Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The year that was

I have seldom been the sort to feel any great expectations from the end of one year and the start of another. A cow placidly chewing cud is unlikely to be recollecting the last year's chewed cud or look excitedly forward to chewing cud the next year. That, roughly, sums up my attitude to life.

Occasionally, though, there are those years that impose themselves on me. Mostly, they make me want desperately for them to end and hope that the change in calendar will, like a wand waved, bring all the hassles of the year to a grinding halt. The current year has the remarkable distinction of joining the ranks of such years in my lifetime.

2014 has been a year when either I have been inflicting my presence on people in other cities or when people from elsewhere have graced my house with their presence. Almost non-stop, actually. No sooner than have waved farewell to a friend than I have either packed for departure the next day or have had a phone call about the imminent arrival of another friend. The problem with this was that getting accustomed to company on a continuous basis is not good for my mental health. If the next year balances out the average by rendering a total dearth of guests, I would feel particularly bereft. It is thus, of course, that human beings kill the pleasure of any moment by worrying about a future absence.

There are other things that I would rather have absent in my life. 2014 was also the year when ALL the devices in my house took turns to die on me. No sooner than I had set the desktop right than the laptop decided to conk off. Just as I replace my microwave oven, the mixie calls it a day. I replace the burnt coil of a fan and three of my CFL bulbs head for the grave. The taps take turns to start leaking, almost as if they were in a relay race. AND, all of these happen JUST as I am expecting guests (and, going by last year's frequency, there was hardly a time when I was not) making me scramble around, instead of my usual practice of waiting on it till I get habituated to living without it.

The year 2015 is hardly likely to start any better - since there is the small matter of holding a requiem for a dead inverter battery, replacing a couple of burnt out bulbs, having the RO filter replaced and changing a couple of taps - all of which chose to die on me just before I left for Chennai for the Music season. After that, I hope that the objects in my house will allow me to take them for granted instead of holding my heart in my hands every time I switched on something or opened something else.

And, now, let me close this rant before my laptop decides that 'bad things' should come in threes too and dies on me again!

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Mahabharat tale - The Brahmin and the Butcher (GP for Alka Narula)

Back in the Padmasan and again pontificating on the wisdom of the sages of yore. Alka Narula is again hosting me on her blog. And the exposition is still about the surprising attitudes in our epics towards caste discrimination and, indeed, about how the caste of a person is to be determined.

This is a tale of how a Brahmin learned from a Butcher. You can read it here - The Brahmin and the Butcher

Friday, December 26, 2014

School Reunion Again

Reunion time again! P.Suresh, Subroto and Anand had organized the reunion at Alankrita Resorts in Hyderabad, with the backing of Suchitra Ella (Naidu, that was). Suchitra, who with her husband had founded Bharat Biotch,  had negotiated the resort and made all the travel arrangements in Hyderabad.

The reunion had started in the train for the eight of us who traveled together to Hyderabad by the Charminar Express. Gautam, Subhadra, B. Ramesh, G.Lakshmi and her husband, Selvam, Devashis Ghosh and I were together, giggling and shrieking like school kids. Luckily no-one from the compartment came and complained about fifty-year-olds creating a ruckus. Luckily for them, that is, or who knows we may have put a thumb to our noses, waggled our fingers and stuck a tongue out at them. Except Ramesh that is (the Canadian dentist NOT the one who runs up mountains for light relief, who featured in the Mustang trek series) - but that was because he was too busy running in his mind all the arrangements for the video conference that had to be set up to allow all those batchmates in far-flung areas who had failed to turn up for the meet.

The first program of day one was a visit to Bharat Biotech and to a temple thereafter. I, unfortunately, was too sleepy to make the trip (AND, as anyone who knows me knows, the sight of any office puts me to sleep), so I had dropped off when the group was all set to leave. That part of the reunion, therefore, is a secret from me as was the gift that Suchitra Ella gave each member of the visiting delegation!

The evening was spent along with Ramesh, fiddling around to find the absentee classmates from the USA. We did manage to snag Kumaraguru - but then, considering that HE was the most enthusiastic of the whole lot of us, that was no miracle.

After a sumptuous breakfast,we departed the next day to the Golconda fort. Bus trips, as everyone knows, is a bane particularly for people whose lower backs send frequent SMSes about their age - but not this time. Time had reversed itself for us and it was as much fun as any school trip had ever been - more, in fact, because there was no school teacher to call out "Silence, Children". Pratibha's mom was around, representing THAT age group but, as we all knew, she loved her bit of fun as much as everyone of us did. P. Suresh showed an unexpected talent for dance, possibly inspired by the presence and company of Suchitra Sarede (Narain, that was) and, also possibly by the apt choice of the song by S. Nalini. (OR, maybe, I mistook their writhing in pain - by my rendering of the song - for a dance?)

The group photographs were all at the Golconda fort. We went in with a guide, who spoke so much like one of our school teachers that it reminded us of school all over again. Any time now, we were expecting him to say, "If you talk, I will kneel down" as one of our teachers was wont to say. He, luckily, escaped that mishap since, now that we did remember every now and then that we were adults, we may probably have insisted on his keeping that promise! We did go around the lower ramparts but neatly avoided climbing to the top citing a lack of time. THAT part of our childhood has come in handy all our lives - giving reasonable excuses for not doing what we did not want to do.

After lunch, it was time to relax and catch up on each others' lives. Not that much catching up was needed for most of them, since they seem to have updated each other daily, from the time they brushed their teeth to the time they started snoring. The camaraderie of the last time was still there and everyone relaxed and rejoiced in those rare times when letting your hair down (ONLY metaphorically in my case, as with a few others of the balder sex) was not merely safe - it was de rigeur!

The evening was the time of the video conference. Kumaraguru, B.S. Murali, M.S.Lakshmi and Radha joined in first followed later by Balakumar and, I hear, by Amarnath too. Then followed a session of 'Guess who I am?' with the US guys (Radha, in particular). We, in India, were lucky, since Radha appeared in a window by herself with her name else none of us would have guessed who she was, except those who had seen her recently. So, we could have our fun with our own inabilities nicely hidden away.

After a brief spell of Antakshari across the seas, Balakumar - our Hind Ratna awardee of this year - joined in. For a while, there was some conversation between us here and them there. Suddenly, though, the video conference had turned into a reality show with the US lot holding a meet of their own with us guys watching the show on TV. (Nice of us, wasn't it, to arrange a meet between them?) Being no aficionado of reality shows and finding that the bottle of single malt was beckoning us from the room, M.K. Bala, Murali and I skedaddled. Gautam joined us later and, then, we came to know that Amarnath had been woken up - with the hangover of last night's movie - and had joined the reality show.

We checked out on day three. Half the lot had, in fact, either departed the day before or the morning of day three. The truncated group then visited Birla mandir (Gautam stoutly refused saying that he knew of Shiv Mandirs and Vishnu Mandirs, but had never heard of a deity called Birla) and, then the Husain Sagar. The speed-freaks - Gautam, Pratibha, her husband Raja and daughter Padmini took a speed boat trip around. The rest, including me, went by the ferry to the island to look at the immense Buddha statue from up close.

On our return, Subroto proved a real hero. There is this mono-track on which trolleys carrying people on a fun ride runs. This track, unfortunately, just cuts across the paths where people walk in and out with the only protection being a sentry who warns you when a trolley is on its way. When we were coming back, a child ran across just as her mother was looking for something in her bag. P. Suresh and I just managed warning cries as a trolley came rushing in. Before it could hit the child, Subroto had run forward and scooped up the child and managed to jump back with the trolley missing him by inches.

After a visit to Shilparamam - which Gautam, Devashis, Subroto and I converted to a Paradise Biryani visit - we got back to the Railway Station where Venkatesh joined us after a visit to his uncle. The journey back was fun enough but, needless to say, did not have the same excitement as the journey forth.

But then, we will meet again in 2017, so where is the need to pull long faces? Except, of course, for those guys who have missed it every time till now!

Pic: By S. Venkatesh, as far as I know

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sabha Rage

I have always had a regret. Being a non-driver, I have sorely missed experiencing that adrenaline rush of road-rage. I have always had to sit in gape-mouthed admiration, when people yell at the chap before them for being immovable while simultaneously screaming at the honking idiot behind for his stupidity in not realizing that vehicles could not move till the traffic lights turned green. The absolute pitch of impartial rage that gets wild at the chap overtaking from the left, and sees red at the chap who wants to overtake from the right, is something that I have always wanted to experience for myself. Such a transforming experience it must be, since I have seen a chap who would not say 'Boo' to the proverbial goose really gets fancy with his swear-words when he is behind a wheel.

I still have not reached the exalted heights of road-rage, maybe, but I think I have acquired a nodding acquaintance with the first cousin. To my knowledge, I seem to be among the very few people who have met this strange species - Sabha rage.

This meeting, as you could have guessed readily, happened in my visits to the Carnatic music concerts in Chennai in December. Imagine sitting in a sabha (if I must translate, a sabha is a sort of culture club which organizes concerts but the word also stands for the auditorium in which the concerts take place), getting ready to be carried away by the melodious rendering of an alapana (the preliminary exposition of a raga - 'alap' for the Hindustani aficionados) and managing only to hear this group of people sitting behind you indulging loudly in guessing games about what the raga could be. I am not normally of a murderous temperament but, if I had been possessed of a gun like almost every American teenager seems to be these days, I would certainly not have been answerable for the consequences. "Enraged man mows down music disrupters" would probably have been the screaming headlines of the day and Arnab Goswami would have had a field day trying to find out, on behalf of India, why people were being allowed to conduct Carnatic concerts considering the inherent danger of the procedure.

And then there are the children. God knows I never have understood why people HAVE children in the first place but this one truly beats me. WHY bring them to a music concert at an age when they can hardly stay still for an instant even while watching a Rajnikant movie? AND the little devils will start fidgeting and loudly complaining exactly when the music is really getting to you. Sabha rage against this happening is equally divided between the parents who unleash these nuisances on the rest and the children for their exquisite timing in disrupting proceedings. I never ever thought of myself as capable of killing a child times...

Did I forget the chap who seemed to have come to the concert for the specific purpose of coughing in my ear? Twenty coughs a minute the whole three hours of the concert! Not that he was unaware that, in a concert, you needed a medley of notes - so, he filled the interval between the coughs with throat-clearing and nose-blowing (Before you put your oar in with 'you got your concert anyway', let me tell you that it was not HIS concert I had come to enjoy). The thing, though, is that I am unable to decide whether I ought to assassinate this guy or that other one. The one to whom I complained of this guy and who said, "What is the poor guy to do? If he had a cold, he probably could not control himself." Anyone with the brains of a slug would understand that one is not complaining about the chap's inability to stifle his cough, but his intransigence in not taking himself AND his cough out of the concert hall. After the first half-an-hour, it should have been clear to him that he would be unable to enjoy the concert - unless his idea of enjoyment was to spoil it for everyone around him.

The irony of the whole affair is that I am in the concert, listening to music (or trying to) that is supposed to elevate you can calm your emotions and I end up with a species of inchoate and violent rage that I never have experienced elsewhere. Understandable I suppose. It is like you are extremely thirsty; someone hands you a glass of water and, just as you are about to drink, someone else jogs your elbow and causes you to spill all the water. THAT instant of rage is just what this is all about. You are about to let go of all your mundane problems and let yourself go on a peaceful wave of melody and...'MOMMY! I want to go home! NOOOOOOW!"

After I hit home, the rage is gone and I start laughing at myself. It is not as though that group or that child was doing all this of a purpose to mess with your head. The discussion is probably how THEY enjoy the concert; the mother can hardly give up ALL her interests till the child becomes manageable, if it ever does; and what does a child know about how its behavior affects others. (Hmm! All this empathy does not extend to the chronic cougher - though I am veering around to thinking that the other guy is the one I shall take out my murderous rage on)

All this empathy, this milk of human kindness sloshes around me till I hit the sabha for the next concert and then...Well! It is just like a driver with his road rage!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Do I like writing?

The more I deal with the world of writing, the less confident I feel about whether I really like writing. Somehow, I had always had this feeling that a love for an art like writing is somewhat like the love for doing any other thing - not as in doing things in order to GET something you like but as in LIKING the thing that you do.

I have seen people who enjoy cooking, say. They may like cooking but they feel the enthusiasm to plan and cook elaborate meals only when they expect to be serving an appreciative audience. I am yet to meet someone who cooks an elaborate six-course meal, and take pleasure in merely having done it, with no-one to eat it. When it comes to times when the cook has only himself to feed, the likelihood is a simple meal or even just a cup of noodles. It is someone who likes EATING, and also knows how to cook, who is more likely to cook elaborate meals for himself, if at all there is any such person who would go to the trouble.

Apparently, someone interested in art is of a different mindset altogether. He puts together ideas, events and phrases merely for the pleasure of doing it - if he were a writer, that is - and, if any more pleasure was needed, he would read and savor it all by himself. Readers may also be grudgingly invited but the man is actually doing it all for himself - art for art's sake, you know.

Which is why it seems to me that I have no right to call myself a writer. I react exactly like the cook. I feel the enthusiasm to write only when I have an audience or expect to do so. Not the same as writing FOR an audience - THAT means that, to carry the cooking metaphor, adding twice the salt that you would normally do if you think that THAT is what will please the eater. I mean more the likes of cooking what I like cooking, but cooking it ONLY when I think someone who appreciates it may turn up to eat it.

The only things I write for myself are things like "Do not forget to pay the electricity bill tomorrow, you dummy" and things of supreme literary importance like that. When it comes to writing anything else, I see no fun just in writing it. I mean I have already had the fun when I thought about it, so why bother to type it in, and save it in a document if no-one else is going to come around to enjoy reading it? Which is why, probably, I should never ever call myself a writer - I just do not have the divine passion to pour out words on paper/electronic device, without regard to the possibility of anybody else ever laying an eye on it.

Maybe it is because I attempt to write humor. There is nothing more pathetic than a humorist telling a joke to himself and going 'HaHaHa' about it, with sepulchral silence all around him. Maybe that is what accounts for the fact that there are so few humorists acclaimed as litterateurs in the history of literature. Humorists, perforce, have to be Philistines - ever seeking an audience - while the rest can soulfully pour out their words just for the pleasure of writing, without a single person sneering at them.

Now that we are all agreed that I cannot really like writing, I can proceed with writing - and seeking an audience for it - without regard to having to live up to the label of a writer!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Artist's creativity vs Audience expectation - T.M. Krishna

Art forms flourish based on the creativity of the artistes. If the creative endeavors of artistes are too closely trammeled, it could end up stultifying the art itself - since any creative endeavor needs an atmosphere that welcomes change to flourish. The obverse of this is the fact that art flourishes only when it communicates to a large audience for all art is, inherently, a mode of communication. People, though, are normally averse to change and, thus, any change attempted by the artiste is bound to face opposition.

Thus, any art flourishes as an exquisite balancing act - one that allows creative freedom to the artiste while simultaneously meeting audience expectations. This, in effect, means that the creative freedom of the artiste shall, by and large, lie in pushing the boundaries rather than in a wholesale redrawing of the boundaries. When the boundaries are sought to be redrawn, the endeavor is always fraught with tension and the risk of failure is high.

One of the foremost Carnatic musicians of the age - T.M. Krishna - is currently in the process of trying to redraw the boundaries of the way Carnatic music is performed on stage. His points relating to the attitude towards women vocalists and to the treatment of instruments like the Nadaswaram. Points well taken and needing some change.

My brush with T.M. Krishna's unorthodoxy, though, comes as a ignorant rasika of the oeuvre. I cannot really say that the freedom for the artiste to cut short a concert to half the scheduled time appealed to me. One does understand, and recognize, that an artiste may not always be inclined to practice his art. A painter or writer, for example, can take a break and get back to it when he feels he can give his best. When it comes to performances on stage, though, there is a problem. The least of audience expectations that a performer needs to meet is the time for which the performance is held. People do choose where they spend their time and, if you make them rue their choice by not meeting even a basic expectation, you are doing no service to the art. This, in his defense, I need to say happened last year.

T.M. Krishna has gained an reputation for setting the entire concert procedure on its head. The regular expectations of how the concert would start, when the smaller length Kritis would be sung, when and how the Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi would be sung and what would be sung to tail off the concert - nothing is predictable in a Krishna concert these days. The one thing that seems almost certain these days is that he will NOT adhere to the regular modus operandi. But for that, the theme seems to be to expect the unexpected.

Creation changes and evolves by someone breaking the tradition. The current modus operandi was also an innovation in its time and, probably, much reviled then. The changes now being wrought by T.M. Krishna could well be the harbinger of another change. The only problem is that any audience needs SOMETHING to expect. It may not be the existing modus operandi but there needs to be a Krishna modus operandi, at least. There is no point in saying that the audience need have no expectation but to hear good music - what constitutes good music OR a good concert is always a matter of taste.

Creativity is not merely an exhibition of chaos. It is judicious use of chaos to upset and improve the existing order. If there is no order that the audience can pin itself to, then the change that Krishna brings shall work only for a genius like Krishna but will fail in the intent of bringing any lasting change to the Carnatic landscape. It is only when other and, dare I say, lesser musicians are also able to do what Krishna does, and still attract an audience, can the change become lasting.

Human beings still do not readily adapt to change. How much more hide-bound will both the organizers and rasikas of what calls itself a traditional system of music be? The only way to really change a traditional system is to bring in a new 'tradition'!

The irony is that a creator fighting for creative freedom can only succeed when he himself sets up a new pattern that sets a discipline - and not a sing-as-you-please system - for others to follow. Failing which, he shall remain merely an eccentric one-off experimenter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Admetus and Alcestis - Guest post for The Fool

One of the lesser known facts about me is that I mainlined on myths of various origins throughout my youth. In addition to Indian myth, Graeco-Roman myth, Celtic Myth, Nordic myth, Germanic myth - I had read them all. The Iliad, the Odyssey, The Aeneid, Metamorphoses, The tale of Beowulf, the Nordic sagas - you name it, I had read it. Some of them stuck in my mind, some memories need refreshing.

The Fool has a blog dedicated to Myth, Science Fiction and Fantasy. Currently, he is running a series of fiction written based on myth. This tale of 'Admetus and Alcestis' is my guest post on his blog for that series.

I need to warn you - it is NOT a humorous retelling and it is a slightly long tale. I hope you enjoy it, nevertheless.

The tale can be read here - Admetus and Alcestis

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tales from the Mahabharat - GP for Alka Narula

As people who know me know, every now and I then I dust off my saffron robes, sit in the Padmasan and start pontificating on the wisdom of the sages of yore. It is true that I do it even without any active encouragement but, if I can find someone who encourages me, my enthusiasm is boundless.

Alka Narula is my major source of encouragement in this area. This time, I have written a guest post for her - a lesser known tale from the Mahabharat (known only to people like me who delve in detail into the epics OR people who patiently sat through all of Ramanand Sagar's serials based on epics.)

The tale of the Rishi Uttang is a surprising exposition of what our epics really had to say about caste discrimination. You can read it here - The Tale of Uttang Rishi

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I am determined

There is a whole world of knowledge out there of which I am blissfully ignorant but I thought I knew my words at least. Even that consolation has suffered a few blows in the past, as followers of these chronicles know, and it suffered yet another blow recently.

I had always prided myself on the determination with which I pursue a life of watching TV and reading books and, now, someone tells me that I cannot call it determination. What the heck? I decided, as usual, to take recourse to my wise friend on this matter.

The problem, though, with my friend is that he never ever sides me.

"So, WHY can't I call it determination, damn it?"

"THAT is mere self-indulgence. What is so great about doing it?"

"What is so great about eating bottles, if you like eating them? Those guys tout their determination to eat the most bottles on TV and no-one objects."

"Well - they provide entertainment. What is the use of what you are doing to anyone except you?"

"Well - if people want to come and get entertained by watching me read books, am I stopping them? Just because they do not choose to do it, you question my determination?"

"Come on! Do not be fixated on just the fringe. There are lot of other examples of people pursuing worthwhile ambitions and not merely indulging themselves."

"Like who? You? Your pursuit of your ambition to become the CEO of your company is determination? Like you are not doing it because you want a bigger car, a huge house, business class travel and foreign vacations in five star hotels. AND what is all that if not self-indulgence?"

"Forget what I do with the money I earn. Concentrate on what I do to earn it. The social purpose I serve"

"Hmm! Really? I cannot see that the existence on one less soft drink in the world - or even all soft drinks - is such a huge loss to Society."

"Ah! You are incorrigible. Why am I arguing with you? IF Society chooses to pay money for your doing something, then what you are doing has social purpose and a pursuit of that is determination. Otherwise, it is not."

NOW - I got it. If I get paid to do anything, I am doing something worthwhile, even if what I am doing is spamming people with porn-site links. If I am not paid, then it is not.

I am NOW determined to pursue a life of reading books and watching TV, till they become socially relevant!

Monday, December 8, 2014

What have they done to you, Bond?

I vaguely remember a snippet from PG Wodehouse' "Our man in America" pieces. It goes something like this (NOT verbatim quoting since my memory is pretty poor. Yes! Yes! THAT is not my only flaw, thanks for reminding)

There has been a huge renaissance in Western movies. In the movies of the past, when the outlaw rode into town, the Sheriff used to meet him on the street in a duel and shoot him to doll-rags. Nowadays, he calls him in, psycho-analyses him, and finds that Bill holds up stages and shoots up the Malemute Saloon on Sundays because someone deprived him of his all-day sucker at the age of six. After which, Bill sells the movie rights to his life-story for a huge sum and retires to California. The movies, in the past, had the Army commandant fight battles with the Indians and kill them to the last man. Now, he calls them for a palaver ("Is all this scalping really necessary?"), after which they toddle off, go into the hay, corn and seed business and do well.

Something like that seems to have happened to James Bond. There was a time when he used to fight megalomaniac villains, who thought large - bringing about the end of the world, setting up space stations and such other interesting objectives. Now, he is reduced to fighting villains with a mother-fixation on 'M'. Where is the magnificence of megalomania and where is this paltry chasing of some sort of exalted serial killer? What next? Two hours of murder and mayhem, and unveiling a six year old boy, who thinks he is playing a computer game, as the master villain?

There was a time when Bond used to run over roof-tops, jump down sewers and fight villains, and within seconds enter a party as though he had stepped out of a band-box, with not a hair out of place. A sort of aspiring Hollywood Rajnikant. Now, he actually gets hurt, sports wounds and shows pain! What a fall for the original super-spy! In the near-future, I am sure there will be a movie with Bond, with his arm in a sling, being protected by others and hustled to safety. Or, horror of horrors, Bond having a heart-to-heart chat with the villain, causing the villain to repent and defuse the nuclear device he set up under the White House.

Time was when Bond's car was a combo car-submarine-airplane, in addition to being invisible sometimes; when his pen could do everything, including writing; when his watch was a laser, magnet and what not (it also showed time); and when you knew that if his car fell off the mountain into a gorge, he would come floating down on a parachute, if not flying a glider. NOW...I just cannot speak, my heart is too full. More of this and Bond might as well be a character from John le Carre's novels instead of Ian Fleming's.(My name is Smiley, George Smiley?)

But why Bond, alone? Batman is now an angst-ridden person resolving inner conflicts; Hercules and Achilles are mere battle-scarred warriors and not superhuman heroes; Loki is not a capricious god but merely driven by jealousy of the perceived favoritism shown by Odin to Thor - in fact, it seems like Hollywood has declared war against all elements of fantasy that is set anywhere in the 'real' world. I hope I will not live to see the time when there is a movie in which Hogwarts is set up by humans from a parallel universe and the wands are voice-activated devices that are programmed to do what the words mean.

When there is a whole world of movies for all this realism, this angst and all this agonizing, why pick on Bond? Or any of the other tales that mixed fantasy into the everyday world? Am I a lone dinosaur and is the rest of viewing world demanding realism in their movies - including the children who used to love these larger-than-life characters? Or is it that the directors feel the pressing need to show that they can do something more 'intellectual' than what the franchises have always stood for? Has the world grown away from all escapist entertainment and prefers everything to be more...mundane?

Maybe the day will come when some genius of a Hollywood director will film "The Tempest" with Prospero being a Computer genius, and Ariel and Caliban are mere apps! I hope that I will not live to see the day!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Games people play

I think I am suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder. How can one person be the Macbeth of Shakespeare, Arjun of the Mahabharata and Ron Weasley of the Potter series, simultaneously, without also being insane?

I really doubt that I could be Macbeth. I have never yet manage to murder any of my bosses in his bed, while he was a guest at my home (or anywhere else, thank you very much! I appreciate your generous efforts to stretch my favorite neck). Primarily because I never yet managed to get any of them to be my guest, I suppose. They, though, have different ideas (like Dhoni? Perhaps!) - "Why would you run the risk of hanging, by murdering us, when you know that it is only a matter of time before you either drive us insane or drive us to suicide?"

As for Arjun, I really hope he does not hear of this comparison. Even the people who reveled in comparing him to Karna, to his (Arjun's) detriment, would have drawn the line at making an comparisons with me. I think, though, that this comparison must be about the level of concentration that he is supposed to have shown and which I possess too. So what if his concentration was when he was indulging in archery and mine was in sleeping?

And Ron Weasley? I would not wish myself on any Hermione Granger. Though, as a matter of fact, this comparison comes close to the truth. Like Ron, I would have married a woman who was more intelligent than me - if I had married, that is. After all, it is very difficult for any woman to be less intelligent than me and still be called human.

Though, to go by the quick estimates of my IQ, it is 134. I must remind myself to send this information to everyone who knows me - especially those who had the misfortune to teach me. I am sure they must all be in need of a good laugh. As for my being 70% an analytic thinker and 30% a creative thinker, that is probably all right. It does not matter how you slice and dice zero, it all comes to the same thing anyway.

There is one thing, though, that restores my faith in all these online tests. I have a very high Emotional Quotient, as I always knew. So, I DO understand people and am a great people person. Anybody, who has met me once, avoids me like the plague from then on and I always knew that the problem was only with the rest of the world and not with me. And, see, I was right!

But, tell me, what is this about 'What color am I?" Basically, I am brown shading off to black but I can turn green, when I see other people's writing praised; red, when someone pans my writing; and other colors of the rainbow as appropriate to the situation. So, what is with fixing me up with one color?

AND - what number am I? Ye Gods!

I think it is about time I stopped playing these games.

I, hereby, resolve to stop taking these online quizzes.

What was that?

"How likely are you to keep resolutions? Click to play"


Monday, December 1, 2014

The need to lie

I would probably have been a great Indian tycoon OR a top bureaucrat or a famous...somebody...but for one small problem. ("Oh! Really!" you say? What business do you have mouthing off here? Whose blog is it anyway?) The issue was that I never really knew which lesson to adopt and which to ignore. You know what, the worst problem is in not ignoring some of the lessons that you learn.

Among those various lessons that I learnt - and mistakenly adhered to - was this one about always telling the truth. Parents, teachers, everyone conspired to drill that into my head, so how was I to know that it was wrong to adhere to it? Though, it must be said, that the school did try to hint that the truth was not always a welcome thing. You know those things - they ask you "What would you do if you were the Prime Minister?" and get very angry if you reply honestly, "I will eat all the chocolates and ice-creams I want, without my mom and dad interfering with me." Apparently, you are supposed to write something like, "I will eradicate poverty, ensure every child gets an education...." when you are not even sure whether YOU really want an education yourself.

The first real inkling I got about the fact that not knowing to lie was detrimental to a good future was when I attended interviews to get a seat in Engineering. "Why do you want to join Computer Sciences?" was the major killer. Apparently, an answer on the lines of "Because it seems to be the best bet to get a high salary, go gallivanting round the world and get the hot babes interested in you" was not acceptable even if it WAS the gospel truth. You had to find an answer that indicated to them that God, when he was making you, filled you with a divine passion for coding that will not allow you to rest unless you were in front of a digital monster, typing in things like 'If x=y then a x b else b x a'. Needless to say, I failed miserably in convincing the interview panel that my only idea of Nirvana was to learn COBOL. (WHAT? Java? THAT only meant coffee in those days, provided you knew American.)

Then came the job interviews. By then, of course, I HAD learned that there would be this question about why I wanted to join their organisation and the ONLY acceptable answer was that my dreams of Heaven were all about working in THAT organisation and I woke up salivating at the thought. What I had not anticipated was this question, "Tell us why we should select you?" The only honest answer that I could think of was "THAT, I thought, was YOUR job. If I have to tell you that, what the hell are YOU doing on the interview panel?" This, it seems, was not the answer that they wanted. The idea, supposedly, was to tell them all the ways in which you would make the organization proud. Why o why do people ALWAYS want you to lie?

Having somehow landed a job, I thought that my lying days were over. Not so, as the very first time I applied for leave taught me. Apparently, the fact that you are allowed a certain number of days of leave did not mean that you could simply say that you would not come to office the next day. You had to give a leave application complete with a reason why you want it. The only honest reason I normally had was "I am tired of my boss' face and a need a break from it." This was not something you could put down there - not if you wanted to get the leave granted since it WAS your boss who had to approve it. Not to mention the fact that he may express HIS tiredness for YOUR face with such effect that you may need to find a new boss in a new organization to be tired of. So, more lies!

The way the world is built, when a soul reaches the pearly gates after death and is asked, "Why do you want to go to Heaven?" and answers, "I have always wanted to be in Heaven after I die", it may be the very first honest answer that it ever gave in an interview!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A barbaric bibliophile

There are some things that you cannot do without people making certain assumptions about you. The problem arises when you do certain things, but are unable to live up to the assumptions. A problem that has invariably deviled me in various endeavors - as in my trekking for years, while not ceasing to huff and puff up hills like a veritable novice.

When I started out, I never realized that the reading habit could get me into the same sort of trouble. Alack and Alas! We live in a world where doing nothing is safe. There I was, merrily reading three books a day through school and college - books of my choice - without bothering a single soul and, presto, people start bothering me.

"You like books? You have much in common with Suresh. He is a bookworm"
"Great! Tell me Suresh - how do you like Salman Rushdie?"
"Salman who?"
"You haven't read Salman Rushdie?" with a call-yourself-a-reader tone. "What do you read then?"
"Alistair McLean, PG Wodehouse..."
"Oh! Those...", dismissively, leaving me feeling six inches tall.

Had to read Salman Rushdie, then. 'Magical realism' or some such thing he is supposed to write but, for me, it was all mystifying. I ploughed through some twenty pages of 'Midnight's Children' without a clue about what was happening, if anything was indeed happening. It was difficult enough for me to understand what those sentences meant and people, who saw the book in my hands, started talking about what the author REALLY meant to say. Egads! Give me the bombs and the spies, please!

And then someone told me John Steinbeck was un-put-down-able. At last! Some author I could credibly boast of reading and, apparently, a thrilling read as well. I picked 'Grapes of Wrath' and, within three pages, I knew that I had my poles reversed. Where everyone seemed to find it un-put-down-able, I found it un-take-up-able. It really required enormous will power to lift up the book to read yet another paragraph and extraordinarily easy to put it back down, and look for the Erle Stanley Gardner that I had already read twice, so that I could read it again. Talk about being a Philistine.

Of the entire lot I read, Ayn Rand was the biggest letdown. The rest start off promising no thrilling story and keep their promise. Rand, on the other hand, keeps you engrossed in some interesting shenanigans and, when you are lulled, socks you with a lecture on economics or sociology that will just NOT end. Cheating, I call it!

I had quite resigned myself to the fact that, voracious reader though I was, I could only read stories that had a clear beginning, a middle and an end; that had a protagonist whom I could at least like, if not respect, AND not someone who keeps telling me that the world was full of slimy beings and he was stinking in the garbage right alongside me; and which had enough incidents in it to keep me interested and not merely the workings of a person's inner consciousness.  About the only thing I did not insist on was a twist in the tail - something that seems de rigeur for any writing to be called fiction these days, or so it seems. Me - I was quite content if the journey was good. I did not HAVE to land in Mumbai after boarding a Delhi train in order to be satisfied.

Then came this lady - Arundhati Roy. Wins the Booker Prize and all, so one can hardly say that she does not write well. So, I pick her 'God of Small Things' in an effort to recover my image as a serious reader. The problem with me is that I read two pages of what everyone agrees is wonderfully evocative prose and say, "Hmm! Another muggy day in a Kerala village." With this sort of taste I should never have started on any of these books.

Given my tastes, it is hardly a wonder that I never read Indian authors - barring R.K.Narayan. Apparently, Indian authors would write ONLY what could, in theory, be in the prescribed syllabus for a future English Lit course. The concept of writing only to entertain - like, say, a Ludlum or a Jack Higgins or a Agatha Christie - was anathema. And, I read exclusively to be entertained; to have my mind taken of the myriad problems of my workaday world and did not want anything that could even remotely remind me of my less than stellar - to put it mildly - academic days.

Things have changed now, apparently. There do seem to be a few authors who write what earns the universal ire of literary critics - which probably means that they will never feature in Lit. courses, except as a novelty. 

The problem, though, is that I still cannot join any book discussions. People seem to talk exclusively of authors I have never ever heard of, and some whose names I can not even pronounce. They utter phrases like Dickensian realism and Byronic moodiness and things like that. I would not recognize Dickensian realism if you served it on a platter with watercress around it NOR would Byronic moodiness make an impression on me even if it jumped up and bit me in the nose. With my paltry vocabulary of "It was nice" and "I liked it", I hardly think I am up to the flow of thought and feast of reason in these book discussions - not that I would need to strain my limited vocabulary considering that the sort of authors I read were least likely to be the subject matter of such discussions.

Which is why I may be a bibliophile but will always count as a barbarian among the literati. Let me go and drown my self-pity in that Anne McCaffrey that I am reading now!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Honestly Rude?

Someone said, "A true friend is he who does not shy away from pointing out your faults" or some such thing. If I could only get my hands on that @#?$ .... The problem, you see, is that I have a lot of friends who think that their duty as friends consists exclusively of pointing out my faults. If there is anything else to friendship, they sure do not acknowledge those things.

Take this particular incident for example. A time when I came to a friend wanting some sympathy and support. And THIS is what I got.

"Yaar! I think people are just unable to hear the truth. And they call me rude merely because I tell it."

"What - like the time we went to Sweta's wedding reception and you yelled, 'Hey! Your husband is bald'"?

"But it WAS the truth."

"And you thought that it had somehow escaped Sweta's notice all along and it was your duty to warn her of it?"


"Ah! You thought that the rest of us would fail to notice it and it was important to inform us about it?"


"Maybe you just thought it was important for all truths to be told? But...looks to me that you did not tell the other truth that he had a very charming smile...which you mentioned to us later."

"Skip that! But you cannot say that I was wrong in correcting Varun's English. I mean, he was writing 'its' when he should have been using 'it's'"

"Quite! But did you really need to tell him that if this was the best he could do, he should go back to kindergarten and start learning English all over again?"

"If you are acting so wise, what would YOU have said?"

"I would have told him that he had written 'its' by mistake when he meant to write 'it's'. Why would I assume that it was not just a mistake? And, even if I knew it was not, why should I try to make him look like a fool?"

"You always put me on the wrong foot. But, tell me, what was wrong with my telling Ashish that it was surprising that he had got a job in finance, when he managed to muck up every problem in maths all through school? You know it is true and you have said it yourself." I said triumphantly.

"Not in front of his new boss and colleagues - or did you forget that you uttered that pearl of wisdom when we bumped into him at the restaurant where they were dining together?"


"So, of course, Ashish must be very joyous about the fact that this home truth about him was shared with his new boss."

"When you say it, it is OK! When I say it, it is rude, huh?"

"You idiot! As long as you never learn what, how and where to say things, you will always be considered rude and not merely honest."

"I came to you for support. Why are you being so rude to me?"

"Rude? Not at all. I am only being honest."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Upper Mustang Trek - Finale

Click to read Part 1Part IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII or Part VIII

A few snippets from the trek that may be of interest.

The one thing about the food in the tea-houses is that it is normally laden with garlic. Probably because it is supposed to be good for AMS. Our palates, though, were so totally unused to so much garlic in every single dish that Ramesh had taken to specifying, more than once, "No garlic" every time we ordered a meal. So effective was his intervention that once he got no garlic even in his garlic bread!

The other group also was infected in part by Geeta's ideas of trekking. Apparently, after hitting Lo Manthang, half the group took ponies to come down. They eventually took a jeep from Muktinath and met us in Jomsom on their way to Poon Hill, where they trekked up steps for some 1800+ meters!

I will never forget the one time Reto pulled Ramesh's leg. When we met at Jomsom, Ramesh was detailing how he came down to Kagbeni and, then, trekked up to Muktinath with the help of the porter. Reto asked, totally deadpan, "Was the porter able to keep up with you?"

The Hotelier at Jomsom looked on us as rara avis. Apparently, trekking Indian were next to non-existent in that area (or, at least, his hotel). Most of the Indians that he had seen were pilgrims to Muktinath.

The stay at Pokhara was not totally event-free. We went on an early morning trek to Sarangkot to catch the sunrise on the Annapurna ranges. Geeta and I lost our way and ended up in a tea-house about a hundred meters below the view-point. As it happened, this place had as good a view and, compared to the jostling crowds at the view-point, it was a peaceful place to take in the brushwork of the early morning sun on the snow-clad peaks.

The next day, we took an ultralight flight. The bird's eye-view was great and it would have been felt like flying but for the persistent drone of the engine in the ears. Next time I shall ensure that we manage paragliding - we were too late to book this time.

For a man who has never seen a movie shot in India, it was a surprise to find a Nepalese movie being shot opposite our Hotel near the Pokhara lake. Looks like heroines there too need to be dressed in tatters for dance scenes and it was a revelation to me to see how utterly boring the shooting of a dance sequence could be.

Robert came down with a suspicious black eye and some specious reason for it. None of us believed in what he said :)

AND now the links for pics.

Photocredits: Fellow-trekkers. None taken by me.

The Upper Mustang Trek - VIII

Click to read Part 1Part IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VI or Part VII

The group was split in three the next day. Ramesh went ahead (so what else is new?) with one of the porters, Praveen. Vinita was, as usual, in some indeterminate position after him. Kulendra and Chandru went next to ensure that the duffel bags were duly loaded onto the vehicle before the rest of us reached, in order to save some time. Geeta, Sampat and I trailed the group.

Descents are horrid on the knees and ankles because you use them to brake your momentum. There is such a thing as descending too fast for comfort after all. No matter how much we want to recapture our youth, cartwheeling down a slope is certainly not one of the most sought after ways. The trick is to take the downward slope with controlled speed so that you do not stress your joints and, at the same time, manage to retain your balance.

Easier said than done? Easy enough if you walk down with knees bent continuously and with your upper body bent forward. That brings the center of gravity of your body lower, making it easier to maintain your balance, and you can travel faster, too. Chandru had explained it in great detail but even his magic had not communicated the modus operandi to Geeta and Sampat.

I asked them to do the Orangutan jog and, miracle of miracles, they automatically bent the knees and stooped forward AND traveled faster. It is a rare occasion when something I say actually communicates to the recipients, and rarer still that I manage to do so when Chandru has tried and failed. I will not get over this experience any time soon, I assure you.

The need for speed, from my side, was primarily because the idea was to lunch at Muktinath - and the longer we took over reaching Kagbeni, the later we would leave and the longer I would have to remain hungry. (Glutton, you call me? I will have you know that missing or delaying a meal sets off the gas factory in my belly. If you have a shred of compassion in your make-up, you will regret that jibe soon!)

We hit Kagbeni but the vehicle was not yet available. Ramesh had already left with the porter, on his trek up to Muktimath. By the time we lined up the vehicle and left, it was around 2 PM and, again, we had that experience of traveling in all directions at once. We hit Muktinath after Ramesh had reached. AND, would you believe it, we had to climb some endless steps to get to the temple.

The temple of salvation (Mukti) is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and counts as one of the divya desams. It is also sacred to the Buddhists. The temple is the abode of all five elements. Earth, Sky and Air are available everywhere. Water is normally present too - as a lake or pond - but in Muktinath it is the 108 springs that feed the Kali Gandhaki. Fire, elsewhere, is only present in man-made forms. In Muktinath, there is a continuous natural flame - fed, possibly, by natural gas from underground, near the Jwaladevi temple and housed in a Buddhist temple. Muktinath is also a Shaktipeet, where the temple of Sati is supposed to have fallen.

After a ritual cleansing of the head in the 108 yalis that spew water (and, yet another place where I barely escaped frostbite on the scalp) , we had a darshan of the deity, saw the revered flames and descended down. Lunch time at 4 PM? Not really! Apparently, the last vehicle leaves at 5 PM after which we would have to stay back and wait for the next day. So, it was rush, rush, rush again with a promise of dinner at Jomsom.

Back to civilization but, unfortunately for me, the abstinence proved too much. A serious attack of acidity prostrated me for the next day and a half - when the others went on small day treks, egged on by Ramesh. Once the mandatory trekking was over, the enthusiasm Geeta and Sampat showed for trekking had to be seen to be believed.

Hot water baths, when the water IS hot, is such a pleasure - particularly when you have been deprived of it for so long. I spent the next couple of days reading books and nursing myself back to health. AND there were the mountains all the time - just waiting to enthrall you if you but walked out of the hotel.

We, then, left for Pokhara, spent a couple of days there and flew back to Delhi.

Photocredits: Fellow-trekkers. None taken by me.

The Upper Mustang Trek - VII (The Legend of Tulsi)

Click to read Part 1Part IIPart IIIPart IVPart V or Part VI

All through the trek, we have been traveling in the vicinity of the Kali Gandhaki river and, now, we are about to go to Muktinath. It is necessary, then, to also tell you about the myth behind the river, since it is an inseparable part of the myth of Tulsi - the plant that Hindus venerate. There are two versions of the tale - one from the Shiv Puran and one from the Devi Bhagavatam.

The Shiv Puran version is the tale of Jalandhar and Vrinda. Once, when Lord Shiva was angry with Indra, due to the latter's ego, he opened his third eye and was stopped from immolating Indra by the prayers of Brihaspathi and the penitence of Indra. His fury, however, lodged in the Ocean and Jalandhar was born. Thus, in a manner, Jalandhar was the brother of Lakshmi, who also arose from the Ocean at the time of the Samudra Manthan (The churning of the Ocean).

Jalandhar married Vrinda, the daughter of the asura Kalanemi. Vrinda was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu (one version is that she was a gopi cursed by Radha) and as long as she was chaste and prayed for Jalandhar's welfare, Jalandhar was protected from any harm. Jalandhar proceeded to conquer the three worlds and the devas were deprived of their kingdom. Lord Vishnu fights a long and indecisive battle against him but, on the entreaties of Lakshmi, he makes peace with her brother.

Hearing the Sage Narada extol the praises of the beauty of Goddess Parvati, Jalandhar sends a message to Shiva to live true to his reputation of a Yogi and surrender his beautiful wife. Angered by the missive, Lord Shiva battles against Jalandhar but is unable to overcome him. Meanwhile, Jalandhar creates an illusion that keeps Lord Shiva and his army occupied and goes to Goddess Parvati in the guise of Lord Shiva. The Goddess recognizes him for who he was and rises in fury to kill him whereupon he escapes.

When the Goddess asks the Lord Vishnu about why Lord Shiva was finding it difficult to vanquish Jalandhar, he tells her that the Vrinda's chastity and devotion to himself was protecting Jalandhar. The Goddess, then, requests him to put an end to Vrinda's chastity if that was the only way to vanquish Jalandhar.

Heavyhearted at practising such a deception on his devotee, Lord Vishnu takes the appearance of Jalandhar and goes to Vrinda, who receive him as a wife would receive her husband. With her chastity destroyed, Lord Shiva kills Jalandhar with his Trishul. Learning of the deception, Vrinda curses Lord Vishnu to be trapped in a stone (which is the reason why the Shaligram is supposed to embody Vishnu) and, also, that he would suffer separation from his wife (as he did in the Ramayan). Thereafer, Vrinda immolates herself but Lord Vishnu saves her hair and converts it into the Tulsi plant.

The Devi Bhagavatam has a similar tale - with minor variations. In an argument between the Goddesses Lakshmi, Ganga and Saraswati, Ganga and Saraswati are cursed to become rivers and Lakshmi is cursed to be born human and marry an asura. An aspect of Lakshmi is born as Tulsi, the daughter of Dharmadwaj. She undergoes austerities to marry Lord Vishnu when Lord Brahma appears and tells her that before marrying the Lord, she would have to marry an asura.

Meanwhile, Sudama (who, in this case, is considered an aspect of Lord Vishnu) is born as an asura - Shankachud, son of Dhamba - and he marries Tulsi. Shankachud is blessed to be invincible as long as Tulsi remains chaste. He conquers the three worlds and, in his arrogance, challenges the Lord Shiva. The Lord Shiva finds it impossible to vanquish him.

Lord Vishnu then, reluctantly, takes the shape of Shankachud and goes to Tulsi. Shankachud is killed by Lord Shiva and the news is conveyed to Tulsi while Lord Vishnu is with her in her husband's apearance. Upon being accused by an inconsolably weeping Tulsi, Lord Vishnu appears in his true shape. Tulsi accuses him of being stonehearted and curses him to become a stone. Her body decays into a river - Kali Gandhaki - and her hair turns into the Tulsi shrub.

We have a habit of picking all the wrong lessons to learn from our myths. The things to be noted are that a. Even though it WAS the Lord, who committed the 'crime', and even though it was done under compulsion, he accepted the punishment imposed on him and b. Far from being reviled as unchaste - as would probably have been done in these unjust times - Tulsi is a deity to be venerated by the chaste.

Now that we know why the Lord Vishnu - in the form of the Shaligrams - lies always in the embrace of the Kali Gandhaki river, and why Tulsi is Vishnupriya, we can proceed with the last stages of the trek.

Photo Credit: Sampat

The Upper Mustang Trek - VI

Click to read Part 1Part IIPart IIIPart IV or Part V

The climb to Samar on the way up was now the descent. We were headed to Chusang and we started off with the testing descent. Now that we were taking it in easy stages, there was a miraculous revival of interest - nay, active enthusiasm - in Sampat and Geeta. Strange how, once we dispense with the tough parts, trekking seems to become almost an obsession.

Midway though, at the tea-stop, Geeta suddenly developed a new interest. There was a school bus starting off from there and she wanted to continue her trek by bus. No amount of twitting her about the fact that riding piggyback did not mean that she had become a school girl would stop her complaints about how hardhearted Chandru and I were in denying her the pleasure. Apparently, she was vying for the exclusive pleasure of having 'trekked' by every available mode of transportation. (The fact that there was an old foreign gentleman, who was trekking by the expedient of riding a pony uphill and walking downhill, robbed her of that necessary feeling of uniqueness in having 'trekked' by pony. We had to console her by telling her that he could not have done the piggyback ride and the motorbike ride, too)

Ramesh, as usual, had sped ahead and, when we reached the destination, we had a message to join him at the river. By the time we set out - trying to find a way to the river - he was back going gaga about exactly the same things that I talked of when I mentioned my earlier dips in the water. We got side-tracked into plucking apples right of the trees nearby and crunching them. Such crisp, tangy and juicy apples as I had never had in my life - but then I have mostly been a city-brat and something fresh off the trees has not come my way too often.

We did try to reach the river, thereafter, but the only path was a near 90 degree descent - easy enough to accomplish, if you just thought of sliding down, but daunting to think of climbing back up. Ramesh, I suppose, must have found a way OR used this path but judging what I could do by what he could do was more stupid than even I can claim to be. So, we retreated to the tea-house.

There were a few foreigners in the tea-house, as indeed there had been in almost all the tea-houses we were in, who asked Ramesh whether we were all trekking friends - to which he pointedly replied, "Friends but NOT trekking friends". Such is human nature. If you read/write books that I would not read, you are no reader/writer; if you enjoy movies that I do not enjoy, you are no movie buff etc etc. Strange how we define every activity only by how WE prefer doing them.

I am sure that there must be someone - who carries all his belongings himself; finds his own way; puts up his own tent; cooks his own food on his own campfire - who would sneer at the idea of Ramesh calling himself a trekker! Chandru and I, on the other hand, call ourselves trekkers merely because we know of no other word to differentiate what we prefer doing from what Ramesh prefers doing and, thus, what Ramesh said did not act on us like he had deprived us of a deserved Nobel prize. We had both left behind the hierarchies of corporate life and were in no hurry to be fitted into hierarchies in what we thought of as our leisure activity.

So, when the next day's plan was for us to trek to Kagbeni, take a jeep to Muktinath and then continue by jeep to Jomsom, while Ramesh would trek to Kagbeni and then to Muktinath, there was no rush of volunteers to join Ramesh. (From Chusang to Muktinath would have been shorter BUT Ramesh needed the porter to guide him and the porter had to dump our duffel bags in Kagbeni first.)

The last day of the mandatory trek lay ahead on the next day.

Photocredits: Fellow-trekkers. None taken by me.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Upper Mustang Trek - V

 Click to read Part 1Part IIPart III or Part IV

If there be some such person who has been religiously reading through - and remembering - the posts on this trek, the trek back to Samar should remind such a mythical being of that 3-5 Km descent to the tea-house at Syanboche. THAT, now, would be an ascent on the way back first thing in the morning.

Geeta had, today, decided to trek back by pony - something on the lines of the chap, who is starting his car, telling you that he was going for his morning walk. Ramesh, full of his sense of moral responsibility, had announced his intent to accompany her all the way AND, in an astonishing display of modesty, said that he would go on ahead so that he could be along with when the pony caught up with him. My! My! That he could even entertain the idea of any creature being faster than him on the trails!

Sampat, having suddenly found a grave interest in trekking, declined the offer of a pony and, thus, the three of us - Sampat, Chandru and I - set off before Geeta's ponies had ambled into the picture. Kulendra was with Geeta, since he was the chap who had the onus of getting the pony in and, more difficult, getting Geeta on to the pony.

We had completed the ascent and were down at Bhena for tea with no sight of Geeta. While we were sipping our tea, Geeta finally turned up astride her pony, looking for all the world like a Revolver Rita, sans her revolvers. Apparently, the first pony she had tried decided to have nothing to do with her and it was a miracle that she was not bucked right off into the gorge. THAT one was saddled with the baggage while Geeta was astride the other - more docile - one. WHO said complainers do not get rewarded?

Geeta was surprised that she had HAD to go piggyback on the minor slope, as she descended it with us, giving some respite to the pony. Yes - it is always like that. Slopes seem steeper when you climb than when you descend. The ones that appear almost the same both ways are the ones that you would prefer not to descend, for fear that you would BE the avalanche that goes down faster than the eye can blink.

AND nearly that sort of descent was what we faced up to after some time - going down the gorge to the river. The ponies, apparently, could not be trusted down that slope with a rider on and, thus, Geeta descended with us as well. Once I sighted the river, there was no stopping me. I HAD to have a dip - again.

In fact, on our way up, one of the things that irritated me was the fact that there was no time to spend in the water. I have always been a sucker for running water on my treks - rapids, waterfalls, streams and rivers. The fact that I know no swimming has seldom been a bar and, even some near-drowning experiences as recounted in 'Swimming like a stone' have not put me off it. AND places like this - a stream or river winding its way through a gorge with tall mountains on both sides - have always been of special appeal. Looking up the gorge between the mountains, with the sky seeming like a blue lid on top, and at the watercourse winding down, sometimes hiding itself in a curve and reappearing, glinting in a million diamonds of iridescence was mesmerizing. It always seemed to draw me in with the infinite promises, secrets and allure of Nature at its best.

Again, I was in the water and again Kulendra and Sampat enshrined me for posterity - or the trashbins of their cameras, as the case may be. (I am yet to receive these pics as well). The others stayed well upstream of me and dangled their toes in the water, and snapped the views up the gorge.

The last leg to Samar was an ascent of about 800 meters - the descent when we came down the trail, as the mythical beings can recall. Geeta climbed...her pony...and we climbed. We hit Samar in time for lunch - preceded by a beer, of course.

Meanwhile, what of the chap whose pious intentions were to accompany Geeta on her pony-ride? He had hit Samar a couple of hours earlier, had had a hot water shower and was a beer ahead of us!

Onward to Chusang the next day.

Photocredits: Fellow-trekkers. None taken by me.

The Upper Mustang Trek - IV

 Click to read Part 1Part II or Part III

Programs did change and the group split in two. Geeta, Vinita, Sampat, Chandru and I were quite content to lazily wend our way back to Pokhara, while the Swiss trio, Sanjeev and Shivashankar wanted to go on to Lo Manthang and back as planned originally. The surprise was Ramesh. He decided that he had to come back with us - since Geeta had come over on his invitation and it was his responsibility to see that she was safe. THAT, now, was a bit of a poser and left me with ambivalent feelings. Coming back was all fine but with Ramesh in the mix could anything be leisurely?

The next day the Up-to-Lo-Manthang lot went on their way, while the rest of us decided to take a rest day at Syanboche. Some rest day it turned out to be, with Ramesh taking us along on a 'short day-trek' to Chungsi caves. THAT man has no clue what 'short' really means.

It must be said that for him it certainly seemed short. While we were content to walk along on the laid out trail, he was darting to this side to climb a wee bit up to have a look-see at some caves, to that side to see if the trail that way was more 'challenging', and so on and so forth till it made me absolutely tired just to witness his energetic exertions. It seemed such a pity that mankind had spent all those eons in evolving into itself, when there were so many people who exulted in being a cross between a hare, a mountain goat and a monkey. (Geeta was so overcome by Ramesh's exertions that she stopped off mid-way and beat a retreat.)

The way to the caves was all downward, initially - something that always gives me the jitters on day-treks since we would have to come back the same way AND it would be uphill all the way then. And then we found we had to climb up and, would you believe it, I was upset about having to huff and puff uphill with no thought to how easy it would be to come back. After huffing and puffing for about an hour, we hit the caves - to find that there were steps leading up to the final destination.

If there is one thing anathema to trekkers, it is steps. Normally, you find trouble with breathing when going uphill and trouble with ankles and knees when you descend. Steps uphill ensure that you have all the problems all at once. I have no clue what a guy like Ramesh thinks about them - maybe he exults in the fact of a complete challenge - but most of the others groan the moment they see steps.

As for me, the stream by the side of the trail was so inviting, I allowed the rest to go up and get back with the reports of what was there in the caves, while I had a pleasant dip in the water. (Yes! I have been accused of having no clue about the meaning of 'pleasant' when it comes to dips in the water. The water is, normally, ice-melt and is at some 5-10 degrees centigrade. The pleasure of the dip is in the dipper, if you know what I mean. You dunk yourself in the water and pop out the moment you feel that you have lost your skin totally. Then bask in the sun - it is an absolute delight. Do it as many times as you can manage. IF it is cloudy, avoid any such activity. Hypothermia shall make as good a try at killing you as AMS)

By the time the others came down to report that there was a dilapidated figure of Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) in the upper cave, I was already in the water. Sampat wanted to take a pic and I was immersed in the water posing for him. He took so long over it that I got frost-bitten in the scalp! Upon questioning, he claimed that looking at me set him shivering so badly that he could not focus the camera. Thank God he did not shiver long enough to have me freeze over totally. (AND the minion of Hell still does not send me the pic so I can post it here. All my freezing was in vain!)

The return to the tea-house was every bit as bad as I anticipated - if anything worse, since the sun was at its noon-day fury by then. After a 5-6 hour trek (Short trek, forsooth!), we were back with chilled glasses on beer in hand.

The next day we were to go back to Samar.

Photocredits: Fellow-trekkers. None taken by me.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Upper Mustang Trek - III

 Click to read Part 1 and Part II

Geeta was in good spirits the next day and we set off on the trek to Syanboche. The trek was expected to be long - some 20+ kilometers - but the saving grace, apparently, was that only the initial leg to Samar was a climb of some 600-700 meters. Thereafter, there was only a height gain of about 100 meters. Since climbing in the early morning was far less taxing, the prospects seemed not too bad.

By this time, Karthikeyan had established himself among the 'fast group'. On the road journey, he was a part of the 'Chennai chatterers', which so vexed the others, BUT, since he had the uncanny ability to say something or the other which extended one of his legs for a royal pull, he must have thought that pushing himself to travel faster was a lesser evil than having his leg lengthened by the sustained efforts of Chandru or me. THAT was a pity since, by the time we hit the tea-houses for lunch or the evening, his abilities as a masseur was usurped by one of the others. Sometimes, a sense of humor can REALLY cost you!

Vinita, though, went her own way. She stayed somewhere between the rushers and the amblers, probably to totally avoid the members of the 'Chennai chatterers', who were split between the two groups. This left Chandru, Sampath, Geeta, Kulendra and myself at the tail of the trek group. Finding that the slower rhythm of the others was tiring us, Chandru and I went some distance at our pace, sat and waited for the others to catch up, then sped up again and, in this manner, we hit Samar somewhere around 11-11.30 AM.

When you see the photographs, you see it outside looking in AND, more often than not, you see the mountains about the size of your palms. When you ARE there - with the ranges of the brown and green mountains rearing all around you with the snow-capped mountain ranges over-topping them from behind; with the deep gorge to your side and a light green river snaking along the course, glistening in the sun; and with vagrant breezes cooling your brow and vanishing, leaving you panting for more - you are dwarfed by the sheer majesty of the mountains AND, unless you are particularly prone to beating yourself up, you feel exalted at being a part of all this beauty. THAT is the joy of trekking for me, a joy that a visit to a Hill station does not provide since jostling crowds drag you back to the mundane, even before you have craned your neck to see the iridescence of the sunlight on the ice-cap of a distant mountain.

In order to take in the view, it is necessary for you to stop to look around. To gawp at the sights while you are trekking could possibly end up with your BECOMING a part of the landscape instead of merely looking at it. Thus it is that you will see trekkers studiously ignoring all the magnificent beauty surrounding them and look raptly at their feet while they are trudging up the mountains. Except, of course, the gifted few who seem to have been equipped with an extra couple of eyes in their feet.

The program for the day seemed too tight for us to be taking too many breaks to take in the view and, thus, we resigned ourselves to enjoying the view in other people's photographs - much like any of you guys - and toiled our way up to Samar. A tea-break later, we wended our way onward to Bhena which was the scheduled lunch-stop.

We had not gone too far from Samar when we realized that the day's trek plan had omitted an insignificant detail. It was, indeed, a fact that we would only need to gain another 100 meters in altitude BUT right in the way of gaining that altitude was a gorge leading us down to the river. Which, in effect, meant that we would have to descend 800 meters and, then, ascend 900 meters to gain that paltry 100 meter altitude. Ye Gods!

Descents are hell on the ankles and knees, so banish all thoughts of coasting down descents, as though you thought we were youngsters riding bikes. By the time we hit the river and were looking with trepidation at the ascent ahead, Geeta and Sampath were in full flow. The sun was beating down on us with all its afternoon fervor and, every time we hit some shade, both of them started discussing with Kulendra the possibility of hiring ponies or a vehicle to complete the rest of the day's trek. On top of it, Geeta started developing a headache, which seemed more and more like heatstroke than AMS. Chandru went on ahead while I stayed behind with the trio to ensure that they did make it to the end.

The climb seemed to get steeper and steeper, till at one point Geeta just could not keep going. We called on a porter to carry her piggyback for the rest of the ascent - some 200 meters or so. Little did she realize how mercilessly she would be ribbed for that. For the rest of the trek/tour, she had to listen to one or the other of us twitting her for still retaining childish interests like riding piggyback but she was a good enough sport not to resent it.

THAT was, by no means the end of the day's trekking or even climbing. Beyond the ascent was a descent that took us to Bhena where we stopped for lunch - a rather later lunch for us. By then it was clear to both Chandru and me that the program as laid out by Ramesh was certainly beyond Geeta and Sampath. Geeta had collapsed again at Bhena and was dozing and Sampath was nursing his back. Chandru and I could, possibly, have completed the program as laid out but it would have been merely trudging from one tea-house to the next, sleeping and waking up to another day of trudging. The idea of trekking for both of us was to soak ourselves in the ambiance of the mountains and not to merely walk till we dropped for the pleasure of coming back and reporting the completion of some prescribed trek. The latter idea sounded too much like work to us and, to anyone knowing either of us, the very idea of work is anathema. Thus it was that Chandru proposed and I concurred that we could let the rest proceed while we went back in small stages, spending time leisurely on the way back.

Till, of course, we were shocked rudely by the fact that the tea-house refused to rent out rooms, leaving us no option but to either go to the day's destination OR return to Samar. Considering that it was 3 PM already, I thought that braving the descent to the gorge when it would likely be dark was not the wisest of things to do and, so, we went ahead reluctantly to Syanpoche.

Only a minor ascent - till THAT lamp-post and then we descend to the tea-house. HOW simple it sounded. On we went, with Chandru vanishing round the bend in jig time. We had not even reached the start of that 20 degree incline to the lamp-post when Geeta was down and out. Kulendra had sought his guides to send back a hired pony but that seemed nowhere near appearing. In desperation, we flagged down a couple of bikers. One of them offered Geeta a lift and we waved her off, expecting to see her again within half an hour at the top of the climb.

You hit the spot, turn and find another endless climb ahead to another lamp-post. You trudge onward endlessly, as it seems, and then you see the tea-houses within a kilometer to your right. The only fly in the ointment is that a gorge separates you, again, BUT, thankfully, you only need to meander down the trail to the left which snakes back to the destination after a good 3-5 kilometer trek. AND, around 7 PM, almost twelve hours since we started the day's trek, we collapse in the tea-house after hearing, thankfully, that Geeta had been ferried all the way by the motorcyclist.

THAT, then, was how we celebrated Diwali this year!

The next day, programs would change.

Photocredits: Fellow-trekkers. None taken by me.