Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sun, Slopes and Snow

And so we walked.

The slope was slippery with mud and rain. We grabbed the rocks desperately with both hands as we crawled upward. The progress was slow, but the end was in sight. The last exhausted heave brought Faul Pani into sight. All our exhaustion was washed away by the sight of a clump of tents precariously clinging to the slope as if gravity had been temporarily suspended. We fertilised the fields and got ready for supper.

And so we walked.

We crossed streams, rivers and ravines. We crawled under rocks. We climbed with our hands. We heaved ourselves stupidly on a grassy stretch. Zirmi was at hand. We were given the first sight of what was to come. What we all came here for. The peak was at hand. Later that evening, we greeted the arrival of the Hero of the Day. At night, an intrepid three of us marched into the pitch blackness of the night to the tent of the guides. It began to rain.We watched the rain drop-drop on the small fire that burnt through the rain. We watched the little flicks of the flame dance in step to their conversation. We understood not a word, but we knew the talks were happy talks.

And so we walked.

The pink of the rhododendron, the bright green of the fresh grass, the dark green of the pine needles, the dirty brown white of week old snow. We quietly filed past them all. The pines disappeared one by one. We didn't notice it. Next was the grass. We finally walked past the last of the rhododendron. We had our heads down and we put our feet forward. It was stupid of us. A thick mist enveloped us. The crunch-crunch of the snow beneath our feet was comforting as we cleared the mist and reached our camp. Tila lotni showed us the peak in all her beauty.

And so we walked.

Being the first to leave your foot print on fresh snow. Of fouling the virginal purity of the undisturbed soft white blanket on the ground. We exploited every opportunity we got. We walked and slid and slid and walked. We were sweating while our feet were freezing. We walked twelve hours in the bright snow. We finally crossed Sar pass and climbed Biskeri top. We slid down about a kilometre to hot chai waiting for us. And we made our way through thick pine forests to Biskeri.

And so we walked.

We lost our way. Some of us gave up and started blaming some of us who hadn't given up. People went in all directions looking for a way. We found one. Bandhak tatch welcomed us. The bright green of the grassland invited us to fertilise them. And we did, for the first time the temperature was above zero degrees. Some of us could work up the courage to. It was surrounded by gleaming white peaks like the tourist brouchers. We didn't want to leave but we had to.

And so we hope to keep on walking.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Devil Worshipers and other tales

It was a hot morning in Delhi, when the six of us set off for Shivpuri. A small village north of Rishikesh. The small Wagon R was cramped and the air-conditioning had little effect. After a breakfast at a small roadside eatery, we managed to arrive at Rishikesh at about one in the afternoon in spite of the fabled roads of UP. The drive to Shivpuri lasted another two hours through the narrow hill roads. Reaching there, we checked into one of the rafting camps on the banks of the Ganga. A hot wind blew across the camp slowly heating the already baking sand. Seven hours in the Northern sun had left precious little in us.

The first dip in the waters of the Ganga took my breath away. It was cold. Very cold. But it felt good. All around us, people were playing and swimming the the river. We stayed in the water for all of two hours, before hunger drove us away. After a very agreeable lunch, we were back with a vengeance. After swimming about some more, we lied on the bank and relaxed. All the while, we watched various pretty things splash around in the river.

Building sand sculptures was never my thing. But the weather was pleasant. The water was cold, the scene was pretty. I was intoxicated. And we took it upon ourselves to build a replica of the Pentagon. In the end, we achieved something that resembled a pentagon. At which point, we hit upon a bright idea. We would convert our pentagon in to a pentagram and conduct devil worship. We the proceeded to turn it into a convincing pentagram and began our devil worship with very convincing fake rituals. As that soon grew old, we decided to go to sleep for a while.

But we were soon interrupted by a loud commotion. Someone was calling out loud for the camp in-charge. We thought that it might have been the volley-ball that had got washed into the river. When we arrived at the scene, it turned out that it was actually someone who had gone under. He was part of a four people group on the bank, who were making merry, getting pleasantly drunk. And the person who had now gone under, had until then refused to get into the river. The camp people rushed to the scene and got rescue rafts circling the spots. As we talked to the people there, they expressed little hope that he would be found alive. All their talks were of when the body would surface and not of actually finding him alive. They told stories of many such incidents because of the strong eddy that pulled everything underneath it.

Flustered, we returned to the camp. Realisation dawned that that unfortunate fellow had gotten into the water the precise moment we had our little game of devil worship. He had until then refused to get into the water. We tried to rationalise that this was all just a freakish co-incidence. Perhaps it was. Yes, it was just that, a freakish, very unfortunate, co-incidence.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Escape from Noida

The hunt began in earnest on a cold December morning. Though the vague intent had been sown many weeks before, it solidified with the help of several stiff shots of vodka. The time was right. Yes, it will finally be as it was intended. The escape was inevitable. And now I had friends to help me and welcome me to my new place of refuge.

Along with my comrade-in-arms, Venu, the hunt for a home in New Delhi began. And with much thanks to a dear friend, Vikas Sood also from New Delhi, we landed quite a decent home near his locality. The rent was settled and we were to move in that weekend. The plan was made, the truck was hired and the packing started.

The truck arrived at Venu's place at 3:30 pm and at my place at 4 pm. We were done loading by 4:30 and we set off for Delhi and for our new home. There was, however, a tiny detail that the truck driver forgot to mention when we booked the truck. What he forgot to say was that from 5pm to 9pm, no commercial vehicles are allowed to ply on the roads of Delhi. We, the poor out-of-town people were quite ignorant of this fact. Perhaps the driver hoped to cross the Delhi border by 5pm, we would never know. But, what happened was this. At 4:45 pm, the driver pulled into a small side road off the highway and said he would go no further. And we were to wait there till 9pm.

To say we were pissed would be an understatement. We called the truck owner and gave him an earful. After screaming at him for about half an hour, and several conversations between the driver and the owner, the owner tells us that he is sending another truck. As to how this would help, we had no clue. But, something was being done atleast. After numerous arguments over where to meet, the other truck finally arrived and the luggage was transferred. The owner had come along with the truck. We asked the owner why he had sent the other truck and would that be of any help. He said, unfortunately no, but it was breaking his heart that he had sent such a big truck. Hence he had sent this smaller truck to take its place instead. The way he said that it was breaking his heart was so cool and unconcerned with our plight that it made us want to smash his head with a rock lying on the roadside. But, we controlled our anger. It was as if he thought that since we had already paid him part of the money, he could do what he wanted. It was just too bad for him that we hadn't paid all the money. He asked Rs 1750 and we had paid Rs 1000 upfront.

So, we were stuck in a place called Kichripur, near Gazipur. If you have heard of this place, please accept my sympathies. So what to do for the next four hours was the question. After bitching about the truck owner for about half an hour, we got tired of that. Then, we hit upon an idea. We asked the truck driver if he knew of a liquor shop nearby. He said he didn't. So, we set off in search. Asking every pan-wallah for the next kilometre, we arrived at a shop. We bought six large cans of beer and chips, returned to the truck and me, Venu and the driver enjoyed the beer in the truck. In the middle of our drinking we set off on a random conversation on what the best flavour of chips was with the truck driver. At the end of our second beer, we arrives at a consensus that Bingo, Nimbu Chatpatta, was the best. Thus throughly satisfied and pleasantly drunk we were when the clock showed 8:45 pm. It was time to head out.

We reached our new home with little incident. After we unloaded the luggage, we called the truck owner. We told him that since he had screwed up so badly, we wouldn't be paying him the remaining money. And since we had bribed the driver with beer, he didn't say a word in protest. The truck owner was furious and told that he would collect the remaining money from Venu's room-mates as the owner had come to Venu's house to check the amount of luggage. I told Venu of this threat at which he started laughing. He told me to tell the owner, best of luck. I told the owner that. After much exchange of words, we told the owned that we would pay him Rs 250 and that he could either take it or leave. We paid the driver the money, he thanked us for the beer and he left. At which point, our dear friend Vikas Sood, brought out two bottles of Royal Challenge whiskey from the bag. And the three of us, along with the broker who was a good friend of Sood, we had a sweet house warming party.

Hunger at 3 am is not a pleasant feeling. It becomes distinctly more unpleasant after copious whiskey. We needed food. So, we head to the ISBT, Kashmere Gate. We reached a small outdoor place at 3:30 in the moring and feasted on Pharathas. And we asked for tea, with ginger. When the tea arrived, the ginger was missing. When we asked about this, we were told that he was out of ginger. That was the last straw. We told the tea fellow that we would give a ride to the nearest sabzi-mandi where he could buy the ginger, and add it to our tea. After a much prolonged exchange, we finally settled for a 50p discount on the tea.

We finally returned at 4:30 in the morning and promptly passed out.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Like moths to a flame: A tribute to human stupidity

Adam Smith was wrong. Perhaps the thought was born of a long day experimenting with substances of questionable legality. The thought which single handedly gave raise to modern economics as we know it. Perhaps dear Mr. Smith was overcome by a sudden and overpowering idealistic fervour when he said, "Humans are rational beings". That was quite a grand statement. Though deep down every one of his peers knew that reality was to the contrary, accepting that humans were rational was quite flattering. We were after all at the pinnacle of evolution able to mould the environment to suit our needs. It was only rational to state that humans, as a species, were rational beings. As it spread, word became common sense, common sense became fact and fact became collective wisdom. And thus began the downward spiral.

One could attribute that stumble to the timing. During the days of Mr. Smith, the world was a much smaller place. The people moved in their own circles and perhaps Mr. Smith moved in circles in which a strict rigour of language was imposed on any discussion. Perhaps the wisdom of the day was that if you didn't have anything smart to say, you said nothing at all. This could have contributed to the delusion of rationality among humans. Had dear Mr. Smith lived to see the day when the world of people exploded to include the whole globe, the day on which dawned the Great Leveler, the day foreshadowed by the arrival of the Eternal September, would things have been different? Would the great thinker have received a shot of sobering reality to quell his idealistic fervour? We might never know. But we all were present on that day. The day the internet arrived.

The internet has had a strange effect on all of humanity. It and it alone has the uncanny ability to bring the idiots of this world out of the woodwork. Perhaps this is due to the inherent anonymity of the internet. Perhaps this is due to the enormous ego kick received by having your thoughts read by potentially millions. Even though all these are important factors, I believe the main cause for the sheer concentration of idiots on the net is because of a lack of a facility to name and shame stupidity. In the real world, if a person exhibits acute stupidity and thick-headedness, the word spreads and fast. Their name is instantly associated with stupidity and hence, their words ignored. But what is a name on the internet? Names can be changed to anything we choose in an instant and hence completely hide our stupidity under a new name.

Though in the real world the idiots are relegated to the margins, on the internet, theirs' is the loudest voice. The voice that drowns out all semblance of intellect. As in the case of religious nut-jobs. I'm sure every religion out there has their fair share of nut-jobs, but on the internet, it is their voices that are the most frequent and prominent giving all religions a bad name. Visit any forum, any comment thread, any chat room and it is stupidity that prevails. If you don't believe me, visit YouTube, that ever-growing font of human stupidity. They are drawn to it like demented moths to a flame. After all this, I must admit. I have been guilty of gross stupidity on the internet. But I, like perhaps you too, can rest assured. We are not alone. There are bigger and louder idiots out there.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Delhi Gastronomie and an in-flight radio

Weekends can be quite boring. Actually, very would be the correct term. And to make things more annoying, come Friday, everyone seems to be asking what my plans for the weekend were. As though they had made really fun plans. Perhaps, one day I must dare them to reveal their plans or stop with the questions. You can never really avoid weekends, they seem to keep coming every five days with amazing regularity. Apparently it has been doing so for several millennia now. There you have it, I'm trapped in this infinite continuum.

Break this continuum, I must. So, to Delhi I head. The only respite for the non-philistines among us within a radius of a 100 kilometres of my home. My head was filled with choice curses from atleast five different languages to heap on the Bluelines and their God forsaken drivers and conductors as I stepped into the home of a good friend, Haider Faraz, who henceforth shall be referred to as Zebi. And so, we set out into the night to sample the gastronomic delights offered by this brilliant city.

Alaknanda was not far from Hauz Khas where Zebi stays. We land at this little open air restaurant called Qureshi. This is the place to eat on those cold winter nights. I had been here before and I continue to be drawn to this place. The one among many excellent reasons being their chicken tikka. Ah! their chicken tikka. This little masterpiece will not just satisfy the most demanding of taste-buds, it will leave them salivating for more. My mouth waters just remembering that sinful delight. After the tikka was more happiness. The mutton khorma, the tangdi kebab and I could go on. But, I must stop. I could dehydrate myself from my mouth watering so much. Zebi, to me, will always be the guy who introduced me to the delights of Qureshi. To him, I am eternally grateful. As the old saying goes, "The shortest way to a man's heart is through the stomach". And, Qureshi has won my heart completely.

Satiated by the steaming plate of chicken tikka on that sinfully cold night, we enjoyed the ride back to Hauz Khas on an empty DTC bus happily eating a completely frozen ice-cream. As we stepped into the chillout lounge, Zebi's place that is, it was time for some blissful relaxation. Thanks to his computer being in a slightly worse condition than working, we surrendered to the charms of the FM radio stations of New Delhi. Zebi, the aspiring Accessory Designer, has turned his room into quite the trippy chillout lounge with a lamp of wicker. The little spots of light engulf the dark room giving it the ambiance of a space ship travelling a light-speed as shown in the cartoons. Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking... Thus came a tiny voice over.

As we travelled from station to station, we came across this station playing Carnatic classical. The the sweet 15 minutes spent tripping on the notes of Carnatic classical, Zebi and me welcomed the dawn of the winter morning sun. As I left for Noida at 9am the next day, back to dreary old work in a dreary old town, the taste of the tikka still lingered on my mind. I shall be back soon, I told myself, hungry for more.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I hadn't seen 7:30 in the morning since July. I still haven't. The fog was impenetrable. For the first time in many months, I woke up before 10am. But, I must say, Just Like You Imagined by the Nine Inch Nails remains unmatched as a wake up call in the cold foggy mornings of the Northern winter.

As I walked the lonely way to work at the early hour of eight in the morning, I felt different. I was something I hadn't done, ever. For the first time in as many months, I had breakfast. It later gave me an upset stomach. On the other hand, it was a brilliant time to come to work. There wasn't a soul in sight. I experienced my work place as I never had before. The complete silence, a little eerie at first, put me completely at ease. I thought of everything but the work, as I slipped on my headphones, letting the tunes from last.fm radio flow through me.

The amazed looks from my colleagues was what was most amusing. They saw me as if a ghost, while one even ventured enough to ask me whether I had actually left for the night the previous day. I had come to work a full four hours before my usual time. It was soon time for lunch, but I wasn't in the least bit hungry. But lunch wasn't what I looked forward to. It was the 15 minutes I spent with my friends after lunch that I looked forward to. The customary cigarette after a full lunch, the time spent with friends was for me a path to contentment. For those fifteen minutes in the afternoon, I am without a care in the world.

After lunch, I returned to my desk and for a comfortable hour I slept listening to music. As the clock ticked seven in the evening, it was time to leave for home. I knew that the evening would be a pleasant experience. Perhaps, I'll do this again someday. Come to work at eight in the morning. But not frequently. Because if I over-indulged, it would stop being the pleasant, comforting experience it was. Besides, I don't want my manager to think I had become the sort to come on time. He might expect me to do this everyday.