E For Explore

Vietnam is probably on every travel-addict’s Dream Destination wish list, and I’m no exception. Well, you could replace Vietnam with almost any place in the world, and the statement would still hold true for me, but I was in Vietnam this month, and so Vietnam it is!

It was that kind of a trip where the destination doesn’t matter, because of the people you travel with! Well, actually it does. It needs to be inexpensive, because even after four years of practicing architecture, we are all still broke. And Vietnam was a wonderful place, “international” enough and did not burn a hole in our pocket! (Umm?)

So, after immense planning, adjusting, discussing, pushing, scheduling and re-scheduling, we finally landed in Ho Chi Mihn City to realize that we could have very well gone to Pune. Oh my! The number of bikes this city has is obnoxious, even by Indian standards!

If you know even a little about the Vietnam War history, I recommend you take a tour of the Củ Chi tunnels on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City and experience the underground guerrilla network for yourself. Crawling through the hot and narrow tunnels will give you a momentary sense of what conditions must have been like during conflict. What an experience!

We left the city setting to explore central Vietnam. From beaches, to lakes and rivers, from the very romantic Hoi An to the Imperial City of Hue, from a day full of water-sports at Nha Trang to a quick excursion through Hindu temples at Myson, the Vietnam vibe is contagious, and everywhere you look, it feels festive, almost like a celebration is on its way. What’s not to love?

Generally, when people travel to a place with an unknown language, they tend to learn how to say “Thank You” (at least) locally. But when you are a vegetarian travelling anywhere outside India, you learn to say ‘No meat, No egg, No fish’ as well. In a country famous for its street food, local beer, coffee and “Pho”, Vietnam did not disappoint us vegetarians also. Though their local delicacy – Hot Pot – pretty much gave us an idea as to why Vietnamese people are so tiny!  It was even more evident when we went to their well-stocked night market, just to realize their largest size will fit only an Indian ant.

At first, when you enter this country, it pretty much feels like India. But only when you live and experience the place, you realize it is rather more developed, much more cleanly and with a better general civic sense. Post war, actual economic liberalization in Vietnam came in the mid-1990s and really got moving in the early 2000s. And India with its almost 70 years of independence still has a long way to go. I understand it is reasonably unfair to compare India to Vietnam- given the size, population and scale of everything, but we definitely have a benchmark to accomplish even before we look at the developed nations!

Well, when you are on a vacation with long-time friends, few of whom are planning to get married in the coming “wedding season”, there is a lot that happens, which cannot, should not and would not be told, and definitely not announced in the newspaper! Until next time Vietnam, cảm ơn!

Random Marketing Opportunity

Roses are Red,

Violets are Blue,

I will never find a friend,

As amazing as you!

Woah! Those were the days. Oh, how I thought only Facebook’s memories feature could remind me of how lame, silly, and astonishingly ludicrous I was at 17– just like 17-year olds are supposed to be! Ouch. But, I was wrong. Friendships’ day does a better job of that!

Every Friendship day I am reminded of celebrating Friendship day as a teenager. Do you even know how humiliating it could be to share the same body with a person who at some point celebrated Friendship day, and sent all those cheesy messages (one night before, because Marwaari). To make it worse, I even meant them then! *cries like the rejected cocoa from Ghana*

And tomorrow, some of us are going to ensure that they feel like me when they grow up and find more mature things to do like finding Pikachu. By us, I mean people who watch Splitsvilla on TV but are friend-zoned in reality. The first Sunday of August – Friendzone Divas.

The concept of Friendship Day was first promoted in 1930 by Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards. This was followed by International Fitness Day by makers of Diet Coke. The concept lived on thanks largely to the efforts of an organisation in Paraguay called – and this is true – the World Friendship Crusade, who introduced the concept of World Friendship Day in 1958. Their idea was to make this world into a Pharell William’s Happy video – for every living second. I am not making this up! It’s absolutely, one hyndred percent true.

And crusade? Really? I mean the word crusade stands for friendship in the same way Salman Khan stands for Being Human. So basically how UN works is that anyone can form a “crusade” and demand to celebrate anything on any day, and they agree. No wonder it is such a well-respected organisation in the world! Going by their history of catering to unreasonable and naïve demands, I guess Arvind Kejriwal should start a “dharna” there. May be something will come out of it, and someone will go out of our country.

And then I guess, they didn’t have to do anything, because Bollywood took over. It taught me to celebrate Friendship Day by losing at basketball, and then marrying her when she gets hot. Which was closely followed by social media taking over and a gazillion “Will you do Fraandship with me?” messages. The poem escalated quickly to a brand new mantra-

Roses are red

Facebook is blue

No mutual friends

Who the hell are you?

768b919fa22206ad0360afc9e99e9a8eFriendships work differently now. The older you get, the harder it becomes to make friends, mostly because everyone thinks everyone else is weird. The loneliness eventually leads people to take extreme steps, like arranged marriage. Consider yourself lucky if you have more than a handful of these around. Keep in touch and if you’re feeling extra nice – Happy Random Marketing Opportunity Day to you!

What Freedom Means To Me

I spent a whole hour yesterday trying to “google” the words freedom and independence. And lo! There is a long list of various meanings and connotations that these words have. Of course, the meaning and implication of these words is very subjective, and depends largely on the context it is used in, but personally have we ever tried to define it for ourselves? We read about freedom, dream about freedom, rejoice and celebrate it, even advocate it, but do we really know what freedom is?

What does freedom look like? Is it the voter’s ballot, or permission for a late-night party? Is it to be free from any debt or a person walking out of prison? We must know what freedom means to us, if we are seeking it every single moment!

We often confuse the word freedom with independence. Independence, in no way, means freedom. And freedom is not dependent on independence. Since the time we have come on this planet, we are all inter-dependent on each other for our well-being. It is practically impossible to do everything ourselves, at work or at home.

The first time I thought I was “free” was back in Junior college- a decade ago! I had my vehicle, could meet my friends whenever I wanted, and could sometimes bunk classes as well! This started to look so immature when I shifted to Mumbai for my undergrad. That is when I thought I was really, in true sense, free! No permissions, no deadlines, and my own ATM card! Also, the pride of living “independently” was unparalleled. The feeling when I earned my first ever salary was supremely incomparable. When I look back now, I wonder whom was I kidding?

I have realized that the trick is find freedom in our thoughts, while ‘life’ is happening around us. Right this moment.

We often feel trapped – sometimes by destiny or circumstances, other times by some external force or our own mistakes. In most situations, we react in an auto-pilot mode. We are not even aware that we are letting our mind make a choice at that instant, besides ultimately blaming others or situations for our misery!

Freedom, for me, is being able to choose my thoughts and actions as a response to any situation thrown at me, without getting influenced by external negativity or my internal conflict! Freedom is a state of mind. We ourselves are responsible for our freedom. No body forces us to think in one way or the other; nobody can get into our mind except ourselves.

Freedom begins with us. Our actions. Our decisions. Our choice.

On this Independence Day, let us free ourselves of our past actions, bad memories, fears, conflicts, old patterns of thinking and behaving, and let go of everything that is trapped within us or has trapped us. Why should we stay in prison when the door is wide open?

Freedom is just a thought away. Let us create the thought today!

(This is my column in Deshdoot Times, Nashik – 15 Aug, 2015)

Anti-(alcohol)-climax

Saturday Night! Wohooo!
We all know what it is, right? We sort-of struggle through an entire grilling week with this meek ray of hope. It absolutely is that time of the weekend, where we make grounds for a terrible Sunday headache. Those few hours are just so magical, they are such a bliss, that we voluntarily invite the hassle of next day, in a life that is a hassle anyway.

But I really do not understand the entire hoo-ha around it!
I mean we all have that one friend who is against alcohol and suddenly starts drinking – the ceremonious welcome they get and all the cheer from others who live in a beer drum is priceless, just like a proud father watching is son all grown up! Suddenly, this friend becomes “cool” enough to “party” with, as well now!

I don’t get any combative reactions when I tell people that I do not have coffee, while sitting in a coffee-shop. Or that I do not like the taste of raw onions, while at a chaat-stall. But try telling the same people I do not have alcohol! Woah! The expression on their faces change and every single of their muscles is yelling, “WHAAAAAAT?”

And generally it follows with an hour full of trying to understand why do I have such “offensive” behavior. Yes, offensive. They see it as offence on my otherwise modern attitude, an offence of their preset judgement of me, an offence on their idea of our beer-date, an offence on my liberal and urban upbringing, an offence on me attending SulaFest, or even coming from the Wine capital of India! Some of them even start doubting their choice of friends, since a non-alcoholic, a teetotaler is on the list! This ends with them taking the responsibility on themselves of showing me the world on the other side! (PS – None of them have been successful, just FYI!)

There are a lot of judgements, a lot of labels attached to the drink that you are holding. Not that it matters to me. But writing this post in the hope that it stops mattering to everyone as well, and the jauntiness around alcohol mellows down. It signifies absolutely nothing else, but that you don’t like drinking, and I hope the subject becomes as irrelevant as a person confessing that he doesn’t like lauki-ki-sabzi.

PS- Let a few of us be. After all, we take you back home in the night! 😉