If You Like Working With Someone, Should You Tell Them?

If TLDR, Here’s The Bottom Line:

  • A big fat resounding Yes.
  • Is there a chance you will regret it in the future? Possibly.
  • Might they misunderstand you? Probably.
  • Should you still do it? Undoubtedly.
  • Why? I’ll tell you why.

Why Didn’t You Tell Me?

A few years ago, I bumped into an old colleague. He owned the agency that worked with me when I was client-side. I loved working with his team. They were professional, friendly, creative, punctual, smart, and came sans the usual nose-in-the-air attitude that is often a non-negotiable attachment with advertising agencies. (“You know nothing of the creative process you suited-booted loser client! Nothing!”)

As we caught up he told me he had dropped my brand as a client a few months after I left. “We hated doing your work and you paid us pittance.”

That was a punch to the gut. I had zero knowledge of that. Why didn’t they ever tell me? And if they hated it so much why did they stay so long? “Well, we liked working with you.”

Now you may think I chose this example to toot my own horn and tell you my vendor partners liked working with me, but it is quite the opposite. I felt like I had failed at my role if people who worked with me day in and day out, couldn’t even tell me they were unhappy until after I’d moved on (with a few pints aiding their courage).

Worst of all, why didn’t they ever tell me they liked working with me?!

On The Flipside, A Different Agency

At one of my client-side roles, we outsourced work to a social media agency for a brief period to test the waters. Their account manager churned almost every month, and the stress of having to go through brand briefings again and again began to take a toll on our relationship.

It didn’t seem worth the effort with both parties losing money and precious time. They did not like working with me. And that feeling took no time reaching their boss, and my boss. Several “we need to talk” sessions later, we parted ways, but not before my brands took some heat and damage, as did I, as did the agency’s account managers.

I Absolutely Do Not Like You One Bit

If your daily work interactions are with an average of say 10 people, you are bound to like working with some of them more than others. Pretend to be egalitarian in your love for your colleagues, and you just might fool everyone but yourself. Heck, even parents secretly have a favourite child (we will never speak of this ever again because we love you all equally forever!)

via GIPHY

But as we have all experienced, not everyone pretends to like everyone. Some people are brutally vocal about not wanting to work with a colleague they don’t like and will spare no feelings in doing so. Just ask your HR Manager!

I Like You vs I Like Working With You

Since moving to a new country I’ve spoken to many a trailing spouse about how they build their social lives and make new friends. “We mostly just hang out with colleagues after work.”

If this is true of most of us, surely we must like our colleagues to want to spend even more time looking at their faces than we already do? And we must enjoy talking to them about work and sundry enough to also drag our partners into it? We must click with them on some (at least superficial) level to willingly spend our limited time on Earth in their company.

  • But can you like your colleague without liking working with them? Yes.
  • Other way round? Yes.
  • Like them and working with them? Yes.

So Should I Tell You?

I don’t know about you, but I cannot remember ever telling my best friend – hey, I like you. Mutual likeability is the keystone of friendship, yet it is seldom expressed.

So if you do like your colleague (we’re talking platonic friendship ‘like’ here, I have no idea what to do with any other kind of like, please talk to a therapist), you are in all probability not going to tell them that.

But if you like working with someone, should you tell them?

  • A big fat resounding Yes.
  • Is there a chance you will regret it in the future? Possibly.
  • Might they misunderstand you? Probably.
  • Should you still do it? Undoubtedly.
  • Why? I’ll tell you why.

Because People Like To Be Liked

We all want to be liked. We all want to be told we are liked. Some of us can list “need to be liked” as point one in the W column of our swot analysis.

If you like working with someone (because you are super productive together/you have each other’s back/you both care equally little about your jobs), you should tell them that.

Make their day.

Say – hey man, it’s really cool working with you. Nicely done on this project bro, I enjoyed putting it together with you.

Told the boss the project is delayed, but did it together and split the heat? Cheers mate, enjoy your weekend that I will not be spending with you.

Tell your boss and their boss you like working with them. Tell your other colleagues how cool they are. Write it on email. Use emojis. Try to be specific.

Because Then, You Put The Onus On Them.

When you are in receipt of whatever you consider “favourable” behaviour, making a solid expression of how pleased you are puts instant pressure on them to keep up that behaviour.

If you said to your boss – “I have respect for and like working with you because you don’t micromanage people” – how can they possibly ever do otherwise? If they also have a need to be liked (they do), it suddenly makes them very aware that their actions are being watched, and observed, and judged, and that they risk losing your liking if they alter their behaviour.

Open The Doors To Honesty

When we express things we like, it opens doors for us to honestly talk about things we don’t like, without being shut out.

Had my ad agency in the first example said to me: we hate the jobs you’re sending our way, and we’re not paid nearly enough to work around your brand’s restrictions – I would’ve instantly gone on the defence.

If they prefaced that with: we really like working with you, and we want to make this work – it would’ve put so much pressure on me, I would have fought with my boss to raise their retainer and done my best to make their work interesting.

Oh Hello, Vulnerability, Old Friend

We often hesitate to compliment our colleagues because:

a) we’re insecure monkeys.
b) we think it will go to their head if we praise them.
c)
it makes us feel like we are now somehow below them, at their mercy. In other words, vulnerable.
d) we think they will go around telling people we like them, and that will make us look weak.

There is merit to all of these fears. It is for you to decide if you want to confront them.

What If I Stop Liking Working With Them?

This is the part where we talk about sticks and stones and regret – all the pretty things, really.

After my encounter with the agency owner, I made it my mission to tell anyone I liked working with exactly that – every account manager, every client, every partner-freelancer. I like working with you, I love your attention to detail, I really like talking to you!

So what went wrong? Oh, a few things.

1. Misunderstandings: hey man, this is really cool, I enjoyed our conversation last evening! “Uhh. I’m not really interested.”

via GIPHY

2. A change of heart: someone I told I really liked working with, I gradually stopped as I got to know them better. I found myself less and less attracted to their work actions: excessive capitalistic greed, detached communication, pendulating decisions, anti-feminism. All of it their prerogative! Despite possessing this newfound information judgement-free, I felt pretty silly for saying all the nice things I did, because now my interactions with them are increasingly objective, impersonal, walled-off.

To sum up, it may backfire, but we can all be kinder to each other at work anyway. If you like working with someone, but are afraid you may stop in the future, tell them anyway. There’s an 8% chance you’ll regret it, do it anyway.

By positively reinforcing work behaviours we like in our workplaces, we can all build healthier environments for each other!

 

Do you have a related work-story? Tell me here.

An Immersive Farmstay, a Lesson in Entrepreneurship

“The corporate world suddenly stopped making sense.”

Menaka Ramanan tells me over a lunch of steaming rice, pachadi, aloo, rasam and appalam her mum has lovingly cooked for us. We’re sitting on the terrace of her family’s home in Wayanad, surrounded by farms untouched by commercialisation. I can hear birds that aren’t crows – unfamiliar to my ears. Her father comes in to check that we’ve eaten well and are comfortable.

Traditional Kerala lunch served on a banana leaf
Traditional Kerala lunch served on a banana leaf
The terrace at Aham Anubhava

Stay On An Actual Farm

When the brave and virtuous entrepreneur Menaka invited me to experience her new homestay, I was expecting to have a laid-back break, eat some local food, and maybe for once be lucky enough to see some wild elephants.

Instead, I experienced a luxurious farmstay, learned a whole lot about cash-crop farming, met someone whose values I respect deeply, had the most engaging, inspiring, validating conversations, walked through untouched land in Wayanad, indulged in the most glorious home-cooked food thanks to her gracious mum, and got pretty close to seeing an elephant. Well, I saw what it left behind anyway. Piles of it.

Calling Menaka’s Aham Anubhava a homestay perhaps misstates what she has put together. She lives with her parents on the ground floor of their home. The first floor, and the massive roof terrace on the second have been opened up for guests.

The entrance to Menaka’s home in Wayanad
Menaka’s home in Wayanad

As a first-time hotelier of sorts, she really has thought of everything. The entrance to the guest floor is independent and through a stairway on the side of the house. There are 3 bedrooms, 2 balconies, 2 bathrooms, a living room, and a lovely little foyer with a breakfast table. She has personally handpicked everything in there.

One of the balconies with views of the nearby temple and surrounding farms
Living room at Aham Anubhava
The master bedroom
The bathroom at Aham Anubhava

The Essence of Aham Anubhava

“Let me show you the local cricket ground,” she offers. Not ones to turn down an invitation to see a new sight, we pile into her car to view a stunning sunset. On the manicured cricket pitch set against rocky hills, she tells me what she hopes her guests will take away from staying with her.

The Krishnagiri cricket stadium in Wayanad
The Krishnagiri cricket stadium in Wayanad

“I’m hoping my guests will experience at least a fraction of the wild and simple charm of my little village, in the most natural way. Today tourism is consumed by strategies, packages, pricing and activities. I want Aham Anubhava to be as far away from that as possible.”

“If you ask someone “why do you like to travel?” repeatedly, you will receive the usual responses – because they want to learn about a new culture, meet new people, or do a bunch of activities. But eventually, the deep-rooted reason will come out.

I believe the real reason we want to travel is to connect with ourselves, connect with life around us. Somewhere in the rat race we lose this connection. And this is easily attainable – by letting go of our masks and opening up our hearts to being receptive to the warmth around. All we have to do is look.”

View from her terrace

That evening she takes us to the local temple where chanting is in full progress and we get to see our first temple dedicated to Sita. Rama’s wife Sita. Didn’t even know she was worshipped. When they open the doors to the shrine and unveil her face, she’s bald. She’s angry. I could tell you why, but now you have one more reason to visit and find out for yourself.

The temple dedicated to Sita
The temple dedicated to Sita – drums in progress!

We sleep peacefully that night, the chirps of crickets and frogs white noise to us. Promises of Stone Age cave carvings and farming experiences await us the next morning. “Sleep well, we should get to the caves before the crowds descend on it!”

Black coffee from her farm, with a dash of fresh pepper also from her farm jolts us out of any remaining lethargy, and we’re off to confront our lack of stamina at the Edakkal Caves.

Pre-breakfast black coffee

Leaving Behind the Cushions of Guarantee

I’m curious what inspired Menaka to quit her corporate job with a multinational company in the city and move back home to look after her family’s farm. And why did it take her a year to mull over the decision to leave?

“I just did not have the guts. I always wanted to go back to my roots and bring my farm back to its former glory. But that’s no easy work. That would mean letting go of that comfort your salary account gives you every month. I thought I would save up and then quit. I was working for promotions and visibility like everybody else.

I was increasingly unhappy but just couldn’t let go of the money my job brought. Once my yearly assessment happened, I realised how vain we are. A bunch of people who know nothing about the work you do, sitting on a high chair and judging your work. It suddenly stopped making sense. And I decided to quit and face the music.”

Meanwhile, at the Edakkal Caves

These carvings are estimated to be from about 6000 BC, a fact that takes a minute to sink in. It’s not technically a cave, but rather a rock shelter with three giant rocks forming a protected cave of sorts. The carvings on the walls appear random at first – like scratches. Look at them for a few minutes and patterns start to emerge. A person. A dog. A wheel? Surely the sun.

Menaka loses her usual composure at silly teenagers touching the walls and climbing them in their insatiable quest for the perfect selfie. There is nary a moment spent in admiration of the carvings.

Steps up to Edakkal Caves
Carvings at Edakkal Caves – do you see a wheel or the sun?
Carvings at Edakkal Caves
His Highness King of Edakkal Caves

 

Back at home, her mum feeds a famished lot of us hot idlis and the most delicious sambar. As we’re finishing up with filter coffee, it starts to rain. It sounds different at Menaka’s. It’s falling on leaves and soil, not concrete and metal.

We’ve made ourselves comfortable on the giant swing, as she tells us about growing up on a farm surrounded by the cleanest air, the greenest sights, and the wildest animals.

 

“I grew up a wild child, my mother had to lock me up many times so I wouldn’t wander away.

My mom will tell you stories of the time she found me playing under a tree next to a cobra, or the time she found me crawling between the legs of a huge cow and staying there. We spent most of our time outdoors, taking a dip in the river, walking around in the forest or getting drenched in the rain. As long as we returned by nightfall, our parents did not care.”

The local brook

A Walk To Remember (Sorry!)

Menaka is joined by her neighbours’ kids and we all trek through her farmland and up to the local bubbling brook. She’s given us all wellies. I’m visibly struggling in this non-city terrain, and the lad has to hold my hand every now and then to make sure I don’t face-plant in their water source.

She’s talking about organic farming as we trudge through her rubber, coffee and other plantations. “If you see a wild boar, just climb up a tree,” she says with the ease that only a farmer who encounters wild boars all the time can.

Through the farmlands
Learning about organic turmeric on her farm

“Thanks to the Green Revolution, we forgot that soil is a living being, that it needs nourishment. In the name of productivity, we used pesticides and killed the nutrients in the soil by killing even the pests and earthworms. Now that the soil has lost its natural structure, we’ve started dumping chemical fertilizers to improve production.

My hope is that more and more farmers go back to natural farming methods and protect our top soil. We should live in harmony with the insects and ecology.”

Coffee!
Menaka inspects what appears to be havoc caused by wild boars
How rubber is extracted from the trees
Processing the rubber collected that day
Smoked rubber sheets ready to be sold

Definition of Success

The definition of success is something I’ve been personally seeking an answer to lately. When are you “successful?” Do you define it for yourself, or does someone else define it for you? Does it ever end or do you keep moving your goal-post? Is it even a goal with a post?

Menaka seems to have figured it out. “My definition of success is this. When you reach that place where you love life as it is, you are successful. Some people may see this as lack of ambition. But for me, at this moment I don’t have any regrets in life. And I aspire to be in a place where I can savour every moment for what it is. I am yet to reach there!”

I wish her more zen!

Stay at Aham Anubhava

Menaka grew up on her farm, watching everyone around her farm. This is where she belongs, where she is her best self, her true self. She told me of learning to deal with loans, panchayats, local governments. Of paperwork, seeking help when she needed it, doing everything wrong before getting it right.

She frowns at consumerism and has the greatest respect for every living thing on the planet. She defies norms and has learned to define her own aspirations and happiness. She will not treat you like God if you are her guest, but she will be your friend. She will build a connection with you, get to know you, give you your privacy. Her family will welcome you like an old chum. Her mum will feed you local food till you’re ready to burst, and her dad will watch out for your well-being every second you spend with them.

Talk to Menaka if you are looking for an immersive non-touristy stay-on-a-farm-with-an-Indian-family experience. Don’t talk to Menaka if you want to tick off twenty things to do in Wayanad, if you are hoping for a menu card to pick Sichuan noodles for dinner from, or if you’re looking to party all night.

She is also actively involved in community welfare activities in her village and is happy to partner with you on projects.

See her Facebook page here and send her a message to book a stay! She will make sure you experience local life like you never would on your own. If you go during a festival or picking season, that’s just more immersion for you!

More Pictures

Traditional puttu and kadalai curry for lunch
Where you have your coffee in the morning!
The local school where Menaka sometimes volunteers
More yumminess – rice, rasam, beans, avial and lots more
The ‘high street’ with a post office and exactly two shops
Chai stop on the main street!

Read Peter Claridge’s blog post on his stay here.

 

Is Empathy…Bad?

For years now, I’ve been banging on about empathy and its crucial nature in the workplace. So when this article showed up in my news feed, in agreement with the author of ‘Against Empathy’, I had to drop the Dan Brown I was reading (gasp! blasphemy!) to see just what Paul Bloom had to say for himself.

How can anyone be against empathy? How does the world function without it?

Marketers consciously use empathy to build communications. Companies spend millions on intelligence to understand user behaviour, empathise with their problems, and worm their way into their lives to solve them.

If a business does not have empathy, it will fail. If we don’t have empathy in our personal life, it will fall apart.

Or will it.

I went into the book with a resistance so strong, my impulse was to refute every word he wrote. But I came out of it finding myself agreeing with large chunks. (Eek!)

The Crux

I will not spoil the book for you (it’s most definitely worth a read). It’s helped me see my own rendering and reception of empathy from fresh perspectives. The author quotes innumerable studies, delving into the depths of empathy’s multiple facets.

In the end though, the problem with it is down to semantics.

The empathy he is arguing against, is understandable. A gist of what I agree with; perhaps you will too.

– He argues against emotional empathy – believing that putting yourself in someone’s shoes and feeling their pain can mean you are less helpful than you are capable of being.

– Empathy is not objective – it is dependant on you, the person you are empathising with, and the situation itself. It is also distinct from morality.

– Feeling empathy doesn’t necessarily make us want to do something about it.

– The ability to empathise can be (and is) used for horrible things. If you get someone, you can potentially use that to manipulate or victimise them.

Feelings vs Empathy

“And how does that make you feel?” is the single most important question a therapist asks. Why?

Because to work through whatever is causing us “feelings” manifesting in tears, churning stomachs, or boiling blood, we must first identify and label them. Read more about labelling feelings here.

This article by a therapist beautifully explains how she had to learn to distance herself from the emotions of her patients, to be more useful to them. In a sense, she had to be less empathetic, to be more empathetic. It also outlines three kinds of empathy – emotional, cognitive, compassionate.

 

In order to be truly empathetic, and therefore helpful, we must learn to separate it from emotion.

What Kind of Empathetic Should We Be?

And how the heck do we separate that from our emotions? How do we protect ourselves from being paralysed by feeling what someone else is feeling, and find it in ourselves to make rational decisions, every time? Continue reading Is Empathy…Bad?

Arture goes to London Fashion Week

Anybody that’s any kind of entrepreneur will tell you tales of intense highs, and disheartening lows. Of fears holding them back, and of wins propelling them forward.

And this was one heck of a win for Arture – a homegrown fashion brand that I’ve had the privilege to work with.

This February, Arture displayed at the London Fashion Week – the only Indian brand to be showcased at the Commonwealth Fashion Council reception held at the end of Fashion Week, hosted at the New Zealand High Commission in London.

“The CFC works to support and advocate sustainable development, education, youth and gender empowerment in the current and emerging fashion industries within the 52 member Nations of the Commonwealth.”

Arture was approached by the organisation, to collaborate with a Sri Lankan designer to produce bags in their signature material – cork. This was part of the new “100% Made in Commonwealth” initiative, aimed at bringing members of the fashion fraternity from the Commonwealth nations together.

Arture’s incredible story was shared with the High Commissioners, diplomats and fashion designers at the event – a feat that Shivani and Keshsa, the co-founders are incredibly proud of (who I’m honoured to have represented!)

“This backpack was a wonderful collaborative project between Commonwealth nations, and we’re so glad we got a chance to be a part of it,” says Shivani. “As soon as I saw the design, I was excited to work on it. Arture provided the technical expertise and its signature material – cork, to bring the design to life.”

Continue reading Arture goes to London Fashion Week

The Best of Sri Lanka’s Stunning Southwest Coast

“This now looks like every other big city” was my first thought when we landed in Colombo. Over the last few years, the city’s cultural charms have slowly given way to modern skyscrapers and globalised aesthetics, at least in the financial and business districts. Perhaps appealing to investors and multinational businesses, its fading individuality makes the culture-traveller feel a tiny bit blue.

The Southwest coast of Sri Lanka offers an ideal break with plenty of interesting experiences. Here are 9 must-do things to add to your list for your next visit:

Walk Along Galle Face Green

1pm may not have been the best time, but the walk along the Galle Face in Colombo was one down memory lane. We started at the Kingsbury Hotel, and walked up to the Galle Face Hotel, checking out the old Parliament and the pelicans on Beira Lake en-route.

The stroll through what felt like a bustling construction site gave us the opportunity to identify all the new buildings that had appeared since we’d last been 3 years ago.

We watched the dredging to build the new Port City in progress, and observed the fish trapped in pools of water left by the receding tide. In the evening, the green offers a refreshing walk by the ocean and a delightful stretch to indulge in romantic rendezvous, while munching on snacks and beverages from the kiosks.

Have an Iced Tea at the Galle Face Hotel

Overlooking the Galle Face Green is the iconic Galle Face Hotel, one of the oldest properties East of the Suez Canal. On our way in we spotted a bride in traditional attire rushing to the ballroom – every inch of her saree covered in magnolia beads, followed by her groom in a puffed sleeve coat and elaborate headgear.

We toyed with the idea of peeking into the decked venue, but found a comfy spot at the hotel’s Traveller’s Bar offering a view of the ocean and manicured lawns instead.

As we sipped the pina coladas and iced teas, we couldn’t help but feel a tinge of excitement knowing that the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain sat in this very spot to be inspired by the Indian Ocean and the mysteries of Ceylon. Beverages start at around LKR 500. Continue reading The Best of Sri Lanka’s Stunning Southwest Coast

Being #GirlBoss And Everything That Comes With It

Two and a half years ago, when I decided to quit the corporate world and try my luck at self-employment, little did I know that the path held whirlwind lessons and experiences for me.

One of the brands I’ve had the good fortune of working with, is Arture. The brainchild of two young incredible entrepreneurs Shivani Patel and Keshsa Vasant, Arture designs eco-friendly, vegan, sustainable, fashionable accessories. Think functional yet sexy bags, wallets, laptop and Kindle sleeves – all made from strong cork fabric.

Over the year I’ve known them, we’ve worked out of each other’s homes – writing product descriptions, talking database segmentation, stalking bloggers over raw carrots and filter coffee, walking dogs, and skyping across continents.

I will forever be in awe of their thirst for success, and their determination to uphold the values closest to their hearts – something the big bad corporate world can sometimes severely lack.

Shivani and Keshsa came up with #Collaborate – an idea to bring together their team (designers, writers, photographers, stylists) every few months. For the day, one of us teaches the rest of us something new. So far I’ve learned how to dress to express, and had some solid lessons in home decor.

To mark their second anniversary (Yay Arture!) they put together the 2017 Collaborative: #GirlBoss Edition.

“In the last two years, we’ve worked with a whole range of self-employed professionals and business owners – most of whom happen to be women. We wanted to find a way to celebrate that with #GirlBoss” says Shivani.

Breaking The Ice

That title is a lie, because there was no ice to break. We instantly bonded over the challenges we face as 20-something female professionals and business owners. The team included fashion designers, make-up artists, accessory manufacturers, a fitness instructor, retail store owners, a wedding planner, a chartered accountant, a photographer, an NGO founder, restaurant owners, mums, mums-to-be, writers, and certified scuba instructors. Continue reading Being #GirlBoss And Everything That Comes With It

The Allure of Ellora & Ajanta

Are you embarrassed by your fellow-travellers? Do you cringe and step away to disassociate yourself from selfie-obsessed loud littering tourists? Do you groan at the sound of passengers unbuckling themselves from the shackles of the airplane seat-belt the second the wheels touch land? I do.

Why do people leave garbage at monuments? Why do we scribble on the walls? Why must we express our love for Mona and Shona and Ramesh on ancient structures? Nobody cares that you <3 Kishore, Laila!

This unsolicited marking of territory is no better than the apartment kitten I feed everyday, who has recently discovered he is a boy and must wee on my couch to announce his existence. He has been christened Lulu McSusuFace, and is not allowed inside my home anymore. Ah who am I kidding. Of course he is. Look at that moonji.

Lulu with his sisters

On this trip to Aurangabad, apart from the beautiful caves, I saw the following:

  • Morons climb up an ancient monument with their shoes on to get selfies, and then walk past the rest of the temples without even looking.
  • People scribble on the walls of the 2000 year old cave structures.
  • Families have a picnic in the lovely lawns, and then leave their garbage there.
  • Stone-carved goddesses with well-worn breasts and thighs because guess where people like to touch the statues the most.
  • Flash photography inside the dark caves that house the world-famous Ajanta paintings.
  • People scream at their kids to stand still for photographs inside the Buddhist shrines, while the serene chanting was in progress. 
  • People scratch the painted walls and then say “huh, it’s not very well maintained, the paint is coming off.”

If you plan a trip to Ajanta-Ellora, please do your bit to not destroy what remains of our heritage! Continue reading The Allure of Ellora & Ajanta

I’m A Trailing Spouse

My life will never be the same again.

“I’m losing my mind!” I text my friend N
“Write it, sketch it, thoughts you should pen.”

There’s nothing to tell, I think
It’s snowing nonstop, I’m on the brink.

This weather is unusual they all said
It’ll get better, it’s all in your head.

Look for work, the economy is great!
Where do you even start, it’s like going on a blind date.

“I’m a communications professional,” I say
“Okay, but do you even speak any UK?”

We can talk about this wretched weather if you like
Over a nice cup of tea, biscuit on the side?

Blue Planet or Madam May
Corbyn, Brexit, your NHS delay?

Let’s go for a walk! To my spouse I moan
“It’s freezing out, you’re on your own!”

I toy with it for half an hour
Screw it, brave the cold over staying sour.

There’s eerie silence on the street
And unfamiliar sounds of ice crunching under my feet. Continue reading I’m A Trailing Spouse

Listen: A New Way To See Chennai

Even before we learned about the Partition in history class at school, our grandparents told us tales – tales of heroism and cowardice, of homes left behind and acquaintances lost. They told us of the fear and the resentment, the times they felt their hearts in their throats.

We listened wide eyed and fascinated, to stories etched in their memories from 7 decades ago. These were history lessons sans facts and figures, but they stuck. I will never forget them – they help me see an entire generation of people in a new light.

I understand why they are the way they are. I understand why they hold on to some material possessions and see no value in others. I understand their warrior instinct, I see why they aren’t willing to let go of some prejudices. All thanks to their stories.

Storytrails

When someone asks us – how is work? The answer is usually along- oh it’s all right, you know, my boss is okay and I have a wonderful team. The highlight of my day is lunchtime as this colleague brings hot mum-cooked food and has to bring an extra dabba for the rest of us!

As opposed to – Work is good, my office has a 5 foot long desk and the A/C is not too cold. I do have to climb up 50 steps though, but can’t complain.

We share experiences through stories.

Surely then, every city and its history has fascinating stories too. Some partially true, some cooked up through the ages, some mythological, some factual.

Going strong for 11 years now, Storytrails has regaled thousands of visitors to Chennai with its stories. The company hosts walking tours in Chennai, Madurai and Pondicherry, with ‘storytellers’ who will entertain you with tidbits you can never find in a book or blog, or even from a travel guide looking to make his quick buck and be done with you ASAP.

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Audio Tours

A brand new venture, Storytrails has now forayed into audio tours, offering trails on an app. It has been a truly humbling experience learning about my city, and lending voice to these tales.

Did you know, for example, that Chennai has one of the only 3 churches in the world, built on top of an Apostle’s remains? I sure as hell (sorry St. Thomas, I mean heck) didn’t!

I learned about Cenotaph Road, about King James’ new crown, the sparring sects of Christianity, the thieving British (but also the good ones like Annie Besant), the love-hate relationship between the English and the French that extended to Chennai as well. I learned about the mighty Pallavas and their mightier egos, that the Pancha Pandava Rathas have nothing to do with the Pandavas, and that Ganesha wasn’t part of Shiva’s family in South India for a long time!

If you live in Chennai, these trails are guaranteed to have you look at your own city from a fresh perspective. And if you’re a visitor, there really is no better way to learn!

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Download the app here, to walk (and listen to) the British Blueprints and Mamallapuram trails!

Waking Up To The Taj Mahal

Ticket guy at Taj Mahal: You have to pay 1,000 rupees for the ticket madam.

Me: But….that’s the foreigners ticket price. The Indian ticket is 40 rupees.

Guy: Yes.

Me: But I’m Indian.

Guy: How do I know that? You look like you could be a foreigner.

Me: But…what? We’re literally the same race! What?!

Guy: Can you prove you are Indian?

Me: But… main Chennai mein rehti hoon, kaun si bhasha samajhte hain aap? Naan Chennai le indhu vandirukein. Tamil Nadu India le iruku, theriyuma ungalku?

Guy: Whatever. Can you prove you are an Indian citizen?

Me: I have a PAN card…

Guy: I need to see your passport.

Me: Who brings their passport to the Taj! I’ve left it in the hotel!

Guy: Have you got your Aadhaar Card?

Me: ….no?

Guy: In that case please pay 1,000 rupees for a foreigner ticket.

I had been up since 4am to catch the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, managed to wake a sleepy auto driver to take me there in the dark, got to the counter well before it opened, and was mighty proud to be the first in the Indian ladies queue. There are 4 queues – Indian men, Indian women, foreign men, foreign women. Besides me, there were some scruffy hippie Aussie tourists who looked like they had camped outside the Taj to be able to beat the morning lines. Continue reading Waking Up To The Taj Mahal