Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Tale of a broken-toed Misriya!

The first-time experience is unique. The adrenaline rush that comes with what you're about to do, flushing you with excitement, nervousness, anxiety, giddiness, the fear and confusion of not knowing what lies ahead.. You can only live your first-times once. So try to make the most of it. Such was my first-ever international experience to the land of Misr. (In case you were wondering - Misr is Arabic for Egypt)

In a seemingly routine weekend in November, I was perusing online travel catalogs looking for an exciting escapade. Egypt came calling to me that day. In a flash, my mind was made up. This was the destination which was going to embrace me into its arms as my first overseas travel affair. If you've read my older blog posts, you'd know how bedazzled I am of Egypt. It's an emotional connect that I have no words to explain and account for. A day-dream of two decades, or perhaps more! The land of the Pyramids were calling unto me, and who was I to refuse? I quickly started making the arrangements for the trip: the payment options, visa procedures, reading about the country's landscape in my free time - would it be too hot/ would it be cool when I went there/ political scene and domestic unrest if any, mental-mapping the places we were going to be visiting as per the itinerary etc etc etc. As the travel dates came closer, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air. Fear of the unknown, mixed with the excitement of whatever was lying ahead came to me in equal parts. Preparations were in full swing for what clothes to wear, accessories to match with it, new cool purchases for the trip, piling up quick, easy snacks into the bag for the trip and so on!

That's when the unexpected happened.. On the fateful night of March 8th, I stubbed my toe to the wall at home just five days ahead of my trip and it resulted in a fracture. I had two options to pursue at that moment: 1) Either give up on this trip, cancel it out and remain at home giving some resting time for the toe to heal, or 2) Go ahead and join the tour anyway, considering the Orthopaedician had given me a thumbs-up for routine activities (except that I couldn't get the foot bandage wet at any cost). Being the brave lass that yours truly is, I chose to do the latter. Sitting at home and musing over a lost opportunity simply isn't me. This was my home calling; I just couldn't ignore that voice. A lot of re-tuning and re-preparation happened. Sneakers/ shoes/ party footwear were tossed out of the suitcase. Many comfortable open-foot slippers replaced them. Painkiller pills, bandage gauze cotton, tissue paper, saran wrap rolls constituted a sizable chunk of my luggage. *chuckles* That's how the great journey began!

I met the group of ladies I was going to tour Egypt with during our transit to Cairo from Kuwait. From the word go, they were charming, kind and loving. The initial nerves and qualms that I had about meeting strangers fizzed out within the first few minutes of chatting with them. It was like being amidst family, despite being far away from the real ones we had. Throughout the trip, there was endless laughter, banter, joking, dancing and fun with these wonderful travel companions. Together, we visited the Giza complex and the magnificent Pyramids, walked into the King's chambers (at the heart of Khufu's pyramid) and marveled at the culture and history that the ancient Egyptians have left behind for the generations to come. Egypt is indeed the cradle of civilization and there's no denying it when you've been there yourself. The visit to the King's inner chambers within the pyramid is an unparalleled experience. Walking/ semi-crouching/ climbing/ plodding through the dank, narrow passage into the high-ceiling King's chamber was worthy of the steep, ascent uphill to reach the sweet spot. There is a calm aura within that captivates you when you're there. I felt goosebumps when my palm slid across the walls of this chamber. So that's how it is, visiting the heart of the pyramid! 

Saba Alkhyr, Egypt! =)

Whichever direction you turn your head to, Egypt provides so much ancient heritage and history that's hard to digest in one visit. Perhaps.. Just perhaps.. One trip is not enough for a country as marvelous as Egypt. I felt this sentiment with strong certainty when we visited the Cairo Museum, home for olden days' artifacts and ancient treasures (special shout-out to Tutankhamun's discovered antiquities from the Valley of Kings), the rich sculpted work and carvings in the temples of Abu Simbel, Philae, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Luxor, Hatshepsut and Karnak. Clearly, these kings had GRAAAAAND vision about after-life and wanted to let their enemies know they were strong and mighty. "Don't mess with me, I'm a powerful king" - this is what each royal heir to the throne conveyed to their arch rivals through the sheer size and splendor of these temples. If the ancient history wasn't overwhelming us enough, the sights, sounds and scenes of the modern-day Egypt bewitched us. Be it shopping for fine linens and cottons at Cairo, the perfumes in Aswan, the papyrus and Alabaster of Luxor, or for that matter - some good old Indian style bargain-and-buy in the souks of Khan El-Khalili, Spice markets of Aswan known for its spices, condiments and dates and the Luxor flea market where one could pick up ALL sorts of trinkets and sounvenirs.. One just cannot have enough of Egypt from the past and present era!

The bonding with the group - by this I mean all the awesome ladies, the local guide with his extremely cute landing tone and the fabulous, sassy Ten-plus-One group leader - intensified as we went cruising along River Nile with the stars shooting above our heads as we sat sipping our drink on the deck, during the Felucca ride with some karaoke fun and dancing as we got introduced to the taste of Ouzo en-route a farewell bash at Fella, some leg-shaking fun at Fella as we watched and joined the dancers perform Belly Dancing, Whirling Dervish and other traditional dance forms of Egypt, and as we shared some namkeen and the foot-tapping Desi music during our long, arduous ride across the Sahara desert to the Abu Simbel. We got a glimpse of the humble, inviting Nubian household open for its guests, as we dined with them prior to the visit to Abu Simbel. I cannot miss to mention the hot-air balloon experience at Luxor, where we floated above the Valley of Kings (which we visited later that day) and the temple of Queen Hatshepsut (or simply, Hot chicken soup!). The arid desert sands, laid in parallel with the lush greenery of Luxor's agricultural lands, next to the serene alluring River Nile flowing by quietly - all these seen as three parallel strips and seen from a bird's eye view was a glorious spectacle. As if this wasn't enough for our senses to absorb, the sunrise came by quietly and presented to us a pristine sight to behold. I had never witnessed a sunrise so picturesque as this before, suspended high above the ground. Lo and behold, you sublime beauty!

Witnessing a beautiful sunrise from the hot-air balloon! 

The visit to the Valley of Kings deserves a mention for its grandeur and architectural brilliance. The avenue of tombs laid out as an organized underground labyrinth for the exalted royal families, marked as their final resting place takes your breath away, quite literally. The intricate carvings, the paintings, the charms and offerings painted across the wall as you traverse these passages leave you lost for words to express your awe. As of date, sixty-six tombs have been discovered and the Egyptian Archaeological department is pursuing relentlessly in its endeavor to unearth more riches that may lie undiscovered within this mysterious mountain valley. Now, touching upon the gastronomical delights that Egypt offered to us bemused travellers: Of pita breads with its assortment of dips - hummus, baba ghanoush, and yogurt with cucumber (quite a standard appetizer), the hawawshi and tamia, shawermas (quite unlike the ones which are prepared in India. The Arabian ones are dry with little or no mayo), well-cooked and skewered meats and gravies served with a side of sticky rice, baked, mashed or fried potatoes, and finally the helpings of Umm Ali, traditional burfi-like sweets or fruits like orange, bananas, dates or cantaloupes to top off a wonderful meal.. I can literally feel the flavors rolling my tongue as I type this. Oh, how could I miss the Turkish coffee which flowed freely across the caf├ęs, along with the assorted flavors of sheeshas you could try?

The trip was and is magical to me. Not all those who wander are lost. Sometimes, you discover that you fit so well in another place, in another time. Perhaps, Egypt was where I belonged in an earlier birth. An earlier time that the mind cannot fathom or register, but the heart always knew of. A connect that I cannot put to words, but what the intuition tells was always there. Was that why every shop keeper and vendor told me I looked like an Egyptian? Does that explain why I was told to have the same face structure of a Nubian woman - eyes, face structure and skin tone? I was one of them. I was their habibi. After coming back home and recounting this karmic connect, I have had friends who threw this amusing question at me: "Are you sure your parents didn't adopt you?" Hehe! I am sure it's going to take a lifetime to snap out of the charms of Egypt. As for the fracture that I tended to throughout the trip.. It sometimes reminded me of its annoying presence, a faithful reminder that all things good come with a pinch of bad. For most of the times, I forgot about it and allowed myself to get fully immersed in the incredible Egyptian adventure. As you sit there reading this post, rest assured that the habibi with a fractured toe has done well for herself. Surely, visiting Misr is an incomparable and exotic experience worthy of every minute spent there. As I sat on the flight which would take me home on the last day of our trip, I remember grabbing wads of tissue paper from my handbag and wiping away the silent tears which wouldn't stop flowing. It was time to go from one home to another.

Ready for take-off from Cairo? I don't think so! 

And that's the tale of a broken-toed Misriya (Egyptian woman in Arabic) who returned home with a full suitcase and an even fuller heart. Shukran Egypt, for allowing me the privilege to revel in your magic. Until we meet again, I weave these precious memories close to my heart and seek refuge in the recollections. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 - An year in rewind!

So.. An year has rolled by swiftly, pushing a truckload of memories, triumphs, pitfalls, moments of cheers and tears onto my arms. The year 2017 has been a roller-coaster much like any other year. However, this year will be cherished as an important year because I did so much more than what I've done in the last 27 years of existence. I want to put the essence of it all into a write-up, so that maybe, two or three decades later I'll come back and read these thoughts with a smile twitching on my face. The older me would perhaps want to pat myself on the back for thinking so much for this age, compared to what came much later. As the saying goes.. Every level upped in life demands a different version of you. True to that, I discovered a different me in this year. I have done my best to condense the life that I lived and the learning that came with it. 

Lesson # 1 - Take the risks. The great adventure is out there. 

At the start of the year, I bid the most stubborn Goodbye to my ex-company. Not many would know the back-story: Driven by my wounded self-esteem, I had put my papers in my former organization and had started looking out during the three-months notice period. I was lucky enough to find a company/ a team which took me in, believing me when I myself wasn't able to see my worth. When the notice period was officially up, I went to Bangalore shortly before Pongal and formally closed the chapter with the ex-organization. Unlike the TCS chapter, where I welled up and cried all the way home on the last working day and the next day, this was a dry, uneventful farewell. Oh, I didn't even get a cake. I was glad I was done with this part of my career, and I suspect to this day that they were equally relieved too. 

When you're brave enough to say a Goodbye, life rewards you with an unexpected Hello! 

That's how my new company opened up to me. The initial days/ months were tough. It was a new job and a new role - which demanded a new me. I was still shaky and doubtful of myself, as from the older days. My self-doubt hadn't completely vanished. I would still get nightmares from my time with the old org where I was told time and again that I wasn't good. In my new position, I have dealt with some important / hair-pulling/ amusing/ exasperating assignments in the last eleven months. The work basket was never short of variety. With all the assignments, I learned and grew. I was noticed as the new chic in the block. I was slowly but surely getting my confidence and the self-assured air back. A year can do wonders when you're in the right place, with the right set of people, doing what works best for you. I am glad I took the risk and dived head-first without knowing what was coming. It's paid off, and well! 

Lesson # 2 - It's all about timing. 

I kept solo-company with myself in the new org for the initial six months. A video-making exercise brought me close to a group of team folks/ friends who hung out together. I was invited to join them, and slowly.. I became a part of the gang. Personally, I believe this is the best group dynamics friendship which happened to me after DAMN in TCS. Good friends at work make you look forward to coming to work, for the company and assurances, for the care and support you derive, and to sit and talk the problems out - if nothing else can help. Work sometimes gets so unreasonable and irritating. I still dress up and come to work anyway because I can talk with my lifelines at office. (you know who you are!) I didn't chase to be a part of this group from Day-1. I was fine by my own company. I didn't look around, though this might shock anyone used to being around in groups. I gradually and casually became a part of the gang when the time came. It took me 6-7 months to thaw in and I am grateful I managed to do that. 

Everything comes to you when the time is right. Be patient

People who make me want to come to work no matter what! 

Lesson # 3 - Life's too short. Do the things that you love. 

This is the first year where I put my inhibitions aside. One of the best compliments received from the Aatha was: I see a different you now. I don't see you being scared to take decisions any more. You've always worried if you're doing it right or wrong in the past. Today, I see none of that restlessness. I see a calm, self-confident person in front of me. 

I entertained my intuitions and made/ joined impromptu trips and plans. I vacationed for a short while at Delhi, which is the farthest I've ever traveled in my life - leave alone the fact that I went solo. The Delhi trip was an invigorating experience, spiced with some unexpected jolts and twists like the red-flowers blooming at the Taj Mahal (wink wink). I went to visit my best friend in Bangalore, then as part of the office gang I visited Shimoga, joined an informal gang trip to Pondicherry.. The list can be extrapolated to record some more significant memories, but I'll stop here. Every travel experience came with a bag of amazing moments and treasured memories. I am positive that I will have more such travel experiences to record for 2018. #BringItON

Hello, Taj Mahal! 

One fine day, I suddenly had this distinct desire to have full-on mehendi for my hands and that's what I got done too. I walked around to amused people asking if I'd gotten engaged, went for a family function or a friend's wedding for which I patiently said No, and smiled. 

I shopped within my limits at Pantheon Road. Visited Sowcarpet for the first time and did food-hopping there. Made myself happy by buying a new phone to record quality photos. Welcomed Aatha into the world of Facebook, WhatsApp and smartphones. Taped a tempered glass on to phone by myself (new skill, bro!). Discovered some refreshing and soul-stirring music from Naveen, Roopa Revathi, Sabareesh Prabhakar et al. Watched many good movies which were critically acclaimed and lesser known to the box office. Started reading books with an intent to continue reading for pleasure. It was a year filled with impulse-driven acts. 

Sowcarpet Trails! 

Lesson # 4 - The importance of being with and contributing to family. 

An important plane to everyone's existence is their family and the upbringing. I am no different. We work, earn and aspire for the Good Life - just so that we're happy with whomever we identify as family. One of the prime reasons for my job shift this year was the slightest possibility of returning back to Bangalore on the old job. After 1.5 years spent on a professional life that I wasn't exactly excited with, a probable relocation back to Bangalore was the proverbial last straw which broke the camel's back. 2017 was a year spent fully and well with family. Being in those shoes, my responsibilities never ceased. I played an important role in stabilizing their health and wellness, yet again. Every time things go right on the health front at the home ministry, I feel rewarded. I know I've made a contribution for the right cause. Sometimes, I do my part begrudgingly feeling over burdened by the duties. Some things go my way; Some don't. I learned to plod on this time, because tough situations can change and family support doesn't. I am happy for being present and being part of the highs and lows, nevertheless. 

Lesson # 5 - It's good to fail. 

There's an experience close to my heart, which needs to be spoken. Not because it's heavy, but because I'm glad of who I am and what I did. I told someone that I liked them, only to hear their rejection at the prospect of the idea. I am mighty proud of the act, never mind the consequences. It is the single most thrilling and the least expected act I did for this year, what with the adrenaline rush. It took me a few days of moping from there on, to finally learn to let go and lift the sensation off. It will be amusing how the days ahead pan out. 

While I was crushed by the verdict, hearing it out loud did me good, for I no longer go through the delirium of what-if's. I feel clear now that I've discussed the idea, the possibility with him. Sitting and thinking now, I wonder how I did it - to go there and put it out in the open. That's really not me. I'm the lady who harbors hope and wishes against all odds that it somehow works out without making the first move. I am the one constantly harboring hopes. What I did was an act of courage and an attempt to clear the grey clouds hovering in my head. For all that it was, it was worth it. Nobody warned me the aftermath would be painful and it'll take some time to feel better. I am allowing the wound to heal and close by itself with time. It's his loss, not mine. That's what I constantly reassure myself. Life's too short to keep everything pent up within. I don't want to be that person. I will use the chances I have to get the results I'm looking for. Sometimes, I trundle into unexpected corners, but that's OK. It's important to keep trying; to keep looking. This year was about stepping on to the light at the end of the tunnel. 

With so much of what has happened this year, I sign off on 2017 with plenty of peace. My soul feels relaxed for the good things that happened and acts of courage executed, and I await more experiences in 2018 with open arms. Good vibes and positive thoughts only! 

Until I see you in another post, I am signing off. Happy New Year 2018, everyone!