Thursday, October 27, 2016

What souvenirs do you bring home?

My dad traveled a lot when I was a kid. His work took him to different places around the world. He always returned home with something special. Sometimes it was a pretty patterned plate or an ornate folding fan. At other times it was a colorful mask or a whimsical snow globe. I loved the postcards he brought home. Our refrigerator was adorned with incredible magnets. The key chains were too lovely to be used.  I always waited patiently, with bated breath, as he reached into his suitcase to pull out these exquisite mementos.  It was quite a grand moment, almost like watching a magician pull something out of his hat. That’s where my love for souvenirs began.  As a child, they made me look forward to visiting amazing places and now, they help me go back.  I always come home with several keepsakes after a vacation. That’s the reason I pack lightly :) Here’s a list of some of my treasured souvenirs:

Coffee table books about the vacation spot

Our bookshelves were graced with these beautiful books that my dad never forgot to bring home when he returned from his adventures. I remember flipping though the vibrant, glossy pages, admiring the magnificent photos.  Photos! Yes, that’s one of the reasons I really love these books. While I do enjoy posing for a few photos or trying to capture what I see on film, I do not like photo sessions to consume hours of my vacation, unless of course that’s what is intended.  Sometimes I find that in my efforts to try and get that perfect shot, I forget to experience the beauty that I see. A simple solution I found is going to the marketplace and picking up one of these books.  In addition to spectacular images, I also often find interesting facts that the guide may have forgotten to mention.
A book about Santorini I bought during my vacation

Tote bags

One of the things in a souvenir shop, that always catches my eye, is an array of printed tote bags. It is a reasonably priced, extremely useful souvenir. It doubles up as an extra bag to ‘smuggle’ all my ‘vacation purchases’. I do love carrying the tote bags around once I am home because they are great conversation starters. A colorful bag that has ‘SANTORINI’ printed across is bound to draw attention and make that long line at the coffee shop seem shorter.

Maps, guides and tickets

If you love scrap-booking, crafting and recording all your travels, you’d know exactly what I am talking about. These are wonderful resources that can be used creatively. Sometimes they just go into my memory box. Does that make me a pack rat? Hmmmm. What can I say?

A piece of the place

Yes, I mean that quite literally. I pick up oddly shaped tiny rocks and stones that I come across while I am on a trip. I like to clean and paint them or simply put them in a wicker basket or a decorative bowl. They make a beautiful accent piece and remind me of the incredible places where I found them. Simply using a permanent marker to mention the date and place makes them an inexpensive but very special keepsake.
A little keepsake I brought back from the sleeping bear dunes.

Although a Pensieve would be ideal, souvenirs help me relive happy ‘vacation memories’ for now. What souvenirs did you bring home from your last trip?

Linking up with Mackenzie Glanville's reflections from me

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Murtis, modaks and more.....

After I had mentioned for the tenth time how much I longed to be in Pune to be a part of the amazing Ganesh Utsav celebrations, DH asked me what made it so ‘amazing’,  mimicking me perfectly. Quite sure I’d convince him, I went on to list some of the things that made it special for me...murtis, modaks and more...

The timing
When I was in school, the occasion meant, as you'd guess, HOLIDAYS! The August Unit tests would have just concluded (exactly a month after the July Unit Tests) and the ‘Mid Term Break’ was a welcome change (not so much for the teachers who had to correct our answer sheets I’m sure).  So on the last day of school (which was generally a half day...and half day always meant double the joy), we’d happily dot those ‘i’s, cross those‘t’s and hand over the answer sheets. I don’t think anyone bothered to read or revise their answers that day, even though it was something we had been instructed to do. Strangely the number of hands shooting up to ask for extra sheets, while others tried to fill that never-ending main booklet, were very few. The final bell that day signified, not the end of a school day, but the beginning of a happy, much needed break. 

The preparations leading to the festival
A few days before the festival, every time I stepped out onto the street, a new ‘pandal’ would have mushroomed. As I passed by, I’d try to sneak a peek and imagine what the final outcome would look like. I enjoyed playing the guessing game before the final reveal. The pandals would be interspersed with numerous shops selling scores of beautifully crafted murtis packed with people trying to select the ‘ideal idol’. Personally I think if you can tell a gentleman by his shoes, you can always tell a Ganapati by his girth. The bigger the belly, the better! 

My salt dough Ganapati and mushak after having one too many modaks '15

And finally he arrives...with all the bells and whistles...or rather the dhol and tasha..
Even the faintest sounds of the dhol and tasha would have me rushing out, onto our balcony, to catch a glimpse or two of every procession that would pass by our apartment. Although loud noises generally remind me of Cacofonix, this was something quite different. I loved the rhythm, the beat and the energy. Our balcony was a great vantage point. Looking at the colourful processions moving along from up there was like looking into a kaleidoscope. Who doesn’t love one, right?

The daily aartis...and mouth-watering modak at the end of it
Mundane Monday Morning Meetings Make Me Morose. Like a lot of people, most routines irk me and I often desire a break from the monotony. However, I was a big fan of the 8am and 8pm ‘daily aartis’ and a bigger one of the modak that was generally distributed at the end of it. It was quite delightful to see all the people gather together at a nearby pandal as the small hand approached 8. Most of them were strangers, but by the third or fourth day, I was able to recognise them and some even seemed familiar. I enjoyed clapping along as everyone sang the Sukhkarta Dukhharta bhajan. At the end of it, someone would go around giving out the highly anticipated modaks. It was a different flavour each time, much like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.

The midnight marathon
Whether it was with family or with friends, it was a lot of fun to go ‘pandal hopping’. Every evening we’d select an area and go from one pandal to another, awestruck by the creativity displayed and the effort put into designing the brilliant light show that we witnessed. Sometimes the marathon continued well past midnight. 

My paper cut Ganapati lit using tea lights '16

Going out with a bang
Of course it was quite hard to say good bye after the tenth day. The only good thing about it was the fact that I could start the countdown to next year’s celebrations. The new twists to the traditional visarjan have really intrigued me. Chocolate Ganapatis immersed in milk and resulting milkshakes given to underprivileged kids is indeed a sweet way to say good bye and one of my favourite trends.

Shortly after, DH smiled and told me I had made my point. Amazing indeed huh? ;)