Category Archives: Journal

In Transit

Photo Kim Meyer

The return trip was long. At one in the morning I bid Sajjad farewell, handed him the keys to my trusty bike – a thank you for everything – and hopped in the cab. The familiar ride to Mumbai was spent in deep thought, traversing from the silent silhouettes of the Pune hills to the ever bustling streets of Mumbai. With every passing landmark the end of a very special episode in my life drew closer.

Seventeen hours later I stood outside the Helsinki terminal, up for thirty-six, being lulled by the pale spring sunlight. A fresh Nordic breeze was swirling about. And there, next to me, were my parents and brothers – a long-awaited reunion. I couldn’t grasp it all.

We loaded my bags into the car and headed for my apartment.


Every home has its own scent. Most people don’t know what exact scent their home has, but stay away for long enough and you’ll notice it when you come back.

Newly chopped wood. That’s what my home smells like.

It looked mostly like I had left it. I set down my suitcase and rucksack on the living room floor and unloaded my goods: 45 kilos of scarfs, suits, Kurtas, shirts, shoes, trinkets, hookahs – and mementos.

One by one I placed the pieces on my shelf.

The Apophyllite crystal, dug from the hills of Pune.

The statue of meditating Buddha, ever mindful; a silent reminder of the barren and majestic landscapes of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Ganesha – a gift from the café I frequented; a thank you for all those scorching afternoons I sat on the terrace, sipping a cold hazelnut twist and marveling at the crazyness of it all.

And the jade dragon that, every time I’d invite it to, would take me back to those alluring streets of Hong Kong.

I gazed at the items for a moment, listening. They gazed back, in silence; memories that are mute for now, much too young. With time they would make themselves heard; those sounds need to travel before there is an echo.

I glanced around the apartment. The silence wasn’t just limited to the mementos, it was everywhere. And it was deafening. There wasn’t a single moment during the last seven months when I experienced silence like this. No more loud traffic, barking dogs or hums of rickety appliances. This, and much else, might take some getting used to.

And it did. To be honest, the first week was rough. There was the relief of being back home, of course – but there was also this constant feeling of something being a bit off. Everything was pretty much the same: Helsinki, my home, the office and the people. But I wasn’t – or at least I didn’t feel like it. I was trying to fall into the same slot I used to be in, but noticed that I don’t seem to fit anymore. The divide between here and there too broad, I felt like I was somewhere in-between. Stuck in transit, with no place where I’d truly belong. It’s a strange, unsettling feeling.

Reverse culture shock. They warned me about this, but I thought it would be a piece of cake. In many ways it’s worse than the actual one: when you’re abroad, you’re to some extent mentally prepared for things to be different. When you return you just expect to go back to how it was. But you can’t, it’s not that easy. It just doesn’t feel like it used to. That return flight may have landed two weeks ago, but I have yet to arrive.

Good news is that it’s temporary. Day by day, act by act, I gravitate back towards the life I used to live. This too shall pass, and with time I will, again, feel at home.

But now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to walk the dog.

All Good Things

It starts with nothing. A void, a numbness. You know you’re in for a change once again; an uprooting, a shift in that part of you that bases itself on where your home is. But at some point that feeling will come forth; that realization, that anticipation that today you are, indeed, returning home.

Home from where? From what? My mind starts to unravel the last seven months. Bit by bit the depth of this experience starts to unfold. And I am humbled. Humbled by everything I’ve experienced; the scenery, culture and people. Scorching beaches, humid jungles, lush hills and barren mountainscapes – not to forget the spectacular skyline of Hong Kong, or the wonderful ambience of Nepal. Random festivals, peculiar customs and genuinely nice people.

My mind goes all the way back to that first week in October, and how different it all felt back then, still on the doorstep of this amazing journey. Still unknowing what awaits.

All this talk about scenery and culture puts the real stars in the shade: my new friends. The people I’ve been hanging out with here are truly good guys, and I will miss each and every one of them. Good thing we have Skype.

It’s all still too much to take in, really. I will have ample time to ponder on this later. What I need to do now, is say goodbye.

Sitting on my last cup of cold hazelnut twist coffee at Habitats, I began to sink into that same melancholic state I had before leaving Helsinki. Knowing that this was the last time in a long while that I would see these places cast it all in a slightly different light: all the small everyday frustrations began melting away, and what I saw underneath was what was truly good – what I’ll miss.

Hell, for a moment even the constant honking seemed innocently ludicrous.

With slow steps I left the office for the last time. The bike ride down Baner road was made with slow pedal strokes. The air didn’t feel as hot today. The traffic less hectic.

Every now and then I would glance around, just to imprint it all just a bit more. Stop and watch a herd of cows cross the street. See street dogs resting, waiting for the cool of the evening to descend. Zigzag around people walking on the driving lane. Savour all those moments that I’ve gotten used to over the months.

Bags are packed now. Soon I’m heading down to Mumbai International, and from there to Istanbul. A few hours layover later I’ll be on the plane to Helsinki, and by tomorrow evening I’ll be back home.

Home. That word keeps pointing to different places.

Funny thing, that.

A Farewell to the Flower Girl


On my way back from Jammu & Kashmir I had to do a short stop in Mumbai. There was something I needed to take care of before returning back to Finland: saying farewell to Laxmi, the flower girl I met by the Gateway some months ago.

Up in the mountains of Leh, neither my local nor my Finnish SIM card was working. While this was unexpected, it was a welcome forced removal from the grid. A liberation from the digital chains of modern society. However, this also hindered me from calling Laxmi and setting up a meeting. So I asked Sajjad, via Whatsapp while on the hotel’s wifi, to call her and arrange a meet outside Café Leopold at 17:30. For the trouble I would buy him a cold hazelnut twist coffee once I got back.

The heat in Mumbai was a stark contrast to the cool mountainscapes of Ladakh. And despite it being Sunday, it was as crowded as ever.

We met outside Leopold, at 17:30, among merchants and tourists. I hadn’t seen her since the time I was in Mumbai, with Hugo, in November. We sat down at a corner table. The café was packed, as always. As we were doing some catching up, we were joined by Puja, a six year old girl. She was the daughter of one of Laxmi’s friends, who was also in the neighbourhood. Cute kid – shy and a bit awkward, I don’t think she was used to these kinds of places.

Ok, I thought. I’ll buy her a meal as well. Looked like she could use it. In fact, neither of them had eaten anything that day. Laxmi had the usual: cheese and chicken sandwich. Same for the kid, but untoasted bread. And a bottle of coke.

I asked her if she still had the photos I gave her. She did, and apparently she treasures them: in order to not lose them, she wears them on her back, inside her dress. She showed them to Nanda, who promptly offered her house in exchange for them. I said to Laxmi she had to be joking. Nope, she was serious.

Although Laxmi seemed to be doing alright, she wasn’t: just a week ago she had been to the hospital for heat stroke, malnourishment and dehydration. She’s not allowed near the Gateway anymore; too many flower girls, the authorities say.

She still sleeps out on the streets. She called me, one evening about two months ago, and told me this. There’s a small flat that she could rent, but has no support network that could help her out. Monsoon will be starting in a month or two, and if you don’t have a roof over your head by then you’re in for worse times.

This was also one reason I wanted to meet her. Tucked away in my backpack I had an envelope with a small sum of cash. It should help her get by, for a few months. A small farewell from me, and a thanks for the whole Diwali thing. I handed her the envelope.

Meanwhile, the shy girl was cautiously starting to come out of her shell, glancing up at me every now and then. She had a toy: the detached front panel of an old phone – just the plastic framework – and a piece of worn out cardboard with some advertisements. If you put them on top of each other you could, with enough imagination, get something that looked like a phone with a large, colorful display.

What about her, I asked Laxmi while looking at Puja, what does her future look like?

They’ll try to get her in a private school. They don’t teach English in public schools – something that is seen as a deal-breaker when it comes to future opportunities. But it’s expensive, and for them to be able to pay for it all they need to save up some money. Until then she’ll follow her mother around, selling flowers and begging.

We started playing with the drinking straws. For some reason, tying knots on them was very entertaining. I would tie a knot or two, hand it over to Puja. She would effortlessly open them and shine a triumphant smile. I picked out a longer straw and tied four knots on it. She thought it was too pretty, and handed it back to me.

Once we were done with our meals it was time for me to be on my way.

Outside, I told her it was nice that we met, on that equally hot day in October. It was nice of her to stay in touch and invite me to the Diwali festivities in Hadapsar. She wished me all the best and said I would be in her prayers.

As the cab zoomed away I waved to Laxmi, and showed Puja the “call me” sign. She smiled and showed up her neat phone.


The Heebie Jeebies


People sometimes ask me if I freaked out at any point when preparing for the trip, if I started stressing about what I was getting myself into. And I would say no, since what I was feeling was something closer to positive excitement, a pleasant unknown – a sense of adventure!

But this still was, subjectively speaking, quite an undertaking and bound to rattle somewhere. And, admittedly, I did get the fight-or-flight feeling, once: 15 minutes before boarding the flight from Helsinki. I was sitting in the terminal, feeling quite calm and looking out toward the runways – at nothing in particular. Then it hit me, like a wave from an unseen horizon – as these things usually do.

My skin started tingling and my mind was racing, frantically trying to find a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. What am I doing, moving to another country? More or less by myself, to almost the other side of the world, for six months? Did I really want to do this? What if I hate it, what if I can’t cope? What if I get seriously ill?

Alright alright alright, this was to be expected, I thought. Tried to keep a cool head, took a few deep breaths and started walking through that inner maze, telling the lizard brain that the more evolved parts got this covered; everything was going to be fine. Just let go.

Just let go.

A few minutes later the wave had passed and my head was back on my shoulders. Not as firmly as before, but good enough.

It was almost time to board the flight. Decided to call my parents, to give a final farewell from Finnish soil. Also told my mom – who, not surprisingly, is usually the more fretting one of the two – not to worry about this whole India thing; I was going to be just fine.

I’m still not sure if it was her or myself that I was trying to convince.



For a moment there I thought the East India Express would be my last trip here in India. And I would have been fine with that; with that nine day train journey and the recent trip to Hong Kong I’ve certainly been keeping my travel bug content.

But, lo and behold, it’s not over yet! I had a look at the calendar, counted the weekends, reviewed my notes and came to the conclusion that there’s still room for a little something. So today I got tickets up to Jammu and Kashmir, where I’ll be enjoying mountain scenery, barren landscapes and blends of buddhism and Indian culture in the small town of Leh. Departure is in one week – a four day extended weekend is all I could manage. I have to work too, you know!