Urban Bharat Darshan

Last month I went back to India. After a year of being videsh, I had a very good time meeting my family and friends. Using all my accumulated air miles I decided to pay my friends scattered over the country a visit.  Needless to say moving around between 6 cities has left me with a lot of memories and thoughts that are to many to condense.

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Last month I went back to India. After a year of being videsh, I had a very good time meeting my family and friends. Using all my accumulated air miles I decided to pay my friends scattered over the country a visit.  Needless to say moving around between 6 cities has left me with a lot of memories and thoughts that are to many to condense.india-large-color-map

Allahabad

Lucknow

Delhi

Mumbai

Pune

Bangalore

It was certainly a refreshing experience. Being away for a while allowed me to notice things that I might have been glossing over when I all I knew was the Indian way of life. More so, the feeling of being connected, the feeling of return, the refreshing of memories and habits. All of this helped me take a break from my life in Sweden. This vacation was an important space for me to continue pondering my life in the most comforting background of love, good food and no deadlines.

I visited my father at work and took some pictures of ancient Indian art on display outside though the galleries inside are ofcourse very extensive.

 

 

I also visited the temple. In India one tends to find the best sweets being produced near temples since nothing less will do when offering to the gods. In any case I like the calm, reverent atmosphere and the tasty laddu.

 

I was often so invovled that I couldn’t get the pictures myself sometimes, I will shamelessly use google to replace such,

 

 

Awadh is the historical region that comprises of the southern half of my state. Centered around cities like Lucknow and Allahabad, the culture of this region flourished in the 19th century. Some of most iconic and exquisite dishes of northern India originate here and Awadhi cuisine has always been close to my heart.

I specially enjoyed a meal of Galouti kebabs & Mughlai Paratha, Handi chicken and Biryani at a famous restraunt in Lucknow, Dastarkhwan. In Lucknow I also visited the city’s historical spots.

 

 

Moving on I went to Delhi, the national capital where I had some good times with my friends was reunited with my beloved after a year. As we moved around the usual spots I started wondering about how the intesity of life is increased in India simply by the hustle-bustle, the shiny boards that cover buildings entirely, the variety of sounds and smells one might encounter.

 

 

I also had the opportunity to stay near Delhi University’s north campus. The sprawling student area has many of India’s best colleges and a huge student community that lends a distinct youthful character to the area. While it may not be a tourist spot, it is definitely an area to visit to get a feel of how the younger generation lives. I personally studied in a rather far flung place. Specially intriguing was the Ridge. I never knew of its existence before.

Before long, I moved on to Bombay where I was finally hit by the monsoons. The day I landed rain lashed from a darkened sky. I saw people on bikes covered head to toe in plastic zooming under the rain, of peddlers at work even as people frantically scattered to their homes. I took a short visit to Pune through Lonavla with my brother. Driving down the Pune-Mumbai expressway munching on daal pakodas, I was memmerized by the intense natural beauty. It seemed as though the hills were covered with green frosting.

 

Compared to the north the temperature was cooler and the rain constant. After the humidity and heat of the north, this was a welcome release.

Back in Mumbai, I visited the Jehangir Art Gallery where my father was overseeing an exhibition. It was in south Bombay, colloquially sobo, that I realised that despite India’s ancient heritage, very little can be seen today. While we have preserved many monuments and art, our cities and lives very rarely interact with our heritage. Unlike europe where cities are a living reminder of times gone by, India perhaps doesn’t have the same luxury. On the other hand, I noticed that old parts of all cities still have buildings built in the ornate styles of the past, they just get subdued.

 

On the last leg of my journey, I visited Bangalore. Though I could only stay for a day I got to meet my good friends. Bangalore if often seen as India’s version of silicon valley and indeed some of my friends are also engaged in making the world a better place.

Towards the end I was feeling a bit despondant, I had grown accustomed to the excitement of meeting people and going to places but all good things end. Soon I found myself on a flight bound for Stockholm and after a gruelling journey involving not sleeping for 28 hours I came back.

As the plane headed towards Arlanda, I saw tiny islands scattered near the coast, forested landscapes and bright fields of wheat (possibly?). As I came out, I was greeted by the typical smell of coffee and cigarettes that pervades this place.

 

I soon found myself getting amazed by the greenery, the cool fresh wind and the bright days all over again. Going on vacations is great I feel, it has made me appreciate the nice things everywhere!

 

 

A Sparse Metropolis

Stockholm is a sparse metropolis. The amount of nature mingled with the urban environs, modern and historied is incredible. I can’t imagine any other place where I can go from walking on a paved road surrounded by buildings to a wooded lake edge. So, when I went to swim in a lake in the middle of the city, it wasn’t like being in nature, it was being in nature.

It’s been a while since I posted. Summer has come around and I had a sweat in Stockholm. The warmth in the air, the lush greenery and an almost (so close) 24 hour sunlight day makes for an interesting experience in itself when placed in contrast with the bleak grey, frozen hell this place can be.

So, we did a barbecue on one sunny day and had a bonfire later. Walking back home, doing groceries, the joy of watching the sheep and the cows in the fields. I remember the day I felt it was summer. As usual I put on my coat and walked out of my apartment. It was windy as usual except the air felt warm, the day before it would have been a chilly pinching sensation. The temperamental nature of the weather here is astounding, days can go from sunny, to rainy, even snowy at a whim.

 

But as the semester wound down, the warm days kept on coming. I finally got around to running in the trails and woods behind Lappis, something I have been thinking and talking about for a while. I found some more interesting places (see: Something prompted this!).

Stockholm is a sparse metropolis. The amount of nature mingled with the urban environs, modern and historied is incredible. I can’t imagine any other place where I can go from walking on a paved road surrounded by buildings to a wooded lake edge. So, when I went to swim in a lake in the middle of the city, it wasn’t like being in nature, it was being in nature.

 

Its not just the nature though, This feeling which I can only describe as being the opposite of feeling crowded is as pervasive as its incredible. The place has largely left me untouched, it has been the experiences I have sought out that have come to impress me. I went slack lining in the park, where I meet several new people, some of them strangers who wanted to join and a elderly gentleman who congratulated us on our efforts. I felt very pleased with the warmth and welcoming demeanor. I went to a gay bar and found it to be pretty much a normal bar, a couple of winks here and a few girls making out, notwithstanding.

The restaurants, clubs, museums one visits here appear to me as cozy boxes embedded in the pastel colored buildings that stand soberly, orderly. The openness that this place has never seems to stop amazing. For the last couple of days I have been riding around a borrowed bicycle. I have crossed the length of the city, gotten lost (even with GPS :/) and just enjoyed the freedom that this place promises (you do need a job, which I currently do).

 

So I rode around and saw the blue hued midnight skies and went for a sunny morning ride to work. While the regular folks go around in their cars on bland grey highways, the cyclists get to enjoy some spectacular views, filled with lakes, flowers. As the cool wind blows and the sun keeps you warm, it is easy to get lost in this dream. I get lost all the time and its worth it because every sight is priceless. The pictures I take don’t tell it well, the best parts I was too busy enjoying myself.

In my opinion, this is a city not of dreams but one where people make choices, where things don’t come to you, rather you have to seek your way out. This ethos has caused me much anguish but still there is much to be appreciated.

Left alone to my own devices but inevitably, still a part of this beautiful city, I am loving it here.

 

Life Building

The next day, I sat alone on the floating jetty(?) and was feeling really content letting the sun warm my skin and the breeze ruffle my hair. I am very averse to discomfort yet the freshness that I felt compelled me to jump headlong into the lake. Again and again I plunged into the depths of the fjord, each time seeking to jump farther and dive deeper. The interval was just enough to let me feel my limbs.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the lakehouse of the Karolinska Institute’s student union, Solvik. The ice had only just melted and the overbearing, gloomy grey skies had been dispersed by the ever increasing daylight. Thanks to the initiative of my lovely friends, we organised an overnight gala, wine flowed as we gathered around the fire. Juicy, flavorful meats sizzled on the barbecue.

I was pretty languid after the intense experience of the sauna (my very first), alternated with jumps into the freezing ice water but as my sobriety receded, I had my share of fun on the dance floor and then sneaked off to the sauna again, though the alcohol dulled the bight of the late night chill. All in all, a very pleasant, relaxing experience.

The next day, I sat alone on the floating jetty(?) and was feeling really content letting the sun warm my skin and the breeze ruffle my hair. I am very averse to discomfort yet the freshness that I felt compelled me to jump headlong into the lake. Again and again I plunged into the depths of the fjord, each time seeking to jump farther and dive deeper. The interval was just enough to let me feel my limbs. I will forever be grateful that this moment got captured for posterity,

I had a ecstatic feeling of cleansing, of solace and life. After tiring myself out, I did what I do best, I pondered. Unlike my phases of existential agony, this time, the splendor around me would not let me slide into the melancholy I am so well versed with. I don’t really remember what I was thinking but I know I was content, the very best kind of happiness there is.

Yesterday, I was considering where my ideas about life and such come from. I readily identified the obvious sources and re-discovered some obscure ones. The earlier I looked back, the more fragmented these influences were, partial understandings of concepts way beyond my age at the time,. Yet it was these half understood ideas that had the most profound impact.

One of earliest ones, was Swami Vivekanandathe famous Indian ascetic. In my school, students were sorted into colored houses, each representing an acknowledged sage with a profound influence on the Indian society. I was assigned to the saffron colored, Vivekananda house. Buddha famously rejected extreme asceticism alongside materialism and then promulgated the middle path. Vivekananda had a similar realisation, though in contrast to the passivity of Buddhist philosophy, his was one of activity. The strength of spirituality, manifested as  energy to live life to the fullest. And by that he meant a drive to excel in every aspect of life.

I always imagined this to be akin to having an inexorable force, propelling me to my self determined destiny. The belief that, I could throw myself headlong into challenges, with a constant, unrelenting persistence and I would surmount anything. This was the ideal to live by. As I grew, several other ideas, thoughts and goals blended in. The bedrock of what I want to do is the certainty that I can do anything.

This also begs, the question then, can I stop? Could I imagine being content or would I always be stuck in the pursuit of a ever distant goal?  It doesn’t help that not everyone shares this compulsion. Going against the herd sounds glamorous but this is hardly ever the case. Most often that not, everyone is choosing their own unique path, and mine seems to be getting harder by my own doing. Unlike people who cannot escape their burdens, I was lucky enough to have a chance at an easier life. Is constant wanting or waiting or struggling, a sure way of making my life hell? I feel so at times yet I  reject the notion of stopping, of being satisfied with what I have.

That being said, it is really easy to find happiness along the way and it can look something like this,

The pure bliss of letting go (of doubt)

Indian Spice

When I bit into the slightly crunchy, oil laden slice I experienced an epiphany and a catharsis of epic proportions. The rich taste and aroma of mustard lifted my spirits as I gulped down my creation in a frenzy. I, having lived for almost 8 months without this precious flavor, was a man quenching his thirst after journeying through the desert.

The next Monday after this post is Holi. It is a celebration of values like the triumph of good over evil and associated with many different legends, the most prominent being the burning of the eponymous demon Holika. However for me and countless others, it means bright colors, water fights, Gujiyas & Thandai. It was by far the most fun event of my life while growing up. The frivolty is intoxicating.

Holi is becoming more known to people far abroad in recent times. Here’s how it looks like,

This is of course largely due the festival occurring at the start of Spring in India. While gentle winds blow and the temperature is just right. The sun isn’t so harsh as to burn though the its warmth, felt on the back while being drenched in color water is soothing.

Meanwhile in Stockholm….

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I have been for past few days been missing home. There are the little things about my previous life that I miss and there are major things, like food! I have overpowering cravings for the Mughlai I ate every weekend in Allahabad. The dahi vada, samosa, gulabjamun, papri chaat I had in the evenings. Even, aloo gobi and paneer paratha are missing from my life. Finally, my all time favorite ‘arhar dal tadke laga ke, aur chawal‘ has been absent for months :/ Just collecting these images has plunged me into immense agony.

Indian spices have been considered valuable in Europe for millenia. From the ancient Romans to modern day, Indian food is considered exotic, flavorful and hot. Spices have had an important role in our history. From the first global trading networks to the rise of colonialism, it was all driven by the riches derived from Indian spices.

Having eaten spicy food all my life, I had never really understood the fascination for Indian food from people who are not used to it. Infact, for me all food Indian or otherwise cannot be separated into categories. As I sit here drinking coffee and eating a fantastic spinach, bacon sandwich.

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I think about the relative lack of flavor in my food. A lot of meat, bread and pasta dominates my diet yet apart from the standard ‘garam masala‘, I haven’t really leveraged my heritage. The curry mixes as expected do not hold up to the definition. So, I decided that it was time I took my cooking initiatives one step further.

A week ago, I made the bold decision to buy baigan/egglpant/aubergines/brinjal, whatever term you prefer. I then proceeded to buy mustard seeds or ‘rai‘ to replicate the essence of mustard oil used in almost all fancy cooking in India. The results were spectacular. I made two great dishes, ‘baigan bhaja‘ which is a Bengali dish made by frying sliced baigan and ‘baigan ka bharta‘ which is a Punjabi recipe, made by roasting, then mashing the veggie. Unfortunately, I was too busy eating to consider snapping my achievements.

When I bit into the slightly crunchy, oil laden slice I experienced an epiphany and a catharsis of epic proportions. The rich taste and aroma of mustard lifted my spirits as I gulped down my creation in a frenzy. I, having lived for almost 8 months without this precious flavor,  was a man quenching his thirst after journeying through the desert. The tremendous satiation I felt made me realise why good food is a central pillar of a satisfied life.

The amazing thing  is that there are many, many more experiences of rediscovery awaiting me as I explore the rich diversity of the subcontinent’s gastronomical delights.

Fortress of Solitude

Stockholm can feel like a toy town at times, with its empty streets, transport that runs like clockwork and a majestic, aged feel about it. This was so different from the crowded urban jungles cities are. Yet here I was a few months later holed up inside a small room. I couldn’t help noticing the contrast.

A ‘Fortress of Solitude’ is what my colleague called the 25 day self imposed, exam induced hibernation. My travel plans dashed, I resigned myself to a quiet Christmas and New Year, knowing fully well that the weather in Stockholm is conducive to a passive existence that I am prone to. I lost track of day-night cycles and life flowed along without boundaries, a blur of existence. Day after day I stared outside my window at the snow and wondered how it could have been. At night I heard the plastic I had placed on the vent crinkle, thankful of the warmth I had as the lakes froze,

I did attempt to spend this precious resource, time, prudently on things like learning programming and preparing for the exam. The inevitable did happen and the process wasn’t as efficient as one might hope. Countless youtube videos were consumed. Unfortunately my attempt to do something useful kept me from the things I would have loved to do instead. So, the books and anime went untouched as I slipped and skidded in my attempt to do something useful. Could it be that I tried too hard, might have I instead written a poem? Progressed on the long abandoned book? I feel a pang of regret but the milk has spilled, the days have long passed.

I came here with the urge to make something of myself, to learn new things and do things that amaze me. That enthusiasm has fallen flat on its face. I thought about the hard journey ahead, a sinking feeling came to mind. I have never been a rushed person and it struck me that I might have been a little too hasty this time around. The idea that I might have jumped into a quagmire of my own making felt very real. Could I have given up on those small pleasures of life, the little things that go unnoticed till you are deprived of them? I recalled the wondrous sights I had seen when I arrived here and how enamored I was at the beauty. I was taken by how different and storied the surroundings seem,

This was an open city full of greenery and hidden pathways. Often I had wandered and stumbled upon fabulous things.  I have walked and come across castles and hidden wooden doors. Stockholm can feel like a toy town at times, with its empty streets, transport that runs like clockwork and a majestic, aged feel about it.

This was so different from the crowded urban jungles cities are. Yet here I was a few months later holed up inside a small room. I couldn’t help noticing the contrast. I felt restricted and as I pondered more, I felt the extent to which my life had been altered. I always knew what I was getting into, but the physical manifestation of constraint hits hard.

I wondered at the remarkable change in perspective I have undergone during this time. As I boarded the bus to the university after several days, I felt a sense of return. In contrast to how everything had felt new and wondrous half a year ago, I felt the comfort of a known landscape, a feeling similar to how one looks at home.The striking sensation to me was how much I still appreciated the wind, the quiet calm of this city and that beautiful, intriguing things stay that way though I might encounter them time and time again. I had planned to post this collection of pictures a while ago but I see things differently now.

As I had grow accustomed to my life here, the murky restlessness returns. It is an important force that drives to me to strive for better but too much of it and the doors to perpetual frustration swing wide open. I feel like an important lesson has been learnt. I have come full circle. Starting from a place where I was content to let things happen as they would, to a burning desire to lead my destiny and now finally the realisation that good things don’t happen overnight. In the meantime, I suppose its ok to have some fun!

I missed a lot of people this winter and I was missed by a lot of people too. Thank you for all the love you have showered me with!

Life’s a crowded bus ride

..over the past many years, I have always been able to find amazing people who I love to be with. I think I have had great experiences with them and all of us have somehow influenced each other. Like a bus ride, life involves getting jostled, trying to keep our footing, and many a times we get affected by people we never meet.

Munching my way through the epic saga of the T lymphocytes…(pardon) I drift down the memory lane. Life for me has been as crowded as most though I have always been keen on noticing my differences from the rest. The urge to form my unique individuality, to do better and to live life on my terms has been particularly strong. And yet, friendship is a need, not an option..

Fortunately, over the past many years, I have always been able to find amazing people who I love to be with. I think I have had great experiences with them and all of us have somehow influenced each other. Like a bus ride, life involves getting jostled, trying to keep our footing, and many a times we get affected by people we never meet. So much of our lives are shaped by forces we aren’t aware of but people, is something we all relate to.

So, I think about all those times I felt glad to have friends and I came up with this..

I am a pretty nerdy guy, so I despise the stereotyping of nerds as emotionally dull. On the contrary I have always found interacting with people, understanding their needs & motivations and to be able to provide the affection they seek, a profound experience. On the same lines, for me talking about my thoughts and feelings is a necessary aspect of life. (Obviously!)

Great thoughts may involve ideas but it’s the people and happenings, that give meaning to our life and substance to our souls.

Winter Woes

Things that were once new, become routine, but the almost otherworldly thrill of a gust of wind, sensation of the inexorable passing of time as seasons change, thoughts that remind us of our puny stature in the vastness of this world, they never grow old.

Waking up is a tedious activity when it’s cold. Hours go by, as I lie listlessly, rolled up in my razai, luxuriating in the comfort of my cocoon of heat. It takes repeated assaults by my sense of urgency to overcome this quagmire.

Today as my eyes scanned my surroundings in the half sleepy, state of sloth, I noticed the flakes, swaying in the wind. I extricated myself from the trappings of my warm bed and was greeted with a magnificent sight outside the window.

The bitter cold has defeated the warmest clothing I could muster. The winter is going to be beautifully, brutal. I have seen some amazing changes in the past few months, from 10 hour long days, to the rich colors of autumn leaves and now this.

I think about how the years have passed and a lot has happened in in my life. Enough, that I can think about several occasions when my life changed dramatically. Things that were once new, become routine, but the almost otherworldly thrill of a gust of cold wind blowing through your hair, sensations of the inexorable passing of time  as seasons change, thoughts that remind us of our puny stature in the vastness of this world, they never grow old.

From the bleak grey sky, blows, the shivering wind;
Bringing the promise of a storm;
The bare trees moan, rain falls on the frigid ground;
A lonesome light shines into the blackness,
Smoldering embers come to life and rise,
As the smoke rides the winter breeze;
Across the solitary expanse they are scattered,
Memories of a dear life, relived in every dream;
Open doors invite the creeping chill,
As thick fog descends, the smoke rises on the winter wind,
Pale faces, seeking comfort in smothering hearths,
The windtouched child welcomes the cold and smiles,
At the white smoke riding the winter wind.