Scotland’s National Book Town blooms in the Spring

Wigtown, I repeated.
The librarian hung up her hands in dismay.
I say Galloway, and it evokes a slow, bemused response.
Few have heard of Scotland’s national book town. Fewer know it is slouched in the Machars area of Galloway where River Cree Estuary meets the Solway firth, in the backdrop of the Galloway hills. Coastline, hills, the sea, and the ferry to Ireland, typical south western climate, all defining characteristics of the region.

But those who do know the area, will warn you, there is nothing to do in Wigtown, a town which you can walk around in twenty minutes flat! Not many know of Wigtown as a geographic location, least of all for what it’s most famous: Scotland’s largest boutique showcase of about 20 antiquarian bookshops, internet book warehouses, and studios dealing second hand books and older and new collections too, crossing all genres from film, music, Tartan noir and topography, world history, local mythology and combat aviation to name the very least. 

The goal of a book town is to offer a sustainable model, to regenerate the economy with its tourism dimension, and in the mid nineties, Wigtown entered the competition to be a Scottish book town because it was crumbling beneath its towering poverty. So, when Wigtown won the bid in 1997, it got saved, most booksellers will tell you! Ordinary buildings got a makeover, shops refurbished, a gust of entrepreneurial winds with some government help and nationalist sentiment –after all Wigtown is the only National Book town in the UK– all stirred up a heady mix; and then the Wigtown literary festival arrived, and tourism figures scaled new peaks!  

A dry region largely, that is second only to the Highlands, in hosting the lowest population density in all of  Scotland, Wigtown blossoms in the spring, with the onset of Easter and up until October a month past the annual Wigtown book festival, drawing over twelve thousand visitors each year (figures having doubled over the past three years),  literary celebrities and commoners alike. Local talents (from Dumfries and Galloway) are brought to the fray in the festival within a festival titled Wigtown Ink! Workshops, author readings, publishers and publications, all gather with bibliophiles and those in the book trade.
The Wigtown Festival Office and Library

A Tale of two Harbours

The consortia of Wigtown booksellers are thus close knit and often run into each other only at book auctions and book events.

Richard Booth, the self-styled King of Hay-on Wye, first pegged the words Book Town and instigated the first book town model of sustainability in 1961 in Wales. He moves around the world tagging booktowns (example Redu in Belgium, 1984) wherever he feels appropriate. His visits to Wigtown are a big draw and the booksellers love his speeches.  

I personally enjoyed the range of books and music in most of the shops especially those charting local topography. The cosy seating, warm fireplaces and a never quiet, never busy atmosphere to most of these shops, offering window side views into gardens, hills and the city marquee, were a soul rush. The booksellers will rush to tell you, and unlike in Aberfeldy’s Watermill, during Christmas, the walk ins are nothing to compete with at the city stores or in the high street, as people are lesser likely to buy second hand books as gifts, but walk-ins peak during the festival time, where there isn’t enough place to even house the authors sometimes, jokes a vendor. The biggest challenge to selling books here (as everywhere) is people’s changed buying habits in an Amazonian climate, and many sellers vend their own books through Abe, Amazon, Alibris and the likes, after paying commission.   

While the oldest book town model was created in Wales, other booktowns and villages have emerged around world. In the United Kingdom, there are three only Book towns, Wigtown in Scotland, Hay-on-Wye in Wales, and Sedburgh in Cumbria, England. An entire list of International Booktowns can be found here. 
Do scroll down for more images from the quaint, bookish world of Wigtown.
The largest (and oldest) bookshop in Wigtown
The ubiquitous Wigtown Book Cushions done by local artisans
Books and pottery are an inescapable mix


ReadingLasses is interesting wordplay as the only bookshop in the UK that sells and promotes books by women and for women, and they host a cafe-bakery and B&B too.

Getting Here
By Bus : From Glasgow to Newton Stewart (via Ayr), and then the bus/stagecoach to Wigtown
By Rail : From (Glasgow to) Girvan to Newton Stewart (via Ayr), and then the bus/stagecoach to Wigtown
By Car : Arrive at Newton Stewart and take the turn to Wigtown (A714) at the A75 roundababout

Three days in Skye

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The Storm in Skye falls once every nigh’   

The first flurries fell in Stirling in the beginning of December lowering the heat on my university exams, when it was a snow-conducive 3 degrees Celsius. (When the temperature dips below zero, the snow won’t come anymore). Soon without warning, we were wrapped in the eye of a mid-latitude storm, dubbed ‘hurricane bawbag’ in Twitterverse, the cyclone that swept Scotland off its feet, winds leveraging 165 mph: overturned trees, roofs, cars, heavy vehicles, umbrellas, parachutes, every grade of human accessory splayed asunder, the web abuzz with climate updates and SOS. Americans had brought this along with their homesickness, accused a few.  Wild images were turning viral.  And I instantly knew what I wanted for my birthday: a 3 day road trip to the isle of Skye, hoping that the western extremities would gift me with a couple of tricks in resilience as I scouted storms by the teacup.

I live and study in the windiest country in Europe, where they plan to convert all their wind and water into energy and lose all dependence on coal. Now glamour always escorts resilience, be it in the military, or in the people’s minds; the intrigues of dramatic landscape and being subjected to fierce torrential winds, glens gushing over with imagery and gory flashbacks of the bloody clan rivalries and tragic royalty haunting numerous castles on the bedraggled breath of history, triggered my ache for adventure soup.

From merchants’ homes in Queens and Georges Streets, the Royal mile and town square address to Scotland’s poshest  The Balmoral hotel and its lesser cousin the Caledonian Hilton where Scot expatriate Sean Connery puts up (but will not return until independence has been won), to the poorer bylanes of the Scottish capital, where the old servants lived, Edinburgh was bracing itself for another nippy new year on the same latitude as Moscow.

“What do you know about Scots” challenged Doug, the guy steering the wheel of a Mercedes bus, from Edinburgh.

“Whiskey, shortbread, kilts, bagpipes, haggis” shot back replies.

A native of the Scottish Borders, Doug claimed every nook and cranny from the lowlands to the very highlands; now an Edinburgh resident for the past eleven years Doug recalls every drift, fog, peak and trough, spotting every Ben and Munro in the neighbourhood with pride and veneer. After the Grampean range it is the Nevis range we cross, and its Ben Nevis, the tallest Ben–a Ben is a mountain above 1500 m–in the British Isles.

“Our Mountains are older than the Himalayas!” he glared, and then looked wistfully at the Nevis range, for what are merely ageing stumps in a foggy Scottish sky today. Years of erosion, storm and high weather have lessened these peaks.

Doug spent the next few days breaking our “tweed” notions of Scotland, sweeping us off feet, storm or no storm, by the breath taking mystique of his country. He expressed gratitude there were no Americans, Australians or Canadians on board asking him about why the highland’s hairy coos (cows) are actually dogs, because “how can cows run so fast?!”  On the animal front, we spotted sheep, red deer, and lots more hairy coos; twisting cows’ legs was once a predominantly Highland Sport, test of prowess.

We drove along the fault line of a series of passes called the Great Glen, an active faultline that bisects the Scottish Highlands from the Grampian Mountains in the South east (south of Orkney/Shetland, that is), and the Northern Highlends in the North west (including the Western isles).


Great Glen Faultline Scotland

Eighty percent of Scotland lives in the Lowlands and under, where cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, the Trossachs are. That leaves the Highlands inhabited by about 250,000 people only! In fact, there are more sheep than people in these parts with a ratio of about 8 sheep to 1 person in Skye! The winged island of Skye is strung together by peninsulas of different gradations.

Oh those fucking mainlanders… In Scotland it was England they cursed, and in the Highlands it was the lowlands they sniggered at likewise in the Outer Hebrides the Inner Hebrides; Units of contempt spreading thin, along the degree of extremities and seclusion you inhabit.

An Israeli and Indian couple, a Muscovite, a boy who wore no shoes, his friend, and myself ambled along a journey through storm, rain, snow, and eventually pitch wintry home. This was off season, and rates were low as the weather could keep them.

The feisty castle trail was an inevitable mix of Stirling castle, home to Scottish monarchs including the tragic Mary Queen of Scots who was almost destined to become the most powerful person in all of Europe, to the Eileen Donan castle, the world’s most photographed castle, locked between three sea-water lochs, and later on the Dun Vegan castle an important symbol of the McLeod clan’s power in the 13th century. Dun Vegan, we learn was popular for almost becoming Dun Vegas when a huge American corporation and Japanese corporation bid to buy out the mountain to make it into an amusement park.

But Scotland is not like in Hollywood! ranted Doug at half a chance; “how could Australia’s tallest dwarf (Mel Gibson) ever be cast as the real life over six-footer William Wallace?!”

But how does he know how tall William Wallace really was? Doug is quick to explain, tall swordsmen have tall swords, from the chin under Willy was measured to be at least of 6 feet. Similar miscasting in the portrayal of RobRoy, completes the grotesque distortion of Scottish Folklore in cinema.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was shot in GlenCoe, a walking haven and better known secret. I had travelled to storm country in the Bristish Isles to explore Scotland’s wealth of lochs (lochs are lakes, ranging from inland water filled ones to tidal seawater ones) beginning with Loch Scotland. We drove past the Grampean mountains, the Nevis Range, the Loch Ness (UK’s biggest water mass which we would revisit on our return journey), the picturesque loch-locked Eileen Donan castle, and then the remarkably ‘tollless’ Skye bridge into Skye. Once in Skye, we encountered the Cuillin mountains, before driving back to our respective accommodations.

The next day began with Doug pulling up after a drive along the Old man of Storr, behind the bride’s veil waterfall, forcing  us to dip our head, for seven years of bodily peace, he said, himself a rolling testament to fortunes of the flesh, under the ubiquitous waterfall reappearing in Canada, Australia, and other parts of the Christian world.

As if in cue, a storm started chasing us north.

take nothing back / but you can leave a gift for faeries of the bog 

I left behind a passion fruit in Fairy Glen, or Balnaknock, near Uig on the Trotternish peninsula. It’s where you made wishes. People walk bare feet like pilgrims of wonder, in spirals unwinding their minds of all troubles, and on return, thinking of things good to come, in the eerie but calming geological paradise possessed by faeries. Some leave gifts, but take nothing. No stone, not a blade of grass or it spells a bad omen, and has led to bodily fractures and grave vehicular mishaps in the past. We trekked the landslip of Quiriang.

Mountain biking, curling (throwing granite stones on targets on ice sheets) darts and snooker are the only games the Scots take pride in,  and hate talking about sports because they are “rubbish” (their favourite word) at team sports. Bitter from their almost win in 1978 (Argentina),  commentary replayed in their radios over and over. Andy Murray, however is a famous Scot tennis player at world number 4. It is at the passionate fringe, that these men of no sport, hoist their flags.

“It is not the size of a nation that is important, but the size of its ambition and of the contribution it can make to the world. Scotland is ready to meet that challenge” Alex Salmond, Leader of Scottish National Party and Scotland’s First Minister in The Economist, 17 November 2011

Scotland would have been the 5th richest oil producing country in the world surrounded as it was by the wealth of North Sea, Atlantic, and the Irish sea pouring into the Indian Ocean, if only it was independent. Will the Scots vote for devolvement in 2016? Doug will be glad for a more sustainable smaller country culturally and geographically different from the rest of the UK. First Minister Alex Salmand, seems confident, that Scotland is indeed ready for independence.

Travelling off season had its perks of lesser rush, giving the wild land an urgency. The pitfall was sometimes not being able to hike longer in wet windy weather, because the entire group would often want to stay in, and the driver unsure of the safety quotient in letting off ramblers to the fast flowing torrents of wind. These were the Western Isles, warmer than the far North, up at Orkney or Shetland. A heavy Viking influence in the northern islands did not mean these people are more Norse than Scottish, biological tests have proven they are as genealogically culturally and linguistically tied to other Scottish highlanders as Mainland Scotlanders are and they speak the same Gaellic too.

In the bar that evening, as we tuned into live music and some ceilidh, before and after the infamous Glasgow (Celtics) versus Glasgow (Rangers) football death match, betwixt which utter strangers told me in rapid verbal intercourse: “You are very fast”; “You don’t speak that fast” (as how they speak in Glasgow); “You have only Oriental friends?”; “You don’t have a Scottish boyfriend yet?”; “Are you okay?”; “You have lovely orange pants”; “You’re not fat.”; “You’re too happy to (want to) smoke”; and then “Intelligence test, fail!” When it turned midnight I cut a surprise chocolate cake and then moved on for drinks, pool playing, and sampling local cask ale with a set of new spirited friends. The final morning we bid bye unconditionally, moving back into our respective tours.

The drive back from Portree the largest settlement on Skye to Edinburgh the power capital was about 5 hours including pit stops at numerous cliffs, lochs, the hills and valleys, the picturesque and most voluminous water body in the UK  Loch Ness both at Fort William and Fort Augustus ports, the ride back into Cenral Highlands from Pitlochry a village by the longest river in the UK, the Tay river of a staggering 127 miles, our descent into Perth and then Edinburgh.

The Royal Standard flag above is the banner of the King of Scots,  made eponymous by the Red lion pubs that dot the Scottish suburbs and lowlands. Although we visited Taliskar Bay and the orginal Talisker distillery (Skye being the birthplace of this peat-smoked whiskey), the trip was in general devoid of beer stops, and the only liquid sunshine we guzzled on was rain (in local parlance)! While, the sun resembles whiskey in most parts of wintry Scotland.

When most of us thought London, the most commonly named city in the world is actually Aberdeen, also birthplace of the Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain. The second most common city name being Perth,  after Bertha, the  greek name for Green valley, and some will insist it is after the fast and furious river Perth flowing through the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

The journey back was delightful. Scotland with its colonial past and complex history, is alight with ancient marvels and modern inventions.  They invented Penicillin, the telephone, the steam engine.

“What did the Indians invent?” he asked me suddenly.

And I kept repeating, the zero. I couldn’t think of India right then, even my half-pretension that Scotland was a hangover of India’s lake city of Nainital from the newly created  state of Uttarakhand, was revised. The Highlands were so different, and the Hebrides, an expectation turner.

Ordinary landscape leaps out at you, in extreme climate, turning people stone Catholic at its extremities (in the Outer Hebrides and far north), spiritual, eccentric, fierce. The hills in Skye, the jaunty mix of Cuillins are likened to women, smooth and curvy as the Red Cuilins and sharp and pointed in the head as the black ridge Cuilins. We stormed past both ranges, weather not conducive to hiking just yet, and time did not permit such deviance.

No matter which part of the world you’re in, society judges you each day: who you brunch with and importantly, what you do for a living. The good news is that as trespassers, will not be prosecuted anywhere in Scotland. Doug is okay with being a tour guide for now, but also runs an online booking company alongside, to pander to his whim of working for something more than money, despite tapering losses. With the storm as a backdrop in the grip of heartbreaking scenery I was humbled yet another time, returning home with no steady answer to the forces of nature.

An interesting article by a Quercus author Peter May of the Lewis Trilogy (Isle of Lewis is north of Skye, in the Western isles but in the OUTER HEBRIDES) about “Guga Hunters”/and guga hunting

From Edinburgh and Glasgow a number of competitive operators run taxis, buses, lorries, bikes, and even hikes to the Isle of Skye, and depending on your personal requirement, time of the year, budget, and tour availability you can best make a personalised selection. Few names are Rabbies, Highland Explorers, Timberbush, GoScotland, etc.

From New Delhi there are daily flights operating to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Arundati Dandapani loves longer journeys in shorter periods of time and can be reached at

Travelling for a bookshop, reading for a destination

I travel towards books, and if I could, I would travelfor a living, towards books. This December, to get away from all thedistraction offered by myriad festivities, I set about scouting book couture, in the heart of the  Scottish highlands. 

I visited Aberfeldy in Highland Perthshire last week, to stop at UK’s independent bookshop of the year The Watermill. Home to three stories of books including a contemporary art studio at the top and cafe in the basement with a fireplace, the Watermill sees a daily quick turnover of travellers, readers and backpackers. Every floor churned my travelling juices. The by equal parts messily stacked and equal parts artsy decor with books overflowing from tables was attractive, when not a grim reminder of the price of estate. The ambiance was that of a gift shop’s, with everyone, Christmas shopping here. There were no discounts, but more variety in books than you could imagine in all of the Scottish Highlands here. Move over Scotch and chocolate, the average European wants a warm happy read at the end of a festive supper.  
Gift Books Signature Jamie Oliver!
International titles

Tintin mania and an iron chest

Books are the gateway to a city’s culture, economy, and industry. They drive a city. Bookstores in the UK I have visited so far have been mostly chains, high street retailers and the odd independent bookstore. The Watermill by far is the most picturesque and self contained store, with a gleefully sustainable turnaround of footfalls including roadside travellers, youngsters and seniors alike (although I did not notice any children and an entirely empty children’s book room), book club members, working men and artistes. A large section of the bookshop’s lists are devoted to travel books and unique indigenous travel books, guides and anthologies that are exciting and heartening to who wear their map on the sleeve. Titles that caught my eye separate from the Lonely Planet, Rough Guides or other commercially popular series, were travel accounts like: At the Loch of Green Corrie (Quercus), How to Climb Mont Blanc in a Skirt (One World), Map Addict (Collins) among several others. Uncluttered by festive decor, yet retaining the spirit of all season charm, this inspiring venue has been awarded 4 star badge by the Scottish Tourism Board for the Year 2011.   A complete must-visit for traveling art fans, serious tourists and bibliophiles. 

Bestsellers and prizewinners

Local Global Fare

Modern fiction and Seasons’ Greeting Cards

Hearth Warming

Art Studio and Exhibition

Audio Bookshelves

Art Titles from Phaidon Press, Aperture Foundation, etc. light is sourced by the watermill in function

Crime Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Young Adults

Cafe and Bakery: food served until 16:00 and bakes and drink until 16:30. You can lounge until bookshop hours 17:00.

Getting there
The train from Stirling to Pitlochry is about one hour and follows the route: 
Stirling-> Bridge of Allan -> Dunblane -> Gleneagles -> Perth – > Dunkeld -> Pitlochry

Pitlochry Station: Recycled Garbage man bin not an uncommon sight in Roundabout Crossings all over Scotland

Pitlochry tracks

Walk to the bus stand on the main street in Pitlochry and wait to board 23C to Aberfeldy which includes a transfer of bus at Ballinluig . The second bus (also 23C but labelled ‘Aberfeldy’) takes you straight to Aberfeldy. 

Detours after Ballinluig: If, however, you want more value for your entire bus return ticket, you can get off at Grandtully from Ballinluig and arrive at Loch Tay (you’ll see roadsign ‘GRANDTULLY’) so stay tuned to the road because the driver does not know you are unfamiliar with the route and won’t stop unless you warn him in time). At Grandtully, visit the Highland Chocolatier opposite the bus stop 🙂 and relish in the delicacies of homemade factory chocolate. 

GRANDTULLY: LOCH TAY and a Weak Bridge

Opposite Loch Tay and bus stop: Scottish Homemade Chocolate Center rolled in real fruit, spices and malts too many!

The bus from here on is infrequent, and by the hour (every 45 minutes or so), so time your hour to savor meaningful moments in the Legends Coffeehouse, or watching films on the making of cocoa and the world map of chocolate. Once done, hop back onto the bus with the same ticket and look out for the Dewar (pronounced dew-aar) Distillery. Request the driver to drop you here, and  run (the door for the tour closes  at 15:00 in the winter). Students get a whiskey tour for as cheap as 7 pounds, here, and there are more blending experiences that aren’t too expensive and quite memorable. Now that you’ve settled in with the warm fuzziness of  malts, straighten up and bolt along the road, keep going straight (there is only one main road!) until you hit Chapel road, and continue on straight through the City Center of Aberfeldy, cross the square, and suddenly on a meandering right lane downhill you’ll  spot a postcard pretty Stone dwelling, with the sign The Watermill. You have reached your destination!  

An offshoot lane from the main street, miss-able if you’re not looking

Caveat: Buses are filled with locals and schoolchildren. Tourists rely less on public transport and arrive in couples or groups at the most and that too in private vehicles or group hires; but if you’re solo and can sync your times with the pressure of public transport timing, you might just succeed with flying colours! People are calm and helpful if you get talking nicely, and won’t bother you because they know you know your path. 

Why Stirling: I live and study in Stirling, Scotland’s ancient capital.  Trapped in the love triangle with Edinburgh to the east and Glasgow to the west, all my travel is based out of this town that homes about 40000.   

An Indian city equivalent: This might sound cliched but I do sometimes see Nainital in Scotland, a country as colonially influenced, as pristine, and as fiercely independent in couture and consciousness. Uttarakhand, UK license plates are all that are missing. 

Image courtesy: The Gazetteer for Scotland (2011)

Also, even in this age of the (free) internet: Culture can never be free. Aye. So you better be sure what you want, exactly. It might very well be worth the expense. 

Eleven Kilometers and Disgruntled Craftsmanship

Sometimes i walk, wishing, there was an odometer on me. Impromptu long distance walks in four inch platforms, are worth recording, the measure of your anger, sadness, desperation. This is not a health blog, this is not even a health endeavor. Had it been, i would be more fit, more glowing. Less primitive, less 40s. I am trying to cope with these convulsions i get  every three minutes. Life in the city is too fast paced and too simplistic, smells of candy, condoms and condominiums. Gutters and sewage problems. Fat water bills, and bad plumbing. Hungry builders, hungrier ministers.

Living in the city, inside crowded neighborhoods, and outside jabbering streets, everything is so ugly. big fat consumers, dirtying this earth with their sins.

i want to live among owls. and HOOT, with startling depth and clarity.

Distance from Tardeo, my workplace to Bandra, where i live = roughly 11 kilometers, i walked it all in a cherry red shirt, and crisp smoky trousers, heels as mentioned before. With a bag weighing roughly 2 kilos.

The route was thus: Atria Mall, avoid the bridge, walk under, walk left, straight until you hit Haji Ali. From there turn right at the big signal (refered to as the biggest, slowing signal in all of Bombay), then keep walking in the direction of the building lights. The sea is on your left, lit up by the traffic, as always.  Fishing boats parked quietly. Keep walking till you hit the road that brings you in to WORLI. you’ll see the Aarey Milk Dairy, on your right, and a strip, a promenade, a beachwalk on the left again, that looks like Nariman point but IS NOT. You follow it, and it will take you to the Worli-Bandra sea link. But this is not where you ought to go, because this bride like bridge, is Bombay’s beauty spot– Only four wheelers are allowed on this link, and toll costs Rs 50 one way, and Rs 75 for both ways. So i obviously avoid this very tempting bridge (it had seven fly cameras when i last went on it). Kept walking straight until i hit a signal, 2 kilometers away,  turned left as the road winded towards Prabha Devi, but it was still Worli i was walking in. Then i hit the never ending Veer Savarkar Marg, before which there was a fork, and i took the middle lane and carried on to Shivaji Park. Here i stopped to pull out the juice i was carrying in my bag inside a cafe coffee day that was closing up for the night. I drank my drink, and then moved on ahead along Shivaji Park, crossed the Mayoral Bungalow, and the huge swimming pool coming up (being dug out to be ready next year, i even stopped to ask the guards for subscription fees, and he gave me an ugly stare) on its left. You crave conversations you cannot carry on cellphones in such situations. You become closer more in tune with the city.

Then i kept walking, hit DADAR west, where the friend i had argued with earlier in the evening, was probably getting drunk with a bunch of his cronies and also getting into some police hassle (as i later found out–as we compared notes on his adventure versus mine.) I hit Prabha Devi, the Siddhi Vinayak Temple (famous landmark, Hindu crowdpuller–read roadblock on Tuesdays).  From there i walked on and reached Mahim! This was nice news. Bandra came up soon, and although my feet were deeply sore, i could only smile surreally, beyond pain, like a Buddha.

My feet weren’t comfortable. Think i should switch to wearing  sneakers and tee shirts all day everyday. However, this will not be allowed at my corporate workplace. You have to look smart, says my smart colleague. Everyday. Girls in skirts (i’ve stopped being one of those long back now) even those in jeans rolled up, make some men jealous .  or genuinely embarassed??

The next day i reached office perky early and still hungover from longdistance. Coffee looked after the rest of my day.

when even the chinese restaurants have shutters down means the city is finally in snores

i feel pretty mad. and creepy.  i feel more colored than skilled, manytimes. Will this change, or is that a sad trend among middle of the road expatriates–those who belonged nowhere, and went everywhere (their feet took them).

letting sleeping dog lie

blood might be thick, but water is what i want

When a “boyfriend”  “breaks up” with you over a swimming pool, you realize what a frog in the well you have been.

Boys fight over your time, men don’t. Men cry over it maybe, and strong men suffer it, but the tranvestites embrace it. we are all transvestites. Or did i mean, hermaphrodites.

Every day i dream of more water.  In my blood.

Strength is so different from aggression. 

ever heard about getting fat from nothing.  insults make you fat. pride, envy, disgust.

 blind existence makes you burst.

goodbye. it’s a very old night.

Rough Waters?

Finding a swimming pool is difficult in a new city. Unless you are the member of some club, or somebody’s son or daughter who is the member of a club. And clubs have expensive (and long-term) membership fees, leave alone long queues.

Swimming a lot, fills up your hunger. It makes you a more radiant person sometimes. A very tired person, at other times.

Swimming in hotels is recommended only if you are staying with somebody or stay there yourself. Some complain of allergies from unused, unclean pools, stagnant waters and badly maintained bathrooms that the staff use for taking their baths, and urinating. Maybe they should put signboards in Shower rooms, “Peshaab Mana hai” (peeing disallowed here). 

Conceirges have hectic lives. Especially those who take their jobs 24*7 with them. The Concierge Association of India reprints a Bombay map for its guests every 3 months.

So i finally found a swimming pool that is part of a club that charges monthly,  but this is still cheaper than commuting a whole different direction to use a hotel’s swimming pool even when it was on ‘them.’

Give and take, is such enormous stagecraft and requires 24*7 alertness, and discipline to a flaw.   

i hate fear. the fear of asking for what you deserve. The fear of talking what you know and know well without being cowered down by (surreal) vibes in the vicinity.

here’s to Water. and some fearlessness please.  

swim, don’t hide.

Holi Way to Start

They were burning Holika on a Chulha last night. And all i could see was cigarette stubs being used where pine cones or even peanuts would have held better flames. Holi greetings and abuses fused in  the familiar evening sounds and the muezenin. And, all week right up until today, i didn’t see any Mumbai’s shops run riot with color, gulal, or  festivity. Not even city papers going ballistic over HOLI SALES, like they most surely did in Delhi.  Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan. Well that’s the North. And this is… the West.  The Ghats start here. 

I am a Ghatti now. (or my friends will call me that). And because i once took a bet with my landlord on a whole month’s rent, that I could and would walk from Bandra to Lonavala–approx 88 km. Lonavala is where he was building his resort, and since (italian) marble flowed in his veins not blood, as he proudly gushed, he had offered me to go to Lonavala on his bike, but i didn’t have one, and I missed driving, so i proposed this walking bet, he smirked with unbelief , and i excited at the long mindless task of another big muscle building trek. (Ever since, i always joke, that not NASIIIIR but i am the real MUSSELMAN– MUSCLEMAN. ) 

i walked on steady as the tortoise without stop and finally got steamed out at Panvel itself.  From ear to ankle ached.  Nevertheless, i had just  covered a decent 45 kms on simple leg! The journey had begun at 3:00 AM and ended 7:00AM, (note i had a bagpack with me–but regular hikers would probably carry more)

BUT i broke journey at Panvel, foggy from the seven oclock darkness, i waited on the express highway wildly waving at every passing truck and Volvo, headed to Lonavala (they all headed there and beyond, mostly). One stopped for me, and Chauhan the bus driver, said he was okay with me sitting in the front, but not more than one passenger. He then said that his bus was imported from Germany, but not his passengers unfortunately. This driver of eleven years and i chatted about the roads he had taken, the difference between Delhi and Bombay (everyone’s topic of conversation with me). He felt my eyes hover on the steering controls, as he maneuvered the highway, his wide bodied mass, which he suddenly, surprisingly, handed over. That unflinching trust in a woman’s skill and mind, even if it was his tiredness, you will almost never find in urbanites. He was a Rajput from Ahmedabad and began his journey from the hub of all gold–Rajkot, driving through Ahmedabad and up into Pune everyday, earning 30,000 Rs monthly.

because the sun rises in lonavala

Boy what a feeling. Steering a whole bus on the Pune Expressway was another kind of liberation. Because we were driving into sunrise. The broad Pink sunsrise of Lonavala. Excitement gushed back into the nature of my journey for the next couple of hours as i reached lonavala, got off, walking, searching, among nothing but the breeze and morning clarity, for Magganlal chikkis and fudge to parcel home, to Delhi.  That done, i went to a dhaba for some much awaited  Poori aloo with coconut chutney.

Google directions were handy alright, but i think the road signs did a better job.

Heart full from Lonavala’s morning,  i started walking back from Lonavala to Khandala station, on the tracks, feeling as much Aamir Khan, as Aamir Khan probably did, in Ghulam.

At the station, i met the Peru-waali (guava seller, guavas are locally called Perus, i learn, just as Onions are called Kaanda in Marathi). She had a basket of bright green Perus and was kicked that i carried several in my bag already. She asked where i was coming from where i was going. She threw back her basket and guffawed, said i reminded her of “Mandakini!”  i didnt have a ticket yet to take the train to Panvel,  so she thrust a bagful of Perus in my empty hands. Get on the next train with me thats coming in from Hyderabad, get off at Kalyan with me, and noone will ask you for a ticket.  If you see the TT, hide. I got off the national train with tremendous green Perus rolling along my thighs and spilling out of pockets. Then i bought a 25 Rs. ticket to Dadar. I love train travel ex Mumbai,  for just the humble costs.

The thing to watch out for on early dawn walks (late sunrises post 7 am, is the first sign of awakening that you are in the Western ghats!) is muggers on the loose; I kept dodging two motorcyclists from one bus stop to another, i wasn’t carrying too much money, but had they taken my cellphone, it would have been bad enough, worse. but the STRAY DOGS were the scariest, stealthy stalkers sniffing your ass, panting lecherously hard on your heels.

A cup of Tulsi Ginger tea (a gift–i never purchase tea or coffee, always depending on generous gifts from those who frequent theaters, hotels, planes, offices, pantries, out of necessity and/or leisure etc. etc. ), Hottea, Pottee, before i go to bed, or before i never go to bed.

Did I tell you everytime i don’t go swimming (all of winter, and most of the past 2 months in Bombay), i feel dead. And i feel like crying.  Maybe that’s what was also wrong with today. it’s not like i’m a great athlete or such, just like Japan’s Murakami who self trained to be a long distance runner to cope with the stressful (insufferable) writing life, I fancy, my long distance splashing goes slightly deeper than the boring vigor in say, 150 laps in a 25 m pool without stopping once. how ridiculously small can you get.

Another little tip: never be afraid of wanting what you want.  It’s the only way out, sometimes.

Bipasha (not to be confused with Bollywood superstar) says it best, Love yourself.

And love your calves, baby.