I sat beside an old, old man on the train.

His face was a careful collection of lines: big, ragged brackets mounted on top of each other. The entire time, he sat with an indulgent smile, his shining cheeks prodding his eyes to shut and truly savour his joy a little longer — because before him, stood his apple-faced granddaughter. He held a delicate sweater in his large, shaking hands, perhaps amused by how impossibly small it seemed, perhaps afraid of how fragile the moment was. He eased the little girl’s arms in with elaborate care, patiently coaxing her spread eagled fingers through the sleeves. He paused to inspect her dew-drop fingernails. His thick fingers took great pleasure in their struggle to needle the pomegranate-seed buttons in their eye-holes; one by one, station after station, dreading the fast-approaching last button.

New White Rain

A version of this appeared in Mint Lounge on July 19th, 2014. Do click through for more deets on planning your own trip there!

I was 27 years, one month, and three days old when I touched snow for the first time.

It had been a long wait. I had taken an overnight bus from Bangalore to Hyderabad, a day-and-a-half-long train to Kolkata, an overnight train to New Jalpaiguri, and a-day-and-a-half long bumpy drive along a mud-and-rock-road into North Sikkim. 2660km, four days, and six halves of the antiemetic tablet Avomine later, I had come far enough to see my dreams of snow crystallize into the here and now. I was standing along the snow-choked Gurudongmar Road in Sikkim, worried that my tears would freeze to ice.

The friends that I was traveling with and I had one thing in common: none of us had seen snow before. We – two Malayalees, two Kodavas, one Chennaiite, and one Bangalorean (me) – had all dutifully gone on Kullu-Manali/Darjeeling holidays with families over the years. We had been content to look at far off snow-capped peaks without ever touching or seeing snow up close. And so, our mission on this trip was to travel to Sikkim’s famed Lake Gurudongmar – the country’s second highest fresh water lake, at an altitude of 17,100ft. in the Kanchendzonga range of the Himalayas, frozen over this early in the year – to claim an ultimate glittering prize that had eluded us all these years.

About 105km from Gangtok, we reached the Lachen checkpost in pitch-dark, at 10pm. The guards granted us permission to stay the night at Lachen, but warned us that the road further up was snowed in. They said it was highly unlikely that our jeep could take us far on the snow-jammed roads, and that proceeding by foot would be… (meaningful pause). We fell silent. We wouldn’t be seeing what we had come so far to see. Sensing our disappointment, the guards told us that we could go as far as our jeep would go the next morning, but (firmly) suggested that we not take undue risks.

At 6:30AM, the AccuWeather app on my smartphone read 2°C. I paced the balcony of our homestay with a cup of yak tea, taking in more than what was in my cup. Just meters away, row upon unruly row of sugar-dusted pines defied gravity to stand at attention on mountain slopes. A road traced its way around the mountain, wound like buntings on a Christmas Tree.

I swallowed another half of Avomine.

Fortified with two t-shirts, a sweater, a sweatshirt, and a couple of scarves, I joined the others as we bundled ourselves into the jeep. Each of us sighed, lost in private fantasies of what the near-missed frozen lake would’ve looked like. We would’ve stayed in our worlds, if it weren’t for the view.

Gurudongmar Road ribboned together mountain after snow-heaped mountain. Scraggy arms of oak reached out to the sky, proffering white soot. Pinecones drooped, heavy with icicles. Blades of grass wore diamonds for dew. In the gorge far below, the slate-emerald river Teesta winked in the soft sunlight. The snow on the road ahead went from muddy to sullied by occasional tyre-tread to plush white duvet. At about 40km from the lake, our jeep began to fishtail. The driver killed the ignition and looked out the window, thoroughly bored – the universal sign for “This is it. We aren’t going any further.”

Snow, I soon found, does not crunch.

“Crunchy” is an adjective apt for wafers and chips. But here was a softer, more wholesome sound. This was something buoyant and light, like Soufflé, or sponge cake. Every descriptor I could think of was in relation to food, because my first impulse on seeing real snow was exactly the impulse I’d had as a six year old seeing it in National Geographic photographs: I wanted to eat it. The early March sun’s warmth touched my ears and told me this spectacle of white was a daily miracle; a transient one that was melting soon, and so I must grab this newness with both hands – hands that I promptly de-gloved and plunged into this inviting blanket of cake-icing. Every substitute I had made do with in my playing years, soap suds, cotton, foam, crystal salt, bubbles of thermocol, all failed as points of reference to process this new, bewildering texture. I didn’t know where the snow-flake ended, or where the flurry began. I threw a handful up in the air and watched it disintegrate and fall and catch at my hair and eyelashes. 

What was I, as Kamala Das says in her poem, An Introduction, “South Indian, very brown”, unworldly in the ways of snow, going to do with it? Every snow-centric activity I could think of I had gleaned from popular culture: snowball fights, sledding, skiing, making a snowman with a carrot nose, fashioning a snow angel, Olympic figure-skating. Was there an Indian way of playing with snow? A snowball lagori, a snow cricket? An actual ice-spice?

How familiar is the rest of India with snow? What is Indian snow like? Is it as mercurial as its sibling, the Indian rain? What does snow mean to those of us so far away from the Himalayas? I thought of the word for snow in my mother tongue, Kannada, which borrows the Sanskrit word, hima. Hima, which is the root of the word, himalaya, had now become the derivative of it. It was how my grandmother likes to say, “Hima is what you would find on the Himalayas”.

Reaching snow anywhere in the subcontinent takes considerable effort. Snow dictates its appointments; who it meets, when, where, and how. Snow is found almost only in the six Indo-Himalayan states – Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, the northernmost wedge of West Bengal, and Arunachal Pradesh. And only March favours snow-tourism. Too early, and half the roads and viewpoints are shut. Too late, and the snow has thinned or melted. Perhaps this inaccessibility, this whimsical nature of snow is why it is perceived with some exoticism far down the country. Informing friends and family of trips to these northern states usually invites an, “Oh! So did you see snow?”

Down South, snow has a “foreign” status that’s usually reserved for travelling abroad. It is so far removed from our understanding, that until online shopping, looking for snow-gear was an expedition in itself. (Bangalore, for instance, had only Commercial Street’s Eastern, and eventually, Western Stores to turn to.) For couples of a generation, snow was a special aspect of honeymoons. And now, snow calls forth associations with grueling mountaineering, and increasingly, Bullet rides. Having seen snow was once an accomplishment, much like having travelled by air before the 90s. Now, having seen snow is a sign of being well-travelled, of being possessed by modern-day wanderlust.

Back at the jeep, dusting snow off my elbows and my knees, I struggled with how to articulate, translate, and internalize this quick-melting poem in my hands. A cold breeze tugged at a few snow-heavy branches overhead and stirred a pitter-patter. This was it: my first, private snowfall. And I found myself humming Vairamuthu’s words, scored by AR Rahman for the 1992 film, Roja.

Pudhu Vellai Mazhai.

New white rain.

A Pocketful of Sand

A far more civilized, and less self-indulgent version of this appeared in Mint Lounge. Thank you to the brilliant Shamanth Rao for taking this beast through seventy eight gargantubajillion drafts. 

I reluctantly unpack my well-used swimwear and do two more things.

First, shiver: Bangalore is too chilly for a one-piece, however conservative. Second, pick my best moments from my latest visit to a jewel on the West coast of Karnataka – Gokarna.

On New Year’s Eve, when half the sub-continent flocks Goa, my friends and I settled instead for Gokarna, a quieter affair that’s just 130km south. We hopped into a car, and drove 500-odd kilometres from Bangalore, quite literally into the sunset.

The road to Gokarna is dotted with delights. Sunflowers nod hello along National Highway 4 outside Bangalore. Proud windmills do cartwheels on the hills of Chitradurga. Towel-turbaned farmhands thresh rice on the wide-as-a-hair-parting highway to Shimoga. Pines line the tummy-torturing hairpins to Honnavar. The road thereon smells of the sea, and becomes a straightforward ride through Kumta, over the Divgi bridge, and onto the Gokarna-Kudle Road.

Gokarna, as every travel guidebook loves to say, means the cow’s ear. Legend has it that Shiva, after being banished by Brahma from Kailasa, returned from hell through the ear of a cow. And this is the lore that has been incanted to name the abode of Shiva’s Atma Linga. How his Atma Linga came to be here is another fascinating tale. Ardent Shiva devotee Ravana was taking the very form of Shiva, his Atma Linga, to Lanka. Other gods worried that it would make Ravana too powerful. So Vishnu orchestrated a sundown, forcing pious Ravana to perform his evening rituals. Ganesha appeared as a boy and offered to hold aloft the Linga while Ravana bathed. Once Ravana went out of sight, Ganesha placed and firmly lodged the Atma Linga at Gokarna, thus preventing Ravana from taking it to Lanka – and making Gokarna a prominent place of Shiva worship in India today.

Set in the North Canara district of Karnataka, Gokarna lies in the shadow of the Western Ghats, where the hills embrace the Arabian Sea. Gokarna town with its Mahabaleshwara temple (housing the Atma Linga) opens up to the main Gokarna beach: a mess of fish hawkers, empty chips packets, and boatmen offering to take you everywhere.

A half-hour hilly walk away is beach-bum central Kudle. A boat-ride or a breathless trek ahead is Om beach with its shore shaped like an Om, a geological homage to Shiva himself. Further south comes Half-Moon, a beach that resembles a sand-filled Cheshire Cat smile. And finally comes Paradise, with its hammocks and coconut palms.

Heads filled with images of freely perspiring cocktails with tiny umbrellas, we reached our homestay just after sun-down. Rajeev Gaonkar, ex-techie turned host, opened his henchin-mane, or traditional slat-roofed home to us. A tea and a bath later, we hopped back into our car, and sought Paradise.

We discovered that by night, Gokarna is a place where streelights, road signs and GPS systems stop working. The Great Bear howled, and Polaris laughed at how lost we were. Several wrong turns finally brought us to, wait for it, a traffic jam. A barely motorable road, tucked away in the folds of hillside, most often populated by cows, was today full of Tempos and party-goers. We parked, and using our flashlights, stumbled and tripped our way to Paradise where disappointment awaited.

Authorities had banned alcohol that night, and there was no Thailand-like jamboree on. The shacks played nondescript music, and tourists made civil conversation. On New Year’s Eve, this was eerie.

So we drove to Palolem, Goa. A half-hour fireworks extravaganza and a 250km drive later, we were back in Gokarna. We woke to a traditional lemon rice-sambar-vermicelli paysam lunch that Mrs. Gaonkar plied us with. Well-fed and watered, we decided to soak some sea.

I cannot fathom why the Om, Half Moon and Paradise beaches are bigger hits than the Kudle beach. Perhaps it’s because Kudle’s easier to reach. Or that it offers few shacks and fewer things to do. To us, these seemed like the very factors that make Kudle an unparalleled beach-bum joint. So we drove along a winding off-road with moody hill vegetation, parked, and settled on the sand to turn at least five shades browner than our drivers’ license photos.

The sea at Kudle is shallow enough for a person who thinks she can swim (me), and swollen enough for everyone else. My routine was simple: whip up an appetite with some serious splashing, and polish off a Nutella pancake after. What Maggi is to Ladakh, Nutella pancakes are to Gokarna. The non-vegetarians reported that they were considering living entirely on Calamari rings and Prawn chilli. Catering to international clientele, the menus spanned Russian, Israeli, American, English, and Keralite fare. Suitably baited, I ate a lot of Paneer Manchurian.

When not stuffing my face, I found that Kudle is an autonomous adventurer’s sweet-spot. On one day, I chose to sit at the beach and write and read and get distracted by everything and do nothing. On another, I decided to stroll into Gokarna town.

Gokarna town is a little knot in the hills: a spiritual light; a decadent blackhole. Here, dreadlocked sadhus rubbed shoulders with pot-addled god-hunters and the Shabrimalai-chaste. The procession ratha, or chariot, sat outside the Mahabaleshwara temple awaiting Shivaratri for hundreds to draw its ropes, while rented two-wheelers snaked through sneaky narrow roads. Sparrows bustled hurriedly, but old men with thick cataracts sat outside shops watching tourists. Bangaloreans ate rice with spoons, and Caucasians wore tilaks and ate joladd (jowar)-rotti with their hands. Shops sold bongs and Om-printed bags. Graffiti of a pop sadhu, captioned “Videshi Sadhu” begged to be a Facebook upload. I was offered a permanent tattoo, cheap yoga pants, and some “good stuff”.

My next caper began when I walked back to Kudle from Gokarna town and took a detour at the cliff en-route to watch stretches of dry grass shift like wheat-fields. I sat at the crag’s edge, and watched the sea crash into the rocks, saw fishermen catch crabs, and spied a man in a wheelchair relish the sunset.

The nights crackled with bonfires.  And once they were out, the stars burned with ferocity. We sometimes lay in the cool sand and made up our own constellations. Or we sat in bare shacks of just chairs, tables, and sand, drinking 25 Long Island Iced Teas, outdoing each other in multiplication games. Sometimes, we sat to play Taboo. Sometimes I read Dave Barry aloud.

One morning, I woke early and watched Kudle come alive – a secret global village full of unusual wonders: toddlers in baby suits meeting the sea for the first time, couples laughing at jokes in alien tongues, a line of school-children trekking the shoreline, girls twirling hula hoops, boys beat-boxing, tattooed men playing volleyball, and foreigners reading Shantaram. And in that scene sat I, watching, amazed.

A trip to Gokarna doesn’t end with the drive back.

It just begins again, with the pocketful of fine sand you bring back home.

So what if it’s called Tiny Girl Town?

It still manages a couple of larger-than-life beautiful waterfalls and potent, mean cups of coffee.

For those dazed by my literal obscurity, I went to Chikamagalur (henceforth, Chikax) this weekend.

New photographs, friends and the discovery of nicely-photographable friends were the chief exploits of this trip.

Oh, the head-chief exploit? The kind of adventure that comes when thirteen madcaps board a tempo-traveller type vehicle, or fit themselves into (sort of) a jeep meant for six people. But more on that later.

Junta from Hyderabad and hometown bumped along one Friday morning, down the National Highway Number 4, and turned somewhere along the way to Chikax. (I wouldn’t know – I was busy straining my neck muscles, sleeping in absurd postures. This is the problem with having painfully long limbs (PLLs). Another recurrent problem with PLL is that I am left with a very restricted choice of eligible men. But that is another post.)

This knot of crackpots then proceeded to swarm two reserved “serviced apartments”. (read, owners of said apartment on vacation, therefore, to-let)(does anybody remember the times when large, recently done-up office-spaces had makeshift cardboard signs reading ‘to-let’ and you’d wonder what kind of moron it takes to misspell a simple word like ‘toilet’?)(or was that just me?)

But doing no disservice to the service apartments: they were very comfortable, with enough space for the many humans who turn into corpses minutes after lights-off.

Hotel Soundarya in the heart of Chikax made pots of money because of one motley crew of starved youngsters who overworked their staff, by ordering two of everything on the menu.

Do not be surprised if in the near future you are accosted by headlines of an uprising, screaming, “chefs in mini M’lore burn aprons in protest”.

Post feeding our faces, some of us decided to uplift ourselves from the status of the grubby and impoverished by a simple mechanism called “having a bath”. God bless you, M/s. Cold water!

However, since the “some” that opted for this simple mechanism were female, the boys and I (who finished early, having stuck to the “simplicity” of the mechanism) had enough time to finish one languid drink, and three utterly going-nowhere games of Uno.

We then haunted the M/s. Channakeshava & Co. temple. Lovely looking from the outside – where I stood. Going by the spate of pictures in Picasa, I gather it was just as beautiful on the inside.

Then it was return to the dwelling in the dark, followed by a beautiful, nearly-full moon that was blotted by frayed clouds.

The night was then rounded off with very many pegs. The nailed, hammered and smashed then proceeded to play Uno, Fuzzy Duck (and other highly inaccurate just-how-drunk-ARE-you? games) and generated lots of noise. And after objection from someone living three buildings away, it was decided the ambiance was perfect for… ghost stories!

Everybody swore by everybody’s relatives on both maternal and paternal sides. A few dared to put a few living ones at stake (I suppose they don’t favour these relatives).

Skid marks and dubious smells later, half the party left to chase recently-made-elusive sleep. Many drunken giggles and tummy-clutching laugh sessions later, the rest of us went to sleep. Surprisingly peacefully.

Morning came at around 11:30. Ambitious plans made the night before, to start for nearby Kemmanagundi at 6:00AM (HA HA!) were justly junked. After – literally – raiding Hotel Soundarya, we went to Kemmanagundi, or red earth hill(/hell/planet/button).

A breathtaking ride – and I don’t mean just the nausea a few of us lily-stomached had.

The hills were as scenic as ever. And as usual, every photograph taken of these scenes was as cliche and redundant as “failed to do justice”. The last red and golden tinges of autumn clashed with the fresh green tendrils of spring. An explosion of baby flowers amongst listless, dying leaves. Phoenix trees that were being constantly being reborn from ash.

A trek from the hilltop to the nearby Abbey falls, was just as pretty. With red earth coating everything into a breathing, throbbing sepia. Aptly punctuated with rivulets of cool water (special respite for my unequipped-for-trek feet that came armed with a pair of humble white “Rockster” chappals).

I think the biggest reason why the grace of the Abbey Falls – or any waterfall – cannot be replicated in a photograph for me, is because of the conspicuous absence of one crucial detail: the spray and the mist that I feel against my skin. In the era of NGC, GettyImages and FlickR, the reality of the picture-perfect scene is what is the most awesome about it.

Many many awe-struck and jaw-dropped moments later, Hemanth, a dear friend, decided to make more of the jaw-drop. Having slipped from a slippery rock in an act of, let’s see, sheer stupidity, he managed to make quite a spectacle of his upper-lip and forehead. (Not to worry. To his own wonder, he is alive, coherent, and can type perfectly sound sounding SMSes.)

After this, heaven-knows, bad sign, we slowly trundled back toward motorable road to get back to civilization, just in time for an elaborate dinner and a repeat telecast (with improvements) of last night’s tonnes of fun.

Ha ha.

Our guide, as it turned out, was scum. Sorry. A festering colony of scum caking a fetid pond. Many leers and gruesome stories of rape later, he arranges for us, an excuse for a jeep that shows up very late.

Thirteen of us. In a box of a jeep meant for six. Do the math.

Since we weren’t naturally born contortionists, two of the more daring of us decided to position themselves on the hood of the overheated jeep. I think it was steam that obscured the vision of the inebriated driver, and not the boys themselves.

I was precariously perched atop two people’s laps, my PLLs sticking out of the jeep. I tried very desperately to remember the “Guru Brahma” chant my mother taught me many years ago, since faith was the only thing available for me to cling on to.

As expected, for every overheated uphill RPM the wheel managed, it successfully did five backward and downhill into pitch darkness. And like every really old bugger of a manager, overworked RJ and over-abused motor should, the jeep gave up.

Our second-ride showed up in no-less mint condition. By that time, I think we’d covered much of the road by foot, and most of the guide’s family tree. I believe each of us imagined torture techniques that would make Hitler shudder. Varun’s was probably the most vivid, given his very, very sore toes.

Oh, and there was a fight about what the guide must be paid. After a lot of name-calling, abuse-hurtling, and being on the verge of nobody reaching respective hometowns in condition other than mince and/or gurney, we bailed.

Lovely ride back with an eerie, full moon. Back in time for salty dinner, accounts, more jokes, a couple games of Uno, before everyone decided sleep was the best idea they’d had all evening.

The next morning, we bounded back homeward. Bright, sunny day, and realization that hometown had turned hotplate over the weekend. Ta-ta, bye-bye to the Hyderabad junta at Railway Station. A nice full-stop to the trip was weird tasting pasta, but brilliant cold coffee at local adda, La Casa.

Everybody has reached home fine, more or less.

Varun has hopefully seen a doc about his toes.
Hemanth has seven stitches.
Abhinand and Pranav, I believe, are still nursing burnt bottoms.
Aditya has now gone to Hyderabad for some serious chill therapy.

I, however, am recovering from severe blows to my bank account.

What? Lakdikapul is not a stick-flower?

And so, I have returned from a weekend of sheer debauchery, two shades blacker, from the land of the Nawabs, Biryani of every conceivable object non/living and G. Pullareddy Sweets.

I love this city.
For one, it has this major Minaret hangover. Everything here looks like, at any moment, some bard will set up a mehfil/durbaar/whatchummacallit and wax shayaris, with ever-ready bystanders punctuating them with Irshads and Wah! Wah!s. Of course, there will be plenty pigeons going ‘guttrr guttrr’, and plenty pigeon-origin white-stuff to clean off your respective modes of transport.

Ah. Transport.
This is the only city that outright, doubt-without beats mine at traffic-sense. In the negative.
Take for instance, the enlightening auto-ride I embarked upon, clinging on to dear life as psycho automan (with evil glint in eye and shiny golden tooth that revealed itself in a hippo-yawn) went speeding down a narrow lane at 40 kmph upward – in the opposite direction. What simply took the title of “D-uuude!” (delivered with a Hip-Hop/Stoned-out-of-wits drawl) was the hippo-yawning traffic cop whose head casually turned and followed our passing by.

We sped through streets having no name. And the ones with funny, vaguely-exotic names too.
Nampally was my favorite. On applying the sum total of languages I know (barring en peu francaise) the resulting translation is a rather funny, “my lizard”. Another permutation of languages yields an equally satisfactory “name lizard”.

Banjara Hills, of course, was hot-spot and hotbed for techies, both employed or otherwise. (I’ve heard that because of market situation these days, the two are no longer the same.)

The highlights of my little trip were my doww, my elopist, falling flat on my behind outside posh cafe (consequently, getting a bruise), lots of laughter. Super food. Better drink. Kung-Fu Panda, Jack Black, the man! Comfy bus-rides both ways. Also, the fact that Firangi Paani did NOT know what hit them with doww and I hitting the dance floor. Of course, several lech/vermin variety men hit on us, and bouncers threatened to hit them. Cute DJ who we crushed on, temporarily. Vague feeling of feeling lost, but loving it. Autorides at odd hours. Turning to ash in the sun. In short, everything about my trip. However, regret having missed peeyesh, who, very fortunately for him, took off to Timbuktu. Also, very many thanks Wakee, for all the leads, and I know it would’ve been a wilder time if you were there too (I don’t have a link to you, you celebrity). Other characters that have fled the city citing reasons of bright-future-making, and were missed, were NS, seeti and ape.

Lesson learnt from this trip: The only planning you need to make the most of a really small trip, are tickets forth and back.
And replace poor, underused-hence-very-frustrated Noah‘s stupid rechargeable batteries.

Oh, and lakdi-ka-pul is actually a bridge of sticks. Though I could swear I never saw one.

PS: Men reading this must note (and appreciate as a departure from my usual male-bashing habits) that I very strongly resisted the urge to say ‘redundant’ in the ‘lech/vermin men’ classification.

PPS (Internal joke, it’s okay if reader didn’t get this one. Also.): Note to elopist, now you know why you love Hyd as much. You’re incanted so often at the all those durbaars!

Fifty Two

This is an absurd kind of travel:
Metropolitans flung across the subcontinent,
made minutes apart.

Nautical miles chewed up by hungry birds with black noses and rumbling insides,
humbling travel to mere commute.
Veering over and beyond that fine line between wanderlust,
and displacement.

I witness the sprawling of Delhi, the compactness of Mumbai, the madness that is Bangalore, and internalize each city’s understanding of size, scale, money, distances, time. Monsoon, heat, humidity. Curfew, women, dress-codes, deadlines. The tolerance for new faces. Even sunrise and sunset.

Each city welcomes and bids me goodbye with sleepy eyes that manifest as empty under-passes and over-bridges, five lanes and bylanes, nooks and nakas. I recognize the cities by their closed shutters, deserted streets, stray dogs, pot holes and missing cobblestones. By flashes at the wings of aviation marvels, and pretty blue lights at the fringes of runways.

Not vada pav, Janpat or even bisi bele bath.

I steal from these cities, like someone who doesn’t belong, sights to treasure. Minarets with a few tiles left. The several prides of India. Pigeons that circle and search for lost friends. Giddy greens in soft sunrise. How the world, under an illusion of organization, arranges itself into neat little boxes of tilled land. The bright blue tarpaulin shanties. The throbbing veins of choking cities, teeming with exhaust.

All behind double-layers of glass. Foggy by AC. Unclear to the ear clogged by faltering air-pressure. The stench of humanness chloroformed by AmbiPurCar. The sting of fat raindrops, the irritation of grimy puddles, all extra sound effects to the Countdown #2 on Blaupunkt surround.

I’m vaguely protected by, and deprived of, the reality of these cities. Distant, like I’m watching an extremely crisp telecast on a TV show on a restless Sunday afternoon.

The people I bump into are a different breed of forgettable faces. Punk co-passengers that read Ayn Rand. Plastic air hostesses. Greasy production assistants. Hovering-for-a-tip bell-boys. Directionless drivers. Loud cell-phone abusers. Hustling waiters. The wo/man with the strangest, most confused accent, always being the one to announce boarding.

When time flies, it forgets its 24 hour straitjacket. Speeding up when I’m late. Slowing down when I’m in wait. It lapses as shadows through half-open windowshades, like half-open eyelids, filtered by cotton shreds for clouds.

This brand of travel.
Organized chaos held together by broadband, shorthand, post-it notes, rambling e-mails, PNR numbers, cell-phone currency, credit cards, service tax, departure, arrival.

Fool proof. Effective. Safe (mostly). Established. Squeaky clean.
Stamped and ratified, as the security tag, by the unsmiling policewoman.

Thirty Four

We don’t hold hands when we walk.
Instead, we keep distance enough to let a person slide shoulder-first between us.

The sea is our home: the sand cold under our feet, and bubbles of froth, finding out our fleeing toes.

You clumsily clamp your curls, gather your skirt and land headily in the heart of the shore – where water teases sand. Where fine pebbles cling in a losing battle.

I see you conspire with the water. I know you know I watch you, with your knees drawn, writing secrets to the sea. You smile innocently as the sea washes your hurried cursive away.

Lips sealed.

We walk along the high tide, decoding silences. Tracing moonbeams, far-off bobbing ships; waves that curl inward, inch by inch, crash by crash, till they forget.

I push you, in a moment of anger.
Genuine hurt flickers.

I glimpse the remains of your secret.
My name.