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A Traveler's Saga

Photo taken at Plitvice National Park, Croatia by Vibhor Dhote Oh! What are these days I have found myself in! The bagpacks I carry n...

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Being Desi in a Foreign Country: Sweden

“I am not hungry,” he said with a visible frown on his face.
 Tim was a Russian musician who was tired having traveled all the way from Bangkok to Stockholm without proper sleep that day. We both were couch-surfing at Stockholm for the first time, the way many travelers do when they wish to meet new people, and our host was out with his friends for some time. It was a crazy evening and the three of us had gone out but I had to return mostly because Tim wasn’t feeling well and he didn’t know the way back home and partly because I couldn’t afford the club we were in.

The clock had struck 12 in the midnight and I knew I was hungry. I am not sure if this is because I am a foodie, a fatso or an Indian but I simply cannot sleep if my tummy indicates it needs something nor can I imagine others not being hungry when I am. Tim was adamant that he’d not have anything, since he was too tired to get anything and too upset with the sudden change in temperature he observed between the two countries, while I knew he hadn’t had much to satiate his hunger from the evening. I insisted and he said he’d just drink some cold milk since he doesn’t eat very late at night. I hate doing kitchen-work, more so for someone else. But like all the times when the mother India in me wakes up, I saw myself warm a glass of milk for him and serve it in a tumbler. Imagine the plight of a girl who always had food served for her in a plate on the table, no matter if she is in India or any other foreign country, no matter if she is living with her parents, friends or acquaintances. But somehow I realized the plight would have been mine to keep forever had I not kept my ego aside and shown some hospitality although I wasn’t the host.

Later when I believe his hunger was satiated because his hours-long frown was gone, he thanked me and I think he also smiled.

Sometimes, such gestures keep you smiling whenever you recall them. Sometimes, success isn’t an accolade you won or a large amount of money you received but a smile you’re able to bring to someone else’s face.

 It’s only when we step in a foreign land we get the opportunity to focus on how we react and/or act when faced with certain situations. When in India we are hardly bothered about ourselves, focusing more on the next goal, on the next day. But when I stepped into one country after another in Europe, mostly solo, for three months I had more time than required to ponder upon my own ways.

If hospitality is one way Indians relate themselves with, the other would be ‘Jugaad’ – a low-cost solution to problems also seen as some sort of frugal engineering. My budget for my travel in Europe would not be preceded by the adjective ‘shoe-string’ when it came to my eating habits; but when it comes to buying any other material I’d shy away from spending anything.

It was when I realized my Snow jacket got torn at a visible place that I attached a tiny owl badge on top of it, hiding the embarrassment. It was when my backpack was torn at places that I simply took out some band-aids from my first aid box and put them to cover the tiny holes on my bag. Whenever I met people and they asked me why, I’d say it’s my style statement and sometimes, they’d agree.
I remember not buying another phone for weeks when both my cellphones fell in Greece’s water rendering them useless. I’d then just pick a tourist map from any nearby store and go visit the places with its help.

My ways were more Indian than I ever saw them to be. I go to continental restaurants but still insist on eating Biryani with hands in Biryani joints. I love eating French bread but a hearty meal is the one that has rice or roti in it. A polish guy I once met said I don’t have the typical Indian accent he had expected, maybe because I have an Assamese accent he hadn’t heard before, but I still nod my head the way Indians do, somewhere between a yes and a no.

This reminds me of Lufthansa’s new TVC of the service being #MoreIndianThanYouThink. Having done my MBA in Marketing from MDI Gurgaon, I notice advertisements from the customer’s point of view as well as a marketer’s POV. The ad is humorous and it tells a story and maybe that’s why it has struck a chord with everyone who has seen the ad. The brand recall is great since you not only remember that there is an airline that excels in hospitality and serves Indian food but you also remember its name. And when there are so many Indians flying to and out of the country, it is good to have an airline to prefer over the others.

Do check out Lufthansa’s latest ad below and about the campaign here, and drop in your comments if you’ve experienced Lufthansa’s Indianness


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Dress Up

It’s funny how one’s life goes through highs and lows
But we put some kohl and brush our brows.
We someday realize we have no one but foes;
So we sit back to paint the nails on our fingers and toes.
For that might be the way one can drop that frown,
To let not the world and its people pull you down,
For I can see my life all blue- the hue I dread
But I can change my hair to a better shade of red.
I may wake up to find a messy work life
But I can neatly braid my hair and pretend it’s all fine.
I can find my job dull or whine that it’s not fair
But I can take out a magic wand and curl my hair.
I may cry all I can, as if I’m trapped in Medusa’s lair
But tomorrow I’ll still show up with a confident flair.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hope

My favorite color is the shade
of your cheeks
wet with drops
from the salty sea of your eyes
when you are guilty of
making an innocent mistake
like writing "writed" for "wrote"
doubting if you can still write a good quote,
calling yourself not a writer
even when the pages of your diary
are filled with a million notes,
even when you die everyday
but wake up to write
for a theme called Hope.

The Bedside Lamp

How can this be love
If every time you turn off the bedside lamp
My soul shivers in fear that it isn’t you,
That your dark shadow is a metaphor of my dark past,
That each time you twist and turn on the bed
The wooden creaks swim into my ears
To remind me of the monsters I met before I met you,
To instill a fear of uncertainty in me
That the person sleeping next to me is no one
But a nightmare of all the memories engraved deep
In the folds of my skin, in between the crisscross of my veins
That I dare not sleep on the other side of the bed
For that dark place isn’t mine to take,
That I dare not turn sides to sleep facing you
For the monsters of wounds might crawl out
From under the bed if I don’t keep watch,
That I dare not snore for it might wake you up
And you, like all the shadows I wish I didn’t remember,
Would paint new scars on my arms
Like tattoos on someone’s face gone a little wrong
By brushes tainted by another colour
Mixed with your hue of love- from grey to black?

It isn’t love if every morning I run to lock the doors
When you go out to work and I need to look at a mirror
To see if I aged from the previous night,
To observe what a sleepless night can do to my face,
To place a fist on my chest and wonder if my heart is still intact,
To learn to smile when you come back later to my lair
And pretend it’s love when you turn off the bedside lamp.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Embracing Change

(Article written for 2017 issue of The AECian, Assam Engineering College)

When Professor Satyajit Bhuyan asked me to write an article for The AECian I had absolutely no idea what I’d write on. What can I write for the magazine I was an editor of some four years back? What do I write for its readers that they haven’t read before?

Having found no specific answer to these questions I sit down to write just the way I blog – pouring my heart out. When Bhuyan sir mentioned “The AECian”, it took me back to 2013 when I had worked relentlessly for it. At those times the students would write articles on paper, instead of MS Word, and submit it. Imagine the pain of first decoding someone else’s handwriting and then editing it, not to mention, the typing and re-typing required by the publishers. I remember having a discussion with Bhuyan sir regarding changing the submission method so that our writers submit soft copies making it easier for both the parties. Our tech-savvy professor welcomed the idea and I was glad about it. 

When our environment changes, it makes no sense if we stick to our old ways. We need to embrace the change and move forward. Of late, each year, each month I have embraced nothing but change – from changing locations in India and abroad, to experimenting with new habits, new things to learn and do.

When I write about embracing change I cannot not mention how Guwahati has changed over the time. I remember my last year in AEC when we used to take the college bus to go to a certain part of the city and hop on city buses to go further. Today I’m back in the city after four years and find myself not having the first instinct to call a cab via Ola or Uber. I wait for city buses and get a shock when the auto-driver doesn’t ask for a fortune to go till a certain distance. 

With this apparent increase in commercial vehicles comes the rise in Black Carbon pollution levels in the city. Thanks to urbanization- the change businesses embraced to move forward with constructing malls, showrooms and hotels. 

Oh, how we hate change when it is not in our favour! The same change I would love to show off when my friends from Delhi give the city a visit and notice the brands available here. The same change I hate every time I need to use my scarf to cover my face when I go out.


With the changing city, there are other changes our hearts wish to resist. The current placement scenario in India is not that great (Demonetization, Trump and what not?) and hence, those who’d be in the final year at AEC might not be having a clear idea of the future ahead. Grieving about leaving the carefree college life behind and then worrying about the uncertainties ahead.

 However, sometimes ambiguity leads to great things – pursuing Masters in a domain of interest in the country or abroad, putting some efforts and risk for a new business in the city, being a contributor of the ever-increasing start-up culture in India, indulgence in social welfare and so on. People leave high-paying jobs to follow their passion. People leave studies to go for a job of their interest. An MBA after a MBBS degree and a masters in physics after leaving successful businesses – the world has probably seen all kinds of stories. I know some AECians who are on their way to break-even their newly started businesses. 

These stories are nothing but patches of hope for a changing future. And all we as witnesses to these changes can do is to gear up to embrace this change and move forward. Adaptability is a skill only life can teach you, a skill that only ameliorates itself as and when we embrace change.