I tell you, this Carol has a knack for puncturing the balloon of my sweetest fantasies. Having failed at finding true love in the last 20 years of my single life, I have devised a cute way of fantasising about it instead. I smile into the sky and off I go into a Time warp.
Now that day, particularly, I was a Duchess from the 16th century—a ravishing beauty donned in a golden off-shoulder gown, my curly tresses piled up high above my long elegant neck, heavy with emeralds and rubies. But I had more pressing matters on my mind.
I carried the huge burden of turning down a beeline of handsome, wealthy suitors–all wanting to dance with me. To my delight, I had them all wrapped around my little finger. I twirled a stray golden lock around my painted, delicate fingers. Aah Love, I sighed, luxuriating in its warm, delicious feeling!
Just then, Carol HAD to butt in!
“Hey, Baldie, there you go dreaming again about your nonsensical idea of Love!” she admonished me.
Sitting on the window sill of my room, she dangled her slim legs clad in red hot stilettos and said, “C’mon, spill it out!”
Promptly, I defended my idea of Love. I launched on every woman’s wish list of tenderness; endless whispers of sweet nothings; pillow talks; receiving frightfully expensive gifts on way to romantic trips across the world and generally all about moonlight, butterflies and rainbows. Above all, unconditional generosity and unending indulgence.
Carol listened, as you would listen to a retarded child. She kept rolling her eyes in disbelief, shrugging her shoulders from time to time. Finally, narrowing her huge blue eyes, she slid off the window sill and said, “Time to take you on our trip. Let’s go to Tata Memorial Hospital. You’ll find Love there.”
“A Cancer Hospital?” I protested. “ Why there? How can I find my true love there?”
Now Carol is a woman of few words. She is all action.
Off we went to Mumbai city’s biggest Cancer Research Hospital. The Tata Memorial Centre is the national comprehensive cancer centre for the prevention, treatment, education and research in Cancer and is recognized as one of the leading cancer centres in this part of the world.
Every year nearly 30,000 new patients visit the clinics from all over India and neighbouring countries. Nearly 60% of these cancer patients receive primary care at the Hospital of which over 70% are treated almost free of charge. Over 1000 patients attend the OPD daily for medical advice, comprehensive care or for follow-up treatment. Nearly 8500 major operations are performed annually and 5000 patients are treated with Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy annually in multi-disciplinary programmes delivering established treatments.
While my eyes popped out at the sheer sea of humanity I encountered in the corridors, she gave me a brief hug and said, “Honeybunch, I’ll leave you here. I’ll be back when you are ready for me!”
“But why have we come here? Surely we can afford a fancier hospital?”
But she was gone.
I must admit, I began my walk down the overflowing corridors just to humour her.
Haa! Love? How would I ever find it here?
And then my eyes got riveted to the sights I saw. Never had I seen such maimed and bruised specimens of humanity. There were Departments for Cancers for every imaginable part of the human body. People who had been cut open and were waiting for further advice. People who were waiting to be cut open and were waiting for the procedure to be explained to them. But not once did I hear anybody cursing Life or Fate or crying. There was just a dignified acceptance.
I marvelled at the dignity of the ailing. I marvelled at the strength of the human spirit.
But that is not all I saw. At the Paediatric Wards I saw bald Post –Chemo children, oblivious to what their little bodies were undergoing, playing happily with their remote cars. Their doting parents watched over them lovingly. Both parents, mind you. Neither of them was too busy to come for the doctor’s visit. A new question arose in my mind.
So was this true Love, I wondered?
At the Male Ward I saw devoted wives shooing away the Nurses and attending to the most intimate care of their husbands and not being intimidated by the grumblings they got in return from their suffering spouses. They went about their tasks—joyfully.
So was this true Love, I wondered?
At the General Wards, I saw rag thin, poverty-stricken relatives —even entire villages of the afflicted who had pooled in enough money to bring the patient all the way to this frightfully expensive city, rent a place here and see him through the long struggle to recovery.
So was this true Love, I wondered?
I wandered off to the Breast Surgical OPD, for that is where the big sea of humanity seemed to be. Now I have seen wives taking care of their husbands. I think in our society and most, that is a given. But when I saw husbands taking care of their cancer-stricken wives so lovingly, my whole world-view changed.
Some scenes will remain engraved in my mind forever.
A husband and wife in their mid fifties sat in silent companionship, waiting for their name to be called out. They were obviously very poor. The wife had lost all her hair to Chemotherapy and her skin had darkened. But the husband had eyes only for her. At the first cough, he would give her a sip of water. When she seemed to be weakening, he would put her head on his shoulder lovingly and whisper words of encouragement into her ears. To my amazement, he even cupped his hands before her when she puked!
Now was this true Love, I wondered?
An Octogenarian couple sat beside each other, wrapped in a cocoon of love. While I watched unashamedly, the husband gave his wife a gift—an IPad.
Catching me staring, the woman flashed a toothless smile at me and said, “You see, it is our 50th wedding anniversary today!”
They went on to play a game of Scrabble while I wiped off my tears.
Now was that true Love, I wondered?
But the sight I saw next took the cake. A woman in her thirties had lost one breast to Cancer. She kept crying, while the doctor explained to her why they had to take such an extreme step. But she was inconsolable.
Just then the husband opened his wallet and showed her a picture of their wedding day.
“Look” he smiled, “How much hair I had on my head then. Now I’m balding. Does that mean you love me less? In the same way, why do you think I will love you less now?”
I froze in amazement. Brought up on a regular fare of Bollywood movies and our decadent times that celebrated “body parts” through item numbers and the like, what was this that I was hearing?
Now was this true Love, I wondered?
Was it just wrong statistics that I had stumbled upon that day, or did I actually see more rural, down- to-earth people, as opposed to the busy professionals of the metros, living out true love?
Perhaps Carol had staged it all for me. For just then I came across a stunningly beautiful young girl in a sunflower yellow dress and ankle length stylish boots. She was in her thirties and must have been high up on the corporate ladder.
Sensing a confidante in me and obviously dying to share her story she leaned towards me and whispered, “You know, for four years I gave him everything—my body, my home, my life. We were supposed to get married this month.”
Just then the Attendant called out—“ No 129!”
The girl got up.
“Who is the Patient?” asked the Attendant.
Smiling at me wryly she said, “I am the Patient. He was the Impatient one. He left.”
With that, she walked with firm steps into the Doctor’s Chamber, making my heart twinge with the pain she must be feeling.
Was this true love, I wondered?
“ I’ve seen enough!” I cried to Carol, who has a knack of appearing at the right moment.
“So Honey bunch? Any changes in your definition of True Love?”
“Yes, but before that, a few recommendations:
- I have seen enough youngsters necking and petting at Band Stand and Lover’s lanes. They should forcefully be brought here to understand what love means.
- Whoever you are, whatever age you are, you do deserve to make one trip to this Hospital at least once to feel the heartbreak of patients being abandoned by their own or the sheer joy of a son (mine!) looking after his widow mother, despite his hectic corporate schedule. You MUST experience raw Human Drama present in the corridors here.
- All those youngsters who profess “’I love you” should compulsorily make a visit to Tata Memorial Hospital. When the marriage vows say “In sickness and in sorrow, till death do us part…” they must first come here to understand the gravity of what the relationship entails.
Carol, I tell you, if one’s love can carry one through something as dreaded as Cancer, only then is it True Love.
Carol is a great listener. She nodded sagely as I said,
“Love is the Infallible Physician, the Supreme Consoler; it is the Conqueror, the Sovereign Teacher.”
At that point, Carol’s face split into a radiant grin. “Duchess dahling—you said it—Not I, ok?”
Then she took my hand and off we went home—I, suitably chastened and she, gloating in the fact that once again she had been proved right.
Who would say a trip to a Cancer Hospital would make you feel light-hearted? It certainly had that effect on us. I saluted the resilience of the human spirit and determined to enjoy each day. I promised I would not die before Death actually came. I would Live every single moment. I would celebrate Life!
“You know Carol, I sang—’The Rest of my Life is now going to be the Best of my Life’.”
To which she added, “Indeed, all life is Love if we only know how to live it!”
Today Carol took me on a trip down memory lane.
Once upon a time, several decades back there lived a happy-go-lucky girl. Her pride was her long hair which reached right up to her knees. It was jet black and flowed down straight like a never-ending stream. In the fantasy world the young inhabit easily, she imagined it alternatively as being her magic robe that could cover her modesty to her “many women-many looks” transformational armour. Someone who loved her at that point, dotingly called her Rapunzel.
Well, years rolled on as they are wont to do. Faced with the stark reality of work stress, demanding kids and the juggling of Life’s many responsibilities, Rapunzel’s cherished possession reduced in length in direct proportion to the stressors she faced.
Convenience reigned over vanity. Despite everything, this fast maturing woman–Me, took pride in perming, ironing, curling, blow-drying, straightening–even highlighting them to a burnished gold. Very often, my hair was trimmed so short that it looked like a plucked chicken’s on a bad, rainy day or a boy’s dishevelled head after a street fight. Yet they continued to remain my pride. My tresses defined me–the essential woman I remained even after all the close encounters of the manly kind Life threw at me.
So you can imagine my shock when one morning, after my first Chemo I woke up to Carol wagging her manicured nails at me. Pointing to the abundant hairfall on my pillow she said, “Now that’s a neat black carpet, honey!”
Horrified, I put my fingers through my hair and came back with a clumpful.
You can imagine my horror when I heard her say, “Hey babes, how about going bald?”
“Bald?” I protested. “Now I know you are truly crazy!”
Not famous for mincing her words she shook her own golden tresses and reminded me of the protest each precious follicle was making by pulling at the scalp painfully and making me feel there were a million earthworms underneath, ready to attack any moment.
Now there’s something so compulsive about Carol that I always end up taking her advice. So, on that beautiful sunny morning, when countless women around the globe were stroking their hair lovingly, I set off on my expedition to divorce mine.
Off I went in search of a Hair Salon where anonymity could be my strength! I was ably cheered on by my brave colleague, Rajashree who was determined to see the act through before I lost my nerve.
At the first Parlour, a long lost friend sang out a melodious hello and said, “Hey, Neelam! Long time no see. Come, their Pedicure is Heaven!”
Needless to say I promptly disappeared as this was not the haven I was after!
The next Salon was a stylish, snooty, upscale one. Surely nobody would recognise me here! In the sanitised, angel-perfumed, temperature-controlled interiors, women in various stages of undress lolled in luxury–getting their hands, feet, body, hair and face lathered and cajoled into looking 10 minutes younger.
The very stylish girl at the Counter smiled at me indulgently and asked what she could do for me.
“I want to go Bald. Can you do it for me?”
She continued filing her shapely nails–“Aaaah–a Mannat (a religious wish) or something?”
I came closer to her. “Promise you’ll be able to handle the truth?” I cleared my throat to be audible to all.
“I am going through Chemotherapy.”
Never shall I forgive myself for the electrical response my words got. The girl at the Counter jumped up erect. The various women with cream in their eyes, startled awake and their elegant handlers, dropped their stylish instruments, their mouths agape.
After that I got the treatment fit for a Queen–a separate private room where I could go bald in peace, a glass of chilled water and a cup of hot tea from the trembling hands of a pretty server.
Now the guy who came to do the needful was something else. He took a Trimmer (the kind men use to shave their beards) and told me to relax. Just when I had begun to relax and he had felled my first lock, a medley of sound, like an orchestra gone hoarse emanated in that tiny room. Carol lectured me about the impermanence of life and attachments; Rajashree cheered me on , while I sobbed at the parting of my beloved hair and the sight of what lay underneath. Suddenly there was a wailing sound from the male hairdresser. All three women stopped talking. Even my murdered locks remained frozen in mid air. What was this, I wondered?
“Oh!” the poor man sniffled, “My Dad was suffering from Chemo and I used to make fun of him. Each time he would ask me to become a hairdresser I would shout back at him. It is only after he died that I had the sense to follow his dreams.”
Compassion welled inside me. I hugged him tight and told him bravely,”C’mon, scrape away. You are finally doing something for your Dad.”
From that moment onwards, the scene completely changed. I wiped off my own tears and began wiping his instead.
Bit by bit, he exposed to the world the wonderfully rounded scalp my mother had created for me. His eyes were brimming with tears as he repayed his debt to his departed father.
Just once in a while, Carol, (known for her wry sense of humour) would put me on track and say, “Hey Deciduous Tree! Give the guy a break.”
The dark deed performed, I finally stood in front of the full length mirror. That’s when the enormity of the act hit me.
My pate had a shine to it and oh, I felt so miserable.
“Carol, how will I go home looking this,” I cried?
But spunky as she is, she had her own plans.
“Babes, now is the time to shock the world with your real self. Let’s go out and have fun seeing the reactions. Do you think that guy in the Merc will make a pass at you?”
The wild child in me perked up. It was worth a try. I stood there in all my naked glory. I went near the well-heeled MBA sorts and said, “Hi, would you mind dropping me to Santa Cruz?”
Never have I seen a guy drive back so fast–that too in reverse gear!
Carol doubled up with laughter, “Now you know how true my theory is. Guys love the hair, not what’s inside that head of ours. Trust me, you’ll never find a guy to love you for the Real you. Just continue doing what you are good at—writing romance stories with fictional characters!”
My return journey was one humbling experience. People looked at me as if I were a weirdo, an alien, or something that had crawled out of the gutter. I did have my wig, but Carol simply refused to allow me to put it on.
“Get real, Sweetheart,” she cooed. “People go only for appearances.”
Crushed and feeling lower than the metal part of my shoe laces, I rang the bell to my home. I was unloved, unwanted, invisible. I could have been a cockroach for all the world cared!
Just then, something miraculous happened.
The door was opened by the 6 year old wonderboy Rajveer. He checked me out and squealed with delight, “S.M.! (He calls me Story Machine) How cool! You have come dressed as an Easter Egg!”
And he jumped into my arms and kissed me all over, restoring and rejuvenating me.
Gosh, I had all but forgotten it was Easter that day…
What would our world do without the accepting innocence and uncontaminated love of kids?
So many of you have been asking me the identity of Carol. Thank you so much for your curiosity! So it’s finally time to bring Carol out of the covers.
Carol is the brave person inside me who laughs at every difficulty Life throws at us. She is the care-two-hoots girl who says, “Don’t dictate to me. I live Life on my own terms please.” She has Attitude. Loads of it.
Before you think that I am slightly strange as I talk to her whenever I need courage, let me hook you on to my strong belief that we have two sides–a weak side and a strong side.
Carol is my strong side. She is my strident inner babe who keeps buzzing into my ears–“On your Marks, Get Set… Go!” She is my inner voice who connected me to the powerful life philosophy I adopted 7 years back and converted me from an emotional being to a spiritual one.
Her positivity is so exhausting that she just does not listen to my fears. She keeps whispering into my ears something my Mentor has taught me, “Courage is the force that makes our lives brilliant”.
How can I ignore her?
Listen dear reader friend. The real me is quaking with fear at this very moment. You know why?
Tomorrow morning I go in for Chemo! The very thought of playing host to that deadly fluid in my veins has me shaking like a leaf.
Ignoring my fears, however, she winks at me and says–“Remember that cricketer? He’s more energetic than before. And that Bollywood actress? She has now become mint fresh. And that friend of my friends’? What an enviable head of hair he now has. So you, who the hell are you? Someone out of this Planet?”
I plead and weep–“When the deadly injection goes inside me tomorrow morning, playing international cricket or growing back luxurious hair will be the last thing on my mind, Carol!”
But all she does is whistle jauntily.
In the absence of any sympathy from this spunky diva, I have decided to make peace and surrender to her quirky view of our life.
Dear Reader, do pray for me as I go in tomorrow to the gallows…er… hospital.
You know what? You might just notice a smile on me.
Guess I have finally become Carol!
Whoever said Life is dull, should take a slice off mine.
At the very moment I sink comfortably into bliss, down zips a bolt of lightning that rips my soul apart. No sooner than I shake my fists at the Heavens, out pours a ray of blazing sunlight, dazzling enough to warm my bleeding soul.
Having wizened up to the pattern of Life’s Cosmic Joke played on me time and again, I have developed a quirky sense of humour. Much to the confusion of those around me, l have learnt to laugh when I have to cry and weep when I’m happy. That’s going to be the next emotion anyway, I argue with myself. Although I must admit family and friends feel nervous around me because of my strange behaviour, I simply love myself for being smart enough to be forewarned and therefore forearmed.
Thus it was on January 23 this year when I decided to take off from work on a relaxing trip to Pune to meet my Mom and sister. The sheer thought of taking a vacation to bond over childhood memories made me sigh with anticipation. That night I packed excitedly and booked a cab to pick me up next morning.
Preparations done, I tucked in comfortably for the night, but not before sending a conspiratorial wink to the Heavens above. “Come on, don’t spoil it for me this time” I grinned.
Sure enough, the answer came in a dream that night. I was climbing up several storeys of an unspecified building and was trembling at the frightening images I saw. My fears peaked when, on the top floor, the lights went out and I discovered I was all alone. Suddenly, I felt a tall and dignified man standing near me. Relieved, I put my head on his chest, embarrassed at what he must think of an unknown woman clutching on to him desperately. But you know what? He put his arm around me so lovingly that I felt instantly comforted and reassured. The message that I got from him at the moment woke me up with a start. I must go to a certain hospital for a check up of a certain part of my body.
Did I ignore the instruction? How could I? Having told my loved ones about my change of plan that day, I rushed off to the hospital in question, to the tune of their pooh poohs about my superstitions.
The days ahead seem frozen in my mind like a stalactite–other-worldly, mysteriously patterned and frozen in time. I finally caught my breath on February 14th when I found myself waking up after an anaesthesia -induced sleep. A tsunami of emotions washed over me–rage, helplessness, frustration. How could I of all the people, who neither smoked, nor drank, nor did drugs have got this on a cherished body part? My lifestyle had been healthy–a bit too healthy. I had confused even the docs. Any family history? None. Did you marry late? 19. Did you not give birth to children? Two. Did you breast feed them? A year each. They scratched their heads and said–Oh. A freak case then.
Ha! I thought, buffeting on every negative emotion the Universe has ever produced! How could I have got Cancer?
That’s when I met her.
She suddenly reared her pretty head inside of me and said, “Hey Neelam! Come hold my hand!”
Instinctively, I sighed with relief as I recognised my spirited friend. Yes, she had always been with me right through Life’s tortuous journey. She had taken me by the hand and showed me how to walk the rough path ahead the day my young husband had died suddenly in 1993. She had taken me by the hand and told me–35 is not too young, Come on! You CAN look after yourself all alone And puhleeeze– Don’t put on those garbs of white to show you are a poor young widow and therefore need sympathy!
She had given me the courage to bring up my son and daughter single- handedly–right through their braces’ fittings to their teenage tantrums to their Parents’ Day events where I appeared all alone. But I was there for them, unlike many kids who had two parents, but one of them was too busy to attend.
Once again I grabbed her strong hand and said, “Ok. This is yet another challenge, but we shall handle it once again. Together. With a lot of dignity and spunk.”
She was eveeything I was not–golden haired, brimming with laughter, courage and compassion. To me she was soft as the night breeze and strong as the righing of bells when the situation demanded it. During my difficult road to recovery, she would always be there. All I needed to do was tap into her positivity and get the bells ringing. So Life was going to be fun, after all, I smiled. She was my alter ego; only I had not given her a name.
What better name than Joyous Carol? Who said Valentine’s Day is only for lovers? It’s also for someone you love.
Renewed and rejuvenated I said, “I’m never going to say,”Why Me?” Instead, I’ll say, “Try Me!” And she shook her lovely curls and laughed delightfully.
That’s how I met Carol on Valentines’ Day.
P.S.–Friends, it took me a lot of courage to admit to having Cancer and write about it in my Blog. But I know my courage will be rewarded through your love for me.
For all the “twenties and thirties something” reading this. Here’s a look at the fun of ageing…
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The Flirty, Feisty, Fifties
It is in my 50’s that I have finally discovered the joys of Flirting. Flirting with Life!
Whoever told you that the 20’s were the much-awaited “coming of age” were wrong. And how!
Take it from someone who has lived through five decades and is excitedly nudging the next.
At 21 I was a vacuous-faced pretty young thing with a nonsensical, fairy-tale idea of life. Having weathered many typhoons and been flattened breathless by the hurricanes of real life, I have finally emerged from the constrictions of life’s chrysalis into the freedom of the Fifties. My multi-hued butterfly wings are dappled with lived-through experiences, and my curious antennae are eager to fly off into the unknown.
Can you even begin to imagine the freedom I now…
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It is my conviction that while looking down at Earth from the heavens, the One Above must be bemused by the name we earthlings have given our planet. With the human species’ obsessive preoccupation with marriage—the making, the tolerating and the breaking of it, wouldn’t a more apt name for it be Planet M?
Having been married till a couple of decades back, I am privileged to share the same bird’s eye view of this beautiful institution. Others may be bird watchers. I happen to be a couple watcher. And that talent has helped me in the marital therapy I so much enjoy doing.
After all, can you imagine how much a simple observation reveals even to the untrained eye? Who walks ahead of whom? Who smiles at the other? Who looks angry and frustrated? Above all, the chattering sound of silence…
It amuses me to see how much energy people put into chasing their dream partner; marrying her/him; getting miserable with the chosen one; divorcing the dream and once again getting on with another chase! No wonder there are as many marriages as there are divorces and as many remarriages as there are divorces after remarriage. It is almost as if the genders have made the M game their life’s preoccupation.
Someone once said something to the effect that Marriage is allabout Who tells Whom to do What, When. I would like to add another pronoun to this deadly list—How. Imagine having a partner by your side who decides everything you need to do. The arrangement works out fine until the other partner decides to call the shots. That’s when they come to me, bewildered.
The most popular clashes are in four areas and their by-products—sex, money, in-laws and religion. Very often, a couple may come in with a conflict over money, only to reveal later that the actual conflict lies in any of the above areas. The active exercising of power is as much a problem as the inability to actively exercise any power or control. Chronic warfare is as bad as paralysis of action.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not against marriage, having enjoyed a beautiful relationship myself. I am merely perplexed at the attitudinal change in the genders of today.
With both partners working and more economic power, the apple cart of society has turned. Women are less sacrificing, understanding and giving. Instead of nurturing, they demand to be nurtured themselves.
On the other hand, while ‘working woman’ is a popular term, ‘working man’ is not. And that speaks volumes for our society. With two individuals demanding the same kind of power inside a marriage, there are bound to be struggles—not for power, but to escape being ‘controlled’.
I feel that in the metros, life has become truly tough for young people. Time, or the lack of it is the big villain in any relationship. Add to that the pressure of having to balance a stressful job. Where is the time to nurture their marriage—a delicate relationship that requires a lot of time and loving each day?
As a Communicator, I see modern divorces as pre-emptive strikes to retain power or control of the relationship. I mean, how are international relationships any different from interpersonal relationships, no?
As a mature woman and a writer of romantic stories, I bemoan the passing away of the era of romance, where couples courted each other by running around trees; communicated their love by trembling of lips and promptly burst into melodious songs, Bollywood style. Will somebody please give me back the “happy ever after” era again?
I propose a shift back to those idyllic times when Love and only Love ruled every aspect of life. To love and be loved was the one pre-occupation of youngsters. And this pre-occupation brought in its wake all the wonderful prerequisites of sacrifice, loyalty, understanding, trust, care and empathy.
A marriage was sacrosanct. Partners were accepted—warts and all. Ego was unheard of. Intolerance was a foreign word. Fidelity was a given. People worked through their marriage—however much effort it took.
People actually adjusted—through thick and thin.
Ofcourse they say it’s always easier to preach than to practice.
Any guesses why I did not re-marry?
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To me, Bangkok is a city of sharp contrasts. On offer is the base as well as the divine. The sublime as well as the ridiculous. In ample measure.
The divinity is outnumbered only by the depravity. There are as many temples (over a 100 in the city alone!) as there are streetwalkers.
And certainly the Indian male tourist does not go to visit those temples! My guess is that the average Indian has already had an overdose of temple- visiting in his country by the time he reaches middle age. And hence he dashes out to check the other stuff on display.
And that’s what I am going to focus on in this blog—the embarrassing antics of the libido–driven middle-aged, much married men of my beloved country.
Our Bus had several groups, but the loudest was an all-male group from the South of India. They were all in their 50’s, pot bellied and balding. They had left their religious wives at home and were out on an all-boys’ adventure trip. They had obviously heard of all the ‘fun’ that would be available to them and cracked inane jokes loudly to the disgust of other ‘normal’ tourists like us.
Emboldened by their group strength, they began teasing the pretty Thai Tourist Guide in our bus.
“Hey Pinky! Come, sit here” said the loudest of them all, slapping his thighs. To this, all of them guffawed at their collective intelligence.
At first the girl smiled politely in their direction and continued her job of explaining to us about all the sights on view. When their sexual teasing continued, she picked up some sentences that had obviously held her in good stead on her previous encounters with other Indian males—“Anna!” she said, looking sweetly in his direction, “Next time you must bring Chachi along!”
The Mall where we got off was chock full of everything I had always wanted to buy. Purse empty, arms heavy and heart filled with regret at all the un bought goodies , I stroked my hard working ankles. I kept marveling at the wisdom of the anecdote, “In Bangkok, you can shop till you drop”.
Of course we kept getting distracted by the disgusting sight of 70 year old European males, striking ‘deals’ with 15 year old girls. That’s Bangkok for you. Everything is out in the open.
Just then my eyes fell on a very pretty Thai girl sitting inside a stall. Her skin was porcelain white, her eyes were carefully done up in blacks and blues, while her long fake nails were elegantly painted in emerald red. Her tight-fitting clothes clung alluringly around her perfect figure.
Fluttering her long eyelashes and elegantly tossing her fashionably ironed out hair over her petite shoulders, she smiled mischievously around, whenever she managed to look up from the endless task of texting from her long contact list.
And then the beauty got up. The body was thin, the shorts were micro and the stilettos were dangerously high. She walked towards someone we knew. Someone familiar. It happened simultaneously—the man’s excited whispers and then his horrified screams. “Yeoooooww… Ammaa…”
Seeing Anna running, we asked him what the matter was—She… She’s a Man” he screamed in panic!
Having dialed a wrong number, Anna and his group decided to play safe the next morning and hunt closer home on familiar territory when the bus took off. They kept flirting loudly with Pinky, asking her to give them a massage.
“Yes Anna, I am indeed taking you to a Massage Parlor. You’ll enjoy it” she smiled indulgently.
“Heloo… Heloooo. Hellow…” shouted Anna into the phone, as if he could not hear what the person at the other end was speaking. Our bus had just stopped outside a huge Massage Spa and he delightfully registered the fact that the Thai girls inside would give massages to the men too. A call from his wife was the last thing he wanted to be disturbed by.
“Helooo… can’t hear you… no network here…” shouted Anna into the phone as he all but ran inside to sample the pleasures that awaited him.
It was a huge room we were led to. The comfortable mattresses on the floor were for men as well as women.
“Since you are all lying quite close to each other” advised a hard-faced Thai woman, “Please make sure not to throw your arms around. Just obey these girls. They are professionals. I am sure you will behave.”
This was bliss! We changed into the blue pyjamas and sunk into the soft cushions and surrendered our tired muscles to the expert kneading and squeezing. I was just drifting off into a relaxed slumber when I heard a loud scream.
“Yeaowww… Amma….” A strict looking bouncer had caught hold of an Indian man who had ‘misbehaved’ and was throwing him out.
It was Anna……
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With just two days left in Bangkok and myriads of shopping opportunities lying unexplored, we felt exactly what the famished Hansel and Gretel must have felt on reaching the chocolate cottage.
Being adventurous by nature, we decided to forego the ‘touristy’ experience of moving around in a.c. taxis. We decided to take the cute “tuk tuks” as the auto rickshaws there are called.
I suspect that learning about my impending visit, all of Thailand had conspired to raise all their ladders/ staircases, high climbs to play a joke on my knees. Not for a minute could I imagine that my decision to remain “grounded” during my shopping expeditions would literally land me close to the ground.
“You know, I have started doing Yoga” I boasted to my sister. “It really makes you agile!”
Just then, Sam’s colourful “tuk tuk” stopped near us. Like pros, we bargained with Sam’s exorbitant rate for the short journey, finally settling on a compromise.
“Women!” sighed Sam loudly, rolling his eyes. “Sisters eh?”
Did he think this was our first trip to Bangkok, we argued confidently, pointing to the Thai bonnet, the Thai sarong and the orchid flower I was donning. We came here twice a month, we boasted!
By this time, my sister had hopped onto the vehicle and was comfortably seated on the red seat. Price settled, I began my steep climb up. To my horror, the foot -rest was so high that I collapsed at my sister’s feet instead. Cramped and stuck within the confines, however hard I tried, I just could not haul myself up onto the seat!
“Sisters, welcome to Bangkok on your first visit!” guffawed Sam as he lunged his “tuk tuk” crazily through lanes and by lanes.
I am a tall woman—and Thai women are petite. This is why half my leg was dangling out on the Bangkok streets, as we zipped around wildly at James Bond’s crazy speed.
I looked up sneakily at my elder sister, my face flushed with embarrassement.
“It’s the cut on my knee” I assured her.
“No, no” she teased, “It’s a new yoga pose. Yoga makes you agile, right?
When in Bangkok, do remember to give proper directions. We did not. Or maybe Sam was having fun with us. There are two shopping destinations in the city—both similar sounding. We had asked to be taken to Platinum Mall and very soon found ourselves outside Pratinam Market.
“Have you been here before?” laughed Sam, winking at us. “Because if you do not recognize Pratinum from your many previous visits, I’ll take you to Platinum Mall. And that will be another long trip. So hang on Ladies….”
Like two school kids having been caught cheating, we decided to remian tight lipped, holding on to dear life as we dashed and bumped past dangerous hair pin bends.
Till date, this has been the most memorable ride of our lives.
Till date, we have never been taken for such a literal ride!
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Welcome to Neelam Kumar’s blog. This is my quirky view of life as it unfolds.
Long back I discovered the Big Truth of Life– it depends on your perspective. Living never gets easier, so it’s wiser to adjust your perspective. I choose to focus on the sunny and the cheerful. Hence this blog.
Neelam is a Communications professional, a Trainer, a Writer of several novels and a Traveler. She lives in Mumbai. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org