Life-changing Experiences

It’s been a while since I shared anything here. In this age of constant connectivity, and preference for bite-sized media, blogging has somewhat fallen to the sidelines. I’m myself guilty of procrastinating going through my subscribed blogs.

However, it’s still a huge fan of having a place to share my thoughts, and know they’ll be here when I want to take a walk down memory lane.

For today though, let’s talk about Bucket Lists.

In the last few months, I experienced some things which were novel, exciting, and addictive.

To begin with, I went to my first proper concert – Coldplay in Chicago, August 17th.

I had heard of Coldplay concerts being a visual extravaganza, with the light-up wristbands. But actually being in the middle of one was something else altogether.

My second life-changing experience was viewing the Total Solar Eclipse, August 21st.

Without and with solar glasses

I regretted not taking my DSLR along, because these pictures do no justice to the experience this actually was. The precious few minutes when the sun is completely covered and the corona is all you see, are a view like no other. The ring of visible light seems to sparkle and glisten like platinum, and the awe of being able to take off the viewing glasses and look right up at it, was a high unlike too many others. It was a bucket list item that I realized needed to be on my list only after I experienced it. Not complaining though…it’s fun being able to put an item on a list, and cross it off right away!

Next, was a fabulous Labor Day weekend trip to NYC. This qas my second time there, and I still enjoyed myself just as much as the first time. I would hate to drive in that city, but I love it otherwise.

Just another cliche, yet gorgeous photo of NYC at night

I also recently took part in a dance-drama, for the first time in 15 years. I went into it quite sure that I would have crippling stage fright, and get an anxiety attack on stage, and came out of it without any of that, but with a lot of new friends and a surprising realization that I can actually emote.

Cast of the play, ‘Tasher Desh’, Tagore Festival, UIUC, 2017 (PC: Shegufta Bakht Ahsan)

Also, just to explain, the play is called ‘Tasher Desh’, written by Rabindranath Tagore. Its a satirical play based on a Kingdom of playing cards. Yes, I was the Jack of Spades. Yes, I had to draw a moustache on my face.

Me being dramatic (PC: Shegufta Bakht Ahsan)

The start of this semester, along with interesting new activities, also brought with it a crazy amount of work and ramped up from 0 to 100 from before the semester even started.

Hashtag PhD Life

So basically, 2017 has been an interesting year. It is flying by (I cannot believe it is only 3 months away from 2018!), and I feel like I need a few extra months in this year to complete everything I wanted to complete within this year.

But in case wishful thinking doesn’t work, I’ll still have enough stories to recount decades down the road.

“Oh, 2017? That was quite a year. Let me tell you about that…”

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Get lost in the green and blue

UIUC has a huge, widely apread out campus. Within it, you’ll find a wide range of places.

One such place is the Arboretum. It is a large area of land (where you can probably get lost easily) with different views as you keep walking. And it’s the perfect place for nature photography…

…ohmygosh the butterflies! I was highly gratified when one butterfly (pictured below) was kind enough to keep still for the time needed to focus and take a photo. Butterflies usually aren’t that calm (no need to pass judgement on my blog title, okay? Okay.)

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There were these tiny peppers in so many colours. A new entry on my Bucket List is to eat purple peppers somewhere soon.

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The sky was all kinds of beautiful too that day…

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A few sections of the arboretum (technically, most parts of the arboretum) are like something out of an old English novel countryside…wildflowers, long, swaying stalks, a small pond, a wooden bridge…

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And this is probably one of the most interesting photographs I’ve ever taken. Again, I would like to thank the grasshopper and the tiny moth (look for it!) for taking the time to pose for this…

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While roaming around there, I realized that the walks where your shoes get lost in the grass, are well worth going out for. It’s well worth the 5 mile walk, and the aching feet.

And I later realized that I hadn’t looked at my phone for the whole time I was there.

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From India to Illinois : I moved continents!

I’ve been missing for a while (again), but this time I have an extremely valid reason – I was firstly holidaying around the US, and now I’m settling in at my new home. After living a little more than the first two decades of my life at the same place, I’m now living away from home, because I’m doing my PhD at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The level of adulting (kindly excuse my use of crazy words) has gone up, people.

In the last couple of weeks, I have…

…learnt that packed lunches are a wonderful thing

…already got my first set of bruised scabby knees

…pulled/pushed doors in the wrong direction (way too many times)

…gotten a water account in my name (well they first named me Baner (first name) Jee (last name), but I got it changed after I’d laughed a full minute)

…left my water bottle in class (and then retrieved it the next afternoon)

…learnt that I can cook well enough and my experiments aren’t bad at all

…had a staring contest with a rabbit in front of my apartment building

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After the staring, it royally ignored me

…understood that if your front door is open and someone is moving around in your room, it’s probably just the maintenance guy fixing your window blinds(and not an intruder, so don’t scream)

…stuck to my resolution to wash dishes as soon as I’m done with them

…gotten lost in Walmart (and Target. And JC Penney)

…repeated myself several times (slowly) because my English is accented

…learnt that my English is accented

…been expressed deep commiseration and laments over the fact that I’m a doctoral student, and will probably stay here forever

…already gotten socialized to dread midterms

…confirmed that UIUC is indeed surrounded by cornfields, but what people leave out is that within those cornfields you have pretty much everything you might need

 

…visited the ‘Taste of Champaign-Urbana‘ and despite the live music and delectable food, been most excited by the froyo spoons which change colour when cold

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…got a taste of what the (in)famous #gradlife is about

…observed the “Undergrad” and seen several stereotypes played out

…observed the “Grad” and seen several stereotypes played out

…realized that I’ll probably be okay.

Now these realizations/learnings were only in university, so you can imagine how much I was bombarded with while I was being touristy before I got here. It wasn’t as much of a culture-shock as it is a learning process. The widespread reach of American movies, TV series and Tumblr has done at least one thing – made American popular culture known to everyone.

And now I must go and study, because you know, Grad school and all that.

(I’m probably just going to chat with my flatmates about which restaurant we’re going to try out this week)

Spring is here

Spring has always been my favourite season. And how can it not, when nature literally begins coming back to life suddenly, after months of dormancy? It’s like a naturally poetic time.

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First, I thought this photograph was too bleak and signified only thorns and and despair. But it’s so obvious that it actually shows that even the thorns can’t stop the delicate new leaves from coming out. Did I mention spring is an inherently poetic time?

I love how the bare trees begin sprouting out again, I love how a lot of the flowers which were planted ages back finally open their buds and start blooming.

I love how the weather becomes practically perfect in every single way.

I think I just love the fact that spring makes everything seem so hopeful and possible…like an acknowledgement of the fact that the few months of the new year which have gone by might not have given you everything you desired already, but there are still so many months left. There is still hope for wonderful things to happen.

Okay. I think I myself get hopelessly poetic during spring. And now I know why I loved reading P. B. Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ – because though it is dedicated to the harsher wintery winds and talks mostly about despair and destruction, it talks a lot about what is to come, and how everything will bloom again in spring.

O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
– Percy Bysshe Shelley (Ode to the West Wind)
Happy Spring!

Look Back. Move Forward.

Hello hello. I think I might be late to this party (by at least a month), but better late than never, right?

To begin my posts in the new year, I’m going to do something I haven’t done much (except for blogging awards) – tackle a Tag. The New Year’s Tag, to be precise. I think it’s actually a YouTube tag, but eh…let’s adapt.

So let’s begin the mock interview!

(Note : WordPress is somehow bungling up the formatting of the bullet points. No amount of checking and rechecking is working. Help!)

(Update : My friend helped fix it! Yay for friends who know HTML! Thanks Sahil)

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Just stealthily adding in my favourite photograph that I clicked in 2015

 

  • If you could look back on one memory from last year that you wish you could relive, what would it be?

This one’s tough…but I think I’d say my trip to Hyderabad for a friend’s brother’s wedding (because it was marvelous fun), AND some memorable family get-togethers

  • What was one New Year’s Resolution that you accomplished

New Year’s resolutions always remind me of Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) as he explains how he doesn’t need resolutions because he’s already perfect. Pity I don’t think I’m as perfect as Calvin does, but I’m still not a big proponent of NY resolutions, because of their inevitably short life. Because circumstances change, and the same resolution cannot always hold true.

But, even with my ‘I-don’t-need-resolutions’ approach, I think I subconsciously resolved to stop worrying so much about what others were saying. I accomplished that…a bit.

  • 3 words to describe last year?

Exciting. Changing. Steadying.

  • Best music related creation/inspiration last year by an artist in your opinion?

Adele’s 25 (because however bandwagon-ish that may sound…for Adele, I don’t care) and some of the stuff on Coke Studio.

  • Something you’re looking forward to this coming year?

A lot of things. Hoping for quite a lot too. Let’s not jinx anything.

  • What did last year teach you?

That growing up and being independant is freeing and frightening at the same time. And that’s fine; life doesn’t progress in black and white, and is in fact mostly grey.

  • What was your most worn clothing item of last year?

I think there would a list of things because once I like something, I hold onto it like Christopher Robin held onto Pooh. Same goes for clothes, so I’m sure people were forced to see some of the same stuff on me repeatedly (and they were too polite to say anything) because I was so delighted with it and loved it too much.

  • If you had to sum up your year in one word, what would it be?

Hey! I’ve already used 3 words to describe the year 5 questions back, and now just ONE word? Do you not know of my rambling verbosity?

If I have to pick a word…Transformative.

  • What are you hoping for more of this coming year?

More books, more meeting up with old friends, more communication, more belief in good things to come.

  • What are you hoping for less of this coming year?

Less of YouTube binges (just like me to give up Facebook, but fall into the whirlpool of YouTube), less of apprehensiveness, less anxiety.

  • Best book you read last year?

Tough! But I think I really enjoyed working my way through the Watchman Books from Discworld by Terry Pratchett. Also, finally read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which was pretty haunting.

  • What is your New Year’s resolution for the upcoming year?

Refer to second question above.

However, I guess I continue with the wish to be more confident about myself and being so apprehensive about my instincts.


 

And that’s it! Tag complete. This was more fun than I expected, and required a lot more contemplation than I had anticipated.

Happy New Year everyone! Thanks for sticking around, and hope you’re having a wonderful year so far. Keep being awesome \m/

Back to the Mountains

It was my parents’ 25th Anniversary (yep, silver jubilee and all) some time back. And we decided to spend it away from home. Once again, my parents spent ages ruminating over the options, and never deciding. So once again, I had to finally put my foot down and decide on a destination by myself.

Because we couldn’t get too many days off from work, the place had to be nearby, and had to provide some much-needed respite from the Delhi heat. So after much thought, I zeroed down upon the Queen of the Hills – Mussourie.

It was a good decision!

It was smoggy, so we didn’t get a perfect view of the mountain range around. However, the one day we decided to amble along the Mall road, it was sunny enough to give us all sunburn (we returned with red noses and foreheads).

All in all though, it was lovely. We stayed at the lovely Kasmanda Palace, which has beautiful English gardens, a restaurant deck which overlooks the valley, and old-world vintage decor inside the main building, which is fascinating to look at.

The trip was centred around admiring nature, relaxing in peaceful surroundings, and me trying out my new DSLR.

Kasmanda Palace (view from the restaurant deck)

Kasmanda Palace (view from the restaurant deck)

Slightly smoggy views in the morning unfortunately

Slightly smoggy views in the morning unfortunately (as in, it broke my heart, because I had been looking forward to some spectacular views)

The palace gardens are beautiful. Such a lot of flowers!

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Still searching for the name of these flowers. But just look at those colours!

Calla lilies

Calla lilies

SO MANY FLOWERS

Swaying Himalayan Aster (according to my extensive research)

And what’s an English garden without a birdbath…

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There’s a Magnolia tree in the garden too. And it was flowering. Win!

And for those of you who haven’t seen magnolia flowers before (just like I hadn’t before this trip), here’s how they look off the tree…

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Surprisingly, more than the flowers, I was enchanted by a huge Maple tree. I even got a leaf home, as a souvenir and memorabilia of our time here.

This maple tree had me captivated

This maple tree had me captivated

We took a half day trip outside Mussourie. We first went to Landour, which is famous for being the place where Ruskin Bond lives. I was very excited about going there. I imagined bumping into him somewhere, and discussing how much I liked his books.

Imagine my disappointment when the driver suddenly drove past a red building, with ‘Doma’s Inn’ written on it (surrounded by distinctly Tibetan paintings) and pointed out what looked like a side door, and said, “That’s where Ruskin Bond lives”.

And that was it. Before I could protest and ask the driver to stop, we had flown down the narrow road, leaving Bond’s house behind. The disappointment of not even being able to see Bond’s house properly, let alone him, was so much that I didn’t take any pictures in Landour at all. Oh well. I guess I’ll have to plan a stay at Doma’s Inn soon.

After Landour, we moved on to Dhanaulti. This wasn’t the first time we were going that way. My parents and I remember Dhanaulti as the place-we-were-on-our-way-to-but-our-car-broke-down (this happened at least 10 years back). So, though we knew about Dhanaulti and should have already visited it, had it not been for a very bad road 10 years back, this was the first time we actually went there.

The roads are a lot better now, I was told many times by my parents, who have a better recollection of what had happened the last time we were on that road than I did.

The place to visit in Dhanaulti, is the Eco Park. It’s supposed to be a peaceful place, but now has a variety of ‘adventure sports’ (kids hanging from harnesses and zipping down a line) and swings (in the shape of animals). I understand that children must be kept occupied in such a place where there is nothing to do, but it affects the serenity of the place. A lot.

It was only when we walked quite a distance into the forest, did we actually experience the stillness of the forest; the only sound was the incessant buzzing of cicadas (which are found in abundance here), and the occasional trilling whistle of some bird.

Deodar trees at the Dhanaulti Eco Park. Towering above us, I could tell why they were regarded as sacred by Indian sages. And below our feet, their needle-like leaves covered the forest floor

Deodar trees at the Dhanaulti Eco Park. Towering above us, I could tell why they were regarded as sacred by Indian sages. And below our feet, their needle-like leaves covered the forest floor

The fun part was when I had a long whistled conversation with a bird in the forest. When it whistled, I whistled back, and it replied back in turn. I was hoping it would show itself, because I could make out by the increasing volume of it’s whistle that it was coming closer, curious to find out whether I was some new bird who just did NOT know how to speak bird.

Sadly, it didn’t reveal itself. I only saw one bird which allowed me to photograph it…

This tiny little guy was the only one who posed long enough for me to get a photograph

This tiny little guy was the only one who posed long enough for me to get a photograph

Side note : I love ‘conversing’ with birds. And if you want to try, you just need to know how to whistle. When you hear a bird chirping, whistle back. In most cases, the bird will whistle back and keep replying every time you whistle. I did this with another bird in Mussourie too

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So, back to Dhanaulti Eco Park…

Gorgeous flowers were in abundance. And interesting insects to boot

Gorgeous flowers were in abundance. And interesting insects to boot

The Eco Park was lovely, and if we would have had more time, I would have loved to just sit on one of the many log seats in the forest, and enjoy the surroundings.

Yes, I’ve grown old.

Back from Dhanaulti, we enjoyed some time on the Mall road, went up to Gun Hill (so called because there used to be a canon on that hill, which was fired every hour of the day to tell the time. It was stopped because the canon ball once crashed through someone’s roof. I surmise the person wasn’t very happy about that) by cable car. Because of the smog, the view wasn’t as great as it should have been, but we did catch a bird’s eye view of our hotel!

See the red turrets? That's the Kasmanda Palace, the hotel where we were staying

See the bright red roof and turrets? That’s the Kasmanda Palace, the hotel where we were staying

A special mention to the night view of Mussourie. Spectacular!

Mussorie at night. Glittering and bright.

Mussourie at night was as gorgeous as ever. Glittering and bright.

There’s still so much to explore in Mussourie. And so many other seasons to see it in. Now I kind of get why people go there multiple times. And as Ruskin Bond puts it…

“It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.”
― Ruskin Bond (Rain in the Mountains : Notes from the Himalayas)

(All photographs belong to me. Please ask before sharing them anywhere.)

I have been writing. And exploring Delhi

Though my blog was silent for a while (okay, more than a while), I was writing posts on other sites. And I thought I could share them with you all!

A post from my time as an intern at the organization where I’m working now is here.

I’ve also been blogging for a storytelling organization, Darwesh. So you’ll find a few posts by me at their blog here. (For the record, visiting old monuments and hearing fascinating stories about bygone eras? Count me in!).

As a result of getting associated with Darwesh, I’ve ended up exploring a lot more of Delhi in the last few months than I’ve been able to in all the years I’ve lived here (since I was born, to be precise). Some pictures below, because they’re beautiful and remind me of awesome places.

Roshanara Begum's tomb in Roshanara Bagh

Roshanara Begum’s tomb in Roshanara Bagh

An old haveli door in Chawri Bazar, Old Delhi

An old haveli door in Mehrauli

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Dome and spire of Khwaja Bakhtiyar Kaki’s dargah in Mehrauli, which is the end point of the Phoolwalon ki Sair festival

Safdarjung's Tomb

Safdarjung’s Tomb

A facade of Safdarjung's Tpmb

A facade of Safdarjung’s Tpmb

The parrots'shrieking is the only noise at this tomb

The parrots’shrieking is the only noise at this tomb

All pictures taken by me. So please ask for permission before using them. Kthnxbai.