IN OTHER WORDS

There are times and days that are etched in your memory for almost forever. I have been quite lucky to have been able to put together such memories that are usually more of a thing of dreams. Two years ago, I met Pandit Birju Maharj ji whose name in itself is enough to have the lovers of dance and art bow their heads in respect and I had the privilege to learn and nurture kathak under his majestic guidance. He is my guru and will always be. Last year I sat in the humble presence of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan where I learnt a completely different side of modesty. Day before yesterday I came face to face with the legendary lyricist Javed Akhtar sahab. I am never star struck because these men are to be revered and respected in all their glory.

Javed Akhtar

Monday evening Javed Akhtar sahab launched his bible of poems In Other Words at Oxford Book Store, Connaught Place, Delhi. I was all prepared to stand for hours because there would be only a handful who would want to miss his witty anecdotes and satirical comebacks for all the questions thrown at him. But what I hadn’t imagined was that I would have to climb up a ladder to get a glimpse of Akhtar sahab and also capture a few memories of him. It was worth the effort!

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In Other Words was first launched at the Jaipur Literary Festival this year and has been garnering raving reviews from critiques since then. However, for rest of the world the official launch of the book was Monday evening at the bookstore. There is a lot to be said about Javed sahab but there aren’t enough words in this world to define this legend. He made me fall in love with his beautiful lyrics for the movie 1942: A Love Story even when I was too young to understand the depth of the words. But decades later I still sing that one particular song with a feeling so strong, which is hard to decipher. I again fell in love with the poems he penned for the movie Zindagi Naa Milegi Dobara that were recited by Farhan Akhtar in his baritone voice. Honestly, there was a war inside my head and I couldn’t decide what I loved more the words or the poem and well in the end obviously the latter won.

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I would like to share with you one of the poems from In Other Words and you too will end up cherishing every little emotion behind the poem.

Dilemma
Perhaps I should forget you
This is now the proper thing to do
But even if I wish to erase you from my mind
How can I forget?
After all you are real
Not just a dream
What can I say
About this wretched heart
That could never forget
The rapport that never was
That idea, that one idea
Which was never expressed
That word, that one word
Which I could not say to you
That relationship
Which never existed between you and me
I remember all those things
Which never happened

The depth, intensity, and the power behind each word is undeniably overwhelming as they carry you to a world of their own. I think it will take me a while to float back to the ground because his poems combined with the beautiful rendition of ‘Kucch Na Kaho’ playing in the silence of the night is enough to keep me entranced.

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THE COURTESAN

The room was thrown into darkness:  the kind that exudes a certain kind of peace. Once my eyes had adjusted to the surroundings, I saw a woman sitting right in the middle of the stage. She had an aura about her that mesmerized the ones present in the room while her voice and the lyrical music drew in its realm the people standing outside the room. That night I first learnt about the life of a courtesan and she was called Gauhar Jaan.

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Gauhar Jaan looked something out of a dream with her sharp features, which bordered on ethereal. She was draped in all white and her diamond studded nose pin gave her an air of regality that was fit for a queen. Her neck drew your eyes to it not for the glittering jewels, but its delicate curve that rippled with her every move much like a sinewy rope.

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She might sound like a figment of imagination but she is more than a beautifully carved fantasy. Gauhar Jaan is very much a reality that has been thrown in the dungeons of ignorance rather than being accepted as an integral part of our culture. The reality has been brought to the surface by the renowned Sufi Kathak Dancer Manjari Chaturvedi. She is also the genius behind ‘The Courtesan’. A passion for dance combined with the determination to reignite the memories of these beautiful women, she introduced us to the costumes, jewellery, and dance moves synonymous to them. She too drew her inspiration from the works of Wajid Ali Shah who himself was an ardent admirer of the courtesan culture.

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The beautiful night has been dominant in my thoughts and it drove me to unravel the mystical story of the courtesans. Centuries ago courtesans were revered and considered the very soul of ‘tehzeeb’ (etiquettes) and class. It is said that the world used to come to a standstill in the presence of their timeless beauty, which ran skin deep. Courtesans were women whose company was sought by men of high stature and young girls were sent to them for grooming.

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It has always been wrongly assumed that courtesans were there to satiate the physical desire of these men. People couldn’t have been more wrong because courtesans were women of high intellect who had strong views about art, politics, culture, literature, music, dance, and a lot more. There was a time when they were looked at with respect and possessed a great social standing. The courtesans reflected elegance, beauty, and intellect that drew many admirers. It would surprise people to know that the courtesans put in a lot of efforts to create their dance routines and did not have any formal training. I believe it would be fair to assume that the dance forms in later times were born in the courtyard of the courtesans.

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Sadly, these factors did not hold much weight in the face of cowardly mindset and there on began the downfall of these beautiful women. With every passing generation the orthodox and warped thinking was taking over the liberal thought process that did not mind appreciating culture the right way. Time became a witness to the disgraceful treatment being meted to the courtesans. They were being considered as prostitutes and were being called by demeaning names; tawaif being one of them. The irony of the situation was tawaif wasn’t really a derogatory term, but it was given a negative connotation soon after these women lost the patrons who were real conoisseur of art. Later, men took it as their right to humiliate and exploit the courtesans while the women pulled them down with their acidic tongues and vile thoughts. People and time dealt such a cruel hand to these women that in a short while they were left to live a life of solitude peppered with insults and jibes. There was a time when they were looked at with awe but now it isn’t considered fit to be under the same roof as The Courtesans.

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The night ended with a thunderous applause and a standing ovation, but my heart bled for every Gauhar Jaan who was worshipped and punished for passion, beauty, and intelligence. Well, the essence of these women can only be captured by poets and lovers of art, while for the rest of the world they are like those tales that are reminisced over time and again, sometimes with love else nothing but scorn.

“Why struggle to open a door between us when the whole wall is an illusion?” -Rumi
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So Delhi Confluence

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August couldn’t have started on a more fabulous note. The first day of the month rolled out with So Delhi playing a host to the top bloggers and some of the best brands in the industry, such as H & M, The Furniture Republic, The Rug Republic,  Swatch, Taj Hotels etc. So Delhi in association with Himalyan Natural Mineral Water hosted the confluence at Summer House Cafe in Hauz Khas Village. They for sure picked up the best place for the evening not only for the location and music but also for the food. The hummus falafel at Summer House Cafe is amazingly delicious; so much so that I wolfed down at least five of them.

You know that you are doing something right when you make it to the list of top bloggers in the city.

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Outfit for the So Delhi Confluence
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Bag by Brandless

The rainy August evening was all about networking and having fun. It is never easy to strike a conversation in a room full of strangers, but once you hit the right chord then there is no room for the awkward factor. There are two things to set the perfect stage for a conversation: a warm smile and a genuine hello. I made my first friends with these two calm yet vivacious girls who looked all set to enjoy the evening were there with serious business on mind. However, work didn’t deter us from discussing everything and anything under the sun.

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Picture Credit: So Delhi

The evening wasn’t all about networking and work because So Delhi had a lot of surprises in store. A panel discussion and Q&A round with the top bloggers in the industry, soothing yet foot tapping violin performance by Bella, stand-up comedy by Utsav Chakraborty and Manik Mahna set the mood for the evening with a bang.

PepperTap, Roposo, and OneTouch did something extremely important: they gave us ways to make life easy. When you are caught up with a hundred things and there is no time for grocery shopping then PepperTap will come to your rescue. Roposo is your best friend for every hour of the day because helps you put together the look for any and every occasion. OneTouch turned out to be my favourite app out of all because it promises help in the hour of need and that too within minutes.

Finally, it was time to take home some fabulous goodies courtesy SoDelhi and all the brands that were a part of the Confluence. A huge round of applause for SoDelhi for putting together an amazing event for the bloggers and the brands.

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LOUNGING IN THE MOUNTAINS: PART III

Our journey wasn’t restricted to Srinagar only. We drove up to Gulmarg: a paradise for the sports lovers. We stayed at The Khyber, but just one night at the opulent hotel wasn’t enough. If I start to use the words luxurious, majestic, and so on then it for sure wouldn’t justify the grandeur. It was more like living a dream surrounded by snow from all sides. It had snowed endlessly for days, but stopped before our arrival.  But the view was no less.

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It is needless to say so but still when in Kashmir don’t forget to drink Kahwa: a traditional drink made of Kashmiri green tea, cardamoms, saffron, cinnamon, cloves, almonds, and sugar. I can tell you this for sure that one cup just wouldn’t suffice because it is absolutely heavenly.

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It was difficult to leave the hotel but resisting the warmth we made our way to hop onto ‘gondola’ – a cable car that carried us over the snow covered trees and mountains to reach the peak where all the activities were happening. So, for the very first time in my life, I got the chance to try my hands and legs at skiing. On television this sport looked quite easy but the reality was completely different. Once you have all the gear in place, they tell you to maintain your posture; bend your knees a little with the elbows jutting out and your back bent forward; the last part was difficult for me because I believed that I would rather slide down the slope on my back. Phew! I did land on my rear quite a few times and dragged the poor instructor as well. I am sure he must be cursing me till date. However, I enjoyed sloping own the mountains albeit on wobbly knees.

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Next, it was time to test my courage on the snow scooter. The best part was that speed was no bar and I drove it on my own. Woohoo! No one can look better than Sean Connery on a snow scooter, but I did give him quite a competition… no kidding about it or maybe just a little. The energy exuding from the scooter with every inch covered in snow transcended me into a different world altogether. It turned out to be an experience for a lifetime.

So, it wouldn’t be fair if I skip the most enchanting day of our journey. Despite the constant prayers, God didn’t seem to be in any mood to make the snow fall. Well, what we saw in Gulmarg had stopped before we reached there and we wanted to see the snow fall right in front of our eyes. Since, the nature refused to give in, we packed our bags and slept quite dejected because next morning we were to leave Srinagar and go back home. You must have heard that a wish from the heart is usually fulfilled sooner or later. The next morning we woke up to beautiful flakes making their way from the sky and falling softly in our waiting palms. It was the most beautiful sight I could have ever dreamt of. We danced and played in the snow till the time our bodies refused to stay out another second in the biting cold. My fingers and face had gone numb but it was worth every second that I spent in the snow. It snowed all day and as a result all the flights had to be cancelled and we had the brilliant luck to stay an extra day in Srinagar. Also, it was being said that such a snowfall was being witnessed after decades. I don’t think that this vacation could have ended on a better note. It was better than any dream for me.

After reminiscing about the best days of my life, I am all set to go back and enjoy God’s very own paradise once again but this time in Summers.

P.S. This post is last in the series about Srinagar. Also, if you just came across my thoughts then don’t forget to read about the first and second leg of my incredibly beautiful vacation.

LOUNGING IN THE MOUNTAINS: PART II

Srinagar is known for its scenic beauty but what no one talks about is the people there. It was an absolute delight to meet such warm and polite people, which is quite rare in today’s world. Most places in India make you wary of strangers who wouldn’t mind staring at you and make the most of it by brushing their hands here and there. However, in Srinagar we did not face any such problems because nobody was really bothered. Contrary to the image created by media, people there weren’t raring to jump at you with arms and ammunition. Srinagar 12   A visit to Srinagar wouldn’t have been complete without a shikara ride on the Dal Lake. The man riding the shikara introduced us to Kashmiri folk songs, but otherwise his playlist belted out songs fit for a party. The thing that made the ride even more fun was the Maggi that we ate in the middle of the lake. We were completely frozen because of the rain and mist, but it was certainly a ride to remember. Surely, the food at The Lalit was mindblowing but then it wouldn’t do if we didn’t try the street food. They say that true love is the one who accompanies you anywhere or rather follows you. Cliché much?! I can never get enough of Rajma Chawal, but hadn’t expected to get it in Srinagar out of all places. Krishna Dhaba should be on every foodie’s list especially for Rajma Chawal because the aroma and the scintillating flavor will captivate you. The new friends we made there loved it so much that they had it packed to take back home. Srinagar 9 The next stop on our list was Chashme Shahi or The Royal Spring: another feather in Shah Jahan’s elsusive turban. This garden is blessed with seven natural springs that are high on mineral content. It is said that the water from these springs is so pure that it can cure pains and diseases. How true is the claim is anybody’s guess. No doubt the water was cold and heavenly and if nothing else then I did discover something new, which wasn’t ever there in the textbooks. Lal Chowk has been made synonymous with riots and constant fights between the natives and the defence forces. We too were deterred by someone from going there, but we relented because the traveller in us refused to play the role of a meek tourist. It wouldn’t be right to say that somewhere deep down we weren’t skeptical but our determination paid off. There wasn’t much to explore because of the rain and falling dusk; however, moving in and out of shops and talking to people proved to be an experience in itself. I would say that one should take out a few hours to learn more about the market. Well, having explored almost every nook and corner in Srinagar, it was time to enjoy other places as well. I cannot wait to tell you about what we did later, but for that you will have to read my next post. It is a promise that I won’t take much time to share a new leaf from my travel diaries.

P.S. This post is second in the series about Srinagar; many more interesting thoughts are soon to follow. Also, if you just came across my thoughts then don’t forget to read about the first leg of my beautiful vacation.

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LOUNGING IN THE MOUNTAINS

Finally, we made it all the way to Srinagar! After overcoming all the obstacles thrown in our way the trip on paper became a reality. It sounds a tad bit dramatic, but it was worth the wait. College, job, hectic schedules, and other obligations kept us from planning one long trip to unwind. The first time around we had to unpack our bags and cancel the trip in the wake of the devastating flood in Kashmir that wrecked damage more than anyone could anticipate.

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However, we are a determined lot and nothing could deter us from our vacation. Soon, the bags were packed once again and we finally boarded our flight to Srinagar. After a short stop-over at the Jammu airport, we were flying over the snow-capped mountains. There wasn’t a more beautiful sight I had ever seen before.

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We stayed at The Lalit Grand Palace in Srinagar: one of the most spectacular properties that is bound to leave you awestruck. Initially, it was known as Gulab Bhawan, which was built by Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1910. The credit for the fine décor and furniture belongs to Maharaja Hari Singh, the nephew of Maharaja Pratap Singh.

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Every nook and corner in the hotel personified luxury but the view from the rooms stole the show. The windows faced the lush gardens boasting of decades old trees, the tips of which were at that moment covered with snow. However, in summer you would be able to enjoy fruit laden trees and beautiful flowers too. We had one of the best views from our rooms: the Dal Lake covered by a sheet of mist and beyond that snow covered mountains. It was an absolute bliss to sip a piping hot cup of tea while taking in the sunrise sitting by the window.

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I cannot survive for long hours without food and it is a major concern while travelling. Well, I didn’t have to worry at all because Chef Digvijay made it a point to prepare dishes that were lactose free. After almost 4-5 years, I had the most delicious pizza and if I could then I would have eaten it in every meal.

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I almost forgot to tell you that the dining room there is called ‘Chinar’ where we ate our sumptuous meals. Mr Ranvijay – the manager at Chinar – made us feel at home by sharing anecdotes from the places he had been to. On our last night in Srinagar, I ate the most delicious Arabiatta Pasta that too without cheese and it was so tasty that I forgot to miss cheese. At the cost of reiterating, each and every meal tempted and satiated my taste buds beyond reason.

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Our stay there was nothing short of royal. It wouldn’t be right to say that it was only because of the grand property, sprawling rooms, delicious food but also because of the service and warmth we received from the team at the hotel. Our needs were taken care of even before we requested for anything at all. Mr Prince, the assistant manager, was extremely hospitable and made our stay quite memorable. If you ever stay at The Lalit then do ask him to take you on a tour of the palace because that’s where you will get the real insight into how to lead life king size.

P.S. This post is first in the series about Srinagar; many more interesting thoughts are soon to follow.

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SIX YARDS LONG STORY

It is quite amusing for me to hear the saree woes especially at the weddings from friends and strangers alike. One of my closest friends needs hours to drape a saree and it is no small achievement for her. We are poles apart because given a chance I would build a walk-in wardrobe, which would showcase nothing but my sarees. I am already dreaming! There is something for every season and occasion when it comes to sarees. I haven’t had a problem in choosing one when dressing up for a happy time as much as when picking up a dress, skirt etc. By no means I am being biased or maybe a little, but it isn’t in my hands.

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The touch, feel, and smell of sarees is heavenly. I love how it falls and wraps itself around the body. However, shopping for fabrics for the blouse pieces is another experience in itself, which needs to be discussed at length… later.

Th 100 saree pact is the reason behind my rambling. I was quite surprised when I first read about it because why would someone need to be bound by a pact in order to wear the most graceful thing in the world. In case you haven’t heard about this initiative then fret not because I am more than happy to share the know-how with you.

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This pact – which has gone viral – came to life when two women Ms Anju Madam Kadam and Ms Ally Matthan realised that they had way too many sarees and had hardly worn them in years. The sarees saw the Sun and Moon or breathed in the polluted air only when there was a wedding in the family. More often than not with western wear ruling the lives, saree just didn’t fit in the picture. So, in order to make use of all the sarees they decided to wear 100 sarees in 365 days. Every time one of them would wear a saree, they shared the picture online with the hashtag 100sareepact accompanied by a small story, memory, or anecdote evoked by the saree for the day. They did not want to restrict it to themselves and decided to rope in friends, family, and friends of friends too. So, as soon as the word got out, the pact became the talk of the town (literally).

Since, I have always enjoyed wearing a saree and don’t really need an occasion to wear one, this pact wasn’t that exciting for me. However, it did get me wondering about the number of sarees in my wardrobe. They aren’t anywhere close to hundred but I plan to change the status soon. The thought of achieving that number has already given way to planning and buckets full of excitement.

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The scorching heat calls for chanderi, cotton, chiffon, georgette and what not. Winter is not far and I am so looking forward to it because the beautiful weather will bring in its wake silk sarees.

There are two women I am in love with who made me fall in love with sarees. First one is my mom because I simply love her for who she is. I can’t help but swoon over her wardrobe full of sarees; it would be quite hard to pick a favourite. If ever given a chance I shall beg, borrow, and steal my mom’s wedding sarees. I feel that not even a single saree today can stand on the same pedestal with the ones woven decades ago. Since childhood I have preferred my mom in a saree not because of some archaic thought process but simply for the grace she exudes in a saree, which turns so many heads even today.

The second one is Rekha and that too the one in Silsila… it was quite hard for me to divide my attention between her and Mr Bacchhan.  I am in awe of them and will be so all my life. Oomph, class, and elegance are synonymous to her and I can talk about it all day long. The way she draped her saree in Silsila was the first time I fell in love with her and every time I watch the movie, she makes it so easy for me to fall in love with her all over again.

So, this pact is not for mere 365 days for me, but a treasure trove for a lifetime.