As I flew from the east to the west , little did I know that in those ten days, I would meet five travel companions that would change my perception forever……..

So when you see all these posts about me travelling here there and everywhere, be honest- You must think – ‘Oh she must be having A Damn Awesome life!’

I can’t say it is all untrue but if you are a forced traveller like me then the prospect of packing bags, living out of a suitcase, navigating airports, immigration, customs, maps can be pretty painful.While some are natural, enthusiastic travellers, few are not. Unfortunately I come under the second category. So even though my profession makes me board an aircraft almost every week, when it comes to taking off on vacation, there are days I rather sit home under my rock and switch off from airports, trains, buses and any other transportation, as ironical as it sounds.IMG_2766

My trip to Alaska in July was one such ‘Shall I go- Shall I not?’ kind of trip. Yes, Alaska the bucket wish of every second soul.

And there I was with a cruise in hand and still contemplating until the last minute… should I or should I not jump over glaciers and befriend dolphins?

Besides the prospect of getting a Canadian visa was so unappealing, having heard nightmares of that taking a month; there was no chance I could give up my passport for so long. I had flights to catch and work to do.

Finally after being smart and getting the visa in under a week (no I am not sharing this information) I got myself mentally prepared for the almost 24 hour journey from Mumbai via London to Vancouver, where Celebrity Infinity inaugurated its weekly route.

Awesome Auntyjee- Antijee

So she sat in front of me, 34 K, on the Mumbai London flight. I originally had the one next to her but other old folks mistakenly sat there and so I automatically slid into the one behind without a fuss. Boredom made me strike up a conversation with the young student next to me on landing and as usual I started about my debut book, ‘blah blah, check it out etc. ‘ As the flight touched down, completely oblivious to Auntyjee in front of me for the past eight hours, I saw a white haired tiny entity clad in a simple yellow sari, stand up and clap in glee. For a minute I thought she had lost it, ‘bechari ni paulee kum che,’ (one penny short )I thought in Gujarati.


Soon I realised the cheering was directed at me, ‘Very good beta.You write books, waah waah you are my Superstar!’

I looked around. Slight panicked. Me? And had this frail sweet smiling woman actually used the word ‘Superstar?’

‘I want to read your book,’ she said with such great gusto that I almost wished I was carrying one in my hand case.

Had my voice been that loud or were Auntyjee’s ears as sharp as an ant’s? Antijee!

‘I will walk with you to immigration,’ she affirmed; ‘It is an honour.’

Ahh vanity couldn’t say no to that. So we started….I wondered if I was in for a monotonous dialogue.


Before I had time to make up my mind, she threw that budding misconception out of the aircraft door as we disembarked. Quoting the number of biopic books she had read, all in English mind you and the music she had heard, Indian ghazals; I felt like a total villager.

We had reached the lengthy immigration queue when she turned around and asked me if I was married. Ah finally, the generation gap was about to emerge. It had been too good to be true, the previous coolness and wisdom of Antijee was just a curtain that draped a conservative mind. I replied in the negative.

‘Very good,’ she said, bowling me over again, ‘don’t get married. You are saved. Otherwise you will have to sit and pamper a man’s ego, feed him, listen to his nonsense and you will have no time for your ambitions and future awards.’

Then she blinked and hugged me, her fondness for me growing by the minute; ‘But, you must have boyfriends haan, don’t become celibate.’

I nodded quietly , hugging her back. Oh I was falling for her- this little ole fan who had already imagined my future love life and prizes.

Promising to buy my novel, ‘Coffee Days Champagne Nights’, we cleared the queue and then she started moving away slowly, waving at me, her eyes filled with child like wonder.

I had learnt that Antijee was widowed, lived with her strange daughter in law in Mumbai, was visiting another in the UK to help out with her second pregnancy, had books for company and was touching 80! I was on my way to one of the most craved -for vacations in the world,cribbing about the endless wait and the weak WiFi signal on my phone.

Her smile reached her eyes, her three front teeth were missing and yet she came across as if she had it all! And maybe she did.

As for me? I didn’t stop scowling all the way to the transit hotel, digging for a lost mint in my handbag and imagining missing my next flight.

                        LESSON 1

‘Happiness is definitely within. Here and now. It's not having the best but making the most of what you have, already.It has no age limit.  Auntyjee and  I were originally supposed to sit together and we didn't.  But if you are meant to meet someone, you will! No matter which end of the earth or in this case, the plane you were....'

Celebrity Cruises, the luxury line! I boarded excited along with my family.

It’s all ‘hello lovely to see you’ kind of chat from the hundred odd staff on board the Infinity and I was all pleased with the attention until I realised we had to pre pay a handsome amount for daily bottled water.

After check in, I volunteered to dive in to get some H2O supply for the next few days from one of the bars as the various bars were the only hubs where you could swipe the pre paid card at. Assuming it to be the most buzzing, I handed it to a steward at the poolside deck only to be informed harshly that we allowed only one mini bottle at a time per swipe. This rule sounded completely insane. Firstly the concept of paying for water sucks after you have paid through your pants for a trip and secondly his arrogance called for immediate action…I was now seething like a pressure cooker.

Rattled and clueless about how to handle this angered situation on the very first day of our trip, I went over to the common food court to find a manager to whom I could complain to. I started to climb down the staircase, back to my room on the eighth, cursing under my breath about the miserable place I was going to be stuck in for the next seven days; it wasn’t a hotel that one could swap; we were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! The only way to get to land would be to jump or swim .

dog sledding
Dog sledding with the huskies

View from Icy Strait Pier



In great irritation, I dropped my key card between the landing of two floors. A dusky hand reached for it and handed it over; ‘Are you okay?’ Mr Spectacles inquired.

‘No I am not.’ And observing that he was in some kind uniform I started the vent……..


                  The Cruise Director

Mr Spectacles, ended up being the Cruise director (as if pre scripted) and found my whining endearing. (especially after I threw the 'I am a famous author from Mumbai' card) He lead me down to the coffee shop to calm my nerves with caffeine shots, arranged for unlimited water to be sent to our rooms, volunteered to arrange a book reading and basically made sure I never had an unhappy moment for the next seven days. 


Lots of other fancies like champagne, strawberries and chocolates followed in the days to come, all compliments of our new friend and his tribe; the week went by under the spell of a tooth fairy that woke me up on the other side of sunrise with surprises galore that included royal treatment from chefs, casino hosts and room  managers.

                           Lesson 2

The cruise director Bosco teaches me that no matter what happens, any messy situation can be saved by kindness and going out of your way for someone selflessly. And most importantly it confirmed to me the age old quote that every 'not so great thing' happens for a reason - For if it hadn’t been for that insolent barman setting me off into the wrong direction, I would have never bumped into over- generous beings, who took it upon themselves to change the course of  our holiday and make it a memorable one....

                     Tony the silver fox

Ketchikan was the last shore- halt of the ship. Some of us set out in a private boat as part of the shore excursion.  I was in a rather bad mood. I had issues over the phone the day before with so and so and now nothing seemed okay. So while the rest of the cruise enthusiasts’ were oohing over whale hooping and seal spotting I was skirting around corners. I didn’t see the point in clapping for sea mammals when my own life appeared to be a sea -full of questions.

That’s when a lanky man whom I had noticed chatting with the rest came toward me. I thought he maybe the boat owner and probably worried about my lack of participation.

IMG_9548 (1)
Tony – The message that came through!

When he informed me that he was the man in charge of the coffee, I was taken aback for he had an important air that almost said that he owned the boat.

He laughed ‘I live in Mexico and come to Alaska in summer; I got kicked out of my old job so this is my first day here. I have no clue what I am doing …’

I smiled. I didn’t know what I was doing there either.

Couple of lost peas in a pod we were- Americano Tony and Bhartiya nari Kainaz

He asked me the what, where and how, sensing my willingness to talk…

After being impressed about the author bit we went on to the part of the crew bit. ‘So you travel all around the world as a job? That’s the luckiest thing I have ever heard pretty lady.’

I snapped; ‘I get a bit fed up of holidays; I want to be more grounded. Been there, done that, you know…’

He stared at me for a good ten seconds, the cool Alaskan wind blowing on our faces. For a minute we forgot where we were and who could be over hearing us.

‘No I don’t know. When you get to my age young lass, you will regret that you haven’t made the most of your fantastic life.’

We both took refreshing pristine breaths.

With a ticket in your pocket, fire in your heart and legs that can walky- walk ..there is no excuse in the world that should stop you from discovering every inch of the globe. And until you do, I don’t want you calling it quits.’


Aye Aye Captain Tony.

Lots of people have told me the same thing in different ways, mostly family and friends. After all, my job gives me the luxury of super discounted air tickets which sounds like a fantasy to most ears.

But if there was one epic moment that I could say that changed my entire view of my job and my life style, it was that moment.

I returned on board the cruise and booked my next travel destination, online.                             


                         LESSON 3

Tony taught me one very crucial thing that day: ‘Make life count. For each day is a gift. And while you're at it, teach your heart to crave adventure once again....'                      
(And within a month I was travel writing, blogging and even travel -shooting. And even though it may not be my ultimate thing; I think it’s a close second.)

          Girl with the nose ring

That same day as we were returning to land, I sat next to a girl on the ferry who looked as if she were travelling on her own. Inspired by Tony’s earlier rebuke I decided to smile and culturally integrate myself.IMG_2768 She seemed like a student so I assumed the conversation would be short and inept. As always, I was wrong. I love India. I have been there and volunteered in the slums.  It is my dream to go back and teach poor children.’

Really? India? One of the farthest points one could think of…and that’s where she wanted to return?  She looked barely 18.


She turned out to be the cute boat guide’s girlfriend and I found out that they both shared the common dream of teaching poorly kids; she was even pursuing a course just for that. It almost seemed unreal.

I wished her the best and gave her my email. ‘If you make it let me know.’

‘Do you also volunteer?’ She asked me, her eyes wide in hope; ‘So many needy people in your country no?’

I muttered a lie, quite ashamed, ‘Sometimes…’

And exited gracefully.

India has billions and some one special from a remote island of Alaska had big plans for our country while most of us don’t!                         

                         LESSON 4

                  'Wake up wake up wake up. ’


          May – the Phillipino caretaker 

As I took off from Vancouver, I was slightly sad; not only was I was leaving all of nature’s grandeur behind but I didn’t get a business class seat.

But I had met such amazing human beings in my last week that I was now determined to zip my mouth and make positive changes- and that meant accepting a less than ideal travel situation, to kick start my new resolution.

I was squeezed in between a young man and a young lady in the B seat, just ahead of the economy toilets. Every restroom flush through the darned night was ringing in my ears. I tried to not let it affect me.

It would soon be over in ten hours. I would be back in London in my friend’s room where I would take an afternoon nap before my flight home to Mumbai that night and she would spoil me with desserts and goodies in the meanwhile….

Two hours before landing as I opened my eyes, I couldn’t help but smile at the girl next to me; she had slept soundly all night….


She and I made small talk and I learnt that May was originally from the Philippines but had met her British husband on a dating site many years ago.

She had gone to Newyork on a mini break with her cousin via Vancouver. It sounded fancy and I thought to myself maybe her clothes and struggling look were just the result of tiredness…for Manhattan sounded bit much.(Yes I am the queen of false assumptions, shame on me)

She then gave me a watery smile, ‘It was my first holiday in ten years. You see back home in the UK, I have a husband who suffers from this illness. Through the years, one after the other, all his body parts began to give up. I look after him all night and day… he refuses to stay in a hospital or with a nurse.’

I drew in a sharp breath. Sensing that the story was going to get sadder, I patted her hand, lightly.

‘I work in a care home at night, to make ends meet and in the day time I care for him. I don’t even know who I am anymore. I don’t remember my last hair cut or even my last cup of tea I had in peace without him calling out to me to either clean him up or give him a glass of water. I saved every penny for this trip. If I didn’t go on this holiday I would have had a complete break down.’

I wanted to tell her that she didn’t need to justify her mini splurge to me, that she deserved a break as much as the next person did but I let her carry on….

‘My family in Philippines are very poor. I can’t walk out as I have nowhere to go. My ten year old daughters are ungrateful and refuse to help in household chores. They rely on me for everything. I am almost forty and have no idea how long he will live…he is my husband but I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t love him like I used to. Is it wrong? Am I a bad person to hate him? Am I a bad woman to wish that ……?’

She looked away. I knew what she was thinking.

I spoke to her gently but firmly, ‘You are only human and still a woman.  Sometimes, you have to put yourself first …..’


‘How is that possible? I am just a caretaker; this is my identity. The only thing I have to look forward to when I reach home is washing up strangers and then arguing with him…..I don’t want to.’

‘I wonder if I will ever be happy?’

I didn’t know how to answer that, all I could so was chant good wishes.

I shoved  hundred quid in her hand, ‘Please go treat yourself. Not your kids..just you.’

‘Don’t insult me.’ She said though she wasn’t offended; ‘You have done enough. I feel better…it’s off my chest.’

I bid her farewell as we both went our different paths at Heathrow.

I gave my number just in case. I had a feeling she wouldn’t text. I was right.

                  LESSON 5

'Some forming friendships are just momentary. You take some, you give some, you learn some, you feel some....

And as I left her with well meaning wishes, she presented me the gift of gratitude.

While only hardships awaited my trapped friend, I was thankful for my own freedom and my friend-colleague Bini who was waiting in her hotel room with my favourite edibles, a welcoming smile and open arms…………

And I was grateful for the several wats app messages that flooded my celly as soon as I switched it on; even silly forwards that usually bugged me. They made me feel alive!











A Train to nowhere…

“I need to experience the juice of travel,”
I told a friend on the phone,who pleaded with me, to not take the semi rush hour train into town.
“There are other ways to experience this juice or milkshake or whatever you want to,” he  tried convincing me but I was adamant.
I needed to get to Churchgate for a Poets Meet that Sunday evening from Bandra and I was hell bent, on not img_8600spoiling Uber or Ola with over priced fares that day.
Rs 30  return trip versus Rs 800….Do the math!
I must admit that I haven’t jumped in a local one in very many years. But how bad could it be?
I was glad to discover that the ticket counters were still positioned, where I remembered them last.
Looking for the shortest queue, my eye caught on the one which seemed slightly less intimidating than the rest, ‘Booking Window for physically disabled persons’ it said.
The line seemed to have only women standees which made me slightly irritated; ‘did they think they were handicapped as women?’
Then I realized it was the short, smart way my gender could be using at times to purchase quick tickets and my hesitation turned into silent applause.
I stood there excited, clutching a fifty note, like a five year old about to embark on her first train journey.
Let me add that I have taken plenty of these, in my days at St Xavier’s College,Marine lines; with Rs 100 a week pocket money in place.
Patting myself on the back for remembering where the ‘fast train platform’ was, I walked quick paced, almost missing the swinging lathi that two railway cops were mock scaring the urchins with, on the bridge.
As I stood waiting for the 3.33 pm local to arrive, I sheepishly asked the bystanders where the second class ladies compartment was. They sized me up and down before answering ‘Last Last.’
Which I assumed meant :walk further and you will eventually slip upon it.
I started clicking ferociously on my 16 GB cell phone explaining to a group of giggling girls that it was for my blog and they asked curiously,”Kya aap foreign se aye ho?”(are you from abroad?)
I began to show off my minuscule Marathi skills; it seemed to turn on some laughing gas switch in their system and I was thankful that my train had drawn closer.
Everyone around me seemed to be geared for some action.
I believe that shoving each other before time of this action, can be totally avoided, if we all formed one neat, straight line, in a civilized manner.
How hard was it? Didn’t we do it on the London underground?
I decided to impart this; I would teach everyone to do things in an organised way, for that day at least!
“Go easy, form a line, don’t push. Let the ladies with the kids go first….” I started to request the confused and flustered faces around me.
Soon, my red P cap had somersaulted on the floor, my ray bans in my hands, as two boxy women shoved me hard, “What are you waiting for princess?” they howled in Hindi, agitated that I was not pushing ahead of order, before the train had come to a halt
Having no opportunity to quip back, I quickly joined the mass struggle, realizing that if I didn’t, I would be camping on Bandra platform until dusk.
Phew! I just about made it, tasting parachute strands in my mouth and an armpit in my face.
Well I did say I wanted to experience the juice of life, did I not?train1
Not to miss a photo moment(yes yes for my blog) I started once again to shoot random faces around me, startling the others sardines who are as tightly packed as me in the overcrowded tiny space.
Dadar brought a welcome vacuum and when I could breathe once again; I continued with more selfies.
The hair accessories vendor boy smiled coyly at me, “Didi mera picture khico na.” (take my photo)
Then came his mother, in tow; with her fruit basket…Snap!
Aha I felt like news reporter on the go, already….! img_8586
I spotted some girls on the seats bending over a box; curiously I go over. Ooh nail paints.
“Which brand is it?” I asked among some weird stares.
I Wondered why? Don’t they sell Sally Hansen in Mumbai locales? Apparently not.
I contemplated buying some ‘My colour,  Rs 20 each only !’ … And there were so many interesting colors for grabs.

The stern face of my manicurist appeared out of nowhere, “Yellow cuticles madam you will get; only OPI products you must use.”    He wins. Plan cancelled.

Snappy Music in the background did I hear? Oh we have progressed!

In house Bollywood entertainment?

Brief second of  glee was cut short; it turned out to be an audio advert for Badshaah masala pav bhaji ka masala, etc etc.

Got me wondering  if I should make a catchy jingle for my forth coming novel too and let it sing in local trains? Clever gimmick, worth considering.
As Grant road station approached….it dawned to me that I haven’t made any friends yet. I looked around. What could a possible ice breaker be on a twenty minute weekend train ride?
I smiled at the neatly plaited lady at the far left corner, she looked amicable.
I went over and took a seat; she looked at me a tad suspiciously like most around did.
“Do any of you have a hand sanitizer?”I finally questioned the trio opposite me.
My O.C.D. had kicked in as I  had a flash image of being bathed in railway germs.
One of them stammered as she asked me, what it was?
I gave them a brief: ‘We touch things in trains like seats, handles, doors, even currency notes.  When was the last time, all of you, cleaned your hands?’
My reply seemed to make her spring from her perch and hang her head out of the door.
The other two started talking in low whispers, avoiding eye contact in an obvious manner.
Okay, I got it …I was going to leave that train with no new friends or fans and failing to impart my hygiene concerns.
On my return trip post seven pm, I purposefully sat in a quiet corner all by myself, staring outside….Counting the number of trains that crossed us and thinking about the poetry reading session I had just attended.

Poets they say are highly intelligent people who have a depth beyond common understanding. dfhthruhru

I had clearly established at the attended reading, that I was definitely not one of them.
I don’t recall being carried away into a beautiful world of poetic beauty or literature, ever….
But that did not mean that I could not get carried away elsewhere. In this case- to Andheri; which happened to be five stops away from where I was supposed to originally skip off.
Eventually, I called it a night as I hopped off the carriage, on to the wrong platform and apped for an Uber straight back home.