The City Girl goes Off the Grid

In November, A and I realized that the end of 2017 was fast approaching and we hadn’t gone on a trip this year (for those of you who know us, no, I don’t mean just the 2 of us. The plan also included the two best FB friends, V and AM). This wasn’t for the lack of trying given how we almost went to Acres Wild in October. Sadly, that attempt was thwarted by my involvement in a product launch. It was time to come up with a last minute getaway, and A managed to wrangle us a spot at a farm stay where we could spend the Christmas long weekend off the grid (literally).

That’s how we found ourselves on a 10-hour road trip to Castle Rock (near Goa) on Saturday morning. Originally, we didn’t plan to divulge the name or location of this place, because we think that some hidden gems should stay hidden. However, while we were stuck in the usual traffic jam exiting Bangalore, I discovered that Saturdays edition of The Hindu already featured the place, so it’s no longer our “secret”. And just in case the non-Hindu readers missed it, V proudly shared it on FB for everyone to see. Everyone knows, but let me remind you now, we got there first.

About 2 hours into the aforementioned jam, V claimed he could already smell the ocean air. Except, we hadn’t even hit Tumkur yet, and this was quite the achievement given that we left from our apartment on Tumkur Road. Also, we weren’t ever going to smell the ocean air on this trip given that we weren’t going into Goa, a fact he had conveniently overlooked. This, from the guy who accused A and me of pulling a bait and switch and pitching Dandeli as Goa when he first looked the place up on a map. Clearly, positive visualization of seas you aren’t going to see can get you through the madness that is the masses trying to exit Bangalore on a long weekend. That, and A’s peppy playlist that veered from Ed Sheeran to 90’s Bollywood in a matter of seconds, and kept us guessing at what would come next.

Once we reached Castle Rock, and tried to find our way into the forest to the farm, we were stopped by a forest official. He wanted to know why we were headed into the forest, and hadn’t heard the name ‘Off the Grid’. Once we mentioned John and Sylvia (the owners), he was happy to let us in, provided we showed him our ID proof. AM pulled out his Aadhar card, proving yet again, that one needs Aadhar for everything, including going off the grid. Remember folks, you have to be ON the grid to go OFF the grid.

Note: When they say you should get there while it’s still light out, they are not kiddofing. There isn’t a chance in hell you will find this place if you’re hunting in the dark, and you do not want to be lost in a forest that’s part of the Tiger Reserve with no cell network. It’s called ‘Off the Grid’ for a reason. You lose cellular connectivity about 30 minutes before you get there. Be warned, all you city folks! You also cannot drive right up to the farm, unless you have an SUV. There’s a clearing where you park, and honk to let them know you’re there.

We spent our first night in the stream facing cabin rooms, and about 10 minutes into the stay, I had my first run-in with nature.

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Wall art and pretty mirrors! (Credit: AM)

Like all city girls, I thought nothing of going to the bathroom, and confidently flushing once I’d done my business. And then I saw that I’d unleashed a tsunami-level tidal wave upon two frogs who were hiding under the toilet seat and were now scrambling to climb out. I got over my initial surprise at being confronted by them and wondered how to get rid of them. I proceeded to spray them with a jet of water from the faucet, completely forgetting that frogs are amphibians and therefore, attempting to drown them did not constitute a plan of any sort. I gave up and went out for chai, where I told the others about my run-in with nature.

AM, the only one with true trekking experience in our little group used this teachable moment to remind the rest of us lost souls that we were in the jungle and we should do thorough checks that included the frog check I’d already missed, as well as shaking out blankets etc. to ensure we didn’t scare any other of the local fauna. Something this city girl desperately who for needed, given that it was easy for me to forget just how deep in the jungle we were, given the nice rooms (with included WC’s!). I think I scared the frogs, though, because we did not see them again for the duration of our stay.

That night, we had our first taste of the awesome spread that Off the Grid produces out of wood fired ovens and a tandoor (spoiler: their pizzas are to die for!).

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One of the many mouth watering meals! (Credit: V)

Also, I forgot AM’s warning, and later that night, I managed to scare a lizard that was cozily napping in the corner of our bed by proceeding to jump in without shaking off the comforter. The lizard scuttled away in shock, and V realized that this city girl doesn’t freak out at the sight of lizards (always good for your spouse to learn something new after so many years). After the lizard incident, V decided to take over checking duties because he believes in co-existence with other species and didn’t want me to scare away all the fauna.

The next morning, we moved to their rooftop rooms, which V had been eyeing because they were the best spot to catch the early morning sun. The weather swung from about 32 degrees in the daytime to about 18 degrees at night, so the sunlight was important. The rooftop rooms are awesome, especially if, like us, you travel as a group of 4. You get the terrace all to yourself, and you can spend the entire day reading and drinking chai. Until 6.30PM, that is. At that time, you bring out the festive edition of Amrut (or whatever you choose to drink). The only break we took from lazing about on the rooftop (and trying to grab the only swing hammock there), was to head out to the waterfall that’s a 5 minute walk from this property.

A and I opted for the easy land-based route, but AM and V felt the need to walk upwards through the stream to reach the waterfall.

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Scenic route through the stream (Credit: AM)

In both cases, we were disappointed to realize that the waterfall was a very popular destination on Christmas Eve. Gone were our hopes to be the only ones at the waterfall, as we spotted new groups showing up at five-minute intervals. We weren’t the only ones disappointed by the crowds. A group of local boys had stopped by with plans to cook lunch over a bonfire and go for a swim later. When we told them we planned to leave and come back the next day, they seemed positively delighted that we’d leave and thereby reduce the crowd by 4 people.

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Our private pool (Credit: AM)

Since our reason to go off the grid was to try and avoid crowds, we crossed our fingers for luck and headed off to the waterfall again the next day. It was second time lucky, and we had the waterfall all to ourselves! While A, AM and I lazed about, V tried his best to catch some fish with a net he created using some twigs, and his vest. He didn’t succeed, but he didn’t miss out on the fish because it was part of the lunch menu. So in the spirit of eating food as close to the source as possible, he had fried fish by a stream.

For those who don’t believe in doing nothing, like we do, Off the Grid offers treks and bike rides. If Sylvia is around, you could also take a pottery class, something I wanted to do but couldn’t because she wasn’t there. We skipped the treks and bike rides, and spent our time going from hammock to hammock to read (and sometimes doodle, or take many photos of sunbirds).

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Sunbird Posing (Credit: AM)

When the hammocks got boring, we moved to the tree-bridge over the stream for a very Calvin and Hobbes like setting.

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“It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy…” (Credit: V)

For those of you wondering how I’m writing an entire blogpost on doing nothing, let me tell you that it took a lot of effort for A and me to pull off a plan that wasn’t a plan. We got over our OCD to do things by planning our meals/snacks for the roadtrip (an entire Excel spreadsheet was devoted to this). I also took great measure to ensure I wouldn’t be stranded without a book. I had 2 Kindles (with different accounts and therefore different books), and 1 paperback. Needless to say, I still ended up stealing a paperback from V’s stash. I also had my art supplies. So yes, it takes a lot of planning to do nothing.

V was the only one who veered away from the doing nothing agenda and decided to explore the area. He went on a walk where he was first attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes, and then squawked at by some angry roosters. As a true believer of co-existence, he wasn’t too concerned about these, but then he heard what may have been a jaguar/leopard (or maybe just his stomach growling), and he beat a hasty retreat to join us in our attempt at doing nothing, or as AM put it, our attempt to be “actively passive”.

So, that’s how we put our time off the grid to good use. Lots of reading, lounging around in various scenic jungle spots, and inhaling our way through every meal (plus snacks. We demolished many packets of chips, rum cake, cookies and more in-between the super sized meals).

And, the biggest bonus was that on the way back, Google Maps took us through the scenic route. This meant about 15-20 minutes of wandering through some village and wondering if Google knew what it was doing, but also meant we also drove through ghats, and fields (and missed 2 tolls!). Also, we didn’t get stuck in another jam while re-entering Bangalore so we got to keep our doing nothing glow for another evening.

If you decide to go Off the Grid, these are my top five city-girl rules to surviving the jungle:

  1. Ask your trekking friends what checks you need to do to ensure you don’t disturb the fauna. You do NOT want to be the person who squashed a lizard by jumping on it. If you don’t have trekking friends, I will introduce you to mine.
  2. There are no plug points in the rooms so don’t expect to charge that phone you aren’t using. If you take a Kindle (or two), remember to charge it before you get there.
  3. You will fall asleep on the hammocks. If you insist on wearing sunglasses, you may burn your nose (and your spouse may compare you to a certain deity). Be aware.
  4. Fresh air  and fresh produce will increase your appetite. We all ate about double (ok, maybe triple!) our usual at every meal. And the dismal number on my Fitbit can tell you that there was really no activity that substantiated this appetite increase.
  5. In the off chance that you believe in drinking chai in lota-sized mugs (like me and my friends), you may need to temper your quantity expectations because they cannot keep up with your chai standards. I suggest you decide who is making your homecoming chai right now.

Lastly, and most importantly, you will see the stars you only ever saw in picture-books (if you’re a city girl, like me). You’ll see enough stars to remind you of how insignificant you are in the scheme of things. If you’re really lucky, you will spot the milky way which will drive the point home even further. All those things you’re worrying your head over? None of them matters. You are a speck. As a city girl who spends all her time with her nose in a book, I know nothing about jungles, birds, flowers or fauna of any kind. But I will tell you this. Every time this city girl looks up into the inky-black sky shimmering with stars, she thinks about giving up all that city-nonsense and moving to the jungle.

***

PS: I know that somewhere in the jungles of the Tiger Reserve, there are some frogs and a lizard who are concerned about this last thought of mine. 

PS – I also spotted an Amazon box in one of the sheds at Off the Grid, so I’m hoping that if Amazon can find Off the Grid, then one can have the stars AND consumerism?

 

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Of Ambition…

ambition: a strong desire to do or achieve something

“Something”.

‘Something’ could be defined in many ways, by different people. And yet, people at large seem to think it has a single definition, one that involves taking a single path and winning a specific kind of rat race that has been programmed into their brains. Even within that race, there’s a single defined method to win, often defined by gender-biased traits and behaviors. So even if someone is ambitious, they’re told repeatedly that they’re not, because they don’t demonstrate the requisite traits and behaviors.

As if one has to prove that one is ambitious.

As if ambition lies in the eyes of the beholder, and not in the inputs of the person.

As if ambition means only one thing, and couldn’t possibly reach where your imagination cannot.

As if my definition has no meaning if it doesn’t conform to your definition.

I am ambitious.

You are no one to tell me I’m not, irrespective of what I say or do. My definition isn’t yours, and it never will be.

 

Note: I’d love to say more, but everything I want to say, has been said here. So, yet again, Fuck Ambition. At least, your definition of it.

 

Kitchen Confidential

I haven’t told anyone this, until today. But thanks to Timehop reminding me of this day, I think it’s time I admitted to this faux-pas of mine.

***

‘Counting down to Turkey Day with chocolate cheesecake’, I posted on Facebook. I was publicly admitting that I’d said I’d bake something for Thanksgiving with my family that week, even though it had been years since I’d baked anything. I had also never baked a cheesecake at that time (though I had done many no-bake versions), so I didn’t even know what could happen if I made a mistake. I, however, staked a lot on the claim that while I can’t cook, I can bake. And I’d complicated matters by asking for choices, and had landed up in this chocolate-coffee cheesecake situation. The responses on FB were not really encouraging. My ‘friends’ made fun of my cooking skills and pointed out that I’d once invited my cousin home for lunch, and made enough lady finger curry to feed half a person (in my defense, I had no clue just how much lady fingers shrink when cooked). I was mighty encouraged by the support and told everyone I’d prove them wrong, with video evidence in return.

***

So there I was, the day before my Thanksgiving trip to Portland with 6 boxes of cream cheese and a shiny new cheesecake pan. I was very careful, as I measured out the ingredients and began blending everything. It seemed like everything was going fine, until I got to the fourth box of cream cheese. As I scraped it out, I saw that there were some green dots at the bottom. I wondered if it was moldy, and sniffed at it. But it seemed fine. I knew the first three boxes had no issue. I opened the fifth one, and again, this one had the green specks, too.

Now, I was a little worried. I was baking in the middle of the night, which meant I had no chance to go out and buy more cream cheese. I also didn’t know what would happen to my cake if I used lesser cream cheese than recommended. I couldn’t show up without a cheesecake because I knew my family would laugh me out of town. Also, they’d very nicely told me that they wouldn’t take me home if I didn’t show up with the cake. Sigh.

I tasted the green-speckled cheese and it seemed fine. But I didn’t want to take a chance. I also began wondering if all the cheese was past its expiry, and what I’d already used was just not showing any signs yet. So I pulled out all the packets from the trash (yes, yes, it’s gross, but I may have already ingested mouldy cheese, so whatever!) to check the expiry date. That’s when I saw it. I had bought 3 packets of regular cream cheese, and 2 of garlic-herb flavored cream cheese. That explained the green specks, but it didn’t solve my problem. How could I make the cheesecake I’d promised if I didn’t have enough cream cheese? I evaluated the pros and cons of showing up with nothing vs. showing up with a weird tasting cake, and decided I’d take a chance.

And that’s how I made a chocolate-coffee cheesecake that included some garlic-herbs mix as well. Thankfully, my over enthusiasm for extra dark chocolate meant that the onion-herbs flavor was largely drowned out, and the cake tasted pretty alright. No one who ate the cake realized what I’d done. Infact, someone even commented on the fact that it had a slight salty taste, like really well made brownies that aren’t super sugary. I claimed that I’d used the bakers secret of a tinge of salt, without admitting just where that tinge originated.

And that’s how I invented a recipe for chocolate-coffee cheesecake, with garlic and herbs. I also got away with it, until today, because I never told anyone what I’d done. But I couldn’t help but post this when I saw the prescient comment on the FB post, that said, as long as you don’t pull a Rachel, with a link to this video.

Sometimes, you can mix up recipes, and it won’t taste like feet.

 

Dear Childhood Friend…

Dear A,

I didn’t think I’d write to you again, but I can’t help myself.

Last week, I went to the wedding. I went because your mother asked me to, and I don’t say no to her.

It felt weird.

I can’t believe I didn’t go to your wedding. I can’t even remember why, it was so long ago. I wish I’d been to yours, but since I didn’t go, I am glad I went to this one, even though it felt weird..

It’s weird how nobody from our childhood could talk about me, without talking about us. It’s like we were this unit. I didn’t know how to react, so I smiled. But I couldn’t help but think of how different things would’ve been if you’d been there.

It’s weird how grown up A looked, and how he didn’t even know who I was. He doesn’t know just how many hours we’ve spent chatting while he slept peacefully in his crib.

It’s weird how AN didn’t recognize me when I said hello. The only time we spoke was right after, when I visited aunty before my wedding and that was almost 3 years ago. Why would he even know me? But how weird is it that he doesn’t?

It’s weird that V never met you, and he never will meet you.

It’s weird that when the bride introduced me, she said, “this is my childhood friend.” I would’ve called myself your friend first, after all.

What wasn’t weird though, was when aunty told anyone and everyone there that we’re best friends.

Are.

Love always,

D

 

Me too, me too, me too

Why don’t people name the culprits when they say #metoo, you say.

How do you name the culprit, I ask.

You should, you insist. You should.

But you can’t, I say.

You should. You must stand up for yourself.

I wonder…

How do I name the guy who purposely stuck his arm out and grabbed me when I was twelve?

I wonder…

How do I name the guy in the backseat of the bus, who’s arm sneaked up through the gap to touch whatever he could while I was asleep? I was fourteen and we’d almost reached before I realized it wasn’t a mouse, it was a human hand.

I wonder…

How do I name the guy who flashed a bunch of schoolgirls in Kerala just because he knew we’d be so shocked we wouldn’t scream?

I wonder…

How do I name the guy who I yelled at and got thrown off a bus in Delhi? I was worried for days after that he’d find me and do something worse.

I wonder, I wonder, I wonder…

So I simply say – you can’t name everyone because you don’t ask them their names if things happen on the streets.

Then you say you should if they’re people who can be named.

 

Then I wonder again…do I name every single person who has committed some version of a micro aggression, some version of discrimination…

Do I name the people who cut me off in meetings because I’m a woman?

Do I name the people who thought I could work late just because I was ‘single’ and therefore couldn’t possible have a life?

Do I name the people who would accompany their wives to the bathroom because of shady characters nearby, but wouldn’t do the same for me as a friend?

Do I name the people who thought it was OK to say that I should hang a dupatta outside the door as a sign of my presence in a room?

Do I name the people who think being Type A, and being loud men who can drown out a woman’s voice are one and the same?

Do I name the people who mansplain my work to me?

Do I name the people who attempt to physically intimidate me to make a point, and then chalk it up to having a temper as if I couldn’t possibly have one, too?

Do I name the people who think of me as a ‘diversity’ filter, vs. as someone with a brain (and an opinion to boot)

Do I name every single one of them, and if I do, would they try and understand why I’m naming them, or will they just say that I am overreacting. That I’m not professional, not a good friend, that I’m one of ‘those’ crazy women.

Do I name those who don’t do anything, but are complicit in their silence?

Do I name you?

 

We are a startup, and so…

We will not use a single point of contact for communications with a vendor. Instead, we expect people to follow up with different people for different parts of the process, and those people won’t talk to each other. Let the vendor rework stuff multiple times, that’s simpler.

Our feedback will be as random as to suggest re-doing work in an entirely different style, when all we wanted was to make things darker. We will not put this on email, however, because we only give clarifications on the phone with no paper trail.

We will blame our delays on another external consultant, because we don’t want to take any ownership for any breaks in our (non-existent) process.

We will have a person who claims they are a sign-off authority, but whenever there is an unpleasant decision to be communicated, we will hide behind “our team thinks…”

We believe “empathy” means not having to take accountability for our actions. We will throw around the word whenever someone pushes back on us, to claim that they do not have “empathy”.

We will claim that there’s no one person over-seeing this relationship. However, the person will suddenly show up out of the blue just to send emails at midnight, based on one person’s word. We will not give the other person a chance to share their side of the hassle. Because, we believe “two-way empathy” is about us.

In short, we don’t have a process because we are growing and trying to accomplish a lot with minimal resources. If you have a suggestion on how we can work together better, don’t tell us because we don’t want to hear it.

After all, why should a startup have a process? That’s a big company thing. We are so nimble, we will instead communicate vaguely, go back on our commitments and approvals, and if someone dares question us, well, that just means you don’t have the empathy to work with us, right?