Chapter: New

Adjusting in Singapore hasn’t been as much of a hassle as adjusting in Europe was. Indians do occupy 9.2% of the population after all.  We have an entire community called “Little India” dedicated to us. If being in a foreign land ever bugged us we could just catch a bus and go there to be […]

Roller Coaster Ride

I was greeted by the familiar heat wave as I landed in Delhi. It was snowing in Amsterdam when I left. 11 hours later, I was waiting to get back home and turn the fan on full blast. Such is my life. I have become so used to travelling in the past 8 months or so – that being in one place for more than a while starts getting to me. From Isreal to Bangalore to Italy to Amsterdam to Delhi to Brussels to Berlin to Amsterdam (again) and now back to Delhi. I will be leaving soon again in a couple of months. One would say that living a life of a nomad (in a manner of speaking) can be exhausting physically and emotionally. It surely is, but it’s also the only way I feel like I can move ahead in life. Heal. Feel. Be happy.

This trip was such a roller coaster ride. I landed in Brussels one day before my audition, 10 days after my surgery and one day after my DJ stent was removed (not fun, seriously), totally unprepared for the intensive and tiring process of an audition. Needless to say, I was really really bad. They didn’t select me and obviously, I was very very dejected. I left Brussels with a broken heart and damaged self-esteem, but a stronger sense of conviction to crack the next one. I landed in Berlin and hustled as hard as I could. I attended classes and worked on myself before and after. I couldn’t afford to lose another opportunity for two reasons – 1) I loved the school (Tanzfabrik, for dance lovers) and 2) I didn’t think my ego would be able to take another blow. In the meanwhile, I fell in love with Berlin. The city has class. It has a persistent neo-noir feel to it, combined with it’s traditional architecture and active art scene. I loved walking in the city. Every road, every wall, every U-Bahn station had something different to offer visually. I could imagine myself living there.

(Special mention – Berlin Hauptbahnhof is effing awesome)

BeH

I walked into my audition feeling and looking confident. I knew I had this. I gave it my best shot, and walked out feeling a little bit content with what I had done. I got selected and patted myself on the back for having recovered from an initial loss. But I had no time to celebrate as my tiring journey was not about to end anytime soon. I started packing for Amsterdam immediately after.

By the way, I always make this mistake of not carrying anything to eat during train/bus rides in Europe, which basically means 6+ hours of no food and water unless you decide to get up and cross all the compartments to find the pantry car. But I think I’ve made stupider mistakes in Europe so I’ll let that one pass. Either way, the moment I stepped foot in Amsterdam all my exhaustion basically vanished because I.am.in.love.with.the.city! Everyone talks about having a soulmate. Well, I have a soulcity: Amsterdam. There is something about this place that just makes me happy. I don’t really know what it is. Maybe it is the sight of the river, or the perennially happy people, or the infinite bicycles, or the beautifully lit cafes and restaurants, or the amazing (!!) architecture, or the canal rides, or the way it looks like at night, or just the liveliness of the place, or the way it makes me feel. Maybe it’s all of them. I don’t really know; all I know is that I could live here for an eternity and beyond.

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Unfortunately though, just like everywhere else, I didn’t really get a chance to do any touristy things. I dove head on into classes and choreography. My days were all about dancing, cleaning the house, finding food and drinking too much white wine. True story, I had way too much white wine in Amsterdam. Not my fault its cheap and great. One fine day though, I managed to lock myself out of my apartment at night and had to call an emergency locksmith to open it for me. Had to spend a fortune on it and the guilt still eats at me. I hate the lock system in Europe. Other than this small (but financially big) hiccup, Amsterdam was as awesome as ever. Tiring, but still awesome.

I did manage to do one of the things I had fallen in love with last time – take a ferry ride. I shed tears throughout (Nostalgia does that)

In the meanwhile, I also got selected at Lasalle College of Arts, Singapore – something I had wanted for a while. But couldn’t make it at Amsterdam school of arts – which depressed me so much that I spent a whole day sulking and yes, drinking wine. I really, really wanted it. I would have chosen it without a second thought. But the competition in the dance world is cutthroat and maybe I wasn’t good enough. Nevertheless, the university is amazing and I hope I get a chance to study there at some point. It’s about prestige now.

Life is Europe is always a blur for me. Days fuse into nights fuse into days. It all feels like a matter of a couple of seconds. There is not enough time to stop and think. The garbage needs to be put out, the clothes need to be washed, breakfast needs to be cooked, dishes need to be done, house needs to be cleaned, money needs to be spent judiciously, transport needs to be figured out, adequate groceries need to be bought – other than working on your main objective, of course. I get tired and I love that. In Delhi, I can afford to take so much for granted but not in a foreign land – that keeps me on my toes constantly and I love being in that state. It’s always an experience I learn alot from. I never come back empty handed.

I am still in the hustle mode from Europe and I want to continue to be in it for as long as I’m here. If I stop and pause, I’ll crumble, and I can’t afford that.

Random ramblings

Here I am, sitting in one of the expensive-for-no-reason DB trains, travelling from Berlin to Amsterdam and tapping my fingers on the keypad thinking about what to write. I am normally very bad at coming up with good topics to write about. My thoughts are too scattered and open-ended to come up with a concrete idea. My mind jumps from one topic to the other in a matter of seconds, and all the content that I thought of for the previous topic(s) is immediately lost. So I think it’s better for me to write a running commentary.

Trains journeys are the best metaphor for life. Just like a train ride, life meanders through different terrains and stops in one place for some time. People come and go in your life throughout it’s course, people come and go throughout the course of a train ride too. None of them are permanent, even if you manage to develop a strong bond with them. Everyone leaves at some point or the other. You are only left with your own company.

I often think about what “being content” means. Sometimes I think it’s about chasing your dream to the best of your ability, other times I think it’s about finding that one person who makes you feel like you’re home. But then there are moments of clarity when I realize that maybe it’s about feeling happy when you are with yourself. None of us really love ourselves. We are constantly looking for something, someone to fulfill a void we can’t fill ourselves. It’s not an easy feat. Heck, definitely not for a royally messed up person like me. God knows I have issues that will take several lifetimes for me to fix before I can love myself. I am a loner because that’s my comfort zone; not because I love my own company. If I had to spend an entire evening with my own clone, I would dash for the first exit. True story, I would not date my male counterpart. The two of us would rip eachother’s hair off.

It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that there is no one who is meant to be by your side forever, especially not in a world that tries to sell us the concept of ‘eternal love’ all the time. Movies like The Notebook make you believe that you will die in your soulmate’s arms in the hospital bed. Who doesn’t want to believe that? It’s the most comforting idea in the world. I want to believe that too. I want to be able to close my eyes and not feel scared. We want another human being for that comfort and security because going through life and all it’s problems all alone is too much to imagine. We just might be capable of it; but the idea still scares the crap out of us.

Does that mean we should all declare celibacy and head to the mountains to meditate? Hell no. I cannot abandon a lot of small comforts for anything. I think maybe what I’m trying to say is that we need to stop trying to find ‘contentment’, because we are just too mortal to find nirvana (unless you’re snort coke) We will always be in a state of unrest. We will always be looking for something, despite not knowing what is truly is. Perhaps learning from the journey is more important than dwelling over the destination, because you don’t know if you will ever get there…or if it will be what you wanted if you do get there.

If you have something that makes you feel happy right now and makes you smile before drifting off to sleep, fight for it. It can be anything – a dream, a person, a job, an idea, a friend, a new recipe or a tv show. Don’t give up before giving it your heart and soul, because you never know when it’s going to slip through your hands. Trading present happiness for an expected future gain is the worst bargain in life. (Not to be confused with ‘not stepping out of your comfort zone’. There is a difference between being comfortable & lazy and truly happy)

Anyone who knows me knows I hustle hard. I never think I’ve done a good enough job. Whether it is doing the dishes or putting up a choreography – I will always be dissatisfied (not satisfied with this post either) But this constant relay makes me happy. It makes me feel like there is one thing I can truly call my own.

And I will fight for it until the day I die.

 

Back to Europe

Three months have lapsed since I was here. I had thought that when I would be back it would feel like an eternity. It should feel like an eternity. I’ve been through so much in these 3 months. My life has been turned upside down. I’ve had a surgery, been beaten up (over a parking issue!) and been through an emotional roller coaster ride. I released my first ever group choreography and shed tears when it was received brilliantly. But it feels like it was just yesterday that I was walking across the streets of Europe to find an open restaurant at 10 pm at night, trying to find the best possible route to class, cleaning the house and washroom myself, trying not to get lost (!), trying to find people who speak english (for the love of god!) and – trying not to look like an idiot.

That, honestly, is the biggest struggle. As an Indian you are brought up to believe that  the white race is superior. Every time that a white woman/man was spotted on the streets of a small town, the crowds would ogle them shamelessly as though they were aliens. I was a part of that crowd. I saw the firangs as people who belonged to a completely different world. When I was a kid and lived in a small town called Kashipur (a little away from Ramnagar), an american couple were brought home by my cousin uncle (we were a family of show-offs. Apparently he promised he would tell them everything they needed to know. He knew zilch, btw) and my god it was like Radha-Krishna had entered our home. Every single resource was devoted to making them comfortable. My entire family turned into Indian historians. I, too, was quite overwhelmed. I stood there like a darbaan waiting to salute them when they left. And that’s what I did.

Anyway, the point is that that experience is still very vivid in my mind. Out of all the extraordinary experiences I may have had as a child, this is one of the very few that is still as clear as it gets. The only reason being that we were noticed by foreigners. Wow, isn’t that a big thing.

That is the reason why the possibility of making a fool out of myself infront of these posh, highly sophisticated breed of homo sapiens causes me extreme anxiety. Having a cup of coffee in a cafe can sap me of all my energy. What if I pronounce ‘cappuccino’ wrong? What if I enter the cafe and then they tell me that it is already closed? Won’t I look like such a fool then? What if the owner/waiter doesn’t know english? What if I don’t like what I order? Would it be okay if I left it untouched? Would they think I’m insulting them by not liking their food? – are just some of the thoughts that go through my head when I undertake the simple task of ordering a cup of coffee. There is a plethora of other things of course – accidentally walking on the cyclists lane, not knowing whether or not it’s okay to cross the road even when there is no zebra crossing, not knowing where to buy the train/tram/bus ticket, not knowing how to buy the train/tram/bus ticket, not knowing whether to place an order in a restaurant at the counter or at the table, not knowing whether to settle the bill at the counter or at the table, whether to say “take away” or “to go” when getting food packed, not knowing if it would be okay to pee after 10:30 at night or the neighbor might call the police for making noise etc.

Yes, living in Europe is a struggle for Indians. Especially a lazy and lost Indian like me. Makes me realize how many things we take for granted in our country. Today, I went to a mobile store to buy a local pre-paid sim. I had to wait an hour before that guy could attend to me because he was attending to another customer. Had it been India I would have made an angry remark and got the job done in 10 minutes.

Despite my struggles though, I feel like I manage myself reasonably okay when I’m here. I wash my clothes on time and manage to put some food in my stomach. Sure, sometimes I have to eat utter garbage in the name of “vegetarian food”, but that’s when I thank the lord that I know how to cook and for Indian restaurants. I manage to figure out the public transport system and the lanes/streets (One thing I can never figure out is the lock system here. True story – I always forget which way to turn the key to open the door) Most importantly though – it keeps me on my toes all the time. I’m in zero chill mode in Europe.

I like being in the hustle mode. It gives me a sense of purpose and direction. It helps me overcome a lot of challenges. It isn’t always a party though; being alone all the time can get to anyone – but that’s why I hustle harder, so that it doesn’t overwhelm me. More than anything else – I get to focus on and explore dance to the fullest, which is what I live for.

This trip has been a rush so far. I went to Brussells for two days and now I’m in Berlin for a couple of days, followed by a yet undecided destination for a few days and finally to Amsterdam. No enjoyment anywhere though – just auditions, auditions, auditions!

 

When being a vegetarian was a curse

Being a vegetarian is the new ‘cool’, isn’t it? Apparently the phenomenon isn’t yet global – as seen during my recent trip to Singapore. Now, Singapore is an amazing place. I loved the landscapes, the organized neighborhoods and the amazing amalgamation of culture and technology. But, and this is a pretty heavy ‘but’ (soaked in the syrup of doubt, panic and survival instincts), if you are a vegetarian and want food after 10:30 in the night, you will have to suck it up and sleep on biscuits, my friend.

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Now, there are plenty of Indian restaurants in Singapore. I’m sure there are some that are open late in the night too. But it’s like trying to look for a needle in the haystack in the middle of the night. Forget Indian food, vegetarian food is like an endangered species on that island. I mean, you are visiting for a couple of days and are staying in a hotel. After fiddling around with your Singapore guide map for hours and trying your best to get a simple request across to the Singlish speaking staff in the hotel, you finally manage to find a vegetarian (and hopefully, Indian) restaurant somewhere, but by that time, you are so hungry and tired that the additional 1 hour journey seems like Dandi March in slow motion that just isn’t worth it.

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Key point here being – accessibility. Yes, Indian and vegetarian restaurants are scattered across the island, but they aren’t even 1% as accessible as the local hawker centres that are almost within a km of each other and are open till 3 am in the morning. They’re like chowpatties in Mumbai, minus the eatable food. What do they offer? Seafood and it’s pungent (=disgusting) smell that looms over double the radius of the actual centre. Crabs, prawns, fish, lobsters, shrimps, frogs (?!?!?!?!) are all fair game as far as food is concerned. Mind you, I don’t mean to offend any culture, I just find it hard to imagine for someone to be salivating over a crab or frog. FYI, frog porridge is a very famous delicacy of the streets of Singapore. [Insert poker face emoji]

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So having converted to vegetarianism a decade back, and lived in Delhi for almost 8 years now where my midnight cravings have always opened up a vista of possibilities, (=drawer full of home delivery menus) being a vegetarian and a midnight muncher in Singapore combined to put me through my worst nightmare.

The room service menu was extensive, the veg options however, were limited to an eggplant (baigan) sandwich and garden salad – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yes, true story. The only veg option the buffet had to offer was the smallest version of the Samosa that you could ever come across, presented on a table like it was some exotic delicacy. There was also pasta in white sauce, which the staff weren’t sure contained beef or not. Usually I love risks, but I abstained from this one.

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Thankfully though, Singapore has a lot of South Indians and consequently South Indian joints. We were lucky enough to be staying in a hotel right next to one. Thankfully for them the term ‘vegetarian’ didn’t also cover chicken and fish. The only minute problem with them was that they spoke only and only Malay, so communicating with them was as hard as watching a local wolfing down a huge crab. So finding another Indian joint elsewhere, without doing a 101 course in Malay first, was out of the question. So we travelled all the way from Changi to Downtown to Marina Bay to Singapore Zoo and then came back and had Masala Dosa at that South Indian joint at 2 in the morning.

And I simply could not understand their obsession with eggplant. Anything vegetarian had to have eggplant in it – eggplant in sandwiches, as pizza toppings, in pasta, heck even in the samosa filling! I have not had as much baigan as I did in these seven days in my entire life. Who the hell likes baigan anyway?

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Clearly, this part of Asia is still way behind on catching up on the vegetarian trend. While the ability to eat anything that moves on four legs is a handy survival instinct, I think in an apocalyptic situation, the thought of eating frog porridge will kill me before the actual apocalypse.

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Trip

I squeezed into my seat along with my friend into the auditorium. We were both out of breath because we came in running. This was a movie we had both been waiting for a long time, and didn’t want to miss even a single second. We leaned back into our chairs and took deep breaths. The movie hadn’t started yet.

“Thank god we made it on time”, I said.

“I know right! I would have been so disappointed otherwise..”

I nodded and looked ahead. Trailers were going on. The theatre lights were still on, I wondered why that was. They should have been off by now. I looked around. No one else seemed to notice. They were all busy munching on popcorn, which reminded me that needed to get popcorn too.

“Hey, I’ll go get some popcorn, okay?”, I told my friend. She simply nodded. I squeezed out of the row and walked out through the gate. The snacks area was huge. It was probably as big as the theatre itself. The snacks counter itself, however, was quite small in proportion. As I walked towards the counter, I thought about why someone would deliberately make such a mistake in internal design.

As I reached the counter, I realized that there was no one there. Popcorn was continually bursting out of the popcorn machine into the popcorn collecting space. Hot dogs were rolling in the warmer. The cold drink vending machine was on. That’s weird, I thought to myself. How could all this equipment be working with no one to look over?

“Hello? Is someone there?”, I called out. There was no response. After waiting for about 10 seconds, I called out again. No one answered. It truly seemed as though the place was deserted. After a while, I decided to go back into the theatre. I’ll come back later.

I opened the door and walked back in. I halted in my footsteps and gasped. The entire theatre was empty. The lights were on, but the movie was still going on. Panic started to rise up within my chest as I frantically looked around for my friend or anyone else. I strode forwards and called out her name. Something, however, told me that I would not get a reply. I combed through all the rows to find someone, but ultimately had to accept that I was alone.

Fear began to bubble in my stomach as I slowly inched towards the exit door. When I was very close to it, I broke into a sprint and dashed out. I immediately closed my eyes and held up my hand as I was engulfed by blinding light. When my eyes had adjusted themselves to the excessive light, I slowly opened them and looked around. I didn’t know where I was. This wasn’t the place I was in before I entered the theatre. I was standing in the middle of a two way road which was bustling with traffic. There were big 5 star hotels on either side of the road. My breath was now coming in gasps and sweat was trickling down my face.

What is happening here? Where am I? This is unreal. I could simply not process the turn of events. My senses could not let in the bizarre situation that I had landed myself in. For a long moment, I stood rooted to my spot in the middle of the road, not knowing what to do or where to go. But then, I saw a man standing at the entrance of one of the 5 star hotels beckoning me with two fingers. At first I looked behind me to check if he was signalling someone else, but then realized that it was indeed me that he was calling.

I started walking towards him without giving it much thought. I was in a complete mess anyway. When I reached, he silently took my hand and led me inside the hotel. At the reception, he simply signalled the receptionist to give me a pair of keys. He swiftly handed me over a pair of keys that had the label ‘667’ tagged to them.

“12th floor”, he said.

I looked at the receptionist and then at the man who had beckoned me. I had no idea what this was all about. So many questions swam in my head. Why had he called me? Why was I supposed to go into this room? How did they know me?

“Look, I don’t know what’s happening here..I was in a theatre with my friend and -”

I was cut off by the man who brought me in as he gave me a slight shove towards the lift, “Go”, he said.

Feeling totally lost, I started walking towards the lift. The doors slid open instantly. I walked in and looked around. The lift was circular in shape, with very little space to stand but very high in proportion. It seemed to have been made with the sole purpose of making someone feel claustrophobic. I pressed the button with ’12’ written on it, and the lift shot upwards with so much force that I fell down on the surface. As I got up, I started experiencing the same swooping sensation in my stomach that one usually does in a lift, only it was amplified by 10 times. It was moving at such speed that my surroundings had become a blur. My eyes could not take in anything and had started watering. I wanted to hold on to something for support but found nothing. After what seemed like an eternity, the lift finally came to abrupt halt, which literally lifted me off my feet.

The doors slid open. To my extreme shock, my room stood in front of me, looking the same as ever. My bed was as messy as ever, my study table was scattered with notes and biscuit wrappers, my laptop was still on and my windows were open. Feeling a mixture of relief, happiness and safety, I stepped inside.

The moment the lift doors shut, my eyes shot open and I sat up in my bed. Hastily looking around, I took in my surroundings and saw that my room looked exactly the same. I stared at the spot that I was supposedly standing a moment ago, and thought of my shadow slowly vanishing into thin air.

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I wrote this story for a college project this year. Pun is intended in the title. Hope you like it. Feedback appreciated.