‘twas Nice to Meet You!

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

If morning moods could be classified into types, I would fall under the ‘grumpy riser’ group.

Out of all the things that I am, I am not a morning person. I hate the pressure that the world puts on you which demands you to be all fresh, energetic and gay as soon as your eyes catch the morning light.

My morning theme song, undoubtedly, is Bittersweet Symphony.

Goes without saying, this morning melancholy reaches new heights on Mondays. If Monday was a person, it would have been dead by now.

On one particular gloomy Monday morning, my brain decided that it was finally time to get out of slumber mode at 11 AM. 11-effing-AM! No points to guess what happened next –

I went back to sleep for 5 more minutes.

Yes, I can get quite shameless when I want to.

When mummy refused to end her very sarcastic “Why did you sleep at 3 AM last night? You should’ve stayed up for a bit longer na” lecture, I had no option but to get out of bed and hurry through my morning routine.

After a lot of contemplation, I finally decided to take a bath. Usually, that’s the first thing I skip when I’m running late for work. Or just running late for anything in general.

I don’t particularly enjoy taking a bath because unlike most people, I feel extremely sleepy after a shower instead of feeling as fresh as the girls from those sanitary napkin advertisements.

Me taking a bath may have made my mother a little happy, but to me, it just further delayed the rest of my schedule.

Knowing how bad my luck usually is, I was prepared for the worst, and worst is what life gave me. It hadn’t even been 2 minutes since I stepped out of the house when it started raining. 

Perfect.

Do you know what’s the worst part about taking the local bus? It’s watching people who came after you, leave before you. And I had to watch that for a good 20 minutes.

Can this life be any more unfair?

My daily commute to work involves me taking 2 buses. The first bus drops me at the highway, and the second one takes me further from there. If I’m feeling rich enough to spend 10 bucks more than what the bus ticket would cost me, I take one of those shared cabs.

Since I was already running super-late, I took the first option that I got. A kaali-peeli slowed down as soon as it got closer to the bus stop in the hopes of luring passengers to spend those extra 10 bucks. The driver was a middle-aged man with rugged skin which seemed to hide a lot of young hopes in its cracks, he sported a long beard and a white skull cap. There was another guy sitting in the passenger seat. I asked the driver whether he would take me to my destination. He agreed; so I got in.

The other guy got down just 2 minutes later and the driver politely asked me to sit ahead in the passenger seat which was now vacant.

I gave a surprised look and all the lessons I’d learnt by watching Crime Patrol instantly surfaced in my mind. But I’ve always loved passenger seats, mainly because I’ve grown to believe that I can never drive. Hence, sitting next to the driver was the closest I could get to driving. Without thinking much, I got out and took the seat. I continued to get grumpier with each time the driver stopped at the bus stops on the way to get more passengers. This guy was definitely not helping me with my whole running-late-scenario.

After 5 minutes of total silence, the driver decided to strike a conversation.

Now, I’ve always been a people-hater, and moreover, a people-who-force-me-to-talk-hater. I enjoy silence and I love not being disturbed more than anything else. I wasn’t reading or even listening to music while I was in the cab, which is why I thought it would be rude to end the conversation as soon as it started.

“Do you work or are you still studying?”

I work.

 

“My niece graduated this year and bagged a job at a bank two months ago. She got me a gift for Eid with her own money. I’m so proud of her!”

That’s nice.

 

“These days, it’s become so difficult even for educated people to find good jobs. These computers are replacing human beings which is why even educated people with degrees are running around in the search of jobs. God knows how tough is it going to be for our grandkids!”

That’s true.

 

“Do you take the cab regularly?”

Okay. Don’t answer that question. He could possibly be a kidnapper and is trying to wring information from me. But why would he want to kidnap me of all people? Do I look like a rich person when I take a bath?

 

“Umm…do you take the cab regularly?”

Not regularly; only sometimes.

 

“Be careful when you get into a cab. People can be dangerous; sometimes even passengers. Drivers, especially, are not always vigilant while driving. I watched a video on WhatsApp of an Ola cab ramming into the divider, the bonnet being torn into two halves.”

I was taken aback; pleasantly surprised actually. I was starting to sense safety in this guy’s words.

That’s horrible! I have always been terrified of driving. My father keeps telling me that I should get a bike, but I keep dismissing the idea. I think I can never feel confident enough to drive.

 

“Confidence comes with practise and experience. Also, one’s attitude while driving matters a lot. I have been driving this cab for 28 years now, but I still tell myself that I don’t know everything yet. This thought keeps me from getting too comfortable on the road and that’s why I’m always careful. When you get overconfident, you tend to get less cautious.”

That’s absolutely correct.

 

“Ask your father to buy you a car instead of a bike. That’s a safer option.”

 

I chuckled and asked him to pull up a few metres away as it was time for me to get down, and so he did. As I was just about to leave, he called out to me and said “I’m sorry I asked you to sit in the passenger seat. I only did so because I didn’t want you to get uncomfortable if any male passenger(s) boarded the cab. Have a nice day!”

With that kind statement and a smile, he left to take care of the rest of his day.

I have always used public transport all my life, I take myself to movies and sit alone in a café every once in a while. But I’m never open to encouraging conversations from strangers. I used to be a very talkative child, that’s what my parents tell me. I don’t know when and why did I stop being an active participant in conversations.

I wonder how many memories I must have stopped from happening only because I was building these high walls around me.

Most people are kind, they’re gorgeous. It’s amazing to see how much our kind is like us.

I didn’t ask the cab driver what his name was, but it did not matter. I had a great Monday and he definitely had a part to play in it.

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Tram-ed in Amsterdam!

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On the night before my flight, the nerves kicked in hard enough for me to question my decision. The conference was over and I was supposed to head to Amsterdam with Pearl on the next morning.

Was I ready to take this trip without having my parents around? I am not particularly the kind of person who scares easy; or so I told myself until this trip.

Who plans a trip to Europe one day before the flight is scheduled to leave?

Knowing that I at least have a friend who’ll be my company for the next 3 days helped a lot.

I woke up early on the big day, made sure I’d not left anything behind in the hotel room, had the last breakfast with my office folks, and got into the cab which would take us to the Frankfurt airport. We were to take a train ride to Amsterdam because we were running on a tight budget due to the trip being a total last moment plan. I should also mention that we had to choose the option of changing 5 trains along the course of a 6-hour long journey. Although the option of taking a direct 3-hour long train journey was available, we decided against it because of a bunch of reasons.

Talk about cost saving!

But then travelling by the Eurail is an experience in itself, and I grabbed it option with both my hands.

I still had three hours until we took our first train and the thoughts in my head were not being my friend. Unlike a lot of people I know, I hadn’t travelled much as a kid with my family. My folks are not much into exploring new places and all that jazz. So this trip was overwhelming for me. I was getting to a point where I started calculating how much a last-minute flight back to Bombay would cost me.

Shuddering at the frightening cost, I decided to stop thinking. 

I tend to overthink a lot, and honestly, all that overthinking hasn’t really turned me into the best decision-maker yet. So why bother, I thought to myself.

On reaching the airport, we discovered that we were at the wrong place.

Our first train was supposed to leave from Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof and due to some confusion, we reached the Frankfurt Airport instead. That was, luckily, only a 15-minute train ride away. We took around 30 minutes or so to figure how to buy a train ticket before we finally got onto the train.

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I’ve always been one of those people who stay composed when uncertainty strikes. But being lost at a crazy, crowded airport in an unknown country made me lose my control and panic.

We finally managed to reach Frankfurt (Main) Hbf. But that was still not the beginning of our train-ride-saga.

We’ve checked the indicator, our train is in our sight, we’re getting our tickets out of our bags, and we realize we don’t have our train tickets with us.

Perfect!

So here’s what happened – we printed a copy of the document we got on email on booking our tickets, which, unfortunately, was not the actual ticket; it was just a confirmation. The attachment that came along with that email was the real deal. Now, the email clearly mentioned that carrying a hard copy of the ticket was mandatory. Both Pearl and I freaked out. For some reason, Pearl thought that she should go around and look around the station for a place from where we could get a printout.

I really couldn’t understand why would she think of doing that. Did she assume that Frankfurt (Main) Hbf was like Andheri station with print and photocopy centres lining the streets around it?

But I stopped myself from stopping her because she was genuinely trying while I had almost given up in my head. After exploring the very few options that we had, we did not manage to find any solution.

I was considering faking an illness if in case the TC came asking for our ticket copy; because pulling an Aishwarya-Ajay Devgan from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam would be too weird for two girls, nahi?

An old and a very polite German couple helped us with some basic knowledge about travelling by Eurail. The kind man told us that they had been to India a few years ago and that he’d learnt the only single Hindi sentence he knows in Agra, which he shared with me and Pearl as a piece of advice.

The train journey was one hell of a ride! We had to run from one platform to the other, at times in as short as a 3-minute period, with one bag on our shoulders, and one dragging along behind us. 

I have always had trouble asking for help. I believe that I can do whatever it is that I need to do if I manage to give it an extra try after I have reached my breaking point. So, I refused to ask for help when I was carrying a suitcase that weighed 22 kilos up along the stairs to get onto the platform.

It so turned out that people there, and these were strangers mind you, were always willing to help even if I didn’t ask for it.

Just like everyone else, I too was conditioned to believe that white people, by default, feel prejudice towards brown-skinned people. Surprisingly, I was amazed to see how nobody really cared about that!

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This very eventful, yet a very tiring train journey, ended with us calling it a night after hogging on a defrosted and reheated pizza, and a (really bad) glass of rum at our hostel. Our very friendly receptionist, Simon – an ex-casino worker from Paris turned into a receptionist in Amsterdam, made sure that we were comfortable in the hostel, gave us a free box of Pringles when no one was looking, and some free advice on sightseeing in Amsterdam; all thanks to Pearl’s socializing skills!

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We began our first morning in Amsterdam with a bang. Literally.

The bang came on the left side of my forehead, from a moving tram.

I’m too used to Mumbai locals announcing their arrival at the platform with a deafening noise. As opposed to that, this tram was so silent that I did not realize that it was approaching the platform while I casually stepped RIGHT. ON. THE. TRACK.

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The last thing I remember before getting hit on my head and falling back on the platform was Pearl’s cry – ‘NEHAAAAA’, which sounded very similar to how Tulsi Virani screamed ‘MIHIIIIIRRRRR’ on seeing his dead body (during his first death).

The tram driver yelled at me for not being attentive while the thud was still ringing loud and clear in my ears, recovering from the trauma, attempting to stand up, and trying really hard to not laugh. He said he was going to take me to the hospital and only agreed to let me go when I pleaded in front of him to leave me alone.

I don’t think I could’ve given Pearl a better start to the trip!

The rest of the trip was a splendid example of teamwork.

I went to the Heineken brewery with Pearl because she really wanted to see that place.

Pearl accompanied me to the Van Gogh museum, even though she had no clue about who this person was, only because I was dying to go there. It’s a different story that Pearl coolly waited in the lobby and made her credit card payments while I got too emotional and sobbed silently after I’d gone through Van Gogh’s entire life put on display there.

I agreed to walk inside one of those “coffee shops” to ask for “stuff” (which we eventually didn’t try because we didn’t know how to ask for it) only because Pearl said, “Chal, let’s do this!”.

And Pearl agreed to have a Butter Chicken meal in Amsterdam (#sorrynotsorry) only because I was craving for Indian food after an entire week of eating bland European steaks. Yes, I’m very Indian that way!

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This trip was crazy – that’s the long and short of it.

I had a very petite girl help me with carrying my bag up along the stairs.

I had an old gentleman help me get my humongous bag inside the train after watching me struggle when the train was just about to leave.

I received genuine smiles from strangers at the metro and railway stations.

We got picked to be photographed from a crowd of at least a 100 people waiting in the queue right outside the Heineken brewery.

We shared our room with 3 unknown people and got along well enough to click a selfie and appreciate the moment.

The Westerners are very helpful and considerate, unlike what we’re taught to believe by the “cultured” gurus and demigods in India.

We both managed to successfully complete this trip without letting any of those mishaps ruin our moods. No matter how hungry we got, we would gladly survive on hot dogs and burgers without complaining, because…well…budget!

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Oh, did I mention that I also managed to faint on our flight back home? And that the air hostess thought that I was sleeping while I was in fact, unconscious the whole time? 

Yep. I did manage to end the trip with a bang as well.

This trip was a learning experience in so many ways! We learnt how to ask for help, how to navigate in an unknown land, how to look after your travel companion and make adjustments for them.

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But the lesson that has stayed with me was the one that that old German gentleman had shared with us on the train –

Shaadi mat karna

Word! Haha.

6 Morning Habits of Moderately Successful People

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

 

Every morning, we all get the same old –

“Wake up! It’s 9 AM, and you’re still sleeping like a log! When I was your age, I would…”.

Or if you’re a girl, you most likely get –

“Wake up! It’s 9 AM, and you’re still sleeping like a log! When we get you married, your in-laws are going to laugh at me and say that your mother hasn’t taught you well”.

Our morning routine is said to be a stepping stone to the overall success we can possibly achieve throughout the day. And, our mothers just want to ensure that all the unexplainable agony that they’ve gone through to birth sloth-like humans like ourselves does not go to waste by us wasting 50% of our time away in a state of slumber.

Now we can’t turn ourselves into perfectly disciplined individuals overnight, but we can definitely do what’s within our capacity to be (at least) moderately successful. So here are 6 morning habits of people like you and me, that make us what we are (read: hopeless)

  1. SET THE FOUNDATION RIGHT

Every morning essentially begins on the preceding night. Have copious amounts of alcohol on that night in the hope of washing away your boredom and frustration. This ensures that there’s no way that you’re going to be able to wake up in time to reach work on time, on the next morning.

 

  1. SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

Even though you know that you probably have hideous amounts of alcohol flowing in your veins, you’re still sane enough to realize that a single alarm is not going to be enough to convince you that it’s time to wake up. Hence, set multiple alarms, I’d suggest 5 (at least), that ring at equal intervals of time. This will allow you the freedom as well as the satisfaction to snooze away your grogginess.

 

  1. BEGIN YOUR DAY WITH A GOOD LAUGH

Laughing is known to increase infection-fighting antibodies, thereby increasing our immunity and resistance to diseases. It also releases endorphins A.K.A. the feel-good hormones which make you feel happy from within.

So, laugh at yourself, your job, your salary, your bank balance, your receding hairline, your increasing waistline, and the general lack of everything in your life. Let’s see if those endorphins can make you happy after all that.

 

  1. ENGAGE IN SOME SERIOUS INTROSPECTION

Asking questions is always productive. It can either give you the answers that you have been struggling to find, or it can leave you utterly confused and disoriented. The two most important questions that can truly change your outlook towards life are:

  1. What am I grateful for today?
  2. What am I looking forward to today?

If the answer to both these questions is “nothing”, then congratulations, my friend – you know you’re adulting!

 

  1. REMEMBER IMPORTANT THINGS

You’ve snoozed the alarm 5 times before waking up, you’ve had a good laugh at how hopeless your life is, and you’ve looked within to gain some life-changing insight and perspective. While doing all that, your sleep-deprived brain has forgotten to remind you that unlike the unemployed lot, you have a job and you can’t afford to lose that at the cost of your sleep. So, get the hell out of your bed and head to work!

 

  1. PLAN (BETTER) IN ADVANCE

To err is human, and to forgive…is also human, actually. It’s okay if you are pathetically late to work today. Promise yourself that starting today, you will sleep on time, wake up on time the next day, save the question-answer session for the weekends, not make tea/coffee the first thing that enters your digestive tract, hit the gym for at least an hour, get to work on time and make your mother believe that there’s still some hope. We can always be good tomorrow, right?

 

P.S.: Adopt this routine at your own risk.

P.P.S.: Don’t tell your mom that I taught you all this (please!).

Menstruation for Dummies (read: Boys)

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I feel a sharp pain shooting through my lower abdomen, and I want to murder a certain fellow passenger in the bus, and I also want to devour a mountain of spicy, cardiac arrest-level greasy noodles from the canteen as soon as I get to work. While the rest of the points may sound like PMS symptoms, I really do have a valid reason for killing that co-passenger. Why would someone want to sit right next to me when there are ten other vacant ‘ladies’ seats’ in the bus?

My uterus is all set to shed its lining and do its monthly job; I can feel it in my gut (literally).

Unlike what these advertisers make everyone believe, no girl wants to be dressed in white from head to toe and perform completely unnecessary high jumps while she is bleeding. That, and, we don’t really bleed blue. Although we love saying that while we’re cheering for our cricket team, cricket and periods are totally unrelated concepts – one is all about hitting the target while the other is an outcome of having missed one.

So, what are periods really?

Females are blessed with this divine ability to conceive, carry, and deliver (smelly yet cute-looking) babies. It’s not easy and is definitely not just a 9-month long process. This typically 32-35 year-long process begins with menarche i.e. the onset of menstruation and ends at menopause – the end of a woman’s reproductive journey. Every month, our body sheds a lining of the uterus (womb). This ‘menstrual blood’ which primarily consists of blood and tissues from the uterine lining is flushed out of the body via the cervix and finally through the vagina. 

Menarche, menstruation and menopause – it can’t simply be a coincidence that all painful experiences in a woman’s life begin with ‘men’, can it?

I fail to understand why didn’t God want us to have a happy period? After what feels like carrying a waterfall in our pants for 4-5 days, an intra-abdominal football match is the last thing a woman wants to feel. While these period cramps are a normal thing for most of us, there’s a condition known as ‘dysmenorrhea’ which is a medical term for extremely painful periods.

Have you ever watched a Bollywood heroine throw her umbrella away and encourage the hero to follow her in the rain more often than the hero doing the same? That’s because all girls are accustomed to being comfortable and at ease with being drenched since the age of 14 (or 13, or 12, or sometimes even 9).

Coming back to the title of this post, let me clarify why do boys need to be spoken about menstruation – it’s because someone told them that this is a “woman’s problem”. How can a phenomenon that forms a crucial aspect of turning a man into a father be called a problem? And that too, a “woman’s problem” alone? A lot has been said and done to eradicate misconceptions about menstruation through ad campaigns and movies, but that’s not enough.

“Allowing” women to “touch the pickle” is not enough; granting paid leaves for women on the first day of their period is not enough; posing with a pad for a promotional challenge is not enough. All this is good, but it’s not even close to meeting the basic requirement i.e. normalization of periods.

Women asking for pads in hushed tones is not normal, so is the shopkeeper’s attempt to avoid embarrassment by wrapping a pack of sanitary napkins in layers of newspapers and finally, a black polythene. The shame attached to this topic is not normal and this very abnormality, I believe, is what stops women from enjoying this wonderful process that nature has honoured us with.

Women bear all the discomfort, all the pain and even bear your child when the time comes. The least boys can do is treat menstruation as a very normal biological occurring – nothing less; nothing more. Talk about it, understand when a girl around you says “It’s “that time of the month”, let’s just chill at home today” and for God’s sake, DO NOT, I repeat, do not blame her irritation on her PMS on days when she’s not on her period! 

The colour was, is, and will always be red.; it’s time we stop fooling ourselves with that blue. Also, PMS is not a state of mind. We truly are capable of feeling murderous, cranky and hungry at the same time; blame it on the hormones!

“Only 12 hours; I Promise!”

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I knew it was going to be a long journey, 16 hours to be precise, but we wanted to plan a Goa trip which would “not hurt our pockets”.

Now, a ‘low budget trip’ can hold different meanings for different people. For us, it translated to travelling from Mumbai to Goa, and back, in a bus.

Thanks to my cousin’s claustrophobia, we had to book seats in a non-AC bus. If you think that was worse, then let me tell you that we couldn’t get a sleeper bus due to unavailability of seats and had to settle for one with those good-for-nothing push-back seats.

“Yay!”, I thought; NOT!

15 minutes into the journey: A group of 7 – 8 cheerful and chirpy college students boarded the bus. All of them looked too excited to be taking a trip to Goa; so much that I started feeling nauseous after a while. When two girls from that gang sitting right in front of me thought that their overflowing enthusiasm and hair needed to be documented, they took their phones out and clicked at least a 10,57,36,52,383 selfies. Every picture had the same cringeworthy pout, raised eyebrows and strategically used camera angles meant to highlight their ridiculously fashionable “travel outfits”. And here I was, shamelessly comfortable in my ancient track pants and an oversized t-shirt. By oversized, I mean a humungous t-shirt which could easily fit two baby elephants at once. The selfie-taking business was not over yet; how could it get over unless at least 10 of those pictures reached social media? One of the girls then started typing an unending list of hashtags, simultaneously reading them aloud, with such intensity that it made me feel sorry for technology.

2 hours into the journey: I found myself in what I’d like to call a “who gets to claim the seat-rest championship”. This innocent-looking human sitting next to me gently occupied the common seat-rest between our seats, which by the way, we BOTH had an equal right to. After a few minutes of shameless amounts of awkward-elbow-touching, I pushed the arm-rest upward so that it could no longer be used by either of us, thus, calling it a draw. (Request: Please don’t judge me! I really thought that I totally deserved the arm-rest because I was doing an important job of reading a book while he was just watching a bunch of random WhatsApp videos.)

5 hours into the journey: I had a rather entertaining argument with one of the girls from that college gang. All I’d asked this female was to move her seat a little forward only for 2 minutes so that I could prevent my kneecap from cracking completely. But madam responded with a look that screamed: “how dare you old-track-pants-wearing woman ask me to make my pretty Victoria Secret-adorned ass uncomfortable by shifting 2 centimetres ahead?” (Clarification: I’m an accommodating person as long as I see both the parties make an effort to find a mid-way.)

7 hours into the journey: I accidentally (I swear I didn’t do this on purpose!) happened to turn towards the adjacent row of seats only to find two love-birds making out as if the apocalypse was coming to claim them in the next 10 seconds. I quickly turned back to look out of the window and genuinely wondered how uncomfortable the guy looked, who BTW was busy swallowing his girlfriend’s tongue.

This brings me to think that a couple on a bus is a lot like the bus journey itself. They pick up speed only when everyone else has fallen asleep.

12 hours into the journey: I’m still trying to find that one “perfect sitting position” which will make my terribly stiffened spine ache a little less.

15 hours into the journey: I’m cursing the ticket guy who’d said “Madam 12 ghanton mein Goa touch! Only 12 hours, I promise!”, with a God-like all-knowing smile.

16 hours into the journey: I finally see cute little houses with thatched roofs lining the streets with cows freely taking their morning strolls while the bus fellow yells “Last stop, Madgaon”, thereby disturbing the very brief and the only decent nap I’d taken on this entire journey.