Snakes & Ladders – A journey back home

I had first picked up this book because I felt I had not given a lot of attention to Indian writers but Gita Mehta’s writing style was pleasantly penned. Snakes & Ladders is a collection of essays based on a time period when India had just gained its independence but was still ironically fighting to be free. It was written about a time when India struggled to gain a foot hold and establish itself in the form of its culture, films and folklore we identify it with today for. Never did I once imagine India to be struggling after the British Raj had been defeated; I was naïve to think it must have been a suave ride after the Independence movement and the Indo-Pakistan war of 1947 when the first Prime minister was elected and India was along its merry way to a democratic nation.
The author of this book was born in a time when India was under the British Rule and she lived through the period to see it sweat blood and to the final 1947 glory She highlights her experiences post-independence about the way she felt during the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the Sikh riots; aggressive in her tone she doesn’t shy away from expressing her opinions about the rampant political corruptions of that time involving Rajiv Gandhi and the role he played in the Sikh’s massacre in 1984. Her detailed personal experiences when narrated about reading Archie comics in Kolkata’s libraries as a little girl and discussing the building of shopping malls highlights the pride she takes in her country even as a child. Her personal encounters with various film makers and poets in that time and the discussion of ancient India paints a beautiful picture of a contemporary India that is heartfelt even today.
Born in a family of freedom fighters, the author’s father was an Indian independence activist and the Chief minister of Orissa while her brother is the present Chief Minister of Odhisa (formerly Orissa). Gita Mehta describes India as a land of numerous cultures, races, religions and languages and while Indians come across as exotic to the world it might come as surprise to know that many Indians look at their fellow mates across the states as exotic too. North Indians would find it exciting to visit the land of Kerala and vice versa (I hope).
If like me you’ve always wondered about a journey back home to a time you never knew what your country went through then Snakes and Ladders provides a useful insight into the personal political views of the author with a hint of some socio historic spice which is bound to spark your hidden curiosity for the multihued mosaic that is our India.

I wonder what’s their story?

Tax has always been my least favourite subject in the world. I never could get anything better than a C in University and it was the only exam I failed twice while doing my CPA.

When I moved from a Tax Haven country to Canada I realised I couldn’t run from Tax anymore. So I took my father’s advice and decided to master the subject that I once truly dreaded and joined a volunteer programme to help out with filing tax returns for people less fortunate than me. After all, majority of the CPA’s file tax returns for a living. So last year for the tax year 2012 I volunteered at a clinic and filed over 15 returns for senior citizens and yesterday I did over 25 returns at the same tax clinic for 2013.

Last night, as I walked into the retirement home, I felt like I had entered into a secret society of old people who were laughing about their arthritis and betting on whether they would make it to their next birthday. The topics seemed depressing but they seemed as happy as ever. After all, today they were getting their taxes done for free! As I hurried past the 40 seniors already waiting in line for the tax clinic to start, I could hear cheered whispers “yes another volunteer has arrived and this one looks so pretty”. I smiled, not because of the compliment and the fact that my other volunteers were older men with moustache’s but because there were 40 people actually awaiting my arrival! In a way, they made me feel important.

There was a brutal snow storm last night and our clinic was down from the usual 6 volunteers to just 3 including myself who managed to make it in. This meant longer hours and double the returns to do. I couldn’t complain, I was being offered tea and coffee, being thanked to no end and was made to feel like I had saved the day. I wonder who was doing who the favour here?

There were all kinds of people there for the clinic– the old, the disabled and even the super active one’s who looked like they could run a marathon. One of my first clients was Egyptian and born in 1923, she told me her story. She has been a widow since 62’ and never remarried, she had two boys and they had two son’s each and now she has 8 great granddaughters. ‘All of my Great Grandchildren are daughters!’ she exclaimed, she had a twinkle in her eye and pride in her voice when she said that. “With two sons of my own, I always always wanted daughters and now look God made me wait 3 generations to get my wish”. She was so appreciative after I did her taxes, thanked me and left.

One of my other clients was born in 1919 ! holy crap. I kept joking about how she would live up to a 100. She was Polish and she was having a tough time sitting down on the chair next to me. I helped her and she gave me a piece of chocolate (yum) and thanked me; But before she left she said “I doubt I”ll be seeing you next year”, to which I replied, “of course you are ! remember you have to hit 100?”.
But even though I may have sounded convincing, I didn’t feel so sure. After all only about 3/4th of the people who were my clients at the clinic last year did return this year…

This made me think about the stories and lives of the people who have retired –

That random old lady we might have brushed past the grocery store – Do her children respect and appreciate her?,

That old man who couldn’t cross the road – Did he lose his wife his sole companion at a young age?,

That elderly lady in front of the line who seems to be taking forever – did she just recently have a life threatening surgery?

or the Polish woman born in 1919 – will she be back for my tax clinic in 2015?

Then I think about our parents. Someday they will be old and grey too and I ask myself –

Will someone someday look at them and wonder about their story?

It’s a bird, It’s a plane but it ain’t no Superman!

After my husband and I came back from watching Man of Steel on IMAX last weekend, I had a gazillion thoughts whirling through my head. Was I content or was I disappointed? The latter, you bet! Although in defense of Zack Syndar, the movie didn’t promise to be true to the comics either; it was a darker take on our favorite super hero and they sure held up to their word.

Warning – Major Spoilers ahead

1) Lois & Clark – Urghh so much went wrong here! First came Superman and then came Clark? No! I understand this movie was about revisiting Kal el’s origin but Superman was more human than Kryptonian; sure he had a tough upbringing with his crazy super powers but he had a best friend, a girl friend in high school and the most down to earth parents a person could ask for. In one way he was as normal as one could be on planet Earth. So why did Superman come first in this movie and not Clark? At the end of the movie, Lois hints a flicker of recognition when she meets Clark because duh she had already kissed superman like 2 scenes ago so obviously she knew who he was and NO! It wasn’t supposed to go that way. Lois works with the bumbling reporter her best friend Clark Kent who falls hopelessly in love with her while watching her swoon over superman not knowing they are the same person! That’s how the comics, the movies, the series always went! I know Zack was trying a different take that ‘hey come on how stupid was Lois?’ – ITS JUST GLASSES! CANT YOU TELL? but that was the point! she was blinded by Love. And for 80 YEARS! We accepted that quality about her and it never once compromised her strong headed, smart and hard working image in front of us so why change their course of romance all together now? That part really sucked.

PS – I hear wonder woman is in the sequel of this movie and plays his prime love interest (well there goes my interest)

2) Justice – the American Way – Okay read the following sentence and tell me what’s wrong with it –

Superman kills ZOD.

Superman doesn’t kill. Period. He believes in justice and fighting evil, not killing even if it is his most homicidal enemy. He always finds a way out and it’s been that way if Doomsday came or not! He has fought and fought for years to come and here we have a radical 360-degree change in the character! I think S snapping Z’s neck is the single most disturbing climax that I have seen in any movie. I almost gasped when that happened because I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that the director couldn’t see how plain wrong it was to have Superman actually Kill someone. As Alan Moore put it “What happened to the Man of Tomorrow”? He was about Sacrifice and not Suicide but noooo superman had to break his first rule and actually take someone’s life.

3) The Characters – Why Why Why is Perry White a Black Guy?! I am not racist no! But the Character was white for 80 years and his last names white for petes sake! Why is Jimmy a girl? Can Clark have one best friend/wing man at the Daily Planet seriously? How hard would it have been to cast a somebody as Jimmy rather than a nobody as Jenny instead?

4) The Costume – I know a lot of people are going to disagree with this one. But the underwear is supposed to go on the tights! Joe & Jerry designed his costume back in the 1930’s (which followed suit for all super heroes to come btw) because “Underpants on tights were signifiers of extra-masculine strength and endurance in 1938. The cape, showman-like boots, belt and skin-tight spandex were all derived from circus outfits and helped to emphasize the performative, even freak-show-esque, aspect of Superman’s adventures”
superman__man_of_steel_costume_comparison
The cape, the boots, the costume was sown by his dearest Mom who used her best skills as any country woman in Kansas could and that’s why Superman suffers through 80 years of ridicule because he loves his mom so much! so why not leave the original underwear on tights costume on? Why drop the suit from the phantom zone like it was an exquisite masterpiece? Why break tradition after so many years?

My list doesn’t end at number 4 but I don’t want people to be super disheartened with the movie either, the movie had its moments (when buildings weren’t falling apart that is), it did answer some of my questions about Superman’s origin and what the S actually stood for but that was it. At the end it was like watching my favorite super hero being torn apart scene by scene.

So for super die-hard fans out there, I vote for ‘the Internship’ playing next door coz Man of Steel is anything but about Our Superman.

The Destiny of Books

A thought dawned on me when I was reading the River Sutra by Gita Mehta; I hadn’t been so engrossed in a book in a while. Sitting for an uninterrupted hour with this book made me realize how unnatural it had felt not to reach out to my iPhone to check my messages or go online to update my Facebook status or to Instagram a picture of the book I was reading or to tweet to let my followers know how much I was loving reading the River Sutra. I had forgotten to do all of the above things and it felt really strange.

But truth be told, this feeling wasn’t always new. I recall in the past reading umpteen books totally lost in the world created by the author. The mind of an experienced book reader is a calm one and not eternally buzzing but over the past couple of years my mind had transitioned from tranquility to uncontrollable hustle. I had started to wonder why this was happening to me until I came across this book called “What the internet is doing to our brains” by Nicholas Carr. The book was a take on the effect of technology on our mind; research has shown that when the mind reads one book at a time its cognitive sense is further developed to strengthen concentration and focus but the age of digital reading and the many distractions offered by clicking on hyperlinks or advertisements makes our brain mere consumers of mindless data.

The chapter titled The Jugglers Brain in particular held the answer to my question. There was this one sentence in that chapter “Every time we shift our attention, our brain has to reorient itself, further taxing our mental resources.” It was no wonder why I was taking so long to complete reading a single book, every time I would look away from the book I was sucked into, to go online and then return back to it, I had to redo the entire process of re-registering where I had left off, sometimes even having to previously read pages I could faintly recall having read before. My reading had started to suffer and as per Nicholas I had the Internet to blame.
The book talks about how the internet has rewired our brains into losing certain skills that we were once masters of – one of which involved deep reading; unfortunately speed reading and not deep reading is the term to be used in the new generation of digitalized reading. While I am not sure how the internet has affected my brain in other ways, I am pretty sure I can proclaim myself to be an avid speed reader. There isn’t a single online article that I cannot finish reading within 30 seconds and that is something not to be proud of, because when you ask me (five minutes later) what I had read I could probably barely recall two key terms. The scary truth was Internet had consumed me and millions of others around me; we want to do everything online, including reading books! Electronic reading in the form of Kindles, Ipads and other reading apps will eventually take over and why not? Who am I to campaign against saving millions of trees when the swipe of a finger can deliver all 354 pages of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi into my eager hands?
Mark Federman, an education researcher at the University of Toronto argued that ‘literacy is now nothing but a quaint notion, an aesthetic form that is irrelevant to the real questions and issues of pedagogy today as is recited poetry- clearly not devoid of value but equally no longer the structuring force of society’.

While reading the River Sutra, I came across pencil notes of meanings against certain words inscribed into my copy of the book borrowed from the Toronto Public Library and my mind wandered to the previous reader – who she might be? maybe a young girl who was given this book as an assignment for school or maybe a guy whose new year’s resolution was to learn the meanings of 5 new words and that’s why he scribbled on to them? I could leave my wonderings unanswered.

A story trapped inside a kindle or an iPad or another reading app is nothing but just a story, they are digitally embedded words; but a story trapped inside a book when borrowed from a library or purchased used or lent as new is passed through millions of hands captured with numerous of thoughts and feelings of those readers; maybe some who scribbled notes on the side (like my mysterious previous reader) or spilt coffee on it or even got an author to sign it for them. These stories inside a physical book tell yet another story, a story of a powerful relation that is formed between characters, events and ideas with the sense of touch of paper or whiff of ink.

And while it’s true that more pages of a book would rather be turned by a scroll on a screen rather than held physically between two fingers; eliminating a book’s physical existence ensures that the experience of reading in its most traditionalist form will eventually lose its true value and thereby its universal connection, altering its destiny for future years to come.

But as for me – I will still continue to borrow books from the library, try to return them on time and clutch to that inkling of hope that someday I will build a library of conventional books in a little corner of my house and will still have friends and family over to borrow them all the time. I will still hold the faith that the destiny of books doesn’t lie digitized in my iPhone app but lies on a simple sheet of paper with that familiar smell of fresh print.

My Namesake Crisis

A lot had changed since I last posted on my blog.

I changed countries, changed my status from single to married, changed jobs and I even changed my last name.

It’s a given however, that by being married into an Indian family, a woman’s last name is bound to change; although rules and families now are less restrictive compared to back then and women are moving to hyphenated names (maiden-married) and even keeping their maiden names for professional reasons.

But my name sake crisis has always been with my first name. Since the time I can remember, I have hated my first name. My first name Dipti had a beautiful meaning to it, it meant light but apart from that I found the name too common, too boring and more importantly not so feminine (I could’ve sworn a bald-headed man named Dipti once added me on face book). So luckily for me, I was born into few of those cultures in the North Indian family that believed in changing a woman’s first name after marriage. My mother had changed hers and my mother in law had changed hers too. It was something that most modern women would dread! “What change my first name as well as my last name? Are you kidding me?!” Imagine going from Peter Parker to Clark Kent (those sound like two separate superheroes (duh)!) However I considered this something to look forward too, I had started planning my new name years before I had even met my husband; I couldn’t settle on a good one though! Should it be something exotic and different or something which was easy to pronounce and had a great meaning? I would recall countless discussions on the dinner table when I would announce to my parents how I hated the name they had given me and couldn’t wait for the day I got married to change it into something else. I never once noticed my father’s forlorn look when I would carelessly make such statements; he always looked hurt. It was much later I found out that it was my father who had chosen and kept my name with much careful thought for the meaning it held (and also because one of his favorite actresses had the same name!) and because of that my name and I had always remained close to his heart. That reason unfortunately though was still not good enough for me to keep my first name. I was lacking the connection to my name and my father’s fondness to it was just not good enough.

When I did get engaged, I tortured my fiancé into calling me with a variety of new names and although not a big fan at first, he gave into my long-held desire and his family traditions and was content in eventually calling me by a different first name after our wedding.

While the wedding preparations were in full swing, I was spending hours trying to figure out a new first name to go with my new last name. I would spend days trying to register new names on Gmail and looking them up on Facebook (because lord knows if you don’t have a Gmail account and are not on Facebook then you most likely don’t even exist). I was looking for a unique full name and since my new last name was too common, it was getting harder and harder to find one. We eventually shortlisted a few names but I could tell my heart wasn’t set on any one of them.

When the day of my wedding finally approached, I prayed silently in my heart and asked the one person I thought who would know the answer to this question –

Myself.

In reality though, I prayed to God. I asked him – Drop me a sign & funnily he did. Except it wasn’t really a sign, it was an interpretation of whatever I would make of it. I could interpret it to – No don’t do it! Or yes go ahead. At that moment, for the first time in my life in 27 years I felt I knew the answer all along, for the first time I felt attached and a sense of protectiveness towards my name. My identity – the name given to me at birth by my parents (possibly the only choice related to me they ever had), the name called to me fondly by my friends, the name my husband fell in love with and the name that kept me climbing the professional ladder. There was a reason I couldn’t connect with any other name because for the first time in my life I felt I didn’t want to part with my name at the very least.

It was weeks after the wedding when I asked someone why does this tradition exist in the first place? I was then told that it was believed that when a woman left her house she would leave everything and everyone behind to enter into her new family. She would leave her belongings i.e bring new ones, she would leave her parents and her siblings behind to find a place in her new family, she would forget her old friends to make new ones and she would leave behind her name to start afresh to create a whole new life for herself now. When I heard the reasoning behind this tradition I secretly smiled in my head because I knew then that the interpretation I chose to make was because I was of the thinking that being married would mean bringing my identity along with me and not leaving it behind to become a new person, it would mean not forgetting old friends but creating a whole new social circle as well and it would mean not forgetting my family that gave me life but accepting a new family instead.

& so I broke a tradition that didn’t make any sense to me and instead kept my first name where it finally belonged – close to my heart.

A lot had changed since I last posted on my blog but my name sake crisis was finally resolved.

Thirty one. An Indian. A woman. Still unmarried.

When wordpress sent me their annual report on new years day, I couldn’t help but glance at the statistics of my blog posts last year to notice one particular article soaring the charts with the maximum number of views during the year.  I guess I never did actually realize how many 30 unmarried Indian women are out there.  It made me want to write about my thoughts on one year later but what has really changed? (Original blog post – http://wp.me/p16Ayv-L)

A few years ago, I made a list, I wrote it down on a piece of paper with a pink marker and the title was “Things to do before I turn 30” (a less depressing bucket list if you will) and no 14 on that list was “Marry an amazing man”. I am sure many women (and men) have that up on their mental list even if they don’t jot it down on a piece of paper like me. When I made this list many years ago, I was that type of person who would plan a lot, I wanted to graduate by a certain age, own my first house by a certain age, get married at a certain age, and have babies at a certain age and pretty much die at a certain age too. Years of mistakes and changing my mind umpteen number of times later, I stopped making plans revolving around my age. After all, what was the point? Will turning the big 3 O actually make me sit up and realize that oops I haven’t fulfilled no 14 on my list and I must cross it out hence I’ll marry the next man that walks in (even if he isn’t so amazing). If it does then well, what was the point of waiting this long in the first place?

But what age does really mean to a person I wonder –

Why do they say finish high school at 16?

Umm, because everyone else finishes high school at 16?

Okay then what about people who go back to high school to finish in their mid twenties/thirties/forties?

Oh they are losers.

What about the biological ticking clock for women then?

Well now thanks to modern medicine, women don’t have to get married before 30 just to have babies!

Yes but who wants to have babies in their 40’s and look like a grandmother while watching their 21-year-old son graduate from college?

Oh Well.

One of my favorite author, Jane Austen, has always revolved her books around the central theme of finding a spouse – how to find your spouse, when to find him, where to find him, why to find him and well you get my point. Sure her books were written in the 1800’s but I don’t agree much has really changed since then; while Jane Austen thought the ideal age to get married back then was 15-19, right about now its 25-29. So two centuries has brought us 10 years of time but then again it all boils down to age again doesn’t it?

It’s not easy to keep hearing from your friends and family that don’t rush into a decision because of your age but then again reminded in that same breath “But it’s high time now don’t you think?”. On one hand you think, no its wrong so what if I am turning 31, I still look under 25 so I still have a lot of time on my hands and on the other hand, you know there is a little grey root tucked sneakily behind your hair waiting to spring out reminding you of how old you truly are. But if not age, then what other better measure of time is out there? What better measure reminding you of all your achievements and all your failures at a particular point in your life. Why else do people go crazy at 50 and buy a brand new Ferrari or a brand new Rolex on their 30th birthday? It’s all to add to their list of achievements at that point in time. But then again, buying something materialistic is a lot easier than deciding to spend a whole life time with someone (duh).

At the end of it, you can choose to look at your age the way you want to. You can look at your age and brood over the achievements you didn’t manage to make that many other people did or you can look at your age and swell with pride with that glittering new Rolex you were able to afford or by celebrating with friends and family who love you. You can look at your age and realize there were some things you didn’t take as seriously as you should have or you can look at your age and realize that you wasted your younger years looking at everything so seriously that now it was time to just kick back and relax because in the end everything does turn out a-okay.

So one year later, I stare at the number 1 next to the number 3 on my birthday cake (because let’s face it 31 individual candles gets too crowded on a cake) and scratch off the title of my list to rename it “Things to do before I turn 35” because after all I look at age for what it truly is – just a number.

Ain’t it?

My Chetan Bhagat Realization

– To Happy New Readings

I was transiting through the Hyderabad airport to catch my flight to Mumbai when I stopped to flutter around at a book store and involuntarily found my hand reaching out to grab the new Chetan Bhagat novel, Revolution 20-20. It was in that moment when it dawned on me.

Like many readers out there, I tend to pick up books written by the same authors I have read before, so for example since I had recently finished reading Amartya Sen’s book the Argumentative Indian, I immediately went and got his other book the Idea of Justice because I just had to read more essays written by him. But truth be told, I don’t like Chetan Bhagat’s writing at all. I do admire him for writing books for the mass Indian audience who probably would never have picked up a book in their lives if it wasn’t for him but apart from that I don’t fancy him being a good writer. His books are like movies made by Farah Khan – slightly entertaining, super predictable and soulless. But then why was it that I had read all of his books? And here I was reaching out to buy his latest release too? It hit me then that reading all of his books religiously throughout the timeline he had released/written them was due to a sincere inkling and wishful thinking to watch him as he grew in writing but I can sadly say that I have been sorely disappointed. CB has a clear-cut commercial formula in writing books that manages to make a good sale so why not just stick to the same theory every time? In one way one can’t blame him.

In another way though, reading a book by the same author is like going through the same life cycle every single day with the same job with the same people and in the same place. We find comfort in them and we find comfort in already knowing an author’s style of writing so it’s natural to make those same choices because it’s been proclaimed safe, but the question then arises; how does one ever grow? How will we ever know if making that drastic decision to move countries or taking that leap of faith by making a lifetime commitment or making a decision to change jobs could be well worth it or not? What if we never did grow out of our comfort zone and were well into our adulthood still reading books written by Enid Blyton? I am clandestinely terrified that someday I might outgrow my Harry Potter books but I know that that will be a sign of growth too (although I solemnly swear to cling on to Pottermania as long as I possibly can)

I read books for the same reason I make a life changing decision –

  • To learn something from, like when constantly reaching out for the dictionary reading  those million fancy words used by Amartya Sen of which I had no idea what they quintessentially (I hope that got you reaching out for the definition too) meant.
  • To admire or inspire from, like the concept of Yann Martel’s book Beatrice and Virgil and the ending to a Life of Pi which I thought was so unimaginably unique.
  • To feel strongly and powerful about something, like when reading the Saudi Arabian Princess trilogy by Jean Seasson and screaming silently in outrage for the unfair treatment of Middle Eastern women.
  • To laugh aloud with or cry like a baby on, like when giggling nonstop at  Rebecca Bloomwood mostly unsuccessful endeavors in the Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic series or when bawling after reading Anne Frank’s Diary.
  • But my most favorite one is to sink in that moment and clasp that page before it slips right through my forefingers and read a sentence written by an author that simply takes my breath away even for a split second like when ‘Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant’ – Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking or when you realize that ‘the question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me’ – Ayn Rand, The Fountain Head.

O happy pen. This is thy sheet. There ink, and let me begin – Anne Frontier
Quote from a book titled Juliet I had randomly picked up and was pleasantly surprised by, I singled it out because I had never read Shakespeare before and I have to appallingly admit that I didn’t know what thy, thee and thou really did mean (In case thou wondering, It means yours, you and you’re).

So thee should make it a point to not just read books whose names of authors thou hast heard from someone or based on a movie thee just saw the trailer of, but thee should pick up a book that belongs to a genre that thou hast not attempted to read before and/or written by a new author thee hast not heard of before (Phew!)

As for me, I changed my mind at that book store at the Hyderabad airport and set aside Revolution 20-20 and instead picked up a book known as the Emperors of the Peacock Throne by Abraham Eraly. Why did I pick it up? It was different since I hadn’t read historical books on India, I hadn’t heard of Eraly, the cover looked pretty and heck it was time for me to move on.

I am now going to read this book on the first six Mughal Emperors of India and give it a fair shot and if it makes me uncomfortable in the first few chapters that’s okay because I am going to push right through till the very end and like the many major decisions we have to make in life to move on ahead, a tiny choice in picking this book up might just be well worth it too.

It’s not to Brand Beginnings I cheer,
Let me End this by saying
Happy New Readings are here!

The Science behind Pseudo Sciences.

You recently started dating a guy, you have butterflies in your tummy after your first two dates and you just can’t stop thinking about him and Voila! Whenever you happen to think of him (which is once every 10 seconds btw), he happens to sms a smiley to you or pokes you on facebook. Ah, you sigh *blissfully*, this is a sign I know it. And then you think those not so supposedly formidable words; He is the one.

Your day progresses as you bring your own smiling face to work, you are distracted and busy swooning over the thoughts of having your babies with him when you start wondering if he will even call for your next date or not but you can’t wait for that anxiety to end and since the answer to that question is not in your hands, you play a silly little mind trick with yourself and think if he is going to call for the next date, God is somehow going to drop in a sign on you. The next second, your colleagues phone rings which has a ringtone that you think sounds familiar to “ I just called to say I love you…” <Blech>! That’s your sign from the Lord O Mighty that he is going to call you today for your third date.

But he didn’t call that day and another heartbreak day later; you realize that signs are utter rubbish. He was never the one and those were always just unlucky co incidences and no your colleague’s ringtone did not sound like the Stevie Wonder’s most successful commercially hit song but it was indeed all in your head conjuring up what you wanted to hear at that point in time.

Pseudoscience’s form a part of our lives; admit it or not. I don’t care if you are from the East or the West. I don’t care if you pick up the daily magazine to read your horoscope for the day for fun or to make a life changing decision or if you’re struggling going through a day with a mom who calls your astrologer home to find out when you’re getting married. Even if you just happen to pick your new apartment because you think it’s your lucky number or if you are the one who believes that the last petal standing on that rose means you should definitely marry this guy. Whether we like it or not; whether we believe it or not, its in those weak moments when things are not in our control or when we just don’t want to make that choice we turn to an unexplained theory for a clue to the path of our destiny, something we can’t prove but yet try and identify with. Pseudo sciences give us false hope’s, false reassurances but sometimes may just be in sync with reality and give us the answers we are desperately searching for.

My mother called home an astrologer last week and of course she had only one question for him on her mind. No guesses here. The astrologer asked for my time and date of birth He then pondered, drew up some charts and finally concluded, “yes your daughter has entered the shaadi (marriage) yog (phase)” Oh dear Lord I think to myself, not the shaadi yog again. Apparently I had entered it thrice before with no avail. But my poor clueless mother gets all excited yet again and her heart started thumping. Trust you me because I could hear it at a distance. She probed him further, “When did she enter the shaadi yog?” Oh he said, 2nd November 2011! Ah she is pleased, finally my daughter will get married now she thinks, it just has to be this year. She asked the astrologer, “How soon will she get married?” he responded, “The shaadi yog will last for 16 months”. 16 MONTHS! I could hear myself screaming with joy in my heart with relief while my mother had already collapsed with the thought that her daughter might just remain unmarried until April 2013.

Later that day I swung by my friend, Paige’s house who opened the door with a huge grin on her face. “He called today!” she screamed “and we are going out this Friday Night.” “Oh” I said, “that’s splendid right?” “Hmm I guess so” she replied, “why what’s wrong?” I asked. “No nothing it’s just that you know Aries and Taurus are apparently a doomed relationship, so I am wondering should I bother going through with this in the first place”? Oh God Paige, seriously not her too! Here I was hoping to tell her about my day’s events and laugh about it at my poor mom’s expense and other such pseudo taken in people in the world out there but instead she was just another pseudo bitten victim of horoscopes. She started to frantically wave her Ipad at me getting me to pay attention to her Paid Horoscope App. “Anyhow” she finally said, “I am still going to go out with him because you know all this horoscope stuff can be a bunch of horse shit sometimes”. I agreed and smiled at her.

The truth is, pseudo sciences attack you at your worst possible stage. When you are your most vulnerable and when you don’t know where to turn for answers. When you don’t know if he is the one or when you don’t know whether he will call again. You start googling and land up at name matching software’s and astrology compatibility websites only to get you confused even further.

But more often that not, you already have an answer; even if it isn’t the answer to the question you have been looking for. Pseudo sciences may not have any scientific explanations but they can at least provide you with the comfort and reassurance you need at that fantasy point in time. You start believing that everything will churn out the way it is supposed to be and you don’t have to live with the burden of making such difficult choices in life. You can just sit back and relax. Or you can realize that the reason why your mother calls an astrologer home every 2 weeks is because she really desperately wants you settled and you can realize that you certainly are not ready for that commitment and even if you are you definitely don’t want a stranger coming home and telling you when and if you are ready or not. You can realize that your best friend does really like this boy and that’s why it didn’t matter if her sun sign was compatible with his or not she had already made up her mind about that third date. You can also realize that sometimes you do pick up that newspaper to read the horoscope for fun because you actually don’t believe in all this ‘horse shit’ but sometimes you do it because you are feeling lost and need someone or something out there in the cosmic universe to help you find your way.

So although you know that the word pseudo means false and that false sciences don’t provide you with any definite answers, they do ironically bring you face to face with that single element of your question in the first place

The Truth.

Belgium – A Fine Food(s) Galore

I always envision, when I say Belgium, people’s thoughts wander off to the capital, Brussels. The place to try the Mussels or the place for famous chocolates or the place the Brussel sprouts were invented. And although, Brussels is most likely the only place ever visited when one visits Belgium because I imagine it would be silly to go to the country and not visit the capital, it most entirely can be skipped if on a euro rail. You wouldn’t miss much.

Yes, you would miss the Atomium (Heysel Area) which is this giant model of the iron crystal cell unit of nine spheres connected by tubes. I don’t know if it is worth going inside the Atomium but from what I have heard it wasn’t, just take pics from outside at all different angles and admire the Brussels Landmark designed by André Waterkeyn for the World Expo of 1958 which he didn’t take down after, yes you would also miss mini Europe which is this miniature model park covering around 75 cities in Europe with all their famous landmarks (Even Lux has the Adolph bridge yayy) and all monuments scaled to their exact mini size. It was a cute miniature park to spend maybe an hour or two in and then you realize crap there is so much out there to explore so why the hell am I wasting my time in a miniature park when I could be out there checking out the monuments for real? So after spending some time in the park and admiring the Atomium from the Outside, I accidently happened to have come across the exhibition of Tutankhamun’s Tomb and because I am absolutely fascinated by Egyptian artifacts, I decided I could squeeze in time to enter the place and boy was it worth it. The discovery of the tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter had apparently made significant worldwide media coverage and if you enter the exhibition, you will know exactly why, not only was the tomb discovered completely intact but along with it came all kinds of artifacts made of solid gold that was supposed to be used by the Beloved Egyptian Pharaoh in his afterlife. Entering the exhibition made me feel like Howard carter himself who was entering the shrine discovering it all, the stair case, the anti-chamber and then finally the burial chamber. It was all so exciting that I could barely contain myself to see what was in the other room. This exhibition was the highlight of my trip to Brussels, but do note it is a travelling exhibition so essentially it could have been my highlight to any city of the world it had travelled to.

Heard of the peeing boy? Sure u have! Manneken piss. He is this little bronze and not so impressive statue that ‘pees’ all day. Many legends have that a boy once put out a fire in Brussels with his pee (say what) hence the statue is dedicated to him, or the more believable one, a tourist once lost his son and the villagers helped him look and eventually found the boy peeing at a bridge hence the tourist gifted the statue of the boy to the villagers in the position he was found in as a token of his appreciation (hmm ok this one isn’t so believable too, why would the villagers want a statue of a peeing tourist boy? wouldn’t money have been a better alternative to those poor villagers?) but either way the peeing boy is a symbol to the country and if u have come all the way you have to take one pic of it come on. Only I wasn’t so lucky in finding it. See when I got to Grand place during the beer fest weekend I didn’t expect so many people in the city that there wasn’t even space to move and I certainly was not expecting a street parade. But since I was traveling alone, I decided to join the street parade and try well ok just try and sing their national anthem (I am going to assume that is what they were singing), so I spent the afternoon following the parade around while I was trying to look for the damn Mannekan piss only to realize the statue had been all along right in front of the parade leading the way and peeing on everyone who came across and blocked the way of the parade, pretty smart if you ask me and if you are terrified of naked boys well then you get lucky 30 times during the year because they do put clothes on him! And I was lucky enough to see him in a costume during the Beer Festival Weekend! Did you know Mannekan piss has a female counterpart known as Jeanneke Piss? Not as popular and built-in the 1980s she is a little bronze girl statue peeing…well wait for it…sitting down. I will tell you it took me 2 hours to find her because no one had heard of her and I will also tell you if peeing boy wasn’t so impressive then a peeing girl isn’t going to make your eyes boggle out either. There is just something not so elegant with watching a girl peeing in public. Oh well, it’s a gender bias thing what can you do about it?

My next day visit took me to two absolutely enchanting towns – Ghent and Brugge. Brugge is touristy but I loved Ghent so much more. It was like Flemish’s best kept secret. It felt I don’t know kind of funky. It made sense because it is a university town so there are many youngsters in the area. The city was a wonderful mixture of historical and modern architecture. The houses seemed centuries old and the people seemed more hip than ever. Castle of the count, an opera house, museums, churches and well of course the Ghent Altarpiece (the famous mystic lamb) is a combination of 12 paintings in total done by Hubert and Jan Van Eyvk and is proclaimed to be the single most influential painting ever. Notice the leftmost painting in the bottom row. Apparently it’s not the original. The reason? It is the most frequently stolen artwork in history! Forget influential, that fact alone was enough to impress me.

Brugge is the chocolate capital of Belgium. Did you know that? I did! I found out when I was in Brussels chit chatting with the local tour guide taking a bunch of people on the chocolate walking tour. He said forget Brussels and try the finest chocolates in the world in Brugge. Yum. That was enough for me to visit the place, Brugge and Ghent almost seemed too similar in beauty, the only difference is in Brugge you see a lot more people around hustling bustling and in Ghent it’s quieter and a lot more peaceful. So I spoke to tons of people along the way, made two good friends by the end of the tour, tried all the home-made chocolates at all the shops possible, almost got trotted on by a horse, tried the mussels and beers and took loads of pictures to share my secret with everyone back home.

My last adventure coming back to Brussels was COMICS! An avid fan of Superman, I had to chuck my DC’ness aside and focus on the characters that originated from Belgium, Tintin! Astix! Smurfs! I took a stroll down the comic strip center and visited the tin tin museum, unfortunately not that much fun for all the comics were written in Dutch. So if you don’t speak it, don’t bother.

All in all, keeping aside the fact that I was reading tin tin comics after ages or that I was talking to a bunch of strangers out of my comfort zone or that I was exploring the big city subway all on my own. The icing of Belgium was and will always remain food food and more food. There is just something thrilling about trying waffles in Belgian, having the mussels in Brussels, tasting the types of beers and sauces to go with frites, buying all kinds of Belgian chocolates and finding out the origin of Brussel sprouts! It was a food galore weekend indeed and nothing could beat that. Well, nothing but a Midnight in Paris.

Trier – The Little German Surprise around the corner

How I stumbled onto this little city was honestly by chance. It’s a half hour bus ride from Luxembourg and essentially just 6 miles from the country border. I had never heard of the place but when I found out it was Germany’s oldest city, the history nerd inside of me started to twitch and I decided to hop on the train (45 minutes) and explore the city on my own only to find plenty more surprises in this pleasantly small town.

As soon as I stepped out I got a feel of a historic city. There must have been so many stories to this place so I decided to look up some facts.

  • Trier celebrated its 2000th birthday in the year 1984. Blimey!
  • Legend has it that in 2000BC, Trier became a favoured residence of several Roman Emperors including Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor. Ooh Ooh yes I have heard of him!
  • Trier’s population is only 100,000. Although I swear it felt like only 10,000 people lived here

Trier is situated on the Mosselle (Mosel) River and is a treasure trove of Roman Ruins, it is known as the Rome of the North. The first thing you notice when you reach the main district which is the Triers Market square is this big black stone sort of structure, which is known as Porta Nigra, it was essentially one of the four gates that protected the Northern entrance to the Roman City in umm well Roman Times. For some unknown reason, the construction of the northern gate remained unfinished, I like to think is because the Romans didn’t except many intruders from this particular region, and out of the four gates only Port Nigra survived making it a world heritage site protected by UNESCO. In the Early Middle Ages, the Porta (like the Germans call it) was transformed into a church and then upon Napoleon Bonaparte’s orders transferred back to its original form and here it was this fascinating piece of monument right under my very own eyes.

As I walked along the market square also known as the Hauptmarkt which is a major junction and a lively, colourful marketplace, marked by a replica of the original stone cross that dates back to 958; I came across another fascinating church. Yes Yes, churches are everywhere I know, literally every European country I must step into a church, some are beautiful and some are small but this one in particular had one unique thing about it. It was the Trier Cathedral build by the emperor Constantine and contains the holy relic, the Holy Robe of Christ. It is for this reason that this city still receives gazillion catholic pilgrims every year. History has it that the seamless robe worn by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion was sent to Trier by Empress Helena who was Constantine’s mother and has been deemed the authentic one by historians, However, there is another version that it was sent to France but I like to believe in the former because here it was right in front of my very own eyes. Although you do wonder that this robe just couldn’t be in such mint condition in front of you if you believed the Mel Gibson movie passion of the Christ really. But here it was, like another seamless seemingly normal robe that seemed less dramatic in front of my eyes than it did in my head (No pics allowed)

I took the city tour bus from the market place all around the city and the two sites that caught my attention apart from Porta Nigra and the Trier Cathedral and the market place were one the house of a very important German philosopher named Karl Marx, I mean who hasn’t heard of him come on, the founder of the philosophy of Marxism, as soon as I heard his name on the tour, my heart skipped a beat, I had no idea he was born in Trier. How cool was that! Like I said little surprises just around the corner. Another exciting building (well which I thought was exciting) were the imperial baths; in ancient Rome, thermae (hot) were bath complexes used by the Romans for if you will ‘socializing’, it was a place to bathe and meet people and just chill I guess because there probably wasn’t much to do in those days I am guessing. For the list of all the ruins left of public baths, refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_remains_of_Roman_public_baths.  Near the imperial baths are the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre, dating from the first century AD. The amphitheatre was used in the Roman imperial era (until the 5th century) for gladiator fights and animal contests. In my head I could totally picture Russell Crowe in his metallic suit charging for a fight in the middle of the hundreds of people watching and cheering or something like that. The entire structure, consisting of an elliptical arena and a stepped auditorium, was surrounded by a high wall, divided into individual stories by colonnaded arcades. The complex could seat up to 25,000 people. Underneath the arena is a vast basement where gladiators, criminals, and exotic beasts were kept prior to their release into the arena. The amphitheatre is now used for concerts and other festivals and along with the Porta and Imperial baths is also a protected UNESCO World Heritage site.

Apart from that you can admire the view from the top of the Mosselle valley and walk along the market square and do some shopping. I had learnt so much in one day. So much I didn’t know, so much to learn in the world out there. Life was short and time was just not enough to absorb it all. But for now, I had had enough of German History; I was ready to explore more parts of Europe, parts that weren’t just famous for their medieval architecture but also for their fine passion for food. A country with a fame of perfection that was proud to introduce their best and finest. Waffles, Beers, Frites, Mussels or Chocolates; Belgium had it all.