Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Travel responsibly: Save the world, one trip at a time

Recent environmental pollution statistics announced by the WHO reveal that the world is fast becoming an inhabitable place. The more popular a place becomes, whether for settling, working, or travelling to, the more it gets polluted in the long run. This got me thinking on how we, as travellers, can save the world from degenerating beyond redemption.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fun with family on a winter vacation in Goa

(A version of this travelogue was originally published by me on Askme on travel. Replicating here for my blog readers.)

Come winter, and the whole of North India heads southwards to get some much-needed sun. It was on such a cold January day in 2014 that my parents also decided to take us south of the Tropic of Cancer. And what place could be better than Goa to escape from the frigid Delhi winter?

On the first day of our vacation, we set out for North Goa, the first stop being Fort Aguada. It is most famous today as the fort where scenes from the movie Dil Chahta Hai were shot. The fort is expansive; the upper fort has beautiful bastions and a giant white lighthouse in one corner. The lower fort, visible from the Arabian Sea, was used to anchor Portuguese ships in the 17th century, but now serves as the Goan jail.

Friday, October 23, 2015

...and that's how I learned to party.

My journey thus far with the Young India Fellowship has been life-altering in so many ways. It has revolutionised the manner in which I think, broadened the boundaries within which I've historically kept myself confined, and introduced me to deeper, more beautiful aspects of the world and its people. I cannot be grateful enough for the profound impact YIF has had on my academic and professional inclinations, but I'll reserve writing about that for another time. Tonight I'd rather write about another great change this place is constantly bringing about in my life - my social life, to be precise. 

I have learned to enjoy the company of people.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Of roller coaster rides and more at the Young India Fellowship.

Yesterday I wrote the first examination of my very first term at the Young India Fellowship. I'm here for a one-year PG diploma in liberal studies and leadership. We had three courses this term, but only one exam. Wondering how, and for heavens sake, why? Well, of course, because we're awesome! The first of the courses was the Foundations of Leadership, taken by legendary Dr. Dwight Jaggard, a renowned professor from the University of Pennsylvania. Our final assessment for the course was carried out by means of a Group Discussion. No exam policy, FTW! The second course was on Statistics and its application in the modern world, taken by another UPenn stalwart, Prof. Santosh Venkatesh. But what is a mathematical class doing on the curriculum of a liberal arts course, right? That's what we were wondering too before the course began. But over the course of the class it dawned upon us how important basic statistical understanding is to make sense of common phenomena around us, right from Pizza Hut's 30-minute-or-free guarantee to general elections and exit polls. We were graded on the basis of a number of group case studies, ending with a final report that reflected our individual understanding of the course. It may have been a rather difficult course to cope with, given the insane amounts of coursework, the American model of teaching which Indian students are not accustomed to, and the short duration of the course (3 weeks!) But it was an intense learning experience, something I'm sure most, if not all, fellows from my batch will cherish.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

To diet, or not to diet, that is the question.

Stepping into a new stage of life, meeting hundreds of new people, and making new friends has never been an easy job for me. I am the kind of person who'd stay well within her comfort zone if she only had her way. But thankfully for me, I never have my way, because I'm much more ambitious than that frog at the bottom of the well. And so, in another 4 days I start with my one-year residential Postgraduate diploma in liberal studies. At this point, I probably couldn't have asked for a better thing in my life. But guess the only thing that's been troubling me about this transition? Well...all that weight I've accumulated over the past year or two!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

My Travel Diary: The Best Moments of 2015 - USA!

Continuing from where I left off in the last post:

III) United States (NYC, Connecticut, New Jersey)

This one has been the most grandiose trip of my life so far. Everyone around me was excited, but funnily enough, I didn't feel a thing! I got my passport made, got my 10-year US visa, packed my bags, and even got some of my hard-earned money converted into USD, just so I could at least buy presents for my friends and family with my own money. It's a different kind of feeling, you know, especially when your mom is funding the rest of the trip and your relatives are taking care of your lodging. I haven't written much about my US travels till now, having mainly concentrated on the wedding of my cousin that I attended there. I have a few US posts in mind for the coming days, but for now, here are some of the highlights - the best moments from my US trip.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

My Travel Diary: The Best Moments of 2015

This year has been fairly good to me so far. Within the past six months I've been on vacations to four destinations as different from each other as they could possibly be. If Bombay had sands and the sea, Dharamshala had mountains and snow. The United States marked my first step onto a foreign land, while soon after came a road trip to Nainital, the land of lakes and lush greenscapes.

Things have been looking up on the personal front. I've taken a big career leap, putting on hold all dreams of being a civil servant and jumping headlong into a year of liberal arts, writing and finding myself. Confused? Why, yes, I got selected for the Young India Fellowship 2015-2016! That also means I'll be shifting base from Delhi to Sonepat, Haryana (not too far from home - lucky me). The course starts in another 10 days. More on that later (in a blog post soon to follow).

Friday, June 26, 2015

Tranquility amidst adventure in the Kumaon Valley.

It all began on Whatsapp. But then, doesn't everything nowadays?

Six of us, siblings and cousins, communicate with each other via a group on whatsapp. Two weeks ago we were all extremely bored and frustrated with the oppressive heat in the city. As it always happens, one of us suggested a meet-up over the weekend. A movie, maybe? We went through the names and synopses of all the movies that were playing. Nothing worked out for all of us at the same time. And just then, out of the blue in his characteristic style, the youngest cousin (even he is almost 23 years old - gosh, we're old!) chimed in, "Let's go on a trip!"

Saturday, June 13, 2015

An Unforgettable Date with Uncle Sam: Part II

13th May 2015. It was nine thirty in the night, but the day seemed to have just dawned at the Uppal residence. Everybody was out and about. A makeshift throne was being prepared for the modern-day queen of 18, Cherrygate Lane. Turmeric and scented oils were being concocted in an urn to make the sacred haldi paste. Aunts and uncles, cousins and friends had descended from far and wide, and could be caught sitting around sipping on their teas and martinis. The air was festive, the mood exuberant.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

An Unforgettable Date with Uncle Sam: Part I

In the dead of the night on the 13th of May, we - Mom and I - set out for the Delhi airport, passports in hand, luggage in tow. The roads were not nearly as deserted as you'd expect at that time of the night, a fact that bears witness to Delhi's reputation of being a city that never sleeps. It took about a half hour to complete the various check-in formalities. Another hour went by without my realizing, and just like that, all of a sudden I was on my way to board the plane slated to take me on my life's first foreign trip. I was remotely conscious of the impossibly long journey that awaited us. Wondering where we were headed? Well, first to Abu Dhabi and from there on to New York. Yes, finally a date with the mighty Uncle Sam!

The 18 hours it took to transport us halfway across the globe felt like an eternity. I watched 2 movies and a couple of TV show episodes, ate 3 meals, had a couple of drinks and slept in several bursts of an hour or two. And yet I was wide awake when the plane began its descent at the John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York. As I stepped out of the arrivals area and glanced back, the airport seemed small - tiny really - when compared to the airport I had just left behind in India. I felt proud.

Monday, May 11, 2015

My life, my mother and everything in between.

As a little child, I remember memorising and reciting a song in school that serenaded teachers on Teacher's Day. But since I was the teacher's pet, she let me in on her big secret: the song was originally written for mothers and she had conveniently replaced the word 'mother' with 'teacher' throughout the song. And I wondered to myself how changing the very subject of the ode still hadn't caused any change in the context or meaning of the song. That was the first time the uncanny resemblance between a mother and a teacher dawned upon me. Over the years I came to realize how my mother was indeed my first teacher. She taught me how to write, all alphabets aligned according to their heights, nothing over or under the designated lines. She taught me how to behave around boys and how to handle relationships and heartbreak. She taught me to be kind, charitable, strong-willed yet adaptable. And to this day my mom remains the best teacher I ever had.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Don't you worry child

Don't you worry child, he said
Everything will be alright

I know you've been forsaken
And had your share of woe
I know you hit the edge, he said
But that was long ago.

The pain will wither away
And the tears will be no more
Love will heal your heart, he said
Of that I'll make sure

I rue all those times when
I wasn't with you before
But it's a new beginning, he said
And I'm standing at your door

I know you've been aching
You miss a true friend
Here, hold my hand, he said
And I'll walk with you till the end

Your eyes are clear as glass
They tell me that you fear
 Go be a shining star, he said
Don't be afraid, I'm near

You'll fall, you're only human
And I'll swoop you off the ground
I'll be your shelter, he said
When the sky is falling down

You'll learn to trust again
And the sun will shine bright
Don't you worry child, he said
Everything will be alright

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why does everyone want to be a photographer these days?

What is it with photography that's turning mostly everyone into a photographer these days?

Seriously, what? 
Everyone wants to be a photographer today (and I don't exclude myself from that list). If you come to think of it, the number of SLR-brandishing amateur photographers in the world has escalated way too quickly for anyone to really fathom the hows and the whys. Sorry for the misleading title, though, because nope, I'm not going to give any well thought-out explanation for this most interesting phenomenon that's currently taking the world by storm. It's definitely got something to do with the falling prices of professional cameras in the market, I think. And of course, Canon and Nikon ad campaigns have a lot to do with it too. But I'd rather leave the analysis to the experts, which I clearly am not.

So what is it about photography that's so exciting?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Face to face with the man behind 'The Frog and the Nightingale'

I've been a writer for over 5 years. I know I'm probably repeating this, but it's just so astonishing that I sometimes can't believe it's been that long. It's been an incredible journey, and there's still so much more to do and learn! I started writing professionally on a whim some three years back when I was approached one day by the directors of an upcoming travel portal to freelance for them. Before that, I'd always pictured myself as a published writer sometime in the future. Signing copies, delivering talks, being appreciated for my works the world over. That has always been the dream. But as I began doing more of freelance work, my blog took a hit. The quality and frequency of posts on my blog began depreciating. Very soon, I had started doubting myself, writing less, thinking but not translating the ideas into good pieces.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Stepping out into the world.

My life is cliched and I make no bones about it. I am your typical Delhi-born, Delhi-bred girl. My schooling was completed here, and so was my undergraduate degree. So many of my friends left for other cities, some went abroad as well. I managed to get admission in one of the city's best colleges. And so, I stayed home. In many ways, it was a good thing too. No financial burden on my parents, more valuable time spent in my beloved city of birth, and of course, gharwalon ka pyaar. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

We're together in everything.

Life teaches you a lot of lessons, and often at times you least expect it to. I learned one such lesson this past month during a family trip to Himachal Pradesh. But first, some context.

Ever since the travel bug bit me some years ago, I have wanted to travel alone. I begin and end almost every single day with the hope that some day, not too far off in the future, I'll be able to pack my bags and leave. Without a specified date of return, without an address to write to. Just launch myself into the world with nothing or no one to pull me back. That's the dream.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The singing duck (in my head)

Imagine a duck walking ahead of you, down the path in the neighbourhood park, crooning to itself in Daffy Duck's voice:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Mystical Himalayas and the wild, wild rain.

I feel tired, rested and on top of the world, all at the same time. My incredible week-long Himalayan vacation came to an end over 3 days ago but its memories are crystal clear in my head. The vacation was as rejuvenating as it was inspiring. There was snow, there was rain, there were mountain peaks and rainbows. And I got some really wonderful pictures to bear witness to what an amazing place Himachal Pradesh is, and what beautiful weather we had there last week.

Part I: Dharamshala

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Finally - the World Book Fair 2015!

Sometimes it's hard to believe I've been writing for the last five years. Yes, that's how old my blog becomes on the 28th of this month. And to think I've been reading for more than 4 times as many years - it's surreal. The very sight, touch and smell of a book in my hand is like opium in the hands of an addict. I cannot imagine my life without books. I'd literally be lost. And yet, the most embarrassing and unimaginable fact about this whole lifetime of reading and writing is that I haven't been to the World Book Fair even once. You read that right. Not once. I once visited the Delhi Book Fair, though, but that doesn't count, because it lacked the charm of an international book fair. The world book fair kept eluding me every year - most of the times I'd have exams, at other times I'd have to be somewhere else. But all that is in the past now. 

Because I finally got to pay my obeisance at the World Book Fair 2015 yesterday - the last day of the event, no less. There were books and only books everywhere I could see. A lot of book lovers and fellow fanatics like me too, which made it totally my kind of social gathering. And it was pure, unadulterated fun.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Mumbai Magic - The one with all the Bling

Our favourite hangout throughout the holiday was the plush Colaba Market. Near one end of it was our hotel, while the other end was close to the fabled Taj Mahal Palace. Colaba market is known as much for its generous sprinkling of cafes and landmark restaurants, as it is for being a popular tourist hub. No wonder it was lined on both sides with shops and stalls selling typical touristy stuff - comfortable pajamas and baggy tops, purses and totes, boho-chick jewellery, bangles, trinkets and earrings. From little Eiffel towers, owlets and feathers to Greek-style anklets, printed tees and shorts, there were endless displays of charming stuff all around. But at really exorbitant prices too!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mumbai Magic - The one with the Acrobat

While roaming around Colaba market on foot one morning, I came across two street performers putting on an acrobatic show. I wasn't surprised considering I'd seen several of those back in Delhi. The show usually unfolds thus. One of the performers beats a drum, calling out to people to come and watch the spectacle, while another (usually a small child) climbs up the pole and walks on a tight rope, often holding props. A collecting bowl is set out on the ground and onlookers are expected to drop in some money if they like what they see. The little girl whose performance I witnessed that morning was balancing little lamps stacked over her head and carrying a long pole in her hands, even as she balanced her weight perfectly on a rope suspended mid-air. The sight of a small child successfully pulling off such difficult antics was fascinating. And at the same time, distressing.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mumbai Magic - The one with the Monkeys

On one of our days in Mumbai, we decided to take a one-hour ferry ride to the famed Elephanta Caves. I was quite eager to visit the caves, having read so much about them in my art and history classes and their being a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well. Interestingly, friends and family in Delhi had discouraged me from wasting an entire day at the caves since they were just "broken stone statues and ruins, nothing of much interest". I guess appreciation of art isn't as commonly found in people as one would think it ought to be.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mumbai Magic - Here we go again!

A very happy new year, everyone!

I know I've been away for far too long to make an easy comeback. In the last one year, I have lived an entire lifetime staying in a hostel, giving countless number of exams, watching a lot of good movies, doing copious amounts of freelance writing and traveling extensively. And unlike last year, I refused to pull myself back this time round and made it a point to do whatever made me happy without pressuring myself too much. It was a tough yet largely satisfying year. But if there's one thing I haven't been able to do so far - that one regret - it is of not having written anything meaningful on my blog this whole time. And that has saddened me more with every passing day for an entire year.