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The white line on the Eastern horizon is very distinct from the black and growing. It is time for fajr and sleep heavy eyes are now wide awake and refreshed after an early morning dinner of kofte and coffee. A fitful sleep took over almost on take off. The darkness hangs heavy in the sky and over the earth, though slowly the light is growing but stars are still distinct over the horizon. 

I stare at my screen, it is not the wide range of the latest movies which are available that fascinate me or even the music or the games. It is the route which is fascinating. I steal glances outside. My window is facing east and I am eagerly awaiting the sunrise but at the same time the screen attracts me with its magical names. I am fascinated by the thought that below me lies the world. A world of mystic and legend, of history and stories, so many cultures, traditions, languages. A beautiful, colourful world now reposing tucked in comfortably in the bedclothes of the dark that still enfolds the earth. The screen offers a geography lesson. I look at place names rarely heard and wonder about them. Ashgabat, Buxoro, Astrakhan. I want to say the names aloud. Feel the taste of them on my tongue. But perhaps the Romanian gentleman to my left might have doubts about my sanity. I keep silent but in my mind I am savouring them. They are far away yet near enough to be on this route map. Air travel has made the world so small. The places one thought one would never see in life are just a short flight away. 

We have been flying over Iran. Tabriz lies somewhere to our South East. It is a sobering thought because the routes for all flights have changed due to the conflicts on the ground. Earlier all flight to Turkey or Europe entered Turkey from Mosul in Iraq. The conflicts, the killing, the danger, the fear, the deprivation of those on the ground not very far away fills me sadness. I want to shout stop stop stop I want to shout it out so loud that it reaches every corner of the globe. STOP! When I allow myself to think of what man is capable of doing to man the thought fills me with agony. There on the route before me are names no longer the stuff of legends but names which seem to take on a new life and are writhing before me in agony. Basra, Baghdad, Mosul, Damascus, Aleppo. Once the cities of dreams, centres of ancient civilisations, cities which are carrying the ruins and histories of so much within them only to be destroyed and ruined once more. Barbarically destroyed in a world that stresses upon being civilised. A claim which it can never make good while there is a single drop of innocent blood being shed. 

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I once strolled down paths of grace
where even time had slowed its pace
breezes flowed with reverent care
peace trod softly upon the air

Contented leaves let out a sigh
from gnarled giants that towered high
yet lay mirrored in silent pools
where fishes swam in languid schools

To sturdy trunks great creepers clung
on mossy boughs thick vines were strung
and ‘tween grassy blades bloomed
wildflowers spun on nature’s loom

The sun too had muted its might
and spread its rays as filtered light
through branches that joyfully swayed
showering trails with dappled shade

Ponds shimmered with bright golden gleams
ballrooms of happy, waltzing beams
while arias sung by wren and thrush
echoed from verdant hedge and brush

the evening choir’s honeyed tones
could melt the heart of hardest stone
while the setting sun’s mellow kiss
filled mind and soul with warmth and bliss

Now late into this still dark night
once more I yearn for that treasured sight.

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Ahmed

Yesterday Ahmed was playing in the street with his friends. I wanted to play too but mother said I had to help her. There was a very big noise. It was so big that everything shook. It was followed by many others. I was so afraid, I hid under the bed. Mother was afraid too but she ran outside. People were shouting. I went outside. Everything was broken and burning. There was no Ahmed. Mother was wailing and beating her head. Our neighbour was holding her. My heart was beating loudly! Where was Ahmed. I waited for him but he did not come back. He never came back.

Today they buried Ahmed. They put him inside the ground. They put his little friends too. But Rashid was taken to the hospital, maybe they will put him in the ground afterwards, like they did my brother Faisal. Faisal went to a place called hospital. Children who go to the hospital are then put into the ground. My father said that was because they did not have something called medicines. I did not understand. Last night I could not sleep. All night mother cried. Sometimes she kissed Ahmed’s pillow, sometimes the new dress she had made for his third birthday sometimes his tiny new shoes. He would never wear that dress. He would never wear those shoes. Ahmed would never be three I thought.

In the night mother came to me and held me tight. I could not breathe. She kissed my cheeks and my eyes many times. Her face was wet with tears.

Today mother gave me a biscuit. It was from the packet she had brought for Ahmed. He liked biscuits. I also liked biscuits very much. I would have liked a biscuit sometimes but they were only for Ahmad. That was because he was smaller. I took a bite from the biscuit. It was sweet and crunchy, but I could not eat it, it was Ahmed’s biscuit. He would never eat it. He would never come back. Why Ahmed? I thought, what did he do wrong, he was so small and sweet,always smiling. He played with me. I thought of his plump face, his chubby pink cheeks, his big shining black eyes, his curly hair. I could never hold him again. I began to cry.

We returned in a daze, sometime in the afternoon, still caught up in the magic of the day’s experiences. What a day it had been, the sights that we had seen had far exceeded imagination or expectations. We were totally bewitched. Who could go through the halls of that lofty castle, look out over the countryside, taking in the little villages, the forests, the clear, still, blue green lakes, walk through what certainly were enchanted woods, inhabited by faerie folk and stay untouched.

It had been a day of epic proportions, the day when I was finally able to visit the place I had dreamed of seeing as a child, ever since I had seen a picture in a magazine, of a castle perched high on a mountain and wondered how it had been built. How lucky I was, to be able to share it and its wonder, with my daughters. I could see that this exquisite experience transcended generations and the enchantment captured us all.

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The Village of Schwangau, Alpsee and the Mountains Beyond

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Neuschwanstein Castle

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Landscape seen from one side of the Castle, with Forggensee in the distance

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The mountains around Alpsee, with a tiny glimpse of the Alpsee nestled below them

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The Castle of HohenSchwangau, Schwangau Village, Alpsee and the mountains behind it, seen from Neuschwanstein Castle

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Mariensbrucke The Bridge from where one can see the best view of the castle. Unfortunately we could not go there

After lunch we returned to our hotel but I and my elder daughter were full of restless energy and ready for more adventures. It had been cloudy for awhile, when we were at the castle and had rained a little too but it was clear in Fussen, the town we were staying in, which was ten kilometres away. We decided to discover the lake we had seen from the castle, Forggensee. It was just a short distance away from our hotel. We had barely crossed the street, when we came upon some tents. There, laid on a table was every kind of delight from France. Lavender oils and soaps, Savon the Marseilles, honey from Provence and olives from I forget where.
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There were other tents too but we barely noticed them. Lavender soaps and I have a history and a loving relationship. Its fragrance is not just in my present but wafts in my cherished, childhood memories. My father, who grew up in colonial India used Yardley Lavender soap. Later it was not available in India, but when he went to work abroad, he always returned with cakes of lavender soap. The fragrance of lavender crossed the generation gap and tied our childhoods together.

After my marriage too there were always cakes of lavender soap in my ´home, though I had never seen or smelt the real thing till we went to Africa. There I found a lavender plant in the garden of the resort we stayed in and fell in love all over again. I put some flowers in my jacket pocket and was delighted that they held the fragrance even after drying out. The lavender stayed with me for a long time.

When I saw pictures of lavender fields, I dreamt of walking among them and simply gulping down the heady aroma. It has not happened yet though, hopefully it will someday. The lavender soap at this small stall smelt of the real thing, I just had to buy some and the honey and a little bag of olives, which were quite expensive. The lady only spoke French though and all we had was a rusty, schoolgirl version of the language. Nevertheless, we were surprised at being able to communicate with her. Of course a lot of gesticulating and smiles also helped and we made a connection and were able to actually strike a rapport.

We moved on and after walking a little came upon an unexpected sight. We could actually see the castle in the distance and sighing in pleasure we sat down on a bench that was probably placed on the pavements for tourists like us. Once more the enchantment began its work on us and we sat there, mother and daughter, talking about it in mellow tones.
A close-up of the side of the Castle visible from the Town of Fussen, 10 km away.
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I opened my little bag of olives and started eating them. they were delicious. One slippery fella landed on the pavement and I thought I would pick it up later.

Just then a group of what seemed to be local residents out on a walk, arrived with a beautiful dog. The dog ran towards us and then it just had to discover that fallen olive. Its curiosity seemed aroused and it began sniffing it and before I could say a word, the olive was in its mouth. I was aghast, images of the poor thing choking on the olive flashed across my mind. Perhaps even a newspaper headline “Murderous tourist kills innocent dog, with an olive!!!” I would be on the news, dog lovers everywhere would hate me. It is funny how many weird things can flash across a mind in a few seconds.

Fortunately I somehow managed to communicate the situation to its owners who spoke only German, and showed them my now almost empty, bag of olives and said their dog seemed to have swallowed one. One of them put his hand in the dog’s mouth and got the offending olive out. Another connection was made and we were all full of smiles as they walked away.

It looked strangely dark. I looked behind and was shocked to see that a huge dark cloud had appeared most unexpectedly and was blotting out the sky behind us. Neither of us liked its threatening looks. Luckily we had not walked much and the hotel was just a few minutes away. Hoping to out walk the storm we started walking back hurriedly. we were too late though, in a few minutes we were drenched. It’s funny about getting wet, one tries their best to get out of it but once caught up in it and soaked to the skin one can, if not chilled, just accept it and try to enjoy it, so that is what we did.

It grew very windy too and when we reached the lavender stall we saw that the tent was almost blowing off and was held down by its valiant owner, whose husband had gone for help. We stayed with her and helped her hold the tent. The rain by then was pounding down on all of us and the wind whipping around. After a while we were able to leave her and the tent in safe hands and return to our hotel.

It seemed a fitting end to an exceptional day, anything else would have been too tame.

It was close to sunset when we left for the promised walk. Not wishing to waste anymore light we took a taxi to the seaside and started our walk from there rather than from home. February days, cloudy or clear are always beautifully pleasant and it is the perfect time to walk. The wind chill has abated and usually a pleasant breeze blows. The promenade was full of people, mothers out for a stroll, pushing prams with babies, while they brought each other up on the latest gossip, solitary joggers and walkers, families with children. The atmosphere was lively. As usual we caught glimpses of fishing rods and patient or perhaps simply lazy fishermen.

An Asian woman was pouring water from a bottle and it looked like she was pouring it into the sea. At this strange behaviour my daughter could not resist commenting “Yeah just in case the sea runs out.” In a moment we were chiding ourselves for laughing because she was actually pouring out fresh water for the cats that lived among the rocks. 

A little further we saw a couple walking briskly, both with their earphones on, were wrapped inside their own little worlds. It seems a shame that more and more people like to lock themselves up with sounds and voices only they can hear and lock out the voices of those around them. A walker went by smiling to herself. A little further on we passed another walker with a secret smile. 

A couple of boys appeared kicking a ball lazily on the grass. An Arab woman dressed in abaya and hijab, was smilingly attempting to fly a kite, with her little son looking excitedly on. it was a perfect photo op but I refrained out of respect for her privacy. Mother and child laughed as the kite fell to the ground. Sometimes words have to suffice to capture some moments. 

It was past sunset now, though it was still light and the sea was a lovely dark blue. A brightly lit pleasure boat that sails up and down the coast, sailed past in all its colourful glory.

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On our right a few men lined up on the grass, and stood facing west, to offer the evening prayers, as one more day drew to a close. 

In the distance the brightly lit sails of Scientific Centre beckoned and it grew dark as it we reached there. it was a short walk but it left us with a pleasant feeling of contentment. 
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Moments

It is one of those moments of pure peace and even bliss, the best of family life. It is Friday evening here in Kuwait, the week-end. Husband and daughter are home and relaxed. We are all relaxed, the weather is a bit dull so there is no pressure on making the most of good weather and going out. We sit around the television without pressure. We are all watching the documentary ‘Oceans’ on TV. We are all lovers of nature and fans of documentaries on Nature.
I am sitting on the sofa next to my husband’s armchair, with my laptop on my lap reading blogs and commenting. My husband has a plate of black seedless grapes in front of him. Every so often I take my left hand off the keyboard and reach out with palm upwards, towards my husband, still looking at my screen. Husband wordlessly puts a grape in it. I keep holding out my hand, one more grape follows, then another. This goes on, I stuff my mouth with the grapes and bite, letting their sweetness bursts inside and flood my mouth. There are no seeds to disturb the pleasure. I replenish constantly. This goes on till hubby in an attention seeking moment, puts a bit of empty stem on my hand and I raise my eyes questioningly. It is a moment of connection on a simple yet deep level. After that I reach out my hand not for the grapes but to touch his or squeeze it now and then. We are in our worlds, yet connected.
Every so often I also take my eyes off the laptop screen and look at the TV and pass a comment or two. There is a creature moving in a funny way, I say OMG it looks like it is waddling. My Daughter bursts out laughing. A walrus swims in sometime later, his moustaches make him look human, we can think of men who have moustaches like that.
The documentary is now over so are most of the grapes. Husband has left to run an errand, daughter is back in her room. I sit here alone, with the TV switched off, still trying to document a moment, which is now in the past. The rumpled cushions and the remnants of the grapes, mutely give witness to the moment of happy family life. The pleasure lingers in the tranquility in the air.
In the flurries of daily activity, in the days of pressures, frustrations, demands of work and every kind of distraction of daily living, these are moments to be treasured and remembered.

Submitting to the Will of Allah.