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You know what drives me crazy? It’s all these people talking about how great technology is, and how it saves all this time. But, what good is saved time, if nobody uses it? If it just turns into more busy work. You never hear somebody say, “With the time I’ve saved by using my word processor, I’m gonna go to a Zen monastery and hang out”. I mean, you never hear that.From the movie “Before Sunrise”

Today was a day of Nothingness. Not that I sat or slept or watched TV. That was for yesterday, when I watched five consecutive episodes of “How I met your mother”. Height of Awesomeness of a sabbatical. Today, I spent a lot of time – Pondering. I like this word because it sounds different than thinking, although might mean the same. The word “Thinking” has this sense of having a reason, a direction, a certainty, a beginning and an end to the process, which “Pondering” doesn’t have. When I think of Pondering, I think of thinking in the void. There is a pause, a stillness. It’s kind of like a no-goal post.

So, why I got in this state today. Reverse the clock to about 16 hours, 1 AM last night, I am calling the travel agent in India to build my package for Kashmir. Even though the site boasts of a 24 hour service, the agent only works 8.30 to 5 and no one else can work on each other’s package. And I got a no answer when I called around 12 AM my time, which means he gets to take a lunch break too. So, this is to say I have been up late nights last two days to catch the agent. At 1 AM, I got impatient of waiting on him to respond to my email, so I called. He tells me he is still working on the package and will take another hour. I don’t blame the poor guy. I didn’t give him the simplest package to build. When it comes to travel, I want it perfect. Doesn’t mean I always get it, but I try. Anyhow, didn’t want to wait all night, so I dozed off.

Now, fast forward 5 hours. I wake up at six, and while still in bed, pick up my iPad and browse through my inbox hoping he sent an email. He did. So, I get up, check what he sent and offcourse, its way more than I expected. I have been looking things up online and there is no way it should be so expensive. Now I remember what my friend had told me. Don’t tell them you are calling from US, the price will be in dollars. So, I call him. Clearly, it’s a bargain situation. Now, pause here. Reverse the clock about 13 years. Me, in an Indian super market. Bargaining a top quoted at 700 rupees. Thirty minutes later, it is 120 rupees. Yes, it was that crazy. And then I walk away from it. The shopkeeper goes – “Madam, le jao, 120 se kam mien kahin nahin milega.” (You won’t get it for less than 120 anywhere, it’s the last). Me – “Lena nahin hai, bas check karna tha aap kitna niche ja sakte ho” ( Didn’t wanna buy it in the first place, just wanted to check how low you can go). I am sure that guy would have spit on me (and my friend) if he could. Now, those were the thirty minutes I had in those days (a lot of them actually) and that was the wittiness I took pride in.

Back to the present, I call the 1-800 number printed on the website. Since the agent doesn’t have a direct extension, the call gets transferred. So, another guy picks up the phone and I ask for Nimmit. He calls Nimmit. Somewhere in the distance, I hear a low voice saying – “Kaun hai” (who is it?). The guy on the phone goes – “Subah wali hai” (the girl that called in the morning). A few seconds later, here comes Nimmit. Now, I know I have to bargain, but somehow I have forgotten the skill, or am shy of using it. I start with what he has quoted and what is included in the package. He explains. And I go, but if I book it online, I see I can get it for a lot less. He goes – “Mam, I am giving you all five star hotels, those are not available online, blah blah blah”. Now, I am saying in my mind, say something else, say something else. And I go – “ok, let me check. I’ll call you back.” Really. Call you back for what? So, I sat and stared at the email he had sent for a few minutes. Internally, I was trying to convince myself to go ahead and book it and be done. But somewhere, I knew that would be like throwing the money away for no reason.

So, I consult with the best negotiator in the house, my husband. He suggests some ideas to check with other people, call my friend who has been advising me on the trip because she recently took a trip to Kashmir. I feel better. And I call her. She obviously says it’s ridiculous he is asking for so much money and I could get it for almost one third of what he has quoted. So, she sends me the person she had booked with – Chicago group of houseboats (I had to ask her to spell Chicago coz for a minute I couldn’t understand why would someone name it Chicago in Kashmir). The number was for the direct owner of the houseboat, Izad bhai. This time, she strictly tells me not to tell them I am calling from US (now I know why the name Chicago).

This time, I am conscious, of not disclosing where I am travelling from. So, as I dial the number, I am asking myself – “Am I going to talk in Hindi, or English?” I’ll let him decide, I thought.

Me – Hello

Izad Bhai – Hello

Me – (I still don’t know if I should talk in hindi or English) Hello

Izad Bhai – Haan ji (Yes)

Me – (all right, Hindi it is)

And I started talking, and found myself very weirdly using English and Hindi in a very weird mix. He asked me if I only needed the houseboat, or also arrangement for sightseeing tour.  And I said – Haanji, Sightseeing bhi karna hai, Vo Gulmarg, Sonmarg, Pahalgam, Shikara and all that stuff. “All that stuff”, really. And Shikara is not even a sightseeing thing.

Anyways, the conversation ended weirdly with Izad bhai asking me to email him my itinerary and I hung up. Afterwards, I was thinking, how much I have un-learned since I came to US. Being street smart is something that comes natural to pretty much every Indian and that is one thing in life that helps everyone for the most part. The lifestyle in US, doesn’t necessarily require you to be street smart, here the system outsmarts everyone so it’s ok for people to be dumb (no offense).

When I came to Dallas ten years back, I was a pure Delhi girl – bindaas, fearless, enjoying every bit of everything happening around, outspoken and very witty. (now, that’s a lot of praise for self). Asking weird personal questions to the Ice cream wallahs, catching a phrase from the boy selling newspapers, bargaining with the bus conductor for the ticket price, buying extra tickets and selling them in black just for the experience of it (I did that once) and afterwards enjoying the Hot Choclate Fudge from that money, putting people on the spot by highlighting their weirdest thought or action which they must’ve so hoped no one noticed, was all that I was. The Geet of Jab we met and the Dimple of Ladies Vs. Ricky Bahl, I was very close to the mix of both. And today, I couldn’t help ponder, how much I have mellowed down in these ten years. How the words have been filtered in lieu of being sensitive to kids around, how the personality has taken a back seat because it doesn’t go with the culture and surroundings here, how sexy was replaced by cool and long descriptive words were replaced by “Stuff”.

I don’t have any regrets, just a thought of how we time travel in a single life without realizing it because it’s internal.

Anyhow, that was my pondering moment(s) of the day. I hope to revive some of my personality in my three months in India. May have nothing to do with the sabbatical except that I have all the time at hand now to think of all this and may be re-live a moment.

As for the highlight, played the memory game with Anishka this evening and lost really badly. Discovery of the day – I suck at memory games.

What I am excited about today – I can’t say I am excited about this yet, but I am half way through on my list of things to do in the sabbatical (see the List page). I hope to finish taking the random notes by end of this week, and have my picks from that list on all that I will be trying in the next 12 months. Yay!!

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