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Playing with Fate

Do you believe in fate? I now do, or at least the interception at some points in our lives from forces beyond our control...

I had landed in Jaipur in a haze. My over-night train screeched to a halt at 7 o'clock in the morning and the sun was just coming up over the already-bustling "pink" desert city. I instantly felt sick in the crowd of rickshaw drivers that swamped me for a ride, hoping to rip off the gora during the ride. Feeling ill and annoyed from the rikshaw driver following me, I caved and did something I never would have usually done; I took him up on his offer. "Take me to a cheap hotel, 200 rupees per night, close to station”.

The request was filled, but what I had gained in speedy service, I paid for in the worst 2 days I had in India. The two men, the rik driver and his friend, stalked me. They followed me into the restaurant and ate with me, wanted to drive me places I didn’t necessarily want to go, followed me into establishments, called me incessantly, and, as I found later, were telling anyone who could hear that I was their girlfriend. During those two days, I was taken to establishments where I was overcharged 3X the amount of gifts, slept in a hostel that had me fearing for my life and security each night, and felt trapped the entire time.

During one visit to the Amber Fort, I was asked by two Quebecers to take their photo. I asked of them the same. Chance encounter.

On the way down from the fort, I remembered the Tiger Fort- I needed to go because when else would I have a chance to watch the sunset? I asked the driver to turn around and take me to Tiger Fort. “No, no. Not possible, too far. We go tomorrow?” That’s not how it works in India- you give the directions and money, and they follow, else it’s disrespectful on their part. “I am going up there. If not with you, with someone else. Now.” I had stuck up for myself and was breaking free.

The two Quebecers were at the very top of the fort, overlooking the pink city below, currently bespeckled with pinpoints of light from the windows. Blaring Hindi music cut into the twilight, matched by the drifting laughs of children, singing from a festival, and the pounding of drums. That night was crucial. As my new companions and I sped through the night streets, after I had garnered the courage to tell the matachods to fuck off with no fear of the stalking to follow the next day, I made up my mind. I would cancel tomorrow’s ticket to Jodhpur and stay in Jaipur for a few more days, and commit myself to leave the city feeling good about it, rather than the sinking sour feeling I had at the time.

The following days were perfect. I did exactly what I wanted to do, stayed exactly where I wanted to stay, and felt free once again. I had no idea the coincidental events that were to come.

I met three more Quebecers the following night and they shared the Jodhpur hotel name where they had stayed and had an excellent time. “Make sure you ask for the not strong bang lassies!” were their parting words.

I arrived at Yogi’s guesthouse with no expectations, as per usual in India. I was pleasantly surprised, and found myself drawn to the camel trek that was offered. I wouldn’t have gone at the time, rather traveled to Jaisalmer, if not for the desert wedding incorporated into the trek.

The two Dutch guys and I left on the third day from that desert because of complications in planning and compensation. We arrived late into Jodhpur, couldn’t find a rickshaw (when does that ever happen?) finally managed to grab hold of one, literally, and asked to be taken to a hotel that cost 200 rs or less per night. The rickshaw screeched to a halt and I was out on the street. A guy stood in front of me, “Can I help you? I am a tour guide, practicing my English.” Right, at midnight, you just happen to be out practicing your English. I didn’t know then the special relationship I would have with this guy and his friends, and especially his brother. I was shown my room, I liked it.

After moving all of my belongings into the room, which meant one backpack and a handbag, I was out on the balcony for a smoke and chill before bed. I met a guy named Gucci and clicked instantaneously. I was sweaty, hadn’t bathed for three days, hadn’t washed my hair in god knows how long, and was sucking on a cigarette like an old hag, and this guy looked at me like I was the goddess Aphrodite.

The days that followed contain some of the happiest memories of my life.

If I hadn’t had that awful experience and met two people that encouraged me and put me onto the right path; if I hadn’t decided to stay in Jaipur for that extra few days; if there wasn’t a wedding that tempted me to go camel trekking and if Yogi hadn’t fucked us over, resulting in an early return back to the city; if our rickshaw driver decided to take us to a different hotel; if Sam hadn’t been standing outside of my rickshaw when I emerged…if all of these circumstances didn’t match up, then I would have missed such happiness and experience.

I now reflect on those Jodhpur days as pivotal. I opened up; something that had been reserved and feared by me now emerged with such ease. I learned once again how to love, to trust, but most important of all, I discovered a new wonder for life and an inspiration that I am certain will follow me for the rest of my life.


Ventures into "om"

Mondays are not the most popular day of the week; another 5 days of work, another 5 days of class, more waking up early and less staying up late. But Shambhala Meditation Centre of Toronto offers a way to stop dreading Monday, with one-hour meditation sessions meant to relax and promote “mindfulness-awareness” in your life, or just to get you through the week. The center’s practices are based off of traditional Tibetan Buddhist tradition and belief. After speed-walking down 15 city blocks in the damp heat, I could use something to help me relax.

The hallway leads to an 8 seat “practice” room where I am one-on-one with Helmfried, one of many community members cum volunteers, who eases me into meditation. The room is peaceful enough; unadorned white walls, save for a blown-up image of water, and various elements set up against the side wall, such as a piece of drift wood and sand with a mirror reflecting the entrance (feng shui, anyone?)

Still, after my jaunt to get here and realization that an air-conditioned subway ride would have taken much less time and sweat, I am finding it hard to settle on the square red cushion and ease my legs into a relaxed crossed position. Helmfried asks questions to gain an understanding of why I’m here, he wants to accommodate my visit. I just want some peace of mind and rest from the stress in my life, I explain. Don’t we all.

He explains that I need to focus on my breathing, but not to try and manipulate it. Oh, and to clear my mind. Easier said than done. For the entire 10 minutes of complete silence as Helmfried spaces out, I fidget, fret, adjust my numb left leg, scratch my fingers where my rings have irritated the skin, and think about everything I am here for, all to the jingle of my recently acquired bangles. How was anyone supposed to sit completely still for any allotted period of time and not think about anything?

I know I’m doing the meditation thing wrong, so I ask my guru what he would suggest. “Don’t force anything; it doesn’t have to turn into a battle within yourself if you don’t want it to be.” I wish I could say that I had a revelation and something subconsciously clicked, but all I felt was a bead of sweat pass from my hairline to my eyebrow.

It’s time to move onto the next level and enter into the main meditation area.

The next room is spacious, and air-conditioned, windows open to let in a well-received breeze. Over 20 people sit cross-legged on their own red mats and square red pillows (I later learn that red is an auspicious color in Buddhism), eyes closed or semi-open, staring into nothingness. Joining them, I again feel the frustration I experienced earlier and, as a result, find it increasingly hard to focus on not focusing.

I stare straight ahead at the simple but captivating altar, two flames dance and I find myself slowly entranced in their play. My thoughts lead away from the room and wander to everything that I was just 5 minutes ago taught to subdue; “recognize the thoughts, realize you are thinking them, and then put them away for now”. I remember good times in India, the freedom and joy of traveling solo, the people I had left behind, my new waitressing gig that was slowly eating away at my soul, the bit of weight I had put on recently, my lack of funds, my anxiety that I would never make it as a journalist in this world… and so on. My throat chocked up.

When people think negatively, they often repress the thoughts, unbeknownst or otherwise. We don’t let the thought soak in, but rather let it attack us often and sporadically, chipping away at our confidence and happiness. To distract our minds, the t.v. is turned on or the phone is picked up or the runners are laced up. In that quiet room, surrounded by people and the rain pattering on the hot pavement outside, I began to slow down and question my irrational thoughts. Just like that. It began with a simple question in my own mind ‘why are you close to tears about your own thoughts?’ The process of questioning and understanding began.

My reaction to the session was seemingly different from the other members. “Meditation is more than just closing your eyes and relaxing. It’s learning to deal with discomfort,” explains Paul, one of the volunteer organizers for tonight. I can attest to that, as many newbies would, since the lack of distraction forces you to deal with all the crazy thoughts in that brain. One of the newer members, Kitty, disagrees “for me, it’s a way to relax and to forget about worries.” The only problem she encounters is a physical one, as her lower back often becomes sore during the session. We both want to take our experiences during meditation into everyday life, hopefully approaching future situations with a new “shanty” attitude.

Whether you like trying new things, experiencing something different, or need some help with the stress in your mind, let meditation put a little “om” in your life.

Open meditation sessions every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 7-8 p.m. free, donation encouraged.

670 Bloor Street West, 3rd Flr.



Predictions as Truth

What do you expect when looking through the "new age" section of your local Chapters bookstore? Surely some books on Gemstone therapy, maybe something on spiritual clairvoyance, or even the tarot. What you wouldn't expect is to find an entire section devoted to the most recent fear-theory "2012", the chosen year for when the world, and everything we hold dear, will become extinct. "Apocalypse 2012: An investigation into Civilization's End", "2012: Crossing the Bridge to the Future", "2012: The War for Souls" are just a few of the positive and enlightened titles.

Why December 21st, 2012? The Mayan civilization used the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar, which completes its thirteenth b'ak'tun cycle since the calendar's mythical starting point on that date. They used this date in reference to and to compute other dates from which predictions were foretold. This date also represents a close conjunction of the winter solstice sun with the crossing point of the milky way equator and the path of the sun. Some scientists predict extremely hot sun flares and drought impacting the earth, while astrologers state that it's the ending of the age of Pisces and the start of the age of Aquarius. What this means is slightly more unclear. As for scientific-based evidence, there isn't a unified front available, only theories.

The 2012 prediction sounds too much like the one revolving around the year 2000, when many experts came forward to offer their take on the why, when, what, where, and how of the world's imminent end. Technology was the culprit- the human race had gotten too confident in its gadgets and innovations and would now suffer for a glitch in the system that would cause the launching of bombs and missiles and the shutting down of the widely used and depended upon internet. Valid new sources were predicting the impact on businesses and the world economy. Scientists and engineers emerged to instruct us of how to deal with a nuclear blast and what supplies we needed to survive once this happened.

Last time, the situation accumulated to one thought:"wow, maybe the human race isn't indestructible. We created technology, but maybe it's too advanced, we've dug too far, and now we are the source of our own destruction", or something along those lines. And the end result? Nothing happened. On the stroke of midnight, when the year 1999 became 2000, after every single country had counted down, in their respective time zones, nothing happened.

With this new doomsday theory, the emphasis is clearly on spirituality and belief systems, since the very idea comes from the Mayan calendar, whose beliefs were steeped in myth and lore. The Mayans believed in several gods, and ritually sacrificed blood during major events and changes; it was seen as the ultimate for royalty to sacrifice blood because they were seen as descendants of the gods. Symbology played an important factor in their civilization, since serpents, skulls, and bones were all thought of as links to the next world. Could it be that our society has grown too far from our own souls and the spirit world, and that we need a little scare to encourage our enlightenment?

Free thought and opinion are important, but the unnecessary extortion and peddling of fear is worrying for our society. Why should it be acceptable for any author or self-proclaimed expert to write on a largely unbiased phenomenon that adds absolutely no benefit to the reader's life? On the contrary, it would inject fear and worry into a society.

However, there is a bonding aspect to the idea of everything being destroyed in 4 short years, since all people on earth, regardless of culture, background, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, will be in the same boat. And what a unifying thought that is, that no matter how shitty your day was or what prejudices you have against your neighbor, it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. Because in the big picture, you'll both be left on your own to face whatever evil and destruction 2012 will bring, as predicted by experts.

The lesson learned? Keep an open mind, but don't believe everything you read on this topic. Oh- and you might want to make that visa payment, just in case you're still alive 4 years from now in a world that still believes in interest.


The Worst Day in India

I recently read through a journal I had been keeping in Rajasthan and found this lovely little piece. It was written in the non-ac train on the way to Agra from Jaipur. It was 45 degrees celsius in the mid-day heat of that day, and I hadn't slept for two days, due to a hectic train schedule. Now before you read this, please keep in mind that I love this country much much more than I hate it, even on a bad day...

3:10~ Let's try for a switch-up from the usual positive, shall we?
It's the hottest matachod (motherfucking) day that I've experienced yet in India and I'm bainchod (sisterfucking) hot. I can feel my head and body over-heating because I am not at all used to this outrageous heat. The train is going 150 miles an hour and all I can feel when I open the door is a wall of fire. While I've been here, every new hot day has gained observations on how it was "probably the hottest day I've experienced so far", but this takes the cake. If it was any hotter, I would die. I would bloat, keel over, and die.
It's a bloody sauna. A bloody fucking sauna. Except the difference is that here you can't just make up your mind that you've had enough brain melting and pore-opening for one sitting and get off of your sweaty ass and out of there. Here, can't open a door and find yourself in an air-conditioned, non-polluted, cleaned space, free to shower yourself and don clean clothes. Instead, what you get is a door leading to a cesspool of a toilet where breathing with your mouth only draws more attention and worry to just how many germs and possible disease you are in close proximity to. The next door only holds the countryside, speeding past you, and yet not fast enough to offer a cool and welcoming breeze. If you chance sitting on the rumbling metal floor to view the surroundings, contemplate anything from fate to why it's so bloody damned hot, you find yourself so closely surrounded by a group of men, 2 to 3 deep, that all thought of having some time to yourself is lost. And don't try to ignore them, because a lecture will surely ensue on the dangers of sitting in that particular spot or, more likely, they'll simply stare at uncomfortable proximity and finally, after being challenged by your stink-eye, will present the ubiquitous "country from?" You lose your nerves one snapping tendril at a time.
An apparent phenomenon about Indian trains: when you're perfectly comfortable, the word "chai" and "dosai" brand themselves into your hearing every 5 minutes. As soon as you actually need something desperately, like, say, a bottle of water, there are no beverage wallas to be found. Anywhere.
The next station we get to, I'm jumping out of this compartment straight out of hell and will lach onto the first beverage I see. I might just take an entire supply with me.


Rickshaws are Way Under-rated

What comes to mind when you think of an auto rickshaw? Hot polluted air in lungs, open access to passer-by, death-defying speeds? Yes, it is all of these things- but on my first trip to the India of my heart, it grew to a pivotal life-changing importance. Think I may be deranged? Possibly, but allow me to explain.

What is an auto- rickshaw, or tuk tuk, so synonymous with any discussion on India and her transportation options, or even the city scape? It's a cheap, three-wheeled alternative to a taxi, with the same system in mind of driver and passenger. The driver sits in the front padded seat, behind a motorbike-type steering bar and a pane of glass, adorned with images of his Bollywood flame and stickers of a chosen diety. The passenger sits on a long cushy seat in the back, which can seat three comfortably, surrounded by padded walls and ceiling. There are no doors or windows. The auto rickshaw is open to the street on one side, and on the other, the "wall" comes up to the elbow in height.

The passenger can scarcely hear above the din of the engine roaring to life at the pull of a lever, the constant putter of effort, along with the blast of the horn.

It's almost certain that the driver is unsatisfied with not being able to rip off his newly acquired passenger as much as he had planned, and will cut his losses by weaving and speeding through traffic. To save sanity and nervous sweating, the journey begins to take the form of an amusement park ride. "This is fine. I won't get into an accident. It's perfectly safe. That was not just the wheel of a truck 2 centimeters from my shoulder." The unkempt sporadic roads only lend to the credibility of this 'ride of a lifetime'. Between the bumping, sliding, adjusting, and cursing for yet more haste but care, there isn't much time to think. Except of your life, which periodically flashes before your eyes.

After bargaining skills become refined, uncomfort dealt with on reflex, and experience garnered, the auto rickshaw ride becomes one of contemplation. The rider has time to take in the city and observe its culture, allow sights and scents to waft over them, to feel the soothing cool breeze through oppressing heat outside.

Auto-rickshaw rides marked my stay in India; it was on that initial fertile day in Madras that I wondered how I could possibly handle the city, deal with the language- barrier, find friends, just live. Just then, my eyes landed on a foreign woman in a salwar kameez barking commands to her driver in purposefully broken English. She was confident, savvy and full of anticipatory energy. I took note from the back of what I previously thought was a death machine on wheels.

It was also from a rickshaw, several weeks later, that I became lost at night and learned how to adapt to a potentially dangerous and highly tense situation on the fly. The mantra I found for that night followed me throughout my travels later on.

I learned to bargain hard, picked up hindi words and slang, learned the power of circumstance, tested my charm, solidified friendships, evaded the police, brainstormed articles, and discovered my love for the multi-layered India- all from my seat in the humble tuk-tuk.

Hundreds of stories are recalled at the very word; they swirl, shake, and swerve, just as the machine I once used daily would as it barreled down Mogappair West to N'Bakkam and beyond.

The destination was often unknown to me and sometimes even improvised. 'Where do I feel like going?' became 'How do I feel right now?' Introspective meant the library, creative meant any event location I found on-line, sexy meant N' Bakkam for shopping and coffee, upset and stressed meant anywhere- as long as the ride was long. There was time to think, observe, re-align, mull over a dilemma, sing the fear and pain away along to Amy Winehouse, brainstorm new article ideas, and sometimes meet people along the way. It wasn't just a ride for me, it was an experience.

So you can continue to cuss it, blame it, wonder at it, and hate it all you want. I know I did often and creatively. But this part-time instrument of torture was also the full-time reason for the lasting memories I have cultivated from India.


The Love Thing

Romance and love is a genre of its own in the film industry and in Western culture- but nothing can rival Bollywood in that genre. Almost every film either revolves around love or has a subtheme involving a guy and gal destined for one another, overcoming all odds.
We both watched too many romantic films, but it didn't matter. We fell for each other. Who knows if the idea of the foreign guy/ girl influenced our feelings.
What I found was that regardless of which side of the globe you're on, the love industry is a massive one. Valentine's day rakes in big bucks and the fact that it's even a holiday shows the popularity of this industry. And Bollywood is, after all, thriving for a reason. People just love love!
The idea of eternal bliss with the man or woman we cant is a dream-come-reality for those on-screen. For those that are off it, the dream is lived through film.
But do these films, whether cheesy and funny or haunting and beautiful, form an unattainable standard in our mind, or is the reverse possible; that they make us more cynical and pessimistic towards romance?
I admit to swooning whenever yet another leading main man comes along to save the day, and the girl, but still cringe afterwards: "what if someone actually thinks that that's how every relationship should be- perfect?!"
Do we expect more from our partner, for example, after seeing a film where the lead travels two days to a foreign country to find the girl- even though he has no clue where in that vast land she could be? And to think that lazy boyfriend of yours won't even take you out for dinner this Friday night... another friggin country!
As a result, an entire industry has been built around that female who should always expect more from a partner, no matter what the situation. The leader in this growing catchy trend is Cosmopolitan magazine. With headers like "How to please your man" and "getting your dream guy", it's not hard to see their point of view. You have to first get pointers on how to find the elusive "great guy", followed by guidelines that will help you to please him, or, in other words, keep him all to yourself. Such a precious commodity should be guarded and constantly persuaded to stay, lest he get other ideas about other girls and try to leave... I mean, you even cares about your own happiness or the idea that maybe some gals are more content and confident being single.

It was summer in that desert city and hot. My blood pulsed and boiled, and not just from the heat.
We had time to talk, find out what made each of us tick, laugh over lunch, share a beer and catch glimpses of reflected looks that we both knew very well. But we never kissed. Even though I was white and there are certain stereotypes involved, he was one of the good guys I met and he never tried anything on me. I respected him back for that seemingly small gesture.
But when I think about us now, the first thing that emerges from the fog of memory is the feelings I had for him, even though I didn't know him for very long and didn't get to know him innately during that week. What emerges when I think of love is not him physically, but the feelings I had at the time. Were they genuine emotions- or was I not truly seeing who was in front of me, only seeing something new, exciting, fun. Had I fallen into the trap of being in love with the feeling of being in love, rather than the person?
I don't know if there is an answer or whether it's possible to find one now. But at least I still have the memories of hot days on the back of a motorbike, whipping past blue houses and glittering bazaars with a feeling of utter and complete freedom- and that's the important thing, right?


Jaipur mega post

As promised, a Kat rough guide to the Pink City:
Watch out for where to stay because I have had massively awful experiences with a place called Chit chat hotel/ restaurant. It's about 200 rs. per night - about 6 bucks- but you're living in a concrete bunker with a garage door and a huge padlock AND you never feel safe because the only people coming by are Indian men. P.s. they walk by your door and rap on it at night.
After one night, I'd had enough, so I left to Pearl Palace Hotel. It was a God send, as they say. The only room available was a 4-bed, balconied, hot shower available, t.v. included palace; and the cost hit at 700 rs. per night. The 200 rs. per night standard room that I initially wanted, including your own toilet and shower, was unfortunately booked already. It seems that my habit of arriving then deciding for a hotel doesn't always work out. But a bit of luxury is needed after 4 months of living in not so stunning conditions. 'The Pearl Palace is family run and well-established, and it shows; the furnishings are intricate and chosen with care, the rooms are spotless, and the restaurant on top serves some of the best Western and Indian food I had in the North, adding a truly unique Indian flare to the place.
Another great place I have stayed at was just around the corner from The Palace. The rooms there are also spotless, warm water is available, and room service is no extra charge. Basically, you have luck with any hotel in that 2 km radius.
So you have a place to sleep and an oasis in busy Jaipur- now what do you do? One word of advice that I picked up the hard way is don't go to the manufacturing district and warehouses. Rick shaw drivers (some) will tell you it's cheaper, and that technically make sense: the place where the shoes, textiles, clothing is made is the place where it is the cheapest. But that's not how the Jaipur sale crowd computes it. These places are money-traps. I think they are made just for the very purpose of ripping tourists and travellers off. I was taken to a few such places by a rickshaw wallah (see above for which hell hotel they took me to) and paid a price that was reasonable for me, with my Canadian dollar frame of mind. After much investigation and several trips to the bazaar and markets, I realized that I paid four times the going price. The difference was immense to me and to my pockets felt it. Here is a quick Jaipur chart of typical prices:

-Rajasthani slippers/thong sandals, leather, regardless of whether they are "camel" or not, because there is no way to prove it and its best assuming you are misinformed: 150-250 rs. per pair
-Traditional Rajasthani shoes pointy toes leather: 200-600 rs. no more though!!
-Rajasthani skirt/top/scarf set, regardless of "hand made quality, blah blah blah", but the price will vary according to material, length, and amount of real mirrors used in the design: 450 for a cotton set to 1600 for a silk one. 250 -600 for just the skirt. The thing is, after they sell just the skirt, they will have trouble selling the rest of the outfit, no one wants to mis match!
Bargain and if the price won't find its way down south then leave because most of the stores sell the same exact product. I found at least three stores selling the exact same outfit- must have been the same manufacturer. And the prices were all different; from 600 at a friends shop to 3000 at the manufacturing place!
-silk bed sheet/ blanket/ pillow set: between 800-2000 depending on quality, colour, what it looks like. Some are very fragile and badly made (flimsy) so look at the detail.

To do in Jaipur, your guidebook will tell you all. One suggestion is to plan a day visit to The Amber Fort; it's stunning and mostly in the open, so you can feel a fresh breeze and get panoramic views of the surrounding areas. It's like a maze, though, so dress comfortably and wear proper shoes. Also, prepare to take loads of pictures, so if you have a manual, bring extra rolls of film. Oh- and a water bottle or two. The hike up is half a km and no one sells water, although if you're used to the local one, taps are open half-way up so you can crouch and scoop some tap water.
The guided audio tour costs 100 extra rs. and is well worth it. It will tell you the history and meaning of the fort, along with some interesting facts to take home and inform everyone. If you follow the map and the guide, you will find beautiful scenic views from the fort that you might have not been able to find on your own. You'll have a laugh over the sound effects and actors: "I am AMBER FORT! I am formidable and strong and NO ONE passes my threshold!" Good stuff.
After the Amber Fort, go to the Tiger Fort for sunset. You can put your feet up, down a beer and munch on salted peanuts as the sun sets behind the Pink city. Snippets of conversation, shouting, music, and children laughing drift up to you from 13 km below. Dinner is at 7:30 in the open air restaurant, where you can sit in black wrought iron chairs and stare at the stars circling overhead. Oh, and don't hike to the fort. Make sure to take a rick!
Finally, another precaution: touts lurk at the major tourist sights. Children can be fun at first but eventually pester you to give them money and may try to grab at your purse if no one is around. The monkey fort is listed as a sight to see, but you may want to avoid it since the hike up is steep and long and inside the temple, the main guy will expect money for anything he does, even an unasked for blessing. The temple itself is quite small but the view is, again, stunning. There is a cluster of buildings on your left side as you climb that look like a neighbourhood in Jodhpur, seeing as they glisten blue in the sunlight. This is the old part of the city, so old in fact that the locals even refer to it as "Old City".


Fashion Chennai

Not only is Chennai the fourth largest city in India, but an up-and-coming fashion and innovative design center. Don't believe me? With such names as Etalage, Hi-Style, and even Sperm (yes, you read that correctly) and hidden gems found throughout the city, it's hard to doubt Chennai's evolving style status.
Talks of developing a new mega-plaza complex in N'Bakkam only affirms what both brand names and smaller labels already knew- that this thriving Southern city is a perfect niche market.
The traditional coexists seamlessly with the modern; western-style dresses are beaded with intricate Indian patterns and sewn beautifully, large brands such as FabIndia retail salwar kameez sets in non-conventional patterns, such as polka-dots, and are flatteringly cut to fit a woman's form. This seeming paradox can be viewed best in the heart of the city- where every passer-by dons a different look. One girl could be wearing cool Levis with a breezy tunic, and the next could be glowing in a bright sari. This kind of individual style radiates on the streets, but is only now beginning to emerge.
Western influence, in the form of advertisements, the presence of classics such as Levi's and Nike, and tourists, aid in the development of the new attitude. This influence can best be experienced in Bollywood films, which add some heat to this trend with leading ladies sporting more cleavage and body hugging looks. In North America, it's all about original style. Mixing and matching vintage finds with designer stuff to create a distinct look is the norm. But Chennaites seem to favour two distinct looks: the flawless and elegant, or the newly developing diversion from this- which involves Western cuts and more skin. This can be demonstrated even by walking into Spencer Plaza and finding "party tops", clingy bright numbers with rips, rivets, and splashy text.
At the same time, you can't just walk into any store in the city and get exactly what you saw in the latest Vogue. Fit, look, and color are key to being in style, which is why walking into any tailor's shop will not yield the best results. Trailblazers such as Silkworm and Etalage can take custom orders and tailor-make the garment for an individual, with enough fashion insight and information to know exactly what "bubble hem", "asymmetrical cut", or "slouchy" implies. Having a global perspective gives companies like this an edge, and spearhead Chennai's growing label as "fashion hot spot".
So is it Western influence or a natural progression to more drama, a la Bombay, that is leading Chennai down this more edgy and Western road? Whatever the answer, the sexy modern look is only heating up.


Grande lattee, Extra Foam

Even as far away from home as India, Western coffee culture is still ingrained in my mind. It shows itself everyday- regardless of how hippy-chic I have become. I could denounce shaving my legs before I denounce that perfect steaming cup of rich goodness.

It's a case-in-point everyday; I want to write an article- where do I go? I can't possibly write at the flat because, even on the off chance that no one is home to distract me with fun, the area is constantly a mess. Concentration is impossible when, every two minutes, you glance up to glare at the pineapple stained wall (don't ask) or drift off, devising new methods of removing that 20-day-old juice stain on the floor. For a person whose mother is studying hygiene, and sharing very specific knowledge with everyone in the immediate family, the dirt is too much to bear.
Brainstorming outside seems ideal: the sunshine, open area, and greenery should foster creativity, right? Maybe if you lived in the countryside, and not in the city where the constant heat, pollution, and noise will slowly drive anyone insane. You crave a relaxed atmosphere.

So where can one go to escape and create, a place to focus? The answer is quite simple to me, really; a coffee shop! Not only can I score more caffeine than is humanly necessary to keep an active mind, but it's also air-conditioned. And clean.

More specifically, it's a structured ambient place where I can be constantly inspired to buckle down and get something done, newspaper work or otherwise.

Chennai can be seen as a haven for this type of culture. It's surprising to know that Starbucks hasn't dug it's corporate paws into the cafe-rich Chennai, especially in Nungambakkam, which houses the most popular and established cafes.

So whether you feel like a quick drink to keep you going, a relaxing atmosphere to ponder life in, or a place with a beat for a good time, look no further because this is the guide to the best cafes in town.

Oxford Book Store- Upstairs Cafe
ground floor of Apeejay House on Haddows Road
This light, free space features wood floors and excellent light to read by. Search the internet for 25 rs an hour or check out their great menu of items, which include Western, as well as Indian favorites. A great place to go to get some work done!


15 Old No 9,Khader Nawaz Khan Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai, 600034 - 044 42317690
The hottest spot to go for a good time with friends. The low seating on sofas, in a rickshaw (yes, you read that correctly), and on ornate benches creates a conversational and relaxed mood while the music varies from Top 40 to ambient to rock. Smoke some shisha, drink a latte, or eat some fabulous dessert. You can even enjoy a full meal here, as well. Anything goes in a place where so many young people come together, so don't be surprised if you catch the eye of a cutey in a seat near-by.

Truly a gem. The lush gardens and tranquil standing water give way to an open courtyard enclosed in it's own mini-jungle. Posh and serene, this place can transform you into a creative poet, avid reader, or just a person needing a break. At night, the faerie lights are turned on and the young crowd can be seen in clusters at tables, mingling and catching up. It's entirely a smoking area, whether that is a good or bad thing. The prices are higher here than most cafes, but you always get what you pay for and here, you get only the best coffee, tea, and light fare.

Coffee Day and Hot Breads Bakery
23/124,Ispahani Centre, Nungambakkam High Road, Chennai, 600034 - 044 42070620
A relaxed, informal atmosphere where you can sit in chairs and lounge, reading the local paper available. It's reasonably priced, the desserts are delish, and the drinks are very creative. The staff are very friendly, funny. A cookie iced latte will leave you with a satisfied tummy and a sugar rush like no other! A cow bell hangs above the door- don't forget to ring it if you've had a good time!

Casa Piccola
Ok, so this isn't technically a cafe- it's a European resto loung and patio. But if the breeze is good on a particular day and you don't mind a limited coffee/ tea menu, then head up to the patio, complete with leather bean-bag chair, white washed walls, and low seated sofas. Watch the clouds drift by, the palm trees sway, and listen to the music. Be warned, though, since the tunes can range from mild ambient to hard core rap in the span of 10 minutes!

Barista Coffee Pub
Nungambakkam High Road 28205408
Save the best for last! This cafe is the epitome of what Western coffee houses are, most of all Starbucks. It has both sofas and chairs to accommodate lone travelers or groups of people. You can get items to go with ease, or have a proper sit-down. The food is light and snack-y, with the main focus on quality of coffee. There is a noticeable casual cool vibe. Come here on a hot day top cool off and get your chill on.


Elephants, tea plantations- no joke- this is the real Munar

Taxi rides are generally unremarkable- unless you're riding one 2,000 metres above sea level up a range of hills lined with lush tea plantations, sky-high trees, and dappled with bright bursts of flowers in full bloom. Oh, and scattered with larger-than-life elephants that ramble along the side of the road with their trainers.

The climb to the top of the Munar plantations was breath-taking: the green seemed to extend into eternity beyond the last hills, the fresh breeze tussling hair and bringing a smell of sweetness, the lush smell of fresh grass and leaves. The sun slowly rose from behind the foliage and set itself high into the clear blue sky, warming but not scorching.

It would be an understatement to say that this was a peaceful retreat from city life- heaven can't be described in such light terms.

What added to the magic was the colour of our guide's eyes: clear percing green/blue, set in a dark brown face. The contrast of colours was beautiful. Later in the day, my rickshaw driver looked me in the eyes with his pair of dazzling blue ones to quote me a price and I was once again in awe. 'Are you wearing contacts?" I shamelessly wanted to ask.
Back to aforementioned tour...

We were shown 6 hours of dizzying tea plantations, dazzling views, darling shops, and daring drops. At one of the look-out points, I sat on a rock for what seemed like hours. I gazed out onto the deep valley so far below and meditated on everything from finding inner peace to what I was going to eat for dinner (it turned out to be Chinese vegetable noodles and a "jumbo" sundae. Misleading description.) After climbing the 50 wide-spaced steps to the top of the trail, and finding my breath, we continued to more excitement.

But nothing could be more exciting than the day's previous activities. Mainly, this included riding a horse and an elephant. No, not at the same time! First a 10 minute jaunt down a reservoir-bordering path, riddled with brambles and flora. Then another 10 minutes atop the massive grey wrinkled back of Mina. These were only about 15 minutes apart, so I guess I was close to riding them at the same time?! Circus tricks, indeed.

Being atop a creature of that size gave me an entirely new appreciation for this earth and my role in it. I mainly thought of how insignificant we are as humans. And not in a cynical way. Look at the size of an elephant compared to any human! Puney, in comparison. I was lucky to see how magnificent and beautiful and gentle these animals are, which is more than many people can claim for themselves. All throughout the ride, I was feeling this elephant move beneath me and realized my love for animals all over again. A being like that should never be intentionally killed, and yet hunting and sawing off tusks is perpetuated in India and Africa.

After stocking up on masala tea, home-made chocolate, and an out-of-place "NY" hat (to rally the heat off my heat-stroke prone head) it was down hill and back to our amazingly cheap yet clean and quaint hotel for a rest-up.

Tomorrow is a new day, occupied with travelling back to the Flat, our home away from home. And believe me, rest is a must if planning to catch the train anywhere in India.


Pondicherry *time to catch up on blogging*

Pondicherry is an ideal escape for the weekend if residing in Madras. When you think of a major city in Canada (like Toronto), you think traffic jams, people, some pollution, but you never question that the streets run straight and intersect at right angles. Well it's not like that in the majority of India! If roads are available, they criss-cross, flow, and cut into each other whenever they please- and the driver has to pay dearly in the confusion. Mainly with frustration and sometimes with accidents. Then again, many cities in the world follow a similar organic lay-out, like London for example.

Having lived in Canada for the majority of my life, I'm not used to the winding streets and get confused when in an Indian rick-shaw. Like, seriously confused. I'd be 3 km from the Flat and could very well be in Delhi for all the direction I remember!

It always makes for an interesting ride, as new discoveries are made daily; "ooh- is that a Fabindia? Look at that Indian sweets store- it's huge! We have to come back down this way!" A futile questioning of the driver takes place in which you learn that you are, indeed, in Chennai and, more specifically, in Egmore...and that's usually as far as it goes. Nonetheless, it of course adds to the experience of traveling outside of your own country.

I fell in love with Pondicherry straight away. The streets, for the most part, ran straight so I once again began to feel confident in my sense of direction. I managed to find a few places on my own after visiting them only once or twice. Does this mean that your mind just gets used to the layout of your home country/ city and has trouble configuring to a new one? It seems so.

The food in is a mixture of Indian staples and French cuisine because it used to be a French colony. Indian food is savory, but the spices can irritate any traveller's stomach if consumed daily in vast amounts. So it was interesting to have the option of a break ordering whole fish (in hollandaise sauce), mashed potato, a grilled cheese sandwich, or a pizza. Bland food in comparison to South Indian favorites, but food that my body can process without complaint. So far, though, not too many health crises.

There is a private beach accessed only by ferry (which, by the way, runs on a tiny engine meant for a much smaller fishing boat) where I was able to swim in the ocean for the first time since Cuba, which lifted my spirits and managed to curl my hair. There was a mix of families, travelers, and the ubiquitous groups of men.

One suggestion for female travelers in India- stay fully clothed the entire time at the beach. My friends tried to suntan in their bikini tops and full-length pants or skirts and men here gravitated towards them like moths to the light. Groups or single men will revolve around foreign women lounging on the sand, taking photos, crowding uncomfortably around them, and rudely staring. All women staying in India and attempting to act in some manner or form as they would back home in the West always leave with a disturbing story or two.

Here's my horror story:
I went into the water with a full length skirt and a tank-top; safe and pretty covered for 40 degrees plus humidity, right? I was followed in by a man. I thought it was annoying, but safe because I was going out towards two of my friends. The suck and pull of the tide managed to yank my improvised sarong skirt straight off. I was butt- naked in the water with no other choice of wardrobe. I hastily attempted to re-wrap the now clingy and twisted up piece of fabric around my waist, but it was all in vain. In between trying to swim, stay in the water deep enough to not let the entire shore see my wardrobe malfunction, and gasping for air, it was impossible to do anything. I needed shorts, pronto. One of my Flat mates saw my turmoil and adapted a lifeguard maneuver, grabbing me from the back and swimming for both of us. Another friend ran ashore to grab shorts as I bobbed like a cork in the ocean. "You mooned me when you had your back to me," my knight in shining armor laughs. "You're lying," I rebuke. "Nope," he laughs, "full mooning". I can't even turn around to smack him because he's the reason I'm safe in this water. Oh, my pride.

Sliding the shorts on presented yet another challenge- how is this done when sea-water is distorting my vision and I'm focusing all energy on staying afloat and not drowning Paddy the Lifeguard? This three-person effort led to an entire crowd of Indian men following their friend's brilliant idea and jumping into the ocean to frolic and shout around my vicinity. After a few moments' struggle, however, the shorts were on and my moment of embarrassment was over, save for the first male follower who decided to saddle up to us and shout random words in jumbled English to get our attention. You got my attention a while ago when you shadowed me for 10 minutes, bainchod.

The sun began its descent and it was time to head back on the ferry; five Brits, one Canadian, and a soccer ball. Landing ashore, we unchained our bicycles and peddled the 4 kms back to our beach-side guest house, passing brightly painted trucks, lethargic dogs, coconut vendors, pottery shacks, blue slivers of ocean views, and slum houses on the way.


Surreal India

I can now safely say that I have had one of the most surreal experiences of my life: I watched Rambo 4 in a cinema in Chennai, India. Amongst hundreds of screaming and cheering fans, I sat huddled at the edge of my Laz-e-boy recliner with Freddy, a Brit as enthusiastic about needless violence and a shitty dialogue in films as myself. We rolled up newspaper into headbands and donned them like the warrior that is Rambo.

But first thing's first. We were encouraged to stand at full attention as the Indian national anthem rose in power to greet us. And what a moving anthem it was, even though we couldn't understand the Hindi. The song even came with moving pictures of the Indian flag blowing at full mast and a man singing in the studio, who was one of the most renowned singers in India, as I would later learn. Sitting down, the lights dimmed further and we were enrobed in the beginning of Rambo 4.
The opening sequence saw much bloodshed and tears; the cinema remained quiet and unmoved. Ten minutes in, Rambo made his appearance capturing a writhing poisonous cobra in the amazon. The crowd went wild. Insane. For two solid minutes, the riotous crowd cheered, hooted and screamed. I couldn't help but join in the revelry. It's a natural reaction when seeing a film that infuses you with energy and excitement. There were explosions, much killing of bad guys, and the use of more graphic weapons, such as a machete and a bow and arrow. This ensured more extended death scenes, which moved the crowd even more. Men (the theater was 98% full of this testosterone fuelled sex) stood up to cheer on the bulging hero.

Speaking of bulge, I'm not too sure whether it was muscle, chemicals, or fat that clung to Sylvester's body. In many scenes, all I could focus on besides the dead dialogue and splashing blood, was Rambo's paunch and botoxed skin.

During the intermission, I managed to sneak to the loo. And what a washroom: marble floors and sinks, glass doors to the toilets, and full length mirrors, all pristinely clean. I have only ever seen tastefully designed washrooms like this at classy hotels, and I got the 5-star treatment with just my 100-rupee ticket, which is about 3 dollars Canadian. In the main lobby, the line for fuel, in the form of popcorn, red bull, coffee, and donuts, stretched and converged for meters. I couldn't be bothered- it was back into the noisy theatre for me and the obnoxiously loud jewelry commercials blaring from the screen. I have been to Sathyam cinema so many times that I finally managed to correctly mime the commercials, and even understand some of the dialogue.

Nonetheless, it made for good conversation as my English friend and I commented on everything in the film, from the lack of rivoting lines to the bad acting and cheesy stunts (I highly doubt that it was Sylvester rolling out of that truck at full speed). The unnecessarily long credit list (have you ever in your life seen "salad maker" or "chief fruit picker" in the credits?) made us roll with laughter.

Emerging into the still late night was surreal. After all the shouting, shoving, play fighting and cheering in the cinema, we were greeted with a cool breeze and a wall of impenetrable rickshaw drivers. We had to remember our senses as Freddie negotiated our rate home, and then we were off: fighting, smoking, growling, and punching all the way home. And I have the photos to prove it!


Valentines in the City

Toronto, Canada, is an eclectic, bustling city full of life and inspiration.
Never is this more evident than on holidays and during festivals when everyone celebrates together. Case in point is on February 14th, or Valentine's Day.
Queen West, the art-fashion bohemian mecca, is filled with ideas for decorating and dressing your best on this day. The store-fronts bloom with reds, pinks and various shades of white for the romantic passer-by. The main entertainment district on Richmond Street pumps music into the night crowd that gathers to mingle and party. The splayed out plazas get in on the love with V-day contests and sales. Events are advertised all over the city on flyers and through word of mouth; fashion shows, special dj sets, and parties are all put on in the name of Valentines Day. Kensington Market is awash with international flavor; the street vendors display only the most festive vintage imports. The organic food shops serve up delectable heart- shaped cupcakes, tarts, and pies.If you're looking for something to do with your sweety, you have to act quickly because dinner reservations fill up weeks ahead. There is no end to the romantic choices available. A walk through the historic University of Toronto Campus and the near by park, art gallery hopping, baking your own cake at Pie in the Sky Bakery, and selecting the perfect bouquet at one of many florist shops in the city are all on the menu.For the single guy and gal, parties, spa treatments and special "singles night" events add fun to this day.
Many people in the city even reject Valentine's day as a holiday worth celebrating. But this set usually have "anti- Valentine" events to rock out at.
Nevertheless, Toronto remains one of the most interesting places to be on February 14th.

Valentine's Day Blues...Not

February the 14th is supposed to be a day for couples, the one day of each year delegated to showing your love for the significant other in your life. One day. Even the concept of this Hallmark holiday is a little off; I say that there are ways to show affection every day of the year, why relinquish it to a mere 24 hours?
Oh, and there is the fact that not every person on this earth is in a relationship- in fact, most aren't. So when magazines comes out with V-day ideas for you and your hunny, what is a single gal to do- sulk, hide from your happily coupled pals, and eventually finish off a pint of Ben & Jerry's on your own? No. I won't stand for it and your sure won't, either. In lieu of the "romantic twosome" ideas spilling from the newstands during the next week, here is a list of things only a single girl can do on V-day- that's right, sometimes it only takes one.
1) Scam on cuties:
Ok, so this one is self-evident. But isn't it truly a relief when you see a fine man to admire without feeling guilty? Hell, let's go one step further, maybe you can even talk to said man! The city is a playground for guy-watching. Cafes, restaurants, movie theatres...even libraries are breeding grounds for this sport. It's pure fun and adrenaline to have a girls night at a club or bar and feel free to do whatever you please because there isn't an anxious and nearly jealous man reeling in the background.
2) Journey as you please:
Hm...I think I want to go to India in 6 months. No problem, right? For the single girl, no, but for the coupled one, the answer is a big fat yes. Imagine what things must be kept in consideration because of him: what about us? Are you breaking up with me? How long will you be gone for? Why can't I come? These are endless and tiresome. Most of all, they make one feel less independent and more constrained. Most of the time, there are no answers to these questions, since travel doesn't follow an itinerary when on the road solo.
True, you could bring Mr. hubby on the trip with you, but do you really want to spend every waking second in very close quarters with the man who is supposed to find you sexy, and vice versa? No chance of that when you see grooming habits, hear snoring...the list can go on for ages. Independent travel with no qualms on the home front is best.
3) Perks at your disposal:
Picture this; you're on your own at the movie store with a d.v.d. in hand. Three heavily- laden men stand between you and your movie watching. What's a cute single gal to do? Cutesy it up, of course, and ask the lads if they "wouldn't mind if I just buy this movie and rush home because my puppy needs a walk." Add in a hair twirl and lip bite for effect. In general, men love single girls. I mean, that's just how it is in most situations where you can use that charm. Ask and you shall receive.
4) Love and pamper yourself:
Think about it, if there is no guy to take up your time, all of the attention can go to yourself, your friends and family. Your life can follow your own direction, rather than having to keep one other person in consideration all the time. It's a "me", rather than "us", thing, and that's empowering.


Pondy Bazaar

The street grew more narrow as the surrounding traffic swallowed the rickshaw and us. The first shop to attract me was stacked full of bangles, earrings, necklaces, and some common nick-knacks, like bandannas. The columns of bangles engulfed the tiny shop- they were stacked to the ceiling like jars of candy, enticing and dazzling.
The first impulse I had was to just stand and stare- absorb every colour and texture. But this is India, and quick reflexes are key.
Overcoming the overwhelming urge to gawk like a tourist, I dove in. The shop was about the size of my bedroom, and the width of one person. Thank God I haven't been eating and could squeeze past the already packed shop.
Make them work for you- that's what I learned from observing. But never, ever look as interested and amazed as you are. I found many things I would love to adorn myself with, starting from the head to the ankles, and many places in between. Settling for a few bracelets and earrings, I was off. The negotiations went well. My price went down half of what I was to be charged. Is it the fact that three of the bracelets broke before I even left the store and I clearly showed my displeasure? Or maybe it was my blasse and impassive face, bearing no sign of what I was feeling inside.
I left after a quick photo-op (I am a tourist, after all) and entered the ever-chaotic streets of Chennai again.
The first shop I passed offered me the exact earrings I had just bought for half the price. Damn. Maybe I'm not as good as I thought. I opted for eye kohl and henna paste; let's see if I can still draw on bodies like nobody's business.
Next was a juice bar, where the Brits and I sat for a bit. Did you know that the bars here can put nuts in your shake? Protein city. Note to self- never order papaya smoothie. One of the girls received a warm concoction that ended up making her sick, giving me a sharp reminder to be safe about the food here. Not sick yet. One week down. Good so far.
Our wandering led us through a flower street. The make-shift thatch overhang let some of the lamp-light flood onto the wondrous scene below. If you close you eyes, and imagine an entire block of a city covered in flowers of all colours, entwined withe the green of stalks, stems, and leaves, snaking their way around wooden stalls, through hair, and around peoples' necks- that's exactly what the scene was like.
Finally, we stumbled into a fruit and vegetable alleyway. Piles and rows of every fruit and vegetable imagineable greeted our eyes. The smells wafted up as we continued through. Someone even bought a Samosa: "I want whatever that smell is!"
Night fell and it was time to go. With sandy feet and glazed eyes, I clambered into a rickshaw and we were off.


Never-ending Jet-lag

I glanced at the clock on my i-pod: in Chennai, I would be up and about- the busiest time of the day. In Toronto I would be sleeping like a baby by now. Two pulls.
It goes beyond jet lag. Will my body and mind continue ticking on Toronto's clock because it's safe and comfortable or will it thrive in the unknown and greet the change openly? Only time will tell.
Upon landing, my body was telling me to hit the sack, but my mind was reeling with the simple fact that I was in India. That night I had my first nightmare in 3 months. I awoke alone in the dark and thought to myself "it figures that I would have a nightmare on my first night..."
More sleepless nights and restless days followed- like walking through a dream but knowing that it should feel real. I was in a cloud.
Do jet-lag pills really work- because I have a nagging suspicion that they are mere placebos. It might have even worked if I took some sleeping pills with me to calm my inner workings down. It's great that I realize this after I'm actually in the foreign country.
My technique is to just drink plenty of water and begin to unwind once the sun starts it's decent. Getting up in the morning is more like crawling out of Hades. The bed is hard and the wood warped, the air is damp and thick- like a mid-way point in between comfortable and un-bearable.
Exercise is another big one. I haven't been getting any. It balances out because I've been eating minimally, if at all. When I do, massive heartburn and stomach-churning commences.
I have a sneaking suspicion it's the bumpy rickshaw rides which leave me craving the touch of land below my feet. And keeping more than a .05 cm distance between myself and other vehicles at all times.
Slow recovery from jet-lag is the way to go. Another recommendation? Take plenty of cold showers, whether out of choice or not.


India in 3 days. Seriously.

It's all in the title, folks. I'm departing from this country to another one half the world away. That's pretty far. Besides being excited to explore a foreign country on my own for the first time in my life, and realizing that my prospects for riding a camel through the desert are looking good, I'm going to be interning at the India Times.
This is big news for me. It means a foot in the door in my desired field; the fact that said door is in an ever-growing country where English writers are now increasingly in demand is an added bonus. The latest e-mail from the correspondent at my program ended with: "I hope you're excited!" Well, I'm not excited- I'm friggin' ecstatic!
The plan seems good on paper: flight to Chennai, with a stop-off in Frankfurt, Germany. I'll be picked up at the airport by a guy holding a sign with my name on it (just like in the movies) and then taken to the YMCA guest house for two days to recover from jet-lag, let my body and mind block out a horrific plane ride, and explore my new 'hood. Oh, and shopping is definitely on the list.
The latest isn't so I can buy various trinkets to hastily send back to awaiting family members and friends. Truthfully, I'm only packing two changes of clothes and enough underwear for two weeks. A back-pack that allows for 30 pounds max doesn't leave much room for clothing, if you take all of its other contents into consideration.
Above all, I am trying not to have any expectations. I don't want to imagine pristine conditions, because that simply isn't realistic. I also don't want to envision the worst-case-scenario, although I am prepared for it. I'm coming into India open-minded, and I hope to leave in the same way.