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Blunders I Made as a Novice Traveler – Backpacking Tips Included

My Backpacking Journey: Mistakes, Learnings, and Tips for New Travelers

 

Dreaming About Backpacking: A Wannabe Beginner Backpacker

 

My first solo international travel was a two-week trip around France and the UK in 2012. 

I don’t know why, but I had this urge to be a backpacker on that short journey. India was not high on the backpacking lifestyle then, and not so much even now. So I assume I had been influenced by the foreign backpackers roaming around Connaught Place and the Janpath market in New Delhi. Refusing the advances of the beggars and the hagglers, the travelers strode on. In that ten-minute walk from the Rajiv Gandhi metro station to my office on Janpath, I was transported from the billowing metro crowd to the cosmopolitan Janpath life to my corporate day enclosed within 500 square meters. The free travelers swaying along with their red and blue backpacks mesmerized me.

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The Pandemic Chronicles  – The Acceptance

On one April morning. The lockdown continues. Bengaluru, India.

 

Hello Friends,

How have you been?

I have been juggling with writing, admin work, personal stuff, cleaning, laundry, cooking, and staying updated with the news.

Different news clips catch my husband’s and my attention even though we both scroll Google News. We share and collate our information at the end of the day during dinner unless he decides to escape to the bathroom. (For context you would need to read the first part of these pandemic chronicles. I can only hint that he avoids a dinner of raw eggplants and bottle gourd still in one piece.) 

Only one morning did we see a video on COVID statistics else we prefer to not distract ourselves at the beginning of the day.

When I shut out the global crisis, I feel peaceful. The atmosphere seems perfect to work and just be. There is no traffic. Most factories have closed down. Office buildings, malls, and stores are closed. Flights are halted. People are at home. Of course, I feel horrible for appreciating the world peace as all these business shutdowns mean lost jobs, unemployment, lack of food, and irreversible life-long changes. 

Irrespective of how bad I feel I can’t help but notice that the skies, the oceans, and the land have been reset by a continuous world quarantine.

Within a month of the lockdown, ecosystems are returning to their old states. After years, Punjab saw the Himalayan skyline from its homes and mustard fields. The birds are louder. Civets and nilgais roam on Delhi roads. In Japan, deers have come out of the park and are now on roads. Someone posted a picture of peacocks in Mumbai streets. Olive Ridley turtles are laying eggs on the beaches of Odisha. Dolphins frolic on Mumbai beaches. There was an elephant in Dehradun. Someone saw wild boars in cities. Then there was sheep somewhere. No, it was not New Zealand.

Would anacondas, tigers, elephants, and sloths come out in another two-three months of lockdown?

Not only environments but people, too, are restoring to their adolescent versions when living freely and taking over the world was a higher priority than being puppeteered by the fear of missing out. We work, read, cook, eat homemade food, meditate, do yoga, paint, clean our kitchens, do gardening, and are taking control of our lives like never before. 

When I go out in the balcony, I see a foreign woman making milkshakes in her kitchen throughout the day. Or maybe she is making lassi to cool down in this Bangalore heat. From the same building, the confident voice of a guy on his team meetings races towards me.

But here I am pacing up and down trying to call my banks’ customer care. I understand that we are in a tough situation but I feel that my bank relationship managers have got more reason to not do their work now. 

If I could be any further frustrated by the dirty tricks that my bank plays, I would surprise myself. I have an account in another bank, too, but they are even more pathetic, if that is even possible. This is the nth time they’ve canceled my debit card (in the pretext to send me a new one) without even asking me. One day I swipe the card at the grocery store, and the machine says invalid card. Once I was traveling in Malaysia, I swiped my card at a store, and the store attendant said something I couldn’t understand. Google Assistant translated the message to say the card was invalid. I have many more stories. If you work at a bank and promise me that you won’t charge me interest on my savings, yes that has happened too, please reach out. (Do message me if you want to know the name of these banks and want to stay away from them. Hint: one of them is synonymous with town. Or should I just write the names here?)

If only systems worked. A car mechanic charged 400 rupees to visit apart from the usual service charges as he claimed that the police are beating the service guys even if they show the identification card especially granted for the pandemic times. I believe him in a blink and pay.

The service industry is suffering. Daily laborers are stuck in big cities, unable to go home. Artists have lost livelihood. The health care industry is overworked. I have still not been able to push away the Italian nurses’ faces deeply lined by wearing masks for a long time out of my mind.

Weirdly, some people are working incessantly while others are losing jobs, businesses, and even future opportunities for at least a few months. Nearly 200 million people are predicted to end up out of work.

Delivery guys must be in high demand right now though.

Amazon, Flipkart, Swiggy— the companies that never sell groceries — are now selling essential items, too. After a few weeks of shut down, the portals opened with limited deliveries due to a shortage of staff and other constraints. My husband and I compete amongst ourselves to see who can book an order for milk and bread first, and we are not the only ones racing for an online delivery slot.

When the daily laborers got a chance to go home, they fled. That there was no commute and they had to walk hundreds of kilometers, all the way home, in the rain and the sun, mostly without any medical help and food or a roof at night, didn’t deter them. Some walked for days on highways and railway tracks with their infants, with their newly married partners, with their hungry dogs, with their clothes in a bundle, with their stoves on their backs, stopping by the railway tracks to cook pulses and rice, or waiting in long lines to get some curry and chapati, so that they could continue walking. 

Those daily wagers moved despite their fear. We are all living on despite our fears. The fear of losing jobs, of losing incomes, of losing loved ones, of losing a complete year is slowly creeping up. We clutch onto whatever we have.

The human lot is a restless one though.

A friend said that now when she can’t travel, she wants to travel. 

I prefer not to think about visiting any place right now. More than hiking and breathing in the fresh air and stretching my limbs I would be worried about sanitizing and washing everything from the binoculars to the akki rotis. (More on traveling in the pandemic here.)

But how can we complain about not being able to travel when even funerals are banned. The one who had to leave is gone. Left behind are the friends and the relatives, masked and restricted, even from mourning together. They can’t even complain as the restrictions are for their good. Maybe the events should be strictly monitored to make sure people maintain distance and follow the best practices but does the government has that many resources to spare?

I didn’t know while writing this diary in April but soon I would also attend the prayer services of a friend gone too soon. In the hospital, instead of hugging her mother, I would caress aunty’s arm and then would soon soak my hands in sanitizer. Instead of wiping another acquaintance’s tears, I would imagine how bad it would be if I had to get admitted to the hospital due to COVID. The thoughts of getting sick, without anyone close to help, with my partner on my side, who might be restrained from coming close to me, the imminent danger I could put him in, the thought of all the days I would lose, the breath I would lose, and wondering if my body couldn’t fight the disease and how much my family would worry would keep me on my toes. I would keep distance and wouldn’t complain about not being able to hold a proper funeral. 

The death rate of Italy, the US, Brazil, and the UK has worried us all. 

I wonder how many old people who passed away were prepared to die. How many children and grandchildren were planning their elder’s 50th wedding anniversary or a hundredth birthday or waiting to show them their first published book or excited to have them at their wedding? Those plans must have been buried with the dead ones. 

Old people, pregnant women, children, and people with chronic illnesses — people who have weaker or a developing immunity are advised to stay home.

My parents don’t leave the house, they tell me. They have found solace in their garden, which is fragrant with the Queen of the Night year-round. Their madhumalti vine is pinker than usual, bowed under the weight of the flowers. The tailor bird’s chicks growing up in a money plant leaf nest keep my father and his phone busy.

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This is how I think of trees. Blobs of color and life.

 

While the elders have to be cautious, the young ones are bored at home. 

My friend’s son just received two lessons at home, and his teachers are wondering if they could continue the video lessons. Homeschooling might finally catch up, as work from home is lastly appreciated.

Hilarious work-from-home videos are doing rounds on the internet. Somewhere two furry cats are punching each other in the background while their journalist mother reads live news on the television. Pantless journalists have gotten some limelight, too. Some people didn’t notice their laptops had hung right when they were logging out of a Zoom meeting and undressed in front of their entire team on camera.

Life-long memories are being created.

But not everyone is sympathetic even now. Some Chinese pet parents have been throwing their dogs and cats from their balconies as “cats and dogs can spread coronavirus” news went viral on their social media. 

Stray animals seem better but they must be so clueless right now. What about the street dogs who used to eat out of the restaurants’ trash? Wait. What about homeless people? I am not sure about the homeless but on my rare evening walk, I see bamboo plates, some heaped with rice and some half-empty, on the streets. The dogs are being fed.

There are the homeless, and then there are people with homes. Some of them were moving jobs and homes and cities. Friends were to go to college this year. Parents were returning to India after visiting their children. Someone was selling a house. Someone was buying one. 

Nothing matters anymore. Life is on hold. 

Even crime rates have reduced. But what about those victims who were waiting for their case hearings or whose lawyers were in the middle of collecting proofs? What about the men and women stuck with abusive partners? What about the children who were being molested at homes?

This is an article in which, unlike my usual irritating disposition of wanting to consider every possibility, I don’t want to peek inside the nooks and corners of each and every situation. It is better to be ignorant sometimes. 

To keep my sanity, I avoid most news except facts and statistics that come from high-authority websites. But I read on Facebook that people are drowning in the pools of bad news. Please don’t believe everything you see. Also, we can’t control most of the things that happen.

 

 

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Pizza helps, believe me.

 

People are worried about getting jobs at this time. The US and the UK might establish universal basic pay and pay their citizens 1200$ a month, but would India ever be able to implement a country-wide support system? Let us ignore for the time being that in the US a forgivable debt of about half a trillion-dollar was distributed to big businesses and public companies and hitherto no one knows the real distribution. (Later both the US and Spain would roll out Universal Basic Pays.)

Beaurecracy, corruption, and religion have made the situation worse.

South Korea, Iran, and India — these are countries where religious congregations turned into coronaviruses’ incubation centers. You must have heard about Patient 21 from South Korea. What a shame and what a name!

But strange things are happening all around. Suddenly the movie Contagion is being viewed all around the world. Even though Netizens warned me not to see the movie in these panic times, I watched it and wasn’t gripped by fear, contrary to the popular opinion. Until we face something bad ourselves, we keep believing that nothing would happen to us. My deceased friend’s brother also said that mental health was never a thing for him much less imagining that depression would kill his sister one day. 

So much we don’t know. So much we ignore. As if life would be eternal. As if we are all immortals. 

Before this pandemic, I didn’t even know what pandemic is. I never searched. It was never a thing. But now when it is here, knocking on our doors, waiting to barge in, I wonder what we could have done differently. If you had a chance to go back, what would you change? 

But rather than focusing on the bygones, let us see what we can do now. 

I know that we will find balance out of this chaos. We will move towards equilibrium. We are moving towards equilibrium. But we can’t see it just yet. 

Until then, we need to take day by day. We have to hold hands. We have to let go.

 

Stay safe, stay engaged, and have a nice laugh.

Priyanka

 

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How’s your journey been in the pandemic? How are you coping? Would love to hear from you 🙂

 

The Pandemic Chronicles – The Beginning

Hello Friends,

How have you been?

Dictionary.com tells me that a virus means an infective agent that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat, is too small to be seen by light microscopy, and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host.

A small molecule that cannot be even seen by the naked eye, that needs us, humans, to live and multiply, has pushed us inside our homes and have locked us from the outside. 

Here are some of my observations from the months spent locked inside the house during the pandemic. I wrote these updates as a personal diary for me to look back into the events later. But then I decided to publish the journal entries for everyone. Of course, not before sprinkling a little bit of humor to the otherwise serious matter. I hope you laugh a bit. And if I upset you unintentionally, please forgive me for I am just a die-hard comic. 

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Thinking of a Career Change at 30? I Quit My Job, Too

Why I Quit My Job, Shelved My IIT Computer Science Degree, and Started Writing

 

A software engineer by education, I was once a coder and an investment banker, but now I write full-time.

In this essay I talk about my six-year-long journey of thinking of a career change, why and how I quit my job, and finally went through a career change at 30.

If you are looking for a career change in 30s, I would recommend you read this piece for I have given an honest account of my own journey from coding to writing.

Let’s read.

*

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Why You Shouldn’t Be Okay To Be Bored With Work

Why We Believe Work Is Boring, Why Is It Wrong To Think So and How to Fix It

A lot of us get bored with work. But we think that it is okay to get bored at our jobs and we continue working. In this article I unfurl why we expect work to be boring, why it shouldn’t be, and how does this belief harms us.

 

Why Do We Think That Being Bored With Work Is Normal

 

We always say that work is supposed to be boring — because adults separate the idea of fun and work early on for us.

Since childhood, we are trained to think that work sucks. We are told that we should play all we want for we would have to work one day. We see elders going to their jobs, but they don’t seem to have fun — they say that work is something they have to do even if they get bored at work and don’t enjoy it.

No one ever mentions having a good time as part of a profession/job, and we start believing that work is a dull thing grown-ups do to earn money(the more the better) irrespective of how they feel about their profession.

Now no one can ever enjoy 100% of her work 365 days a year(I’m happy if you do) but the problem arises when we are mostly bored of work and do what we do to only get money.

We witness enough close people following the idea that work is boring.

My father opened his shop every day of the week except Tuesdays. He never complained about his business, but he never cared if he enjoyed his work or not. He was only concerned about making enough to raise his family. Our teachers, relatives, elder siblings all seemed to pursue a career to earn at their maximum potential.

Fun was never discussed in the context of work and even frowned upon. In his book Le Petite Prince, the French philosopher Antoine de Saint-Exupéry raises similar thought-provoking questions about adults keeping their matters of consequence disjoint from (and above) fun.

You want to work or all you want to do is have fun? Someone would say when we created a game out of a mathematics problem.

From our younger years to adulthood, we grow up concreting the idea that something we enjoy can’t become our career.

But this isn’t true. Let me tell you why.

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Most Common Spanish Phrases For Travelers – Survive South America

Unlike the US schools, we do not have a Spanish course or learn any foreign language at schools in India, especially in the small town where I studied. I grew up studying Hindi, English, and Sanskrit. I took a French language course during college, but a few classes and a French certificate was the farthest my foreign language aptitude took me to. 

 When I landed in Chile to teach English, I couldn’t even speak a few simple Spanish words coherently. I started living with a Chilean host mother who took upon herself to teach me the common Spanish phrases and words so that we could communicate. Thus began my struggle of learning Spanish in Chile.

I didn’t know then that the Spanish language would become one of my favorites, and also my third language.

Without trying to be melodramatic, I promise that if you start speaking even the most basic Spanish travel phrases when you are backpacking in South America, you would fall in love with this language; for Spanish is a passionate dialect. Spanish words and phrases cover almost every emotion; some of the feelings that can be described eloquently in Spanish are strangled by the lack of words in other languages that I speak.

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My Thrilling Tale of Learning Spanish in South America

I went to Chile in July 2016 to teach English in a state school. All my friends, family, relatives, acquaintances, and social connections asked what made me go to Chile; I said I didn’t think much. They asked me if I could speak Spanish; I replied that I would learn Spanish in South America.

My family concluded that traveling to South America was an immature escape as in the end I would be alone and financially unstable. I was sucked down into a whirlpool of emotional hurdles that my close ones stirred in my career and personal life while being assertive that they cared.

I was fired. I had just ended a two-year relationship which I believed would turn into the long-lasting love of my life. The Titanic sank. I was going to be twenty-nine soon. Friends were getting married. Babies were being born. I did not know anyone in Chile. I did not speak Spanish.

Before I left, an uneasy feeling of forgetting something lingered. Like the one that makes you shuffle through your pockets every time you walk out of your home. I understood later that I was scared: of being alone, of unknowns, and of not knowing Spanish.

I did not know then that in a couple of months I would be able to speak the language fluently.

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A Memoir of Chile Independence Day – Or As The Chileans Call It, Fiestas Patrias.

Today is the independence day of Chile, which is also called Fiestas Patrias or dieciocho, the 18th. Having celebrated this grand day in its mother country, I promise you that the one week of celebrations preceding the independence day and on the day itself are unmatchable. And why shouldn’t they be?

On this date in 1820, Chile overthrew Spain and freed herself from 300-year-long captivity.

Chileans are thrilled around their independence day and celebrate it with honesty, love, and passion. Children, students, adults, grandparents all dress up, decorate, cook, visit their families, talk, celebrate, drink, host barbeques, dance, sing, and act.

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My Love and Hate Relationship With the Colorful India – A Story and Memory Postcards

As I move onto a new journey that takes me outside India for a couple of months, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the places that I have lived in and visited in the last one year I have been in India.

India — a country with distinct religions from the ancient Hindu to the declining Zoroastrianism, with a myriad of languages and dialects from Konkani to Jarawa, with a plethora of geographies from fathomless deserts to treacherous glaciers, with a vast network from modern sea links to old hanging bridges, with a wide assortment of food from homely dal roti to mouth-watering, overnight-cooked chicken biryanis, with a range of commutes from rusted Hero bicycles, serene camels, and obedient bullock carts to fancy Rolls Royces, from peaceful Tamil marriages that are held for two hours during daylight to exciting Punjabi wedding functions sprawled over many days in luxurious hotels spread across India; we have it all.

This large and miscellaneous congregation of people — that India is — sometimes makes me proud, but sometimes the restrictions of this collectivist society suffocate me.

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Indian Marriage Conundrum – How I Hold My Ground as an Unmarried 30–Year–Old Woman.

My mother called me thrice at 8 in the night. Editing an article, I thought something had happened and picked up the third call. And then after some small talk about my writing and if I was ever going to take up a job, she said she wanted to talk about something.

As a thirty-year-old unmarried woman in India, I recognize this something, like dogs can sense tsunamis, for at least five years now. This something — without any exception — is marriage.

To humor her, I asked what did she want to talk about. She said she always worried about me and often cried because she cannot do anything else. That she didn’t know what my life plans were. That nothing made sense. That I must have been lonely. Didn’t I like having a family? Was there anybody? That why couldn’t we — mother and daughter —share everything with each other.

These sentences stumbled out of her mouth as she choked.

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An Open Letter From a Privileged Indian Woman to India and The World

International Women’s day was ten days ago. I wanted to post this letter but decided that I did not have to wait for women’s day to say what I want to say. Why I didn’t write this letter before is a question that I don’t have an answer to.

In the world of Putin and the Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who said that women, above all, are mothers and they smile even amidst the chaos that their day put them up with and they are victims of their economic independence and Chinese malls offering discounts to good looking women after their faces have been scanned — I write an open letter to homo sapiens.

My letter is not-independent of geography, age, or culture. We fool ourselves when we say we are unbiased and independent of our circumstances and surroundings.

Shall we begin?

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How to Learn a Language By Yourself – 24 FailProof Tips

Are you wondering how to learn a language by yourself? Or finding the best way to learn a language?

Then you have come to the right place.

First, let me tell you my story about learning Spanish so that you know that you can learn a language on your own.

Before traveling to Chile, I couldn’t speak Spanish and wondered how I was going to survive in a predominantly Spanish continent. I assumed that Latin Americans would make my life easy by talking with me in English.

But neither the Latinos nor the foreigners living in Chile spoke English, at least not as much as I expected. That is when I realized that I had to learn Spanish. Reality hit me hard, and I prayed for survival.

Learning Spanish in Chile, a country notorious for bad Spanish, wasn’t easy. I struggled to make my way around Chile from morning until night. I couldn’t understand the conversations on the dining table and longed to participate. I missed cracking jokes. I wanted to cry.

Words fell on my ears, but my brain couldn’t comprehend them.

Rather than pitying myself, I decided that I had to learn enough Spanish so that I can understand the people around me and reply. And that is what I did. From speaking incorrect Spanish unabashedly to practicing Spanish grammar with workbooks, I tried all ways to learn a language.

Fast forwards a few weeks, I started speaking Spanish fluently. I was still a foreigner in Chile, but as I began to understand more Spanish, I became a part of the Chilean host family. We woke up, greeted each other by kissing both cheeks, ate toast with avocados and Nescafe coffee, and talked about life at supper or the evening Once.

I had a second home now just because I could converse in Spanish.

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