Part 1 – Breswana

It has been a year since I went to Breswana. One year since my first glimpse of the village and the beautiful school. In a matter of weeks, the routine was down and I got used to the idea of waking up to the gorgeous sight of mountains and the kids screaming and rushing to school.

I’ve struggled to write about the school in the past cause it’s been an overwhelming experience with poor closure. I hope to return very soon and see them all again.

Breswana and Haji Public School are home because of the people there. Their warmth, kindness and concern are among my best memories of four fantastic months.

Here is to hoping over the next few weeks I can write about my fondest memories and the people that made Breswana home.


I would be making a huge error if I began by writing about anyone but him.

Standing in the fields with his rifle. His earnest smile. He fondly called me “Karunanidhi”. His reason was because we are both Tamilian and his name has nidhi as well. But the truth is that I had an injury when I was there and he wanted me to go around on a wheelchair or strapped to the back of a horse. (No jokes)

He would be found in the fields watching over the work; watching us mess up the barbeque; complaining about our bad hindi music songs; playing bridge in the middle of social gatherings; telling the craziest and wildest stories of militants and army.

Sarpanch Saleem Haji is incomparable to anyone at Breswana or otherwise. If you cannot stomach sarcasm then he’s not someone you will adore. But let it be said, his sarcasm is something you get used to and his kind heart then showers you with warm gestures and love. I miss that.

I still remember how he ensured I managed to get down from Srayan (after being in a lot of pain) without injuring myself further. He’s a man of many wonderful things if you get to know him.

 

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To Periyar and beyond

I enjoy travelling. Part of what I hope to do more of every year is travel. Both with people and alone. There is a sense of calm I feel when I am away finding small spaces of belonging. Sitting under trees. Falling asleep in a chair. Drinking beer staring into fields. Falling asleep while reading in a hammock. Walking around aimlessly. Talking about books, the world, life. Looking at sunsets with a twinkle in my eye. But what I like most is the things I learn about myself while travelling.

Recently, A and I went to Periyar. I was a little anxious about travelling cause my body has not been in the best shape. But I went packed with my regular medicines, pain killers and a can-do-it spirit. It started off rocky with me taking a train ride with a baby kicking and screaming throughout. Something I seem to attract on train/bus journeys. Yay, babies. Then it spiralled into a strange sleeper bus ride with no divisions between two seats and a uncontrollable driver who made me turn to stone all night and A sit up with her nose out the window. But we reached. One piece et all.  Promptly after reaching, we drowned ourselves in the smaller things in life. Dew drops. Butterflies. Organically grown strange looking fruit. Picking pine cones fallen on the ground. Our day was spent unwinding from the journey (two consecutive ones for me) and just relaxing in the chair, which by the end of the trip was the space my butt had memorised. By evening, we realised our plans to visit the actual park seemed vague and close to non-existent. Frantically, we looked up a few websites and I used my limited Tamil to book us on an early morning, full day trek. This task wasn’t easy and left me decently sceptical about our trek. Will we actually go? Will they feed us to sloth bears? Did I just confirm tickets with a man who has none? Will we be sitting at the park in the morning ticketless?

We did make it to the trek though. Not without me knocking on a strange door, picking up tickets from a burly man and getting an early-morning view of said Mallu man without his shirt. Yay, men. And we were off for the trek. With a few unplanned, havoc-ridden detours. The trek was chaotic to say the least and marvellous to say the maximum. We ambled behind two couples (one French and one Brit) who were nearly twice my age but so fit. They assumed A and I were a couple and threw our way a few well meaning questions with the undertone of coupledom. It all started well but went on to get difficult and off the regular route. The search for the elephants was on and I was sure if we found any, I would just lie down and let them eat me. By the time we spotted the elephants, my knee had decided to wage a full blown war. We didn’t chase the elephants like the rest of them. We sat in quiet reflection under the canopy of trees. The tall, lush trees were a delight to gaze at. The nooks with streams of water were places to spot A spotting butterflies. Watching the Malabar squirrel jump gracefully from one branch to another made us wonder how we were more evolved than that elegant fellow. It was a place to be present and lost at once.

We waddled our way back to flat land and I spent the next day recouping from fat knees and A from angry toes. I spent most of my time in a chair reading Atwood and giggling to myself. We also ate delicious fish at our organic farm stay, consumed Papaya like I have never relished it before.

As movement returned to our knees and toes by evening, we made early morning plans to go boating. The boat ride was magnificent (words fail to describe) and one didn’t need a fancy camera to take breathtaking photos. We did spot more elephants, wild boars, deers and several lovely birds. Many of our co-passengers were not half as enthusiastic as us.

It was a lesson in many things for me: a) Indians like to boat. b) They can call women with short hair – ‘Saaar’. c) They wake up early to go boating, stand in long queues, push people around and then sleep on the boat. d) Periyar lake was one of the most beautiful bits of nature I have seen. e) People can get super dressed up to come boating. I mean some of them looked like models.

After we finished our hour-long boat ride, we walked out slowly through the park. Enjoying the birds, the monkeys, the silence, the sound of trees talking to themselves and big plus, very few humans. The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful.  We took an auto ride where autos should never go to see views that were underwhelming. Plus though was that I got marriage and travelling advice from the driver. He did take us to a waterfall. Maybe waterfall should be in quotes. Cause there was really not much fall and very little water. Like all waterfalls, this had a tragic story of lovers committing suicide.

We ended our crazy auto ride with a tour of an organic, ayurvedic farm. The woman might have been the best salesperson I have ever met and a really tough school teacher. She snapped at A and me for giggling and not listening to her. We left amazed at her ability to sell products with a strong message that all illnesses will henceforth be cured. Amen.

As our trip began to come to a close, I began to feel uneasy again. Being away suddenly meant more calm than getting back to the routine. I was ready to run. Again.

The trip was an important reminder for me to look after myself; love myself more; be still to notice the smaller things; glance at the skies everyday around sunset; just keep swimming. Being still for a few moments everyday made me see that I had a lot of unresolved emotions. These things take time to heal. I was being impatient and wishing for it to end. But processes needed to be followed and slowly, I would see the end.

I am always glad to travel with my INFJ partner because she doesn’t react drastically to my breakdowns; and she is more giving than I will ever be. We are always greeted with some chaos on our trips. They never fail to make us laugh, reflect on life and bring us closer together.

Till our next trip and our next overwhelming chaotic life lesson, then.

Tech vs. asking

Everybody keeps telling me these days how it is so much easier to travel with smart phones. You don’t need to know the language. You don’t even have to interact too much with people, unless you need the Wi-Fi password. Needless to say smart phones and the Internet have made travel much easier. You know what to expect in a strange land. You know the best places to go to eat. You know what you will need to carry to have a pleasant trip. But everytime someone rattles on about how great and easy it has become, I’m reminded of a trip A and I took to Pondicherry. I was eager to go to this great pizza place that everyone was raving about where I could sit back and enjoy a glass of wine and pizza. I typed the name of the restaurant into google maps and followed the high-pitched lady’s instructions. “Turn right. Walk 300ms.”

We turned and we walked. We turned and we walked. At this point I was certain we were walking around in circles. A was optimistic so we dragged on. After a while, she exclaimed with delight, “you’ve reached your destination. It is on the left.”

In that dark road, we both stood silently for two seconds before we burst into loud laughter. On our left was a huge dustbin.

As much as I am a huge advocate for technology, I know to not depend on it too much. Sometimes it oh so innocently leads you to a dustbin. We could have asked someone for directions to that restaurant, I am sure. But in that moment we decided to just walk into another one and have a (shitty) meal.

(We did debate for a while though that maybe the dustbin had a Diagon Alley like entrance. Who knows right?)

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She’s the one with unkempt hair that looked like hay on most days. The colour faded from all her travels. Her demeanour was sunny and dynamic. Yet, she never got attached to anything. She couldn’t stay still long enough to get attached. It was why she never bought property; she wished to remain free. She moved like a nomad. City to city. Looking for adventures. She never allowed relationships to begin and so she never feared their end. She didn’t measure happiness like us regular folk. She felt it in her veins and did everything in her capacity to continue doing so. Nobody who met her really knew her; none of them had a unkind word to say.

She slept in a new bed ever so often. A house rented in a remote corner of the world gathering dust. Unstable, unorganised jobs she didn’t keep track of. Taking a break only to earning enough to furnish her moving lifestyle. Sometimes, one wondered how she made ends meet. But she wasn’t the type to indulge in fishy acts. Her intention was pure. She never revealed even a hint of anything else.

She told every new person a new name. Sometimes Sheena or Keah or Loli or Prerna or Gabrielle. Whatever fancied her in that moment. Even in the course of one night at a pub, everyone she encountered were told a new name. A new story. There was nothing tangible about her but her stories. Nobody even knew her real name. In fact, she was not real for many. Just a vision or a feeling in their heart. So strong and fierce that once she entered their lives they yearned to live like her. But they couldn’t manage that.

She gave up roots that were so hard to get rid of. She belonged everywhere. She abandoned long term strings. She didn’t believe in people as safe harbours to dock her ship. When she spoke about the villagers who let her into their homes and hearts, about the secret hidden treasures of each city, everyone marvelled at the beauty hidden in the world that she was grasping, relishing. But the choices she made and the decisions she took felt like sacrifices to everyone else. To her, it was living the small voice in her ear, in her mind, in her heart.

No. She wasn’t alone. Her life was coloured by the people she met. The fleeting for others was deep and intimate for her. She wrote about these people in her diaries that she carried with her everywhere. The diaries also contained names that pleased her. She embraced them as her own. Sometimes, she fell in love with cities and people living in those cities. For what was a place without its people. But she only prolonged her visit; she never stayed.

Every strength or flaw she possessed, she bore them proudly on her skin. She revealed more than others could see. If only they heard or read her stories carefully.

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It was day 2 in Gokarna for us. After having been slow moving objects on day 1, we decided to be active on day 2. We consumed a yummy breakfast for starters for which we had to walk a decent amount. Mine was mostly unhealthy and delicious; sister’s was healthy and light.

We set out with our smart phones in hand, dressed to walk a lot. Running a little ahead of us was a dog. He seemed to know the way but we humoured him and stared into our smart phone that showed the direction. After getting lost once while following the phone, we decided to follow the dog. The dog was light on his feet and slightly impatient as two slow moving souls trudged behind him. Often halting along the bushes filled path to catch their breaths. He waited for us to catch up. He turned back to check if we were keeping pace. We trusted the dog knew where to take us and eventually abandoned our smart phone for our new guide. The path was dodgy and mostly through the mountains. Often, we felt we had lost our way. But the dog was far from misleading us. Taking us through the bushes, he sauntered on. Up, down, near the edge with killer view, up, down, through narrow paths, hardly space for one human path, up, down and finally the beach.

He led the way from Om Beach till Half Moon Beach (almost mid way to our preferred destination). Surprisingly, he didn’t join us after this. He didn’t even come to us for a treat or a few pets. He just got busy kicking some sand up. We waved to him and thanked him before continuing on our way. The road ahead looked steep and full of mountains. On this long path, we both learnt to trust our instincts and march along slowly. We stopped to inhale the breathtaking scenery, the beauty of the clear waters and sound of just the waves; photographed what we could as we went along. It was untouched by man and his destructive ways, I noticed. When we reached Paradise beach, it was worth our long and tiring trek. We sat on the rocks in silence, letting the water wash our feet. I played in the water for a while. Taking in the serenity and beauty of the quiet land. What a lovely space and place to be.

Travelling for me is not just about seeing other places and being in awe, which frankly Gokarna has done repeatedly since my arrival. But it is about seeing my reactions and learning about pieces of my self. The morning taught me to trust my instincts and let go of always wanting control. I allowed these thoughts to marinate in my head as we took a boat back.

So much to see, learn and feel. I hope to carry back some of these lessons. But mostly the positivity and freedom I feel flowing through me.

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She never focussed her energies too closely to analyse the gendered spaces while travelling in a bus. Mostly, buses had seats especially for women; so this made things easy. But this time the situation was different. She was on a district bus without ladies seat allocations and she was alone. There were too few women travelling by the bus to have separate seats. The conductor and bus driver did try to ensure the women were seated together. But some of the women got left out. She, however, was seated right behind the entry way near the aisle when a man came and asked her to budge. She obliged and tucked herself close to the window, her bags on her lap. She watched the view outside, on a mission to tune the man next to her out.

After a few brief moments, he settled into his seat and fell asleep. She kept looking between him and the changing landscape. Contrary to her adjustment and uneasiness, he occupied the space with a prerogative. She marvelled at the way he sat with his legs apart, head titled and completely at ease. There was an advantage that existed in his posture. One that he didn’t seem aware of and until recently, she hadn’t even noticed. They had both paid the same Rs 93 for their seat. But he owned the space he sat in. She sat conservatively in hers.

Why did she not feel the comfort that he did? Was she scared? Or did men occupy space with more authority than women? She couldn’t place her finger on it. But throughout that four-hour bus journey she studied his active body language opposite of her passive, pulled back one. Maybe she could learn a few tips from him.