Friday, September 30, 2011

Kodachadri trek - 24, 25 Sept 2011

Different moments during the trek 

A vast expanse of blue, dotted with slithering flakes of white and embellished all across with shades of the purest orange; Greenery as far as the eye can see, with clouds sweeping across, as if white curtains are billowing in tandem with the direction of the wind, allowing very little sunlight to seep through - just some examples of the treat that nature bestowed on 25 odd trekkers at Kodachadri over the last weekend. For this treat, all the 25 of us are indeed indebted.
Organized by the Bangalore Mountaineering club, this trek would take its place rightfully among the best travel experiences in my life. What does a nature traveler or a trekker for that matter, seek? An escape and a communion; escape from monotony, dullness, vulgarity, trivial obsessions, watches and the whole paraphernalia that exemplifies madness; communion with beauty, clean air, variety and all the little sounds and faint smells that only the all-embracing generosity of silence can help manifest. 

Kodachadri, 380 kms from Bangalore, in Shimoga district, is 1343 meters above sea level. We left Bangalore on Friday night, a little after 10 in two tempo travelers. As one by one, people boarded the tempo, my mind was engaged in feverish activity, heightened by a curiosity that every new face provoked - a curiosity that can only be fed by free flowing conversations entailing an uninhibited exchange of thoughts and carrying the instantly recognizable tone of sincerity and genuineness!

We reached Shimoga at 3.30 AM and stopped to stretch our legs; some people were in deep slumber while some others gathered outside the tempo to sip hot tea. The second tempo joined us much later and after a nearly 45 min break, we resumed. The winds had become chilly and the road ahead, winding and narrow. 

We reached hallimane home stay a little before 7 AM. We had just enough time to complete our morning ablutions. Homemade coffee and rice bath awaited us for breakfast. Willem, our fellow trekker from South Africa relished the simple food and was keen to know the ingredients of every item served. I am sure he would end up finding food unpalatable back home, having had a taste of the spices here. He admitted as much.

The home stay, in typical old fashion, had a certain charm to it. The rooms with simple flooring were cozy after the long tempo journey. But soon, it was time to start the trek. Kiran, one of our two guides, briefed us. I remember Abhinav, the 6 year old kid (this was his 15th trek!) examining all our faces during that small briefing with a scientist-like expression.

Idlumane falls - Water has never tasted so pure and so sweet or looked so welcoming before!
At the sight of Idlumane falls, like 10 year olds with no qualms and shame, almost all the guys were frolicking carelessly in the water with gay abandon in no time at all. The water was chilly but soon our bodies got acclimatized. This also gave some time for all of us to reflect on our blood donation to the leeches until then. After an exact 30 mins, as if there was a wall clock chiming somewhere nearby to remind us of the journey ahead, we changed into fresh clothes and resumed.

With fellow trekkers 
To trek is to breathe clean air, cherish every step towards the horizon, share camaraderie with fellow trekkers, test the endurance levels of one's bones and muscles and above all experience a wave of thrill running through one's veins. One crosses logs, steps aside blood thirsty leeches, clears branches obstructing the path, feels pricking thorns, encounters gushing streams and listens to numerous stories from fellow trekkers. I doubt if there is a better alternative to building bonhomie and breaking ice. These extractions on the physique heightens all our senses and mentally, results in a stimulation that is hard to describe.  

Nature toying with mother earth and draping herself in different attires

The trek was challenging as the terrain was unforgiving and slippery in patches. One can never predict with certainty, the flora and fauna, the next 100 meters in a typical trek would reveal and this one was no different. This readiness to embrace uncertainty and endure a pleasant hardship, perhaps, prepares the mind to be receptive unleashing creativity in the process.

As late afternoon approached, we hit the jeep track. The forest department guest house was visible in the far distance and we were surrounded on all sides by mountains draped in lush green. I found myself walking alongside fellow trekkers in groups of twos and threes, catching nuggets of conversations, sneaking in and out of them, pitching in with a few remarks, but mostly happy just listening in. 

We reached the guest house around 4 PM and had a late lunch of sambar rice, rasam rice and butter milk. The facilities were basic but none of us were looking for comforts anyway. After tea, armed with torches and decked in warm clothes, we climbed further towards the sunset point. Alas, mist did not let us take in the complete beauty of the surroundings. Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have meditated at the temple near the sunset point. Philosophically and quite poignantly, the temple had a certain disquieting eeriness about it, with gentle winds ringing in darkness and dangerously plunging depths just a few feet from its perimeter.

The sole of my shoe gave away and I was beginning to get worried about the rest of  the trek, but fortunately, I was able to pull on. With the torches lighting our way down to the guest house, we descended. We had more than an hour to go before dinner and so we listened to a few songs, fooled around pointing torches at one another and at the sky to spot constellations and planets. 

Even in the absence of electricity, we felt perfectly happy admiring all the stars which appeared to suddenly advertise their huge numbers. In the city, one rarely has time to pause and admire the night sky and moon light, but here, far removed from the hustle and bustle, we realized how powerful even reflected light could be! 

Stepping into the house, we found Pravin narrating stories of snakes, cobras in particular. In rapt attention, we listened.  The room was lit by two wicks with the flames flickering slowly to the gentle breeze. 

Post dinner, some chose to sleep indoors while some others (including yours truly) opted for tents. Snuggling inside the tent, loving the warmth and coziness, I listened to Hemacharan talking about work, love and the broader challenges of everyday existence. Before I realized, it was 4.45 AM and I could hear sounds outside the tent. People were waking up to catch the sunrise. 

                                     Sunrise - To catch sight of this is to experience bliss

The sunrise I was fortunate enough to behold that morning is one of the most beautiful things I have laid my eyes on. As layers of white clouds on the horizon arranged and rearranged themselves against subtle shades of blue, an orange ball propped itself up from behind the brown and green vegetation of the mountains. Such a powerful and revered thing, it looked so insignificant and powerless for a few moments! We clicked numerous pictures, unable to believe our good fortune! 

Back at the base camp, we got ready for the day ahead. By 7.30 AM, we started the climb down via the jeep track. At regular intervals, we stopped to munch sundry things that each of us had. Dry fruits, buns, biscuits, energy drinks, chocolate bars, Glucon - D packets - we shared them all. Abhilash and I found ourselves interviewing Rakesh, the city editor of Bangalore mirror. He patiently answered all our questions, in the process, giving us a sneak preview into the behind-the-scenes happenings of the media industry. Reporters, stories, deadlines, common sense, networking, page 3, civic issues - the more we talked, the more I came to envy Rakesh! 

As we neared our destination, We found a stream just a km before the home stay and gladly jumped in again to cavort a second time in as many days. 

Shivvapanika fort @ Nagara
On the way back to Bangalore, after a late breakfast at the home stay, we reached Shivvapanika fort around 1 PM. At the entrance to the fort, we spotted a cobra and soon, we were milling around it trying to capture its each and every move on lens. Pravin patiently held it for us to click and touch. With Willem's help, we thought, he almost trapped it inside a sleeping bag but the next second, it emerged out slithering rapidly towards the village kids who had gathered about. The drama reached its zenith when Pravin ran behind it and in a flash, had it again in his control! 

Tryst with a cobra at the entrance to the fort
The fort, massive in its expanse, was every bit picturesque, with a view of a lake, dense greenery, grazing cows and distant villages. 

Our tempo driver drove as if there was no tomorrow and for a good 10 minutes, we raced with a two wheeler. 

After a heavy lunch at Shimoga, Abhilash suggested that we play Antakshari. Sindhu kicked off the fun with her sweet rendition of a classic. Sathya, Sandeep and Sundeep, along with Kiran pitched in while Yousuf and Shantanu took part too adding to the fun quotient. When we exhausted all the typical Antakshari songs, Abhilash, Sandeep and Rakesh talked about affairs of the heart. As the others gathered around them, the tempo with its yellow light provided a perfect poetic backdrop. 

A brief drama ensued with a technical problem in one of the tempos.  It gave an opportunity for all of us to come together one last time to tell our goodbyes. Most of us got emotional for it is certainly rare when an intense and warm bonding in a large and diverse group develops just in 2 days.  

Hoping that I keep running into all these wonderful people I met for the first time in these two days. In a socially connected world, it is quite possible for most of us to go on to become good friends...!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cycling in nature's backyard - 2 days of ethereal experience!

"Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued" - Viktor Frankl in Man's search for meaning. 
In our everyday lives, we are continuously chasing something. Now, whether we admit it or not, this chase, this running around, takes its own toll on our health and mental well being. Most of us chase success or happiness, which we believe is a consequence of success. If only it were true or if only success or happiness can be chased and obtained! What this running around does to us is that it makes us preoccupied and we forget to appreciate the beauty, the present can bring can bring to our lives. 

But, if we choose to remove ourselves from the context or the setting - our workplaces, the routes to our workplace, in other words, the whole routine with all its dull details around it - we are certainly able to transform ourselves into different beings altogether. What if we get onto a cycle and decide to drive for 130 odd kilometers amidst lush greenery and dense forests with intermittent showers and the perennial sound of running water? Our true, original, unblemished, childlike self breaks through, in all its curiosity to experience LIFE. 

A group of 35 youngsters, thanks to cycling and more, came together over the last weekend (10th and 11th September, 2011). The purpose was to have fun whilst cycling in nature's backyard - God's own country! Spread over two days, with food and accommodation arranged by the organizers, all that the participants had to do was to enjoy cycling. 

During the overnight journey from Bangalore (we started from the hockey grounds at Shanti Nagar), I was seated next to Alfonso, a Mexican. We talked of sundry things - his experience working for Wipro, living in Bangalore and Chennai, embedded software, Latin American literature...The convoy was made up of 3 vehicles - one ferrying the participants and 2 vans (canters) carrying the cycles.

Day 1 - Saturday

We reached Bhagamandala, 8 kms from Tala cauvery at a quarter-to-5 in the morning. We got a good 3 hours to get ready, have breakfast and assemble with our bikes. (some of the junta had got their own bikes while the majority, including yours truly opted for a rented one) The Great Lakes gang (Purnendu, Sakthi, Satya, Omkar, Vinod, Ashwin and me) together with Karthik soon came to be known to the other riders as the Chennai gang. Catching up with fellow gladiators as part of something like a cycling expedition - I had never even dreamed of, so I was thrilled no end!

 The ride started at 8.15. It was drizzling slightly. With imported cycles, track pants/shorts/cycling shorts, T-shirts and helmets, the 35 of us - we made quite a sight to the onlookers, the locals. We had maximum fun during the first few kilometers; tiredness had not crept in, the views along the route were breathtaking and the feel of one's shoes against the pedals, blissful! There were numerous mini waterfalls dotting the route - water gushing through boulders and crevices on the mountains lining the narrow road.

Till Panathur, the cycling entailed no effort at all, except braking at the right moments during the sharp turns. The road was sloping down and there was hardly any traffic. We met a few kids on their way to school. They smiled and waved to us and we enjoyed the attention. We encountered signboards informing us that we were close to wildlife. The density of the trees and the sound of water together gave us the feeling of riding through lush greenery in a wall paper.

At Panathur, we entered the panathur-kanhangad road, SH 56 and with that, we had set foot or rather cycles in God's own country. The route became a little more challenging and demanding. A lot of autos and two-wheelers, kids in groups, all smiling and giggling, locals on foot in search of firewood, people waiting patiently at bus stops, old men with walking sticks, lone womenfolk washing, occasionally, a bus brimming with people, people reclining on comfortable chairs on house verandas overlooking the highway, bored shopkeepers manning petty shops  - this is what Kerala threw at us; we lapped it up all and our hunger increased even as lunch time was drawing near. The rains that gave us company every now and then added to the fun element.

Suddenly we took a turn to behold a function right by the roadside. Men and women in traditional Kerala attire were dancing to a melodious tune that sounded otherworldly to the ears that had got used to meaningless bollywood fare. A small crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle. We stopped to click pictures. I caught up with two fellow riders - Sulaiman Khwaja and Rekha Goel - whom I would religiously follow later in the day.

For lunch, we stopped at Odayanchal at 12.45 - We had covered nearly 50 kms crossing Rajapuram, another large town after Panathur. The rice bath and curd rice with pickle and dry chilli, that was our lunch, tasted delicious. At 13.15, we were back to pedaling. The first 3 kms was strenuous. It required all our effort to pedal as the altitude was on the higher side. I soon caught up with Rekha and Sulaiman and then struck to a simple goal, I set myself - trailing them. When they slowed down, I slowed down; when they stopped for short breaks, I did the same. It was sheer fun, asking for routes from locals and riding through potholes as evening approached. 

Barely a few kms before Bekal fort, my chain gave away and it took 5 minutes of intense concentration to fix it. Sporting a wide smile, I made it to Bekal fort - 83 kms in 8 hours!  

At the fort, I quenched my thirst with 2 glasses of butter milk and 2 glasses of lemon soda; God bless that lady! With the whereabouts of Satya and his friend remaining mysterious, there were a few tense moments. The fort, spread over a large tract of land was breathtaking and the view of the beach with the waves dashing with an astonishing ferocity against the rocks, disconcerting and awe-inspiring at the same time!   

The Chennai gang decided to make its own way to Kasaragod. It was a backbreaking journey - with 8 people packed inside an auto, you can imagine very well, the state we were in, when we disembarked at speedway inn. A hot water bath after such an exhausting day resulted in a sound, deep, dreamless slumber. 

Day 2 - Sunday 

We started from Kasaragod at 7.30 on Sunday towards Jalsoor, 48 kms away on the border between Karnataka and Kerala. The 7.5 km stretch towards Cherakala warmed up our muscles and later, we regrouped briefly thinking we had crossed the breakfast point. After clarifications, we continued to Bovikanam. The breakfast of hot idlis and vada provided just the right amount of energy to traverse the most difficult 5 kms of the whole expedition. Very steep, we had to walk a good distance to cover that stretch. 

The fact that I had company this time around too helped. Omkar, Sanjay, Aravind, Jagadeesh and Alfonso happened to lead and trail me in turns. The sun was out and with considerable effort we continued. Even though it was tiring, the dynamics of the group kept us going. A smile, a nod, a twinkle of the eye, a thumbs-up sign from a stranger - these kept us going. 

5 kms before Jalsoor, we came across a most beautiful hanging bridge. Alfonso and Jagadeesh rode their bikes across the length of the bridge while we rapidly clicked pictures. In a scene straight out of a movie, two kids - a boy and a girl, must have been less than 10 years old - holding each other's hand and smiling ear-to-ear, crossed the bridge. It would be one sight that I would never forget for some time. It is a pity that I don't have that picture with me!

At Jalsoor, we waited for the other riders to arrive, clicked a lot of pictures and boarded the bus to Sulya. After lunch at Sulya, it was time to hop on for the longer journey back to Bangalore. 

If it was one thing that this expedition taught me, it was not to give up. Many a time, we get so close to our goals, but give up. It is important then to forget the goal momentarily and instead enjoy the journey. The goal itself becomes a side-effect then. As Viktor Frankl said, it would ensue eventually! 

PS: If my mobile had escaped the deft hands of a pick-pocket-er, I could have shared some pics that I myself took but none of them would have matched Purnendu's magic! All pics courtesy - Purnendu! You can also read his account here

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lonely existence

Whoever would wish to wallow in the waves of loneliness?

In the midst of family, friends, relatives and acquaintances, 
to feel no appetite, no energy and no life around, to remain
uninspired by the pleasant weather...Indeed,

When the pleasant weather appears to revel in sadistic glee, 
when the smile of the kid next door seems plastic,
when the absence of any rustle of the leaves looks 
a grave premonition of an impending gloom, when all 
the nice things around, appear drifting and momentary, 
when no amount of running away seems to bring inner peace,
when cheerful friends are tested by an unforgiving fate, 
when everyone one turns to carries a demon - silent and 
lurking, bidding its time to unleash its wrath - limbs lose energy,
hunger gets bottled up, eyelids begin to droop, one begins to
yearn for a long sleep - hoping that sleep will wash away
the pangs of one's lonely existence! 
Alas, sleep decides to wreak its own vengeance for all the 
happy hours of yesteryear - it digs up
memories long forgotten. A dull pain takes over, numbing 
the senses into inaction...the only cozy retreat is a strained silence!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bol - disrobes reality, shocks, angers, stuns, numbs and...

Bol by Shoaib Mansoor, the critically acclaimed director of Khuda Kay Liye, is brutally hard-hitting cinema. When movie makers choose to depict societal evils, they have a choice - either they can pay lip service and make the depiction an insignificant sidetrack or they can choose to take the bull by the horns - that is when they do real justice to their craft!

What is cinema without storytelling? When the story entertains, we appreciate it because we want to escape reality. In living our fantasies through our cinematic idols, we revel in their exploits, dance steps, riches, conquests and triumphs! When the story is closer home in its grounding, we tend to sometimes brush it aside, choosing to label it, 'not for the faint hearted/weak hearted'/ 'bold'/'hard-hitting'/'art cinema' etc. By categorizing movies as mass entertainers, we have started committing a grave injustice, injustice to the intellect of the masses. 

Set in Pakistan, in a quasi-urban landscape,Bol is the story of a single family's travails and tribulations. Hakim Saab (Manzar Sehbai) in his quest for a male child ends up with seven daughters and a hermaphrodite. The most rebellious and vociferous in the household, the eldest daughter, Zainab (Humaima Malick) confronts her father every time his ego and male chauvinism shackles the household. Child sexual abuse, the perils of growing up as a girl child in an ultra conservative and feudal environment, corruption in police ranks, prostitution, societal attitude towards hermaphrodites, their humiliations, Shia-Sunni divide, all compounded by a single man's egoism and chauvinism - this is Bol! 

Ayesha (Mahirah Khan Askari) is lucky enough to be charmed by Mustafa (Atif Aslam), the boy next door. She falls in love with him and among Zainab's many crimes in the eyes of her father, giving Ayesha's hand to Mustafa is also one. Humaima and Manzar are both excellent, the former in her restrained anger and agony, verbal barbs and jibes and the latter in his seething hatred of his eldest daughter and his inability to reconcile with his conscience. Atif gets to emote little, Mahirah is just OK and the other girls end up as helpless spectators of a charged battle. The movie disrobes reality,shocks, angers, stuns, numbs and in the end, leaves us with a flicker of hope - a hope that is beautiful in its potential to transform lives.

Cinematography in the song 'Hona tha pyar' is awesome. It manages to juxtapose the natural beauty of the landscape alongside the frail existence of Mustafa and Ayesha. Among other songs, Dil Janiya is my favorite. Mumkin hai is the very voice of hope! Shoaib Mansoor, hats off, hope this serves as an inspiration to other talented craftsmen in the sub continent.

Perhaps, it is high time, the masses too start asking themselves - do we want movies that are escapist or do we want movies that question accepted norms and ask uncomfortable questions? With the World in turmoil - debt crisis, austerity measures, Arab dissent and frustration with farcical democracies - isn't it time for cinema to become a vehicle of the collective and for the collective, in articulating their real voices for a change? The scope and potential is huge, who has the guts to take the plunge?

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I wish I have a time machine to

go back in time and live the best days of my life all over again...
play cricket in those back alleys and large grounds...
chatter ceaselessly on topics one would forget after 5 minutes...
take those early morning walks admiring the lush fields and the rising sun...
travel by local trains standing on the foot-boards...
admire the last few girls who cross the railway tracks as the train leaves...
wait for the mother's call sharp at 7 PM as she returns from work...
rush for school right at 8.55 AM after the last bollywood song is played on DD's morning show...
cuddle up on the terrace steps with a novel...
wake up listening to devotional songs on All India Radio...
try and measure the length of one's shadows at different times of the day...
fight for trivial things with my brother...
see cricket matches with my father late into the night...

Alas, its sad that we ought to grow up at all!

Jan lok pal movement - The Poster boy of middle class India

In a country as diverse as India, with a political class that has till date deftly managed to evade any accountability whatsoever, the middle class has bore the major brunt of all its failings. The rich have been able to bulldoze their way by dint of their wealth, flouting it to negotiate any hurdle on their way to more riches. The poor have always had to grapple with something more basic than corruption. Corruption begins to affect one when the basics are in place - food, clothing, shelter and water in Maslow's hierarchy. The shrewd political class realizing this, has successfully orchestrated a subsidy culture to give illusory and momentary happiness to the poor. By playing on their emotions and sentiments, they have also nurtured vote-bank politics, thereby bidding accountability goodbye. 

Alas, now the real backbone behind India's growth stories - the IT engineers, the bio-technologists, the research scholars and the parents who toil hard to make sure that their sons and daughters make it to the IITs and the IIMs - they have woken up and are demanding accountability. The real taxpayer is finally standing up! This would not have been possible without an able leadership - a  person who stands for middle class values - in Anna Hazare and his team. 

Let us look at what is now core team Anna - 

Arvind Kejriwal - Business today calls him a clean-up crusader and fittingly so! His life, his brainchild - Parivartan - the locality he lives in, exemplify a middle class upbringing, values and lifestyle. With an IIT background and a Raman Magsaysay award against his name, his experiments with grassroot level local governance models gives him a lot of credibility among the middle class. 

Kiran Bedi - "Kiran's father, a talented tennis player, and her mother, a brilliant student whose schooling had been curtailed by early marriage, were determined that their daughters would have every opportunity to achieve their own life goals. One inspired her and her sisters to be tennis champions and, more importantly, to be people who had dreams and sought to achieve them. The other ensured that they would be healthy and fit to achieve those dreams."  - led a life that is inspirational to this day for all middle class Indians, one in which she grabbed every opportunity to become the person she is now. 

Prashant Bhushan - "On the rights of minorities and the dispossessed, on judicial accountability, on civil freedoms, on environmental concerns, he has prised open new spaces where earlier there was only opacity. He has helped keep democratic institutions responsive." - through his impeccable conduct in public life has endeared himself to the middle class by standing for what they hold dear, ethical conduct. 

 The middle class see themselves in these fellow citizens and are no doubt drawn into the movement in large numbers because of this fact. Anna Hazare is that figure, the middle class would love as a leader. By donning the Gandhian cap, what Anna has made possible in today's age and pace is that, practices that are deemed impractical and ineffective - peaceful protest, fasting - can actually yield results. These practices, curiously, are not ones in which action is immediately tangible. Paradoxically, in making the youth rally behind these, what Anna and team have demonstrated is the resilience of Gandhian methods. 

Democracy - really?

As Santosh Desai points out in his book, Mother Pious lady (replete with insightful analysis on every attribute of India's middle class) - "It can be successfully argued that India is an election-o-cracy more than it is a democracy, in that the primary quest of the democratic process is to allocate power. The exercise of that power, once gained, is subject to much looser standards of performance. The key idea of elections in India revolves around power and not mandate, patronage not policy." He actually asks the question: "Instead of seeing ourselves as a democracy, what if we really are a distorted form of elective and distributive monarchy?" When self anointed intellectuals talk of Indian democracy and constitutional methods, they should perhaps reflect a bit more on these. 

Given that we are not really a democracy in the true sense of the term and that the middle class has been ignored by the political class, the fact that have come together in staggering numbers to rally behind a cause that matters most to them, is something that should be taken notice of. Whether all the clauses of the civil society's Jan Lok Pal get accepted or not, what the movement has very successfully done is unite middle class India across caste, community and regional identities. The weight of their numbers has for once been made obvious to the political fraternity.

As the middle class gains more and more clout thanks to the opportunities that are expanding, in a globalized world, they will continue to draw inspiration from other movements and revolutions world over. A political change that is radical can only be brought by a revolution at the grassroots level. Be it the one that swept the streets of Cairo not long back or the one that is sweeping the small towns of India currently, both share a common thread - the people who ignited them are serious about it and will keep at it until they see their wants realized. If the political class cannot read the signs staring at their face, no amount of sloganeering can save them when they stand at the altar!