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how to do nothing

I would like to start by awarding myself the title of a true procrastinator. A procrastinator is, by definition, a person who can do 3 minutes of work in 7 hours and 7 hours of work in 3 minutes. I’ve learned to use that desperation to motivate myself, and you can definitely find me completing homework five minutes before a class or even better, scrawling sums as the teacher collects the books.

That being said, my personality undergoes a serious makeover at the start of every summer holidays and I shift into overdrive. The last day of school, my friends and I have collectively created a summer plan list including working out daily, finishing chapters left right and center, throwing parties and meeting with people.

The perfect summer was planned and then, the plans fell through. Like pulling a block from a giant jenga tower and watching the facade crumble, I felt disappointed, mainly because it was my illness that had prevented me from travelling. I’ve been diagnosed with colitis for about 7 years now, but this was the year when the Universe decided to screw me over and I spent the summer in remission. (no disrespect to the Universe though. I wouldn’t want worse luck upon myself.)

What really stung though, was that I perceived this as my last chance to travel until summer next year, when my board exams would be over. Life was piling up around me, and I wanted to escape before an inevitable collapse under ICSE revision sheets. My family also wanted a last minute vacation, so we chose Goa, India. Even by my procrastinator standards, planning a last-minute vacation in peak tourist season is hard, and finally we were on the plane, awaiting clear skies and beaches.

We stayed at the Taj Aguada Fort and Hotel, which despite being jampacked with tourists, was really accommodating and right next to the beach (all I really wanted). To avoid the sheer number, we took to following Byzantine routes; eating early and running down to the sea or jumping in the pool while everyone was having lunch.

There were so many things to do in Goa (more on that later), but I was content to sit by the shore, even though the sea proved too rough to even wade in, frothy and almost black. Most of the restaurants were preparing to close for the monsoon and the thick heat finally culminated in a large storm, leaving the ocean thrashing even more. But this was my happy place and I was just relieved that I had no school.

I share many neurotic character traits with some of the worlds favourite characters; Hermione Granger, Amy Santiago and Monica Geller. The spontaneous trip taught me that life doesn’t always need a perfect plan and that I should live in the moment. It may sound a little cliched, but I can assure you, it’s straight from the heart.

 

 

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the ajanta caves

There’s an indescribable feeling you get when standing over a cliff. It’s almost foreboding and tempting at the same time. The cliff in question overlooked the Ajanta caves. A short hike down, and the minuscule caves almost seemed to grow, until they towered above us.

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Each of the 29 caves varied in size, from barren rooms no bigger than a closet to huge halls with pillars and statues and remnants of colorful paintings. Around the valley was a giant water reservoir, in the form of cascading pools. It seemed easy to picture the life that must have once populated this area, but it was actually hard; a second glance and the caves became as lonely and desolate as they had been before.

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The statues depicted Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism. Each cave was calm and quiet, a refuge from the sun outside. It was unbelievably hot, walking between caves provided a mental argument about whether I should wear my shoes and take them off (29 times) or brave the scorching bricks instead. I’m no coward, but even I can acknowledge that some challenges just can’t be done.

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As the temperature continued to ascend, I spent longer in each cave, on the pretext of looking around at the paintings and sculptures. Although they were faded, you could make out demons and battles and kingdoms; gods and goddesses and the Buddha himself on the path of enlightenment. It’s amazing to imagine how long the artisans would have taken, trekking through the wild and carving the statues and painting the stories, straight out of nothing. It’s even more amazing that their stories have survived for so long.

Our tour guide, was apparently made from far sterner stuff than we were. As the journey ended, I was dripping with sweat,  while he was miles ahead, telling my family about the caves (It was actually incredible, what he knew and how he remembered details about every single cave). I’m not among the lucky few blessed with a photographic memory (an affliction that haunts me around exams each year) but I can remember common themes of the Bodhi tree- where Buddha attained enlightenment, several Bodhi- sattvas (people who have also attained enlightenment) and an eerie cave shaped like a church where voices echoed loudly.

As we trekked back up to the modern world, I could have thought about the beauty of the timeless caves, the countless hours they took to decorate and the monks who spent their lives here, devoting themselves to achieving nirvana but instead I thought about how grateful I was for the air-conditioning inside the car.

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kathakali dancing

I sat, camera in hand right at the back of the auditorium. Every couple of minutes I would work up the determination to walk up directly to the stage and snap a picture. The image I was trying to capture was the dancer as he blended on his makeup; slowly covering his face with a saffron orange and then a pea green. I wasn’t the only one. All the tourists around me were perched on the edges of the seat as he applied eye and cheek powder. His face was completely transformed into a creepy grinning villain; a demon to be precise.

The whole process took about an hour as the various characters applied their heavy makeup, the orange face and winged liner for a princess, yellow for the hero and the green and red mask for the villain. The process took an hour, by which time my 20-minute attention span had begun to wander. How did people transform themselves every day?

When the characters disappeared backstage, a hush settled over the audience. Lights were dimmed and a rainbow silk cloth raised. Drum beats and singing began as the dancers took their positions.

The story was simple, from the Mahabharta where Bhim kills the demon Kichaka who was troubling his wife, Princess Draupadi. The characters had donned elaborate jewelry, and colorful costumes. Their eyes were blazing red (later I would learn they used a seed to dye the inside of their eyes). There were no quick movements, they used their neck, eye, hand and mouth muscles to convey expressions. The climax of the play was when Bhim stabbed Kichaka and the demon went tumbling down.

As the play was over, people roused themselves, slowly leaving the auditorium. There were the admirers who sat back to talk to the dancers but I was so I walk shuffled out, desperate to get out of the AC.

Once I was out, an old man approached me.

“I’ve been here seven times,” He said. “This is the seventh performance I’ve seen, but it’s the best.”

 

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the ostrich farm

While browsing the internet a couple of days ago, I saw a tag that I found interesting. Other travel bloggers were sharing their weirdest experiences, from octopi on sticks, to underground temples and intrepid walks through undiscovered jungles. Wow. I haven’t done any several-worlds-beyond-believable exciting type stuff because I nearly fainted the time I ate beef jerky and was told it was panther meat. Or the time I dropped bird food I was holding to avoid the army of parakeets flying my way. Nevertheless I have done some weird things, the most memorable being befriending an ostrich and dancing with a snake.

It had been a while since both these ‘incidents’ so I poured through the pictures I had of each trip. There was my family, standing in puffy jackets in Edinburgh, or covered in paraphernalia from Disneyland (truth be told I started wailing at the sight of Mickey), or even lounging in the sand in Goa. Finally I found the trip I had taken a while ago- to Malaysia.

When I was six or seven, my family embarked on the first road trip I’d ever been on, to Desaru. I was thrilled, because the fifth member of the trip proved to be a pink GPS with a matching stylus and furry cover. It had only been a few years since the whole touchscreen phase of phones had begun. The only phones I had seen were the flip phones or Nokias that were so strong they could withstand a drop from the tenth floor (I know, I tried). Using every chance I could to touch or look at the GPS became my new mission.

Our holiday in Desaru was surprisingly boring, so boring that we drove home early. As a kid, I didn’t realize because the hotel had a beach and that was truly enough for me. We spent our days driving to plantains and parks until we took a trip to an ostrich farm. I was shocked. . Up til this point, when anybody said ‘farm’ I pictured cows and sheep and horses grazing in fields and an old man wearing a pair of overalls and checkered shirt.

Instead there were dusty pens filled with baby birds and big birds and eggs. Just all ostrich. I was bewildered. We toured around the huge farm and stopped to pet ostriches- who towered over me. We even got to stand on eggs. Huh. It was like literally walking on eggshells.

It was amazing to touch and see these feathery giants, but definitely extremely weird too.

My weirdest experience probably doesn’t compare to all the crazy adventures out there, but I’m always on the lookout for interesting things- and one day, my time will come too.

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scenes from paradise

The rainy season has hit Mumbai, covering roads with sludge and turning the skies grey, which is ironic since the farms in India are still struggling with drought. However, the rainy weather brings gloomy days and stormy nights, reducing all motivation to study or work.

It got to the point that while I was compiling this post, I could barely stop myself from drooling over the fluffy clouds and blue skies. But hey, welcome to the Maldives.

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The city of Male stretches behind me. Male is actually made up of an airport island and a city island, with ferries leaving from one to the other every 15 minutes. Although I’d heard a lot about the city, we didn’t explore it until our last day.

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Within 5 minutes of reaching our island, Bandos, and already in love.

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The first few days were passed in a haze of lounging on the beach, walking to the beach, or swimming at the beach.

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There were these little grey fish everywhere.

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And lizards too.

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The baby sharks, native to this island,  were definitely my favorite part. While lying in the shallows, a tiny shark would be picked up by the strong currents and whisked towards you. Kinda funny watching the oceans deadliest predator struggling against little waves. Heh.

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No words for this picture.

 

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The light blue patches on the ocean mark the areas of shallow sea where the corals lie. It was really interesting how a light patch could become dark suddenly, a sheer drop towards the ocean floor.

 

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This picture made me feel like a National Geographic photographer. The lizard’s obvious disdain shows he disagrees.

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Snorkelling.

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The unending ocean under the marbled sky. Now, back to the gloom and rain and unending homework I seem to have.

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under the sea

It was my second day in the Maldives and I found myself awkwardly huddled against the ocean, in splash defying task of pulling on flippers while wearing goggles so tight they would leave marks for days. We were going snorkeling- our resort, Bandos had a fully equipped dive center although a minimum age of 16 years was required.

Once I was ready to go, I followed our snorkel instructor Jana using movements that could only be described as the antithesis of graceful in a strange attempt to propel myself forward. When the water was finally deep enough to swim, I put my head under and pushed off, promptly beginning to choke on the saltwater filling my lungs. There was a whole world under that blue canvas, but I remained above, spitting out the water and emptying my snorkel.

A quick reminder that I had just made the rookie mistake of letting water enter the snorkel, and I tried again. The frothy bubbles made by kicking cleared as we swum deeper, through the coral reef. At first, we were greeted by small silvery fish that swum past strange translucent orange bushes; corals. The corals multiplied and the fish grew in size and changed shape the deeper we went. Some swam in schools; a lucky peek behind a coral would reveal a clownfish, or a baby shark being pulled in by the tide.

Suddenly I stopped. The sandy ocean bed below me dropped away, a sheer expanse of jagged cliff that led to the depths of the ocean. The reef stopped here, there were bigger schools of fish that surrounded me and an adult shark that calmly dove into the nearest corals. Everywhere I looked…was a new world. It was almost incomprehensible to picture this treasure trove of wonders hidden under the crystal sea. I drunk in the sights I was seeing as I swam along the reef. Scales of glowing hues and queer intergalactic plants lay along the jagged base rocks, and eels were hiding, camouflaged against the ocean floor. Regrettably, I left the mythical world, tempted by the idea of stretching out by the sand at the shallows.

The next day and the day after that fell hostage to rain. The ocean was too rough to swim in properly, but we were lucky enough to have another single day of marine clarity. The whole family promptly stopped what they were doing and ran to grab snorkels. I wouldn’t miss this ocean for the world-or as my dad put it, “National Geographic on steroids.”

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sunshine, sand & showers

On our third day in the Maldives, I decided to start my morning with something different: yoga. The resort we stayed at had a gym complete with aerobics room it was there that I sat on the edge of my mat with a ridiculous smile, the genuine kind that comes from being stranded on an island with waffles and wifi.

Halfway through a downward dog, I suddenly dropped to the floor, astounded at the noise over my head. Could it be? Yes it was. The bright blue sky had faded to grey and it was raining. Heavily. The torrential rain didn’t stop when I left the club- an hour later. It didn’t stop as I ate breakfast. In fact, afternoon had almost come and gone before the rain deigned to slow. That too, the sky was still grey and water dripped down the palm fronds.

A quick walk down to the resort’s dive center revealed that because of the rain, it was going to be unlikely that the ocean would calm down in time to go snorkeling and swimming. So, when life gives you lemons, not only do you make lemonade, but order a glass to sip by the poolside.

However, by evening the rain had commenced again and we took refuge in the shelter of our villa. The evening gave way to night which in turn gave way to rowdy card games and reading books under a thrashing sky.

Next morning the signs of the storm were apparent. There was a faint jasmine scent and the sand was scattered with leaves and coconuts but the sky was once again crystal blue and the ocean had calmed down. Eagerly, we grabbed breakfast and changed into our costumes. No sooner had we grabbed our snorkeling gear than the heavens opened again and sent rain our way. The day was full of unpredictable scattered showers.

While losing a day of vacation was acceptable, when the weather sabotaged more than three days, it called for drastic measures. Determined to make the most of it, we grabbed our snorkeling gear and stalked off to the ocean. Although the rough weather meant it was impossible to go beyond the reef, we swam over the corals and lay on the sand, idly building castles that were taken in by the waves. When the rain hinted at picking up again we stayed at the club, engaging in TT and foosball matches with no rules and a lot of competition.

Luckily, the third day was bright and sunny. To escape the midday heat, I took refuge in the library where I found a tour guide to the Maldives. As we were planning to spend a day in Male I sat down on a beanbag and started to read,

“The Maldives enjoys a tropical climate and has two distinct seasons known as the Iruvai Monsoon (December to April) and the Hulhangu Monsoon-wet season- (May to November) The wet season is a period which the whole of the Maldives experiences torrential rain showers which include thunderstorms.”

It was May 17th.

“Whatever,” I said, and went outside to play on the beach.