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What does it take to love someone?

Isn’t it always hard to imagine that first impression of our closest friends – we might be thick as thieves today, but was it also the same when you first met them? The very first time that you bumped into each other, or were introduced by a common friend – at that moment that person is a stranger, someone whom we instantly judge subconsciously in some way or the other, someone whom we look at in a sort of neutral way, as simply another face, another name, just an acquaintance.

But when I think back to when I first saw her, I cannot remember a single ‘neutral’ thought. I can still remember vividly the way she came bursting in through the office door, backpack slung over one shoulder, wearing some cool t-shirt and jeans, hair open, falling onto her shoulder, a wide smile of pure delight on her face, and balloons. She had these balloons in her hand, complete attention on protecting them, scrunching her face and looking here and there to find the perfect spot to tie them to, while everyone in the office stopped what they were doing, a smile on their face, and looked at her, happy just to see her. She was like a performer with a spotlight on her, while the rest of the room, dark, and the audience, spellbound, captivated by the star on the stage, watched her act. I didn’t know her then, and yet, I found myself smiling – a smile that came naturally, not induced by a joke, not because of a compliment I received; in fact, I think now, that the smile I had on my face was of simple, unmeasured happiness, induced in me by her mere presence – the presence of a complete stranger; and yet I felt as if I already knew her.

What does it take to love someone, I think, as I sit here sipping my chai, the light from the TV as it plays another Netflix show lighting up the room in a sort of waving glow, bathing Luna’s flickering tail as she’s curled up on the adjacent sofa in a variety of shapes created by the light. I think – about each memory I have with her – the first time we kissed, the first time we fought, that chilly monsoon walk on the beach, that rickshaw journey through the desert. Each one of those hundreds of thousands of moments I have spent with her flash through my mind, making me realise that every single one of those milliseconds, every single one of those snapshots that now scroll before my eyes as if frames in a film reel, have created what is us. What I feel about her is ensconced in those little thumbnail memories in my brain – those moments that sometimes were boring, sometimes long, sometimes crazy and sometimes fun. Sometimes embarrassing, sometimes funny, sometimes ridiculous and sometimes simply happy. Sometimes erotic, sometimes peaceful; Sometimes stressed, and sometimes painful. And yet each of those moments was beautiful, even when we loved each other, even we hated each other; Even when we worshipped each other and even when we were tired of each other.

What is love, I asked myself, but I already knew it. Because the first stroke on the anvil was that day I first saw her, she – laughing like a child, heartily, full of energy, enthusiasm, listening to something told her with the utmost attention, yet managing to hold on to her bit of impishness, talking with each person as if their best friend, with an almost impossible genuineness; and this unexplainable sense of freedom, of aspiration, and of unbridled joy, and I – unknowingly smitten by this – this creature, simply basking in her afterglow. And thus painstakingly, carefully, yet firmly was forged, with each subsequent crash of the hammer on the anvil, that sword – a work of art so unique that nothing in a million universes can ever hope to replicate it, drawing its beauty from each imperfection, each little tilt and curve, each tiny atom that shaped it; That sword which never stops being made, every second of our lives etched on it, to always remain; that sword which keeps becoming more beautiful with each touch of the hammer;

That sword, is what love is.

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Life, Reflections, Story, Travel

Notes from Leh, Episode VI: The mighty mountains and the way home

All that could be seen from the windows of our car as it swerved along Leh’s twisty and turny, dangerously narrow, gravelly roads, moving precariously close to the edge at times, or passing within a hair’s breadth of the oncoming car at others, were the beige and grey mounds of dirt looming up beside us in various shapes and sizes, infinite different textures, each one having a pattern as unique as the next, each one sculpted by the forces of nature in such a way that mere mortals could not even imagine, were those mighty mountains.

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Life, Reflections, Story, Travel

Notes from Leh, Episode V: Leh Market

“Leh was a small town”, said our driver, “Just a few houses, some fields bearing meagre crops and a small population of locals with occasional visitors from outside the country. And now, look – once the movie 3 Idiots was shot here, tourists flock here in big numbers.” He was from Kargil, but during the six habitable months when the cold was not extreme, drove tourists around the mountains of Leh, one of the many such people having found employment due to the sudden increase in tourism. Not only did the tourism industry provide employment to these drivers, but also saw the inception of the Leh market.

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Life, Reflections, Story, Travel

Notes from Leh, Episode IV: Hassan

He slowed down, almost to a speed of 20 from the regular 60 he was making on that curvy road after we left Durbhuk, a village on our way to Pangong from Leh. He kept checking the dials behind the steering wheel, and suddenly swerved to the side of the road, stopping to get out and crack open the bonnet, checking something out. A wry smile and he went ‘The radiator is broken’;

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Life, Reflections, Story, Travel

Notes from Leh, Episode III: The Wrath of Zanskar

Episode III: The wrath of Zanskar


Zero point behind us, we trudged on through a changing terrain – the greenery gave way to dust, the trees to rock – rows and rows of rocky mountains – each one a different shade or texture, some glinting in the sun, others a deep black, still others a matte finish so fine as if a custom job on an Audi. All around us, all we could see was rock. Fascinating, it was, really, although some might call it drab, the colour-loving Indians would really have trouble liking this landscape, I thought to myself, but I liked to admire the edges and cracks and cuts that were given by nature’s sculptors to these hard, resilient forms; each completely a work of time and probability. Anyway, to return to the subject, the changing landscape told us that Srinagar was now behind us, and that Leh was coming closer. On the way, we passed the river Zanskar, with the driver repeatedly pointing out about the rafting here. But, since we were already scheduled to do rafting the next day, we shooed away his calls and told him to go on. At Leh, we went straight to our hotel room. Here, our driver left us to go back to Srinagar while we would be joined by another driver who would take us around Leh.

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Life, Reflections, Story, Travel

Notes from Leh: Episode II

Zero Point

Summer it was, the cool breeze brushed our faces pleasantly as we trudged through the mountainous roads, curving like a snake and making us move sharply from side to side as our driver expertly navigated the car along them. Our destination for the day was Kargil, about 200 kms from Srinagar, yet a time-consuming journey because of the condition and nature of the roads. But along the way, we had to visit several ‘tourist spots’, which, we later realised, in northern India, is simply another phrase for ‘film shooting points’ – if one tourist attraction is where Satte Pe Satta was shot, then the other is where Shah Rukh Khan posed with his bike in Jab Tak Hai Jaan. But Zero Point was different. Why, we asked, is this place called Zero Point? Neither is this an Indian name, nor does it sound like something a tourist place would be called. The prompt reply from our driver was that it is a point which manages to remain covered by snow, at zero degree, throughout the year, even during the summer, when everything else around has turned green, owing to the heat which melts all the snow. This didn’t convince me very much, though he was right, there was snow. Yet I attributed the name to something random which stuck through the years without anyone actually knowing what it meant. Whatever the reason, this Zero Point turned out to be a very important tourist spot, owing to the amount of locals following us as we exited the car, selling their wares, offering us boots and jackets to rent, snow-mobile or sled rides and, of course, chai or Maggi. The most unusual bit about this place, though, was that the air instantly turned chilly. Really cold. We all had to reach inside our bags to fish out those jackets we had packed, until now feeling as if they were going to go back to Mumbai unused. And, with the jackets on, it still felt chilly. We walked toward the chunk of snow we had seen from our car spread out over the mountain as if a dollop of ice cream on a plate left out of the fridge for a while…

The silence is deafening as I stand on the ice at Zero Point, as the locals call it, having walked a bit uphill on the mountain of icy snow refusing to melt, and look around me at the immense mountains staring back stonily at me, as if the acknowledgement of my presence is unnecessary to them, as if a fly that a buffalo ignores as it wallows in the lake, sunning itself on a glorious Saturday. It reminded me of some of my life’s finer moments, moments when I had felt supreme peace, a recession of every existing thing around me, every thought, every action my limbs performed, every movement of every muscle in my body, into the background somewhere, invisible, immaterial, to me at that instant… Zero point made me feel something I had not since a while.

Read Notes From Leh: Episode I

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Travel

Notes from Leh: Episode I

As we touched down at Leh airport, all I could see was the light brown sand all around; hills and mountains were the only things in my vision from the airplane window, extending beyond the small airport into nothingness beyond. We were Srinagar-bound, so we didn’t alight from the plane, onward after just a 40-minute stopover. At that minute, for some reason, I wondered what we were looking for, to have planned our travel in that ‘cold desert’ region, as Wikipedia called it.

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Life, Reflections, Relationships

Questions, always

The lines on the phone in her hand that is draped over my shoulder as I rest my head on hers start to blur into huge spots of white and blue bokeh, expanding into nothingness. My eyelids gently collapsed shut and the song in my head smoothened into soft piano notes, just like the ones I played when she took me to play the piano that day. The dusk was, on other days, melancholy to me, but today, I felt happy. The trees in the park towered above us as the little spots of luminance that were the spherical yellow lights glimmered through the tranquil darkness, like a ripple in a still lake. She was the ripple, I felt sometimes, in the still lake that was my mind.

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Life, love, Reflections, Travel

Never ever let go.

And there I was, looking at her, trying to talk to her through the loud music of the nightclub, she, a presence unlike any other I had ever seen in my life. Loud music for the rest of the people at that place, but, for me, nothing. Everything else disappeared around me and all I saw was her face, a light shining like no other between the faded faces around her, a sheer confidence so unreal that the very thought of someone so strong inside, so comfortable with their own person, so nonchalant to her surroundings, yet so sure of every single detail around her, left goosebumps on my skin. And all evening, the only thing I wanted to do was tell her she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my entire life.

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