Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Growing up -- in Pattaya.

If there is one person in this world, who according to me has the best job, it is Mr. Sanghvi. I have been reading him since forever and after reading every piece of his, I long a little more to be in his shoes. He travels the world, lives in the best hotels, eats the best food and writes well too.

I distinctly remember some of his early write ups in the Brunch -- the supplement to the Sunday edition of The HT. Post reading them, I really wanted to write to him and tell him how much I envied him. Some procrastination and a lot of hesitation ensured it never got done. Then Bangalore happened, there was no HT and hence no Brunch. Mr Sanghvi soon became history and my Sundays boring. Magically, life got us back to Delhi and he came back into my life -- by the way of his writings.

Tonight, I happened to watch half an episode of his latest show -- Vir Sanghvi's Thailand. I must admit that I am not a fan of his presentation skills -- he sounds mechanical and seems vain at times, but I can not help watching him either. In tonight's episode, as always, he visited the best places, stayed in the best hotels, ate the best food and met the most successful people. And he also took me down the memory lane -- eight and a half years to be precise.

Thailand was the first foreign land that I visited, if you exclude Nepal that is. It was an impromptu trip made possible by the help of my then boss. He helped us plan the trip, granted me a long leave and even lent his digital camera.

I clearly remember driving twenty kilometers to meet our travel agent. While waiting for him, we ate at Domino's, in the sweltering heat of June, standing outside the store -- those days Domino's did not have seating. In less than a week, the tickets were bought, visa was arranged and reservations were made.

We had a late night, Thai Airways flight from Delhi to Bangkok, the details of which I can not recall anymore. What I do remember is that I was super excited to be going on my first ever international holiday and it was on this flight that I tried alcohol for the first time. While I could manage white wine, I could barely gulp the red down, since it was far too embarrassing to send the drink back, I eventually added seven-up to it and finished it. D almost disowned me that day.

Arriving in Bangkok early morning was an experience in itself, while my nature loving husband went on about the beauty of the place and the sunrise etc, I was more interested in the airport. The Delhi airport was not renovated until then and was just a cleaner version of the railway station, the Bangkok airport, on the other hand, was swank -- to say the least, loaded with the brands that I had just heard about until then and food chains I had only dreamt of eating in.

I could have spent the entire day there but with D by my side, I had to stick to the schedule. I reluctantly stepped out, only to step into a Volvo coach, waiting exclusively for the two of us. Volvo was was yet to make its Indian debut and though it was just another car for them, it was nothing less than a limousine for the humble Maruti Zen drivers. The next two hours were spent cruising through the highway, overlooking the farms and vast green lands and occasionally, overtaking open Jeeps full of young boys and girls. In less than two hours we were entering our home for the next two days -- the infamous Pattaya.

When you have not been to a place, you have a certain picture of it in your head; then you see it and realise how different it is from what you had imagined. After seeing the real thing, you can hardly recall the original picture in your head. I too had a picture of Pattaya in my mind -- which I no longer can recall, but I had never imagined it to be what it was. Honestly, had I known, I would have made sure we never went there. 

To me, it seemed like some European town with a few South Asians thrown in to service the locals. The number of Europeans -- mostly men, seemed to have outnumbered the Thais. They were everywhere -- along the boulevard, in the cafes, on the road, in rented cars and on noisy bikes. This was surely not my idea of a holiday. Thankfully, our resort was at the quiet end of the promenade and I was spared the sight of half - naked, gigantic white men. 

Like good Indian tourists, we had most of the two days planned -- a customary visit to one of the museums, a trip to a nearby island, a concert in the evening -- the works, but there were still pockets of free time or as they call leisure time. 

So, in the leisure time, we walked -- along the promenade, to discover an unknown world -- a world we might never step into again. 

I am not sure if D was prepared for what he saw, for, he did seem a little stifled in the beginning but he was soon was cool with it. I on the other hand could barely handle most of what I saw.

We walked the streets where young men sold graphic trinkets - the details of which I shall spare you. We walked the lanes dotted with open air bars and pubs, bathed in red light -- literally, where women -- rather young girls, danced in tiny skirts. We were coerced by agents to get into adult shows at a measly price and we encountered blatant and open display of affection in public. My prudent husband was propositioned several times while I became non existent.

As if this was not enough to jolt me, there was the world famous Alcazar show -- a beautiful concert of sorts put together by transsexuals. The show in itself was amazing and I am yet to come across something as grand but what I saw after the show left me red faced -- as red as brown can get. The artists had stepped out of the theatre, some mingling with the guests, some getting pictures taken -- obviously for a price, and some just hanging around. They were dressed in costumes so elaborate that could put Brazilian carnivals to shame but these elaborate costumes hardly covered the bare minimum.

Now, I am not a voyeur and nudity always makes me uncomfortable but I could not take my eyes off them. They had perfect bodies, flawless skin and curves that would put women to shame -- yet they were men. I was embarrassed and awed at the same time.

To my relief, Pattaya was not just about the noise and the sex, it was also about tranquility and beauty. The town looked splendid early morning -- when the wild parties were over and the tired tourists were still asleep. The noise of the night was replaced by peace and quiet. The silence was interrupted only by the chirping of birds and occasional banter of the locals heading for work. The sea glistened in the early morning sunlight and the gentle breeze played with my hair. It was beautiful, all right.

Since then, Pattaya became a classic case of juxtaposition for me. On one hand is the beauty of the nature -- the beach, the islands, the water and on the other is the blatant display of lust and desire -- the dark world of sex and sleaze.
I am yet to figure out why, while watching the programme tonight, I was reminded of Pattaya and not Bangkok, where the episode was shot and which was the other city we went to. It could be because I learnt some valuable lessons in life there, it could also be because it was there that I finally grew up, at the ripe age of twenty six.

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