Thursday, June 28, 2012

Yet another hair-raising tale

Once upon a time my hair covered my entire scalp like any good self-respecting carpet. Cross my heart! At least this time, I am telling the truth. Then little Jamie Hair became adventurous and decided to go into the wild bad world. “Toodle-oo folks!” he said to his fellow Hairs and disappeared into the void.
Days passed by with all the grey hair Hairs nodding sadly at Jamie’s foolhardiness. But the wander-bug had bit and a few more Hairs disappeared. You know how it is! When Columbus set about discovering America no-one would have gone with him for a bet. Now, see what you have! Everyone running from pillar-consulate to post-consulate for visas! Thus it was with my Hairs and suddenly a great deal of Hairs left their home-head.
Even then a vast majority of them were sticking on. But then a radical started speaking. Jose Hair was hair-raising in his speech. “Brethren! Years ago I looked into the Head and found just A – Z and 0 – 9 inside it. I look in now and what do I see? The same A – Z and 0 – 9 looking hazy and atrophied due to long disuse! This fellow has not added a single thing to his head since these inhabitants slipped in unawares. The monotony of the view is killing me. Off I go!” This speech impelled a great many Hairs and suddenly hair was falling off my head like a hairy Niagara gone berserk.
Then it was that I started getting an admirable view of my scalp. With a view to sparing my fellow-inhabitants this distressing sight, I started twirling my hair into intricate shapes to cover the barren areas. Like rule-bound employees bidden to do something other than what was prescribed in their job descriptions, the Hairs rebelled.
Susie Hair, then told her fiancĂ©, “Joey! When the many-teethed public conveyance comes by tomorrow book the middle berth for me.” Despite the massive rush for reservations, Joey managed the reservations and the duo left in a romantic mood.
Meanwhile my romantic thoughts were torpedoed beyond recovery. I had decided to reconcile myself to my situation but it was not to be. My point was that I was bald, no mistake, but there was no need for me to make a fool of myself as well into the bargain. Unfortunately, those around me thought otherwise and each one suggested some goo or the other which would positively make hair sprout all over my head with exuberance and joie-di-vivre.
When it got to the point where perfect strangers were stopping me on the streets to expound their theories about how my hair-fall was linked to my sweating and what could be done to stop both, I had to give in. I went on a goo-application spree; on diets to control my sweating; and scalp massaging and standing on my head to improve blood circulation to my head. It is a wonder that in the midst of all this activity I had time to do anything else but, since I am still alive, I must have also been breathing all the while!
You could never have imagined that the Hair family could be so finicky. They held their noses at the smell of the goos and shuddered at the texture. They looked upon improved blood circulation with profound disfavor. They detested my shampoo and held my solicitude for their welfare in contempt. And they left in droves! By the time I decided to forswear hair-saving activities, my head was a drought affected area. (Remember folks, we are talking about the eighties. A decade and a half later, I’d have had the benefit of hair-savers of better repute and effect!)
What irks me is this inconstancy and lack of discipline in the Hairs! You see your forehead lengthening and feel, “At last! Some signs of intelligence!” and suddenly find the sun scorching the top of your pate. No orderly withdrawal from the head, starting at one end and ending at the other. The Hairs leave as they please regardless of the fact that the head resembles a shell-shocked area when they leave. Or, it used to! My last hair is gone and that was the end of my hair problems. My head is a nice shiny thing of beauty now and you have another Vin Diesel above the eyebrows!

Monday, June 25, 2012

River-Rafting – Shivpuri to Rishikesh

I have little imagination when it comes to danger so it is relatively easy for me to contemplate doing things that could lead to injury. When it comes to discomfort, however, I am right up there with the brightest. Comes the time to think of motion sickness I am so far ahead of the crowd that creative geniuses cannot even see my dust!
Consider the fact that the original idea of motion sickness was closely allied to water – sea-sickness! Consider the fact that river-rafting was not expected to be done in tranquil waters and that motion sickness is more violent when the journey is not smooth! Consider the fact that it was just a day and a half since I had closely resembled a water faucet from both ends of the alimentary canal! Consider further that there was a half-an-hour trip by road to Shivpuri before we could even start on the river! Now you can understand why I felt little apprehension about trifles like falling off the boat. If one of my bouts of sickness struck me I would probably consider drowning as a welcome surcease. Thus, it was with trepidation that I approached the afternoon’s river-rafting expedition.
My idea of river-rafting was that I would be securely fastened to the seat with the organizers paddling down the stream while I tried to keep the contents of my stomach in. Imagine my surprise when I was told that all customers were expected to paddle to the orders of the lone expert accompanying us. He buzzed through a series of commands that seemed like so much Greek and Latin to me. The only saving grace was that he talked of right, left, front and back instead of obscure nautical terms like port, starboard, fore and aft. Not that it made the litany comprehensible but that it sort of made the impression that you could understand what he was saying if you had a day or two to mull over it.
A day or two! Within five minutes we were in the rubber dinghy when the second surprise was sprung on us. We were to sit on the sides of the dinghy with our feet insecurely tucked under the crosspieces that lay athwart the dinghy. Clad in life-vests and helmets we must have looked quite a bunch of jokers and, probably, the organizers thought that we had enough around the belly to provide whatever additional buoyancy was required.
A couple of dinghies of paying customers was accompanied by a chap in a kayak, who was ostensibly there to come to the rescue of anyone who fell off the dinghy and got too far away from it to be rescued by the people in the dinghy. I had a sneaking suspicion that he was probably there to rescue any paddles dropped in the water by the customers, who were playing at being boatmen!
We were off and there was mayhem. I was busily engaged in a duel with Sriram who was seated ahead of me. The clash of paddles by the side of the dinghy was entertaining. I would have won the duel but for the fact that Hari sneakily engaged my paddle from behind whenever I disengaged from Sriram for a tactical advantage. Meanwhile, Shekhar on the other side was patting the water with all the care of someone spreading butter over a crumbly slice of bread. Badri and Dinesh were the lead-rowers and only they know exactly what they were doing with the paddles though I am sure they managed their own version of entertaining paddling. Chandru had begged off paddling due to his injured hand and was giving us the count while Bala was busy trying to get people to paddle to his count. Great idea, but the problem was that each one was on a different rhythm and, thus, a microsecond after Chandru called out ‘One’ Sriram’s paddle would hit Dinesh’s up front while mine would still be in the air!
Our expert called a halt and started on some impromptu training exercises. Knowing that we were from the south, he exhorted us to emulate the Onam boat-race. Huh! Here we were, barely able to dig a paddle into the water, leave alone doing it in any sort of rhythm and he was likening us to those superb athletes who send boats skimming across the waters like torpedoes. The very idea of the pithy expressions those boatmen would come up with - if they ever heard such a comparison – doubled me up in laughter.
After some more paddle duels, we were off again onto the first of the rapids – the roller-coaster. The dinghy started see-sawing and the one moment etched in my mind is the sight of looking sideways at a wave framed in the sky. Our expert was exhorting us to paddle, though what use swishing the paddle in air would be in propelling the boat shall ever be a nautical mystery to me. Before we knew it we were past the rollercoaster and, to my surprise, I found myself regretting the briefness of the experience.
Next up was the tee-off. There was one violent motion that slapped us all into the boat. Onwards to the golf-course where our expert told us to try jumping into the water! Bala and I were in first. Not knowing swimming had never been a deterrent to me in indulging in water-sports even without a life-vest and with one around my frame I was feeling invincible. The problem, however, was when it came to getting back into the boat. Our expert hauled me in with such vigour that the vest covered my face and, for a while, I was wailing like the yesteryear heroine coming out of a swoon - “Where am I?”
River-rafting was great fun but it ended all too soon. The entire group was so thrilled that Bala’s suggestion of doing the longer version the next time was greeted with universal enthusiasm.
All good things come to an end, as did my trek/trip. All tedious things come to an end too – and, so, does this post!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Trek to Brahmital – Part IV

What does one feel about a trek that did not succeed in reaching where it was intended to reach? Disappointment, of course, but does it leave you with a feeling akin to what you would feel if you made a tourist trip to Agra and failed to see the Taj?
Much depends on what you intended to experience on a trek. A few days away from the mundane, good company, great views and being close to nature are all take-aways from a trek no matter what the destination. The view of glorious starry skies; the gentle susurrus of a river by the campsite; majestic icy peaks; the glory of a sunset over tree-clad mountains; the shy smiles of unassuming little flowers dotting the landscape and the ineffable peace of your surroundings are all a great balm to the soul and it would be a pity to let a minor disappointment ruin the experience for you.
The problem for me was that the fourth day did not allow me to dwell on all the beauties that I had experienced. Amongst the various other infirmities of the body that I live with is this tendency for my belly to fill up with gas given minimal provocation. Friends have been known to comment that Mukesh Ambani could eke out the production of his gas wells by putting a pipe down my gullet. The fourth day was one such day and I descended back to civilization very apprehensive about the hour and a half journey to Gangnani by road.
We hit Gangnani with no mishap. Hari, who shares my aversion to road journeys and had vehemently displayed it on the way up, was as quiescent as I was and we booked into the hotel with relief. My problems started at the hotel when I started spewing from both ends leading to more apprehension about the next day’s journey back to Rishikesh.
Things had settled down by next morning and a dip in the hot water springs of Gangnani provided much needed relief to sore muscles. The pleasure of soaking the body in hot water after a tiring trek can only be fully experienced by trekkers. Thus, by the time we took the road to Gangnani, I was feeling more sanguine about the journey and perked up enough to take interest in the world around me. I have always been able to keep my spirits up despite aches and pains but the digestive system can bring me to cry, “Death! Where is thy sting?” Strange that buoyant gas can drag my spirits down like lead!
Luckily the trip down to Rishikesh was uneventful and we hit the hotel with the prospect of river-rafting on the morrow to buoy up our spirits. An evening of bridge ensued but, at the back of my mind, there was the regret that yet another trek was over!

A Trek to Brahmital – Part III

The trek to Brahmital from the campsite had been portrayed as a sort of lazy jaunt on the rest day by the trek organizer at Uttarkashi. The day dawned with the information that it would be a four hour ascent and about three hours of descent. Not a particularly restful program for the day but our jaunty group was still full of beans when we started on the trek.
The first half an hour – after crossing the waterfall - had spilt most of the beans from almost all of us. One does expect a tough time ascending but the path was almost unrelieved ascent on loose soil with almost no stretches of level trail to regain your breath. That this portion of the trek was in the shade of trees was the only saving grace – not that we were in any mood to count our blessings. Dinesh was doing well enough to help the other guys around which was great going for anyone leave alone a first time Himalayan trekker. Sriram, despite being the oldest, was always gung-ho about going places and seeing things and, despite the lung-testing qualities of the trail, could still manage to give his usual exhaustive commentary on the status of things!
Two hours into the trek we, at last, hit some level areas. Any other day, these areas would have seemed a testing incline for they were not particularly level but, after the efforts of the first couple of hours, this was almost a walk in the park. We crossed the waterfall yet again and faced up to an interminable ascent yet again! With blood vessels ringing what seemed like a death knell in my forehead and lungs screaming for surcease I topped the rise to see Chandru holding out some dried fruits. End of trek?
Not really! We had used up four hours and the guide said that there was another hour of trekking to do to reach Brahmital. Chandru and I blew our tops. The day’s trek would take up eight hours, even assuming the guides’ estimates, and that was tough going by any count. Add to that the fact that the descent was bound to be treacherous – with the steep incline and loose soil – it seemed a difficult ask to do the trek in the day. Had the guides done a proper reconnaissance, we could have camped at Panchbilli on day one and camped by the side of the waterfall (Sathgadare, is the name of the place according to the local), where we crossed the second time, on day two. Then, the trek to Brahmital and back would have been possible on day three though not necessarily a walk in the park.
Recriminations are normally an exercise in futility once you are stuck with options already exercised. Five of us opted to try the trek further and three dropped out. Hari, Dinesh, Chandru, Shekhar and I proceeded further up. There was a stretch of trail rendered absolutely slippery with ice melt and slipping and slithering became the order of the day. I was trailing the group cursing myself heartily for not having joined the sane lot that opted to walk back. What devil of contrariness urges us ahead to do things so discomforting that you rue your decision almost as soon as you make it?
The weather had become chill with the skies clouding up and Hari found the combination of slippery slopes and cold weather not to his taste. He opted to walk back and join the others on their way back. About half an hour later – and an hour after starting on the last leg – I joined Chandru and Shekhar who were waiting this side of a long ice patch. Chandru pointed out to the distant horizon, where the icy peaks jutted out into the sky, and said that Brahmital was just beyond that ridge. Considering that a good half of the distance had to be walked over snow/ice, it did not seem likely that we could do get back to where we were standing in less than 2-3 hours. Starting a descent on the slopes that we had just slithered up as it was getting dark did not seem conducive to a healthy return for all five of us. Nor, indeed, did the ominously darkening clouds provide any silver lining!
Sriram and Dinesh had already part-crossed over the first ice patch when we decided to call it a day. With great reluctance the intrepid duo acceded to coming back. Chandru left to lead the way while Shekhar and I awaited their return.
The return descent was impossible without the help of the guides. I was practically dragged down till the waterfall considering that the inch of thick clay under my heels was offering me no purchase. At the waterfall, we met with Chandru nursing injuries. Apparently he had slipped on that treacherous stretch and somersaulted down. Scratches on his scalp and cheek, a badly barked knee and a swollen finger testified to how bad the fall had been.
After lunching at the waterfall we proceeded down the next stretch of steep descent back to the camp. As a final irony, the skies cleared up miraculously and we hit the camp with the setting sun shining brightly down on us.
Or was it that the Goddess of Brahmital did not want us to see the place?
Disclaimer: Photographs by Dinesh.
Links to photographs taken by my fellow trekkers are here. Needless to say, no photographs were taken by me, considering my abilities to turn the most ordinary attempts into something Picasso would have been proud of!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Trek to Brahmital – Part II

The next day’s trek was supposed to be about four hours to the next campsite at Gujjar Hut. The local guide, Pradeep, had a different name for the place – Panchbilli. What those five cats were supposed to signify is lost in the mists of time. I shall stick to the latter name, however, since the Uttarakhand area is awash with Gujjar Huts since any place where the shepherds took shelter seems to have acquired that name.
Either the second day’s trek was easier or my body had become accustomed to being pushed. Easier is the more likely explanation, since the initial part was a mild incline with long stretches of level trail. The vistas around were phenomenal and, given that the footing was not treacherous, one could take in the view without fearing the possibility of becoming a permanent addition to the gorge below.
We hit another waterfall and had to cross over. Watching people trying to navigate their way from rock to rock - arms akimbo and doing all sorts of weird African dances – can be hilarious….once you are safely across, of course! Once across, there was again a steep ascent and, further down, the worst nightmare for trekkers – steps!
These were not your regular staircase style steps but steps made of the rocky outface with varying heights and some loose embedded stones. In the normal course on a trek one finds one’s lungs and thighs tested on ascents and knees and ankles on descents. When it comes to ascending steps, all four get strained. Give me any day a trail where I can pace my steps to suit myself instead of having to climb a half-foot high step one moment and find myself faced with one thrice the height the next.
Eventually this stretch too was done and we lolled around on the grasslands munching snacks and waiting for the porters to catch up. Once they did we trekked the rest of the distance to the next campsite. This was to be home for the next two nights, since we were to trek up to Brahmital on the morrow and return to the same camp.
The goddess of Brahmital, apparently, was very choosy about who visited her and, according to the guide, you could travel up to her abode only if she chose to let you do so. Women, for some unknown reason, were said to set off inclement weather if they visited the place. Also, one could make a wish and toss a coin into the pool. If the coin skipped off the water your wish would come true but if it sank you would, in astrological euphemism, face difficulties in achieving your wish. The guide also said that this was the first trekking party to that site though the shepherd who came along later in the day claimed that he had seen a couple of other groups there.
What was not too encouraging was the path that the guide indicated for the next day’s trek. It seemed too steep and promised to be a back-breaker. That, however, was for the morrow. Meanwhile we settled down to a game of bridge where I did my inept best to keep from rupturing my friendship with my partner Chandru with the brilliance of my play.
The river rolled by in the gorge below singing its incessant lullaby.

Disclaimer: All photos in this post are by Hari Sethuraman.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Trek to Brahmital – Part I

Not having had any sort of physical exercise for nearly a year and having grown sideways in the process, I did not think that my trek to Brahmital was going to be easy. If, from the previous sentence, you thought that I was about to say that, surprisingly, I waltzed up the mountain whistling a pleasant ditty all the way you have another think coming. My experience has been that the only surprises that your body throws up are unpleasant ones. If you have abused your body and expect unpleasant consequences, your body takes great pleasure in proving you right!
Thus it was that I was huffing and puffing on the mild gradient up to the first day’s campsite at Purali. The trek was to Brahmital and the trail cut off from the road to Gangotri from Uttarkashi while there were 32 KMs left to hit Gangotri. For some unknown reason this place was referred to as Suki Top – though there was nothing there for it to be the top of, unless it was supposed to be the pinnacle of happiness.
About half a kilometer down the road there was a small waterfall. Too early for me to feel the urgent need to take a dip. Once we crossed the fall, the gradient started as did my panting. Not really the picture of the veteran trekker, who runs up and down mountains for light relief, but maintaining appearances threatened to blow out my lungs, ribcage and all!
The first day’s trek was only about an hour and a half and we hit the village before I sprawled in an ungainly heap in the middle of the trail pleading to be carried the rest of the way. Purali was a village of some fifty families, who all lived like one family (going by our guide’ description) in the village through summer. Winter, apparently, closed the place down and the entire community shifted to an alternate place near Gangnani, about 20 Kms down the road to Uttarkashi. So, it was not only the kings who had a summer and winter residence! Of course, what was a search for comfort for kings was driven by necessity for the villagers.
The plan, apparently, was to pitch the tents in the compound containing the village temple. The others had, before then, arrived and set up a cricket match with the locals in the playground adjoining the temple. I, however, had issues with the campsite.
The one heart-warming thing about trekking in Uttarakhand is the openhearted friendliness of the locals. It is such a contrast to the regular hill-station experience of finding the local people resentful of your very presence in their area while simultaneously making their living – and even their fortunes, going by the prices they charge – out of you. No matter how friendly the locals, I could hardly see them rejoicing in the morning at the sight of our morning ablutions dotting the streets of their village. Nor, indeed, could I see us trotting a couple of kilometers up the path while nursing full bladders and other such incontinent organs of the body.
So, it was off with the guides in search of a better campsite while my co-trekkers – bar Sriram, who accompanied me – started on their cricket match with gusto. After huffing and puffing for another half and hour, we found a lovely place to camp with the the wonderful sight of the river flowing in a gorge to sate our eyes. Somehow, to me, the sight of places like this give an ineffable feeling of homecoming though the only sight of mountains I had had were the mounds of soil piled up by the coal mine in Neyveli, where I spent my childhood.
 The rest of the guys trooped in about an hour later full of post-match commentary. Chandru, whose height must have given the impression of a deadly fast bowler, had apparently bowled the match-winning first over. He single-handedly gave away 25 runs and won the match for the other team, despite last over heroics by Shekhar who hit a six or two but could not overhaul the other team’s score. Dinesh, the architect, and Badri were all amazement at the way the houses in the village were constructed by the ingenious use of loose rubble. We settled in over cups of tea after the camera buffs had shot their photographs.
A veil must necessarily be drawn over the night since, what with snoring and people unaccustomed to the close proximity in tents, there was much tossing and turning with very little sleep. But then, if everything were comfortable trekking could not be classified as an adventure sport, can it?

Disclaimer: Photographs taken by Dineshkumar

Monday, June 4, 2012

Thrill and Spills

I have this extraordinary knack of losing my balance under any circumstances. If ever any person was capable of finding a way to fall down and injure himself seriously, while seated in a bean-bag, I am sure that I will be that person. Maybe that is the way I will enter the Guinness book of world records. There is no other way for me, that is for sure.
With this extraordinary ability guiding me, it is no surprise that I have found varieties of novel ways to fall in treks. From the clichĂ©d tripping over shoe-laces to the almost customary slipping on a banana peel, I have done them all. Slipping on wet rock and smashing in my nose (not that it needed any help in getting close to my face – any closer and I’d have only two nostril slits), sliding on wet leaves and tobogganing down or having an unexpectedly sturdy creeper snagging my feet and getting my face uncomfortably close to the ground with astounding speed – you name it and I had done it.
On my very first trek, while descending from Nandanvan, I made a false step, fell and slid down a boulder-strewn incline. Since I managed to stop inches from a huge boulder, the world lost the opportunity of finding out whether my skull really did enclose a modicum of brains. Of course, my family is united in its belief that it does not since that experience had failed to deter me from continuing to trek.
What can you say of a person who merrily walks out of a forest rest-house and falls straight into a six foot deep ditch, which he had only minutes before crossed thanks to a bridge over it? My companions burst out laughing since I was there one moment and gone the next. I must have looked like a jack-in-the-box in reverse. Before their merriment could turn to concern, I had hauled myself out of the ditch and continued to walk – prompting one of them to comment that I must be more cat than man.
The worst fall that I ever had was on a trek to Ahobilam. I was at the tail of the group when we turned a sharp corner and proceeded to climb up. About fifteen feet from that corner there was a place where we had to step up a foot to go further on the trail. The others had accomplished that with ease. I put my leading foot up the step and lifted my rear foot only to have a stone under the front foot turn. The next moment the sky described a dizzying arc and I was somersaulting backwards.
Afterwards, my friend said that he was busy crafting my obituary. It is one of those uncomfortable facts of life that one cannot turn round a corner while falling and failing to do so would have ensured that I would be spread as a thin paste in the depths below. At that time, however, I was too busy falling to pay attention to such insignificant details.
I can never say how it happened but I found myself sliding down face downwards after having fallen backwards. Luckily I had enough presence of mind to clutch at a rock that was speeding upwards and arrest my fall. (I am tempted to say that my feet were dangling over the precipice but, as it happened, I stopped a good six to eight feet short of the corner.) Otherwise, I would not be here describing this to you. (No! It is not a pity!)
The friend, who likened me to a cat, would not have said the same had he seen my performances in Bangalore. It is a surprising fact that my falls on treks have left me ambulatory but falls in Bangalore invariably manage to disable me temporarily. Imagine slipping down, landing your entire body on one heel and then having to walk for a month like a duck because you are unable to straighten that foot. Imagine stepping off a pavement and turning you foot on a stone and finding it impossible for a week to even put that foot down while seated and limping on it for two months. All these things happened to me in Bangalore and not while on trek!
Once again I am off on a trek to Brahma Tal starting tomorrow and ending on the twentieth of June. (And, yes, I will be back blogging after that, whether you choose to take it as a promise or as a threat!) This time, at least, I am hoping that there will be only thrills and no spills.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Blank Pages

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 28; the 28th Edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The topic for this month is 'BLANK PAGES'.

Blank Pages! He stared down at them with the unaccustomed weight of a pen in his hands wondering desolately whether he had the words to get his life back. Geeta’s face appeared, obscuring the pages, with the icy far-away look that had made him feel an outcast far more than any words could have done. Remembering the way her face, posture and tone of voice had made him feel the last time he saw her, he despaired of any chance of reconciliation with her.
At that time all he had felt was anger at the betrayal of his beliefs and had felt that her departure from his life would make little impact on him. He had not been prepared for the feeling of vacuum in his heart or for the fact that he could find no savor in all the things that he had, till then, enjoyed. His pride would still have stood in the way of approaching her for reconciliation but last week’s incident had upset all his notions.
So, here he was staring down at these blank pages trying to find the words that would bring Geeta back to him. His calls had gone unattended; his SMSes ignored and emails probably deleted unseen. His only chance now was that a letter from him would get her attention.
 * * * * * *
He could still recollect his early days after his marriage to Geeta. She was not a raving beauty but her eyes were lovely and, when she smiled, her whole face lit up with irresistible charm. She smiled often those days and was so accommodating then that he still had difficulty in reconciling to the fact that she could have become so aloof to him in the five odd years of marriage.
On their honeymoon, he had presented her with a red salwar-kameez. Her eyes had looked at him with so much affection that his heart had turned over. Then she said softly, “This is a lovely present, Ajay! My favorite color is blue, however. Would it be possible to exchange this?”
“I love red, Geeta! Blue is such an insipid color. Please get used to wearing red”, he had said. Her eyes showed hurt for a moment. Then, she had smiled brilliantly and said, “Ok!”
Even though theirs had been an arranged marriage, Geeta seemed to have so much affection for him even in the initial days that she would do anything to please him. It was not as though she was financially dependent on him considering that she was a banker as he was and they worked at almost coeval positions.
In fact, looking back, he could hardly remember her wearing blue dresses in the five years of their married life. It was still surprising to him that such an accommodating person had turned so adamantine in a short span of five years.
* * * * * *
The initial days after marriage and the process of settling into a new routine are normally turbulent especially when it comes to a working couple. He had not found it very difficult, however. They had, somehow, settled in remarkably well very soon. Now, in retrospect, it seemed to him that it was Geeta’s soft-spoken and generous nature that ensured the achievement of the equilibrium with little acrimony. He did help her around the house but, now that he saw those days with more clarity, whenever there was something disputatious it had been Geeta who had given way with grace.
Food had, however, been a problem. Neither of them was too fond of eating out and, thus, Geeta had taken over the cooking but her idea of food was too chilli-laden for his bland tastes.
“God! You are expected to add chillies to the vegetables not vegetables to the chillies”
“I’m sorry, Ajay! At my home, we eat food as hot as this.”
“You are no longer at your parents’ place, Geeta! Please make something edible for me”
It took about three months before the food became palatable to him. Till then the dining table had been a battlefield from where Geeta had invariably retreated in tears. He had soothed away her hurt in the night but it was only after she had learned to cook blandly enough that the house had turned peaceful.
* * * * * *
Life had gone on with relatively little friction for the next five years. True, there had been disputes when Geeta put her office responsibilities above their commitments to his family. Initially she, at least, used to apologize and try to give her flimsy reasons for not being able to come to his cousin’s wedding or his nephew’s first birthday. Lately she had taken to listening to his righteous anger in meek silence but did not change her ways. That was the only fly in the ointment as far as his marital life was concerned.
The bombshell when it fell was totally unexpected. Geeta had got a coveted posting in UK from her bank and came home excited about it.
“You refused the posting, didn’t you?” said he, confidently.
“Why would I?”
“How can you shift to London when I am working in Mumbai?”
“You can find a job in London, can’t you?”
“I am doing very well in this bank now and can expect to reach the top. How can I jeopardize all that? You go over tomorrow and tell your office that you cannot take up this posting.”
Geeta was silent. He was sure that she would refuse the posting the next day. It had been a long tiring day for him and he went to sleep almost immediately after.
The next day he came back from his bank and found Geeta all packed up.
“Ajay! I am moving to my parent’s place right now. I have taken up my posting and will be leaving for London within a month.”
“What?? Geeta! What do you mean?”
“Listen, Ajay! I have not been happy in this marital life of ours for quite some time now. I am not sacrificing my career merely in order to live the sort of frustrating life that I have been leading till now.”
“What do you mean not happy? I have been helping you around the house, putting up with your entire obsession with your office and giving you a decent lifestyle. What do you think anyone else would do better than me?”
Geeta flared up. “Helping me around the house? Putting up with my obsession? Nothing that the two of us did around the house was our job with you, was it? It was mine and when you did something you were magnanimously helping me out. You never stopped to think about what makes me happy, either. You never bothered to ask me how I felt about the life we were leading or what sort of lifestyle I would have wanted to lead. Don’t talk to me about how good a husband you have been to me!”
“Ha! So if you think you can find someone better than me go right ahead.” he yelled.
Never had he seen Geeta look as she did then. She gave the impression of an aloof ice sculpture and her eyes looked at him with total disdain. In a voice cold as the wind from the Arctic she said, “I have left my contacts on the table. You may require them for legal purposes. Goodbye, Ajay!” Her voice and demeanor made the parting seem final and irrevocable.
 * * * * * *
He had still not got over Geeta’s betrayal. Three months had gone by and she had been in London for the last two of them. He has thought that she would come over to him for reconciliation but she had not bothered to even inform him of her departure. Sometimes it seemed to him that she had merely been putting on an act of affection when they were still a couple. At other times, he blamed her career ambitions for getting in the way of their marital life.
What he could never understand was why she was so angry about the life that they had lead. He had never forced anything on her and she could always have done what she wanted. He had never refused to do anything that she had asked him to do though, of course, he did grumble about it as who did not? It seemed to him like she had unreasonably accused him and justified her act of putting her career above their relationship by blaming him without reason. He missed her badly, nevertheless, and was sometimes sorely tempted to call her up but his pride would not let him do so.
* * * * * *
It was a busy day at office and his boss called him in just when he was planning to call it a day.
“Listen, Ajay! You will have to stay back tonight. Remember that project loan we are processing? Apparently the client is in a hurry and our management wants it processed expeditiously. You have to make a presentation for me by tomorrow so that I can have it cleared for taking up with the credit committee.”
He was irritated. It was close to 8 PM and his boss was practically ordering him to stay without sleep that night without even the courtesy of making it a request. He swallowed his resentment, collected the details and went back to his cabin.
It was 4 AM by the time he was done with the job. He saw little reason to go back home since he would have to be back by 9 AM to hand over the fruits of his work to his boss.
While explaining the details of the presentation to his boss, he could not help yawning repeatedly.
“Sleepy so early in the morning, Ajay?” said his boss, censoriously.
“Had to stay at office all night to finish this presentation”
“That is your job, Ajay!” said his boss dismissively and returned to the work at hand.
Ajay was furious. First he had been asked to do something out of the way, sacrificing his sleep, without even the courtesy of an apology. Now that he had done it his boss was taking it totally for granted. No wonder this man was the least-liked boss in the entire bank.
For no reason his mind went back to Geeta, then. Suddenly, the reason why Geeta left him hit him like a douche of icy cold water.
* * * * * *
How could he have been so self-centered? So insensitive? So domineering? He had never thought of himself as a bad person but, suddenly, it seemed to him that he had been positively evil in his treatment of Geeta. He had always thought that he loved Geeta but, now, it seemed to him that he had not even known the meaning of love.
Geeta had loved him or, at least, tried to ensure that they lead a life of love. She had tried to make him happy at the cost of sacrificing her own likes. He, on the other hand, had not never ever bothered to even learn what she liked nor had he given any importance to the likes and dislikes that she had voluntarily expressed. Worse still, he had taken her sacrifices for granted without even a cursory acknowledgement. In effect, what he disliked in his boss was exactly what he had done to Geeta. Now, it seemed to him a wonder that she had stayed with him for as long as five years.
It was neither what he sought her to do nor what he did not do that was the problem for Geeta. He realized that now. It was his attitude. When first he had presented her the red salwar and she had expressed a preference for blue he could have said, “I love seeing you in red, Geeta! Will you please wear it for my sake” and she would have happily done so. Instead he had laid down the rule. She had been hurt but still generous enough to fall in with his wishes for all their time together and it had not even struck him as necessary to tell her how much he appreciated that.
He cringed when he thought of their initial battles about food. Why had it never struck him that if he felt difficulty eating hot food, Geeta would have equal difficulty in eating bland food? After all, your tastes are determined by what you have been brought up on and changing them would be as difficult for her as for him. Instead, he had imposed his tastes on her, derided her when she was changing over her style of cooking and had grudgingly acknowledged the change-over. Never once had he even thought about how much affection she must have had for him to put up with all that and, still, change her tastes to suit.
It seemed to him that Geeta had asked little of him but an acknowledgement of the fact that she was doing things to please him because she wanted him to be happy and not because she felt bound to do so. By refusing to even give her that acknowledgement he had made her feel like a servant instead of his wife. Now he could realize that Geeta must have felt that there was no use in discussing her career with him since he had never once bothered to consider her point of view.
She had been an essentially non-aggressive person and, subconsciously, he had equated that with weakness. Had she been truly weak she would have continued to compromise with him and lead a loveless life till the end of their days together. When she showed how strong she was by deciding to leave him, he had lashed out in surprised anger and, probably, lost her for ever.
* * * * * *
Geeta had been like a flower ready to give freely of her fragrance and he had chosen to try to crush the flower to get the fragrance. He smiled wryly. The time for poetic fancies was when Geeta had still not lost hope of a loving relationship with him. They seemed out of place now that she had frozen her emotions against him. So frozen had she become that for one week now all his attempts at communicating with her had fallen on deaf ears.
A wave of guilt rushed through him. If he had caused Geeta to become less willing to love, less willing to be generous with the people around her and frozen in her emotions; if he had indeed crushed all the fragrance out of her then that was a sin far worse than the five years of, what he now acknowledged as, misery that he had caused her to live through. It seemed more important to him, now, to apologize for his unpardonable behavior than to even try to get her back in his life.
He bent towards the blank pages – as blank as his desolate life – and started to write.
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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Of Courage – Part II

Courage has normally, and instinctively, been identified with physical courage. Physical courage is more common among people than what I choose to call Social courage. By Social courage I mean the courage to stick by your value systems regardless of the fact that it may cause you to lose the respect of society.
Supposing you see a group of your friends bullying a young boy! Would you join them or stop them? The tamasik person would join them but both the Rajasik and Satvik persons would try to stop them even if that gets them ostracized from their group.
What, then, if your group of friends are engaged in a fight with another group of people? The tamasik person would join them, of course, if he can see no way of escaping the battle unseen. The Rajasik person would join the battle with his friends either because he is bound by personal loyalties or because to not do so would cause him to be labeled a coward and a traitor. The Satvik person would either try to stop the battle or join the side that is fighting for a just cause even if it is the side of the others. Thus, in the Ramayana, Ravan’s brother Kumbakarn fights against Ram, even when he knew it was Ravan who was in the wrong, as an exemplar of a Rajasik person. The Satvik Vibhishan, on the other hand, attempts to stop Ravan from battling Ram, despite being repeatedly insulted, and then joins hands with the just cause.
The fear of Scoiety’s disapprobation is a far stronger fear than physical fear. What armies call esprit de corps is a way of ensuring that soldiers would rather face death or disablement in battle than the contempt of their peers. In fact, many a noble deed as well as many an atrocity has been committed by people – against their own personal inclinations – out of fear of social disapprobation. Social courage is, therefore, rarer than physical courage.
Is that all there is to courage then? Physical and Social courage anchor behavior! It requires what I would call Moral courage to anchor your feelings. To be able to love when love has been repaid with disdain; to be able to trust when trust has been repaid with betrayal; to be able to be compassionate when compassion has been repaid with contempt and to be able to be truthful when truth has been repaid with disbelief requires a far higher and rarer order of courage. Please understand that I do not mean that you should love the person who treated you with disdain, trust the person who betrayed you etc. That is not courage but folly. What I meant was that you need rare courage to still be able to meet other people in life with an open mind and without letting your past experiences embitter you. This sort of courage is exclusively the province of the Satvik person.
Situations in life do not conveniently fall into categories. A physical confrontation may (and probably will) have social consequences – as in fisticuffs with the thug leading to a police case and, therefore, social disapprobation. A social confrontation would probably have physical consequences – as in standing up for a co-worker losing you your job and leading to problems of survival. All confrontations affect the realm of the emotions and, thus, have moral consequences. A good Social system is one where desirable actions by members of that Society do not lead to undesirable consequences and undesirable actions necessarily and inevitably lead to undesirable consequences. Social systems should not operate by depending on individual acts of courage.
People do not slot themselves conveniently into boxes either. Thus, a person with great physical courage may well have little Social courage and someone with no Physical courage may exhibit great Social courage. To know the fears that stop you from doing the right thing is to be able to confront those fears and to win. A good individual is one who stays true to his value systems regardless of consequences and even if the Society he lives in is dysfunctional.
In the past, a great deal of premium was placed on courage. Rightly so, since without courage none of our other virtues would stand the test of Life.

Of Courage – Part I

Courage goes hand-in-hand with fear. Where there is no fear there is no need for courage. Do you feel courageous when you walk across a two foot wide plank laid on your floor or when you walk across the same plank laid a hundred feet above the ground spanning the empty space between two buildings? It is the fear of the consequences of falling in the latter case that brings forth the need for courage.
A lack of imagination may allow a person to do things considered courageous merely because (s)he is unable to contemplate the consequences. Thus, someone who has the false assurance of invincibility or is reckless of consequences could appear to be courageous. Such an appearance of courage is mere bravado. In the true sense, one talks of courage only when what is being done is necessary and when the concerned person fears the consequences but still forges ahead. To risk consequences for no serious reason is also bravado since the option to retreat could exist when the goal is irrelevant or inconsequential. When we discuss courage going forth let us assume that it is a meaningful goal that calls forth the courage.
The most commonly acknowledged type of courage is physical courage. In fact, the metaphor of courage almost exclusively describes physical courage. Physical courage is required when you do something that has the potential to cause you physical inconvenience or pain, disability or death.
Hindu Philosophy talks of three gunas. One of the key elements that determine the difference between the three gunas – Satva, Rajas and Tamas – is the sort of courage exhibited by the respective people.
Let us assume a situation where you see a person being beaten up by a thug. Let us further assume that there would be no other consequences of interfering in the situation beyond the effects of a physical battle with the thug.
A tamasik person would prefer not to risk the consequences and, thus, would go his way without attempting to save the victim. Even if the thug appeared weaker than him, he would not be prepared to take the risk of suffering physical pain.
A Rajasik person would wade into the battle and be embroiled in a fight with the thug. The possibility of not being able to win the battle and getting severely injured would not weigh upon his mind.
A Satvik person would intervene in the altercation and save the victim but would not indulge in violence against the thug. Despite the fact that he can successfully thrash the thug and despite the fact that his non-violence would cause him to be injured, a Satvik person is expected to be steadfast in his non-violence, at least as long as he is the only likely sufferer. The requirement of physical courage from such a person is far higher because to stay non-violent when indulging in violence could save him physical pain requires a far higher order of courage.
The highest level of development of a soul is to be Nirguna. At this level, pain and pleasure seem the same to the concerned person. Such a person has no fear of consequences and, thus, there is no need of courage.
For everyone else, however, courage is the bedrock on which all your value systems rest.

Part II here

Friday, June 1, 2012

Atheism is also only a belief

Too often have I heard atheists proclaiming that Theism is unscientific and irrational. It seems to me that Atheism being an, as yet, unproven concept anyone who believes it should not be throwing stones at other people’s beliefs. The only rational belief, as yet, is Agnosticism. We do not yet know what is true.
Let me first clarify what I mean by Theism. We talk of the existence of God as the Creator of the universe. There is a great deal of other attributes associated with God in our minds – ranging from the Brahman of Advaita, the granter of boons in the practice of Hinduism, the varied attributes given to God in Christianity and to Allah in Islam. I am, here, restricting myself to the Creation part and, thus, all the charges of irrationality thrown at the various other attributes of God are irrelevant here.
Even when it comes to Creation, let me clarify that I am not opposing Darwin. If a scientist cultures bacteria in a Petri dish, it does not mean that he is actively intervening in every step of the way. Thus, if a bacterium can find the logical means by which it came into being, it does not negate the existence of the scientist. Thus, I am not discussing the modus operandi of the Scientist but whether the Scientist has been proven not to exist.
Any conclusive proof of the absence of God in the scheme of things can come only when Man has unraveled all the secrets of the Universe. This means that we should know how the Universe came into being; what life is and how it came into being; all the processes by which the Universe became what it is today; and what would happen to the Universe going forth. As long as there is something unknown about the process one cannot conclusively say that God had no role to play in that unknown area.
Science has evolved innumerable theories only to find them deficient in the context of either observed reality or by anomalous results in experimentation. Thus, the mere postulation of a theory explaining everything would still not be conclusive proof. Only when the theory is applied and a Universe created and observed to work as predicted by the theory could we scientifically conclude that there is no God.
Or can we? If we manage to create a Universe ourselves, then we would be Gods! How could we then say that there is no God?