For the love of Anime!

One of the biggest mistakes one can make is deeming something unworthy without even giving it a try. And because I am so fond of committing mistakes, I had brushed away the idea of watching Anime long before even getting to know what it really was. All I knew was it was a sort of “cartoon” and aren’t we old enough to watch cooler things like Game of Thrones, et cetera et cetera?! Don’t get me wrong, I love my share of the Starks and the Bings and the Specters, but what I had in store waiting for me was something completely different. I was made to realize the ignorance in which I had lived to something as gripping as the world of Anime!

My first encounter with it came in the form of one of the most brilliant series, animated or otherwise, the Death Note. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most intelligently written things I have had the pleasure of watching; telling a story far more creative than most of the stuff that is aired in the name of entertainment on the idiot box.

Left asking for more, I found myself on the look-out for something just as riveting as the Death Note, having accepted these “cartoons” as so much more. That’s when I came across this beautiful movie called Spirited Away. Apprehensive of watching it at first because of its association with spirits (what can I say, I am a bit of a weakling), I finally got down to watching it and what an experience that was!

From the highly imaginative world where frogs talk and dragons transform into humans, it strikes a resemblance to the Alice in Wonderland. However, if probed to ask between the two, my answer would be the former for the sheer simplicity with which the story is told.

Chihiro, the ten year old protagonist, emerges a hero in all ways possible. She taught me how sometimes we truly are braver than we give ourselves credit for. Even though Chihiro and I have nothing in common, what with her world full of magic and mine as “real” as it gets, she managed to secure a place in my heart with her innocence and kindness.

I really wish that you met Haku again, Chihiro. Thank you for letting me part of your eventful experience. I will remember it as much as you.

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Germany: An Unparalleled rendezvous

 

  1. Idar-Oberstein and Bernkastel

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Surrounded by high mountains and expansive open fields as far as eyes can see, most people wouldn’t know about these small towns. But that does not do anything to take away from the beauty of them.

With swans doing antics on the still waters of the river of Bernkastel to people going for a jog in the mind-blowing meadows of Idar-Oberstein, the still and quiet of the place takes the trophy!

Idar, famous for its stone market, gains its importance from the gemstone mines that once were a source of livelihood for people here. Now a tourist spot, it stopped as a functioning mine more than a century ago and attracts mineralogists from all over the world. Hence, a trek to the tunnels filled with countless stones of countless varieties was mandatory. After seeing gemstones of such different colours and textures from so close, I developed a new fondness for them.

Of course, our two day stay at these places would not have been half as pleasurable had it not been for the great company of my cousins and their kids. After all, to have a home away from home is heartwarming.

  1. Zugspitze (Garmisch)

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We all are well acquainted with the scene we drew as kids in school: huge snow capped mountains with the brightly shining sun in the backdrop and a flowing river meandering its way towards a hut that stands in the middle of grasslands.

If you put life into that drawing, one would have seen Garmisch!

The refreshing calmness of this place is bewitching. And the journey from there to Zugspitze, which is the highest peak of Germany and Austria, is a joy in itself. Having never seen snow in my life, you can imagine the delight I felt upon setting my foot on alps that were hell bent on freezing my feet. With the sun casting its shadow on the white velvety blanket of snow, we lay and lost all sense of time and being. For what could be more rewarding than getting to be a part of such a grand mise en scéne created by nature itself!

  1. Dachau Concentration camp, Munich

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There are some places that you’ve only heard of; ones that you never make a conscious decision to visit anytime soon. You may know about them through books, movies, songs, documentaries. And yet, nothing can prepare you for what you are going to experience once there.

Reading a lot of books about the Germany of Hitler’s time, I was curious to see it all in person.

That curiosity doesn’t take much time to transform into shame and disgust.

Shame at being part of a race that is capable of inflicting such atrocities on its fellow beings; disgust with the people who could do something like this without batting an eyelid.

Once you see ovens that were once used to roast people and gas chambers disguised as showers that were used to suffocate people to death, there isn’t much left than to thank your stars for being born when you are. Standing in the huge grounds that once had rows and rows of barracks where hundreds of thousands would disintegrate after a hard day of labour, waiting for death to consume them rather than pay for a sin that is no sin, I felt a kind of hopelessness: a hopelessness for this race that calls itself superior but behaves in a manner that would put animals to shame.

  1. Paderborn

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Special. This one word describes all my feelings I have for this cute little town.

From being the one place where I have randomly clicked pictures of cars, bus stand, trees, houses, to being the one that I didn’t mind exploring immediately after landing, I want to thank it for quenching my tourist/ traveler side. To the days spent sitting at the window of my brother’s apartment with a smile plastered on my face for days straight, to the one where I set out alone and bought myself a candy ice-cream, I miss it all.

Paderborn is special not because it has some sky rocketing monument or a famous history but because it became home.

And any place that can give you that feeling ought to be special!

Bonjourno, Roma!

Please read through my experience with the various facets of Rome:

  • Places to see
  1. Colosseo (Colosseum)

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Undoubtedly, this is the thing that puts Rome on the world map (except the high-street fashion and Vatican City). As we leave our hotel to see one of the wonders of the world, we are quite sure about being able to spot it from a distance. After all, we’ve all seen how majestic it looks in the pictures!

To our dismay, we weren’t able to spot it till we stood in front of it and the huge crowd let us know that we were there.

My first thought upon climbing the stairs to the first level is that it must have been a sight in earlier times but it sure doesn’t look like much now.

What now remains is a skeleton of the huge arena that was once the fighting ground for gladiators, a source of entertainment for the rich aristocratic class. Half of the place is gone, owing to the destructions by opponent kings throughout the history and the other half is battling to withstand the ravages of time.

All in all, we came out of the place a bit disappointed.

  1. Trevi Fountain

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This was such a relief after the Colosseo and the hugely disappointing food (more on this in upcoming paragraphs).

A beautiful work of art designed by architect Nicola Salvi, the sound of its gently flowing waters calls the tourists walking through the lanes of Rome to spend an hour or two admiring the white marble fountains.

We ended up visiting Trevi every day of our trip here. It was lovely to see people making wishes and throwing coins in the fountain. (It is said that if you throw a coin in the Trevi, you’ll come back to Rome again very soon!). Enjoying my ice cream while the tiny water droplets from the fountain caressed my face, I got lucky enough to witness a marriage proposal! 🙂

  1. The Roman Forum and Palantine Hill

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Now, I still can’t comprehend why these places are suggested to tourists. They may be a haven for archaeologists but for people having no knowledge of and love for historical ruins, these places are just that: Ruins.

(Fun fact: The English word “palace” is derived from “Palantine”).

With some of its buildings as old as 8th Century BC, Roman Forum was a cultural, economic and judicial center, not only for Rome but for the world, and is the place where all major activities in Rome used to take place.

Sadly, what now remains are just stones from some King’s palace, some columns of what used to be a temple and the likes. It might have been a place bustling with people at one time but is a sorry sight now.

After spending an entire afternoon here, the only time I liked the place was when I had my “Et tu, Brute?” moment AKA the exact spot where Julius Caesar was assassinated. (It has been turned into a shrine now, adorned with flowers and people offering coins there!).

  1. Piazza Navona 

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The fountain, a famous work of art by the talented Bernini, stands in the middle of the Piazza. From the base of the grand fountain emerge four river Gods representing the power of four continents, one of which is river Ganges representing Asia. On one side of the Navona lies a beautiful church and lines and lines of restaurants on the other.

It was my favourite place in all of Rome, with musicians and artists performing so heartily that you feel like letting go and joining them and painters scattered all over the place, some calling out to you for a live portrait and others sitting content with their work on display.

We spent around two hours here, taking in the liveliness of the place and had to force ourselves to leave to visit other places.

  1. The Spanish Steps

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Spanish steps may not look like a worthy place to visit, in that they are just steps to sit on but the place has a nice lively vibe that makes you stop and enjoy the view of the Piazza di Spagna, which is one of the most famous squares of Rome, with its famous fashion street.

  1. The Pantheon

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Once a temple and now a church, it is astonishingly well preserved, mostly because has continually been in use. The gigantic heavy columns on which stands the circular periphery of its structure, speak about its legacy. The most noticeable thing about the Pantheon is its large dome that is said to tell the time by the exact spot where the rays of the sun fall on it.

  1. Vatican City

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If there is one reason that you should come visit Rome, even if like me, you do not understand the intricacies of art and paintings, it’s this! The place will leave you awestruck, overwhelmed and exhausted.

Beauty so magnificent, it makes you wonder at the world you live in- one that clearly lacks the magnitude of colours, designs and thoughts on display in Vatican.

For the things painted on the walls you touch and on the floors you walk on and the ceiling you look at and the doors you enter have all a story to tell. And they make you perplexed, for how are you to take in so much beauty at once?

Not once do I regret the hours spent at the Vatican Museum. Each room here is an art piece in itself.

And then there is Sistine Chapel! A room where not an inch is not covered by art, it has the power to keep you engrossed with its life like paintings.

I must have clicked around 200-300 pictures in Vatican itself. Because you don’t need a specific angle or perfect lighting for the pictures to turn out beautifully; you can randomly point your camera anywhere and immerse yourself in a fake self-confidence at your photography skills (like I am for the pictures used in this article)!

By the time we reached St. Peter’s Square, it was already evening and my legs refused to cooperate. Adding to that an hour-long line to enter the St. Peter’s Basilica, I had almost given up. On the steps of the large wide corridors I sat, replaying scenes from Angels and Demons in my head, while my brother stood in the queue.

Making the most beautiful of churches seem mediocre, this is by far the grandest Basilica I have seen and I have seen a lot! A classic work by Bernini, the Chair of Saint Peter, laden with gold, forces you to look at it without blinking.

  • Travel

Everything worth seeing in Rome is accessible by foot which is great since you can move around at your own pace, spending more time at one place and less on the other, while discovering new ways each time to reach your destination. The only exception to this is the Vatican City, for which you can take a metro (which by the way, is almost as crowded as the Rajiv Chowk metro station of Delhi metro). A ten-minute walk from the station takes you to the main area of Vatican (nobody asked to see our passports even though we were in a “different country”).

Be sure of carrying a map with you at all times since the number of sign boards in Rome are zero to none. We also downloaded an app called “maps.me” which proved to be extremely helpful in all our travel.

  • Food

Be prepared to be shocked. Extremely shocked. One thing that I was most counting on Rome for was its food. Because how can one not get excited by the thought of having authentic Italian food, sitting in the capital of Italy? All my excitement faded with the first bite of the pizza here. This by far was the worst pizza of my life and I have had the privilege of having half burnt Domino’s pizza.

Feeling like throwing up at every bite, the food here disappointed us so much that we ended up buying packaged food from a grocery store. I’m not sure about how the non-vegetarian food here is, although if you are a vegetarian like me, stock up on breads, croissants, etc. to survive.

Except the Gelato. With a myriad range of flavours like all berry, Nutella, coconut, you will be left asking for more!

All in all, I think one needn’t spend more than 2 days in Rome- one at Vatican and the other covering all the other places. The city appears exciting in the sense that any new place is different and has a different feel to it, but it doesn’t do much to retain that excitement. With fountains at every corner of every street, this place is great if you a real history buff who wouldn’t tire of looking at monuments and structures from centuries ago.

PS. I was consciously trying to find people doing the famous Italian hand gesture (the one used as the main picture) and I am happy to announce that they actually do it, just not as much as we imagine. 😛

More than a midnight in Paris

What can you write about the place that is on every person’s travel list and one of THE places of the world? One that is the so known that every child, on being asked about where they want to go, would always answer with Paris (at least that’s what I did). My escapade with Paris was somewhat confusing. For you see, I had very conflicting thoughts every single day of my stay there.

As a rule, the first thing you do in Paris is go see Eiffel Tower. I was so excited; I would finally be able to see the thing that is considered a symbol of love. My first thought, however, upon seeing it was quite the opposite. Was this all? Was I supposed to feel happy by looking at a giant iron structure? I stood there, clicked a few pictures but all with a little disappointment. You see, it was four in the evening and the tower wasn’t lit. Standing in the line for two hours to go the tower’s top, the cynic in me had accepted the fact that maybe it’s just one of those things that you are told to admire but the reality is different.

I have been proven wrong many times in my life but being wrong never gave me this much happiness. The view at the top is breathtaking. The whole tower sparkles, with special lighting every hour. Standing there amongst the strong blowing cold winds, you can see the dazzling capital of France, with ships sailing on the river Seine at a leisurely pace.  Mounting down, I find myself moving farther away to every street and getting excited by being able to see Eiffel Tower from there too!

The next day began with a trip to Chateau de Versailles. It would be futile to even try to put into words the daunting beauty of this place! It is a city in itself where a person can easily spend two days and still not feel satiated. Sprawling “gardens” (if you can even call them that), farms with sheep, horse stables, acres filled with houses of the architects that once lived here, an internal dam- these are just some of the things you might see here. Unfortunately, we were on a tight schedule and had only 7-8 hours to spend, by the end of which we got lost in its huge estate.

Trying to make the most of what Paris has to offer, we went straight from the lushness of Versailles to the dingy tunnels of the Catacombs filled with six billion bones. It is natural to be a little spooked by lines and lines of skulls stacked one on top of the other. It is a surreal feeling, knowing that beneath the beautiful houses lining the streets, human bones lie, reduced to being a tourist spot now.

By now, Paris had started playing its trick on me. I had finally started realizing that once you start liking this place, there is no turning back.

On our last day here, we had two options:

  • Either visit the much renowned Madame du louvre and see THE MONA LISA.
  • Or go explore the real Paris, the one that dwells within its myriad streets and experience its many treasures

Since my brother and I are not much of art admirers, we went for option (ii). This by far turned out to be the best day of my entire trip and one of the best in what little time I have lived; one that I won’t let myself forget and moreover one, that won’t let me forget itself. There was a magic in the air that day that gratified my soul. When you are walking on a bridge while the water beneath quietly flows and a cool breeze ruffles your hair and suddenly you hear an artist playing “La Vie en rose” while a mother sits on a bench with her child frolicking around, you know it’s a special moment.

Upon my departure for Paris, a friend wished that I find the love of my life in the city of Paris. I did end up falling in love; not with a person but with the place. Even when writing this, my heart longs to go back to the alluring beauty of Paris. I will come back to you once again Paris. Thanks for being magical and making my 22nd the best birthday of my life.

 

 

 

Where time stood still

Have you experienced some things in life when you didn’t think much of them before experiencing them but then they turn out to be the best? For me, such was the case with Belgium.

With a curiosity a five year old has for solving a mathematics problem, I was just looking forward to visiting Belgium because, why not? To my surprise, by the time we had to say our goodbyes, I wanted to know what the living expenses here were!

I visited two places in Belgium- Bruges and Gent. Both very small places compared to the well-known capital, Brussels.

Our first stop was Brugge. As I deboard my train, the place doesn’t give any “love at first sight” feeling. It seems to be a small, pretty, quiet city. Only later do you realize that it is so much more. It is upon entering the heart of the place that you understand that you are not only in a different country but a different era. Almost everything everywhere invites you to a century gone by. Brugge is a World Heritage Site and the title could not have been better deserved.  It depicts a Europe that I have only read of in novels- streets lined with the stone that is so unique to Europe, rowing boats on the lake, waffles being sold at every corner of every street and the air, oh the air!

We covered almost all the tourist places through a guided English tour (which was free. These tours are available in other languages too. All one has to do is gather near the Belfry.) Our guide, Lucy, was very sweet and gave very interesting tidbits about all the places. She even took us to a chocolate shop whose owner was an old lady who let us all (10-15 of us) taste all her different chocolates. 🙂

Since I have a sweet tooth, it becomes necessary to mention that there is a reason Belgian waffles are famous. The ones that I tasted here were delightful and very light, compared to the ones that I am used to having here in Delhi. And what a wide variety- strawberry cinnamon, chocolate sundae and what not!

After walking for twenty kilometers in a day (which for a person like me is equivalent to six months of walking), we ended up going to bed at nine in the evening. (We stayed at a Youth Hostel which was nothing less than a luxury hotel. You go, Lybeer!). It proved to be our best decision since we woke up at six in the morning and were out in the streets by seven, when the whole town was still waking up. I must tell you how sublime the city looked in its morning glory. Exploring a city in the early hours of the day, with no destination in mind and a map in our hands and just figuring out where to go while going there was a feeling I wasn’t familiar with until that day.

Packing our bags, off we went to Gent. Now, my first thought upon entering Gent was: “This looks like any other metropolitan city”. Walking for half an hour with our luggage, following the rail tracks, we were all questioning our decision to leave Brugge and spend half a day here. As we reached the center, it was as if the whole city was laughing at us. Because there we stood, with our mouths open, confused about where to look because there were castles everywhere! Every direction you look, there stands a magnificent castle. And not a castle that you will forget easily; it’s one that forces you to turn your head again and again and look at it. The center, bustling with people, enjoying the sun in the otherwise cold weather, had a certain life to it.

The two days spent in Belgium remain one of the highlights of my trip. Maybe because it was the first place I visited and firsts are always special or maybe because these places really were extraordinary. I would love to go back to both these places but for a much longer time.

 

 

 

A note

It’s not easy writing on a topic that has been spoken about thousands of times, one that impacts you immensely. But this topic deserves all the attention, all the writings, all the voices.

I am talking about mental illness. Depression. Anxiety.

Words that may be just that to some of us- words. But others will tell you that they are so much more than that.

I thought it only fitting to write about something that for me is a topic of discussion every other day. For this is something that some of the people I am very close to have gone through/are going through.

This is my note to everybody having a hard time and to everybody supporting their loved ones in times like these.

To the ones who are depressed/have anxiety/other mental illnesses: I am sure you are already tired of inexperienced, privileged people like me telling you this but no amount would be too many to say that please muster the courage to firstly accept that there is a problem. I know it’s easier said than done but accepting that something is not quite right may prove to be the first step towards healing and breaking free from all the confusion that comes with this disease. The next and most important thing, I feel, should be finding your support system. Don’t go through it alone. You may be the strongest human on this planet but you don’t have to go through it alone. Confide in your parents, siblings, friends- people who genuinely love you and care about your well-being. Know better and back off if you feel that the people you confided in are taking things a little too lightly than they should be by deeming it as “just a phase of sadness”. Don’t be bitter with them. They may have been lucky enough to not experience something like this first hand and hence, may find things a little difficult to comprehend.

Find someone who is ready to listen to all that goes inside that beautiful mind of yours, someone who sees you for more than a temporary disease that’s taken host inside of you. Trust me, it will help and it is always better to share.

To everyone else: Sometimes, it becomes difficult to understand the impact our smallest actions have. A simple “I miss you” or “Hey, how have you been?” or “Let’s meet someday” message sent to a friend may not seem like a big deal to you but to that friend, it may give them the strength to get out of their beds and make themselves dinner. By doing something as little as this, you make that person feel cared for, giving them all the strength that they needed. To them, it means the world knowing that they are not alone in fighting a battle taking place inside their own heads.

Be there for them. Hug them. Tell them you love them and that you believe in their power to overcome this. Be compassionate.

But also,

To the ones who are depressed/have anxiety/other mental illnesses: I know you’re dealing with a lot. Every day is a struggle and talking to that one person makes you feel relieved of all the pain, at least for a little while. But for one second, I am going to ask you to think from the perspective of that one person (persons) who has (have) been there for you throughout, making sure you feel special and loved.

Imagine talking hours on end to someone you dearly love, listening to them going through all that they are. Hour after hour. Day after day. Wouldn’t it get a little overwhelming for you? Please don’t get me wrong. I cannot even pretend to know taxing it must be for you. All I am asking is, maybe show a little love to the person who’s giving you all the love? That does not mean you stop sharing. Please don’t, for they are there to listen. They want to help. But the next time you talk and you’re discussing about your problems, maybe ask them about their lives too?

To the ones helping: Of course, you love this person. You care so much about them and it kills you seeing them in so much pain. You just want to help in any way that you can. So, you listen to their problems, you try to be helpful, you try to uplift their mood by cracking a few jokes even though you might be feeling down yourself. Keep helping. But, if you reach a point where it starts getting too much, STOP. Because as much helping someone else is great, it should never be at the expense of your own mental health. If talking to them makes you cry for days on end and you feel their feelings slowly taking root in you, it may be time to stop. It would not make you a lesser friend, believe me. There are other ways of supporting, helping, caring. Talk to them, let them know that as much as you would want to be available 24/7, it’s taking a toll on you. I’m sure they’ll understand, after all they love you as much as you love them. Love them still but just love yourself more.

GREYS

 

I am a person who lives in extremes; and for as long as I can remember, that is exactly how I’ve wanted to live.

Love too much or not at all.

Hate too much or not at all.

Care too much or not at all.

But lately, I can feel a change- the change of moving away from the blacks and the whites and slowly gravitating towards the Greys. Black has been my favourite for far too long but isn’t grey more practical, more fun and less damning?

For is it not foolish to put yourself too much into something and not at all into something else? Is it not better to be in the middle and reap the benefits of both the extremes, whilst maintaining that nonchalant air too?

I know people will question these things with, “What kind of a person are you if you do not feel strongly about anything?”. The point is not to be callous or obsess over something but choosing your grey areas wisely.

For people like me, indifference is a luxury and like all humans, I too want to live a luxurious life!