Travel with Twinny … Hare Rama , Hare Krishna

There is something very divine about Anju !

In the ISKCON family she is known as Anand Mayi Devi Dasi . For me , she is my very gracious , very evolved, ‘Samdhan’!

When she suggested a trip to Mathura along with her very sweet and very practical ‘Samdhan’ , Vandana, I jumped !

We called ourselves ‘ Samdhan Sakhis ‘ and together, we made our way to Brajbhoomi or ‘the land of Krishna ‘ in the auspicious month of Kartik.

‘’Auspicious it is , but you must be patient ‘’ she warned ,’’ The crowds at this time can be overwhelming!’’

The time for me was apt , there was a ‘ Krishna Calling ‘ in my heart . I just had to go !

Brajbhoomi is an ‘84 kos ‘ triangular zone between Agra , Jaipur and New Delhi in the heart of India .

Hundreds of devotees , both from nearby villages to Iskcon centres of distant USA , Europe , Africa travel here , to get a Darshan of the Lord of Love and Compassion , whether it be at a famous temple like Banke Bihari , a kund like Radhakund or at a grove like Nidhivan!

Soon , we were making our way through the winding gullies of Vrindavan , past jalebi shops , bangle sellers , ‘mukut’ Decoraters , flute , ‘dholak ‘ and ‘shingaar ‘shops , undettered by flies , open gutters ,prankster monkeys , wedding processions ,honking rickshaws . In this town the 8 th avatar of Vishnu is everywhere yet not easy to see !

Continue reading “Travel with Twinny … Hare Rama , Hare Krishna”

Travel with Twinny … of forts and fortresses !

To cash in on cheaper fares , our group of six , bought airtickets in June for a holiday scheduled for October of this year ( that’s 4 months prior )!

By the time October came , several changes had taken place in our personal lives and the idea of holidaying was furthest from our minds .

But cheap fares had been paid ! So off we went , sidelining pressing family decisions , behaving almost like ostriches burying their heads in the sand !

Fortunately , our meeting at Delhi airport augured a bonhomie that continued all the way to the

The Mandara Tree Villa boutique hotel in Dharamshala ,a city in Himachal Pradesh .

The heady scent of conifers , the cheerful sight of azaleas, geraniums and lilies , of swaying fields of barley , lifted our spirits .

Soon we were visiting the Dalai Lama temple , buying woolies at Mcleodganj market , having lunch at Morgan’s place .These are places usually everyone visits .

But it was the ancient fort of Kangra ,

some 20 km away from Dharamshala that took our breath away !

Made in 400BC it definitely can be classified as ANCIENT .

To begin with … It’s Not a fort

It’s a fortress !!

Above is an artists impression .

A complete , temple- fort -palace complex which was made , (probably using prehistoric tools !) , by the Trigartha Raja of the Katoch dynasty , who fought along with the Kauravas in the Mahabharata. Oh blimey !

That’s an EPIC FACT !

Once one gets over the fact that this fort is THE oldest, dated fort in Indian history , one gasps with awe at its strategic location !

Astride a mountain , with a circumference of 4 kms , protected by a natural moat ( the confluence of two tributaries of the Beas river ), the fort is as impregnable as one can get .


The entrance to the fort is unusually narrow , with a succession of gates , each of which must have been guarded vigilantly . It is said that a suspected enemy had a good chance of being beheaded at the very first gate itself !

The windows of the fortress are unusually narrow too … Just enough for a rifle to probe through! Peering through one , I wondered how actually one would spot the enemy !

Sculpted frescoes along the walls display an underplayed elegance .

We trudge up the cobbled ramparts and

imagine horses labouring up carrying grains from the villages below .

Oh they are here even today !

Housed in the fortress are the temples of Ambika Devi and Laxmi Narayan . Through the ages , these deities have been endowed with considerable wealth from the neighbouring kingdoms .Apparently there were 21 wells laden with treasure , 8 of which have yet to be unearthed .

No wonder then , that the fort was plundered and looted by every possible ruler …. A whopping 52 times !

Emperor Akbar himself tried but failed . His son

Jehangir got lucky in 1620 . But in 1789 the Mughals had to relinquish their stronghold to Raja Sansar Chand , a direct descendant of the Katoch dynasty

who managed to win back his ancestral property ! He ruled for a good 49 years

Wah !!

In quick succession, thereafter

The Sikhs , the Gurkhas , the British ..all attacked and ruled the fort at one time or another but it was finally an earthquake of immense proportions in 1905 ( which didnot spare even Dharamshala / Kangra/ Mcleodganj that brought down the fort to its present state of ruin .

‘’Khandar bataa rahin hain ki imaarat kitni bulund thi’’

remarked Sajili , my very arty friend from Dehradun .

( Translated roughly .. the ruins before us tell us how majestic the original construction was )

Standing high up in the central open air council ground of the fortress , from my minds eye , I could see the Katoch Raja rising from his throne after making key ministerial decisions. It was time now for his evening meal .

The Royal ‘Baawarchi’ conjured up a delightful menu of sooran ki chat (yam ) , followed by chuwaare ki Sabzi ( dried date curry ) , served hot with rotis and a dessert of sweet rice garnished with kesar , raisins and slivers of almonds

The day is done !

In the incandescent light of ‘mashals’, the royal artisans

stand back and review their work …. A pair of peacocks, figurines of Gauri Shanker seated on a Nandi , Yamuna riding on a tortoise,all carved into black stone .

Kangra painters put away their miniature pahari art portraying the playful love charms of Krishna and Radha in lyrical watercolours of blue and green.

Life is about romance and undying love , rich in its simplicity and robust in its richness.

I feel the invigorating freshness of the alpine air and quite forget the emotional upheavals of distant Mumbai .

Immersing myself in the natural calm of the forested hillsides around me , I recall the

simple Japanese art of

Shinrin yoku or ‘’Forest bathing’’.

Up ahead at The Norbulingka institute of Tibetan arts , I decide to ‘’forest bathe’’ ,inhale the richness of wet earth, draw strength from the trees and breathe in the calm of green .

I even hug a tree !

Ketika my affectionate gentle friend from Delhi , indulgently took this picture with a bemused smile on her face .

Yes , hugging trees is cool , my friends !

But Hugging friends , old and new ,decidedly cooler !

Can warm the cockles of one’s heart!

Here’s to more adventures

Sajili , Arvind, Ketika Sanjay ! Yoohoo Buntoo

You too !


Travel with Twinny ..Welcome to Buddha Land !

When you have been invited to be part of a 60 member birthday celebration of a larger- than -life figure, Sidhesh Kaul , you DONT SAY ‘ NO’!

But , just then , you read the fine print and discover the ‘party ‘ is in Leh , in faraway , high altitude Ladakh !


You stand back and shudder !

At this point in your life you are messed up with peculiar Medical issues . Do you want to add to that list ??

For bratty Sid and his lovely , lively wife Cherry you decide well er …er …YES !

And this decision is Unanimous too !

And so , Mid -sept 60 of us swoop down to one of the 10 most scenic airports of the world !

Surrounded by miles of barren desert mountains , skirting the winding Indus River , the valley kingdom of Leh surprises and teaches .

Lesson number one …Preparation is key !

For the first 3 days,

Diamox , a determination to rest and to have three litres of water before three ! Piece of cake , right ??!

One may be fascinated by the army presence in Leh , drawn by the Tibetan markets , in awe of motorbike 🏍 enthusiasts , , but it is the nurturing Buddhist peace that is overwhelming.

In the numerous stupas,monasteries , thangkas life’s learnings begin and end .

Huff , puff , up you trudge to the monasteries of Alchi , Hemis ,Stakna name a few .

Located high atop arid hills , the steps up , get only steeper as you approach the colourful assembly halls .

So here’s Lesson number two . To get anywhere in life might appear easy but IT IS NOT ! You have to strive , keeping your goal clear in mind !

And then ,when you finally reach the shrines to the countless Boddhisattvas , you Bend !Sometimes even genuflect !

The doors to the temple chambers are small , ostensibly to protect from the cool mountain air but entering the sacred atrium coaxes a kind of humble respect !

‘Be humble!’ is lesson no 3 !

You are amazed by the Buddha embodiments of

Karuna ( compassion)

Maitreya ( friendship )

Manjushri ( wisdom )

ARM yourself with all three , my friend . That’s lesson number four !

The Mother Goddess of Longevity , Tara is here to guide and shower you her blessings .

In the beautiful monastery at Alchi , Tashi , our very knowledgeable guide , shows us a four foot diametered , intricately designed Sand Mandala .

He relates a story of how the Head Monk endeavoured to teach Detachment to his students by a swift swipe of his shawl on the hitherto painstakingly made mandala .

It must have pained the student monks to see their 6 month work destroyed in a flash !

It certainly did , us !

But detachment is the path to enlightenment .. Hey and we all want to be enlightened ! 💪

Sitting by a stream bathed by the afternoon sun at Le Mentok , a gentle breeze blowing in the azure skies , listening to the strains of an ace Ladakhi band , one could not help but experience ‘serenity’ !

It shows ,right ?!

By now , this rather special group of Sidheshs friends , born from ‘his life’s journey’ , had become each other’s friends too …

Share , Care ,Enjoy the NOW ! Lesson number 5 !

Our every meal in Leh was a treat! But Ladakhi cuisine presented by Kunzis , Chef extraordinaire in ‘the Willow’ , near Stok Palace , was a masterpiece!

Using ‘local’ ingredients , though they may have come from ‘nearby’ Tibet , Himachal , Kashmir , or Ladakh itself she wove in stories and delicate flavours to create the magical …

Especially the Yarkhandi pulao …

A shank of mutton cooked long and slow in a bed of rice with julienned carrots garnished with Afghan raisins , roasted apricot kernels .. ooh lala !

No lesson here .. Just Go ahead , Spoil yourself , soak in the ‘flavours’ , you are allowed to titillate your palate !

No religion BEGS for World Peace the way Buddhism does .

It was a pleasure meeting Ven . Gyomyo Nakamura , who came to India from Japan in 1975, embraced Buddhism and set up the magnificent Shanti Stupa in an effort to establish 🌎 peace !

Love All !

That’s Message no 6 .Include the birds animals ,the mentally challenged ,literally ALL !

In the early morning hours of our last day we visited the picturesque Thiksey monastery .

Here , young novice monks are taught logic and philosophy . The little monks scamper up and down the stairs , as sprightly as monkeys smiling as they carry heavy buckets of buckwheat and water , respectfully serve buttered tea to the senior Monks and the devotees seated in the prayerhall , recite chants !

These daily normal activities make them strong, wise , happy ! And it is this happiness which augurs an inner strength , an inner energy .

Lesson number 7 !

And thats the last of Twinnys weekly learnings ! ‘Do all your daily chores whilst-growing steadily within! ‘

I close my eyes taking in the chants of the morning prayers , rising in crescendo , the beating of the drums , the clashing of cymbals , the trumpeting of the bugle .

Every once in a while , in our lives there is an inner call , an awakening , a ‘bodhi ‘ moment ..

With my bugle, cymbals and drums

I applaud you Siddhu Baba and Cherry …

You have given us this ‘bodhi ‘ moment .

‘Life’ truly is a celebration !

A majestic one at that

Thankyou ! Thankyou !

And wish you a very happy birthday !

Hang in there folks ! A prize photo and a question follows ..

At Pangong Lake

Take a bow , Madhukar ! Oh I see ,you are doing the headstand !

Maninder and Shamila Kohli ….You are absolute stars ! But here comes the ‘question ‘

Pray , Why is your Event Management company called JUNIPER???!

And now finally Toodle loo Folks ! Bombay beckons …

Love you all !🤗❤️✨

Travel with Twinny .. Summit at Glenburn

There is a time when one seeks to travel with no hidden agenda but to simply RELAX !

To indulge in that great ‘’Sweetness of doing Nothing ‘’ which in Italian is called ‘’dolce far


With this as our major objective,

we travelled to Glenburn …. A scenic ‘tea bungalow’ turned into an 8 roomed luxury boutique hotel in

the north east of Bengal , about an hours drive from Darjeeling !

In Gorkhaland !

Book in hand, breathing in the fresh mountain air , the magnificent Kanchenjunga as a backdrop , sipping a cup of Glenburn Moonshine tea .. aah….

Life could not have been lovelier !

Just then a voice piped up . It was Andrew, the hotel manager .

‘’We have 1600 acres of forest land on a quarter of which we have tea plantations .Would you like to see these upclose ?’’

We made a rough calculation that such an exercise could not really expend much energy !

After all , all we had to do was to ‘see ‘ !

‘’ You will have to take walking sticks , the path is a little tricky .’’ he warned .

‘’No worries!’’ we smiled indulgently .

‘’And yes , there are a few couples who will join you . More the merrier ! ‘’ said Andrew cheerily.

‘’Oh , ok !’’ we agreed , a tad hesitantly . Taking the effort of making new friends was definitely not part of our plan , determined as we were to doing Nothing !

Gingerly we stepped out in small groups , down uneven ,stony paths leading to the muddied terraced slopes laden with tea shrubs.

Though we had never met each other before , each of us was secretly glad the other was there , when we realised that the tea plantations were perched on the

steepest inclines!

The Gorkha locals ,mostly females , negotiated these expertly , plucking dextrously,

tossing the ripe tea leaves and buds behind into cane baskets harnessed on their foreheads .

We learnt that a good days plucking meant collecting only about half to 3/4 kg of the ripe leaves in a day .

What a labour intensive job !

Took a pic like this just for kicks , though we all seriously began to wonder how much we took for granted our everyday comforting cup of ‘’chai ‘’.

It was a revelation that the tea leaves used for medicinal purposes in China way back in 2737 BC

were brought to India by the British only in the 1830’s !

The soft, loamy , well drained soil , the warm humid climes of Assam and the north east were ideal to grow a tea stronger than that of China .. the famous Darjeeling tea !

Amber coloured , muskatel , aromatic are a few ways to describe its

rich flavour .

Planting the tea must not have been easy nor was growing it , keeping shade , weather , soil in mind .

And THAT was just the beginning !

Once plucked , the tea leaves are taken to a tea factory where they are systematically withered , dried , rolled , fermented , sorted ( completely manually ,phew !) , then finally packed as green , black , oolong , white , what have you !

Each time we learnt something , we chatted and backslapped like primary school children. New vistas of conversation opened !

Some of us trekked down a rambling , rather dangerous 8kms to a campsite at the Rungeet river waterfront and this humble achievement made our bonds stronger . At night we sat around a bonfire , exchanging life stories following which we were served

a scrumptious dinner with the piece de resistance being the Nepalese Chef Maitasing Gurung

singing a song for Sajili , our birthday girl as charismatic as her name !

Please do hear !

Without trying , over three days we had been introduced to a whole new world , that of the Tea Gardens and these in turn had sown the seeds of likely

lifelong friendships !

Thankyou Andrew ! Thankyou Maita !

The sweetness of doing nothing I observed sweet if only it is a “limited edition”, lasting a short “ precious” while .

Life is too short and too precious to spend it doing zilch !

Bet you will agree Sajili , Arvind ( squared ), Sanjay – Ketika , newly weds Akriti – Sandeepan Purvi -Dev !

So seize the day ! Carpe diem folks !

On second thoughts ,

a bit of ‘dolce far niente ‘

a bit of ‘carpe diem’

Both coupled with a cup of strong orange pekoe is not quite a bad idea !

With tea leaf pakoras to match !


Travel with Twinny .. GUREZ!

‘’Which hairband should I wear ??

This one , this one , or that one ??’’

I said , pulling out a few from my bag .

‘’We are at 11700ft , on the Razdan pass in the northwest of Kashmir .. who is looking at you , silly ??’’

chided Geeta , my perky , stylish friend from Mumbai .

‘’ “Let her wear one ! She loves it so much ! We are going to see the Peer baba ‘ziarat ‘, must do so with respect .’’ chipped in Vidhya , my very grounded , sensible sis -in -law from Goa.

Hair Band and head cover in place , we

knelt before the beautifully decorated tombstone and prayed fervently . It is said that here , all wishes are granted to those who ask !

And so we did !

Amongst the many wishes we asked of Peer baba , one was a tad frivolous .. that the ‘loos’ hereon be more habitable than the one Shaukat Wani , our irrepressible driver had taken us to at ‘Maggi Point’ , on our way up here from Bandipora !

Concentrating on both perching precariously on the open air chute below and ignoring the buzzing flies behind had been a task !

But all that was NOT important.

The peace imbibed beholding the Peer Baba Ziarat was heavenly .

We sauntered into

the adjoining room and lo and behold was a beautiful statue of Hanuman ji !

In the cold icy Himalayan air to discover this oasis of tranquility where two religions sit side by side in complete harmony warmed the cockles of our hearts .

But this was just the beginning of many surprises to come !

Eschewing the usual tourist routes of Srinagar

Pahalgam ,Gulmarg , Sonmarg , we had opted to go with the out – of – the – ordinary travel guide Abhirup Paul .. and experience a hidden gem of Kashmir .. Gurez !

Closest to the LOC , some 125 kms from Srinagar ,

ahead of the Bandipora valley which is famous for its Alim ( education )

Adab ( good manners)

Aab ( water ), skirting Wular , the second largest lake in Asia ,

past various army check posts along some of the most winding and scariest mountain roads in the world , finally opening on to breathtaking expanses of thickly pined mountains , running down steeply to verdant meadows and pastures along the bountiful rushing river Kishenganga .

This was Gurez !

Picture postcard perfect for miles and miles , each scenic spot and mountain village more beautiful than the next .

Virgin , unspoilt , the Sheena village folk ,( direct descendants of Alexander , so they say ) could be seen fishing , grazing livestock, cutting wood , singing songs , cooking .

A traffic jam caused by sheep or goats is an everyday occurrence!

An idyllic life , if only for the six spring / summer months , most families moving to warmer pastures in the bitter cold winter months .

That most of Kashmir is mountainous and that most of its people are ‘pahadi log’ came as a surprise !

They are hardy , love nature , are excellent craftsmen , love poetry .

Their life’s philosophy is far removed from political influences and religious biases of the valley cities . It’s very Sufi, very Shaivik !

‘All we

desire is Aman or peace !’ A refrain one will hear time and time again !

Especially amazing are the border villages .

May it be Davar , Angaikot ,Khandial in the Tulail Valley ahead , besides their unique wooden log homes , each has a central village mosque .

Each also has a school , run invariably by the Indian Army and most of the Army personnel are invariably , Hindu . One can hear the chanting of the Azaan alongside

bhajans emanating from the Indian army canteen .

Surprise of surprises , the Muslim dominated mountain village of Naranag , 60 kms from Sirinagari ( as emperor Ashok named Srinagar in the 3 Rd century bc )

houses a Shiv temple right in the middle of it .

Stonehenge is a world wonder but how this Shiv temple was built in the 8 th Century AD with huge stone rock boulders placed one on top of each other , atop a mountain, without any form of cementing is a bewildering wonder too !

Ask any mountain villager directions he will of course answer it ,then cajole you to join him in his humble abode for a cup of kesar Kehva and girdha ( the local bread ).

He will regale you with stories , trade a cigarette for his biddi .

And even if he is 85 years old , run adeptly down the mountain edge to fetch water from a spring wellknown for its freshness and the ability to conjure romance into your life .. the picturesque Habba Khatoum

mountain spring !

There it is !

Invitation for a cup of tea may be passé when compared to

Aslam who insisted we share a meal in his home .

Soon we were sitting on carpets partaking of a delicious meal cooked by his wife right in front of us .. unbelievable !

We said so !

‘’It is in our culture,’’he said , ‘’we love to share. To help each other is not at all unusual!’’ . True ! That day we witnessed the neighbours daughter skip in , have lunch , then run back to school !

But Ask for dessert / something meetha ?

And Kashmiris will look askance , absolutely befuddled ! Goodness gracious me

Mountain folk just don’t eat desserts !

No doubt each mountain village had its own beauteous stamp, but we were quite taken in by the villages of Churwan Shahpura .

Situated closest to the Red Line of Control , the villagers here wished there was no fencing , that there were no boundaries!

Up , on opposing mountain faces were Pakistani and Indian bunkers placed strategically, barely a 100 metres apart . Down , on the beautiful meadow below , the village folk played Indias and Pakistans favourite sport .. cricket 🏏!

Not a care in the world !👍!

Back in the Summer Capital Srinagar , we were touched yet again !

At the terraced Nishat Gardens opposite the Dal Lake , not one but two Kashmiri families asked ‘us ‘to be a part of ‘their’ family photo !

And on the day we were finally leaving our Five star hotel , we were given papier-mâché back – home gifts! Can’t recall any other hotel in the world doing the same !

Kashmir to me is all about welcoming , giving , teaching you to be one with nature .

Quoting from a verse by Maria Sabina ( apologies for the changes )…..

”Cure yourself with the light of the sun

And the rays of the moon

With the sound of the river and the waterfall

Heal yourself with walnuts , lavender and fennel

Put ‘love ‘ in tea instead of sugar

And take it looking at the stars, holding a flower

Heal yourself with the kisses of the wind and the hugs of the rain

Keep your feet strong on bare ground.

Listen to your intuition looking at the world with the eye of your forehead

Jump , dance , sing !


‘Nature’ is the medicine !”

If my ashes have to be strewn , they will have to be in Gurez !

Thankyou my darlings Vidhya and Geeta !

Twinny just can’t travel alone !

Never could !

Love you !

And Thankyou Abhirup !

Zarah Diaries … the ART of GIVING

Midlife Crisis !

Ageing Woes!

Everyone goes through it .

You wake up one morning, look into the mirror and wonder when the heck did these lines appear ?When did the jaw begin to hang so ? When did the lips loose their lusciousness??!

Off you rush to a dermatologist ! Do something , you plead !

Well Aneeta M did just that !

‘Doc!’ she moaned, ‘ I hate these frown lines , placed like unwanted guests right on top of my forehead ,’’

“Please suggest some ‘Upaay’! ”

I gently explained that lines develop over time according to how much we emote , how much we use our facial muscles to express . To reduce fine lines one can apply retinol creams , have dollops of oral collagen , but to ERASE them , nothing is more effective than Botox shots once in 8 months !

No doubt ,practising placidity a la a Buddhist monk could take off a year or two .. but hey …that’s tough to do!

Aneeta listened wide eyed , asked relevant questions , then finally decided to bypass all suggestions and try a bit of facial yoga , some meditation instead. In other words , ACCEPT and stay comfortable in her skin !

Some years later she shared pictures of her visit to Cuba . The colours , vibrant pop art , pink Cadillacs on the streets made one want to board the next flight to Havana !

In all those photos , I noticed how happy , lovely and lively Aneeta looked . Travel , Art and a doting partner are a heady mix !

Lines don’t show. Glow definitely does !

And then struck the dreadful Pandemic ! The ground seemed to give way beneath our feet , ready to swallow us whole and alive . Engulfed unimaginably in fear we were ‘ locked in’ and ‘locked out’ from the breath of fresh air .

But the human spirit is made of sterner stuff . Slowly and surely we groped our way out of this quagmire ,pulling each other up , reinventing ourselves , baking bread , exercising , living in gratitude , relieved we were still alive !

6 months into the pandemic , sometime around the end of August , Aneeta decided to hold online Zen Doodling Art classes .

Zen Doodling Art … now what was that???

I am not an artist . Far from it . The closest I have been to painting is creating eyebrows by micropigmentation using a delicate vibrating needle .

But in this COVID period , I felt I could definitely do with a bit of ‘Zen’ ! With some trepidation , I signed up .

Aneetas class had me ‘hooked ‘ from the word go . She was simply FABULOUS !

She would give us each a template drawing , teach simple doodles to fill this in with and Lo and behold .. a piece of ART would emerge .

She would share tricks and techniques which she had honed in art school and draw from her tremendous experience as an established artist to fine -tune our efforts .


She interspersed each art class with interesting life anecdotes and teachings from Zen Buddhism which made us fledgling artists more centred , focussed and ready to face the uncertain morrow ….WOW !!

She gave ,she gave, she gave…. Her time , her learnings , her love.

And then the icing on the cake !

All the earnings from these art classes she gave away (100% !) in charity to pay for the treatment of street children afflicted with treatable cancer .


ART and the ART of GIViNG!

I reflected on this as I adjusted my hand painted saree .

I can now truly imagine the love in each brush stroke .

This one is done by Shubhangi Samant whose special subject is Lord Krishna .

Here she has painted the Ringan ceremony , held in July each year to venerate Vithobha ( Lord Krishna ) in Pandharpur . Lakhs of pilgrims gather to take home the soil on which the horse gallops.. is auspicious to do so .

For us students , ANEETA is THIS spectacular galloping HORSE , showering sparkles of Zen dust , Zen art , Zen teachings , Zen Love in its wake !

Thankyou ANEETA !Thankyou for all you do !

Wish you a very very HAPPY BIRTHDAY !✨✨✨✨✨


I sat tense , waiting expectantly for the next patient .
Clad in my PPE ( personal protective equipment ) mask , gloves , face shield , I looked more like an astronaut or a deep sea diver than a dermatologist /cosmetologist.
Gone was my saree ! Gone was my friendly banter !
And the comforting pat on the shoulders ? Heavens .. No !
Corona times are such !

‘’Hiiiiii Doc!’’, breezed in Hirral Merchant .
‘’How are you , doc? Really glad you have kept your clinic open .I need to get FIXED real fast !’’
I wondered , for what ?
Have known Hirral for several years , evolving from a shy Kutchi mother -of -two ( two sons 17 and 10 years )
to becoming a healer and a numerologist .
Maybe she had begun online healing sessions and needed to look more presentable .
A quick laser hair reduction of the lower face would do the trick. I suggested the same .

‘’No , no Doc ! I need my hair gone , not only from my face , I want a whole body laser treatment! ‘’

‘’Sure Hirral ..can do !
But it is expensive , are you sure?’’
‘’Yes Doc ! I have to be my best ! And I need more than just laser hair reduction . I am contesting for the MRS INDIA Contest !’’
My jaw dropped !
In these times ?
Was there even a ‘Mrs India ‘ Contest happening ??
‘’Yes , yes Doc !There are 145 participants .I have cleared the auditions and have reached the last 30 !
The orientations will be in September in Dehradun (maybe ) and then the SemiFinals , probably in a safe international environment like NewZealand or the Maldives .’’
My jaw dropped further , but the mask I wore somehow held it up !
What drive , what a feat …
to prepare for a beauty contest , in these most uninspiring of times .

‘’ You have the most charming gamine eyes Hirral , a very attractive face but your ‘ thighs ‘ ? How do you propose to get them shipshape ??’’
‘’I consider my flaws , my strength ,Doc !
I will diet , I will exercise , I will get to where I have to !
And you will have to help me !’’

‘’ Mrs India Contests are hard Hirral . They assess not only your face and figure but also how talented you are , your self confidence , your desire to win . ‘’
‘’Yes , I am aware Doc .Every week all of us participants are given Tasks , which test our abilities in a variety of ways .
I have made videos of myself cooking and dishing out healthy recipes , demonstrated effective concoctions for Face and Body Scrubs, made workout videos .
For Sushant Singh Rajput , I did a spontaneous dance tribute and a devotional number dressed like Radha on Janamashthami . Like our yesteryear actresses I have even danced carrying double ,triple earthen pots on my head!
I am on a roll Doc , today sitting for photo shoots sporting the 60’s look , tomorrow the 70s rock and roll look !
I am enjoying myself !
And the best part Doc , the more I work on myself , the more I want to run out and help others . Make meals for the hungry on the streets , participate in any and every civic activity to help those in need .
And all this whilst looking after my own family , my work !
God and the Universe are helping me find TIME for EVERYTHING!

I was amazed !
Hirral had lofty dreams but also the spunk to scale them .
‘’What about your family ? Are they supportive ??’’
‘’ Yes doc , I
have got quite a lot of encouragement from my husband who though a financial wizard himself kicked up his job and started an online portal performing online Poojas , the EPooja ! You must have heard of it !’’
Wowww ! I was awestruck !

‘’Tell me what has been the most difficult part of this journey ?’’
‘’Oh , it was when the judges asked me to introduce myself and my vision .. all in 1 minute !
I thought about this question .

She was right ! To try and
précis oneself , ones life , one’s desires …in 1 minute ! Not a cakewalk at all !

‘’This has been a period of the greatest growth for me . I am constantly working on the way I walk , talk , my manners, etiquette.. but Doc you really have to help me LOOK my best !’’

‘’ Yes , yes Hirral ! I will , I will !
But let me tell you whether you get the Mrs India crown or not ,
in my eyes you are already
A role model for everyone , including me !’’

That evening , fully inspired , I prized open my cupboard of treasured sarees after 4 months and took out an AJRAKH.
What type of saree is that you might ask .

It is a saree made of the softest cotton, soft enough to swathe a baby , painstakingly blockprinted on both sides with natural dyes over and over again to form complex geometric and floral patterns .
It is a 4000 year old technique native to Sindh and Kutch , a product of patience and arduous labour.
The word Ajrakh comes from Azurakh which means indigo in Persian . The indigo represents the sky , the red madder natural dye superimposed is twilight and the
white dots strewn all over are the stars which illuminate the deep blue sky !
And that is what Hirral is !
Standing out in this sea of forlornness with hope and light !
Simply beautiful!

Zarah Diaries … Sarees must have a border ☺️!

It was a warm April morning the day Nihaal ,a 45 yr old business tycoon walked into my clinic.

”Good morning Doc !”

he said , taking off his Gucci shades, ”I am not exactly sure what is bothering me but definitely something is amiss! I FEEL dynamic, on -the -go , but DONT LOOK it !”

It took me all of one minute to size up my handsome patient but how was I to tell him???

That Nihaal, my dear, you need a Brow job !!

An EYE BROW job to be more precise !

Eyebrows frame a face …uplifting it instantly !

They introduce a person even before he speaks !

One would think that eyes are expressive but eyebrows can really blow your mind away !

A twitch here, a raise there , the nuance of a dip there !

Expressing surprise , anger , joy , defeat , devotion ! The animation they give your face is limitless !

What if these seemingly unimportant part of ones countenance were missing or were thinned out considerably as were Nihaals??!

What was one to do?

Use hair sprouting solutions for an endless length of time?

So time consuming and results not even satisfactory, especially if one has a concomitant autoimmune condition .

How about then , an Eyebrow enhancement with micro pigmentation as a viable option ??

Suggesting such a solution to a woman usually makes her squeal with pleasure , but suggesting the same to a man is like crushing his manhood !

I ventured delicately !

”Nihaal, I must say you are are really tall !

Did you play basketball for your college team ?

Must have been quite a catch for those pretty young gals with your superbly cut , square jawline, your Roman nose !

And even at 45 , your forehead hardly has any creases .. and those that are there ,show character !

What could do with some improvement however , are your eyebrows! Have they diminished over the years?

They seem a tad thin , a tad insipid !

Not that I would advocate a bushy unibrow and – yes – it is all hogwash that unibrows are directly proportional to male virility!”

Nihaal looked himself up and down , from head to toe in the huge mirror in front of him , while I continued,

”But colouring yours with a technique akin to tattooing would bring back the dynamism you are looking for !”

The procedure is called

MicroPigmentation or Microblading and it is performed with a special vibrating needle using very special pigments at a level more superficial than a conventional tattoo, hence there is no bleeding . It is semi permanent , lasting 3-5 years.

It would take me two hours to do a single session but the results are terrific ! Your eyebrows will look fuller , more expressive , even make a statement .. and not a jarring one at that!”

” This might sound crazy Doc but I was hoping against hope you would NOT notice my eyebrows!

Now, you are going to give me a killer set of eyebrows and make a woman out of me !”

” On the contrary , Nihaal !

Haven’t you heard ‘Great eyebrows don’t happen by chance ,

They happen by appointment!

To begin with …the male eyebrow is tattooed differently … they are not arched like those of females , they are flatter , they are also thicker .

Each stroke is like a hair strand , and all the strokes are set very close to each other !


I will use anaesthetic cream an hour prior , draw a precise shape with ruler measurements and then tatoo in .

Micro pigmenting eyebrows is more than just a treatment , it is an ART !!”

Nihaal looked at himself again and again , this angle now, that profile next !

He somehow got convinced that for him micro pigmentation was indeed the ONLY way forward !

He scheduled his procedure that very day and followed up for a touchup three weeks later!

Once done , he was gratified to note that his friends didn’t notice that his eyebrows had had any work done on them !

They just remarked that of late he seemed to look younger and fresher !

That is the response I most want to get .. that there ‘ IS’ a difference , but noone can say WHAT .

Of all the treatments I have learnt , the one that took me the longest to master was this very procedure of micro pigmenting eyebrows .

Surprisingly it is the most satisfying one too !

Both for the Practitioner and the patient !

No one leaves unhappy !

And let me repeat Eyebrows actually do frame a face !

Just like the black French chiffon saree I am wearing today …!

Here I am in Plain Jane Black ….

And now draped in the same black sheer but with a smart border ..

Come on now … tell me which one looks better ??

Hey , You don’t have to look twice!

Not convinced ?? How about this red Muslin saree

with its striped border ?

Nice ??

Not boring like this one …

Get my drift ???

Sareees must have borders !

Faces must have eyebrows !