Reminiscing 2018

The month of December had arrived quite a while back and taken a quiet seat in the humdrum of daily activities. Before I realized, we are already near the end of the month and in just another blink we will get done with the year 2018.

As I write this post sitting in a hotel room at Diu overlooking the Arabian Sea, I recall last December when I had written a similar post soaking in the winter sun trickling onto the varendah of my parent’s home at my hometown, Shillong. I clearly remember waiting for a cousin who was delayed in picking me up for a family lunch get-together. I had made good use of the waiting time reminiscing the year 2017 and writing a post about it. It feels like that was just yesterday. Where the hell does all the time go?

The years seem to be wheezing by for a while now and at the end of each year I have the same question – Where did all the 365 days go? Sometimes I really wonder if the earth has started spinning faster or if its axes has undergone any alteration. With all the technological advancements and automation shouldn’t we be having more time for ourselves? Instead, we are always pressed for time.  Well, that’s another discussion altogether.

As the curtains are about to be pulled on 2018, my mind does a quick flashback on the year that was. A lot has happened and it was a mix of good and bad. However, when we reflect on the past we become consciously selective and want to remember only the good. Guess it’s a choice we make quite consciously and it also aligns to my motto of practicing positivity and gratitude.

So, here’s a quick flashback of the top 10 cherished moments of 2018:

  1. First of all, I trekked to the Himalayas twice this year – Rupin Pass and Kashmir Great Lakes. Both these belong to the category of moderate to difficult and to think that there was a time when I used to think such treks are beyond my league.
  2. I started running and now a 3 – 5 Km run is part of my regular workout. All thanks to the preparation for the two Himalayan treks. Again, there was a time when I used to think I can never run. I still struggle and don’t think I can ever run a marathon but I am happy to have had a good start.
  3. This year, as always, I took off on my birthday and spent the day at Bekal Fort including two days in the beaches of Kasargod and Mangalore
  4. A major upheaval happened at work I managed to maintain calm in the face of storm and today things are not perfect but so much better.
  5. This year I delved a lot deeper into spirituality and discovered a couple of books that have had a significant impact on me. I feel I am a better person today or at least I am sincerely trying to be one.
  6. An entire month of this year I spent travelling – something I had never done before.
  7. All through the year, I had someone or the other visiting me and staying at my home. Friends, some of them long lost, surprised me and added so much colour to the otherwise monotonous everyday life.
  8. Life threw up a tough situation at me, something that I never thought would happen to me. I have managed to pass that test successfully. And, I did that by actually putting into action certain theoretical knowledge that I had gathered while designing certain leadership training at work dealing with mindfulness and positivity and the neuroscience behind all these.
  9. WordPress gave me a couple of meaningful connections, people I can call friends, people with whom I have connected beyond the blogging world and shared a piece of my life. I never thought something like this was possible.
  10. Last but not in any way the least, right now I am on a trip with my parents across some places of Gujarat. What better way to end the year than doing what I love doing – traveling.
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Of Orange Peels and Spider Webs

Remember Charlotte and how she had spun webs to save Wilbur, the pig?

I came to know of the existence of Charlotte just a few years back when I watched the movie ‘Charlotte’s Web’. This movie is based on the children’s novel of the same name. The graceful and intelligent spider had made me fall in love with spiders. The story revolves around Charlotte’s friendship with Wilbur in a farmstead. The farmer decides to slaughter Wilbur and Charlotte writes messages by spinning webs in praise of Wilbur to persuade the farmer to let Wilber live.

Back in the real world, I was quick to separate my love for Charlotte from the everyday creepy spiders that drive me crazy. I despise them even more when they attack my potted plants spinning webs and making their homes all around the leaves, leading the plants towards a slow death. As if it isn’t enough to occupy all the nooks and corners of my home.

Surely, nobody wants spiders hanging around unless one is an entomologist studying spiders or if Spiderman was for real, at least making our commute easier.

This post is however not about my disgust for spiders but something closely related.

Winter is here and that means it’s time for oranges. Oranges and winter always make me nostalgic as they obviously remind me of my home, Shillong. The lazy and warm feeling of soaking in the winter sun while peeling and eating oranges is something only a fellow Shillongite can relate.

A favourite pastime of the kids back then was to create spider webs using orange peels. We would take great delight in creating the intricate patterns, comparing the webs with each other, and competing with each other in spider web craftsmanship. Oranges are plenty in Shillong, all we needed were plastic rulers. Almost everyone in school would have one end of their rulers sticky and coated with a thick layer of dried stain. The stain wouldn’t go away and who cared that it interfered with the regular usage of the ruler.

I have no idea if kids today indulge in similar activities. I won’t be surprised if they don’t, though that would be quite a pity. Like many other childhood games we played, possibly this one might have fallen prey to smart toys and virtual games.

I am not sure if such spider webs with orange peels is something specific to our childhood in Shillong or people elsewhere did/do this too. I had totally forgotten about this activity. It resurfaced this weekend over some childhood discussion with my sister.

With oranges readily available now, we just had to relive our joy of creating spider webs. Here’s a sneak peek:

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Ever Heard of Tree Tomatoes!

Tree tomatoes or Tamarillos made an appearance in my Bangalore home last week. This juicy, sweet, and citric fruit had managed to escape my memory altogether. No clue how that happened, given that Tamarillos belong to those exotic category of things that I intrinsically associate with my hometown, Shillong.

Naturally, I was delighted to spot them spread out on the floor along with several other vegetables including Chayote and neatly pieced Pumpkin.

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Pic 1: The reddish orange Tamarillos peeping through Chayote and Pumpkin

All of these had travelled a distance of about 3000 Km. all the way from the hills of North East India to the Deccan Plateau in South India. Strange, you may think, but such a thing is common when my parents come visiting me.

My disapproval in the past regarding the uselessness of carrying additional baggage has had no effect on them especially my father, who takes great pride in displaying the produce of his kitchen garden. I have since made peace and if this gives them pleasure so be it.

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Pic 2: The egg-shaped ripe Tamarillo

This time my parents were surprised with my enthusiasm over their extra baggage, which was only because of those reddish-orange oval fruits. [I have no clue whether to classify it as a vegetable or a fruit. I believe technically it’s a fruit but known as a vegetable.]

Back home, we also refer to tree tomatoes as Anda-Begun, which literally translates as ‘egg-eggplant’. Not surprising, afterall it’s a close relative of tomato, eggplant, and capsicum.

I am not sure many people in India are aware of this unique fruit and hence this post.

Ripe tree tomatoes have a smooth and shiny skin. The colour varies from red to yellow to deep mauve. Some even adorn dark longitudinal stripes.

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Pic 3: Aren’t they gorgeous!

The flesh is juicy and filled with many small flat, circular edible seeds. The taste is flavorful, sweet yet tangy, and the texture is somewhat similar to the usual tomatoes but pulpier. Tamarillo has a high content of Vitamin A and C.

Google says Tamarillos or Cyphomandra betacea are a subtropical fruit, thought to have originated in the high altitude Andes forests of Brazil and Peru. Surprisingly, Tamarillos have disappeared from their native habitat and happen to be listed among the lost foods of the Incas, known as the ‘tomate de arbol’. It was in 1967 that tree tomato got the commercial name of Tamarillo, which was to avoid confusion with the common garden tomato.

In India, tree tomatoes grow between elevations of 1,000 and 7,500 ft. Hence, their occurrence in places like Assam, Meghalaya, Uttaranchal, Nagaland, and Himachal Pradesh is understandable. They are also found in certain hilly pockets of West Bengal, Maharashtra, and in the Nilgiri hills of the South India. The latter did make me wonder as to why I never saw the fruit in Bangalore.

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Pic 4: The mouthwatering Tamarillo Chutney

At home, we usually prepare Tamarillos as a chutney and serve with rice or roti as a side dish. The chutney can be refrigerated and consumed between 10 – 12 days. We have also used Tamarillos in preparing fish, which surely must be attributed to my Bengali lineage!

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Pic 5: Here’s the recipe for you

Lighting Up the Mind at Diwali

A couple of years ago I received the famous spiritual book “Autobiography of a Yogi” as a gift from a friend. I wasn’t delighted and my immediate response – why have you given me this; what am I supposed to do with this; I am not interested; maybe when I am in my 60s – was well camouflaged behind a polite smile and a thank you.

However, things changed much sooner than I had expected as I discovered not just this book but also many others. Each book that I read influenced me deeply and left me yearning for more. Thankfully, I did not have to wait until in my 60s.

This weekend I attended a Satsang (a spiritual discourse or gathering), which was conducted by the author of one of the books I had read. I had never attended a Satsang before, at least not one that I remember. I might have casually been to one two but I really do not recall attending any deliberately. It was a wonderfully spent three hours spread across three day leaving behind a sense of peace and clam.

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The place of these sessions was substantially far from my house and I surprised myself with the enthusiastic anticipation I had each day. The ill-famous Bangalore traffic, which is always a big put-off, also did not seem to bother me. Stuck at a traffic signal, I wondered if someone would have asked me to do something like this even two years back I would have snapped back giving them a piece of my mind thinking that they are out of their minds.

It’s amazing how times change faster than we think while often times we continue living in the illusion of permanence.

Concentration and focus are not easy to find today with all the distractions at our fingertips. However, I found myself mindfully present, consciously aware, and very carefully imbibing every little message that came along with the stories and anecdotes. Ever since I have been feeling very positive and happy.

The Satsang also reminded me of a time in office when I was part of a team that was designing leadership trainings and one of those was about mindfulness and the neuroscience behind it – how our brain responds to positivity and mindfulness. The nuggets of knowledge that I had gained during that time stayed with me and I have practiced many of those effectively in my daily life. It is the connection of science and spirituality in a well-meaning way and the very little exposure I have had makes me feel immensely grateful.

With Diwali celebrations underway there are lights everywhere, I thought how wonderful it would be if we could ‘lighten’ our minds as well! With this thought in mind, I am jotting down five key takeaways from the Satsang that I hope I can implement in my everyday life:

  1. Differentiate between good and pleasant. Always choose good over pleasant. While some good things will be pleasant as well but not all pleasant things are necessarily good.
  2. Lead a life of awareness and strive to remove the ‘I’. Be aware of yourself – aware of everything you say, do, or think.
  3. Practice mindfulness and do everything you do with complete focus and concentration.
  4. Set aside 10 min each day to sit quietly and do nothing. Reflect and practice thoughtlessness during that time.
  5. Live a life of moderation and aim to touch the divine essence in you, that which is limitless, that which is real, and that which lies within you.

Those Morning Walk Rituals

It’s pretty late in the night and I should be in bed, yet I am not. Here I am lazing on my couch doing particularly nothing – shuffling between Instagram posts, pages of a book, and Whatsapp messages. Indiscipline makes occasional visits and tonight is one. Of late, such visits have become more regular than occasional. Walking from the living room to the bedroom becomes a herculean task requiring a huge amount of effort and will power.

“If I am to reach office at a decent time after maneuvering the crazy morning traffic, I need to be up early and leave home latest by 7.30 AM….”  – The mind blabbers, as it always does, but I pay no heed and continue wasting my time on the couch.

Promises I make to myself every so often are just broken, procrastinated for another time, or easily replaced by another ambitious and taller promise.

It wasn’t like this always though. There was a time when early to bed and early to rise was the most normal thing to do.

A quick rewind to my hometown days in Shillong and I never remember being awake beyond 10.00 PM and even that was considered late. In Shillong, and in all of North East, evenings set in early – around 5.00 PM during summers and 4.00 PM during winters. Consequently mornings break in very early too.

Talking about mornings in Shillong, my mind is transported to those times when our days would start with idyllic and therapeutic morning walks. Morning walks was like a family ritual for us, not necessarily done together as a family though. Sometimes we did walk together, but mostly everyone would do it on their own time, in their own way.

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Pic 1: I do not have many pictures of our morning walks, never really thought of clicking. Feels good though to think that these were morning walks done mindfully. 

Everyone, however, took the same route. The perfectly tarred road that snakes through the neighbourhood houses sometimes climbing up and sometimes climbing down. The green hills, mildly illuminated with dawn, overlook the road as it nonchalantly passes by two government schools and into a Pine Forest towards the Sericulture Farm.

A large nursery on the left announces the onset of the forest through which the tarred road continues, occasionally broken by tiny cemented bridges over unassuming brooks and streams that melodiously gurgle happily breaking the morning silence.

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Pic 2: Somewhere along the way
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Pic 3: Inside Sericulture Farm

Further ahead, there is a graveyard dotted with some more Pine Trees and then the road continues right up to a locality known as Lawshohtun. At times, we would turn around from the gate and retrace our path through the hillocks or the tarred road. At other times, we would go right into the Sericulture Farm and look around the already known places before walking back. Again, sometimes we would continue walking right up to Lawshohtun, much beyond Sericulture Farm.

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Pic 4: I just love ferns, these are some I had clicked last time I went that way.
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Pic 5: The administrative office of Sericulture Farm

Most of our mornings would start with this mandatory walk, the only exceptions were when it rained heavily and when we had exams as focusing on studies was considered priority.

Thankfully, much of this route remains the same even today and is still popular with morning walkers. However, a large part of the forest now belongs to the armed forces and access to the hills, meadows, and streams are restricted. One can only walk through the tarred road.

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Pic 6: Clicked somewhere inside Sericulture Farm
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Pic 7: Clicked a few years back during one such morning walk spree

In today’s context of chaotic mornings with mad rushes and traffic stresses, those unhurried morning walks are like unbelievable wishful tales. The hazards of metro living! The prices we pay for a livelihood. Small cities and towns do not offer jobs but offer quality life.

Back then, I never thought those casual morning walks would one day become luxuries, affordable only during vacations and that too in exchange for a considerable sum of money.

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Pic 8: Those are staff quarters inside Sericulture Farm 

Well, morning walks are warmly greeted and indiscipline shooed away at least once every year when I visit my hometown. I am indeed lucky to be able to revisit those morning walks. So what if its just once a year!

Shuttling Through September

I had to kill 6 hours of my time.

Stuck at a particular terminal of the JFK airport at New York with nothing much to do, my mind wandered. As I thought about the past few days, I found myself calling out aloud – I’ve literally lived out of a suitcase the whole of September!

Tired and jet lagged, my colleague who was napping while sitting next to me, just opened her eyes, smiled, leaned back a little more, closed her eyes and went back to sleep. Arghh! How can people sleep so easily! I need a bed and just can’t fall asleep so randomly however tired I may be.

With no sleep, my mind took off and I found myself mulling over the same thought, drifting towards all the time I spent in airports and layovers this month. A quick calculation and it’s about 70 hours in all. That’s nearly 3 days!

  • 50 hrs on airplane
  • 20 hrs in airport on transit

And, that’s leaving out all the ground travel that I did in taxis and cars.

I had left home on September 2nd and took a flight to Srinagar via Delhi. After spending 8 days amidst the fascinating oligotrophic alpine lakes in the higher reaches of Kashmir Himalayas, I flew to Guwahati, once again via Delhi. Each time I spent 2 hours in layover at Delhi airport.

From Guwahati, I proceeded towards my hometown, Shillong, which was a 2.5 hour taxi ride. After spending a little more than a week at Shillong, I was on my way back to Guwahati. This time, I stayed back at Guwahati for a day to meet relatives and friends. Then, I took a flight to Bangalore.

After being at home for 2 days, I once again found myself at the airport. This time it was an official trip and I was on my way to Raleigh in North Carolina, via Dubai and New York. After spending a week in Raleigh, I was on my way back to Bangalore through the same route.

I got back home this morning, the last day of September, 2018.

Phew! That does seem like a lot.

Not that I am complaining. However, as much as I love traveling, sitting in an airplane for hours is not something I quite enjoy. This is especially true for domestic flights where there is nothing much to do. International flights are slightly better with all the change of scenes happening all around – food being served, people walking around, the movie screen playing and everyone watching different things, etc.

Sitting at the terminal, I thought about the evil reputation of layovers – endless waits staring at the clock.

However, that’s not true for me. Layovers don’t bore me at all, though that largely depends on the terminal I am confined to. If it’s a busy terminal, time just slips by with the buzz all around – people shopping, eating, rushing, walking, and so on. The energy of the place gets me through the long hours and I can spend a lot of time simply watching people. For example, Changi Airport at Singapore, where there’s so much to do and see.

Now, this reminds me of the 10 hour layover that I had at Atlanta once, when time was literally crawling and I could do nothing to engage myself. Books, food, wifi, people everything failed! Absolutely no fun that was!

How do you view layovers? What do you do?

[Note: A very jet lagged post.]

 

Blogger Recognition Award

A couple of days back, Akshay Kumar Das nominated me for the Blogger Recognition Award. Thank you, Akshay for thinking about me and honouring my blog.

Akshay lives in Bangalore and wears many hats. He is a Physics enthusiast, a music geek, a painter, a poet, a writer, and has a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He sees science in everything be it spirituality, playing the guitar, or writing poetry. His blog is aptly named ‘Melodies Physics’.

You must visit Akshay’s blog and check out his versatility for yourself.

How My Blog Started

There are two instances that resulted in starting my blog.

  1. Last year I had the opportunity to spend some time in the remote Osla Village. It was a fascinating experience, which changed my perspective in many ways. After coming back, I had posted pictures on Facebook along with a brief description of each, kind of a photo story. Someone I know, got in touch requesting me to write a story on the village for their online magazine – Blank Slates Chronicles. I happily obliged. Till then I had no clue that I could write and that I would enjoy it too. [Click HERE, if you want to read the story on Osla]
  2. When I first trekked the Himalayas in 2016, it was just a random thing I did quite spontaneously without putting much thought to it. However, I was back with a new found love and passion and I just could not stop talking about it. People would say that I exuded energy and my face lit up when I described the Himalayas and my experience of it. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Himalayas has changed me and in ways more than one. A friend once remarked, “You should write these down, as with time you will forget a lot.” It dawned upon me how right she was! I started writing in word docs and sharing with friends, colleagues, and family. [Click HERE, if you want to read my first trek to the Himalayas].

A few months later, I created a WordPress blog for a very talented friend, who writes fantastic stories and poems but in pen and paper. However, my friend didn’t go digital and never used the blog, she continues writing manually. Instead, I landed up creating a blog for myself.

The purpose was just to store my experiences as a journal, which I could read and relive during later years of life, when I may no longer be able to travel. Ignorant to the world of blogging, I never thought anybody would read what I write. Neither did I know that I would enjoy reading and interacting with other bloggers so much.

That’s the long and short of how I started blogging.

My Advice 

I am no veteran blogger to provide any kind of advice. However, here’s two based on my limited experience in the past one year:

  • Interact with other bloggers. If you are just writing, you are missing out a lot. There’s so much to learn and feel inspired by from many passionate and genuine people out there.
  • Blogging is also about self-discovery. So, explore and go out of your writing comfort zone. You never what hidden talents you may find for yourself. For example, if you blog only poetry have you thought of expressing your thoughts through photographs? You never know what you might discover about yourself.

My Nominations

There are a number of blogs that I enjoy reading and bloggers that I love interacting with. So that I don’t break the chain, I am putting down just two of them.

Hariom Prabhakar Singh: I enjoy reading Hariom’s posts mainly because I share his passion for travel. Do check his blog ‘Travel – My Best Teacher’. Traveling has made Hariom not just a writer but a poet too. The particular story on how he started travelling is a very interesting read. You can find that story HERE.

Kalyan Parimi: I have started following and reading Kalyan’s blogs quite recently. Do check his blog ‘My Part of Life’. Kalyan writes meaningful posts on general topics about life. He writes fiction too. He has a series on letters that I have particularly enjoyed. One of those he has written to his Dad and you will find it HERE.

Hariom and Kalyan, please don’t feel any kind of compulsion to participate. It’s entirely your choice.

The Rules

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  2. Write a post to show your award.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Select 2-3 other bloggers that you want to give this award to.
  6. Comment on each blog to let them know you have nominated them and provide the link to the post you created.