Sunday, November 27, 2011

How Not to be a traveler:

Situation 1:
Traveling through some narrow bad road in the hills of Madhya Pradesh

Me: Ohh…we forgot to take water.
Co-traveler: We will buy a bottle
Me: From where?
Co-Traveler: Am sure we can get it here. (and points to a tiny pan/kirana store)
We were crossing a small village which looked really poor and the pan shop seemed like the only shop there.

Me: You think you will get a mineral water bottle here?!!
Co-traveler: Why not, am sure they will be keeping water bottles atleast.
Me: Yeah sure, for a village which might not be getting safe drinking water, they will definitely be using mineral water!

Situation 2:

Our tickets are RAC and 4 hours before the scheduled time I check with IRTC. The tickets are not confirmed but two of us get one seat number. The final number showed as RB2 55 against two of us. Initially we found this number confusing to understand.

Me: I don’t think we are confirmed. It’s still showing R. We will have to check the charts.
Co-traveler: I think they have a separate coach called RB1 for all RAC travelers.
Me: RAC means Reservation against Cancellation. And it means exactly that. If they had a coach for waitlisted travelers, why would they call them RACs?
Co-traveler: I don’t know. It’s been 7 years since I’ve traveled by a train.
Me: So you have forgotten all about train journeys and understand only air travel, is it?

Situation 3:

Co-traveler and I wake up early to go to the point from where we could see a beautiful sun rising across the valley.

Me pointing in the opposite direction: So we have to go that side for the sunset.
Co-traveler: Oh I wouldn’t know.
Me: Meaning?
Co-traveler: I don’t know which direction the sun will be setting and all.
Me: You don’t know the sun sets in exactly the opposite direction to the sunrise??!
Co-traveler shrugs his shoulder.
Me: And you call yourself a traveler.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Tea, Chai and its various cousins:

That necessary morning cuppa, your travel memories on many a road trip, the energizer after a particularly tiring day or the calming effect after a stressful experience. A delightful way to spend time with a close friend or just sit alone with a hot cup looking out on a grey drizzling sky. What would life be without that cup of chai!

Traveling across the country I have noticed that those 3 or 4 necessary ingredients that make the cuppa created tastes and experiences so different from each other. It might be the leaf used, the taste of milk, the style of making or simply the person’s personal touch…but the taste in each cup can leave behind many beautiful stories and memories.

Back in my native state, the tea made in most homes is mild, watery and with minimal milk for a greater emphasis on the flavour of the leaf used. That taste always remind me of carefree days when the whole family would come together over an evening cup of tea along with bowls and bowls of telebhaja, moori and lots of easy banter.

In Maharashtra, tea is milky and very sweet. The more they like you, the more sweet and milky it becomes. In the mountains up north, a cup of hot adrak chai can help dispel the coldest of weather. Further up in Ladakh, the locals make butter tea….a salty tea made of yak butter, salt, milk and tea leaves. Its takes a while to get used to the taste but it’s the best drink to keep you warm and energetic. If you go to any local’s house and not finish the proffered tea, it’s not considered good manners.

In Assam, even the tiniest of the thela chai is full of flavour reminding you all the time why Assam is such a tea haven. In Arunachal, they make lal chai due to non-availability of milk. Its light and that one slice of a large fragrant lime found only in the eastern part of India, makes it oh! so delicious. Even at an expensive rate of Rs.15 per cup, you will feel like downing cup after many cups.

But strangely I have had the best tasting roadside tea in the southern states which most people misguidedly think as coffee states. In Chidambaram, after a hearty breakfast of divinely soft idlis, I stood and saw an entirely different process of making that perfectly balanced cup. The chaiwala had a huge metal pot with a tap where the hot liquor of the tea was collected. In another huge patila milk simmered over a low fire with a thick layer of cream forming on top. And in a third container, he kept sugar syrup. That’s it! When anybody wanted a cup, he just took measured portions of each one by one and poured it in another glass in one long sweep which only the south Indians can do. He then served the tea with a drop of cream on top for just the perfect taste.

Going inside the tribal areas of Vidarbh and Chattisgarh, I had an opportunity to taste a type of herbal tea made from dried palash flowers, since tea as we know it is unknown in these regions. An extremely different and creatively made tea is the lal chai of Raipur. They put a dash of lemon juice and a unique mixture of some roasted and ground spices along with chaat masala for a delightfully tangy tea.

But the one taste that can never leave my memory is the taste of kulhar chai on our many journeys to Calcutta during my childhood. I remember how quickly and efficiently the vendors poured the tea in the kulhars and shove them at us through the train window. Sometimes the train would start and the vendor would run along till he got the money and then go back to his kettle kept on a now empty platform. I would then sit back to inhale the heady mixture of tea and wet earth smell of the kulhar as fields and distant hills whizzed by.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Land of Khushi Khushi:

“I proposed to two Czech girls on my way up but they were not interested. When I reached the summit, Krishna Patil was sitting there and as I was getting ready to propose to her on camera…the battery died.” Tapi Mra let out an infectious laugh. The diminutive Everester had a slight hunch and looked very unlike a mountaineer. We bumped into him at Itanagar's state museum where he had come to donate his mountaineering equipements to inspire others to take up the sports. My friend Z, A and I were bowled over by his friendly and humble attitude. He insisted on dropping us off at the Sumo counter to Ziro and told us that Arunachal was the land of ‘khushi khushi’….or a place where things happen at its own sweet pace. Here you cannot push people to hurry things up.

Itanagar is a political potboiler, a city of indefinite bandhs, many tribe specific unions and sudden rallies. It did not help that the district is home to the Nyishi tribe, considered impatient and still adhering to their traditional ‘revenge’ culture. Though friendly, their attitude was summed up by one Lokum who told A, “we wont trust you if you beat around the bush. To us you have to talk straight.” To the rest of the Indians (read - from the plains) who can talk about everything except coming to the point, this definitely is a tall order.

Since the weather was stiflingly humid, we escaped as soon as we could and just before all transportation stopped due to Vishwakarma puja. A mind blowing vista of different types of terrain, culture, people and vegetation opened up, each of which was nothing like I had ever seen before. I silently prayed that the ever increasing hordes of marauding tourists would spare this beautiful state somehow.

The only fact that marred the perfection was that despite thick vegetation, we never saw any birds. The mornings were eerily quiet. R, a school teacher from the Miji tribe told us… “unlike you, we eat our wildlife.” Despite the fact that my ears ached to hear the chirping of birds, strangely I didn’t feel too horrible about it.

Talking to random strangers, breathing in the mountain air and looking at all the smiling faces, I felt that this definitely is the land of 'khushi khushi' – or the land of happy people.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Good Food:


Which seems almost non-existent in Bombay. And it took me 4 years to realize that. Anybody who comes to Bombay for the first time will think that people here are mad about food. Which is kind of true. Look at Bandra itself. There are eateries everywhere, in all possible lanes and by-lanes. Infact, one can go to a new restaurant in Bandra for every day of the year and still find some new places left to explore. Then there are the khau gaalis, the food stalls at both the chowpattys, Iranian bakeries and Parsi cafes, the south Indian joints at Matunga, mid-night buffets at the five star hotels, Goan and Konkani food…the list can go on and on.

Looking at the number of people waiting outside most eateries, one can jump to an easy conclusion that the food would be good. Except that when you do go in, your expectations are just as easily kicked out the window with very basic tasting food. After many such trial and errors, I have finally come to the conclusion that Bombayites will eat anything. It doesn’t matter how the taste is…as long as it is Food!

Before anybody starts suggesting names of restaurants, let me just mention that I am not talking of high end fine dine places. Well, come to think of it, I did go for dinner once at ITC Grand (at somebody else’s cost of course) and had some oriental dishes for Rs.900 each. I remember feeling terribly guilty at not finding the taste any different and feeling morose the next day, when I clutched my stomach and saw the expensive meal go so easily down the drain.

What I love though is the street food here. Somehow till date they have failed to disappoint.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Random Notes:

Hankering after the old ways of life (yet again) and communication, I decided to call some of my friends and just indulge in random mindless chats.

5 separate calls to 5 friends. None answered. None called back also.

7 separate messages to 7 friends. One reply. After the first reply, even that went dead.

Phew! So much for the world coming closer and communication becoming intimate! Wonder if in a few years time, we will lose the ability to have normal conversations.

On days of incessant rains…..

A long walk late in the night on an empty wet Marine Drive, shiny roads reflecting the lights of the city, little traffic noise muffled by the pouring rain, standing by a sea alive and grey and getting drenched to heart’s content.

An early morning when the rain had slowed down to a drizzle and the world stayed indoors. Grey sky, dark green trees, empty roads and just the sound of the rain dropping through the leaves. Fresh clear puddles of water and a cold wet breeze wishing to let the world just be.

When life at various moments constantly asks you to let go, do you in the longer run forget what it means to hold on?

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Where will they go?

I stared at the TV screen horrified by what I saw. Hundreds of villagers were running with lathis and shouting. Their target was a hapless leopard that had strayed into their village. The leopard was lynched, killed and triumphantly carried around. I quickly switched off the TV not wanting to see more. A couple of weeks later, similar news surfaced in the newspaper. An elephant that strayed into a village had fallen into a ditch and died. The villagers not too fond of the unwanted visitor ran after him with drums and stick scaring the gentle animal so much that it fell into a ditch. In Mysore, another elephant got separated from its partner and scared by hundreds of people screaming at him, had gored a security guard to death.

Probably all that these animals wanted was to quickly go back to their habitat, their home. People say they ‘strayed’ into human habitation. I would say it’s we who are straying into their habitation. Forests originally belong to them; we came much much later. With human population increasing, forests getting cut, corridors destroyed, where exactly will the original forest dwellers go?

Many people don’t realize that we require them around us more than they require us. If you remove humans from this earth, the earth will thrive. If you remove the animals and trees, the earth will die a horrible torturous death. And without them, we will also cease to be humans. Think about it.

Do you ever remember a time when you brightened up as a beautiful butterfly came and sat on your hand? Or a time when feeding a sparrow gave you so much satisfaction? When you marveled at the strength and the beauty of a wild elephant? Or a time when you lay down on a field of grass and just listened to the rustling of leaves from the trees around?

A friend recently mentioned how just one monsoon trek in the lush green and rain lashed Sahyadris helped him last a long way with his hectic work schedule. Look back and you will also find that the happiest and most peaceful moments were the ones which took you close to nature and earth.

Just think about it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Reminiscing:

My mom complained over the phone how the weather had turned cyclonic and it was lashing outside non stop for hours. There was a power outage and everything had come to a standstill. My parents were back in their home town, a small sleepy hill station during its hay-days but a monstrosity in the make now. I told her that she should be glad that it’s naturally raining as it’s the monsoon unlike dry Bombay and changed the topic.

Later and slowly it dawned on me that it’s been years since I last faced a real storm. Living in the north and now west has been a safe experience (weather wise). Growing up in the east of the country, near to the cyclone zone, however was quite different. Storms brewed constantly and suddenly. Due to the lack of technology back then (not that it’s any good now), most of the times we were caught unaware. Sudden darkening and massive red clouds were the only hints of an approaching storm. Gale force wind would hit in seconds making all the wooden windows and doors bang crazily against the panes. The whole household would then be running around trying to shut and seal the flaying windows, tie up flying curtains and pick up the clothes madly fluttering in the clothesline before it all got wet again.

Once my hyper curiosity had got the better of me and I decided to step quietly outside on the verandah to ‘experience’ the storm. Being tiny and thin, I was immediately thrown against the wall by the hurricane winds where I managed to hold onto a pillar for dear life. Strangely whenever DD showed ‘Golmaal’ (the old Amol Palekar one) and we would be at our friend’s place (only she had a TV in the neighborhood), a storm would hit us making it difficult for us to even cross over to our house. In my memory, it’s happened thrice and till date I have not been able to see the whole film!

Then there were the inevitable power outages and we would sit in the dark listening to the only sound of the wind and lashing rain outside, strangely cozy and reassuring. After much nagging, my mom would open the windows only when the sound subsided and let the cold and now gentle breeze in. I loved sitting on the window sill and look outside as the last few stray bolts lit up the night sky. In the morning, we would inspect the damage….scattered branches, twigs and leaves, flattened plants and broken flowers. It would be days before the electricity and telephone lines were repaired.

Now looking back to those days, I suddenly realized what I miss about those storms the most. It was the feeling of being safe and warm as you would cuddle up close to your mom or dad, huddling or hugging each other as the world fell apart outside.

I can’t remember any other time since then when I have felt so safe and warm, inside and outside.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dr.Zhivago, a love story?

My father went on a collection spree recently – he bought many mo vies of yesteryears, classics like Ben Hur, Born Free, Robinhood, Sound of music etc. I had heard a lot about Dr. Zhivago since school days but never got around to see it until now. Russia is so Beautiful….sometimes I would press pause and just stare at the landscape. Omar Sharif as usual is good but the story left me disappointed. Why would anybody call it a great love story when the protagonist had no idea what he wanted?

And both the characters of the wife and ‘the’ love were also set within the box. A sweet, well bred and sacrificing girl who will always be the wife and a good looking, strong girl who wants more from life is the ‘love’. I have a sneaky feeling if Dr Zhivago had met Lara earlier, he still wouldn’t have married her. He would have still gone ahead and married the dependable and sweet girl because she would make a good wife. (Or the fragile types who can bring out the protector in him, or the long haired, fair, homely variety who can be presented as the nice wife to the world, or the very good looking ones who can be a prized possession). Because that’s how it always is. The (supposedly) stronger woman is left fending for herself, always. Men, like Dr Zhivago keeps running between the two, not being able to stand up for even one.

Give me Rhett Butler or Father Ralph any day. They are what love and men should be (however soppy). Or in today’s day and age, Mr Big who understood what Carrie was (in her words when she saw a fidgety mare…’some are meant to run free and wild and maybe someday a person will come who can run along side her…’).

Ironically all three were created by women writers, so am assuming there is no real life reflection to these characters. Dr Zhivago was written by a guy and we can find such characters everywhere.

Sigh. Maybe I should have seen the movie during my school days. Where the hell are my rose tinted glasses?!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Rhythm:

The past few weeks have been a bit hectic preparing for an event. Sometimes traveling the entire length of Bombay twice over in a day, in the pre-monsoon hot muggy weather. Somewhere it dawned on me how far I have come since my hectic advertising days and felt so glad that its over and gone. Those days, I could handle 48 hours of non-stop work. Not any more. The event left me bone tired.

The day after the event, I was groggy, cranky and in a tired stupor. As my station approached I saw black clouds and felt a cold wind picking up. I hurried home. Somewhere on the way the clouds gave in and it started to pour…soon becoming a white haze. The roads cleared of people in seconds. I walked on unmindful feeling the rain on my skin and in my hair…slowly tricking down my scalp. People stared at me….I didn’t care. The slanting rain hit my back, drenching me making my clothes stick to my back and legs.

All I wanted to do was spread my arms, throw away my bags and just get soaked. Instead I walked on. At home I sat in my wet clothes looking outside my window as pools of water collected on the floor. I could hear a flight landing in the heavy rain. It must have been some ride for the travelers. An impromptu game of street football started amongst the youngsters.

I watched on. I felt alive, all tiredness slipping away along with the rain drops. I pirouetted to a song of Dido that I hummed in my mind.

Its time to step out…to the green hills, cascading water and black clouds.

It’s been a long wait.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Moments and Thoughts

The music was getting louder by the minute. My friends and I were sitting in a restaurant which wanted to behave like a pub. Loud music, low lights, strange d├ęcor and stuffy air. It has been ages since I last went to a pub, so the atmosphere of this place was slowly getting to me. All I wanted to do was dash out into supposedly fresher air outside. I waited a few minutes.

In those minutes something changed – maybe the music, maybe the conversation…or maybe it was my mind that switched. I got caught on with the music and my mind lost itself to the rhythm. All I wanted to do then was just lose myself, let myself go. It has been ages since I last done that…close my eyes, let the senses take over and lose myself to the moment.

Life gave me two such moments in the last few weeks but almost at the edge I held on….afraid to let go. To leap, let faith take over.

No, I didn’t start dancing to the music at the restaurant then. I continued with our conversations and then walked out in the night.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saving the Planet

A friend and I were discussing causes when she mentioned that asked to choose a cause she would prefer to give first to education of children. Environment for her was least important; that these same educated children will save or conserve the earth later. I realized then that she voiced this mass preference aptly for the first time. People love children…nothing wrong with that….even the ad world is using supposedly cute kids to sell houses, cooking oil and even tyres. They have every right to grow and get all that we have got in life. Love, a good job, lots of money, 2-3 houses, cars.

But if they have got all the things that we have got including education, would they really be interested in saving the planet? We didn’t, then how can we put such a huge pressure on their shoulder. In one of the elite schools here, when asked where water comes from, a student replied – tanker! No surprises here because how many of us adults really know that trees and forests are the real source of many perennial rivers, lakes and ponds. You cut them down and in a few years time there will be no water….like that in the deserts. Ever wonder why there is no water in a desert? Maybe because god came down and cursed the land, that’s why?

Saving the national animal might be media brouhaha and a human rights issue, breathing down on environmentalists to let humans stay in the forests. However, people are not aware of a simple fact – that the fight is not about saving the tiger; it’s about saving the forests and our rivers. It’s all intricately linked. Tigers on top of the food chain can only exist if all elements in the forest are healthy and occupies its rightful spaces. Will any one of you come forward or notice if media says ‘save the langur or the spotted deer’?

I recently visited a few homes in the urban developed city of Pune, a place where in the 1990s there were no ceiling fans. All these homes had stories of greed, abuse, torture, incest and psychological problems – in middle class educated homes where people had good jobs like you and me. By the end of the day, I was nauseous and disoriented. All the education for what, when in the end it all boils down to Greed and more greed, and no respect for your own family members, so called ‘loved ones’.

Yes, there is definitely a need for education, to first save humans from each other. Respect for nature, environment and wildlife then will follow automatically.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Impressions: Part 2

J&K: Paradise on earth. And I consider myself lucky that I have visited both Kashmir and Ladakh at the time of its prime, i.e. when there were less violence and less human interference. It will kill me to see the state it’s in today. The taste of roadside kababs and radish chutney in Srinagar still lingers in my mouth. And needless to say, Ladakh has been a life changing experience….the highest form of spirituality.

Gujarat: Strangely, this state was one the last in the list of places to visit for me. Somewhere vaguely there existed way at the back of my mind, a desire to see Kutch. When the time came, I saw Kutch and much more. Beyond the beauty and nature, was the fact that material progress was not far behind. It might be heartening to many….but for me that made me feel like the state is losing its innocence.

Maharashtra: Monsoons! I can never tire of it and I have never seen anything like it even in the Himalayas. It’s one of the very few things left that still makes me feel all gooey and romantic. Beautiful forests and my first tryst with royalty – the tiger.

MP: Much to explore but whatever little I have seen just strengthens my belief that our country is one of the most beautiful and varied places on Earth. Laid back capital city, warm people and an unhurried life. As the ad said, it’s truly the ‘Dil’ of India.

Chhattisgarh: It’s definitely not for tourists nor is it for those who call themselves travelers. Chhattisgarh is an experience meant only for those people who can ‘feel’. For me, it’s been the best discovery so far.

Karnataka: Hampi! A place that is still alive in every rock structure and temples. So alive that if you stand alone among its ruins, you can feel the life flowing in your veins and can hear the long gone voices.

TN: The first thing that crossed my mind when we entered TN was that it’s easy to see where all the tax money went - rickety buses, bumpy roads and no public facilities. Yet there was a time long ago in the 1980s when Marina beach was clean and deserted. I had my first taste of filter coffee here and had burnt my tongue. Ooty was a deserted place too meant for honeymooners where mist floated in inside the hotel rooms. My sister and I wore slacks (yes back then it was in fashion too!) with heavily oiled hair. In Kanyakumari, we stood watching the approaching storm as it blew sand grains all over us and created a clear demarcation between the ocean and the sea.

Kerala: Trees and hidden between these trees were villages which looked like semi-towns. Kerala is queer where there is no break in habitation; one village followed the other unlike most states. Brightly coloured houses dotted the landscape – I felt like being in a candy store, not knowing which coloured candy it will turn out next.

Andhra Pradesh: A chance discovery which led us to beautiful rugged beaches of black sand, estuaries and vales of red earth. Smooth roads, electricity in rural areas, friendly people and smell of chilly in the air. I couldn’t control my greed and ate so much chilly-laden local food that it ruined my stomach forever.

Goa: Is seductive – it works its magic slowly but surely and can mean different things to different people. My first brush with the monsoons (western India) happened here with brooding sea, short intense showers and a deep melancholy.

Pondicherry: A European experience and the joy of riding a bicycle freely amongst its many quaint lanes and bylanes.

Daman: A remnant of beautiful days gone by.


This list seems long, but I feel I still haven’t explored enough.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Impressions: Part 1

Rajasthan: A place of countless forts and stories of kings and princesses. The first taste of traveling with friends…way back in 1990 as part of a school trip. A time when the City Palace in Udaipur was still a palace and not a hotel. Hot and dry. Good looking bong guys. A trendy cotton printed skirt for Rs.30. A place as exotic then as it is now.

Haryana/Punjab: Somehow I have never visited any place here except Chandigarh but have crossed it many a times on the way North. Its geography is as vibrant and bright as its people. But somehow, the overtly friendly atmosphere never appealed to me or made me want to explore more.

Uttranchal: Truly abode of the gods but now in a horrible state of disrespect to the same gods - barren hillsides and overflowing with plastic. But it still remains a place with some of my best travel memories. Jim Corbett, where lying alone near a clean river and watching a kingfisher dive, I realized the need to break free and start traveling. Rishikesh, where after a hard day’s of rafting and jumping off a cliff, we sat down by the Ganga in the evening around a bonfire, rolled up a joint and got the best high ever. Ranikhet and Binsar in the monsoons, dark and melancholic, was a totally different side of the Himalayas that I saw.

UP: Early memories of a time when Benaras was not that crowded and people traveled in horse driven tongas. I remember sitting in one when the horse reared up trying to throw all of us down. Many years later, the Bhul Bhulayya of the palace in Lucknow really astounded us as my sister and I went round and round giggling like crazy.

Bihar/ Jharkhand: A place where I was born and spent a very happy and carefree childhood, a time when the state was undivided. Bihar side was a simple life with very simple people and Jharkhand, one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Hillsides filled with flame of forest and tiny waterfalls abound. My first brush with wildlife at Betla forest when I was all of 4. I still remember my mother and relatives shivering with fear on the night safari and I wondered what the fuss was all about. When my father pointed out a tree house, my super imaginative mind thought this is where Phantom lived.

West Bengal: Riding on a bullock cart through a picture perfect rural setting. Traditional mud huts which kept the house cool. Each hut had a pond along with clumps of bamboo shrubs. A place where I have tasted one of the best gulab jamuns so far. Its mountainous north region is as different from its coastal south as coal is to ice.

Orissa: Extreme poverty. The image of a guy with torn clothes which barely covered him and living in a rundown hut is still etched in my mind. A very rough yet gorgeous sea. My first experience of a storm near the sea and finding hundreds of dead turtles on the beach the next morning.

Sikkim: My first trek (in 2001) which came at a time when I was dying to break free. I went without knowing what it entails, just because I loved walking. After being so near to Kanchendzonga and the surrounding enchanted forests, it was difficult not to get affected. I was hooked and how. It was here that I had one of ‘those’ experiences which sets you thinking hard about life and how you want to lead it. It sure has been a long journey since then.

HP: Picture perfect, totally mersmerising and so varied that you can spend a month here and still find new things every day. It’s the place where I experienced my first snowfall that too around my birthday. It’s also a place where I realized that even a barren landscape can be so beautiful. It’s a land of high mountains, deep valleys, beautiful forests and enchanting meadows – a place where I want to live one day.

To be continued…..

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Remote. Untouched:

I believe the trees spoke to me. I believe there were fairies.

We were traversing the pot-holed roads in the Maikal hills of western Chhattisgarh on our way to see the open cast bauxite mines of Balco (Vedanta). For years, neither the government nor the company had made any efforts to repair the road. Maybe intentionally. It was a road which only a truck could traverse. Other cars and vehicles would land with punctured tyres. As did ours.

We were in a remote forested region in the hills, full of trees and water bodies. It had rained the previous night turning the day cold and wet. I decided to go walk around a bit while my colleagues spoke to a group of young men from the Baiga tribe sitting around a small fire. Each tree here like that in rest of Chhattisgarh had a distinct character and seemed full of life. When I was considerably away from everybody and surrounded by trees, I whispered a soft hi to them. Somewhere the leaves rustled. I whispered how are you. The leaves rustled from the other side. I carried on the conversation stunned, trying to figure out whether it was my imagination or something was really happening. Then as I got ready to go back and said my goodbye to the trees, a strange thing happened. A wind started to blow and all the trees swayed along with it.

It must have been my imagination but there’s no questioning the strong raw vibes in those areas. Everything had a life there, the trees, rocks, rivers. It seemed like a place untouched by humans, as it must have existed hundreds of years ago. Even the tribal communities lived a life they had known for generations. Though slowly many of them have started getting to know and understand money and value of land, there are many who still use barter system to get what they need. On one hand they are innocent and unaware of the harshness of life that they are slowly getting pushed into. On the other hand, they can be aggressive when they feel that you are an outsider or feel threatened. What I admire about them is there intrinsically linked lives to nature and what I feel desperate about is how fast they are getting urbanized. Their land is fast falling into the hands of corrupt mining and infrastructure companies who are stripping it clean of nature and age old traditions of communities.

Chhattisgarh is a pure state, very rural and heartbreakingly pretty. People are simple and unassuming. Nature speaks here…if only anybody cares enough to listen.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

A short conversation:

While working in office, the phone rang and I happened to pick up the call.

Boy: Is this so and so company? Can I speak to a program person?

Me: What is it regarding?

Boy: I want to come for an interview.

I explained him our long process for interviews

Boy: But I am a MBA in Marketing, can’t I speak to a program person and check if there is any requirement?

Me: If you are an MBA, what will you do in program? That requires MSW.

Boy: Oh. Actually I am interested in something like Marketing Strategy and Communication. Do you have a department like that?

Me: Yes, but what’s your experience?

Boy: You know, I am a MBA in Marketing. I was thinking of a post in senior management.

Me: Excuse me!! You want a senior level post?!

Boy: I mean, something like a Manager, a middle management role. You see, I am a MBA in Marketing

Me: (getting ready to destroy his apparent misconceptions) Now-a-days everybody is a MBA. It’s good to have ambitions. But before you start applying, at least first understand the sector. If you want to rise so fast without any experience, then you should go for the corporate sector. In this sector, the hierarchies are less and people stay in a position for years. For example, the manager in our organization has 20 years of work experience.

Boy: (Aghast and a bit meek) Oh. Actually I wanted to do something in environment.

Me: (Going for the kill ie create confusion) What exactly do you want to do in environment? Is it conservation or wildlife or natural resource management? First decide what you want to do and then apply.

Boy: What do you think I should do? What course should I take up?

I laughed an evil laughter in my head and told him to first decide and then go check the net.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Roaming the Ranns:

Summer here would be scorching. Wherever you look, a treeless land stretches out into the horizon. But now it is full of shrubs....unusually green for this time of the year. And there are lots of ponds and water-bodies too filled with various types of birds. The weather is superb, cold in the morning and pleasant during the day. They attributed all this to the unusual amount of rainfall this year and a prolonged winter. I was lucky. I realised that the moment I got down at Samakhyali station at 5 in the cold morning and gazed up to see the sky filled with thousands of sparkling stars.

Little white temples as stunted as the shrubs dotted the Kutch landscape while on the roadside, women in amazingly colourful lehengas, duppattas or bags walked by oblivious to the beauty they had created around them. I was fascinated by the married women of the Rabari community who only wore black. Apparently they belong to Krishna's clan (of gopis) and still mourn His death by wearing black. But black is only the colour of their garment which is otherwise full of beautiful colourful embroidery. Adorned with heavy silver jewelry, these women made an exotic and mysterious sight. In Kutch, most communities have their own style of clothing and each community can be identified by the type of embroidery used, each distinct from the other.

Though I had seen pictures of these communities of Kutch before in magazines and websites, it’s when you actually see them in the stark surroundings that you really realise that what nature did not provide, they did it themselves. Colour. Apart from that, nature made up adequately by making this semi arid and barren landscapes the home for thousands of birds. Wherever I looked I saw birds, known and the migratory varieties, flying in the sky or on trees, ponds and shrubs.

Drinking water is still transported in huge canisters on camel driven cart to villages. If government has not provided them with this essential item of survival, it has given them electricity and mobile connection. Even in the most remote of regions. Those ubiquitous electricity poles everywhere made me feel once again that there is no real uninhabited region left in the world.

I asked people around what they thought of the CM and his efforts at making good roads across Gujarat. Most were unanimous; roads were made during the dairy revolution, not by him. What about the earthquake then? It was actually a blessing in disguise. They were taken out of oblivion and put on the map, given electricity and many got vehicles too.

Standing at the ruins of Dholavira and its amazing system of water tanks, I thought why couldn't people use this ancient wisdom now and resolve their water problem. Why should everybody wait for either the government or a catastrophe to make a change in their lives?

The salt pans of the Great Rann stretched out endless in front of me, spectacular in its stark whiteness. Seemingly dead yet full of life…keeping that eternal question in our minds alive.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Harmony:

The first thing that will strike you here is that people are happy and well off. Like that in neighboring Goa, the pace is unhurried and balmy. I was traveling to the interiors of Sindhudurg, a perfect green corner of the earth. Thankfully or not, its still hasn’t caught the fancy of travelers. The more I talked to people and observed around, the more I believed that it was utopia.

It’s a region where people love their land, forests and all living being in it. They don’t cut down trees, not even to create land for agriculture. They only farm on flat land near water sources which even now is crystal clear and sweet. They have separate areas for grazing cattle in different seasons which does put pressure on the forest. Their main income comes from cashew nut plantation. Most villagers joke that apart from tea and sugar, they do not need to buy any thing. All children go to school. Most villages have women as Sarpanch and are given equal status or more. As a woman, I have never felt so safe anywhere else in the country.

Each village has their own sacred groves called devrai with its own god or goddess. One village had a god made of stone…which meant that no villager could make a house out of stone. Another village worshipped the tiger, hence nobody killed any animal there. Another village had an ancient custom of not letting any outsider come in without first taking a bath…to keep it clean.

Despite being in touch with the urban world, they have retained their simplicity. Except one or two black sheep, nobody has succumbed to greed and all are happy with what they have got.

Utopia as it seems does not last for long. There are 56 mining leases sanctioned in the area. If the ministry changes after the Budget this year, most of them might get a green nod and those beautiful hills will be razed forever.

My city friends often ask me how they can help from so far away. To them I continue to say…there are ways. One simple way is not to investment in any way in such companies. That might not stop these people, but you can be sure you have not added to the destruction.

Monday, January 24, 2011

How Far Still:

The hills are thickly forested, so thick that even the villagers find it difficult to go in. It's green, dark and enticing, as far as the eyes can see. The sparkling afternoon sun is creating patterns on the forest floor. There is an orchard of flowering mango trees and the air is filled with the sweet heady smell of childhood and climbing to pluck raw mangoes. The night is chilly with a glowing yellow moon lending a false sense of warmth.

I love this area in Sindhudurg and lap up every experience in these two days here, a brief relief from the city. But somewhere hidden deep is this feeling that I don't want to face. Something which you know exists but over the years of denial and constant movement to check the restlessness had receded deep at the back of the mind.

I didn't realise it then. I was just happy experiencing a new place. It's struck me now. I loved the place but beyond the beautiful green hills, there were no snow peaks. The chill of the night was refreshing but the sky was not filled with brilliant sparkling stars.

It's beginning to hurt. Five long years have passed without being in the Mountains. Just a few brief glimpses. The Mountains are holding me off...at an arm's distance. I am dying to just rush there, pour forth my soul.

But I am being tested. I have to wait till the Mountains call me.

Till then I remain here. Incomplete.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Rotten Apple:

I didn’t want to start this year’s first post on such a note, but for the past few months it’s been screaming in my head. Not that I can do anything about it. Many have tried and many are still trying but it seems like a quagmire….you keep slipping into its murky depths.

Our country, the proverbial rotten apple! All gloss and shiny to the outside world, but slowly eaten by worms inside. No, it’s not a reaction to what’s being highlighted in the papers….which is just a tip of the massive iceberg of rot. It’s what I have seen, known that often makes me feel desperate. Forget how all the politicians are digging to their elbows into the wealth pie (they own everything from taxi-fleets, hotel chains, cinema halls, dailies, sugar factories, agricultural land to hill stations etc) or the land mafia who are grabbing land left, right and centre, building houses and selling them as your dream house, or businessmen who are digging up the earth in eco-sensitive zones or pumping back effluents in groundwater to avoid detection. I am talking about everybody else, all of us who given a chance would do exactly what all these politicians and businessmen are doing. Like the women traveling in first class who carefully wrap up the farsan packets and throw them out the window, like the mother who loves the serial Balika Badhu but wants her 15 years old daughter to get married next year, or the Rajput guy who works in an NGO for women’s empowerment but asks his wife to keep ghunghat, or the MNC executive who gets angry at land sharks and environmental degradation but will still buy a second house at the very hill the land shark razed in the first place.

It has become a part of our bloodstream…..the innate inability to think correctly about something or somebody else other than the self.

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I went to a few villages in Maharashtra and talked to farmers and their families. Out of sheer curiosity, I asked the first family I met, about their plans for the future and their kids. The father said he wants his children to get educated so that they can go to town and earn good money and not live the hard life of a farmer. Though my colleagues agreed with him, I almost smirked at him.

Every family I met later gave me similar answers….children should get educated to become doctors, officers and live in towns, build houses etc. My colleagues were getting irritated with me for asking such an inane question and I was getting increasingly agitated to hear the same answer.

Then we met the last family. I had to ask them the same question. The father said that he wanted his children to finish school and then send them to college for agricultural studies, so that they can come back and work better on land. The mother said that it’s the land which has given them everything and that their children should know the same.

I smiled. There is still some hope left somewhere.