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Episode 30: Birding in Uganda with Judith Mirembe

One of the most satisfying things I do is the Bird Podcast. It releases once a fortnight. This episode is special because it is my first interview with a birder from Africa. The differentiator that we try to maintain is that our podcast has 50% women guests. The other differentiator is that, much like birds, our podcast has no borders. We roam the globe with our guests. We have recently started doing audio and video podcasts so you'll find us on Youtube as well as all podcast platforms.

What do Bangaloreans do for New Years?

Here they come again, the questions: what are you doing for New Year’s? Any plans? Here are some suggestions from interesting Bangaloreans about celebrations. Walks, restaurants, shopping, service, coming home, food, here is a bunch. To celebrate may seem unseemly given the turmoil and crises that many of our family and friends have gone through. But it is also a way to leave behind our guilt and pave the way forward. It is a life-giving affirmation.

Women, work and the pandemic

In the throes of the lockdown, a strange event happened in our privileged apartment community in Bangalore. What was strange was how normal we thought it to be at that time. A young man wrote to the building committee asking if his cook could be allowed inside the building. He was a single working man, he said and needed food. This was discussed. “Tenant in Apartment 845 wants his cook to come-- on alternate days at least-- to cook for him,” was the gist of the discussion on the committee Whatsapp group. What was interesting was that most people in the ten-person committee, including the women, thought this to be a normal request.

Is wealth a good measure of a man? Or Woman?

Every professional I meet at Bengaluru’s great companies, be it Titan, Infosys, Wipro, Biocon or Flipkart, have their “origin tales” of how they struggled and succeeded. Equally, all of us, now lead lives, where we do everything we can so that our kids don’t struggle. This piece is about money and what it means. Many middle-aged Indians who are successful professionals today have our “unreserved compartment” stories.  You know what I mean? Or maybe you don’t.  It is the moment when you travel by Indian trains.  There you are, after an ungainly undignified scramble, sitting on the upper-berth of the unreserved compartment, surrounded by sweaty bodies.  In a scene worthy of a Kannada movie, you swear that you will never put yourself through this again.  

Old Favourites for Condenast Traveler

  • Tai chi master

Finding a tai chi teacher

I have come to China from my home in Bangalore, India, to find a tai chi teacher. My pursuit of tai chi has been punctuated by such cultural challenges. When I informed my conservative Indian family that I was interested in tai chi, they were appalled. Why was their Indian child, heir to an ancient and proud tradition—yoga—leaning toward an alien discipline? "I told you that sending her to America was a bad idea," said my uncle, who made me do the downward dog every day as a child. He was right. It was as a young woman abroad in America that I'd found myself bumping up against China's culture: a Chinese roommate, an apprenticeship with an acupuncturist while awaiting my green card, Bette Bao Lord's novels. Yoga is like my mother; I take it for granted. It is so much a part of me that I am tired of it. I want some distance. Tai chi offers this distance while still being based on the Eastern principles familiar to me.

  • Singapore skyline

Singapore fling

Staid, chaste, strict, small—Singapore has heard it all. But this island-nation of 4.2 million people has one thing going for it (many things, actually, but we'll get to that later): Singapore is a sure fling. Changi Airport's superefficient staff get you out in thirty minutes or less. Half an hour later, you're in the city center and the island is yours to savor. Singapore is clean, manageable, and safe; you can drink the water and get around easily; and people don't pester you if you're a woman traveling alone. Best of all, it is small enough (about the size of Chicago) to sample in a day or two. Which is precisely my intent. Having lived in Singapore for two years, I have returned wanting to revel in it as a tourist—to see it all and do it all within forty-eight hours. But what might once have been a leisurely pursuit is shaping up to be a herculean undertaking.

My Life as a Geisha

I have come to Japan to learn about allure. I’ve been married for seventeen years, and while my marriage isn’t falling apart, it is fraying at the edges: a victim of minutiae like leaky taps, lost airline tickets, and PTA meetings. Nowadays when I ask my husband a fairly innocuous question such as, “Does this green dress suit me?” he gets this deer-in-the-headlights expression. I want Ram to look at me without fear and with adoration. So I have come to Japan to learn about feminine allure from its acknowledged masters: the geisha. Geisha were created to pamper men—but they were also the freest women in old Japan, and masters of the arts of calligraphy, flower arranging, music, dance, and drama. Here, a present-day geisha in Gion, one of Kyoto’s historic quarters.

  • Mumbai Gateway of India and Arabian Sea.

Mumbai Meri Jaan

I am going to Bombay to become a movie star. Like millions of others who arrive each day in this island-city by car, plane, bus, or boat, I too have my Bombay dream. I am comely, buxom even (thanks to Wonderbra), and I can giggle and jiggle with the best of them. Age is an issue—I am forty-two—but there's nothing a nip and tuck won't fix. So I am going to Bombay to become a movie star. Why not? Every country in the world, if it is lucky, has a city that allows people to create such gauzy fantasies unfettered by the grim shackles of reality. It would be wrong to say that these cities offer their citizens "the space to dream," for most such places—Rio, Tokyo, Cairo, and New York—are insanely crowded. Still, they thrive and inspire, catalyze personal transformations and fuel creativity, not through wide-open spaces but through vibrant congestion. It's nothing if not a city of contrasts. It's ancient and modern, dirt poor and filthy rich

  • Palolem beach in Goa

Goa Grows Up

Once a hippie haven where even India's tightly chaperoned teens could turn on, tune in, and drop out, Goa has lately gone upscale. Living in a trading port for the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Europeans meant that Goans were forced to interact with the outside world far earlier than the average Indian. This has made them friendly but not overly curious about foreigners. Unlike in the rest of India, white people don’t get stared at here, even in the most rural settings. Trance music and tranquil beaches nudge type A personalities into subdued sublimity. The heat and, yes, the hashish encourage a languid pace of life and a state of mind that Goans call sussegado, political cartoonist Miranda told me. “It means a life of leisure—and it is vanishing.”

  • Lakshadweep

Scuba diving Lakshadweep

I don't want to write about this place. Few people know of it; fewer still visit. Perhaps that's the way it should be. In this rapidly shrinking world, there ought to be somewhere that remains remote, even obscure; set apart in space and time; offering the promise of mystery, the romance of discovery. Lakshadweep—the name comes out in a sigh. In Sanskrit, it means One Hundred Thousand Islands, although in fact there are just twenty-seven, ten of which are inhabited. Speckled across the Arabian Sea off the Malabar Coast of India, this archipelago of atolls, coral reefs, and islands was—before El Niño—the largest living ecosystem on the planet. Many maps, even Indian ones, don't note it. Yet for a dedicated group of travelers who seek the world's most far-flung spots, this is as close as it gets to paradise

  • Bazaar

Lessons from my mother

The thought occurred as I eyed a stunning Persian carpet in a downtown Manhattan shop. The Mogul-inspired piece looked terrific but cost thousands more than I was prepared to pay. The slight smile on the manager's mustachioed face suggested that he was willing to bargain. But where and how to begin? Middle age brings with it many challenges: a home, the pleasure and pain of furnishing one, and the sobering realization that you can actually learn something from your mother. For me, middle age was mostly about sticker shock—at the cost of the curtains, sofas, fabrics, and bric-a-brac that it takes to convert a classic six into a cozy home. When a year passed without my buying a single item of furniture, I called my mother in desperation.

  • Cruise through Mekong River Delta, which is 10. biggest river in the world. You can get there from Ho Chi Minh city in about 1.5 hour and enjoy cruise like this

Chasing the Mekong River

Cambodia is like a lotus bud concealing an onion—serene on the surface but eliciting tears as you peel back the layers. The awesome scale and spectacle of the Angkor temples contrast sharply with the ghostly photos and skulls of civilians murdered by the Khmer Rouge in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The endless peace of a Buddhist monastery gives way to the raucous din of cyclos and tuk–tuks. I am in Cambodia to meet a monk and to travel the Mekong. Being Hindu, I believe in the power of a monk's blessing, and Cambodian monks are way up there in the spiritual hierarchy. So I, like the betrayed people of this ravaged land, line up to get blessed before setting out on my quest. The magnificent sunsets over the Mekong do nothing to diminish the ugly pallor of poverty. It is a young country but an old civilization that reached its zenith in the twelfth century, when the Hindu god–kings (devarajas) built massive stone temples while embracing Buddhism, now the predominant religion.

Wild at Heart

Bangalore is home. I didn't always live here—until two years ago I lived in New York. But now this is the city where my kids go to school, where I hail auto rickshaws for bone-rattling yet perversely exciting rides to work and meetings, where I prowl pubs and malls in search of stories and sales, and where I go to Namdharis Fresh supermarket to buy organic grapes, too-hard bagels, and much-too-soft cream cheese in an attempt to replicate the Sunday morning brunches at my Upper West Side apartment. Come April and May, Bangalore all but closes down: Schools shutter and the city empties out. Earlier this year, I resolved to spend the holiday taking my kids around the region—it was time they got to know their home state. Plotting the itinerary proved half the battle. Karnataka advertises itself as "One State, Many Worlds"—not as catchy as Kerala's "God's Own Country" but probably more accurate.

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