Monday, November 27, 2017

Not a daughter's world

All my life, I've wanted a girl baby.

Last Friday, I was driving back home after visiting my friend and her baby girl. She, unlike me, wanted a boy - and I've never understood why. Baby girls are adorable! The cost of educating them and clothing them would be almost similar- with the cost of men's grooming having exponentially risen over the past few years. So why not a girl? Why a boy.

However, as I was driving down that road, and yet another guy leered at me - almost looking down at me with a contemptuous sneer on his face, even though he was the one on a motorcycle - I realized that if I had a boy, I wouldn't have to protect him from such looks.
If I had a boy, I wouldn't have to call him to check why he hadn't returned home at 8:30 pm, like I had to answer to my grandmother.

All my life I had wanted a baby girl.
Also for the most part of this life - or for a lot of it, I've wished I were a boy.

I've been a fierce feminist for a long time. I like to challenge why women can't do what men can. I argue that women are equal - if not better than men - they can create life after all.
When my dad said driving isn't safe, I learnt to anyway. I bought my own car earning every paise that went into it. I travel to many countries alone. I pay my keep and I'm self-sufficient.

However, it's the same me who hesitates to walk back alone at midnight. Or even take the public transport at times, for fear of getting groped.

Last month I was part of a gender equality discussion with experienced engineers. The men in the room - a group of at least ten of them - didn't understand why educated women staying at home needed help in getting back to the workforce. "If they don't feel the need to, why should we disturb them?"

Last week, I read an article about a mother who had to have a discussion with her eleven-year-old daughter about being catcalled and how to deal with it. She wasn't India nor was she in India.

Last week, in my own house, my father was disappointed with me and thought me ridiculous for refusing to wear a Thaali (a chain that is put on an Indian Woman, at the wedding) - and wanting to exchange rings instead. The logic that rings are more balanced because the man and woman wear it didn't appeal to him. "There are somethings expected of a girl if you want to belong to a society" was what I was told.

Yesterday, I was refused registration at a Cancer Camp - Breast and Ovarian Cancer because I was still unmarried. I tried to explain to them that my mother had cancer, and I wanted to be tested for cancer before I got married. But no. Vaginal Pap smears are not to be done on unmarried girls, that lady declared, looking at me like I was stupid. How could an Indian girl possibly mar the symbol of her virginity! Of course, that is more important than being screened for some deadly disease.

I get it now. Unfortunately, I now understand why it is more preferable to have baby boys or be boys in this world.

And I don't like it one bit.

I won't give up though.
I will keep fighting for equality.
I will keep hoping for a better world
A gender-neutral one.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Exoticamp : An experience sharing and review (Vagamon - Camp above the clouds)

Waking up to the sound of the strong breeze gently passing by
Stepping out of the tent and into the clouds
Gingerly dealing with your business in a strategically placed port-a-potty
Finding a beautiful path which feels like it’s straight out of a storybook
Taking that path for your morning walk
Walk a good twenty feet away from the path, cause there’s a calf grazing
This place can make anyone a photographer! PC: Me :) 
Wondering if Pixies and Fairies live in this carefully preserved strip of nature
Ending up in a clearing, then a cliff
Overlooking a valley where more than seven hills meet
Watching clouds gently fluff and puff their way,
Snaking through the gaps between the hills
Spending the most perfectly peaceful thirty minutes –
Listening to the wind rustle, birds chirp, just feeling the breeze
Even developing the plot for your novel – like I did
Finally feeling satiated and happy, and ready to go meet humans again
Have an emotional farewell with that location – because I might never go there again
Head back down slowly
Find another happy camper (literally) wielding her camera
Searching for spider webs with dew drops
Helping her hunt for those
Found em! (PC: Dhi Clicks)
Finding out that she hasn’t been up to the peak
Taking her there – cause you can’t be that close and miss a peak at heaven
Have another beautiful thirty minutes
I could stay here forever - for the rest of my life! (PC: Dhi Clicks)
Head back down together
Find an entire search party looking for you
Head back up with the full group – and be in a mannequin challenge
Cause, hey! Why not!
Head back down to the camp site
Gobble up a sumptuous meal – all that walking can get one really hungry
Then inch back into civilization slowly

Rewind 2 weeks
On the way to to peak (PC: Aditya)
I heard about Exoticamp’s Vagamon from a friend who wanted to go - up for any travel, I signed up immediately. Though, initially a little apprehensive about the idea of camping out in the open. That is something that’s probably more my sister’s cup-o-tea. I’m the clean stay-at-hotels and kinda traveler mostly. (Except my one time trek at Nagalapuram!) However the images they shared and just the idea was so poetic, I had to go and check it out myself. And boy am I glad that I did go.

There is something completely different about going to a place and living differently – We’ve all taken vacations where we go around, enjoy nature then go back to the comfort of a hotel room. I didn’t realize that just being in a hotel room is a comfort space that we never challenge – or at least fail to challenge often. Enjoying nature, and staying right in the middle of it – having a thin sheet of plastic separate you from the pounding rain, sweeping mist or even an animal or two – that’s a different living all together, one that has to be experienced to be properly appreciated!
View from the camp site *.*
This is not going to be a post where I describe in detail about what we did and how we got there. I do not want to spoil the fun of experiencing it yourself.
I do want to, however, tell you about the brilliant idea that is Exoticamp, and if you were to go to Vagamon – I’m happy to share a few tips about what to expect and what to be ready for J

Exoticamp was founded by 3 travel enthusiasts who wanted to make camping accessible to all – women and families especially. As boys, I guess they loved camping and living the rugged life so much, and when they became men and had families and babies, they wanted their wives and kids to experience they joy that they experienced.
5:00 pm - As we looked around,
the bags and camp fire logs lay waiting!
They find offbeat destinations – like Vagamon, Meghamalai, Kodaikannal to name a few, and they’re constantly on the lookout for more places to expand to. Their travel groups are a small enjoyable size of 20 to 30. They’ve made the camps family and women-friendly, but by no means coddle them. They let us women explore and live the wild dream is safe ways.
The cost is also extremely affordable – At Rs.5000 for 2 days (Including travel from Chennai) – (Rates as on November 2017) it is very wallet friendly. The price includes bus fares from Chennai/ Bangalore, Jeep transfers,  4 meals, Snack, Tent stay and all that (Only thing not included are 2 meals – for the morning we reached and the evening we left, where we were taken to good
Breakfast - yummy puttu
quality cheap restaurants). The experience they give us – making sure we are individually attended to, trying to ensure than we all get introduced to each other, so we’re basically one big group of friend on an adventure – worth every buck and second!

Some cool things about them:
They do customized camps - even for smaller groups
They do theme based camps
They conduct camps for kids
They're safe and friendly 

What to expect/ Do’s & Don’ts
Happiness is an authentic Jeep Ride!
  • Be ready for a small but friendly gang of strangers. You don’t have to talk to everyone, but talking to at least a few makes the whole experience more enjoyable
  • The tents are to be shared by 2 or 3 people. So if you’re going alone – try to find partner(s) to bunk with early
  • The ride up the hill was quite bumpy, almost like a roller coaster. I loved it! But if you tend to get motion sickness, keep medication handy.
  • Waterbottles are given out but often shared. If you prefer having your own bottle, just bring a bottle of yours and fill it. Keeps things easy.
  • If you don’t like eating with your hands, bring a fork/ spoon (they do give plastic spoons sometimes, but they useless with meat. [Food given at Vagamon was authentic Kerela food]
  • Don’t forget to stay hydrated throughout – don’t be without drinking water for fear of the port-a-potty – it’s a fun experience, trust me.
    Camp site : Where heaven meets earth!
  • There is no cell-phone signal for the most part, so keep your family informed. Also don’t try to keep searching for signal, it’s awesome to let go and live for yourself in the moment. Try it!
  • Bring some snacks, if you eat smaller meals more frequently.
  • Take a power bank and a torch. Don’t forget the torch!
  • Take an umbrella!
    6:00 pm - Suddenly the clouds decided to pay us a visit. They stayed around for a good 2 hours or so. This was "Camping within the clouds" entertainment segment of the evening!
  • If you use contacts, don’t go to close to the campfire/ remove your contacts when you do
  • Be prepared for a lot of insects. If you’re uncomfortable around them, where full sleeved clothing with elastic cuffs if required. They’re mostly harmless and not a problem – just tickle.
  • The places are beautiful, and Exoticamp adventures are set up in unexpectedly gorgeous locations – however, try to avoid preconceived notions to make the whole experience more enjoyable.
  • They’re very flexible in terms of stopping on the way to enjoy a view, or for a shop – as long as there’s no bus to catch J
  • Be ready to trek, hike, get wet – live basically ;)

Base camp - which also has private access to a segment of a waterfall
My favourite part of the waterfall - the little pool of water collected,
where I tried to baby sit a little girl.
"I want to go in the water or to daddy! (who was in the deeper end of the pool)"
I gave up in 20 minutes I think . Heh.
Trek to the camp site from the base camp
Stopping to say Good Bye and enjoy the view - one last time - until we're back.

Try it and you will Have fun!
I did!

PS: Many photos in this post are by others. Thank you Dhiya, Aditya, & Bragadeesh for the photographs :)