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Framed by Wanderlust with Neeraj Narayanan (Founder, This Guy’s On His Own Trip), Delhi, India

Neeraj Narayanan aka Captain Nero quit his job in 2013 to chase his dreams of living a life full of adventures. Since then he has been to 25 countries, run with the bulls in Spain, deep sea soloed in the South China sea, lived with gypsies in a cave, climbed an active volcano and been chased by a bear in Croatia. In Delhi, he spends most of his time sleeping or taking people on heritage walks. Join this guy on a trip, sometime. Until then, read about them here and see what secrets he’s sharing with me today.

Last place you visited
In the last seventy five days, I have been on the road for 67 days. Since June, I spent 50 odd days travelling through Turkey, Greece and then the heart of the Balkans ­ Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia and Romania. Then after coming back to India and spending a week at home, I spent the next sixteen days in the mountains of Kashmir and Ladakh. I might be needing a holiday from a holiday now!

Three places on your travel wish list
South America, New Zealand and Antarctica. That is a lot of Tropic of Capricorn!

An unforgettable experience from a journey
Being lost in a forest in Thailand for three days and spending those days with five wild elephants. Initially, it started with me gingerly walking upto them and hoping they would not crush me. By the end of three days, I had learnt to mount them, climb up the trunk and sit on top, and bathe and feed them. One of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

Five things you always carry on holiday
I would love to believe I do not need many necessary things on a holiday. I want to stop carrying any phone soon enough. A camera and a set of clothes seem to be the only important things, besides a positive and open attitude and a desire to keep being overwhelmed.

Would you rather head to the beach, the mountains or city streets
I have always been a nature lover, so the first two attract me more. I do love smaller cities and towns too, though.

A place you’d like to visit again and again
Kotor (in Montenegro) looks like a picture postcard, arguably one of the prettiest places I have seen. But Bhutan is very close to my heart. I have lead four group trips there and they have all been very special.

A place you wish you hadn’t visited
That hasn’t happened to me yet. I want to go everywhere, and I think I will love them all.

A person (real/fictional) you’d like to go on holiday with, and where
Bear Grylls would always be a first choice. I love and look up to seemingly reckless adventurers, guys who are fearless and love nature and the outdoors. I would love to go on a trip with men like Bear or Will Gadd or Alex Hannold, to anywhere ­ a mountain, an uninhabited island, a treacherous landscape, an intimidating jungle ­ and live with them, and learn survival skills from them. That would be fantastic.

Your holidays are incomplete without
They are incomplete without me changing at least one plan last minute, incomplete without me having lived with at least one stranger, incomplete without me trying out at least one risky sport or adventure activity.

A stranger you met during a journey who you’re still in touch with
Well, I take people on group trips for a living. I am in touch with quite a few of them. From my solo trips, there are a couple of boys from America I met on an island in the South China Sea with whom I still talk online. And a couple of Spanish girls I met two years back.

If you’d like to participate in this or other Q&A series, holler on Twitter or leave a message below and I’ll be saying ‘Hi’ very soon!

4

10 Lessons from 15 Years of Love

Jacqueline Roque by Pablo PicassoLast month, we turned 15. “We” meaning the husband & I before we were the husband and I, including the time we didn’t feel very “we” if you ask me. We’ve known each other too long you’d think, for there to be any surprises. But surprise each other we do, every now and then, with the serenades, the same yet different notes in each other we’ve come to recognise and love and with how colossal fights can be (the frequency is 1 almost-tear-us-apart sort every 5 years).

Like all things in life should do, we’ve accumulated lessons (which I dole out to love newbies every other day) and which hopefully he and I will remember each day, particularly when the next big war is due.

1. You’re a team

As easy as it sounds, this one gets lost in the melewe of the daily grind, resembling You vs Me most often. Life (spent together) will take enough rough shots at us, and our ability to fight them will always be determined by whether we add each other to the enemy line or stand beside each other (with the gloves on) and take ’em down.

2. Simplify Simplify Simplify

For the sake of arguing, there’s a whole lot to pick up on. But very little of that is truly important. So before you start building ammunition to take each other down, stop and think if it’s really that important. Because some arguments are important and deserve to be shared. Do them justice by leaving out the riff raff.

3. When it comes to each other’s families, play a good guide

You know your respective families the best. So guide each other on some basics on what might be within respectful behaviour lines. Each family is different (don’t have the which is better argument EVER) so just follow each other’s lead and you’ll be fine, as long as you respect the guidance and follow through. (Corollary to #3: Never begin a sentence with “Your mother…”)

4. Go for Core Competencies

It’s amazing how we’re so happy to delegate responsibility in accordance with core competencies at work but in personal relationships we’re often hoarders, refusing to budge from ‘our terrain’. The home world is a happier place if you share work. And avoid a postmortem analysis!

5. Don’t Sleep on an Argument

Unlike other problems that seem to improve when you revisit them the next day, it actually helps to sleep on a clean slate when it comes to things bothering you about your relationship. If your concern passes the test in #2 then it’s better to say it now rather than later. Collecting only results in avalanches much later and are certainly more damaging.

6. The Little Things are the Big things

Vacation romances and weekly/fortnightly dates are important, but the morning hug, the random email during the day (because it feels more like a letter than an SMS), the smile at dinner are markers of the “we” you chose to become. It’s the reason you wanted to wake up to and with this person every day of your life.

7. Don’t let the humour die

Jean Luc Goddard said a couple that doesn’t enjoy the same films will eventually divorce. I like to believe a couple that doesn’t laugh at atleast some of the same things will grow apart. A common language of humour is the pillar that holds it all together. Because if you can’t let out guffaws with each other, life will resemble a silent motion picture that isn’t even cool.

8. Introspect

To become better versions of the “we”, you need to make time to look within the “you”. We’re always so busy telling the world what is wrong with it that we hardly have time to know ourselves. Don’t lose out on a wonderful opportunity to understand what you’re all about. Then every relationship will not be reactive, but rather a conscious, living action of who and what you want to be.

9. Don’t Compare

We all know that couple who always posts happy pictures from countless holidays or their always – perfect home. Sometimes we play that couple too. But it helps to remember that everyone is fighting some or the other battle, even if they’re doing a wonderful job cloaking it. Holidays are for leaving the phone behind, life is for the relentless pursuit of your version of happiness. Do it your way, carry along the people that truly matter and focus your energy on the living, not necessarily the way – it – looks – on – Instagram variety.

10. Give Thanks

How often have you said thank you to your partner? Yes there are things you think is their duty but it certainly doesn’t hurt to show love and gratitude, especially when our daily lives resemble a chihuahua on a sugar high & roller skates going downhill. Stop, take notice and let them (your partner, not the imaginary chihuahua) know why they’re extra special & why you feel butterflies-in-your-stomach excited when you spot them in the crowd.

Have any lessons from your (im)perfect love and life to share? I’m all ears!

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The Thing About Grey

It pulls me in from the crowd, makes me go weak in the knees, colors my dreams. Out of a thousand things in rainbow shades, I am extremely likely to pull out the grey. It’s hot stuff, if you ask me.

Let’s suffice it to say, I have ‘a thing’ for grey, referred to (quite unfairly I feel) as the color “without color”.

The crowds may chant bleak, boring, old and sad to its face, but I find there’s much beauty and fun to be had in it. Of course if this were the 18th century, and Paris, I would have been quite the ravishing enchantress about town in my swishing grey gown.

Charlotte_Walsingham,_Lady_Fitzgerald_by_John_Hoppner

Or a happy fly on the grey wall buzzing over Whistler’s Mother as she sat in perfect composure for this portrait.

James_Abbott_McNeill_Whistler_-_Portrait_of_the_Artist's_Mother_-_Google_Art_Project

Wikipedia offers a grim reflection on one of my favorite hues by (horribly) stating:

In Europe and the United States, surveys show that grey is the color most commonly associated with conformity, boredom, uncertainty, old age, indifference, and modesty. Only one percent of respondents chose it as their favorite color.

And goes on to make matters grey-er by quoting color historian Eva Heller.

“Grey is too weak to be considered masculine, but too menacing to be considered a feminine color. It is neither warm nor cold, neither material or spiritual. With grey, nothing seems to be decided.

Bah, Humbug I say!

Let a girl salivate o’er grey

Ogle at the grey sweater-chest,

slip on a plain grey dress,

jump off the steel-grey train,

dance under the glowing grey rain.

Images via https://www.pinterest.com/manikadhama/

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Cinnamon

Cinnamon_Poem

Thin round mints

in a square tin box,

one finger clicks

open the top,

white paper

black letters

rustling inside,

pink tablets tying

her tongue in knots.

“Curiously Strong”

it had boldly warned

of cinnamon breath

for hours long,

take one for now

with more to follow

letting it linger

no hurried swallow.

Sharp edged pins

slowly close in

She shuts her eyes

to catch them spin,

seconds crawl on

behind a racing heart

“Artificially Flavoured” kiss

is ready to depart.

This is the second poem composed on the cellphone during a 40 minute metro ride. Read the first here.

 

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In The Now

Don’t you sometimes (well, always) get the feeling that life is running at top speed, right ahead of you and you’re struggling to catch a breath, hold still, make it stop, just a little bit?

So I made a pact, with myself, that I would take a moment to see and enjoy the present, the here and now. Reflecting on the past (for we must allow for that too) I have found that the times I have truly treasured are those spent without the fear of tomorrow or even the next minute.

Then happiness dwells in the littlest things.

It has been catching a glimpse of him behind the crowds leaving the airport gates, and smiling, for that moment, for how much you love him, forgetting the two hours of delayed flights and sweaty waiting.

Or her loud cheers and heavy jumps after a long day, as you shut everything out and just peer inside her twinkling eyes, hoping to capture it in your mind, forever, because time never will.

And happiness is indeed in the littlest things, the effortless, unchained now.

But it is the easiest thing to forget and the hardest to apply.

Unless you endeavor to make a start, to make a promise, to build it for yourself and others, right this minute maybe?

Quote
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Abstract art_Love by panc

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

– Shakespeare Sonnet 116

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On These Tracks

Aeneas_Leaving_Dido

‘Doomed Love’ was scribbled on the cover
Of Aeneas and Dido in time torn asunder
Just then a voice joined my morning ride
Cowering behind a cellphone smile.

The journey she had made for him
To take her mind off sordid things
All tangled now in unshakable vows
He was leaving it all for now.

Her voice quivered as she said “Goodbye!”
“Go then, forever”, she cried
The tears I heard but did not see
Her troubles lay bare next to me.

Words didn’t fly off the page again
I said “forget”, only to myself
Life could look better without that love
The one that hurt you so much.

Ring ring ring it did again
“No more, no more” in refrain
Trembling she rose to face it all
Dido among the Delhi winds.

—-

This poem was composed on a cellphone during a 40 minute metro ride.

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In Memoriam

Twelve years ago, my brother and I walked out into the sun with a shoe box for company. We were on a mission, to fulfill my brother’s wish, which he had etched in blue pen on the wall in our room.

“I want doggy with big ears.”

I had never quite understood his fascination with canines. He had had his flesh torn out twice over but his desire for a furry pet was relentless.

We had kept pet dogs ever since I can remember.  First there was Salma, the Indian breed lady with whom we played ring-a-ring-a-roses. She wasn’t exactly our pet, but since we fed her she hung around in our garden in that remote place in Himachal. She had pups, among whom I can only recall the black brute who answered to the everyman dog-name Tommy. And the only thing I remember about him was how he licked my feet all through a fancy dress rehearsal in the kitchen. When we left town Salma followed the truck for a long time after. I don’t remember that part. It is from the parent-to-child folklore about the times you were too young to remember.

The new town was where my brother’s adventure streak really found wings. He was the ring-leader and roamed the streets with his humble followers in tow. This bunch of five year olds had an exciting life building thatched structures in the jungle and parading dead crows about town. Huckleberry Finn would have been proud.

In keeping with his interest areas at the time, my brother brought home a raggedy, stinky dog that looked every bit the part of his potential sidekick. This canine ragamuffin was christened Jacky, for no fault of his. He stayed with us for a few months, just enough time to find himself in festival pictures and be forever named among the beloved four-legged family members. You could say it was in his eyes the day he was brought in, but I guess we (everyone except my brother) knew this dog was no house pet. So Jacky left his two-legged companion one day without notice and continued on in search of possibly adventurous pursuits.

My brother was hurt, as all five year olds whose dogs run away, will be. My parents decided to fill that void by searching high and low for the perfect pet for my brother. We found him hiding under a chair in Gwalior. Blacky (for that was his mane and his name) was a beautiful hybrid with uncertain genealogy but a wild streak that only masked my brother’s ever so slightly. They were perfect for each other. If you came by the house you could catch them lying arm in arm on the porch. Blacky also saved my mother twice from deadly snakes. On both occasions it was a dark rainy night and as my mother bent forward in the porch to place the food bowl before him, Blacky barked away and forced her back in. In a little while my mother knew why, as she saw a snake wriggle past near the bowl. When we found ourselves back to packing and moving, it was time to decide whether taking Blacky along to what was going to be a small apartment in the city was a good idea. Finally he came along, the fox-sized giant in the car with his little companion.

Soon enough it became clear that keeping him locked up in a small space was a bad idea so he was sent to live on a farm, which in this case was not a euphemism for ‘he passed away’. He did go to a farm and lived happily (I presume) till it was time to say goodbye, several years later.

You would think this was it, but you’re oh so wrong. What followed next was the opposite of Blacky, in colour and size. My father went back to where we had moved from and came back with a little white ball inside his coat pocket. This was Rusty. Why a pearly white dog was called Rusty is beyond me. But that was his name when my father got him and we didn’t bother to make him unlearn it. Rusty was a spitz with remarkable self-confidence. This dog would stand in front of a bull, measuring just about the size of the bull’s face, and the bark like there was no tomorrow. Perhaps he was a reincarnation of Napolean.

I distinctly remember this one night when he swallowed a chicken leg piece whole. We weren’t sure if his stomach was that big and my parents said he might die because he couldn’t possibly digest that big a thing. My brother and I cried and cried all night and when morning came Rusty just pranced around the house wondering what all the fuss was about.

I can’t remember why that happened, but after a few years it was decided that Rusty must be taken back to where he came from. I think it was because we had all become tied up in a lot of things and couldn’t care too well for him. Or perhaps it was the usual scenario where kids demand pets saying they’ll do all the related work and when the pet comes he’ll all toy and no work for them, while mummy darling has an additional family member to care for. Once again our four-legged friend left us just as we were getting used to him. This time my brother went with dad, probably to check whether these farms in parent folklore were indeed that. My father told us later that brother darling was crying on his way back. Little boys and their dreams.

For a few years nothing happened. But soon enough the writing was on the wall. Literally.

That is how we found ourselves standing before a golden retriever mother who probably knew we were going to take one of her kids away. We brought Mischief home on the day before my brother was leaving for boarding school. It was probably not the best timing, especially since he was technically being brought home for my brother. I love dogs too but I’m not the sibling who wrote that on the wall.

On the first night we placed newspapers all over our room for him to pee on. When the lights were off we could hear him trying to find his way around. The next day my brother said goodbye with a heavy heart and Mischief had found his caretaker in mommy. During that time whenever we went to meet my brother, we took Mischief with us. All our dogs till then had been wild ones so we considered getting Mischief trained. For about a month Mischief spent time with a trainer and he learnt to sit, stand and roll over. It was all very cute but soon he lost interest and we let him be.

All our pets before Mischief had been more one person’s pet than everyone’s. But that changed with Mischief. All of us cleaned the poo, took him for walks, tick-picked and fed him. He became the true family pet.

As with any pet, the funny moments abound, whether it was the time he sat in the middle of the road in front of the vet’s clinic, as my brother and I struggled to pull him to the side. Or the time he ate one kilogram freshly prepared gajar-ka-halwa right out of the kadai. Coming home meant preparing to be thrown back by the force that was Mischief in his heyday. There were rules to be followed around the house – keep your slippers out of reach, keep fancy food at high places, close your bedroom door if you don’t want it to resemble a tornado hit space.

These rules have become second nature to all of us and it was extremely difficult to imagine that this fiery furry one could ever be sober. But your body plays these tricks on you. Four years ago he contracted tick fever, which was followed by a significant drop in platelet count. This was followed by a bout of nose bleeding that refused to end and signalled the end. I was miles away at the time and the description of his troubles set me crying for what might happen. The vet took one look at him and said, “this dog is not going anywhere. His body language shows he’s too high on life to give up just yet.” He was right. Circumstances that would have spelt the end for many left Mischief weak in limb but fiery in spirit as always.

Since then several close encounters followed and a couple of times the vet stated “you might lose him”. Mischief’s resolve was far too strong for all that was going wrong inside his system. His special food for kidneys and blood continued alongside several doses of medicines. Frequent visits to the vet, more nose bleeding episodes and countless other problems alternated with glimpses of the erstwhile naughty behaviour. But everything had slowed down.

Till September 2012, we were keeping the bedroom doors closed as per the usual rule. Soon it became unnecessary. Mischief had to be carried to the vet in hand and would lie for hours at the exact spot we left him, getting up only for water and food. Then came the first weekend in October. The vet pronounced his judgement. The kidneys had failed and the end was near. He suggested we put Mischief to sleep. We debated and decided to let nature take its course.

Today, two years ago, when I got back from work, I could hear Mischief moaning. His breathing was hurried and he was visibly discomfited. My mother said he was probably going to be with us for two days or so. He had stopped eating for a few days and the only water he had was whatever little we were able to put in through a dropper. In humans this sort of condition usually marks the beginning of the end. Watching him troubled, my mother said we should all pray for his smooth passing. She had been sitting beside him for the most part of the day for almost a week and she decided to sit beside him and pray.

At 9:45pm on 9th October 2012, Mischief the Magnificent passed away right after my mother had sounded the bell three times and begun to pray. She continued her prayers and informed the rest of us when those were over.

As my brother and I drove to the burial ground two years ago, I travelled back to the day we had walked home with Mischief in our arms. The three of us were travelling together again and just like that day twelve years ago, I will never forget this one.

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Songs After Sundown

Songs After Sundown

A river cried God’s name in vain

As treasures spilled onto the streets from a tome

Forsaken love mocked the crimson earth

The night wore a shade of moonshine and verse.

 

Under green tints and shadow games

Wars had begun in the minds of men

They ate words, warm and uncut

While truant leaves churned fortunes in a cup.

 

Time flew in on a half-torn wing

Vanity and want shared a rummy drink

They danced among strewn letters of life

Polished by eyes behind velvet screens.