Soul-Stirring Teenage Music Influences and Nostalgia

What is it about old songs? The songs that you listened to when you were a kid. Its just by happenstance that I stumbled on this song called Cloud Number 9 by Bryan Adams; which triggered a flurry of memories in me. All the Bryan Adams’ songs that I used to obsess about came to the fore.

Thankfully there are apps these days that come to your rescue. I immediately went on the “Gaana” app where I could listen to all his songs, one after the other. I hadn’t really listened to these songs in a long while, so when I did, my brain went into an over drive and recalled the lyrics of these songs; I could sing all of them word for word. Of course I am a horrible singer, so I kept singing in a very low voice; but it was amazing.

I remember I had received the results of my exam after I had heard Cloud Number 9 a couple of times. The song resonated with me as I was happy to have passed the exam despite the fear of failure. In those days I used to be a starry-eyed kid, I had crushes and Bryan Adams kept reinforcing that phase in me. And so did the Backstreet Boys.

My brother used to listen to Bon Jovi, The Doors and Pink Floyd; I listened to them but I did not have the maturity to understand them. I particularly began appreciating Pink Floyd right after my brother passed away. But I began to really understand the others much later. I was 16 by then and a couple of more years later I was exploring them further.

I have always had a very eclectic taste, I could listen to music from so many genres and eras since my childhood. Grace à my musically inclined family, I had been exposed to almost all the genres and eras of music. I could listen to anyone, from the Backstreet Boys to Pavarotti. The Backstreet Boys were my favorite boy band in my teenage years, along with Boyzone, Westlife and Take That. I was so obsessed with them, but I loved all other kinds of music too.

I am a 90s kid. The songs from the 80s and 90s are the most influential on me. The song called Take on Me by A-ha or any songs by the Cranberries and Mike + the Mechanics always make a huge impact on me. As I grew up, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Abba; all of them influenced me a lot.

They say that the music we listen to in our teenage years remain our favorite all our life. I reckon its because we tend to associate a lot of our feelings and emotions with the songs that we listen to at that age. As we are in that process of growing up, we often go through moments of confusion, chaos, bliss, fun, happiness and sorrow, and all these songs help us in traversing this unpredictable path, helping us in trying to understand the complex situations of life. We also forge our strongest friendships at that age and music cements that bonding. I think its a fact as I always feel happy when I come across the music I loved in my teenage years. Pink Floyd and Westlife were the two bands that got me through my brother’s death. David Guetta’s Titanium, with its very powerful lyrics and Sia’s haunting voice got me through a very tough time on the professional front. Or how Cloud Number 9 made my happiness extra special. Music generally makes me happy, but these old treasures give me a special feeling. So many times I get goosebumps, its amazing! The nostalgia makes the music more sweeter to the heart and the soul.

Music is a universal language, it has the power to build bridges between different people. It is a stress buster, a soul healer and something that permeates through generations. I love how it connects people across ages and backgrounds. And when we listen to the familiar words or notes, it just transports us back in time to make us think about those golden moments that hold such a special place in our heart.

If Only those Carefree College Days Could Come Back

On my way to meet a friend for lunch, I was traveling in the metro today and I was standing beside two college girls; one had a backpack and the other carried a sling-bag. They were talking about their upcoming exams and getting notes from someone. Their conversation, their laughter and their outfits, reminded me of my college days.

My college days were amazing. I would match my outfits and my accessories perfectly. I would carry a nice sling-bag with all my books. My college was just a five minute walk from my home. I would meet my friends at the parking lot, that’s where they’d park their mopeds. Together we would rush to our classes. I had opted for Psychology, English Literature and History as my subjects. All my teachers were amazing, barring one or two.

During the breaks, we would sit on the benches around the Basketball court and chit-chat about everything under the sun. We would laugh, joke about and discuss cool plans. We would also talk about studies and exams, we would be worried sometimes about how we were going to cover all the portions. We would make plans of group studies at someone’s house. Of course we would chat and laugh more than study, but then that’s something to be expected.We would often eat samosas or crispy veg in the canteen and chit-chat.

My History teacher was way too fast in dictating notes, I couldn’t write properly because of a wrist injury sustained during a school picnic. I had to look up the notes in the library as a result. But my other teachers were amazing, they explained rather than give notes, which was way more interesting. Studying William Shakespeare’s dramas and poems and Wordsworth, Keats, Burns, Shelley and many other amazing poets wax eloquent about nature and love was something that really got me going. I never felt like missing these classes. I still feel so warm when I think about Wordsworth’s Daffodils or Robert Burns’ Red Red Rose or even Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind.

I particularly loved reading Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, all of which remain at the top of my list of favorites. I have read them multiple times.

In the second year of my college, my friends and I always came up with plans to explore around, so I had begun taking my moped to college too. I used to drive along with them on my little Bajaj Sunny after the classes got over. It was immense fun doing that.

We would always celebrate Friendship’s Day on the 1st Sunday of August, giving each other friendship bands and gifts and going out for lunch. It is still the in-thing to do that, but we’ve all outgrown it. Though we still do wish each other on the occasion, just to go down the memory lane and reminisce all the crazy and fun times we had.

We would always stress out about exams and careers and jobs. We used to discuss where we went wrong after the exam got over and get worried about how much we were gonna score. And if we failed, then would we get jobs and would we be able to make careers. A couple of my friends were in relationships, so they would worry about whether they would be able to get married or not.

In those days, my head was always in the clouds, and Literature sky-rocketed me even farther. I had no idea what real life was like, what the world was like; but then perhaps at that age, all girls are like that, with their heads always in the clouds, building castles in the air. Though my castle was never ‘princess-marrying-the-prince’, it was more of a ‘working-girl-marrying-a-modern-and-progressive-prince’ castle. But despite all the worries and sky castle constructions, we were never bogged down by too many responsibilities back then.

We have all taken different paths to life, they all got married while I got busy in making a career. But we do have our own Whatsapp group and we talk to each other maybe twice a year and chat regularly, we have kept in touch all through these years.

A couple of years after graduation, I moved to  Bangalore and got a job in a small start-up, still clueless about a lot of things. Slowly though, as I progressed into the corporate ladder, I gained experience and I got to learn what the real world is. My head fell from the clouds to straight on the ground. I got bogged down by so many responsibilities and commitments; I completely changed and evolved as a person. My perspective broadened, I got exposed to so many things. Sometimes my life is bit of a conundrum; sometimes I am absolutely cynical, and other times the literature lover part of me takes away that cynicism. Maybe deep down I am not really that cynical, but life has made me be one on a superficial level, as a coping mechanism.

During my school and college days, I always used to wonder what life would be like in the 20s, what it would be like when I take my first step on the professional path. At that age everyone wants to grow up so fast; all we want to do is graduate and begin our adult lives, as individuals striving to carve our own identities. But at this stage, having worked since so many years, I wish I could have those carefree days back. Sure I stressed about studies and exams, but in retrospection, that stress wasn’t as much as I face today. Unfortunately, time cannot be turned back and those days will never come return. When I saw those two girls in the metro, I wished that it could, and I would get a chance to go to my college again and attend those lectures or just sit on the Basketball ground and have fun with my friends.

The Key to Unlock My Serenity: the Beach

Everyone has a place that gives them a lot of tranquility and unlocks their serenity and rejuvenates them. For some its the mountains, for some its scuba diving deep underwater, for some it could even be para-sailing; for me, its the beach. I love beaches. I  a half Goan, its probably in my DNA to love beaches. Though I am slightly allergic to the coastal weather, I can definitely spend a peaceful vacation on a beach. May be my body and my heart knows that I go to the beach only for a little bit of time, so it doesn’t react. And if I were to live there forever my body would begin reacting.

Ever since I was a baby, I have been to beaches. My maternal grand-parents and many other relatives used to live in Mumbai. My grand-uncle’s house was right at the Chowpatty beach, I have so many memories being there. I remember My brother Indranil and I taking walks on the beach, playing around in the sand and in the waves and looking out at the boats passing by. From my Grand-Uncle’s house windows, we would stare out almost all the time, taking in the amazing view. It is one of the most cherished memories I have of Mumbai.

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Indranil and me at the Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai

Then there are the two Goa visits I have made. Since I have no relatives there now, its very rare that I get to go there. I hope I can visit Goa very soon, I love it there. The moment I enter the Goan border, I begin feeling really happy. There’s just something quite magical about that place. The first time I visited Goa was for my late cousin Advait’s “Munj” ceremony. It is the Hindu ceremony to mark the rites of passage for a boy and his formal transition into the Hinduism faith. After the ceremony, my parents and I went onto tour Goa.

First we went to Panaji, the capital of Goa. We visited many of the landmarks and many famous places. But the most fun I had was on Miramar Beach. Luckily for us that day, it was an India vs. Pakistan cricket match that kept everyone indoors. Whenever there is a India vs. Pakistan match, its a 100 percent guarantee that the roads and all such heavily crowded places will be deserted. And so, that day there were no crowds, everything was almost deserted. We got to enjoy the entire day in absolute peace! We even spotted a few dolphins playing around at some distance. I played in the waves and lied down on the sand. Closing my eyes and just listening to the waves was so soothing!

The next visit to Goa was during Christmas a few years later, when my Dad had an exhibition at the Chitrakala Parishad (Art Institute of India) in Panaji. This time around we got to explore Goa even more. One of my Dad’s students’ gave us her car and her chauffeur to go around sightseeing. It was incredibly sweet of her and we went to the most non-tourist-y places that again gave us a lot of peace. But again, its the beach that gave me the most tranquility.

Right behind the Chitrakala Parishad is the jetty towards mandovi River, which a little further mixes into the sea. Its a beautiful place!

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In 2014, exactly two years ago, I went to Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu, for a friend’s wedding. A group of us went for 4 days and had an amazing time. The first day we went to the Promenade and the third day, we went to Mahabalipuram beach, which was again something that calmed my soul.

My favorite thing to do at the beach is collecting shells. I love collecting various kinds of shells and fossils and I have quite a collection at home now. It takes my mind off of stress and helps me focus.

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The shells I collected at Mahabalipuram Beach

Another thing I love is the feeling of the waves rolling on my feet. The water flowing in a lot of force and then receding into the sea leaving behind the wet sand, it makes me incredibly happy for some reason.I even clicked a picture of it at Mahabalipuram. The feeling is indescribable and incredibly soul stirring.

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The beach is my Fortress-of-Solitude. The waves that roll back and forth, the sound of the waves that resonate in the ears like a piece of instrumental music, the soft sand that touches the feet, the cool breeze that blows over; Everything just makes me happy and harmonious. I forget all my worries and I feel one with nature. Lying on the sand or just sitting and digging for shells, reinvigorate me beyond belief. Hopefully soon enough I will be able to plan a nice beach trip; Till then these pictures will give me some amazing nostalgia moments.

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Hometown Nostalgia: Reminiscing the Childhood Memories

I was born a Nagpurian. I have lived in the City of Oranges for the first 24 years of my life. I moved to Bangalore or Bengaluru as it is known now, in 2009 and I have been here since the past 7 years. As much as Nagpur is known for its oranges, it is also known for its heat. The temperatures here soar to 48 degrees C in peak summer. We have to cover ourselves from head to toe to escape the excruciating sun. Whereas Bengaluru is as cool as a cucumber; with the peak heat temperature not crossing 38 degrees and rains always around the corner. Bengaluru is also known for its weather, but on the cooler side. The climate is always pleasant.

On Friday, the sky fell on my head suddenly, just like the gauls in the Asterix comics feared; which meant I had to fly out to Nagpur on Monday to get something urgently done. I booked the tickets on Saturday, but due to high prices, I booked a one-stop flight. I had to change my flight at the Mumbai Airport. I was going to do a self check-in at the Bangalore airport, but it kept telling me that the check-in for this flight is restricted. I got worried what happened and went to inquire at the check-in counter. Turned out, the flight from Bangalore to Mumbai was on time, but the flight from Mumbai to Nagpur was delayed. My flight was uneventful though, landed at Mumbai on time.

At Mumbai, I had about 3 hours to kill. One of my FedBuddies said he could come over and meet me. I was glad he did. I spent a little over an hour with him at the arrival lounge. It was real fun. I was supposed to arrive in Nagpur by 16:45; I landed at 20:00. Since I was going to stay over at my Aunt’s place, she came to pick me up along with my Uncle.

As soon as I landed at Nagpur, I could feel the heat. It was so dang hot! Even the water at night was hot. After a great dinner, my aunt showed me how she makes jewelry at home. She is so talented; she does a lot of great things. She asked me to choose different type of beads in different colors so she could make some for me. We sat for I don’t know how long and I chose beads for 3 different jewelry sets. Later she made me 2 of the sets and they look absolutely ravishing and elegant.

Did I mention it was hot? It was hot! I was sweating while I was drying myself off with my towel right after a shower next morning! It’s almost hilarious! Being a Bengalurean now, I am not used to this much heat, I have completely gotten acclimatized to the Bengaluru weather now. So it was really weird to be sitting in this much heat. It almost felt like an out of body experience, I felt numb and ended up with a bad headache. Though the nights were better as the AC was switched on after dinner.

I went to my college for the urgent work that had befallen me. Just as soon as I saw my college, I was flooded with memories of the 5 years that I spent here. It is exactly the same; nothing seems to have changed in all these years. Even the same administrative official was sitting at the same counter. It was amazing to see her. She even remembered that I used to wear glasses and she asked me if I don’t anymore. I said I wear contact lenses now. She then told me that I had to go to the university offices as well, and finally by evening my work was done. I was so exhausted by the time I got back. But in the evening it cooled down a little and it was a bit windy, so my aunt and I went to the vegetable market. So many of my childhood memories came to the fore, I remembered going there very frequently with my mom, bargaining for cheaper prices and buying the choicest of vegetables and fruits. I loved it there.

Once we came back, we went to meet my grand uncle and grand aunt. They are octogenarians now and it was lovely to meet them after so many years. They are so incredibly sweet. I loved spending some time with them.

I met two of my old college friends as well, it was just amazing. I met their little baby girls and both of them are really adorable. We reminisced about our carefree college days and caught up with each other.

In the evening I got the famous Haldiram’s sweets for my family and friends. These are the sweets that are available everywhere but the taste of Haldiram’s is impossible to find. I also ate the sweet called Ras malai which is an extremely perishable sweet and I could not carry it back home with me. That taste, it hasn’t changed in all these years; it is truly nostalgic when things remain the same over the years. My aunt made pani puris for dinner for me, they were so delicious! I loved them. I missed out on eating from two of my old restaurants, one being famous for its authentic Chinese food, and the other, for its sizzlers. Both of which I haven’t enjoyed here in Bengaluru.

Now on my flight, as I am typing this blog, I realize just how much I miss my hometown. I saw some things still being the same, I saw some things change over the seven years that I have been away; it all makes me miss this place; where I grew up and where I spent a happy and a carefree childhood. My college, my old home, those streets, those old haunts that I frequented with friends and family, those days, those bittersweet moments, those memories, I miss everything. Nostalgia takes over and gives me goose bumps, makes me smile, makes me cry, makes me totally bonkers. But I don’t regret moving, things happened exactly the way they were supposed to happen.

However, I also miss my home, the home that I have made mine now and this is a place where I have truly settled down and don’t regret it even a little bit. I have made so many friends here, I have my own new haunts here that I frequent, I have my work and so many memories that I have made here. My parents are here, my life isn’t incomplete and I am content. I moved on to a place that would give me many more opportunities to grow, but the place where I grew up will always remain close to my heart and the people who enriched my life will always have a special place in my heart. Though next time I’d rather visit in the winters!

Why Reading Soothes my Soul

My family is extremely passionate about reading and it got passed down to me as well. My mom used to buy so many books for me and my brother when we were little. We always had something to read. We also have a habit of reading while eating, passed on to us by both my grandfathers. My paternal Grandfather used to always read while eating. And my maternal grandfather not only read books while eating, but also solved cryptic crosswords in the newspaper, in his mind! I was in awe of him, he was so brilliant. He was a district judge, so he had an air of a sophisticated and very knowledgeable man. He could also recite all the volumes of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace with great ease.

My mom and I usually always spend an entire day at the local book fairs that happen at least once or twice a year. We end up buying at least 20 to 30 books at a time, roaming around all day, searching even under the tables at the stalls. Our home is filled with books, inside a huge trunk, on the bookshelf, on the bed and on as many surfaces as possible. We often joke that we might need to rent another place just for our books.

I remember reading and re-reading Herman Melville’s The Moby Dick. I love that book so much! The first line itself gives me major nostalgia and it is still my favorite book. I passed down my precious book collection to my little cousin sister years ago, but I kept Moby Dick for myself and I still have it. Another book I remember re-reading was King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by The Illustrated Classics. There was something about both these books that appealed a lot to me. Although it’s been a while since I have read either of them.

There are some books whose first few lines bring a flood of emotions and memories of the times when I had first read them, two of them being my absolute favorites; Moby Dick and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. They still deeply resonate with me.

“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation.” – Moby Dick

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” – A Tale of Two Cities

I have grown up loving Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Alexandre Dumas, the Bronte Sisters, etc. Very recently I bought an almost rare, “Complete Works of Shakespeare”, all his masterpieces in one book in their original verse form. It was an expensive acquisition but I couldn’t control myself. I read a little bit of it whenever I get a chance to. I had “The merchant of Venice” in my first year of college and “King Lear” in the second year. It was especially amazing to study, “The Merchant of Venice”, I loved re-reading it. The Shakespearean verses are really beautiful to listen to when read out aloud. I also had Jane Austen in college. She represented the social issues of her era so wonderfully in her books. Her description of the people of those times and how much they were obsessed with marriage and social status was perfect. Every time I read about Mrs. Bennet crying about her poor nerves and Elizabeth Bennet rising above the trivialities of her family, I laughed heartily. I often used to dream of heroes like Mr. Darcy and Mr. Rochester in those teenage years. Their existence is still a mere dream.

The Romantic Era was truly remarkable. The authors and poets in that era wrote masterpieces that defied the conventions of those times. They wrote some beautiful and inspiring pieces that can make us feel so happy. The imagery of the pastoral landscapes was written so beautifully, we can imagine it all in our minds so perfectly, as if we are right there witnessing all that is being described. The classics are truly a pleasure to read, no matter how many times we might have already read them before.

And it’s not just the classics that I love to read; I also love reading novels. But not the Mills & Boon variety; I love books that have a lot of action. I love science/marine thrillers, political thrillers, treasure hunt thrillers, suspense thrillers, murder mysteries, etc. I love novels written by Clive Cussler, Dan Brown, Sidney Sheldon, Jeffery Archer, Robert Ludlum, Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen, etc. Clive Cussler is my favorite, his books have a combination of history, science, archeology, treasure hunt, action and adventure, which really transport me into another world. From the first page to the last, his books are very exciting.

I am an absolute bibliophile. Even if I get to read 10 pages a day, I will read them. I always carry a book with me. Books fire our imagination; they conjure up the imagery in our minds. Just like Harry Potter’s journey to the Hogwarts or the journey of the Pevensie siblings into the magical Narnia, books transport us into another world. We can escape into an adventure which has the ability to alter our perceptions, open our minds to various different eras and cultures, giving an insight into the lives of the characters we come to love. If I really love a book and it has had a profound impact on my mind, I need a few days of respite before I can pick up another one.

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Recently, I could not read at all for some time, because of time constraints. But I felt like my life was incomplete, as if a part of my heart was missing. I was reading The Martian by Andy Weir and I had only finished half of it. And not because the book was bad, it’s actually a really beautiful book, the story is inspiring and the imagery is absolutely beautiful. I enjoyed reading it. It was just the time that was the problem. But one day I just picked it up and finished it in 3 days.

It felt so good to pick it up again and read. I love the smell of books, I love to have them on my hands when I read them. E-books are not my thing. I tried reading a few E-books but failed each time, I could not even get past the first page. But an actual physical book makes me happy. There are times when I end up reading an entire night or when I re-read books multiple times because of how they make me feel. Some stories are so touching or they are so interesting that reading once just isn’t enough. My soul feels at peace and there seems a balance in life when I read.

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Another Heavenly Summer Adventure: in the Pachmarhi Mountains

In my previous blog, I wrote about a heavenly summer vacation in my childhood in an Idyllic paradise in Himachal. This blog is about another such heavenly summer, but this time in Pachmarhi, a hill station in Madhya Pradesh. There is an Army Cantonment there and my uncle was posted there in 1997. It was the year when my brother Indranil was diagnosed with kidney failure. He was 17 years old and I was almost 13. Advait, our cousin, was 12. This was the vacation where Indranil taught me one of the most important life lessons I’ve ever learnt and where I got the courage to do many things out of my comfort zone.

According to Wikipedia, Pachmarhi is widely known as Satpura ki Rani (“Queen of Satpura”), situated at a height of 1100 m in a valley of the Satpura Mountain Range.

Indranil had travelled to Pachmarhi on his own as his exams had ended much before mine. I joined him after a few weeks and another month later our parents joined us.

We had formed a routine very quickly. There was a library inside the cantonment, but it was at some distance. So we would walk down to the library after breakfast, borrow a few books, comics and 1 movie video cassette. Then we would eat lunch and read books for a while because we hated sleeping in the afternoon. Sometimes we played with the G.I. Joe action figures and their weapons and transportation vehicles, my brother had also made a huge aircraft carrier out of thermocol. Boy, were we crazy about the G.I. Joes! I was lady jaye, Indranil was Duke and Advait was Snake Eyes. We imagined ourselves as the Joes all our childhood.

After 3 PM, we would pack a backpack, carrying a small water bottle, some cookies, hot milk in a thermos and our toy guns, a compass and few other toys and went out to explore. We used to hike to different places, soak in the sights, play explorers-cum-G.I. Joes, watch the sunset and come back. Then we would watch a movie, eat dinner, play around for a bit and then sleep.

One day Indranil suggested rock climbing on a mountain nearby. I agreed but was unsure. When we arrived at the spot, Indranil and Advait began climbing, but I was nervous. I am quite accident prone, (clumsy my brothers used to call me, but I am sticking with accident prone). That is when Indranil said the most inspiring words I’ve ever heard; which echo in my mind even now when I come across a seemingly impossible task.

He said, “Think about it like swimming; once you take the plunge in the pool, you are halfway there; your 50% work is done. Rest is easy and it will come naturally to you.”

He added, “We both are there to guide you, just put your hands and feet at the spots we point to you. You will be safe and you will not fall down. Just follow us.”

And I took the plunge; I just began following them, just as they told me to. Step by step, placing my hands and feet, in the correct spots, I kept climbing up. I don’t even know when exactly, but we all reached the top, all safe and sound. As soon as I realized I had managed to climb up, all my fear was gone; I looked down once and couldn’t believe I climbed up so high with just my hands and feet as equipment and my annoying but awesome brothers as guidance systems.

Once at the top, we began exploring the place with our compass, we ran around, played our usual G.I. Joe game, once again fighting the Cobra commander. After all the playing and exploring, we would drink milk, eat cookies, watch the sunset, climb down and walk back. After that day, rock climbing became our routine exploration activity for the rest of the summer.

By the end of the month, our parents had joined us at Pachmarhi. They had their own routine as well. My dad is a well-known artist, he paints beautiful watercolor landscapes. He used to do spot-paintings a lot while he was there. He painted my uncle’s house so beautifully! And inside the cantonment area, there is a Banyan Tree, over 200 years old; Right under the tree, the Army Orchestra Band sits and practices every day. My dad painted that tree and he has captured it so accurately and it is charming.

Both the paintings still adorn the wall in our house here in Bangalore.

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I remember once the entire clan decided to go for a picnic; we went to this little known place called Jambu Dweep. It was over 4 kms downhill, but the terrain was quite difficult. Climbing down in the morning was no big deal. We had all the picnic baskets and fun stuff in our hands; we easily hurtled down to the camping spot. It was a mini river with a waterfall ahead. It was a beautiful place, very serene. We played in the water, my uncle and my brothers kept pushing me down in the water, it was hell loads of fun.

There were a lot of mango trees around, so we kids climbed up and plucked unripe mangoes while my mom and aunt carried them on their skirts and our caps. We made an Indian drink called “Aam Panna”, which is basically steaming or roasting unripe mangoes, removing their pulp and mixing it with water, a bit of salt and a bit of sugar. It’s a very common summer drink as it cools the tummy. We lit up a small fire and roasted the mangoes. Rest of the ingredients we already had with us.

By the time evening came up, we were so tired. And the task of climbing those 4 kms with all the stuff in our hands was a daunting one. We were already dead tired; but we soldiered on somehow and climbed up to our vehicles.

There was this one time when we had a last minute idea picnic at the golf course inside the cantonment. It was a perfect night, with a full moon and a pleasant weather. We all had a lovely time there. But little did we know there was something even more ridiculous waiting for us a few hours later. In the wee hours of the morning, when I was in deep sleep, suddenly I felt a rumbling sound somewhere. Now the houses in the cantonment were old, remnants from the British era. So they had very high ceilings with very old fans that oscillated a bit and made a lot of noise. So when I woke up with eyes half opened, my dad said it’s just a storm and I should go back to sleep. I did just that little realizing that it was actually an earthquake!

Pachmarhi is located near the river Narmada, which runs on a fault. Jabalpur is the major city near this fault and the epicenter was near Jabalpur. The quake was a 6 pointer which was felt in pachmarhi too. The next morning when we were listening to the radio, we got to know about it. At first we laughed like crazy because dad thought it was a storm and he told us the same. Indranil used to sleep on the floor in the living room, so he told us that he heard the rumbling before any one of us and he just got up and sat on the couch and saw everything shaking. Then we felt a bit sad too since some people had lost their lives. 39 fatalities were reported according to Wikipedia. It was an earthquake we experienced but didn’t know it was one when it happened. Funny how sometimes things happen.

We had a lot of adventures and a lot of fun in these two months that we were there. This was the last adventurous vacation I had with both my brothers together. Sadly a few months later Indranil was diagnosed with kidney failure and we could never do all those crazy things again. This is the reason I hold this vacation so close to my heart and I will forever cherish these memories.

A Heavenly Summer in Alhilal: An Idyllic Himachal Town

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Palampur city. Picture Credit: tourmyindia.com

Most of the summer vacations in my childhood were spent in army cantonments, since my uncle was in the army. Army cantonments are really beautiful and peaceful. The army makes sure that the greenery is maintained, they take humongous efforts to preserve nature as much as possible.  My brother and I have had a lot of adventures, but he passed away in 1999 because of kidney failure. We had a lot of fun along with our cousin as well, who also passed away in 2005. Those were the most memorable times I had with both my brothers, Indranil and Advait. I have done parasailing and gliding on a 2-seater plane, all in one day, at an army cantonment. It was the most exhilarating experiences of my life! And I was only 13 years old when I did that. I will never forget these adventures. This blog is about my adventures in Alhilal Cantt., an idyllic town near palampur in Himachal Pradesh.

The name ‘Alhilal’ translates to “the land of the crescent moon”. The beauty of Alhilal is a real treat for the eyes. It served as a fortress for Maharaja Ranjit Singh once, but now this scenic town is known for its panoramic views.  It was in 1993; I was 9 years old, Indranil was 13 years old and Advait was 8 years old. Indranil and I went to Alhilal with our grandparents. We set out from Nagpur on a train and got down at Pathankot in Punjab. From there we took a narrow gauge train to Palampur. The journey was so amazing; the scenic beauty was picturesque and magnificent. I don’t remember how long the journey was but I do remember the stunning sights. When we reached Palampur, an Army truck was waiting for us; it took us to Alhilal Cantt.

When I landed up at my uncle’s house, I was simply awe-struck! Just imagine a small house on a huge patch of green land, a stream flowing by in front of the house and huge snow clad mountains on all the sides. Imagine breathing in the pure air; and the cool wind touching your face. It is the most peaceful feeling you’ll ever have and I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was such an incredible sight, something that the amazing poets of the romantic era would describe in their odes and idylls. I always imagine Wordsworth, Keats or Shelley writing their masterpieces sitting at places just like this.

Having only two brothers for company, I always used to play all the games these boys used to play. We used to imagine ourselves as G.I. Joes and we used to fight the bad guys together. We would have these toy guns and we would imagine we were being attacked by the Cobra Commander and his henchmen. We used to have imaginary hand-to-hand combats. The stream also had a mini water-fall a little distance ahead; we used to play there quite often. The waterfall was really small, but it was amazing. We played football and cricket together, we ran around and chased each other and frolicked around. We had picnics by the stream to enjoy the nature. We used to sit out at tea time and just admire the scenic beauty surrounding us. One day on one such occasion, we saw a forest fire being created on one of the mountains by two trees brushing against each other. It was an unbelievable sight. Once we saw such a bright rainbow, it looked as if someone had painted it there. I have never seen such a bright rainbow in my life! I wish we had a camera back then; I’d have loved to share the pictures.

My uncle used to take us sightseeing inside the cantonment. Once we even sat on a non-operational Bofors gun, we turned around its cannon a little just for fun. We used to do rope climbing at the obstacle course almost every day. My grandma and my aunt would tell us so many stories. My granddad would sit with us outside and admire nature with us. Once we visited Palampur for a day and stopped over at a temple nearby. There were so many monkeys there. They tried to snatch away our food basket, but we were able to escape somehow. We laughed about it like crazy once we were back in the army truck.

I can never forget that feeling of peace and quiet and happiness and the carefree life for the two months we were there. They were one of the most spectacular and most memorable times we had had together. I will never forget the Alhilal vacation, even though I was very young. Some memories will forever be etched in my mind. And I hope someday I can visit Alhilal again and relive these memories.