind the famous Süleymaniye mosque in Istanbul, and Shafak details its construction process with mystique and wonder, appealing to any sort of reader, well acquainted with architectural terminology or not. While Jahan, the 12 year old elephant tamer is fictional, a vast majority of Shafak’s story is not, the proof of which can be seen in the beauty of the Ottoman mosques that dot the Istanbul skyline. She successfully combines the real and the somewhat twisted histories of Istanbul into one fascinating, fast-paced and dramatic read.

While other characters develop on the periphery, the novel is a bildungsroman for Jahan, who starts off as an impressionable, naïve and insecure young lad. His closest friend is his elephant Chota, though soon, in clichéd fairytale fashion, he develops romantic feelings for the Turkish princess Mirihmah. Shafak manages to incorporate love, death, unlikely friendships and ultimate betrayal without being overly pretentious, in a manner that is intriguing but not outlandish. All the while, the dynamism in both beauty and harsh inequalities of the Ottoman capital is constantly adhered to, showing how easy it is to have an obsessive, intense love-hate relationship with Istanbul.

The Süleymaniye Mosque, completed in 1558

The Süleymaniye Mosque, completed in 1558

On a more personal note, Shafak’s story reminded me of my wonderful “Tryst with Turkey”, back in 2012, when spent a semester in Istanbul. I loved the expressions of similarities between Turkish and Indian culture and traditions that I too noticed during my stint in Turkey. This book is special as the premise of Jahan’s placement in the Sultan’s court is that he is an elephant tamer from India (even though we later learn this is a lie). He pretends to be Indian until he is much older, when with a twist of fate, he boards a ship to truly travel to Agra, eventually helping to build the Taj Mahal. Shafak clearly did her research, and I (being Indian and having experienced Istanbul firsthand) was immensely pleased with the result of this Indian-Turkish combination.

As you know, my purchase was just based off the fact that I love Shafak’s work and I hadn’t read any reviews of the book prior to reading. So, as I dove in to the book, I remember feeling a bubble of excitement to see that the opening was in the form of a letter by Jahan, with his signature including the words “Agra, India”. I thought “India and Istanbul, this will surely be a somewhat nostalgic read.” And I was right. As I read the Architect’s Apprentice I could see images of Istanbul, its mosques and minarets, its bazaars and hawkers, its food and desserts, swimming before my eyes. Much like “The Forty Rules of Love” (the first Elif Shafak novel I read), this book ignited my wanderlust that is often suppressed because of the realities of work life, and reaffirmed my desire to once again visit Turkey. Even for those with no knowledge of Istanbul, this book is sure to give you a glimpse into wonder and mystique of the Ottoman Empire. Shafak’s words jump off the page to create imagery that is both intricate and majestic, and expansive in its coverage of historical events and figures. I know I am quite biased, but if you are looking for a book that will inspire and enchant you, then get started on The Architect’s Apprentice – you won’t regret it!