The Soul of Cafe Wanderlust..

Palm trees on the sign board, white marble stones near the entrance and a hammock tied in a corner of the brightly-lit room; the first impressions are promising for a cafe that aims to inspire Wanderlust, and features regularly in the list of best cafes in Gurgaon. The colours are plenty and splashed around through cushions, walls, and pictures of landscapes in this little room right above Archies in the Galleria market. A cosy seating arrangement of wooden chairs and bean bags is casual and comfortable.

..smells of childhood’s innocence

It was hard for me to resist hanging chair that draws attention as soon as you enter. As I twirled on it, an image of the little rope swing tied under the mango tree from my grandparent’s home in Himachal came flooding at me. Transported as I was to my childhood, picking up ‘snakes and ladders’ from a pile of board games was only natural. That dreaded snake at 98 sent me backwards in the game, and in time to the school summer holidays when we would play the game for long hours of the afternoon. Children will love it here I thought, even before I saw the cute, little bean bags near the hammock kept specifically for them.

..is intuitive

If I believed in omens and had a lot of cash to spare, I would’ve been writing this post from Thailand. Why? I found a Lonely Planet to Thailand under my table. A trip to the country had been on my mind for a long time, and just as I flipped through the pages, the music changed to Europe’s (the band) The Final Countdown, as if daring me to book that trip without further ado instead of placing an order with the waiter who was hoping I would hurry up.

..is true to the self

The food on the menu of Cafe Wanderlust has been arranged regionally as opposite to the dish-wise segregation you find at most cafes. You get to choose local specialities from Banaras, UP, Delhi, Mumbai and other regions of India in place of the pizzas, burgers, pastas that have crowded menus on cafes across Delhi/NCR. There are quite a few good dining options from globetrotting platters, like the American and English breakfast, Mezze platter, Spanish churros and Belgian waffles. Our Banarasi Kachori platter came with seven accompaniments, and was quite tempting to look at. It didn’t disappoint upon tasting either.

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..inspires creativity

While we were waiting for food, I stumbled upon a diary, and a few sketch pens. I love places where I can find little snippets of information left by those who visited before me. Mostly, they are about the cafe and its impressions on people; but sometimes these books reveal a personal side of the visitors, giving me the sneaky feeling of staring into someone’s mind and all its complexities. Like this intricate sketch I found in the diary here:

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..nurtures conversation

Nothing makes me feel more alive than to be able to say something and have it perfectly understood or to understand the emotions in someone’s words just as their mind processed them. And I believe that no matter the excellent service, admirable decor and great food; some places are just not right for a good conversation. Cafe Wanderlust, on the other hand, encourages great conversation. All elements of the ambiance and service come together to make you feel welcomed without overwhelming you with any of them. It was heart-warming to be able to just talk and travel into my childhood, and my partner’s youth in Banaras. I was filled with a sense of mystique at discovering the guide to Thailand, and this:

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‘The Shooting Star’ by Shivya Nath is one of my favourite travel blogs.

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Echoes: Making Coherence from the Noise

Climbing a flight of stairs on the busy outer lane of South Delhi’s Satyaniketan market, you are ushered into a small room. At least 10-12 tables are crammed together to form a seating area, much in the fashion of other eateries in this market. Like me, if you’ve read about the place before coming, you are wary in a way you’re not at other restaurants/cafes you frequent. You’ve sorted all technicalities – a switch next to your table to draw their attention, placards for special requests, and a notepad for writing the order code.

While you are prepared to see them in action. The things that you are not prepared for are gazing at them involuntarily for longer than required, not being able to concentrate on your food when the servers are around, and smiling more than you would at waiters employed at your regular restaurants. And in doing so, you unconsciously classify them into the ‘other’ category, defeating the very purpose of this cafe. If that’s not you, at least I am guilty.

My first visit to the Echoes cafe highlighted for me that inclusion does not end at opportunity. Rather, inclusion sprouts from it. By employing these differently-abled, young boys; the owners might have taken the first step toward their alleviation but they have much ground to cover. Entrusting the differently-abled staff with all aspects of business including serving, cooking and management as well as having women on board are both great goals as set by the owner Kshitij Behl. These goals must continually evolve and extend to other aspects if the restaurant strives for more than just business and mercy visits. From serving great food to sensitising the customers, and from empowering employees by giving comparable salaries to developing high-self esteem in them through growth opportunities, the inclusion agenda must be multi-faceted.

As customers, we of course have a big part to play. We can further the initiative by paying more than just one curious visit and by leaving a genuine feedback unmarred by sympathy (My penne pasta arrabiata was pretty average). We must aim for our conduct around the staff to not betray the end-purpose of creating a ‘normal’ working space for them. And that will happen when we get to know them better and communicate with them. The more you visit, the more you ease up, and the more you see them engaged with their work like you would with yours, the more you shatter the walls of exclusion. If exclusion must co-exist still, it should be of the measly treatment that we are guilty of giving to the waiters in India in general. Echoes has stirred quite a few good chords with its brilliant concept, and if done right it can create music even for the ears of deaf and mute.

The Fortune Teller

via Daily Prompt: Fortune

Monica walked away from the fortune-teller’s office satisfied. The cards assured that she will have the custody of her three-year old daughter by the end of the year. The last time she met the fortune-teller, she was told she’ll get married and live overseas. Peter happened to her the same year and she did settle in Norway for two years before she divorced him and flew back to the states. The fortune-teller had also predicted an episode of ill-health that could last as long as six months. On the day the elevator of her building was being repaired, Monica had to stop thrice to catch her breath while climbing stairs to reach her apartment on the first floor. She was aware she wasn’t the same but she didn’t want to do anything about it. Her medical insurance had expired, and she knew that the doctor would prescribe Varenicline so that she could quit smoking. She wasn’t ready. “I’ll quit when I’ll have my daughter back”, she told herself.

Patricia left work for home. She stopped-by to pick steak for dinner. Martin wouldn’t cook today as he would be working on that MWV presentation, she thought to herself. As soon as she opened the door to her apartment, she saw Martin sitting on the kitchen table, filling a PowerPoint sheet with pictorials.

“Hi love; are you done yet, questioned Patricia?”

“There’s some coffee on the table, I’ll be with you in a second”, said Martin.

With the cup of coffee, Patricia sat down on the table facing Martin. She stumbled upon a magazine, and as if unconsciously, turned the page to the horoscope section.

“It seemed you had a tiring day at work”, said Martin upon finding her fidgeting with her nails.

“Yeah, it was, kinda.”

“Did Monica drop-by?” quizzed Martin with raised eyebrows.

“Yes, she did”, said Patricia nervously.

“What did you tell her?”

“What she wanted to hear, like always.”

Martin could see pain in her eyes when she seemed to be looking in his eyes. But Patricia was staring into the past. She saw two young girls. She remembered that fateful day when she jestingly told Monica that she could decipher her future from the lines on her hand. She saw the day Monica came back running to her, telling her that the prediction had come true, that her application was indeed accepted by the Harvard Business School. She could see herself withholding the truth the first time. Then she saw herself feeding lies to Monica repeatedly, hoping that one day they would prove untrue and Monica would stop coming to her. But one after the other, all her predictions came true. From untimely death of Monica’s parents to her dropping out of the business school because she wanted to marry Peter, the man of her dreams; and from Monica’s divorce to the auction of her parents’ home, and to the subsequent loss of her daughter’s custody because of her bankruptcy as well as drinking and smoking problem – it was all prophesied by Patricia before it actually happened.

Patricia felt she that was shaping Monica’s destiny and not actually reading it. Or was Monica defining Patricia’s future? How will Monica react if she finds out that all misfortune in her life was not written by God, it was instead put there by one of his creations that Monica trusted so blindly? She shuddered at the thought. It was followed by the expression of determination bordering relief. She was certain of what she will tell Monica in their next meeting.

“What are we having for dinner?” inquired Martin.

“Cancer”, her tongue slipped unconsciously.

They looked at each other. And in that moment Martin realized it was too late. A fortune-teller was born.

 

 

Lessons from my journey on the Darjeeling-Ghum Joy-Ride Train

A ride on the Darjeeling toy train, the first hill passenger train of its kind in India, was on my wish list for a long time. So when I finally arrived in Darjeeling in April, 2016; I knew I wanted to ride the one that runs on the steam engine. For exactly the same experience, it cost me ₹ 500 more than the one run on diesel engine (priced ₹ 800), and getting aboard knowing the fact was my first mistake. For most part of my journey, I couldn’t see the engine, and inside it was like any other train, only more crammed – it’s called ‘toy train’ not just because it’s cute – which for me wasn’t a deal-breaker, but I did see a fatter man struggling to keep his ass on the seat.

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Like most tourists, I chose the 2-hour long round trip on the Joyride Toy Train, covering a distance of 14kms from Darjeeling to Ghum, the highest point on the Darjeeling-Himalayan Railway. The toy train joyride begins at 7.40 am and the last trip from Darjeeling starts at 4.20pm. If you book yourself on this last ride, it’s already dark by the time you make the return journey to Darjeeling. You neither get to see the mountains in the distance, nor can you experience the hustle-bustle of the quaint Darjeeling that the toy train promises to deliver. All you see are the silhouettes of landscapes under the setting sun, and then later in the moonlight, which isn’t as romantic as it reads. After a while, it gets boring and you start wishing you’d reach Darjeeling sooner. So, booking this last ride became the second mistake, one that I would later regret.

The toy train moves leisurely to either corner of the road; first through the city and later on the zigzag trails in the mountains. When in the city, you can almost touch the muddy bottom of the slope, populated by bushes and weeds, atop which rest the houses of the locals. Except, you wouldn’t want to because you’ll be repulsed by the amount of garbage that has been thrown down by the residents, all accumulated over the years. From pizza boxes to plastic bottles, and from sanitary napkins to things I would leave for you to imagine; there will be an assault on more than one of your senses. And, if by an ill fate you get the seats on the left side while the train leaves Darjeeling, you’ll find yourself on a tour which can only be titled ‘the garbage of India and their types’. For me, the horrific sight was brutal reminder of how irresponsible we are toward sanitation and cleanliness in India. If that was the condition at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can imagine how misplaced our priorities must be as a nation that promotes tourism. Tourists aren’t to be excused of the blame either. I myself saw fellow travellers emptying their hands and bags of cold drink bottles and wrappers, and adding a heap of their own to the piles of garbage.

The 10-minute stopover at the Batasia Loop, a perfectly manicured garden with a soldier memorial and an Eco Garden, and the views of the Kanchenjunga Mountain and the Darjeeling city from there was a pleasant respite. I could feel my irritation melting away after laying eyes on beautiful flowers and lush grass of the airy garden that has been named well (Batasia means airy space). I would, however, recommend a separate visit to the Batasia Loop for two reasons. One, you will have to rush back to the train before you would’ve enjoyed the views to your satisfaction. Secondly, there is a small market nearby where you can collect souvenirs and stop for a snack if you have the luxury of time, which we didn’t have.

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The Ghum station is a smaller version of the Darjeeling station, and you don’t really feel that you are the highest point of the Darjeeling-Himalayan Railway. I was expecting to see vistas of mountains and trees and was quite disappointed to find out that the major attraction there was a museum. I didn’t visit the museum and utilised the time to see around. I gorged on ‘samosas’ and was quite happy to see those glass jars containing what we called ‘buddhi ka baal’ (an old-woman’s hair) in our childhood. Somehow, those aren’t as readily available now, or maybe I won’t find them in the malls that I frequent now.

I won’t mention the journey back to Darjeeling as it was quite uneventful. Only, that with no views because of the darkness, the same left-side seats as the train doesn’t turn back at Ghum, only the engine changes direction; and the increased chill in the air; I was pretty much done for the day.

 

The Man Who Brought Joy to My Wedding

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Right after we circled four times around the book; we were received by all present with an enthusiasm I won’t be able to inspire collectively in all of my relatives ever again, not until I announce a baby is on its way, which for now looks never. Not even if I declare I brought peace to Syria. Even those of my relatives who attended the wedding because the venue was Haldwani, one hour’s drive from Nainital, greeted us with a vehement cheerfulness, which I expected to surface not until the food was served. Not that I am complaining. Growing up in a Sikh/Punjabi family, I knew I had to be grateful because food is of paramount sanctity and if someone gives you as much love as they do to food, you must die for them. That is why I felt guilty when what I instead wanted to do was call them out for their pretence. Thank god for my significant training in “You can’t control everyone’s shit”, I didn’t. I played along, and at the time of my ‘vidaai’ shed as many tears while hugging my aunt, who thought ‘haaye ni, kudi ne Nepali naal viaah kar liya’ (Oh my god, our daughter married a Nepali!), as I did after hugging my sister and my brothers, all of whom helped me persuade my rather unsure parents that Rohit was indeed the right guy, and stayed by my side all the way till they walked me up to that elevated platform(they call it stage, rightfully so). As much as I wish this post was about ‘what is wrong about the Indian Wedding System and the stereotypes (my husband is a Kumauni), I won’t talk about it beyond this point.

I will instead talk about a man, a friend of my brother-in-law, who brought real joy to my wedding, and whom I met only the 2nd time in my life on the train, while leaving Delhi to get married in Haldwani. I haven’t met him since and this man was to my wedding what Shahrukh Khan was to DDLJ (a Bollywood movie), during the second half. Oh yes, he was even ready to pull the chain to stop the train as me and my family were late to the station. Talk about filmy!

Right from the moment he met us, he took charge. His lousy jokes brought smiles to my anxious parents’ faces. No, we weren’t asked for dowry, it was more to do about the wedding at another destination. I am carefully refraining from calling it a ‘destination wedding’. Other than the fear that a law may pass and I might be asked to give money in charity, the reason is that ours was a simpler wedding. Coming back to the man, Arun relieved my family of some of the minor and major rigmaroles surrounding a wedding in India. He would ensure everyone got their chais and all their meals; he had befriended all bhabhis, chachis, buas and didis; even Rohit’s. The cook would take instructions from ‘Arun bhaiya’; he would feed food to ladies with henna on their hands. Arun would wake up around the same time my parents would, even though all the kids in the family would still be asleep. I was quite astonished to see him. I, for one, knew I couldn’t be like him – extremely spontaneous and super fun. He was a bit too unconstrained; I thought. Also, I was bemused at his uninhibited approach towards life. No constraints could hold him from truly enjoying himself. If Arun decided he wanted to have fun, he would invent fun. Playing ‘antakshri’ one moment, and loitering around with my pretty friends the next (of course, he didn’t wait for an introduction), being sloshed and making fun of people around one moment to being all sentimental over a recent break up, the other.

Amidst a cohort of distant relatives who were sleep-walking through my wedding functions, coming to action only to eat and for getting dressed up; Arun was like a fluorescent marker. At every moment, he highlighted all too prominently the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who are not dead-alive, people who can still surprise themselves and others around them, people who can laugh and make others laugh and people who know they are not going to get out of this life alive.

If you are getting married anytime soon, and if you can; invite people who will bring one of their quirks/qualities you like to the table that you are paying your hard-earned money to set. Refrain from paying for the guests whose photos you are most likely to flip through in your wedding album. These will most likely be your friends and not close family, but that’s okay because whoever said ‘blood is thicker than water’ was just stating the obvious. No need to take that seriously too.

An Outlier’s Plea to God

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/outlier/

The myriad ways in which struggle to control infests the veins;

The mighty change blurs the ability to screen.

‘Turn the Corner’, they said; spring back I will, only a fool says it’s late;

It’s my whim, I chose, I do, I create.

Clasping at the fate’s giant cape, one too many men’s hope;

‘Tomorrow will be a better day’, today I can walk the rope.

Yesterday I was naive, today I am wise;

‘A new galaxy found will have a star, and for me it will rise.’

star

See! Oh look! Happiness smiled at me;

Wait, it was here, to where did it flea?

‘A beautiful day is followed by a dark night’;

Clasp your fists, push with all your might.

I am there; it’s around the corner, I can see it, maybe I should approach with caution;

‘Patience is a necessary ingredient to success’s concoction.’

Not for me will the corners turn; there’s no day that for me will shine;

Millions of hope-devoid black holes own me; only darkness is mine.

I can twist, I can turn, I can build and shatter in million;

The paradise to me is lost, I cry in oblivion.

From today, I will cease to exist;

I’ll smile and smile, for a burglar or for a priest.

Joker

Knock Knock!

Who is it?

I am Happiness, and I am here to stay;

Shoulders hunched, moist eyes, wrinkles on the skin; he walked away.

Old man walking away

Happiness smiled its wry smile and to its eternal abode it fled;

It peeked from there; while the man bled.

Another consumed, who will now worship at your shrine?

Oh Lord, are there no warriors left in your world, Happiness whined?

God turned to the mirror, Happiness from His heart glanced along;

I put you where I knew they will find you. How did they get it wrong?

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