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A new house   3 comments

It is disconcerting when you feel like a stranger in your own house. For me that had been the case for over 20 years. I felt estranged and orphaned in my own house. In fact I could never call it my own. I had no sense of belonging or oneness with anything in the house except for my jhoola and I secretly think that was because the wrought-iron, ornate jhoola gave me a feeling of being cradled with its movement. The only time I had invested in that house was when my mother had taken us along to choose a design for the wall-to-wall carpeting for which I chose a Turkish print. It was the bane of my mom’s existence for the next 7 years that it could endure her wrath as it ‘camouflaged’ everything that spilled, poured, shattered on it.
I had myself convinced that I am not the house material. I had issues with my femininity anyways and household chores were always avoided at every cost (and I had paid some dear costs for it!).
A couple of years back I was drawn to the book, Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. It sucked me in an alternate reality of house renovations with Italian flair. I was besotted even more by her second book in the series, Bella Tuscany. It connected me deeply to a part of me I didn’t know I had. One that loved homes, creeping bougainvilleas, wrought iron gates, garden furniture, rustic brass handles, chequered tablecloths and lots of sunflowers!
About two months back, a dear friend announced that he was moving to U.K. I had been visiting him at his place for almost a year. I had stayed there a couple of times as well and loved the spaciousness and the vibrant energy of the place. Just when he announced his shift, I remembered having the thought a week prior of wishing to shift into that place if ever they leave. And so, with much hesitation, I asked him if we could rent the place after he and his family left. I needed to work out my finances and had an upcoming work trip that supported the deposit. Moreover, my parents, who had been yearning to shift out of our old house for a long time but couldn’t do so because of financial reasons, were overjoyed to shift in with me. We divided the cost between us and decided we could take it on. There was an added factor though. The house we used to live in earlier had the number ‘301’ and this one was a ‘302’. Having indulged a fair bit in the science of numerology myself, I intuitively felt good about this. It was a step up for me figuratively as well. And so in I plunged with my first real “heartfelt” commitment. It felt like a marriage.
The first step was stripping – stripping my room – which I discovered was very easy. It took me an hour and a half of meditation to gather the energy for it and then I dived in for five straight hours pulling things out, emptying my closet, filling up cargo bags. All along I was feeling a sense of quietness…the child in me was just watching, not knowing how to react. I stopped for a brief glass of lemon barley water to refresh myself and in I went again. Celtic music was playing, weaving a quiet sense of surrender. And yet something was missing. The truth was, for a couple of weeks before the official shifting date, I was staying at the new place with my friend. My ‘acclimatization’ had already begun. And one of the things I noticed was the sense of lightness this place gave me. It was quite literal really! Every morning every room was flooded with sunlight that blinded me as I woke up. There was very little furniture anyways that my friend had set up. That expounded the sense of emptiness even further. And now that I was back in the old house for just three days, I was reeling under the weight of it. Contrarily enough, my old place had heavy black curtains that kept out all sunlight in all the rooms. There was too much furniture everywhere thanks to my mom’s impulsive sense of picking up everything from street side markets that fascinated her. From Bangkok to Kolhapur city, we had it all under one roof that had shrunk in size over the years with the extent of the collection. At the end of the day I was done stripping my room. In my head I was reeling. I started feeling a strange sense of sitting on a ball of mercury and felt displaced. I couldn’t place this feeling to anything I have ever felt before. As the day drew close, and there was still tons left to pack before dawn next day when the movers were coming in, I was feeling unreal and lunatic. I reached out to a friend who tends to be like a towering presence for my inner child in times like these. He is my lightning rod in the storm and it turned out that he was in the process of moving too! It all felt a bit unreal to me. And I kept telling myself, “This too shall pass…” Finally before sleeping at around 2 am I prayed and blessed the house, and thanked it for serving us and asked it to allow us to leave in peace for greater peace.

The day of shifting dawned early and I was up at 6 am waiting for the movers to start. Boxes, bags, mirrors and the furniture got loaded. I felt purposeful. I finally had a sense of us getting somewhere. It all reached smoothly at our new place and the day was spent in coordinating the workers who moved and fixed our furniture. I was happy that they were not drunk (a criteria I had strongly insisted on when we had booked them) and were in fact polite and cooperative. When they were finally done assembling the very tricky ensemble of the jhoola we paid them extra and they commented that they loved our new place. It was a “Yippie!” feeling. That evening I finally met my ‘displaced’ anchor-friend. He shared with me a lovely perspective on colors. He knew so much! I was aghast. All along I was told men were colour-blind and we women know them better. And yet here was this man describing colours like bright blues, rust reds and pale yellows like he had been part of the fashion industry. I remembered that time how he had also been a major subconscious influence on me as I quit wearing black and had switched to white. Thanks to him, I had finally found my “real” black – white – my abundance colour. It affirmed my sense of femininity wearing white. And off late I had been uncovering my dormant feminine side sans the nasty bits that I had so often mistakenly associated with it. I was more gentle, more airy, wishy-washy and yet connected to the earth in me. I could now see how this house was the first manifestation of this side. It was all beige and the wind ran like a young, naive woman unabashedly naked through it. We had no power over her. I realised I needed to search for a wind-chime…one that sounded like the gentle, virile trees wanting to play with her to complement her sense of freedom. As I thought of this my friend complemented me on how collected I looked. I had even got a new haircut that day. It all fit so perfectly that I leave the unnecessary vanity behind to let the unbearable lightness of being that the house filled me with carry me into newness. My shoulders looked lighter, he also observed. Amused he connected the dots of how I always wore my shoulders bare as though they were weighed enough and now that they were lighter I was dressing them up. It filled me with joy to be around someone who was listening to unspoken signs and opening my eyes to the newness of me. My heart sang and my soul filled itself with a soft love effusing like gardenias after a summer sprinkle. I realized this might be the ‘grace’ he so often mentions in our conversations. Hmm…it made sense. The word fit. I left emptied further of tears and joy. I am at a high-point in my life, the voice of a wise woman spoke inside me. I smiled. I was beginning to listen to her. That night I put my eyes to sleep asking them to receive the abundant light that would awaken them. The song Sea Dreamer played in my mind as I drifted away…

Same tide that drew me closer
Pushed me far away
I held the hand that lit the dark night
Nothing I could say
I was on the outside
I was waiting for a sign
I set a course for a hidden island
That lay beyond the deceiving silence
I was on the dark side
I was sailing towards the light
I made my way through a sea of silence
A pirate’s life for a worthless diamond

I try and listen to the music when the ocean breathes
Wish that I could build a bridge across the sea
And the secrets of the moonlight would carry me
To where the sun meets the water and the sky breaks free
That’s where I’ll be

The next day my mother called me from a place deep into the heat and heart of the old city area where we could buy brass statues at a wholesale price. She had a steal she said. It was part of my vision for the house (my house?) to have a brass Ganesha statue as the first view when one opens the door to my house. My mother is renowned for her resourcefulness. So she did the initial reconnaissance and off I went into the winding, hot, sweaty streets in the mid-afternoon sun filled with flower markets, curtains being sold off carts, people pushing their way through and the vendors shooting voices into tall octaves and reached a tiny shop with every inch covered in polished brass statuettes. When she showed me a sun face hanging from the roof with a Ganesha at the centre, I was disappointed. It did not fit my vision. However, I decided to look around. Soon I found a large brass head of an elephant with a bell in its trunk. Something about it called me. I liked the grandiose. And yet it was not ‘perfect’. I looked around further and my eyes caught sight of a Ganesha in a dancing pose, one foot in the air, on the head of an elephant holding a bell. It clicked and the price was just right. Something in me tugged my heart to look further into the wealth of the shiny brass gold in the shop. Brass has always been my favourite metal. At times I catch a longing in me to wear a brass anklet in one of my legs, heavy and intricately carved. Like a village bella. I love the look of gold and heaviness of the earth that brass combines. Gold, for me, is too ostentatious and I generally avoid it for it feels too heavy. It is a play of ironies indeed! Moments later the invisible became visible – the tug manifested into a couple of brass door handles – fairies-cum-mermaids – with hands in a Namaste pose curved into a handle. Something about them was bewitching and yet elegant. I couldn’t imagine them to be door handles for sure and hence settled on them flanking either sides of the Ganesha. I was satisfied! The resonance was deeper; as I made my way to an ATM almost half a kilometre away to withdraw the cash I needed to pay for the fairies, I felt my blood gush with the feeling of having followed the universe’s call. As I walked back to the shop to pay for the fairies, I felt, yet again, cradled by grace. Maybe this was the beatitude the old saints spoke about.
It took two days to get the carpenter to fix the three brass statuettes right. I had managed to find a set of coordinated buckets of various sizes, a set of spoon holders for the kitchen, a lace-ended plastic sheet to cover our circular dining table and a place to hang our original Schwarz-Wäldern, hand-painted cuckoo clock that I had bought four years ago laboriously all the way from Switzerland. I carried the prints of a couple of Van Gogh’s bought from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam to put them up in this place and mentally labelled the task of finding the perfect frames for them as “expedition two”. The large mirror went up in my room and it was then that I finally felt complete and one with the house. The house owned me more than I owned it. My mother was pleasantly surprised at my dedication saying this was a different daughter she was seeing. I was glad she was acknowledging the inner change that had brought about this. In a way, I was starting the alphabet again with a capital ‘a’. This was just a beginning of a series of commitments in my life is what I felt. The long road home had just begun and I was deeply grateful that it had started from home itself. I was the alchemist who worked backwards, as with everything else in my life – i was starting with the pot of gold on the journey down a rainbow. My dear anchor told me to drop the “gratitude” in my message signature. I replaced it with “joy” to be more authentic to what I was feeling. And I have only been experiencing gratefulness ever since.
Now the Tibetan flags hanging over the jhoola flail their elemental chants on the breathless wind. I hear my voice chant Om every morning calibrating itself with my electronic tanpura. The need to be me seems complete. A sense of surrender beckons tears of purity as I practice bharatnatyam rachanas in front of the mirror. “Je suis contient…” the heart whispers loud enough for the universe to hear…”je suis contient….finalement”[I am content…atlast].


Posted May 12, 2012 by Deepti G Gujar in articles

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Musings in a foreign city – Bergen   1 comment

I am enjoying the provocations of loneliness and solitude. The spaces in the city give my heart the space for sorrow to be emptied. I wish to be in your arms…but I know it is not you I want. I want my lovefulness back. I want you to touch my hair and kiss them. I want you to kiss my ears and make my every sound yours. I want you to break my heart a final time so that it can be free of this fear of heartbreak forever. I want you to give me your arms and be my saving grace.

It is indescribable the amount of love I feel for Europe. This continent has its strings weaved into my heart in mysterious ways. I worked 4 years in various jobs I didn’t enjoy just to receive these 12 days of Europe in Bergen, Norway. Since adolescence I was fascinated by France as much as girls my age were fascinated by boys. As I walked the cobblestoned streets in my tick-tocking boots, I thanked this part of earth with my every step for bringing me here. There is an insanity about love, and that is exactly what Europe is for me. I work in this field called IT which I feel like quitting every now and then owing to office politics, disheartening managers, and its attitude of applauding selfishness above communal growth. And yet I stuck to it just to be rewarded these 12 days. In these 12 days I have lived 12 lifetimes. The pleasure of sharing my Indianness with a family from here, the joy of walking with an unknown woman guiding me to my apartment without us ever knowing each other’s names is an experience that builds itself in a zone of exhilaration. Everyday my gratitude deepens… As I chat with fellow colleagues about the demerits of Indian men, the near impossibility of having a love child in an Indian society, I find a deeper connect with these women to whom I look and sound foreign but who in turn seem known. I want to freeze-frame the empty streets near the railway station into my camera…no wonder this city has so many artists – every alternate shop near my hotel is an art studio. Sometimes the art is bizarre, sometimes chalky images of the landscapes around. Maybe they too cannot get over the pleasant spaciousness of this city like me. I discover the statue of Ole Bull, the violinist who encouraged Edvard Grieg, another musical prodigy late in the 1800s. His secret marriage with a woman 40 years younger to him intrigues me as much as the appreciation for his clear violin renditions. I wish they have a record of this man who could fall in love and have the courage to have a daughter at that age. The insanity of love.

Amid the ebb and tide of loneliness and solitude brought about by this loony place, I discover that my heart is broken. So much time has passed that I have lost track of who broke it. Maybe it was an ex-lover from Europe, or maybe the initial stirrings were that of my dad for having broken my heart when he didn’t want or need my opinion on something. I listen to Norah Jones incessantly on a loop. I discover her latest release from an album called Little Broken Hearts. Dots connect themselves when left to move on their own.

The nightingale sings the grief in my heart. I am enjoying these provocations. I cry and write a letter to a man who feels like a lover but is miles away from being so. One that I will never send to him. I write to him every week. Like carving a statue that was never meant to see the light of the day. I am fooling the words that they will bear sunshine. One sided love is unbearable whatever the odds. Especially when you are falling in it. I see no birds here in Bergen. I hear no birds. Maybe they are all travelling like me to distant lands to gather back pieces of their hearts. I hope they come back whole and rejuvenated. Perhaps with a new love even. J’espère.

The endless maze of streets that my mind finds hard to comprehend. My feet ache so badly that now they have stopped talking to me.

It is past midnight. I cajole my feet with a balm made from some hauntingly sweet spice from Africa. They cry. I hold them near and cradle them. I sing them Norah’s traveller song. Another day has gone. Soon this solitude will end. There is no attachment this time. I am playing it safe. I know this man called Europe is going to betray me. I grieve it before it happens. It is like a child being aborted that you spent so many months nurturing. It feels like a life is going to a dark place where there is only uncertainty. I pray silently that there is a man reading this who feels my ache, this umbilical pull towards Europe and becomes that space shuttle that will promise me eternity here. Maybe other planets can wait. With cities like Bergen, there is no chance another planet can seem so enticing. Maybe someone out there recognizes this yearning for our own home even as we stay in it and have hence stayed away. Let them be so. There are still so many layers of beauty this virgin earth has.

I am on Day 6 and half of my stay is done. I have tried to live each day like a new book being written hastily. By next week this time I’ll be in what feels like foster home after this. I intend to find oneness with this place that I so yearn for. My very need, I wish, turn into my savior and release me from it. That is what I wish from my soul. No love can come close to what i feel for Europe, what I feel for this land. I am still sucked into the womb of this love and am reluctant to move out. May the northern lights lift this spell. I look up at the magnetic sky. Goodbye.

Posted March 29, 2012 by Deepti G Gujar in articles, wanderlust

La Dolce Vita   Leave a comment

The clock reads “01:01”. I lie in my bed where all sorts of things lie scattered. I finally bought an electronic tanpura – rather my dad bought it for me. Today it reached me and I feel I have just earned my right to become a singer once more. The connection between me and my dad feels restored. I am musing wordlessly looking at the ceiling decorated in a cluster of fluorescent stars that shine for me exclusively every night above my bed. Stars stuck by me. They are here because I am here. I finally found lingerie that fit me – a satisfaction long overdue after my month-long exhaustive sickness where I lost weight and life urge. But it seems to be coming back to me. Like a bitten child now shy in its return. He is coming around. Life is a he. Ah! the sweet pleasure of wearing underwear that fits snugly on all the curves without mystery or hedonism. Like the sourness of the grapes in my mouth engendering summer that is rushing in through our east-facing kitchen window every morning. It seems to shoo us away from our own escapist nature. A month back I had put down my favorite author’s book, “Bella Tuscany” with tears. Tears of joy at having reached that part of my  mother which had dragged my dad down to the remotest and shabbiest of streets to find that man who could spray-polish our wrought-iron furniture, and turn the rusty whites into matte-kissed sober black. That gusty woman who drew plans incessantly for half a year which none of us had the vocabulary to understand, and got just enough furnishing done to soothe her appetite for rest half of the year speaking to men who didn’t speak her mother-tongue, communicating to them through my dad in his tongue. A cross of figures, a confusion of materials, a tornado left over when they had finished, them cleaning it up like wizards, except that they were not. A side of hers that dumbfounded me through childhood until I started reading “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes. With her second book, my mother was restored again to me – infinitely. If I could love something like her, surely I must have loved her through the madness that made me feel much too estranged. Today I received the third book of Frances Mayes. The promise of restoration buries its roots deep in my sacre coeur. “Prima le radici, poi le ali“…she says here (First the roots, then the wings). “Si signora Mayes…si…“, you *know* me. Mille grazie. A day before I stumble upon an Anoushka Shankar-Norah Jones collaboration, titled “Easy“. I feel how strange it would have felt if my dad had birthed another “me” with as much pleasure, as much love and as much desire and I had never known that other me. Like an ice wall behind which you see people but cannot hear them. And then I saw the photo of the 2 of them together with similar tattoos of the sun on their back. Another connection restored. The wind-chime finds its place in the wind, not in an air-conditioned corridor. Discovering another Norah Jones song made me feel back at home. She was mine again. New and yet the same. Bluesy and yet so verdant. Like steady, green alpines by the lake. A steady stream of peace meandering and yet being always at home. Summer is back. Soon mangoes will be too. And between now and then will be a wait of the gentle mother radiant with expectation. The playlist ends with “fields of gold” – an eternal joie de vivre of “now”-ness. There is no deeper joy, whispers my heart. The man at the counter charges me Rs.50/- per hair clip when I expected him to charge that much for three. I hear the laughter of a child thoroughly enjoying the idiocy. I see me drop the colorful clips on his counter, too ludicrous to negotiate. I buy the same set down a line of shops with a total price of Rs.60/- My faith is restored. There is something for everyone. Nay. There is everything for everyone. Even if it is just a little bit. I buy me a perfume. I had gone to a high profile meeting where someone was wearing a perfume that smelt like it had sandalwood bursting into effusions of a top note. Marks and Spencer gives me a fragrance which has sandalwood and vanilla – the “salt” of fragrances – as the base notes – at a discount price. Olfactory restored. They have a last pair of soft acrylic black gloves hanging at the same price. “Caro mio…“, I call out to this sweet life. I come home and have a delicious aloo-mutter made by mom which is simple and has a mysterious taste to it, which I later find out is due to the saunf and ketchup combination she added to it to compensate for the lack of chillies. The simple, fetching dish reveals to me layers prancing around my tongue. I feel like I am kissing with my tongue and experiencing a life that wants to reveal its mystery to me with the promise of something more after every discovery. A promise of succulence. I book tickets for my parents for a black and white silent film nominated for the Oscars this year. My love for films is restored, silence is back in action, a canvas so pure and intense, pouring down my throat like raw honey, claiming the void with its alacrity. I open my cupboard and find that I have all that I need. I look at my bedside table and it has stacks of books worth all their weight in gold. I find my musical companion again – dad sits down with me and explains to me how to tune the tanpura. He plays the recording of his latest fascination – the jaltarang. He plays an old Hindi film song with pristine tuning. He shares my horror at the discovery of Auto-Tune. We agree with fierce gusto that art deserves to be made for the sake of art, not as just another means to make money. I lose further respect for Bollywood and my menial IT job gains greater credibility.I inwardly vow to make art for art and do the best I can to improve myself as a channel for so many art-forms life has handed me, with the grim conviction of an esteemed treasurer. I touch my electronic tanpura with both my hands and then touch them together to my forehead and ask it for its blessings. Music is restored at home. I find a song by Adele which I really like. Non-pop. I pray secretly she didn’t use Auto Tune, thank God for sending me yet another artist who sends the blood gushing through my arteries, and makes me want to sing. I feel like I am part of a huge wave once more. I am one with the flow. It has taken me with it. And as Frances says, that which takes you away from you restores you to yourself. Merci. I am falling asleep, feeling drenched in a white light. Maybe I am just dreaming in this semi-conscious state at an hour when birth seems near. The force of life pulling me closer to itself. Me being the life and the movement. A single word rests placated on wrought iron gates which are being opened as I lose consciousness – “Agape

Posted February 27, 2012 by Deepti G Gujar in articles, music

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The Beaver – trying to be more than a puppet   Leave a comment

“Sunrise” was the word that came to my mind when I saw Porter embrace his dad at the end of the movie. Walter, Mel Gibson’s character, has been shown with rushed transitions – first into the desperate excitement of having found a puppet in himself and secondly into the man who slips into depression again on discovering himself being “puppeteered” by life anyway. It is almost as if Walter wants to breathe, but realizes that he has to stay within the confines of an oxygen mask because life is too gusty for him. All along though there was a sense of something missing in the film. But as I neared the end of it, I realized that a lot of the connections between the characters had been left in the backdrop which had fallen off somewhere. Like a garden snipped so much that all that is left is a neatly trimmed bush of crocuses huddled in an asymmetrically barren patch.

The depth of the moments between Walter and his older son, Walter and his wife, Walter and his VP were sorely missing. In fact I so longed to see the transition that his VP felt when Walter stepped back in with a puppet, but all I was “shown” was a switch of attitude. A bit too jumpy like a puppet. Meredith too was disjoint as a character. She seems like a kite dipping between the helplessness in her husband’s situation, then into the hopelessness of her child’s inability to open up, into the apathetic dedication in designing roller-coasters and lastly, and surprisingly, into a passionate sex life that lacks any emotion. It is almost as if the headlines for these characters were chalked, their characteristics bulleted, and then someone just forgot the time element to breathe life into each of these characters in a slow fluid motion. Hence, there is a sense of being dazed into the movie, rather than experiencing it.
What was cohesive though, was the parallel story of Norah and Porter. Unfortunately however this thread of story was too disconnected with the main one.
Overall, I found the film unnecessarily serious, too flimsy for the strong personalities in it, too fragile for the kind of a heavyweight Jodie is in terms of acting and too much of “subtitled acting” extracted from Mel Gibson.

Posted February 10, 2012 by Deepti G Gujar in articles, movies

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“The Artist” struck a chord   2 comments

Very rarely does a film come in that makes you feel in and out of time simultaneously. When I watched the trailors of the films being screened at the Cannes Film Festival 2011 on its website, this was the one I instantly connected with. Jean Dujardin, the actor, reminded me of someone I seemed to have gazed longingly at in an era I was never apparently born in. There is a chemistry whirring in the silent magnetic air when the film opens…a mystical l’air du temps only Jean as George Valentin seems to control while connecting all of us as we participate, gaping in our naked surprise. Berenice, the actress in the films in the film reminds of a bygone era of Audrey Hepburn, when beauty was deeper than skin and came around to reveal true characters & friendships as solid as gold forged in a fickle industry that was artist-dependent, rather than studio-dominated. To add to the elegance of filmmaking, the whole film is done in pristine black and white, and the only discerning factor to remind us that this film IS shot in today’s times, is the chic clarity of the frames which seem accidental because the mind expects the dotted lines washing onto the bottom screen line.

Though the plot is almost typical of the era when films were focused wholly on one character and everyone else being his shadow, like a narrow-gauge train for which the tracks would be aligned, it has a dog that adds to the film’s character with as a pivotal sidekick. Moreover, recognizing stars like James Cromwell keeps the subconscious awake to the fact that this film is shot now. But a deeper layer of sensitivity is kindled due to the entire cast speaking, but the sound never reaching us. I felt the audience has a more sound chance to participate in a silent film than being “told” what was happening – it was almost as if I was making the film as it was playing on its own, keeping me focused on feeling Jean’s face and eyes which he masterfully sculpts his way about and engaging me as I spoke the words in my head as he was mouthing them. Add to this the accurately delayed timing of the frames carrying only those dialogues which brought about anticipation, just like the good ol’ Charlie Chaplin days!

Towards the end I had a feeling of agape – thank god for the silent era; it was a flowering fullness of celebration of our human beingness through a greater dimension of silence. This film is not just a tribute, it is a treasure reawakening the voluptuousness of human artistry that can be conveyed in just a dazzling smile.

The Girl Who Loved Saffron   Leave a comment

Of late I have been researching on Kashmir…stories told to me by my Kashmiri friends have been so inspiring.

Today a dear friend shared this with me –

The Girl Who Loved Saffron.

The elements of truth speak loudly here. I generally don’t indulge in political issues, but this one does touch my heart.

I wonder now… I wish we humans could stand up for justice. On either side there is death. Why are we being complacent?

Posted January 19, 2012 by Deepti G Gujar in articles

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Of Tulips!   1 comment

As I got back from the Taljai forested area and headed to F.C Road’s “wadeshwar” for a loaded breakfast, I encountered a newly opened florist beside the landmark Barista on F.C Road. I am not usually a flower person and often find it very awkward to receive flowers simply because I can never really remember how to cut the stems and preserve the flowers and am often missing a vase at home! But today I was stopped in my tracks by the flowers on display at this florist’s – TULIPS! My favorite flowers on earth had travelled all the way from the land down under to my city! Pastel pinks, spakling yellows, crimson reds with a bowl of dark navy at the center and the very exotic butter cream ones with the fuchsia headed petals. As I ogled like a little girl and a fancy lady, the opening titles of “My Fair Lady” flew into my mind featuring those beautiful burgeoning blossoms. I smiled, and asked the vendor the cost – the tulips were Rs.100/- a piece! How I wish I could buy 10 of those….if only I had a vase…and a sense of decorating and preserving the exquisite blossoms! I sighed and moved on…maybe someday, I reminisced in my head, I would have a house where I could frame up the prints of Van Gogh’s paintings I had bought from the musuem gift shop in Amsterdam and decorate an ornate wooden table with the pastel pinks in a porcelain blue vase. J’espère…

I had been to Amsterdam a very long time back. It was a typical European winter day with hardly any sunshine and very few people on the road. Of course it was also Christmas Day and I felt like the only tourist out on the empty streets (maybe because I was?!) It was my last week in Europe before I was flying back to India for good, and I was alone on a 2-day walking trip of the city of museums and canals. I had booked myself a beautiful room in an understandably chic boutique hotel called Hotel Vondel, which was a set of 2 connected 18-th century mansions renovated. It was cozy, expensive, gave exquisitely fragrant petite toileteries by the day and made me feel safe as I was a solo female traveler. The best part was that it was walking distance from the Rijksmuseum, which was the only thing on my agenda. Taking an overnight train from Zurich in a cabin shared between me and a friend, I woke up on Christmas Day with a knock at a groggy 6a.m by the on-train server who wanted to serve us breakfast before we offloaded at the Amsterdam station in a couple of hours. The train journey felt luxurious with the ultra-compact cabin and the quality of breakfast. They had managed to serve a good spread of things alongwith coffee on a tiny table that rocked with the train.
I reached this hotel on arrival at the Amsterdam station, freshened up and headed out for breakfast in the empty indoor dining area known for serving international cuisine. I thought of trying the specialty – club sandwich – especially because it is a Pune specialty too (which is my home city). 1 bite and I was done simply because I was not used to eating so much of strong meat that most of the sandwich was flavored with. I finally pulled it apart, ate just the veggies and the bread, gulped my coffee and headed out. Walking along the canal I caught sight of Hard Rock Café.

I made my way to it, but found out it was closed. So I just got myself a couple of memorablia pins from its souvenir shop and headed to the Rijksmuseum – known as the Louvre of Amsterdam. The whole day was spent in a timeless sepia stroll along aisles of huge Rembrandts, tiny Monets and other painters, mostly from the Renaissance era, with the headphones sonorously ranting every painting’s history.

It was dark by the time I got out of the museum and I decided to walk around in the still, Christmas silence. I mused to myself – had I been abducted, blindfolded and dropped into this town, having lost the track of time, I wouldn’t have ever known it was Christmas! I walked around the shopping street that was shut and had a few ornaments lit up hanging above the road strung from the tops of the 2-storeyed buildings on both sides. After eating a light dinner I headed back to the warmth of the hotel.

The next day was a lot more active and the people on the streets had a look of renewal about them. I took the city tour via the canal on touristy boats marked “I <3msterdam” and passed some expected and some unexpected sights – the Anne Frank house was something I decided to visit if ever I came back to the city.

( For example I learnt that windows are often larger than the doors in these buildings lined up on both sides of the canal as you can see, and can be opened completely so that furniture pieces can be hauled up through them, transported via boats! – PS: pardon my lack of photography skills for this tilted image)

There was a quirky mix of museums I saw on my way around the canals – the museum of bags and purses for instance! Maybe the city folk really like preserving things…I wondered to myself. My tour guide informed us that once the city had no water but beer between canals, and I could imagine brown beer flowing about with people leaning out the boat to dip their mugs in. Interesting sight that would’ve been!

We returned back after an unexciting view of the city harbor (I wonder why harbors are included in city tours – it generates a sense of excitement that gets squashed massively upon seeing the huge vessels that carry canned goods, fish and stuff wrapped in huge white plastic with all sorts of company logos and instructions. It is a square memory in a round gap that was reserved for it!).

The chinese houseboat on the harbor…ahh well…!

After a quick lunch I headed out to the Van Gogh museum that I had been greatly anticipating since the first day. It was the most memorable museum experience of my life! Listening to the artfully composed information over the headphones that detailed Van Gogh’s tumultuous life was like watching a film whose reels you could roll at will as you moved along the paintings and the sound was on a non-stop mode. But the epiphany struck me as I was standing inches away from his famous painting, the sunflowers. I had never really seen this painting other than as a motif on some T-shirt earlier or in the passing over the net while looking for something else. However, in that moment something hooked me visually to a point in it and for one brief flash of a second, the sunflowers swayed at a violent pace. All of this happened so quickly that I stood reeling, rooted on the spot, having lost awareness that I have to move on to give the person waiting beside me a chance to look at it. Abruptly the awareness swept in and I moved on. But something in me was stirred. I connected with all the paintings I saw after that and even though nothing of the likes of the sunflowers happened, I could feel the emotional turbulence in each of his strokes in his paintings. It was almost as if I was seated someplace (safe) in his stormy mind and watching him paint like a madman who was a slave to it. That one instant aroused both empathy and compassion and I wished I could reach out to him across time and express this shared ache. After an emotional tour, I shopped for postcard books featuring his paintings, a huge musuem poster of his almond tree painting and a couple of prints from the musuem’s gift shop.

As I moved out, I was joined by a travel companion for some time and we then headed to Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District. This brought about incredible lightness, watching the magic mushroom shops and the blatant sex-on-sale shops. However, hilarity struck when my male friend started getting hit on by a group of tall, muscular men! It was at once funny as well as embarrasing and while I was still not over the shock, my friend, highly panicked, pulled us out of the district as fast as possible. It almost brought me pleasure to see a man go through the same set of emotions that I as a woman go through when men try to cross their lines in popular shopping areas in India.

We made our way to the train station to board our train back to Zurich and on the way sought out the scrumptious street food (not magic mushrooms though!). Particularly drool-worthy was the bananenbol and apfelbol – a kind of dough ball with caramelised fruit filling that had been fried and served hot – and they asked you whether you want it with a sugar coating (say yes!). On opting for sugar, they quickly rolled it in a pan of sugar dust which flew up in a cloud whilst they did so that you could distinctly smell. After gorging on these hot ‘sugarbabes’ we headed back from a memorable 2-day short trip ambling along Amsterdam.

In hindsight, I may not have caught the tulips which Yash Chopra did more justice to than the postcards with the windmills, I may not have laid eyes on the miniature city at Rotterdam, but I sure sunk my teeth into the hollandaise spirit as best I could, and it left me with a sad sweetness that I hope to return to with grand expectations again soon.  And now as I think about it, maybe the tulips on F.C Road are a sign…

© Deepti G Gujar, All text and images except the first image