The perks and perils of traveling (alone)


I have been a globetrotter for quite a while now. Running from one city to another, moving from one area to another, jumping sometimes from even one continent to another, life in the last few years have been quite a ride and I feel eternally thankfully for all the amazing travel opportunities it has thrown at me. However, travel isn’t always all glory and elegance personified. There are perks and there are perils and it is both that you must humbly experience as you embark on a new journey every single time. In either case, it impacts you in ways more than one.

I have been a traveller since a very young age and have developed a somewhat love hate relationship with it. My father always encouraged and planned family trips every vacation so the four of us (my parents, my sister and I) would get to spend some quality time away from our everyday life in a remote location. I have fond memories (and some awkward pictures) of families (with our extended family also joining us) coming together, laughing away and chatting about each others’ lives. And I cherish every single one of them, despite all my mood swings as a teenager, having violent relationships with cousins and being picky and choosy about who I’d tag along with. #Puberty

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Big family get together at Dimna Lake, Jamshedpur Jharkhand (India). Picture dated 2004

Traveling without my family and with friends, obviously, happened much later. Sometimes, these were pre-planned but mostly, they were spontaneous or decided in-the-spur of the moment. The Europe trip that happened in 2013 was one of the most memorable ones that I was lucky enough to be able to afford and be a part of. I have blogged about it before and had an amazing time reliving every single moment as I typed away my experience and all the knowledge that I gained as I embarked on a beautiful journey with some very beautiful people.

I have always viewed travel as something that becomes even more exciting when you are doing it with some good company. In fact, the perils can get overruled if you are with the right company, in my opinion. Almost each of my travel experience has led to a blog post because I learn so much when I travel with people and look at things from a different perspective (You can read all my travel posts here). A journey’s memory has a lot to do with who you share it with (even if it is yourself) and I am thankful to each and every one of the wonderful people with whom I discovered a new road, a new alley, a new shop or a new cuisine.

Travelling alone or on my own has never been a personal choice, despite getting ample of opportunities to act on it.  I have often wondered what stops me from pursuing them but it has been hard to articulate why I shy away from my own company in alien and unexplored places. The first solo travel that I do remember vividly is the one I undertook to go to Prague. It was my first solo and self funded (international) travel and I had butterflies, scorpions and worms in my stomach throughout the journey. I think I don’t trust myself or my instincts when it comes to travelling alone and relying only on my (limited) knowledge to undertake the journey, having no one else around me to put the blame on, if anything goes wrong.

And yes, things do go wrong. The recent trip to Istanbul was a testament to all things that can go wrong when you travel alone, even if you are prepared for the worst. One of the first setbacks came when my baggage didn’t arrive as I landed in Istanbul via Abu Dabhi. Several angry tweets tagging the concerned airline led to a faster response and I received by beloved and trusted old rucksack 24 hours after I landed in an alien city with literally nothing else to wear. I was so eager, energised and determined to discover the city on the day I arrived, I went ahead to explore the Museum of Innocence battling my jet lag, lack of clean clothes and general tiredness. I think I wanted to get it out of my system. Visiting the museum was my biggest priority and I had been planning and living that moment even before I knew that life would give me an opportunity to visit Istanbul in the course of my lifetime. So, taking the tram to an unpronounceable destination, walking from the stop to the museum, using sign language and hand gestures to ask the way to the Müzesi seemed like a really small price to pay for the mesmerising experience that was to follow.

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En route The Museum of Innocence in Istanbul city, Turkey

I also got the lovely privilege and opportunity to ride on the Bosphorus in the company of an equally enthusiastic traveler who I befriended during this trip. And the experience surely was memorable. To chat about our lives, to let the wind remind us of its power and to let the seagulls gape at us in awe. We both agreed that the wind, the sea and the water makes us contemplative and think about things we wouldn’t normally take the time out to be pensive about.

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View from a boat on the Bosphorus strait, a water body that divides the European and Asian side of Istanbul, Turkey

But I did know that I wasn’t done with the city and that I wanted to discover more. I wasn’t sure with whom and hence my own company felt like the next best bet. On a particularly non moody day, I decided to explore Gülhane Park, an urban park known to be one of the oldest and largest public parks in the city of Istanbul. I walked the entire stretch of the park. I observed the lovers around me: some shy, some awkward, some meeting and touching each other for the first time (one could tell). I let the wetness of the grass feel my naked feet. I chose a particularly large tree’s shade to sit under and read a few more pages from Orhan Pamuk’s book. I soaked the smell of the bees, birds and leaves around me some more. And I tried to feel satiated with all of this. But somehow, I didn’t.

I am not a very big selfie fan. I probably get awkward clicking my own pictures, especially in a public place, guilty of elevating myself to that level of importance. But on that particularly unsatisfied day, I figured a selfie would somehow validate this experience. I figured a picture that has me with the park on the backdrop would add value to this “solo” experience. I figured I needed a picture that had me in it too, so people would believe I was not just the onlooker but a part of the look. I wasn’t just gazing; I was the gaze too. And I did end up taking a couple of them (I am too shy to share them publicly).

As I briefed through the pages of Pamuk’s words under that tree in Istanbul, a friendly cat came near me and sniffed my Indian scent. Confused by the difference, he nibbled on the grass around me a bit and left me alone again. Seagulls came (dangerously) close to people in the park, including me. And I feared for my handbag and mobile around them. But they didn’t bother my solitude much either. There were couples, families, photographers and locals all around whose gaze rested on me briefly as they crossed my path. Some seemed to admire my confidence. Some probably found something interesting in the way I looked or dressed. Some simply wondered if they’d do something similar: getting all dressed up and coming to an unexplored territory of an alien city. They could tell. I was an alien. I still will be. Even if I go back. In search of the cats, seagulls, trees and barks.

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Love, Liebe, Liebster


I begin this blogpost with a sincere apology for not being regular. Travelling. Working. Discovering. Breathing. Existing. And living. I have been doing it all and rather handsomely. In short, I have gathered plenty of colours that are dying to be spilled into stories that can be shared and read. But I have been rather lazy and unorganized in doing so. Hence the apology.

Thankfully, I got a very good reason to update. My friend and fellow blogger, Nupur (whose blog has the most awesome-st name, btw: ‘Tugging My Luggage‘) nominated me for something called the ”Liebster Award”. To be frank, I have no idea what this is about. But she nominated me. So my guess is it’s pretty huge. Many many thanks for the honour! The word liebster comes from liebe which is German for love. So I am already touched and humbled by the gesture. Danke! 🙂

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I have never looked at Colours on my palette (Have you liked it yet?) as a travel blog. I look it as a blog, yes. A medium of expression. Of thoughts. Words. Experiences. Discoveries. Inventions. Conversations. And stories. They all form the different colours of this palette. However, travel is an extremely crucial part of it. Most of my stories and experiences come from my travels. Fictional, imaginary, real and/or otherwise. I read a quote somewhere that aptly explains it all: “Travelling: It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” 🙂

Continuing the tradition of all this ‘liebe’, I answer Nupur’s lovely questions in this post:

What got you hooked to travel?

I don’t really know the answer to that. I have travelled since a kid. Mostly with family members, as a child. More with friends, as I grow up. And occasionally, alone. As a girl from a small town, a large part of my childhood was spent in touring “bigger”, metropolitan cities, visiting my grandparents and planning family holidays. Today, I am hooked to travel for many reasons. One, it helps you switch off- a real art. Two, it helps you give time to yourself-something we often forget or ignore. Travel is an addiction because it helps us understand ourselves and the people around us much better. And it never ends. Both the travels and the learnings.

What is your favourite thing about travel?

That I get to meet and embrace multiple cultures, cuisines and colours. That I get to collect souvenirs(not necessarily material). That I get to switch off. That I get to discover and pen so many stories waiting to be told. In different narratives. From different perspectives. In different colours.

One place which you would love to return over and over again?

Nice Ville, South France

Puducherry, South India

Cherrapunjee, North East India

One place you would never return?

Vatican City on Christmas eve. Maddening crowd!

If you had to settle down in one place, which would it be?

I ask myself this question every single day! At the moment, I am thinking South Goa. A year ago, I would have said Kerala.

Which is your favourite travel photo?

So many! And so many more that are printed in my memory. But for the sake of answering this question, here’s one:

The break of dawn. Clicked in a small village in South Germany that goes by the name 'Unterjesingen Sandäcker'

The break of dawn. Clicked in a small village in South Germany that goes by the name ‘Unterjesingen Sandäcker’

What do you prefer to carry, hard copy books or e-books?

Hard copy. Always. It isn’t really reading if you can’t smell the pages.

What do you prefer, short term or long term travel?

Both, I guess. Depends on the company I travel with.

Which are your must have packing items?

Water bottle, diary, ink pen, a book to read, earphones, battery charger

How has blogging helped you?

It has helped me narrate stories in a way that doesn’t put the reader to sleep (hopefully). It has helped me connect to other fellow bloggers and travellers. It has helped in expressing myself better. Hopefully, the learning continues.

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Now that I have done my bit, I would like to nominate the following blogs:

Mindblogging @ My Will

Communique | Talking Loud

Rum Lola Rum

Bom Sight & Thought House

Heaven on Earth

Media. Social Issues. Agriculture. Feminism

A Reluctant Ombudsman

And here are my questions:

1) What has travel taught you?

2) One travel story that you never get tired of narrating?

3) What has been your cheapest and most extravagant travel experience?

4) What has been your worst travel experience?

5) One place that you haven’t been able to visit yet and would like to travel to? Why?

6) One place that you have visited and would like to travel again to? Why?

7) One unforgettable souvenir from your travels?

8) If you had all the money you need, what is the one place in this world that you would like to spend it on? 

9) A travel tip that you would like to share?

10) Why do you blog? 

Looking forward to some really interesting answers. Till then, keep travelling! 🙂

Liebster rules:

-Share your gratitude and link back the blogger who has nominated you

-Answer their 10 questions

-Nominate more blogs (10, if you can)

-Draft 10 questions of your own

Learning about feminism: through the eyes of young girls’


I enter the Tech Center with a lot of inhibitions. About twenty girls who have never seen me before eyeing me from top to bottom. I adjust my dupatta. Maybe they are judging if it matches with the rest of my attire. My colleague, Shivani, who is about to take a session on “Feminism” with these young girls has repeatedly assured me how beautiful and wonderful these girls are. But I have my set of inhibitions. This is my first entry into a world of young girls coming from urban poor slums wanting to know about feminism and curious enough to come together and listen about it. I take out my notepad to make notes, if any.

Shivani introduces me to the class explaining my entry into the FAT team. All thirty pair of eyes on me. I am about to break into some more sweat when they all yell “Hi!” with the biggest smile on their faces. It’s amazing how a smile can break any ice. I smile back at them and get the confidence to reciprocate their friendliness. Things are not as half as bad as I thought. I sit with them to listen to the class keenly.

The session begins with a simple question—what do you think is the difference between a boy and a girl? Girls enthusiastically raise their hands to answer. Some say there is really no difference except their reproductive organs. Some point out the difference in their respective behaviours. Some vaguely mention the word ‘power’ and how its distribution varies among boys and girls. I am amazed at this response and wonder if I even knew what ‘power’ meant at that age except if used in the context of electricity.

Shivani explains the difference between sex and gender to the girls and there is a sneaky giggle at the s-word. I can’t hold back my smile and join them in their curious snickering. The word आज़ादी (freedom) comes up for discussion. Girls react differently. Some look at each other as if it sounds like something one should have but for some reason, one hasn’t got it yet. Some claim they have complete azaadi to do anything they want. When asked if they can go late at night alone on a street, they are shocked at such a demand. But why would we want to do that?, they ask. But what if you want to? You don’t want to today because you do not even have the option to consider it. There’s silence and a lot of musings.

Picture courtesy FAT

Picture courtesy FAT

Shivani throws in another situation. What if your brother comes late at night? That’s okay. He is a boy. That’s allowed, girls agree in unison. Why do you think that is? Girls realize that it’s a question always at the back of their head but they have never explored it further. Where does such a thought process come from? How does the presence or absence of a vagina and/or a penis decide things for people that affect their everyday lives? Girls whisper around and wait patiently for one magical word to answer this inequality. पितृसत्ता. Patriarchy. There’s silence. Girls are still absorbing the enormity of the answer and the weight of this heavy word.

So, how do we deal with this?, asks one curious girl. By fighting patriarchy. Girls voice their everyday patriarchal experiences in the session and these are linked to the idea and concept of feminism—not merely as a term to be understood but as an everyday need and a daily lived experience. Raising our voices against discrimination. Being stubborn about wanting to claim our rights. Constantly asking why and questioning authority. Changing people’s mindset. By dialogues, discussions and comparisons. By perseverance, persistence and patience. By understanding differences, respecting it and negotiating with it. And isn’t that what feminism is all about?

Girls gasp at the F-word. Some have vaguely heard of it before. Some are neutral to it. Some know it because it is the first word in the abbreviation FAT. As the term is unfolded in front of them, the girls notice how their association with the F-word is almost an everyday affair, without them realizing it. Some of them have fought or are still fighting for their right to study further. Some have raised their voices against parental pressure to get married the moment they turned 18. Some have supported their mothers and become their shields when their fathers have raised hands on them. Some have garnered the confidence to travel on their own in Delhi and wear what they want to and what they feel comfortable in. I have been told that girls from the Tech Center in the past have even screened movies on menstruation using community screening as a tool to keep the feminist struggle alive.

Shivani explains how the Tech Center, today, is a feminist space that provides young girls from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, with the much-needed freedom to come, learn not just about technology and new age communication tools but also foster a spirit of awareness and activism about women’s rights and girls’ issues. It’s a space where girls share stories about lived experiences and do some loud thinking on it, while they simultaneously learn how to lose inhibitions (if any) on using and working with technology. This is what we call a ‘Feminist Approach to Technology’. We are FAT and we love it! The girls laugh and spread cheer. At the end of the session, two of them give me goodbye hugs. My day feels worthwhile.

This post was originally published here.

On being an Ausländer


I wake up to the noise of the alarm clock. It’s seven in the morning and the clock is screaming mercilessly. I toss and turn soaking in just a bit of extra warmth from my cozy bed. I turn it off reluctantly and look outside the window. It’s still pitch dark and the moon seems to be smirking at me. Like it’s deriving a sadistic pleasure of the fact that its duty is done and mine has just begun. I make a face and venture into the kitchen to make my morning cup of coffee. Nothing makes sense without it. Caffeine in my blood, I begin the day. I toast some German bread chewing it for approximately seventeen minutes thereby consuming my breakfast. A little whoosh of wind from outside sends a chill down my spine. It takes about nine minutes to dress up to face the wind outside (I calculated yesterday). You begin with the thermals. Then, full-sleeved shirt, trousers, jacket, muffler/scarf, socks and finally shoes. It’s six degrees outside and we have been instructed to interpret that as “pleasant weather.”

Walking to the bus station, I read signs in Deutsch language everywhere. I can read everything, but I can’t make sense of any of it. I’m not even sure if I’m pronouncing it correct. I hear the language being thrown at me from all directions. I try catching a few. Maybe sneaking some into my pocket. But I fail. They are too fast. Or maybe too big to fit into my tiny pocket. I rummage into them and spot my euro bills. They look neat, yet used. I stare and calculate in my head of its monetary value back home. The math takes longer than I expect. And the bus arrives. I buy a ticket to the main station requesting the driver to issue me one. The driver throws a few more Deutsch words at me. This time I don’t catch any of them. I know it’s futile. I smile and nod and clutch onto the ticket for which I just paid two hundred and twenty rupees. Distracting thoughts, I scold myself. I read Mr. Fitzgerald for some fake consoling. It works briefly until my stop arrives.

I get down confidently. I know I have reached a place where there are lots of people. Probably not as lost as me but who cares? Numbers comfort me. A woman is taking puffs off her cigarette so fast, she’s probably afraid someone’s going to steal a drag from her.  I’m mesmerized by the smell. I don’t notice I’m standing on the bicycle lane until I hear a loud ‘trrring’. I lift my gaze from the nicotine sucker to the elderly couple riding the bicycle. They call it a bike here in the bicycle capital of Deutschland. I smile at the two wrinkle-y faces who smile right back at me, while they peddle their way to their destination. A couple is kissing on my left while another is dog-walking a creature that can best me described as a pig shrunk into the size of a baby skunk.

I’m supposed to take the next bus to my Institut and get down at Studstraβe (the ‘β’ is pronounced as ‘ss’, by the way) but I’m not sure if Bus 15 or 16 will go. I disturb a young woman who wears the University bag (thereby giving me the silent hope that, as a student, she will be friendly and open to a stranger’s help) and ask if Bus 15 would go to Studstraβe in English. She responds: “Yes. It would.” I do a silent jig inside celebrating the fact that I just caught the words that were thrown at me, this time in a language that I understand. I cling onto her and follow her into the bus silently making a note of never letting her go. A young German woman who is speaking in fluent English in Deutchland? That’s an endangered species. You ought to preserve it with lots of love, care, affection and genuine respect.

Main university building of Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

Main university building of Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

Incidentally (or probably because the Almighty has scripted my life in such a fascinating way), she also has to get down at Studstraβe. I follow her and her bike (another classic Münster person: human almost inseparable from his/her bike) to the stop. We exchange greetings in perfect English (my heart is still doing the jig), learn about each other’s backgrounds and walk for about fifteen minutes until I reach my destination. Endangered species is not only endangered in terms of her knowledge of English and German, she is also endangered in her display of extreme vigilance and stubbornness of ensuring that I, the Ausländer, reach safely before she moves on. I hug her tight before I greet Guten Tag! I’m amused as I realize that neither of us asked each others’ names.

I’m ten minutes late for my class on Social Anthropology of South East Asia. The only homework I have done for this seminar is to Google the exact definition of anthropology and learn what countries come under South East Asia. I sheepishly make my way into a small classroom filled with people of at least twelve countries sitting together under the same roof. The professor isn’t here yet, so I have been saved from the embarrassment of arriving late for my very first class. The lecture begins and I learn so many new things I’m confused between feeling enlightened at the flood of knowledge and feeling foolish at my ignorance. Everyone introduces themselves during the class and I realize that I just heard the Nigerian, Spanish, Brazilian, Mexican, Slovenian and Dutch accent at the same time.  My turn comes. I introduce myself. My name isn’t too difficult for my classmates and my professors as it just has two syllables (thank you, dearest parents). Everyone smiles at me. I reciprocate humbly and adjust my bindi. The class begins.

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To be continued

The conspiracy of opposing thoughts


So, what is the big deal about kissing anyway?

How would you know? You’ve never kissed.

I almost did once.

You’re bluffing.

Fine. Don’t believe me.

No, I do. It’s just hard to imagine.

Why?

I can’t picture it. Maybe I don’t want to.

Well, then, you have a poor imagination.

No, I don’t.

Of course you do. Your visualization is selective and hence unreliable.

It’s nothing like that.

Fine. Live in denial.

Oh, shut up!

Well, if that’s what you want.

No.

No, what?

I don’t want you to shut up. I want you to listen to me.

I’m listening.

I had a dream, in which I saw that we were discussing about the art of kissing.

Much like how we are doing now?

Somewhat. But we aren’t discussing the art here, are we?

We can, if you want to.

Well, how do we? You say you have never kissed anyone before.

As if you have kissed a thousand times!

Are you implying that I’m a slut?

Would it matter if I did?

No.

Then, why do you ask?

My sincere apologies. Anyway, just so you know, I’ve never kissed a bearded man before.

Well, then it will be a first for both of us in some ways.

Indeed.

So, are we still going to talk about it or do something more?

We would do more. But this isn’t the right time.

Why not?

I don’t feel confident enough.

You don’t feel confident?

Yes. Why? Is that too difficult to fathom?

A little. Given your experience.

Experience doesn’t necessarily give you confidence.

How would I know! I’m too naive.

You aren’t. You’re just a novice. 

What’s the difference?

Just about an inch of ignorance between the two.

Ah. I see. So, when do you think we should be doing it?

I don’t know. I’m not sure. I can’t take all the decisions all the time. You tell me.

On a full moon night?

No. It would be too bright. 

On a new moon night?

No. It would be too dark.

I give up.

Why do you have to be so clichéd all the time? 

You can have a clichéd dream. I can’t suggest a clichéd reality?

What is so clichéd about that dream?

It’s the dream of a romantic fool.

I’m neither a romantic nor a fool.

If that would have been true, we would have kissed by now.

As really imagined by the author in a dream