Tso Moriri, Ladakh

Tso Moriri, Ladakh

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Life and Living

There’s a lot of talk these days about living life to the fullest, not having any regrets etc. This  comes with a certain level of affluence, without which one is too occupied making ends meet so that life may be lived somehow. Or in some instances, even when one can afford a certain quality of life, you get dealt with a hand that gives you no option to stay in the game of celebratory living. 

My sisters and I recently went to Kolkata, the city we grew up in, to attend a wedding. We used the opportunity to extend our trip by a few extra days so we could catch up with family and friends that we’ve known our entire lives, as well as eating our favorite foods. And while I list ‘eating our favorite foods’ at the end, there is a part of me that thinks that it may have been the primary reason for us to have spent that extra time in the city. A post of all the things that we enjoyed eating during those 10 days would run into pages so I should save it for my food blog loveequalsfood.com.

The Chugani’s were one of the families that was on our list of people to meet. They live in the neighborhood that we grew up in and we had gotten close towards the last few years of our lives in Kolkata. Their family was made up of the parents and their two daughters, who were probably 9 and 13 when I left the city. The mother was a vibrant and ‘bubbly’ lady, a go-getter with a perpetually smiling face. One of those people you don’t forget very easily. 

I hadn’t met the Chugani’s in many years and even though I had wanted to the past couple of times I was in Kolkata, I didn’t make enough of an effort to do so. This time though, when my sister, Rajni, mentioned that she had been to see them, Sujata, my other sister and I expressed our desire to visit them too. 

Honestly, while on the one hand I was looking forward to seeing them, I was also a little nervous. The older daughter, now a young woman, had been suffering from Multiple Sclerosis since several years. My last memory of her running around the house had now changed to a reality of her being confined to a wheelchair.

When Alka, who has a young daughter of her own now, was wheeled into the living room, the first thing that struck me was how pretty she looked and how bright her eyes were. A little shy to begin with and not remembering who I was, she started opening up slowly. And of course when the conversation quickly moved to our favorite topic - food, she was salivating just like the rest of us, talking about where her favorite samosa’s were from and other delicacies that she enjoyed eating. While her voice was animated and excited, she couldn’t express those emotions with any sort of body movement. 

Although at no point of time was I unaware of her disability, the person inside that body, during the course of our visit, overcame her limitations and made us look beyond them. That, my dear reader, we all have to admit, is no mean feat. 

When we got up to leave, she expressed a desire for a photograph with Rajni, who she’s always known as the aunt with the long black hair. Of course I had everyone else get into the picture too and took a couple of shots, until she was happy with how she looked. Having gone through a few months of disability myself caused by an accident last year and being miserable the entire time, I was overwhelmed by her normalcy and her attitude. It was almost as if life had put me in front of someone saying ‘here’s a lesson for you to learn’. 

Shortly before we left she looked at me and said, “I remember you now - you used to live in 'O' Block, right?”. It made me happy, I guess because nobody likes to be forgotten. I also made a mental note to myself that whenever I was in Kolkata again, I would make it a point to spend more time with her. I hoped that her cognitive skills would always remain as sharp and we could create new and fun memories together.

Life and living it bravely. A lesson for each and every one of us. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Spring Cleaning

Turning off the alarm, he began rubbing his eyes gently as if they needed to be woken up in a separate manner. Even though it was a Saturday and Shiv didn’t have to go to work, it was a habit for him to set the alarm so he wouldn’t sleep past 9 am. Reaching out for his phone, he began checking out all the notifications from various apps. As soon as he kept the phone back on the bed, he picked it up again, knowing that there was one message he would read first. The message was almost two weeks old but he began his day by reading it, as if he had to be sure that this wasn’t a dream.

“I feel horrible doing this over text but I don’t have the courage to face you or even speak to you over the phone. I’ve met someone. Actually I met him the same week that you left. But until a few days ago, I didn’t realize that I had fallen in love with him. I don’t expect you to understand because sometimes even I don’t understand it myself. But this is as real as it gets and I have to be honest with you. I hope that we can get past this and be friends.”

Shiv had often wondered how long it must have taken her to write the message. It was well crafted, not something that she would have written in a rush. Did she really meet this person right after he had left or had it started before his move? After all he had only been gone for about 6 weeks. Can one fall in love and be so sure about it that quickly? Be certain enough to break up a relationship that was over a decade old? He hadn’t been able to fathom it. The words ‘this is as real as it gets’ had haunted him the most. It was as if she was mocking what had been between them, though he knew that it probably wasn’t her intention. 

They had met in college and somewhere during the ten years that they had known each other, their friendship had turned into love. He wondered if once the friendship line had been crossed, could one really go back to being friends again?

Shiv had never responded to Simi’s message and there hadn’t been any further communication from her. There was nothing that he wanted to say to her or even ask her. What would be the point of it? She had found ‘real’ love, something that had apparently never existed between them.

It suddenly struck him that today was Simi’s birthday. March 21st, the first day of spring. The previous year he had woken her up with a big bouquet of flowers that he had handpicked at the florist’s. He didn’t know the names of the flowers but the yellows and whites looked like spring to him. As much as he didn’t want to think about it, he couldn’t but help wondering what her morning had been like this year. 

Putting on his glasses he looked at the potted dahlia plant on the window sill, breaking into a slight smile as he noticed that yesterday’s bud had bloomed into a beautiful flower. It was the first gift he had received, shortly after he had moved into the city.
“Don’t forget to take good care of it,” Simi’s card had read. “This is my way of being with you.”
He continued to smile, thinking of the irony of those words. This is now the only way you will be with me.

And then all of a sudden Shiv picked up the potted dahlia, grabbed his apartment keys and still in his boxer shorts and T-shirt, got into the elevator. He walked across to the little garden in the apartment complex and set the flower down along with the other potted plants. You’re not my responsibility any longer, he thought. Someone else will take care of you.

The lady who lived across from his apartment was holding the elevator for him as he got in. She looked at his clothes and then at him questioningly. 
“Where are you coming from?” she asked.
Shiv let out a laugh, saying that there was some spring cleaning he had to get done.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Healing

It’s been a while since I've posted a piece on my blog and I hope to change that going forward. You see, I’ve been too busy feeling sorry for myself all year and wasn’t being able to take time out to write - something that I love to do.

Many of you know that I met with a pretty bad accident last December, resulting in multiple fractures across the body, two surgeries and 6 months of recovery, getting me to the point where I could wobble around without a crutch. In a nutshell, it hasn’t been one of my most memorable years though it may be a reminder for a long time to come. 

So while I was going through being mad at the world, angry with God and asking ‘why me?’ constantly, my body was being a lot more sensible and healing itself. Since all of it was on the inside and x-ray glasses haven’t been invented (And why not? We’ve been to the moon but we can’t come up with a simple invention like this?), I wasn’t able to monitor any of the healing. Of course every time I went to the hospital and got a new set of x-rays, it did tell my doctor that I was getting better. While my shoulder and ribs healed a lot faster, the progress on my leg was very slow. Unfortunately the tibia is a slow bone to heal and fractures on the lower part, take even longer. And being old doesn’t exactly help. As an aside, I had never thought of myself as old until this happened. 

So the six months of agony passed and the day finally arrived when my doctor gave me permission to start walking on my own. Meanwhile I had convinced myself that my life was over, I would never walk again, I would never travel again etc etc. So while my body was doing it’s job of fixing itself, my mind was completely messing me up. 

In theory I should have been positive, strong, confident about getting well. Instead I had all the negative thoughts possible. And let me tell you - this mind of ours is a very powerful and dangerous tool and thinks up all kinds of ‘what if’ scenarios. Believe me, I probably thought of every single one of them, idiot that I am. 

Once I began walking, using my arm and shoulder again, one would think that my life was good. While I was doing much better physically, mentally I was still in a very dark place. I had got so used to being sad, it was really hard for me to be happy. I had got so used to feeling sorry for myself that even though I had begun moving around on my own, I was convinced that something else was going to happen to me. God didn’t want me to be happy any longer. I was being punished. I was a bad person. I would never have a good life again. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. Yes I was clinically depressed. 

The good news here is that while we have the power to be miserable by listening to our negative thoughts, we also have the ability to change our thinking. I began seeing a healer, reading books about positivity, the mind, spirituality. I had towers of books brought to me by my loved ones, that I began going through. I began understanding the power of meditation, affirmations, of keeping the mind still, of chanting and praying not just for myself, but for all my loved ones and the people I knew were in pain. 

My family and closest friends stood by me constantly, cheering me up or just being with me (many times virtually), sometimes listening to my nonsense and other times sharing my silence. People I hadn’t met in a long while came into my life by themselves, bringing positivity in various ways. I began hearing about their problems and how they had overcome them or were in the process. People I barely knew shared intimate details about their difficult lives. 

Beginning to understand that I wasn’t the ‘chosen one’, I took it upon myself to re-train my mind to be positive. To start laughing again and living my life. It hasn’t been that easy but when you put your ‘mind’ to it, it’s doable. I’m not saying that I’m a 100% healed, either physically or mentally. However, now I know that I am definitely getting there. 

Being a private person, it’s not easy for me to share this. I’m good at sharing travel pictures but not my feelings. I felt that if my experience can help even one person, it will be worthwhile. I realize now that most of us have stresses in our lives, regardless of what our Facebook page would like our 'friends' to believe. Our lives go through both good and bad times. Sometimes the bad times stay with us for a while and that’s when we find out if we are able to deal with them or not. I could be a case study on being negative during a physical recovery. 

Somewhere I read a quote saying “I’m not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become”. 
I choose to be happy and at peace.

If you have a comment or something you'd like to say, please send me an email at ratan.sethi@gmail.com. I get easily embarrassed in a public forum. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Once Upon a Star

The all too brief time that I spent living in New York City was in many ways life altering for me. This was the city that I always wanted to have as a part of my unwritten biography. Even though I may not have stayed very long in The Big Apple, my time there was significant, largely due to the people that I came across. The Wall Street crowd, that I saw some but not too much of, worked their days and nights with the sole purpose of making excessive amounts of money. When you looked into their eyes, you could almost see dollar signs. This post however, is not about them. 

It was really the others who were of greater interest to me. The artists, the actors, the dancers, musicians, writers, comedians etc. Some of that abundant talent would make it to the Lincoln Center, Broadway or a hip bar in The Village, while many would perform at parks, subway stations and other public places, reaching out to a larger audience, making a lot of folks happy, most waiting to be discovered and some who were satisfied doing just that. This post is about one of those performing artists that I know absolutely nothing about.

A lady, who I’m guessing was in her mid to late eighties, lived in an apartment building close to mine on the Upper West Side. Small in stature, possibly having shrunk a few inches over the years, her companion was one of those pocket sized dogs that she’d have on a tacky jeweled leash while holding a walking stick in her other hand. 

The thing that always struck me was how even on a bustling Manhattan sidewalk, there was no way you could miss her. Although she probably had no specific place to go to, each time she stepped out of her apartment she looked like a million bucks. Not a single strand of auburn brown hair out of place, her face a little theatrically painted, always in the sharpest of outfits with shoes and a purse that looked expensive. I had seen her getting into the neighborhood Thrift Store a few times, so even though she may not have spent much money, she certainly knew how to put herself together. 

I usually made it a point to go up to her and say hello. After a few times, she began recognizing me and I’d get rewarded with a smile. There was this one time when she looked especially sharp in a black turtleneck, black pants, a shocking pink blazer, matching shoes and a glittery black bag. It was a sunny day and her eyes were covered with fashionable sunglasses. When I made a comment that she looked like a movie star, she giggled. Her speech was a little incoherent but I’m pretty sure she told me that she used to be an actress. 

We never exchanged many words during the time that I lived there. It was her presence that always fascinated me. How even in her twilight years, she continued to be a star. I wondered if she was a leading lady in the grand old days, when people would dress up to go to the theater. I could picture her in a shiny gown, cigarette in hand, signing autographs and having her picture taken. Or was she a struggling actor who couldn’t make it past the bit parts, but still performed on stage every night? 

A couple of weeks before I left New York, I followed her into a diner where she would always go for her mid-morning coffee. The diner was in the same block as my apartment and I myself was fairly regular there, usually for a beverage and sometimes a slice of pie. The owner, Mike and one of the servers, Ralph, knew me by name and were also aware that I was heading back to India soon. 

I walked over to the next table in the same line as hers, facing her back. Upon entering the diner, I had told Mike that I would be paying for the lady’s order. It was the only way I could think of establishing some sort of connection with her. She ordered a coffee and along with it Ralph brought her a slice of peach cobbler that he knew was her favorite. When she protested that she hadn’t asked for it, he said that it was compliments of the gentleman sitting behind her, who happened to be a fan. She turned around to look at me and with those lips painted bright red, gave me the biggest smile I had seen coming from her. 

At that hour of the morning, the diner was mostly empty - Ralph brought over my coffee and sat down across for me. 

“That was a nice thing you did,” he said. “I can see how special you made her feel.”

It was an emotional time for me. While I knew that my fling with the city had come to an end, I was in so many ways not ready to let go of it. In fact I was clinging on to everything I could, making new memories and savoring old ones in the little time that I had left. That lady had been a part of my New York adventure, brought a smile to my face several times without her even knowing it and all I was doing in return was buying her coffee. On my way out I asked Mike if he knew her name. 

That was the last time I saw Evelyn. 

The next year when I went back for a two month visit to New York, the economy was in shambles and I was shocked to see that the diner had shut down. I had specifically gotten there at 10:30 am, the time that Evelyn would usually drink her coffee. Where could she possibly be now? I waited around for a while, expecting that she would walk by and show me a glimmer of recognition. 

I continued to wait at the corner of 75th Street and Columbus Avenue, which is where I would see her most often, hoping I’d get a glimpse of the star making a special appearance just for me.

Corner of 75th Street and Columbus Avenue (Picture Google Maps)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

When Sharing isn't Caring - A Facebook Story

It isn’t that old, but I’m going to reminisce about the good old days of Facebook, when there was no Share button. Yes my Facebook child, I’ve seen those days and they were pretty wonderful. 

The Share button basically is how we used to get spammed with Forward’s on email. I’m sure every one of you remembers those. Wake up each morning to a bunch of emails with jokes, inspirational quotes, why bananas and cucumbers are good for you, why you shouldn’t drink Coke (it’s always Coke and never Pepsi), 10 exercises that will give you 6 pack abs, 15 places to see in Bolivia, 20 ways to avoid getting diarrhea ... you get the gist. Basically those emails that you never read are now ‘shares’ on Facebook and even if I scan past them, I sort of know what they are about.

So now you have a picture of a girl who wants 10,000 shares and 1 million likes for her father who has cancer. How is that helping in treating the disease? And if I don’t share or like the picture, will her father get sicker? 

You have the person who shares a picture saying that if you have a parent/sibling/child/nephew/niece/neighbour’s dog that you love, you should let the world know. If I don’t share it, does it mean that I don’t love my neighbour’s dog? 

The vegetarian who tells you how awful you are because you’re eating meat. Yes I’m aware that a couple of days every week I turn into a monster.

The vegan who tells you that being vegetarian isn’t enough. Stop consuming dairy. Oh wait, I’m a monster every single day of my miserable existence.

The organic eater who tells me that I’m going to die. I already know that I’m going to die. Does this mean that I’m going to organic hell? 

The Inspirational Quote post-er(s), who tells me that I should be nice all the time (because being nice doesn’t mean I’m weak), forgive everyone I know, that I should be outside jumping in puddles while it’s raining, make others happy (because that in turn will make me happy and of course it’s eventually all about me), blah blah blah. Yeah I get it. I haven’t lost my memory that I need to be reminded every single day. 

The one(s) who are constantly saying that they are going to do whatever the hell they want regardless of what anyone else thinks. Do it, don’t post it. 

And then the one’s who change their diets based upon the latest studies. And want you to do the same. Eating carbs makes you fat (no carbs for me). Not eating carbs makes you forgetful (oops I forgot to eat my carbs). I just ate a giant chocolate chunk cookie and you just ruined it for me by telling me for the millionth time how bad sugar is for me. Meanwhile, let me drink some red wine so I can bring down my blood pressure. 

Let me not forget the ‘remedies’. How some fruit in South America cures cancer but the pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know. If you catch a cold because you were dancing in the rain (hey the inspirational quote said that I should), then here’s a list of foods that will help you get rid of it. I honestly hate those trips to the grocery store.

And what’s the deal with ‘posting for an hour’. You know the ones that go ‘please post this on your timeline if you or someone you know has been bit by a mosquito anytime in your life etc etc’. And how they give you specific instructions to not ‘share’ but ‘copy and paste’. What the heck is that all about? If I don’t post it, will I get bit by a mosquito? If I share it instead of copy/pasting it, will I get malaria?

Let me not forget the spouses who wish each other a happy anniversary on Facebook. And to make it worse, share each other’s posts. He/she is sitting right in front of you and just because you’re seeking attention, I am going to ignore your post. I'm trying really hard to be nice but you're not helping. 

And all those pages that friends and friends of friends and family and family of friends create on Facebook that I feel compelled to Like. It’s just so complicated. 

While I’m a fairly regular Facebook user (half hour in the morning and evening), I get this feeling that I’m not going to last too much longer. I miss those days when people’s statuses would be about themselves. Even if it was stupid or mundane (because everyone can’t be clever and funny), it still made me feel like I was in touch with the person for a moment in my day. 

Can we start a campaign to get rid of the ‘Share’ button on Facebook?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Big Snore

Let me start off by saying that I have slept with more people than most people I know. Before you begin to raise your eyebrows and go ‘hmmm’, the keyword here is ‘slept’ and for the purposes of this post, no more than that. Which makes me wonder when it was that ‘sleeping’ with someone began to mean ‘having sex’. But that’s a topic for another day.  

Recently I travelled to Ladakh with a friend whose name begins with the letter ’N’. Our first night was spent at the Ibis Airport Hotel in New Delhi since we had a ridiculously early morning flight to catch. A few minutes after we went to bed, our room began to shake with N’s snoring. For those of you that haven’t stayed at an Ibis, they have small, efficient, capsule like rooms which allow snoring sounds to bounce off of every close wall. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep for a moment the entire night and just to get back at N, I woke up at 2:30 am, turned on the lights, banged on doors and took a shower. Yeah dude, I’m going to punish you by being clean early in the morning.  

The next night wasn’t much better, after which I decided that if I didn’t get my own room and a proper night’s sleep, N would probably not make it out of Ladakh alive.

Save your sympathies for now because I’ve been on the other side, driving my sleeping partner crazy. Eight of us had once gone to Dehradun, where we were staying in a fabulously charming bungalow with enormous bedrooms, 4 poster beds, sunken baths, definitely one of the warmest and most tastefully done up places I have ever stayed at. There were 4 bedrooms with 2 of us sharing each one. The first night apparently went off okay because my roomie didn’t complain. The next two nights however, my snoring was so loud that he had to sleep on a daybed in one of the other bedrooms. Which actually worked out pretty nicely for me as I could spread myself across that king size piece of antique. 

The funniest snoring story though brings me to when I was living in Chicago and was driving to the Smokey Mountains with my friends Mike and Elsa. We began our journey at around 8 pm with the idea that we would drive for a few hours, spend the night at a hotel and continue on in the morning. Except that when we were ready to call it a night, there were no rooms available at any of the hotels we were stopping at. We were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, there weren’t a lot of hotels to choose from in the first place and apparently a movie was being shot so for miles and miles everything was booked.

Finally at about 4 am we got to a Howard Johnson and the three of us, tired but still nutty and goofy, got off our car in our sunglasses (don’t ask) and walked over to the reception desk. Elsa was in the middle with her arms around Mike and I. She looked at the lady at the front desk and asked in her most serious tone, “honey, do you have a room we could use for a couple of hours?”

Of course the 3 of us burst out laughing and at that unearthly hour, our laughter sounded really, really loud. Anyway, a few minutes later we got ourselves a room, Mike had brought a sleeping bag and Elsa and I got the bed. I don’t remember how long we had slept but all of a sudden every light in the room had been turned on and Mike was standing at the foot of our bed going, “would you guys just knock it off with your snoring?”

How exactly does one do that since a sleeping person has no idea that he/she is creating havoc? 

The good news is that the last few people I have slept with during my travels have not complained about my snoring keeping them up. It’s probably because I now have a relaxed life and get (more than) adequate sleep. So if at some point you’re thinking of sleeping with me, it’s pretty likely that you won’t be disturbed. 

Oh and by the way, how many people have you slept with?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Airport Lounging (Or Flight Delays)

When the girl at the check-in counter looked at my reservation and picked up the phone to make a call, I figured that something must be the matter. A couple of minutes later I asked if there was a problem.

“You’re flight’s been cancelled, sir,” she replied, looking more distraught than me. “We are working on putting you on another flight.”

“Great,” I said, not particularly happy but taking it in my stride. I’ve had more than my share of delayed and cancelled flights thanks to winter storms when I lived in the US. There was this one time my flight from Louisville to New York got cancelled and the next morning I was on a plane, with a stopover at Philadelphia. The funny thing is that I was supposed to be in Philly that evening for a party at my cousin’s. It took some effort but the airline finally agreed to let me get off at Philly and even though I had to make a stop at Banana Republic to buy clothes for the party, the cancellation absolutely worked in my favor. 

The next flight was 3 hours after my original one so I had about 4 hours to kill at the airport. I went and sat down at one of the seating areas, picking a row that was quiet so I could read my book. That lasted all of one minute as two couples decided that they liked the same row as me. I’m not against chatter - people traveling together of course will indulge in conversation. After a while though my attempts at ignoring them and reading the same sentence multiple times while listening to their plans of eating garlic butter prawns at The Taj in Goa (amongst other things), I decided to move a little further away. 

Fifteen minutes and one chapter later, I got bombarded with a loud phone talker. From his conversations I learnt that his wife was in Singapore attending a conference, he was on a flight to Mumbai and how his investments were doing in the stock market (amongst other things). Wearing a white shirt that was way too small for his flabby body, I wondered if his buttons might pop before he reached his destination. Most definitely not a sight for sore eyes and his conversations too loud and uninteresting, I figured that it was time to find myself a new location.

A restroom and water cooler stop later, coffee is what my brain suggested. 

“Black with some milk and sugar on the side,” I placed my order. 

Barely a minute had passed and the foursome were back. 

“I’ll have a green tea,” said the loudest one to nobody in particular and everybody around her.
The other lady didn’t want anything.
“You don’t want a green tea? Have a green tea,”. 
But the other one stood her ground and didn’t want green tea, which didn’t stop the first woman from rattling off the benefits of green tea and how she drinks a cup every morning and evening and has pretty much stopped drinking regular tea.”

Both couples actually seemed really nice and we had exchanged smiles and pleasantries a few times, so I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. It’s just that I couldn’t read with them around so I decided to give up on my book for a while. I posted something on Facebook about how hanging out at airports was inspiration for writing, spoke to a script writer friend on the phone who kept encouraging me to start my novel or script or whatever it is that’s been in my head for a while. 

“Once I’m done with this script, I’m going to travel like you,” she said.
“And once I’m done traveling, I’m going to write a script like you,” I replied and we both laughed.
“Just go to Goa and write,” she said sternly. “Mumbai Mantra is looking for story ideas. Do a synopsis and submit yours. I’m positive it will get accepted.”

If only I had as much faith in myself. And if only I could stop procrastinating.

After a disappointing hunt for a masala dosa, I had to settle for a less than mediocre plate of pav bhaji for lunch. Being used to consistently crappy food at airports across the world, I knew that Goa would more than make up for one bad meal. 

An hour later my flight was ready for boarding and in 55 minutes we had arrived at our destination. The last few minutes prior to landing, I looked down at the monsoon bathed, lush green views, the expanse of the Arabian Sea and I knew that a 4 hour wait at the airport was a small price to pay for what the next few days had in store for me.

Cavellosim Beach in Goa