Posted in Anecdotes

Midnight Pangs

It was nearly two by the time I decided to retire, even though the assignment was only done halfway. I’d have to cram it into the morning hours somehow and submit in the evening.

I realised Amigo SR had already fallen asleep on the only mattress in the hostel room. My idea to have him keep me company till completion of the work was evidently faulty. Better still, his head rested on my folded blanket for a pillow. Great. There was no way my malnourished body could stand the A/C-fan combo that he pledged alliance to, so I ended up attempting the obvious – that magic switch of items under the Head of a Sleeper. It was almost a success till I felt empowered enough to adjust the pillow further,  and lo, he was up.

Which is not really so bad on its own. But like every soul that gets woken up in the middle of slumber, he couldn’t sleep again.

We chatted for a while more, and when I finally realized he wasn’t going to shut up if I didn’t, I pretended to have an attack of narcolepsy and froze in mid-conversation. He prodded me a couple of times, and then started on some self-relevatory remarks and loud ruminations till finally falling asleep again.

Which is when I should have ideally slept, except for that pang of midnight hunger that hits you just when you’re in bed. I decided to sleep it out, fearing I’d wake him up again, but my tummy wouldn’t let me. Apparently sleep and hunger do not really go hand in hand. I waited for a while to make sure he was really out, my stomach grumbling all the way, before finally creeping out from under the blanket, only to be hit by the AC’s freezing blow.I stealthily and hurriedly made my way into the kitchen, grabbed a couple of slices of bread and ran back to protection under the covers.

Once satiated and warm, it struck me just how convenient and lucky it was that, when I was cold and hungry, I had bread and a blanket at hand, that I was sleeping on the floor by choice, and that too on a bed sheet. 

It was very very lucky indeed.

Posted in Anecdotes

Smith’s Bday

Amigo DC and I decided to step out of the Health Centre for refreshments in the evening. The few patients trickling in were being managed by the interns anyway.

The aimless search ended prematurely as I spotted a café quite close to the centre that I had noticed once before, but did not check out. A typical tourist hotspot with the routine stock of shawls, cotton garments, incense, handmade soaps, bags and jewellery. As we settled in after ordering tea, I noticed a clock on the wall behind me. Another antique piece kept for sale perhaps.

I peered closer and noticed it said Richard, and then around the middle, what I made out to be ‘Smith’s Bday’.DC inquired whether I was interested in buying it, but I pointed out how the clock was dead, stuck at 2:12. 

She laughed. “Maybe that’s when Smith was born”.

I looked at her and then the clock in surprise, grinning like an idiot.

She was joking of course, but I liked the idea. Clocks set to immortalise the moment of your birth. 

 I didn’t inquire about the clock after all. I didn’t want to know if the clock needed a new battery or it had died of old age. Nope. I’d rather be grinning stupidly.

Because sometimes, to be stupid is to know magic.

Posted in Anecdotes

Cone Ice Dreams 

She held my hand as I looked both ways and crossed the street. It was ten at night and the road leading to Rock Beach was almost isolated, with just a trickle of traffic. A few people and a couple of dogs loitered in the distance. 

Suddenly she pointed at the lone bright spot in the vicinity, an outlet of Baskin’ Robbins that was still open. I saw a child walking out.

“Ice cream cone!!”

Her voice brimmed with delight and longing.

“You want one?”

She looked at the shop, back at me, and smiled.

“Come on, then.” 

I led her in. An array of exotic flavours were displayed.

“Which one do you want?”

She peered into the glass counter and hestitated. It was not an easy choice, and the familiar tones of Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry were conspicuous in their absence.

“You choose one for me”

“You can get a taste, you know. Pick any one you like, and I’ll ask them for a sanple”

Her eyes widened. 

“Umm.. something crunchy. That I can chew on as well!” She could hardly reign in her excitement.

I pointed to Mint Chocolate. The guy behind the counter took a tiny spoonful and handed it to her. She licked it up and shook her head. 

“Too minty”

Next up was Milk Choco Chips. That one won her approval. I ordered a cone of the same. The guy scooped a huge ball of it and filled a fancy BR cone with it. I watched him handing it to her as I paid. 

“What about you?”, she asked.

“I don’t do icecreams”, I said laughing.

We settled on a rock and watched the waves crashing.

“You know”, she began, “when I was little, everything was an adventure, and I longed for so many things that you might even laugh at. Even an ice cream was a dream, a luxury reserved for carnivals and such! Another one of my biggest wishes was to watch a plane take flight.. or at least see one up close. I remember, once I was allowed to accompany Mami to the airport for her flight. I got so excited! I put on my best dress and powdered my face. I decided your Grandma was not proficient enough at plaiting my hair properly so I ran to the neighbour’s place and had her do it instead. Bur alas, by the time I got back they had left without me! It was such a sad day indeed.”

She paused.

“But then, I did get on a plane with you that day after your college counselling session. And now here I am, at a beach in Pondicherry at midnight, having ice cream! Who’d have thought!”, she laughed. “I believe I was meant to see the world through you”

I pulled her closer and hugged her.

“I love you too, Mom”.

Posted in Anecdotes

Saving Food

Wasting food is something I feel quite strongly against, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t do it. I do it all the time. My tiny appetite almost never sits well with the enormous portions of food served in most restaurants. Hunger makes me overestimate my nutritional needs and I inevitable end up staring at half eaten plates with a satiated tummy and deepset regret. 

One solution I recently devised is to never order a meal for myself when out with other people. Tidbits from their plates usually suffice to ward off starvation, which again fits my funda that one need only eat what is necessary to survive.

Today, even that didn’t help as the hotel I visited with my parents and an uncle proved to be extra-gracious with their food supply. An entire bowl of fried rice sat untouched and forlorn on the table, and we stared at it, wondering what to do about it. Indians generally hate wasting things that they pay money for, and it’s considered blasphemy to not get leftover food parceled, regardless of whether we end up eating it later on or not. As patriotic citizens, we contemplated doing the same, but our full stomachs rebelled against the idea.

That was when Uncle A suggested we give the parcel to a random beggar or ragpicker, a surplus of who are found along streets in the region. It hit me how the thought had never really occured to me before. Yes, it’s leftover food.. but it is still food, and throwing it in the trash somehow does not seem anywhere as ethical as letting a hungry soul have it.

We kept an eye out for vagabonds on the way back. Soon enough, along came a man with a large bulging plastic sack over his shoulder, with clothes and body both covered in grime. I was still hesitant to carry out the plan, lest he should be offended and start swearing at us. So Uncle A took the lead.

‘Have you eaten yet?’

His eyes gave away his voracity and his hands beat his tongue in response; they extended way before his mouth could mutter ‘No’. We gave him the parcel and rode away. I turned back once out of curiosity, and I saw him taking out the still-warm packet and turning back to look at us.

Now I have another solution to not waste food. I think I like this one better.

Posted in Anecdotes, Musings

Expected

Yesterday was one of those days. My mind was a web of cluttered thoughts as messy as my room, and although the right thing to do was to get to work at cleaning both up, I found myself reaching for my keys. A lonely ride around town at night seemed like a great idea. I did not know where to, but then, the beach and the streets of White Town are all that Pondicherry really has to offer at night. So I rode slowly in that direction, gathering my thoughts.

I had never been to the beach alone before, and it felt rather strange. More disconcerting than soothing. Among all those people around me, armed with friends, lovers or families, I felt I must make a sorry picture, alone at the beach close to midnight, with not even a bottle or a puff to keep me company. I perched on a rock and began to stare at the sea, seeking tranquility. The waves crashed much like my ruminations – anticlimactic, recurring brilliant pieces of frothy white light that dissipated just on the verge of formation.

Suddenly I heard a call behind me.  Two young men stood precariously close, and I started, as any average Indian woman would.

“Don’t be afraid”, one said. “It’s our friend’s birthday.. he’s rather shy.. so, here you go”.

One of them extended a piece of Black-forest cake (incidentally, my favourite) as the other stood by, sheepishly. I was not quite sure of what to do. If this were to happen in the Western world, and if I am to believe what I’ve seen on television, the ideal response would be a beaming smile and to extend a hand, or a hug perhaps, wishing the ‘birthday person’ warm greetings from your part. As a cautious female, I did nothing of the sort. After choosing to pinch off the tiniest fraction of the cake I could manage (lest it be poisoned with the date rape drug) and muttering a hurried thank you, I went back to staring at the sea with even more determination. Sure, I was currently in apparently one of the safest cities in for women, and was surrounded by more than a hundred people, but one doesn’t want to take chances. To quote a poem I recently came across on YouTube, “we don’t want to be another of India’s daughters, do we??”

So I sat there with my back to the world till it occurred to me that perhaps I had been rude. They had not really seemed like trouble. I decided to walk up to them and say a proper birthday wish. As I stood up and turned around, I realized they were gone.

I remembered his first words. Don’t be afraid.. And then it hit me. Perhaps, like any average Indian, my response was exactly what he expected anyway.

 

Posted in Anecdotes

A Rooftop Green and Brown

​”Kasha ki Asha is the perfect place to laze away your time, read a few books and write a blog post or two as you wait out that mid day heat”

I was roaming aimlessly in White Town at noon. I was running an errand and then had ample time on my hands to while away before my night shift. Having come all the way to this area of Puducherry, known for French restaurants and exotic cafés and what nots, I didn’t feel like going back without checking out the streets a little. Exploration has been topping my list of essential life events ever since I got a means of easy transportation on my own (more on that later; that post is long due and still incomplete)

Armed with Google Maps I managed to traverse the very confusing lanes of WT and soon found myself in front of the apparently charming Café Dés Arts that I had been meaning to visit for some time now. But alas, I found it closed for renovation and due to open only in a month or also. 

That was when I whipped out my phone again and searched for Best Cafes in Pondicherry, and Kasha ki Asha came into focus via the aforementioned write up from the website Polka Cafe that Google pointed out to me. More than anything else, I believe it is the words “..and write a blog post or two..” that caught my attention. I have been lagging behind on the same for a long time now, and any incentive to finish off the many half written posts is always welcome. So off I went.

Luckily this cafe was just a few feet away from Cafe Des Arts, on Surcouf street. I manoeuvred the scooty gingerly, checking out either side of the quiet street for the cafe.Even then I missed it the first time; the quaint maroon building nestled quietly at the corner of the street, and as I stood on the threshold I wondered if it was closed too, there was hardly anyone about! A renovated house, it still felt like more of a home than a cafe.

A lady saw me peeking in and reassured me that they were open. The gallery is downstairs, she said, and the cafe on the terrace. I walked around a bit, looking at the various items kept on sale – books, shawls, printed tee shirts, kurtis, bangles.. the typical overpriced ‘ethnic’ paraphernilia aimed at visiting folks from the West – before climbing the corner stairs leading to the terrace.

To say I found the place pleasant is an understatement. Heavenly would better describe it. Anyone who has endured the horrid summer heat of Puducherry would know why. A thatched roof, comfortable chairs, cool breeze and solitude – what else can one ask for?! 

Eateries in India seldom offer you quietness (unless the food is so bad that no one is there except you). All the good places bustle with people and waiters keep breathing down your neck every second to make sure you leave as soon as you’re done and make room for the newcomers. In contrast, here I was, shown on to the roof top terrace and made at ease by a lady in a worn out saree, who handed me the wifi password, smiled and left immediately.

Left alone, I walked around in delight, clicking pictures. I loved everything about the place, the roof, bamboo shoots, cane chairs, creepers and the occasional sparrow.. A rooftop green and brown and pleasant, like home.

I settled down onto a comfy cane chair, next to the magazine rack and checked out the menu, wondering when anyone would show up for the order. Apparently they don’t. The description on the menu card invites you laze around as long as you want and then call from the stairs in any case you want anything!

So here I am, munching on my toast and sipping lemonade, posting what I expect is the first of many posts to be written in Kasha ki Asha.

Posted in Anecdotes

Remember

I feel like a stranger in the white coat. A little fresh, a little raw, a less confident version of myself. A little unprepared for the routine of the Emergency Department. A month of posting in ED is mandatory for residents from other departments to ease the workload of the regulars and I walk in to do my share.

I start documenting the cases alloted to me. 

26 year old unmarried male, driver by occupation, with a history of accidental fall from a height of 15 feet presents with complaints of severe back pain. Power 0/5 in both limbs. Sensation absent below the umbilicus. No external injuries. Adv: Xray DL and LS spine. Provisional: Traumatic paraplegia.

My age! Damn it, he’s my age.. And he may never walk again, let alone drive..

3 year old girl brought by parents with history of drowsiness and headache since morning. Known case of pinealoblastoma with hydrocephalus; VP shunt in place. Adv: Non contrast CT Brain. Provisional: ?Shunt Block. 

Neurosurgery is full. They will never be able to take up the case for surgery at such short notice. Yes, I understand you don’t have the money to go anywhere else.. Yes, Bangalore is far and you don’t speak the language, but the institute there is the best option for her.. Please don’t cry, we are as helpless as you are.. There is only so much we can do right now..

64 year old lady with end stage renal disease brought with high blood sugar. Pulse not palpable. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation initiated. Injection atropine and adrenaline stat.

She’s back from the dead! Can’t say I expected that.. 

35 year old male, known case of Rheumatic Heart Disease/Double valve replacement done admitted with sudden onset breathlessness. History of chronic alcoholism present. On examination, patient comatose, pulse not palpable, pupils dilated, not reacting to light. Stuck valve suspected. ECG gives flat line. Death declared to parents.

Hesitation cuts all over his left forearm.. linear scars that once bled frustration and pain. Maybe he was already tired of this tormented life? Bouts of chest pain, dyspnoea, medications and surgeries. Maybe he willed his heart to stop just like he willed the blade to cut into his wrist??

Hope and helplessness intertwine as the minutes inch forward. And at the end of 7 hours, as I walk away a mess of nerves and relief, I remember how lucky I am to not be in pain, to not be connected to half a dozen machines, to not be just alive, but healthy too. Not just surviving.

It’s funny how often we forget that.

Posted in Anecdotes

Pink And Proud

It has been so long since I last posted something that I have actually been framing and editing the opening sentence for a full ten minutes now, till it finally transformed into this. Nothing spectacular, I know. These fingertips are badly in need of inspiration.

It has been exactly a month since I wrote something other than research proposals or official letters. Being back at college is proving to rain on my literary parade. But I can’t quite blame the curriculum for it; it’s me of course. Old habits die hard and laziness is immortal. It’s just so easy and convenient to sit back against a cushion, whip out one’s phone and text the people you -wait for it! – spent the entire day with. So unnecessary, but such an integral part of one’s life these days..

Today.. umm wait. I realise I effectively procrastinated the post so well that it’s actually yesterday. So yesterday, the 19th of April, I came to know through a WhatsApp forward, is the World Cycling Day. Yoo-hoo!! Here is to eco friendly and healthy transportation! Bikers unite!!! 

I was a late bloomer in the cycling scenario and learned to bike quite late. I am reminded of the first time I attempted the antic of riding without side wheels. I was in my 5th grade and it was my friend’s cycle and the road leading up to her house used to be a precarious fall. It either levelled out as I grew or my visual capabilities recovered from imaginative hyperbolic perceptions. Either way, it doesn’t seem as notorious now as it did then. Anyway, I clearly remember screaming in horror as a coconut tree came rushing toward me. Thanks to the impact, the bike was broken and I stayed away from the similar adventures till I got a cycle of my own for the first time in 8th grade. 

My dreams of riding with abandon were soon put to rest as a local toddy shop opened right across my designated cycling route. Mother felt it inappropriate and unsafe for a young girl to bike in the area where drunken hooligans aka potential molesters loitered. The other route was all uphill – not exactly the average weakling’s cuppa tea. So that too came to a premature end.

Childhood whims are like one’s first love, you never quite get over them. Which is probably why, the moment I stepped inside the sprawling campus with its wide shady lanes, I knew I had my opportunity at long last!

Now, 12 years down the line, I am the proud owner of another bike. It did take a couple of weeks for my atrophied thigh muscles to get used to the climb, but they don’t complain as much now. 

The colour does make me cringe, but apparently ladies’ cycles only come in pink and lavendar in this town. Oh well. At least it stands out among the fleet of sober scooters and motorcycles!

Posted in Anecdotes

Mangroves For Two

Everything gets a little better with a good friend by your side. 

My last day of monitoring was around the region of Chidambaram in Cuddalore. Amigo SR, a monitor himself, happened to be free that day, so I decided to take him along with me. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the work progressed easier with his help; we went about in buses where I normally would have relied on taxis, and he proved to be more street smart that I had given him credit for.

The official work was done by noon. The last school I visited was in the village of Killai, a few kilometres way from the Pichavaram Ecotourism Centre. To have come all the way there and to return without checking it out would be rather dumb, so we made our way there.

An auto rickshaw dropped us off at the site. Pichavaram is known for its mangrove forests, one of the three prominent ones in India. The other two are in West Bengal and the Andaman Islands. 

Row boats and motor boats can be hired by the hour, and according to the number of people visiting, and are rated at fair prices accordingly. It ranged from a one hour row boat ride for two that cost you 185 rupees (~3 dollars) to a 6 hour motor boat ride which included a trip to the Pichavaram Beach thrown in, rated at around 2500 rupees. We settled for the former being pressed for time, and proceeded to find a place to lunch first.

Only a snack bar existed within the complex, so we were directed to a restaurant on the way we came. One side of the lonely road was lined by small houses and tamarind trees; on the other ran a rivulet filled with boats – fishing boats presumably. Two aged women sat some feet apart selling karuvaadu, fish salted and dried in the sun.

We walked a short distance before spotting the sign Neithal Seafood Resto, which was less of a hotel and more of an extension of a small house, with a makeshift shed modified to be the serving area. When we arrived, the single table was occupied by 5 other guests, so we were quickly shown into the next room, a small hall alongside the kitchen. A woven mat on the floor proved to be our designated seating area. The wall behind us alone was painted an enthusiastic orange with blue waves crashing, and the dull wall opposite was covered with old family photographs. The smell of frying fish wafted in from the kitchen and made us hungrier.

The home made food was a delight, adding to the raw ambiance of the place. We had a hearty meal of cooked rice, lentils, pickle, fish curry and a piece of fried fish each.

After the meal, we headed back to the Ecotourism Centre and were soon fitted with life jackets, ready to go. We made our way to the series of numbered boats tied to the shore awaiting riders.

Neither of us had been to mangrove forests before. It was a lovely ride, taking in the beautiful view, with a running commentary from the the rowing personnel.

He filled us in with trivia about mangroves, regarding their locations in India, and their importance in the ecosystem. He has been working here for the past 20 years and the words flowed easily with a practised precision, and at times when we interrupted him with our queries, he would repeat himself over and over, like a disfunctioning record playing, unaware that he was doing it.

It was a delightful ride. As we were taken deeper into the forest area, the place grew quieter. We spotted herons and parrots flying overhead and were charmed by the other worldly nature of the place.

The route rapidly turned into a maze as the trees split into little islands. Apparently there were around 3000 of these, and you could easily get lost if you were not careful.

The hour passed pleasantly. We were quiet as we came out into the sun again, revelling in the serenity we had just experienced, the sheen of the surreal alcove still shimmering at the back of our minds like the water glitter that surrounded us.

Note : Photo credit goes to SR. In spite of me blatantly claiming expertise in photography, it was soon evident that my skills ranged between nil and zero. I proceeded to blame my phone and he was gracious enough to pretend to believe me and subtly take over the job. 😀 None of the pictures are edited.

Posted in Anecdotes

A Happy Meal

I love to travel. 

It sounds like such a cliche in today’s world where almost everyone claims to be struck by wanderlust. But one thing that I guess sets my craze apart is that I am more into exploring places than sightseeing. Again, that came out as another cliche. Let me elaborate further.

I don’t care for destinations. I don’t care about whether the places I visit are sites worthy of exploration, or whether they feature in magazines and websites. I care not for public approval or appraisal. Everyone talks about Goa and Kashmir and Paris and Switzerland.. I don’t deny that I would love to go to all those places too, but I love equally to explore tiny niches that hold little value in the eyes of the average traveller. I don’t care if the place is amenable to be tagged on Facebook or to be bragged about to friends, I just adore being somewhere new; no matter what awaits me, if it’s someplace I’ve never been to, if it has something unseen in store for me, I fall in love with it. 

I also love getting to know places.. living somewhere for months and slowly making my acquaintance, knowing where the supermarket is, where the best eateries are, solving the puzzling traces of the little roads and by lanes till I can trace them on my palm, and if I were to pass by years later, it would feel like a glimpse of home.

This could be why travelling to the various regions in Cuddalore excited me so. The other day in Neyveli, it was past 1 in the afternoon when my work was done, and I asked the driver, a local, to find me a good place to eat. He stopped the taxi in front of a dilapilated building just off the main road. Mudaliar Mess. I raised an eyebrow but decided to go in with him. It had originally been a larger hotel, but the whole of the front part had been recently destroyed to facilitate road expansion. It remained as such, a crumbling ruin with a small opening that showed you some old benches laden with fresh green banana leaves in place, ready to be served lunch on. A couple of ladies waited on rusty chairs waiting for a parcel. The food was really good, but I could only eat so much, even after being compelled to take a second helping by those who served. They joked about how skinny I am, in the way only friendly small town folks do.It was a happy meal, not just filling or sumptuous, but truly happy. And that’s pretty lucky, don’t you think?