Day 126: SoulSurfer I

A million thoughts run through my head and the SoulSurfer has been a major partner in all of that. What started off as a reality check for the SilverGhoster turned into a crucial inward journey for me. Was I ready to let another in after all the pain of the past? When I had finally accepted that I might be by myself for the rest of my life, for lack of another with a similar mindset, was the universe sending me a message through this company? For all that I complain about the society and its unwarranted needs, was I truly ready to stand against it and fight every triviality that it worries itself with? Was any of this worth it?

  • Midnight babbles from Valley school eased me into the novelty that came with the environment. As we spoke about strange topics that mattered, and that did not, there was a strange comfort in knowing that there was someone to listen to me at the end of the day. We worked through the major disagreements after the birthday night, and it felt like I had someone in my corner. As discussions about each evident difference in us popped up, it seemed like I was talking to a sorted individual, influenced by the checklist and affected by a plan. The babbles made sense.
  • There is apparently a car whose review completely fit me. The all-white Civic Type R was the kind of city-road sports car that was a bumpy and a choppy ride, one which would make any passenger question the buyer’s intent. But ask the driver, and you’d know exactly what the car meant, and where it stood out from the crowd. Coming from a car guy, this felt like a great proclamation of the thoughts the SoulSurfer had for me. And who can complain! The sweet ride has VTEC.
  • At the end of week 1 at Valley school, I was craving an entirely different palate from what I was eating every day. I wanted a biriyani, and some dosa vada, and a pani puri, and maybe some parathas. But what did I  crave the most? An ice cream. I got cornered when I invited SoulSurfer along for a trip to the House. We found the quieter version of the store, cosy enough for a conversation, and yet with the same amazing DBC. There was a mirth and glee in the light banter that was refreshing.
    • I sensed a certain unraveling in the SilverGhoster that was comforting. I could sense certain layers getting pulled off. As we walked around neighborhoods familiar to the man, it felt like homecoming; walking through familiar roads with an unfamiliar face. I felt a need in the SoulSurfer to share his life, his stories, his roads and his streets.
    • I also perceived an evident hesitation in the SoulSurfer when walking the streets. Hands locked up in the back, a safe one-arm distance from me, and an instant apology in case of any unintended brush against me were all signs of a certain refrain in the man. And, I was surprised by how little I felt any of it.
  • Considering how close traveling is to my heart, it seemed like the right time to put the SoulSurfer through the second litmus test – the day trip. A lot of planning went into deciding the destination, the pitstops and the ride – the SilverGhost, and there was a mutual excitement going into the weekend. And come Friday, Mt Vesuvius erupted. There was some major argument, a more major disagreement, and the plan was off. It only seemed apt for me to propose to cancel, and it hurt a wee bit that the SoulSurfer was all too quick to jump on the plan. A general consensus that came out was that the universe worked on its own schedule, and you couldn’t force it to be any faster or slower than what it actually is.
  • Back at the Valley, and there was a sense of newfound calm in me that I hadn’t felt in a while. The conversations at the school had moved to them wanting to have me join them. And, on the personal front also, there was a meaningful turn of events; discussions with the OldMan were not too confrontational; and the SilverGhoster had started digging a little too deep into my soul. It was getting easy to let him open the book, read a few pages, and maybe recommend a few corrections too. The dark side of the moon was slowly unraveling and it was not going to be such a scary event after all. The SilverGhoster was slowly, but surely becoming the SoulSurfer.
  • Research wrapped up and a surprise road trip popped into my schedule. A holiday in the middle of the week meant that SoulSurfer and I could head out of town, in the RedBeast nonetheless, and with a curfew at 1 PM for the Cinderella turned SoulSurfer. I headed out late, he brought in a detour to an ancient building, but soon enough we hit the road. Turns out our music interests matched and both of us didn’t mind singing at the top of our voices. Turns out I was comfortable letting the SoulSurfer drive, while I unwinded up front. Breakfast at Shivalli was nice; we picked the more quieter, more ancient one, than the more loud, noisy and refurbished one.
    • SoulSurfer popped the biggest surprise of the day by proposing that we change plan and head out to Mysore. As we pulled up at Shivalli, I felt a sense of regret for the trip already ending. So, when the man suggested something off, which meant that we’d be on the road for longer, I jumped in immediately. The element of surprise was amplified when I only wanted to go to the city, and return back, where as he thought of a little trip to the temple up the hill.
    • The temple trip itself was a spiritual experience beyond me. It was crowded, as expected; there was a huge mess and a rush, as expected; and yet, there was a certain peace in me that I hadn’t felt in a while. The SoulSurfer was surprised that I would behave ‘normal’ in a temple. And I was surprised by how pleased he was with me in the temple. I approached the lady of the house, and I asked her to take care of the uncertainty ahead, and to give me strength to put up with what she had planned for me. As we sat in the temple, the SoulSurfer a breath away, and the mad rush of the temple all around us, I knew that there was something more to this trip than just a day trip between pals.
    • As we drove back, I was ready to hold a pinkie and just ‘that’ was an elevating feeling. As I held a bony, skeletal hand, I realized a strange connection, a young lady waiting to be led, a grown man looking for company, a friend lost at sea.
    • Pulling into Cinderella’s castle, it became evident that the SoulSurfer had never been in such company before and the filter of what to share and what not to was still developing. It also became evident that my impression of my own body, and my insecurities were going to hold me back more than I anticipated. I reached out and held his hand, he commented on how dry my palm was, and I immediately withdrew into my little bubble. All under 15 seconds. It took a long drawn discussion about this to slowly find my way out from that corner. I wondered what previous experience would prepare the man for such events, and what prior hurt would have etched in deep, and dark places in my heart.

The transition from the SilverGhoster to the SoulSurfer was sudden, considering the few days that we have been talking and getting to know each other. The suddenness brought with it an element of surprise, of spontaneity that the Gemini in me craves. He was noticing things often ignored, he was saying things often considered silly or inappropriate and we were talking about things that I presumed were universally understood.

It was novel. Novel, at 33.

Pics4mswiss: The town of Lausanne, enveloping the hills, and looking over the grand lake.

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Day 65: God’s Scratch

I got scratched on the left side today. Oh wait! Not me. My car got scratched on the left today. A shady looking auto-tempo swerved into my lane, when the bus in front of him stopped. Of course, he expected me to disappear the minute he turned right, but I have still not figured that skill out. So, I now have three new scratches on the left side of the car and paint ripped off from the passenger side handle. He even managed to give me those wavy, curvy lines; not the boring straight scratches.

Something snapped in me when I saw the callousness with which he hit me, tried blaming it on me and then made nothing of the matter by waving me to drive on. I asked him to pull over, made a mountain out of  the mole hole of three scratches, and a ripped paint, and yelled my heart out. When he realized that I was not one of those girls who would break into a tear, or accept blame and walk away, he hurriedly pulled out a crisp 500 rupee note from his wallet, stuffed it into my hands, said Sorry a few more times and drove away.

I stood there for a minute, a 500 note in hand, and three new scratches on my car, confused about the seriousness and the triviality of the scene confusing me. A number of vehicles passed by, looking over this discussion. A teacher I usually rode with called me to check if everything was OK. Of course it was. This is India; you are expected to get into a traffic issue at least twice a month. No?

Earlier that morning, when I was about to step out of the house, I realized that I hadn’t done my morning prayers before heading out. My morning prayers typically constitute a general nod in the direction of the prayer room, a ‘Dude, thanks for everything, and take care of everything’ conversation, and a little game with Scotch and the vibhuti; she loves licking that ash. I brushed the thought aside and went out the door.

I hadn’t done this crazy morning routine today and that’s all I could think of as I drove to college after this early morning drama. Was it God’s little way of punishing me for not having our early morning conversation? Did he really care about such little shows of gratitude? Shouldn’t the almighty be more worried about bigger things? And anyway, what true-blooded brahmin would consider my morning ritual a formal prayer? I mean, which Hindu God really speaks English now! So, it wasn’t technically a prayer in the first place. And what if I went for a few days without this morning ritual? Would it then be a bigger dent instead of a beautiful, wavy scratch?

Hmm! This God that you speak of… Will he give me the power to control your mind so you can give me good whenever I want? Like right now?” Scotch 

India Calling…

I would’ve safely assumed it to be me dreaming, about all my favorites together in the same fantasy, had I not known better. A recent tragedy left Switch, DShah and me shopping all weekend, something that took us across seas and to a world we had grown up in. And yet, so close home.

Edison, New Jersey, should be called Little India or something more desi, Edisonpur or Edisonabad maybe. It beats and breathes the lives of  the countless Indians who migrated to greener pastures back in the flourishing days. It symbolizes man’s quest to find home around any surrounding that he is thrust into, and if not successful at that, the drive to create it.

The glistening jewelers, with brilliant creations adoring their window showcases, line both sides of the strip. Eateries flaunt their melange of sweets and savories; sugar cane juice made to perfection, complete with the ginger pieces and pinch of spice, is worth every last drink. The pan shops have everything from calcutta sada to the stuffed meetha. If you woke up from a slumber and found yourself amidst these saree shops and salons, you would have a strange familiarity of waking up in a suburb in Mumbai. The ben-jis and babus, saree or kurta clad and conversing in fluent, authentic gujarati wouldn’t help much in judging your bearings either. I could have sworn this little town was the sister of some lost town had a sister in Modi-land.

The jewelery market here is bountiful with wings spanning into gold ornaments, raw gold and a dozen precious stones. Every visitor travelling back home stocks up on these goodies, a ‘loss-proof’ investment I hear. Not only do the adroit jewelers make sure you buy three times your intended purchase, but they provide unsolicited advice on handling Indian Customs as well (pun intended!). Make sure to keep your ears open when those special jewels rain down. With a strict cash-only policy, it is definitely a world in itself.

But none of these stores and the shopping came close in satisfaction quotient to what a foodie derived from the numerous options here. The Saravanaa Bhavan here, one of the four in the country, and many across the world, is a mouth watering treat for any lover of South Indian food. We found ourselves wanting to order at least four items from each page of the colorful menu. A true to its roots sambar vadai and bona fide mini idly were the perfect start for our lunch. For the main course, between us we managed to order a mysore masala dosai, adai aviyal and kara dosai. The special meals were the typical home made feast, thorough to the point of having the mango chutney and appalams.

The climax was the genuine filter coffee, nursed to perfection in their stainless steel tumbler and davara ;) I don’t know what it is between us South Indians and Coffee. Tea is always the travel drink, the compromise you force yourself to, when you don’t have the luxury of home made filter coffee. But coffee is the drink of the kings, OK, I can argue with you for an hour on that one.

I still debate the actual source of the flavor; I know it’s somewhere in space between the coffee powder, that strong chicory, that filter that gets passed down generations and the davara-tumbler. The aroma that floods the vicinity, the minute the hot water starts to seep through the freshly ground powder, is out of this world in all senses. Contrary to the now-hyped latte or cappuccino’s smooth and delicate froth, the filter coffee has a rusty, bubbled froth. No coffee is complete without that froth, balanced precariously, an inch beyond the tumbler top. The trick lies in pouring the coffee from the highest point your hands can reach. And it is this little white dream that separates the tea from the coffee, the luxurious from the mundane.

The filter coffees in hotels added all the glitz and the glamor within these basic requirements; the inverted-tumbler-trick is still my favorite. Sitting miles and years away, thinking about our visits to Annapoorna and picturing God mix the sugar and coffee in his slick movements, I emptied the coffee into the dabara and peeped in, anticipating the ingeniously placed extra serving of sugar down there. I was expecting too much after all.

The meal had been etched in memory for days to come; the adai aviyal after two long years was not going to be let go off that soon, was it?

The touching finale was the rain drenched dandiya in JC. While we stood, tucked under the comfort of the shades, and gorged on the bhel puris , the hundreds of staunch Gujaratis went around the circle, with ritual-like dedication, making the drizzle all too trivial. Dames dressed in flowery dresses danced about, while their better halves tried being up to the expectations in more senses than one. The sheer mix of ages in that group astounded me; old women, jackets over their saree to beat the cold, danced about not missing a step. The entire scene, the whole day, had been too mystic to be real,  and yet thousands of eyes had blinked through it.

I saw pot holed roads and got bitten by mosquitoes; drank genuine filter coffee and ate fresh vadu maanga. Would they let me miss home at all?

Wild Wild West – I

One thing that hit us with a quick gush, as soon as we stepped out of the airport, was the hot and dry air. A 100 Fahrenheit and we rechecked our stock of sunscreen, put on those glasses and strut on to our ride. I have to flashback a few hours to how we got here though, because the beginning ensured that we were to have a fun trip after all.

2 AM miseries

Some sane thought that Switch and I had, made us book tickets out of far-off PHL, instead of backyard EWR or across-the-street NYC airports. This “out-of-this-world” decision, that seemed pretty reasonable when we punched out our credit card details, ensured that we were up at 2 in the morning, out of town by 2 30, only to be roaming the streets of EWR for a decent parking lot. Well, we had to put the car in safe hands for four long days; that automatically ruled out any off-street ones, those that had a voice operated system talking to no one in particular and of course the ones closed. Frantic search was on. It’s funny to digest the number of weenies who actually roam the earth that early in the morning.

After trying out every possible option dear mr/ms garmin gave us and having let go of two of the five, to magically walk into the dream parking space, we had a little of five minutes to spare before our train out. Better sense prevailed and we drove into the very same lot that we had driven past a hundred times in that one night in search of a safer option. Yeah right! Who are we kidding!

Feeble pleasanteries exchanged, keys to the ride surrendered in the hands of a total stranger and two bags baring us down, DShah and I ran for it, while Switch tried to fumble the tickets out. We dint care if we looked like two goons, running away from mad dogs chasing us; we had a vacation to start on time. Acela arrived, the conductor obliged and we rode an hour into PHL, all in a weary sleep-embedded daze.

Note to self: cops in Philly are very cordial, nice to the point of being over intrusive I guess. It’s a fact, because Dear mr cop chose to accompany us from one station to the other, made sure we boarded the correct connecting ride and wove good bye to DShah with tear-filled eyes. Ok I might have fuzzed the facts on that one a bit; I was sleep deprived and it was too early in the morning for nocturnals like me, remember?

Philly billies

A minor fiasco at the “security check” left Switch bereft of his dear-old ninja gear. How many camping trips had he gone out on, pulling it out of his kit, nimbly; flaunting it out in the open, boldly; as other covetous eyes stared on! True, he had hoped to demand extra drinks on the flight with that one weapon and damn, his plot lay out in the open. We drank to his ill fortune, promised to buy him a stronger, sharper, meaner, sleeker, ahmm.. er weapon and boarded the flight at the back of the crowd.

Proud to be back benchers indeed, we tried having sane conversations with the ‘air hosts’, Damn! I still cant get used to that profession for a man, before somebody’s good judgement stepped in. We slept through the rest of our flight.

Wild West

Turbulence woke us up, in time to see the first glimpses of the mighty canyon. We straightened up, crained out the pot hole windows and Viva Las Vegas!!

PS: Learnings so far:

– It is impossible to try being on a diet and on vacation at the same time.

– When fast asleep, an hour is like a minute and 1500 miles take a mere five.

– Male air hostesses, using their spare time knitting a sweater, are not a welcome sight to wake up to.

– Deccan airways was not the only one that had carriers rattling during take-off.

– Security check personnel love Swiss army knives.

In Wild Wild West – II, The Mustang compromise, Hoover’s arch and the mad dirt ride to walk.