Thursday, November 9, 2017

Being Me (a poem)

I can only be me
I don't know how to be anyone else
So love me, leave me,
Laugh at me, tease me, 
I will just be me.

Adore me (I like that!), Indulge me (I like that more)
But I will still stay me.

Lust after me, or simply listen to me (ideally do both)
And I will still stay me (thought a teeny bit happier).

Mould me, shape me. And you will be disappointed
Teach me, help me grow, And I will be a better version of me.

Watch me fail...and then let me fly
I will go far, I may go further, but I will remain me.

So take me as I am

I may not be all that you hoped
But trust me...
Being me is like nothing else on earth!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Travel Tales: College Reunion Trip

What do you get when you take 1 holiday planning with 6 friends with 27 years of friendship and 5 countries between them? You say 'confusion' and you wouldn't be far from the truth. It's all out mayhem!

But first let's start with the good stuff. The miracles that helped this dream of a holiday become a close reality. 

Miracle 1- Getting the date. All of us have jobs, all of us have kids. Getting one week that worked for all six of us, was nothing short of a miracle.

Miracle 2- Aligning on the destination. With two living in India, one in Canada, one in USA, one in Switzerland and me in Singapore, finding a location which was convenient and no one had been to before or at least loved it enough to go again, was not an easy feat. 

Miracle 3- And the toughest of them all. Getting permissions. Not from bosses/ husbands/ boyfriends/ parents (well maybe not parents, no self-respecting 40-year-old should need to take parents permission for anything). The crucial one was getting permission from the kids. I don't know about my friends, but I went through a questioning season that was akin to a third degree. Rather reluctantly, I was granted the permission provided I was home on Diwali and my birthday. Ironically, Sanil is off trekking the mountains of Japan on a school trip during the Diwali holidays. 

Miracle 4- Standing our ground. Barcelona was decided as the destination as Europe is midway between Asia and US and it had all the attractions of the perfect girlie trip- night life, good food, amazing wine, culture and the handsome men.

One week after we all booked our tickets, the terrorist attack hit Barcelona city. While people panicked, we made a conscious decision to go ahead. I have very strong views in the matter. The terrorists win when people cave. Their intention is to cause havoc and our response should always be to not give in. It was that and non-refundable tickets that sealed the deal.

Miracle 5- Visas in time for Indian passport holders. Needs no explanation.

So after jumping through all these loops, you would think we are all set? Alas no! Until 2 days ago, and mind you we fly the day after, we didn't know which country we were flying to!

With the demonstrations and riots in Catalan, two weeks were spent in discussion, deliberating, cancelling and re-booking accommodations. The chat group covered three time zones so was active all day and I used to wake up to 125 new messages! Should we take chance with Barcelona? Or should we change to a different European country? Once that Pandora's box opened...every place in the map of Europe was considered. Amsterdam, Vienna, Prague, Lisbon, Berlin... Then staying in Spain but out of Catalan was weighed in. Should it be South of Spain Seville or North of Spain and San Sebastián? 

After multiple permutations, combinations, several spanner in works and banging heads against walls (that was mainly me), it was decided that:

- No matter what happens, this trip will take place. Yay for sisterhood!

- While we are brave, we don't have to be foolhardy. And we wanted to be sure everyone in the group was as comfortable with every decision made. So we decided to take a chance with few days in Barcelona and then fly off to the French Riviera. Thus spreading the potential risk. Yay for female sensibilities! 

- We pooled our resources and research skills and within 24 hours we planned and booked a whole new itinerary, which includes spending five days in a penthouse in Cannes. Yay for women power! 

This has undoubtedly been the most harrowing trip to plan! It's Wednesday night and I fly on Friday evening. I have not packed, or shopped, or researched about the best places to visit/ drink/ eat (last one is most crucial). Going by my usual nature, I should be freaking out! But strangely I am not. Not even in the least. 

Because I know I am meeting my best friends for what will be the most amazing holiday of our lives! If the planning is anything to go by, the adventure has only just begun!

See you in Barcelona darlings! 




Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tragic Travel Tales (The Italian Job)

This story has all the ingredients that make for good entertainment. Drama, intrigue, thrill, couple of police encounters and beautiful connections with complete strangers.

Sitting in the plane back to Singapore, I can't help but feel a huge sense of loss. I lost money. I lost time. I lost plans. I lost experiences. All these losses stemmed from one catastrophe- my passport and identity card were stolen in Florence. Luckily it was the last leg of the trip, but the sense of loss was indescribable. Losing a document that is the very foundation of your identity has a soul crushing effect. Not to mention the various practical considerations of losing a passport together with credit cards and a chunk of cash, makes one realize the high dependence we have on all our financial objects.

In Sept last year my clutch was snatched in Vietnam, by two hoodlums on a motorbike. I lost a credit card, some cash and my brand new Samsung S7. I thought travel horror stories could not get worse, but then I had never faced the crafty Italian thieves well-versed in the art of pick pocketing.

I was warned by everyone (especially knowing my history of being a drama magnet), and I was super careful. Not carrying all my money in one bag (thank God for that!), using a sling and clutching it close to the front of my body, using a bag with a zip (my dad does not understand how there can be any other kinds of bags), keeping my passport safe locked in my suitcase, etc. I travelled through Italy with all these precautions from Trevi Fountain in Rome to the Path of Gods in Positano and charming villages of Tuscany. I avoided touts, was extra careful in touristy areas and I even advised  random tourists to be careful of their unzipped bags (dad would be proud). Unfortunately, in Florence I forgot to lock up my passport and walked around the city with it. We ended up in a trashy store which was selling dresses for 10euros. In the frenzy that can only be attributed to cheap shopping, my cousin and I got distracted and someone unzipped the sling and fished out my wallet. Completely unnoticed by either of us. We were in a holiday euphoria supplemented with shopping excitement to even realize what had happened.

After I did, I cried. On the street. On the side walk. By the fountain. In the church. The impact of what that happened came in bursts and I thought I couldn't breathe. My sister was a rock, who reminded me that losing a passport did not mean losing my identity. Wise words, alas, lost in the tragedy of the moment.

I berated myself for being foolish, immature, inept and totally incapable of looking after myself. I was at my lowest ebb when I started feeling that I did not even have basic competence to travel alone and I needed a male companion to protect me. I had sunk so low in that one hour that I vowed to never leave the security of home ever again. (Bye bye college friends reunion trip to Barcelona planned in Oct).

Then I got up. Wiped my tears. Heard my little sister praise me for being a 'woman with ten arms' (translation: goddess/ woman who can multi task effectively) and then I did the one thing that calms me the most. I made a list (yes I am a nerd).

The below list has no drama (which comes in later in the story, so stick with me). This list is useful for anyone else who may go through a similar experience. (I pray it never happens, but if it's Italy, chances are very high)

1. Lodge police report (this is most critical as you will need this for all purposes including claiming insurance)
2. Cancel credit cards
3. Borrow money
4. Inform relevant people who should need to know (choose people who will find practical solutions and not berate you or make you feel like a sorry loser that you are)
5. Go to your embassy to get a temp passport

Indian embassy in Rome looked like an Indian government office from the 80s. Snaking queues of people with strained faces waiting for their passport/ visa application, holding bunch of documents, in a tiny dusty windowless room. I shamelessly used my elite privilege and victim card (I know Karan Johar would not approve) and went straight to the counter, from where I was directed to the 'office upstairs'. I was one floor closer to a solution.

The officer was rather unperturbed, shrugging his shoulders he informed that 'this happens everyday'. So I was not even special! Just another lousy tourist target. There was a clear system in place- including a travel agent across the street who will prepare all the necessary documents for a temp passport, for a small fee is 40euros. Within an hour it was all done! And I would have two full days to enjoy Rome and move on to my final vacation destination- Dubai. After the walking around Italy in canvas shoes and cargo pants, I was so looking forward to being in the lap of Dubai luxury strutting in heels and flirty summer dresses. With a spring in my step I skipped back to the embassy.

The staff greeted me like an old friend and took my application- competed in triplicate. And then came the bombshell (didn't I warn you the drama will return?). My lost passport which was issued in Singapore just last month, did not exist in the Indian government portal!! The dilemma facing the efficient officer was how does the Indian embassy in Rome issue a temp passport when the stolen passport cannot be cancelled in the system?

At one time the officer also questioned how I had made it from Singapore to Italy on a passport that 'does not exist'. Being snarky and saying that I stowed myself in a container on a carrier ship leaving from Singapore to Amalfi Coast wouldn't have been funny. I was advised to wait and then meet the senior officer. And you guessed it! I moved one more floor up. To a beautiful colonial styled room with plush carpets and an adjoining terrace which offered breathtaking view of the city.

The lady was absolutely lovely, sympathetic to my situation but puzzled by the predicament. "You don't exist in the system Madame." At that point tears threatened to flow again, when she added "But we will help you. Don't worry. Give us a day." And they did! They wrote to Indian High Commission in Singapore who confirmed my identity and after two more trips the following day to meet my embassy friends (we were in first name basis by then), I was holding a passport again! I was sweetly requested to let the world know about my positive experience through the marvel that is Twitter. Kindly retweet- https://mobile.twitter.com/seemapunwani/status/887338188301361152

Ironically, I felt more exposed not having my credit cards than my passport. I know it sounds frivolous but the lack of financial independence was rather unnerving. No longer could I pick up whatever my heart desired or enter a restaurant without looking on the right hand side of the menu. I still used my secret stash of money for the necessities- wine, a few dresses and of course the last Euros were spent at the book store.

I told my sob story to anyone who would listen, even attempted to get a discount for my handbag purchase. But it appeared this was a common woe in Italy, and I was unable to cash in on the victim card, except for the lady at Western Union who gave me a half-decent rate for my USD exchange (which went towards the handbag).

There were other kind strangers like a Chinese-American couple from Singapore who offered to loan me money to change my ticket at the airport. The Singapore immigration service staff who gave me the most pertinent advice to transfer my re-entry permit online so there would be no issue to board the flight. A process that can take between 1 to 5 days was done in under an hour.

Friends from different parts of the world offered to wire me money, give me their credit cards, come pick me at the airport, take me shopping, in addition to their much appreciated care and concern.

I missed meeting some of these friends in Dubai, as the airlines only allowed me transit in Dubai but not the planned stopover. My visions of indulging in Sukh Sagar pau bhaji and heavenly kebabs, came to a grinding halt. 12 days of pizza and pasta have taken their toll. And how does one survive on pastries for breakfast?! I longed for a cooked breakfast of masala omelette and toast. Being low on cash also meant that last meal in Rome was mini sandwiches and convenience store bought wine. How the mighty had fallen!

The key realization in all (besides ALWAYS keeping my passport under lock and key) was how our privilege has made us weak. The two other people who had their passport stolen at the same time, could barely afford to pay the temp passport fees. Their concern was basic survival. Mine was elitist inconvenience.

The incident left a long-standing mark. In one tragic stroke, I went from a seasoned solo traveller to a weepy inconsolable nincompoop. From savoring every moment in Italy to begrudging the small part of the holiday that I missed. From being privileged to checking my privilege.

Italy, you took away a lot from me. But you left me with a humbling experience. One that I hope will teach me to rely less on documents and objects, and more on human compassion and friendships. And you did give me a beautiful holiday with my lovely sisters, one that I will cherish forever.










Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Independent Princess

Meet the independent princess. 

She likes being indulged. She wants a fairy tale romance. Yes she desires a Prince.

But she is not spoilt. She is pragmatic, sensible even. And yes she knows her life is great even without him.

She likes to cook for her man. But is scared to admit it. She might be considered a door mat. But then what about the times she cooks for her children, her friends, her parents, her colleagues? Why is she only judged for caring for that one person? 

She wants a magical proposal. Planned to perfection. With a rock. The whole deal. But then she also likes the fuss her girlfriends make on her birthday. Or how her mother still bakes her favorite cake for her. And you know what, she takes twice the effort to do thoughtful things for them all, the boyfriend, the child, the parents, the friends, the sisters, the brothers, hell even the in-laws. Why is she then only accused of being a complying girlfriend? 

She loves frilly frocks, stilettos and dangling earrings. She also sports a dragon tattoo (and not a butterfly one). She still sees a rainbow in wonder. And also wonders about effect of climate change on rains. She likes Barbies (blasphemy!) and admires Malala. She wonders why both cant co-exist in her daughter's world?

She is whimsical but has will power

She is dainty but deadly

She is diet conscious but cheats on her diet (occasionally)

She is a drama queen but a jack of all trades

She daydreams but has no nightmares

She can be a nightmare (but that's when she is not allowed to cheat on her diet)

She earns, she saves but she also splurges when she caves.

She impulse shops online, but likes to be taken shopping by her man

She likes receiving flowers in office but whatsapp messages during office hours annoy her 


She adores tiara and she participates in triathlons (sometime both at the same time)


She cries while watching rom-coms but keeps her wide open during The Exorcist

She breaks glass ceilings but covets Cinderella's glass slippers

She gets nail art done but ruins it by doing art with her toddlers 

She worships fashion but she cherishes her PJs (and her boxers even more) 

She enjoys doors being held for her, but she can kick open any door she wants

She believes in magic, but has no qualms creating it for herself

She is a conundrum. A mystery of sorts. Feminists hate her. Romantics mock her. She can't pick a side. She wants a man, does not need one. She relishes a whirlwind romance, but that does not define her. 

Yes she is a Princess. She is an independent, career minded, self-financed, home-owner. So if she wants to be a Princess, full power to her! 





Friday, March 10, 2017

Aapke Baad- Ek kavita

Jis subah aapko yaad nahin karenge
Jis shaam aapka naam nahin lenge
Us din se hoga yeh ahsaas
Ki aap nahin hain ab humare aas paas

Lekin tab tak kya karein yeh dil?
Kaise savrein? Kaise sambhlein?
Kaise yaad karein woh pyaar bhari nazarein?
Kaise bhoolayen woh guhm bharein nagme?

Humari rooh mein aap ho samaye
Humare zehn mein ho sada shamil
Har ek nagme mein hai aapki yaad
Har ek saans karti hai yeh farman

Ki aapki kahani na kabhi ho khatam
Aapki ghazalon mein doobe har mehfil
Aapki muskarahaton ka no ho koi qatil

Pur ab hum toot se gayein hain
Ab toh ijazzat de do
Chalo jaon, aur le jaon
Apni kahaniyan, apni ghazalein, apni muskurahatein

Chod do humein tanha
Aapke bina jeene ki aadat dalne do
Aakhir, saayon ke saath nahin guzarti yeh zindagi



Monday, February 13, 2017

Life, I don't have time for you

I was told everything is transient
I know nothing lasts forever
But I still try and keep
Memories close to my chest
And regrets in my back pocket

I fish these out regularly
And then I reminisce and smile
Or remember and weep
I sometimes get the blues
And other times red in anger

While my memories and regrets take over
Life takes a backseat
It waits patiently for me to take notice
To have a conversation, to share a laugh

But where do I have the time?
There is so much to mull over
So many anecdotes to recollect
Few heartbreaks to get over

And then tragedy strikes
I stop dead in my track
I take stock

I store the memories in a corner
I discard the regrets in the bin
I slowly pick up the threads of conversation with Life
It responds hesitatingly
After awhile I shake its hands confidently, "Can we spend more time together?", I ask
With a hint of a smile, Life replies "I have been waiting for you to say that for years"



Friday, January 13, 2017

Follow your heart

It's a slippery slope
It's a messy design
A convoluted journey
And sometimes there are no signs

But follow your heart
Oh follow your heart
To find that spark
Just follow your heart

Your coffers may dwindle
You'll become fan of minimalist
But your soul will soar
And life will turn out fantastic

So just smile your way to following your heart

It's a mixed bag
Walking on clouds one day
Living in grunge the next
The music is sometimes soft
But sure never fades
You waltz one day
And tango the next

So just dance your way to following your heart

You are able with paint with no brush
Write your own life story
Weave a future with no fabric
Compose a never-heard melody

So just sing your way to following you heart

But it takes courage
It needs patience
Quitting is not an option
Keep moving the only solution

So just work your way to following you heart

It will never be smooth sailing
Self-doubt will be your companion
You may wake up in cold sweats
But will go to sleep dreaming

So just dream your way to following you heart

To find that spark
Just follow your heart

p.s. if you don't trust me, trust HIM (and no I don't mean God)