Sunday, March 25, 2012

Unpacking memories

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Among my co-travellers, one was flying in from Bombay with me and the other was coming in from Bangalore. The three of us were joining more friends - some already in Goa and some on their way by road. Sneha and I walked out of Goa Airport, and were received by Sharon whose flight had arrived a couple of hours earlier. One look at us lugging our trolley bags, and a fit of laughter ensued. Why? Well, the three of us had identical trolley bags - right down to the size, colour and make.

That moment jogged our collective memories to four years ago when we embarked on our first trip as a trio to Thailand. Those bags were purchased from a shop in Pratunam Centre in bustling Bangkok to accommodate all the shopping we had done there. I had left Bombay with a regular bag for my personal things and a small sling bag for money and travel documents. The return journey, however, saw us bring back those now-famous-black-suitcases-on-wheels bursting at the seams with bags, shoes, souvenirs and many, many memories.

And then it hit me. I realised how packing one's life in a suitcase or two is an enviable skill. The 'things' we hoard may never fill the limited spaces we have. But memories, all kinds of them, manage to wonderfully fit in the trolley bags of our hearts and minds.

Note: The piece above was a result of a writing assignment. Details here. Feedback is most welcome.

DD's Travel Writing Bus - 2

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After a string of emails and a few phone calls, about half the original group from the Travel Writing Workshop decided to meet. A Facebook group was floated too, but it got a bit lost after the initial excitement. The actual enthusiasm of the people involved, however, was still very much alive. When we were told that the Mcubed Library was unavailable for our meet-up on Sunday (18th March 2012), one of the participants - PD - offered her home in Thane for the same. @culturelites, @gauravraikar and I made the necessary phone calls to check the final number. Turns out about 14 of us would make it. Super! 

I had decided to take the train from Kurla, along with @AnOddYellow and @loneladysherpa. These two ladies met me at the station's booking counter. Long queue as usual. Worse, the megablock was also on, so there were fewer trains that Sunday. We got into a Titwala* Slow and were subjected to a full body massage in the ladies compartment, all the while being pushed from one side of the doorway to the other. But it hardly mattered to us. My fellow travellers were surprisingly chirpy and even started a sort of a sing-and-dance routine *inside* the train. @loneladysherpa, who loves the songs from Saathiya, was hoping Viveik Oberoi would appear out of nowhere. Alas, that didn't happen. 

Finally, Thane station descended upon us. We had arrived. First, a quick stop at a juice stall to soothe our parched throats (the Bombay summer's here at last!) and then being amazed at how quick the rickshaw queue moved... We were soon at PD's home welcomed by kokam sherbet and a splendid lunch. What a talented cook she is! In the midst of conversation, DD told us how the idea of telling a story is important. The medium may differ, but writing is the most challenging of them all as it needs to re-create the scene for the reader.

And then he proceeded to his four key points:
1. Find a story.
2. Tell the story well. Make the characters in it interesting.
3. Make connections in the story. Nothing in the world exists in isolation.
4. You've got to sweat the details.

A quick exercise followed where we had to silently pick a person in the room, and write a few lines about him/her without mentioning who it was. The others had to guess who we had written about. Quite a thought-provoking exercise. Then all those who did the writing assignment read out their respective pieces. We were asked to write something that connected two different travel experiences. I had racked my brain really hard at this, had come up with a very vague idea, but struggled  and then wrote it out in last-minute panic mode at 2am that same day. The next post will contain my piece.
Strawberry Kulfi & Chocolate Cake

Each reading was followed by feedback from the rest of the group like before. We heard about the travails of packing for Scotland and laughed at the obsession for gas cylinders in Mumbai; on the connect between cows of Switzerland and Haridwar and how travel helps create memories; from a crazy tetris-like train ride to an Indian feeling at home in farawary San Remo and about the economics of tiger tourism. Even about being a 'Jain foodie' (go, figure that!). Diverse, yet enlightening.

A treat of fabulous desserts - chocolate cake and strawberry kulfi made by our lovely hostess - enlivened our session further, while rich brownies brought by MM, another participant, rounded off a Sunday well spent.

A big THANK YOU to all who came. I've learnt so much with every interaction. Hope to see you all next month again.

*Must find out why Titwala is called so.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

DD's Travel Writing Bus - 1

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"Don't come back till you know the name of the dog." 

If you went 'huh?' reading that, I wouldn't blame you. That quote was one of many lessons learnt at a two-day workshop on Travel Writing at the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) held last month. Dilip D'Souza - noted writer, journalist, activist, mouth organist (any more -ists?) - was conducting the same. I had briefly interacted with him on Twitter and always found his tweets and a few of his articles (hadn't read much of his work earlier, I must confess) insightful. The fact that he's also a Rahul Dravid admirer like me was one of the main reasons I started following him.

After deliberating for a while, I decided to enroll into the workshop, and was promptly told it was already full and that I should try attending something else. Disappointed, and slightly relieved at not having to wake up early to make the trek to town on my weekly offs, I tweeted to Dilip that I won't be coming. He, on the other hand, said people usually sign up and then drop out of such sessions, so maybe I should still come. 


I told myself I should just go. Maybe I'll learn something. Maybe I'll meet interesting people. And surely, I'll at least get to meet Dilip and exchange notes on our favourite cricketer. Decision made. I was off to town bright and early on a Saturday morning. A bit nervous, because I kept thinking "I'm not a writer. What if the participants and even Mr. D'Souza are those hoity-toity writer types?" 

Navigating my way through the stairways and corridors of Elphinstone College, the venue of the workshop, I finally found myself outside the classroom. Peeped inside. "Is that really Dilip?", I thought on seeing a man with a bright where-are-my-shades? green shirt. The participants, seated around a long table and beyond, looked completely unfamiliar. More nervousness. Someone gestured for me to come in. 

And that was the start of two days that had me bowled over. We went through writing exercises, excerpts from different authors and discussions. Even strolled around the empty college space on Day 2. We went WOW! when we liked someone's write-up, and offered constructive feedback when we found something lacking. That, to me, was a wonderful aspect of the sessions. Everyone was encouraging, and even those who were a bit shy or said they "don't have any stories" ultimately shared something or the other. So much so that the conversations didn't just revolve around "travel writing". In essence, it was about writing as a medium of expression and a way to tell a story. About creativity. About the importance of keeping our eyes open. The travel angle was obviously something all of us love.

The quote at the start was basically Dilip telling us to observe everything and look for the details. Sample these learnings too:

- "One needs to look at travel as a germinator of creativity."
- "There is no detail that is not worth writing about. Details make me work hard at my writing."
- "A good editor is a writer's best friend."
- "The fundamental of travel? Keeping your eyes open."
- "Write. Even if you don't have the perfect 'lead'. No such thing as writer's block."

and finally,
- "The best writing workshop is at home."

You can read DD's blog here: Death Ends Fun. He also writes regular columns for Mint and among others. One of his books: Roadrunner: An Indian Quest in America.

PS: Some of the enthusiastic folks decided to float the idea of catching up on another day for a follow-up to the workshop. Email addresses and phone numbers were exchanged with a promise to meet again. As I type this, let me tell you *that* follow-up session did happen. Last Sunday. At a participant's home in Thane. The size of the group went down by half - about 13 of us and DD and his son made it this time. But a brilliant time was had. Watch out for Part 2 of DD's Travel Writing Bus.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Say it isn't true...

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In less than 12 hours from now, the heart will break. 13288 times.

Today, a BCCI press release brought with it a tinge of sorrow. 

While there's no official confirmation of the news, my favourite Rahul Dravid is expected to hang up his boots in Test cricket on Friday, 9th March 2012. And if that's true (deep inside, I'm still in denial), I don't know what my reaction will be. All I want to do is to wish him the very best. With life and all the new dreams he plans to chase. Also, my sincere gratitude to one of the finest cricketers to have graced the game. Cricket will be poorer with Rahul's departure.


Thursday, March 08, 2012

How to save the world

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Friday. That's when most corporate rats rejoice at the prospect of the end of a work week, or rather at the lure of a two-day weekend. Sadly though, that was not even on my mind. I was upset about something at work that's just refusing to come together.

And then all of a sudden I happened to glance at a retweet (i.e., a tweet that's been 'forwarded' to you. You may or may not follow the original tweeter in this case.) by @manimeow which caught my attention. It said "14. And yes, don't forget to giggle ;) #MyNotesOnWorldSaving". Intrigued by the hashtagged phrase, I clicked on it, and it turned out to be 14 points by @NilimDutta with his thoughts on how to save the world. Some very pertinent notes. They made me think, made me smile, and more importantly, made me want to focus. Here they are...

Finally, he added...

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