Thursday, December 18, 2008


You know that annoying feeling you get when you can’t string together your words into a sentence that makes sense? I've been feeling a lot of that lately. The inability to communicate. The inability to write. The inability to make coherent sense. And it is frustrating. I sit here in absolute silence, my cursor on the blank white screen blinking at me and I blinking back at it. We have nothing to say to each other, and it is beyond annoying. For as long as I can remember, I have relied on writing to let loose the endless stream of thoughts, feelings and emotions that remain buried within me and with this dry spell I am going through right now, I feel...what's the word...trapped.

Just then I hear a loud moan escape from the floor beneath me. It sounds deep and rumbling, almost like a grown man trying to stifle a scream. The first time I heard it, I almost jumped out of my skin. I then proceeded to arm myself with the heaviest Bible I could lay my hands on just in case I needed to shove it into the face of the ghost who liked to moan. After walking all around the apartment armed with an assortment of religious paraphernalia, both a cross and an om pendant swinging on the necklace around my neck, looking like the high priestess of some ancient religious ceremony, I finally established that the moans were actually coming from the apartment beneath mine. I let out a big sigh, relieved I didn’t have to share living quarters with a ghost, and concluded that my new neighbors were in fact weirdoes.

Over the next few weeks, the moaning got much more intense and a lot louder. I even heard doors slamming and loud banging on the walls. I woke up one morning to the sound of a piano being pounded upon. Noisy keys irately played, without a tune. As the encore presentation with the grand finale of shouts and bangs came to an end, I stormed out of bed. Enough was enough. I decided I had heard enough of my noisy neighbors and picked up the phone and dialed the apartment manager to let loose a barrage of complaints against my neighbors. “We’ll see what we can do,” she reassured me. Days turned to weeks and nothing ever happened. The banging and the shouting and the pounding and the slamming continued as it always had, and instead I purchased a barricade of pillows to bury my head under to drown out the sounds at night.

Then one day the unexpected happened. As I stood at the door to my apartment, fiddling around in my purse for my keys, I heard the door slam beneath me, and then footsteps. My neighbors were on their way out while I was on my way in. This was my opportunity! I could finally see them face to face and tell them what an awful nuisance they were being. With a long speech prepared in my head, I rushed down the stairway just in time to see a short, fat, bald man waddle out of the apartment downstairs. He was even shorter than I was and with small arms and small legs, his odd shaped head looked almost too big for the rest of his short stature. He rushed up to me in his awkward penguin walk and stopped abruptly right in front of me, peering at me from beneath his small slanting eyes. “Who are you?” he finally snapped at me.

“I…I…I live in the apartment above” I mumbled, caught a little off guard by his demeanor. “How old are you?!” he continued the interrogation in the same rushed breath.“Huh?...Um...29” I replied. “What’s your name?” he rushed on without pausing for me to reply. “You have two dogs”. A statement more than a question, lifting up two stubby fingers on his small hand. “TWENTY NINE. TWENTY nine. Twenty nine.” he repeated to himself and wagged his head and hypnotically pondered over the numbers. I stared at him not knowing what to say.

“Bobby!! Bobby! Come back here!” all of a sudden I heard a woman say. A woman in her fifties with graying hair and a gentle, kind face rushed up to us. She looked at me apologetically, trying to gauge the situation, ready to explain or apologize, whichever was in order. “It’s okay” I said. I smiled at her and walked back up the stairs to my apartment as she grabbed him by the arm and led him back to his apartment. I now knew. I finally understood. And subsequent conversations with his caretaker by the stairway confirmed what I already knew. My new neighbor had Down’s syndrome.

Down’s syndrome is a genetic disorder, a chromosomal defect that results in varying degrees of physical and mental abnormalities. My neighbor, a grown man of 35 years suffered some mental retardation as a result of the disorder. While he was perfectly capable of walking, talking, feeding and dressing himself, he needed constant supervision in order for the state to allow him to live in an apartment of his own. The kind old lady in the stairway and a few other caretakers rotated on a schedule to take care of him. Bobby, I have learnt, loves walks by the river, obsessing over numbers, finding out people’s birthdates, and playing on the piano. He is absolutely terrified of dogs and no amount of reassurances from any of the caretakers will convince him otherwise. He loves to sing in the shower and I often hear him shouting loudly, out of tune in the bathroom. And on days when he is frustrated and unable to communicate, he moans and shouts and bangs on walls and slams doors.

Sitting by my laptop, unable to string a sentence together, I hear the familiar moans from the apartment beneath me, and I feel sorry for Bobby. In my trivial frustration over being unable to compose a sentence, I realize his much deeper agony over the inability to communicate. Hidden amidst every moan and every shout I hear a painful plea, a desperate need to be understood. He bangs and pounds against the walls, he slams doors, setting loose the emotions trapped within him, the only way he knows how. And even on a day when I can’t seem to find the right words to express my thoughts, Bobby shows me that I’m grateful to be able to write them down at all.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

My life through my lens

A couple of months ago, I started out on a particularly depressive phase of my life, marked with enough instability and uncertainty to drive anyone crazy. It is inconsequential what happened to me or why, because ultimately it’s always something or the other in everyone’s life. Life has a certain overbearing way of introducing big ripples into the most tranquil of lives. It doesn’t matter what the causes of your own personal woes may be, but there is always that one moment in everyone’s lifetime when life just seems unbearable suffocating. And I had arrived at mine.

It was somewhere in the midst of all that chaos that I got interested in photography. In the past, I had always tagged a camera along with me when I traveled but now, in the midst of the turmoil I was going through, I turned to photography as a daily distraction. I needed something to take my mind off what was going on within me, and I took up photography as a hobby. I started tinkering around more with my camera, taking it with me everywhere I went, carrying it with me every day, and capturing the most mundane things on its lens. One day, as I walked my dogs in the evening, I captured a family of ducks that had waddled along our way. Another day, driving along my way, I stumbled upon an interesting looking church I had never noticed before and photographed that. A bright red maple leaf here, a stark white birch tree there. Fall leaves on the withered summer grass, winter snow on the drenched fall leaves. I photographed it all.

And slowly, almost unnoticeably a transformation started to take place. It is difficult to hate life in the same breath in which you remark at its beauty. The more I searched my world for the perfect shot of the day, the more beautiful the world around me became. In my quest for the best photo, I started noticing little things I hadn’t noticed before – how the fuzzy blossom of the dandelion has the tiniest little hair, how a duck’s tail has just the perfect curl, how bright red winter berries can brighten up the gloomiest of days. The mundane, ordinary things around me that I’d taken for granted suddenly radiated with a hidden beauty. And I slowed down. I paused to finally admire life.

Photography to me is almost meditative. In that one instance in which you shut off the rest of the world to capture the one image on your viewfinder, you catch a vision of life at its finest. In that one moment in which I zoom out the world and focus in on the delicate cap of snow sitting on a wildflower’s head, everything else about life seems trivial and inconsequential, and all the beauty of the world seems contained within that one glimpse of life that I peer at through my lens. Life in that moment is beautiful, no matter what else. After months of passing life by, I finally started to pay attention. And instead of agonizing over a future out of my hands, I started to live life in the now. Somewhere in the turmoil of my heart, photography brought me the calm peace that follows a good cry.

As I flip through the pages of the photo album of my life over the past few months, I don’t see pages filled with the fears, anxieties and insecurities that comprised my days. Instead, I see the fun filled moments that made me laugh on an otherwise gloomy day. Or how tranquil the day was when my heart was aching. Or how much there was to be thankful for even when I felt utterly ungrateful. They capture just how beautiful life was even on the days when I thought my life was an abysmal mess. And they fill me with hope. They heal my broken heart.

Of all the life lessons that photography has taught me, perhaps the most important is this – no matter how ugly and gray life may seem on the gloomiest of days, when you crop out its ugliness, zoom in and capture it in just the right frame, life is always beautiful. No matter what else.

~vagabond~ © 2008.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pay it forward…the butterfly award

Years ago, I watched this beautiful movie Pay it Forward that inspired me endlessly as I am sure it inspired everyone else who has ever watched it. It’s the kind of movie that makes you want to go out and change the world. Can one good deed change the world? Yes, it can…if you pay the deed forward. The movie revolves around the obligation to pay the world back with three good deeds when you receive the favor of one good deed. Give back to the world three times the goodness that you receive from it. When someone does something nice for you, don’t just pay the person back for their good deed, find three other people out there in the world that need you and pass the good deed forward.

I was reading through the comments on one of my blogs yesterday when I noticed a really nice thing that someone had done for me. Thank you, Alok for giving your butterfly award to my Lens of a vagabond blog. It totally made my day. And while I know the below don’t really need me to brighten up their day, I think they truly deserve the niceness of the award and I’m simply paying it forward:

1. Prashant Bhardwaj (Om):
He is an extremely talented photographer. If you’re ever looking for photos to tug at your heart, check out his blog. I find the photos on his blog extremely inspiring and truly enjoy looking at the unique perspective of the world through his view finder.

2. Alok (Hello World):
Yes. Yes. I know he already got awarded. But since I’m picking blogs I truly enjoy looking at, I’ll be honest and pick this one again anyway. I like how his blog always has variety. No new post is like the one before. Journeys taken, conversations had, photos clicked, movies watched, all are fair game on this blog.

3. Diana (Expressions of Life):
She has such an interesting and unique way of writing. She could be talking about the most mundane, every day event of our lives, but her unique perspective, her different way of looking at the event makes the post so very interesting to read.

4. Cuckoo (Cuckoo’s Cosmos):
She doesn’t just own a blog, she owns an entire universe of blogs. Want a hub of activity? Go over to Cuckoo’s Cosmos. It’s always bustling with people, both new and old, with opinions on everything and anything. With three separate blogs on musings, travel and photography, you wont run out of things to read and ogle over.

5. Dust Unsettled:
When I first started my blogs and thought I was simply talking to myself, the first ever comment on my blogs came from him. Look at the first comment on my first post on Lens of a vagabond and you’ll notice it’s from him. He was always so encouraging. It saddens me to see that he may perhaps have left the blog world entirely, and it’s a pity because he is an amazingly good writer. Some of the best posts I have ever read came from his blog. I hope someday he returns to writing again because he does it really well.

I was asked to pick five people to pass the award to. If I could pick more, I'd have picked every single last one of the blogs on my blog roll. They're all very interesting in their own unique way. I wouldn't have you on my list otherwise now would I?

~vagabond~ © 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wishing and hoping

Have you ever desperately pleaded with life to make things go your way? You begged, bargained and pleaded that things would turn out the way you wanted them to. Wished and hoped. And then one day, boom! suddenly all that you’ve been asking for gets granted. Exactly how you asked for it. Except that now you realize that you just don’t want it anymore and that life was perfect just as things were before.

I guess I just don’t know what to wish for right now.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Chaos of Life

Do things happen for a reason or are they just random occurences strung out of sequence on the string of life? Does life just happen to us or do we actively choose the circumstances we land ourselves in? Am I just a natural born klutz at walking right into disaster or has disaster been stalking me all along?

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about life and the series of events that have landed me to where I am right now (in an uncomfortable tight spot) and wondering how I got there in the first place and if I could have avoided these circumstances in any way. And the answer is both yes and no. (Erm. Blame it on the dual Gemini tendencies in me. One twin says yes. And the other then has to step in and say no.)

Yes, I could have made different decisions at different stages of my life. Gone a different direction. Followed a different path. But I wonder if in some parallel universe, I would have still landed up here right in the same spot, regardless of which direction I wandered. Because all those different decisions, all those different actions would still have been guided by the same spirit of who I am deep down inside.

A while back I read a book on Chaos theory and I learnt of the butterfly effect. The butterfly effect refers to the idea that the smallest change in one corner of the world, such as the flapping of a butterfly's wings can lead to the most profound changes in another corner of the world. The notion that if we were to go back in time and change the smallest bit of anything, things just wouldnt be the same anymore. The one small change would escalate into a series of larger changes of much bigger impact and before we know it, life would move along in an entirely different trajectory, and we'd find ourselves at an entirely different end point.

And I think about it and wonder if that's truly how my life operates. Would things really be any different for me right now had I made different decisions, walked alternative paths? In as much as I'd like to believe otherwise, somehow I dont think circumstances would change a whole lot. Because all those different decisions would still have been made by the same soul. A different situation, a different scenario and I'd have still wanted what I want out of life. Perhaps I'd end up making a whole series of different decisions that would lead me inadverently along a path that is just parallel to the one I am on today. And despite walking a parallel path in some parallel world, somehow I believe that the spirit of who I am would have called upon me to still be present under different circumstances at the same junction in life. Perhaps this particular situation, this tight uncomfortable spot that I am in right now wouldnt have been a part of my life, but then there would be other situations just like this one, and somehow despite meandering along a different path, I'd someday still find myself back at the same end point.

Perhaps I just want to believe that I can change the course of my life, and perhaps to a smaller extent I really can. But truth is that even if I had the capacity to make that choice, to delete some events and edit others, the true calling of my soul would still find a way to lead me back where I'm supposed to despite a different trajectory.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Dear Nagging thoughts in my head, Silly irrationalities, Anxieties over what-will-be, and all other assortment of bullying thoughts,

Despite the enormous amount of space you occupy in my head, you are a tiny speck in the context of my universe. And while it has been cozy obsessing over you, I simply cannot allow you to ruin my life anymore. So I'm looking you in the eye and asking you to leave.

Goodbye. And goodriddance.

Yours truly,

PS. I know you'll try to stay in touch, but really, you dont have to.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eye to eye

You dwell in the past.
I live in the present.
The past you talk about is irrelevant to me.
This present I live in means nothing to you.
You expect me to go back in time and undo things already done.
I expect you to move forward and accept them as they are right now.
And unless time collides,
we'll just never see eye to eye.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

My happy place

I want to move to New Mexico. Well, actually I'd like to move to Mexico. But since that isnt even a realistic option right now, for now New Mexico will do. Ever since I visited it a year ago, and then again this year, the place keeps calling me back. It's this strong urge to want to live there, this strong feeling of belonging, almost as if "that desire originated in the soul of the universe". You'd have to have read the Alchemist to get that last part (if you havent read this book, forget this blog, rush over to the nearest bookstore right now and start reading it NOW! I am not exaggerating when I say your life will never be the same again).

You know how when things get really, really stressful, your mind takes off and finds comfort in its happy place? Well, my happy place is the memory of this one morning in New Mexico last year when we were driving through the Jemez Mountains - just Joe and I. We had spent the night camping literally in the middle of thick forest because we got lost. We had tried to take a short cut through the mountains and lost the road we were supposed to be on. Sounds a little filmy, doesnt it? But no, there was no dancing around the trees bursting into a Bollywood song. And it really did happen that way. And it was getting dark and if you've ever driven through the Jemez Mountains, you'll know that the smart thing to do is just stop, sleep and wait for the morning to see your way. Because the narrow road winds up and down around the mountain and it's easy to drive off the cliff in the dark. So we camped in the middle of a ponderosa pine forest and waited for morning.

My memory is of that early hour of the morning when we had set off again to drive. After talking to some construction workers we encountered along the way, we realized that the road we were meant to take was under construction and we would have to make do with a dirt road that led out of the mountains. And so there we were, driving through the heart of the mountain, on a bumpy dirt road, building up a dust storm behind us as we drove on. The only car along the road for miles on. Literally in the middle of nowhere. The sun's rays filtering in through the thick canopy, lighting up the path ahead of us. And it was driving along that forgotten dirt road to nowhere, that for the first time in months, I felt unburdened and carefree. The stress of all I had gone through in the past months seemed trivial, and nothing in the universe felt as important as being there, right there in that moment, savoring what life had brought along my way. What lay ahead of me was not important, and what I had been through was temporarily forgotten. I was content with the tranquility of that moment in itself, just simply driving along that endless road, warming up under the early morning sun rays, looking out of the window. Life was simple, right then.

The trees soon cleared up and we got a glimpse of the luscious green valley, dotted occasionally with small spanish style houses or pueblos as they are called, that are the trademark of New Mexico. Clay red houses with little bancos built into them. Hand painted tiles sometimes plastered into the walls. Bright red chile ristras dangling from the roof. A horse or two grazing free in the backyard of the valley.

It was at that moment that my soul decided this is where I belonged. I had found my spirituality. It wasn't buried in some church or temple. It was right here, in this little corner of the world where I felt happiest and lightest at heart.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Coach bags, Manolo Blahnik shoes and New York City

Warning: A large portion of this post is going to be mindless rambling, but I need to vent and I rarely need an audience for that. And if you love Coach bags, or Manolo Blahnik shoes or New York City, and you're still reading this, my apologies.

Recently I had the misfortune of encountering a relative I simply just dont like. We're as different as chalk and cheese, me and her. The trouble is, while I make my dislike for her obvious and she knows it and the whole world knows it, she insists on playing mind games instead. Pretending we get along. Pretending we're similar after all. To her own convenience. Even though we're not. Not in the slightest bit. Dont you hate it when people do that? Pretend to be diplomatic and polite and hypocritically, sugary sweet when all you want from them is to be real? The only good that comes out of this extremely disastrous relationship is the fact that she makes me appreciate my own life a little more every time I encounter hers. I know, I know, I sound a little bitchy but she does have that effect on me.

So in a sickeningly saccharine display of her fake affections toward me, Ms. Snobby-two-shoes gifted me a sickeningly pink 'Coach' bag. For anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past decade, a 'Coach' bag, right along with Manolo Blahnik shoes, represents the epitome of having made it to Carrie Bradshaw status in Sex and the City. Think snotty looking purses and shoes that cost hundreds of dollars. And she is a Carrie Bradshaw of sorts. Because the concept of success in her head is analogous to how many Coach bags you own, and whether the clothes in your wardrobe are true designer wear, and whether or not you live in New York City, the mecca of all Carrie Bradshaw wanna-bes.

I dont own a Coach bag. I dont care for designer clothes. And I dont want to live in New York City. Mighty unsuccessful, huh? And I'm okay with it.

Because what I do want is a life full of experiences. In the end, stuff is just stuff. It sits in your wardrobe, you staring at it, it staring back at you. And while it tries really hard to dress you and give you an image, in the end it doesnt have any say in who you are. But the experiences you live, those are what truly define you. I want to live my life to the fullest. Travel new places. Experience new experiences. Be enveloped in new cultures. Have no regrets over what I didn't get to do. And when I'm 90, I know I will remember the day I went white water rafting down the Colorado River or went camel riding in the Rajasthan. What I will not remember is the hideous color of the Coach bag I owned in 2008.

PS. Any bets on how long it will take before I sell the Coach bag on ebay?

PSS. I do not hate New York City. I do want to see New York City, but only for its architectural beauty, its cultural diversity. Not for a shopping extravaganza. And not to live in it.

Friday, September 12, 2008


There's a simple solution to my complex problems. Just let go.

For a while now, I've been dissecting my misfortunes, placing them under a microscope and picking at them with dissecting needles, teasing them apart, trying to figure out where I went wrong, what I did wrong, how I could possibly have avoided the situation I am in, and on and on. No I'm not a masochist. But my analytical little head needs a reason. The fact that shit happens is just not a good enough answer for it. The voices in my head demand to know why the shit happened in the first place. It's what years of being a scientist does to you.

So I tried assigning blame. Just so that I would have a reason. Just to make the voices in my head shut up. I blamed myself. I blamed people I love. I blamed random strangers that had nothing to do with my problems in the first place. I blamed God. And the universe in general for conspiring against me and making me so miserable. And the voices in my head finally shut up. Because I'd given them the good, solid, analytical reasons they needed. But I was still miserable and unhappy inside.

So I figured miserable and unhappy was the way things were meant to be. And I moped in it. I whined. I grumbled. And I blogged about it. And when things went from bad to worse, I allowed for them to be. Because that was how things were meant to be. I played the destiny card. Things were the way they were because that's how they were meant to be. Unhappy is how I was meant to be. I was going through a bad phase, I reasoned. And that gave me permission to be miserable, mopey and grumpy.

So mopey, grumpy and I went to the park with the dogs yesterday. And I was playing tug-on-a-rope with Charlie, my german shepherd, when the great big epiphany hit me. Okay, so bear with me here. I know it's not like I discovered a new law in physics, but still when it hit me, it seemed pretty huge. And for all you so-wise-and-philosophical ones, if you've known this all along, play along with me here, this is MY moment under the sun.

It suddenly struck me how this tug-on-a-rope game that I was playing with Charlie was so similar to what life and me had been playing all along. I pull in one direction, and life pulls harder in the opposite direction. I want it to go one way. It wants me to go completely in the opposite direction. We both hold our ground and pull the rope, struggling with all our might. In the end going nowhere. I get frustrated and angry and tug harder on the rope, and then suddenly it dawns on me. That all I have to do to make this sick, frustrating game end is to let go.

Perhaps the reason it took so long for this epiphany to dawn on me is the fact that I am such a control freak. Letting go simply wasnt an option I had considered. Because letting go meant letting someone else or something else take charge. And that scares the daylights out of me. I mean, I cant even trust someone else to drop the mail in the post office for me, because they wont do it right, and I'm talking letting go. This is huge.

But I'm finally ready to do it. I'm ready to stop being such a control freak and just let go and let things be the way they are. Sure, it'll drive me crazy when things dont go my way. But I'm not going to tug and pull and fret over them anymore. I'm going to go with the flow. And not struggle so much to make things go my way. Who knows, perhaps I'll even like the new direction that life pulls me in. And if I dont, it's not the end of the world. I'll just pick myself up and walk away. Life and I arent going to tug-on-a-rope anymore. Because I simply let go. And I'm ready to move on.

So here's to letting go. Letting go of situations I cant avoid, people I cant change, things that are clearly beyond my control. I refuse to let them bother me. And turns out, shit happens is now a good enough answer for me.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Lately I think I've lost the will to fight. Things just seem to be spinning out of control. Life is hellbent on proving to me just who's in charge. It shuts doors, I open windows. It shuts windows, I bang really hard on the walls and open up a hole. It seals up the hole and I'm just about ready blast the whole damn place up and for once make life happen on my terms. And yet, I cant remember the last time that that happened.

I am tired of struggling so hard. Of making big sacrifices to attain every small thing I want. Of paying big prices to earn small rewards. I am tired of constantly falling. And even more tired of picking myself up when I fall. I am tired of saying "it's going to be okay" or pretending it's going to get better, and giving myself false hope. I am tired of pretending to be okay when I call home. Of acting big, bad and brave. When all I really want to do is cry and sob. I'm not strong. And I'm not courageous. And I'm tired of fighting it all the time. I'm perfectly content to lose and let go.

I hate it when my sis calls and asks for advice. And I hate it worse when I have nothing but false hope to give back. I'm tired of being depended on. I am fed up of being looked up to. And I dont want anyone to count on me anymore. I'm not perfect. And I hate it when you all shower your high expectations on me. I'm tired of trying to make things happen. Of trying to change the way things are. Of trying to make miracles happen.

A huge part of me just doesnt care anymore. And yet, I care. Enough to feel embarassed that I feel this way. And I worry. And I wonder what you would say if you knew just how frustrated I feel...if you knew just how tired I really am.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The gypsy

A free spirited gypsy from a previous life lives on within me. Ever restless, she beckons me toward change. Fiercely rebellious, she craves freedom. The constraints of my caged life torment her. Rambling clouds, soaring eagles, unbridled horses, she shows me, all roam free. The shackles on my feet turn to glistening anklets as she dances through my life watching the red, blue, yellow caravans of life pass us by. Breathing in the now, living in this moment. The sunshine on her face, the breeze through her hair, all awaken her soul and light up her smile. She loves the open road with its endless possibilities. My life with its one destination scares her. I envy her careless freedom, her reckless spirit. If just for one lifetime, I long to be her.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Meeting

Would he still recognize me? Will he have changed? Would he be a different person now than he was before? The last time I had seen him I was an awkward teenager. A shy fourteen year old. And I was with my parents. That makes all the difference. Because back then, they did all the talking to him and I just filled in the gaps. Even so, he always knew how to bring me out of my shell. He has always been a vibrant man. Full of energy, the life of the party. When he was in a room, you heard his loud laughter before you even entered the room.

My mum has four brothers, I have four uncles, each with a personality completely different from the other. If you met them separately, you would never guess they are brothers. But for me, my Dineshmama was always the one who knew me best.

Riding along in the car, waiting for the moment of reunion after fifteen years, all sorts of memories swarmed through my head. It's funny how the most inane memories that lay buried and forgotten over the years suddenly resurface when a familiar name comes to mind. I try to tell people about him and the first image that comes to my mind is of him holding a rat by its tail chasing my cousin brother and I around the house with a mischevious glint in his eyes while we kids shrieked loudly, running around the house. I had come across the rat quite by surprise, fumbling around for my slippers under the stairwell in my grandma's house and shouted loudly for mama to come get rid of it. And then there's the day he saw us feeding a goat with vegetable peelings, and dared us to go pull on its tail. Yup. Only my Dineshmama would come up with silly pranks like that. And yet, he was gentle and kind too. Like the day I got scolded by mum and he saw me crying and took me out for a motorbike ride and some icecream. Or the day he sneaked in a stray puppy into the house just because us kids wanted him to. My grandma would be horrified if she knew.

Over the years, we grew distant. My trips to India became fewer and far in between. Other things in my life took precedence. Studies. Career. Friends. Other relationships. In a quiet unassuming way, our worlds grew apart. The relationship that could have been grew silent. Until yesterday. When I got the phone call to come see him in Chicago.

The bizarreness of it all wouldnt leave me. It felt strange and awkward to be meeting the ghost of a man that I remembered only through memories. And here in America of all places, when all I had known of him was in India. It felt disorienting and bizarre. And yet, I was excited to see him after all these years. And nervous.

What would I say to him? What would we talk about? I havent seen him in years. I have nothing to say to him. Ofcourse, we'd talk about my aunt and my cousins. He would ask about my parents and I would ask about my grandma. But what else was there to say? He doesnt know anything about my life here. And I know even less about his. He doesnt know me. And I dont know him.

I saw him before he saw me. Time always stands still in our memories. We expect the people in our memories to stay the same, to dress as they did before, to look as they did years ago. When I saw him look so old and tired and frail, I couldnt believe it was him. The years have been harsh to him. His health hasnt been keeping up well, so I've heard. I wondered if I should even have come. Time changes people. Or rather people change over time. Would he be cold and formal? Would this be awkward? I shouldnt even have come.

He rushed over toward me when he saw me. His eyes welled up with tears as he embraced me. "You look just like your mother", he said. He placed a paternal hand over my head and asked me softly, "Everything okay, beta?". And in that one gentle moment of care and concern, I knew it was going to be okay. I was glad I had come to see him. I knew it wasnt going to be cold and formal. I knew it wouldnt be awkward. Because two alienated strangers had once again become family.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I did it!

I've wanted to do it for a while...and now I've finally gone ahead and done it.
Check it out!

Are you still here?

What part of Check it out! did you not get?

Why are you still here reading this?

Aren't you the least bit curious about what lies there?

Just go ahead, do it.

Click on the link.

Do it now. Geeeez.

Just, DO IT.

Phaah! Fine. Have it your way, then. DONT do it. But then you'll never know what it's all about.

Ok, it was a cheesy, lame attempt to make you go from here to there.

But admit it, I made you look, didnt I? :P

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Bucket List

I watched the movie 'The Bucket List' last night and loved it! The movie voiced out what I've always said to myself...that I do not want to wait till I'm old and gray and dying to start doing all the things that I've always wanted to do before I "kick the bucket".

About a year ago, on my birthday I was roaming around a bookstore looking for a good book to buy (my favorite way to spend birthday cash) when I came across a book titled "100 things to do before you die". I fell in love with the concept of the book but ended up not buying it. Not because I didnt think the ideas in the book weren't great things to do, but because I wanted to compile my own list of things that I want to do before I die...unbiased and unprejudiced by the ideas in the book. Maybe it was the book, maybe it was the fact that I was turning a year older, maybe the fact that life just felt like a blur, or maybe just all the coffee gushing through my veins...but I sat down in the bookstore last year on my birthday and compiled an earnest list of all the things I want to do before I die.

Is it a coincidence then that I watched this movie that revolves around the same concept last night, two days before my birthday? Maybe the universe is trying to remind me of my own bucket list...and maybe it's time to bring out the list, scratch off some of what's been done and add some of what needs to be done.

My Bucket List:
(yes, yes, I do realize a lot of it revolves around travelling...but then again, that really IS pretty much all I want to do before I die)

1. Climb a pyramid in Egypt.
2. Drive a dune buggy full speed up and down a sand dune.
3. Eat an authentic plate of tahjin in Morocco.
4. Take a photo in front of the Taj Mahal.
5. Go white water rafting on the Colorado River.
6. Do a road trip through the American Southwest.
7. Take my parents and sister on an all paid for surprise trip to a place they have never been to.
8. Sponsor a child's education all the way from elementary school into college.
9. Adopt a dog from an animal shelter.
10. Learn to drive a stick shift jeep.
11. Ride a motorbike through the Kyber Pass-Ladakh.
12. See a volcano up close.
13. Learn to canoe.
14. Hike down the Grand Canyon.
15. Visit an archaeological dig.
16. Take a photography class.
17. Eat cajun food in the french quarter of New Orleans.
18. Go scuba diving.
19. Eat a cuban sandwich in Miami.
20. Visit Chinatown in NYC.
21. Trace down my genealogy.
22. Visit a monastery in Tibet.
23. Explore the Sof Omar caves in Ethiopia.
24. Ride on a camel (okay, okay so I already did this one but I was only five years old and cant remember what it felt like).
25. Go backpacking around South America.
26. Roam around the Mayan ruins.
...and the list will go on every year as I age, with new items added on, and some items cancelled off.

Note to self whenever you come back here to read this:
Too much of our life is wasted in waiting for the right moment and right opportunity to start doing the things you love to do. But the truth is there is no right moment to do all those things other than right now. True, some of the things on this list will take years before they get cancelled off. True, there will be compromises, sacrifices, detours involved in the living of life. But with every compromise, sacrifice and detour, remind yourself of where it is that you really are headed and what really is important in life. Try not to get absorbed in the little things that take you off the road. And above all, when the opportunity presents itself to you in your now, dont wait for a better tomorrow to live that moment...grab it with both hands, and live it in your now.

Note to all those lurking about here reading this:
Got a bucket list of your own? Do share. ;)

© ~vagabond~ 2008

Sunday, June 8, 2008


It was a quiet hike in the early hours of the morning. Not a soul around in sight. Just me, and the quiet trickle of the cold water sloshing around my feet. Every breath I took, every pebble I upturned, every sound I made, echoed and reverberated off the tall, grand canyon walls. I stood lost in the winding tunnels carved by time. Occasional sunshine filtering in. Silence pierced by the squawk of an eagle cruising the winds way up high. It could have been a cold, lonely walk, but we had each loneliness and I.

© ~vagabond~ 2008


PS. This is my contribution to Cuckoo's photoblog topic of the month.

Photo: Personal collection, taken on a hike down the Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah.

This image may not be reproduced without permission from the owner of this blog...and if you ask nicely, I may just say yes.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

In life, go right, then go left, then right some more.

Why can't we just spend an eternity living life exactly as we want to, doing just what we want?

Shouldnt life really be about truely living and not just surviving? When did it all become about making ends meet and doing what was expected of me? Whatever happened to purposeful living and not being stuck in a rut? When did I lose my idealism and settle down instead for a dose of reality? Whatever happened to waking up with a zest for life and making dreams happen?

I want to.
I ought to.
I should.
I could.
And yet, I cant.

Sometimes no matter how much you want to live life on your own terms, life reels you into a complicated maze that you just cant find your way out of. And the saddest part is the longer you keep wandering through the maze, trying to find your way out, the more life passes you by. Perhaps, I should just stop spending the rest of my life searching for a way out, and instead accept the constraints of the maze I am in, and just start living life now. In my today. Even if it is within the boundaries of this maze.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Spring cleaning

Ever have one of those moments when life sucks so much, and everything stinks so bad that you just want to clean up the world and make it a better place to live in? You just want to wake up to a beautiful day, be a much more sunshiney person than you have been in weeks, and go out, reach out and touch someone's soul. You want to do something genuine and real and nice, simply because it makes someone else feel warm and loved and fuzzy inside, and you feel nice because you just made someone's day. It's a nice feeling to know that you in your own little way made a tiny bit of a difference to the world, that you brought a small bit of warmth to an otherwise cold, cold world.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

weather forecast

Monday: Dark and depressing.
Tuesday: Cloudy and gloomy.
Wednesday: Strong gusts of wind. Tornado watch in effect.
Thursday: Possibility of rain mixed with hell...erm...hail.
Friday: More dark and depressing.
Saturday: No real need to crawl out of bed.
Sunday: Occasional sunshine. Sun will peek out of the clouds today.

Not summer yet. But spring is here. And if it wasnt for the endless winter, I'd never even feel the warmth.

Sometimes, it has to get really bad before it can get really good. The rain will stop. The clouds will separate. Sunshine will fill my heart again. And if it doesnt, I'm packing my bags and moving some place tropical.

© ~vagabond~2008

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I miss...

I miss when things were simpler, when life wasnt quite so complicated, when my heart wasn't quite so bruised up, when unquestionable faith was just enough, when I believed I could conquer the world, when just my belief alone was enough, when skepticism was just a random word in the dictionary, when optimism defined me, when I believed in "this too will pass", when hard work merited a reward, when the world was all fair and square.

I long for casual days of innocent naivity, to regain my trust in a fair and just universe, to trust that things will be okay, to be content in my now, to have implicit faith, to not worry about what lies up ahead, to bandage up my broken heart and let it believe in the goodness of the world again, to regain the courage to dream again, to believe that dreams do come true, and that "this too will pass"...

...I really do want to believe...

© ~vagabond~2008

Monday, March 10, 2008

Crappy, crappy day

I feel absolutely miserable. :( I want to crawl into my bed, curl up in fetal position and have a good cry.

It was my first day of my clinical rotations today, and talk about everything that could go wrong going wrong. I showed up LATE for my clinicals on the FIRST day. Who does that?! I swore I would never be THAT person. I woke up this morning to a gigantic headache (I think I'm down with a bug and there couldnt be more wrong timing for this), it snowed enough to build a snowman on my car the night before, the roads were icy, I parked in the wrong parking lot, almost had my car towed before I was able to get it to the right parking lot, had a photo ID taken where I look racoon eyed and horrible, and spend my day having an awful case of nervous jitterbugs on my first day to work. And I actually want these guys to hire me after I'm done with the rotations?! I wouldnt hire me right now! I really need a job after this to start paying my student loans and I'm supposed to be doing an outstanding job so that they'll want to hire me or they'll give me these really nice recommendations that can get me a job elsewhere and instead I ended up looking like a ditzy blonde on her first day at work. I am so majorly pissed at myself, so dissapointed with everything, and I need today to just end.

Oh, and did I mention I drove down the wrong way on a one -way?! Yeah. That's a whole time low even for me.

UPDATE: Erm. I feel foolish about my dramatic outburst. They did like me after all. And I did get the job. Despite all that^ :D

Monday, March 3, 2008

Then and Now...

Last week would be the week I warned people about. The week that I would be walking around the campus dressed like a bag lady, scraggly haired, and bleary eyed. Did you see me? You probably smelt me before you saw me. Yup. That was me, wafting through the crowd in that heady mixture of overdue laundry spritzed with febreeze and some over-ripe fruity perfume. I had this hazy, dazy confused look on my face, and I snapped your head off for trying to make small talk with me. Remember? You started to talk about the weather, and I glared at you like that girl from the Exorcist, flung my short notes in your face and started randomly spitting out medical jargon at you. Yup. That would be me. Last week. Exam week. And not just any set of exams. Those were THE EXAMS. The final FINAL ones. You know, the last ones before I start my clinical rotations in a week. The very last final, final exams.

Aah! That was the good ol’ over-caffeinated last week.

But this is a new week. This would be the week I said I’d sit on the couch in front of the TV and not budge. Randomly flip the channels to watch every senseless show ever aired on TV. Still bleary eyed, and scraggly haired. Except this is for a much better cause. Endless TV that requires no thinking.

*stretching out lazily on the couch and giving a deep sigh of contentment*

My brain feels liberated.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Package

My mum has always maintained that I am waay too sentimental. And as much as it kills me to do so, I'll admit it...I'm one of those nutty people you've heard about who cries over commercials. I know, I know, it's a little ridiculous. But then again, there's something just so heartwrenching about that humane society ad about the happy little dog with his big brown eyes peering hopefully out of its tiny cramped cage wanting to be adopted and taken home. Maybe it's just the dog in the commercial. Maybe it's the message of the commercial itself. Maybe it's just me. But either way, if you've watched that commercial and never secretly wanted to bawl like a baby, may I just say, you've got an icy, icy, cold, cruel heart. There, I said it.

So last week, I bawled like a baby. And no, this time it wasnt the commercial on air. It was more legit. I got a package from home.

At first I was really excited. I arrived at my apartment to find this big box waiting for me at the doorstep, and a warm fuzzy feeling came over me as I saw my dad's familiar handwriting all over it. They hadn't even told me they were going to be sending a package.

For the past month or so, my parents have been doing a mini-tour of all sorts across India - visiting my relatives scattered across various different states, and taking their dream vacation to see Delhi, Udaipur, Jaipur and the surrounding locale. I remember when my mum called me right before they were going to start their holiday and cried over the phone (alright, so maybe that sentimental thing is all in the genes). You see, this was going to be the first holiday that my parents and sister were going to take without me. We've toured India countless times over the years, but always together as a family. This would be the first time in all these years that they would be holidaying without me tagging along, and my mum was getting all teary-eyed over it. "It's okay, mumma...just take lots of photos for me, and I'll be sightseeing along with you.", I convinced her. In the end, they had a good time, and over the next few weeks, I kept hearing "oohs" and "aahs" over the phone at every mention of the taj mahal and the red fort and the pink city and the endless destinations they had been visiting. And then I got the package.

I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut through all the tape holding the box together, all the while shaking my head in disbelief over the sheer quantity of cellotape used. I could get an anonymous package from anywhere in the world and I would still recognize my dad's trademark obsession for tape all over the package and know just who it came from. After cutting left, right and center, the box fell apart pouring out bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts all over my living room. I reached out for the biggest small box within the main box and set about undoing the obsessive tape work holding this smaller box together. I let out a big gasp when the packaging finally came apart and I saw what I was left holding in my hands. It was a small, pure marble, replica of the Taj Mahal...just as intricate and delicate in design as I imagined the real Taj Mahal looked like. It was simply beautiful. I set it gently on the side table in my living room, and continued to sift through the styrofoam peanuts.

Two marble elephants, one with a small piece of the foot chipped off. Not too noticeably messed up, I reasoned. I could easily hide the chipped off foot by placing it at the right angle next to DVD player in the entertainement center. A box of kaju katli from Mumbai. As I opened the box and took a bite of the yummy goodies, I fondly remembered all the holidays I had travelled with my family to India. No matter where else we had been traveling in India up to that point, before flying out of the country, we would always stop by this one particular sweet shop in Andheri that we all insisted sold the best sweets. We'd buy small boxes of halwa, and other sweets to gift out to friends back in Kenya. I insist I do not have a sweet tooth, and I generally hate ghee laden ladoos, but when it comes to kaju katlis, my dormant sweet tooth comes alive. Stuffing my mouth full of the katlis, I continue to search through the package.

A couple of small, beautiful, framed pictures from Jaipur. I fantasize using them to make a picture collage to decorate the walls of my boring apartment. They'll definitely add some life to the place. A pair of silver dangling earrings. My sis sure has good taste. A few satchets of instant pani puri mix. Mmmm. I'm craving some pani puri like right about now. I could use a trip to the indian grocery store, I decide.

Clothes. A bohemian mix of western and indian styles. Tunic style tops with artistic embroidery. And just in the right colors too. No funky bright reds, greens and yellows. My beloved hues of black, white and cream. It's amazing how a single whiff can take you back on a journey through the years. I do my own version of a febreeze ad and raise the clothes to my face and suck in the smells contained in the clothes. The clothes in the package have that distinct new-clothes-from-a-shop-packed-inside-mum's-suitcase smell to them. They remind me of countless holidays spent with my family, wandering down the unknown alleys of an Indian town, admiring the endless gallery of salwar kameez, tops and jeans hanging from impromptu displays created outside the stores. The haggling over prices with shop owners and the excitement of wanting to wear the precious new clothes at the next given opportunity. I sniff at the clothes and a warm feeling of nostalgia sweeps over me.

And then I saw it. The one item in the package that overwhelmed all the emotions I felt inside of me as I opened the package and reduced me to tears. It's a paper bag and as I peek inside it, my throat tightens and I feel all choked up. I empty its contents on the carpet and pick each one up. Inside the bag are brochures and pamphlets and postcards collected from every single place that my family has visited during their trip to India this year. Postcards with views of the Taj Mahal from every possible angel. A booklet advertising the Swami Narayan temple. Leaflets collected in Jaipur. Brochures from the various mosques and temples they had been to. And as I leafed through them, a sob broke loose and I cried.

You see, my dad's most precious legacy to me has been his love for travelling. It's the one passion we share together. Sometimes to a point of annoyance to the rest of our family. My dad jots down bits and pieces of his day in a diary he carries when he travels. I blog when I travel. My dad takes an infinite amount of time positioning us and finding the best angel for a shot on his old kodak camera. I take an infinite number of photos in the hope of the best shot on my canon digital camera. He talks to rickshaw drivers about the most authentic restaurants in the area. I consult yahoo travel on the best places to eat wherever I travel. He collects brochures and pamphlets wherever he goes. I collect brochures and pamphlets wherever I go.

A flashback to all the trips we've taken to India together reminds me of all the brochures, pamphlets and postcards we've collected together over the years. Two of each. One for me to hang on to, and the other for him to hang on to. My mum would often complaint of all the paper "junk" that we were carrying back with us, and why we had to have two of everything. Once we were back home, we'd set aside a day to go through all the brochures and pamphlets and exchange whatever I had that he was missing and so on and on it would go, back and forth with all the postcards and leaflets, laughing and re-living the adventures of the trip through the exchange of the souvenirs.

As I looked at the contents of the brown paper bag, I realized what my dad had done. Even though I was missing on their trip, my dad had still collected twos of every brochure and postcard he had picked up during their travel - and sent me my own copy of the trip. It was his way of taking me along on yet another travel adventure.

Packages from home have a strange way of flooding your heart with a mish mash of mixed emotions. This one made me cry.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Every so often I drop by the local animal shelter to look at the dogs they have there. And no, I’m not looking for another dog to adopt. So the fact that I walk by rows and rows of caged dogs without any real intention of taking them home makes me sound a little sadistic. But truth is I’m curious.

A few weeks ago, I was out walking my dogs in the evening when I noticed a dog walking down the other side of the road. I assumed its owner was probably jogging or walking some distance behind it. Then all of a sudden, right before my eyes, the dog dashed smack into the middle of the road, into the way of oncoming traffic. Panic stricken, I searched frantically up and down the street for its owner. It was then that I realized that the dog didn’t have an owner – it was a stray.

Screeech! A car slammed hard on its brakes, then swerved around the dog and continued down the street. A few other cars zoomed by, honking loudly at the dog, without even bothering to check up on it. Perhaps they too, like me, had assumed that its owner was somewhere close by. The poor dog, terrified by the cars zooming past it, scurried back into some bushes along the side of the road.

I hurried back to my apartment, just a short distance down the street and locked my dogs up, all the while stuffing dog treats and a spare nylon leash into my pockets. Sure enough, when I rushed back to the spot where I last saw it, the stray dog was still there, hiding in the bushes, shaking with fear. “It’s okay, sweetie”, I coaxed it softly, stretching out the dog treats in my hands. But to no avail. It was just too terrified and dashed around wildly from one bush to another. Soon a crowd of people had gathered around, asking who the dog belonged to. Everyone took turns, cooing softly at the dog, trying to get it to come toward them but all the noise just scared the dog even more and it dashed once again into the path of oncoming traffic in an attempt to get to a “safe” place. The crowd gasped as a car once more screeched its brakes and swerved around the dog, zooming past it down the street. As the dog stood frozen in the middle of traffic, someone grabbed the leash out of my hands and managed to put it around the dog, leading it back to the safety of curb of the road.

Amidst the confusion that ensued next, I somehow wound up with the dog, while the rest of the crowd dissipated back to their separate ways. I walked back to my apartment with the dog. ‘It’ turned out to be a ‘she’. And she looked up at me with her big, brown, sad eyes, not knowing what to make of me. Was I someone to be trusted or should she put up a struggle? I petted her head and scratched her chin, talking to her, and trying to put her at ease. But she was still skittish and very unsure around me. Back at home, I offered her some dog food and water. She sniffed hungrily at the dog food and gingerly moved toward it, before scooting back in fear toward the door, deciding she still didn’t trust me enough to eat anything I had offered her, no matter how hungry she was.

After tying her leash around the leg of a table and leaving the food and water in front of her just in case she decided to eat, I dug through the yellow pages searching for a local humane society. Several wrong numbers later, I tried the last phone number on my list. A quick glance at the clock showed exactly five in the evening, and I hoped beyond all hopes that they were still open for the evening. Miraculously, someone answered the phone on the first try. I explained the situation, and thankfully, someone promised to come over to pick the dog up within the next half an hour.

The whole time I was on the phone, Lucky (what better name for a dog who had survived this ordeal?) eyed me suspiciously. I hung up the phone, and knelt down on the floor beside her. She was clearly hungry yet too distrustful of me to eat. As I petted her and ran my fingers through her long, matted hair, I wondered how she had ended up on the streets. Did she once belong to someone who had cared for her? Had she just run away from home? Why hadn’t they put a tag on her if they really cared about her? Why wasn’t someone looking for her? Did someone just dump her on the streets because they no longer wanted to care for a dog? Did she know her way back home? Did she in her doggy little head wonder where her owners were? Or what she had done to be left out on the streets? Did she miss them? All sorts of questions ran through my head. And then all of a sudden, she nuzzled close to me, laying her head down on my lap and letting out a big sigh.

Just then my phone rang. It was the humane society – they were just a short distance away and wanted me to meet them with the dog at the entrance to my apartment block. So I gently pushed Lucky’s head out of my lap, got up and clapped my hands, “Come on, Lucky…let’s go…walk?” Clearly, all words she had heard before, because her ears perked up at the prospect of a walk as we clambered out of the door. As we waited out in the streets in the frigid weather, I wondered what would have become of her had I or someone else not seen her on the streets. Would she have made it through the cold, winter night? I realized she still hadn’t eaten anything yet, and I remembered the doggie treats in my pockets. I extended them out to her yet again. This time, she finally took a bite, and then ate ravenously out of my hands. I emptied out all the treats I had on me, and she ate them voraciously – she had clearly been hungry all along. She finished them all and started to lick my hands. She has just begun to trust me, when the humane society minivan arrived.

What ensued next is the worst memory I have of the entire evening. As soon as the man got out of the car and opened up a crate in the back of the minivan, Lucky seemed to know exactly what was going to happen next. As the man coaxed her to come toward him, she dashed behind my legs, yelping and looking up at me with the most betrayed look on her face. I felt like a horrible person inside – a conspirator in some hideous disgusting crime. She was just starting to build trust in me, and I already betrayed her. She put up a struggle, all the while yelping and whining and trying to hide behind my legs. Finally, the man managed to grab hold of her and shoved her into the crate in the minivan. As he slammed the door shut, I heard her barking and whining loudly inside. The last memory I have of her is her face as the door shut behind her – her panic stricken, frightened eyes looked like they just lost all faith in humanity.

Do you know what I hate the most about the entire ordeal? The fact that I don’t know how this story ends. I don’t know if it has a happy ending. I don’t know if Lucky ever found her owner. Or if she has a new home. Or if she’s still in a shelter somewhere waiting to be adopted. Or whether she was euthanized because she just wasn’t "adoptable" and the shelter didn’t have enough space or time to give to her. I hate the not knowing how it ends….and it haunts me.

I peak into rows and rows of caged dogs in the shelter because I’m curious. I wonder if I’ll see Lucky again. I wonder what became of her.

~vagabond~ © 2008

Disclaimer: I do not by any means claim ownership to the photo used in the blog above. The dog in the photo is not "Lucky". I simply searched around google images and came across this photo of a dog that looks remarkably similar to Lucky.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A trip down memory lane…erm…Devon Avenue

In the six years that I’ve lived in America, I’ve been to Chicago dozens and dozens of times. Well, when you live in a small Midwestern town surrounded by cornfields galore and Chicago is the largest city two hours away, let’s just say, you visit Chicago every opportunity you can get. But even so, I had never heard of Devon Avenue until a few weeks ago, when I got disgustingly, unbearably homesick.

“Maybe we should just go walk down Devon Avenue”, Joe suggested when I finished my marathon session of watching every hindi movie ever uploaded on youtube and emerged out of my post-diwali, pre-new year’s mithai ka dibba bought from the only Punjabi store in miles around here. “Devon Avenue?” I looked at him perplexed, “Where’s that?”. “In Chicago” he replies ever so casually, like this is a nugget of information he has shared with me a million times before. But I digress. Turns out, Devon Avenue is the heartland of ethnic diversity within Chicago - a single stretch of road that consists of an orthodox-Jewish neighborhood, Russian-American neighborhood, and an Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi neighborhood. Did anybody say “Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi neighborhood?!” Where have I been all this time?!

I knew we were on Devon Avenue even before I had had a chance to read the road sign. I knew when I saw the festive store signs, in everything from Arabic to Gujrati lettering, advertising everything from halal meat to electronics to luggage to fish. I knew when I saw the colorful stores with hot pink sarees, neon yellow salwaars and bright purple skirts. I knew when I saw the familiar throng of people in pyjamas and prayer hats strolling down the street. I knew when I saw the paan shop and little groups of people idling around outside the store on a weekday. I knew right then I was in Mera Hindustan. Ahem. That is, Little India. Or Litte Pakistan. Or Little Bangladesh. Or the closest it comes to home, anyway.

If I ignore the heaps of snow along the sidewalks, and zone out the icy winter wind stinging my cheeks, and focus only on the street ahead of me, bustling with crowds of people going into and coming out of the dozens of Indian/Pakistani stores lining the street, then the street ahead of me looks exactly like it belongs somewhere in Mumbai. It’s hard to believe I’m still in the Midwest.

We’ve arrived on Devon Avenue smack in the middle of lunch hour. And first thing’s first – we’ve got to eat. Driving up and down the street, one thing is clear. It’s not going to be an easy choice to make. Devon Avenue is lined with dozens and dozens of eating options – Gujrati, Mumbaiya, South Indian, Bengali, Pakistani, Indo-Chinese restaurants all lure customers in, each advertising the special cuisine of the region. A delicious smell of kabobs intermingled with sambhar, vegetarian manchurian and chaat wafts through our nostrils. I haven’t eaten Pakistani food in the longest time and so we decide on the Sabri Nehari Restaurant for lunch.

Everybody comes to the Sabri Nehari for its famous sabri nehari – a tender meat curry that the restaurant is named for. From what I have read on the internet, Sabri Nehari has the best nehari in all of America, and it’s time for us to test that out for ourselves. So undoubtedly, we order the nehari. I order the Frontier Chicken – a grilled boneless chicken dish with onions and tomatoes that is highly recommended on the menu. If the picture on the menu is anything to go by, then I’m sold already. Assuming that the size of the naans is the same size of the naans at our local eatery within our Midwestern town, we order three naans and one paratha.

The naans and paratha arrive first, and they are humongous in size! Had we known how big the naan would be, we’d have ordered fewer pieces. A complimentary salad arrived next, along with sweet chutney and a coriander based green chutney to dip the slices of cucumber, onions and tomatoes in. Then the nehari and the chicken arrived…after which I blanked out over the next half an hour, because I was lost in a happy daze of good smells, finger-licking good food, and the soft instrumental background music of “Ajab si” from Om Shanti Om. The food was excellent and quite possibly the best Pakistani food I had eaten in a really long time. The restaurant itself too is quite clean and has a charming ambience. Ironically, the walls were graced with paintings and decors reminiscent of Italy rather than India or Pakistan, but the attempts at creating a romantic atmosphere within the restaurant clearly didn’t go unnoticed.

After leaving the restaurant with bellies full and boxes with leftovers to carry back home, we decided a walk down Devon Avenue was in order. All around me are immigrants bustling down the street armed with plastic bags filled with the unique groceries and knick knacks available only along Devon Avenue. We join the army of immigrants and proceed into Patel Brothers – the biggest Indian grocery store along the avenue. The store inside has aisle after aisle filled with every imaginable variety of paratha, all types of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi spices, bottles upon bottles of all kinds of pickles, bags of different species of rice, ingredients for the most remote recipes, and snacks that I remember seeing only in India. I shop my heart out…enough food to stock up my Midwestern pantry against a blizzard of nostalgia.

After dropping the grocery bags in the car, and adding some more quarters to the parking meter, we continue our stroll down the street. We do what everyone else on this street does. Enter random stores, check out their interesting wares and walk out of the store and enter the next store. Music stores selling Bollywood’s top hits, book stores with their displays of Movie and Stardust magazines and gift shops with interesting trinkets – we cover them all.

Joe has never eaten kulfi in his life. I decide this is something no individual should ever have to go through in their life. So I take it upon myself to introduce him to the glorious taste of kulfi. We enter King Sweets, a cafĂ©/shop that sells all sorts of barfis, mithais, sweets and savory snacks. I wasn’t even sure that they would sell kulfi, and I skim through the food items in the display window. Not seeing any fridge around or any kulfi eating customers, I hesitantly ask the store owner whether they sell kulfi. “Aaah. Kulfi. Yes.”, he answers smiling broadly at me. He seems rather pleased that I’ve asked for an item that isn’t even on his menu. He disappears into a back room and reemerges with a stick of plain kulfi and another of mango kulfi.

Kulfi is India’s answer to ice-cream. Like ice-cream, it is made by boiling milk, flavoring it and then freezing it. I am not sure what the recipe differences between kulfi and ice-cream are, except that kulfi tastes phenomenally better than ice-cream and is extremely decadent. If Joe’s slurps are anything to go by, he clearly agrees.

Business taken care of, we continue our pilgrimage down Devon Avenue. Everywhere around us are people buying stuff, people selling stuff. Within the everyday transactions however, I notice an exchange of more than just cash and commodities. “Sarlaben, haven’t seen you here in a while” “When is Mansoor’s sister’s nikaah?” “Are you going back to India for good?” “Archana, don’t forget to buy the aachar for dadi amma”. A burst of laughter amidst old friends. A wailing child sobbing for a candy. An old man and his cane inching along the sidewalk, stopping to spit out paan. Young girls giggling as they pass a group of desi boys. It’s not just cash and commodities on Devon Avenue.

Soon it’s dinner time and we’re on the search for yet another exciting place to eat.

Back in India, we have these small roadside restaurants known as dhabas. They are nothing too fancy. If anything, their ambience (if at all any) consists of crude sitting arrangements and is designed out of sheer practicality rather than aesthetics. They are just small, simple shacks designed to serve travelers along the road and are largely frequented by truck drivers and rickshaw drivers. Yet ask any local driver to direct you to their favorite restaurant in the area, and they’ll tell you to go to the dhabas – that’s where they have the real food. Ghareeb Nawaz reminds me of those dhabas in India where I’ve enjoyed some of my best meals.

From the outside, Ghareeb Nawaz is hardly anything fancy. If you are on a date and are looking for romantic ambience, go to the Sabri Nehari, or go to the dozen other Indian/Pakistani restaurants a little further down the street…but if you’re looking for good food, REAL good food then keep walking right on in through the doors of Ghareeb Nawaz.

Ghareeb Nawaz loosely translated means “Place for the poor” or so I’m told (my hindi is pretty pathetic and my urdu barely exists). And if the prices on the handwritten menu at the lone counter inside are anything to go by, then “place for the poor” it is, indeed! Meat thali for $4.50?! Veggie samosa at 50 cents a piece?! Khorma for $3.50?! Ethnic food doesn’t get any cheaper than this in America! The skeptical me would have rationalized that at those low, low, prices, the food cant be any good, and that the only reason the prices were so low was because the quality of the food wasn’t any good and the low prices were the only way the restaurant could attract any customers at all. But the skeptical me wasn’t rationalizing. The skeptical me was too busy sniffing, drooling, and ogling at all the delicious food floating past the counter into the hands of heavily salivating customers.

“Biryani!” I’ll get chicken biryani, I decided after soul searching through the menu that was full of so many food items that it was literally spilling all over the place. Yup, literally. Be sure to look left, right and center when searching for an item on the “menu”, because the menu isn’t just contained on a board behind the counter, there are additional items on scraps of paper along the side of the counter, as well as scribbling on a chalkboard next to the counter. There are just so many food items available that if you’re anything like the indecisive me, it will take you a while before you commit to just one. Joe selected the lamb biryani and sheikh kabab.

As we waited for our order, we looked around. There isn’t much to look at, other than a few posters on the walls of Mecca, and a donation stand on the side, accepting donations for the renovation of some masjid. At the back is what looks like a prayer room. The seating arrangement consists of bright yellow, plastic seats. Some people have described the interior as dingy and depressing, but I actually thought the bright yellow gave the place some cheer, and while it might not exactly be as fancy as is expected from a restaurant in Chicago, it is what it is – a restaurant with the spirit of a dhaba. Inside I see friendly cabbies stopping for a lunch break, two Somalis huddled around a biryani, a Punjabi family equally confused over what to order, and a few Pakistani men dressed in pyjamas scraping out the last bits of their curries with naan. Everywhere around me is animated conversation in all different dialects and the jolly banter that can only be found surrounding a well enjoyed meal. Dingy and depressing? I hardly think so.

“Holy crap!” I exclaim, when I taste my chicken biryani. For one thing, with the tricolored rice dotted with pieces of chicken, it looks so good. For another, it smells divine…of cloves and elaichi and fragrant rice and spicy chicken. And the taste is like no other biryani I have ever tasted out of India. I think I’m in love. The biryani is spicy but just spicy enough. Not spicy to a point where all you’re tasting is just red pepper and all you can feel is the the throbbing of your tongue as it pulsates to the hot chillies…but just spicy enough.

Joe is equally exuberant over his lamb biryani. I’ve never been a fan of lamb or mutton…they all have a distinct sheep-y smell as far as I’m concerned, but Joe insists I try the sheikh kabab. In the end, I’m glad I did because it changed my definition of the words “mutton” and “kabab” forever. The kabab is so richly seasoned that I wouldn’t even know I was eating lamb were it not for the very succulent, soft texture of the kabab.

“Deeelicious!” is what I’ve got to say. And here’s the best part – for the meager $10 we spent on the meal, the portions are so huge that we have plenty of leftovers for dinner.

As we head back to the car, ready to return back to our small Midwestern town, I feel lighter at heart. After a day bustling in and out of the little stores along Devon Avenue, I’ve realized that for immigrants like me, Devon Avenue isn’t just about the interesting merchandise or the exotic restaurants lining the street…for immigrants like me, Devon Avenue offers a glimpse of home. And I can leave knowing that whenever I get nostalgic for home again, there is a street around my Midwestern corner where I can transport myself home.

~vagabond~ © 2008