Manali Memoir

“TRAVEL MAKES ONE MODEST, YOU SEE WHAT A TINY PLACE YOU OCCUPY IN THE WORLD.” ~ GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

Summer 2018,
… it had been a year since I’d moved back in with my family after spending two years away for a Masters programme. While I’d grown up in that house and lived with everyone for almost two and a half decades, but these two years seemed to have helped me grow in more ways than one.
So, behaving like a typical early adult- lacking patience and full of fire coupled with self assurance; I booked my seat on a week long get away that promised an absolute disconnect from the society and its hum-drum. With two friends accompanying me and about ten strangers to be befriended, I packed my rucksack for a taste of the mountains during the scorching heat.

Disclaimer: I’m not about to share the itinerary, but I plan to take you through what those seven days continue mean to me.

What started with an over night bus journey of dead silence and quiet observation of one another was about to turn into a week that I will continue to remember with great fondness for more reason than one. Stationed at a pit-stop the next morning to stretch our stiff muscles, freshen up and meet our local organisers… the first day began. I do not have a chronological memory of each day but a lot of small stories and some large eventual impacts on myself (of which I was unaware back then) that come rushing to my mind at this point.
So a chilly shower followed by an ice-breaking breakfast session accompanied by some of the most joyful dogs, did we get to know about the first place we were to hike to and stay camped for two nights…. oh wait, I promised no Itinerary! In which case, let’s keep it crisp, we had three different places where we stayed over the week, each of which is kept so pure and un-touched that one has to fall in love with them.

The more I got to know about the Mountaineerz – the company involved in organising this getaway, the more assured I felt that this is exactly what I needed. A couple from the metropolitans who packed their bags and started calling the mountains their home. They promise only what they can provide- an experience that encompasses the quiet and the wild, the divine, the exotic and the spiritual.
Imagine sitting in a clearing, amidst mountains. The sky wearing the darkest of blues and little lights scattered up above. A large ball of light helping you see your surroundings. No boundaries, no walls. Just the background music of water flowing and soothing you just the way a lullaby from your mother does. A blaring flame as if marking the epicentre of your group- keeping us together and keeping us warm. Then new but now familiar voices breaking into songs in different languages and all of them failing to feel strange.
Or… or just imagine being unloaded from your cars and after a hot-cuppa-in-the-cold-hills sort of tea, being asked to hop onto an open top light utility vehicle to make an up-hill journey into a quiet, almost self-sufficient and progressive village. A village I’v found difficulty in locating through google maps. Living in the home of the then Sarpanch, whose father-in-law had also served the community in the past. Jumping into cold water pools formed by the rivers in the mountain ranges and drying ourselves under the sun while just lying in abandoned meadows. Taking a walk around this simple and hardworking village with the Sarpanch’s husband, who seemed more than happy and proud being the home maker. Advocating women’s education and equal rights for them, he had me in absolute awe.
Waking up pre-dawn and wandering the village to find the right spot to immerse ourselves in the experience of watching the sun hop out from between the mountains, just like the drawings we all made as kids. Freshening up each morning using ice cold water. Re-filling our water supplies from the river and fetching wild ferns and mushrooms for our next meal, and learning to find the right kind of wood for our bonfire ritual. Learning about the traditions of the land while savouring the home cooked ‘siddu‘ and trout.

It was this trip and a friends I made and the time that I spent with myself that I’ll always be grateful for, when thinking about my writing and the beginning of blogging. One morning while I sat by myself on a plank at a certain height, just taking in the beauty around me that I felt the urge to write my thoughts down. In that quietness my mind was dropping deafening beats and a few scribbled words proved to be the only medium of noise cancellation. A few brief sentences down, I knew this was about to be a few pages. And a constant nagging by the newly acquainted co-traveller, our organiser and my now valued friend, had me convinced to let him in on the pages. The next thing I know he fed me the idea of making writing a regular process and soon creating the page.
It is funny to think that I had been so unsure and intimidated by this confidence that I told him that I’m going to give this project just six months of time and then quit. And today, it helps me get in touch with myself and sometimes even acknowledge my own thoughts.


By no means is this a promotional post, just me reminiscing in the memories of one of the best getaway I’ve ever had. It wouldn’t have been possible without the team that made it happen, hence the acknowledgement of Mountaineerz and Wandermile. Thank you for giving me a memory of a lifetime.
Let me introduce you to a popular Himachali folk song that I heard during the trip: Himachali Song that has stuck with me. Hope you enjoy it too!

It’s A Start

Just then we knew, we had miles to go and yet in that silence we were already getting better at understanding each other a little better- one laughter at a time.

Toes curling to hold onto the sand, taking support- placing one foot in front of the other. Breeze gently whistling through my ears, humidity causing perspiration in my strands. 
The sweet noise of dragonflies closing their business day and probably hustling back to their families. Fleets of big and small fishing boats racing against the setting sun from a day long adventure on the sea. The sight of a decaying tortoise, laying on its back at its final resting place- fishermen said that it had been washed ashore in this state the day before, maybe the century old limbs had given way, we’ll never really know. Crows scavenging to their hearts content. Little crabs running around while being camouflaged by the sands, avoiding being trampled by foreign feet. Roaring waves meeting the shore and parting like a lover kissing goodbye.
The comfort of a setting sun, the warmth of a loving arm, the music of a carefree laughter. What more could I have asked for? Briefly closing my eyes, I sent a quick prayer, paying gratitude for everything that I had in that moment. A simple evening of no frills, the sanguinity of a blazing but soothing sun, a new and promising life, a companion.
Taking unsure and short steps towards the waves and watching it pull the land from under us. Holding onto each other for support and giggling like little kids at our smarts in the moment. Letting our funny bones being poked, tickled and worked. 
Just then we knew, we had miles to go and yet in that silence we were already getting better at understanding each other a little better- one laughter at a time.

Viet Weak

Ever since I remember traveling, I know I’ve enjoyed it.
Ever since I remember enjoying travel, I have romanticized about it.
Ever since I’ve romanticized about travel, I’ve tried making it a consistent in my life.
And ever since I’ve been able to travel often, I’ve started to learn a little more about myself.

Quickly gaining popularity, for all the right reasons, is a country with perseverance like no other. Vietnam is home to a large number of motorbikes, so much so that crossing a street felt like an adventure sport to me. One of the last to fight a war for independence among 195 countries of the world, it is a land of farmers, workers, intellectuals, youth and soldiers.
I had the fortune of visiting this admirable country for a week and here is what I found out!

Here’s how the itinerary looked:
2 days in Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh (the commercial capital)
1.5 days in DaNang (a beauty by the coast)
1.5 days in Hoi An (lantern town)
2 days on Phu Quoc Islands (blue waters like I’ve never seen before)
(I know I skipped some of the must-go-to provinces and places, but there’s only so much I could see in such little time!)

Did you know, Vietnam is the only country that fought a super power for two whole decades without once folding?
Yep! Apart from the preliminary research that one can do from sitting at home, it is amazing how the country proudly showcases its history, struggles and achievements across museums and preserved strategic locations. The country and its people are nothing short of warm and hospitable. Serving bowls of the world’s healthiest food, they are brewery lovers through and through. As a communist country, there is no official religion but there is always a Church, a Pagoda or a Shrine, in whose beauty you can wallow.
With a blend of Communist and Non-Communist beliefs, the country proudly houses underground bunks and pathways (Cu Chi Tunnels) that were developed to convert their limitations into strategic strength during war. With Mekong river in the South and Red river to the North, Vietnam has very fertile lands and houses a large number of flora and fauna.

~that’s where I stop with the over whelming fact file~

Lets Talk About The Experience!!

Every time someone has asked me “How was your trip?”, “How did you find the country?”, “Tell me all about your week long getaway to Vietnam!”, etc… I’ve been consistent with some of these:
“I truly under estimated the country for its beauty and everything else that it has to offer.”, “I’m so glad that I got a sneak peak into it before it became an overly crowded tourist destination.”, “I’m in absolute awe with how someone (referring to the entire population) with such great strength and prowess can continue to remain so grounded and simple.”
Well, its true! The flowers look a little extra bright, the fruits and vegetable are a little extra juicy, the people are a little extra nice and the country is a little extra amazing.

The day I was to leave from DaNang and get to Hoi An, I wanted to visit the Marble Mountain, en route. The only issue was that I couldn’t drag my luggage along with me for four hours up a hill, into the caves and under the sun. So I decided to ditch it all in the truck of my taxi apart from a backpack that held my passport, some cash and a bottle of water, and paid him off for the ride thus far. I was a little skeptical and knew I was being extra crazy!
Now fast forward to: 4 hours, a drenched t-shirt, a few scars, dusty knees and elbows, parched throat, drained mobile battery and a gallery full of pictures later… My phone is hanging by the thread for life and it begins to ring!
Its my taxi driver calling to ask me if he should come to pick me up from the coffee house that we had decided upon. He needed 30 minutes to get there and that’s as much I’d need to get down once I started to wrap up. With our wrist watches pre-matched, we met at the point agreed upon and there he was smiling at my sun baked cheeks and my speed of drinking fresh coconut water!
(Some precautions/ safety tips, if you may)

Living with a local in Ho Chi Minh city, I was briefed about the country in general as I was about to step out for my first ever solo travel in the forth coming days. And this is how it went:

  • Always stay hydrated
  • Do not second guess the street food, if the spot is crowded you should try it
  • Avoid carrying your belongings in your land as snatching is a possibility (thank God for pockets :P)
  • Do not hesitate to ask for help, just smile and ask patiently
  • Its a trusting Country but you should do so responsibly and wisely
  • Women dominate the country in almost all fields and are well respected
  • People here are always willing to have a good chat and get to know about you, that’s just who they are
  • There is free Wifi almost everywhere!
  • Make sure you bargain; everything without a printed MRP is subject to price reduction based on your bargaining skills

This here is the summary to what I think about Vietnam, in an overview format.
I’m looking forward to sharing some more specific experiences, soon!
I hope you now know why I’m feeling Weak For Viet!!

I’m Just Choosing

I wish to fly 
I’m unloading 
I’m not insensitive 
I’m just choosing 


It’s just another week.
It’s been a regular month.
It’s an ordinary weather.
It’s an average list of chores.
It’s the daily hum-drum.
It’s the same faces around.
But,
But I’m making the most of it.
I’m trying to make my state-of-mind extraordinary.
I’m day dreaming travel and researching hostels.
I’m considering my options and being hopeful for the long weekends.
I’m sprinkling plans and I know some are about to stick.
I’m making me.
I’m making myself happy.
I’m being more than just my immediate surroundings.
I wish to try
I’m learning
I’m not incoherent
I’m just choosing
Am I delusional, you may wonder.
I’m childish and dreamy you might say.
I’m unreliable you might believe.
But I’m happy Is all that I care.
I’m trying is all I know.
I’ll get my tickets stamped, is all that I need to believe.
Sure you wish I saw the reality that you see
I understand that you are uncomfortable with my antiques
You do genuinely try to make me normal
Everyone’s wishful for me to adhere and conform
But I’ve seen people cry under the happy masks
I’ve heard the gloomy silence behind your crackling laughter
I’ve felt the burden of the unshed tears
And I know they weigh me down
I wish to fly
I’m unloading
I’m not insensitive
I’m just choosing

Responsible Travel

For a few days or a good portion of your lifetime, if you’re spending time somewhere, then at that point in your life that place is Home!
And taking responsibility for your home is only fair.

Before we dive into this one, I thought I should ask you a few quick questions-
1. Do you like to travel?
2. Have you ever moved around (for work or leisure, for short or long term)?
3. Do you think the world is a beautiful place, full of surprises?
4. Do you take responsibility for your surroundings?

Now that you know your answers, lets talk about the most amazing teacher that the universe has offered us and how we can begin or continue to show it our utmost respect!
The chance to experience life from different perspectives teaches us things that most libraries fail to. To witness cultures different from ones own, makes us more accepting than any diploma. A rendezvous with a heterogenous crowd is sometimes all the spiritual awakening needed.

As promised to myself earlier, I asked for insights and help from people around me and I’ve had the most absorbing learning experience. To hear someone passionately talk about things close to their heart rubs off a certain sense of high even on its audience and that’s exactly how I felt. Be it scaling mountains, finding off-beat locations, swimming around the corals or creating experiences… it has been intoxicating.
While my three points of contact had me giddy with the information and the imageries they painted, I’ve tried to summarise and make a list of things that they couldn’t stress enough and are simple to practice.

I got in touch with each one of them individually and they have re-affirmed my approach towards travel and tourism. To me, travel is when I visit a place and let the place submerge me into itself, from the folks to the lores, its economy and cuisines, all of it. Travel lacks the fear of missing out, which for me is usually associated with tourism; the need to finish my checklist of places-to-visit, not necessarily taking the chance to truly enjoy it. (1)

Before I start with their insights, let me list the 7 outdoor ethics that the world should live by.
1. Plan ahead and prepare
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
3. Dispose of waste property
4. Leave what you find
5. Minimize campfire impacts
6. Respect wildlife
7. Be considerate of other visitors
These pointers form the framework of responsibility and remain universal. These are further explained in detail by Leave No Trace; an organisation that is working towards sustaining the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy the nature responsibly.

Moving on, here are the super obvious seeming things that most of us could easily over look while planning the next getaway, but should not. Things that were suggested by these super amazing travellers, and I know I’m going to adopt as a practice in my travels and life in general.
1. Research. Research. Research. Know the rules and laws of the land that you’re visiting. Acquaint yourself with their culture and practices so as to not offend anyone. Know the climatic swings and the culture sensitive points.
2. Travel Insurance. Its always better to be safe and protected.
3. Maps! Network and connectivity over mobile data could restrict you from exploring isolated spaces, but these will keep you from being lost.
4. Eat, Stay and Shop Local. The best way to support a community and enjoy it to the fullest is by being a part of it.
5. Do Not Feed Wild Animals
6. Carry your waste with you. If you cannot find a waste bin/basket on-site, then carry it with you until you reach one; plastic, cigarette buds, food leftovers, packaging wastes, etc.
7. Bring Reusable Bags. They are always handy and do not occupy space in your luggage.
8. Skip Straws and Single Use Plastic Water bottles. Use a water purifying system as and when possible.
9. DO NOT LITTER. Even if the locals do, and should goes without reason.
10. Lights Out. Everytime you leave a premise make sure to switch the lights off and other appliances, and try to use electricity mindfully.
11. Use Public Transport or Carpool. You never know which interesting story you might hear or become a part of!
12. Conserve Water.

TRAVEL FUN FACTS…. because, what better way to prove the above point!
Driving without your headlights on is illegal in Denmark, even during the day time.
It is illegal to spit in Barcelona.
Eating during Ramadan when in UAE is illegal.
You cannot frown in Milan.

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Much love and power to Mountaineerz, Wandermile and The Lume Weaver for being my points of contact, source of information and sharing their insights.

The picture is by Prakritee Sandilya, thank you love!!

Afloat in Mulki

And just like that she knew that even though she had rested, she never really had parted from the sea and it was time to be back in it!

Back flat on the grainy floor of a front porch, eyes closed, she truly enjoyed the burning of her skin under the sun. It was hotter than usual but her body continued to feel like she was bobbing on the river in a kayak. The harmless insects took their own time starting at the heel and climbing to the toe. The slow crawling felt oddly welcoming.

The heat soothing the strained muscles, the coconut trees making the light play peek-a-boo on her face; nature’s care in the most tender form. Clothes a little damp from all the water splashed by her amateur paddles, the skin was well pickled by the minerals of the sea. With a colour block vision of lush green and muddy blues, her brain seemed to be playing games with her relaxing eyes.

The fresh water caressing the parked kayaks on the shore created a prolonging sensation, amplified by the smell of moss, mush and all things tropical. Moist hair, dressed in a bizarre runway fashion, feeling flakey against the pruning fingertips didn’t seem like a concern anymore. The soreness between the index finger and the thumb from rowing, a sweet reminder of ticking another experience off her list and enjoying it just as much as she had imagined. The circular, dance-like movement of the vultures in the sky will always remind her of them joining in her own merry making.

The land was solid and stable yet the mind believed that it was drifting under bridges, around groves. The reflection of white migrating birds and their graceful flight inches away from the surface still had her wondering. She still felt an unreasonable pang of jealousy when she saw fishes skipping with no worry in the world and the jets leaving a relatively permanent trail like a longer lasting reflection of the water lines cut through to move ahead.

The frogs croaked gleefully like in a fare, the dragonflies wheezing around occasionally and slowly the crickets were starting to claim their space. Pockets filled with sand, the lips were smile kissed.

There was a nearing sound of moving tarpaulin under approaching feet and she heard her name. And just like that she knew that even though she had rested, she never really had parted from the sea and it was time to be back in it!

*An experience this beautiful is to be credited to its curators. I first met Rakesh in Manali on a trip put together by Wandermile (Chennai based). This group’s experiential itineraries are soul-felt and enriching.

Read more about them at http://blog.wandermile.com/ or get in touch through contact@wandermile.com

Ba-Dastoor

‘O Soul, thou art at rest.
Return to the Lord at peace with Him,
and He at peace with you.’

There was the light blue sky, white marble domes with emerald and ruby pietradura floral art, guarded by a sandstone red prayer hall on the west and its mirror image for a guest house on its east side. The palette in front of me, as I sat on the Victorian bench in the heart of the lush green gardens, could not have been better.

In a borrowed kurta from baba’s suitcase and a pair of breezy pants, my sleepy eyes looked around with the excitement of a child when I first walked through the arch and glimpsed at the beauty in white. Said to have been constructed as a symbol of love by a man for his beloved over a period of two decades, this marble structure had me falling in love slowly but surely.

While I waited for nature to play out its theatrics, I tried to remember my first visit to the mausoleum-that has been a whooping part of the country’s identity. I wasn’t sure what we had done the first time; there were no strong associations or incidents to create a foundation upon. But there was a lingering feeling of déjà vu once our guide started unraveling the details about its history and symmetry of scales.

All I did was sit down and stay still.

I had to sit down and stay still while everyone around me kept moving in an over whelming frenzy.

I sat down and stayed still when everyone around me was high on anticipation of what was next.

I sat down and stayed still while the silhouette went through the shade card and eventually shifted form.

At first I saw the sky as a deep blue curtain floating against some sprinkled chalk dust and a fading moon; and the winds whispered to me

Then there were emerging patterns of cotton clouds and flying beings against a canvas splattered with gold; while the leaves rustled against the hardened path.

This gold ever so beautifully enveloped into a glowing sun left on a comfortable sheet of light blue; with the morning birds bursting into an acapella.

The scene unfolded from being a glittery performer to a somber lady of pastels.

In an urge to make a lasting association this time over, my mind pulled me back to something I had overlooked in my childlike haste of what lay ahead-

‘O Soul, thou art at rest.

Return to the Lord at peace with Him,

and He at peace with you.’

-the inscriptions on the entrance arch had translated.

On the way, most buildings were coloured dust and red with benches under trees that stood witness to the tales of love and romance over the ages. The air was stained with the crisp stench of hand rolled tobacco and the mildly brewing tealeaves. With cobbled streets and modest houses, the streets around the Taj felt like an architectural conspiracy.

Like most of my early morning squanders on vacations, even this involved baba obliging to my relentless pleas to go to the marvel and breath it in its glory along with the chirping songs at ungodly hours. There was suddenly an unknown comfort in this strange city, like I had become a part of its story as the story had become a part of me

*Ba-Dastoor is an urdu word, meaning unaltered

Hill Climb

After a while of aimless walking and wandering about, feeling like characters of an improv, in a setting drastically different from our regular, on a lazy Sunday morning…

During one fateful monsoon, I visited Dharamshala in a song like weather. Everything in this little Himachal town was picturesque- the rustic winds, the quality atmosphere and the calm of the hills. The view was warmly accommodating, almost like a welcome with open arms. It was the perfect mood for the cuddles, to stay bundled in cushioned beds and yet so appropriate for the wanderers to get lost. The Tibetan ensemble of the town gave it a foreign land feel and the weather was the right amount of soothing.

A group of three, we were well spread on the general tourist behaviour continuum. There are the kind who are just so over-joyed with the spirit of vacation that they can’t sit still for long. These are the ones who will have a checklist for the trip and will try to cut down on sleep just for that little extra. Then there are the ones who like to soak in all the energy they spend on a regular basis; the ones that just snuggle in and sleep to their heart’s content and rejuvenate through resting, if not hibernating. And then there are the ones who do a little of both and fall right in the middle of this continuum.

Ma- the one on snooze; decided to stay cooped up with an old book that I’ve seen her read multiple times and some masala chai. In awe with the place, Baba- the one in the middle of the continuum, and I- the hyper active checklist holder; tightened our trainers and started to explore the hills. No destination in mind and no plans at hand, we decided to see where the mixture of hills, greens and clouds would lead us.

To my utter satisfaction, I was ticking off many things on my informal list on a single stroll- walking on clouds, watching the far mountain snow glow lava as the first rays of morning sun hit it, hearing water flow as we sat listening to birds chirping, walk in the deserted lanes before they got crowded, clicked a gazillion pictures so I remember how beautiful the place is, made a bunch of wild flowers and growths to press into my book, heard the silent music of the town, observed the houses with their colour schemes and the setting of the place, filled my lungs with the uniqueness and tried to memorise the collective feeling of it all.

After a while of aimless walking and wandering about, feeling like characters of an improv, in a setting drastically different from our regular, on a lazy Sunday morning, we started to head back to our hotel room with the idea of some comforting tea and breakfast enticing us, as we desperately covered our ears from the surprise wind and the constant drizzle.

The uphill climb was a lung burner. We stopped by the very rocks where I has fascinatedly looked at the moss and baba thought I was crazy. Suddenly, I heard him say to himself,
“There is no better teacher than a walk in the nature. Every time we walk down the hill we are ramrod straight with arrogant broad shoulders, head held high with no appreciation for our lungs. Its only when we walk up, well, we bend, look humble and ask each breath to take it easy on us. And its only the uphill walk, the one that all of us dread, that gives us the best view there is. It’s such a beautifully detailed graph”.

I’m not sure if he was talking to me or just thinking out loud. We never spoke of it. But from time to time, I revisit that moment, when my lungs start to burn and I don’t yet see the view that the hill climb holds for me.

… because when a thought first occurs, it is organised into ideas and plans, and then transformed into reality. But the beginning really is in your imagination…

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TAIL SPIN

Click For Some Music

After piling up weeks upon weeks of driving round trips for work, one evening I took the leap, ditching the car hopped onto the metro.

Don’t get me wrong since this wasn’t the first time that I used public transport, but to get me right you need to realise that this ride wasn’t just me reaching my destination. This ride was just me appreciating and realising small things. This hit me like a moment of serendipity or just plain eureka of the obvious.

I watched the red lights twinkle like stars, while I was afloat, above a blanket of city lights. I was floating with earphones on, music playing on shuffle and me playing a game of no-matter-what-don’t-select-a-song. I felt rather annoyed but feeling helpless isn’t pleasant, what could I do, it was crowded in there. Making me uneasy yet challenged by the situation.

And so I took to looking. Looking at the movement and exchanges happening around me. After all, how could I not be tempted to watch people go on with life instead trying to tailor my own?

Passengers were rushed in and boarded off without having to try. All you had to do was turn towards the door and take a step towards it when its your stop. It felt like the shoulder rides that dad would give me as a kid. I was on top of the world and didn’t have to worry about steering myself through the crowds of a fair.

The obvious had me feeling soothed. The snaking of the metro’s spine like a graceful charmer. The budding of potential relationships through the age-old palmistry tricks. The selfless smiles of acknowledgement between people who might just remain co-passengers and nothing more. A son almost jumping on his father when they found each other on the metro, at the end of the day; they didn’t care if they were suddenly taking more room than available and readily apologised but continued to be excited about exchanging snippets from the day that’s about to end. All this, once again, felt like a walk through majority of student life. You know some and pretend to know most on campus. I remember that feeling of meeting my friends each morning like a night apart was actually a lifetime apart.

The ride took a halt and the curtains opened to a scene that I partially witnessed and completely interpreted, like any excellently written play. A man trying to help a granny rush so they could both get in and neither of them having to wait for the next- they didn’t seem to know each other as she said thanks and never looked back. Could he have been reminded of his own childhood where he saw her snowcapped hair that resembled his granny’s?

A beginner at graying offered their seat to the lady in her prime because she had a bag full of supplies on her shoulder, while another kid offered to cradle the fast asleep bundle so that an older looking sibling could text somebody. Suddenly, respect didn’t look uni-directional but just a tool for co-existence.

Before I knew it, my ride came to an end. Only when I’d started to dig in was I handed the original spin off- an old, loud, bright and rather opposite one. This was Saturday evening, hence the time to tidy up and get the hustle game off.