Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The art of simply being "Nothing" !

Do you know there is an app called "Nothing"? The reviews were mostly all 5 stars and what people wrote about this simple yet exotic application fired curiosity in me and I became one amongst the thousands who downloaded this app to find out , what is this "Nothing?"
Guess what? This app does exactly what it claims!
It does nothing!
But the human mind doesn't let go easily. I swiped left and right and up and down and wished and hoped that something would happen but all that I was doing was staring at a white bright screen that said "Nothing"!

You know what? My whole life ( I am 32 right now)....so, my whole life I have experienced competition. It started when I was really young..maybe just around 4 or 5. My sister could do this, so I had to do that! My friend could do that, so I had to also do that! Madness! It continued, it gets imprinted in the subconscious and some sort of a mad rush begins.....everybody is running to get somewhere....everybody! They don't stop, they don't pause, they show as if they almost got it!

I am fortunate to have parents who don't sit on my head and ask me to get a job or work! I am also fortunate to be out of relationships and the mess that ensues. So I can work when I feel like working and I can relax when I want to relax.....apart from some irritating people who keep asking "What are you doing now?" every time I pass under their nose, the world seems rather peaceful.

I have had the time to sit and do nothing. I have had the privilege to disconnect myself from the social media, phone and emails so that I get to know myself. And through all the meditations, quiet times, hours and hours of sleep....( yes! Uninterrupted baby sleep! 12 hours a day sometimes..and even more! :-) I have come to the conclusion  that "There is Nothing".

There is nothing to chase, nothing to be chased away from. Nothing to be motivated by, nothing to achieve. Nothing to be scared of, nothing to desire! Life is nothing! There is no meaning to life, it is meaningless. Our mind tries to decipher meaning out of everything and that is what causes all the pain and unhappiness in our life.

This is exactly what they teach at Landmark Forum. The hard or shall I say, the easy truth? Isn't it too easy to understand this? If there was "Nothing", then why do we go to school and try to learn and try to make something out of ourselves?
Perhaps there should be schools to help us learn this- To be Nothing! Be Nobody! And be okay with it!

Just imagine, if all of us were not fed in our brains that we have to be "Somebody and do something" , then we wouldn't have chased these manufactured dreams, we would be happy and content with what we have and who we are. But no, something out there doesn't want us to be happy with what we have and what we do. They want us to chase desires and other things so that we forever remain unhappy. Individual's Unhappiness is the key to Organisational happiness! Without unhappy people, you can not have an economically developed world. America is such a shining example of unhappy people and loads and loads of opportunities and materialistic comforts.

That something out there, which doesn't want us to be happy........that is probably something that wants to control others to their own advantage. It can be the government, it can be the companies, it can be the professionals! Think about it. Doctors don't really want a healthy society, they want people to suffer so that they get more patients. Lawyers want more crime so that they get more clients. More failures, make successful people feel better about themselves. Ugly people are necessary to make beautiful people feel worthy!

This whole "meaning" giving society that we have created has kept our peace of mind at bay. Remember, that the term 'happiness' is also giving meaning to some incident, situation or people. Without unhappiness, there can not be happiness.

The answer and the balance lies in equanimity!
If you want to be good, don't point fingers at those you consider bad.....make efforts so that there is no good and bad. But do we do that?

As a society, we just want to point fingers at other people to make ourselves look good in the eyes of , again, some other people!

I find it rather hard to understand this mad society we have created...I just walk around, looking at people, rushing at things and wish I had a remote control in my hands that could just make them "STOP" "BREATHE" & "THINK" for at least once in their life, what it is they are doing.....

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Vacation Story: Notes from Bhutan: Part B

Part B: The Vacation

(i) Planning:

January-February 2017 :

I am sure there are people out there who love to travel solo, but travelling solo is not my first choice. I am a gregarious person. Obviously there was something I wanted to prove- I wanted to prove that I need nobody to do what I want to do! (I hear a bunch of feminists cheering 'Yo Nari Shakti!')

In the meantime, frantic attempts were made to find company. On the outside, I was parading my bravery and inside, I was a scared rabbit! 

The plan was to travel right across the country , that is enter from the West and exit from the East . I booked my tickets :
 Goa to Bagdogara ; and
return from Guwahati to Goa.

There are 3 possible routes to enter and exit Bhutan. Out of which Jaigaon (West Bengal)/Phunshoeling (Bhutan) is the most common choice. (*1)

One can also take a flight to Paro. There are weekly flights from Delhi and Guwahati to Paro and I have heard that it's one of the best flight experiences in the world as the runway is short and the plane criss crosses across valleys in order to land. When I checked the flight rates in January, the cost was Rs.20,000/- one way! So please remember to book well in advance.

By February end, I had spent several hours researching websites and contacting people on Couchsurfers and Lonelyplanet to see if there are any travellers I can befriend. I received a reply to one of my requests on Bhutan Forum on LonelyPlanet one day. He introduced himself briefly (what impressed me was his Title "Dr."). Dr. Amit is a post doctoral researcher at JNU and a Bhutanese citizen. He asked if I needed any help or information regarding Bhutan(*2). I thought " Here's my chance to explore a country which is like no other in the world! It's the only country which does not harp on economics, doesn't plunder it's natural resources, where education and medical facilities are free!Wow! I wanted to learn everything about this land, its cultural fabric, what they teach at school and in their homes? Can I stay there longer? Can I settle there? Can I marry a Bhutanese?"

"I hope you are coming back" Asked my senior a few days before my trip. He perhaps read my thoughts!

Concept: My mind is a football Court! With the football being my thought. Any influential person can kick  the football  whichever way he/she likes and  I fly with the thoughts!

Amit and I started emailing regularly. We spoke on myriad topics and discussed issues and what their possible solutions may be. Amit told me it was absolutely safe for a single woman traveller to travel in Bhutan. He put me in touch with his brother, Anup who runs a travelling company "Blissful Himalayan Tours & treks" (*3). He applied for an E-permit for me so I didn't have to stand in a queue at the border. He also suggested and offered to book hotels in advance as March to May is high season. I felt like Royalty! I imagined myself arriving at the Indo-Bhutan border, the guards would salute me and the gates would be opened and I would be escorted right to Thimphu! 

Just then, my colleague Bhakti reported "Ma'am, the AC is not working!" I suddenly realised I was the plumber, the technician, electrician and everything else but Royalty! That's the challenge of having your practice. You start off thinking you will do some really sexy high end intelligent stuff and what you end up doing is - repair the PC's & the office equipment -Printer, AC etc, train the staff and do some primary filing work which nobody in the companies want to do! 

Finally I booked a Hotel on Indian side of Indo-Bhutan border (*4), just in case.


Brief facts about Bhutan:

1. Indians need a permit to travel in Bhutan. Please carry your Passport and Election card to apply for this permit. At the border you are required to fill out an application, stick your photo and your documents, answer a couple of questions and get permission to visit Paro and Thimphu. Remember that you have permission only to visit Paro and Thimphu and no other place. If you want to visit other places, you must go to Thimphu Immigration office and apply and extend your permit. The procedure is simple, people at the immigration are friendly and patient and warm ( Just like the rest of them throughout Bhutan). There are check-posts and you are required to show your permit and get it stamped by the authorities. Do not act smart and wander in areas you do not have a permit for. Laws in Bhutan are respected; it's not like how it is in India.  

2. Your travel agent can apply for an E-Permit for you which is done online. But if you have an E-permit, your agent needs to be present with you at the time of the interview at the border.

23th March
9.15 pm Hasimara Station 

Infants on the flight , on the bus and on the train had wrecked havoc on my sleep deprived brain. Infants should be put on a separate plane/ compartment. Sometimes I don’t understand who is a bigger nuisance? The screaming parent or the child? On top of that the train arrived late at Hasimara!

 The sun sets early and rises early in the east. When travelling solo, I always make it a point to either travel the whole night and arrive early in the morning or arrive at my destination before sun set. But then, there are these days……..The station was empty. I remembered Jab We Met scene when the Station Master lectures Kareena, “Akeli Ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai.” I ignored the gush of negative thoughts and went to the office and enquired about transport facilities to Jaigaon. A police man informed that there were shared taxi’s at the end of the platform and he told me to hurry, “Beta yahan dus baje ke baad kuch nahi milta!”
Thankfully I found a group of ladies and rode to Jaigaon with them.

When I got to the Hotel and checked in, I sat thinking ‘I wasn’t worried about my safety in a neighboring country even before I got there. But I was worried while I was in India till I got to the hotel! I couldn’t trust my motherland's streets and people. In all my travels thus far, I haven’t faced any safety related issue. I have travelled by local trains, shared taxi’s and hitched rides. Nobody was nasty to me. It brings me to a conclusion again: that Indian men are not rapists. Women, please trust them. They are here to help! Seriously! I know that the faith won’t build overnight. So put it to test and you will know. I am against taking un-needed risks, so I don’t venture out at nights neither do I wear skimpy clothes. All said and done, India has a particular mindset and a culture, respect that and it will respect you back. When travelling solo, it is no time to challenge norms.

24th March
Entering Bhutan

The Indo-Bhutan gate was right across the hotel at a walking distance. Bhutan Standard Time is half an hour ahead of IST. The Immigration office is a 2 minute walk from the Gates and opens at 9 am BST. The earlier you go to the office the better it is. (*5)

In my full josh, I crossed over the border/gates by foot only to be stopped by a police man and was sent back to India! You can enter through the gate only if you are in a car. Otherwise you have to walk through a smaller gate at the sides. I did that, and was back in full josh walking towards Immigration office when I heard the same police man whistling and running towards me. I was confused! Now what?
“Madam, Indian?” He asked.
“Yes yes.”
“Thought so. Do you see those lines on the road?” He pointed at the zebra lines.
“They are called zebra lines sir.” I answered dutifully.
“Oh! So you know. So you walk on them if you want to cross the road. Understand? Why are you running across where there are no zebra lines? Welcome to Bhutan! Follow traffic rules! Walk on zebra lines…Understand?”

Lesson No.1 : Walk on zebra lines.

9.15 am ( BST): Immigration Office: 1st Floor

If you have an E-Permit , you need to go to the Embassy office and not the Immigration office. They are close by. At the Immigration office, there were Indians everywhere screaming and calling out to each other. I couldn’t see where the queues began and where they ended.
When I showed my E-permit, the officials asked for my travel agent. “Why isn’t your travel agent accompanying you?” I am used to dealing with Indian authorities, so I smile and use my wit to get things done my way. But it doesn’t work in Bhutan. “Madam, you will have to apply for the regular permit then. We will cancel your E-permit!”

I had to go back to the Immigration. But fortunately, I met another Goan there. He spoke to the authorities and asked whether they can help me since there is some miscommunication with the travel agent. They sent my application to one Madam Kama. She interviewed me briefly and consented to the application. I was asked to go to the Visa/Embassy office again. A short interview and a stamp on my passport later, I was done!

The ride from Phunshoeling to Thimphu was smooth ( in other words 'uneventful' in comparison to the rest of my vacation), filled with pretty scenery and peace. Isn’t that what we come to Bhutan for?
By the time I got to Thimphu it was 7.30 pm. I found a hotel (*6), right across the Town square and crashed for the night.

25th March
Thimphu: 10 am : Ambient Café

Ambient café is this warm, comfortable café on the first floor from the main street across the clock square. There is nothing like having a good breakfast and I was starving as I had skipped my dinner the previous night. I took a corner seat to sip a cup of hot chocolate. I realised there were 2 young Indians at the table next to me, they were speaking in Hindi and planning their trip to Paro. 

Bhutan or any other place is expensive if you want to do it absolutely solo, and I was on a budget trip. I knew I had to make friends. Actually I had met a group of Gujju mid aged ladies in my hotel and they had offered me to join them if I liked. They had also inquired why I wasn't still married! I was absolutely clear that I was not going to blow up my vacation with boring company. I would rather do the whole trip alone!

What I loved about Bhutan is that everyone loves cats! A lady walked into Ambient Cafe with her injured cat who she had taken to the vet. She placed her on the table, someone at the cafe gave her some cat food, and this monk inquired ," How you feelin' kitty?"  

I looked at the boys and smiled, “Hi! Are you guys planning to go to Paro?”
 “Yes..actually we want to do the Druk Path trek from Thimphu to Paro. You want to join?”
The guys seem to be friendly.

“ I would love to. But I want to do some sight seeing in Thimphu first.” I tell them.
“ Yes , we are doing Thimphu sight seeing today, We have another friend with us, he is gone to get a taxi.”
“So can I join? ”I ask.

Ruben looks at Ishaan for a while, “Sure! Why not? I am Ruben by the way, and this is my friend Ishaan!”.

I was proud of scoring the company of two handsome men. Finally my solo trip was looking promising! Ruben has this big open smile, you know it the moment you meet him that the guy is chilled out. Ishaan comes across as this classy, sophisticated , uptown guy and I was not sure how to approach his highness!

We finished our coffees and breakfasts, Ruben got a call from his friend and we set out on our Thimphu Sight seeing tour.

The taxi was parked at the corner of the road and just when I was about to open the door, a man stopped me with his deep voice, “This taxi is taken.”
I was puzzled and looked back at Ruben.
“Arre yeh hamare saath ayengi!”, Ruben told his friend.
“I thought this was a boy’s trip! Where’s the bro code fellas?”, The stranger didn’t look very pleased. He was tall, with curly hair and strong arms.
“And you are?” I dared to ask for his name.
“He doesn’t have a name!”, Ishaan finally spoke. He is cute, this Ishaan.
“What’s your name?” The stranger asked me.
“Well then ,I am maryada Purushottam Ram! You can call me MRP – short form!”

I looked at Ruben, he gave me this big smile which said, “Take it or leave it, your choice.” Ishaan was busy with his mobile. I thought for a second and got inside the taxi.

The first place we visited  was the Buddha Point. When I got a bit comfortable with the boys, I told MRP," Maryada Purushottam Ram is MPR not MRP."

He looked at me for a while, smiled and said,"Don't act too smart with me! Understand?"

In the next episode: Thimphu Night life and Paro!


* 1: Bagdogara Airport   opens doors to many wonderful Himalayan beauties. It is approximately 5 hours drive to Jaigaon ( The Border town). 

Airport to Siliguri Railway Station- is a 30 mins drive.They charge approx Rs.150/- per head for this trip on sharing basis
 There is a 4.45 pm local Train from Siliguri which is scheduled to arrive at Hasimara ( 30 mins drive to Jaigaon)- Rs. 60/- ( The train journey is enjoyable. Every five minutes the view changes from tea estates to forests to grasslands to dried rivers to mountains. I spotted a herd of elephants and peacocks, everyone in the train was glued to their windows.)
 Hasimara is again 30 mins drive to Jaigaon. (Rs.40/- per head ,shared Taxi)

*2 : A list of all important contacts, taxi drivers, hotels and their rate card will be shared on my last post. But sorry, Dr. Amit’s number will not be shared! ;-)

*3 : Blissful Himalayan Tours & treks: Anup Jaishi: anup.jaishi@gmail.com ;Mob: +975 77319956

*3: Hotel Satyam : +91 8116233392; hotelsatyamjaigaon@gmail.com : The hotel is 2 minutes walk from the border gates. A single room costs approx rs.750/-. The staff is very helpful and trustworthy. Food is good. The place is clean. 

*5 : The Immigration office is open from 9 am till 5pm, Monday to Friday. If you reach the Immigration at 4.30 pm on a Friday, you may get stuck in the queue and may not be able to cross over. So get to the office early.

In case you are stuck and can’t get through to Bhutan. You will have to pass your time in Phunshoeling. Indians are allowed to roam around in Bhutan till 15 kms from the border, then the check posts start.

*6 : Hotel Gazel: (00975)-2324002; 17248826 ghaselhotel@gmail.com. FB:ghaselhotel

Please note: This is a Vacation story, not just a travel blog. For me, there is no traveling if there are no stories. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Vacation Story: Notes from Bhutan : Part A


Everything makes sense only when you see it as a whole, and not in its fragmented parts! The word is "Holistic"! Therefore there are three parts to my vacation story:

A. The Before

B. The Vacation


C. The After

A few points :

1. I am writing after a 2 year gap! Something definitely happened on this trip that has broken the writer's block. Many thanks to many people- Each person I have met has contributed to something that is happening now.

2. Special thanks for the photos to The-one-who-must-not-be-named! My photographer friend loves surprises!

3. I have learnt and realised that I am a little bit of everybody. There's a me in everyone I have met, I have spoken to, loved and hated. Therefore when I describe people in my blog in positive or negative tones, it's something in their personalities that I had at some point in the past or I want to have in the future and therefore I notice those traits and choose to comment on them. There's a saying "Your perception of me is a reflection of you." 

4. Legally speaking, I can put a footnote on every statement of this blog which opposes everything I have said. That's the duality of life. The Yin and the Yang! ( For more of such perspective altering statements, read Change your Thoughts, Change your Life

5. At the end of every post, I have defined certain terms the way I meant to use them. (*n) and in between I have added concepts I have learnt on this journey.

6. Why am I trying so hard to be politically correct? 

A. The Before: Part I

There is a reason why I travel to places I travel to. My Landmark Forum trained brain goes 'ch ch....Reason? Stories?' 

Well! But I do everything for a REASON!

Concept: There is a calling!

Year 2016: 

I started my Secretarial practice in Goa. This was one decision I was running away from since 10 years. 
I was expected to start practice after completing law studies , I didn't. 
I was expected to start practice after completing CS! - I didn't. 
Instead I took up a job in Bangalore which was deeply traumatic. The horror of that experience pushed me to seek comfort in the tried and tested work profile - of practice! ( I have a lineage of law practitioners. Practicing law is considered the safest option to lead a happy life- I choose to differ on that opinion though.) 

I was too happy that the pollution of the city of Bangalore and the poison of over-ambitious retards (*1) wasn't choking me. I like the pace in Goa. People don't run around like their arses are on fire (*2) . Most Goans treat each other with sweet respect and love. Tempers do flare occasionally, but most folks know to calm down after a beer or a feni or whatever thing that makes them happy at the end of the day! 

Life is good .

But then, as work picked up, calls increased, work timings extended!

My simple plan was:

Work 9 to 5, come home, read a good book, try to write and go to sleep. 


Watch a good film & go to sleep, 


Go cycling/ clubbing/ do other million activities Goa offers and go to sleep (in peace). 

But modern life isn't as simple! The arse on fire mentality does flow through the system once in a while and I did come across people who themselves are stressed and love to stress the hell out of others. Women, I realised are the stress giving kinds ( That includes me. I am not pointing fingers without taking a responsibility :). I haven't come across a man who got on to my nerves. 

"It's because You are an attractive woman!" 

Laughed my Senior/ Mentor, Vinay. 


But 8 months into practice and I still hadn't read a book. I don't remember which was the last film I watched. The only thing I remember doing often was to hit Mojo or any other pub in Panaji with my bestie Darshan and drink (sometimes dance like a demented soul to the horror of other guests)  and take off the frustration! 

Add to this, our Indian social pressures. No! I am not exactly tormented by my parents to get married AGAIN! But then, there's always a statement passed here and there about how 'Intelligent & smart' some woman has been by 'choosing' to get married! 
I don't understand what is the connection between intelligence and marriage!

The problem is, my friends are getting married.  and some others are having kids or bringing up kids. ( This has the peer pressure effect. Say as you may like statements as "Why do you have to care about them" , it is a fact ( true to me) that the overall energy, intellect ( or the lack of it!), frustrations, happiness of the populace floats in the air and affects me! 

Trust me, single women like myself feel ostracized by this system! I have stopped hanging around with couples or groups of friends which have couples in it. My single female friends have told me they feel the same as I. Some of them have stopped socializing altogether. Not just them, but even their parents don't step out of the house as people keep asking , "When is she getting married?" "Why isn't she getting married?" etc etc.

I never faced this in Bangalore!

I often see Young married girls speak and behave in a strangely mature, middle-aged- kind of fashion! 
I don't find common topics for discussions! If I check out a hot guy around the corner I get reactions like:
 "Shii. Please ya, stop it!" (*3) or  
"Don't behave as if you are desperate aa!"
One woman, my age, even said, " Please behave your age!" 

Hello! Unless I choose to be an ascetic I will be checking out men, or whatever that I want to check out even on my death bed.
And so will you- Secretly!

Concept: The longer you invest yourself in a single activity or location, higher your expectations become, and depending on what you have invested yourself into, you become either  more impatient ,agitated and unhappy OR you become calm, patient, and happy! The choice is yours!

Bhutan was first discussed in 2015! Then again in 2016 amongst my usual group of friends. I wasn't  keen on doing this trip with any couples, but many of my friends  are hitched and all of us , girls and boys are quite adventurous so we discussed cycling in Bhutan, Or trekking in Bhutan etc. Based on the excitement I even bought a sexy bike! But come December 2016 and there still weren't any sure shot Yes's!

That was it!

31st December 2016: 

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India awoke to life and freedom! 
India welcomed the New year with so much noise that the old who are heart patients struggling to keep alive pop out with the 'dada bombs', the infants realise they have entered 'hell' and not earth and the animals and birds run so fast for cover in so many directions they hit and die a terrible death! But why do we care? We are having our Tryst with the Destiny at every New Year, every political rally, Chaturthi, or Diwali! Why do we care about noise pollution when we have bigger issues to handle such as 'How to ban certain food items which form staple diet of a few communities'. After all, we are a secular country! 

Amidst all the noise , messages popping and phones ringing and my dogs shivering and hiding under me for cover, I had made a decision...

I am going to Bhutan- Solo! 

( To be continued....Part 2) 

*1: Over-ambitious retards are those people who aren't able to handle their own expectations of themselves and who are obviously frustrated and stressed the whole time! They are those who blame, curse, mistreat others and spread negativity at a workplace like it's their life's sole objective!

*2: For more on Arse-on-Fire: Visit Mumbai Local station!

*3: Shii is an equivalent of "Yuck" in Konkani.
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