Feeling

My Odissi recital in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, was in one of the most beautiful auditoria I have ever performed in – the Chaktamuk theatre, along the banks of the Tonlé Sap river, built in the shape of a stunning, unfurling, hand-held fan. It was Independence Day, 2014 and the evening began with my standing in the wings, listening to the National Anthem play to inaugurate the performance – one of the most memorable I’ve had till date. It was full of experiences and funny incidents leading up to the show (translating Sanskrit into English into Khmer for the benefit of a mixed audience was a unique experience to say the least), culminating in a performance that got me some of the most precious reactions of my life.

The last piece I performed was Yahi Madhava – a story depicting Radha’s betrayal and heartbreak at having discovered her lover’s infidelity. This piece is particularly close to my heart for several reasons, but I was worried that day that a lack of understanding of Indian mythology might cause it to be lost on the audience.

After the show, I was standing on the stage as people came up to me to talk to me, compliment me warmly and take a few pictures. I noticed, from the corner of my eye, a lady in a hijab, holding the hands of her two young daughters, waiting patiently as the crowd thinned out. Finally, the little girls ran up to me to say hello, more fascinated by my clothes and jewellery than by the person wearing them. They quickly took their pictures and ran along as their mother quietly walked up to me and took my hand.

In broken English, she said to me – I do not know you, I am not Hindu, and I do not know your Radha… but watching you, I felt her pain.

With a squeeze of my hand, and tears in her eyes, she smiled and walked away, calling for her daughters to follow, and I stood there, a bundle of emotions, wondering how I had managed to communicate with this total stranger, so different from me.

I learnt, that day, that some emotions are universal. That without understanding the layers of literature, religion and philosophy, a person can still feel; in a very organic, instinctive way, while being told a story.

People say that young dancers today don’t care about working hard, and are only interested in travelling overseas, making money and being “cool” as they hop from country to country… But there’s much more to it than that for me. To be able to take a tiny piece of my country’s history to a new place and to be able to touch another person in even the smallest way; that means something to me.

On those days filled with frustration and roadblocks, when I wonder why I chose this life, I remember this interaction with a total stranger in a faraway land.

Stories have a way of connecting people somehow. Maybe that’s why I want to keep telling them – my own, or others, through dance, or text. Will you tell me yours?

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 2014

Out of the Ordinary

One of the things that I’ve always found jarring while travelling is aligning myself to the fact that the place I’m in is exotic to me; not to the people I meet there.

It was always odd to me that people can actually have regular jobs in Goa. Somehow, it seemed inconceivable to me that one could work at all, knowing the sun, the sand and a cocktail are walking distance away. It just didn’t make sense to look up at the grandeur of the Andes mountains and realise that I was watching it in the middle of traffic in Bogotà city, as buses took children to school, cabs ran about their daily business and women in suits made their way to work.

Rome was especially bizarre in this context. There were so many sights in this city that I felt I’d seen already: the dome of the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the grand pillars of the Pantheon, the hopeful crowds around the Fontana di Trevi; they all looked exactly like in the pictures.

I walked the streets of Rome in a strange kind of daze… there was always music playing in the background – a couple of acoustic guitars or a violin. I was dreamily looking out a cab window when the Colosseum came into view and took my breath away. The (literally) colossal structure appeared, and I was stunned as this familiar picture from my readings about ancient Rome was suddenly right there, in front of me.

And then my little daydream was unceremoniously broken when our host told the driver in a rushed, matter-of-fact voice: “Go around the Colosseum and take the first left.”

Right. Exotic only for those of us who didn’t pass it on our way to work every day!

We passed the Colosseum several times during my week in Italy and each time, I found it incredible that it was just standing there while people carried on their usual daily routine. It made me wonder what I was overlooking in my own neighbourhood. Or city. Or state. Or my own country.

Remember the old man in Mary Poppins who couldn’t see past the end of his nose? Don’t become him. Look up, around, anywhere, because who knows what you might pick out of the ordinary?

Rome, Italy, November 2016

Finding Your Way, Alone

There’s lots of talk these days about the solo traveller. Many seem to be using travel as a means to discover something new about themselves – climb a mountain, make new friends, or explore a new place, leaving life, work, troubles and strings behind. There’s something exhilarating, even poetic, about being the exotic traveller in a place where no one knows you yet; where you could be anyone, and find anything…

But all the romanticism aside, this isn’t always the easiest thing. Especially for a woman (yes, let’s just face reality) it is important to have a certain amount of control over one’s circumstances. I’ve done a few solo trips – very few COMPLETELY alone, but alone enough – and I thought I’d share thoughts on some technology that can help empower and protect us on that soul searching trip to some vague part of the world. This is fairly obvious and basic advice, but I have found that fully exploiting these few things has made a big difference to my travel experiences.

SIM CARDS
Having a phone that works while travelling is an absolute must. My experience is that Indian services like Matrix are a terrible idea. The plans are vague, they are deceptively expensive, very often you won’t even realise what you’ve been charged for, and how much, until you are home and the post-purchase customer care is abysmal. There’s no guarantee that the card will work at all, or for the entirety of your time away.

I prefer buying local SIM cards on arrival into a new country. Most countries have kiosks at airports where you can buy a local tourist SIM card with an active data connection for a convenient period of time.

My advice is as follows:
– Buy one.
– Go for a plan that is data heavy, but that allows calls as well, local and international.
– Set up your phone with the new SIM but retain WhatsApp on your original phone number.
– Take the time to understand the plan correctly. Some require you to add codes and numbers before making calls, without which you will end up being charged money. There’s always fine print, make sure you find it!
– Don’t forget to note down your new number!

GOOGLE MAPS
This is your best friend during those explorative walks around a new city! It’s a great tool to figure out how far apart the spots you’d like to visit are from each other. It will also empower you to know if a cab driver is driving you around in circles or if you’re headed in the wrong direction in a tuk-tuk.

Just remember that Google Maps tends to drain phone battery, so carry a battery pack with you!

TRANSPORTATION APPS
I was surprised to find Uber fully active and functional even in cities like Nagpur, Agra and Bhubaneshwar in India and even Hua Hin, Thailand. However, it is possible that a city has a local service that’s cheaper, or more popular. Do a search on the App Store to find out what those are and keep them accessible in case one doesn’t work. There are also apps and websites that will help you understand local bus and train routes and schedules, both within a city or between cities in the same country. Understanding how to get around will make a huge difference to your trip!

LANGUAGE APPS
Language doesn’t have to be a barrier anymore. Download a translator app that you can type into and hold up to someone you’re trying to communicate with. This is especially useful with cab drivers, banks, super markets or ticket counters. If this doesn’t work, there’s always Safari and Google Translate!

ONLINE DISCUSSION FORUMS
I’ve found Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet to be very useful for some pre-trip advice. Not only can you efficiently plan your days, these sites and their attached discussions will help highlight the things to be aware and careful of in different parts of the world. Concerns are different in different cities and countries, tourist attractions have timings and require different things from tourists in terms of tickets, attire or ID and culture can vary greatly from what you’re used to. Preparing through the experiences of fellow travellers can be very useful.


I’ve often been told – by travellers perhaps more spontaneous and gutsy than me – that over-planning defeats the purpose of a trip of discovery. Maybe this is true, but personally, I like knowing what there is to see and do, and feeling safe and in control as I explore, so that I don’t have any regrets. If you’re anything like me, I hope this was useful. And I hope your next trip is enriching, exciting and empowering!