Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Across Three Rivers (Part-III): Of Cakes and Wettest Place On Earth

You can read Part -I and Part II here and here respectively.

After asking, “Are we there yet?” 20 more times in the next 20 minutes, we finally reached the church. The first thing that hit me was everyone was dressed in their finery and I looked like a big trunk of woollens. That thought remained with me for less than 20 seconds as the choir began singing carols and hymns. It was a beautiful service and I was transported to my school days as I sung all the hymns. The best part was that the service was held in Khasi (the local language of Shillong) as well as in English. While I knew almost all the hymns in English, Khasi was a whole new experience for me as this was the first time I had heard the language. I am proud to say that by the end of the hour and half of the Christmas mid-night mass I sang a hymn in Khasi as well.

Once the service was over, we wished each other and began walking once again. Thankfully for others, I forgot complaining about the walking and began enjoying the festive spirit. We walked to see naivety scenes across the city. Strangers-driving, walking or just standing having a hot cup of coffee, wished each other. It was an open road party. We had coffee at a shop near Nitu’s home at 1 o’clock and then proceeded to have tea and cake at her neighbour’s house. The best thing about everyone I met in Shillong was that although I was meeting them for the first time, they instantly made me feel at home.

At almost 2 at night, Anthony and I bid farewell to our hosts and left for home. By this time, I was fresh as a daisy. Sleep seemed like an alien concept. However, by the time we reached home, everyone was asleep. We tip-toed into the house and I felt like a princesses when I saw that my bed had already been made. There were 2 HUGE quilts and a hot waterbag was placed under the two layers to ensure I would not feel cold. I was told the next day that my excessive shivering earlier in the evening had scared Prakash (Nitu’s husband) who had insisted on spreading the 12 Kg quilt for me.

After a wonderful sleep I woke up on Christmas day sure that the cold was enough to guarantee snow. Although my hope for a white Christmas were not fulfilled, the view from Nitu’s balcony over a cup of hot tea, boiled eggs, bread toasts and cakes (yes I had cake for breakfast!) was breathtaking. Over tea she made me jealous by telling me that she need not leave the comforts of her home to enjoy the performances of international stars, who regularly perform in Shillong. The stadium, where the performances are held is a stone’s throw away from Nitu’s place and that day we could hear carols while sipping our tea. After a lazy morning which languorously turned into afternoon, I had more tea, a lot of conversation and read my book in the sun. It was awesome.

The day progressed to be even a better one, as Nitu, Neelav (Nitu’s son) and I were dropped at her friend, Lana’s house by Prakash, who joined us later. The house was beautiful and was a culmination of all my British home fantasies. It was wooden, had a huge Christmas tree, a fireplace with a mantle and loads of family photos everywhere. Lana served 5 types of cakes and all I could think of then was… "Oh my friends are going to be jealous when they read about this in the blog." It was a wonderful evening as I met a lot of people at Lana’s house. All of them wanted to know what I did, how I knew Nitu and when they found out that we were blogger friends, they all had a priceless expression on their faces.

When we returned home, I was advised to sit around the fire, being lit in Nitu’s mom’s room. I can guarantee that was the warmest place I have ever been too. Not just because of the fire, but because Aunty is such a loving and caring lady. The six of us – Aunty, Prakash, Nitu, Anthony, Neelav and I sat around the fire warming our hands and watching TV. It was pure bliss.

On the third day Nitu and Neelav took me around the city. We went to the Lady Hydari Park, which looks like a picture postcard. We clicked a lot of photos and then were off to lunch. We had a delicious pizza and then Nitu and I hit the market with a vengeance. I shopped like crazy, picking up souvenirs for friends.

Exhausted with the day's labour, we returned home. At home, I went to may favourite place, near the fire, had a long chat with Prakash and Anthony about politics, while having dinner and watching TV. I was a perfect guest, shamelessly enjoying the hospitality without once picking even a finger.

I was told that the next day, Prakash would drive Nitu and me to Cherrapunji. I was super excited to actually visit a place about which I had been reading since 3rd standard. Charrapunji is the wettest place on Earth. Well it was for several years.

The drive to Cherrpunji was beautiful. There was greenery all around. We stopped at several places to click photographs. Prakash had Nitu and me in splits with his jokes and remarks. There were a number of waterfalls we saw and we clicked photographs at the best ones. I don't want to say too much about this day. So I am posting loads of photos for you to see and imagine the fun we had. Just a request, simply multiply your imagination by 100 and then you might come close to the fun we had that day.

More in the next and the final post. :-)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Across Three Rivers (Part II): "Are we there yet?"

So with a heart filled with gratitude for Kavita and her family’s hospitality, I left for Shillong. As is my habit, I had read as much as I could find about Shillong on the Internet before leaving for my vacation. I was super excited at the prospect of reaching my main destination and meeting Nitu. I was eager to put a face to the ‘full of life’ voice that put a huge smile on my face, whenever we spoke on phone.

All good things come only after a wait, it has been said. As luck would have it, there was a huge traffic jam on the highway connecting the capitals of Assam and Meghalaya, Dispur (Guwahati) and Shillong, respectively. A journey which was supposed to take 3 hours, took a good 5 hours, ensuring that my excitement reached the boiling point.

The good thing about the delay was that I passed by several groups of carol singers spreading the holiday joy.

After a sinuous drive, along the picture-perfect greens, I reached Shillong, the Scotland of East, at around 3:30 on the Christmas Eve. Standing on the road trying to spot Nitu and her red car, it hit me… “Oh My God! I have travelled across the country to stay and impose myself on a friendly voice.” This woman I am about to meet is one of the best people I am ever going to meet.” I hoped with all my heart then, “I hope, in the next four days, she does not end up regretting inviting me.”

Thank God for small mercies and Nitu was there smiling behind the wheel, with her son, Neelav. A huge Hi! and hug later, I was bundled inside the car and it did not feel for even a second that I was meeting her for the first time.

First lesson learnt from Nitu: Always welcome people in your life with a smile. Make them feel at home the instant they meet you.

Within minutes my respect for Nitu surpassed my respect for Mother Teresa. I mean I have never seen any woman drive so easily on those roads. As a lady driver, who has been complimented for her driving by her male friends, I can write an epic praising Nitu’s driving. During the drive from the taxi stand to Nitu’s place I tried my level best to make Neelav my best friend. But boy! He is a shy guy. He maintained his stand and spoke to me on his own just once in the four days I was at his home.

We reached home and Nitu called her brother, Anthony, to help lug my HUGE black bag. He was a complete gentleman, did not let me help and was sweet enough not to complain at all. To add to my guilt, he just smiled and left for the evening to meet his friends, who I guess were waiting for him since afternoon.

Nitu gave me a tour of her house, which I will try to describe in the next few lines. But trust me no amount of words can do justice to its beauty. The house is part wooden (traditional) and part concrete (new age).

All the rooms are connected to each other and just as you enter the house, you know, you have come to the house of a person, who loves souvenirs. There are collectibles all over Nitu’s place and they speak of a woman, who loves travelling and shopping!

The concrete part is colder than the wooden part. The cold was biting despite, their house well equipped with numerous electric heaters.

Despite the cold, I was glad that I had chosen the time of Christmas to visit the city. I wore around 4 layers of clothes and still my teeth were cluttering because of the cold. I know by this time you must be thinking, “Uff, enough about the cold already!” But I think that it is important to describe the cold, as it was almost as if I was introduced to winter for the first time. With my teeth cluttering, I was looking forward to sleeping under the quilt as soon as possible and polite.

The sun sets in Shillong very early as compared to Delhi. It was late evening by 5 o’clock and pitch dark by 6. This was new to me. Nitu gave me a huge cup of tea and some delicious cake as we chatted in front of an electric heater. Her brother, Anthony, soon joined us and the three of us chatted for a good 2 hours before, Nitu’s husband, Prakash (posted in Guwahati) came home for the Christmas weekend. In the beginning Anthony came across as a shy guy and I bombarded him with questions in an attempt to become friends. Lo and behold! Soon I was being teased and bullied by this Shillong boy. :-) I must admit, it was fun.

Once Prakash came, we all sat for dinner as my involuntary teeth cluttering continued. Anthony suggested that I accompany him and his neighbours to the church for mid-night mass. Initially I thought he was just kidding, pulling my leg to see if I would take up his challenge of braving the cold. But at 10 o’clock he said, “You are coming right?” A true Delhiite, it is against my moral belief to use my brains and say no to any challenge. So I wore one more sweater, taking the layers of clothes I was wearing to the magical figure of 5, and went to church to attend the mid-night Christmas mass for the first time in my life.

That is me (in 5 layers of clothes) and Nitu's neighbour, who is also Priyanka, standing for a photo-op. :-)

Along with Nitu’s friends and neighbours, Anthony and I left for the church. Everyone told me, the church is walking distance from their house. I fell for the oldest trick in the book and ended up asking every ten minutes of walk on the steep roads on the cold Christmas eve, “Are we there yet?”

More in the next post…