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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Images that linger- Lending a Helping hand





Lending a helping hand

Its really all about the images that stay on your mind.As also the ones that pop up in that same mind time and time again.

Of late, I've made the effort to revisit  many of the photographs I've taken over the last couple of years and pulled out a few that I think about every now and then.


This photograph of a father and daughter taken sometime back in Muscat certainly qualifies as one such.I think I was very lucky to have clicked this shot and even luckier that it was on a bright morning.


Look closely and you will see that the essence of a parent child relationship comes through in this one- the readiness with which this father lends a helping hand and the ease and trust with which this child grasps it.


My quest  for more such meaningful photographs will continue and hope this inspires you to pull out some of your treasured ones too. 


Remember, every picture really and truly, does tell its own story..You just have to be able to understand what it says...


Monday, July 7, 2014

Norway-The country that has always fascinated and intrigued me and the umpteen reasons why I want to visit it


One of life's greatest pleasures is to be able to see and experience new places, understand different cultures and appreciate all that the rest of the world has to offer.  Which is exactly  why travelling is such a pleasurable experience for me and with the passage of time, this itch to travel and see more of the world seems to be growing stronger. So when I came across this opportunity to participate in this competition

Skyscanner Title

I just couldn't wait to put on my thinking cap and get on with it!  

To go back to where my love for it all began, I decided to  revisit this very blog and locate an entry dated Tuesday, Aug 2, 2011. 

"I lay curled up in a corner of the den, book in hand, with just one table lamp on.Nothing else mattered except finishing that particular book-If I could help it, all in one go! Completely lost in another world- one of fantasy where goblins, trolls, fairies, The Famous Five, Secret Seven and so many other fascinating characters resided.This is what comes to mind when I think of myself -as far back in time as I can reach into the inner recesses of my mind.

Did I learn something, did I grow as an individual, did I feel better about myself? All these were things that didn't seem to matter then. But with the wisdom of passing time and years, I know the answer.

YES I DID- to all of them....

Reading is undoubtedly a key factor in shaping one's mind and overall personality. So, all I can say is -encourage the younger generation to read, and you will be doing the right thing for them.Forever ...

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Re reading it, I note that goblins, trolls and fairies featured right on top of that list and this is the point where I would like to bring in my life long fascination for Norway. One of my all time favourite books as a child was 'Norwegian Fairy tales' by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen  and Jørgen Moe and by now I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised if I told you that I still have it. Even though I'm an adult now, whenever I think of Norway, I can very easily go back to being that same little girl, who loved the Norwegian fairy tales and everything else about Norway. 



My dream destination, Beautiful Norway

(Image courtesy- One big photo.com )
Moving on to a more recent story, I signed up for Instagram as http://instagram.com/sunaina_serna_ahluwalia sometime back and one of my earliest and most active 'followers' is a lady called  Waree Lyngstaed ( Wareean) from Norway, who lives in Eidalsosen. I promptly followed her back and that is where I get to see the stunning photographs of Norway that she puts up. Whenever  I 'like' or comment on them, she always asks me when I plan to visit Norway and get to meet her as well as see these beautiful sights. 

My answer to her is always, ' One day.... soon"...



Wareean  with her flowers

The name 'Norway' means 'Path to the North'. With a geography of over 240, 000 islands and a coastline which stretches over 64, 000 miles, there is absolutely no possibility of not having enough to see or do.To top that, its one of the wealthiest as well as the most peaceful countries in the world according to the Global peace Index.Already  many good reasons and counting..

So in addition to hunting for trolls in Trolltunga when I go hiking up those mountains, 
What if I actually came face to face with one?

The  epic Trolltunga or Troll's tongue
( Pic courtesy Open Minded travel.com )

and meeting Waareean,  I would like to:
Watch the Midnight sun in all its glory -also leaving me all day to fill up with exciting things to do.

Imagine the thought of a 24 hour day filled with things to do, see and experience!

Climb right on top of at least one lighthouse.

Compare versions of 'The Scream'by Edward Munch  (among the world's most iconic paintings) at the Norway's National Gallery in Oslo, with the one at the Munich museum, later in my travels.

Climb the Stairway to Heaven, the world's longest stairway.


Gasp in wonder at the fascinating Northern Lights. 

The Northern Lights -Unforgettable 
 As an eye witness account described it, "Experiencing them is a jaw-dropping moment. It reminds me of a night rainbow, with clear bands of vivid green streaked across the sky with light hues of pink and violet at the edges.Even if you need just one reason to go the Norway, this is it! 
So since, seeing is believing, I would love to see them and then describe them in my own words.

Find the perfect bouquet in Oslo's flower market.

Ride a helicopter through the fjords.

Enjoy the food and drink and write about in in my other blog,  
Food For Thought-http://sunainasahluwalia.blogspot.com/ .

This is a blog where a blog where I post tidbits combining my love for food, travel, writing, photography and art.  And sometimes, real 'Food For Thought"

So I plan to start my first day with 'brunost' and toast for breakfast and move on to other typically Norwegian food treats later in the day. Brunost is a brown cheese with a sweet, yet somewhat sharp flavour with notes of caramel which is traditionally cut into wafer thin slices with a cheeseslicer and eaten on bread, toast or crisp bread. This cheese is also used in sauces to go with game and venison, giving such sauces a more subtle, caramel taste.

Lunch would probably be a grilled version of fabulous local fish like Salmon, reiker and haddock.

I would then try out the fabulous Norwegian dessert called 'Mulketrem', which is a combination of Cloudberries with whipped cream, then 
Delicious Mulketrem

top it up with the very potent, national drink, Aquavit.


Drive through the world's longest tunnel, Laredestain tunnelen,which is 25 kms long.

See the Royal Palace,the  Ibsen Museum, Viking ship museum and visit the Adventure Parx's Theme Park.








Incomparable beauty and that cabin!
Check out the adorable fishermen's cabins which are everywhere and try to spend some time in one  of them.

This post is a part of Skyscanner travel wizard activity at BlogAdda.com


HOW TO MAKE ALL THIS POSSIBLE?

I could go on and on, but will now move on to the more practical side of things- Travel, ticketing and accomodation will be the largest chunk and based on that,  I can decide how much exactly I will need to spend on my food, tours etc.



This is exactly where a magical aid, Skyscanner comes in to my rescue-Skyscanner Title

I am very aware of the fact that I only have Rs 1 lakh to spend so I plan to make the best possible use of that money. Since I plan to travel from Muscat where I am based,  I looked up all possible options on Skyscanner. 

Looking for the most economical option, I came up with this combination in August. 


My flight plan from Muscat to Oslo

Sadly, there are no direct flights from Muscat to Oslo but that really isn't a problem as far as I'm concerned. I chose an Air Berlin flight partly operated by Air Eithad  with two stops at TXL and AUH -(Abu Dhabi and Berlin)

The cost for this Return ticket is 572 Euros which is about 46, 00 INR.




Travel planning over, now I looked for  a hotel. 


Deciding to stay in a centrally located , comfortable place, (ideally with breakfast included )and good value for money, I  chose the Rica Travel hotel.


Skyscanner came to the rescue once again and by comparing prices and looking for the best deal, I was very pleased to find this option for 4 nights including taxes and fees. Best of all, it has a complimentary breakfast as well.

The very special deal that I managed, thanks to my magical aid Skyscanner, is RO 231 for 4 nights. 

That would mean INR 36, 036 taking up my total expenditure to :

INR 82, 036.


My choice- The centrally located Rica Travel Hotel 

This hotel has got some excellent reviews and scrolling through them, I could see the word 'excellent' popping up a couple of times as well. 

Did that make me feel happy? I'd say a loud, YES!









The beautifully done up room for 4 nights


With travel and hotel expenses that leaves me 
with INR 17, 694 in my kitty.


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From this point, I've decided to simplify it for myself.



I plan to use those INR 17, 694 to cover my transportation costs and will arrange to buy the tickets for museums, galleries, food, hiking and anything over and above the allocated amount of Rs.1 lakh on my own.


As I come to the end of this blog post, I would like to say a big 'Thank you' to Blogadda as well as Skyscanner. I really couldn't have done this piece without the huge inspirational incentive provided by both of you in making me take that 'one step' further towards  my cherished life long trip to Norway.







Monday, June 16, 2014

Bitter Sweet - A Short Story by me



Raveena sat at her favourite seat by the window and watched the birds at play. She felt happy as she watched them  in the little bird house she had set up just outside her first floor window. Sure, it had been an effort, going to the market to look for that particular type of wood, then calling the carpenter to come and do it up, just the way she had wanted. In fact, it had taken her many weeks of research before she had been able to zero in to exactly how she wanted that birdhouse to be designed. It had to look bright, lively and inviting so that the birds would come and now  the birdseed and water she put into it every day had become the highlight of her day.

Raveena was lonely. In fact, if she was to be brutally honest with herself, she was extremely lonely. While on the subject, she may as well concede that she could blame no one but herself for this situation. Pride was a terrible thing and it was only because of her pride that she now found herself alone at this window looking out desperately in the hope that  the little birds would stop by at her little birdhouse for some birdseed or water and on a lucky day,  a couple of them might have a little bath. That would make them stay on a little bit longer and she would then have their company for some more time.

Watching the birds at play
(Pic from the net) 

Raveena was fifty five years old and well aware that the best years of her life had been  left behind. On the rare occasion when she really allowed herself to look closely in the mirror, she knew that she looked far older. The lines around her eyes were deepening by the day and her lips  getting thinner by the month. Yes, she tried to colour her hair every now and then, but invariably, the roots  showed  before she could make the effort to go through the motions of colouring her hair again. Many a time she wondered   why on earth should she continue to do that ? Honestly, who was ever going to look at her again? By the word ‘look’ , what she meant was who would ever sit down with her, hold her hand and tell her that he loved her, the way Rishabh had done?


Rishabh, her husband of twenty years who had died  so suddenly. Rishabh who was the light of her life and with whom she had been in love with for almost five years before she had finally agreed to marry him. It wasn’t that he hadn’t asked, it was simply because she had responsibilities, a younger brother  who had to complete his education and  get a job before she could  think of getting married. And so she had continued to work at her reasonably paid job as a telephone operator at a well known company where the job security was good, as was the fact that housing was part of her package. It was a modest two bedroom bungalow within the company’s own housing colony and her younger brother, Anish who was then studying for his graduate degree, lived there  with her. It had been a stroke of real luck when their  ‘Maasi’( mother’s younger sister) had decided to legally adopt Reshma, their youngest sister who was  only three when they had arrived in  Delhi after facing  the horrors of Partition in 1947.


As for her own future, the reality that stared her in the face everyday was that the birds and sometimes the squirrels which came up the window sill were destined to be her day to day companions. But was that really all that her life was meant  to be? After all,  she had her daughter Devika-Devika who had been instrumental in bringing her to this point- one where she waited for the phone to ring, day after day and sometimes even week after week. OK so it did ring once in a while- it might be Mrs. Kapoor calling  to enquire if she could bring her some groceries since she was going for her weekly shopping, or it might even be Devika who had now moved to Singapore with her husband Naveen, a Marketing Consultant  working in a large Indian conglomerate overseas. For sometime, Raveena had thought that this was truly a match made in heaven. Naveen came from a good family. His father was a retired Army General and they lived in a nice home in Chandigarh. With only one sister who worked in the Indian Administrative Service and was currently posted in Delhi, it had all seemed so right.


Until the day that Devika had said terrible things to her ‘Mamaji’, Raveena’s own brother, Anish. And that was a subject that she simply refused to let herself dwell upon. It was all over for she had sided with Devika, and refused to listen to Anish’s point of view when he had called to tell her about Devika’s misbehavior and that had signaled  the end. A complete break from  Anish who had repeated asked her to introspect, see what the reality was and then take a judgement call. Yes, he acknowledged that Devika was her only child and as such Raveena ought to think about her first, but had urged her to advise Devika that she was making a huge mistake. Also that he had always had the  best intentions as far as both of them  were concerned and  would continue to do so. “It was all upto her,” his words still rang in her ears,  but God alone knew what had possessed her that day. She could only see red as far as Anish was concerned and all she could think was that she must side with  Devika- Rishabh’s and her child, and one towards whom she had a moral duty under any circumstances. What she had completely forgotten in those horrible moments when she had said mean things to Anish was that only he  had stood by her side when Rishabh had died suddenly and his family had vowed to have nothing to do with her or  Devika ever again.


The simple fact was that Rishabh had gone against his entire family, in particular, his father Diwan Harmandar Rai  who had wanted his only son and heir to marry a girl of their choice- someone who would stay with them in their palatial home in Bhopal and live the life that all the women in their family had lived since time immemorial. To be fair, Raveena acknowledged that way of life wasn’t all bad, in fact to most other women it would have been synonymous with ‘having arrived’  in life. With a battalion of servants at their beck and call, diamonds, and all the best possible clothes and material goods that could be ordered from anywhere in the world, being Rishabh’s wife and living with his parents would have been the ideal solution for Raveena at that point in her life. But she had stood resolute and when she had told Rishabh that she would like to continue with her job  in order to ensure that Anish completed his education and sat for the Civil Services exam, Rishabh had completely understood and agreed. If it wasn’t enough that he had waited five years for her already till she finally accepted his proposal, he had even agreed to living in her accommodation after marriage  as well.


And it was this decision of his that had cost him his relationship with his parents. There had been a terrible scene at their family home in Bhopal where Raveena had accompanied him to meet his parents in the vain hope that they might actually be able to work out something with his family. But Diwan Harmandar Rai  had absolutely refused,  and with a few measured and curt words, had asked his son to make a choice. Yes, if he must, he could marry Raveena but she would have to live with them and blend in with their way of life and living. There was no other option and when Rishabh tried to make him see his point of view, he came up against a brick wall, one that was unyielding and absolutely refused to give way. For some odd reason, Raveena couldn’t really recall much of what happened at the house after that. Her next clear memory was one of sitting in a train compartment facing a white lipped, determined Rishabh who  held her hand and reassuringly squeezed it every now and then, while she desperately tried to think things through.


In a word Rishabh told her, by making his choice to marry and stay with her, he had been ’disinherited’: And she remembered thinking with something  close  to hysteria, that sort of a situation only arose in movies, but this was real life. … .


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With a start she brought herself back to reality, had the phone rung while she had been lost in her reverie? So far, she had refused all of Devika’s entreaties to get herself a mobile telephone. She hardly ever went out in any case she had  a landline. Moreover, she told herself wryly, who would ever call her? Not after all that had transpired. With the stand that she had taken against her brother she had also succeeded in cutting off her relationships with Reshma and Ronit , Anish’s children and her niece and nephew. As for  her sister in law Reema , there was  never any doubt about whose side she would take. Reema who had done so much and caredfor  her during her two surgeries, more than anyone in the world ever would. In fact, during her hysterectomy when she was unable to afford proper nursing and aftercare support,  it had been Reema who had invited her into their home and made her feel comfortable and welcome  for the next two months. As for her own daughter Devika,  she flew in for three days in the first month and then exactly two days in the next. By then she had joined the Sales department of a reputed hotel in Singapore and was trying her best to climb up the ladder and it from what it looked like, even if the job entailed taking up her nights as well as her days, she seemed willing to do it...And the only time that Veena had asked her as to why she needed to do work maniacally when her husband was doing so well, she had answered with a cryptic, ‘‘I guess we all have our own compulsions.”


Then almost in a whisper, so softly that Veena had to strain herself to catch the words, she had added, “And some of us have our secrets too.”


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Had it or hadn’t it, had it or hadn’t that phone rung? What if it had been Anish calling and she had missed the call? What if he had called when she had dozed off in her chair watching the squirrels at play yesterday afternoon?


He worked from 10 am to 5 pm and had his lunch break from 1 to 2 pm. During this period he usually stayed  in the office itself and after eating his healthy lunch which Reema sent daily, tried to catch up on a bit of reading or caught up with pending phone calls and miscellaneous other things. How did she know his routine to a T? Well, he was her younger brother after all and someone whose passion, discipline and dedication to his work as well as to his family she had always admired. As she had admired his commitment to helping her during those terrible days after Rishabh had died of a heart attack and Devika had been a very young girl. If it hadn’t been for Anish, Reema and their children Reshma and Ronit who had looked out for them in every possible way, including financial help on many occasions, she would never have been able to put Devika through college, which then enabled her to find her a  job in a prestigious company in New Delhi. Even more, it was the moral, mental and financial support that Anish and his family had extended before, during and after Devika’s marriage that had been the rock she had been able to lean on.


So what had been that awful trigger that had changed things for all of them forever and turned their lives inside out and upside down? Forcing herself to face the ugly truth she admitted that it had been Devika’s husband Naveen’s insistence that they sell off her home to a commercial builder a hefty profit. According to Naveen and  his calculations, they would make a ‘killing’ if they followed his advice. He had it all set up- they would sell her home to a builder who would then knock it down. In return he would give Raveena another apartment as well as one of the five flats that would be made on this very spot. To him it was all so simple, Raveena would be comfortable for life as would Devika and himself.

That was when the first doubt had insidiously made it’s way into Raveena’s head? Could that be the real reason why Naveen had married Devika in the very first place? Because he had already evaluated the potential of this house? But when she had tried to reason with Devika going so far as to tell her  that this place held a very special place in her heart because this was the nest  that she and Rishabh had put in all their savings into It was also the nest that Devika had been lucky enough to come into and be  loved. and nurtured. But it was almost as if she was speaking to a stone because Devika would hear of no other option. All she kept telling her mother was, “But Ma, just think about how comfortably set up for life we will all be. “

And that had been that. Till Anish got to hear about it. He had called Raveena and told her not to rush into taking a decision and  had advised her to rationally think it all through. That was when Devika had decided to take matters in her own hands and have a word with her Mamaji. Or in her own words ’Take the bull by the horns, for who is he to decide for us, any longer?’


Raveena hadn’t quite liked the hard look on her daughter’s face at the time and had tried to stop her. All to no avail and later that evening, it really was too late. Devika had said some terrible things to Anish and it had ended with Anish asking her to leave his home. With that , all the ties of love, warmth and respect that had tied them till that day were cut forever. Devika and Naveen had their way- the house was sold, she herself got a  plush new apartment in its place while Devika and Naveen got one in the old place as well as all the returns of the sale, bar a cheque for Rs 10  lakhs that Naveen had handed over to her with a smug look on his face. “Mummy see how well we have done for ourselves ” was what he had said and at that  moment she suddenly realized what a fool she had been.


But pride, stubborn pride kept her tied down she just couldn’t pick up the phone to call Anish and say how sorry she was, Even worse, Devika believed she had been right and both of them went back home to Singapore while she stayed on in Delhi with her birds, her squirrels and her intense loneliness.

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Suddenly, Raveena couldn’t bear it any longer. She was just going to have to believe that the phone had rung and that it really had been Anish who had called. And somehow, she had missed that call- So she would call him back. With trembling fingers, she dialed his office number, the same one which she had dialed for many years except  the last three.


His authoritative yet gentle ‘Hello“ brought tears to her eyes. Tears which had been suppressed for so long  overflowed and trickled over and with that she was freed. Freed  from the chains of pride and foolishness that had kept her tied down for so long. But those tears wouldn’t let her speak. Moments passed and then it almost seemed as if Anish was going to hang up. But she couldn’t allow that to happen, not having come this far.


She managed a choked “Hello” and in a flash her Anish asked, “Raveena Didi, is that you? Tell me, it is, isn’t it?”


“Yes Anish it’s me,” she replied and then knew that she wasn’t imagining it, he was indeed happy to hear her. Correction, he sounded delighted to hear her.


“Its been too long” he said and with that it all ceased to matter. All that mattered was that they were back in touch..


“Will you have tea with me after work this evening?” she asked.


“You bet Didi! You couldn’t stop me even if you tried!”

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Looking around her kitchen she could see that there really wasn’t much by way of groceries. She was a frugal  eater and since she was the only one at home, her needs really weren’t too many. So what could she serve with the tea? It would have to be ‘Shahi Tukra’ the dish that she made really well= moreover, Anish had always loved it!, She had bread at home and checking the drawers she saw that most of the other ingredients for this  Indian version of a bread pudding were thankfully available.


She hadn’t made it for quite a while, so she decided to look up the recipe from her  notebook. Opening it, she read..


Ingredients

1 litre milk

4 slices bread, cut into 4.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup ghee
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon saffron
2 pods cardamom
Almonds and pistachios, finely chopped

Method

Make the ‘rabri’ for the dish by boiling the milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan on medium heat. Boil the milk till it is reduced to half  After reduction, add in the sugar and cardamom to the milk and stir well. Turn off the heat and allow the milk to cool.
Boil half cup of sugar in half cup water and add the saffron. Stir till sugar dissolves and the water comes to a boil. Turn  heat to low and simmer the syrup until it reaches a thread consistency. In a medium sized pan, pour ghee and shallow fry the bread pieces till golden brown.
Soak  the fried bread slices in sugar syrup for  half a minute and place them in a serving platter. Pour the ‘rabri over the bread pieces. Garnish with almonds and pistachios. Serve hot or cold.
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She followed the recipe to a T and the dish turned out exactly how she wanted it with a beautiful golden brown colour. A mouth watering aroma wafting through the house made the moment even more poignant. She was going to meet her brother after three long years and she had prepared his favourite delicacy  Getting the water ready for the tae she went to get dressed. Looking back at the table she smiled. It was all just so.

It was while she was doing her hair that it struck her, her first massive and fatal heart attack. But even as the life ebbed out of her body, she smiled. She knew that Anish would come and whenever he did, the ‘Shahi Tukra’ would be lying on  the table.

Waiting just for him…