AN INTERNATIONAL TRIP FOR LESS THAN 33k INDIAN RUPEES?

How many of you have given up on your dream of seeing a visa stamped on your passport, or never even considered owning one only because it involves a lot of investment? What if I told you that this dream wont really cost you that much? To add further, this place is no less than a paradise. I did this trip in 40k Indian rupees(IR). But I will tell you how you can do this trip for less than 33k IR. But before that allow me give you a glimpse of the returns you will get on your valuable investment of 33k IR.

Nestled above the seven sisters of India, is this place by the name Druk Yul aka Bhutan. And although Bhutan occupies a tiny share in the world with an area of just 38,394 square kilometers, it is also known as the Land of Thunder Dragons. Bhutan’s weather is most often embellished with rains and thunderbolts. These thunder bolts are believed to be the red fire of a dragon and so the name followed. Just as every place is unique in its own ways, Bhutan too has its own set of traits that distinguishes it from the rest of the world.

HOW TO ENTER THIS DRAGON KINGDOM

There are couple of ways you can plan to enter this kingdom if you are travelling from India. One is through direct flights to Paro, the only town in Bhutan that houses an international airport. The only catch being, these flights depart only from the states of Delhi and Kolkata in India and they are expensive. You can also enter Bhutan by roads. All you need to do is arrive at Bagdogra, a town in West Bengal. And travel by roads from Bagdogra to enter Bhutan. Another crucial point to be noted is that all international travelers have to obtain a visa to enter Bhutan except the citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives due to great mutual relations. Though the citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives are exempt from obtaining a visa to enter Bhutan, a passport is a quintessential during their stay in this place. Me and my fellow group travelers chose to travel by road. And hence we flew to Bagdogra, which costed us Rs. 7,500/- one way. Post which we had one of the best and initial road trips to Bhutan. The roads leading to Bhutan were flanked by mesmerizing green trails. Those green trails coupled with the shenanigans of my fellow travelers made this 5 hour journey one of the most memorable road trips. We entered Bhutan through Phuentsholing, a town in Southern Bhutan.

HOW BHUTAN WILL NEVER FAIL TO MARVEL YOU

This land of dragons will redefine the term “Hospitality” to you. The one constant that this group of 16 witnessed throughout the trip was the incredulous hospitality that they received no matter which place they visited. And one very peculiar thing that this group noticed is that

the chain of hotels in Bhutan have almost 90% female workforce,

taking their hospitality a notch higher with their warmth, very hard working and graceful conduct. Those ladies take pride in what they do and don’t want your pity. The least you could and you should offer is a well deserved and generous tip for their hard work.

Bhutan offers a multitude of eye popping and soul satisfying places. Be ready to carry a power bank to recharge the batteries of your camera / camera phones because your equipment are going to be on an overdrive. This place takes great pride in showcasing its culture and has left no meat on the bone to preserve its heritage. Following is the list of places one can choose to visit while visiting this beautiful country:

  • Bhutan houses a plethora of Dzongs that’s usually a place of worship or administrative centers. Some of these Dzongs are situated across a beautiful stream of river. The most popular one goes by the name PUNAKHA DZONG. It’s also called as the palace of great happiness or bliss. Check out the pictures to know why..
From a distance!
  • Did you know that Bhutan has a Dzong perched on top of a cliff? Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche who is accorded with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan flew to this cliff in one of his eight manifestations, on the back of a tigress, during his pursuit to subdue the local demon, Singye Samdrup. After that he meditated in a cave for 3 months. A monastery was built thereafter near the cave where the Guru meditated. This place was later popularly known as the TIGER’S NEST. The Dzongs also known as TAKTSANG DZONG. However, it’s not an easy trip to reach this Dzong. It’s a trek in itself and quite an onerous one. For trek lovers, this may be an easy trek, however for first time trekkers, you may want to start this trek early in order to complete it before sun set. Why should you trek? To witness this beauty
Can you spot ant like humans below?
Zig zag ascent!
  • Ever had the chance to walk over a bridge that’s approximately more than half a kilometer long and that’s suspended in thin air over cable lines that’s fixed between two points? If you haven’t, then please don’t fail to visit the PUNAKHA SUSPENSION BRIDGE. For thrill seekers, this bridge sways a bit while you walk over it as it’s very windy around and is way above the ground to send chills to people who have a phobia for heights. However, know that this bridge is strong enough to be designated as an architectural marvel. It connects the villages of Shengana, Samdingkha and Wangkha to the Palace of the Wangchuk Kings.
  • For all the Buddhist devotees, you may want to add this place in your itinerary….GREAT BUDDHA DORDENMA. It’s not every day that you will come across a 169 foot Shakyamuni Buddha statue built over a mountain. This statue is made of bronze and laden in gold. And just in case this fails to humble you, know that there are 100,000 8-inch tall and 25,000 12-inch tall gilded bronze Buddhas around it. Constructed at a staggering US$ 100million, this statue fulfills the prophecy of Yogi Sonam Zangpo that a large Buddha statue will be built in the region to bestow blessing, peace and happiness on the whole world.
Take a bow!
Picture credit – sunilzanje0601 on instagram
  • And last but not the least, don’t miss the opportunity to stop by at the DOCHULA PASS and relish some very ethereal 360º panoramic view of the Himalayas. Located at an elevation of more 3000 metres, the temperatures here drop below 0º during winters. This site also houses 108 memorial stupas that’s an architectural delight.         
  • Like any tourist destination, Bhutan too has a peculiar cuisine. It revolves mostly around 3 ingredients viz. potato, cheese and CHILIES. Chilies occupy a very significant place in Bhutanese culinary. Most of their dishes are piping hot. Don’t be surprised if you find Bhutanese people offering chilies as a separate dish itself – just chilies! (very dragon like I know!) However, if you are not too big on chilies, please do not worry! Almost every Bhutanese hotels offer Indian and Chinese dishes too, just in case you want something to fall back upon. For all wine lovers, please ensure to taste and take home Bhutanese local delicacy .. ZUMZIN, a peach flavored white wine.

IS BHUTAN REALLY EXPENSIVE?

I am sure you would agree after looking at the pictures that this trip is really worth more than 40k IR which I shelled. More than a third of my travel expense came from spending 15k Indian Rupees (IR) for flight trips to Bagdogra. Apart from this, my total travelling expense towards accommodation and food totaled to 25k IR for a total of 7 days stay. I was able to bargain a better deal on my hotel stays as I travelled with a group of 16 people. The hotels we chose were 3 star hotels. To be frank, their 3 star hotels had all the basic amenities we wished for. Absolutely zero complaints with the services we received. On the hygiene and cleanliness front too, they didn’t fail to surprise us.

In case you are travelling from India and 40k IR seems too costly, I have a quick fix for that too. You can choose to travel through trains to reach Bagdogra. That will cost you half the airplane tickets considering you take a train from Mumbai. So your total travel should be done within maximum 33k IR. But my title reads doing this trip in less than 33k IR. You can achieve that by choosing to stay in dormitories rather than a hotel. That should cut your costs significantly. Hopefully I was able to justify the time you have invested in reading this blog… Thank you

Stockholm Syndrome!

Norrmalmstorg square – A place that is an intersection of two major shopping streets in Stockholm, Sweden. Anyone who has played the Swedish version of Monopoly would know that this square is the most expensive lot. But this square is notoriously known for an incident that took place in 1973. An incident that stands witness to how irrational humans can behave. An incident that rattled the minds of every behavior analysts and that coined a very bizarre psychological phenomenon known as the STOCKHOLM SYNDROME!

23rd Aug 1973 – A Thursday when the rays from the Sun danced in perfect union with the cold winds from the north, thus producing a very clement weather. However, Norrmalmstorg square was unusually vacant. Press photographers and police snipers outnumbered civilians that day. All of them overlooking the Sveriges Kreditbanken (Sweden Credit Bank). The only civilians present apart from the press photographers were 4 bank employees taken hostage by a convict, Jan-Erik Olsson, a safecracker who was on overdue parole from his three-year sentence for grand theft.

Olsson had 3 demands:
a) More than $700,000 in Swedish and Foreign currency
b) A getaway car
c) Release of another convict Clark Olofsson, who was serving time for armed robbery and acting as an accessory in the 1966 murder of a police officer.

Within hours, his fellow convict, the ransom and a Blue Ford Mustang with a full tank of gas were arranged. To ensure safe passage, Olsson made a demand to leave with the hostages, that was outrightly refused. What followed after that, was a series of events that are going to baffle your cognitive senses. Having been refused safe passage, the hostage situation continued that entire day. What happened within those four walls was no ones tell. Every news channel and headlines were singing in chorus about this hostage situation.

On the second day, the police commissioner was allowed inside to inspect the health of the hostages. On meeting every hostage, the commissioner found something very peculiar. All the 4 bank employees appeared hostile on meeting the commissioner like they feared that the commissioner does something that would cause hurt to them. What was even more unusual was that the victims shared a cordial rapport with the convicts. So much so that they addressed their abductors by their first name. This bizarre behavior on the part of the captors and the victims was beyond the police commissioners comprehension. While the world was hoping that the victims don’t suffer any brutal suffering from the captors, this was an unusual turn of events. If only they knew what happened on the first day of hostage!

Obscured behind a cramped up bank vault, Olsson and Olofsson did the unthinkable. Fearing that things will go south from here on, they started creating a bond with their captives through small random acts of kindness. One of the captives Kristin Enmark had begun to shiver when Olsson draped a jacket around her. When she had a bad dream, Olsson had soothed her and had given her a bullet as a memento. When another captive Birgitta Lundblad was unable to reach her family by phone, Olsson asked her to try again and not to give up. Elisabeth Oldgren, another female captive started feeling claustrophobia, when she was allowed to walk outside the vault attached with a 30-foot long rope.

These actions by the captors had perplexed the captives entirely and forced them to believe that maybe their captors weren’t that bad after all. The hostages had become emotionally indebted to the captors for being spared death. This behavior is dubbed by Psychiatrists as “Stockholm Syndrome”. So intoxicated were the captives that one of them even phoned the then Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme and pleaded to let them take her in their escape as she was convinced that she wouldn’t be hurt. “I fully trust Clark and the robber,” she assured Palme. “I am not desperate. They haven’t done a thing to us. On the contrary, they have been very nice. But, you know, Olof, what I am scared of is that the police will attack and cause us to die.”

Ultimately after more than 130 hours, on August 28, the police pumped tear gas into the vault and the abductors quickly surrendered. None of the captives were physically harmed. The police called for the hostages to come out first, but the four captives, protecting their abductors to the very end, refused. Enmark yelled, “No, Jan and Clark go first—you’ll gun them down if we do!” So much was the drama, that the police had a hard time separating the convicts from the hostages. But in the end, they managed to do so.

Both Olsson and Olofsson returned to jail where they continued to receive jailhouse visits by their captives!

Hope you enjoyed reading this unusual yet true hostage situation. If you are aware of more such stories and would like me to write about it, please do let me know in the comments section!

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CREED OF VENGEANCE – II

A year has passed now, ever since they recited the creed of vengeance. Millions of women erupted and continue to, sharing their dark ordeals. Fake demigods disguised as barons of industries have all been unmasked. Even the most respected in town had skeletons hidden in their closet. The world now saw that the very foundation of the patriarchal society was as weak as a deck of cards. Slowly though, there was an emergence of a new world order.

And while the embers from the last crusade had barely doused, another wildfire had just begun to ignite.

The warriors I pay tribute to today are demigoddesses. They do a phenomenal job disguising as humans. Humans born with a fate so sickening and gut-wrenching. A fate smeared with hate, disapproving gazes, rejections, and failures. A fate filled with so many thorns that even the air around it would bleed. And yet these goddesses bloom like lotuses in muddy water, without a smudge of dirt around it. The world calls them SINGLE MOTHERS!

It was 2 in the night. Emily was lying awake in her bed. She had just delivered a baby girl. She stared at her creation that was on her lap, asleep. Though she didn’t stare with wonder but with horror. A horror she’d been dreading for quite some time. A horror that eclipsed all her future plans for good. Her room was awfully quiet, the only sound being that of the clock ticking. “How am I going to deal with this alone? How will I pursue my passion now? Why did he do this to me? Why did I trust him so much? How can I be so stupid? What will my family think of me now? Will they even accept me with this child? My dad has a heart problem. How will he react to this? I have put my family to shame. Why is this happening to me? How will I take care of her? What future can I possibly give her? Why does she have to bear the brunt for this? She deserves a better mother. Not me!!”

Unable to bear the weight of this mountain of questions, she finally broke into tears. And then something miraculous happened………

The baby had curled all of her fingers around Emily’s thumb. A firm grip it was. Emily stopped sobbing. It was as if the small creature had chosen Emily and surrendered her fate to her. That small action led to series of emotional alchemy within Emily. She couldn’t describe what it was. But she sure as hell wasn’t feeling weak anymore. There was a sudden surge in her energies. The touch of her baby was the key that unlocked the gates to the chambers built in the rarest of beings. She had forgotten who she was! A Woman! The most supreme of mortals to walk this earth. Mortals who have been tricked into believing that they are the most inferior lot and are born to be subjugated. But in the end, every trickery has a short life span. And Emily was not just a Woman. She had now evolved into a mortal whose powers trespassed into the paradigm of the divine. She was now a MOTHER!

A slight grin now slowly outgrew on her face. Eyes that had turned swollen and dried the well of tears now were shut. The usual silence in the room slowly gave way to a trickle of laughter that eventually snowballed into a demented roar. Emily finally realized the unjust play orchestrated by the patriarchal society. More importantly, who she really was and what she had to do next. Opening her eyes that seemed bloodshot with rage, she proclaimed, “You FOOLS! What have you done! You cold-hearted, blinded sack of bones, you really thought you could rule the likes of me. Got to give it to this world that you have constructed to operate as per your whims. This world that punishes the women worse even if it’s because of the misdeeds of a man. You demons are unworthy of being trusted. YOUR TIMES UP!!” The clock in the room had stopped at 3 am….

And so goes the story of more than a million of these single mothers that are out there now, who prefer raising their kids without the stench of a man; while there are some who still do want to take a chance again to find someone worthy, but this very society has stigmatized that very thought. But despite the deluge of obstacles, they have managed to still outshine. You will find them in every field. They are there standing tall commanding their share of respect, recreating a new world and ensuring that their creations are even better versions of themselves.

All you creators of this divine ovarian warriors, what kind of world have you created around them….the kind that is ridden with fear or the kind that manifests their true potential?

When a bull faced Demon knocked the doors of Greece

Ever got the chance to visit Greece? What’s the first thing that pops in your mind when you think of Greece? For me it is Santorini – an island speckled with cave houses and dome shape edifices. An island covered in hues of only white and blue; concordant with the colours of the flag of Greece. An island overlooking the vast expanse of the mighty Aegean sea. Its one of the most ethereal and harmonious sight this world has to offer.

Very few people know how the sea came to be known as Aegean. And those who do are aware that the sea was named after a very influential figure in the history of Athens. His name was King Aegeus. The city of Athens owes its origins to King Aegeus. There was a chapter in the history of Athens that was marked with both triumph and sadness. Sadness because Athens lost its founding father.

This chapter begins with the years in which under an agreement between Athens and Crete, Athens was supposed to send 6 of their most elite and skilful men and 6 of their prettiest women every year to Crete. Reason for this agreement being an unfateful incident that happened during the games of Athens popularly known as the Panathenaic games. The Panathenaic games were similar to the Olympic games that happen now every four years. Due to its soaring popularity, the son of the King of Crete decided to participate. However, due to some unforeseen incidents, he got involved in a brawl with the men of Athens resulting in his demise. This enraged the King of  Crete, declaring war on Athens. But Athens surrendered due to the mighty reputation of the soldiers of Crete. And just when Athens thought it was their end, the King of Crete laid an unusual condition to send 12 people from Athens to Crete. What happened to these 12 chosen people? The very thought sent chills to the spine of every citizen of Athens, including the King. Legend has it that they were taken to a Labyrinth, the most despicable of places on earth in those times.

Most of us tend to confuse a labyrinth with a maze, but the reality is far from it. A labyrinth is a maze-like structure, but unlike a maze that has multiple entrances and exits, a labyrinth has a single path which leads to the centre then back out the same way, with only one entry/exit point.

Labyrinth

This labyrinth in Crete had a very dark aura around it; it was as vast as the kings palace; so complex that every brick laid was unsure of its presence; so deceiving that even the air that mistakenly wafted within it failed to find its way out and got trapped for eternity. It is said that even the creator of this structure had lost his way while creating it. But what will really baffle you is the purpose for creating this rabbits hole. Legend has it that this labyrinth was made as a prison for a half human – half demon. A terrifying being with a head of a bull and the body of a human. A creature born out of the curse of the Greek God Poseidon.  A half demon that was immortalized by the name of “THE MINOTAUR”(pronounced as my-no-tore).

A year went by and then 2. Six of the most elite warriors and damsels were sent to be sacrificed. A cloud of fear and terror had enveloped Athens. No men felt encouraged to develop skills that put them right with Gods. No women wanted to look like Goddesses anymore. It was the 3rd year now and the Minotaur was waiting for his share of meal. The beast had grown more ferocious and mighty than before. It was a threat even to the people of Crete. The ingenious labyrinth was the only cage that protected the innocents. Was there really no one to put an end to the Minotaur? King Aegeus though had something in mind.

On reaching Crete, the 12 were presented to the congregation of men and women who ruled Crete and then directly taken to the labyrinth. Unwillingly though, all the 12 enter the labyrinth, each one of them walking towards their end. Not very soon enough, everyone began taking turns and were dispersed all over the labyrinth. The more inwards they went, they began seeing the walls smeared with blood. Some witnessed half-eaten corpses. They were inching closer to the monster. But the Minotaur could be anywhere. Soon the labyrinth started echoing with screams. Screams that amplified the fear levels and froze everyone in their places. The screams were followed with what sounded like a roar of a hungry animal. The numbers began to dwindle.

The Minotaurs drive to satiate its hunger made it scurry around the labyrinth, searching every nook and corner for more humans until finally, it found one at a distance. Unusual as this may sound, the human stood still staring back at the beast. Finding an easy prey, the Minotaur stormed the front. Just a few steps away from the human, the beast sensed something very strange and stopped right in its tracks. This human didn’t flinch and stood right where the beast spotted him. His demeanour was so strong, that had the beast taken another step front, it would have been instant death. Who was this human? For the first time, the Minotaur was hesitant to take the next step. The human grinned as if he figured the Minotaurs hesitation. Looking at the Minotaur straight in the eye, he spoke, “Wondering who I am? You have brought a lot of distress to my father and to my people. Your times up!” The Minotaurs temper soared off the roof listening to the tiny human speak more than he should have. It charged with the force and speed that was too quick for any human to defend.

But this was no ordinary human. He was Theseus, son of King Aegeus. Some people also called him as Half human, Half God. Having disguised himself as one of the 6 warriors chosen for sacrifice, Theseus swore to his father that he would end his misery. Stepping slightly to his side, Theseus pirouetted through the body of the beast and pushed the bull with an even greater force in the direction it had charged. The Minotaur rammed towards the wall of the labyrinth with a great force hurting himself very badly. To put an end to its suffering, Theseus pulled out his dagger, ran towards the beast and sprung up in the air while thrusting the dagger right through the neck of the demon. The Minotaur succumbed. But was this the end? In case you have forgotten, Theseus had an even greater challenge. To find his way out of the Labyrinth. Yes the Labyrinth. Theseus had however come fully prepared. With the help of Ariadne, daughter of the King of Crete, who had fallen for the charms of Theseus; she asked the creator of the labyrinth for the solution. And the solution was the ball of thread. Theseus had to tie one end of the thread to the entrance of the labyrinth and unroll the ball wherever he went in the Labyrinth. That way he knew how to return back.

This not only brought an end to the terror of the Minotaur but also marked the beginning of the tales of King Theseus.

This tale is a small drop in the huge ocean of Greek mythology. In case you would like to read more such tales, please mention in the comments section.

Depression v/s Us – who is the bigger devil?

It was a Monday morning!! The sun was out shining in all its glory. And along with the birds chirping in the background, it was a symphony to jump-start you out of the bed. And while half the world was still inching towards the last lap of slumber, Nitika’s home was already buzzing in full swing. The sound of the pressure cooker interspersed in between the inhuman speed of the dicing of the vegetables and the rumbling sound of the mixer grinder was an everyday cacophony to let the neighbors know that Nitika’s mother was awake. But like any caring mother, Nitika’s mom cared more about her world that was blissfully sleeping in the house.  As excited and hopeful she was about her munchkins day, her eyes kept racing to the clock. It was 7.15 AM.  A quarter of an hour late than the usual time she rose. Was everything really ok? Pulling all the reins on her mind to not venture into negativity, she decided to check up on her.

Striding towards her room, she prayed to the GOD’s to keep her daughter safe. Very deftly placing her hands on the latch of her door, she pushed it downwards as slowly as possible and managed to open the door, thus winning over the battle with sound that was waiting eagerly for her to make a mistake. Pushing the door wide enough to only get a peak at her room, the first thing she noticed was the room was still dark which meant one thing: that Nitika may have missed her alarm and was still sleeping; or was something else at play here? To confirm her suspicion, she opened the door more wide to lay a gaze on the bed. What she saw froze her stiff with fear!! There was no one on the bed and the mattresses were ruffled. Realizing that her worst fears have materialized, she paced in to find her daughter sitting squat in the same corner of her bedroom, with her hands wrapped around her knees and head tucked within it. Its like she had seen the same devil that she many times had an encounter with in the past. And like this time, those encounters had infernal endings. But which devil was Nitika and her mom scared of? This netherworld being in our world is nicknamed as

Depression_1

HELL!! Everyone of you reading this blog may claim to have experienced the worst of hell in your life. But if you are not a victim of depression, then please allow me to break it to you that you have no clue about it. Lets have a small test to know how much you know about depression. What is the opposite of depression? If you answered happiness, consider yourself blessed because you are one of the many, whose life has been spared by this devil!! You have absolutely no clue about it. This blog is for you. I have had friends living with depression coupled with anxiety and bipolar disorder. I have seen them crying and  looking dead in my eyes as if screaming for help from the torment they live through. There is very little one can do in moments like these; least of which is just be there and not judge them. Give them the assurance that you will always be there for them and help them get the best possible help.

So how does it feel to be living with this devil. Its like forcing yourself to eat your favorite dish because its taste like it lacks salt, though you are the only one who isn’t getting that taste. Its like walking a trail you love the most, though now you have no clue why it has lost its charm. It like losing the drive to do anything in life. All you feel like doing is laying on your bed and feeling drained to even wake up, though the world outside is brimming with excitement. Now lets say you had to live like this every day. And then for years. Doesn’t this very thought sound very depressssssssing? The devil has to do nothing much. It has to just exterminate all your inertia or drive.

Lets now take a closer look at devastation it has caused through this simplest and yet most devious act. Depression, a “One person company” of the netherworld was incorporated somewhere in second millennium B.C. Beginning its operations in Western Asia, it now has a huge customer base throughout the world. The prices of its stock currently trading in Inferno exchange ltd., has been skyrocketing in the past few years. Establishing a massive foothold presence of a million mark in every country by 2015, it’s already pedaling quick towards the billion mark.

Depression

Depression in India!!

India has been one of the most promising, leading and still the most underrated markets for depression. The Devil played a masterstroke in ensuring that India will always serve as a bottomless pit piling with victims of depression. Which masterstroke you may ask? Creating a world where people are so heavily preoccupied  with religion, customs and traditions and putting a blindfold on everyone’s eye towards anything else that happens; the Devil has managed to rig every minute fiber of this country that prevents humans from being aware and thus evolve further.

Thus people here when they actually see a victim with any mental ailment, are more comfortable declaring them to be possessed with an evil spirit rather than feeling compassionate towards them. Needless to say, they therefore resort to Gods and Goddesses to cure these poor souls. Some of the startling statistics about India that compliment all of the above:

Depression_2

……….. If these count don’t surprise you, the following will:

10%

In this world where science has the answers to most of our questions, is it possible to have Devils and Gods between us? Are we not living Devils and is this place not a big inferno! So who is the worst of devils – Depression or Us??

This should out rightly shame us. What kind of world have we created? How self absorbed and how uncaring have we become? Is this how we represent our culture? We don’t even flinch for a second, while boasting about our rich heritage and traditions. A depression victim might as well die than live in this burning furnace of hell.

What we fail to understand is that all of us are equally susceptible to this mental ailment!

And God forbid, if it does happen, would you want to be at the receiving end of it? – Food for thought!!

A bank that doesn’t lend the rich and is PRO -Women!!

Present day, Mumbai – India

It is not an uncommon sight while traversing on the streets of third world countries to have beggars approach your vehicle asking for alms during a traffic snarl. My first reaction during such encounters is to see if they are able-bodied; if they are, i choose not to give anything, but if they are physically challenged or too old to be able to work, then without a moment’s hesitation, i reach out to my wallet and offer a rupee. More often than not, at times like this, i find myself in a fix while deciding if i did any good to the beggar. The signal turns green and i move way ahead from the beggar and away from that thought. Have we ever given a thought to understand why the poorest of the poor in most of the cases never manage to come out of the vicious circle of poverty? Are they really stupid or too lazy to not want to work their way out of poverty? Even if they did work, was it enough to liberate them? We may be too busy to even consider to ponder over these questions. However, in some corner of the globe not too far away, someone did!!

Year 1974 – 76, Jobra village – Bangladesh

With around 82% of its population submerged below the poverty line in those days, Bangladesh was monickered as one of the Abodes to the world’s poorest of the poor! At Jobra, agricultural laborer, blacksmiths, carpenters, sculptors and peasants constituted majority of the workforce. The sun rose second to the people of Jobra who were already toiling hard to meet the survival needs. Extremely hard-working, they barely took a break except for lunch and again they got back to perfecting their finished product. But this was also the time when Death had knocked at their doorstep. Masquerading itself as Famine, it took Bangladesh by its claws piercing it through the heart.

download (1)

With Governments inability to curb the prices of essential commodities compounded with the flooding of the main rivers of Bangladesh, Food had become a cousin of Gold. Barely affordable, the labor workforce had to almost claw their way out for survival. Let alone fulfilling their dream of educating the kids in the family, having a second meal had become the next luxury. To die from hunger is one of the most painful deaths. And to see children go through this plight for no fault of theirs was a live depiction of hell. To live another day was like going through another round of pain. Bangladesh was cursed!

At a time like this two professors from the University of Chittagong started visiting rural households in Jobra to get to the root cause of these deaths. Moreover, the per capita availability of rice despite the floods was even more than the previous year.

Poverty chart

(Source: https://opinion.bdnews24.com/2013/06/18/1974-famine-in-bangladesh-economic-context-and-myths/ )

This being established, why on earth were people dying from starvation was the question of the century. What commenced as a formal reconnaissance turned to churn out some dark truths that were too ugly to be fathomed by the human conscience. Every household, every person, every street they visited had one element that was screaming out aloud…….it was the element of despair. Only this air of despair was created by an unnamed and organized network of paikars a.k.a. middlemen that left no stone unturned to deprive the people of Jobra of a better life. The unawareness of the populace had become their power. Offering small loan amounts at exorbitant rates of interest they ensured that the people earned enough to only survive and not make a mistake to aspire. For instance if you had a look at the life of a carpenter, the paikars offered around 5 takas (22 US cents) to purchase a bamboo stick that was used to prepare a bamboo stool. The 5 takas were offered with an agreement to sell the bamboo stool for 5 takas and 50 paisa. That was like making a profit of 2 cents per stool. Even a 36gm candy came for 10 cents in those days.1 The paikars would then sell these stools for ten folds the amount making usurious amounts of profit.

The professors were horrified at this discovery and made a survey to check how many people owed to these devious paikars. The revelation was shocking. 42 people had borrowed 856 taka. That amounted to less than $27 in total. All this hardship and exploitation for a lack of $27!! These people were poor not because they were lazy, but because the very financial structures that could help them out of poverty was deviously designed to rather exploit them. Desperate measures were the need of the hour. The financial institutions existing in those days never acknowledged the need to help the poor. Let alone help, they brazenly mocked at the very idea of lending small amounts to these people. Under the pretext of voluminous paper work compounded with cost of labour to entertain a loan request of 5 takas and the need for a collateral, they dismissed the idea as non feasible. But was their situation really incorrigible?

The answer to this very question lead to the beginning of an incredulous story that went on to not only shatter many misconceptions and myths about finance but also serve as a foundation for the invention that ensued.

13th October’ 2006, Oslo – Norway

Every year before the 1st of February, scores of nominations are sent for Noble Peace Prize to the Norwegian Noble Committee. The short listing process happens till March followed by an Advisers review till August. At the beginning of October, the Nobel Committee chooses the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates through a majority vote. The decision is final and without appeal. The names of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates are then announced. The year 2006 was no different in all aspects except one. This time the noble peace prize was announced to two winners: Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank. Their contributions?? Devising a means to eradicate poverty. Their war chest had one weapon: MICRO – CREDIT!! Grameen Bank was the very first financial institution to offer very small loan amounts to impoverished borrowers who lack a credit history and the financial ability to produce a collateral. Every Micro Credit institution you see now owes its existence to Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank.

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Established in 1976, and having converted into a full-fledged bank in 1983, Grameen has come a long way from serving 58,000 borrowers in 1983 to 8.93 Million borrowers as on Dec’17.2 What’s even more baffling about the operations of Grameen is that it offers loan mostly to women. That’s the reason why 97% of the 8.93 Million borrowers are WOMEN!! How does that sound for Women Empowerment! In the initial days when a women’s territory never outstretched the boundaries of the kitchen, convincing them to take a loan was a Herculean task. Vanquishing every delusional society stigma, not only has Grameen convinced the world that Women make good borrowers, but it has also helped women realize their true worth.

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Right from carrying on a survey in Jobra to offering that 856 taka to those 42 families, Mr, Yunus has lived a story of a legend. Did he always have the knowledge of bank operations to pull this phenomenal feat? NO!! When asked, he narrates, “I just look at the conventional banks, how they do it and once I learn how they do it, each piece and I do just the opposite and it works. They go to the rich people, so I decided to go to the poor people. They go to men, so I decided to go to women. They want to go to the city center to do business, I decided to go the village, remote village. They want collateral. I said forget about collateral. Who wants collateral, if you want collateral you never get to the poor people. They have big lawyers in their bank, we said we don’t need lawyers. So we are the only LAWYER FREE BANK in the whole world. It works!! We don’t need them. Conventional banks are owned by the rich people; so reversed that too. We made this bank owned by the poor people. And not only conventional banks are owned by rich people, mostly they are owned by Rich Men. So we reversed that. We not only make it owned by the poor people we made it owned by Poor Women. So this is a bank which is owned by the borrowers themselves!!”

Poverty always claimed an upper hand. Until Muhammad Yunus stepped in the ring and gave a jab so hard that now at least the world can claim to have won at least one round in this ongoing battle!!

MULTIVERSE!!

Thank you Readers for your wonderful appreciation on my previous blogs. Your feedback goes a long way in helping me curate this article. Today’s article is loaded with a story, concepts and i am sure most of you will learn something new today. That one worded header itself speaks volume. For those of you who have an idea about it, you know its going to be fun. Multiverse is an astronomical theory that is still contested for its veracity but offers an explanation to most of the ethereal experiences we go through. No better way to understand this theory than by engaging you in a tale. I am gonna need you to time travel with me back to the year 2016. A year that has many defining moments to its credit like the emergence of the behemoth Reliance Jio telecom operator that till date goes on to dominate the Indian telecom industry & the initiation of one of the most cruel policies by Narendra Modi……..DEMONETISATION!! 

And the third defining moment was in the field of sports. 2016 being a leap year, it was also a year that hosted the Rio Olympics. A year that saw the daughters of India etching its name in history in two sports: Badminton and GYMNASTIC!! How often do we hear an Indian and that too an Indian women capture the hearts worldwide. Dipa Karmakar!! She failed to bag a medal and yet she left every audience gaping in awe at the mind boggling and life threatening PRODUNOVA she produced. Produnova or the vault of death as its called is a skill not for the faint hearted. If executed properly, it will look like a vertical leap that will place you at a height high enough to enable you to do two front somersaults and land safely on your feet. While performing this feat, timing can be your greatest ally or worst foe in determining the consequence. A second off and your failure will leave you severely disable to the point of bringing an end to your career as a gymnast, if not dead.

Dipa’s success brought the spotlight to the sport of gymnastic in India and fanned the flames of every young athletes ambition. Little did she know the consequences of her quasi – success. Somewhere in the capital of India, a 17 year old gymnast by the name Brijesh Yadav was practicing to engrave his name in the pages of history. A national level silver medalist, he was trying to nail the “Double front flip”. He had a taut Greek physique that was a by product of the practice he did religiously. Having warmed up and having done a few basic gymnast flips, he went on to master his signature move which was the Double front flip.

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Gauging the required distance he needed to run, he goes for the dash. Everything clicked. He sprung up beautifully at a height that allowed him to do not one but two front flips. He makes a safe landing. Everyone around were witness to this move he had been practicing for quite some time. They knew that the next meet wont stop him from grabbing his coveted gold. Brimming with confidence, he attempts it couple more times and executes it effortlessly. He had done enough for the day. Brijesh could have and should have retired for the day or done one of the other million things than attempt that move again!!

Stretching his arms to shake off the lactic build up, he pauses at the starting point and runs. He springs up in the air and what followed had every head spinning  and every foot pacing towards him. Brijesh falls on the soft mat head first, twisting his neck abnormally enough to slip into a coma. He should have died instantly, but he was a fighter. He had his dreams, his parents love and a glorious career in gymnastics waiting on the other side. Brijesh’s had a two month ordeal with death. Even death had the hardest time trying to conquer this warriors soul.

However, Brijesh’s respiratory system was damaged beyond repair. His heart rate would drop once taken off of the ventilator. The choice was pretty clear. Somewhere subconsciously, Brijesh would have been kicking himself in the gut for not honoring the omens that were screaming at him to stop and abort. He died a painful death with a blanket of regret pulled over him. The world came together to offer condolences to this mighty warrior only wishing and re-imagining  ways in which that leap could be averted. Only if Brijesh and his endless fans knew that somewhere in the distant horizons, beyond the moons and stars, their thoughts were actually manifesting into reality…….

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Just in case you are second guessing if i just said that Brijesh was still alive, Yes you are right!! I say this based on the theory of Multiverse. This theory suggest that there could be other universes besides our own, where all the choices you made in this life played out in alternate realities. So, there is a universe where Brijesh made a choice to refrain from practicing that move once again and let it go. He must have even won his coveted gold and given this nation its honor and glory that seems to have been lost. Why limit the application of this theory to only Brijesh’s life? Let your imaginations go for a run. If this theory proved to be real, the resulting ramifications are astounding and ethereal.

Apply this theory to a passion you never pursued due to some obligation; it could be someone very dear you lost, someone you imagined to live the rest of your life with; It could be a disability that impairs you from doing the things you love the most and so on….Just know that there could be a world out there where the dynamics of the universe work out the existence of your dream life.

Lets delve to an even more crazy aspect of this theory. Have you ever had this feeling that history or some past life events are occurring again now? Like Life is repeating itself. This theory gives us a plausible explanation to that too. I ll try to make it as simple as i can. Its said that the shape of space-time is flat as an endless road and hence it goes on forever. Having said that, the number of possible particle configurations in multiple universes (or you could think of it as life experiences) would be limited to so many distinct possibilities, viz. 10^10^122 to be exact. Which means there is only a defined number of permutation and combination that allows us experience a different moment. After this number is reached, life gets back to one and begins again. Which means you are living a moment at present with the same set of parameters that was previously lived by someone else. That someone could be you too. Isn’t that freaky!!

All of this brings me to an inevitable conclusion and a food for thought for you readers , that the world wars, the great depression, the lehman brother fiasco, the natural disasters will repeat itself again, whether in this universe or the other is for life to decide. Likewise, there are another set of life altering occurrences that has happened in another universes and is yet to happen here. All we can hope that its for good or atleast not as worse as the ones we have been through!!

LIFE’S a TWITCH!!

“God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh.”      – VOLTAIRE

And sometimes the play can be striding on this wafer thin line flanked with humor on one side and mockery on the other, so much so that it becomes difficult to make sense out of it. For some, Life may seem like a walk through heavenly meadows, while for some, its a painful walk through thorny bushes; every forthcoming thorn not only gifting us with new bruises but some also piercing even deeper into our pre-existing wounds, undoing every effort to heal. And the paradox of it is that the one’s walking on meadows have a very pessimistic view of life while the ones traipsing through thorns venerate life as its greatest teacher.

I write this blog post today in tribute to that section of the society that open their eyes to a world of thorny bushes. These are those handful of people that are cursed with a deformity right when they are born. A deformity that goes on to scar them in the initial years of life. And because the early years of a child’s growth plays a crucial role in building a strong foundation to enable them to survive the cut throat competitive world ahead, this deformity plays such a ghastly role in placing these kids way behind the rest of them.

Kids in their early age are a true reflection of pure innocence. An innocence so pure that has the power to melt even the cold hearted. And when such an innocence is inflicted with a scourge so demeaning and malevolent, it can cringe any soul to want to question if life has lost its very karmic sense of justice. You might wonder as to why am i ranting so much about this deformity. What can be so devious to want to question life and its ways? Allow me to give you a small glimpse……

Lets imagine that there is a classroom of second graders. As the teacher had announced earlier that there is a test to be conducted, all students come well prepared. As subservient kids are at an early age, everyone follow the ritual of keeping their belongings outside their classroom except for their pencil box and other necessary stationary. The bell rings and the students begin to crack the test. You would in normal circumstance imagine this classroom to be filled with pin drop silence accompanied only with the sound of the scribbles made by the kids who are diligently writing their papers. But this was no ordinary class. Silence had never seen the footsteps of this classroom since the start of this year. If there was one thing this classroom was notorious for, it was for the obnoxious sounds it produced. And if there was anyone to blame for it, it was Brad.

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No sooner had the students started writing the paper than Brad was all ready to play the devil. Making barking sounds along with a “quack” and a “jab”, Brad began to humor everyone around. The rest of the students turned behind in amusement. The teacher warned Brad to keep mum and proceed with completing the test. Everyone were back to writing their test. And again after a minutes silence, the sounds followed. This time the sequence was different. It was a “quack” first followed by a “jab” and a bark. Other students were in for a ride of comedy. This time though Brad was audacious enough to make funny faces and some head jerks. Knowing that Brad had just crossed the line, the teacher had to be decisive enough to disallow Brad from continuing his test. Brad was asked to leave the class. Even on his way out Brad continued acting like a clown making funny noises and twitching his face playing the devil the rest of the class believed him to be. But was he really a devil…….?

Most often than not, the truth takes time making its way through a complex web of bias, prejudices and misconceptions. And being unaware, plays a huge role in building this complex web of deception. If only the classroom or the world around Brad knew what the truth was. Sometimes, being at the mercy of the truth making its way out and clearing the confusion can be agonizingly very painful. At times like this the truth needs to be CLAWED OUT  and showcased to the world. A world that’s so timid that its afraid to show compassion to someone like Brad but cocky enough to declare him crazy without even wanting to make a shred of an effort to know the truth. This is not just a made up story about Brad. Brad exist for real. His full name is Brad Cohen and he is 44 now. He grew up to be a motivational speaker, a teacher, a school administrator, an author and is married to a beautiful soul, Nancy. All of this despite living with TOURETTES, or as he would say it,”All of this because of TOURETTES!”

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Brad’s elementary schooling life was a thing of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. A time when medical science was not as progressed as its today. There were only handful of cases of Tourettes in those time, hence the lack of awareness. But even today, after almost 3 decades, things haven’t progressed. For those of you, who are not aware about Tourettes and I am sure there are many (a month ago, you could count me in too), its an abnormality in certain brain regions (including the basal ganglia, frontal lobes, and cortex), the circuits that interconnect these regions, and the neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine) responsible for communication among nerve cells. In simple words, its an abnormality that affects the coordination between the brain and the rest of the body.

But wait, you may ask, “Why should i know about Tourettes? It only happens to a handful of the population right.” – Why you should know about Tourettes is because your knowing will help make the world around them a better place if not the best. When it comes to awareness on psychological ailments, our country is very antediluvian. Mental ailments are still treated as a stigma. You never know if there are more than a handful that are afraid to come out of the shadows. Afraid that they might not be accepted. We are no different in comparison to the second grade students and the teacher who went on to admonish Brad. And considering the superstitious and religious beliefs we entangle our life with, we could become even worse a devil to someone like Brad. Lets take a few minutes to know about this ailment rather than spending a lifetime in guilt for missing the opportunity to make this world a better place for Brad.

How does it happen? – No clue! Is there a cure? – NO!  This is what makes this abnormality a devil of a disorder. Despite medical science advancing by leaps and bounds, it still lacks a light years behind when it comes to Tourettes. There are numerous speculative theories floating about the causes of Tourettes, but none of it is proven with hard facts. How do i identify someone with Tourettes? Like Brad, people with tourettes often make funny repetitive sounds; they also make these uncontrollable spasm like movements. These funny gestures are called tics. But does it impair intelligence? NO!! (a silver lining). But in order to compete and be on par with others, it takes a considerable amount of focus for them to learn because most precious seconds of their lives pass by living with tics. And thank God for not making it contagious. SO DONT BE AFRAID TO GO CLOSE TO THEM!!

Make this world a better and comfortable place for them to win against TOURETTES!!

(To know more about Tourettes, I urge you to please watch “FRONT of the CLASS!!” – a beautiful one and half hour movie that engages you from the start to the end. And if you have a liking for BOLLYWOOD films, watch HICHKI, a movie where Rani Mukherjee embodies the role of a person suffering with tourettes and delivers a powerful performance!!)

A CREED OF VENGEANCE

Its time!! They have awakened. The wisest of beings had always warned of this day. The elements of the universe foretold about it. But the odds of it to happen were considered to be even lower than they were in number. They were a race that was always subjugated. Theirs was a race that survived as inferior beings; that their life was nothing more than a burden; that their opinions had even lesser weight than the life of an insect.

And yet now they stand staring point blank at us; at the millions and billions of us that partook in this customary way of living by either being unabashedly involved directly; or indirectly by being a silent spectator. They stare with eyes blood shot, with rage that was overdue and that kept compounding with every breath. Even hell has no fury like a woman scorned. For they were not to be ruled but respected. They were not to be desecrated but revered like other beings. They were to be given equal rights and yet they were deprived of their most basic rights. They were bullied, harassed, raped, treated like dirt and for what reasons?? Did they or their ascendants do anything so ghastly in the past to deserve it?? Or were they treated like this only because they were born as a WOMAN?

Even the Gods and Goddesses of this universe had a good laugh till now at the hysterical play of life; They were very amused and equally amazed at the greatest conspiracy of all times; For the Gods and Goddesses had carved women too with their own hands, the only difference being a women’s heart. It is the strongest element in the universe; Strong enough to withstand the most evil of atrocities and pain. It was molded with the hide of the Gods and Goddesses to endure even in the darkest corners of hell. A woman’s heart is considered as the greatest marvel of life and an epitome of boundless love.

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But were the creators really proud of this creation……they had second thoughts. Because despite having the most indestructible weaponry in their archive, how did they end up being the most feeble of creatures, is the greatest paradox for the universe to witness. Or did men out-evolve demons to achieve this despicable feat.  To create a world, whose very fiber is rigged to favor men….ONLY!! The atmosphere within this universe so intoxicated to skew the moral senses of every being; where having men rule every aspect is considered as the only mode of evolution and where anyone proposing to have an egalitarian society is ridiculed as a lunatic. But just as every conspiracy has a course to run, this one was running short of runway. The upper half of the sand glass was a few dunes away from falling empty. A revolution was not just distant at a horizon anymore, but an eyelash bat away!

And while we continued living in our robotic loop like routine, most of us failed to notice an army on the rise. A fearsome ovarian horde that’s re-discovered its ranks in the pyramid of power. An army so hungry for retribution, that wont stop at nothing anymore. Together they recite a creed of vengeance making a vow to never forget the atrocities and abuse they have lived through. A retribution that will serve as a deterrent for generations to come. Their movements are not restricted to the kitchens anymore. You will find them in board rooms and press conferences; leading enterprises and space shuttles; making a mark in almost every field. They don’t flinch anymore while stepping up the ladder of success that’s filled with many venomous beings. They are inclined to win this game, playing by the very same rules that were set by the false gods; demolishing their pride and re-establishing a new order.

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How can one forget The Weinstein Company that was hit by a Tsunami of sexual harassment complaints (#metoo) last year showcasing that the foundation of HOLLYWOOD was only as strong as a deck of cards that began to plummet one by one after the Weinsteins fell. There was a ripple effect of the same felt globally. The acts  of every misogynist who objectified women and cushioned themselves feeling safe forever were brought to the limelight. Some women too who supported these fake moghuls only because they had children to feed, bills to pay and dreams to pursue, they all came out in full support to tear down this legacy.

It doesnt end there. For the first time in 1000 years, the University of Oxford has offered more undergraduate places to British women than men last year. The world is lately but finally beginning to realize that women too have massive potentials to lead. In fact, women launch 1000 more business every single day. WOmen owned companies have grown more than 45% since 2007. Moreover, 90% of the woman entrepreneurs are foreseeing an increase in profit next year.

I can’t put an end to this ode of praise to girl power by not reiterating the powerful words delivered by Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes, “For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.”

 

A dance to infinity

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05-01-2018……… A day that marked the union of two souls that laid their gaze over each other for the first time 5 years ago at the Divine Retreat Center in  Kerala absolutely unaware of the roller coaster ride they were going to embark upon……… A day when they graduated from lovers at first sight to lovers for life…….A day when Life bore witness to the mysterious and magnificent play of Cupids in getting the two love birds together……& A day when they had their first dance together.

Anyone who knew the couple closely knew one thing for sure that they were poles opposite. If he had the right mix of arrogance and humility, she overflowed with kindness and warmth. If he had chaos written all over him, she liked to live by an order. He was the yin to her yang and vice versa and so they completed each other. They had a very few things in common and yet they adored each other as God and Goddess. Together they were a burning flame rekindling the love that this world barely gets to witness.

The couple had their origins from two different states; the groom hailed from Karnataka while the bride hailed from Kerala. Both these places are popularly known for its diverse culture and traditions, among many other things. And when both these places converge, they erupt into a smorgasbord of intriguing and never ending events, both states only trying to outdo each other. However, there were some events that bore the same foundation. One of the few things that’s available in plenty in the two states is Coconuts. While the bride had a tradition wherein the couple had to drink from the same coconut through two different straws;

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The groom had a tradition known as ‘Roce’ wherein blessing were to be bestowed on the groom by pouring a handful of coconut milk upon the grooms head; the mother leading the rest

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No, the groom wasn’t being tortured. The coconut milk was rather too cold, giving him the chills and the rest, thrills.

Then we have the infamous Mangalorean Christian Wedding ritual also known as the ‘Saddo’, wherein the bride gets to change in a red saari (also known as ‘Saddo’) while her hair is beautifully decked with flowers only accentuating her already ethereal looks. She personified an eternal living flame that shone bright enough to ward off every evil that dared cometh near to her near and dear ones.

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These were a few highlights on the bespoke traditions in a Christian Wedding in India. Now moving on to the moment where you avid readers were busy trying to figure out if the title to this article had any relevance to whatever i have been narrating for the past few minutes. Patience my friend, the moment of truth has arrived. I tend to reserve the best for the last. The pictures you are about to witness are devoid of any kind of filter.

The couple had exchanged rings with one another, taken their vows and were pronounced as husband and wife. It was now time to celebrate their union with a reception. The couple entered with their entourage elevating the energy levels of every soul in the wedding hall. The cake was cut, the champagne was popped and it was finally time for the couple to live the moment they had been rehearsing a million times either while day dreaming or in their sleep. Stepping down of the stage together, their bodies already subconsciously matching each others step, they had taken positions; the groom in his shining blue coat and the bride in her ever pure and crystal like gown. The lights had been turned off and a spot light was turned on the couple.

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They began to serenade to Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”. A fog and smoke like appearance had began to be encapsulate them from all corners creating a perfect illusion that they were dancing on clouds. Their gaze were completely transfixed over each other. It seemed like they were teleport-ed to a different paradigm, away from a million eyes looking over them in awe and splendor; some reliving their first dance while some envisioning theirs. Along with them, were different hues of light dancing along, creating many picturesque moments. The photographers tried their level best to capture every moment of this unreal event unfolding before them.

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And then finally came the confectioneries exploding from corners, awakening the couple to reality and the audience from their stupor. That too was great click to capture.

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All of this ended with the groom singing along the final lines of the song, ” I dont deserve this, You look perfect……Tonight!!