April 18, 2018

#DefinitelyPTE: A beginner's guide to moving abroad

It is common knowledge and a source of pride that we Indians possess within us, a deep sense of history and a healthy dose of nationalism towards our motherland. Even today, if we look beyond the corruption, rapes, lynchings, murders, and overall unfairness of the legal and political system, there is still a part of us that is extremely proud of our country's potential.

However, one cannot ignore the fact that ours is a (slowly) developing nation, which despite our good intention and endeavor is lagging behind in important areas, thus marring the progress and success of its citizens. It is this blooming desire for progress, therefore, that has become the driving force behind the great Indian brain drain.
It has been observed that many Indian students have shifted from domestic education to International degrees. Some use education as a means to settle abroad, some to earn better, while some don't have much of a choice due to unavailability of certain study courses in India. It is times like these that one needs to sit down with a clear mind, and decide wisely, carefully weighing all the pros and cons of the move. It is at this point that making what-to, when-to, and how-to listicles would come in handy.

Personally, I believe that every journey, however lucrative it may seem, has its own road blocks. And being aware of them places one in a better position to tackle (if not circumvent) them completely. 
Hence, I have prepared the following list of concerns that one must consider while moving abroad in order to ensure a hassle free experience.
  • Passport validity, visa applications: This issue is faced mostly by migrants who are often cheated by recruitment agencies of sending and receiving countries by providing incomplete information of the contract period, salary etc. Students applying for visas should make sure their financial documents and bank statements are complete and in proper condition in order for their visas to be approved in the first attempt.
  • Accepted English tests to be answered: You must have heard of tests like TOEFL, or IELTS etc that are a requisite before seeking admission in any university. This is one of the most crucial steps in the admission process, and can cause repeated disappointments if not conducted or executed diligently. Hence it is important to choose a test that will guarantee fair judgement and easy execution. The best English test option would be #DefinitelyPTE. It is widely accepted by a number of universities and countries for students, immigration, and/or work purposes. A step wise approach to PTE is explained later in the post.
  • Home sickness: This plagues anyone and everyone moving to foreign lands. The place seems alien, the people different, the food unfamiliar. It is quite natural, in such surroundings, to miss one's own country and people. But this biting feeling is felt most only at the beginning, and gradually fades out as one befriends the new and adjusts to his/her surroundings.
  • Culture shock: Coming from India, we are bound to be brought up with a different set of values. Hence it is obvious that it will take us a little time to adapt to the lifestyle in a foreign place. One should be prepared to accept without judging, learn without forsaking, and embrace without abandoning what we have grown up believing. 
  • Country regulation details
  • Food: Vegans and vegetarians may take a slightly longer time to adjust to the diet. 
  • Different time zones: May be difficult to adjust to in the beginning. But one gets gradually habituated to the change.
  • Language and dialect: With English, not being the first language for most people in India, shifting to countries that have a powerful foothold in spoken English may be a little inconvenient. Feelings of low self-esteem and inferiority may set in. That aside, countries that speak a completely different language may be even more difficult to adjust to. Students, therefore, should make sure that the medium of instruction in the university they have selected is primarily English. Also brushing up communication skills and vocabulary may help make things easier.
  • Medical care and first aid: One must remember to carry a medical kit including emergency medicines, antibiotics etc from India. Medical treatment in a foreign place does not come easy, even under the security cover of a medical insurance policy. Besides, delays in appointments and a prolonged wait period is something you ought to consider when you are not a local of that area.
As mentioned above, we will now discuss in detail one of the most important steps of the process. The Pearson PTE Academic is the English language test that you need to clear in order to get accepted in any university outside India.

#DefinitelyPTE ...Why?

PTE has many benefits as compared to other English language tests, making it more convenient and advantageous than the others.
  • The Pearson PTE Academic is widely accepted by thousands of organizations all over the world. These include prestigious universities like Harvard University, Stanford University, Imperial College London, Bradford College UK and many others. This test is accepted in 96% in the UK, and 100% of Australia, New Zealand, and Irish universities. It also covers a growing number of universities in USA and Canada. (You can check the entire list here )
  • There are PTE preparation packages available (with sample questions to familiarize you with the format of PTE Academic), in order to help you acquire your desired score and gain easy admission into the university of your choice.
  • PTE is quicker and more flexible as compared to IELTS etc, and can be scheduled up to 24 hours in advance.
  • Test duration : single session of 3 hours as opposed to other tests that have different sections of the exam scheduled on separate days.
  • Faster results: Within 1 to 5 business days. So no long wait periods. 
  • The candidates can send their PTE score online to any number of universities without additional fees.
  • Wider reach, easy availability: Tests are available in as many as 200 test centres around the world, over 360 days of the year.
  • PTE is a computer typed exam. Hence it is free from all bias of handwriting, dialect, mood etc. The results are also computer assessed, making it an impartial and accurate judgement. 
  • Also, since PTE is a computer typed exam, it  would prove advantageous over other written and spoken exams, as it allays the anxiety the candidate could otherwise face with a foreign examiner (which in turn could adversely affect his speaking and consequently his test score.)
  • The test is scored on a granular scale of 10 to 90 that shows a detailed breakdown of skills. This means it helps you discern your weaknesses (vocabulary, grammar, writing disclosure) so that you can work on them. 

Here is how the exam is carried out-

In India, there are centres located in cities like Pune, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Punjab, Chennai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Nagpur, and Mumbai.

On the day of the PTE:
  • The candidate must reach the test centre on assigned time and check in with the test administrator by showing his/her ID proof.
  • The test administrator will provide the exam candidate with rules to read. Read them carefully.
  • Submit copies of ID to the test administrator
  • Palm vein scanning 
  • The candidate will be assigned a locker to keep their belongings.
  • The candidate is then directed to a personalized computer with personal headphones and partitions to separate him/her from other students.
  • There are security cameras watching over each candidate that ensure the test is conducted in all fairness.
  • The test comprises of three parts namely; Speaking and writing, Reading, and Listening. 
With that, I come to the end of this tutorial. For more information, aspirants can check out the PTE Youtube Channel here.

Remember, with freedom comes responsibility. Life in a foreign country comes with its own set of rules and regulations, which we need to adhere to. The key is to accept and be accepted. Be accountable for all your choices and actions.
Behave responsibly and make India proud. So that when you eventually return, you hold in possession not just your university degree but also a bag full of adventure, travel and memories to cherish and love for life...

April 14, 2018

Movie review: 'October'

Movie Title: October

Genre: Romance/drama

Director: Shoojit Sircar

Story: Juhi Chaturvedi

Producer: Ronnie Lahiri, Sheel Kumar

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Banita Sandhu, Ajay Sharma, Gitanjali Rao and others

The film starts on a casual note, showing us a typical day in the life of Dan, a hotel management student interning at a five star hotel, who manages to get everything wrong at work owing to his clumsiness and cocky behavior. However, all is forgiven because this twenty-one year old has a good heart and the emotional maturity of a child, making it impossible for his colleagues, friends, and even his boss to hate him.
On the other hand, Shiuli is a well-balanced, mature and intelligent co-worker, who seems to have her life and priorities sorted, something that irks Dan because it reminds him of his own inadequacies.
Barely friends, these two know very little of each other...until the fateful accident that nearly kills Shiuli, changing the dynamics of their relationship forever.

Even half-way through the film, I knew that this movie would garner mixed reactions from its audience. And the after-comments from the people in the movie hall only proved me right.
However, I am of the opinion that good art should evoke and provoke. If a good piece of art (be it poetry, literature, or film) doesn't trigger you to think hard and change something in you, then it hardly qualifies as impactful. What different would it be than the run of the mill, leave-your-brain-behind potboilers we love to hate?

I am glad 'October' proved to be different. And although it did not manage to break the frozen sea of disappointment and bias that mainstream Bollywood (with its frivolous song-and-dance routine and slapstick comedy) has created within me, I do think it managed to cause a few cracks in it.

The movie leaves you with a heavy heart and a mind full of questions...questions that you may have asked yourself before, questions you may have dodged answering, and topics you may have avoided because, well, they are too damn difficult and painful to think about. But 'October' brings those same questions to the fore, carefully wrapped in a story of young love and compassion that keeps you engaged emotionally until the end, when you leave the hall in sombre silence and it suddenly hits you. The nuances of the film, the underlying message, the tone, the subtlety.
The theme revolves around the eternal dilemma faced by the caretaker or family of someone who has slipped into an almost irrecoverable coma----hang on to the delicate thread of hope or pull the plug and let go?  The former means the possibility of watching the person suffer through perceivable and imperceptible trauma, but also holds a chance (however bleak it may seem) of recovery. The latter means losing the person forever, with the only consolation that you have at least ended the suffering. Personally, I think both options are equally harrowing for the caregiver or family member to choose from. Hell! It isn't even a choice in the first place.

Yet, 'October' portrays how strong optimism can bring about a positive outcome in even the bleakest of conditions. Dan fights against medical reason and logic. When the resolve of even family is shaken, he proves to be the pillar of strength, helping Shiuli, gradually make her way to as much of a recovery as possible, showing us how even a few extra moments with a dying person can help the ones left behind in getting the much needed strength to live on. Perhaps that was the real underlying message behind the movie...cherish every moment, even the fleeting ones.

Thinking about it, I think 'October' was all about searching for closure, until you eventually realize it is within your own self. Dan's entire journey, starting with him being persistently curious about why Shiuli asked about him just before the accident, to him presuming she has feelings for him, to the point wherein looking after her becomes the sole aim of his life, despite knowing that she may never be able enough to return his love, only proves to us that the answers you are seeking are inside you.

'October' brought to mind Aruna Shanbaug who remained in a vegetative state for nearly 42 years before she passed away in 2015.
A senior nurse at the hospital (where Aruna lay admitted) was quoted saying, "We have to tend to her just like a small child at home. She only keeps aging like any of us, does not create any problems for us. We take turns looking after her and we love to care for her. How can anybody think of taking her life?"
This movie helped me see the Aruna Shanbaug case in a different light. I no longer saw it as a pitiful condition of a helpless woman being unable to express her will. Instead I saw it as a victory of the love and care that helped her fight a forty-two year long battle.

There are a few scenes that are so heart touching, that you can't help but marvel at Banita Sandhu, who, despite being a debutante, has managed to win hearts with her acting prowess. The supporting characters have also done full justice to their roles.
Dan with his simplicity and never-say-die (literally) optimism manages to grow on you, and you cannot help but applaud his persistence and sensitivity. Dhawan's terse dialogue delivery and innocent performance manages to evoke just the right amount of empathy towards his character, while Sandhu's lifeless stare and sluggish responses as a comatose patient, proves her prowess as an actor.

To sum up, 'October' is a movie of substance, a slice-of-life story that tells us that connections of the heart do not need reason or logic. Sometimes all it takes is a tiny germ of a thought that urges you to make a difference. Perhaps the real way to love is to love unconditionally.
Perhaps the only way to love is to love unconditionally!

Personal Rating: 4 out of 5

April 12, 2018

Of why I am against the Big Fat Indian Wedding

There are two types of people in this world - those who love Indian weddings, and those who do not. I have to proudly say that I belong to the latter category.

Now don't get me wrong. I have nothing against the celebration of the sanctimonious union of two souls in holy matrimony. However, what I fail to understand is the need for unnecessary extravagance in what ought, in my opinion, ought to be a private and intimate affair.

A friend from Delhi was recently telling me how a typical Punjabi family would be alright with not being to be able to pay off their debts but would never compromise on their children's wedding. I laughed, thinking how all Indians could bond on this one common trait. Be it a North Indian family or a farmer in remote Maharashtra or a typical Mallu household in the South, a quintessential Hindu wedding includes festivities that spread over days on end (Roka, sangeet, mehendi and all sorts of other functions that keep not just the couple but the entire extended family involved and busy), money splurged on catering, flower arrangement, gifts for family...and inadvertently, lots of stress from unpaid loans and untoward expenditure.
Which brings me smoothly to the main point of this post--ending this senseless social practice of ornate and pompous religious customs in weddings.

Personally, when it comes to weddings, I'm more in favour of a simple private affair in the company of family or friends. Better still would be a hassle-free court marriage in testimony of your inner circle.
In fact, I'm quite (un)popular in my circle for skipping weddings and other ornate occasions of irrational behaviour. Many may label me a Scrooge for this.
But I would rather be called a Scrooge than an eejit who despite living in a third world country like ours, wants to partake in a wedding in classic first-world style.
It is at this point that many would jump at me defending the whole SRK logic of 'Hum ek baar jeete hai, ek baar marte hai, shaadi bhi ek baar karte hai...'. But as much as I believe in the whole YOLO philosophy, my ruse with the top-lofty nature of the 'Band-baaja-baraat' is based on a logic much overlooked. Somehow when it comes to wedding festivities, all good sense goes for a toss and people turn into horses with blinkers, walking on the path paved for them by their contemporaries irrespective of individual situations and circumstances (the typical herd mentality).

My point is this. Our country is known for its jarring in-your-face economic discrepancy.

While there are people hungry for a morsel of rice on one hand, the food that gets wasted at a big fat Indian weddings on the other hand could feed a small nation.
But no! What do we care? We will continue to act like retarded chimps, grabbing grains (of raw rice) by the fistful to hurl on the bride and groom and the bevy of relatives crammed up in between.
And don't get me started on the wastage at the wedding banquet. The most irritating kind of people you'd see at a wedding are the ones who will pile up their plate to the hilt, and end up leaving half of it untouched because they suddenly remember they are supposed to be on a diet.
Nearly nine tonnes of food is wasted every year in each wedding hall in the city. This includes spoilage of food due to improper storage, eatables left over in plates etc.

To add to that, you will witness wastage in every form possible.
  • Nobody cares about the electricity consumed during an Indian wedding. Fairy lights to decorate the entire house (because 'shaadi ka ghar' and all that jazz), extra coolers and air conditioners in the wedding hall, if God forbid, it is scheduled during the summer, blaring music with loud speakers plugged in are just some of the ways in which energy expenditure occurs.
  • Of course, one cannot forget the waste of physical energy that is invested in small jobs and errands to magnanimous tasks that need running about all day
  • From the designer diamond jewellery and the wedding trousseau to unbelievably pricey flower arrangement and ice sculptures to destination weddings and inviting superstars to put up a show, the big fat Indian wedding nowadays has been reduced to an ostentatious display of wealth, rather than a reason for happiness.

We keep complaining how India can never be the India of our dreams, how poverty and inequality can never be eradicated. When foreign directors make movies or music albums our country in poor light, we spit fire claiming that they only show the darker, uglier side of our country. But little do we realize that we are the culprits responsible for this darker uglier side to actually exist.
It is only when we, as a society, translate our ideals into action, our thoughts into deeds that we can bring about a change. And for this to happen, we should begin start with ourselves. Every individual ought to make a conscious decision to cut off unnecessary expenditure.
Only then can we eliminate the monster called wastage, and subsequently lessen the social inequality that plagues our country.

I recently read about an initiative in South India where the left over food from wedding halls was packed off and distributed among the poor. Also we have inspiring  initiatives like the Roti bank which works on pretty much the same principle. I think sharing your happiness with those less fortunate is the best way to immortalize the memory of an occasion.
After all, what better way to start a beautiful journey of togetherness than this.

So gleam your conscience instead of your shoes and jewellery. Spread joy among the deserving. It's more likely to get you glowing than the ridiculously expensive bridal facials you have booked for  before your big day. Go for minimalistic decor. Spend that money to decorate someone's life instead. Those starving slum children need that food a lot more than the tantrum-throwing, food-spitting brats at your wedding hall. The homeless will appreciate those gifts and shawls more than the aunties swishing about in designer saris turning their noses at everything because they'd expected better.
Because no matter how perfect you plan your wedding, you are never going to end up pleasing everyone. People will gossip. They will grumble behind your back. Some will complain about the food. Others about the lighting, decor, plates, crowd and everything they set their eyes on.
So I say, if they going to criticize you anyway, you might as well give them a reason to.

Because in the land of the wise and sensible, where less is more, a small thin Indian wedding is the way to go...

So keep it simple. Keep it sweet!

This post is written as a part of Indispire Edition 216, the topic being:
Share a thought about a social practice that is/was followed in your generation but you feel will not hold good for the next/current generation? #Gen2GenChange
I have chosen the highly prevalent and increasingly popular social practice of ornate wedding ceremonies, because frankly, the tradition of senseless extravagance is an unhealthy practice and does not deserve to be passed on. Let the buck stop here...

April 10, 2018

Debunking beauty stereotypes

Every woman, in the course of her life time, encounters feelings of self-doubt and deprecation wherein she turns extremely critical of her body image. Sometimes these phases last longer than usual leading you to abhor the person you see in the mirror. All of a sudden, your face seems too fat, your nose too big, your hair too dry, your ears too pointy. (No, it's not because you've suddenly transformed into a goblin.) Your insecurities make an appearance all at once, deepening an inferiority complex that may have been triggered by an careless remark or an unkind word in the past. This is when the hair straighteners come out from the dresser drawers. Sometimes, it's the hair curlers, the gym membership card, the cycling machine, the crash diet recipes, and perhaps the nuts and bolts that were supposedly holding your brain together. You start getting obsessed with unrealistic beauty standards and begin to compare yourselves with skinny, photoshopped models on fashion magazine.
End result; you feel like a failure-unaccomplished and unattractive. You wish to crawl up in a hole and die, and never be spotted in this otherwise beautiful world with perfect other people.

Having been there and done that myself, I am well aware of what it feels to allow your self esteem go for a toss. I've died in shame when my beauty parlour lady wiggled her nose and frowned at what she perceived as a 'hundred unattended-to comedones' (miraculously visible to her eyes only) in the T-zone of my face. I've held in my breath a little too hard, hoping my tailor wouldn't comment on the weight I've gained as she nipped and tucked my dress at the desired places. I have used styling products in a vain attempt to achieve poker straight hair. I have sulked over my imperfections, tried to conceal my flaws and when I realised it wasn't working, wished for a fairy Godmother who would make me invisible.

But not anymore!
Somewhere, in medias rez, I realised that perfection is just a state of mind. There is no one-size-fits-all.
Why should we have to measure upto some standard set by some other person, living some other life? Someone who doesn't know our struggles, our victories, someone who doesn't care about our fights, someone who doesn't even know the us beneath the surface?

Your worth is not measured by the size of your waste, the colour of your skin, or the texture of your hair. Beauty is something much deeper than that. It is more about how you feel inside than what you look outside. Wouldn't you rather 'feel' like a million bucks than 'look' like a million bucks? I know for sure I would. Because after all, isn't that what it's eventually all about---feeling happy?

So stop belittling yourself. It doesn't matter what the world demands of you. You are not here to meet its expectations anyway. Do not allow anyone to decide how you feel. Our society is fickle and so are its standards.
Too short, too thin, too fat, too dark - that is what the advertising industry thrives on. Do not let it feed on your self-esteem. Instead, focus on what is really important. Concentrate on improving in ways that will have a lasting impact, that are not at risk of fading with age and time, that you will be remembered for even when you are gone.

Of course, you have every right to work on yourself. Eat healthy. Exercise regularly. Take care of your body (and mind). But do it for the right reasons. Do it because it makes you happy. Do not succumb to pressures just to be accepted by a bullying society. Once it realises you care, it will always find new things to bully you about.

Instead, live for yourself. As long as you are fit and healthy, it hardly matters whether you are Pear or Apple shaped, have a tanned or clear complexion, or can fit into your little black dress or not.

And that, my dear, should be enough to keep you going...
Because you may not be 'beautiful' as per convention, but you are at peace with your imperfections which is what make you perfect, just the way you are!

April 04, 2018

Musafir diaries: the travels of a gypsy heart

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page."

~ St Augustine 

I was bitten by the travel bug rather early on in life. As a child, I recall looking forward to the end of every academic year. Vacations not just meant freedom from exams and school but also meant adventure and travel. Come summer and I'd already be dreaming of the trip that lay ahead. This triggered in me an irresistible wanderlust that with time only grew stronger.

Cut to present day, I am always up to venture and explore new places. However, the meaning of travel for me has evolved over the years. Traveling, to me, is no more only about the destination. It has become more about the people I meet, the experiences I share, and the lessons I learn along the way. It has become more about the stereotypes it helps me break, the conclusions it helps me draw, the roads it helps me pave for the journeys ahead, an exploration of the deeper nuances of other cultures and customs.

In a way, I can say travel has shaped my personality to a large extent as well. Then again, it could also be just an extension of my personality. Either way, I'm not complaining.

Those who know me will know about my fascination for nostalgia. I like to think of myself as a memory keeper, someone who carefully procures, polishes and preserves these precious nuggets of reminiscence, only to render them sacrosanct. And travel caters well to this habit of mine.

However, holidays cannot be always organised well in advance. But some of my best holidays have been spontaneous decisions. And why not? Haven't you ever felt the need to disconnect from the busy humdrum of life and break free from the monotony and madness of a mundane existence? I know I have. At times, we need to desperately fall back in love with the universe, and life always presents us with a choice---continue living the same tasteless documentary or turn it into a commercial feature film replete with new people, new cuisines, new environs and more importantly, new possibilities.
With travel being the perfect recipe for a delicious cocktail of adventure and therapy, all we need is good timing, and VOILA! There we are, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to love the world by embracing it with open arms.

So when Indiblogger with Lufthansa organised this contest, my mind immediately started playing the feature film of my travel experiences, urging me to present a collage of memories for the occasion.

Accordingly, I have jotted down my travel inspiration and experiences; particularly the ones that made me reconsider my opinion, revise my outlook, broaden my horizons, and open my eyes to a whole new world. So here goes...

**insert flashback mode with dreamy effects and soft music**

  • In Nuremberg Germany, when I was introduced to this car pooling service called Mitfahrzentrale...
I was thoroughly impressed by the States initiative to conserve energy. Mitfahrzentrale are facilitation centers that provide unique, low cost, car pooling services that provide those traveling cross country or cross continent travel (with shared fuel resources) at a nominal fee. These centers also serve as pick up and drop off points to help avoid delay, confusion and further expenses. I liked the idea, and silently wished for similar safety standards back in India that allowed strangers to commute together without worry. Being Indian, I was slightly wary of traveling like that. I recall thinking of all kinds of misadventure and mishaps that I could have met with. But the pleasant company put me at ease. And although I didn't get a chance to share food or drink with them, we shared our travel experiences and regaled each other with stories. By the time we reached our destination, my irrational fear had dissipated by the incessant chatter in the car, and I bid a warm adieu to my co-travelers, happy to have connected with them and brushed off a bias.

This experience taught me something.
  1. The most interesting encounters are sometimes the briefest.
  2. Geographical distance doesn't make us any different from each other. At the end of the day, we are all story tellers living the same life, just different stories.

  • My first encounter with Durian in Singapore.
I was wandering through the local fruit market, when a strange intense odour caught my breath. I was about to run away from the place when I realized the odour was coming from the direction of the local fruit called Durian. Curiosity got the better of me, and I asked the vendor to pack me a slice. I had to give it a try. Pinching my nose shut, I bit into the fruit and immediately regretted it. It was only much later that I realized it was an acquired taste, and I was glad I hadn't given up on it.
That day, I decided that I would not hold bias against any kind of food. And although I still have my priorities, I am of the belief that if someone somewhere is eating it, you can eat it too!

  • In Sri Lanka when I realised the real meaning of meditation and inner peace...
We were visiting this Stupa when I saw a monk immersed deep in meditation. Eyes closed, glowing visage. Just looking at him made me happy. There was a lot of commotion around him. Tourists clicking pictures, talking among themselves, discussing itineraries. But the monk stayed undisturbed. On finishing his meditation, I went up to him and asked him why he hadn't instructed them to maintain silence.
His words will always stay with me. 'I cannot ask the world to shut up,' he said, smiling calmly at me, 'But I can listen better to myself.'

  • In Amsterdam, when I visited Anne frank house and Van Gogh museum...
It was heartwarming to witness in front of you what you'd only read in books and seen in pictures. I could feel the overwhelming presence of Anne and her family. How they must have sought shelter in that cramped little secret annexe was beyond me. The pieces of furniture, the notches they made in the wall (to mark heights of family members during the incarceration) were all a reminder of how terrifying the experience must have been. I'd read the diary of Anne Frank multiple times, but standing there, breathing the air she once had breathed, touching the things she once had touched felt like an emotional holocaust in itself. There was an eerie silence amongst us tourists who had traveled back in time to pay homage to the place. But somewhere we knew there was a silent bond being shared between each one of us. The bond of empathy. Of feeling a common love for a girl long gone, someone we had all read and heard about. Of respect to all those who struggled to fight the holocaust. Of hatred for the dastardly Fuhrer who was responsible for the inhuman concentration camps

The Van Gogh museum presented us with a similar experience. Here we were all linked by the love of art and empathy for the disturbed life of a genius who had left us all a legacy of paintings to reminisce and admire.

  • In London, when I witnessed the overview of the entire city in the London eye...
London Eye
I also had a wonderful time at Madame Tussaud's wax museum, and despite the teeming crowd of over enthusiastic tourists, I did manage to get a few hasty clicks with Mahatma Gandhi and the Queen.

Lesson I learned in London
  1.  No matter where you go, you will always find friendly Indians smiling at you, making you feel comfortable in foreign land.
  2.  The British might not miss much from India. But they surely love the butter chicken.
  3.  The Brits couldn't get heaven on earth. So they opened Thorntons instead.

  • In Kovalam, Kerala when we bargained a fantastic boat ride through the marshy back waters...
    View from the boat
A beautiful opportunity to explore the aquatic life and birds there-the abundant flora and fauna God's own country is blessed with. There was a young couple accompanying us on the ride, and the man turned out to be an ornithologist who was only too happy to identify and explain about the varied species of birds we saw. However, this did rob the local boatman of his share of attention as all doubts and queries were now directed towards the young specialist instead of him.

  • In Brussels, we were only too happy to reach in time for the annual 'flower carpet' festival...

Grande Place - Brussels
It was a beautiful sight to behold, with the whole of Grande Place carpeted with brightly coloured flowers in full bloom. The mannequin piss and other tourist attractions faded in comparison, hence proving that nature has its own way of impressing mankind. Be it  the wonders of weather or the sights of Spring, we can never beat it at its game. The magnificent experience of the 'flower carpet' festival only accentuated the feeling of comfort as I sunk my teeth into fresh, hot, made-to-order waffles and crepes, reinforcing my belief that food forms the deepest connections in the most wonderful ways. From butter chicken to waffles to scones and cream. From the simple to the complex. We are bound to each other by the tips of our taste buds. And as scientifically improbable as it may sound, I still think there must surely be a special undiscovered relation between our taste buds and our heart strings.

  • When we visited the artisans of Dandasahi...
The Pattachitra I bought--- 'Dasha Avatar'
Located 12 kms from Puri, Dandasahi is a small village in Odisha renowned for its craftsmanship and artistic talent. I visited 'Ananta Maharana Gurukul' and was left mesmerized by its famous art of 'Pattachitra' paintings. The canvas for these paintings is mostly cloth, and the colors used are natural made from seashells, powdered stone, soot, leaves etc. Stone carving, papier mache, mask making are other dying arts that need to be preserved as a part of our heritage. Interacting with these craftsmen in Dandasahi made me realize that talent does not discriminate or differentiate. It is distributed without any bias. These craftsmen may be financially backward but are blessed by Goddess Saraswati. They were only too happy to showcase their work and talk to me about it. Their work was their passion. So much so that even though it may not make their pockets jingle, it surely made their faces beam. I bought a couple of paintings and left the place feeling positively inspired.

With that, I come to the end of this post. I have loads of stories to regale, myriad more experiences to reminisce about, but I think we will keep them for another day. Globe trotting has invariably taught me countless lessons, thus showing me how much I still have to learn. It has made me far more open minded...about things, people, and their opinions. It has taught me to approach new people, embrace their thoughts, listen to their views, and understand them better. I have met and conversed with various people during my trips. But each person, each place has its own unique quality and something special to share, making me believe that the world is such a colossal sea of experiences and knowledge, and I am but a mere speck.

However, every journey till date has inadvertently made me understand one thing about life---we are all in this together; working towards a common goal, exploring the world, discovering one another, and perhaps leaving a small part of ourselves wherever we go, with whomever we meet along the way. That way, we are all connected, each bearing a piece of each other within ourselves---each a part of that one big story.
So be gentle to everyone you meet along the way. Walk a few steps together. Share some smiles. And make lots of memories...

Life is this huge unpredictable adventure, part beautiful, part scary. We are all travelers on the same road, heading towards the same destination, with no one road map. We are all fighting the same battles, nursing similar wounds, and hiding matching scars. Sometimes we stumble and fall. The trick is to learn...always learn. Making notes may feel exhausting at times.
But never forget; Adventure is out there! 
And with the right balance of compassion, positive attitude, and will to explore, we can unravel all the mysteries of the world.

In the famous words of Mark Twain, 

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did. So throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover. 

So let's pack our bags, flip open the camera of our mind, and say yes to the world...
As cohorts....
As co-passengers...
As friends!