Saturday, June 25, 2016

When London Dreams Came True - Part 2

Act 1 Take 2

Shortlisting the travel agencies to get me some sightseeing was an uphill task.  There were so many of them that at one point of time I told my dad that I quit.  Why can’t there be someone who can do all this for me and I just enjoy the whole experience without this arduous researching, enquiring and the works. But don’t they say no pain no gain? This exercise of going through websites of travel agencies, sending emails seemed to be unending. Then to add to my confusion there were alternatives like hop on hop off tours, 1 day tours and the likes.  A bit of researching later, I decided it was time to put a stop to running around travel agencies based locally. I thought of checking out travel agencies in London itself. There were quite a few who had 4 day packages or 3 day packages in and around England. However, most of them did not seem to be practical for a solo traveler like me. They were better suited for two individuals. I also found out to my surprise that the hostel I was booked in also had the booking options for tickets for most of the places I was looking to visit. But then luckily one of the travel agencies I stumbled upon seemed to have just the thing I wanted.  Aah. Lovely (in a brit accent) I thought. After enquiring with them, I found out that I could pay online for the tours I wanted to book with them or I can reach their office in London and then book them.  I decided to go for the latter.  Another thing to be done was off the list now.  It was almost April 3rd week by the time this thing was sorted out. It all seemed like a roller coaster ride. There was a new discovery every day about London, travelling solo and a zillion other things related to making a foreign trip.  I was told to hold on to my passport and the local currency with all my might. I should never ever lose my passport.

8th April
I get a call from my mom saying that she will be getting 4 days off from school, from 13th to 17th. The next thing she said was not very surprising. I was asked to fly down to Delhi pronto to do some preparation and get some parental wisdom (i.e., no drinking outside, no hanging out in bars during afterhours and getting back to the hostel at a decent hourJ).  Off I flew to do some shopping and get a few more things in order.



(Around) 23rd April
It was time to get in some cash in the bag. I was in this whole ‘show me the money’ (Jerry Maguire) mode when I was finding out about where to get the sterling pound (not so sterling now after Brexit). Eventually, I decided to go with one of the banks I had an account in. It helped as that meant I would not need to go through a lot of paperwork and the money will be debited and credited (if at all) from and to my bank account. So after filling up a couple of forms a couple of times, as I got the money in parts, I was good to go. I had the Queen in my pocket now! Another issue was sorted out.

30th April – I had the pounds in my pocket and I felt pretty zonked about it. It was now time to get the medical insurance.  That was one of the very few things my father insisted during this entire exercise that I should have, come what may. So I did that too, online. My mom had already given me this ‘friendly’ suggestion that I should start packing from April 30th. So I did, but I started on 1 May. Since it was just me and it was just 5.5/6 days in London, I hardly had any packing to do. Me and most of all, my parents were wary about the famous angreji weather – fashionably unpredictable. Plus, when we checked the weather during the week I was supposed to be there, it said between 18 and 21 degree C. That, to us in India in summers, especially, was cold. Pop came dad’s statement of finality. “Forget about wearing shorts darling. Pack sweaters.” So I did as a good daughter (:P). I even packed a trench coat sort of a thing, which was probably the heaviest item in my luggage after the weight of the suitcase. The suitcase was courtesy my beloved sister-in-law. So in a couple of days I was done with that too.

4th May - Dad had already told me that he will be coming to see me off and he reached Pune on 4th May. My flight was on 6th may at 10 am. We thought if we reached Mumbai on 5th night, instead of leaving at 2 or 3 am on 6th to be at the airport by 7 am, it will be better.  I called up one of favourite aunts in Mumbai to ask if we could stay at here place on 5th night. As always, it was a yes.  Before that the last thing to sort out was transport from Heathrow to the hostel. I booked a cab online on 4th evening. Since I  was landing around 8.30 pm at night and it was going to take me an hour to get out post immigration and baggage, cab seemed like the best option. Yes, even though it was a tad expensive. That was perhaps the only thing left before we started off for Mumbai the next day. We reached my aunt’s place the next evening, at around 8.30 after taking a bus to Mumbai. Excitement and anxiety, both were playing games with my mind.  I had only heard of the term butterflies in stomach, but as close as I got to leaving for London, I actually experienced what it is like.
5th May – I leave for the Mumbai international Airport with my dad and my aunt who is a complete sport. I reached the airport around 7.20 am. I got off at the spot which indicated that Emirates travelers should enter from that gate. I said to myself, “it is show time, without lights and camera!”

Saturday, June 18, 2016

When London Dreams Came True

Act 1, Take 1

Me- Circa December 2015 - “I want to go out some place in summer next year, out of India, preferably Europe and more specifically UK.  Oh and yes, if possible on my birthday.“
Me – Circa May 6th 2016, I am on my way to – lo and behold, to the land where Thames flows, London.
Flashback, 2016 January –
 I was frantically scouring through brochures and websites of travel agencies in Pune to check out if they have London only packages. It was a unanimous opinion that since it is my first time in a really far off, phoren land, it will be better if I go with a tour agency. And so started my research on tour packages to Londres, and how and what all to do there. Unfortunately or fortunately (mostly fortunately), after almost couple of months of reading and browsing through websites of travel agencies in India and in London, I finally gave up. I simply could not find a package which fit into my budget and the duration I was looking for. One of the major reasons was probably the fact that I was going to do a solo trip. So took a decision that I will do it myself. The fact that UK is an English speaking region worked to my advantage. It was one of the facts which gave a boost to my confidence that I will be able to manage this on my own. So that thing was set.
February 2016- I went to a travel agency to get my Visa done. Wow. It was no less than a school summer vacation project, with the number of documents I had to arrange for. It started from a letter from my workplace to my income tax declaration statements and the last thing I did was to get my bank account statements. It took me almost a month or so to get hold of all the documents. The irony was that it took me just 2 days to get the Visa after I submitted the documents in the UK Visa office at Kalyani Nagar! Blimey! That it was an experience is another story.  I was ecstatic when I got the visa and more than me, others were confident that since it is a tourist visa, it will be a cake walk.
So the next, the most arduous task on my hand was to zero in on the places I wanted to visit. It was a catch 22 situation because there were miles to go and excruciatingly less time on my hands. Nevertheless, you gotta do it, you gotta do it. So I narrowed down on 5/6 places – not to mention mostly touristy - Windsor Castle, Madame Tussauds’, Lords’ cricket ground London Dungeons and Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. I also squeezed in a whole city tour.  I also had planned to visit my cousin who helped me with the invite, who is settled in Loughborough, Leicestershire, around 2 hours from London.
March  21, 2016 – Woohoo.. there it was. I had booked myself (finally after lot of deliberation, discussions and internet browsing) on an Emirates flight to London, Heathrow airport, with a layover in Dubai.  It took a good few days for me to digest the fact that I am now, booked on an Emirates flight to LONDON - the place, which I had been dreaming of going, since I don’t know when!  Immediately after that, I booked my stay in youth hostel, a la Queen, aka Kangana Ranaut, around 30 minutes from central London. The only difference was there was no Sikander in my dorm, as it was female only dorm! So I had Joan of Arcs and Xenas with my Razia Sulatna’ish endeavour in the 4-bed dormitory.  Booking my stay in a youth hostel proved to be one of the best decisions I had taken in a while
It was a huge relief for me once these two major things were done (after Visa ofcourse) with respect to my trip. Now making booking for the places to visit was one of the last of the challenges infront of me.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Sensational Shreya Regales Puneites

There was a shimmering veil of melody ensconcing the air on the evening of 21st February, 2016 at Law College Ground, Pune. The audience was mesmerized, ecstatic, excited and touched, all at the same time. And this can only happen when the queen of melody herself, Shreya Ghoshal creates magic with her singing. In what was her first solo concert in Pune, organized by ‘Sa’ Creations, Shreya Ghoshal (once again) proved as to why she has been touted as the queen of melody.  She also reiterated the reason why almost no film made in the past decade or so has been without atleast one song sung by her. Absolutely beautiful renditions dotted this musical evening.  The yesteryear Saregamapa winner started off with ‘bahara’ from ‘I hate Luv stories’. From that point onwards, it was a fabulous treat for the ‘Rasik Punekars.’  In Shreya’s words, it is as great a pleasure as well as a responsibility to sing in front of such a knowledgeable and musically inclined audience.  Shreya went on to regale the audience with one hit number after the other - Agar Tum Mil Jao, Saibo, Radha, Piya O re Piya, Deewani Mastani from Bajirao Mastani, Zoobi Doobi, Ooh La La and many more had the audience swaying to her tunes. Then her rendition of Chikni Chameli threw the audience in a tizzy.  Marathi songs like Jiv Rangla, Jiv Laga and Reshmachya Reghanni  were the icing on the cake. Some more pearls were added to the glimmering necklace of her renditions that evening.  A small but immensely soulful tribute was paid to legends  Mohd Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Lata mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh. From Asha Bhosle’s Dum Maro Dum to  Lata Mangeshkar’s Aapki Nazron ne Samjha to Kabhi Kabhi and who Shaam Kuch Ajib thi by Kishore Da, Shreya left the audience asking for more of these evergreen classics. She was well supported by Pune’s very own Rishikesh Ranade in the duets. The concert reached its crescendo  with Aami Je Tomar or Mere Dholna Sun from Bhool Bhulaiyya. Finally, the spellbound connoisseurs had to leave the venue with a song in their hearts and hope that this immensely gifted artist graces the city again, soon. After witnessing such amazing talent, I feel if there had to be a manifestation of a power above us, it would have to be this. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Is the Society Becoming Intolerant Towards Single People?

These individuals can sense that feeling of being ‘misfits’ especially at weddings or get togethers. Or, even at party held at a friend’s place. Yes, I am talking about a special species here known as the single individuals. As if the caste hierarchy in our Indian society was not enough, this is another type of casteism. It won’t require those extraordinary wings of imagination to understand what I am talking about here.  Here, those who are married are at the top of the ladder. If they have children, even better. The next in line are those who are engaged to be married (the most adored category). The next is those who are in a serious and committed relationship with the opposite sex (same sex is somewhat okay, but beta, marry a Brahmin only). The last ones in the hierarchy, who almost do not feature anywhere and are looked at with pity and sympathy, are those who are single. They say that actions speak louder than words. In this case it comes across prominently. At any gathering or the likes, people do not say anything to those who are single. But their expressions speak a thousand times louder. Their expressions echo their feelings like – ‘Oh, so sad. Don’t you feel lonely? Aren’t you missing anything sweetheart?’  Then the next (unnecessary) piece of advice is ‘why don’t you do something about it?’ Why hasn’t a girl like you not found someone till now? ‘tu niit shodhat nasshil’ (you are not looking out seriously and are not out there).
And if in all this, if you are in your late 20’s or 30 or above, hell breaks loose. Missiles in the form of questions and exclamations of amazement come hurtling across. A testimony to how deeply ingrained this idea that a girl or guy has to be with someone or else there is something wrong with him or her is the fact that people start doubting your sexual preferences. People don’t even hesitate to ask if you are a gay or lesbian if you do not have a girl friend or a boyfriend. You are constantly bombarded with this brilliant idea that there is possibly something colossally abnormal with you if are single and have not ‘gone all the way’.
I have been wondering since the past few years that has our society become intolerant towards single individuals? Is it like your existence as a single individual who is not in a relationship or married does not count? Why do people think it is their birth right to make these single individuals feel undeserving of happiness and that they should be morbid and miserable? Is being with someone your ticket to the so called nod of approval from the society?

I don’t know when this mentality will change. I hope it does. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sex and The City, Carrie Bradshaw and More

Many of us, including me fantasize visiting the ‘Big Apple’ or New York City once in our lifetime.  Well, I have not yet got a chance to actually go there till now.  But hey, along came Carrie Bradshaw and her girl pals and introduced me to New York City with the show Sex and the City. I was immediately taken in by the basic premise and charm of the portrayal of the journey of these 4 girls. I adored all the quintessentially girly stuff in the show. (It is another story if I myself would ever be able to carry those Blahniks and D&C’s with such elan J).
The character I can most relate to and love is Carrie’s (apart from the host of relationships). She is a columnist and is not afraid to speak her mind. Whatever happens in her life, she has her girl friends whom she can bank upon for support. Although she loves all the other 3 – Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda, I think, Miranda is the first one she calls or goes to in troubled times. Yes, be it New York or Paris or London, you need one friend like that who would be there for you, anytime, anywhere, beyond the limitations of the clock or geography. And atleast in the show, fortunately, this has not changed, despite a decade of their friendship. Carrie’s change of tone while speaking is immediately noticed by Miranda and vice versa.

What strikes me the most along with all this is the fact that all these 4 have a fetish for fashion. However, it is in their distinct way. Yes, these could be the typical women stereotypes, but still there is something remarkably different about them. They are not pretentious. It is refreshing to see that. They have a lot of things common between them; still it is easy to what renders them different from each other.
Goof ups in the company of your besties are where I think memories are carved and etched in our minds. Nothing else gives such unbridled joy. Carrie Bradshaw’s adventures and travails and her switch on and switch off with Mr. Big and how she deals with it with the help of her three friends is interesting to see, atleast for me. And that is the proof of how goof ups in life can be fun too, when your best buddies are around.

Watching this show for some time now, I realized that be it the Pink City (our very own Jaipur) or New York City or any other, the hopes, desires, aspirations, challenges and bonds of friendships are the same everywhere for women. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hang on Bengaluru, It is James Kingston!

From climbing London’s iconic Southbank Tower to an under construction sky scraper in Bengaluru, this real British Spiderman can give the Marvel Comics’ superhero a tough fight. We know this Spiderman better as James Kingston. A professional adventurer and free runner, he needs no introduction. Climbing the Southbank Tower is a part of Kingston’s journey around the globe wherein he seeks to get the better of world’s tallest buildings. Following the immense popularity and unprecedented viral reach of the Southbank feat, EpicTV, online extreme adventure channel based in London, recently released the third leg of Kingston’s travels. The adventurer’s trysts with tallest buildings have been documented by EpicTV in its 'On the Edge', a web series.
The third leg involved Kingston travelling to the Silicon Valley of India, Bengaluru and pull of an unimaginable stunt. Do I need say that this was an instant hit on the internet and went viral like crazy? Well no! But what he did on 19 August 2014 definitely needs to be described here. Disclaimer: Please avoid reading if you are weak hearted, this is sure to drive you out of your wits! He ran up a tall skyscraper under construction and pulled off an almost ‘heart-stopping’ act by hanging off the end of a 100m crane by just one hand. As he hung precariously from that crane, early morning Bengaluru was unveiled like never before beneath his lean body suspended mid air.
Image Courtesy- jameskingston.co.uk

 Calling that view which was captured by his camera breath taking will be an understatement. The early morning sun could be seen lighting up the Bengaluru horizon beautifully, with a warm golden glow. The view was almost a reflection of a Google earth depiction of that area. The buzzing Bengaluru traffic involving vehicles seemed like a blip. So one can imagine the height of his perch! However, Kingston does not find hanging by one hand at such a height the most difficult part. “The craziest bit was when I was coming down and the workers were starting to come to work. Nobody even said anything! I just walked out. I even said goodbye to one of the guards”, he mentioned.

A humdinger of a podcast, we cannot wait to see what this amazing Spiderman does next! Till then check out this link to get amazed! -Epic TV James Kingston

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Queen of Hearts!

Okay, now this has to be one of the most endearing films I have seen for a while. Yes, and that has to be Queen, of course. It was an absolute delight to watch that film. It made me realize the phrase totally- ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. Queen did seem to be completely non descript to say the least. But, voila! It had all that a film buff like me could ask for – drama, emotions, comedy and most of all, a realistic touch. I haven’t stopped thinking about the film and what lies at the core of the film ever since I came out of the theatre the other night after watching it.
What got me thinking was the sensitive, yet funny and non preachy yet a deep message which the film put across. It spoke about empowering women in a very subtle way, at the same time it was not like a bunch of overtly enthusiastic feminists breathing down your neck. It was all about a simple, naïve (Delhi girl (rare species) Rani (Queen) who has a desire to visit Paris from the bottom of her heart. She even has her honeymoon booked there with her future husband. Alas, destiny has something else in store for her. She heads for her honeymoon in one of the most romantic cities of the world alone. She is a girl who has never left her mohalla, in an area called Rajouri Garden.
Now the story gets interesting. It is simply a story of how a butterfly wrapped in cocoon comes into its own and spreads its wings and finds its way in this world. It is the saga of how Rani is exposed to an entirely unknown world and how she evolves as a girl, as a human being. At the same time it is amazing how she manages to retain her innocence and vulnerability. Yes, that, despite the fact that once she is forced to drink alcohol through a tube in a pub in Paris and she witnesses pole dancing by her friend’s friend in full glory. All this while soaking in the myriad of experiences  as calmly as possible she gets being in different continent thousands of miles away from home. 

It is heartening to see Kangana Ranaut in this film. She strikes a chord right from the word go. She is totally in sync with the story and her character Rani. Looking every bit vulnerable, naive she is simply oblivious to a life beyond Rajouri Garden and saddi Dilli. Yes, she goes as Rani and comes back as ‘Queen’ but that metamorphosis is very believable. It is not shown to be like magic, like she transforms into a hot ‘phoren return’ chick within a day of reaching Paris. No, folks. That doesn’t happen. She pines for her fiancé almost till midway of her trip. One sees that difference in her mindset and her overall change in the personality just about at the end of her rendezvous with Paris. She finally finds herself, her freedom there. She goes with a heavy heart like it has tons of burden on it and comes back with her heart as light as a feather.  I am sure all the single girls out there could identify with Rani and her quest for finding herself, her freedom, as a woman, as an individual. That is aptly reflected in the scene when she tells her half French half Indian friend – “hamare yahaan to ladkiyan dakaar bhi nahi de sakti”. Or in another instance where she kisses an insanely handsome Italian guy purely on an impulse and physical attraction. And she comes out of the situation without feeling morose and guilty about it!
Kudos Vikas Bahl, and loads of love and Congratulations to Kangana for pulling off such a charming film!