Wednesday, July 6, 2011

While my granny's earlobes hung to the grills!

Were only half the seats in life just half as comfortable as a toilet seat!

Often these days when I sit on a toilet seat using one of those hand held showers, next to a pot in nearly all Asian loos... to bathe... With two fractured legs that's the best I could do to keep myself suitably washed... and often in such dull moments I wish if half the seats in life were just half as comfortable as a toilet seat...

If providence would have it her way, I literally walked into a pair of plasters last week outside Delhi Airport’s Terminal 3. The diabolic fall has come with a life time of bed rest, an appetite that being the only personal item I had deliberately lost once upon a time and a feeling of walking into the bed each night with shoes on.

Yet before this unqualified twist of destiny I was tripping around Hong Kong. Now I am not a travel expert nor am I sparsely intelligent... least then I knew to differ the H from the K of Hong Kong before I travelled that side. Many of my well wishers however had cordoned off my lean attempts to think of HK as anything better than a “concrete jungle, good for shopping and eating out or maybe a day trip to Macau for some gambling,” that is what everyone said to me... except for my friend Yosha (who painstakingly designed an HK to-do list for me)... who would be my host for the trip.

That is Yosha (my best friend)
But the simple joy of pure admiration comes to the callous myna as it would never to the wise eagle even with years of flight having eroded its aged wings. I was new like a new born to the surroundings and I was gregarious at best. HK opened its cloak far and wide and I penetrated unreserved. 

My landing in HK was safe... the airport was chaotic with every people from fair to far. A bunch of Pakistanis, while complimenting me on my perfect Urdu as I spoke to them in adulterated Hindi, led me to the point where my hosts were holding their patience and a cup for frozen yogurt for me. I only put pictures of my neck above on facebook, creating a general impression of being thin... sadly however, when Yosha saw me at the airport she realised that there is much more to a suitcase than just the frail handle.

The taxi ride from Lantau Island to the main HK Island where Yosha and Tish (the Ghosh couple) lived in the centre of the city was uneventful, but for the constant Cantonese bursting into my ears from the radio set in the taxi.  The drivers are just or more pissed off with the world in HK as those in Singapore are happy or apparently content.

Yosha’s flat was unique in a naturally artistic way... such that nature had painted its canvas and fixed it to either sides of her house. Through the lavish openings of the rooms I often saw the vast landscape walk in, dressed in different strokes at varying hours of the day.

That's the view from Yosha's and Tish's room

This was the rainy day view from my room

This was the twilight view from the living room

This is the view from the study

Rainy day view from the living room

As I warmed up to the rabid showers and liquid sunlight dripping through the rain-drops... hanging like my granny’s earlobes to the grills of the modest balcony, HK managed to keep me indoors for several days. 

Yosha and Tish took me to the Victoria Peak one day, which controversially (the hub of controversy mostly lying between the Ghosh couple) is the highest peak of the nation... and I almost believed that this is the most of ‘nature’ that I can see in here... The peak tram on its way down nearly made me throw up on a couple of various faces... But I managed to save the throwing up for a latter part of the trip...

That's the tram going down so steep I was almost sure Im dead!
HK is much like the city of Troy... as real as it is hypothetical... as embedded in the heat of today as it is borrowing from its several histories... stories of the British Raj still walk around the uphill streets and whisper themselves through myriad meanings and imaginary realities. 

When I heard some of them, I built my own history of this country. The British left behind an entire nation that had lived thus far on simulated wisdom. The government now is careful to the point where even casual repartee is mostly disallowed... except for some irregularities where drunk tufts crowd the skyline with complaints on tax problems amongst others. Mind you, tax in HK is only seven percent of the total income... if that may be considered any form of ‘problem’.

This funny old man musn't have been photographed as much on his own wedding I tell you!

Government has rationed land disposal for habitation on a piece-meal basis. 40 percent land is dedicated to nature reserves and country parks. One such park is called the Sai Kung East Country Park. The geography is so complex that I can’t nearly attempt to lecture you on that but I can assure you that with or without a lesson on that, you will get drowned in the unabashed beauty of HK. 

This enchanting fairy land had only its fairies missing

My tour guide Martin Heyens – when I spoke with him for the first time on the phone, I was flushed with the horror of spending an entire day with a British and an old one at that... is just a bit too much of colonial hangover-dose for me. But Martin beat me at my prejudice. 

That's funny old Martin walking through the bridge from his times to mine!
He is quite funny and awesome... a police officer from the times of British-HK, Martin stuck around in here like a shell on the beach while the waves returned to their original abode. Old as the name Martin itself, his legs were such a repository of energy that our 12 km long walk that day, slipped through casually without knowledge of its own existence.

As we walked through Stage II of the 100 km long Maclehose trail, the sun, the skies, rains, sands, trees, toads, crabs, crows, butterflies, bees, snakes and plants and 50 odd years of stories from Martin’s world followed us. The canopy of God changed its disguise every few moments and introduced itself to me with different names. Sands and sounds from the virgin beaches sometimes came to me as Sai Wan or Ham Tin and other times as Tai Long or Tung Wan... The sensuous heights of the Sharp peak stood between me and the dizzying clouds...  and far away from sight, the silky turquoise waters of the High Island Reservoir blurred the horizons of my imagination.

That's the Long Harbour

Can you see the Sharp Peak?

On our way we met with abandoned houses of the Chek Keng village that wept to me with stories of their barren wombs. Soon my journey was about to finish... I walked into it with a blank, I returned with a page and heart drenched with experiences... I bid Martin adieu.

On my second last evening, the Ghosh couple took me to Macau to the Playboy club where laps were being readily graced by luscious asses full with joy and silicon. 

We brought in Yosha’s birthday with drinks and we bade goodbye to it the next evening with many more drinks and a pot full of nausea. As I flushed it down, I wished if half the seats in life were half as comfortable as a toilet seat...

That's us so drunk even the camera felt a shiver
In the flight back home I was upgraded to Business class for a price that I paid after getting out of the airport... the two broken legs... it is all good for as long as I have friends that can paint plasters better than most of us can paint pictures of our fractured lives!

Thanks to my best friend Parineeta Sharma for this one

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My conflicated life!

“So what if life is easy... there is always a way to complify it...”
-          By Papa

My father is an honest, simple man. He means whatever he says... but not everyone can understand what he means.

I remember I was not a very little girl once when he got peeved at the amount of time I would waste in life... almost as peeved as to sit me down and waste the rest of my time on a lecture so long, I would have to jog my memory for almost a mile to reach the end of it. Somewhere in the middle of it, however I remember him saying to me that “time is the same for everyone Sujata... whether it be a rickshaw driver or John-Abraham-Lincoln.”

Lately, I must confess papa’s dictionary of words is getting increasingly creative...

Singapore’s East Coast Park is a Freudian Mecca... tender, careless legs from almost everywhere in the world wander through the dense jogging crowds here daily.  One of these moist days, I was pounding this track myself, when I saw a store with scuba diving gear hanging on the outside.  I wouldn’t say this was the awakening moment or anything... honestly, I had always wanted to do some diving in my life... not having a clue of how tough it could be ofcourse...

Clearly anything and everything I knew about diving came from the gazillion movies I watched where body-doubles would drudge the fatiguing depths of the sea... while the heroes stole the show.  Clearly then; of course; if I may say... that is... I was caught unawares between a sea weed and a hard place.

So that day at the East Coast Park, I decided to go for a dive trip soon. Now then, SGD 520 and an outstanding trainer... James Costello (one of the only two British ever that I don’t hold a grudge against)... Malaysian visa... a cracker of an online theory course followed by some 16 tests all of which I needed to clear with 100% marks... and I was all set to go on my first diving trip. The online exams were however, the first reminder of the toil-in-line for me. Every time I would press enter for the browser to take me to my score, my mind would do a little salsa while my heart would hum a funeral song.

Papa’s brain meanwhile was pollinating over half a bottle of whisky. “You must not go beta,” he said. “You take life too easy Sujata that is why you always look for ways to complify it,” he said. There is some truth in papa’s words... despite their complification. I did take life too easy... until when I went to this trip atleast.

All through the bus ride unto Mersing (from where we took the jetty to the island – Pulau Aur) I was feeling like a relic... no one spoke with me... understandable, that could be... considering no one of them had never spoken with me in their or my life before... there wasn’t much to talk that day.

Malaysia arrived sooner than anticipated, I lost the network on my phone and Sumeet lost contact with me earlier than planned, and disruption of a plan in an engineer’s life is worse than an epidemic. Hell broke in London, while I was conveniently boarding first a ferry and then a ship called ‘samudra’ in the middle of the night. 

Everything in the night was so blurred... thanks to my horrible camera!!
Sorry for the blurred pics... my camera sucks!!

Blurred again :-(

We reached our resort on Aur at around five in the morning. The night was clam... we were three girls sharing a room... the sun stung like a bee in just two hours...

An idiot cockroach outside my room... He wouldn't know how to sit up!!

From here on are some more pics of the island Pulau Aur or simply Aur

As we got into our diving gear and choked our faces with sunscreen lotions, I realised this was it mate! No turning back from here... just going down. In school the first time I took a swim in the pool, I was seven then... and I had my mother giving me reassuring smiles from a distance... all I could see here... at any distance, myopic or otherwise was the wild expanse of the South China Sea.

James took me and my dive partner (or ‘buddy’ in diving terminology) onto the deck... we crowned our feet with those funky fins that make you look so cool eh! and we were sorted for the first  dip. Spread your legs... hold your waist belt and your mask... look straight to the horizon and jump into the sea...

That's James teaching me and my buddy some tricks under-water

The senses go numb for just a second before fear creeps in like a silly joke on a talk show... your world begins to fall apart and all you want is to run away... but there is no ground beneath your feet!! Funnily... it was only me who was feeling all this while my buddy looked like Buddha in a swim suit. I bid a final adieu to everything known slowly allowing the unknown to suck the life out of me. Down under the fish were so relaxed, almost mocking at me... laughing at my frowning face. A pale pink nasty fish bit me so much I almost opened my mouth to say ‘you bitch’ before I shut it back over fear of losing my artificial air supply and my life with it.

The under-water world is like that eternal sketch in the life of every child, where everything is a perfect utopia. The beauty of this sketch is that it does not speak... even in its turmoil there is no voice and so the only song of the under-sea is its enthusiastic silence. I wanted to meet Nemo, which I did eventually... she dodged the shutterbug until finally James caught a glimpse of her and me together in one frame... 

Picture taken by this awesome under-water photographer Chrispy Cheong

That is me with Nemo... if you may!!

It was mission accomplished in my mind and on the clock... Dive One was approaching its end and I was visibly ecstatic... but I would have to wait to reach the surface to release my smile.

The girl in this picture is a gorgeous filipino called Kian and the boy is a British-Chinese called James

Both Kian and James became good friends by the end of the trip

Now I must confess to you that the food they give at the “Diver’s Lodge” (our resort) on Aur is simply a devil... inviting and luscious... juicy and yummy!! All us divers exchanged diminishing guts for a handful of freshly made donuts and lots of chocolate sauce.

In my second dive my ears began to hurt like I would die and I began to go upwards instead of otherwise... my buddy Adam thought I was facing buoyancy issues so he started pulling me down... he was inviting a real master kick from me. I hit him so hard several times as I pushed myself upwards... some of the fish would have died of a heart attack looking at our fight. 

That's me struggling to go up!

Finally I surfaced and James sent me off to rest... only to return in an hour for the third dive... the next two dives went fine as we kept our dive site close to the resort.

In the final dive on Sunday morning we were taken to some scary centre of the sea and thrown inside with a million other divers... eighteen meters down there was no pale pink fish to bite me to death thankfully but the scope of my vision was falling short to internalise what it saw. I can’t put a finger on what was the most beautiful or which was less... I can’t compare one experience with the other... it ain’t an entity to quantify... it is to be felt...!

Picture taken by this awesome under-water photographer Chrispy Cheong

Picture taken by this awesome under-water photographer Chrispy Cheong

I wish I could take my mom down there, she would have loved it... all she ever does is to keep fish in a most obnoxious aquarium at home that has weed made of plastic and coral made of glossy paper... but then I can’t really ever take her down there or else she would insist on going there in her salwaar-kameez. In the midst of all these random thoughts fear came back and I started to feel I may die... I said bye to my buddy and shot up to the surface...

It was the scariest moment of my life... with dangerous waters on all sides and nothing else in the vicinity... not even the shores... my end proclaimed its entitlement over my life and tears swelled up in my eyes as I started to wave feverishly at a ship in the distance....

The ship saw me... she did... maybe not... I seesawed with the thought as the waves sometimes threw me slightly up in the air and on other occasions sunk me into their arms. When death is your only chance, time begins to tick in your brain and even if not for a watch on your wrist, you can accurately gauge what compelling moment it maybe... it took that faraway ship precisely 12 minutes to reach me... I was going to live!!

That man in the centre is my trainer James and the one on the right is my buddy

This was it then... I somehow reached my resort and after everyone including James and my buddy Adam had a huge laugh at my expense we packed our gear to head back for Singapore... yes I am alive but it is only in afterthought that I am actually able to appreciate fully, all that I saw underwater, to be honest.

I may return to the depths of the world... I may not... but I have learnt a lesson or two on peace and patience..

In afterthought, I feel however, Sumeet might just disagree with me on this one!!