खुशी के नकाब |

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Photo credits : @hyzir on instagram.

जचते हैं खुशी के नकाब इस पीढ़ी को..
ये आँसू छुपाते हैं हसी से,
और गमों को धूएं में उड़ाते हैं.
जचते हैं ये ज़िंदगी के झूठे जशन
इन्न नकाबों के रंगीन बाज़ार में.

मगर छुपते नहीं कुछ ज़ख़्म आसानी से..
किसिके प्यार की अधूरी कहानी के..
आँखों पर पट्टी बाँधे कौन चल पाता है ?
ये आँखें जो छुपाई नहीं जाती,
ये आँखें सब बयाँ कर जाती हैं.
कौन किसके गम में रोया,
और किसने जागते रातें काटी हैं..

 

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A Summer Weekend : Cannes/Monaco/Island of Sainte Marguerite

 

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During the 18th century when the British upper class was holidaying and chilling under the warm skies of the French Riviera, they couldn’t have imagined that in the 21st century, these spots would turn into holiday hubs, and people would fly in from all over the world, every day, every hour, crowding these beaches along the Mediterranean. The Cote d’Azur, known in English as the French Riviera, is definitely one of the most popular summer holiday destinations of our times. With the Cannes Film Festival pretty much endorsing it every year, tourists are buzzing around all year long. One among them, I finally booked myself in for a southern delight this summer.

Almost the peak of summer, I flew in to Nice on the first weekend of August. Although summer was at its peak in Paris too, but the sun in the South has its own feels. So I landed in Nice, and took the bus to the center from the airport, and took in the sight of people walking their dogs and running along the Promenade des Anglais. The first thing that really struck me was the architecture, which was nothing like what I’d seen before in France. Of course I wasn’t used to seeing house with huge balconies and terraces, because my home city in France, i.e., Paris is known for its almost non existing balconies. Which has its own charm, but let’s not get to that. Nice, on the other hand, was very, very different from Paris. I just couldn’t stop staring at the pretty houses, sometimes painted bright yellows and pinks, looking onto the beach.

But Nice wasn’t the place I was staying the night. I was somehow more excited about visiting towns other than Nice, mostly because I didn’t want to go to super hyped places. But yeah I know Cannes and Monaco aren’t less hyped either. But after a small walk around Nice, I headed straight to the station and boarded the train to Monaco. A cheap ticket, a short ride, but amazing views of seaside towns as the train passed along the French Riviera, towards Italy. Pretty much every small stretch of sand was packed with people. Somewhere hidden on tiny hills were houses, mansion rather, looking like a bird’s nest far from the hustle and bustle of the city ; looking out on to the bright blue Mediterranean, a perfect escape from the world so full of life and troubles. But like dreams, these houses passed out of sight, and soon the train entered the Gare Monaco Ville.

Of course, I should have known that this was another touristy little place. A small country, surrounded by France and the Mediterranean. Monte Carlo- a town straight out of a Hollywood movie set. With its yatch-lined harbor, the belle-epoque casino, and streets filled with high-end fashion boutiques, I did feel for a moment that I was in the wrong place. Monte Carlo is for the rich. But these days you don’t need to be rich to travel. SO, I was pretty happy not spending euros and euros like a typical tourist, but taking in the sights and observing a new place with keen eyes of a traveler. Not concentrating much on spending lavishly, I concentrated on walking around. But the most crazy (in a nice way) thing about this place was that most of it was hilly, and quite interestingly there were public lifts to take help you climb up! It took me 20 minutes to figure out where my airbnb was – even though it was just on the street next to the station where I got off! I thought I was pretty good with maps, but a new realization is that map skills work differently for hilly towns!

Well, I didn’t do much in Monaco except walking around in the old town, in narrow streets, admiring the architecture, window shopping brands that I had never even heard of, climbing till the highest point of the town for an amazing view, and visiting the entrance hall of the casion of Monte Carlo (You can’t go in to gamble unless you’re suited and booted and look rich enough). Drinks and dinner by the harbour, ofcourse, and that was the end of my time in Moncao. Next afternoon, I boarded a train to Cannes, and eager for a day at the beach!

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Post Office in Monaco.

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A view of Monaco.

Cannes, though still a rich people city, had its own charm. Much different from Monaco, Cannes was all about the beach life. I got off further away from the central station, and walked alllll the way from Cannes La Bocca to the hotel, along the beach. Pretty exhausted by the time I reached the hotel, but the beach had to be done. So poof! I was at the beach in no time! What I noticed there was that from where I had started walking, the beaches were pretty empty, but reaching closer to the center, it was a bazar! The beaches at the center seemed no fun – it was just tooooo packed! There was literally no place to sit. These are the beaches of La Croisette. So if you go to Cannes, avoid these touristy beaches and walk further away from the town, where it’s much nicer and peaceful for a beach day.

That night, dinner was not touristy at all. Having taken some local advice from a friend from Cannes, I went to dine at a very fancy place, where apparently only the locals go. Situated in the heart of the touristy area, in a narrow street next to lanes full of exotic restaurants, this little restaurant, if you don’t know about it, you might never find. Its pretty much a local secret in the heart of the buzzing touristy quartier and is quite rightly called “Le Jardin Secret” – The Secret Garden. At the entrance, it doesn’t even seem like a restaurant. You go in, and you ask for a table, and then they take you in to the garden, which is decorated with candles, lights, and hippy stuff. A beautiful place to spend a summer evening, with French food and wine. And that was the end of day one in Cannes. But the next day was going to be the best adventure of this trip!

South of France

At a beach in Cannes.

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Another one.

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View from the hotel room.

I was pretty convinced that all these towns along the Mediterranean are super touristy and with no peace and calm. I wanted to go somewhere quieter. I still hadn’t found a beach where I could just relax, away from the crowds. And then – an island happened. I have this habit of checking google maps all the time to see what is around. Before the trip, when I was looking at Cannes in Google maps, I saw an island pretty close to it. I wondered if one could actually go there. So when I reached the hotel, I made it a point to ask the reception about this island. And turns out – we can go there! Now this island is not an island where people live. So pretty much an island-island! It used to be inhabited during Roman times, and was captured by the Spanish at some point and then recaptured by the French. During the 17th century, the fortress prison which still exists on the island was constructed and it was the home to many famous prisoners including the mysterious prisoner called the Man in the Iron Mask, who has been mentioned in the works of famous French writers like Voltaire and Dumas. The prison was shut down in the 20th century. Today, most of the island is a reserved forest with tiny rocky bays, umbrella pines and ancient eucalyptus forests. And of course, beaches all around! Although most of the beaches are rocky, there is a long stretch of sand beach too. But what makes it even more exciting is that you can pick any small stretch of rocky beach and make it your own private beach for the day!

How to get there? Well, there’s a ferry from the Vieux-Port of Cannes to this island every 1-2 hours from the morning till the evening. A 15-minute ferry ride. But the last one back to Cannes is around 6 in the evening, so if you don’t manage to get back, you’re stuck on the island and you sleep under the stars. Although the rides go pretty full during the summer, the island still seems deserted when you’re walking in the forest. The island is almost 3 kms in length and 900 metres across. So you’re not running into people when you’re walking in the forest. But occasionally you see families setting up picnics, someone reading in peace, and people setting up their own private beach parties on tiny rocky bays. This was definitely one of the most unique places I’ve been to till now, and I couldn’t help but think of Kaho na pyaar hai while settling down on my own private bay. I walked quite a lot during the day spent on this island, but it was impossible to cover the whole island in one day. Not knowing what was next, it was pretty exciting to take random narrow paths, and so often, there was the road-not-taken moment in the forest. I also ended up finding a cemetery of soldiers, and that was really, really spooky. But as the hours passed, the challenge was to make it in time for the last ferry, which I managed and made it back in time for the last evening in Cannes.

fkks

On the island – Read the signs!!!

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One edge of the island .

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Thats me 🙂

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On my private rocky bay , chilling in peace.

The next morning, the last morning before the flight back, I went to the terrace of the Radisson Blu, which has an amaaaaazing view of Cannes and the Mediterranean. Followed by a quick visit to the Palais des festivals where the Cannes film festival takes place every year.

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Rooftop of the Radisson Blu.

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But, well, the island being the highlight of my trip to the South of France, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if I hadn’t discovered it on Google maps. Thank Google for that!

. From Bones to Dust .

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From bones to dust,
into thin air;
Your pain dissolved.
Your existence;
into thin air.
You who laughed once,
and cried for life.
For life,
and sunny days together.
Days that never came..
that would now never come.
You who turned from bones to dust.
Your existence,
a beautiful dream for us.
A dream dreamt at dawn;
Half asleep,
begging the hour to hold on.
Nearing the end
Of an autumn song.
But when winter comes,
nights are long.
And they who loved,
and laughed once,
turn from bones to dust.
For the world,
their memories rust.
But for hearts that broke :
Stardust.

Being Skinny .

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Let me begin by saying that: Arrey tu kitni patli hai! (omg you’re so thin!) is NOT a compliment. Just in case you said it to a skinny person and thought you were saying something nice. Me, I wanna cry when someone says that to me. In a world full of beauty standards, and matrimonial ads looking for a patli, lambi, gori ladki, it isn’t easy to accept and love your body the way it is. And why do they even say patli in the first place? Why not healthy/fit? The fact that society has set standards in our heads, it makes it generally acceptable to be skinny and not think twice before saying it to the person’s face. Try saying “You’re fat” to a fat person, and then you’ll know. Oh no, but you wouldn’t – because that’s not a nice thing to say? Well, then let me tell you the story of a skinny person’s life. Especially a girl!!!

  • Whenever (okay mostly) someone meets you for the first time, this is the ice breaker:
    Example 1 :
    Random person: Wow yaar, tu itni patli kaisi hai?
    Me (standard response): My mom was also very skinny when she was young. So maybe it’s hereditary. (My mom taught me that, btw)
    Random person: Arrey but Punjabis toh hatte gate hote hain!
    Me (in my head) : Fuck your clichéd ass off please?Example 2:
    Random person : Arrey tu kitni patli hai! Ghar pe kuch khaane ko nai milta kya? (Then giggling to themselves)
    Me : Pretending to giggle along ( To myself: If you asked that – you definitely wouldn’t understand anything. So I’ll save the little energy I have.)

    Example 3:
    Indian aunty : Beta itna patla hona theek nahi. Bacche kaise paida karegi?
    Me : (Pretending to blush. Because aadarsh beti gotta do that when they talk about marriage or having kids (read sex)).

  • Being skinny has a direct effect on how old you look. So if I’m 24, I still look like an 18 year old. And somehow (I’ve been feeling this way for a long time now) I feel like people don’t take you seriously if you’re skinny. (Fellow skinny people – please tell me if you feel the same). Like seriously. Does that have to do something with the minimal amount of space that we occupy in this world? And not to forget: people take it for granted that you don’t need much space to sit. I’ve literally been told – Arrey tu toh patli si hai, kahi bhi adjust ho jaegi and arrey tu toh aadhe bande ke barabar hi hai. Okay I know I don’t take much space, but don’t people think at all before they say something like that? And this is exactly what I mean when I say they don’t take us seriously.
  • Finding the right size of clothes is the most difficult task of our lives. That is exactly why we hate shopping. Who would like looking at fancy clothes and feeling like a hanger in the try room? Or being called a hanger at that! Yeah that’s another one!
  • Weakness is an everyday struggle. Fainting too. Monthly pains are x100 times worse than normal healthy women. If under medication, the appetite is even smaller.
  • Going to a restaurant where you can’t share food – but have to buy your own portion – it’s a waste of money and food – because we can NEVER finish the portion, and it’s the most embarrassing thing on the planet.
  • I think we do feel colder than normal people, but winter is also our favourite season because we can pretend that cozy sweaters are our layers of fat. And for those couple of months, we appear normal to the human society.

 

That said, I wonder why nobody ever asks us WHY we’re skinny. Every question is aimed at us in such a way as if we are giving the other person an inferiority complex by being skinny. But in reality it’s the other way round. It’s because it’s acceptable – like so many other things in society – that we just say it. Nobody bothers to ask WHY? If someone did, we would shed tears and tell them what a pain it is to live in a skinny body – in a world where everyone thinks it is amazing – but only we know how we struggle to eat, how our appetite dies every day (or for others who do eat good portions, the metabolism to gain weight sucks), how we want to, sooooo badly want to gain weight and eat more, but this teeny weeny appetite of ours fails us every time. But, well, maybe if people stop passing it as an acceptable thing and actually recognize that it’s something that needs to be worked on or treated – we might be better motivated. Negative comments don’t treat it; in fact they only make us feel worse about our existence.

Expecting society’s standards to change might be too hopeful.. But seriously – here’s a thought – how about we aim for healthy/fit and try not to say: Mujhe bhi patla hona hai!
 

Zebra Crossing : Culture shock in India

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Growing up in India, I never had a problem crossing roads. You know, you learn. You adapt. Before I left home for an experience of life in Europe, I never thought about these things – which were a part of my daily life in India. Greetings for example, about which I wrote in my previous post. And now, what comes to my mind is : Zebra crossings.

I had learnt about the concept of zebra crossings quite early in my school textbooks, but never saw anyone using it the city where I lived. I learnt how to cross roads, just like everyone else. It was never a problem – I could say so, because I’m still alive. Looking both ways on a one way road, turning your head left-right, left-right, and hoping to ace the timings once again. Smooooth! No dikkat at all! I was a pro, just like everyone else.

But when I first went abroad, I was alone, and too excited about everything. It was my first ever experience of living alone in a new country, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for the culture shocks! So I’m in France – during the first few days – and I’m crossing the road, as if I own it. A car comes speeding and the driver gives me a stare which clearly means “Are you stupid?” – And thats when I realize, they do have this zebra crossing thing going here in Europe, and quite seriously at that! So they weren’t talking about some fictional land in the school textbooks!

Three years in Europe, I’m pretty used to crossing at Zebra crossings. At the signals, waiting for the red light to turn green for the pedestrians. And where there were no pedestrian signals, I would uselessly wait, not knowing that the cars would stop themselves if I’m walking on it. So well in time, I learnt the ways of this blessing that is the zebra crossing!

But every time I came home to Delhi for the holidays, I experienced a reverse culture shock. The first time I came back during the summer, I actually started looking for zebra crossings. Something I had never bothered to observe before. To my surprise, we never notice the zebra crossings, because helloooo!!! The vehicles are ON the zebra crossing when the signal is red! And poor pedestrians are zig-zagging to cross the road. In some other places, the white lines are sooooo light that they are almost invisible. But who cares? Because we are experts in crossing roads – because we are, what they call, Khatro ke khiladi!

I noticed that near the Connaught Place area, they do have these pedestrian signals, which were quite a relief, but even in that case, the vehicles are still ON the zebra crossing. And then, this incident that happened just a few days ago : I was in CP, and had to go from one block to the other. There was no signal there for the cars to stop, but I saw a zebra crossing. A couple walking in front of me jumped right onto the zebra crossing, while the cars and autos were speeding towards them. For a second I thought maybe the vehicles would stop because pedestrians crossing on a zebra crossing where there’s no traffic signal. But no, they didn’t. Khatro ke khiladi managed to cross the road alive, zig-zagging and stopping at the right time, hoping another vehicle doesn’t crash into them!

On a very serious note, this is an issue of concern. Growing up in the capital of the country, I only learnt about road ethics and safety in theory, and never practically because nobody follows them! Since the last three years, everytime I’ve come home after an year abroad, I don’t venture out of the house alone at least for week, because I’m scared! And I’m not even exaggerating. I’m scared to cross the road. Scared because I might have forgotten the skills to watch both sides of a one way road, hoping not to die. Scared because I’m out of practice!

It is my request to every one who drives, to be more careful, and follow rules for the combined safety of everyone around! If today I managed to cross the road safely, there must be someone out there who didn’t, and a life was lost!

As a side note, I would like to add that we must also not be scared to speak up about these things. Personally, I too think twice before saying it now, because everytime I compare life in India with my experience abroad, they say “Haan zyada angrez ban gai hai tu. Bhool mat yahi se gai hai!”. Lol, I know that, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t like being in India anymore. In fact I am so happy to come back! But certain things make you think, and react! And that is why, I chose to write about it. Doing things because that’s the way its done, will not help us create a better space to live in. Together we can make a difference!

Be safe!

La Bise : Culture shock in Europe

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First experiences are special. First experiences of living in a new country can result in serious culture shocks too. Not in a negative way, but in a funny, ironic way. When you leave a country like India to go live abroad, the first experience can be full of eye-widening, thought provoking experiences. One of the major culture shocks for me, was La Bise: The cheek-to-cheek greeting that is so common in France. Growing up back home, I had only seen films stars do the cheek-to-cheek kiss, or maybe others belonging to the ‘elite’ class. Chez moi, when greeting an elder, say Namaste or Sat Sri Akal. Sorted. Look at the person, bow your head a little and say it. With friends, just a ‘hey’ or a side hug works. But in France, there was a completely different thing going on.

It took me a while to understand that the bise is a part of the everyday life, and it can be taken very, very seriously. One person would enter the room, and would do muah-muah to everyone sitting there. Sweet, I thought to myself. After a few days of observation, I realized that they also do it while leaving. Sweet again, I thought to myself. Such an intimate way of greeting and saying goodbye! And now, I thought I was ready to greet in the French way too! But then, I forgot to notice which side you have to go to first. The initial weeks of meeting new people was a struggle in my mind. Left first? Or right first? What if I bump into their face? Should I just shake hands? Or hug? Umm, no. But they’re French – they would go for the bise! So then left first? Or right first? The left and right struggle was solved in its own time – practice makes a man perfect! But there were more mysteries of the bise yet to be solved – It is okay to do the bise with youngsters that you’re meeting for the first time, but what about people older than you? This question still haunts me! I might have embarrassed myself a couple of times by doing the bise with a much older lady that I met for the first time. I always wondered if there were rules about how to do the bise with who!

After living, working and studying in France for three years, I learnt a lot about the French culture and was quite comfortable with the greetings. I didn’t have to think left or right anymore! But outside of France, the mysteries of the bise were new, and more embarrassing! Once upon a time, I went to Belgium, and a friend introduced me to his friends. Friends of friends = do the bise. I did the calculation in my head. Went for it, but was left hanging in the air on the other side. Because, as I would learn later, they do one cheek kiss in Belgium! Ahem. One of the most awkward moments of my life, but a useful lesson learnt. ‘Next time onwards, I would be careful about the nationality before thinking one or two, instead of left or right’, I told myself. But when I met an Italian (Roberto! Yes, you!), I realized that the left or right also had to be taken into consideration: because for Italians, it was opposite to that of the French. We met so often, but never came to the decision as to which side to go to first!

After several awkward greetings and meeting people from different parts of the continent, I realized that the bise was a greeting which is similar everywhere in Europe, but distinct in its own style: quite similar to what we have in India, in the sense that the greeting changes from Namaste to Sat Sri Akal to Vanakkam to Khamma ghani, but the bow of the head or folding of the hands remains similar. However, the most annoying part of the culture shock is that it can linger on for a while, and become a part of you if you live in the place for too long. So now the greeting queries have started working the opposite way: I had never put so much thought into how to greet a person while I was living in India, but now my head starts doing the greeting calculations for handshake/hugs/Namaste on its own.