Praha..ha..ha..ha

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It is March, but the wind stings my face like millions of tiny needles recreating an embroidery masterpiece. I raise it to absorb the splendor of the statue overlooking one of the most impressive and historically important squares in the world. In the middle of magnificent Wenceslas Square, mounted on a pedestal is a huge statue of Saint Wenceslas riding a Horse.

After absorbing the glory of the statue, we dart into a by lane to escape the chill and enter Lucerna Palace…

As we look around for a place to sit down and grab a cuppa, my astonished eyes land on another incredible sculpture hanging from the ceiling. St Wenceslas again. This time mounted on an unmistakably dead horse strung upside down. A mocking replica mere yards from the original.

And that in my opinion is the summary of Prague.

Paradoxical.

Cheeky as Hell.

Incongruously Modern.

A city that oozes culture and tradition and balances all that with modernism of a wacky genre.

The insolence of David Cerny is not just tolerated. It is celebrated.

As is with every city that imprints itself onto your consciousness – prague has a character.

Prague is that 47 year old dude having the customary mid life crisis. But instead of just getting a punk haircut and a tight T-shirt that would sit snugly around his paunch, Prague went out and bought a Motorcycle. And then spray painted it Pink. And now drives around heritage buildings with a sexy leather clad chick riding pillion at break neck speed sticking out his middle finger at hapless tourists.

He is a cheeky one. This fellow. He lines the streets with spurious absinthe selling shops and sniggers at gullible tourists who drink the stuff. For himself he reserves the best Beer. And drinks it by the barrel.

The woman at the local chocolaterie is his accomplice. She will turn up her nose when you ask her about her wares…. but you will forgive her every look of scorn when you put those pralines in your mouth and they burst into liquid sin.

He has a wicked sense of humor. He invites tourists and then ensures that all the signage is in Czech. And then enjoys his own private joke as the idiots look from one pillar to the other and then to their maps and then back up again, till they give up with frustration and enter the nearest pub and order a beer to calm their frayed nerves. Then they head out again and stumble from one incredible sight to another – all by serendipity – never by plan.

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He sniggers as they go looking for the Jewish quarter and reach Old town square and as they go walking to St Wenceslas and find the Franz Kafka sculpture. Somewhere in the middle of looking for Narodini Divaldo they find a humongous naked woman ( IT IS a sculpture .. tsk tsk … dirty minds) sticking her glistening breasts out in the middle of the street.

Prague takes ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’ to a whole new level. He thrusts his scorn and his desire and his lust and his love in your face. Hell.. he even thrusts out his bronze penis out at you as he pisses in front of the Franz Kafka museum.

If it is too much for you – well – clearly that is your problem alone. He isn’t going to tone it down. Deal with it.

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Stupid Optimism or Inadvertent Wisdom?

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Sitting in the car after a 10 hour journey negotiating deceitful hairpin bends and torrential rain when we finally saw the tree/boulders blocking our way – the first thought that popped into my head?
 
No. It wasn’t that we might have to turn back.
 
No. It wasn’t that we might be stranded in the cold nowhere for the night.
 
No. It certainly wasn’t that we might be victims of a landslide.
 
It was – How much longer will I have to hold it in before we get to a decent restroom ?  
 
Seriously. That is EXACTLY what I thought.
 
Of course after that my thoughts went to other more serious issues. 
But not once – not even once did I think that this might be my last day on earth. 
 
I think there are many many others like me. 
 
People who don’t think of death/accidents in situations like this. 
 
I don’t mean we don’t fear it. I do. I just mean we are so sure that it is not going to happen TODAY.
 
I wonder why. 
 
 
Are we that vain as to imagine that death will find us in a more glorious setting? 
 
That a lonely unsung unheralded death off the side of a mountain is not going to happen to us? 
 
I bet most of the people who died that night – falling off mountains, swept away by a raging river, flattened by boulders, killed by drivers blinded by the rain – thought the same too. 
 
But I prefer my foolhardy overly optimistic stupid way of thinking.  It helps me live better. 
 
I know – I will die. 
 
Just not today. 
 
 
 
 

A Journey When Everything Went Right

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Now everybody has a quite a few journey stories about when everything goes wrong. 
And everyone is prone to exaggerate them a bit for dramatic effect. 
But this is not one of them. 
This is not a story about when everything goes wrong. 
This is about when everything went Right. 
 
 
We decide to go to Kanatal. It is a spectacular place nestled relatively anonymously within the hills of Uttarakhand. A beautiful hill station minus the hordes of corn-eating-summer-holidayers and Red-chuda-shiny-outfit clad-honeymooners. 
 
What people said we did wrong ?
1. We chose the beginning of the monsoon
2. We started late in the day
3. We did not account for traffic and the weather in our travel calculations
4. We did not plan a stopover en route
 
Long story short – we drove for ten blinding hours in pouring rain that threatened to wash our vehicle over the edge. 
 
5 of those hours in pitch dark straining our collective eyes wondering how the driver was figuring out what is road and what is – an unsolicited opportunity to bungee jump without a rope. 
 
We watched with wide eyes dozens of abandoned vehicles dotting the roads – some smashed, some flattened, some tired and some just dead. 
 
We saw brown boulders roll off on to the road in front of the car like the hills were spitting out mutilated betel nut threatening to stain us.
 
Three of our party had to climb out in the icy rain to move branches, a telephone wire and boulders to make the road motorable. 
 
A lot of people asked me why didn’t we turn back? Seeing the rain and the situation.
 
I have to admit – it never crossed our minds. 
 
So what exactly is right about this story?
 
Well….Our car DIDN’T get pitched off a precipice.
 
It DID NOT break down and cry.
 
NO boulders squashed us.
 
We MANAGED to negotiate the blocked road. 
 
We GOT to where we were headed in one piece.
 
The sun SHONE in the morning. 
 
We BREATHED fresh unadulterated mountain air and I felt my lungs swell with life. 
 
Everything went right 🙂

The Journey Lover

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Airports and railway stations are fertile grounds for the study of the the human specimen. And you could probably write a book just describing the lot.
 
But today is about one kind of passenger. I like to call him – The Journey Lover.
 
Sit in an aircraft and look around. The usual staples are there. There is the man constantly hollering business instructions on the phone. The scared woman whose knuckles have turned white holding tightly onto the arm rests. The pot bellied uncle who will almost immediately open the magazine straight to the in flight menu. And of course not to forget – the ‘I-will-squeeze-this-airline-for-every-last-penny’ who will be pinging the flight attendants from the word go asking for water, whiskey and pillows. The toilet hogs. The snoring orchestra. The debauchee. The travel brochure lady. 
 
But there is sometimes that one man. I have observed him a million times. The journey lover. 
 
He will take off his jacket. Remove his shoes and socks. Stretch out his legs. Adjust the back rest. He will stare in excitement out the window at white fluffy nothingness….. He will polish off every morsel of that dreadful airline food and maybe even burp impolitely….. Then lay his head back and close his eyes. Generally there is a benign smile on his face. When the flight lands he only opens his eyes. He doesn’t jump up and he doesn’t run like the wildebeest of the Mara for the door. He sits still till he is almost the last to deplane. He smiles at the stewardesses and he walks out of the aircraft into a balmy sunny day even on a wintry night.
 
There is the train equivalent of this man. He is the one who goes to the grimy train bathroom to change into a spotless white kurta even for a six hour journey. He will wear his rubber slippers and parade up and down the length and breadth of the train chitchatting with the hawkers and whosoever he finds available. He gets off at every station and stretches his legs and will wait till the very last moment to jump back on the train grinning all the while like a love sick teenager. 
 
Heat…delays…rude co passengers…. endless taxiing on the runway…. Nothing kills his joy. Or ruins his tranquility. 
 
He may be going to Wardha or he may be going to the Côte d’Azur. You won’t be able to tell. 
 
I suppose the destination is really irrelevant if you know how to revel in the journey. 
 
Take a leaf out of the journey lovers book. Take off the shoes and socks and stretch your feet.