MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH MUMBAI

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This special, busy, bustling, hot and humid city has all but managed to create a space for herself in my heart. Each time I set foot in Mumbai, I realise that different kinds of people can live harmoniously together in one city, despite space and work being very sought after. The city engulfs you as you step into it, pulling you into her grip and welcoming you into a world you will not experience anywhere else. You move shoulder to shoulder with people, yet you’re allowed space to breathe. You come across extreme poverty just metres away from extreme wealth, yet you will not find resentment. Mumbai shows you what it is like to be content with what you have. Her people show you what hospitality is all about. You will be offered food, drinks and shelter wherever you go, be it from a rich man, middle class man or poor man. No one will turn you down or turn you away. Watching her people go about their day, you witness what hard work really is, what labour really is. Her streets will drive you insane if you’re not used to excessive hooting and traffic, but it is by far one of the few cities in the world where, as a tourist, you will not be able to hire a car and drive around. Simply because you will not be able to make it even 100 metres down the road. Here they hardly follow the rules of the road, but you will hardly witness road rage or a road accident. This is most amazing to me. I would call it organised chaos. But what I really love is how each time I step into Mumbai I feel as if I am embraced by the warmth of the people. You can feel it in the air. What I love even more is that you can also feel a sense of spirituality in the air. Unspoken, but it is there. You will find mosque, church and temple side by side in Mumbai and you will find people of every religion visiting each one. It is hard to decipher who belongs to which religion, which to me is a beautiful concept. The spirituality in the air is unmissable. Its almost as if the city knows she belongs to a land of ancient spiritual knowledge. Its almost as if the mantras chanted at the various ashrams around India resonate through her cities. Mumbai may be the money spinner, it may be hot, it may be humid, it may be the land of glamour and dons, it may be a land of some of the world’s biggest slums, but it is at the same time a land of spirituality. Anyone with a vague sense of being in touch with their spiritual side will feel this, will be attracted to it and will be drawn to it. You will love one part of the city and you won’t quite like the next, but when you leave the city, you will be sure to return time and time again. She has no rules per se, she has no boundaries, nor limits. She does not come with a set itinerary for tourists. Its what you make of it. And that is what makes her, Mumbai, so beautiful. Go to her with no expectations, with no pre-formed judgements based on what people have told you and let her surprise you. Trust me, she will!

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Pure Bliss!!!

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I have finally discovered the beauty of meditation. Having been trying for many years to sit still and keep my mind calm, even for just a few minutes, I finally got it.  And I must say it is a truly freeing, exhilarating experience. One that I recommend for everyone to try.

How did I get it right? I signed up to do a Oneness course here in Johannesburg. It’s a spiritual awakening course and one that I was super revved up for considering my love for spiritual retreats. If you scoff at this, then you haven’t fully experienced the wondrous stillness, joy and peace felt in the mind and heart during and after a retreat.

The Oneness course entails meditation, deeksha (blessings) and teachings about positivity, becoming one with your divine, forgiveness and letting go. While I enjoyed every aspect of it, I thoroughly enjoyed the meditation. It literally took me to another world. For the first time I experienced lightness in my body and absolute stillness in myself. There was a point during each of the meditations where I could not figure out whether my eyes were opened or closed. The third eye that every spiritual master talks off, I have discovered, is a real thing. No doubt I always believed it, but I had never before experienced its true magnificence. I could feel the space between my eyes heat up and allow me to keep my attention focused on that space only. My mind was blank. For the first time, I was not thinking about anything I still needed to do or forgot to do. I was not thinking about sore or cramping joints. I was not thinking about what I could be doing instead of being in meditation.

None of the words that I use could even capture the exact feeling of this beautiful gift given to us by the sages and saints that once roamed India in search of a higher understanding. This is probably the best discovery of all discoveries over the centuries. Try it and you’ll see that I’m right. Money can buy you anything besides peace and pure joy. And if you think you’re happy, you’re not until you find a stillness within yourself that is freeing in every sense.

I could go on and on about it but I won’t.  I’ll leave you with this, it brought a glow to my face and a confidence in myself that I had never before felt. All these things I want to continue to experience each day. My experience was liberating to say the least.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie

Weekly Photo Challenge: Selfie

Taking a picture of myself and friends looking up into the mirrored ceilings at a party before a Rihanna concert at Johannesburg’s Randlords.

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Loneliness

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My heart is empty
My soul weeps
My head is tormented
My being is lonely
Never have I known the real depths of loneliness till this day
Never have I known the real depths of loneliness till you walked away
You sought something better
You sought something new
All the while I stood there silently watching you
All the while I stood there silently praying you’ll stay by my side
But alas you left
You turned around and walked away
A smile on your lips
A tear in my eye
A spring in your step
A thorn in my heart
The pain in my chest
The pain in my heart
The pain in my being
Tears me apart
Day by day
Day by day
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Joburg’s little India

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Johannesburg’s very own little India, very own Mumbai. Fordsburg!!! It smells the same. It sounds the same. It almost looks the same. If you want to buy anything Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi – get a haircut, threading, clothes, accessories, shoes, dvds, creams, hair oils or food — you’ll get it at the Fordsburg flea market.

 

I’ve been wandering through the flea market for years now. Moving out of home and into a new city, you find a little comfort in a place that reminds you of home. All things Indian. But I looked at it differently this past week when I took friends there for the first time. They were afraid at first at how busy the place gets. There’s people everywhere, you can’t turn without almost bumping into someone. But everybody’s happy here. No moaning, no fussing, nothing. Just smiles and laughs and lots of bargaining everywhere. They were also afraid of the roads. People drive here in Fordsburg as if they’re driving in India. It’s almost as if everyone who drives into Fordsburg forgets that they live in Johannesburg. In South Africa. You hear hooters every other minute, you see cars parked on the road not really caring that they’re blocking the way, and you see people standing on the road happily having conversations with other people. But we made it through the traffic.

The fear now gone, we wander through the market. The smell of spicy, Indian food fills the air. The sounds of Bollywood music blares through the market, combined with the chitter chatter of throngs of people bargaining a good deal. Our first stop, Dosa Hut. Fordsburg is littered with lots of tiny little restaurants serving up delicious Asian food. And Dosa Hut is no different. Our order: Curry, Idlis and masala dosas. The food was divine. The conversation great. Lots of laughs and then we continue to wander. After spending some money (everything is cheap so you want to buy everything. By the time you’re done you realize that you’ve actually spent a lot more than you thought) on monkey nuts, jewellery, barfi, a hubbly bubbly, we went on to find the paan shop we were searching for.

 

My first time eating paan. The paan guy has a tiny, neat and tidy stall on the sidewalk. We watch him prepare and roll the paan. We then each get to taste. Now I know why people who eat paan are always chewing. It’s too much. It tastes good, but it takes a really long time to chew it. To swallow it. My mouth was not red. Thankfully! We then went in search of the guys selling coconut water.  We needed something to drink, to wash it down.

Having had a little too much of the hustle and bustle of the place we decide to head back home to the quieter suburbs. And as is always the case, we’ll be sure to to return some weeks later for our regular “Indian fix”.

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They Call it The Water of the Gods…

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Tucked away in a forest, beyond a wide lake and far from civilisation in Kochi, Kerala, is a little enclave where they make cotton and grow coconuts. Taking a boat through kilometres of breath-takingingly beautiful backwaters to reach this place is no chore at all. Step out of the boat and you’d think you’ve stepped onto an Indian film set in a village going back decades. A little house with a kitchen built outside and a square, brick temple in the middle of the courtyard where the Tulsi tree grows. Little lotas (brass pots) can be seen on the temple edge. Hindus offer jal (water) on the Tulsi tree to the Sun God every morning. The women of the house are coy, wearing saris and using one hand to bring the sari over their heads, covering half their faces. They have, however, made banana chips to sell to the tourists who come to the area. These chips are delicious. I haven’t tasted such finger-licking good crisps before. They don’t make them anywhere else either. I later regret not buying an extra packet to take back to the hotel. We’re then taken to see the two women who make cotton using hair from the coconuts. It’s all manual and I would imagine rough on the hands. The women smile happily for photographs while showing off their craft.
Kerala, located in south India is scorchers. Its people don’t know what a real winter is. The sun beats down on you, roasting and tanning any bit of skin left exposed. Being offered to buy some coconut water then is a welcome treat the tourists accept. Here, though, the coconuts come from the trees grown just metres away. The man in charge uses a sickle and in one quick swoop cuts off the top bit of the coconut. Just enough space to drink the water from. He amazingly doesn’t cut himself or any other part of the coconut.  Not a single coconut goes wasted because of his skill to accurately chop the top off. Each coconut is full to the brim with water. The tourists hesitantly take a sip. And then graciously gulp the rest of it down. The water is delicious. They call it ‘the water of the God’s’ here. After drinking it, you’d know why. It’s cold, but not too cold and sweet. Divinely delicious – for lack of better words to describe it.  It does not taste like the coconut water I’ve had anywhere else. This water is also fresh, free of preservatives and loaded with vitamins good for your skin and general health. Who needs cool drinks, iced tea or bottled water if you have this growing in your backyard. The locals, while proud of their land, don’t really realise how lucky they are to cultivate these coconuts nor are they aware of the beauty they live amidst. The backwaters are vast and slowly making your way down the lakes in wooden boats introduces you to postcard-perfect scenery at every turn. Each sight more beautiful than the previous one. Quiet and serene, a wonderful getaway from the actual bustling, busy city of Kochi. Billboards advertising the place as ‘God’s own Country’ do not lie. Pictures do not do justice its beauty!

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When a ‘lady of the night’ hooked me

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Fascinated as any by Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District, it was on my long to-do list on my recent visit to the lovely European city. Kitted up in warm clothes, braving the rain and chill in the air, my campus friend Tammy and I stepped out into the city around midnight on my first day there. I was in awe of the lights, buildings, roads, bars, cyclists, people. Everything about the city really. We decided that my first stop was going to be the Red Light District. Excited as a little kid and slightly nervous, we ventured towards the bustling, lit up area. Its location was probably the most intriguing point for me. Situated in the city, not on the outskirts or in a secluded suburb, it had an almost old-world charm to it. Rows and rows of windows with almost naked women posing, gyrating, vying for attention. From afar, with red lights shining on them, they looked gorgeous. I, however, managed to get close enough to one to notice all the flaws that the lights hid in a situation that now makes me laugh, but at the time had me in the grips of fear. I unwittingly aroused the ire of one of the ladies. No one who visited had thought it fit to warn me that laughing at the girls was a no-no. Well, I laughed, but at something Tammy and I were talking about. The woman however thought I was poking fun at her. And why not? She was slightly older and bigger around the edges. This I noticed on closer inspection when I unexpectedly came face to face with her at her window. Thinking I was mocking her with my loud, full-throated laugh, she came at me. She stepped right out of her little cubicle in her lingerie screaming at me, pointing her finger and shouting all sorts of profanities. By now a large crowd had gathered around us. Tammy, standing nearby looked on wide-eyed, but waiting to pounce on her if she so much as touched me. But the woman, probably after realising that she was standing in the street in her underwear, looking about 70 percent less attractive in normal lighting, decided to retreat back into her tiny glass room lined with dildos and a single mattress on the floor. Needless to say that that was the start to an eventful holiday in the beautiful city. I decided to take in the rest of the district and move on. Everything about the city delighted me. And having Tammy and her Dutch hubby, Koen, as hosts and tour guides made it all the more fabulous. We rang in my birthday with strangers singing for me and then a sweet, little surprise breakfast. I must say if it was not for Tammy, I would’ve probably gotten ridden over by one of the many cyclists and trams the city is also famous for. Their little bells failed to register in my head and I continued to walk on their pathway every day. They’re more dangerous, I think, than Johannesburg’s taxi drivers. They don’t stop, they don’t move. They just ride on whether you’re in their path or not. I must say the food was not that interesting. We have a much better pot and blend of variety here in South Africa. Truly grateful for that. Also grateful for the wonderful South African climate we all take for granted. I must’ve enjoyed about five minutes of sunlight in my week there. And finally, did I wander into the quaint, little coffee shops? You bet your bottom euro I did. Thoroughly enjoyable, mostly because of the mix of people, the music, and the cups of tea I was allowed to have there. Me being a huge fan of lovely teas. And did I have a pull on the infamous joint? Well now, some things are best left unsaid!!!!

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