Thursday, 20 August 2009

Nick loved her..

She had really been looking forward to this vacation.

With the ongoing recession, she had been forced to work overtime for the last twelve months. Weekends and holidays had lost meaning for her.
Nick had been keeping even busier - having to guide his business through economical turmoil - the new American government was threatening to wipe out almost all of the immigrant workforce. He couldn't even think of taking time off from work to join her for the trip.
It din't bother her - she was desperate enough to go by herself - the nanny could take care of the kids - Nick didn't need to be taken care of anyways.
Plus she liked spending time with herself - she loved being alone.

As she boarded the train, she heaved a sigh of relief - it was finally falling into place.

Even before the train had pulled out of the Salem Amtrak Station, she was imagining herself taking a relaxing dip in the hot springs close to Mount Baker.
She had seen an advertisement in the papers - snow capped mountains sorrounding a valley full of flowers with a lone volcano in the horizon. Something in that photograph had appealed to her - she didn't know what.
Her lips bloomed into her signature smile - the old man sitting across her smiled back.

As the train chugged on through the cold plains of Oregon, she could not help but indulge in reminiscence of the events that had got her to where her life was poised.

She had married Nikhilnanda Ghosh (who preferred using the name Nick, given that it was easier for his business associates and colleagues to address him by that) nine years ago. She was a year into her first job. Nick was an investment banker and worked in a plush office on Wall Street. Their dads knew each other vaguely.
One day Nikhil's parents approached hers - and they agreed to the marriage.
A traditional Indian wedding followed and she was off to the US of A (as Nick called it back then) to settle into a new life.
She had always wanted to live in India - the thought of moving to a foreign land peeved her - but it all happened so fast, she didn't have time to react.

Contrary to her thoughts, America gave her the independence she had always dreamt of. She found a job in the analytics department of a company which manufactured semi-conducters.
Nick had no problems with her working - in fact he never had time to bother.
He only cared about his own work.

Three years after their marriage, she gave birth to their first child - Nikita - her bundle of joy.
Nick's mother moved in with them to look after Nikita so that they could each focus on their careers. (Nick's father had passed away a year ago).

A few months after Nikita's birth, Nick lost his job at the Investment Bank.
The Obama goverment had introduced a bill which disallowed foreign immigrants from working in the countries financial sector - they apparently thought that they could control the ongoing financial crisis better without "outside" intervention.
Nick decided to move to Oregon and join his cousin brother's business - Matrix Consultants - an up and coming 3rd Party Logistics Provider.
She did not want to move to the West - she loved her job - but it all happened so fast, Nick did not find the time to consult her.

She started working at a PR agency in Salem - helping them conduct promotional campaigns for clients and their brands.
The creative streak in her found an outlet at her new job.

Three years after they had Nikita, she gave birth to twins - boys this time. Sahil and Shivir - they were the cutest kids ever.
Nick's mom did a great job taking care of their three kids while she balanced her career and home chores.

Nick's mom passed away a year ago - she was replaced by a Nanny, Mrs. Gruen - a homely lady of 50 years - well educated and great with the kids.
Mrs. Gruen would pick them up from school, play with them and help them with their homework.
By the time she was home from work, the kids would be sound asleep.
By the time Nick was home from work (when he was home), she would be sound asleep.

The last year had been crazy for her. The American economy was in turmoil again - the US Dollar had lost it's importance to the newer Asian currencies. Layoffs were a thing in vogue and she had to give it her all just to keep her job.

The train came to a halt. She shook herself out of her journey back in time, collected her knapsack and got off onto the platform.

A glance at the map on the station notice board showed her the way to her hotel, The Case de la Valle. She was there in no time.
"Hey. I believe you have a reservation in the name of Sonia Khanna."
(Nick with his nouveau-American standards, had let her keep her maiden name).

Sonia loved the little room - a warm cosy bed with thick white covers, a fireplace stacked with wood, a tray full of assorted tea-bags and an electric kettle!
She drew the curtains aside and stared at the view with amazement.
The hotel was located on the side of a mountain - her room looked into the valley below. There were snow capped mountains across the valley and far far ahead in the distance stood the breath-taking volcano, Mount Baker.
Despite it being winter, the valley was in bloom - it was carpeted with flowers.
The pink flowers brought a cheerful smile on her face.

That evening, she made her way towards the hot springs.
A crowd of people had gathered around the main square of the hotel.
Curiousity got the better of her and she walked towards the crowd.

A rastafarian man sat in the middle of the crowd - his back to her - with a guitar in his hands. He started strumming on his guitar. People started clapping.
A familiar tune started to play and he broke into a song.

"Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place... Where as a child I'd hide..."

She knew that voice. She had heard it a million times - she couldn't place it however.
She moved across to the other side of the crowd so she could see the singer's face.
She was shocked...

The song ended - the crowd clapped and cheered before dispersing.
The rastafarian broke into a smile when he saw her standing in front of him - it was as if he was expecting her.
She stood right there - dumbfounded...

She had been seeing him before she got married to Nick.
She had walked out on him one fine day - she din't think he was the right guy for her.
He wanted to get married to her within a couple of months of meeting her - he wanted kids - he wanted to roam the world with her - he wasn't focused on his career. He wanted to spend all his time with her...He was too obsessive...

He wasn't like Nick. Nick let her be free. Nick let her do whatever she wanted. Nick never questioned her. Nick didn't bother her about the kids. Nick let her have her career. Nick wasn't selfish. Nick loved her.

The Rastafarian put down his guitar and walked up to her.

A lot had changed in him - the dreadlocks, the drastic loss in weight.
A lot was still the same - the beard, the crooked smile.

"Hi. It's been long enough already!"

"W..what are you talking about? What are you doing..."

"I've been waiting for you to come. I knew you'd come here someday!"

"Are you mad? What waiting? I am not here to meet you... Im here on vacation. Have you been following me?"

"I have been living here for the last four years - waiting for you to come. Would you call that Following? Come on Sonia!"

"Im confused..."

"Well Ive been around the world looking for a place I knew you'd come to someday. When I came here, I knew it was it. So I've been here for the last four years, expecting you anyday."

A tear drop trickled down her cheek...
"But why here? Why the Case de la Valle?"

"Not the Hotel Sonia. The Volcano. Mount Baker."

"Why Baker? What made you think I would come to Mount Baker someday?"

"It's the only volcano in the world which has pink flowers growing next to it..."

Monday, 17 August 2009

Sweet child of mine!!

Man! She's a rock goddess in the making.

If only she were a little older... :P

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Travel Tales: Guatemala/Belize

The TACA/LACSA Airlines flight I was on started its descent towards Aurora International Airport, Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Sitting on the window seat, I was wondering what to expect from a country notorious for high levels of crime, the highest degree of fire-arm penetration across Central America and the resultant inexistence of safety/security, when all of a sudden my eyes widened with amazement.
The clouds had given way to acres of green top hills. Far in the horizon, a solitary volcano stood out from behind the hills – it was purplish, calm and serene.
As we approached the Volcano, Guatemala City came into view. One word: HUGE! (for Latin American Standards at least).
La Aurora International Airport was pretty empty for a place located as centrally as Guatemala City. Walking into the terminal building, I came across a Cafe Barista (The most famous cafeteria chain in Guatemala by far) and was already smiling :)

The next morning I was to fly to Flores (about 500 kms away) and then drive into Belize (also known as the British Honduras). TACA airways is known for the quality of paintwork they effect onto old, defunct American Airplanes! And the fact that I realised I was to fly aboard a well painted, old ATR, had me leaving my fate in the hands of god.

The approach to Flores was pretty – with the runway strip located on an island in between a lake! Flores Airport was more or less like the multi-purpose hall we had back in B School!

Belize is like a large village.. the roads just go on and on with little buildings, shops and gas stations located at random intervals. I din't realize when I entered Belmopan (the capital) and when I left it! It was hardly a city at all.
The people are mostly Creoles (A mixture between Latinos and the West Indians). Their language is called Creole – something like the English they speak in the West Indies. I had my Guatemalan friends pretty impressed by the fact that I could understand Creole – I must give Michael Holding due credit for helping me develop that ability!

Now, we all know that the Chinese are everywhere. But in Belize? Yes!
They run hotels and serve Chinese food. I was a little hesitant to try the Belizean Chinese food – but was pretty amazed to find that it was something similar to what we get in India.
Dinner was at a Sri Lankan joint: Spicy Prawn Curry with Rice, Potatoes and Papad! Impressive.
The Belizean beer, Belikin is worth mentioning. Smooth and light, it lives up to the meaning of its name (The road to the sea) given the rate at which it makes one want to run to the washroom!

Before flying back to Guatemala City, I did stop by Tikal National Park (Big tourist attraction with ancient Mayan temples and a lot of wildlife). The Mayan temples were pretty cool. The wildlife was scanty. No Jaguars or snakes (as promised by my guide), just a bunch of racoons and howler monkeys.

Highways in Guatemala are pretty well maintained. Road signs however are peculiar given the fact that they have bullet holes all over them. Localites like using the road signs for target practise apparently! No wonder there were signs stating: Respect Road signs! No points for guessing which sings had maximum bullet holes!

Nearly every gas station on the highway had an adjoint gun shop! Gun licences are apparently as easy as buying a coke in Guatemala :)

Back in Guatemala City, I was staying at a hotel in the party district of the city (Zona Viva – ‘The lively zone’ literally, if I translate into English). The place is dotted with restaurants, cafeterias, confectionaries, junk food joints, pubs, casinos, bars and hotels! I hardly got to visit any of these sadly.

Coming back to my favourite topic: Food/Drink/Beer!
The Guatemalan Beers worth mentioning are...
Gallo (meaning Rooster) – a little bitter
Dorada (meaning Golden) – smooth and nice
I also experimented with this local cocktail (Michelada) – a queer mixture of Tomato juice, beer, lemon, salt and pepper! Was fun.

Guatemalan Coffee is probably the best Coffee in the region (I can vouch for the fact that its better than Costa Rican coffee atleast!).
Cafe Barista was pretty good with its shakes and lattes.

Churros (something I’ve been wanting to try since my brother ranted about them like a madman, after he came back from Spain) – not as good as I thought they would be.
I found them to be too sugary - The sugar simply killed the chocolate!

The most eventful day in Guatemala was the day I spent in Antigua, Guatemala. I had read so much about it on the internet and the place surely did exceed my expectations.
It was the Spanish capital of Central America at first and then Guatemala later. Surrounded by three volcanos (including the famous Water Volcano, Volcan de Agua) which in tandem with earthquakes and floods, have destroyed the city numerous times over the past!
Antigua is very Spanish in its design and architecture and is not over-commercialised despite being one the major tourist draws.

Cobbled streets, churches, cathedrals, ruins, souvenir shops, museums and Tuk tuks (RED Auto Rickshaws – branded under the mark Bajaj Torito – meaning Little Bull! Yes. Hamaara Bajaj!) – the place has it all!

The souvenir shops were just like in India! Bracelets, flutes, bags, clothes, charms, Jade stuff, trinkets - New Market totally!

Of course, the restaurants! I ate lunch at a Spanish restaurant – very plush –delectable food – very romantic! Its a pity my companion was married and a mother of 4 :P

The ruins left me amazed. They were so mysterious - somehow it has gotten me determined to go on the Euro Trip I've always dreamt of!

The saddest thing however was the fact that the clouds kept me from getting a shot of the peak of Volcan de Agua. Despite numerous silent prayers to the lord almighty, the recalcitrant clouds held fort over the peak, keeping it from view.

Antigua is a place I could go to a million times without getting bored!