An intriguing aspect of the Non-Resident Indian experience is a holiday reversal of sorts. While privileged Indians head to the cooler climes of Europe and America to beat the summer heat, we often head back to India to be with extended families and friends. “Who on earth spends summers in Dusty Delhi when there’s the South of France,” an acquaintance wonders, seated in her plush South Delhi living room anointed with artefacts from all around the world, and looking genuinely puzzled. Well, thousands do, including those who are too busy to get away or those who cannot afford a holiday at all, who live and die daily, unnoticed. For many NRIs, it is a slightly different story; when you live and work in America, the idea of holidaying in America can seem rather unfulfilling. A friend fond of racing insisted, for years, that I accompany him to Nice, and onwards to Monaco for the Grand Prix. But not being a Formula One fan myself, the brilliant blue waters and sunny delights of the French Riviera notwithstanding, I come to Delhi for vacations every summer.
This summer, the family decided to take a short trip to Ooty. Located in Tamil Nadu in southern India, Ooty nestles in the Nilgiris (“Blue Mountains”). It is exquisite, with sloping ridge, raining hill, thick folds of coconut and palm trees, and buildings painted in every imaginable hue—yellows, greens, blues, even orange, purple and bright fuchsia—dotting the hilltops. Forever foodies, we experimented with new dishes and dug into old favourites by other names, such as varuval (mutton fry) and parotta.
Our resort also housed an Ayurvedic spa offering abhyangam, shirodhara and myriad healing massages. Unlike harsh chemicals, they use natural ingredients; the coffee scrub, for instance, is made up of coffee powder mixed with fruit extracts, oats, peanuts, rice powder, black gram, fenugreek (methi), green lentils (moong), sesame seeds and turmeric. Ayurvedic day spas and institutions for holistic healing can now be found even in the heart of New York City, offering alternatives to intrusive medical techniques, but this was when we finally found the time to visit one.
“Vacation” is a word that gives many of us pause. For my engineer father, who hates being away from work for too long, a usual day has meant more than twelve hours in the factory for most of his life, including weekends.
Ooty is exquisite, with thick folds of coconut and palm trees, and buildings painted in every imaginable hue—yellows, greens, blues, even orange, purple and bright fuchsia.
For many writers and academics, a manuscript is completed and another one begins, not to mention ideas for new courses and pedagogical innovations. Writing, like teaching, are both acts of clutter as well as cleansing; they take a tremendous toll even as they liberate.
Flexibility of location during the summer “vacation” means one can at least carry one’s work as one travels, writing in the crevices of days (and nights, while the world sleeps, and an aching languor seeps through the blue mountains beckoning with their ancient secrets…)
The poet Rabindranath Tagore once wrote “…bahu desh ghurey / dekhitey giyachhi parbatmala / dekhitey giyachhi sindhu / dekha hoi nai chokhkhu meliya / ghor hote shudhu dui pa pheliya / ekti dhaner shisher upor, ekti shishir bindu (…have travelled to many countries, seen distant mountains and oceans, but could not look around my home, or take two small steps outside, to see a tiny dewdrop upon a blade of grass).”
I was thinking the gorgeous spots of India are no less than those abroad; and once news reports of the terrorist attack in Nice started flooding in, I thought of the preciousness, precariousness, of life. India, France…real and imagined homes, worlds.
We each choose our life paths, how to best make a difference to our worlds. Meanwhile, the hardest lesson to learn is perhaps to live in, and love, the moment. Ooty led to two delightful discoveries—a green, mossy spice called kalpasi (patthar ke phool/blackstone flower) which is scraped from trees, rocks and river-stones for use in some traditional South Indian recipes; and a powder mix, rasnadi choornam, a pinch of which applied to the scalp after a bath keeps one warm. The mix worked magically in the cold evenings of Ooty and now awaits a tougher test, in the snowy winters of Michigan.