I protest

Nowadays, it’s ever so common to see crowds gathering in front of government houses, with upheld banners and raised voices, protesting. It doesn’t matter what for—policies, opinions, misspoken words, misspellings on social media—why, some people even oppose the existence of other people. Regardless of the “why” of these protests, almost every rally I’ve seen and heard of has a similar streak: violence. In its core, whenever anyone disagrees or rebels, they use harsh and violent behaviour to make themselves seen and heard.

Of course, in recent years, silent, un-violent, and fasting protests are becoming more desirable. But even today, all the marches and show of disagreement contain angry outbursts, name-calling, and plain spite. What’s sad, though, is that just as a self-fulfilling prophecy, these violent protests get more attention than the others. Even though our generation understands and even professes the effectiveness of the pen over the sword, the influence of weapons in conflicting opinions is far too significant to ignore.

That’s why it feels amazing to come across a different form of protest. Both in movies and real life, we’ve seen governments cutting off funds to public welfare systems like health care programmes, transport services, and university courses. Each time it happens, the government—factual or fictional—faces large mobs of angry citizens, swearing through megaphones and wasting fuel on stick figures and flags.

But then I saw this:

Canberra Museum and Gallery - 1

It’s a necklace. It’s also a sign of protest. When the state government of Canberra (Australian Capital Territory) cut off funds to the National Institute of Arts, teachers and Canberra sponsors together presented this necklace to the Chief Minister at the time, Kate Carnell, as a sign of their protest. What’s unique about it though is that each metal link in the necklace has a tag with the name of a sponsor. So each piece resembles a protestor, and together it makes a neckband for the chief minister of the then ACT.

No hate speech, no blood, an no fasting to death. What a daring rebellion! And what a beautiful necklace it is too—when you take away the historical value, that is one marvellous piece of accessory, won’t you say?

Canberra Museum and Gallery - 2

It made me stop and think about how much has changed in the way we fight for our convictions. Of course, we should stand up for what we believe in, but when our fight costs innocent people their peace, patience, or worse, life, then what good does our conviction do?

The necklace is on display at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. If you’re in the area, stop by and pay a visit—it sure is worth looking at.

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Counting dollars

Ever travelled to a foreign country and found yourself converting the local currency to your own? And have you ever had this face when you realised how much everything costs in your own money?

What the hell?!
What the hell?!

It’s the bitter reality for most of us. Although you tell yourself you’re on holiday and it’s ok to splurge once a while, you still can’t fathom the marvel that is currency conversion. But your inner mind is right—it is only once a while, and you should splurge on yourself.

Can’t say the same about me, however. One of the scariest things about moving to Australia—a country well known for its venomous snakes and its well-established economy—is that everything is so damn expensive. And the locals often don’t realise it because, well, they earn well.

The average earning capacity for an Australian is high enough for an average Australian lifestyle.

For me, though, it seemed bollocks. I had fair warning, yes. Expat forums and online resources informed me page after page how pricey life is. But I didn’t understand the real weight of it until I saw that a simple fruit-and-nut bar costs 4 to 5 dollars. A decent meal at a so-so restaurant will cost at least $15—not including drinks. It’s not uncommon to spend $25 on a meal.

What’s funny though, is that I found a good, sturdy pair of shoes for the same price. It wasn’t Nike or Sketchers or any if those high-profile brands, but it was a functional pair of shoes.

And I see that across all products—the pricing structure is so illogical. Coles and Woolworths are two of the largest supermarket brands in Australia. Both have their own branded products for almost everything (like Trader Joe’s). Salt, pepper, detergent, prepackaged meals, chocolate, biscuits, chocolate biscuits—you name it, and chances are they’ll have it. They’re super cheap too—a 2-litre bottle of laundry liquid cost me less than $2. But unlike Trader Joe’s, these supermarkets also carry other local and imported brands which are four to six times expensive. Just for comparison, other detergents range between $7 to $10. And people still buy them.

Most people I’ve seen use a clever combination—they buy home brands for a lot of stuff, but they also spend extra on some other fancier brands. It all depends on the product. I’m still trying to discern how they reason it out, but after spending weeks comparing prices between brands and also between supermarkets, I’ve also started making some calculated purchasing choices.

The most important thing to know, if you’re visiting Australia, is that how items are priced makes no sense whatsoever. Whether you’re travelling from the US, Asia, or Europe, don’t expect logic. Come, explore, have fun and splurge. Don’t try and make sense of the Aussie way because you’ll only depress yourself by doing so. I speak from experience.

The National Botanical Gardens of Australia

I’ve been to quite a few botanical gardens in the past, and it was with that arrogance that I went into the Australian National Botanical Gardens. After all, it’s just a garden, I thought. What could be new?

Australian National Botanical Gardens - gift shop
Australian National Botanical Gardens – gift shop

It turns out that the Australian Botanical Gardens pay more attention to aspects of Australian geography and heritage. As I walked into the gardens, I first passed the gift shop, which—like any other gift shop—carried extensive and expensive trinkets for the tourist soul. Even though I didn’t purchase anything, I spend a good 15 minutes walking around, admiring local handicrafts. I had no idea how much the indigenous people’s artwork and culture permeated the Australian lifestyle. Despite battling discriminatory issues, Australia as a country makes conscious effort to recognise and even promote its indigenous roots.

After shuffling through coasters, notebooks, and bookmarks engraved with local birds and wildlife, I was ready to see the actual gardens.

National Botanical Gardens
National Botanical Gardens

Unlike the other gardens I visited, the Australian National Botanical Gardens appeared smaller by area. Looking at the map, I realised there’s a single main trail that went through the whole garden—ideal for people who just wanted to walk. For the others, the plant seekers, plenty of subordinate trails led from and across the main path. It was great because I could follow any trail to the smaller lawns and picnic areas, and still get on the main trail to continue through the garden. Here and there, leading from the main path were smaller and more concentrated enclosures—like the rock garden, the rainforest gully, the eucalyptus lawn, and the red centre garden.

Each of these gardens had one common aspect. The rainforest gully, for instance, showcases plants and creepers from Tasmania, the coldest and greenest state of the country. Even as I walked through the plants that spread their branches over my head, I could feel the temperates falling and the chilly breeze kissing my cheeks.

When I stopped at the rock garden, looking around trying to find my way back onto the trail, I got lost amidst rocky plants. Weird enough, however, despite seeing nothing but identical rocks, I felt a serene calmness overcome me. I was lost, but happy about it too. My heart skipped with joy looking at the odd plants that clung to the rocks—their life depends on them. Humans are the same. Even though we don’t realise or acknowledge it, we hold on to nature because our lives so depend on their survival.

That thought became even more profound when I arrived at the red centre garden. A massive landscape spread in front of me, its red sand, dry plants, and searing radiance almost blinding my eyes. It wasn’t a hot day—it was the ideal temperature for a day out. However, the moment I saw those desert plants and their habitat, I saw a tiny sample of the real heat that the Outback gets throughout the year. Everywhere I turned redness stared back, reflecting the emptiness of the landscape. To my surprise, though, the garden also featured a massive structure of a lizard native to the deserts. Here and there were also busts of smaller animals that call the desert home. Walking around the garden, I realised that even a lot of Australian children don’t see or experience the Outback—which makes up for almost one-fifth of the entire country.

As I headed back to the main trail, I couldn’t help but wonder at the marvel that is Australia. In a single garden, I managed to observe the various temperatures, plant life, and lifestyles that this country contains. I enjoyed the afternoon exploring the gardens. And each moment will remain in my mind just as pleasant as the herbs and eucalyptus plants, just as incredible as the rancid cacti, and just as beautiful as the chilling rainforests.

Ya alright, mate?

I haven’t talked about it much, but about three weeks ago, I moved to Australia. From south India. It took me two years to get a resident visa, and I was beyond thrilled when I saw the visa grant letter in my email.

I was at work at the time, and I galloped to the restroom so I could punch my fist in the air without alarming those around me. It was, after all, a life-changing moment and I had every right to celebrate—even if it meant shouting out inside a bathroom cubicle to muffle my jubilance.

After spending a month with my parents, consoling and convincing them that I’d be fine without them watching over me like hawks, I landed in Australia happy and dog tired. Having flown for almost 17 hours, excluding transit, I was too stupefied even to express my joy and excitement. I sat in the car on the ride home, staring at nothing in particular, unable to muster words, breathing just like another vegetable on the counter.

Jet lag, some people would call it. I wouldn’t, but I also don’t know what it was. Even for a few hours afterwards, I felt as if things were happening too fast for my puny mind to comprehend. I sometimes still stare into space, my mind wandering, unable to believe that I now live in the first world.

It’s natural. Culture shock affects us all in different ways, and this is how it is for me. For the first few weeks, I lived with Indian housemates who’d lived here long enough to become accustomed to the lifestyle. As for me, even my first experience in a supermarket was overwhelming. Although I’ve seen first world supermarkets on my trips to the US, I wasn’t browsing as a resident; I was just a visitor looking for snacks.

And even though there’s plenty of large chain supermarkets in India where I came from, the ones here are so much bigger and have much more variety.

There’s so much variety that it’s insane. I was walking down the aisles, browsing and musing…

There’s canned tomatoes, canned organic tomatoes, canned crushed organic tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, un-canned whole tomatoes, un-canned sun-dried tomatoes, red tomatoes, green tomatoes, and prepackaged tomatoes.

And I’m just cooking for one. I lost the will to use tomatoes.

But that wasn’t all. Take carrots, broccoli, or just peas for goodness’ sake. They’re fresh and whole; prepackaged in bundles; bundled and frozen; chopped and prepackaged; chopped and prepackaged in individual steam bags; and even boiled and ready to eat in packages.

And what a fool I’ve been all my life—I used to buy carrots, wash them in salt water, peel, and chop them before throwing in the pan.

Nowadays, it’s just as easy as buying frozen vegetables and microwaving it for lunch.

I did prepare myself for this move. I mean, I dreamt so much, planned and planned for almost two years. But I wasn’t ready for this.

I’m still lost for words at how much things have changed. This isn’t jet lag—this is a lifestyle, mate.

One day

A great monument of our time
pictured vague in historical texts
an obligation as a child in school
who called the third world home
a land far away from the others
living life unheard of and ignored
a curious kid in skirt and shoes
with wide eyes, wondering mind
learning from cheap illustrations
and hoping, one day, of seeing
the greatest of all architecture
towering proof of bygone culture

gushing back are those memories
as I see the tower crumble, again
its flying buttresses doubling over
losing strength of years conserved
trembling, tumbles the great spire
with it does all dreams of one day