Croatia, stirring thy soul

Language is a powerful paradox. On the face of it, it just has functional utility of communication. But as you peel off the layers, you unravel an intricate art spun from words. Deep in this web are some words that are special, having the potential to stir souls as no one can. If there was one word to describe these words, it would be exquisite. Countries pose a similar paradox, with the layers indicating only the usage of countries for habitation but as these layers are peeled off, you see some countries that stand out from others. For their nature, for their gifts and for their beauty. Croatia is one such exquisite country.

The Adriatic Sea coast enroute Dubrovnik, from Split

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Love with Prague

I had high expectations of Prague even before I went there. That was mostly because all my female friends who have been there recommended it vehemently to me. “Prague ki feel hi kuch alag hai!” was what I had heard. I didn’t realise that soon enough, but when I did, I knew just the word to qualify Prague. If Budapest is wild, Prague is romantic.

Yes, Prague is as romantic as romance can get. If Budapest is a prostitute, Prague is the lover. If Chain Bridge is about sex, Charles Bridge is about love. The narrow alleys of Prague, with the cobbled stones and bright-coloured houses, hesitatingly invite you to explore the city, just like a lover seduces you to explore her deepest secrets, while holding back simultaneously. But you truly have to be patient to realise this true beauty of Prague, for there are many tourists trying to woo her simultaneously. “A city is not a concrete jungle, but a human zoo”, said by our walking tour guide, kept resonating as I went through this town.

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The wild wild Budapest

Money is a strange thing. It changes not only its color but also its worth as it changes hands and places. And money is truly powerful when things come cheap. For then, it injects shots of greed into your blood and makes you crave for new experiences. And Hungary is an embodiment of that greed. But Hungary is one temptation you should not resist. After all, as Gekko said, “Greed is good.”

Hungary wants you to taste it, lick it, devour it and throw it as if it were a chocolate bar, leaving a sweet after-taste. Hungary has been bedded by a lot of colonial powers, from Romans to the Soviets. Her compromised virginity has now made her like a prostitute, who seduces you into her brothel, wants you to make rough sex to her and forget her, but not the amazing time you had. And that makes Hungary wild.

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Click. Click. Pause. Click.

With a barely audible whomp, the flame came on. Anish brought the lighter closer to the cigarette dangling precariously from his lips. He took a puff, followed immediately by another, and released the button on the nearly-depleted lighter as his cigarette lit up fully. As he set the lighter down on his table, he reached for the glass of single malt scotch next to his open laptop. A blank screen stared back at him as he took a deep drag and felt the nicotine rush. He leaned back in his plush chair, slowly blew out the smoke from his mouth and raised the glass to his lips. Slowly burning cigarette in one hand and glass of liquor in another, he closed his eyes and tried to get his mind off things.

“Is everything okay, love?” a voice called from the doorway across the room. His wife. Tina.

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Austria is in many ways a close kin of Germany, emulating its language as well as rudeness. But it still has its own distinct character. And continuing with my previous articles, if Netherlands is trippy, Austria is musical. And a lot of the accolade goes to arguably the greatest composer of all time, Mozart. There is also this Sound of Music connection with Salzburg, as the entire classic was shot there. Again, musical!

Salzburg breathes Mozart, visibly and otherwise. There is the Mozart birth-house, Mozart living-house, umpteen Mozart cafes and hotels. Even while the extent of commercialization is pitiful, it pains me when an entity tries to owe its entire identity to a single person. As Saral da says, “A system is greater than the sum of its parts” and so is a city. And the soul of an entire city/town is ruined in one shot if a single person is the only towering influence. This over-exploitation of Mozart ultimately led to Salzburg being just another nudnik town, quite different from what I had expected.

There are two good destinations quite near Salzburg — Werfen Ice caves and Hallstat Salt mines. Mountains give me immense joy (and that in a way signifies the quantum of pain as I am not doing Iceland this year). And the Austrian Alps were no exception to that, as we had a brush with them during the Werfen trip. It was quite early and foggy (and even snowed a bit) when we had started and the fog hid the alluring snow-clad Alps, just as a veil hides a beautiful bride. It’s not really cold until a strong gush of wind greets you at the entrance of the caves. After that, you enter a 42 km (read that again) ice cave, the largest in the world. There are steep glaciers, long icicles, natural sculptures created by the wind and limestone ceilings. It doesn’t actually feel like 0 degrees in there, may be because the limestone absorbs all the cold in the winter season. Nevertheless, only the 1st km of this cave is open to the tourists. And truth be told, it was not that great. The icicles should have been longer and denser, the wind stronger and the cave colder.

The guide inside Werfen Ice Caves (Clicked by a friend)

Nonetheless, when we exited the cave, we were greeted with a view spectacular as any, as the bride had lifted its veil by then. The curvy waist of that bride, the Salzach river, in its pale blue water flowed in between the cave mountain and the majestic Hohenwerfen castle, overlooking the snowy mountains, created the picture that any second-grader draws when asked to describe scenery.

The next day we hopped on a train to Vienna and went to Vienna’s most famous destination — The Schonbrunn Palace. I particularly liked this one because of its bright colors and mammoth size. Palaces are usually dull from the outside, with greyish tones and reddish bricks. But this one isn’t. The Palace and its gardens, spread over 435 acres, make you forget the city buildings, as you walk calmly alternating between arrays of lush green trees, orange autumn leaves and creepers.

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चलो, तुमको लेकर चलें

चलो, इंद्रधनुष के अंत तक चलें |
सुना है वहाँ परियाँ मटकियों में सोने के सिक्के छिपाती हैं,
वहाँ एक सपनों की दुकान करते हैं – हरे गुलाबी रजनीगंधा की खुशबू वाले दिन में टिमटिमाते सपने |
उनको कोई ग़रीबन  की बेटी बालों में जूड़े संग गूथ लेगी,
या कोई फकीरन का बच्चा आँसुओं संग खिचड़ी बना कर भूख मिटा लेगा | Continue reading →

The hoax of happiness

There’s this John Lennon quote (misquoted probably) about how his goal in life was to be happy. Some of my friends, although unknown of The Beatles, also reply the same when I ask them. I understand that the ultimate goal of most of the humans would be to be happy. But sorry, it’s bullshit.

Firstly, what is happiness? How do you know you are happy? When people say ‘I’m happy’,  I have an irresistible desire to punch them in the face. Happiness is a final state, not something that can be achieved by twenty-somethings cofounding a startup.

There is this school of thought which associates madness to happiness. To these retarded creatures, do you feel ‘happy’ posting crazy pics on Instagram? Sure spontaneity is joyous but is that permanent? Some optimists also have this quixotic dream of having a house in the hills or on the beach later in life. Please enlighten how that makes you happy, I’ll invest in Himachal right away. I am saying this despite being one of the most ardent fans of nature. And there is also a large chunk of people associating happiness with inactivity, or in modern times, ‘chill’.

I think we have been following the wrong ideal. The discourse in our generation has been mostly about romanticising happiness and degrading pleasure/joy. Pleasure is associated with everything primal, and happiness, with everything spiritual. I was always baffled what to answer when someone asked if I were happy. Umm, all the people I love are safe and I am in a good health, I should be happy. But happiness is a permanent state. And I am in a transient relationship with life, at least in these formative years. I do feel joyous though. When I resumed cooking after coming to Europe, I felt joy. When I travel and see new places, I feel joy. When I get a terrific insight or hit an ace, I feel joy. It is these and more moments of joy that I am striving for. And it pains me that these are dismissed as ephemerals.

No one can be permanently happy (except by spiritual enlightenment may be).  People who love their jobs also love only a part of it, and the other part they endure, painfully or otherwise. It’s probably better to give up the much famed Pursuit of Happiness and instead look for the joys.

P.S. This article helped me in articulating my thoughts better.

Nishad is a member of LSD and likes to frequently bore people with deep philosophical musings.