Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Frustrated Passenger!

Dear auto-driver of AS 01 M 3974,

Thank you for infuriating me enough to write this down. There have been times when I wanted to write about you and your “clan”, yet I never penned down. Tonight, it was a very minor altercation. For you, perhaps, it is a daily habit; but sometimes it’s the smallest things that trigger the blackest of moods and right now, I am in one.

I am one of the “a-month-per-year” visiting people, who visits Guwahati occasionally and click my tongue at the state of the State but don’t (or can’t or won’t) do anything much. State issues anger me but I feel helpless. The pathetic drainage system, the illegal immigrant issue, illegal construction, illegal mining, corruption in every level- the list goes on, but let’s keep these for another day.

Today, I am angered by a meager altercation of Rs. 10/-. What? Rs. 10/-? Yes, you heard it right.

What do you get for Rs. 10/- in an economy so inflated? The tiniest bar of the cheapest chocolate… perhaps, a cigarette… Who haggles over a Rs. 10/- note?
But tonight, I did.

It wasn’t about the value that a Rs.10/- currency note carries; it was about the integrity of you, yes, you who ride the auto, AS 01 M 3974 and the hundreds of the likes of you who are a continuing menace to the public, ripping-off money from public who are dependent on you, thanks to the poor public transport of this city.

I know, as a rule of thumb, that autos are almost a luxury in this city and drivers ask a premium for their “services”. You demand exorbitant rates with no scale or standard fare. At any given day, a ride from Six Mile to Dispur might cost me Rs. 80, Rs. 100, Rs. 120 or any other amount that suits your mood at that time of the day. Another rule of thumb, of course, is negotiation. You say, Rs. 200, I say, Rs. 120 and so we tug and pull and nudge and push to a decided fare.

You form auto-stands and group together at each of these stands. God forbid, I stand outside Anil Plaza on G.S Road and instead of negotiating with the autowalas in front of the building, try to flag down a running auto. The entire crew of autowalas tries to bully me. How dare I not ask them? Because… you group together and decide your inflated fares and swat flies and mosquitoes till you find customers. Go with the group’s rate or go to hell. The fact that I am a female and I am alone is an added advantage to you to bully me. Sometimes, I protest, sometimes I give up and agree to ride on a premium fare but mostly, I move away from the ruckus, afraid of what an adrenaline-rushing group of men can do.

But you, the driver of AS 01 M 3974, you were quite straight-forward. Of course, you demanded an inflated rate and yes, we did the tug-of-war negotiation and decided on the fare of Rs. 110/-. You didn’t harass me or did anything inappropriate or irregular. But tell me, when I was finally dropped off (and you know I asked to be dropped off way before than my agreed drop-off point), why did you pretend that the decided fare was Rs. 120/-? Yes, it is just a meager Rs. 10/- more. And no, I am not a miser. I am just tired with the lots of you. Of being extorted, of your dishonesty, of being bullied. I need your services, so I suffer in silence like the rest of the public.

You, who take advantage of people in need of your services and demand unreasonable fares; you, who sees a lone female at a late hour and bully her into paying exorbitant rates. You are a menace to the society. Yes, the society is dependent on you but you take so much more from it than you deserve.

You will not adhere to a meter-system of fares because you know you are extorting money from the public. Every time the issue comes up for a metered-fare system, you threat and go on bandhs and ultimately, feed a fat wad of notes to an official and close the issue.

I don’t know how far your regime will continue. There’s a long way for Guwahati’s autowalas to be as decent and honest like their counterparts in other cities. You should learn a lesson or two from Mumbai autowalas who returns the exact change and runs by the meter at any time of the day, or night. Imagine my shock when I received a Rs. 2/- coin pressed against my palm by a Mumbaikar autowala!

Maybe it’s the way the city is. In Mumbai, there’s no dearth of public transport; buses, trains, autos, taxis, hence, the public chooses its transport and the demand for autos never ascends.

In Guwahati, I am hopeful the situation would change. I have noticed that in Guwahati, a number of private taxi services have started. How much will you charge on a ride from Six-Mile to Kachari? Rs. 250 on a sound-mind on a good day? Well, guess what! That’s exactly the cost of a ride in a taxi with AC! Yes, the taxis need to be booked but hopefully, soon, there will be enough of them to be hailed at every nook and corner. And who knows, the metro might start. It will take years but this city will get there… it will be a city with a good public transport system. And then, my dear auto-driver of AS 01 M 3974, your demanding regime would end.

In the hope that karma still works its way around,
Your one-time passenger.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thoughts on a Train

We, Neel and I, just ended a 56 hours journey on a train, travelling from Bangalore to Guwahati. We decided to travel by train as we had time on our hands and it was long since we train travelled. Also, as Neel pointed out, it would be our first train journey together (silly :D, not taken into consideration those Mumbai locals). So, we set out for our three nights’ long journey across the south-eastern part of India, cutting through Karnataka,Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal.

As they say, train experiences are experiences one would never forget. Each person travelling on the train has a different story to tell, I am sure. Our story is also different; humorous, frustrating, irritating and loving in equal measure. A three day story of us in a train can be an extremely long blogpost (one realizes because one is still unable to finish writing that), so here are some of my thoughts/ observations while I sat on my side berth in a 3AC compartment atop the Guwahati Express.
  • Cockroaches can crawl on ceilings, inverted, defying gravity. Guwahati Express gave us plenty of cockroaches to observe and conclude our findings. So many baby cockroaches were around that it made Neel “google” the word used for baby cockroaches. “Nymph” apparently. Sorry, ahimsa guys, but we went totally “nymph”-o-maniac on the train, killing, stamping, stomping all the nymphs.
  • Books can be purchased for three reasons. 1. Kill Time 2. Kill Cockroaches 3. Make a table on your berth and eat food. (Sorry, Jhumpa Lahiri, I mean it.)
Jhumpa Lahiri: your book served a lot of purpose
  • With a side view, watch the aunt from Andhra Pradesh wearing a saree, her hair dripped in oil and in a behaving braid, give the girl from Arunachal Pradesh wearing hot pants and dyed hair an awfully disapproving look. It was comic to see them sitting side by side, yet the disparity between them was a surprising blow. One realizes there are all kinds of people in this world.
  • When girls have too many luggages, they fill up every nook and corner and then an entire berth and later on, two of them share a berth the entire journey! I envy their slimness; I had trouble fitting one body in a berth!
  • There’s always a guy who never came down for 56 hours from the top berth!
  • There’s always an unmarried couple who are stuck together in a berth for 56 hours with so much love and coziness it makes you wonder if love is body-odor too.
  • It is compulsory to have a funny guy in your compartment, to lighten things up.
  • It is not compulsory, but it is almost irresistible to let go the wares of any hawker who passes by. Everything looks better in a train… from bhelpuri to coffee to fruits to torchlights to saree… you get the flow!
  • It is important that you know what is famous in which station and quickly go and buy. Like, mangoes in Malda and biryani in Andhra Pradesh. 
  • A Glimpse of Godavari
  • When the pantry guy is Assamese, you receive an open invitation to join them for drinks. If you are not Assamese and they didn’t invite you, worry not, hang the railway blankets from the high-ceilinged rods, thus blocking other passengers’ view from your enclave, call your friends and quickly have a pass-the-bottle session. Only the smell is the proof and anyway, no one would bother to smell your cavities at 1AM!
  • If alcohol didn’t bind your bonds of friendship, smoking would. That daring activity that everyone fears getting fined, yet everyone can’t resist. At midnight, half the man’s population are out of the AC compartment and standing next to the doors; crowded, jostling rhythmically and smoking cigarettes. Girls, if you can’t find a place there, try going two-at-a-time to the toilet with a room freshener in your hand (at first, I thought she was concerned that the toilet will stink after she shits; naïve me!)
  • Don’t bother putting an alarm; not that you have work to do on a train. You will be woken up by the constant rumpus of “Chai, Chai” and “Breakfast, Nashta” of the hawkers.
  • Understand that Hindi is our national language and you will hear different accented versions of it. By the way, even Bhutanese can speak Hindi, can you believe it! The reaches of Ekta Kapoor and Indian TV!
  • Your lunch from the pantry will have a sabzi and a curry of the exact same colour. Same colour, different raw materials. In most cases, it will be a red hue and a lot of masala shall be put in it. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how the food, with so much masala, can be with absolutely NO taste! On second thoughts, don’t bother with the pantry. There may be “nymphs” there considering how many are lurking around in our compartment! Elementary mathematics of food v. cockroach statistics. Just eat from the hawkers or at the stations (I am presuming their level of hygiene, though low, will not be worse than the train’s pantry)
Entertaining us@Shantiniketan with his enthralling voice
  • People are more accommodating in trains, willing to exchange seats. Especially if the Bhutanese-friendly guy is willing to exchange his 2AC seat for a 3AC seat. Aha… Upgradation… mann mein laddoo phoota! The Bhutanese guy and his friends liked our compartment so much, they exchanged seats with anyone who would come to sit there.
  • Hate all beggars in Howrah! They may appear hopeless but underneath that shawl or shirt the beggars carry stolen articles from passengers. Can you believe Neel’s Lumia 720 got stolen at Howrah?! We didn’t realize beggars would enter the AC compartment. Next thing you know the phone is nowhere to be found! When someone accidently picked up the phone while we tried connecting to it, we heard voices negotiating the price of the phone at a chor bazaar!
  • You restore faith in humanity as total strangers try to help you find your phone or to cheer you up or to generally ask you about any update. One guy came and told this funny incident of how his cousin had tea (mixed with a sleeping tablet) on a train and next thing you know, he woke up in his underwear! Everything stolen! He had to sweep the train floors to get a few cents to call his mother! Now, he doesn’t drink any beverage on a train! The way he narrated it was hilarious! He tried cheering us with this story and we are so grateful for that J
  • When Rasgullas are Rs. 20/- for four  (!), share these with the rest of the co-passengers in your compartment. In fact, share as much as you could. Food and anecdotes and joys and opinion.
  • By the second day, feel at home. I did, I also felt a bit sad to leave those fun-loving passengers yet the longing for a clean toilet and my own bed was also getting stronger.
Horror film makes the bond stronger!
  • To bond further, as a last and final act, watch a movie together, preferably a horror one. We watched The Conjuring. It was midnight and there was a storm outside; the train rattled and Annabel became alive… our co-passengers were glued to their seats, except the Bhutanese guy who almost jumped 2 inches everytime there was an unexpected scary scene! Oh… watching horror movies was never this fun!
So, after 56 hours in a rhythmic chaos, we reached Guwahati. Stinking of our own sweat, but with so many mixed memories. It’s not in a while that we shall do another long journey of this sort; not with the recent stealing of a phone that was so close to Neel (:D) but no denying, with all its shortcomings, train travel is fun in the end.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Vote Diyok, Vote Diyok: Elections 2014

My dad woke me up at 6:30am. I don’t even wake at my in-laws’ house at this hour. But today is different. I get up quick, get ready real quick.

Today, for the first time in history, I shall vote. Quite an event, I say. I remember last time and the times before that, my name never made it to the electoral roll. This time, with all the lords’ and their wives’ blessings, I have my name on the roll.

My ward is a really tiny place called Dakhingaon. Two years ago, Google didn’t even know where that is. It’s 41 degrees today. My parents “strategically” decide to go early; the decision being solely based on the position of the sun in the sky at 7AM compared to the burning monster it becomes at 10AM.

When we reached our ward, we realized we ain’t the only smart people on the planet. The voting venue was a small school and people were already queuing up.

The atmosphere was more like a local fair. A meeting ground for neighbours who don’t have time to visit each other’s houses otherwise. A live, throbbing, thriving gossip ground. Oooh, field day for the ladies! People greeted, hugged, talked, exchanged pieces of voting trivia and anything they saw on TV the night before. I won’t spare my mother here. She was right in the middle of it all. That’s how people are in this part of the world. Social butterflies, nosey misters. I don’t mind it much; secretly maybe, I like it too… it’s endearing… atleast from a distance ;)

We saw people carrying a white slip that mentioned their electoral roll and we didn’t have it. I know we can vote without that slip but people were all in a frenzy to get that piece of paper, blaming the volunteers for negligence and blaming the government and then, blaming on the sun.

Now, it’s way past 7AM.
7:10AM to be exact.

The queue is getting impatient. The voting was supposed to start at 7AM. They complained loudly; each one mentioned their pending work to the public and how this delay would hamper their entire day. From inside the voting room-cum-classroom (yea, it was a school, remember), someone informed that the polling agents have not arrived yet, hence the delay in the procedure. As soon as it was informed, this news spread like wildfire. (Mouth-to-mouth is the fastest communication! #punintended)

“Polling agent not there”;
“No one in this state is responsible; in my opinion, they should have been at their stations at 5AM”;
“Where is the polling agent? Sleeping? Must have downed a couple of pegs last night. What a waste”…

Frenzy on top of frenzy but soon the polling agent was forgotten and people, after a while, went back to more broad-based topics like sun, water supply (or lack of it) and Bangladeshis.

At 7:20AM, someone gave the hot information that the EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) was not working. Frenzy on top of a frenzied frenzy!!!

People went berserk. The complaints got louder. The pending work-list got longer as they told one another what they could have done had they been at home. (I know for sure, I could have slept more)

“EVM not working? We should all go home, come later”
“These agents must have slept through their training; each one must have thought that the other is taking notes. Now they are all but a bunch of idiots!”
“I shall call the news channel. Someone from the news should be here to witness this epic fail”
“Maybe someone tempered with the EVMs. Why couldn’t the polling agents arrive early and check these discrepancies?”

Finally, after a 10-minute confusion, where everyone spoke at the same time and no one did anything much… (not even go home, like they suggested)… the EVMs started working. There were more comments on the polling agents being completely incapable; fools and morons. I, thankfully, didn’t get to hear much. I was quite ahead in my line and I was out of the voting booth by 7:45AM.

I felt weirdly weird-proud. As if, I’m a part of the process. Like, maybe my singular vote would be the deciding vote between the winner and loser. Don’t tell me you don’t imagine that? It’s irrational but it’s a fun thought.

Anyway, voting over; we met our family friends on the school grounds and we were asked to come for tea. And so, after voting and our morning heavy dose of gossip, we went for our morning tea at our neighbour’s place. 

We voted, we met people, we participated in the public confusion and confused each other more. I quite liked my first time. I don’t mind voting once in a while.

Maybe we shall have a stupid-ass government and it shall fail and I would require to vote again next year?! Chill… just kidding.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Scarlet Flame, IORA, Kaziranga

While passing Kazirange, taken from the backseat
This was purely an accidental delight. We were on our way from Sibsagar to Guwahati and we happened to pass through Kaziranga during that time of the day when your tummy squeals and groans for want of food. We were in search for a proper place to lunch amidst the dozens of “resorts” that had sprung up in Kaziranga over the recent years. Then my dad said, “Should we go to IORA?” and I answered with a resounding “Yes!!!!” while my mother tried to decipher what exactly was this place whose name made her daughter spring up mid-air from the backseat of the car.

I had heard of IORA in the recent months. You know, friends on Facebook being quick to discover this place, and the promotional activities surrounding it and the latest wedding destination being IORA, Kaziranga instead of the faraway palaces of Udaipur or the sun-kissed beaches of Goa. Apparently, people love taking a swig and being the master of his own jungle at Kaziranga and IORA provides a safe retreat… no elephant or wild buffalo would stomp you while you do your victory dance in this newest resort in Kaziranga.
The tea-estate near Iora

We followed the road signs leading to the resort; the resort was the last property at the end of a narrow, yet well-built road and as we entered the sprawling property, to our right was a tea estate on a hilly terrain that looked quite lovely. 

Once we entered, my mom spotted a couple of “phoreners” and I could almost see that that was the precise moment when she nodded her approval for choosing this place. She believes that whenever you see foreigners, you know there’s something of value: they apparently can sniff anything of value far quicker than the elehua oxomia (and yes, that includes Bangladeshis coming to Assam because Assam is, indeed, valuable and far richer that you and I reckon).

Anyway, entrance to the resort was nothing very grand; it was open and airy though and I quite liked the informality. Stiff ambience and people are not exactly among my favourites. And when asked the direction to the restaurant to the staff in Assamese (quite intentionally), the staff greeted me and replied in perfect Assamese (I like this place already!). Usually in my numerous, bad experiences in Assamese restaurants, I’m constantly annoyed with staff who reply in a different language in an effort to alienate what’s their own, sometimes they will even give a condescending look that says “Madam, my eatery is too hi-fi for Assamese to be spoken here” (KFC, Guwahati, mind it!)

Pillars from reclaimed wood. Good job.
Once inside the in-house continental restaurant named The Scarlet Flame, we were politely escorted to a table. The staff who waited on us was patient and answered our queries politely. We were told this was the continental restaurant and there was also an Indian restaurant if we would like to try. My dad decided he would like to try continental for a change (What?! At mid-fifties, that’s quite a change from his usual fare!), so continental it was. I was allotted the responsibility to order. The menu was quite impressive, the continental fare in particular. I ordered quite a suspiciously named dish called “Chicken Supreme Prince Davis” for my father. Maybe Prince Davis liked chicken crumbles, baked veggies with buttered rice. My mom went for a simple red-sauce chicken pasta and for myself, I ordered the Chicken Caf’real (just because I liked the way it sounds).

While we waited for the food to arrive, I quickly scanned the facts on Kaziranga and Assam printed on the placemats and also noticed that the huge pillars of the restaurant were made from reclaimed wood. The décor was simple, spacious; not overpowering. There were French windows on one side of the restaurant that overlooked the garden and my mom, being a green thumb, persuaded that the time till the arrival of our food should be utilized in walking around the garden and inspecting the blooms. Dad was too tired to be persuaded so I went along with her. 

Doors leading to the garden
The garden was quite lovely and well-kept. Flowers in fanciful bunches were in bloom. The orange of marigolds bunched together, the lovely bougainvillea pinks together, the red poppies together. I feel that any flower specie when kept in huge numbers start looking more beautiful than hap-hazardly arranged flowerbeds. There were small straw huts shrouded with white flowers that almost gave a private feel. I assume the huge lawn in the middle of the garden is used to host parties; I saw a straw hut that doubled as a bar, a few empty liquor bottles placed there. 

Private and Confidential
On the periphery of the lawn were the rooms, some clustered together, others being private cottages complete with a chimney. We walked further to the end of the garden which gave way to the view of the swimming pool below. The Jacuzzi was gushing water and in the swimming pool, a kid played with his father. Sigh… I would have loved to take a dip in the pool in this 2pm heat that was beating down on us.

On returning to our seats at the restaurant, the dishes were brought in. Dad’s “Prince Davis” landed first. He (if food had a gender) looked handsome, to say the least. A perfect sphere of buttered rice, baked and slightly spiced veggies on the side, the chicken crumbles were more like chicken patty with a crunch (delicious!) and toasts had a melting layer of cheese. It looked so good!

Mom’s dish was understated. A globe of red pasta; but it was one of the best pastas I had. We didn’t expect such a simple and known dish to be so impeccably prepared and differently delicious.

My Chicken Caf’real was the last to arrive. Don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t order a dish because of its fancy name. My dish was chicken chunks enveloped with dollops of minced greens and pita bread. I love pita bread and the bread here was freshly made and really nice. However, I never liked chicken with greens, so though this dish might appeal to others, it didn’t do much for me.

Even though we didn’t order starters and jumped straight to the main course, let me tell you it was a good decision because the quantity here is ginormous. We had to skip desserts and just to confirm if we could still walk after such a heavy meal, we did an idle round of the garden once more before we headed out of the resort.

Last thoughts?

The resort is lovely; I would also say in the same breath that the resort is for people who would like to stay in luxurious concrete houses amidst the jungle. Iora can be a property in any part of the world, it didn’t have anything Assamese except perhaps a few bamboo and cane artifacts and furniture. I guess for Assamese tourists, this is quite a hit; it being a place that doesn't have the traditional Assamese style décor. Also, I reckon it is a perfect place for tourists who can’t live without pools and scented candles. It is modern and well-kept and beautiful and looking at the cars in the parking lot, it is doing extremely well. However personally, I like the concept of a bit of Assamese air thrown in whilst in Kaziranga. But who am I to say? I’m a gaonlia girl who speaks Assamese in KFC and gets glared at.

The restaurant, of course, undoubtedly, has a fabulous chef. But I’m still skeptical. Most restaurants start with a bang and deteriorate right after that; similar to most buildings in Assam that starts with a blinding whitewash and starts to gather moss after the first monsoon rains. I can hardly begin to comprehend the amount of determination required to maintain such good standards in the middle of a wildlife sanctuary (kudos!), yet I hope that this place retains its chef and its whitewash the next time I visit it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Out of the Blue: Powai and a green Mumbai

Would you believe if I tell you this view is in Mumbai? No? Well, believe me, it is... I owe it to my friend, Maitreyee, for the view which she rightly called the most spectacular view of Mumbai. I don't think we see much of green-cover and lakes around Mumbai... but more on this later... Let's first tell you of this place that has an unlimited liquid-brunch buffet...yea, unlimited alcohol... you read it right. Even I thought I heard it wrong when Maitreyee mentioned it the previous night.

It was just another (hangover) Sunday... We had planned to go to a Sunday brunch, so we made the reservations at this restaurant called "Out of the Blue" and headed to Powai. I was about to go to Powai-side for the first time. My friend, Anirban, kept referring to Powai as "Austria" the night before (because of the architecture) and I was quite willing to see "Austria" for a cheap auto-ride of Rs. 150... heeheehee...

Well, Powai is as far as one can go to see a likeness to European-style architecture, I guess... the wide pavements, the lamp-posts, all the buildings in beige-colour, dome-liked structures, big colonial pillars, well-manicured lawns and fountains in the middle of the road junctions definitely rendered a very European buzz.

Cosmopolitan, my dahlings
Just a bit of loitering (cos we were really hungry) and then, we headed to this place called "Out of the Blue". My friend took me there because of the bottomless liquid buffet at the unbelievable price of Rs. 750. Hmm... looks like they haven't seen the likes of us...

The Greek feel

Anyway, the restaurant was quite nicely done up in Mediterranean-inspired hues of white and blue with solid wood furnishings and potted plants. I ordered our first round of Sangria and settled down to enjoy the live performance. Soon the drinks arrived with the hummus and pita bread; the singer started singing and we were all in a pretty good high. I loved the singer's choice of songs. Whether it was 'Sunday Morning' by Maroon 5, or 'I'm Yours' by Jason Mraz or the all-time favorites 'Yellow' by Coldplay or 'Lemon Tree' by Fool's Garden... (you get the flow, don't you?!)... it was just lovely to hear her sing as we munched and drank our way through the lovely spread! Whoa... what a fantastic brunch it had been!

But my Sunday happiness didn't end there! After exiting the restaurant quite tipsy and absolutely happy-high, we headed towards NITIE, the campus where my friend stays. She promised that she would show us the most spectacular view of Mumbai and led us to this building which was (if I remember correctly) a seven-storey building with a lift that didn't function. With alcohol in our head and carbs in our tummy, up we climbed the floors! By the time we reached the sixth floor, I was gasping as if my lungs would burst at any given second. At that moment, my friend realised that the key to the terrace was at the front desk and she suggested that we wait on the stairs while she goes all the way down to collect it AND climb up again. Dude... dunno how she managed! One climb up was enough for me.

As she unlocked the door and we walked out on the terrace, I realised why she wanted us to see this view so dearly. I am new to Mumbai but I know for sure that I shall not see such a view in another part of the city. On one side was the Vihar Lake and on the other side was Powai lake. The mini-"Austria" skyline could be seen at a distant. The green-cover was amazing and there were bright flowers on some of the trees. I had forgotten that it's spring-time! The soothing breeze, the 360-degree view of Mumbai... it was simply beautiful... a snapshot for the soul (and some for my camera!). I'm glad she brought us here.The seven-story-palpitating-climb was worth it.

Afterwards, we walked through the campus and visited her room. The NiTIE campus is sprawling, the hostel rooms are small. (Why are all hostel rooms so purposefully depressing?) Anyway, since my friend is like a book-wala-soulmate of mine, she gave me a few books on loan and we said our good-byes.

Well... that was a well-spent Sunday two Sundays ago... hopefully I shall come back to enjoy the view once again. Thank you guys for the lovely Sunday!

until whenever! Ta-da!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Café Cherapunjee

It was our first trip after marriage. “Trip”, not honeymoon. We are not much of the mooning type. We are “more-the-merrier” type. So, two days after our marriage, we along with four of Neel’s friends booked an Innova and headed to Meghalaya.

The destination? Café Cherapunjee.

It so happens that one of the partners comprising the new management of this place happens to be Neel’s pal from his St. Anthony’s days. When he first started managing the place, he invited Neel to visit the place and so we headed there for the weekend.

Our first impression of this place was – “WOW! Are we in India?!”

Rightly called 'Scotland of the East'

Rolling landscapes, a semi-circle of pine trees surrounding a heritage bungalow, smoke rising from the chimneys… this place looked straight out of a calendar. 

Raja, the friend who partly manages this place, met us and guided us through the rooms in the bungalow. The bungalow was an old British Post Office, restored as a resort now. They have a restaurant with a fireplace as well as a lounge room. The décor was warm and woody, made all the more beautiful by the Christmas decorations that adored the place.

A Christmas tree here, bells there, woolen socks hung at the mantle and mistletoe hung at the front door. Old movie posters hung on the walls; I specially liked the “Singing in the Rain” poster (also, there’s Audrey Hepburn looking fabulous in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the ladies room!). An old gramophone was set against one wall, a statue of the famous Old Monk was against another wall. There was also a small vintage-looking telescope propped above the fireplace mantel. In other words, fabulous old-world charm.

After a quick tour of the bungalow, we were led to our cottage. It was a tented structure, propped on wood stumps. Outside the wind blew cold, but once inside the tent, it was relatively warm. The cane lanterns gave off a warm glow and the décor of the room looked very inviting. White bedsheets, soft blankets, pillows and cushions, a rug on the floor, wooden floor, western toilet with all amenities… who thought a tent could be this luxurious! 

Wise, Old Monk

Outside the tent, the afternoon light was getting dim and the boys quickly settled on the verandah for their first drink. Old Monk, no less!

Smoked and delicious
Raja got the bonfire ready and we all settled around it. Dishes of finger-licking food appeared magically and we devoured them all! As the evening progressed, the wind blew bitter and we got merrier. After some time, we dragged ourselves away from the bon fire and settled besides the fireplace in the lounge room. 

The fun continued. It continued long after I crawled into bed in exhaustion. It was -2 degrees outside and a hot water-bag was sent to my room. With three layers of clothes, a heater and my feet placed on the hot-water bag, I slept like a log till 8am next morning.

Next morning, Neel and I had cups of steaming Assam tea on the verandah of our tent with the sun warming us. The others woke up one by one, groggy but up for some more fun. We had breakfast on the lawns, pasta and parathas with more tea; then we headed to the Sohra view point which is just a kilometer from the resort. 

After Sohra, we went towards Shillong Peak. Since Shillong Peak has become way too commercialized, Neel suggested that we go to the half-peak. It was a place Neel frequented during his college days. It’s basically a meadow overlooking the city. We rolled around the grass for a while, talked, some of them started drinking early and soaked in the mid-morning sun. 

After some time, we headed to Shillong. It was shopping time! In record time, I bought my annual supply of bags and shoes while the others sat at Cloud 9.

It was around 7PM by the time we reached the resort. That night, Raja’s wife, Raisa arrived with their little angel, Saira. We all entertained the baby doll who was having fun throwing the Christmas decorations around!

While the others enjoyed, I curled up in a cane sofa and tried to sleep by the fireplace before Neel pitied me and escorted me to my tent at midnight. There, in seconds, I fell asleep. The others partied till 2AM.
After two nights at Café Cherapunjee, we said goodbye to Cherapunjee early the next morning, reaching Guwahati by lunch time. The boys kept on wishing that there were surveillance cameras in the resort so as to capture their antics of the previous nights; they swore the material could be used for the script of the next Hangover sequel! In short, the first trip after marriage was a grand success!

And Raja and Alan, you guys are doing a tremendous job! Thanks for inviting us to Café Cherapunjee… We shall return soon!

I don't think they have a website up yet, but you can check this place at their fb page: https://www.facebook.com/CafeCherrapunjee

So long!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How to have fun at your own wedding!

Relatives, friends, family, neighbours, the entire world is here to see you. You: the center of attraction.
You need to be calm, look pretty, make acceptable, social conversations in shudh Assamese without uttering any cuss-words (blimey, it is difficult!), be graceful while in your head, you’ll be making calculations of how many relatives have gone to the beautician (billed on your name), is anyone feeling left-out, change the bloody CD playing Honey Singh tracks and if that photographer asks to pose again, you shall shove his equipment up his rear!

A lot of things can go haywire and nervous breakdown is quite a possibility. But unlike all the horrid bridal experiences that I had heard before my wedding (I was seeking advice), none of them happened. Well, not much…

To be honest, there was this one time when I had an allergy breakout the day before mehendi… To think that I NEVER had a pimple or skin problem all my life, including teenage-dirtbag years, and to be covered with rashes the day before my mehendi! Argh! So, allergy tablets! Most essential thing in your beauty kit! That was my only freaky-panicky moment.

By the way, if you think you’d be pampered and looked after, you are wrong! Atleast I weren’t! So, don’t crib if you are not treated like a princess on D-Day. I ironed all my bridal clothes, ironed my mom’s clothes, made different sets of clothing along with the required accessories, for the many different functions, packed my bridal trousseau. On my mehendi day, I wore a nightie and worked around the house, negotiated the seating arrangements with the tent decorator, and made lunch for everyone, including the cameraman who had arrived early.

Social Glue in a cup
For make-up and hair, I chose a beautician who had worked on my friend during her wedding. I liked that she didn’t come all decked up like ‘look! ALL my make-up skills are on my face’. She was simple and comfortable to work with. If I didn’t like anything or I wanted something a certain way, I spilled it out. It’s your wedding, dammit; most proby, you shall never get another chance at being a bride, so if you think the eye-liner is too thick, say so! Please get a make-up and hair artist who understands what you want.

Keep the alcoholic juices flowing.  If you don’t drink or not from a family who does, just find another social glue that works as much. For us, it was home-made brew that worked. All days of the wedding, there was a subtle supply (like under-the-table network) of the brew passing hands. People were happy high, dancing and being non-sensical which is so much better than religious/political/financial discussions amongst grown-ups during weddings.

In-between tip: To make them stop playing Honey Singh’s tracks, have your favourite mix ready and ask your mix to be played. I had my back-up.

When the photographers are around, try to comply, but when they try to make you pose like a shy bride or ask for Bollywood-poster-inspired poses, give them the snap and place a mental note that the next time they ask, you shall shove their equipments up their butt! Instead, ask your friends to bring their DSLRs. Our candid photographers candidly couldn’t come, so we did our best booking an alternate photographer in the last few days; however, the best decision was to ask Sanjana and Raj to carry their cameras. Friends capture you as who you are, not like some Madhuri Dixit poser. I liked their photos soooo much better than the so called "professionals"!

Raj with his captures!

One girl, many helping hands
Have friends around. Lastly, but most importantly, have your friends around. I thank my stars for giving me such an awesome bunch! There was Ruchika who did all possible things from providing me Red Bulls, extra pair of chappals in my micro-size, special saunf, the mehendi artist, to Moitreyee who provided me with her beautician and helped me at the umpteenth hour to dress up as a bride when no one knew how to wear the three-piece bridal get-up! Then, there was Girbani, my koina-dhora or M-O-H in the western sense, who talked sense in my head when required and utilized herself by being my pillow (physically, not literally!) so I could lean on her and straighten my back whenever I felt too tired to sit straight during the ceremony! Then, there were the others who joked and fooled around and made you realize that you are still the crazy person albeit the fancy clothes!
Oh, also, a last tip: Choose a husband who is as nonsensical as you are! There were a lot of cute gestures and stupid one-liners passed between us during the wedding ceremony that made the ceremony more endurable; but let’s keep that for sweet memory.

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