Thursday, August 20, 2009

Routes vs. Roots

I was part of a team which made a documentary with the above title. Only, it was about South Asian diaspora in the UK and identity crises they face, analysed through film. And although we played on the notion of samosas, dosas and half baked goras, our own young generation back home seems to be facing its own special predicament. While a ‘good India bride should make perfectly round chapaatis’ instead of playing football with her mayts, the good Pakistani girl cliché seems to take its own transfiguration or mutation - whichever seems more relevant at the moment.

Because, apparently having your own opinion counts as being badtameez. Having studied more than a Bachelor’s degree makes you a know-it-all, and not wanting to hear someone state the obvious, makes you insolent. A fight can turn into you being given the option to move out into your own apartment (who’da thought?)

Yesterday we were talking about finding an escape route. Everyone needs to get out at some point in time, be it going abroad for college, moving away to a new city to work, or other transitions entailing some level of permanent change. I am still trying to figure out my escape route, but ideas are welcome.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


We were both born in deserts, separated by continents. We grew up together, 4 months apart. You and I. We both wore shorts, till you grew 4 inches taller, and had to buy clothes from the ladies section. You said I had hair like Barbie, but we both know your braid was double the thickness of mine. We were bobbing balloons in the lawn when a flying cockroach landed on your head and you got excited thinking the balloon had returned from the terrace. Later someone told us all cockroaches fly. You wore a black velvet dress and pearls on your tenth birthday, and then spilled ice cream on it. I helped scrub out the stain.

We made wire jewelry, and ‘dumped’ hot bead patterns on the carpet. Watched Beauty and the Beast, and knew all the songs by heart. We still do. Then we invented Gaston Moo-Moo-Moo, where Ali was always Gaston, Bia Lefou and the rest of us Belles. Needless to say, we never had to chase.

I sat in front of class, you at the back. We both were toppers, though not so great at math.
We never competed, though given many a chance. We were above and beyond competition. We were equals, in our own unique ways. I made you a talker, you made me a thinker. You taught me how to take chances and believe in love. I knew if you did, I might too one day.

And when I saw the gold and peach silk, embellished with stones and pearls, everyone’s oohs and aahs became mere blurs, as I shared a silent moment with myself. I smiled through tears, as I always do. I was happy and sad at the bittersweet feeing of having to let go of one of my most cherished friends.

All the girls chatted away, as the mothers and aunts read tasbeehs, siparas and duas for you. I read a whole sipara for you silently in the corner, because I would do anything for you. And I said a silent prayer in my heart. They talked about girls making the home, a successful woman being one who builds strong relationships of love with her in-laws and husband. You are going to become someone’s wife, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, even mother, one day. But this time, I’m not going to be sitting on the pavement with you having Country cold coffee.

A part of me is acutely sad, yet ecstatic. I’ll have to come to terms to letting go, and sharing you with someone else. And we both know I was never good at sharing.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

There is no(place like) Spain

I am looking for the remote control, on a bed with no sheets or pillow cases on the pillows, having been denied my usual place of slumber, by default. I wore black socks tonight, so my pink toes are striped instead of plain, but I brushed my teeth and pulled off the night routine with ease. I bought my first piece of bling today, coming scarily closer to Z’s 8th grade pearls, “you know Channay, if you wore a diamond stud in your nose and struck this pose (shoving a Tupac Shakur CD under my desk), you would look JUST like him!” Not knowing whether to be offended or flattered, I continued writing my impeccable science notes in purple fountain-pen ink, while Z continued to burn her desk with a lighter.

The fact that I have been likened to men, and that too black athletes or celebrities doesn’t say much about my style or looks. Despite all I have learnt to embrace the martian; at least Spanish men thought I was Moroccan or Arab, and I knew it was my cue to be flattered for sure, this time.

My photographic memory hasn’t done me many favours recently, as I kept relying on it for anecdotes of my travels and general day to day observations. My planner was my sole companion these 15 days where I did not carry a pen and paper, wear a watch, carry a functioning mobile phone, or wear socks. Ah, the liberation! No makeup after the first 3 days (except for nights out), one pair of flipflops, which roamed the dirt paths of the Alhambra, danced the wooden floors of Mae West Baby Vamp in Neptuno (wait for further elaboration), went to the beach, in hostel shower cubicles, and then in a backpack back home. It proved to be the best spent 7 Euros of the trip. Paisa Vasool.

Barcelona had crisp air and a recurrent cool breeze throughout the day. We had an attic on Caller Roger de Lluria to ourselves which overlooked pinkish ochre buildings with quaint balconies and potted plants. We reserved ourselves from the clichés, still. Saw Gaudi’s architecture, walked to Park Guell like mofos only to realize had we taken the regular route (ignoring my insistence) there was an escalator that got you up there, from the main road. The uphill hand, I called it. Walked all over, at every hour, got hugged by random Spanish boys on the streets, ate 2 Euro burgers (never again), saw all that there was to be seen and got half price tickets on the night train without the infamous ‘star card’. Even walked to the marina and tried to overcome fears of bridges. Obviously, it didn’t work and I had to run across when I realized there were gaps between the planks. I am probably not doing much justice to the city right now, but each city we visited kept exceeding expectations of the previous, that Barcelona seemed plain in contrast. So for all those lamers who show off of spending their summer in Barcelona: you only made it to the pre party.

“Donde Cheap drinks, Hot guys and Good Music?” through the course of the night, deteriorated into “donde cheap guys, hot drinks and any music?” Also, either sentence spoken in a Spanish accent (contact Z for demonstration) received many more responses, rather than the usual, quick dismissal of “non hablo anglais”.

Case in point: the three hour walk in the streets of Granada, 11pm onwards, looking for Neptuno. After hours upon hours of rejecting places, closed bars, and out of business clubs, asking directions from only the good-looking passersby, we reached Neptuno. Apparently the most happening place for the young local crowd, we instead were faced with an empty (and closed) shopping mall/Cineplex. A walk around the corner revealed a huge staircase with a sign on top – bearing the picture of a local version of Betty Boop wearing a black leotard, reading ‘Mae West, The Baby Vamp’. The ‘err’ which escaped Z and my mouth simultaneously were not entirely audible to Happy Z as she skipped up the stairs to ask the bouncer if the place was nice. Of course he wasn’t biased.

Z then went in to check the place out, and returned, saying “it’s decent and there’s English music – it seems promising.” Having walked in the aforementioned flipflops for 3 hours by then, I was ready to spend those 10 euros, for better or worse, while Not-so-Happy Z apprehensively looked around, saying “isn’t there a Flamenco place we could go to instead? I read about it in the Lonely Planet.” After many an eyeroll and persuasion, all three of us landed up inside the wooden, ship-like interior of a bar, with 10 people sitting around the counter. A KT Tunstall song was blaring from the speakers as we exchanged mixed looks and plonked down on three bar stools. The two boys next to us were kind enough to share the candy dish, trying to chat up Lively Z off and on.

After forcibly enjoying the incongruous bar music, Z and I headed to explore the rest of the place, thinking the ‘most happening’ place of Granada had to have more to offer. And we were right! One step into the swinging doors opened up into Alice’s Wonderland. A huge split level wooden floor, jampacked with people, Calle Ocho blaring from the speakers, flat TV screens lining the ceiling, (you get my drift). Excitedly we hurried back to Z who was in the middle of a conversation with Raphael (the one in the blue shirt), who then introduced us to his friend: Raul, the Flamenco dancer. Overwhelmed by our discovery of the dance floor, instead of shaking hands with Raul, I leant in and kissed him on the forehead! Then I smiled to myself and skipped away to dance. I didn’t meet another Raul during the rest of the trip. I guess Spanish clichés aren’t really much to go by after all. Grin*

And we thought Barcelona was rocking, after our first night in the chic Carpe Diem, a beachside club/lounge followed by the seedy opium where men insisted on showing us ‘magic tricks’. Needless to say, we left soon after. Well, Granada turned out to be even more happening, in spite of being a smaller, landlocked town. The hamam probably added more to the charm as well. Think: aromatherapy, 7 pools of water (one ice cold, the rest warm in varying degrees), a massage, green tea and sweets. We had washed off the Barca exhaustion and were ready for Tarifa.

Time to time I scribbled in my diary. This is obviously not verbatim.

19th July, 2009
We’re all moving, in different directions, on different vehicles. The startling blue of the Mediterranean en route Tarifa (the windiest beaches in Spain are here) is as enchanting as the Bosporus, if not more. After having a stupendous breakfast (stolen from ‘The Stupendous Brunch’ which happened much later) of salmon and cream cheese with bread, butter, a huevo frito and zumo, the morning couldn’t have been better. Until we realized we were singing, because Alanis’s Jagged Little Pill was the album of the hour. Good music always increases the palatability of food.

In spite of being on the move, we’re all in limbo. We’re all at different stages, I think to myself, as I stare out of the window. Sometimes windmills also stop, even on the windiest of beaches.

Surfer dude haven Tarifa is a 30 minute ferry ride from Tangier, Morocco. But were told Marrakesh is the only city worth visiting, which is 10 hours deep inland. Chucking that plan, we head out to swim in the Mediterranean. Good choice.

Despite 3 layers of sunblock (after each dip), we lie in the sand, only to emerge as sand-coated gingerbread women. The press and pour showers in the hostel also aren’t very affable when sand is discovered in the folds of one’s ears, amongst other places. Proud to have managed to beat the direct rays of the sun, we awake the next morning with the backs of our knees and shins burnt. That was always a tricky angle!

The next beach in Cadiz, where the infamous orange bikini scene (and others) from Die another Day was shot, had less seaweed; water from the Mediterranean and Atlantic merge here. So I swum in the ocean, and bobbed on the waves, and watched people tan their white bodies. In Europe, people prefer more evenly spread tans, and make no bones about it. Publicly. At least I wasn’t with my parents this time.

We roamed the old town in both cities, walked down to the fortifications, ate tapas like nobody’s business and laughed all the way home. Home in this case being Casa Caracol, a quirky back-packers inn (which we found about randomly in Barcelona from Vivienna at the internet café), caracol meaning snail in Spanish (the burden of the backpack = snails shell). The bhangiest place I had ever visited in my life, we slept on bunkbeds with 8 other people the first night, flat on our backs, afraid to turn over lest our faces rub against the pillows. Bedtime was usually 6 am, till which everyone chilled in the lounge, played Sudoku, had jam sessions on the guitar, made dinner, talked – all high of course. For a second I thought the caracol signified the pace at which everyone worked, slow, but Scott explained otherwise. Then he went on to ask me how to say “you’re a dirty mermaid” in Urdu. Apparently he was making a compilation and had already covered Polish, Dutch, French, Spanish and whatever language is spoken in Croatia.

The following night we slept on the roof, in hammocks .The next morning after a jaw-breaking breakfast of muesli and pears, we bid our roommate Tobias farewell at the bus stop and departed for Sevilla, at 9am sharp.

23rd July, 2009
I heard someone say Barcelon-err, in Sevilla. Of course he was British, but just another one on my list, I suppose. Z left day before yesterday and the two of us remaining adventurers are on a bus to Cordoba. “The end will never be ready”, she said, before getting on the tram at Plaza Neuvo.

Sevilla was an instant favourite, primarily because the river that flows through the city was called Alfonso. We celebrated Z’s early departure at the only open café during siesta in Triana, with a bottle of chilled water and Tropicana.

And then I got heatstroke.

But we managed a quick dinner of Gazpacho and Raveoli outside the Catedral, speaking Arabic with the Moroccan waiter. I choked on the atmosphere, by the fountain, but survived. Then we took the long road home so we could make fun of Baghal King. The next day, I slept in till 2pm from heat exhaustion and the deep fried cuttlefish from the previous day’s lunch. It was then we swore never to have seafood for the rest of the trip.

In Cordoba, my memories are of the food, the food and well, the mezquita of course. The mosque converted cathedral was a pleasure to the eyes till you saw the chapels which had been added to the original mosque. Awestruck by the red and white arches, yet disappointed by the incongruous decorative additions, we walked by the river at night, feasting our eyes on the lit up mesquite from outside, the sliver of the moon in the sky and the intense, almost disturbing Flamenco performance we had seen the night before. At night, we returned to our apartment (yes, we had an apartment) and decided Z had tanned 5 shades darker than her original skin colour, and I, 4 times.

The return journey comprised of a lone 10.5 hour train ride to Barcelona, Sants Estacio by night, a 10 minute metro ride to Place de Catalunya, a 30 minute ride on the Aerobus to the Airport (wrong terminal). A subsequent 20 minute shuttle ride to Terminal 2, a soggy tuna baguette and bland wedges, and a relay of mp3 player playlist (x4) during the 6 hour wait till my flight. I, who can never sleep on most plane journeys, was out like a light before take off, and next thing you know, I could smell Lahore.