Of finding silence amid noise


I toss and turn on my bed. I feel slightly cold from the wind around me. I am staying at a resort, about 80 km away from Salvador, a Brazilian city in the state of Bahia, which is over 14,000 km from New Delhi, India. While I do this geographical math in my head, I toss and turn a little more. I check the time on my mobile. It’s 5.30 am! I look outside my window and it’s still a little dark, with the sun just about to pop up and say hi. I am amazed at how my eyes just popped open at this strategic time. I am not a morning person at all. But somehow, Bahia and the ocean around me has turned that around.

I try and dismiss this as a crazy coincidence and go back to sleep again. Only, I can’t. I see the crack of dawn from my window and can no longer stay indoors. Something tells me I need to smell the wind outside. I wake up, put on my shorts and running shoes and walk towards the beach. While I am getting ready, I notice a slight drizzle. Is it raining? How is that possible? The sun’s almost out and is shining bright! Perhaps the tropical weather here is trying to teach me a lesson on dual personalities. I grab my sunglasses as the rain stops as abruptly as it began.

I walk on a narrow, sandy path towards the ocean. I am engulfed with a slight sense of fear. I am a Piscean by birth. So if zodiac signs are to be believed, my personality should have an affinity for water. In a lot of ways, it does. I love being on the beach. The waves, the sea and the water bodies have the kind of soothing and calming effect on me, like nothing else (I have blogged about this before). But the water also scares me. The mighty power of the waves remind me of my mortality and insignificance as a human being. And deep waters can terrify a below average swimmer like me.

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South Atlantic Ocean, as viewed from a beach resort near Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

As I walk on the sand, maintaining a safe distance from the roaring ocean, I look around. I see no one anywhere nearby. No men, women, children or humanity around me. I see a strange looking bird that looks a lot like a vulture, staring back at me. I see a yellow and brown colored sparrow (or is it a humming bird?) fluttering around the edge of the waves. And I see these birds enjoying the solitude as much as I am. All alone on a long coastline far away from home, I have never felt more alive and aware of my existence.

I try to conquer my fear of being alone near the mighty waves and inch slightly closer to them. A big wave comes roaring ahead and I take a few steps back. It barely touches my ankles and runs away. The cold water touching my feet brings a smile on my face. I get a little more encouraged and inch closer. This time the wave is bigger, stronger and colder. They taste my weak knees and I scream with delight! Having tasted the salty water on my legs, I walk further down and hunt for a quiet spot.

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It’s strange that I am looking for a quiet spot at a space where there’s literally no one around. No noise. No people. No conversations. No words around me. And yet, I go looking for it. It is an eerie, yet liberating experience to be at a space that literally feels like in the middle of nowhere. The only consolation is the dry land. The horizon beyond it is endless and infinite. It is the loudest silence you will ever hear. And I soak it all in as the wind and waves roar ahead of me. I do manage to find a quiet spot. It’s inside me. And I realise I can revisit it any time I want. Amid all the noise. Amid all the conversations. Amid all the loud silences. All I need is some ocean, wind and strange looking birds. They remind me of Frida Kahlo’s memorable quote:  “It’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

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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.

Of water, wind, seagulls and nostalgia


If there is one word I could use to describe the city of Istanbul, it would be nostalgia. I am no city expert and neither have I been here several times (heck, it’s only been a little over 24 hours since I landed in this oh-so-familar place) but the city fills me with a sense of nostalgia. I am not sure what it is of yet. But as I think more about the city, its relentless clinging on to the past, its reluctant moving to the present, I feel the land and its people are nostalgic about where they come from, what they continue to represent and what they hope to become.

I have always wondered if I am one of those people diseased of seasickness. The assumption comes from the fact that I do suffer from motion sickness. But I have never had the opportunity to be on sea or any other water body long enough to feel sick. Today, I found out the truth as I took a boat ride on the mighty Bosophorous. The Bosophorus is a natural strait that separates the European and Asian parts of Turkey. As a country, Turkey already is at a geographically rare position and is often categorised as Eurasia. The Bosphorous adds to that charm. As you cruise through the water, the waves and the wind, you try and make sense of lines, borders, separations and rigid categories that we create about people, places and the planet.

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The Turkish flag flies high. As viewed from the boat #nofilters

As I stepped on the boat, I felt my body shivering. Partly because of the wind but mostly because of the constant moving of the boat hit by waves whose velocity is always unpredictable. My traveller friend and I narrowed down to a 1 hour boat ride and even before the boat had begun sailing, I was wondering if it’s too long a time to be away from land. As the boat breathed to motion, I tried to focus my attention on the rarity of the blueness that surrounded me. The wind lets you forget your sickness. In fact, there are several distracting seagulls that divert your mind.

I am not an avid bird watcher. My knowledge and interest is limited to the pigeons, crows and sparrows around me back home. In fact, up until today, I had never seen a sea gull before. As they flew closer to the boat, perhaps gazing at us just as we did, I realised just how majestic they were, too. A perfect and most appropriate fauna to surround the mighty Bosphorus. Flying high, then low, then walking on the surface of the water and finally sitting on it like a natural duck, the sea gulls fascinated me too. Perhaps they are the best symbols of nostalgia. I say this after being reminded of yesterday’s visit to the Museum of Innocence, where Kemal associated kissing with “visions of a mother seagull putting food into her impatient chicks’ open beaks” as well as “of a seagull gently holding a fig in its beak”: a visual that stayed with me, much like everything else. And what is desire if it doesn’t evoke a sense of nostalgia?

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Seagulls are hard to photograph, especially with a camera phone, but the most common thing you will see and hear in Istanbul.

The sea. The water. The wind. These are objects I associate my idea and perception of nostalgia with. They also bring the deepest contemplation in me as I admire and bow before the mightiness of water. One hour, really, wasn’t that long (although I was beginning to feel a sense of land anxiety as we were nearing the end of the tour) and I soaked in as much of the experience as I could. The sound of the seagulls fill the night, as I type this. They seem to be echoing my thoughts. Or perhaps paving way for new ones. Whatever they may be, I continue to be mesmerised in the nostalgic land of Istanbul.

Of finding masumiyat in Istanbul


I began reading The Museum of Innocence in 2011. That is the year it was gifted to me by my faculty in my j-school to go with my Certificate of Distinction for “Excellence in Magazine Writing”. I was amused. Mostly because I did not expect such a category of award existed while I was studying and learning journalism (although magazine writing was one of my chosen electives in the second semester). And the other reason for my amusement was to realise that I was probably the only student who got a fictional book as a gift. Every other awardee was given a non fiction book that narrated stories from a significant historical period or even the do’s and don’ts of journalism and such like.

As I stood proud of my achievement and holding the heavy book (the edition I own is over 750 pages long), I read the name aloud for the first time. Orhan Pamuk. I had never heard of him before. The cover of the book depicted a fun family/friend outing in a vintage car. The size of the book did not worry me as much as the thought that this just might be yet another historical narrative of a lost empire, civilization or culture. I was wrong. Or maybe not? I am yet to figure out. I have been reading this novel since the day I got it. Since 2001.

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My copy of the book which has been with me since 2001. The novel was published in 2008.

When I say I have been reading it since then, I don’t mean I read a paragraph or a chapter every day. But I have been cautious of taking my own sweet time to read, learn, absorb and live the words weaved by Mr. Pamuk. Frankly, I have never read anything else by him (I bought My Name is Red a couple of years ago only to recommend it to my cousin even before beginning to read it; she was in need of exploring a new author at that time and I figured I, at least, had the comfort of The Museum).

So in the year 2011, Pamuk officially entered my life. My dear friend Raghuram later told me several stories about Turkey, Istanbul and the personal and literary life of the author. Raghu had already devoured some of Pamuk’s writings, Snow being one of them, and was constantly pushing me to finish The Museum. He often expressed jealousy for not owning the book himself and wanted to hear my thoughts about the book before he purchased a copy of his own. He also, often, scolded me for taking so long to read a novel critiquing my reading abilities and taunting my so-called desire for literature and arts.

I still don’t know why I have taken so long to read this book. It has surely nothing to do with the fact that it is uninteresting in any way. It also has nothing to do with the fact that Pamuk’s literary reputation has been affected, albeit slightly, with accusations of plagiarism. Every word. Every scene. Every plot of this text is so rich that when I reach an interesting point in the novel, I shut it and move it aside. When I shared this with Raghu, he simply used to guffaw.

The dedication of this book reads To Rüya. Raghu later told me that Rüya, in fact, was Pamuk’s daughter’s name and the word means “dream” in Turkish. He also taught me how important it is to read the dedication page of every book that one reads as it is a valuable insight into the persona of the writer. Again, it was Raghu who educated me about Pamuk’s well-publicised relationship with Indian authoress Kiran Desai. Raghu was full of such fascinating literary gossips and mesmerising tales (quite resembling Pamuk’s writing, now when I think about it). Shortly after narrating these stories, Raghu passed away in 2012. And thus began my long hiatus from The Museum and Pamuk.

In the last 4 years, I have made some progress with the book, although I have been even slower than before as reading it cause a surge of emotions in me. Nevertheless, I continue to enjoy the story and how Kemal and Füzun’s relationship develop in the course of the narrative. Since hearing about Istanbul from Raghu and now having read about the social transformations in the city in The Museum, I have always had a fascination to visit the city some day. I have had countless dreams about a city I have never visited, which is surreal even for a dreamy person like me! And I have had cravings to go back to Istanbul: a place I have never visited even once, in the first place.

Today, this dream (or reality) has come true. The universe conspired in a crafty way, I must say. My work, my activism and my passion for what I do in my personal and professional life has landed me in Istanbul to attend a 7-day long forum. While I am excited about what is to begin soon, I am elated to land in a city I have had a supernatural connection with. And this connection began exactly a few hours into landing in Istanbul: I finally visited the Museum Of Innocence or Masumiyet Müzesi. Yes, an actual museum of innocence that Pamuk created in conjunction with his eponymous novel.

The museum and the novel were created in tandem, centered on the stories of two Istanbul families. On 17 May 2014, the museum was announced as the Winner of the 2014 European Museum of the Year Award.

The narrative and the museum offer a glimpse into upper-class Istanbul life from the 1970s to the early 2000s. The novel details the story of Kemal, a wealthy Istanbulite who falls in love with his poorer cousin, and the museum displays the artifacts of their love story. According to the website, the museum presents what the novel’s characters “used, wore, heard, saw, collected and dreamed of, all meticulously arranged in boxes and display cabinets.”

The collection, which includes more than a thousand objects, is housed in a 19th-century house on the corner of Çukurcuma Sk and Dalgiç Sk.

(source here)

You get a free entry into the museum upon showing a page from the novel where they stamp your entry in the shape of one of Füzun's earrings

Showing this page from the novel gets a free invite into the museum. The stamp resembles the shape of one of Füzun’s earrings.

Since I have still not read the novel entirely, as mentioned earlier, I was careful not to ruin the experience by checking objects in display from chapters I hadn’t reached reading yet. Almost each of the 83 chapters from the novel are displayed in a box with an audio guide narrating sections from the novel in Pamuk’s voice as well as telling the story of how a particular chapter or plot was conceived. You miss the line between fact and fiction as you view the countless hairpins that Kemal has carefully preserved of Füzun’s. The surrealism of it all comes alive as you hear the sound of a boat paving its way on The Bosphorus as a voice narrates excerpts from the novel about Kemal’s anguish.

I clicked several images while I was there but unfortunately they all got deleted owing to some error on my mobile phone. But I am not upset about it at all. The images are imprinted in my mind and I know this is an unforgettable experience. As I write this blog, an array of emotions and feelings are rushing through my veins. The words. The objects. The characters. The ambience. The floor. The voice. The recreation of my imagination as I devoured this novel diligently since 2001. And the magic of a love story that I am now too afraid to finish reading, lest the joy be over. I end with a quote from the last chapter of the novel (which, now, I have partly read out of curiosity): The Museum of Innocence will be forever open to lovers who can’t find another place to kiss in Istanbul. 

Of Serbia, staff meet and a supernatural connection


I double-check my e-ticket and passport. I count the number of baggage I am carrying. I chew some gum to calm myself down and avoid the restlessness and jitteriness I am feeling deep inside. As I take the cab from my home to the airport at midnight to catch a 4 am flight to Belgrade via Moscow, I wonder how uncanny all this sounds when I think about it in my head. A couple of weeks ago, I would not have even imagined such an event happening in my life. And today, here I was, travelling to Europe again. This time, for work. And that is exactly what made me wonder just how uncanny it all was.

As I arrive at the airport and collect my boarding pass, I realize I have a business class ticket. Since I could not take the flight on the day as was scheduled before (owing to visa troubles), my flight was rescheduled to the next day. Turns out there were no other tickets available except those in the business class section. It’s amazing how disappointment of not getting the visa on time turns to euphoria on discovering that I had been upgraded to first class. I collect my boarding pass as well as a coupon that apparently entitled me to first class lounge services. I sheepishly ask the lady who hands me the coupon: “Um…what exactly is that? Sorry, it’s my first time on business class!” She smiles and directs me to the lounge, where I discover comfortable recliners, massage centres, cyber café and, most importantly, free food. A buffet of assorted fruits, vegetables, dishes, snacks, juice and wine. As I pick and fill my plate, I wonder if this is for real.

I board a 6.5 hour flight from New Delhi to Moscow, while absorbing all the exquisite facilities that are offered to me on business class—welcome drink, comfortable pillows and cushions and blankets, a fancy travel kit and a three-course meal served on my seat (pity I am a vegetarian). An hour’s wait in Moscow followed by yet another 3 hour flight to Belgrade, again on business class with almost all the aforementioned facilities. Covering 10 hours, two time zones and over 6000 miles, I finally land in the beautiful country of Serbia. A kind man stands on the exit of a crowded Belgrade airport holding a placard that screams my name. For a moment, I feel too insignificant to deserve that!

I introduce myself to the kind man, who welcomes me to Beograd and escorts me to his BMW taxi. No, this isn’t a luxury I am exclusively entitled to; this is a luxury all taxi users in the city get. Most of the taxis in the city are BMW’s and Mercedes. After a 20 minute smooth ride on wide roads and bridges that oversee river Danube, I reach my ‘boatel’—a hotel that rests on a gigantic boat, of sorts. Every time an actual boat comes anywhere close to the boatel, the waves cause the boatel to swing making you feel like you’re on a Kashmiri houseboat. Soaking in this incredibleness and still unable to believe that I am in a country I had barely any knowledge of, I take a quick shower and freshen up to reach the destination of the staff meeting—the purpose for which I have been invited oh-so-gracefully and travelled so far for. I look at my image in the mirror for the 89th time just to confirm if I don’t look too over-excited, under-confident or unprepared. I head towards the meeting venue.

Sunset on the boatel

Sunset on the boatel

A short taxi ride later, I arrive at a giant building. I am told that the staff meeting is happening on the 16th floor. I gasp in amazement and take the elevator. The door opens and there are six young, smiling and brightly coloured women who cheer and shout at my arrival. I almost feel like a celebrity who isn’t aware why she is popular. We do a group hug and I instantly feel a connection with these amazing souls, who, in fact, I am meeting for the first time in my life. I had known their names and had briefly interacted with them over e-mail but this is the first time I have got the rare opportunity to link their profile pictures to their real selves. It feels surreal—to actually be able to meet them within a couple of weeks of e-interaction. These are women from all around the globe: Turkey, Australia, Cambodia, Botswana, Poland and Serbia. And now, India joins this colourful mix of people. I feel proud, responsible and hopeful for the next few days.

Since I had joined the meeting late, I am briefed about all that I have missed. I am also given gifts by my fellow team members: a special something that they have carried for each one of us from their home countries. It is beautiful and I am touched! I myself gift them my own jhumkas (earrings) and I am elated to see them wear it instantly. It makes me feel closer to them already. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that these lovely ladies are soon to be my colleagues. It feels like they are people I have met. Somewhere, sometime in some form or the other. Perhaps in a coffee shop. Maybe in a bar. Or a park, a library, a supermarket or a rally. They may not be familiar faces but there are familiar interests, common and strong linkages in our activism and politics of feminism and equal rights for all. With each of them, hired for a specific purpose, I feel there is so much to learn and unlearn from. Throughout the meeting period, I am overwhelmed and excited to realize how much there is to know and understand deeply. The variety of ideas and possibilities that are brought together on the table with the collective brains of seven individuals is quite mind-blowing.

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FRIDA staff. Picture courtesy FRIDA website: http://youngfeministfund.org/about-frida/staff/

I take part in each of the team building exercises. I learn a bit of Tai Chi, do some traditional Botswanaian dance, and make them dance to a Bollywood number. It’s an amazing mix of colours, cultures and cuisines. I make a note of my specific roles and responsibilities in this new job that sounds less of work and more of having fun and making sure that everyone else does too. I am nervous, excited and thrilled all at the same time. I am filled with hope that feminist activism around the globe continues to grow and shall never end. I bid a teary goodbye to all the new people I met. I bow my head in front of the solidarity that is built in such a short span of time. I smile as I return to my home. I smile as I relive each of these moments while typing them down. 🙂

Disclaimer: This post does not reflect the views and opinions of FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund

Of conquering fears and insecurities in an alien land: Part II


There is nothing more rewarding and satisfying than figuring out the way in an alien city. Personally, I have lived and survived in six cities so far and each city has been challenging in its own way. But the day I helped a fellow foreigner find his way, I remember giving myself a little pat on my back. There’s a certain pride in answering: “Oh, R K Studio? Walk straight. Take a left and then a right. It’s right next to so-and-so building,” to a lost pedestrian/driver. Finding out the way in Prague was a little different, of course. Firstly, I was there for a limited period of time and wasn’t going to be living there for long. And secondly, I was prepared in the best possible way I could. I had maps of the city and print outs of the city’s metro and tram stops.

But just how prepared can you be in an alien city? It’s certainly easier in a cosmopolitan city like Prague as almost everyone understands English (the local language of the city being Czech). But for someone like me who can never figure our routes and always gets lost (especially after sunset), this was a challenge that I feared. While Prague is much “safer” than several other cities with the roads and lanes usually buzzing with people, I knew I’d hate the clueless look on my face and the feeling of helplessness in my heart every time I’d be on the street on my own. I had figured out everything—walk for 0.8 km from hostel to the metro station. Take metro line B and get down four stops later. Take the right exit and then walk 300 meters more. By my sharp calculation, I should have reached the venue in 20 minutes. I reached the conference venue in 60 minutes instead. The initial 0.8 km turned into 2.8 km as I kept encircling the same spot somehow! And though I got down at the right stop, I ended up taking the wrong exit and started walking in the opposite direction. By the time I could muster enough courage to ask a local, I had already made three mistakes and was running late by over 15 minutes!

Thankfully, predicting my dismal performance, I did leave the hostel way earlier as I knew something like this would happen. And I did not want to arrive at the venue fashionably late and being “so Indian” about it. This was Day 1 and I had enough backup plans. Personally, when I am walking on the road in an alien city, my hesitation in asking a fellow local is not about what its consequences might be—Can I trust a stranger? Would he/she even know the route? Does he/she look like a local? It’s more about what the perceptions might be—Would he/she think I am lost? Would he/she judge me for my poor understanding of routes? Is he/she silently laughing at my hapless state? And that’s what stops me from taking help, or rather, asking for help when I am lost.

To go or not to go? That is the question

To go or not to go? That is the question

After my carefully executed pilot, I took the risk of leaving hostel a little later on Day 2. Since I had made the mistake of encircling the same spot previously, I knew which turn not to take. I took the right exit. Reached the venue on time. One mission accomplished. Day 2 was the day of my paper presentation. So, there were other fears and insecurities that demanded attention. I had heard enough speakers by Day 2 and had got an idea about the variety of content people were bringing to the table and the kind of critique and questions to expect. Since I was going to be presenting a paper on something so specific and regional—21st century South Asian erotic literature—I realized I had a certain epistemic privilege. In a room full of people from all over the world, I was the only Indian who had read literature emerging from the Indian subcontinent. And that gave the much needed edge to a nervous 25-year-old MA in a room full of 40-plus PhDs and research scholars.

I presented my paper to a really interested and engaged audience that looked eager to know more about English writings around sex and sexuality coming from a region struggling with the demands of its customs, cultures and traditions. It was a fantastic experience of sharing insights of a society and culture that I represented, familiarizing others to it and looking at it together with an objective eye. The participants enjoyed hearing what I had to say and I was more than happy with the content that I presented and the comments that I generated. Another fear of feeling an inferiority complex conquered. Mission two accomplished. B

y Day 3, I had somewhat become a pro. On the last day of the conference, I took the same route back, this time reaching back to my hostel from the venue in a record 15 minutes. No unwanted detours. No wrong exits. No wrong turns. No wrong purchasing of the metro ticket (yup! I did that too once). And no encircling the same spot. I entered the hostel with a big grin on my face. I dumped my handbag on my bed. Had a glassful of water. And played the entire three days in my head. I knew I had achieved and won a lot of things in the last few eventful weeks. Got selected to present a paper to a global audience. Planned the whole solo trip alone. Financed it entirely with the help of my well-wishers. Handled all the expenses on my own without splurging anything extra anywhere. Gave the presentation. Interacted with a well-read and welcoming group of academics. But none of these made me feel as proud of myself as this: I learned how to use public transport in an alien city and did not get lost. Mission three accomplished.

Concluded

Read Part I here

Of conquering fears and insecurities in an alien land: Part I


A solo, self-financed trip Prague. Every term has a heavy ring to it. I am possibly one of the privileged ones to acknowledge this was to be my second visit to the city, albeit alone. However, it was a trip of many firsts—the first time I undertook this long a journey without any travel companion, the first time I was travelling with the map of the city’s metro route in my pocket, the first time I was figuring out public transport in an alien city, the first time I was living alone in the mixed dorm of a backpackers’ hostel, the first time I explored a city on foot walking over 8 km in a single day and the first time I was presenting a self-authored academic paper in front of highly global and well-read audience. Each of these firsts produced an obvious feeling of fear and intimidation that turned into thrill and satisfaction once they were accomplished.

It all began with an official e-mail in July informing me of the selection of my paper into a global conference on the theme “Erotic”. I had sent in my abstract with faint hopes of a callback. It was easy to pitch as my paper was ready—an excerpt from a larger dissertation I wrote during my Masters. While I was happy with the final shape of my first-ever academic thesis, I was restless to present it to a wider audience for further critique and feedback. Given the fact that it is on contemporary erotic literature, I was more than eager for it to be published or read out in bigger and greater forums. My topic of research was time and context specific—21st century South Asian erotic literature. I figured the sooner I present it, the better for my research and retaining its freshness and relevance.

While I was elated at being selected for an academic writing (the kind of writing I am not a great fan of and still struggling with) that not just presented me with the opportunity to present but also be published in an eBook, I got the much-needed bolt from the blue on knowing that none of this was to be funded by the organizers; I was to bear the cost of all expenses. A ten-hour flight to a destination 5,700 kilometers away, paying the registration fees, hunting for the cheapest accommodation available, bearing food and travel costs—all this translated into an estimated expenditure value of 1 lakh rupees (100,000 INR). Not that it needs to be stated out loud but, no, I do not have that kind of money. I’ve never handled so many zeroes at the same time, frankly!

I did the math to figure out just how much of cut backs I would be required to do to reach anywhere close to the target amount. And it was a hard pill to swallow that no matter how many deductions I do (I even considered turning vegan for four months to cut dairy expenses), I could not save that many 0s after 1 without some external donation to Mission Prague. I did some more math to count how many people I could ask for their generous contribution and how much I could ask/expect from them. I had to generate 100,000 INR in 120 days. I had no savings. But I had friends and well-wishers who were happily and/or unhappily employed. Mission Prague seemed a lot closer than it did before.

I began crowdfunding and in three weeks, my bank balance crossed the 100,000 mark. This was the first time that I had consistently received “your account has been credited” messages from the bank. With the money all set, I began taking care of every expenditure step by step. Buying flight tickets. Paying Visa fees. Registering for the event. Booking the hostel. Getting the currencies converted (1 INR = 0.36 CZK). And of course, polishing my paper every day so it sounded less juvenile and more classy in keeping with the audience. I had print outs of my flight ticket, a city map of Prague, city metro map, my travel insurance, booking confirmation from the hostel and the invite letter from the organizers. In fact, I had a print out of all the items I had a print out of! I was all set to fly [pun intended].

To be continued…

Click here to read Part 2.