Thursday, July 23, 2009

A trek to Nagalapuram

Why does one go on a trek? A break from the monotony of city life? To enjoy a tryst with nature? To see sights that one cannot otherwise see? Difficult to answer since there are times when a trek seems to be all strain and no rewards and, yet, one returns from the trek with an indefinable sense of satisfaction.

This trek to Nagalapuram is difficult to describe because one is unable to answer the most common questions that are normally asked about a trek. For example there is no answer to the question of where we did go to since there was no concrete goal – a waterfall, the top of a peak or even a temple – which was achieved. Nor indeed can one cite the height to which one climbed since we ascended only to descend and then walked along a stream bed. Was it a pleasant stroll in verdant surroundings? Not at all since the most part of the trek was jumping boulder to boulder and, thus, one was constrained to look at where one was placing his feet rather than taking in the sights.

The drive from Chennai to Nagalapuram – with Vinod and Chandru - was fun for the usual reason – great company. Once there, we had to walk about 3 Kms to reach the starting point of the trek. As usual, there were some good Samaritans who directed us with such great effect that we meandered all over the landscape before arriving at a waterfall (a mild apology for one since it was composed of minor trickles flowing down a rocky outcrop) which was to serve as the starting point of the trek. A small cave with a Shivling and a Nandi served a temple at the right end of the pool at the base of the waterfall.

Vinod and I, as usual, were into the water without any more ado. Vinod successfully climbed up the rock outcrop to the top of the waterfall in his customary exhibition of a reversal of the evolutionary process. Little did I know that I would have to later emulate this feat, in a minor way, as the day progressed!

Having done with the bathing, the three of us wended our way up the hillock that bordered the waterfall. Loose stone and nettles made it a reasonable painful process with Chandru complaining humorously that the whole process was a conspiracy to convert him to a bag of bones. I was too busy slipping and slithering to come up with witty repartee (at least I had an excuse for not being witty…normally I have no excuse to cover up my lack of wits!).

Having managed the climb, with little loss to life and limb, Vinod pointed out to what looked like a 75 degree incline and said, “Now I think we descend this gradual slope to reach the stream-bed. Let me check first.”

Every now and then one comes across the fact that a word that means one thing to you means something entirely different to another but this mistake in the understanding of the word ‘gradual’ bid fair to reduce Chandru and I into quivering bags of jelly – literally, as Chandru pointed out, since we were contemplating the possibility of a much more rapid descent than Vinod was considering! At this point Chandru refused point-blank from proceeding with what he refuses to accept as a trek! Having sprained a couple of fingers a few days back - while mistaking his staircase for a ski-slope – he had a valid problem. While I was hunting around for a reasonable excuse to drop out Vinod called from below to proceed and, failing an acceptable excuse, I did.

The first twenty feet or so of the ‘gradual slope’ involved walking on loose rock, which made it impossible to maintain a footing. Adopting my customary elegant mode of travel I sat down on the rock-face and slowly slithered down till I reached a place where the footing was better and I had a rock wall to hold on to while descending. Thereafter, the descent assumed the customary level of difficulty and without any great ado I managed to reach the stream-bed and rejoined Vinod.

The problem with frequent treks is that a gurgling stream meandering in the midst of verdant forests seems to be nothing worth writing home about unlike the case in my city-bound days. The sense of ineffable peace that descends on you while trekking in such surroundings was upon me despite the fact that the trekking involved jumping from boulder to boulder more often than not.

This path ought to have been named ‘Butterfly Alley’ as Vinod called it. Every few feet on ran into a big swarm of them in myriad colors. My maiden attempts at amateur photography, however, failed miserably since they just vanished within micro-seconds of my unlimbering my camera. A more camera-shy bunch of beings I have never come across in my life!

The boulder-to-boulder jumping has its pitfalls and once my shoes got wet they started emulating skates. This then meant that the shoes remained permanently wet since at every other step I would skate off the boulder and into the water. This happened so often that Vinod started taking it as the norm in lieu of the concern he exhibited the first couple of times.

We walked (jumped? Skated?) till about 12 PM when we decided to take a dip in a convenient pool there and turn back. There are few pleasures to equal a cool dip after a hot trek and a drink of cool water when you are thirsty. After having pleased ourselves thus we wended our way back.

Vinod was surprised about the difficulty I expressed about the initial descent to the stream bed and asked me to follow him closely in order not to avoid the easy path he had taken. I had no idea that his easy path would lead me to a position where the only way forward was a climb up a near-vertical rock face for about 20-30 feet!

Since flinging myself on the ground and going ‘Waaah!’ was not on considering that we were standing precariously on a six inch wide ledge, there was scant option but to try my rock-climbing skills. Having declined my only opportunity to climb rocks at Ramangaram – with rope harness and all – whatever skills were necessary had to be developed in situ. A chap who is notorious for his two left feet and all-thumbs hands is unlikely to approach any such job with great confidence. Confidence or no, I had the climb to do and I did do it. How I did it is a mystery to me but what it did to me I have since known with all the muscles that I didn’t know existed in my upper body screaming non-stop in pain for the next three days!

The rest of the tale is anti-climactic. We reached the initial waterfall pool with the temple in the corner. While we were taking a dip in the pool, the sun reflected off the pool to the roof of the cave housing the temple and created such an enchanting canopy of light that I couldn’t take my eyes off it for as long as the light show was on!

When I look back on the trek, I can recollect many memorable incidents but nothing that qualifies as a highlight. It is the accumulation of warm moments that made it a joyous experience and not the heights you climbed. Much like life, isn’t it?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Of Power

The sense of Power exists only in the contemplation of its misuse. In other words, a person feels powerful only when he is contemplating the possibility of misusing his position. This looks like a sweeping statement but is no more than the bare fact if one really thinks about it.

There will be little, if any, argument if one were to say that a person who has to choose only one course of action and is bereft of choices is a powerless person. Thus, Power can exist only when the concerned person can choose one course of action from a gamut of choices. A person feels most powerful when the choices he makes can affect other people.

When one talks of power one invariably thinks of politicians and bureaucrats since they are the modern surrogates of Kings and Emperors who were considered the most powerful people in their era. These Public Servants (surely an exhibition of tongue-in-cheek humor to call these people ‘servants’ when they are most likely to consider themselves as masters) are given their positions and their authority in order to serve the public good. If, indeed, they make all their choices for that purpose they are least likely to consider themselves powerful since the decision can no longer be of their choice but will be driven by considerations of public good. Their sense of power comes only because they can exercise their authority to suit their whims. If every action and decision were to be weighed on the scale of public good alone, they would only feel the weight of responsibility. Where the decision of what constitutes public good is based on their judgement the sense of responsibility would be all the more heavy.

There is the much-touted argument about the ‘power to do good’. It is merely a usage of the word ‘power’ to denote capability and not in the sense that denotes a feeling of personal power. The power to give is felt as personal power only when the giver contemplates the fact that he has the power to deny. The chap who delivers the donation cheque to the recipient does not feel powerful since he has no choice but to give it. Thus, even when it comes to giving to social causes, the donor can feel powerful only when he thinks of the fact that he can deny. A sense of power, therefore, comes into being only when the person concerned starts thinking negatively about denying help whimsically. If the Gandhian idea of the wealthy being caretakers is applied, donations/help ought to be given where deserved and exercising your whim to give or to deny counts as misuse.

The adage ‘Power corrupts! Absolute Power corrupts absolutely!’ does not go far enough. A sense of Power in inherently corrupt and any person who seeks personal power is a person who is automatically contemplating its misuse in a greater or lesser degree.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Requiem for some cinematic formulae

Passing time watching old movies is great fun especially considering that quite a few of the cinematic ideas of the past are irrevocably dead and gone. Before getting down to list a few of them one must make mention of those ideas which ought to find mention but do not simply because they have a disconcerting habit of coming back from the dead.

One idea that appears immortal is that of brothers/sisters (twins or otherwise) separated in the childhood as immortalized in ‘Yaadon ki baraat’. Just as one thinks that this is as dead as the dodo, it springs back to life like a phoenix ! The other one – the love triangle - partakes of more immortal blood and lives on in one avatar or the other. I make no mention of the hunt for revenge as a theme since without it Bollywood et al would go into an irreversible tail-spin!

One hesitates to mention the cancerous hero trying to make the loving heroine hate him as a dead idea but it does seem as though it is currently out of favor. Whether it is because the times do not favor such lachrymose themes or because macho heroes prefer not to moon around draped in shawls, one does not know. Let us put it to the fact that being a widow in today’s times is not the sort of living hell that it used to be and, thus, the hero does not think that the heroine should be saved from this fate worse than death.

The other thing that one does not see is the patriarch/matriarch counting his/her last breaths but using it all up in extracting promises from the hero/heroine which makes him/her wish that they had died instead! This promise is extracted with the preface of “I will not survive..” and it is not normally a bullet in the body that causes them to say so. Having never died before I don’t know whether one does realize the imminence of death on one’s death-bed but I am sure that someone who has had a chest pain may well feel close to death and find it was a mere gastric attack! Much of my time in the past used to be spent in thinking of such a ‘dying’ declaration succeeded by a red-faced survival of a gastric attack. One wonders whether, under these circumstances, the promise would still be held valid!

My pet theme, however, is the one employed in the past to get around the ‘How does boy meet girl and fall in love’ problem. There is a party where some miscreants mix liquor into the unsuspecting girl’s coke which she drinks up fully without ever realizing the adulteration. Fully sozzled she goes on further to get thoroughly drenched in the rain. The hero, then, finds her in this pitiable condition (white saree and all and maybe after bashing up the miscreants!) and takes her home. She wakes up in his bed and, under the covers, finds that she has been undressed and is embarrassed whereupon the hero assures her that he had his eyes closed all the time. This, naturally, not only reassures her about her chastity but also about the hero’s noble nature and love is the natural result!

This theme, I think, is irrevocably dead for the following reasons:

1. If ever there existed a time when a girl could not recognize that her coke was adulterated to the extent that she polished it off this day is certainly not that time. If anything, a girl is likely to be sozzled because she ordered her liquor and not because of any miscreant adulterating her coke.

2. White sarees in this day and age!! And, heroines!! What would they have to do with so much yardage? If titillation was the need of the day, a micro-mini or a bikini can do the job, can’t it?

3. I never have managed to understand this thing of being reassured by the hero closing his eyes while undressing the heroine. If the hero were not noble, his reassurance would be worth nothing. If he were noble, I would be a lot more reassured if he could see what he was doing. This concept of a chastity that is limited to the eyes and not to do with his hands beats me and, I think, beats the film-makers of today as well!

4. I am afraid that if such an incident did happen in this sexually permissive age, the heroine would either question the hero’s virility or her own attractiveness..neither of which is conducive to the blossoming of love!

I am sure one can think of a lot more such cinematic formulae of the past that have ceased to exist. The above is not an exhaustive list and, if I do remember more, I shall put it up later.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fun with ads

It is not that I don’t like ads. Given that my day passes in front of the TV, when I am not trekking, ads sort of force themselves on me. This, in effect, means that the only fodder for what passes for my brain are ads! For example, whenever I see that dispirin ad which says, “When you don’t have time for a headache, take a dispirin”, I am forced to think about what they do suggest when you actually have time for a headache!

This once I am not singling out ads that, for whatever illogical reason, struck me as not sensible. Sometimes the timing of the ads are more humorous than most stand-up comedians. There was this ad – HDFC insurance, if my memory serves me right – about a kid planning to be a cosmonaut and the dad saying that he would save money to allow her to become one. The ad ends with the kid saying, “Yeh achcha plan hai”. As ever, one had the shortened version (how one wishes that the zoozoo ads were also shortened in their re-runs!) which begins and ends with the kid’s statement. A channel once ran the unwanted 72 ad, which was the pregnancy avoidance pill, followed immediately by the kid saying, ‘Yeh achcha plan hai’!

With cricket stars featuring in ads that are run during matches, one always has a good chance of hilarious timing. Amongst the more hilarious was Dhoni getting out after a scratchy 5 of 21 balls (or so) during the ICC-T20 which was followed by the Aircel ad where he ends up saying, “Main ban gaya man of the match’!

A friend quipped cruelly that Dhoni used to be a cricketer who also models but has now turned a model who also plays cricket, thereby reducing him to the level of those charity matches played by film-stars! That, however, is the way of India with its cricketers. It seems as though we raise them to pinnacles merely to see how high they bounce when we drop them down!