My tryst with a villager family who was once a stranger

Madam, yeh ek choota sa gaon hai, aap yahan adjust nahi ho paaogi.  Aakhir Aap sheher se hain, said a person on the other end of the phone.”(Madam, this is a small village. You won’t be able to adjust here. You are from a city.)

I smiled and said, do not worry, I like to travel to places like these. He seemed astonished. The man on the other end of the phone was a person, I never met.

I got in touch with him over a conversation on a Facebook community back in 2012.  However, he was right. My travel destination was neither a sight for beautiful mountains nor was it a place anywhere near the sea. I was also speaking in broken Marathi, thanks to my schooling in Mumbai. Hence, I definitely did not seem a person from another country who wanted to explore a local place so unheard off.  The guy on the other end connected to a villager who was to host me for the days I wished to be at the village.

My backpack in my room. That is some rustic living.
My backpack in my room. That is some rustic living.

Living with strangers and that too as a girl is something that gave me those rolling eyebrows from people who even knew me. In those, were also my friends, who perhaps, knew me  closely. Back then, it did sound adventurous. However, in hindsight the experiences made me travel more often and trust people in the villages.

Going with my gut, I set off to learn to live with a tribal community in Maharashtra.

My tryst to learn Warli Art

I like the tribal art –Warli done by the adhivasis of the North Sahyadri range in India. The Warli tirbe is found in the belts of Dahanu, Talasari, Jawhar, Palghar, Mokhada, and Vikramgadh of Maharashtra. The art is the part of their everydayness and every house has a traditional warli painting.

The tribal warli art found in the house
The tribal warli art found in the house in Veeti

With the quest to learn the art from the adhivasis themselves, I choose to go to Veti in Dahanu located 130 kms from Mumbai.  After finalising my plan and coaxing my friends to accompany me for a day, they were more than willing to tag along. All though my gut told me I would be safe, I needed the assurance.

Once I reached Veeti, I got to know the meaning of the phase Atithi Devo Bhavo– Guest is God. The entire family was excited to host me and my friends. Sandeep Dada (Dada means  brother in Marathi) climbed a tadi tree, a tree similar to a coconut tree and gave us the fresh fruits. We ate the delicious radishes from the farm.

Then Sandeep Dada, showed us the Warli art that he had hand painted. He was passionate about his art, however, marketing and selling it to cities was always a struggle.

Sandeep Dada, was going to be my teacher for the next four days.

My day with the Sandeep Dada and his family

Every morning would start with getting up and listening to his stories about his life in the village. Then, he would give me something to draw and teach me the art and would always encourage me to draw. I still think, I cannot draw!

My teacher gave me good grades
My teacher gave me good grades

Some days were about learning the art, while other days were about talking to the children or doing nothing at all. Yes, gazing at the night sky and seeing the stars was always on the agenda. I also visited the nearby dam which was a beautiful sight.

The nearby dam

I never realised when I was called tai which meant sister in Marathi. Isn’t it amazing that the people you really do not know, who were once strangers become close to you and you share an emotional bond?

In my four days with the family, I ate fresh food and had a clean air to breathe. It seemed a bit odd that the family would serve me first and then eat. I tried to tell them to eat with me, however, it was their hospitality and the culture and they wanted to serve the guest first.

Sandeeo Dada and his family
Sandeeo Dada and his family

A wedding at the village

Sandeep Dada and his family took me to a traditional tribal wedding. While the men were drinking the local drink – Neera and got high, the women were busy running around with the work. Out of nowhere, the bride’s mother hugged me and gifted me a saree.

The warli art which was also a part of the wedding
The warli art which was also a part of the wedding

There was an old grandfather who was dancing with this stick and was enjoying the wedding.

While I came to learn the warli art, I got much more in return. I was filled with gratitude. It made me think:  Nobody had a reason to be nice. This is the love of the villages, I seek for. This is how my faith in humanity is restored. Hence, I say, “I am a city girl whose heart is in the villages of India.”

As I write this, it makes me feel sad that I am not in touch with Sandeep Dada as I lost my phone and eventually changed my number.

However, I want to go back to the village and trace the family and show him this story that I shared with you, dear fellow traveller.

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Meet the girl who sold her house and is exploring her spiritual self in India

As a solo traveller, who sets off with no fixed plan, I am  often asked this question:  How do I manage to travel all by myself and end up having a good time?

You know, when you are travelling alone, you are never really alone. You constantly meet new people and when you are all by yourself,  curiosity leads to talking to people.

I have always met good people on the road and the experiences have made me what I am and hence, I cherish solo travel.

This post is about meeting one such lady, with whom I could connect, have a meaningful conversation and talk about the purpose of life.


I met Hajnalka Zsuzsanna Rácz,  who lived in a  town near Budapest.  I met her while I was volunteering in an ashram in south India.

32-year-old Hajnalka Zsuzsanna Rácz from a town near Budapest

Her story 

32-year-old Hajnalka, worked in a Tele- communication company for eight years. However, she could not see herself selling things for her entire life. She felt the company she was working for cared more about the numbers than the people.

She quit her job, worked in a restaurant for five months so that she could travel for the rest of the seven months.  Hajnalka also sold her house as she did not want to keep paying the EMI and be dependent.

“Things like a house don’t interest me. It is the new experiences in life that I am looking for. In volunteering, I find selfless love. No salary can give me that.”  With the money that she had earned while working in a restaurant, she came to India.

I was intrigued to know why she wanted to travel to India. “India was my calling. I reached the airport and the wind blew at me. The smell of the earth, the wind seemed like it was welcoming me here,” she said.

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Hajnalka, is in India and on her spiritual journey and is living  in a  living in an ashram in south India. She is  volunteering in a canteen where she is sometimes serving people and at times baking cakes amongst other things.

I began talking about life and happiness.   I see a lot of young people unhappy with the jobs.  I always wondered if  money was that important? How is it in your country?

She said, “It is the same in my country too. One is supposed to work, earn, marry and then have babies. Though I love babies. And would like to have Indian babies! However, I see many people are not happy in their lives.  Maybe because they are always looking for materialistic happiness in their life.

We both agreed that materialistic happiness is short-lived and people need to find meaning in their lives. Once that is sorted, perhaps happiness makes the life going.

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The art of draping the saree

Hajnalka can drape a saree better than I can.  In one of the felicitation functions at the ashram, we wanted to wear a saree. However, when I told her I did not know how to drape one, she said “Come to my place. I know it. I can help you with it!

It was funny that as an Indian I did not know the art that well.   I asked her how she learnt to wear the art of draping a saree and she said, “I feel so connected with this country as if I belong here. It was easy for me to pick it up.”


This conversation and meeting Hajnalka remains one of the most insightful time. I interacted with her for a couple of hours, however, I can feel some connection with her.

Sometimes, all you need is a good conversation.

Dear fellow traveller, I would love to hear the stories of people you met on the road.

 

 

 

Do all old school things have to come to an end?

It was 1923. Britannia and Company, one of Mumbai’s old Parsi restaurant was established in the city then called Bombay.

That same year, Boman Kohinoor, the 93-year-old man, who now runs the restaurant was born. An iconic Parsi restaurant in south Mumbai, it is known for its Berry Pullav

The signature dish at Britania and Company
The signature dish at Britannia and Company Berry Pullav

A few days ago, CNN Traveller initiated a campaign  in  which the nonagenarian Boman expressed his desire to meet Prince William and Kate during their visit to India.  On April 11, Boman was able to meet Will and Kate! The entire campaign was too cute,  went viral and made a lot of us go awww. I too went awww.

93-year-old Boman Kohinoor, the owner of Britannia and Company

With this inspiration, I visited Britannia and Company to meet the man and talk about how he felt when his dream came true.

While I reached the 93-year-old  restaurant, a journalist was around asking him questions. I waited at one of the tables with a fresh lime soda.  To beat the Monday blues, a group of office goers had come to the restaurant for lunch. On other tables were laid back foreigners who seemed to enjoy the Parsi and Iranian cuisine.

In the meantime, I got talking to the manager and Boman’s son who was running the show. The  old and iconic places shutting down in Mumbai is not something new to the city.  I asked him, what is your plan? A lot of old places have been shutting down.  To which he added, “This place is also going to shut someday. In July 2017, the lease gets over.”

Ballard estate, the area in south Mumbai where the  restaurant is located is a heritage area. The land belongs to the Bombay Port Trust(BPT) and thus, the lease belongs them. The building is owned by another landlord and as per the Pagdi system, the owners become sub-tenants.

With so many channels involved, running the show may not be the most easiest task.


While I was just about to digest this,  “Britannia Unlce” as he is fondly called  got free.  I asked him what keeps him lively and he said, I learnt fitness lesson from my grandfather. I used to  walk  five miles every day, then he pushed me to jog five miles and then eventually I ran five miles every day”

Adding that, ” Soon, I won a sports competition and my grandfather, who had actually come to India from Persia, was satisfied with me.

“After a few years,  he said you have now come off age. Now, you should stop being a womaniser and settle down. Within six months, I got my girlfriend home and we were married.”

His eyes sparkled when he spoke about his wife. “In 1993 she died. The Berry Pulav was her dish actually. She gave it to me and used to train the cooks.”

In earlier days, the restaurant got the cooks from Goa and then Mangalore. Today, most of the cooks come from Jharkhand.  “The people from Jharkhand are hard-working and they respect the work,” he said.

I asked him what keeps him going and prompt came the reply, “I cannot stay at home for long. Every day I dress up and I am back to work. This place is like my home.” When food is cooked with love and served with love, people will sure come to vist.

At the end, I again asked the question, what is the future of this restaurant?

“Madam, in 1950, I made a note of Parsi restaurants in Mumbai and back then there were around 470 restaurants. Today, there are hardly 40 left. You know why? Children want to become doctors, engineers, lawyers and no one wants to work in a restaurant. He added, “In the British era, we had few  licences and taxes to pay. Today, there is so much more paperwork and so many taxes…”

This made me realise the times that we have been living in. Do all old school things have to come to an end? After a year, will we talk about stories and headlines stating – An end of an era.

It won’t be surprising if that happens.  Do we prefer not going to these places because  people know about them, but do not want to really visit  them?

In the recent times, iconic places in Mumbai that have had headlines An end of an era and have shut down.

  1. Rhythm House
  2. Samovar Cafe
  3. Wayside Inn and the story of table number 4 where Babasaheb Ambedkar sat.

The building where Crystal in Chowpatty is located is going to go in redevelopment soon. There are news reports which state Parsi Dairy farm , Mondegar Cafe may shut down as well.

What have we done to stop this?  Dear world of the internet, maybe the next campaign to go viral should be save the iconic places of Mumbai and support them  to grow.

Let us all go awww on those as well.

Things I did for myself on World Health Day

“Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.”
-Thomas Jefferson

April 7. It is  World Health Day!  On this day, I pledge to make health my priority.  Not just physical but mental health as well.

These are some steps I took to ensure I kick some ass.

Borrowed a cycle from my neighbour and went for a ride: I was having a chat with a fellow traveller. He mentioned about his idea of going for a 5km ride on World Health Day. It got me itching to ride a cycle myself. Hell, I did not have a cycle. However, even before I could think, said, one could always borrow or rent a cycle. “Jugaad,” the Indian word for the word hack is what we Indian’s are best at.

Hence, I borrowed a cycle from my neighbour. It took me less than five minutes to approach her. Most times, this is the time it takes to make that decision- To do things you always wanted to do. It will happen when you let it happen. Just do.

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Backstory: I fear to ride a bike. As a child and as an adult I have fallen off the bike a few times. This developed a fear and these are my baby steps in overcoming that fear.

Recently, I saw a Ted Talk by Shonda Rhimes My year of saying yes to everything and the journey to find that missing “hum.”  With this, I started my own journey.

Enroled myself in a course to study counselling: I was a part of  an organisation that worked with children in dangerous situations. I love children and the purity of thought they have. However, I was unable to work with them as closely as I wanted to. Partly, because of the educational background I had. While on the onset, this seemed like one of the best reason to enrol in a course.

However, another reason to enrol me in the course was to understand myself better. In India, mental health is not taken as seriously as it should. In order to empower myself, I enroled in a counselling course. April 6, was my first class and I am excited to learn new things!

Enroled myself in a Yoga class: Six months ago, I had fractured my foot. Things did not go as I planned. From quitting a job for a travel fellowship, I was not able to travel. With this, my travel stopped for a while. I decided to take a leap of faith and see how I could sustain myself and travel. The reason why I am mentioning this here is because the accident somehow put a halt to my physical activity.  I travelled on and off, however, none of this was a trek. Now, I think it is the time I start again!

Who knows, within a few months, I will be off to that trek I always wanted to go.  I do wish to embrace myself in the silence of seeing the rising sun from the mountains and listening to the sound of the gushing river.

Like me, dear fellow traveller, what is that one thing that you have always been itching to do?

Pick up that thing.  Listen to your heart. Just listen. Do not shut that voice inside you.

“Do not let anyone stop you from doing the things that you love- not even yourself”- Unknown.