Of Hill-station friendships

High up in the foot hills of the Himalayas, perched atop winding roads and steeped residential hill dwellings is the town of Shimla where my grandfather had rented out an apartment in a building owned by the Cecil Hotel many moons ago.

This apartment was our home away from home (Chandigarh), for many years during the school summer holidays. From the mall walks to the horse-back riding that would make our day – my siblings and I having picked out our favorite ones by name – to even catching glimpses of the relentless monkeys trying to steal bananas from our kitchen, it was a sort of hall pass to heaven for us.

My parents soon befriended a retired army Colonel who resided in the neighboring apartment. He came up to Shimla often and stayed here with his German Shepherd, Buddy. Needless to say, Buddy found himself some enthusiastic company in three eager, inherently dog-loving children next door and every morning the front garden would come alive with us chasing him while Buddy would show off his perfect training while playing Catch.

The magnanimous Cecil hotel loomed large across the road from us. Our building was annexed to it through a cavernous underground tunnel. Having read enough Enid Blyton adventure novels, the prospect of venturing through this forbidden tunnel was the epitome of temptation as far as a curious thirteen-year old was concerned.

One day there emerged from the stairs going down towards the tunnel, a young girl, about my age clutching a raggedy doll with all her might, accompanied by her guardian. It was love at first smile.

Soon I found myself having surreptitiously ventured down the stairs and into her home which was located in the basement, just a stone’s throw away from the end of the stairwell.

Henceforth, we were inseparable. The parents, now in the know, had sanctioned supervised visits and our friendship blossomed. I do not remember her name but I will never forget the image and often, the whiff of memory of the time, the place and that grinning raggedy doll.

The adventure of the tunnel was soon forgotten and the days began to fill with the newly acquired “buddies”. Both Buddy the dog and the girl with the raggedy doll became our friends in the hills, just as the Colonel become a friend and confidante for my parents.

And then one day our affair with the hills came to a halt and before we knew it, so did our childhood.

Eighteen years later, I am filled with pangs of nostalgia not only for the cool winds, the mall road walks and the horse -back riding that is now so etched in my childhood memories.

I am also reminiscent of those brief friendships with strangers that remain a large part of these treasured memories of adventures up the hills that feel like they occurred in another lifetime.

Sometimes it is strangers that make a difference to our lives without even knowing it. Sometimes it is those close to us who become strangers before we even realize it.

Perhaps a trip up the hills once in a while can reaffirm our belief in life and its people while we breathe in a different kind of mountain air.

The Lesson

He was my hero. And I was convinced he was immortal.

That morning I went to his room and sat with him while he prepared for his breakfast of milk and porridge. He stared into the distance while he ate, slowly. A sudden cough broke the silence and as I leaned forward to help, it felt like something in the room had changed. I looked closer at him and I felt my stomach churn. I couldn’t breathe. My grandfather had turned snow white.

He was gone.

For 14-year old me, the lesson was learnt in profound grief – even heroes fall sometimes.

An open letter to my 30-year old self

(Published in Times of India : http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/shaira-mohan-blog/an-open-letter-to-my-30-year-old-self/

Dear 30-year- old me,

A week from now you will bid a sad goodbye to your 20s and cross the threshold into the first day of a new decade in your life.

There is always much hype around entering a new decade and leaving behind the old. Its a chance to look back at the last 10 years and reminisce about all the work done, goals met, friends made, friends lost, places travelled, things learnt and every decision, every turning point and every step taken that has brought you to this very spot with the next rung on the ladder around the corner.

But often we forget to think about the things we have learnt along the way – things we pledge to remind ourselves to not change and keep doing or do differently in the future but forget to open those reminders when the time actually comes. So here’s a list of things I have noted down for you so that you can refer to these notes as you brace yourself to embrace the new decade with its own brand of ups and downs to come.

Starting (or re-starting) a career at 30 is not a bad thing either:
Yes, you got married and then moved around so much that the airport became more of a home than your actual house. (which has also been changing a lot). And that initial fear of flying has now become a faint memory. In the process the career you set yourself up for took a hit somewhere. But something great came out of it too. You travelled so much and saw some exotic new places that you may never have been able to. Your passport pages look very impressive and you also discovered a skill you never knew you had – you can write! So you took the time to chase that new-found skill and hone it further. And you got on that yoga mat and did your mind and body a great favour too. Now you plan to join the work force again. And you will own it. Don’t forget that many successful people today changed entire careers much later on and reached where they are today. Age is just a number no matter what people may say.

Change is a good thing :
You held on to that job, that friend, that thought process like it was the holy grail and the idea of anything different was unfathomable. But you finally accepted change and took the leap. And here you are—happier and more fulfilled than ever. Change is a good thing and always will be. It’s the only thing that should be constant, as they say. So never hesitate to take that leap.

Age really is just a number:
Coming back to that, it’s true. Yes time passes us by faster than the blink of an eye but do we start doing things differently just because the number of years we have lived changes every year? No. What we do it to add to those things int he attempt to add more meaning, more experiences and try new things. By that logic we are only getting younger! Mind over matter. There is nothing you can or can’t do that needs to be checked off the age-appropriate list. Don’t let age get in the way of your dreams. They can come true now.

If you aren’t married by now, the sky will not fall:
Its our typical Indian mindset. “Beta, you are almost 30! When will you get married? All the ‘good’ boys will be taken.” Firstly, stay as far away from these nosy aunts as you possibly can. Or at least these conversations. If you find yourself cornered with nowhere to go, just say “Aunty abhi toh party shuru hui hai!” And then observe shocked reaction before making your victorious exit. On a serious note, remember that while you chose to marry a while ago, many of your friends are not as yet and are being hounded by such aunties. Remember to be there for these friends. Remember to remind them that people like to talk and always will but they need to not get bogged down by such conversations and allow themselves to take the stress. Stress gets you nowhere. There is a time and place for everything and marriage and babies fall under this category too. No one should ever be forced into the idea of marriage. Or the idea of anything for that matter. One has to arrive at these life decisions themselves.

Don’t be a ‘yes’ man (woman), you can’t please everyone :
And you shouldn’t have to. You went through the motions from being a gullible teenager transiting from school to college life and clumsily waded through the slew of heartbreaks, deception, losses, disappointments and hardships and finally crossed over to the 20s that saw you somewhat more confident but not quite. As you progressed up the 20s ladder, you learnt how to and how not to deal with people – people at home, at work, at social gatherings, friends, those who pretend to be friends and so on. You learnt to say no. You learnt that its okay to disappoint one person and please the other. The guilt is something you may not have learnt to shake off just yet but you learnt that its okay. Most importantly, you have now learnt that you have to hold your own and have your own opinions to voice. And that those opinions will hurt some people and make others proud. But you will not say yes to everyone. There’s no need to feel bad about it.

Don’t expect the world from anyone, it only hurts you:
They say those closest to you are the ones who let you down the most. But if you look closer, that’s because its those that are closest to you that you expect the world from. You expect them to drop their own lives and come running to be a part of yours as and when you please. You expect good outcomes always and hence get your heart broken when things don’t work out the way you had envisioned them. Quit the expectations altogether. Expect but don’t expect the world. As you climb the rungs of the 30s ladder, this will hit home harder than you can imagine.

Don’t let the world’s expectations of you ruffle your feathers either:
Those same annoying aunties who ask you about marriage will also be the ones to sit you down and ask you about babies. And why there isn’t a brood of little hybrids of you and your husband strutting around already. Again, smile and walk away. The inevitable pressures holds we climb into in various stages of life and also various stages in our careers take a hold on us as we struggle to fulfill someone else’s dreams and expectations of us. There is absolutely no need to trip over your own feet trying to desperately meet each and everyone’s expectations. And you need to stop caring about what others think all the time. Do what you can and what you feel is right for you. The rest of the world will just have to deal with it.

Start putting yourself first:
Continuing from point 8, its time to stop thinking only about others and look long and hard into that mirror. How can you help you first? Eat healthier, cut out the junk. Exercise regularly. Pamper yourself with that massage or pedicure frequently. You aren’t going to be a bad wife, mother or daughter if you think of investing in yourself more. Take the time to read that book that is lying neglected on the book shelf. Go watch a movie with some girlfriends during the week. The world won’t end if you do.

Have fun! 30 is the new 20!:
They used to say life begins at 40. Well I have news for you. Life began a long time ago. You are living it right now. You are young with so much to give and get in return. Don’t waste a minute of it thinking of ‘buts’ and ‘what ifs’. Try everything. leave nothing out. Be crazy but also be careful. Be more responsible but let yourself go once in a while. Make time for friends but make time for parents and grandparents too. Be kind. Love and forgive.

29-year-old me

P.S.— This is important. Don’t lose who you are and become someone else. Every day will bring new experiences. But you must remain the same.

The written word – keeping me sane since 2014

It was always an urge bubbling under the surface since I was a teenager graduating from Enid Blytons to the Harper Lees and Sidney Sheldons of the world.
The urge to write myself. Reading books had already become an insatiable need very early on in my life. The want, nay, need to have a book by my bedside, on that train or plane journey was consistent and I now know, will always will be.
But I always thought this bubbling urge to write would forever remain an unreachable dream as I would often open my computer screen to give it a go and then close the blank Word document fifteen minutes later.
This writers block continued for many years. And eventually I placed this dream in a crevice at the back of my mind and let it fade. Until one winter night in 2014 when the urge bubbled again and I decided to try one more time.
We were in Munich in Germany and the snow had been threatening to descend upon us any day now. A storm was brewing in the night while another one was ostensibly brewing within me. I was none the wiser until I decided I would create a blog and play around with it, though consistent lack of confidence in my writing for many years convinced me that this attempt would be no different.
But voila! The storm outside lashed out as did my words on the computer screen, almost as if in defiance to the weather outside. The words flew out and my delight knew no bounds. I had it all along! Perhaps there is some truth when people say there is a time and place for everything , however delayed it may be.
I was now on a roll and in no mood to stop. My new-found skill egged me on and I continued to churn articles and a bit of poetry to furnish my blog. New-found confidence coupled with wanting to unleash my writing to the world and hone my skills with every piece, it became m new hobby and contructive pastime.
Before I knew it I saw my pieces being published. Joyous, I knew the most important lesson here was to never give up. And to always listen to the bubbling instincts within that can call out even at 3 AM on a stormy night. The written word stays with me through good days and bad, through stress, happiness, joy, love and sadness too.
If you haven’t yet tried to pen it all down, its never too late to start. For once you start, you can never stop. It grooms the mind and transcends horizons in thinking, helping you to discover more of yourself. But most of all, it keeps you sane through the storms – both outside and within.