About book stores and their stories…

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Book stores have always held a special place in my heart, and the charm of tiny book stores run by independent small business owners is undeniable. When I was in middle school, my first library was this little place operated by an old man and was located next to the busy train station. As per the library rules, you were allowed to check out only one book at a time, and if you wanted to check out another one, then the cost was 50 paise. The library was far enough from my house that my visit was usually accompanied by an adult, and since my parents never put any restrictions on reading, I was allowed to check out 2-3 books at a time. As I grew older, the library became too small for me, and I closed out my membership in that library. That tiny one room library doesn’t exist anymore, except in the minds of young impressionable patrons like myself who cannot forget their first library.

On my last visit to India, I was visiting the town where I did my high school from, and I remembered there stood a small bookstore, around 18-20 years ago. On a whim I thought of checking out if this bookstore still existed…and imagine my happiness when I saw it still standing there; books spilling from the store and on the sidewalk.  I entered the place with reverence in my heart that is reserved only for the temple of books. There was something for everyone in that store; from trashy romance novels to religious texts, from Bollywood magazines to biographies, from textbook on Economics to Chicken Soup for Soul, and from a book about Satyajit Ray to the latest thriller by Stephen King to the Archie comics. All arranged haphazardly on shelves which could barely hold them, irrespective of their categories and authors. As my eyes roamed through the shelves, alighting on titles I recognized and others that looked interesting, the chaos of the books on shelves, soothed something in me that I didn’t know was ruffled. These shelves trying to hold on to the books which tell a million stories unheard, show you the places unseen and the characters you didn’t know who were missing from your life till date. I brought about 5 books from that store, a Rishi Kapoor biography, a Devdutt Patnaik book, a Shashi Tharoor and two vintage Chacha Chaudhary comic books ; and paid way too much for those comics; but it was like paying to get a slice of childhood back.

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A walk through the pristine aisles of Barnes and Noble or a Crossword bookstore while can provide me with a book when needed, doesn’t ignite a reverence in me like those shelves spilling on the sidewalk. Though rather than buying new books through a commercial bookstore, I would rather walk through the aisles of the public library, which even though is in no shape or size like my first library, it is at least a temple for the stories.

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Vacation!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Journey.”

As a child, I traveled around India with my parents, visiting places from Kanyakumari to Jammu, Mysore, Calcutta, Darjeeling, Manali and many more. Then over the years with intrusions from life, the summer started getting shorter and so did the family vacations. We had small vacations here and there, but nothing as much fun as the summer vacations from school days. Then last year when I went to India I got a chance to go on a big vacation with my parents…and like an adult! It was fun to combine the Diwali festival, vacation and a friend’s wedding all in one trip to India.

The vacation started from Mumbai–>Jaipur–>Agra–>Delhi–>Amritsar–>Dalhousie–>Mumbai.

Jaipur: Jaipur is the capital city of the north-western state of Rajasthan. In Jaipur we first went to Amer Fort-one of the most famous forts in Rajasthan built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh. Then we saw the Jal Mahal (palace on water). Next day it was Jaipur City Palace, and Jantar Mantar (a world heritage site which has a collection of architectural astronomical instruments) and fantastic time shopping for some jewelry and rajasthani shoes in Jaipur markets.

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Amer Fort Gardens

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Agra: From Jaipur we drove to Agra which is a city on the banks of the Yamuna river in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. It is famous for the monument of love-Taj Mahal and the Mughal Agra Fort. On the way to Agra from Jaipur we also visited the bird sanctuary in Bharatpur called Keoladeo National Park and the famous city of Fatehpur Sikri. Fatehpur was once a capital of the Mughal empire and has beautiful monuments built with a mix of Persian and Indian architectural influences. It houses important buildings like Jama Masjid, and the tomb of Salim Chisti-a Sufi saint and the palaces of Akbar’s various queens, including Jodha Bai-his Hindu queen.

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In Agra the next entire day was dedicated to the beautiful Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. I am sure Taj Mahal-one of the world’s wonder made entirely of white marble and precious stones needs no description other than it was more beautiful than I ever imagined it to be! Agra fort is actually more of a walled city and almost all Mughal kings have contributed to this series of monuments by adding and modifying some feature or another during their reign. Both these monuments were the highlight of this vacation for me, I enjoyed spending time looking around these old buildings and imagining how much history and change they have witnessed over the centuries.

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Delhi: From Agra we drove to the capital of India-Delhi. This city does not need any description, except that is also crowded and very confusing! We got lost while trying to find our hotel even though we were less than a mile from our actual destination! We did not spend much time in Delhi except at Qutub Minar monuments as it was more of a pit stop. Qutub Minar are 11th century monuments and definitely deserve much more attention than the 2 hours we spent there before our flight to Amritsar.

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Amritsar: It is a city in the state of Punjab. It is known for the Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple and the fact that it is less than 30 km away from the Indian village of Wagah near the India and Pakistan border. If anyone ever goes to visit northern part of India, golden temple in Amritsar is a must see spot. It is much more than just a shrine or a temple. It is one of the few places where I actually manage to feel spiritual-not religious, just calm and spiritual. We also visited it at night when the entire temple is bathed in golden light and with the calm chants and bhajans the feeling is almost ethereal.

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Dalhousie: This was the last destination in our journey. Dalhousie is a small town nestled in the hills in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. My main reason for going to this city was to attend a very close friends’ wedding, and since my parents had been to this place either, we decided to attend the wedding and tour around the town. We drove from Amritsar to Dalhousie through these narrow hilly roads called ‘ghats’. It is a typical hilly town, with friendly people and amazing locales. The view of the mountains from my hotel room window was beautiful. Attending a friend’s wedding was without doubt the best part about this destination, beautiful location, beautiful people, food, clothes and close friends and family…what else do you need to make a journey worthwhile?

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While this post in no way does justice to my experiences on this 15 day vacation, I have tried to convey my feelings through this post and pictures. Maybe I will write a much more detailed post soon so that I can write about how did visiting a centuries old palace and seeing your best friend walk down the aisle made me feel!

India Series-II Happy memories

I know I mentioned in the previous post that I will avoid maudlin posts, but being assaulted by images and memories is inevitable when one goes home. The memories are bittersweet part of being home, the one place where everyone has seen you at your worst and have more or less accepted you!

Yesterday I travelled back in time while helping my dad with some chores. My dad wanted me to go through my old textbooks and figure out which ones he could give away to the local library. Going through those textbooks on Pharmacology, Anatomy and Physiology, brought back the countless hours spent pouring over those books, those hours which couldn’t go slow enough so that I could cram everything possible in my brain. Seeing my notes in pencil in the textbook margins brought back those days when the only important thing in life was to score good grades and the most important decision was to decide how much time should be spent on a particular study topic.

Then I took a journey into a past much further than my undergrad school days- into the childhood days of my older sisters and those of mine. As my dad and I went on clearing out more cabinets, we came across 2 drawers full of old photo albums. Since digital cameras are still fairly recent, most of our older photographs are on glossy photo papers in jumbo albums. I found albums of old trips taken across India, pictures of my older sisters when they were still babies (almost unrecognizable!), our photos with grandparents.  The hilarious part of those pictures was our get up- the fashion of bygone eras. And then I found my parents’ wedding album….found those pictures with my parents all dressed up and looking so young! As you grow older you tend to forget that your parents were once young and had a life that did not revolve around you…seeing these older pictures reminds you of those times, when you were NOT in the picture! Needless to say I spent a great afternoon looking at those pictures and reminiscing old times with dad.

Now that is the kind of nostalgia I wouldn’t mind getting lost in. Those old, stuck to plastic cover photographs are not just coloured paper, they are memories; unaccountably precious and forever reminding you of the passing of time. Whenever I am bogged down with irritation due to visa issues or difficulty of dealing with parents, I remind myself that I am here to build precious memories. Whether I am spending the afternoon idling with my parents or out sightseeing with them, these are the small moments which make life.

Coming Home: India trip – I

India Series I

Last Saturday I landed in Mumbai after 4 years. Before my trip I was very anxious because I felt I had been out of home for so long I had forgotten the ways and manner of Indian living. But I could feel tears prickling behind my eyes when I saw the twinkling lights of the Mumbai skyline as my flight started descending on the Mumbai airport and I started looking forward to seeing the sea of Indian faces.  On landing, the immigration was a pleasant surprise as it has been really streamlined with lots of counters and the international terminal has been completely revamped. While I didn’t find it absolutely rave worthy, it is definitely lots of steps up from the previous terminal and at least on par with the international standards.

Being at home initially was a very surreal experience, you know when you don’t believe where you are sort of a feeling! For me it felt as if I had never been away, everything that was familiar to me was still the same, and at the same time some things felt so very different. As long as I was home it was familiar, but stepping outside, I couldn’t remember some of the street names with the new constructions and new streets cropping up everywhere.

But the best part about coming home has been celebrating Diwali in India; spending time with family, gorging on good food and meeting people I hadn’t seen in years. Though there was a brief moment of panic when I couldn’t remember one of my relatives’ name, thankfully though my mom was next to me and addressed her by name so I could save my face!! Other best part was wearing all the fancy Indian jewelry and sarees which I hadn’t worn in a while and what better occasion to wear it than Diwali.

Though I am trying not to feel nostalgic, it is difficult to avoid the memories when you come home after a gap of 4 years and have been away for 8 years. I am going to avoid my blog posts from becoming maudlin so will be doing a series of posts on my India trip, from my initial impressions, to changes, to travel and food posts. This will also help me get over my nostalgia because sometimes memories serve no purpose other than to bring you down and ruin your present.