A holiday in solitude

This year again we are having a 9 day long Eid holiday in Iraq including the weekends. Last time we had such a long Eid holiday was in 2012. I went to India then. I am staying here this year. As it’s a long holiday, the compound is near empty. I am practically spending the time in solitude.

We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount of solitude we need. Some solitude is essential; It gives us time to explore and know ourselves. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. It allows us to get (back) into the position of driving our own lives, rather than having them run by schedules and demands from without.

It’s the time of total unwinding. We need to maintain some semblance of balance and some sense that we are steering the ship of our life, otherwise we feel overloaded, overreact to minor annoyances and feel like we can never catch up. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best ways is by seeking, and enjoying, solitude. No routine or time schedule, no office work and I also don’t check my emails and there’s no urge to respond to emails & messages. It’s an opportunity to stop doing for others and to surprise and delight myself instead. I get up when I feel, I cook food as I like, I eat when I am hungry, I sleep when I feel so, I read books, I watch movies, I pray, I meditate and I talk to myself. It’s the time to let myself slow down.

As Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, says, “We seem to have a complex about busyness in our culture. Most of us do have time in our days that we could devote to simple relaxation, but we convince ourselves that we don’t.” It seems there is always something that needs doing, always someone who needs our attention. “Unfortunately,” Moore says, “we don’t get a lot of support in this culture for doing nothing. If we aren’t accomplishing something, we feel that we’re wasting time.”

Many of us feel compelled to measure our success in terms of acquisition and accomplishment. Often when we find ourselves with an empty hour, we spend that time doing chores or attending to our relationships. We avoid ourselves because we’re afraid of what we might find: a forlorn, flawed someone who’s missing out on life’s party. But solitude and isolation do not go hand in hand. We can retreat from the world for a time without being renounced by it.

There is a world of difference between solitude and loneliness, though the two terms are often used interchangeably. Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness. Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others. Solitude is a time that can be used for reflection, inner searching or growth or enjoyment of some kind. Deep reading requires solitude, so does experiencing the beauty of nature. Thinking and creativity usually do too. Solitude restores body and mind while loneliness depletes them.

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.” ― May Sarton

An afternoon in Mansour Mall

It’s been long time that we went out in Baghdad. So, we decided today to go to Mansour Mall. It’s the social pearl of Baghdad. We arranged for our visit and went there at around 5:30 p.m. The mall generally remains busy, but today it was empty due to Ramadan.

We walked inside the mall at our ease and slowly reached the top floor that houses the food court besides children amusement facilities. It was empty then, with a few people sitting. This floor always remains very crowded. Most of the restaurants/ food joints refuse to serve before the iftar. We found an outlet that was serving. We had barbecued chicken breasts and cola there.

By the time we finished our snacks, the place was full with people and there was hardly any empty table. It was around 7:00 p.m. then. We walked down to the supermarket in the basement of the mall for purchasing some groceries. Then we went to the food court again for dinner. But that time it was overcrowded. We got a pizza packed and returned home to eat it in the comfort of our home while watching television.

An evening at Savannah Bar

I am traveling back to Baghdad early in the morning after spending more than a month in India with my family. My flight from Delhi airport is at 4:20 a.m. to Baghdad via Abu Dhabi by Etihad Airways. I reached Delhi today from Ranchi at around 6:00 p.m. by Air India flight.

My old school friend Aranjit messaged me to meet and so we contacted each other on reaching Delhi after checking in at Hotel Radission Blu Plaza. It’s just across the airport and very close by. It’s convenient to catch flight from this hotel as I could save the traveling time to airport from hotel.

I invited Aranjit to my hotel. He came to the hotel. We then went to Savannah Bar to have some drinks and chat. Savannah Bar is a nice bar with good quality stuff.

We decided in favor of Ballantine’s scotch whisky with some chicken tikkas and crispy fish chillies. Aranjit preferred his whisky with soda while I preferred it on the rocks. We had a cool three round of whisky and nice chats about our lives and politics. It was an excellent evening spent with an old school time friend. It was damn relaxing talking to him. He left for his home after 10:30 p.m.

Thanks to my friend Aranjit I had a wonderful evening.

Nalen Gurer ice cream

Well, I find it quite justified to dedicate this post on an innovative delicacy – ‘Nalen Gurer ice cream’, which we enjoyed today at Oh! Calcutta, Silver Arcade, EM Bypass, Kolkata – a Bengali cuisine restaurant. We went to this restaurant for Bengali cuisine. We started with Aam Pora Sharbat followed by Mochar Chop, Bhaape Ilish etc.

Towards the end of our lunch when the waiter asked for our choice of dessert, we found that they have ice cream made of ‘Nalen Gur’ on the menu. We could not but say ‘YES’ to it. I devoured the first spoon, mmm.. it was awesome! It’s not like the usual ice cream. It was light brownish in colour.

Nalen gur (or date molasses) is a specialty of Bengal – both West Bengal and Bangladesh – and is used extensively to prepare delicacies of winter. Nalen gur is a preparation from the sap of date trees that are collected and heated to obtain the final product that leaves one wonderstruck – the taste is heavenly. It is said that the heating is an art. The date palm sap is made into three types of gur: liquid, grainy and the solid chunks of patali. The sap is heated in huge woks over wood or coal stoves and it is only an expert who can gauge the different degrees of cooking to achieve the right textures.

It is really delicious and I am sure all sweet lovers would love it.

Dark black after double black

It’s the last day of our two-day seminar in Erbil. In the evening, I was relaxing at the Arbelia Bar in the hotel. I was sipping my second round of Black Label scotch double on the rocks accompanied with some pistachio nuts and potato wafers.

CAM00261Then I received a call from my colleague Ouss asking me to go with him for some walk and food. He was waiting at the hotel lobby. I finished my drinks and joined him. Oday & Bilal also joined us there. We went to Dream City on the Airport Street.

We went in Barista Coffee shop. It’s a cool night. It’s around 10:30 pm.  I opted for hot dark black chocolate drink.

The café is quite nice with some sitting arrangements outside also. Interior is also quite good. We chatted over our drink there.

After an hour we left the café for burgers at Dal’s Burger. Ouss is a great fan of Dal’s Burger. It was past midnight when we reached there. We were the last customers of the day.

CAM00264After having chicken burgers, we returned to hotel. We walked almost half the distance in the chilly night and then took a cab as Oday was feeling too tired to walk anymore. We reached our hotel at 1:30 am.

Rain Holiday today in Baghdad

For the last few days, we were having some rains in Baghdad. The city witnessed torrential rains yesterday. Torrential rains are quite uncommon in Baghdad. There were a few such occasions last year too.

The city is not equipped to handle torrential rains and there were water-logging in many areas. The water on the roads made street movement difficult.

Last night, it was declared a public holiday in Baghdad due to heavy rains in the city causing a lot of inconvenience to the general public. In India we are used to heavy rains during monsoons and cyclones. So, we don’t get any such public holiday because of rains. We have to manage through the flooded streets and traffic blockades there.

As the holiday is declared for Baghdad only, all our branches elsewhere are open. Therefore,  Ibrahim and Mustafa came to office today for providing support to non-Baghdad branches. I also walked down to office for some time during the day.

Sometimes I feel great to be in Iraq as I can have the luxury of enjoying rain holidays.

‘Taaza Ganne ka Ras’ in a hot summer afternoon

Babai and I went to bakery & confectionery shop near to the hospital for some sandwiches and patties for us and Jaya, Guttu and boudi. While on our return, we saw a fresh sugarcane juice vendor. In hot summer afternoon, a glass of fresh sugarcane juice is a cool refresher. So, we went for the fresh sugarcane juice – ‘taaza ganne ka ras’.

Sugarcane juice is the juice extracted from pressed sugarcane. Rollers are used to physically press the stalks to release the juice. This process helps retain more nutrients in the final juice compared with using high-speed juicing machines that cut the cane with blades.

A glass of fresh sugarcane juice has on average 11% to 13% total sugar content. This is less sugar than a glass of orange juice or apple juice and far less sugar than most soft drinks. Fresh sugar cane juice also contains a range of ‘living’ antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and fibre. The rest of the juice consists of water brimming with an abundance of vitamins and minerals.

A squeeze of lemon, lime or orange juice is traditionally added to fresh sugar cane juice to give it a pleasant taste and to slow down the oxidation process. Citrus fruit contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which helps stabilize cane juice and slow down the oxidation process.

So near to home, yet so far!

I am coming to home in Ranchi on holidays from Baghdad. It was just like any other previous journey up to Delhi. I avoid reaching Delhi from 15 December to 15 January, as Delhi remains under thick fog blankets, during this time. But such thick fogs are very rare during this time.

As we were approaching Delhi while descend, the captain of the Etihad flight informed us of the fog/mist over Delhi sky and also said that the visibility was around 300m. When I came out of the airport at around 3.40am, the fog was quite thick. The cabbie also told me that it’s so foggy after more than 10 days and all these days were quite clear and sunny. May be these fogs came down to greet me!

But, the situation deteriorated as the dawn approached and the visibility worsen to less than 50m in the morning compelling the delay/cancellation of departures from Delhi airport and many international flights were diverted to Mumbai.

When I woke up after my nap, I found an email from Air India. They sent a new revised e-ticket with revised timing for the delayed departure. The new timing is 3.50pm! This thick fog and flight delays/cancellation/diversions are also headlines on the national news on TV channels.

It’s now reported in the news that flights have resumed at Delhi and I sincerely hope that there is no further delay. This last moment of unscheduled delay is killing. After an almost whole day-night journey, I am feeling too tired and sleepy. I just can’t wait to reach my home. It will be almost 33 hours from the time I left for airport in Baghdad and I would reach home in Ranchi. Ufff!

I am so near to my home, yet so far!

The first weekend of 2013 ~ 4-day long

Due to declaration of national holiday in Iraq for Arba’een on Thursday, 3 January 2013 the weekend holiday is extended to four days. It was already three days before due to Iraq’s annual Army Day falling on Sunday, 6 January 2013.

Arba’een is a Shia Muslim religious observation that occurs 40 days after the Day of Ashura. It commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Imam Hussein and 71 supporters martyred in the Battle of Karbala in the year 61 AH (680 CE), killed by Yazid I’s army. Forty day is the usual length of the time of mourning in many Islamic cultures. Arba’een is one of the largest pilgrimage gatherings on Earth, in which over 15 million people go to the city of Karbala in Iraq, according to Wikipedia.

This long weekend holiday is very boring in Baghdad with no activity except for sleeping, eating, television and web browsing. The last week was already a three-day week, with Tuesday, 1 January 2013 as the New Year day.

So, we had lots of holidays in Iraq in the first days of 2013. I miss such holidays when I am with my family. Then the time flies past so fast that 2 weeks seem to be just a few days, whereas it seems here that these holidays are wasted lazily.