A French Affair

I will never forget my visit to Paris this summer. After having a fantastic week in Switzerland, we were all excited to explore this cosmopolitan capital city of France. From a week in Mountains and lakes, coming to Boulevards and Bridges, I personally quite liked the contrasting characteristics of Switzerland and Paris. While the former takes your breath away with its peaceful nature, Paris sets your adrenaline high the moment you get on your feet.

“Dear, It’s afternoon…I think you should tone down your Make-up”,  a rather quick comment come from my husband.

“No way, after all we are in Paris, the fashion capital of the world, itna make up to banta hai“, I smirked. I am sure Da Vinci had said something similar to Mona Lisa, hence the smirk/smile.

Trust me, no matter how expensive dress you wear or what kind of make up you put on, you can not match up with the fashionable crowd in Paris. It was June and the weather was sunny and unusually hot. I literally had to wash my face before reaching Eiffel Tower or the pics would had come out to the likes of an advertisement of a lost lady.

“I told you so”, comes another quick comment from hubby dear.

“Whatever”, I frowned.

Paris they say, is the city of Romance. Adventure, Architecture and Culture too. Though me and husband were all in for the adventure, architecture and culture minus romance!! The mood was salvaged by the positive bright vibes of the day outside. The streets in Paris are always springing with life. Multiple cafes with extended chairs and tables on the pavements with street artists at every nook and corner are playing or performing for your attention. The city is home to the world’s finest and most luxurious fashion designers and cosmetics, such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent, L’Oréal, Clarins, etc. If Mona Lisa went shopping here at Champs Elysees, there would had been no mystery left behind her smile as she would had not been smiling but grinning from ear to ear adorning at least five bags of her favorite cosmetics.

Surrounding the banks of the Seine River, Paris has a way of romancing visitors with its elegant beauty and magical ambience. Monuments like the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame,  Arc de Triomphe, Sainte-Chapelle grace the city and make it incomparable world wide. We completely enjoyed walking  up and down on The Champs Elysees, which by the way is pronounced nothing as it is read. Sitting at the high point in Paris, the Basilique Sacré-Coeur has a special aura. The Esplanade that leads up to the church is a popular area for people to hang out and is often graced by very talented street musicians. The Bohemian spirit of Montmartre is still found in its charming squares and cobblestone streets. Many wonderful artists at the square make lifelike portraits with  impeccable art. We had our kids sketched by one of the gentleman.

After couple of days in this lovely city, while walking on Pont Alexandre III, Paris’s most elegant and grand bridge, we finally decided to visit Louvre Museum and find out the mystery behind the smile of Mona Lisa ourselves. The large crowds outside the museum confirmed that no one goes back from Paris without a visit to the Louvre. Its huge and surely would had taken few weeks if we wanted to see all of it. Our target was set, we wanted to see the wing which houses the famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci.

The line for the ticket was huge and the heat haze had set our temperatures high. The conflict of whether to take audio guide or not, pushed the tempers to one more degree. Adding to the woes, my younger daughter managed to set the language of the audio to French. Clueless of the directions, bickering over everything, we stumbled upon some great work of Art….sculptures like The Winged Victory of Samothrace, The Venus De Milo, Dying Slave, paintings like Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, The Coronation of Napoleon…. You name it, they have it. Louvre impressed me highly with a collection that spans work from ancient civilizations to the mid-19th century.

The arrow pointed- first floor for Mona Lisa. I wanted to rush immediately while my husband was more interested in photographing the sculpture of ‘The Dying Slave’ by Michelangelo. Leaving him to cover naked man, I scooted towards Room No 6. to see Mona Lisa. The portrait hangs behind bulletproof glass and there were thousands of jostling spectators. It is the most famous painting in the world, and yet, when I saw her up close, I was baffled by the small subdued portrait of an ordinary woman. Neither her clothing is remarkable nor the surroundings. So what is it that makes the painting historical!

When I looked at her mouth, she wasn’t smiling as much as when I looked at her eyes. I feel that the magic of Mona Lisa’s painting is that it seems to react to our gaze. You question what is she thinking! She smiles back mysteriously. I looked again ….her smile seemed to flicker. I glanced away, and the enigmatic smile lingered in my mind. In no other painting  have I ever seen such motions and emotions intertwined.

As I was getting caught up in the mysterious smile of Mona Lisa, my husband called out for me. I turned and saw him clicking a pic of me. I smiled for a moment and than immediately hardened my face. My husband’s face drooped more.

It was our last night in Paris. We had heard that there is a light show at Eiffel on strike of every hour after 10 PM.  Light drizzle had made the weather pleasant. We found a great spot at Trocadero and settled for a while. “Smile now dear!” my husband said. I made faces and started going through the photographs he had clicked earlier at Louvre in our camera. Each and every one were exceptional, capturing details of  the displayed artifacts. But the painting of Mona Lisa was blurred, and the focus was on me!

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It was time…The lights of the Eiffel Tower sparkled through the misty rain. He placed his hands on my shoulders and I softened. After all we had promised to embrace each other’s passions and peeves  during our Saat Pheras. Kids were running around enjoying the magical moments of glitzy sight. I am sure a cupid was at a constant vigil in the Paris skyline that night. Let me re-emphasize, Paris is the city of Adventure, Architecture, Culture and Romance too.

Little Girl

I said, Oh Mother I want something to eat

And you had said with big eyes

Your little brother is yet to sleep

My dear, just wait for a while

Why don’t you go and play outside

Stay around don’t wander afar

Also keep the front door ajar

Pressing the gurgling stomach, walking on the brown grass

I looked out for a friend, she studied in my class

No one was out to share a story

Moon was shining with all its glory

How much could I had talked to myself

My thoughts wandered and so did I

Saw colorful flowers at a distance under that tree

Thought how beautiful will they look in your pleats

Oh Mother with my small hands

I picked up those petals for your hair

Red Pink Purple and Blue

All of them just for you

As I was about to turn around

A hand came and grabbed my mouth

That scary black shadow took me away

Disregarding my pleas and shouts

I called out for you.. but my voice was suppressed

What happened next I may not readdress

For it was much more worse than hell

Won’t be able to take that pain again

He hurt me where I can’t explain

Oh Mother…breath was low…life was in jeopardy

How can one have intentions so lowly?

Where were you Oh mother…didn’t you hear my plight

Why didn’t sweet brother sleep early that night

You might have cooked some sweet delight

And must have come out to see where was I

Your heart would had sunk when you didn’t find your little doll

She might be around! You might have thought

But your sweet pie was not here anymore

Like those flowers I was crushed to the core

My hands, my legs, my body; were behind that door

It’s just that my life was no more

Oh Mother! I was no more….

~N~

How Simran lived her life this summer

We all love to travel with friends. In fact, life is meant for good friends and great adventures. This trip of ours to Europe was a keenly anticipated affair involving some of the most beautiful destinations and experiences in Switzerland, France and Belgium. I was so excited that the long travelling time i.e., close to 12 hours from Kolkata to Geneva did not dampen my spirits. Although while approaching Geneva, lightening hit the wing of the flight with such deafening thunderous sound that I could feel my ‘Titanic’ sink on its maiden voyage. My husband till date says that I was over-reacting, but I am glad we landed safely. The first thing that made me feel at ease there was the cool soft climate and warm sunlight, even at 9 PM.

After being in Geneva for a day, we were going to meet our friends and drive to Zermatt together. Zermatt is a charming village at the foot of Matterhorn- a glacier peak famous for skiing. Matterhorn is all natural, somewhat pyramid-shaped, and is one of the highest and also one of the most photographed mountains in the world. It is also a symbol that you must have seen on the delicious chocolate brand – the Toblerone! Although we were tired of travelling the whole day, we were not short on enthusiasm as the soothing sound of Alpine Horn greeted us with a warm welcome. The day ended with all of us strolling aimlessly on the near empty streets, singing songs, laughing and planning for upcoming adventures.

The next morning we decided to go for the 5-Seenweg (Five Lakes Walk). This hike that we went on starts with a ride up ‘inside a mountain’ funicular train. It goes up at a very steep angle and is actually pulled by a cable. Then you have to hop on a gondola which takes you up even higher. After that you have to walk uphill around the Alps passing by five lakes on the way. The combination of the clouds, the snow, the blue sky, mighty Matterhorn and the glacier creates a truly magnificent view that blew us away. The Alps are beautiful and any pic you take means nothing at all compared to the real thing. You can practically see the clouds moving around the highest peaks; tiny waterfalls streaming down the cliffs; lakes you can see through because that’s how clean the water there is! The word ‘excitement’ falls short of describing what I was feeling to be there. To be amidst the scenery straight out of a poster is a heavenly feeling. It is so delightfully beautiful that you almost forget to breathe. The snow-capped Alps, crystal clear lakes, glacier-fed streams gurgling merrily, the place seemed like God’s own abode! And being there with your best friends!! I tell you, you have to have luck like me 🙂

We stopped for a while at Stellisee Lake. The sight of the Matterhorn reflected on its mirror-like surface is breathtakingly beautiful, and is made for magnificent photographs. The vast stretches of snow can get a little intimidating. The years of watching a Bollywood hero and heroine romancing in snow-covered mountains had conditioned me into believing that a girl with chiffon sari will surface any minute with “Lalala lala” reverberating in the background. That did not happen unfortunately but we did see a Russian man stripping down to his undies and jump in half frozen Stellisee Lake.

I must admit it was a wonderful experience and an experience that I cherish with all my heart. I look forward to many more such travels with my friends. After the hike we were happy to rest on the ride back down to Zermatt. We headed back to our hotel immediately before doing anything else that involved standing up.

Set amidst the stunning Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, and in the heart of famous Jungfrau Region, Interlaken is the place to be if you want to experience the best of nature. Not to forget, this place also lets you experience some adventure topped with romance. Now you know you are in Interlaken when the sight and sound of newly-wed Indian female, wearing red chuda up-till her elbow gets to your ears, ” Jaaaanu dekho strawberries!!!” and her husband talking loudly over his phone…. “Mummy hum pahuch gaye….” There are ample of Indian restaurants here and you can give a break to your munching on Haldiram bhujia and Jeera biscuits which you had packed in dozens just in case you don’t like the local cuisine. By the law stated by Yash Chopra, you cannot miss the shooting locations of iconic DDLJ and other YRF films and enact Raj and Simran for at least one photograph whilst in Switzerland. We duly checked in all the locations 🙂 Please find given below the proof attached:

  1. Raj Simran train act….

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2.  All the girls on famous “Palat” bridge…

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3. Having a heart to heart with BFF Yash Chopra style, beside the picturesque Thun lake…

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4. All the boys waiting for their Simrans in Shahrukh Khan style..

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5.   All of us blocking the Raasta in Gstaad incase Simran runs past through us drunk just as in “Zara sa jhoom loon main”….

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The visit to Schilthorn was also a memorable one. Schilthorn has a magnificent 360-degree panoramic view of the Swiss skyline. Heaven on earth, literally, at the top of the mountain you stand above the clouds. The famous Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, had been shot here and we had a great fun spending time at the interactive exhibition of “Bond World 007”. Our journey to The Schynige Platte was a step back in time on the area’s oldest railway, running from Wilderswil just outside Interlaken. It zig-zags up through meadows and forests and one instantly feels carried back to the pages of western history. The wooden benches in the coaches of the nostalgic train as well as the vintage rolling stock dating from the nineteenth century exude the flair of times long past and revive the spirit of a bygone era.

We were on foot most of the times. The weather there is so awesome that a few minutes of pause to look around the manicured meadows with cuckoo-clock like houses decorated with seasonal flowers and cool alpine breeze refreshes your body and soul. No wonder Switzerland is the most expensive travel destination in Europe. I went shopping in a swanky looking store, surveying dresses, shoes and home decors. My eyes rolled up in horror as I saw the price-tags and I happily moon-walked myself out of the store just with this beauty. Meet my very own personal “Bagwati”.

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Travelling never ceases to have the power to amaze or bedazzle.  This summer, when we finally decided on this holiday, little did we know that this will turn out to be the trip of the lifetime. Not to take away credit from the picturesque locations that we chose, I think the company we had, turned it into a memory of a lifetime. Switzerland was the best possible start to our holiday and we made the most out of it soaking up in the glorious Swiss Alps and its labyrinth of lakes and villages. Endless talks, laughs, walks continued as we wrapped up our holiday in beautiful Switzerland and headed to France and then Belgium.

Ye pehle ho chuka hai!

They say, it’s not easy being a pre-teen and even harder parenting one. I say parenting for kids of any age group has its highs and lows. My elder daughter is about to be a teen very soon. No one in this world prepares you for what happens when kids start growing up and are constantly trying to use and experiment their new found confidence and independence. There’s no manual, road map, or guide to fully prepare you for the years of parenting.

My elder daughter’s final exams got over recently and she along with some of her classmates decided to go for a get together party at Flurys, an eating joint, just outside of our complex. They were meeting at 12 noon in the lobby of our building. My daughter was all dressed up and ready at 11:30. “I will be back by 1: 30, bye bye I love you”, she said animatedly pressing the lift button. It was 11:45. The lift door closed before I could reply her back. I came inside and got busy playing with my younger daughter who was upset as her Didi had deserted her for some get together with strangers.

I started feeling uneasy as the time ticked beyond 1: 30. It was 2’O clock now. I looked outside my balcony, the roads were all deserted and sun was beaming with all the heat it had. “Shomoy khoob kharaap boudi“, my maid said and I panicked more. I could hear every second ticking on the clock. “It’s already 3’O clock, she said she will return by 1:30!!” What if they went to some other place which is further away…after all they are all of 12 years. What if one of them is feeling sick? Has there been an accident!! Kidnapped!!! Na…that’s not possible…or is it? Arrgh! My stomach started curling up from inside. “Aami ki dekhe aashbo (should I go and find out)?” my maid said in a pacifying tone. I should not have allowed her to go alone with her friends outside of the complex. I should have given her my phone so I could contact her.

At 3:30, I could take no more ….I decided to go find my ‘lost’ child. I opened the door to go and kick some kidnapper’s ass, and there she was…standing and smiling.

I don’t believe in raising hands on kids, but I swear I slapped her thrice in my mind.

Why are you so late?” I screamed.

O, we could not decide on the menu so we got late” she replied.

That’s it!!!… you could not decide what to eat and lost track of time, here I pretty much lost my mind.”

Mom, chill, why do you get so worried, have some confidence and trust in me”, she said with much ease and no expressions.

I said, “When you become a mother and reach my age, you will understand”.

When you become a mother and reach my age, you will understand…. suddenly my mom’s voice echoed in my head. I quickly came back to my room.

‘Ye pehle ho chuka hai’. As cliché as it sounds, but these exact words came to my mind.

I must have been 10 or 11 years old. One afternoon, I went to my friend’s house, which was a little far away. I was a proud owner of Atlas cycle. No distance was far enough; my cycle glided me to her place in no time. My friend and I played all day long. Around evening, her father said to me, “beta..ab ghar jaao” It was then when I realized that I have lost the keys of my bicycle while playing. It was already too late. Though I wanted to walk back, it was getting dark and uncle insisted that my friend’s elder brother would drop me back home on his scooter. While I was sitting on the back seat of the scooter thanking my stars that I didn’t have to walk all the way back, I heard my name called out. I looked around and saw two ladies shouting my name and 10-15 people had gathered around them. It was my Mom and my Bua. They had a fair idea of the colony where my friend stayed but did not know which house. I asked bhaiyya to stop the scooter and nervously walked towards my mom.

“Mummy…I was…”.

Sattttaaaaack!!!

Yes…my mother did believe in beating up her kids. My friend’s brother saw this and fled the scene in a millisecond. My mother was crying and hugging me and getting angry at the same time. I was brought home and lectured whole evening by everyone around. I could not understand all the hoopla going on. I was coming back as fast as I could!! Late evening, my mother fed me with her own hands. I asked her, “why did you come after me…I am a big girl, I was coming back!” She said lovingly, “you won’t understand it now…wait till you have children of your own.”

I was overwhelmed with all the memories of my childhood. It took me some time to gather my thoughts. Later I went and hugged my daughter. She said, “why don’t you trust me mom, I was coming back!!” I just smiled and gave her a kiss. My younger daughter said, “When will I get to go out with my friends?”

“Not very soon darling….” I replied immediately.

I guess worrying is just a part of being a parent. It is tough to let go of being over protective and always be there for your child. They have to create memories of their own path and life. Inevitably, little girls become big girls, then women. The parents who understand this and have the resolve and emotional energy to accept life’s changes will be able to build a deeper, more powerful set of memories of life with their children.

On a not so lovely morning

Every morning my sanity, patience, endurance and capacity is tested for quality standards as it’s race against time to catch the school bus and get my kids on it. Here, I would like to take a minute and shower the choicest of words for the bus driver. You reach on time, the bus is late. To dodge all the questions from the parents, the bus driver packs all the kids in less than a minute and zooms back. You get half a minute late, the bus driver becomes Michael Schumacher’s Avatar and the bus disappears! Needless to say that morning is not the best time to see me smiling.

The school bus picks up kids from outside the complex. This was the day when we were on time and the bus was late. I was minding my own business sitting and staring at who’s wearing what (aadat se majboor), when this woman, wearing a saree better than my house maid’s, starts distributing some sort of a yellow color pamphlet. I tried to overlook her but she kept one on my lap and continued distributing to others. Being an Indian, I am very much used to this game. Even before reading, I could visualize something written like, “My Husband died in Kargil war and I am left with my three children, help us, give us some money.” This woman was so young that having three kids before the Kargil war in which her husband died, was impossible and proved that she was after easy money.

I have my reasons for not giving a paisa to any beggar who is physically fine. If you are really old or with something wrong with your body, you qualify for money. I am not making fun of poor people here; I am just showing my dislike towards begging. If you are not old enough and you are physically fit then you should not beg. That’s my logic.

So, I continued not touching the card on my leg and acted as if I was busy googling about rarest of cancer in my phone. But unfortunately, the wind blew and the card flew and got dropped in the muddiest pothole on the road. All I could do was to watch the yellow card float on the mud until a car ran over it. Now this woman came back to collect her card and all I could do was to show vague hand gestures and point at the remains. The woman started shouting at me in a voice scarier than that of ‘Amrish puri’. This beggar woman I tell you was so manipulative that she gained the sentiment of every human being  around.

The woman asked me to pay her and everyone nodded their heads in agreement. They were looking at me with such skepticism that if there was a bomb-blast somewhere that day, they would had blamed me!! I opened my purse asap, looked at the 1 rupee coins I had and as I was going to take one out, a woman sitting beside me tells me that I should pay around ten rupees to the poor woman. To stop this embarrassment, I pulled out a ten rupee note and the so called poor woman snatched it from between my fingers and fled from the spot.

The bus finally came and people dispersed after seeing off their wards. I don’t remember  driving back so fast to my apartment. For the first time, I could empathize with the school bus driver aka Michael Schumacher.