Stuck In A Loop

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What’s worse than staying alone in a new place, a new town? Maybe staying alone in an old hotel room on the sixth floor. What’s worse than staying alone in such a room? Realising that you may not be alone as you think you are.

Few places take you by surprise as soon as you land there. The hotel room that I checked in at, near New Delhi Railway station was one of those. Not that it looked scary even a bit, but there was something bizarre about the place. Strange in a familiar way. I knew that I know a fair bit more about this place than meets the eye, the moment I checked in there.

Late September 2002.

Delhi was still half having forty winks when I arrived there. ‘5.30 am’ read my wrist watch. After a couple of negotiation rounds with the cab driver, we managed to settle for an amount which was much closer to what he had stated. But then he dropped me right outside the hotel if that was any consolation prize for me. I paid him the agreed amount and picked up my luggage. My eyes were still trying to read the faces and the places around. After all, it was my first time in the capital city. But I could tell that not much had changed in this city for a long time, just by looking at it.

After getting done with the formalities at the reception desk, I pushed my luggage at one corner of that spacious hotel room.

“This hotel had been in existence from over a century now…right from the British era. Many prominent British and Indian personalities would stay here back then” a guy with thin-framed spectacles sitting at the reception desk said with immense pride. I greeted him with a forced smile and entered my room. The door got latched behind a strong gust of wind.

I took my pants off and hung them on the sofa chair. The shirt was thrown on the bed. My hands desperately rummaged through the suitcase for boxer shorts for I needed nothing but the comfort that time. I threw myself on the cosy bed and took a last glance around the room. The room was spacious, and the furniture was in tune with the building’s architecture – reminiscent of the British era. It almost replayed the receptionist’s description of the place in my head. The room had dim lights. It had a tube light straight above one edge of the bed; it had a central fan and an air conditioner which seemed to be working all right. A study table waited in silence at one corner of the room near the window. The bathroom was big enough, and more importantly, it was clean. And yes, a double bed to myself.

I don’t remember when I dozed off. It must have been good four hours or so which took much of the stress of last night’s journey off my body and my mind.  When I opened my eyes, the first thing that I noticed was the archaic dark-brown wall clock. It was 10.20 am.

The temperature inside the room had fallen to 19 degrees thanks to the strong air conditioner. A splash of cold water from the wash basin threw me back into an awakened state. I looked around the room. The place had something that felt so much familiar. Was it the maroon paint on the walls which matched my bed room’s colour? Was it the curtains or the antique wall clock just above the door of washroom? All these possibilities were rejected after a brief period of thought.  But there was something that had dragged me all the way to this place, to this town. As if it was calling me all this while. I could almost hear whispers echoing in every corner of that room.  Those four walls around – I knew them somehow. I felt like I had been familiar with every corner of this room.  It smelt of jasmine flavoured room freshener that the room service boy had sprayed only recently. But there lingered another smell in its crevices. A scent of burnt gunpowder and books. The musty old manuscripts. I felt dizzy with the whirlwind of thoughts in my head. I held my head with both hands and tried in vain to calm it down.

My mind was going frenzy with a storm of thoughts about this place. The sweat dripped down my chest. I got up and took a glance around. On the left side of the centrally-placed double bed, there were two seven feet tall wooden cabinets. The wall on the right side of the bed was mostly conquered by satin red curtains dropping down all the way to kiss the floor. They were hiding something secretly behind. Something that I had to see right now. I had already taken on the role of a detective ever since I arrived here and had almost forgotten about writing the travel blog. My hands rummaged around and felt a hard surface behind the curtains.

I pushed open the curtains, and there it was – A small window in the centre. It had thick ornate borders and two strong bolts, one at the top and the second at the bottom. Why was such a window being hidden I asked my over-intrusive mind. Before it could answer, robotically my hands tried to unbolt the doors of the window, and they did succeed with some strength which showed that it had not been touched for quite a while. As it opened, the rubble of dust and paint came sliding down to the floor.

With both arms wide stretched I pushed the doors of the window out wide and a dazzling flash of light blinded my eyesight for few seconds. Along with it came a cold breeze of air sneaking inside the room, as if it had been waiting to enter it from a long time. I looked outside, and that view had the power to pause my heartbeat for a brief time. I was enthralled. It was not how this city looks like.

Few horse carts moved slowly down the road. There were fewer people on the street than usual. There was a small tea stall around the corner. There was a British style restaurant that my eyes somehow had skipped while checking in this hotel early today morning. There was also a bullock cart making a slow progress along the road and the houses around, the tiny brown houses with slanted roofs. But that was not all to this strange bucolic sight. What particularly caught my attention were two men in long overcoats.  Both were standing on opposite sides of the road – The one with his back to my hotel building and the other one whom I could see more clearly because he was facing the hotel.

He was an Englishman. He looked like one for sure. A man of more than six feet height approximately, with a moustache and dark golden brown hair curling down like sea waves down till his neck. With every intermittent pause between the successive drags of the pipe in his left hand, he looked at the man on the other side. And that man that other man who was wearing a black big-sized hat either failed or pretended to not having noticed the Englishman on the other side. He simply kept watching the road as if he was desperately waiting for someone to arrive.

My eyes swung from Englishman to the man with a hat and back to the Englishman like a spectator at Wimbledon watching a tennis match. The man with a hat frittered away his time by looking at his watch, then at the sun with a frown and again back on the road. As he looked up, I tried to get more of his face, but it was eclipsed by the hat over his head and the sunlight falling on it. And then, there came a big horse cart which came to an abrupt halt just a few steps away from where he stood. This horse cart was different from the other ones in a sense that it had a nice roof and the cushion seats inside. I could even see a kerosene lamp hung on one side. A scene right out of a Tarantino movie.

The man with a hat now stepped ahead after adjusting his coat a couple of times and walked straight towards the cart. He picked up a parcel in a fashion that said it wasn’t the first time he was executing such an act. A brown envelope was given by hands that stretched out from the cart. The man bowed down a bit while simultaneously lifting the hat over his head. It was followed by an immediate waft of a hunter rope on the horse’s back that did the job. The black horse flared its nostrils, neighed and galloped ahead. A small cloud of dust followed the cart, while the man with a hat quickly verified contents inside the parcel. Smiling, he now turned.

He turned towards the hotel and looked straight up. Up at the very window, where I was standing. Before I could study his face, my spying mind was shocked by the sound of a gunshot.  It had taken no more than few seconds for a bullet to travel from the pistol of the Englishman on the other side of the road and it to pierce the back of this man with a hat. He fell on his knees and with a jolt of that shot his hat fell off and so did the parcel from his hands. He looked up at the sky and the window. Pupils in my eyes widened up. I had seen that face. I had seen it more than once. For it belonged to me. I saw myself in that black overcoat looking up at the window, at myself. I could see myself falling on knees, with the blood oozing through my chest. Dying slowly with every second that passed.

I stood still like a wax statue at that window and watched the strange scene unfold in front my eyes. A scene that had transcended the barriers of time and a window that drove me into a time travelling ride. I closed my eyes and pinched myself.

I opened my eyes to a blurred vision of the deluxe room. I got up from the bed, and the old-fashioned wall clock caught the attention of my half sleepy eyes. ‘10.20am’!

With an immediate impulse, I turned right to find the satin red curtains. Air thrown from the ceiling fan above moved them rhythmically like a billowing skirt over an air-vent. And I could hear them whisper gently. They were calling me to open the window behind. To steal a look into another world. To watch the man with a black hat getting shot. To watch myself die.

What were the possibilities? What choices did I have? I decided that I had to save myself from dying this time from getting shot. Little did I know that it would repeat itself somehow. Little did I know that I was stuck. Stuck in a loop.

Wander at times to find yourself again

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Bus took another turn on that serpentine road and swirled from the sides. Midnight had swiftly dropped the dark gown to turn into a dawn. Sun was trying to murder the moon and its rays were acting harsh on her sleepy delicate eyes. But they both were still holding onto their talks from the starry night. Both were probably dreaming of the same things as they slept cosily onto the narrow seat allocated to them in that luxury bus. As he opened the eyes and moved his hand gently to move the hair off her face, she cuddled up even more into his arms.

He checked his watch. Half an hour more and they would be at Dharamshala. A city in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. It is located in the upper reaches of Kangra valley and through the half opened window; he could now get a fresh view of its beauty.  As bus entered the town, bus driver pressed the horn – which itself was so far asleep on the quieter road. Horn sang its tune and was enough to wake her up.

She looked at him, then outside and then turned back at him to ask – “Have we reached already?”

“Almost!” He said, pulling back his hand which had gone comfortably numb by her head resting on it.

She made her hair and he kept the luggage ready to get down to the place they both had been longing to be at from months.

Breaks were applied and bus came to an awkward halt on the upward slope of a narrow lane. A cloud of smoke that had been following the bus, overtook it with that stop.

“There they are” he said excitedly, waving at his friend from Dharmshala and his girlfriend who had taken efforts to receive the pair early morning.

Hellos were exchanged and soon all moved to the apartments where the staying arrangements had been done.

“I can breathe freshness all around” she said to his friend and they all agreed in an instant.

A small town exhibited a charmingly bucolic sight. It was covered by dense forests of pine and coniferous trees. And a look inside the town had warmth of mixed cultured population staying in vibrant coloured houses with characteristic rooftops. From the top, these looked more like toys with colourful hats placed on their heads. Morning had its effect over the town, as they all could witness several vendors – busy setting up fruit and vegetable stalls in the market.

She tried to read the native faces as the car moved through narrow lanes, up and down the slope, introducing to the city its new guests. Face responded back with smiles and welcomed them all.
They reached the guesthouse and formalities were completed.

Standing in the balcony, they both couldn’t help but continue appreciating the beauty of Dharamshala.  Guesthouse would have been better known as Simba from Lion king, since it was held high in hands of the mountain it was built on. It was overlooking the town of hundreds of tiny toy like houses with those typical hats on their heads, almost hundreds of feet down.
She was here now…with him in the lap of nature. She turned around to watch him look at her and saw joy in his eyes over making it till here.

“Thanks” she whispered and the words were quietly carried by the wind…carried far towards those colourful houses looking up at them…and beyond the snow clad mountain range that surrounded the valley from one side.

“See” he showed a Tibetan monk walking briskly up and down the lane. From the balcony, he almost looked as small as a GIJoe action figure he had had as a child.

“We shall go to McLeodGanj” he told her and they took the first sip of the coffee, which had gone cold a while back.

And they did. As soon as the Sun drove up the sky from East, their weary feet had made it to the residence of Dalai Lama, McLeodGanj – A place, uphill of Dharamshala which is populated mostly by Tibetan community. It has a magnificent monastery with larger than life images of Buddha.

He satiated his rumbling tummy by savouring some hot steamy momos while she preferred to subdue her hunger by delicious pastries and bakery items at one of the cafes around. As they entered the monastery, he couldn’t help but get awestruck by its august interiors and beautiful life sized images of Buddha. She held his hand and together they rang each of the prayer bells in a row. Call it holiness or the majestic aura of the place; they both got drowned in their own world of thoughts. He could not recall later as to when did she leave his hand and took a sit in front of that centrally placed Buddha idol. He left the room and came outside to witness Tsuglag Khang – the Dalai Lama’s temple which stood tall in front of him demanding respect.

On their way back, their minds did most of the talking. She had her eyes fixed on the world outside of car. He occasionally looked at her half lit face by the Sunlight and then retreated back into his thoughts. The car moved through a mountain road, occasionally greeting a marketplace full of stalls of prayer bells, shoes, hand-knit woollens and what not. Then once the car had covered a sufficient distance, it came to a small waterfall. A steam of water so clear and inviting that they did not need a plan or time to decide. Jeans were pulled up to the knees and hair were tied back. They held each other’s hands and carefully climbed down the cold rocks to enter the pool of blue water. All the tiredness and distractions were washed away as they played and bathed in ice cold water. Minutes turned into hours and soon it was time for itinerary for its next spot.

A local Tibetan market was plan for the next day to shop for Tibetan artefacts, food items, and small monastery items. Further they stopped their car to take a view at Cricket stadium which is situated at the highest altitude in country. “Watching the game of cricket here would be an unparallel memoir!” he exclaimed. Wherever they moved, city did not fail to keep up its unspoiled natural extravaganza and breathtaking views of scenery around.

He never managed to fathom if that vacation brought them closer. But it certainly was one of the best ones they both had ever had. It had all the reasons to brighten up their faces with smiles. A town that was full of life and yet wore a serene charm.

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Geography is what is wrong with this world

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Millions around the world picked up their luggage off the conveyor belt at thousands of airports around the world that day. So many reasons stated behind those journeys for so many dreams to be satiated. So many teary goodbyes must have followed so many of those separations.

Excuses are abundant. To leave the ones who once held your hand. A phrase – ‘in the long run it will be good’ has done more harm than good for sure. You keep telling everyone that travelling is the best teacher one can have, but secretly it just draws borders between you and the ones whom you waved goodbyes to. New places and new faces reward you with new stories to savour for a moment. Until they leave a sour taste behind and act melancholy to your better past. Nostalgia is something we check in, with our luggage in every flight we board. And maybe that is why they call it baggage.

What’s worth and what is not is in hands of time to decide. And it takes things away to tell you what you had. What you owned once and could call yours. That old town, forgotten faces and childhood places makes a surprise visit in your dreams; as you sleep underneath the new blanket in your air conditioned hotel room. You see yourself chatting with your once used to be pals from hometown whom you had stopped calling years back. And then you wake up, open your eyes to a cold room and even the colder surroundings that remind you of the fact that you have already left the past and old faces behind. Far behind. You give out a sigh and close your eyes to fool yourself that you’re living a peaceful life. Secretly you feel envious of your dreaming self, which has a full access to your past.

Geography is what is wrong with this world. Only if we could build bridges that could take us to those stretched arms waiting at the other end of it. From two feet to wheels, from horse carts to trains and from trains to airplanes; we surely took a valiant leap. But at the same time they took us even farther in search of more glitter and better lands. Transitory is the meeting between two, between you and your companion along the journey. Just like ant whispering to the other member and robotically moving blindfolded towards the sugar cube.

A balance is a relative concept. But it indeed is a much needed reprise in our marathon-busy lives. A balance between the racing mettle to catch up with our goals and a restless heart longing for home.

~ Undying

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Few things do not wither away.

Like an old road back in your town that never turns lonely,

Since it wears the special memories drenched in sepia-shades.

A search for the soul mate that never ends,

It never ends in disappointment for ultimately they have the same hiding place.

A fire that seems to keep burning for eternity,

While you sit around it & look at the photo with people who never grow old.

And her eyes from the photo that never move off yours,

Few things seem to be undying.

Like a frisky kitten that is always lively playing with a ball of wool,

Just like a heart that fleets like a butterfly from one person to the other.

And you learn to keep moving,

Because what’s still, eventually dies.

Like a stagnant pool of lake water giving up at the feet of mammoth ocean.

Unlike few things that refuse to let themselves down.

Like A guilt lurking in your heart of sins from the past,

And an evil inside dominating your choice.

An urge to have just one more glass by an alcoholic,

And his determination to make that call once he gulps it down.

Her wish that he holds her just a little longer,

Under the night of full moon that loves to chase their car.

Few things are to be kept safe and kept going.

Like those 15 year old versions of you and your best friend,

That you get into, laughing repeatedly at the same jokes every time you meet.

And more reasons that knock on your door every year,

When you look back & make you feel blessed for things you thought were depressing.

A hope that resides secretly in our hearts & keep them pumping happiness,

When every time our brain preaches logic, behind seemingly troublesome present.

Few things never die.

Just like a photo with people that you’ve still preserved that never grow old.

You look at it one day before you sleep, after a tiresome week that just left.

A smile conquers your face, for few people are meant to be forever.

And they’re always there for you, they’re just a phone call away.

Few good things never once fade.