When I was a small child and lived in Chennai, there was a particular MGR film I fell in love with. It was called Ullagam Sutrum Vaalliban. I don’t remember much about the film except that MGR embarks on a world tour. In retrospect though all the locations seemed to be have been limited to South East Asia rather than the world.
But an eight year old child asks no such awkward questions and instead sat mesmerized by the plethora of images. Sometimes I think that was when I was bitten by the travel bug. To wander and see new sights, smell new scents, taste new foods, meet strangers…
One of the images from that film was of Bangkok and strangely enough while I had travelled to most obscure of places, I had left Thailand alone. I would rather go to Vietnam I told myself.
Then one October on a whim my husband and I boarded a flight to Bangkok. For many years most of my travel has been circumscribed by book events. My books took me to places and once I am there I explore and discover it. But this time there was no book event to plan my holiday around. So I told myself that all I would do is be a tourist. Except that tourists seemed to have only two reasons to visit Thailand – shopping and sex. Given this, my first thought on landing in Bangkok was what am I doing here?
Fortunately Thailand has one more thing that starts with a S to offer.. The sea. Our hotel in Pattaya was on the beachfront and was located on a quieter side of the beach. Once we had unpacked, I rushed into the waves with the same eagerness that most tourists show on seeing the shopping malls or a go-go bar.
Pattaya in the 1960s was just a little fishing village, until a few Bangkok residents began to take their weekends here and generated a modest local tourist industry. The Vietnam War saw the start of Pattaya’s international reputation, for the fledging resort was used an official R&R centre for the US forces. They were flown into U-Tapao Airport which was built for American use at the time, and shops, services, bars and hotel accommodation grew to meet the demand.
Our days fell into a routine. Wake up. Breakfast. Head to the beach. Read and swim alternatively. Lunch. Siesta. Beach and a long walk. Then dinner and bed. I would have been content with this but my husband was beginning to get restless. It was enough for me to stay on the beach all day. I was enchanted by the changing colours of the sea. My biggest adventure was to try out all the food the vendors brought my way as I lazed on a deck chair under a canopy – fried shrimp, green papaya salad, pineapple slices, ice creams…
By the third day, my husband had enough of this sea and sand routine. That’s the thing about travel. When we travel alone, we do not ever have to consider what the other person wants or doesn’t want. We are free to decide what to do, when to eat or sleep and when to do nothing.
Many travel destinations are perhaps best enjoyed alone but it seemed to me as we set out to discover Pattaya that this was one destination that needed a companion. For the flip side to travelling alone is you don’t have anyone to share anything with. Be it a meal, or the incredulity of something that caught your eye. There is no one to turn to and say: do you see that? Isn’t that unbelievable?
And in Pattaya, even if the shopping isn’t great, there is plenty to see. So much so I felt my eyes grow as big as saucers. Take the ladyboys for instance. The first time two ladyboys walked past me swinging their hips, tossing their hair this way and that, I didn’t pay much attention. What pretty women I thought.
Then my husband nudged me and said: They are the famous ladyboys.
That’s when I looked again. They were more prettier than many Thai women I had seen. And yet, there was something that didn’t seem entirely right. But unless one was looking so closely, one wouldn’t even know.
Then one evening we went to Walking Street. Rather like the red light district in Amsterdam which is a tourist attraction, the Walking Street in Pattaya too is a recommended tourist attraction despite its dubious reputation. The street runs from the south end of Beach Road to the Bali Hai Pier and the area includes seafood restaurants, live music venues, beer bars, discothèques, sports bars, go-go bars, and nightclubs.
They call it the most exciting street in the world if you want to have fun. The operative word here being ‘fun’ and not the fun you have at home. For it seemed to me that we were probably the only married couple there. Everyone else from Australians with gigantic beer bellies and tattoos on their biceps to clean cut Americans to a few shifty Indians all had a Thai girl hanging onto their arms. I cringed at this relegation of a woman to a mere plaything but we walked on looking this way and that. For what else does one do at Walking Street?
Eventually we found a restaurant on the pier and settled there for a meal. One of the key attractions of Thailand is its food. But everything else takes precedence and few people ever come back from Thailand raving about its food. Instead it is the cheap electronics or sex shows that linger in most minds.
As someone who is passionate about food, my main focus that night was the meal we were going to have. A gentle breeze blew over the waters and ruffled my hair. Some of the other restaurants in the waterfront had lights strewn across their decks and I felt a great wave of peace wash over me as I sipped my tall cold drink. Then I gazed at the next table where a group of very respectable looking Americans wearing pastel coloured shirts and ironed shorts sat. Each one had a Thai girl attached. They had come in much earlier than we had. So they were almost half way into their meal.
An elderly man who looked like he was either a bank manager or a college professor, someone who probably went to church every Sunday and was seen as a dutiful husband and father stood up and said: Let’s exchange places now….
The girls giggled as eight men who in their homes would treat their wives and daughters with utmost respect bodily shifted them. Almost as if they were bowls of short eats, each man was taking his pick…Something in me died then.
According to a 2001 report by the World Health Organisation: “there are between 150,000 and 200,000 sex workers in Thailand.” A recent government survey found that there were 76,000 to 77,000 adult prostitutes in registered entertainment establishments; however, NGOs believed there were between 200,000 and 300,000 prostitutes. Most of the sex workers see it just as another job. , I have been told again and again that there isn’t much of a stigma attached to it nor do they even feel exploited. Even if that was the truth, how could I condone seeing these pillars of society treat these women like they were a commodity. For that was the status of those girls that night. Pleasure toys to be used and discarded.
The food tasted like ashes in my mouth and I couldn’t wait to get out of that restaurant and the street. We walked back to our hotel in silence. In the morning when the sun rose and cast a golden light on the waters, I would feel differently, I knew. For I would see again the tranquility of the beach and there would come alive the Pattaya that I fell in love with.
Anita Nair is the bestselling author of The Better Man, Ladies Coupe, Mistress and Lessons in Forgetting. Her books have been translated into over 30 languages around the world. Her new novel is Cut Like Wound. She is also the founder & editor of the online literary journal The Heavenly Bliss Salon for Men.
is a poet, novelist and translator. Born in Ethiopia in November 1970, she grew up in Darjeeling, graduated from New Delhi and is currently based in Mumbai/Thane. Her nine books include three poetry collections—Absent Muses (Poetrywala, 2010), The Fried Frog (Scholastic, 2009) and Sight May Strike You Blind (Sahitya Akademi, 2007, reprint 2008); and two novels—Rupture (2009) and Land of the Well (2012), both from HarperCollins. Her poetry has been translated into German, Swiss-German, Welsh, Scots, French, Gaelic, Tamil, Manipuri and Bambaiyya, and her children’s fiction into Welsh and Icelandic. Sampurna was the 2012 Charles Wallace Writer-in-Residence from India at the University of Kent, Canterbury. http://sampurnachattarji.wordpress.com/
There is no face slower than yours no mouth I want
to snatch words from more than when you open yours
to speak in a tongue that is not yours let me
lend you mine and with it the speed that will save me
from waiting for your sentences to end I can finish them
for you here
let me there is no one person I want more
to shake no person who makes me rage more
than when I am with you
than to hurt you
so I press myself against you
like a knife against your wet stone
stop this blood
Constructing itself piece by piece the evening around her like a Lego set
drink garden evening rain bells chime crayon cat cookie cheese olive hat
nectarine comic-book porcupine double-decker bed movie armchair love
out of all proportion but still fitting perfectly man woman child not hers
foldable table marked stone cartoon carrot toothbrush confession on stairs
in galloping cold this was what they made of it: an intricate emotion it would
take a long time to dismantle if they ever came together again like this
Words that must never be said
even entire sentences
so simple they spring idiotic
what is it we hope to extract
from the bark of this tree we are leaning against
from opposite ends of the planet what can we hope
to incise on it that will resemble the marks of lovers
young enough not to care about foolishness
the foolishness of declarations like raw white sap
This is the love you didn’t want
the love you were afraid to lay
your hand on (as if) stroking the
face of a she-leopard laying your
head on the thigh of a lioness
(this is) the love that made you
hesitant and shy ( ) a hunter
without his weapons nothing
that might make you say
here I am take me
When nine-year-old Ayman arrives in Hyderabad in the early 1960s to come and live at the Hussaini Alam House, she little realizes that the house, and its many inmates, will come to haunt her life and shape her destiny as she grows to become a woman.
The house is ruled over by her grandfather, a dignified despot, whom everyone but Ayman, her mother and sister, call ‘Sarkar’ (master). Her mother, ‘the eternal rebel,’ is irreverent, progressive and a communist: a bomb waiting to explode. Ayman herself alternates between being the ‘ugly duckling’ of the house and its little princess.
Huma Kidwai’s sensitive and vivid portraits of the characters who teem around the House, offer a window into the customs and mores of a traditional Hyderabadi Muslim family.
S. Hussain Zaidi is a veteran of investigative, crime and terrorreporting in the Mumbai media. He has worked for The Asian Age, Mumbai Mirror, Mid-Day and Indian Express. His previous books include bestsellers like Black Friday, Mafia Queens of Mumbai and the more recent Dongri to Dubai – Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia. Zaidi is also associate producer for the HBO movie, Terror in Mumbai, based on the 26/11 terror strikes. He lives with his family in Mumbai.
A pulse-racing narrative, told in the voices of Bhatt and Headley, Headley and I publsihed by HarperCollins India traces the months leading up to the horrors of 26/11 and the long months of interrogation that followed. This is a complex tale of human relationships and the deceit therein. It is the story of Rahul Bhatt, an aspiring Bollywood actor, and his encounter with David Coleman Headley, the man who was responsible for a ruthlessly executed carnage, in which 166 people were killed and over 300 injured in the fifty-nine hours that brought Mumbai to heel and shook India.
• Soaring into heaven moment:
When my book Headley and I went for a record offer and the producers were keen on Hollywood collaboration for cinematic reproduction of the book into movie.
• That infernal fire time:
When I am attracted to an idea for a story, it does not allow me to sleep peacefully until I finish it
• The purgatory point:
When the book finally goes to print after laborious days and night.
• …….years, …….drafts and……….words thereafter, would you do this differently and again?
Its difficult to answer this question as I am not sure if I will think of changing any of my stories or drafts or words in future. Currently, am quite happy with the way my books have turned out, all of them
Fear the most?
—-A difficult woman
Desire the most?
—An intelligent woman friend
Hate the most?
–Hypocrites who claim to be intelligent.
An Angel on the Rock
The Sweet Spot. Bliss, for those of us who have played cricket long enough, was finding the sweet spot in the bat. The sweet spot was every man’s personal search for excellence. We were, in a way, defined by our attitude towards the sweet spot.
We discovered early enough that for such a large contraption, the cricket bat has a surprisingly small space reserved for its sweet spot. And, we discovered, that this exalted spot is not physical. If you search for it you won’t find it; you must feel for it. You must work your way to it in your mind. We found out the hard way, our thousands of greedy swings resulting in missing the ball entirely, hitting edges, or finding spots on the bat that made violent sounds. Rarely, when someone hit that sweet spot, every one of us was touched by that moment, our lives elevated by merely being around that phenomenon.
It is special, that sweet spot. It is heaven’s music when the ball plays it, the angel’s caress that speeds the ball along with a new energy, the piece of paradise that everyone is granted at least once in their life, so they know they also belong to a special existence. Hitting the sweet spot made playing for all those hours, years, worth it.
Sadly, most of us hit the sweet spot by fluke, maybe once or twice, in all our lives. Everyone remembers those shots as clearly as their first kiss. I do. It remains deeply personal– the feel, the sound, the power. It is a drop of divinity. We were allowed access to it fleetingly. Unlike those blessed ones.
The best batsmen find that sweet spot often and easily. For them it is all so easy, so perfect, so well-orchestrated that it appears like magic. It’s the stuff of the masters where the maximum is achieved by the minimum. It is the soul of Zen.
Those elite batsmen stay still. They keep their eyes on the ball and wait, allowing it to come on to the bat. As they follow these delicate processes, their honed instincts, with single-minded concentration, all else aligns around them – the bat position, the head position, the body weight – producing the perfectly timed shot. Stuff that people go miles to watch.
It is an act of love. The bat never hits the ball; it meets it and sends it off as a mentor would send off an enthusiastic student on an errand. Everyone is in it together as one – ball, bowler, bat, and batsman. It needs balance, focus, practice, commitment. It needs peace. Only a chosen few have the power to access it when they want.
Me, it teases.
But the gods have been kind. Luckily, I find that bliss in the most unexpected moments of my life. It happens when I give up after trying too hard, messily, noisily. There is a moment of calm, of nothingness, and then a flash of that mischievous bliss.
It appears concealed in sudden, uncontrollable laughter. It appears in a wisp of a song that reminds me of a time long gone. It appears in the beauty of the sun rise, the sun set, the stillness of mountains. It appears in the sparkle in a child’s eye. It appears in a quiet moment alone. It appears in the faint whiff of perfume when her hair unfurls, in her comforting lap where I can drown and forget about life. It appears in that knowing presence, that affectionate touch, that understanding look, the warm word. It resides in all that is unconditional and spontaneous, all that is giving and caring. In water that is cool, in breeze that soothes, grass that lets you crush it willingly.
It appears in a long drag, the first loss of inhibition, the taste of power and true freedom. It appears in the sheer gratefulness of being alive. It appears in the eyes of someone who loves you, in every act of kindness directed to you. Cushy as a pillow, warm as an embrace, deep as a drink, I find the sweet spot in all these places and more. Transiently, but enough to keep me going. This sweet spot that goes by different names – bliss, love, high, comfort, the zone.
My tragedy is that I could never own it fully. I cannot, because I never surrendered to it. It is too much for me to handle; I wake up at the first sign of comfort. It needs courage to surrender, it needs honesty, it needs me to be in the moment. Me, I am too full of myself.
But my vain quest continues. I want that sweet spot each time I hit the ball. I want that swell in my heart every time I feel. I want it undiluted, potent and clear. And I wonder. That sweet spot, is it in me, or is it in the bat? Is it in me or in the perfume? Me, or the lap? Me, or the song? And more disturbingly, do I find the sweet spot or does the sweet spot find me? I know there is a frequency at which that spot resonates with me. But where?
My sole concern now is this – how do I become that sweet spot entirely? From head to toe. Not just the bearer of an elusive sweet spot that even I don’t know where to find.
The one’s who know, they say that one needs to be non-judgmental, patient and compassionate to grow that spot. The elite batsmen agree. It’s their way.
Or perhaps it’s even simpler. Maybe all one needs to do is to let the gates open and one transforms into that sweet spot. Perhaps all one needs to do is to sink unconditionally and let go. It takes some getting used to, this sweet spot. This heavenly bliss. It must find you worthy, ready, else it will not appear. Meanwhile I prepare myself, season myself, waiting.
Harimohan Paruvu is the author of two novels ‘The Men Within – A Cricketing Tale’ and ‘If You Love Someone’. A Civil Engineer and MBA from Osmania University, he worked for 13 years, most of them in an investment bank, before choosing to engage himself as a writer, motivational speaker, workshop facilitator and management consultant. Harimohan is a first class cricketer, having represented Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy in 1985-87, when it last won the Ranji Trophy.