With the stars on Salma Plateau

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The first of anything is almost always fondly remembered. And when it’s the first of many things it’s one for the memory books. Camping in the wilds never seemed like my cup of tea (or coffee). I like my comforts, thank you very much. But a recent one-nighter with a great group of friends had me thinking I had got it wrong all these years!

We spent a great evening shopping for a state-of-the art Coleman pop-up tent that could be set up in a minute and promised to be suitable even for dummies like us. Add some air beds, electric pump, snug sleeping bags and camp chairs, and you are all set for a night in the open.

Our destination was Salma Plateau: a wild, barren, beautiful table-land about 1300 metres above sea level. After bidding adieu to the glistening blue sea near Fins, our convoy of cars-Pajero, Prado, BMW X5, Jeep Rubicon and Wranglers roared into the forbidding mountains that flanked the pristine coast near Bimmah and Fins on the way to Sur. Our group had both seasoned veterans who had camped for days in the desert and mountains and also novices who hadn’t spent a day out of their soft beds at home.

The drive was a pretty challenging one, even though I was just a passenger; I could see me husband’s knuckles turn white at some of the tricky turns and incredibly steep inclines we had to climb. The road was an off-roader’s dream; rough and rugged, strewn with a fine layer of velvety sand over sharp rocks and stones eroded over the years. The path was narrow in places, with jagged honey-colored rocks that jutted out menacingly. With every meter we ascended, the vistas that spread before our eyes showed a very different face of this country where I had lived for almost six years now.

Muscat, Sohar and the other cities do showcase the quiet, classy and laidback civilization that has been here for centuries. The people there are a blend of Omani, Indian, Zanzibari, Pakistani, Arab and Irani blood. The features and tongues a veritable mix of cultures. But here in the Great Outback of Oman we glimpsed the wild,beating heart of the country. We saw little homes teetering over the cliffs and overlooking great chasms. Mountain goats with shiny, long hair looked at us curiously as we zoomed past their shelters. A brightly cloaked goat-herd ran behind them to make sure they didn’t turn into mutton biriyani under our wheels.

The air got cooler as we climbed and our vehicles were patchy with the bright,orange sand. Great clouds of dust rose in front of us as the cars ahead blazed the trail uphill. There were several heart-stopping moments when we climbed steep slopes with just the clear, blue sky in front of us and nothing else, and then we steeled ourselves for those jaw-dropping falls that followed. The roads reminded me of the sine curves from some old Physics classroom- all ups and downs, meandering through the barren wilderness.

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The flatness of Salma plateau was immense like the prairies or the savannah except there was hardly any vegetation. A few thorny scrubs and bushes dotted the landscape and gentle, rounded hills peppered with beige-colored loose rocks and boulders could be seen at the far ends. And we were lone campers on this desolate plateau, with just the chilly winds and the setting sun for company.

 

There was flurry of activity as we set up camp. Out came the fancy tents, airbeds, sleeping bags and mats. By half past five we had all tents and gear in place. Then the focus was on getting the bonfire and food ready as our stomachs rumbled in anticipation for the goodies that were unloaded from the vehicles. The logs of firewood burst into happy, orange-red flames just as the sun set in a burst of crimson and the sky quickly darkened at the twilight hour. A lone North star shone from the left as we set up the grills, tables and chairs around the now-roaring fire. There was a nip in the air as the mercury dropped steadily. Out popped the jackets, hoodies and caps and we hugged ourselves as we breathed in the crisp, clean unpolluted air. A family of camels came over to sniff at us curiously, and were shooed away with much delight by my toddler.

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As night fell the spirits rose in the campsite. Music and laughter mingled with the hiss and pop of the burning coals. Stories of ghosts and djinns were exchanged and jokes were cracked as the marinated kebabs sizzled on the grill. The Malai chicken kebab was as hot and delicious as the woman who prepared it. It melted in our hungry mouths and had us snatching more pieces from the tray. The Tandoori chicken was zesty and full of flavor and excitement, almost as if it’s maker had infused some of her enthusiasm and positive spirit into the meat. It was met with oohs and aahs and several grubby, grabby fingers. Then came the paneer, cauliflower and other veggies to assuage the guilt of a meat-driven binge. By this time we were all quite satiated and could hardly move.

 

Our stomachs heavy with warm food, we then gazed up at the night sky and gasped in awe at the millions of stars that shone down on us. It was the first time my toddler had seen so many stars and she kept chanting ‘Stars! Stars!’ in a little, piping voice. After a few rounds of dumb charades, which led to a display of the stellar acting talent among us we were hungry again! Out came the mutton roast that was polished off with the khubz and garlic paste. And we filled the remaining pockets of our stomach with a yummy pineapple upside-down cake loaded with many guilty calories.

The temperature had fallen to 15C by this time and slowly people made their way to their cozy tents and cuddled up to keep the chill at bay. I woke up a few times in the night hearing a very different sound; a cross between a rumble, snort and whistle. I asked my husband (who was gently adding his snores to the music in the air) what it could be? He mumbled sleepily that camels and donkeys surrounded us and they were making this sound! I was alarmed, as it sounded very, very close. And then I had to answer an urgent call of nature. I planned to run out and do it as soon as I could so as not to disturb any camels or donkeys. Imagine my surprise when I popped my head out of the tent to find the campsite devoid of any four-footed animals! A veritable orchestra could be heard though, with contributions from sleepy campers from multiple tents. Suprano, alto, bass and baritone, you name it, we had it. I didn’t know whether to laugh or sigh!

Breakfast was hot tea, coffee and cucumber-tomato sandwiches prepared in the mountain air. The coals from last night’s bonfire were still warm and red and served as a hotplate for the leftovers from dinner and some golden, yellow corn. A few hours later we were packed up and ready to leave. The Coleman pop-up tent didn’t disappoint and took us just a few minutes to dismantle and load in the car.

 

Our next stop was the enormous underground cave, Majlis al Djinn; an underground chamber so huge that you could fit three Boeing 737 airplanes in it. We stood at the opening on ground level and peered down into the emptiness below. Our voices echoed as we hooted and howled and shouted foolish nothings.

An hour long zig-zagging, hair-raising bumpy drive through the mountains led us to our next stop- 5000 year old beehive tombs. Made with several flat stones arranged in a cylindrical pattern tapering at the top, these tombs had a tiny entrance we could crawl through at the base. And that’s just what we did; climbing into an ancient cave, stepping over 5000 year old bones and clicking selfies! (abominable behavior right?)

We began our final descent back to the coast of Tiwi and the pace quickened, as the adrenaline coursing through our veins slowly dwindled. We returned home safe and sound, tired and little worse for wear, but incredibly happy and excited. An excellent first effort at camping I say, made possible by great friends, wonderful terrain and kind weather. I can see myself setting up many a camp this winter in Oman to make up for all those years lost.


In The Presence of ‘The Greatest’-My moment with Muhammad Ali

I didn’t know I was meeting a legend that day. I was just a regular 9-year-old going about her day at our family home in Calicut, Kerala. My maternal family is big on the social service scene. My grandfather pioneered the Muslim Education Society (MES) decades ago intent at uplifting the Muslims in Kerala through the most effective tool he knew- ‘Education’ and especially education of ‘Muslim Women’. After his death my grandmother and uncle took over the mantle and saw the organization rise to greater heights. My uncle was a sports aficionado and it was his brilliant idea to bring none other than Muhammad Ali to the humble town of Calicut for the silver jubilee celebrations of this great organization in 1989.

I remember there was a palpable excitement at home. People from various walks of life just walking through the visitors rooms talking excitedly and I couldn’t figure out what the fuss was all about. Those days we didn’t have the world at our fingertips and I had to glean whatever information I could by nagging my uncle and mother. I learnt about this amazing man who led an extraordinary life with unmatchable greatness. My uncle explained to me about his conversion to Islam and his prowess in the boxing ring. And being a Neurologist he went on to explain that the man was suffering from Parkinsonism as well.

I still remember walking over to that stationery shop, a short walk from our house on Kannur road, and asking for an autograph book, my very first one. I can still feel the smooth, soft velvet of the cover on the tips of my finger, just like when I ran my fingers on the cover on that eventful day. It was a dark brown one, with  creamy, yellow pages waiting to be filled with the penmanship of one of the greatest boxers the world had ever seen.

We waited with bated breath to meet him at the hotel room at the Paramount. When he entered the room with his wife Yolanda Ali the small crowd of people rushed forward to greet him and I was forgotten at the back of room. I waited quietly, because there was nothing else for me to do and Mom had instructed me to not leave my uncle’s side, so I couldn’t really go exploring. Once everyone had taken their seats, Muhammad Ali and his wife sipped on some refreshments and the I finally got to see this boxer of great repute.

I took in his broad, broad shoulders and powerful arms. His short neck and wide face.  The glass of coconut water shook slightly and his wife leaned towards him to help hold the glass. The room was air-conditioned but perhaps it was the heat of all those bodies or the energy in the air that caused all of us to sweat profusely. Muhammed Ali sat quietly listening to voices around him, moving his head this way and that, taking in the people and the room. And then suddenly his eyes fell on me, a little girl with short hair in a blue skirt and top and white shoes, standing silently at the back of the room.

I can still see in my mind’s eye, the way his posture changed when he locked eyes with me. He sat up a little straighter and squared his shoulders and his face cracked into a wide smile. And this changed his appearance completely. Until then I was a little afraid of this hulk of a man who sat hunched over a glass of coconut water. He seemed to dwarf everyone else in the room.But when that smile blossomed on his face he became radiant. He handed over the glass to Yolanda and gestured to me to come up.

The voices in the room fell silent as they watched me walk up to the sofa where the guests from USA sat.

‘Sit here,’ he said softly, pointing to a space next to him and I obliged.

He put his arm around me and I braced myself to be crushed by this man of immense strength and stature. Little did I know that I was in the embrace of a gentle giant. He leaned down to drop a kiss on the top my head.

‘Wipe your face Ali,’ chided his wife. ‘You are sweating!’

He laughed and took the white handkerchief she offered and wiped his face with gusto. One more hug and a kiss of the cheek this time. I was flabbergasted and just sat frozen beside him, clutching my new Autograph book in my hands.

‘Give her your autograph, Ali,’ said Yolanda with a smile.

He smiled from ear to ear and slowly took the book from my hands and ever so gently turned the pages with his trembling hands.

‘I am the first one?’ he asked quietly,finding the pages empty.

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. He scribbled his signature onto the creamy page in my velvet-covered autograph book and handed it back to me with great care. I whispered my thanks and stood up to leave. He put out his hand for a handshake. My breath caught in my throat at the sight of his enormous hands. I gulped and gave him mine and gazed in wonder at how tiny it looked in his grasp. I expected it to be crushed by his power but he held me softly, as one would a butterfly.

‘Good Luck, little girl,’ he whispered with a smile as someone carted me away.

Sadly, I don’t have a picture or even that Autograph book! In all these years I have never paused to think about this little rendezvous with greatness. Little did I know I had just created a memory of a lifetime; a story I would share with my children and my grandchildren.

 

 

 

 

 


10 ideas to give your life a makeover

 

 

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them,” so said some philosopher, poet or guru. And for many of us the words make absolute sense especially when we are in auto-pilot mode and we just go about the motions of everyday life in a trance to fulfill mundane needs. The Dreamer is hidden away and life becomes a series of casual, meaningless occurrences. Sounds familiar? Then perhaps it’s time to give your Life a much-needed makeover. Here are 10 ideas to get started:

 

  1. Know yourself, Love yourself: The first step to getting your life in order is to know, accept and love your “self”. Know your strengths and problem areas. Understand what makes you happy and what ticks you off. And accept the fact that you are what you are and you are special and unique. If you don’t love yourself then how can someone else love you?
  2. Reflect and rejuvenate : Take the time to reflect on what is going on in your life. Be it at work , at home or at a personal level. De-clutter your mind , try to get rid of unhealthy thoughts and focus on the good things. Try some meditation and rejuvenate your mind. Sometimes a little “quiet” time is what you need when feel yourself suffocating in the daily rat-race.
  3. Design your life: In the words of G.B Shaw, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.” Have a clear picture of what you want. Knowing what you want and trusting your gut helps to put a lot of things in perspective. Stop being passive. Go out there make things happen. Nobody is working to make you happy, you need to do it yourself. Be a person of action. Do things one step at a time. Create the life you want to live.
  4. Let go of energy-drains: Steer clear of negative people and activities that drain your energy and happiness out of you. Some people just enjoy being a killjoy and will be quick to point out whatever is wrong in a situation rather than finding the silver lining. These people only aggravate matters and will never help you find solutions to your problems, they will only drain your energy and leave you empty. Stay away from them or atleast reduce the amount of time you spend with them.
  5. Be positive and find positivity: Always try to surround yourself with positive energy. Keep the mood up and focus on the good things in your life. Find like-minded people and spend more time with them. Be grateful for your blessings. There is so much misery in the world. Count yourself among the lucky few who have so much ‘more than what many others do.
  6. Slow down: Half our problems and stress is caused by trying to do too much in too little time. Multi-tasking is not the way to go. How often do we take our kids for a walk and just watch them play in the park without constantly checking our Whatsapp or FB messages? Slow down, do things one at a time. You may accomplish less but you will do it right and enjoy what you do. If you are having a conversation with a friend give her your undivided attention. Make time to do things right.
  7. Live in the present: Buddha said,“ Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Simple wisom but only a meager few follow this maxim. Most of our days and nights are spent worrying about the future or thinking about the past when we should be enjoying the present. Some of us go over and over the mistakes of our past and live our life with a million “what ifs”. While others work out Plan A and Plan B and Plan Z for their future and bite their nails with worry wondering what will happen if nothing goes according to their well-laid plans. Little do we realize that time is ticking away and its never coming back.
  8. Live your life by a standard: We all have a belief system, an anchor , a beacon that gives us direction. Something that guides us and holds us together. It may be religion for some or just simple logic and reasoning for others. But this helps to make decisions that work for us and helps to put things in black and white in a world that is so grey.
  9. Accept change: The world is in constant flux and it’s only natural that we change with it. Change may happen at work, at home, in relationships, Change is all-pervasive. The first step to deal with change is to “accept” it. By nature most of us hate getting out of our comfort zone but pushing our boundaries and exploring new territories sometimes brings with it a much- needed change.
  10. Self-care: Be compassionate to yourself. Find mentors, people who inspire you, and who can help you find the strength to make the change you want. Find the time to do things that make you happy, it may reading a book or taking a swim or having a coffee with a friend. The first step in the journey of giving your life a makeover is caring for yourself .

Six Scintillating Destinations for 2016

Six Scintillating Destinations for 2016

 

My prayer for 2016 is to be bitten by the travel bug. To traverse the globe and blaze a trail across the many continents. To create memories of a lifetime, be it on a mountain, a beach, a delta or an iceberg. To travel far and wide, experience unseen treasures, feel unknown emotions and taste forbidden pleasures. To open my senses wide to all that this world has to offer and never be the same again. Here are a handful of marvelous destinations that promise to do just that, so pack your bags and book your tickets to the best destinations that 2016 has to offer.

 

japan-mt-fuji.jpgExperience the best of the Orient– The Land of the Rising Sun, Japan, is unique mix of old and new, ancient and modern, tradition and technology. Here you will find eye-popping architecture, exquisite gardens, majestic castles, snow-capped mountains, wind-swept beaches and pulsating urban centers. Take time to take a walk through a park filled with pink sakura (cherry) blossoms or pause to be inspired by the sacred Mount Fuji. Stay at a traditional Japanese ryokan (inn) enjoying the carefully prepared, visually appealing meals and relaxing on a futon. Pray for peace at one of the thousand Shinto shrines or prostrate in front of the Buddha at Kamakura. Reminisce about samurais and geishas while partaking in a traditional tea ceremony. Watch a play at the Kabuki theatre or buy a manga comic or make a wish on a Daruma doll. Experience the calm of a rotemboro (a hot spring bath) in harmony with Nature. With mountains,temples, shrines, castles, national parks or beaches Japan promises to surprise you at every corner.

 

Australia-wallpaper-7.jpgTake a road-trip Down Under– Rent a car and drive the Great Ocean Road in Australia and watch the Southern Ocean crash against the sandy beaches and sheer cliffs along the road. Take a helicopter ride and marvel at the 12 Apostles, queer limestone stacks rising out of the ocean. Stop at Bells beach to check out the monster waves and watch the daredevilry of the surfers. Be on the lookout for a whale or two or go exploring the ocean for a shipwreck. Snorkel or scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef that stretches for about 2000 km along the Queensland coastline up north. Take a guided trail into the magnificent Daintree rainforest. Fly down to the Red Center and listen to the aboriginal guide weave a tale of times gone by while sitting in the shade of the Uluru. Or head to the Blue Mountains and take in the charm of 1 million hectares of tall forests, sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, caves and canyons. Visit the urban metropolises of Sydney or Melbourne and eat at a Michelin starred restaurant or two. Australia must be “felt” and not just seen.

 

bots.jpgDiamond hunting in Botswana- Board a flight to Gaborone and embark on a safari like no other. Explore the world’s largest inland delta, the Okavango, in a mokoro (boat) and enjoy the lush water-wilderness. Gawk at the pink haze of a million flamingos that you will find on the saltpans of Makgadikgadi and watch the zebras run on this untamable land. Enjoy the riverine landscape of Chobe and take a trip to the nearby Victoria Falls. Visit the home of the San Bushmen and understand their way of life and dance a step or two with the pretty ladies. Take a game drive in the Moremi Game Reserve and be humbled by the astounding range of flora and fauna on display- lions, elephants, zebras, impalas, gazelles, springboks, cheetahs and more. Take a whiff of dry air at the Kalahari Desert dotted with shrubs and acacia. Make your way to the Tsodilo Hills to see thousand year old rock paintings. With its untouched wetlands, reed-beds, deserts, savannah and woodland Botswana has something for every visitor.

 

FHAxj9drRock-on at the Emerald Isle- Ireland is a shining gem of an island in the Atlantic Ocean. Discover its many hidden treasures as you drive down the Wild Atlantic way, a winding road along the ocean on the west coast. Visit the cities of Clare, Limerick, Cork or Donegal and feel the beat of the land at a trad session (traditional Irish music) with bodhrans(drums), fiddles and tin-wheels. Watch the waves reach for the sky and get set to explore remote islands. Literary buffs must drop in at Dublin to be immersed in books, letters and manuscripts galore. Visit the Trinity College and take a peek at the Book of Kells that has been around since 800 AD. Make your way to the Gap of Dunloe (a mountain pass) best experienced in a jaunting car (pony-cart) with a charismatic jarvey(driver).Wildlife lovers can head to the Killarney National Park with its gorgeous lakes, mountains, woodlands and native red deer that have been roaming the lands for over 12,000 years. Don’t forget to visit Connemara, remote and rugged, and with a savage beauty beyond compare.

 

 

Maldonado_desde_la_Barra.jpgTango in Uruguay- A must-visit destination in South America is its smallest nation, Uruguay. What it lacks in size, it makes up in variety. Stroll through the capital city of Montevideo and click a picture or two at the 19th century neo-classical buildings. The partygoers must make their way to Punta Del Este to enjoy the beach-party of a lifetime. Marine animal-lovers must head to Cabo Polonia, a beautiful fishing village with plentiful fish, seals, sea-lions, penguins and even whales. The old-world charm of Colonia del Sacramento oozes from every stone on its cobblestone streets. Immerse yourself in the past and dream of another Time. Relax your aching bones in a thermal bath at Termas de Payman or go hot-spring hopping on Rio Uruguay. You may even find yourself caught in a traffic jam only to find a gaucho(cowboy) with his herd of cattle holding up the road. For an authentic gaucho experience book yourself into a working estancia(ranch) and try your hand at rounding up the cattle. A trip to Uruguay is not complete until your cut into a juicy steak from a parrilla at the famous Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo. And to round off your vacation enjoy a beautiful sunset at the beach while sipping a cup of mate, the smooth local tea.

 

iran.jpgExperience the hidden treasures of Iran- Home to one of the oldest and culturally rich civilizations in the world, Iran is now a hot word in tourist circles. Iran has opened its arms wide to visitors from across the globe. Grab your skis and head to the many popular ski resorts that are open from December until May or history buffs can catch a bus to Isfahan. Walk along the Nagsh-e-Jahan square and be spell-bound by the magnificent mosques and palaces with its intricate tiles, ornamentations, calligraphy and stunning mosaics. Shop for a Persian rug at one of the world’s largest covered bazaars in Tabriz. Watch the soft, yellow lights on the Si-O-Seh bridge across the Zayandeh river with its rows of arches. Spend a night as a nomad in a tent or rest in a caravanserai on the Silk Route. Visit the city of Yazd a sacred place for the Zorastrians. Fill your bellies with the rich Iranian Khoresht (meat stew) and gulp down the delicious Iranian ice-cream flavored with orange blossoms, honey and rosewater. The snow-clad Zagros and Elburz mountain ranges, the Anzali Lagoon in the Caspian Sea, the 2500 year-old city of Persepolis, ancient ruins, pristine beaches and ski resorts, Iran a spell-binding secret waiting to be discovered.


Incredible Italy

 

 

I have always fancied the life of a traveller. It always seems romantic to drop everything and run away to see all that the world has to offer. And that’s why I always look forward to our annual vacations. The excitement starts months before the actual journey and I secretly wonder if in some ways the preparation for the journey is more titillating than the trip itseDSC_0317.JPGlf. The world map offers a gazillion options to pick from especially when you are given a free hand to design your vacation. I love picking a country on whim, then read volumes about its culture, nature, tourist attractions, things to do, places to stay, life-changing experiences and so on till something else catches my fancy and I start the cycle all over again. I seek out others who have travelled to the same place and listen with eager ears to their pearls of wisdom.After months of voracious reading and fantasizing I finally picked Italy as our destination for this year.

We had a fantastic flight pampered in the luxury of business class and reached Milan well rested. As we approached the city the views from the airplane had us in a tizzy. The city unfolded gently, humming a tune of its own while the pristine, majestic Alps stood silently at the edge.

After a nasty experience with the rude and unhelpful counter staff at the Hertz Rent-a-Car the family was finally snugly packed into a brand-new estate wagon. Our destination Vercana,was about 2 hours away, located on the north shore of the famous Lake Como in the region of Lombardy, at the foothills of the Alps. The Autostrada was well-maintained and signposted however our GPS system was a little old (try, 3 years!) and kept giving us wrong directions every now and then. This was a point of stress but we decided to wing it anyway. The drive was a fun one, interspersed with nursery rhymes( for the baby), anecdotes(for the elders) and gushing about the beauty of the countryside we were crossing. Soon we were on the lake road, a two-way road winding road along the bank of the famous Lago di Como. The holiday-home of many a celebrity, politician and tycoon. We passed adorable towns, villages and hamlets all set on the shore of the glassy lake . Smoke rose from the chimneys of the stone-houses and locals made their way home in the fading light. Before we knew it the sun had dipped and our destination was nowhere in sight. Our GPS was kept showing us roads that no longer existed and we were tearing our hair in despair.

 

Finally we called the extremely helpful owner of the apartment we were to stay at in Vercana. Sara was a godsend. She was patient and encouraging and her instructions finally got us to Vercana. As we picked our bags and made our way down on foot, I held my breath hoping the view would be everything we hoped for. And it was. The night was quiet, not a leaf stirred, and the lights twinkled from the little village, Colico on other side of the lake. Lago di Como was as still as a mirror and the snow-clad mountains on the other side only added to our awe. Our heads barely touched our pillows and we were out cold only to be woken up by the baby in the wee hours of the morning.

The 3-hour time difference ensured we were up and about by 6 am and that was a blessing in disguise. The silence of a clear Alpine morning was upon us. A few early birds chirped and twittered as we gazed in wonder at the dark outline of nearby mountains and the shimmering lights of sleepy hamlets at their foothills. The mist hung in layers at different levDSC_0117.JPGels of the mountain range. A few swirls made its way atop the still lake. Church bells tolled in the distance, calling the faithful for prayer as a beautiful Sunday dawn broke over the Alps that Valentine’s Day. The pale, rays of the winter sun kissed the snow-clad peaks and dyed them rosy in hue. Our breaths were foggy
in the 8 degree, crisp winter air and we were grateful for this wondrous earth.

After a fantastic breakfast of eggs, assorted cheeses, rustic breads and cookies we were back in the car driving along the shore of the lake taking in the beauty of the hillside and alpine lake. It was not yet spring, so many of the trees were shorn of their leaves but their bareness was beautiful in their own right. They looked like sketches made by a very fine artist. We spent the day taking in the cool weather, enjoying a bit of rain and sun while munching away at local specialties as we looked on at the locals enjoying their holiday.

The next morning we bid adieu to dear Sara and we were on our way to the rolling hills of Tuscany. I had read so much about the beauty of the Tuscan countryside that I was getting more and more excited as we passed the many milestones on the way to our destination, San Casciano in Val di Pesa, just 20 minutes away from Florence.

 

Our resort Salvadonica was set in 16 acres of vineyards and olive groves and was an assorted collection of old, stone and brick farmhouses set in typical rustic, Tuscan fashion. The weary travellers were welcomed by the cozy corner in the reception, where the most delicious peach cake and tea awaited us. The staff went out of their way to make us feel right at home and we basked in their warmth. We spent the rest of the evening taking in the local sights and enjoying a delicious dinner of the famous Peposo, a rich beef stew, native to Tuscany.

 

Our next stop was Florence or Firenze (the city of flowers), as the locals call it. The view of Florence from the Piazzale Michelango where we parked was a spectacular one. We took in the majestic buildings, historic and new on the banks of a muddy and vigorous River Arno. We called out the famous sights like the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio and took a million pictures hoping to preserve the memory and of course to post on FB. After a warm, frothy Italian Cappuccino and an impressive Tiramisu we made our way to the Duomo, the cathedral of Florence. A horse-drawn carriage proved to be the top experience of the day and we spent an incredible 30 minutes clip-clopping on the cobbled Florentine streets listening to the lilting voice of our guide as he regaled us with stories from another time while pointing out the famous landmarks. Some times the best experiences are the spontaneous ones.

 

Our next stop, San Gimignano, the medieval walled city in Tuscany had impressive architecture. We marveled at the citadels and towers and gazed at the beauty of the valleys that rolled off the slope of the hill on which the city stood.

 

The next day saw us in Pisa, planting our feet in the Field of Miracles, admiring the Baptistery, Camposanto, the Cathedral and of course the Leaning Tower itself. And believe me, the tower does lean quite a bit! Pictures don’t do it justice, one must see for oneself.

We then made our way to Livorno, on the Tyrrhenian coast. The sun shone upon the glistening, blue sea as ships and sailboats bobbed up and down. Massive seagulls swooped down filling their bellies with fish. The Italians were out basking in the warm sun, walking their dogs, playing with their children and even rolling out their grandmothers in wheelchairs!

 

Another gem in the Tuscan countryside set between hills and vales is the beautiful, medieval city of Siena with its ancient brick buildings. As we walked down the cobbled streets towards the Piazza del Campo we could feel the young energy in the air as students streamed out of the University of Siena. Their hustle and bustle put a skip in our step. Later, sitting at on the steps of the Siena Cathedral we watched little Italian boys licking their gelato with gusto.

 

Our last stop in Italy was Milano. We spent just a few hurried hours walking through the fashion district and checking out the shops at Corsa Beunos Aires. No vacation of ours is ever complete without a Chinese meal, irrespective of the destination and a trip to Chinatown served that purpose.

 

The words of Ibn Battuta rang true as I sat sipping my coffee gazing out at the familiar view from my living room window- “ Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a story-teller.”

Images flash through my inner eye- misty mornings on Lake Como, vineyards on the gentle slopes of the Tuscany, olive-groves with silvery-green foliage shimmering in the rain, sailboats bobbing under an azure blue sky on the Tyrrhenian Sea, peals of laughter from the cafes on the Piazza del Campo, the warmth of a genuine Italian smile… Indeed the treasures of travel are many!


The Year of the Fat-Fighter

The Fat Diaries..

I don’t need a Fortune cookie to tell me my destiny.. I already know it.
I am destined to be a Fat-Fighter.. And I know I will be one all my life.

The Dosa Years:
I was chubby, round baby and though my Mother prayed my chubbiness would melt away in infancy or toddlerhood her prayers were never answered.
My earliest memory of a favorite food was Ghee Dosa.. I was about 2.5 or 3 years old and I’m sure I loved Dosa more than my favorite toy. I reveled in the smell of the Dosa batter hitting the hot, sizzling griddle . I waited for the moment when Mom added that dollop of home-made ghee. My olfactory senses went into over-drive and I would be drooling like Venus and Bruno , my pet Daschunds. By the time the Dosa reached the plate and inched closer to my mouth I would already have one foot in Food-Heaven and it was just a matter of seconds before I was completely on Cloud 9.Well, my chubby cheeks and plump limbs were still a source of “oohs ” and “aahs” among the aunties of Calicut where I was raised and so I continued the Dosa years without a care in the world.
Even when my Ustaad ( Quran teacher) described Heaven to me.. I secretly wished my heaven would have rivers of chocolate, trees of mint candy, fluffy appam like clouds, fried chicken bushes etc etc that I could just snap my fingers and the best food would be at my fingertips. Little did I know such fantasies would only lead to more trouble and increasing waistlines..

The Ooty Decade:
Thank God for Sports! That was my only thought during my entire school years. My boarding school had the most amazing food and we ate with gusto. I piled on freshly made butter balls onto soft , homemade white bread as soft as pillows and gulped them down like there was no tomorrow. We had pudding after every meal! Sometimes I ate my neighbour’s too.. But I burned calories without even realizing it as I was in the Athletic team and we had rigorous training every day for 2 hours that left us looking like Nike models. During these years I didn’t really care what I ate… I just Ate. I was just hungry all the time..
I cared two hoots for how I looked and fat was never an option because Coach Shobhana was out to torture us every morning. ( how I wish she was in my life today..)
The College years:
I remember my Mom freaking out after seeing me during my summer hols in Class 11. I had discovered mota rice and the wonderful cooking of my maternal aunts and hence the hidden fat monsters got into action. Before I knew it I had piled on some 20 pounds in 6 months and I looked hideous.( funny , I never realized that when I looked into my mirror everyday). Before I knew it Rice was banished from my world(sob!) and dry rotis became my new companion. Sadly there was no Sports or Shobhana to help. We always hear stories about how something tragic brings out the best in us right? Well, my tragedy was that I got groped in the public bus… Which made me decide to walk to college and back everyday (5km each way). The pounds melted away and Rice was back in my life again…(sigh).
Like they say-” good times never last”.. Before I knew it 2 years flew past and I joined Engg college and started living with my wonderful Grandmom. She was a fabulous cook… And we loved the same things… So to cut the long story short… Ms.Chubby was back to stay.

The ” I don’t care ” years:
Then came the engagement, the assurances from the love-struck fiancé of ‘ Oh! I love you just the way you are etc,” , marriage and then my first child. Somewhere in between all this I discovered my sweet tooth and the bane of my life “Chocolate”.Then there was no looking back. I also discovered that I had a passion for cooking and more specifically Baking. My husband was my biggest fan and we believed in the motto- ” love is getting fat together”.
Each day was a successful recipe on the table.. Pies, Cakes, Puddings, Pastas, Baturas, Fried rice, Schezwan Shrimps, beef in black bean sauce, Achari Ghost etc etc
Weekend outings were all about food.. Melt-in the mouth parathas, sizzling chicken platters,velvety beef steaks,warm chocolate brownies with cold vanilla ice-cream, cappuccino cheesecake…
There were moments of regret when I saw myself in the mirror… And saw my decline in health and physique . I missed the hot , sweaty mornings after Sports practice in school. When we trudged back wearily and to gulp down enormous breakfasts without a second thought.
My weight chart resembled a sine curve… Up n down.. Up n down synchronous with my diets and binges… There was no respite. I just could not hold back when I saw something sweet. To me they were works of art just waiting to touched, savoured, relished. I gave in to temptation each time.. I stopped looking at the mirror… “What’s the point ?”, I would think. After a while those around me got used to seeing me as a pretty and delightfully plump. Even I had forgotten my skinny years.. So then How could they remember? I see my children and I wonder.. ” do I want them to remember their mother as fat mommy? No way!”that’s not the legacy I want to leave behind.. Thank you very much!

Fooddiction:

It’s an Addiction….. Food. I don’t think we take this seriously. Just like alcohol, nicotine, marijuana etc Food is an Addiction for some of us. On some nights as I toss and turn feeling sorry for myself after a rude ( but genuine) remark from someone I just wish there was something like AA.. Where we could just get support from a group of similar Foodies who find it so hard to just do something as simple as ” Not Eat”. There is really no easy way out … There never was. The method is simple enough… Exercise and Diet.. The two pillars of healthy weight loss.

I am writing this today because I am “Fat Fighter” and proudly so. I have decided that I will not back down.. I will not give in. I will do whatever it takes to get me back to where I should be…on that weighing scale. It may take a month, or four or six months but I know I will get there because this time I have my support group and my trainers…it’s just a matter of keeping it real..and keeping it up! So Good Luck to me and all the Fat Fighters out there! Let 2015 be the year of the Fat Fighter!


The Five People You Meet in Heaven -A Book Review

I made myself a promise … I would do the things I love more often. Sounds easy enough right? But it’s not as simple as it sounds. It’s so easy to get carried away in the flow of life…. Meeting the expectations of your children, husband, parents, boss, colleagues.. You lose sight of yourself somewhere in all that chaos. You forget to nourish your soul by feeding it the little treats it likes.. Be it curling on the sofa with a great book, or sipping coffee by the poolside listening to the gentle sounds of water falling, travelling to exotic places and filling yourself with sights you probably would never see again, walking on the beach with a friend discussing all things from shopping to sundaes, watching children play and listening to their yells of glee, filling the home with the sound of good music and laughter.Ah! The list is quite long… But most importantly I love to read,reflect, to write…

My first book of this year was Mitch Albom’s ” The Five People You Meet in Heaven”. It’s a little book, hardly 200 pages but once I started I could barely put it down. I just had to stay up and finish it. It is indeed one of the most poignant stories I have had the good fortune to read. It gives you a different take on heaven indeed and in some weird way it kind of answers your questions of life …and death. It’s not as serious or boring as I just made it sound.. Basically the author tells us that the world is full of stories but all the stories are one.

The book tells us the story of Eddie, a simple maintenance guy at the amusement park, Ruby Pier who seems to have led an ordinary life with no great achievements.. Or so he thinks. He is a grumpy 82 year old who has been defeated by life over and over again.. As a child, as a young man, as a middle aged man and an old man.. His life is a series of things that went wrong and sometimes right,. The way life usually is.. With all it’s twists and turns.A tough childhood, a harrowing time as a soldier..taking home haunting memories after the war and never quite getting over the war trauma.. Both physical and mental. He does however get to marry his sweetheart but he has to take over his Dad’s job as a maintenance guy at the pier and give up his dreams of studying engineering and escaping the life he has grown up in. His reflections are more bitter than sweet … More sad that happy.. One does feel sorry for the man.. Trapped in the life he never chose to live. Eddie’s life comes to an end when he tries to save a little girl on a ride that goes wrong.. The last thing he remembers is rushing to save her ..and then he feels two little hands ..and then nothing.

He then goes to heaven where interestingly it is nothing like what he or for that matter any of us expect… No angels playing harps, or beautiful people walking around in shimmering white dresses, no lush green trees or rambling brooks etc etc. Instead he meets five people in five different heavens. Each of these people are in the heavens that make them happy.Each one has been waiting there for him, to tell him his story and make him understand his life. To answer all his questions.. To make sense of it all. The happiness, the pain, the choices he had to make and so on.. Each of these people have played an important part in making him who he is..though he never knew it during his time on earth.

The Blue Man was not just a freak at the amusement park. Little Eddie didn’t know that when he ran out into the street to catch his favorite ball on his birthday he had narrowly missed being hit by a car. The driver braked in the nick of time to save the boy who ran away in relief. Unknown to him the driver died of a heart attack shortly due to the stress on his already ill heart… The Blue Man had died so Little Eddie could live his life.

Eddie is then transported to the forests of Philippines where he spent time as a soldier. There he meets his Captain who makes him relive his last days as a soldier on the front. He feels the ache and despair he endured as a prisoner of war, the surge of adrenaline when they escaped. He remembers a shadow he saw in the hut before he was to blow up the area.The Captain then tells him that he had shot Eddie in the knee to save his life.Eddie goes berserk because it is that act which changed his life for ever. The bullet that shattered his bone had shattered his dreams too. The Captain then tell him how he stepped on a landline that blew him up .. But this act of sacrifice kept Eddie and his mates alive.

Eddie then finds himself in a diner where he sees his father sitting quietly in a corner. He calls out but there is no response. Just like it has been during his life. The author says, ” as parents we can both make or break our children. children are like pieces of glass and we leave smudges on them when we handle them throughout life. “Eddie had a tumultuous relationship with his father with their final years ending in silence. At the diner Eddie meets Ruby, an old woman, for whom the amusement park was actually built… (Ruby’s Pier. )The place where both he and his father spent their lives. She makes his understand his father’s life and helps him make sense of his filial relationship. Eddie realizes that his father’s last thoughts were of him.. He then sets things right with his father and his heart is lighter by a ton. Eddie then reaches the next heaven which is a series of weddings..American, Chinese, African.. He then sees his wife and she looks radiant , just like on the day he met her first. He spends time with her telling her how much he missed her especially after her untimely death by cancer. She makes him understand that lost love is still love.Though you cannot see, smell or feel the other person another sense heightens.. Memory. And then Memory becomes your partner for the rest of your years. “Life has to end, “she says, “but love doesn’t.”

Eddie then meets his fifth person in heaven. A little Asian girl , Tala. She is the little girl he saw in the burning hut while he was a soldier in Philippines. The little girl he could not save, the little girl who he unknowingly burnt to cinder, the little girl who haunted him all through his life.. He begs forgiveness and feels the final burden lift off from his chest and feels as light as a bird. He tells Tala what he has told no one, ” I am sad, because I accomplished nothing, I felt I was not supposed to be there.” Tala then tells him he was supposed to be there at Ruby Pier.. Making sure the rides worked right and that they were safe. Eddie then sees the pier fill up with thousands of people.. People he has kept alive and who could lead full lives because of the mundane acts of maintenance that prevented all those accidents that could have happened.

Eddie then understands the purpose of his life. A blanket of peace envelops Eddie and he is now free from all that holds him down.. He then goes to his heaven which is a giant white Ferris wheel where is beautiful wife waits for him with a smile..(sigh)

I just totally love the idea that we all have our own private heavens.. And we will meet people who will help us make sense of this life .. Which can seem so senseless some times…I really hope that will be the case.. The start of my reading adventure this year has been good and I hope there will be many more to follow.


Thank you …

Tomorrow is the last day of the year..and as is typical we try to take a moment or two to pause and reflect. Most of the time is spent counting all the things that didn’t quite go that well and didn’t happen as per plan. Realist that I am I never make any New Year resolutions because inevitably I almost never stick by them. I guess for most of us the brain is wired in that weird way.
As I stand on the cusp of the new year my overwhelming emotion is one of gratitude. I am grateful for the many things that didn’t go as per plan but turned out right anyway. We women are complex creatures… Our needs and wants are as complicated as the many faces we wear and the many roles we play. Career-woman, wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, confidant…
The lights are dim and the soft hum of the air conditioner fills the room. To one side lies a white, wooden baby cot. The letters on the wall spell out her name.. Rania. I glance into the cot to behold my sleeping child. Her long eyelashes fan her little cheeks. She sucks gently on two little fingers as she dreams of angels. This little one has graced our home after 12 long years. My husband and I feel young and energized again. We relive our twenties when we had our first child and we laugh at our old follies and fears. It feels wonderful to feel like a young mother again… To hold a gurgling and cooing infant and inhale the sweet scent of milk, powder and all things baby-ish.
There is a sudden shift of energy in the room as my elder daughter breezes in with her wide smile and wild hair. She is thrilled about the new home and new friends she has made. As I watch her playing in the garden with her many little friends I feel grateful for her presence in our lives. She regales us with stories from school and anecdotes from playtime blissfully unaware of how thankful we are for her generous hugs and kisses and her deep affection for her little sister.
My husband comes home after a long day at work .. 10-12 hours a day is routine for him. He has no complaints about the backbreaking work.. He revels in it. I remember our early years as a young couple. Still studying and trying to make ends meet and have fun at the same time. I remember the pep talks,the agonizing moments of self-doubt,the decisions at each cross-road that has brought us to where we are today . I remember the 18- hour days in Mangalore as he prepared for his DM Gastro entrance and the nail-biting, stomach curling tension we endured during those months… I am thankful for Oman and it’s many bounties ..
My parents have gotten tech-savvy .. Calling me on Hangouts to video chat and see their grandchildren and go gaga over the latest one. I am thankful for their constant love and their undying affection for me. Their presence is the glue that holds my world together.
I laugh at the many Facebook posts and quotes that my little sister tags me on. She is the crazy one that keeps me from feeling like an old aunty and keeps me on my toes. I am grateful for her enthusiasm, her bear- hugs and smothering kisses. She promises to contaminate my off-spring with her madness and drives my prim and proper husband nuts! I am grateful for the only sibling I have.
I take a moment to look at my team at work. Always ready with a perky smile and a warm glow in their eyes. They put in their 200% so I can achieve my goals and for this I am grateful. I see how they have grown in the time I have known them and I feel pride at their ever-expanding abilities.
Peals of laughter reach my ears as I smile back at my friends over muffins and coffee. Pulling my leg, lending a shoulder for support , patting my back for a job well-done… It’s good to have friends I am thankful for.
There are moments when a little niggle of fear creeps in and wipes that contented smile off my face… That’s when the prayers I learnt as a child kick in like a reflex and I am grateful for my Faith.
I am grateful for it all.. The ups and the downs..the highs and the lows….it’s an interesting life and I hope to have fun living it come 2015..
I guess the trick to enjoying life is to just go with the flow..and give into the rhythm destined by the Almighty.


Ballet for Beginners..

imageAll my life I have been enchanted by visual images of beautiful ballerinas…with porcelain skin, long & lithe limbs, agile & graceful movements, gliding through the stage like swans..

So it is little wonder that I jumped at the chance of seeing a live performance at the Royal Opera House, Muscat, of the world-famous Mariinsky Ballet, one of the oldest ballet schools in the world. I barely had an evening to book the tickets online and do a bit of research about the various programs , the profiles of the principal dancers & soloists and conductors of the orchestra so I wouldn’t feel like a country bumpkin unable to enjoy the performance.

The Royal Opera House glistened in the afternoon sun .. and well-dressed gentlemen, ladies and children in suits, dishdashas, sarees, salwar-suits, little black dresses slowly seated themselves in the gorgeous, plush red and gold environs of the opera. The crimson, velvet curtain shone in the golden yellow lights hiding the secrets within. There was an air of expectation and awe as people read their Program booklets and whispered in hush-hush tones.

Boris Gruzin, a handsome silver-haired man, the illustrious conductor of the Mariinsky Orchestra bowed to the audience and the members of the orchestra took their seats as the lights dimmed. The first act was the “Concerto DSCH” originally composed by Dmitri Schostovsky, a delightful piece played on the piano by the prodigy, Rumyantsev. Slender beings in pale green, sky blue, burnt orange and scarlet filled the stage as the musical notes filled the air. Pale-skinned, demure and graceful creatures as light as feathers. Swaying this way and that  on their tiptoes with the music. The audience was still..mesmerised by the divine moves on stage. The performance was a combination of vibrancy and grace.

The next act was “La Spectre de la Rose” which is the story of a young girl who comes home after her first ball with a red rose gifted by her partner. She falls asleep and the spirit of the rose comes into her dreams and they dance the night away. Viktoria and Kim Kimin were the soloists for this piece and they stole our hearts with their brilliant performances. She captured the young girl’s excitement, shyness and her exuberance all the same time with her delicate dance moves. But Kim Kimin (an international prize-winning Korean)  was the star of the performance! Tall, slender , long-limbed and clothed in crimson as the Spirit of the Rose he weaved through the stage and ran circles round our hearts. He leaped into the air and danced on his tip-toes..an epitome of male grace . He was truly a treat for the eyes!

The Swan was performed by Anastasia Kolegova, one of the senior dancers and soloists of the Mariinsky Ballet company. The audience was rapt with attention. It was as though we forgot our very existence and the whole world centered around this beautiful ballerina glistening in white. The entire performance was on her toes and she tried to vividly picture the death-throes of the dying swan. Her endless legs shook and shivered portraying the agony of the bird and her waving arms tried to convey the efforts made by the bird to make one last flight. We held our breaths as she proved that “ballet was not merely food for the eyes , but for the soul and emotions as well”.

The next sparkling performance by four principal dancers was the Pas de Quatre. A ballet divertissement choreographed by Jules Perrot in 1845 which brought together the four greatest ballerinas of his time. The dance aimed to display the best features of each. Of the four dancers in this performance the one that truly shone was Daria , a well-acclaimed principal dancer. Though the dance was meant to showcase each of the dancers equally Daria was truly a class-apart. Our eyes followed her every move as she swooped and swooned , moved right and left, poised, demure and delicate all at one time. Her delightful performance captured the Romantic style of the ballet and even novices such as myself couldn’t help notice that she was a world-class dancer. I was truly humbled to be able to see such a performance.

And last (but not the least) was the Paquita Grand Pas,  a spectacular masterpiece that was a glorification of female dance. There remain hints of the Russian Imperial times though the Grand Pas was a fairly recent piece. The entree of the dancers represents the heirarchy of ballet- the corps de ballet, followed by the coryphee, the soloists and finally the prima ballerina. The stage sets were spectacular and we felt as though we had moved back in time and we were in a European court watching a show fit for royalty. Fair-skinned and fair-haired gorgeous young ladies as wispy as reeds dressed in brown and white blew into the stage with the east wind. The coryphee, 6 ladies in pale pink, blue and brown darted into formation on cue. Each ballerina seemed better than the earlier one and we couldn’t make up our minds on whom to follow. Then entered the soloists , gorgeously attired in velvet in appealing shades of royal purple, blood red, purple-black and turquoise blue. They mesmerised us with their spectacular display of skills. By the time the prima ballerina , Anastasia Kolegova and her male partner , Danila Korsuntsev entered we were blue in the lips for want of oxygen. Their breath-taking performances were an assault on our senses- visual & auditory .

The enchanting variety of steps spoke of the discipline & dedication of the ballerinas. I could just visualise the hours of training and effort that must have resulted in this masterpiece. The aching toes, ankles, joints and muscles that one would have to endure for a few hours of glorious dance. One can never be a half-hearted performer,for ballet would certainly consume one’s body, mind and spirit.I count myself lucky to have seen a ballet for real…and even luckier that I was able to relish the performance as though I were a seasoned balletomane.

Of one thing I am certain….there are some things that words can create in your mind but some things need to be Seen in Flesh and Blood, so you can feel it entering your body through every open pore and enveloping you with a queer sense of deja vu ..almost as if you were there a hundred years ago….watching the same divine, timeless masterpieces….


Farah Nizar- My Soul Sister…

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Dear Sister,

I held you in my arms when you were but a few centimeters long. Swaddled in yellow, pink-faced with a mop of shiny black hair with shining, intelligent brown eyes one could drown in. I can still feel the excitement and sense of amazement I felt when I felt your little heart beating against mine and Ponnumma telling me that you were a part of my soul, a chip from the same block that I was moulded from. I remember my pride and joy when you would seek me out among all other hands eager to hold you . It was like we shared a secret bond that non one knew of. Over the years we I watched you grow into an irritating, spoilt little brat with glistening, jet-black hair, a funny nose and a wide, infectious smile. You used to eat the same lunch (rice, red beans, curd curry and fish fry) every day for years and years and I swore you were the fussiest child alive.

I often felt the pangs of jealousy when I was homesick in the Ooty boarding school while you were in Saudi with Papa & Mummy. I imagined all the goodies you would eat, all the cartoons you would watch and all the toys you would con Papa into getting you. For a while you were the Golden Girl. You could do no wrong and I always had to give in to your demands because you were the “little sister” and it bugged me no end.

I remember all the crazy games we used to play…( hardly any TV shows or internet in Saudi).. all imaginary & made-up games with made-up rules that I would change to suit my ends all the time and you would fall for it everytime. Hahha!

I can still sense the warmth of your little hand holding mine, your eyes filled with tears of sympathy as I poured out my woes and frustrations as a teenager. You were six years younger than me but somehow I knew you cared and loved me unconditionally and I could tell you secrets I couldn’t tell Mummy and you wouldn’t judge me. 

The night before my wedding you crept into my bed and held me tight and begged me not to marry my husband. (He will never forgive you for that! Hahah!) We were afraid that our relationship would change and that I would get busy with my married life. But nothing could prepare us for the fact that you were there with us every waking moment of your holidays. You were a part of our last-minute late-night drives to Bangalore, Chennai..You slept on our sofas, our extra beds and at times you even threw the husband out and slept with me like we were children.

You whispered into my swollen womb and sang crazy songs to my unborn child. You dropped “Harry Potter& the Goblet of Fire” on her 6-day old head!!! I almost killed you but we kissed and made up as always. My little one grew up and she looked like your evil twin!!! “The Curse of the Inni “, we called it. You are her Mommy-figure after me…

I watched you transform into a gorgeous young lady..smart, confident ( maybe a little over-confident at times) and I was proud. I  was the referee in your fights with our parents. I had the unenviable task of listening to both sides and choosing a side.. and always chose both sides ( secretly).

You became the Fashion & Cosmetic expert of the family. Trying all sorts of shades of lipstick and eye-shadow and urging me to do the same much to the shock of my poor husband. Passing judgement on my clothes, my hair style  and everything else…

You stood silently by my side and supported me when I struggled to meet the expectations of my new family. You voiced your anger when you felt I was giving in too much. You called me a Doormat and asked me to show some spine and buck up in Life!! I stopped wallowing in self-pity and I never looked back after that. We became Equals.. I was no longer the “Big Sister ” who had all the answers, you had grown up and you had some too.

Sister, every happy and sad moment in my life is punctuated by your presence. Though we live miles apart and we speak less frequently because of our busy lives I realise I only have to look deep within me to find you. I know your Deepest Fears for they are Mine, I know your Crazy Dreams for I am in them too, I know your Highest Ambitions because I am always there at your side to cheer you on to Greatness!

You are my best friend and I can count on you no matter what. We are 100%-100% , the same blood runs through our veins. You are me and I am you… my Soul Sister. We are just sides of the same coin.

As you celebrate your birthday this month I pray our children will have sisters like you…because that would be the best gift any parent can give their child… “A Sister like mine”.. Happy Belated Birthday!!