Monday, December 31, 2012

All that you leave behind...

Give it a Cinderella thought this year.

As she fled the ball at the stroke of midnight she left behind a beautiful glass slipper.

I've never given much thought to the glass slipper in any case. (Except when I go shoe shopping and the shoe I like does not fit!) but today, at the end of the year it makes sense.

And it is learning for us.

Let us leave this midnight ball with all the finery, the beautiful golden carriage, the page boys, the fine gown and even the glass slipper knowing that as the new year comes on the glitter of the carriage will turn to the practicality of the pumpkin, the pageboys will be mere mice and the glass slipper: the memories.

Take your pick. Leave some behind in that wonderful imaginary ball of the 2012. Take the best with you. Take the moments when you learnt. You grew. You lost someone. You gained someone. You discovered a new way. You uncovered a new view. You were grateful for what happened. You were sad.. Take that one slipper with you and move on. Limp onwards into 2013.

And the one you left behind? All the hate, the anger, the maliciousness. It was glass wasn't it? Fragile, destructible?  Let that stay back in the ballroom. And when it comes for you - make it meet it's opposing pair - with love and graciousness and move on, stepping gracefully into a 2013 that will unfold the way you let it unfold.

May the New Year take you in its pumpkin carriage and bring you into the best celebration of your life.

Dear Daughter, I made a mistake

I've been watching mutely with horror as the recent incidents have unfolded in Delhi and all over India.
I've been echoing the sentiments of an outraged nation and people with nothing to say for myself.
I've been listening with concern young girls who with a mix of anger and horror have stepped back to think and said, "It could've been one of us. It could've been me!"
And that sets me thinking as a mother, as a parent.
It could've been my child, my daughter.
As a woman I completely understand the sentiments of the public demanding change.
As a mother, I am terrified. The change that we demand is not going ot happen in a hurry. Platitudes apart, about it beginning with ourselves only lead me to believe, I need to do something now.
I am sure, there are enough fathers who will echo these sentiments.
I think it's time we apologise to our daughters and take their freedom away
So here goes my apology:
Dear Daughter,
I've made a mistake.

When you were born, I thought I'd bring you up in this world to be a proud independent member of a civilized society.
I gave you the freedom to grow into your own, watched you as your character blossomed, encouraged you when you fought your own little battles in school and even commended you when your sense of fairness got you to protect even little boys in your circle.
In my mind, you were growing to be an exemplary addition to this society.
And I let you free. I set you free.
But I am sorry, I made a mistake.
I should have never let you go. I should have never given you all the freedom you got. I should have kept you in the confines of the four walls of the house.
I should've taught you only how to cook, clean and maintain a kitchen.
To knit, embroider and stitch.
To cover your head, to not come in public view
I am sorry, I've made a horrible horrible mistake.
I thought the world will grow as you grow.
But we've stepped back into a barbaric age.
I thought I'd nurture you in a cocoon and let you hibernate in all the glory of an independent spirit till you broke out and spread your wings to fly.
But no, I've made a mistake.
And I want to take away all that I've given you. Tie you back into the silken threads of my love mixed with fear and protect you within the confines of the home.
Don't step out.
Don't let the world see your beautiful wings. Don't let them get enticed by the breathtaking colours. Don't let them get enamoured by your incredible wingspan.
Come, let me clip your wings.
And like you, take away the freedom of a budding young generation of butterflies here.
I know you'll remain cocooned forever in the confines of a virtual prison, and you'll not grow but at least you'll be safe.
I'm sorry I've made a mistake.
It's time I undo it and take away your freedom forever.
And no one will protect you like I will.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Great Start... and a Miracle? - FiveDaysOff - Part 1

Almost being branded as a workaholic, it was high time I proved the cynics wrong.

A planned trip to London had fallen through when I got a chance to go to Vaishnodevi with a friend. (Yeah, yeah, I know the difference!)

I jumped at the opportunity. And said yes. She let me know that some of her family members would be part of the group. More the merrier I thought.

The plan grew. Amritsar was added to the itinerary. Just two days, but why not, I thought. The Golden Temple beckoned. And so it happened.

Five days off.

Before long, I was up, up and away.

The way to get to Vaishnodevi is by flight or train to Jammu and then by road to Katra. We took a flight to Jammu.

On reaching Jammu we had to wait for our fellow traveler and my friend SG and so we organised a car to take us around a couple of places.

Security was tight in most places. And mobiles and cameras were not allowed inside the main gates. My ipod was declared an 'electronic item' and debarred from entering too.

Two places of worship and several monkeys later, we were heading back to the airport to pick up SG.

Just as we did that we felt the first drops of rain. As we set off to Katra, it was cold. And grew steadily colder. And rainier. And as we wound our way uphill, we realised that if this was the weather, our trip to Vaishnodevi by helicopter was suspect.

The road from Jammu to Katra is fairly good and we reached in about 90 minutes even with the rain.

Once checked in we stepped out of the hotel!

It was freezing. And rightly so. The locals merrily informed us of the first dusting of snow on the mountain tops off Katra. Oh well, it IS winter isn't it, I thought.

The only problem now was, would the helicopters still operate?

No. The locals shook their heads pessimistically.

The most optimistic one brightly encouraged us with a fatalistic, If it has to happen, it will happen. It's HER will.

By late evening as we wended our way to the market a pall of gloom had descended on us.

But we were a determined lot. A mere helicopter flight was not going to stop this motley gang.

We had dinner. Much rajma-chawal, red beans and rice were relished. Aloo parathas, gobi parathas, and mooli ke paronthe made their way to our table. Followed by thick sweet lassi and even salted buttermilk. A satiated, well fed gang walked out of that eatery.

And as we stepped out SG's Mother excitedly said, I can see stars!

Don't mistake this for a metaphor. We all looked up and could see stars in the dark sky. That meant the sky was clear! Wheee!

We went back hopeful. But still a niggling doubt remained: What if tomorrow is not like that? What if it rains tomorrow?

The next morning however was beautiful. A patch of sunlight lit up the mountain facing our hotel window. What joy!
And so with great gusto we were all set to go,

The Vaishnodevi shrine is approachable by a long and winding road uphill to about 6200 feet above sea level. It's an 11 kilometer walk which most devotees prefer to do by foot. Since it is uphill it takes between 4 to 6 hours of steady climbing. Horses, ponies and what are called 'Palkhis' are available to aid the young, old, infirm and disabled.

Almost a decade ago J & K Tourism started a helicopter service. A barely 5 minute flight takes you from the helipad in Katra to Sanjhi Chhat, the helipad in Bhavan, barely 3 kilometers away from the shrine.

Now this service operated by Global Vectra and Pawan Hans is literally a breeze to avail of. Bookings can be done online through the Vaishnodevi Trust site. Details required are what you'd require for any flight booking - name, age and identification details - ideally a PAN card number.

I'd shared my PAN card number with SG's sister MK as she had done the flight booking to Jammu and also the helicopter booking.

As we checked into the flight in Mumbai as a group she had got all our PAN cards and given them back as we proceeded for security check.

I have a standard place to put my PAN card in my wallet but in the hustle of going in for security check I just shoved in my wallet and decided to put it properly later. Bad decision. Bad, bad decision.

If only I was one of those meticulous types. A place for everything and everything in its place! But no! I'm in a rush. I'm excited and... And.., I'm finally off on a holiday! Is a PAN card going to delay me by a few precious seconds at this juncture? No way!

I'd forgotten about the PAN card till the morning of our departure to Vaishnodevi. We needed to show the PAN card as identification at the helipad.

I opened my wallet with a flourish when MK asked me to remember to carry mine as we were leaving.

And then I froze. My PAN card wasn't there.

What had I done with it? I tried to jog my memory. I knew for a fact I had put it in. Did it drop off somewhere during the security check? Somewhere else? On the aircraft to Jammu? Or while we were moving around in Jammu?

SG and MK were remarkably cool. They helped me look for it. Each of us checked my wallet. CHecked my bag. Just in case. Checked my wallet again. I removed the ATM slips collected in there. Rearranged the notes. No sign of my PAN card.

Twenty minutes later, we started looking at options. My driving licence could be used as an identification. But at the back of my mind I was worried.

On two counts. If I wasn't allowed an alternative means of identification, this trip was not happening. And then there was this whole issue of getting the PAN card made again.

Oh why oh why had I been so foolish, I berated myself!

SG's family was most understanding. Her Uncle (Mamaji) most optimistically said we'd manage.

But at the time for check in, we were told off. No way could we go without a PAN card. Mamaji convinced the person at the checkin counter that we had forgotten the PAN card at the hotel. Much apologizing, pleading and persuading later, my driving licence was accepted. The person at the counter reproached us for being so careless. I agreed with him, apologising again. He let us go. Finally!

As I turned away, having averted a near-cancellation of my trip, I don't know what prompted me to do it, but I pulled out my wallet and looked again. There, in the middle of some 10 rupee notes nestled my PAN card! I couldn't believe my eyes!

I gave a whoop of joy, ran back to the window and proudly displayed the card, grinning much like a child who had got an ice cream after throwing a tantrum! The man at the counter nodded sagely, pulled out the check in sheet again tallied the numbers and handed my card back to me!

As I turned back towards SG and family there were incredulous looks all around. Both MK and SG had checked my wallet, over and over again! I had checked it at least 3-5 times. And we had not found the PAN card. And here was the elusive card, all the while out there! Or in there, should I say?

Even now as I think back there was no logical reason for me to have looked into my wallet at that moment. We had already been allowed to go by the man at the counter. I don't know what prompted me to open my wallet again. I still don't know. And I'll leave it at that. There are some things that just cannot be explained...
They say these things happen. Calling it a miracle will get cynics up in arms. I am not labelling it.

So on we went. More in the next round...

And yes.. if you get inspired (and called) to make this trip, the link below will help.

VaishnoDevi link