Saturday was a rainy day. I was returning home on the overground. A lot of people left the train at shoreditch. A number of seats opposite me were suddenly vacant. A pretty girl, plainly dressed sat down in front of me, her black hair wet from the rain. She sat there self consciously, her hands fidgeting. A handsome lad was seated next to her, absorbed in his phone. She took hers out too. And then breaking from protocol, she asked the boy sitting next to her for help with something on her phone. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world. He replied helpfully and solved her problem. She thanked him with a nervous laugh. And then they both didn’t know what more to say so tried to go back to their lives. Except that they both sat there blushing stupidly instead of diving into their phones.
I realise I have been ignoring my blog and feel quite guilty about it because I feel the need to document things. I feel life goes by at such a hectic pace that when we look back (atleast when I do) I can only think back to the most recent events. So this post is just going to be a series of unrelated things.
Like more beauty on the overground – a heaving doggie, a lovely cream-coloured bulldog wearing a pink collar and a light green leash, pulling the girl holding it rapidly through the train. She sat about with an inquiring look, sniffing the air and looking into the faces of other passengers. Breaking from all London tube etiquette, our little lady trudged up to people looking for love and pats, which many very happily gave her, perhaps happy to deviate (if only for a few moments) from the stifling protocol.
What is it with people in this city? Why are smiles so rare? And even rarer in smaller, more intimate spaces. During my weekend class yesterday, I asked a fellow student something and she almost looked shocked to have been addressed. Her answer was clipped. Walking into class, after a break, I caught someone’s eye. I smiled. He hastily looked down into his phone. Why are people so afraid? What are they so afraid of? That I might make conversation? The whole atmosphere is cold, no one talks to anyone else. People are busy with their gadgets. It makes me so sad. You actually need to have a good reason to talk to someone, a friendly hello doesn’t cut it anymore.
I preferred to eat my lunch outdoors yesterday as it was slightly warmer than it has been recently. A couple of pigeons were bobbing about, dodging humans, looking for some morsels to eat. I gave them some of my lunch. So nice to look at the world going by. I have to learn to eat outdoors more and less at my desk.
I recently went for my first opera ever, Puccini’s La Boheme. Honestly I was quite down and lonely that day and tried desperately to palm off my ticket to one of my colleagues but seemingly it was a big day for football and no one was interested in a single ticket. I went reluctantly, and was seated in the balcony in an aisle seat. It was magical, I had goosebumps listening to the beautiful voices. I sobbed unreservedly (though the usher was standing near me and I was pretty much under one of those dim lights that is one of the only ones left one in the whole place).
I love Berlin. This was my second visit to this marvelous, historic city. The last time was several years ago when I met my longtime penfriend (I suppose a concept that doesn’t exist anymore) for the first time. This time it was for a team offsite. My flight arrived late in the evening on a weekday and for the next couple of days we were to remain closeted in the hotel’s meeting rooms, going out only by night.
We had a free afternoon on Thursday (the glory begins here) and a few colleagues and I took a taxi to the Reichstag, passing the magnificent Victory column along the way, flanked either side by the massive Tiergarten. Cities can do a lot worse than Berlin in reconstruction efforts. The German capital has some of the most gorgeous architectural structures, and what a variety! Take the Reichstag as an example – look at its stunning glass structure. Going inside wasn’t possible when we went. Hopefully I’ll be lucky on my third visit and watch an assembly in progress.
We walked to the Brandenburg Gate from the Reichstag – this place smacks of history. And then the Holocast memorial. This was very relevant to me since I’ve been revisiting history and am on the chapter of the second world war (through nightly documentaries). Do take the steps down to the information center if you are ever there- we missed doing this (we just didn’t know it was there) and I regret it because I really wanted to see it.
At Potsdamer Platz, we saw what remains of the Wall and then went to Checkpoint Charlie. At the end of the day we went to the Judisches Museum (Jewish Museum). The building is designed as an exploding star of David and adds to the feel of the place. We had very little time to explore this museum so I restricted my visit to the section on the impact of the Nazi party on the community. There were photos and videos of people being lead away to their deaths. There were personal belongings and letters. I felt very sad.
We hurried back to the hotel, changed and got into the tour buses which would take us to our dinner in a restaurant converted from a former water works. The tour covered much of what we had seen during the day but it was interesting to see the embassies of various countries by night.
Friday was even better than the previous day. Sessions were over before mid-day and my flight back was late in the evening. I had three choices, to go to the information center at the Holocast memorial which I had missed the previous day, or the Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon museum, a reconstruction of a gate in Babylon and other treasures of the museum island, or go to the Gemaeldegalerie to see one of the finest collections of paintings in the world. In the end the gallery won as I have more comfort in paintings though it was a tough choice. I would definitely want to go back to Berlin someday just to see the other two.
But the gallery, oh so lovely. The collection of paintings by German artists was great but there were some old friends too – the Dutch masters. You won’t even need to consult your map to know you’ve entered a room containing a different era. And the works of Vermeer and Rembrandt and Rubens all seem so familiar. I spent a very happy afternoon browsing. The museum has audio guides included in the price and that’s very useful since the works are labelled in German and not all have a summary providing information on the context or the painter. I will write a separate post on the gems I encountered in this gallery. I had such a warm, happy feeling afterwards, as I tend to when I see a great collection. The building again was cool, the art works arranged in such a logical way by painter, nationality and era. Another very impressive building near to the Gallery houses the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Another reason to return to this marvelous city.
I also found Berliners to be friendly, laid back people, ready with a smile. All in all, it was a brief visit but a very satisfying one. Leaving a place with a strong desire to return some day is a great feeling.
This morning was great. What initially seemed like clouds tossing off billions of flakes of dandruff turned into a white cover all – cars, roads, trees, everything. It was like Nature went into her photo editing software, de-saturated stuff, increased contrast levels. Oh it was lovely. Those silly little giddy flakes giggling down, swirling and settling about gently, tickling my face as I part walked, part glided and part slipped to the bus stop. (One went right up my left nostril).
In the train today, there was this lovely girl sitting opposite from me. What made her so lovely was the perfect image she made on this wonderful morning. She was fresh faced, with creamy flawless skin and she had just dabbed on some blush. Her features were not sharp or striking but very gently appealing. She had dark hair. But this really isn’t about her physical beauty. It was all the colours she wore, and the texture of everything. An offwhite lacy blouse, covered with an olive green sweater and over that a soft, red hoodie jacket. She had pink wellies on her feet, with white polka dots. She’d taken off her light brown faded, worn coat and it was lying about behind her. She had a black cloth bag on the seat next to her and a small grey soft backpack on her lap. Her little red and yellow umbrella held on to the Overground’s bright orange rod with its curved handle. After she’d dabbed on her minimal rouge (and thank godness for no garish eye make up), she put on her black rimmed glasses and took out an old, yellowing book and began to read it. It must have been very funny because she kept suppressing laughter. The colours and the general softness of this image were all so appealing – I could barely look away. I really wished I had my camera with me so I could ask to take her picture. I’m not sure she would have appreciated it though and besides there’s that golden rule on the tube, thou shalt not attempt conversation with a stranger. Nicht. This made me wish I could paint or draw, and envy those who can. Seriously, looking at this scene had literally given me the same feeling I get when I look at a painting that I love.
There were other people opposite as well who could have also potentially complimented the composition. A couple of seats next to “the vision”, was a young couple, very evidently tourists given their plastic see-through folder holding maps and paper prints. They spoke Spanish and the girl had on a red backpack which they must have opened a million times to retrieve and store back a piece of paper with directions on it. After a few stations when they got off, they were replaced by a nervous teenage girl in a pink raincoat. To the far left of the frame was a man dressed in black who seemingly didn’t care about public scrutiny and happily took photo after photo of himself with his i-phone, smiling and tilting his head this way and that.
You know that feeling when time takes on an elastic quality and makes you feel like you’re floating slowly. It also lulls you into believing you will be the only one to show up at work today given all the disruptions that Dave and Lisa have been going on about on the breakfast show on radio. Of course when you get to work, everyone’s already been there for an hour and it’s a full house. Shit.
The vision and I got off at the same station and she went off into the crowd in a different direction. As I waited for the next train, an excessively painted,grumpy woman stood next to me, dressed all in black. Stark contrast. Ugh. I wasn’t ready for this after the unexpected dose of beauty.
I had the most ridiculous commute to work today. Long story. Developed economy + weird immigration policies + shortage of “semi-skilled” workers = broadband takes 4 months to set up. Yes, four months. Broadband. Not fibre optic but broadband, needs phone line. Four months because if you reschedule, their silly system doesn’t seem to register it even though you get a confirmation email. So yes, I had to stay back home today waiting for an engineer to come fix my phone line so that I could finally have broadband after months of waiting (do I finally have it, no I don’t because they still haven’t sent me my router, though I am being billed from today on). End of rant 1.
But this story isn’t about that. It’s about the Duchess. My beautiful bike and the adventures she forces me to have. Because I was to go to the office past 10 am today (refer rant 1 above), I thought I could bike to the train station, carry the Duchess on the overground and then cycle from Wapping station. So far so good, we’re on the train without incident until I think surely I can take her onto the underground too, why get off at Wapping and spend time cycling? At Shadwell station, as a gentleman got up to alight, his bag fell open and a number of his personal items fell to the floor. He hastily assembled his belongings but by the time he sprinted to the door, he was too late and missed his stop. Just as the announcement came on proclaiming the next stop to be Wapping, he looked at me, I said , “oh dear” and he said “We’re going to Wapping”. I should have taken that as an omen.
So I switched at Canada Water from the Overground to the ungerground and just about missed a train. While I waited for the next, an announcement came up – “Will the passenger with the bike please be advised that you cannot take your bike onto the jubilee line as it is not a folding bike?”. Embarrassment. Acute, oh so acute.
What the hell! I’ve seen bikes on the jubilee loads of times! The voice continued to instruct me as I felt every eye bore into me – “If you make your way to the ticket counter, you can speak to a member of staff about an alternate routes”. Oh gosh. The voice went on to instruct me about the direction I needed to take to find the elevator when I appeared to flounder. It was getting a bit stale now.
Anyway, it turned out that the best way was to indeed go back to Wapping (I’m going back to Wapping!) and cycle from there to work. I waited about 4 minutes for a train. At Wapping (where there is a gap between the train and the platform requiring you to lift your bike), I saw steps and no elevator. I wasn’t going to carry my heavy bike on that! So I waited for the next train to go to Shadwell (again 4 minutes). I was pretty sure I’d used an elevator there in the past. I was beginning to feel pretty desperate to get to work by this stage. This was taking forever! At Shadwell, steps again! What! Resigned to my fate, I realized I had to do it. Someone kindly offered to help carry it and we got her up together.
And then everything changed. Just outside Shadwell was the Cycle Superhighway 3 (CS3) marked in bright blue. We just whizzed from that point on, sailing in the air. The wind in our faces, poetry in every move, every turn. I was late to work, it was afternoon, but it was sheer glory – I was on my bike.
Even a basically directionless person like me can follow a marked path. Thanks Boris. Sadly the path did come to an end and then I was on my own and a bit lost but I did eventually make it. The first time I biked to work (well part of the way anyway) since I moved to this apartment.
In the evening, I didn’t have the heart to leave behind the Duchess in the cold parking lot. So I printed out a route map, putting aside fears of exploring a new route in the dark for the first time. I didn’t get a chance to look at it too often and I did get waylaid a few times but in the end I made it back home. It almost felt like a conquest.
The cat was on my doorstep and let me pat her. She stared in awe at the Duchess and made way for her. I put out a bowl of milk for her and ordered pizza for myself.
Going on holiday is supposed to be more rewarding than buying stuff for yourself because the happy memories last longer. Or something like that. I can believe that though which is why presents for big birthdays and all anniversaries are always trips. And this was a big birthday for me, being the 30th year and all that. And the destination was Sikkim. I wanted us to rough it out.
And rough it we did on the dusty, bumpy, hilly, twisty road from Bagdogra where our flight had left us. We were in a jeep going to Gangtok and had been awake since 2:45 am that morning. Our flight was, needless to say, quite early. I love early morning journeys – the panic of whether or not your cabbie will turn up, the thrill of directing him to your address while in the middle of your shower, him not getting it and you finally agreeing to just meet him wherever he is now, stray mongrels gnashing their teeth at you, growling menacingly, and then finally barking until 50 of them are following you in the dark to the taxi. Even cabs in Macedonia have GPS you know.
Anyway I digress. We were in this jeep which we had haggled for (unsuccessfully) at the airport at Bagdogra after we were mobbed by 4598^343 taxi drivers mobbed us. This was another example of economics turned upside down. You would have thought it was a buyer’s market given the number of drivers, but no, they all had one price. Cartelized bastards. So we were in this jeep and the driver kept lowering the window to spit out the copious amounts of tobacco he kept chewing. We were told we needed an air conditioned car because of the amount of dust on the road – landslides, rock blasting and all that. It was more because of other vehicles but anyway. We barely benefited from the air conditioning because after a point he didn’t bother with lowering the window, he just kept it rolled all the way down. At one point, I asked him to roll it up because it was all very dusty. From then on he opened his door every time he wanted to spit. Did I mention he was also a very aggressive driver and was constantly overtaking?
But it was beautiful. The dramatic mountains. The crazy trees. The river Teesta flowing, light blue, in the valley. The white rocks. It was dark by 5 pm. We kept getting tossed about in the jeep. Our flight had already been quite late and we’d spent more time than anyone should at Kolkata airport. We even managed a short trip in the city even though it was only a bus ride to college street, a short walk and then a taxi ride back to the airport. We even got gipped by the cabbie.
It was unlikely that we were going to arrive in Gangtok in time for getting permits to Nathu-la. I kept thinking to myself that a cup of tea would have been great and realised we still had about four more hours on this awful bottom-breaking road. It was very dark outside. The mountains were dark silhouettes against the bright stars. Our driver decided we should have a tea break and stopped at a little shop where others had also stopped on their way. We were given tea and hot, oily samosas which were being made fresh by a woman in a little room inside. I asked if there was a bathroom I could use (even the taxi driver got involved) and one of the ladies took me shyly to a the back of a little house. I realized I was on the edge of a little hill. She was looking at me and indicated I could pee there. The crescent shaped moon was out. I stared back at her dumbly. She explained their toilet fell away with the landslide a few days back. I pretended like that was so normal. She kept looking. And then fortunately she went away. I didn’t want to offend anyone so I pretended to pee. I even squatted. A careful observer would have thought I’d done so in my pants since I didn’t lower them.
I held back for the rest of the bumpy journey. God it was so long. And the driver kept making all these personal stops along the way. Twice to inquire about the prices of eggs (cheaper in these parts supposedly) and once to buy booze (too cold to sleep otherwise). When we entered Sikkim and passed through a quasi border control where they checked our identification, he even picked up a plain clothes policeman. They chattered on in their language about local politics. He finally got off somewhere and finally acknowledged our existence by thanking us.
By the time we got to Gangtok we felt broken. I was worried about the husband’s leg. We were shown to our basic little room in the guesthouse we were staying at. We didn’t know it at the time but this was to be one of the best rooms we would stay in over the next week or so. They didn’t serve food and so we crawled out looking for something to eat. Gangtok sleeps early. It was 9 pm and there wasn’t much going on. We found a hotel with a restaurant and a waiter who treated us like we were precious cargo. Dinner was tomato soup followed by simple dal chawal, all that we could eat after a day of airport food. We walked back down the slope to our guesthouse and went straight to bed. And so ended the first day of our trip.
This is going to sound really shallow so try and read it like it’s funny. Otherwise it’s just depressing. In a bid to get back control of my increasingly lonely life, I accepted my friend’s offer to spend time at the Victoria & Albert museum yesterday. Honestly, the whole plan didn’t sound very appealing to me from the start. Reason being – she and I are very different. The problem when you know someone for very long and your relationship with them is just stagnant – you have few, if any, common interests, you’ve heard all their stories before (and they never bother to ask you about yours and when you start to tell them they really don’t want to hear) – is that you will choose to meet out of sheer desperation. Her attempts to reach out to me are always a result of her loneliness and my attempts are for similar reasons. And we just sit there enduring each other. And the more we do this, the more I feel resentful of her. I mean, why do we go through this mindless charade? Isn’t it better to just not meet? Or not to have those vapid phone conversations? I always tell myself at the end of these sessions that I will never go through this again. Why is it that I am always the one willing to accept what she wants to do, why is it that we never do what I want to do, why did I have to get dragged across to Harrods of all places and that too in the international designers section? A place neither of us can afford and even if I could, would I really want to throw away that much money on clothes. Why can’t we ever, ever, ever do what normal mates would do? No. It always has to be something that kills a happy part of me forever. I have nothing against museums, in fact I love them. But still, we can’t enjoy ourselves in each others’ company. I’m not even going into the specifics here but I came away feeling low and used at the end of the day.
Why did I say yes? Well it was because I wanted to be on the other side of the glass for a change. When I pass outside restaurants or pubs or any other social places I envy the happy people inside, sitting there with their buddies, laughing, sharing stories. I know that feeling and I miss it. I miss my friends and I miss my husband, my best buddy. I have nothing against dining by myself. But I just miss companionship. And I was hoping to feel some of it yesterday. I kept hanging on in the hope of things getting better, and my efforts kept getting increasingly diluted.
The shit bits aside, I did manage to get my glorious steed out for a ride. Ok, the Duchess. The unparalleled joy of riding her. Of exploring new back lanes (yes I’m still just exploring the neighbourhood). The thrill of just riding a bike in the autumn. I couldn’t help singing even though I am tone deaf. I didn’t even care when another biker overtook me and could hear me braying. There’s no shame when I’m on my bike. No loneliness, no pain. I even seem to have a better sense of direction. Ok, only just. I did manage to get slightly lost less than 0.5 km from my home.