Best books presented in Jaipur Literature Festival 2017

When a book lover and writer wanders off into India’s biggest Literature Festival, words are going to fly out. JaipurLitFest (JLF) had been on my mind for some time but 2017 was the year to be when JLF itself turned 10 years old. I have a bitter sweet relationship with books. They kept me awake at ungodly hours in early school days and I took my revenge by writing one years later. I thought the patience required to have a comprehensible story reveal itself in my words will teach me a lesson strong enough to not attempt it ever again but alas! The writer’s demons would not leave me alone and the addiction ran deeper than any booze or weed can induce. I worked on more books and articles including this one right after attending the ending ceremony of JLF.

To walk into Diggi Palace, the famed venue of JLF (described as ‘nashediyon ka adda that ye pehle’ by my auto rickshaw driver – that does make it perfect, doesn’t it?) is like walking into a cerebral riot. The festival when calling in stalwarts of Art/Lit fraternity such as Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Shashi Tharoor, Richard Flanagan, Nicholas Nassim Taleb, Prasoon Joshi, Devdutt Patnaik, Vikram Chandra, Sadhguru and so on, has to rise itself to meet the standards of its guests. Teamwork team led by Sunjoy Roy, did exactly this by making the festival itself a piece of art. Be it a funky decorated scooter or tuk-tuk providing intravenue commute or the elegant tent designs or the kulhad chai, the festival radiates Rajasthan, Indian culture, art and more art. So that when the literary youths wearing a turban with boots enter the ground, they mingle in rather than standing at odds. The aesthetics not only spoke and listened to the crowd in its own language, inspired it to funk up its crazy quotient.
Here’s a roundup of my favorite moments and reading lists for you lazy fellows out there!

1. Gulzar sahab opening the JLF in his trademark graceful yet cynical note – ‘Don’t make me sit on that high Guest of Honor chair in which my feet are left hanging off the ground. When feet don’t touch the soil, pen stops respecting the ink.’

Gulzar at JLF

Reading List: He is a living poetry himself. His latest launch is Suspected Poems

2. Sadhguru: Watching the famed guru for first time on stage, expectations were high. This comment of his stayed with me ever since – ‘Our souls are constantly trying to expand so as to increase our capacity to experience the cosmos – be it through arts, creation, power or sex. It is just our deepest desire to expand our being.’

Reading List: Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy

3. When I casually strolled into the Mughal Tent session by Vikram Chandra on visual poetry of medieval Sanskrit times, I was just trying to escape the crowd thronging the front lawn where Rishi Kapoor was launching his book. But in hindsight, that was the hand of destiny shepherding me towards the genius of this talk. In this nerdy talk, it became clear that he has embraced the formal logic of computing as much as his comfort with ambiguities of literary narrative. Effortlessly weaving the narrative between seemingly disjoint worlds of sanskrit grammar, and geometrical structures, Chandra never lost the grip on his subject or the audience. He gave vivid examples of medieval sanskrit poetry which when written formed interesting geometrical shapes such as matrix, spokes of a wheel and so on. I felt compelled to read him end to end after this talk.

Reading List: Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code

4. Neil McGregor, a name I had not heard of before. The British historian’s talk on Shakespeare’s Restless World covered themes and the times in which Shakespeare wrote his plays. It was reliving the moments of Elizabethan era – what people were like, what they felt, ate or saw. The fantastic execution ceremonies of law breakers, conspiracy of murdering the kings and disguises were Shakespearean themes picked from the very streets of London life! This was the first generation that had house clocks – that heard the ticking of a minute in their households. This was the generation that read Bible in English but whose grandparents were still reading in Latin – a theme observed in Hamlet where old people use Latin terms more commonly. If someone can make art history as interesting as this person (who headed London National Gallery, refused Knighthood, presented Art series on BBC and so on), then that someone has to be an extraordinary orator and presenter of facts. The talk was one of the most thought provoking and enchanting sessions of the festival.

Reading List: Shakespeare’s Restless World

5. Shashi Tharoor received raucous applause every time I heard him speak in 3 different sessions. After his viral Oxford Debate, Penguin was savvy enough to ask him to write a full book on British oppression. And being the walking historical encyclopedia that he is, he did it with flair! His speeches/arguments are music to one’s ears – the clarity of thought, articulation and relevance to the point with pleasurable succinct is a deadly combination. Although it was mostly rehashing of the Oxford speech, that takes little away from his oratory or the ability to get the audience going. No wonder, he was the part of panel for closing debate moderated by Barkha Dutt.

Tharoor at JLF

Reading List: An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India

6. Luke Harding is a journalist at The Guardian, who was contacted by Edward Snowden. He had the unenviable opportunity to sift through the cryptic, intricate documents from NSA sent by Snowden and received multiple threats from intelligence agencies in USA and UK alike. In his talk, he repeated what we have been hearing about how nothing we do on Internet is private. But perhaps it was listening to his own story of being spied upon in Russia or the fact that it was a real person talking about it in front of you live – he was able to generate that sense of creep in the public. According to him we are living in an era which has crossed Orwellian fantasies in 1984. Thankfully, he ended up on a not so glum note, giving us tips on how to stay more secure – use paper for writing important mails and switch your phones off in any important meeting. Ha! Interestingly, while Harding sympathizes with Snowden, he has a much less forgiving take on Julian Assange.

Reading List: The Snowden Files

So, that was the JLF special for me. And here are some memories

  

The scary ride called 2016

I possibly could not have envisioned 2016 to unfold the way it did – meandering in its complexity, perplexing me with difficult shots to call, alarming me with fears that I had been nursing but, in the end, mirroring the courage with which I have aways hit back when going gets tough. It has been the culmination of all that I have aspired to through a toiling journey inwards. Oh, and it has been hell at times. Believe me.

This entry is more for me, because face it, you don’t know me. You don’t even know yourself, do you? And if you are smiling at this statement that I have made, perhaps you know what I am talking about. Do you ask yourself what are you afraid of? Have you introspected why you made certain decisions? We don’t normally because we are not required to. Unless the pain cracks you open. The inner unhappiness becomes too loud to ignore. And once you start heeding your inner voices, they show you the mess you are carrying inside. But, as the veil lifts from this mess, you eventually get to be aware. And that awareness is enough. That is where the light starts. This light will guide you to your own golden place. It is like a secret chamber made just for you. Your chamber might look very different from mine. That peace and silence are yours to find.

Now, I can write a fluff blog describing the hundreds of travels I did (and I can show off!) and some success stories. I can boast of what an amazing year it has been. But I don’t want to. I want to share the real joy I have found which has nothing to do directly with partying on the beautiful white sand beaches in Koh, Thailand (I did that), floating on a houseboat in Kashmir (I did), seeing the night fall over Udaipur palace (yep), chanting at 5 am dawn fire in Auroville (seriously beautiful), meeting a fascinating teacher and inspiring people in the hills of Himachal (I did), going crazy in Bali (did, did), roaming around Singapore (yep), or taking a family trip back to our ancestral home in Panna. Ok yes, little enviable details do help! But in a way, all these did put me in situations which kept my inner journey on. It is less about where you are than who you are and what you see.

  • Solo trips told me that I had settled in my comfort zones and it was awkward opening my heart to strangers and experiences. I pushed and these strangers turned into lifetime friends and mentors.
  • They taught me to be comfortable in my skin, in my beliefs, not succumb to live someone else’s life. I shared my voice more fearlessly and got some articles published on leading places such as Entrepreneur, DailyO, Tribune, DNA, EduTimes etc. Frankly, I could never have imagined this a year ago.
  • I realized I had been taking things and people for granted. Some books changed my perspective and perhaps transformed me for life (esp Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC books). The joy came through reconnecting to age old friends or cousins, or even your own parents. I noticed that I started listening more, feeling more what the other person is saying and going through. A strange feeling of ‘oneness’ took over. I realized that you cannot love one person unless you love everyone. There is no special love. I find empathy to be a much better word than love these days.
  • I smile more often because I appreciate what I have. Such a horribly cliched sentence but it is what it is.
  • And I got a tattoo which read ‘no fear’ in April. The moment I saw the design, I knew it was the one. Little did I know that I was about to witness it so closely in the months to come.

Sorry, it is all too much in the surface but the fact is my experience is mine and you cannot learn from it. Just like you cannot learn swimming by watching YouTube (yep, I tried!), you cannot grow from my journey. You have to find your own. And the first step is to look inwards, know yourself and help yourself in conquering the fears you have harbored, work towards the happiness you seek and eliminate the causes of pain. Ha! How simple. I wish it was.

Now, let me see – did I fulfill any resolution from year before? I think I was wise enough to not make resolutions but I did expect that I would create some voodoo magic in my business – I did not. It grew and I got loving students and that is happier than if had I scaled crazily compromising on the experience I was creating (sour grapes?). I did not attain some unbelievable success. I am still an unknown writer and entrepreneur. But I think it’s okay. I mean I am fine with it. I feel more complete than I have ever before.

So that is what 2016 was for me. It was a fire that transformed, a bitter pill that had to be taken to come out of the coma, a splash of cold water on your face early in the morning, a point of no return.

One advice – have faith.

One lesson learned – all that matters is your growth. Anything that will keep you away from your growth will make you miserable. Find it, change it – keep growing. There is no substitute for inner growth.

Stop going nuts over social media. Marilyn Monroe died of drugs and people quote her on self-help matters. Thank you very much, I am fine on my own. Find out for yourself, everything out there is a marketing message. Read real books. Talk to real people.

As Mark Manson says, stop giving a f*** about stupid things in life. Go, live. Do.

Fog is out there. Truth is out there. Discern.
  

10 profound reflections from 3 months of travel

Now that I am back from 88 days of travel, this is the ultimate post, rather a note to myself, of the 10 most profound moments and lessons I learned!

1. Mind can be tricked into feeling happy – I was at a palatial Balinese villa full of people moving in gravity defying ecstatic dance. It was my first weekend and the feeling of comfort had not yet arrived. I was missing my friends at that party. That is when I told myself I am going to enjoy this place and moment all by myself. I started smiling (began with no reason but soon the reasons followed), dancing because hell! no one I know is around to watch anyway, and began hanging out with people around me. From that day, I have consciously made myself happy (not waiting to let it come to me on its own) at many instances and it works! So – go and make yourself happy, you do not need any reason, person or place.

dance

2. What block? – My second novel was lying dead since nearly 2 years. I meet Jim at Hubud and he invites me to a writeathon. Write without thinking for 2 sprints of 45 min each. Since that day, writer’s block gone. Force yourself to act when it doesn’t come naturally and creativity shall follow. I am sure it can apply to many other things as well.

unblocked

3. Remind yourself how awesome you are – I was discussing my business in front of a group of entrepreneurs to pick their brains on how to grow it. And at the whiteboard when I was running numbers and telling them my results, I suddenly felt so proud of what I had built. And I could see it in the way people reacted to as well. That is when I thought, how can I doubt myself? Why do we seek approval from others? Just start counting the good things you have done and believe in yourself. Nobody else matters.

grateful

4. Let go – At the water priestess ritual when I was drowning in middle of the courtyard, the priestess asked me to let go of residual feelings and emotions. I did not know if anything happened but I do know that I have not felt anger the way I did ever since. That is probably too tall a claim but perhaps the act subconsciously tricked my brain into believing that my baggage is gone. Either way, I am happy about it. Even if you may not have a water temple or priest around, close your eyes, stomp your feet, cry out if you have to and let go of your negative feelings from the past.

letgo

5. Be spontaneous – I kept meeting awesome people in Bali or because that I had opened myself up to others, I was attracting good intentioned people. I was growing and feeling happier. With only few days left in Bali, I knew I had not gotten the most of my trip yet. It is just the beginning, something told me. I don’t know what exactly triggered it but a point came when I knew I had to be back here for my own sake. Fuck the flight ticket, I can figure out extra money etc. I felt a need to be back and I responded to it.

stay

6. Fear is a figment of your mind – For past few years, I had become more fearful of those roller coaster rides (age factor, huh?). As we were staring at the big Battlestar Galactica: Cyclon ride that looked awful even from the ground below, I was terrified. But from there till the queue, I was thinking of the scary decisions I have made in life and wondered what can a ride be compared to those. What is fear of the ride anyway? All the components in it are predictable. You know the deep fall is coming, so why be afraid? As I broke down the ride into logical parts in my brain, it felt less scary. And as I sat down and the car started moving up the slope, I told myself – there is the fall, we know how it feels, lets enjoy the adrenaline rush instead. And I did. Instead of closing my eyes as I normally do, I kept them open, watched the whole ride consciously and it did not feel scary at all. In fact, I ran back into the line again and did it another time. It was fun.

fear

7. Be patient – I had walked 3 km and been riding the bicycle for five km on the East Coast Park, Singapore and had forgotten to carry the water bottle. I kept waiting for the water fountain somewhere but nope, nothing. I did not want to go back to the starting point. The sun was rising and it was already pretty hot. Somehow, I was patient and kind to myself. And at that point, I had a strong feeling that a solution is going to present itself. Particularly, I felt that I am going to find a water fountain. I kept riding and within five minutes, there was a water fountain by my side. It was the only fountain in whole track. Sounds bizarre but it did happen. Listen to your inner voice and you will find the water 🙂

universe

8. Tell people you love them – It was my father’s birthday when I was back in Bali. I have always been close to him and yet, had forgotten how to express my love or gratitude. Now, as with most Indian families, my family is shy when it comes to expressing too. So, we just smile politely, say things diplomatically and then burst out once in a while. I was missing my Dad and instead of the usual HB that I would have said, I sent a message telling him that I feel lucky to be his daughter (no, not publicly on fb!). Might be the smallest thing that I have ignored for too long. It felt really good to convey it.

love

9.  Don’t stop learning – Not being able to swim has not bothered me as such but I know I am missing out on something amazing and useful. After taking a dip in the pool in Singapore with my cousins, I decided to give it a serious try in Bali. I asked my roommate to help me and she did! Now, I may not have advanced barring the trivial floating on the edge but it is a start. I realize it is all psychological at this stage and I hope I can overcome those flight instincts that makes you panic and lose control of breath. Making a choice to go into the pool has given me faith that I can learn anything I want to. And that it is never too late to begin 🙂

turnthepage

10. Celebrate – Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone gifted you flowers or a book? Of course, it would be. But why wait? Why not go and gift those to yourself? Yes, feel thankful for the lovely person that you are. I was proud of my journey in these last 88 days traveling Bali and Singapore on my own. I wanted to celebrate and I went and gifted myself a beautiful dress. I did not need it, I just wanted to buy myself a present because I deserved it. That’s one less thing I wish from the world now 🙂

celebrate

And a bonus one!

11. It’s all about people – My whole journey has been about people I met, people I was away from and people I am about to meet. Always the people 🙂

people

  

A trip to Gili T island on Bali

Gili Islands are a group of 3 islands northwest of Lombok and one of the most popular beach destinations around Bali. I had heard about it from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love and my friends in Ubud. I knew I wanted to see the white sand beaches before my trip came to an end. It is a destination slightly more expensive than Ubud and it was good that we were going in a group of five people. We rented a taxi to Padang Bai from where the boat to Gili T left at 9:30am. Gili T is more of a party island and Gili Air is romantic place mostly for honeymooners. We used the boat company SindEx (for 310K IDR for round tickets, it was a great deal! Usual rates go upto 500K). It was a calm sea and sunny day, we took our places on the sunny deck. With enthusiastic local staff who kept on serving Bintangs and playing Vengaboys party songs, nice breeze and heavenly view of the shiny blue waters all around, the trip had already started on a high. This is why I would again highly recommend SindEx boats.

Sindex boat to Gili T
Sindex boat to Gili T
Happy on the boat!
Happy on the boat!

We reached Gili T island around 12:30pm and walked to Cotton Tree hotel where we had taken a 5 bed family room for 2.5M IDR for 2 days. There are no automobiles allowed on these islands, therefore you need to use the bicycle, foot or horse carriages. Dumping our stuff, we went back to the main shore side for some lunch. Needless to mention, we were drenched in sweat and starving already. The island, although the biggest among Gilis, is still quite small and can be covered in foot or bicycle.

Selfie time at the beach
Selfie time at the beach

We explored few beach areas before walking up to the West coast which is full of idyllic clean beaches and resorts. You will also find interesting spots where they have swings in middle of the sea which makes for great photo ops. After clicking some pics, we headed to Serene Sunset on Ash’s recommendation. I could not agree with her more because this little bar on the beach is like a place from Alice in Wonderland. It has cute wooden furniture, swings, hammocks, bonfire and done in a taste that makes you want to do nothing but sit and stare at the blue glory in front. It was almost sunset time and we enjoyed the view sipping the best Ginger Mojitos on the island. We went to the neighboring restaurant for dinner. The falafel plate I ordered was fab. Since the horse carriages asked too much, we decided to walk back to our room which took another 45 min or so. I decided to call it a day after nice hot shower.

Swings in the ocean on Gili T
Swings in the ocean on Gili T
Sipping Mojitos on Gili T
Sipping Mojitos on Gili T

Next day, I just wanted to laze by the beach after renting a bike. We hanged around at Horizontal beach bar on the east side and I enjoyed my Kindle and with decent wifi all around in the island, I was able to take my work calls in between as well.  Marbree enjoyed her diving and showed us the pics of turtles and cuttlefish and the amazing sea life later on. By the way, Gili beaches are great for snorkeling too and you just need to take a mask and go on your own just near the shore. Just before the sunset, I knew where I wanted to go back – the Serene Sunset bar! 🙂 So we biked back, noticing how low the tide seemed, exposing the dark green coral on the sea. I needed another Ginger Mojito watching the sun go down. I admit the scene made me very reflective and emotional. I was thinking of a lot of memories and people. But as the day began to set, I noticed how I have come a long way since the beginning of my Bali trip (which some of you might remember from this post). I was happy to witness this magic of the nature and thankful to be with people who are amazing and kind to me (do I need to mention again how amazing Ash has been throughout my journey?). I was literally happy and peaceful. There are so many ‘could have beens’ in life but I was glad to just be. And I did not have any regrets, resentment or anger, only warmth and happiness (sometimes I do wonder if that water priestess thing did work some magic on me since I have really not been feeling any residual emotions after that). I did not want to jump into the future, I just wanted to witness that beautiful sunset and I did.

Most amazing sunset at the Serene Sunset Bar at Gili T
Most amazing sunset at the Serene Sunset Bar at Gili T

We settled there itself for a dinner and guess what, Ash found a wonderful note hidden away in our table drawer. It got us chatting and soon the bar owner (Iranian Mr. _I-dont-know-the-name__) joined us and took us for a walk on the moonlit beach. His passion for the place flowed in his words and we decided to head back to the east side for parties that night. Stopping over at karaoke bar, Irish bar and Sama Sama for a reggae band performance, I retired to my room around midnight. The parties and after parties continued long into the night but I was happy to be back into the bed.

Curious note
Curious note
Lovely dinner conversations
Lovely dinner conversations
Sama Sama Reggae Bar
Sama Sama Reggae Bar

We left at noon next day and the boat ride was choppy in the beginning, so we ended up riding in the lower section of the boat itself. We made it back to Ubud by 6 p.m. We were tired but thankful. We had seen something beautiful and magical. And who can regret that? Financially, I spent around 2M IDR on the full trip which was a great deal for the things we got to experience. If you go to Bali, you do not want to miss the Gilis. And if you are there with your special someone, go off to Gili Air, watch the sun and stars, sip some wine and enjoy the feeling of love.

I have only one week left in Bali now. It has been a phenomenal trip and I am going to always cherish it.

  

Bali Uluwatu Road Trip

There’s something in humans that makes them want to go to the edge, see that vast soaring ocean, see the sun go up and down and stare at the nothingness. It is in this everyday cycle of nature that he realizes his own insignificance – or rather the significance of his insignificance. I have often felt the need to run to the sea water and just watch it wave up and down, uninteresting in its regularity and musical in its rhythm. The tide will go up and then it will recede. Sometimes, it will reveal the ocean floor naked and other times, it will hide the corals. It is a predictable movie that I can watch again and again.

So, I had decided to come back to Bali after my Singapore trip. We joke here at Hubud that no one can leave Ubud in a month, you got to come back. In my last few weeks, I had felt restless to touch the saline water and walk aimlessly on the shore. And with this desire in my heart, I and my never tiring flatmate, Ash decided to head off on a bike trip to Uluwatu, which means lands end + rock. Unsurprisingly, it houses one of the most beautiful cliffs formed by territory limestone resulting from subduction Indo-Australian plate under the Eurasian plate. A surfers’ paradise, Uluwatu is insanely picturesque. Now, biking in Bali is a whole interesting experience. The highways are quite similar to India but less wide. Road signs are not ample enough and we needed to stop every 15 minutes to make sure we are on the right road. Driving on a scooter, helmet is a must. We drove via Canggu (more common beach destination for tourists) and reached Uluwatu in the late afternoon. We checked in on the Bingin beach at a small place called Sticky’s. It had basic and fancier rooms with beautiful lookout terraces on the cliff. The hotel housed so many Aussies who were spending weeks there to surf. Drenched in the sweat from afternoon sun, I took a cold shower and moved to the beach. Alert: lot of rock steps on your way between parking and the beach. Travel with light luggage 🙂

Sticky's at Bingin Beach
Sticky’s at Bingin Beach
Bingin Beach
Bingin Beach

Due to the holiday of Galungan, many cafes were closed but I found a sweet birds nest kind of spot in one and it made for gorgeous view of the beach. The water was dark blue and as far as the sight went, surfers dotted the sea. However, the beach is not entirely safe due to shallow corals very close from the shore. Ash hurt herself with a sharp cut within minutes. Smoothies, drinks and corn made for our light lunch before the sun started to set. It was my first proper sunset view in Bali and was as beautiful as I wished. I sat on the beach watching it go down at its leisurely pace. The cliff, cloud and beach turned colors gradually. In the darkness, lit up the numerous ships standing far on the horizon and the lamps on the seaside shacks.

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Sunset at Bingin
Sunset at Bingin

Fresh seafood was brought out and people hungry from their surfing an swimming retired to find a table with good view. All the views in this place are good by the way. So, we sat down, chatting about the inconsequential episodes of life that tend to rattle us wildly in the moment but mean nothing more than a speck on a sprayed wall. I noticed lights in middle of the sea, someone told us that people are looking for octopuses and squids with a headlight. The light stuns them and you can shoot them with a spear kind of thing and bring it to the cafes on the beach to cook those! Gross! An okay dinner was followed by a party at Single Fin Rock Bar which is located right at the tip of the island giving a 360 degree view of the ocean. The night parties are legendary and we knew we would be coming back there again. It is a must visit in the area. Next day, we checked out from the hotel (paying 200K for a night was a fab deal in that place right on the beach) and headed to Single Fin for the lunch. I had been craving for a good cappuccino but the coffee machine was broken. The food was not great but what people come here is for the view and experience. We did enjoy looking out at the crystal blue waves hitting at the rocks, read a book for an hour before heading back to Ubud on the road.

Single Fin bar at Uluwatu
Single Fin bar at Uluwatu

Again, driving back on the scooter was not all fun but we managed it fine, having a brief stopover at Sanur beach. Frankly, as soon as the paddy fields came into the view, it felt like home is here. There is something about Ubud that is warm and motherly. I was glad to drive across the slanting sun rays on the green fields. Already longing to take a hot shower and slip into the bedsheets. It was a good trip, a major beach checked off the list. Overall I spent a little over 500K IDR on the trip. After two intense work days, I knew I was heading to Gili Islands – one of the most talked about islands in the world. More on it in the next post 🙂