Thursday, September 3, 2015

Of frostbites and fantasies

It’s a rather rhetorical and in all likelihood a completely futile question but one I will ask anyway. When will Bollywood quit misleading Indians (and whichever other languages our movies get dubbed in) into believing iconic romance only unfolds in impossible-to-reach, navigate and survive, ultra-exotic locales?

     Twice this week I’ve stumbled upon pictures of SRK and Kajol in some remote, godforsaken place called Iceland. It evokes a painful memory that seems to have lingered on subconsciously. Many years ago (when I was a tad more spontaneous and intrepid) I was obsessed with watching the northern lights in Alaska while traveling across it.  You know the enthralling, dramatic, magical display of lights that fascinate every bit? It also goes by Aurora Borealis. They call it the most spectacular light show on earth, and for good reason. A bit of research quickly threw me in direct confrontation with the harsh reality; it would require driving 2 hours north of the farthest human establishment in Alaska closer to the north pole, camping out in minus 30 and 40-degree Fahrenheit temperatures for nights in a row and relying entirely on my luck for my chance of a lifetime to witness those auroras splashed across the sky and make me believe in miracles again. Winter months are best as December and January have the darkest nights, I was told. It would also require a truckload of snow gear from massive jackets to balaclavas (monkey caps, if you insist) and I’d still have to risk frostbites, jumbled speech and blue skin if not frozen arteries. I was also warned it could lead to hypothermia and in rare cases closing this earthly scene but let’s not make it all too grim. Needless to say, chickening out was the wise thing to do.

     I couldn’t kill the curiosity within so I looked up blogs of photographers who’d braved it all to watch and capture those magnificent lights on film. Their facial skin, or what was visible from the balaclavas, was a sorry blend of sunburn, frostbites and numerous wrinkles from the severe climate. They still seemed ecstatic, posing proudly with their cameras or calendars they’d made out of those photographs. One chap in particular seemed to have a bad case of cold and the dripping mucus from his nose had turned into an ice blade. Really sexy stuff. And that’s exactly how I pictured myself as well under the circumstance, sadly enough. If I somehow lived to tell it all, the top two items on my wish list would be a bathroom (equipped with hot water and a shower head) and several fortifying cups of tea made with fresh ginger and real milk, not some powdery version stocked away in a factory for months. It’s hard to tell sitting on a couch at home but I am almost certain romance would not have made it to the list if I were writing it from that ice-covered tent.

     Cut to the behind-the-scenes viral shots of Dilwale, the newest SRK-Kajol flick for those of you who live under a banyan tree, replete with northern lights spattered in the backdrop and one can imagine why it may have left me crestfallen and defeated. Time only claims to heal until you look the ghosts of your past in the eye once again. Then all bets are off. If anything gives me solace it is that SRK seemed to be in pretty much the same situation I had decided to run away from; thick jackets, ski masks, a trembling jaw (okay I may be imagining a few things) and his million-dollar face resembling a sun-dried plum. Utterly tragic! But let me get real. There’s a reason why behind-the-scenes is called that.

     Bollywood and snow romance is a formula as old as the hills. From Madhuri in Pukar to Alia in SOTY, each time I watch a number unfold on screen, my heart goes out to the poor ladies. I start out being compassionate but by the end of the track I’m left completely sold on that spellbinding romance.

     Our movies and the audiences have evolved enough to allow the luxury of layering occasionally to an actress. But it’s a rare sight, just like those northern lights. And so they emote, sing, dance, and radiate love in itsy bitsy pieces of clothing like they’re in sunflower fields under the Tuscan sun, not with feet piercing the porous snow sending shivers up their spine.

     As for SRK and Kajol, I know what will transpire on screen will be breathtaking and iconic. The lead pair will seem unfazed by extreme weather conditions, like those yogis who roam around shirtless in the Himalayas. And we all (or at least those susceptible ones among us) will be reduced to falling for the deception fantasy yet another time. 

Travel woes

If you're used to flying Southwest like me, you probably take the world to be a warm, friendly, trusting place, entirely free of malice. I consider Southwest an extension of my front yard. It's not my favorite place to put a lounge chair and sip on some coconut water but familiar and comfortable nonetheless. That is on a bad day. On a good day Southwest is my girlfriend who I can call in the middle of the night to crib about work and weight issues. It knows me intimately. I mean, in the capacity of a frequent flyer. Potato pahtato, right? It knows me, it gets me. We share a really special bond.

I don't expect camaraderie from a foreign railway company or airline. I'm not saying lets get all pally pally and take a pouted selfie together. Not going that far. But a howdy won't hurt.

Turns out I expect the world sometimes.

"Thank you for buying a euro rail pass at the 11th hour, Ms. Joshi."
"Oh you know, chores chores..."
"Yeah, not our problem. FYI there's no print-at-home option. We'll ship you your pass which will weigh a kg."
"Wait, an actual paper ticket an all? Wow, I thought those were only found in museums now."
"We'll also charge you an enormous fee for expedited shipping and some more for rolling your eyes."
"That is not even..."

"Your booking with RyanAir is now confirmed, Ms. Joshi. Please be responsible enough to bring a paper boarding pass in this era of smart phones. The airline will charge you 70 euros to print it at the terminal otherwise."
"Ha ha nice one."
"Not joking."
"Wait, what?"

"Your booking with RyanAir is now confirmed. You may choose a seat if you like."
"Choose a seat! Woo. You know in Southwest..."
"Not interested."
"Ok, sorry. Let me find a seat."
"That'll be 35 euros."
"No, I don't want a seat in the cockpit. I get all claustrophobic."
"I meant cattle class."
"And if I don't pick a seat?"
"Where will you sit, tell me."
"Wait, so what does a ticket confirmation get me?"
"A promise that we'll do all we can to fleece you."

"Ms. Joshi, your carry on looks like a check in. We'll have to check it in."
"Ha you know American portion sizes are bigger than tapa size."
"Please, don't waste our time with your lame humor huh?"
"Sorry, I mean, this is standard carry on size in the US."
"Not standard here. We make our own rules. 60 euros please."
"For checking in my teensy weensy bag for a 1 hour flight?"
"You heard me."
"Wait, your website says bag checkin fees are 40 euros."
"That's a web special promotion."
"So I was supposed to foresee all of these and pay online?"
"Can you hurry up?"

Finally, on board RyanAir. Just as a flight attendant is about to sell me a cappuccino for 7 euros, my phone beeps. It's a deeply personal email (account summary email if you will) from Southwest. "We've missed you."

I do a Europe trip roughly once a year so technically none of this should surprise me. What can I say, Southwest spoils me. It makes me Bloody Marys just the way I like it. It auto checks me in. The crew are all stand up comics of sorts and entertain. And once it even got an entire flight to sing me happy b'day on my flight to LA.

Oh Southwest, how I have missed thee!

The Giralda

Covertly, quietly, the night tangoes
holding my gaze, twirling me around, seducing me
I lean against the window
of my 2nd floor apartment
Not moving an inch
silently inhaling the dream
that is this summer night
A man washes the tranquil plaza right below
their bond visible, unmistakable
Kissed by incandescent light from ornate lampposts
the cobblestones come alive,
glittering like jewels
Trees with ripe oranges, beautiful, coy, like brides
gracefully flank the plaza
guarding a tangle of narrow lanes
that emanate from an antique fountain
Some lanes showcase paintings of flamenco dancers
vibrant in color, poignant in expression
Others just let themselves be consumed
by creepers with dangling, perfumed flowers
Further up, The Giralda (bell tower) is glowing
a copper hue accentuating its chiseled curves
A dozen enormous bats hover around the tower
gliding back and forth, piercing the calm
They say one's destination is never a new place
but a new way of seeing things
Tonight, through the aubergine darkness
I see ordinary bats
bathing in the divine light of the tower
get transformed into fireflies

Spaniards - a distant cousin of Gujjus

At the very bottom of the Spanish soul is a Gujju heart beating. The more time I spend observing life and locals around me the more conviction I have in that hypothesis of mine. 

Consider the facts.

The Spanish love their mahou (beer) countless times a day, we our chai. They indulge in tapas, we can't go a day without farsan. Siestas are a sign of a healthy lifestyle, just like aram is deeply rooted in ours. Bar/tapas crawls are a daily necessity, just like our very own aanto. And no points for guessing what happens during these crawls - chachara (idle chatter), oh hello guppa! And finally, everyone seems to be chasing felicidad aka jalsa. 

See what I mean? :))