Melbourne & I: A Bon Apetit this February the 14th!

Rene Magritte’s ‘The Portrait’

Unlike Friday the 13th, February the 14th rings in (mostly) love, love confessions, proposals and a blitzkrieg of consumerist deals and discounts, and even exorbitant offers. I must admit, I have never really had a ‘Valentine’ so to speak, or even went out on a ‘Valentine Date’ in my 28 years of existence. Heck, I don’t think I went out on a proper date till about 4 years ago! So you could concur I am rather slow to these shenanigans. This is not to say I haven’t secretly harboured a desire to one day actually go all mushy and have someone take me on an over the top romantic date. But even as getting older makes you wiser, it also makes one (read: moi) more cynical.

So 14th February, 2017 is when I landed in Melbourne to commence my PhD journey. PhD travails notwithstanding, I now often like to see this date as the day I when I not only start a new inning of my research ambitions, but also a new tentative, and perhaps a more mature relation not only with myself, but also with the city of Melbourne. If Rotterdam was where I felt I found my confidence, voice and strength, Melbourne was where I could stretch my confidence more. I was initially reluctant to let go off my love for Rotterdam, like that guy/girl you fell deeply for and have trouble forgetting him/her, and can never help but compare. Melbourne could never match up to Rotterdam I felt.

The comparisons haven’t disappeared completely, and neither has my fondness for Rotterdam, but this Valentine’s Day I realised I complete exactly 2 years in Melbourne, and have somehow grown to embraced it! Not to mention that I have also found myself in a situation that perhaps 2-3 years I would have never imagined to be in! Having severely pulled a muscle in my lower back due to improper and excessive exercise, I am now barely mobile and restricted solely to my bed, kitchen and bathroom for the coming days. 3 years ago if my current self time-travelled back in time to tell me I would be religiously going to the gym, learning how to swim and pole dance, I would have scoffed! But here I am, and realising how since my arrival here I have hesitantly and slowly tried to push the boundaries of my physical and mental endurance, strength and fitness.

My father is an avid runner and loves to participates in Marathons. I never understood what compels him to run for an hour, or why when he pulled a muscle in his feet it depressed him he would no longer be able to run. I now understand, the high that physical activity gives you is incomparable, and I am already upset at the thought of losing strength because of my current injury. But Melbourne hasn’t just been about fitness experiments!

Melbourne has also been about learning how to order ‘white’ coffee (cappuccino or latte) in the city’s famed coffee culture, to trying and getting a hang of its slangs. Pour exemple, the slang ‘prawn on the barbie’ might have the layman imagining a prawn on top of a barbie and go huh?! But for your regular Aussie, it means barbecuing prawns!! The city is perhaps most renowned for its highly predictable, unpredictable weather. 40 degree celsius at 3pm, and then by 7pm it drops to 22 degree celsius! No wonder my hair has never really had a good hair day courtesy the weather. But I shan’t bore you anymore with my (love/hate) rants for a city that has grown on me as I discovered a delightful poem on Melbourne by John Forbes, that perhaps is fitting on my second anniversary with this city!

Melbourne (John Forbes)

after Max Jacob

The incessant trams are the colour of the skin

after a course of suntan pills and your opinions

have to change a lot, like the weather but more deliberately;

where the fashion is argued for, is true love like two speech balloons

merge, even before the attached figures have met?

At least your blinding headaches will modulate to a

slow wastage of the self, as your drugged and artificial suntan fades.

Then a voice you have never heard before – your own – will say:

‘Be a caricature, John, and not a cartoon, if you want to lose

your nostalgia for the sensual, glaring sun!’

The Bong Confusion


When Monday Blues hits you hard, what do you do? You open your blog after months to finally get down to writing something, something besides your research and thesis! Giving you an opportunity to think something beyond your PhD. Oh, and did I mention how my PhD feels both quickly passing by and moving at a snail pace? :/ Or rather it is ME who is moving at snail’s pace on my research and the months are flying by 😛

Moving on, and before I lose my strand of thought about what I wanted to write about, last night, tucked in my blanket I decided it was time to close the weekend with a nice movie. And because it is winters here in the Southern Hemisphere and I was cosy on my bed, I wanted to watch something not too high-brow, not too complicated, but also not something that had no heads or tails! I desired to watch something comfortable and familiar, something that would warm the cockles of my heart. And involuntarily I typed in ‘Bengali Movie’ on Netflix. Although Netflix has a bare minimum collection of Bengali movies, the few that it does have, are fairly good. Browsing a bit, I came across the movie title ‘Mandobasar Golpo’ or a rough translation of it would be ‘A Story of Obsessive Love’. It also happened to have one of my favourite Bengali actors, whom I have a massive crush on, and whose presence in a movie is a valid indicator of movie’s quality, mostly good! 😛

The movie was almost taut, but for the most part really good, exploring the dark side of love and its consequences, furthering my conviction that regional Indian movies’ narratives are far more nuanced and complex than Bollywood mainstream cinema. And in recent years, several Bengali movies, particularly those of Srijit Mukherjee have raised the bar high for Bengali cinema. But I digress. When the movie ended I got back to thinking that a few years earlier I hardly consumed any Bengali movies.

Sure enough I love cinema, and I will watch all the good, bad and the ugly ones. My earliest memories are of me sitting with my mother and watching all movies together. My parents seem to know all Bollywood gossip as well! And although Bengali cinema was oft spoken and discussed, mostly in relation to Bimal Roy or Satyajit Ray, I was not cued into contemporary cinema. It was only when I moved to the Netherlands for further studies, and deterred by high movie ticket rates, did I start scourging for movies to watch during study breaks and discovered a plethora of Bengali movies that could be easily streamed online or available on Youtube.

It was like I had discovered this whole new world of cinema, and with that a part of me as well. Yes sounds cliched, but let me go back to history, or rather my uneventful childhood diaries! Yes I am ethnically and linguistically a Bengali, but intra-country migration of my grandparents, followed by my parents has meant that my upbringing and understanding of things around has been quite varied and multifaceted. (But shush, for the Bengalis born and brought up in Bengal, we are probashis, not true Bengalis :P) So although I do speak Bengali, yes yes, ‘Khichudi’ (mish-mash) Bengali, and eat Bengali food at home, I also eat Rajma, Choley, Gatte ki Sabzi, Dhokla etc etc. And oh, I also don’t have a sweet tooth 😛 For the unbeknownst, Bengalis are known for their sweet tooth, and LOVE for food. I tick the latter atleast 😛

My Baba (father) always jokes that my roots have been lost somewhere, and although I do identify myself as a Bengali, it is not something I identify with a 100%. I also identify as being a Delhiite and someone who has grown up in the Northern part of India. And add to that a bit of Central Indianness as well since that’s where my parents grew up. So you see, quite a mix! And that is why when I was growing up, sometimes I would be acutely aware of how ignorant I am or have no idea of some things ‘BONG’ (the slang for Bengalis often used). If I would visit Bengal, since it is impossible not to have ANY far flung relatives in that part of the world if you’re a Bengali, I couldn’t comprehend many words or even traditions. During Durga Puja (Bengalis’ biggest festival!), I am still unaware of many customs and rituals.

It was a constant struggle and confusion in my head, since when I would be in Delhi or amongst ‘Non-Bongs’, they would remark of how some of my characteristics perpetuate the Bengali stereotype. Love for literature, check. Love for art and music, check. Being able to dance, sing and draw, check. And heck, doing a PhD on cinema and aiming for academia, that is as Bong as it can get!! So I was Bong through and through. But when I would travel to Bengal, I would be disparagingly made conscious of how ‘Non-Bong’ I am, often leading to a disenchantment against people of my own kin.

Yet when I was searching for a comfortable, familiar movie yesterday, without a thought it was a Bengali movie. And when I initially started discovering Bengali cinema, courtesy the brilliant wifi connection in Netherlands, a part of it was also a desire to perhaps reconcile the Bong and Non-Bong within me. I would watch the movies and try to pick up new Bengali words and use them in everyday conversations. I started to learn Bengali songs and sing them with friends, and heck as cliched as it could get, picked up a few Rabindranath Tagore songs too! I remember whilst a vacation back home in Delhi, I kept humming one Bengali song, and my parents were surprised at my sudden interest and knowledge in Bengali cinema and songs. My Baba jokingly suggested I had fallen in love with a Bengali guy perhaps 😛 and he was having a good ‘cultural’ influence on me 😛 Although he was not far off, but yes, later part of the reason why I was with my ex was also because he was a Bong, whose Bengali and knowledge of traditions was far superior to me, and I felt as if in a way he filled that void in me.

But it was not long before I realised that in a very Bong way, I was using cinema as a medium, as a segway to understanding a part of my identity, of perhaps where I came from. I often joke with my friends that the only time I feel Bong is during Durga Puja, and that too because I love hogging on food that time 😛 But it also makes me wonder that despite the now immense distance of years and generation between me and my roots, perhaps in some way it does play out subconsciously or unconsciously. But I also fear that if in future I have children, will this ‘Bong’ identity further dilute? And maybe that fear will make me want to hold onto it tighter, and negatively make me turn inwards? I unfortunately do not have an answer to that at the moment, and as you may have realised a lot of this is my mind rambling about since I still struggle with this.

So where does this bring me to? Perhaps the cliched stereotype of me as a Bong girl doing a PhD in cinema might bring me answers when I finally finish my research. Or maybe the struggle remains perpetual…


Image: Frida Kahlo Self-Portrait

Image Source:Google Images

The Vietnam Pop-Up Diary



Aboard the cruise on our way in the Lanha Bay. This flag is ubiquitous all over Vietnam

I have been wanting to write about my Vietnam trip since a while now. But I always got stuck. The digital world is bursting at the seams with numerous travelogues and travel blogs. I did not want it to become a cliched piece on places I visited, must dos and people I encountered!

So I thought hard, and slow…about the instances that stood out the most for me. And those that I had loved sharing with friends repeatedly. Slowly like a trickle, some bursts of activity popped up in my head, like those in a children’s pop up book? So each page you open, something distinct pops up. And from each place that I visited in Vietnam, popped a few like my first day in Vietnam when I landed in Ho Chi Minh.

I was famished by the time I checked into my hostel in Ho Chi Minh and walked into the first local eatery I spotted. The counter had various dishes that one could partake of and I pointed out to what distinctly, or maybe not, looked like Chicken Curry. On being seated I was offered on a plate, the said Chicken Curry with rice and some salad. Looking around I realised that everyone was eating with chopsticks! Add to that, the place had no forks or spoons! I was now stuck! Now you must have heard of two left feet when it comes to dancing, but when it comes to me and chopsticks, I have two left fingers :/ (Ok, I made that phrase up). But just then I heard my stomach rumbling, and throwing caution to the wind, I was like f*** it, I grabbed a few chillies from the bowl on the side and dug into my fare with my fingers! And hey, even eating with fingers is an art! And guaranteed, it elicited quite a few stares, but atleast my stomach stopped rumbling and I was a happy woman for the rest of the day 😀


Chicken Curry and Rice

My sojourn in Hoi An was marred owing to my falling sick. Besieged by an intense headache and nausea, and losing my funds in between! it wasn’t the best of days that I had. But what still makes me smile is while roaming around Hoi An’s famous Japanese Bridge, I stopped to take out my Instax Polaroid camera to click the bridge. While I was trying to position my camera, I noticed that on the bridge someone was peering at me, and in my head I am going, ‘Eh what’s your deal person?’. And then a minute later the person takes out the EXACT SAME INSTAX GREEN polaroid camera and waves at me!! I burst out laughing and then both of us waved to each other! It was THEN, I got what the deal with the person was. I couldn’t stop shaking my head and laughing since what are the odds huh? Same camera? and in the same colour! And despite my stay in Hoi An being reminiscent of a throbbing head, this one incident made up for it. Just writing about it also makes me smile 😀


Hoi An’s famous Japanese Bridge

Moving on to Hue, that houses the imperial citadel city, the incident I shall recall is straight out of a comedy scene. Like even while it was happening I was thinking all the while oh! I could be in a comedy show right now! On my homestay’s recommendation I decided to give a local eatery a go for my dinner. Their menu had all the local dishes and I chose the option that served a 5 course meal for one person, consisting of Hue’s local dishes. I thought that should be good enough. As the dishes started coming, I dug in. One I thought was a soup and when I tasted it, the flavours were too strong. But I was like what the heck, its all about tasting and experiencing new things correct? Next up was Nem Lui, a pork and beef sausage formed and grilled around stalks of lemongrass, which was supposed to be wrapped in the rice paper that came along with it. But the intelligent person that I am, thought it was tissue paper. Now by this time I had probably messed up everything, not till the girl who served me saw me and realised I was eating all wrong!!! Remember the soup I thought had strong flavours? It was actually a dipping sauce. The girl then decided to give me a tutorial on ‘How to eat Hue dishes?’! Oh, and did I mention I also managed to eat most of it by chopsticks? albeit messing up my clothes like a small child! Towards the end, the girl caught my eye and we both again burst out laughing! I am sure back in the kitchen they must have had a good laugh, but hey atleast I made people smile 😛 and ‘All’s well, that ends well’.

My Comedy of Errors meal at Hue

Another part of Hue that I keep recalling is my day trip to one of the largest caves in the world. It is situated in Vietnam’s Phong Nha National Park, and surprise surprise, the cave’s name was also Phong Nha!! It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason. I was not too sure initially about visiting it, but on entering the cave, all my misgivings gave away. To say that I was rendered speechless would be an understatement. I felt like I was in a Steven Spielberg movie set, an alien planet. With ginormous stalactite and stalagmite formations, the sheer scale of the cave is simply breathtaking. At one point deep inside the cave, with only the sounds of the boat rowing, I felt much like Dumbledore and Harry Potter making their way into Voldemort’s cave! For a moment I thought I even saw something moving in the water below 😛 Ok that’s my hyper active imagination working! Nevertheless, this was definitely the highpoint of my trip to Vietnam, and a place that I would love to revisit in future!

Phong Nha Cave

From Hue, it was time to make my way to Hanoi. A reason why Hanoi would always be special is because of the day I spent with a fellow traveller and friend from Korea. We had met each other at the same homestay in Hue, and it was sheer coincidence that we had booked the same hostel in Hanoi as well. Our similarities were uncanny; both travelling solo, both carrying books, travel diary and a polaroid camera! We couldn’t believe we were so similar! On the day we bumped into each other again at the hostel’s breakfast table, she happened to mention how she really wanted to see Coco, since she had spent some years of her teen life in Mexico. Since it was raining that day, I looked up if any theatre in Hanoi was screening Coco, and voila! I found a theatre nearby and suggested let’s do that! Throwing our schedules away for that day, we both walked our way to the theatre, thoroughly enjoyed the movie and even cried a bit (Yes people, I recommend Coco to everyone). Oh did I mention the movie tickets were so cheap!!!! Sigh. The rest of the day we spent walking the city and buying for things we needed. It was mundane, in the sense what any person would do if they lived in that city. We didn’t go to any must see or must do spots. It also made me realise that in future, whenever I visit a new place, one day I shall keep aside to just relax and do what perhaps people living there do. Watch a movie, visit a mall, go to a supermarket, and all that shenanigan! We ended our day by going to noodle soup place close to our hostel. And OMG, the pork wonton noodle soup I had was THE BEST. I revisited it twice more during my stay in Hanoi, I loved it so much.

Hanoi Snapshots

The last page, and the last pop up has to be when I booked an adventure tour to Lanha Bay, and the second day on the tour company’s private island, I was upgraded to a private bungalow!!! It was the 30th of December, 2017. And I had a part of secluded beach all to myself!!! The private bungalow was luxurious and made me feel like a princess. Sitting on my private balcony with my collection of polaroids and travel diary, I couldn’t have asked for a more idyllic end to my trip in Vietnam.

Lanha Bay                                                              Hoi An

Till then, Red Salute/Laal Salaam Vietnam!

Not under the weather in the land down under! Till yet…:P





It has been a while since I wrote a new post. But since everyone has been asking me how have I been liking Melbourne since my move, I felt this warranted a post. Especially since I am encountering many similarities between the cities of Melbourne and Rotterdam!

And yes, after a brief 5 months in India, I have wound up in another country! And again, never in my wildest dreams had I imagined I would get an opportunity to move to Australia. But hey, I did, and becoming more of a believer in that abstract and much talked of idea ‘destiny’. And till now things look fine, and also I get to experience ‘summers’ in ‘winters’. Or rather away from ‘my’ norm of northern hemisphere seasons, now I get a taste of the southern hemisphere. Always nice to finally understand the high school Geography that one memorised!

So I landed in Melbourne on 14th February, and it wasn’t until I spotted the bouquet of roses at my family friend’s house that I realised it was Valentine’s Day. Frankly, over years of nursing unrequited love nay crushes actually! the day is more or less dead for me, but as the taxi made its way from the airport to the city, I spotted Kangaroos, not one or two, but hordes of them, jumping in the fields. The taxi driver said they had probably ventured out to have their fill of grass. After spotting the ubiquitous symbol of Australia, I concurred it was a good omen. 😀

So as the taxi approached the main city centre, or the Central Business District (CBD) of Melbourne, this is where it starts to get a bit, um familiar, or as they parley, a feeling of deja vu. Melbourne CBD is striking for its architecture, and stylistic post-modern buildings. The Southern Cross Station is built like a series of waves, whereas the building where my family friends reside, is shaped almost like a conical tube with the narrower end cut off at the top. It incited in me the same reaction when I had first glimpsed Rotterdam, that there is ‘weird’ architecture in the city!! Add to that, Melbourne happens to be a port city just like Rotterdam, which means the weather is such a ‘breeze’! When not struggling against strong winds, you either have to brave frequent drizzles, or protect yourself against the sun! I often joked with my friends in Rotterdam that the weather in the city is never sure of what it wants to be, and the weather in Melbourne equally vacillates between sunny, rainy and cloudy!

Perhaps one of the most disorienting incident was when I went to Vapiano with my family friends. Vapiano is a German pizza chain and is quite popular for its reasonable prices and tasty offerings. I often went to Vapiano’s when I was in Rotterdam, little did I expect that once I enter the Vapiano in Melbourne, it would be as if I was transported back to Rotterdam. The decor, the menu, the ambience, EVERYTHING WAS SAME. A friend though laughed when I mentioned it to her, she was like ‘honey, Vapiano everywhere is the same’! This sense of ‘sameness’ came up again when while waiting in a long queue for the washroom in Starbucks, a guy visiting from the US struck up a conversation with me, and we remarked how when you see a Starbucks anywhere, you know you will find a washroom, and its familiar logo and menu is a source of comfort in a new place. If not the most ardent critic, but I am definitely wary of highly capitalistic spaces wherein everything is standardised and looks identical. However, it is only now I understand why outlets like Starbucks or McDonalds are popular around the world. When in a new country, these outlets provide comfort, and perhaps ease the way for integration (up for discussion ofcourse!) And perhaps this is also why settling in this new city has not been so hard on me.

When I had first moved to Rotterdam, I was terribly homesick for a month. By ‘terribly’ I mean really bad. Everything was jarring and disorienting, it took me a while to get accustomed to traffic rules, travel cards, carrying card instead of cash, and social etiquettes. However this time everything seems to come to me easy. A lot of daily  travails are the same, like shops closing at 5pm sharp or how to go find one’s way at supermarkets. Perhaps what really struck is a host of art and cultural activities and spots in the city! For someone who enjoys museum loitering and exhibition scourging, Melbourne seems to be the right fit for me! I was never bored in Rotterdam either, which in itself is a cauldron of bubbling artistic and creative spaces! No wonder Rotterdam is THE city for its architecture and culture, whereas Melbourne is renowned for being Australia’s Cultural Capital.

As I walked on the boulevard along the Yarra river, it reminded me of my walks along the New Meuse river in Rotterdam. However as I peered into the water of Yarra, I realised that is perhaps where the differences arise, both Yarra and New Meuse are rivers yes, with both rivers surrounded by high rises and bridges, but when I looked into New Meuse, the current was harsher, and perhaps the water deeper. It always awed me and scared me a bit too, especially during nights when it appeared menacing and beautiful all at the same time. Yet Yarra did not seem menacing enough, beautiful yes, but did it rouse feelings in me, I am not sure. And perhaps on this note I think I will sign off…..also below are a few images I clicked, so try spotting which image is from which city! 😀

To Rotterdam, With Love


My friend had asked me to mark 1st January 2017 since it was her wedding that day. I laughed and said I will be like the Dutch and put it on my agenda! We had become friends while studying at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Our friendship was quite happenstance. Even though the management school is where most Indian students tend to cluster, I happened to study in the communication department, and my friend in the law school. Both of us were the only Indians in the class, and so perhaps the only Indian friends we had were those we had come across outside the university campus or met via mutual friends.

At the risk of sounding like a besotted guy, twice or thrice I would keep bumping into an Indian girl, who would always give me the most dazzling of smiles. I think many Indian students studying abroad would agree that you immediately know if someone is an Indian. So whenever my friend and I came across each other, we instinctively knew that we were from the same country, add to it her beautiful smile would result a big smile from my side too. Later walking to my class, I thought to myself, that maybe next time it should go beyond a smile and I should initiate a conversation. Next time when I spotted her from afar, and here is the slightly creepy part! I actually followed her!! She was far ahead, but I did not want to lose sight of her. For the record I do not do this with everyone, but instinctively I felt we would hit it off and she won’t mind me following her! I finally managed to catch hold of her and told her, ‘Hey we always smile at each other, thought it was time to say a hi also!’. I had another Indian friend from Bangalore at my side at the time too, who was perhaps ready to disown me for following some random girl in the university haha. However once the three of us started talking, it was a pandemonium! The girl turned out to be from Bangalore as well, and was missing talking to someone in Kannada. So after behaving like a besotted guy, I also became a matchmaker for two of my friends!! (if you are thinking the matchmaker on the lines of Fiddler on the Roof, sorry to disappoint then!)

And now her and I have graduated from Erasmus, returned to India, in our respective cities, and as we chatted, we reminisced how we missed Rotterdam and the university. Unconsciously both of us had not deleted certain apps from our mobile which are not meant for use in India! and to think my mobile has been reminding me that the storage is almost full and I need to uninstall some apps. Somehow it never came to my mind that I had not deleted apps like the weather app, which I would check every time before I would head out with my cycle, or my bank app, to keep a check on my expenses, or the 9292 travel app. And we both started wondering how some place or a city becomes such an intrinsic part of our lives, without us even realising it.

Think it has been a little over a month since I returned to Delhi from Rotterdam. And it is only now that I feel a bit stable, a bit settled. Physically though I had adjusted quickly, going for work and doing regular household chores, but mentally I felt I was in some kind of limbo. Like I was floating in some middle world, unable to decide where I really belonged to, and having a sense of have lived in some parallel world in the past two years. I had come to know Rotterdam on the back of my palms, the city had grown into me. Often when I walked or cycled around in the city, I felt like its denizen. Everyday its familiarity creating a stronghold into me, and making me more confident and sure about myself.

I am not the most confident of person’s around. Often I am nervous, hesitant, and unsure of myself. I was worse before going to the Netherlands. Extremely conscious of myself, less sure and always seeking for approval from those around me. I still am like that, but only to an extent. I don’t see the city of Rotterdam as merely a city where I happened to go and study in, but as a city which symbolises my transformation and growth as an individual. As a majorly introvert person, it was a task for me to consciously go out the first year of my studies to meet people, socialise and make friends. It took a lot of confidence building measures, to borrow from International Relations terminology! to build relations with people. Three years ago I would not have pictured myself, heck neither would my parents have, that I would go on solo trips and manage to ensure the finances for one last trip to Paris before I headed home. It sounds big and grand, but it was not. Sometimes before every trip I would panic, panic about my passport or travel details. But every time I would worry needlessly.

When you are living on your own, and when you are trying to make your own way around, you sometimes discover hidden strengths. I was home alone during winter vacations, with both my flatmates out on a family holiday, when the geyser in the kitchen burst. There was water everywhere in the kitchen. Initially flummoxed, I let the kitchen be, dried away the water and informed the housing agency. I was surprised at my own calm response to the situation. Or for instance, looking at avenues to keep myself busy, to keep learning, I started this blog and started writing intensively for other online magazines, and little by little I developed my own writing style. It took a while, but I am proud to say that even though my writing still needs a lot of work, I have finally found my voice, finally discovered my unique style of writing, something which I can call truly call my very own. I finally opened an instagram account too, where slowly but surely I am learning the ropes of the language of the visual. As a foreigner in a new country, when you see new things, you also perceive and understand them in a new light, which to an extent comes across either through writing or visuals.

I often got remarks on how beautiful my skin tone looked or how I do not need make up to look nice. Those who know me from India know I was always very conscious about my looks, my weight, my nose, everything about my physical experience! I saw myself in a new light in the Netherlands. I still want to work on my body, but not for others, but for myself, for my own health. As cliched as it may sound, I did start to like, and still trying to love myself whole heartedly. When I cycled around the city, it was a wonderful feeling, to feel free, to just be able to turn a corner if I found something interesting. The Kralingen forest in Rotterdam was my favourite spot, where I would cycle amidst the forest, surrounded by tall trees, singing loudly or just gazing, I could simply be me. I did not hold myself back. Heck, even managed to cycled 60 kms in a day!!!!

Importantly I discovered an untapped academic skill in me which I had never been able to utilise properly. This helped me to chalk out goals for myself for the coming few years, and knowing for certain that yes, maybe this is what I am good at, and I will do well in. I could write on and on and on, but I thought this was necessary, since I had been meaning to write this. Write about what exactly Rotterdam meant to me. Rotterdam is a quirky city, extremely post-modern and with wonderful architecture all around. It spoke to me since I am equally quirky, eccentric even sometimes. Sometimes people don’t get my humour, or they think I am too much of a nerd. Rotterdam appealed to my creative side, rather helped build it and sustain it. But like the city, which is slowly emerging, emerging from an unsure character and self, and landing itself up on lists like cities that are different and must be visited, the city helped me to bloom, and I am still growing and trying to capitalise on this. I feel like Rotterdam and I were partners in crime, helping each other to grow, learn and tell the world that hey, I am alive and happening. On a final note…I had once read a phrase which said travel far enough and you will discover yourself, but in my case I travelled far enough, travelled to Rotterdam, only to discover that IT IS ME.

Photo credits: Moi 😀

It always rains….


The heavy rains outside roused me before my alarm went off. Annoyed at the weather of the Netherlands and cursing furiously, I decided to check the number of likes on my latest instagram image, yes, yes, I am quite addicted to that thing, ridiculous really. Anyways, but before I could check my instagram, my eyes went to today’s date. It was the 11th of August, 2016. Suddenly it was all clear, I looked outside again to see the rain pouring cats and dogs, and instead of cursing, I muttered a prayer and smiled.

Six years ago, on this very date, it had been pouring cats and dogs in Delhi. My tears, or rather our tears had merged with the rains as we saw our dear friend one last time at the crematorium. I remember days after it wandering like a zombie. It was difficult to understand how one day a person could be just talking, laughing with you, and another day just drop dead. Or how deaths of different people might affect you differently. When I was merely 10 years old, I distinctly remember seeing my grandfather breathing his last in front of my eyes. I couldn’t sleep for days after that. Being young, and having a hyperactive imagination, I was haunted by fears of my grandfather appearing out of nowhere. Our old house with long corridors and cavernous roofs didn’t help much either. During the deep recesses of night whenever I felt the urge to relieve, I would often wake up my mother or cousin sister to accompany me to the washroom. The long corridor was too terrifying to traverse.

5-6 years later, post the death of my grandfather, what was to baffle me even more was when a close family friend committed suicide. The van driver while picking me up from school informed me that a tragedy had occurred in the building I lived, that someone had taken their own life, I immediately knew who it was. The person in question also happened to be my mother’s close friend. Rushing home, my first thought was if my mother was ok. Till date my mother hasn’t been able to understand how I knew who it was, or how I was so calm or how I had known. Years later I still don’t know. Sixth sense, premonition, intuition? It could be anything. But the enormity of someone taking their own life struck me days later. The person leaves behind so many unanswered questions, and their family and friends forever wondering. I visited the place where it all happened, it was difficult to not try and reconstruct how it might have happened. It gave me goosebumps, and till date I have never visited that place again. It holds such terrible sadness and memories.

Staring at the rains I realised death can evolve a person in so many ways. Perhaps my above encounters with death, or perhaps how death despite being heart-wrenching is one event so tangible, such a surety, and a given no matter what, that the certainty of it calms me down. Perhaps that is why cemeteries attract me immensely. Recently when I made a trip to Paris, my favourite part was its famous La Pere Lachaise cemetery. For me discovering the famous graves was not why I ventured into it, walking into its labyrinth, I felt at one and calm with the dead. But perhaps what has always struck me is also the interplay of both life and death. Old graves have moss growing on it, whereas some have fresh flowers kept by some mourning relative or friend or lover. Life and death find themselves on one common ground, where time and space seem to collapse, and where people just become people; the living united in their mourning, whereas the death united, as they mingle and perish with the earth. Walking with my friend, she asked me what it is that drew me to cemeteries. I had never been asked this question before, and so even though I tried to explain her, I don’t think I was successful. Cemeteries have also often made me feel insignificant. Sometimes we overvalue ourselves, strutting our pretentiousness, all of which comes to naught eventually. Sounds philosophical doesn’t it? But then I guess it is, and also true to an extent.

La Pere Lachaise Cemetery

You might be wondering why such a morose post maybe? Death, cemeteries, ghosts, premonition! haha. I don’t think so. I would say more reflective? Especially since in a span of two weeks another person asked me what drew me to cemeteries. When I was studying my masters in communication in Jamia, it was my fascination for cemeteries and ghosts that led me to my ghost sister! Well technically I mean soul sister, but since she is as weird as moi, I call her my ghost sister. We were delighted to find each other, and we never had to explain explicitly to each other, intuitively and instinctively we understood each other’s fascination and bewilderment with all things dead. Often we would visit the many cemeteries in Delhi, discuss its histories, try discovering the oldest grave, compare old graves’ designs to new ones or just sit and gaze. She took me to her favourite cemetery and grave, a grave so old that a tree had grown from it, with its roots struggling to break apart from the tombstone. And it was there, that I felt nothing personified the inextricable link of life and death such as that tree and grave.

Living in Rotterdam, only after a year did I discover a beautiful cemetery near my place. I often go there to walk around, sit and read a book. I have often elicited curious stares, a lone girl sitting at a cemetery reading a book. Not the most common sight or the preferred place to read a book! Oh did I mention how my ghost sister and I are planning a research project on cemeteries as well? Quite macabre huh? haha. Well that is us, united in our ‘gravely’ meanderings. On the other hand,  my friend’s death 6 years ago united the other bunch of us. 7 of us to be precise.

Even in death some people leave indelible marks. She is literally the fevicol that holds us all together. Despite being vastly different individuals, we have managed to hold onto each other. So even though at that time her death made me question and wonder why, I now know why. She left us with a wonderful bond of sisterhood and friendship, and an important lesson on letting go as well. Since the year she died to now, each of us wherever we have been, it has always rained. Some might say a mere coincidence, and maybe it is. But then you sometimes make a decision to choose what you want to believe. I choose to believe that in her own way, causing rains wherever we might be, is a sign from her side that wherever each of us are, it is the right place. And that things are well and alright.

Ek Sarah sarhad paar, aur iss paar…..(A Sarah beyond the borders, and one within the borders)



My FB notification said that she had posted something on my timeline, so the first thing that I see in the morning on my timeline is someone writing to me that they miss me. It made me smile, smile and be filled with hope. A lot had been occupying my mind when I had to hear some another news, which stumped me. Knowing no other way to channel what I was feeling, I re-read the post by my friend, and I remembered the last time she had told me she wished I wrote about her on my blog. So there it goes Sarah, this one is especially for you. ❤

Did I ever tell you I have another friend named Sarah? That Sarah I had first encountered during admissions interview for Journalism at a DU college. She was sitting with her mother and I remember vividly her mother going on and on about how she was the humanities topper 😛 (Sorry Sarah haha). I ultimately decided for another college to pursue my bachelors in Journalism, but little did I know that I would wound up with that Sarah there as well. And funnily enough, we wound up together during our masters as well. Yes, so 5 years I was stuck with her, had to bear with her haha. We had our ups and downs, there were times I hated her, and she too, yet truly time is a great teacher and a healer. Just the other day I was whatsapping with her. Her tremendous energy and zeal amazes me, do you know Sarah I have always thought what a great sense of comic timing you have? Yesterday my Brit friend remarked how funny I am, maybe that is because of you! Know that I love you and hold you dear, despite everything. 🙂

But the above Sarah is not the Sarah of sarhad paar (beyond my country’s borders) Sarah. Perhaps this inextricable link meant I forged a unique friendship with another Sarah, born and brought up in a country beyond the enemy lines. I believe every kid in India grows up learning how Pakistan is India’s arch-enemy, and vice-versa. I have been very lucky, my father due to his official obligations had to make frequent trips to Pakistan, owing to which many of my pre-concieved notions and prejudices melted away. I can’t really recall how Sarah and I became friends. I tried scrolling back to our whatsapp and FB conversations, but there were far too many!!! We encountered each other while at a youth conference in Russia. We were at a camp near Lake Seliger, where youth from over 130 countries had participated. It was an exhilarating experience! And also my first encounter with many people from Pakistan. It was a sheer joy to meet them, why you might ask? Well my father had told me many tales from his time at Pakistan and their hospitality. Coupled with my penchant for Pakistani TV series and Fawad Khan, interacting with people from there was like rekindling long lost friendships. But that is not when Sarah and I became friends. We knew each other and had said hi maybe once or twice? There was an Indian guy we used to tease her with, jokingly singing Veer-Zaara (a Bollywood Indo-pak love story). But beyond that we never really interacted. I did think though that she was absolutely beautiful 🙂 you still are Sarah haha (and you are NOT fat -_-)

Remember though the Sarah of iss paar? (within my country’s border?) and that we wound up with each other in our masters as well? It was during this masters that I had visited Russia. Perhaps at that time the Sarah of sarhad paar was not required. My mother has a strong faith in destiny, and I too have a strong belief in the same. It may sound irrational to many, but so many times in retrospect I have realised events have occurred or fallen into place when it was meant to be. Maybe that is why when the Sarah of sarhad paar and I were in Russia, we did not become friends. I physically parted with the Sarah of iss paar when I made a temporary move to the Netherlands for a double masters. I knew that by that time the Sarah of sarhad paar had gotten married. She looked gorgeous in all the pictures she had posted on FB. Have I told you I always thought you had an impeccable sense of style? haha, no do not think so. But I think it was my move to the Netherlands and her move to France that finally brought us together.

She would ask me about all the places I had visited, and I would help her in planning, especially when she and her husband decided to visit Amsterdam. We met in Amsterdam when she finally visited it. And it was the most natural thing, we just could not stop talking! Now as I have mentioned in my previous blogpost, I tend to talk, A LOT. And when I am super duper comfortable with someone, I talk even more. Accentuated by the fact that Sarah too is a veritable talker, I do not think we stopped talking even once!! Haha, I have a feeling her husband felt awfully trapped between our chappar, chappar!! But beyond our talkative nature, I think being on our own in an alien environment helped us connect. She and I would, and still discuss personal matters, family troubles, my guy troubles! When she decided to study for GRE and scored a high one! I was so proud. Honestly, I do not know how she manages it with incorrigible in-laws and duties of an ideal daughter-in-law! I have trouble here managing my study schedule, and there she is managing an entire house herself! Now she complains a LOT about how fat she is, I honestly wish I could slap her. You are gorgeous girl. Do not befall yourself in this mindless run for unattainable beauty (read: false) standards. For the longest time I was insecure about my nose, but I realise now, that it’s my nose which makes me cute hahaha!

I highly respect the relationship with your husband, it is adorable, and touchwood. Haha, I still remember how you dressed him up in matching sweaters and cap for Amsterdam and Switzerland 😛 Hats off to him, he really does love you ❤ and you truly deserve it. I always feel you undermine yourself, but in my head you are this incredibly strong and intelligent woman. Think of all the jobs you did, your start up FB group. That requires some serious skills 😛 Oh and the kids that you teach. I admire how you straddle your individuality in the wake of getting married. Many a times I make notes in my head, for when I get married in the future!

But did I forget about the Sarah of iss paar! Ofcourse not. This Sarah has her own wonderful superhuman abilities. She knows the Indian constitution by heart! By jove, the girl is just jaw-dropping! I met you recently in Delhi, my heart nearly broke on seeing you, but remember our talks on feminism, critical theory, Modinomics, complaining majorly about Jamia, trying to drive away Shubhra’s stalkers!! If you are perpetually late and just wing things at the moment, my nature of hyperventilating and submitting everything before time, I would say we as opposites attracted each other, and still do 😛 Know that your knowledge and mind, are the strongest assets and weapons you have. I picture you as this hot-shot political analyst. I know times for you are hard right now, and I do not imagine even understanding what you are going through, but you have in you an incredible strength and the power of gab.

Even though I had started the blogpost thinking it will be solely about the Sarah of sarhad paar, in due process I realised that the two Sarah’s in my life entered when I needed them the most. Both managed to make their way into my everyday quotidian life, firmly entrenching themselves, becoming an important emotional and moral support. So much so that in my head, that the lines between sarhad paar and iss paar have all but blurred.

Painting: Two Little Girls by Vincent Van Gogh



Of Safi, mangoes and monkeys!


Working Title/Artist: The Three Trees Department: Drawings & Prints Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1643 mma digital photo #DP108235


Groggy eyed my flatmate and I both entered the kitchen. She had entered to make a smoothie for her breakfast, whereas I took out my Safi, which is supposedly the best blood purifier, as my early morning snack. My flatmate peered at the covering of the bottle and asked, ‘What is it?’ I then rattled off all the herbs and its benefits mentioned in the bottle.

I have been told I talk a lot, luckily my flatmate talks as much as I do 😛 so our bumping into the kitchen in the morning meant a nice long drawn conversation. It didn’t help that when she saw me gulp down the Safi like a poison, it made her laugh, and then I told her that one of the ingredients, the dreaded bitter Neem leaf, is also a part of this miraculous blood purifier! I told her how my father loves frying them and eating it with rice. Often after our morning walks, my father and I have gone in search of a Neem tree, as he proceeds to pluck the choicest of leaves, so that he have can savour the choicest of meals! I remember distinctly, him trying to cajole me into eating the fried neem leaves, exhorting its values, but my tongue would recoil at its mere taste, and even though I acquired taste for the bitter gourd, for the love of God I could not acquire a taste for the neem leaves!

But coming back to my conversation with my flatmate, often while conversing we realise the small differences of our daily lives, owing to our vastly different cultural background. She has been recently trying to grow peas, broccoli and cherry tomatoes in our kitchen, courtesy the latest Albert Heijn (possibly the biggest supermarket in the Netherlands) trend of providing its customers with vegetable seeds. She was delighted to see two pods of peas growing in her carefully looked after plant, and it amused me since long ago my grandfather had owned a huge farmland, and I have been accustomed to see vegetables and fruits grow on trees or plants. Whereas like my flatmate pointed out, most in the Netherlands buy everything in the supermarket, everything packaged, that nobody ever gives a thought how the fruits or vegetables might have landed in a packet!

Though I am still not privy to how vegetables and fruits might grow, while going on long walks with my father, he patiently points out to me all the different trees, which fruits they might bear. On a trip to one of our relative’s village in West Bengal, I relished ambling along the fields and the forests. I would love plucking chillies from my relatives backyard just before lunch and eating it with my mutton curry! and trust me, those chillies plucked straight from the plant, were the fiery ones! Perhaps the best is when during the summer months in India, all along the roads, or as you traverse the fields while sitting inside a train, you can see the mango trees bursting with ripe mangoes. Plucking or even picking up a fallen mango straight from the tree has a sweeter taste, maybe that is why I have never bothered to buy mangoes in the Netherlands. The ritual of buying it in a supermarket just does not seem enticing enough as opposed to plucking it from a tree!

While talking of mangoes, I told my flatmate how common it is to see monkeys swinging amidst the trees in India, and their mischievous antics have no end in sight. During secondary school I remember while leaving for school and going down the stairs of my home, often I would see a monkey sitting, which would have me screaming my lungs out and running back to my home! She laughed and said that when her boyfriend had visited her last year, he kept asking what are the dangerous animals of the Netherlands! All she could muster was a boar maybe! I had asked a similar question to another one of my Dutch friends earlier, and he too was caught in a quandary, whether the boar is the more dangerous animal or the rogue cyclist in the Netherlands!

Sometimes when I think of all the above I feel truly blessed and privileged, one of my most distinct memories is of a firefly lit clearing of trees in the village of West Bengal that I had visited. With electricity not being available every night, the village would almost be pitch dark during night times, as my father and I carefully made our way in the dark towards our home, during regular intervals the fireflies would light up the trees. It is a sight I would never forget, and perhaps also a sign that we must not forget our roots, the roots from where everything grows, lest all is forgotten and transformed into a canned product.

Reveries shattered, unshattered.


We talk

We walk

And hop about our way..

Rarely do we stop

Rarely do we think


We shirk

We work

It’s all happenstance we think..


Like a clog of wheels

We make our deals

All it takes is one prick..

A nail or a stone

And in a nick’s time

All’s at a standstill


Reveries shattered

And illusions unravelled

They jolt us much

Shake us

Making one asunder


We try to resume

Resolve the prick

And once the nail or the stone’s removed

The clog of wheels shudder

And moves again


And we talk and walk again

And hop our way..

Rarely to stop, or to think


Painting by Abanindranath Tagore

‘Do not accept sweets from strangers.’


In the summer of 2015, I got selected for a short 3 day summer school in Hamburg, Germany. Usually when I travel, I like to briefly glance through a city’s public transport system, familiarise myself with the rules, the different routes, the shortest routes to reach my destination etc.  It makes me feel more secure, more prepared. 

The Golf Resort at which the summer school was to take place, entailed that I change 2 trains and a bus from the airport. The public transport of Germany is quite efficient, do changing different modes of transport is a breeze. If anything, I thought it was a great way to see a new city. In one of the metro stations while I awaited the train, a dimiunitive figure happened to sit next to me on the bench. I briefly looked at her. She was rather old, had short white hair and wore a pink jacket. She appeared quite healthy, sitting upright and munching on some snacks. There was something about her demeanour, the way she sat with her legs dangling from the bench (she was short), and everytime she popped something in her mouth. It appeared childlike to me, a dash of the childhood innocence. 

I looked at her again, and this time she too looked back at me and smiled. I had always heard that Germans are rather uptight and arrogant and difficult to warm up to. Hence this old lady’s smile completely disarmed me. Yet it was perhaps the most warmest of smiles that I had received in the longest time. Hesitantly I smiled back too. And then she smiled even more and appraised me. I can imagine, myself who is a very short person, a young girl from a different country, wearing a jeans and a shirt, walking with a bag in an alien metro station,bmust have seemed interesting to her. I sensed in her a protectiveness and the need to make me feel comfortable and safe. 

She smiled at me more, and I could not help but feel grateful. She then rummaged in her bag and offered me a sweet. Now I don’t know how many times, around the world, every child must have learnt this line by heart, ‘Do not accept sweets from strangers.’! Yet at that moment she did not seem strange to me. Amongst the milling passengers waiting for the train, the old lady and I on a bench had forged a brief intimate relationship. She struggled to say something to me as she handed me the sweet. But then there was no need for any spoken words since our eyes met and we understood each other. I happily took the sweet from her, grateful for her short company while waiting for the train. Sometimes in a strange land, with strange environment and language, incidences such as this reassure us, calms us and signals that everything is alright. 

I still remember her face, fair and crinkly with, eyes full of warmth. She was THE stranger from whom I did accept sweets. ❤️❤️
Painting by Claude Monet

Arrival of the Normandy Train