People

Of Borders and lines

For a trickle of Korean Won, we could peer through fixed telescopes and look into North Korea. To the clank of the coin settling into the metal box, I peered on. Blue skies. An occasional soldier. Green mountains, and fluttering birds. It could have been some nature reserve. But I was standing at the Korean border at Imjingak and staring into North Korea.

The Demilitarized Zone ( ‘Dee Emm Zee’) is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula separating the two Koreas. It is 250 kilometers long and 4 KM wide. With wire fences, watchful eyes and guns on either side its brought with it a side benefit. There are no apartment complexes, flyovers, malls with their attendant parking lots and the like. You get the picture, don’t you? Who doesn’t know the rampant poverty that ‘development’ ushers in the world over? The DMZ though is green and lush. Perhaps no other piece of green is as protected and watched by the rest of the world as much as this strip! Dark cloud, silver lining and all that.

Beyond the Demilitarized Zone is one of the heaviest military presence. And heavier posturing perhaps. The posturing and the promise of war have given life to some of the most endangered species thriving. DMZ plays host to some of the most exotic and endangered species. Like cranes, leopards, tigers, and bears. Perhaps these species, have over the years, learned to live under the gaze of the guns in the air and landmines beneath their feet.

That silver lining apart the DMZ is a dark area. It stands as a bright testimony to the limitless potential of human avarice, greed, and one-upmanship. The two Koreas have shouted at each other with loudspeakers ( actual loudspeakers belting out propaganda) across the border. They have tried to outdo each other building tall flag poles and sent balloons with leaflets across the DMZs. All these of course, when they weren’t busy staring each other down. Incredulous it seems. But from 1953, peace has reigned. By and large.Imjingak resort - Looking into North Korea

 

Mangbae pagoda at the Korean border - Imjingak. Yearning for reunification

The Korean border at  Imjingak which hosts the telescopes offers may a pointer. ‘Mangbaeddan‘ is one such. It’s an altar to pray for ancestors and their families. People from across South Korea whose origins were from somewhere in the North, come here to bow down. It’s a bowing down to their parents and ancestors as a sign of respect during new year and other important festivals. Parents who stayed back. Or could not be contacted. One whole country that is a black box. Not even a snail mail service.

There is a plaque that captures the sentiment than my words can. “After 36 years of Japanese colonial era rule, our country was liberated on August 15, 1945, thanks to the sacrifices of service personnel who fought for the nation’s independence and for an end to the Second World War. Before celebration could break out, however, Korea was arbitrarily divided into north and south according to a unilateral decision on the part of larger powers regardless of the desire of our people. Mangbaeden is a permanent alter established by the government at a cost of 500 million won (supervision by the Ministry of Home Affairs 5 North Korean Provinces, execution: Paju Country Office ), at Imjingak, overlooking the lands of North Korea.  

Five million people left their home in the north, where they had lived for generations, to avoid the Soviet army and the North Korea Communist Party’s persecution and brutalities. The refugees built a temporary altar at Imjingak on every Chuserok (Korean Thanksgiving day ), held an event to honor their ancestor and parents who had been left behind in North Korea, and longed for a permanent altar. In terms of scale and form, the censer and altar are located on a 400-m site. The Mangbae pagoda at the center represents the earnest longing for the reunification of the country and prayer for the welfare of those in North Korea. The characteristics of the historical remains, institutions and customs and mountains and streams of the 5 North Korean Provinces, and the non-reclaimed area, Gyeonggi and Gangwon were carved in seven granite stone-folding screens around the pagoda to ease the homesickness of the refugees.” 

A friend who was with us spoke with eloquence about her mom, who several years ago, had to be held back by border guards. As she dashed towards the border at Imjingak, sorely missing her mother who got left behind beyond the border.  I listened to the story with a keen ear and a pounding heart. The cruelty that permeates several lives in the planet needed explanation beyond borders, flags, and territory.

Madmen fire rockets and ramble from podiums around the world about destruction as though it were a lollipop. Even as the rest of us duck for cover, there are some who wonder if there is a silver lining somewhere.The dark clouds sprouting to the sky seem imminent. Costly, ghostly dark clouds. Will there be silver linings or will it too little, too late? Opinion is divided but hope springs eternal.

Figure of Eight Knot - Korean border Imjingak

 

There are citizens who yearn to be united. The “We are One” installation in Imjingak for instance, portrays this yearning for a peaceful reunification. “Installed by the Paju Government on February 14, 2006. This sculpture embraces our desire to achieve peaceful reunification. The joining of the two separated parts by the figure of 8-knot embodies the unification of North and South Korea. The height is 280 centimeters which represent the 28 metropolitan cities and provinces in the Korean peninsula”

Nothing perhaps captures the tragedy of the separation more than the bullet-ridden testimony that the engine of a steam locomotive that plied between the North and the South. The tracks from that time remain. The station names call attention to the staid tracks and lost ways. The bullet holes stare with vapid eloquence amidst the cackle of tourists, selfie sticks, and cameras. Somewhere in between the point of all suffering seems distant and removed from the priorities of the present day. Steam engine - Korean border Imjingak

Rail signboard - Korean border Imjingak

 

As I try to pack my memories from Imjingak into a neat stack, I realise they elude fitting in. They spring in different directions. The tears of separation and sadness seem to take away the sheen off the silver lining. That leaves me with a simple line and a dark cloud.

Ever since visiting Imjingak, any image of leaders and armchair commentators waxing eloquence on twitter or from podiums gets me ever more present to what it is on the ground. The stories that are not told. Stories about living through separation and war. It is 2017 and the world has made serious progress in several dimensions from electric cars to space travel. But can there be a greater travesty that vast tracts of the human mind continue to let the future to be held prisoner by the mistakes of the past?

Must not the imagination that has fuelled ‘progress’ also help us extricate us and co-create a better future? Even if it meant a slow, painful extrication? As I sat in silence at the Mangbaeddan, Tom Brokaw‘s commencement speech to the class of 2006 wafted in from memory. More than a decade old now, but has relevance.

Border guards - Korean border - Imjingak

Here is one part of his speech.

“So, welcome to a world of perpetual contradictions, welcome to a world of unintended consequences and unexpected realities. Welcome to a world in which war is not a video game, … in which genocide and ancient hatreds are not eliminated with a delete button. You won’t find the answer to global poverty in Tools or Help. You cannot fix the environment by hitting the Insert bar. You cannot take your place in the long line of those who came before you simply by sitting in front of a screen or at a keyboard.

The pace of change in your lifetime is at warp speed. We live now on a smaller planet, with more people, many of them on the move these days in a desperate search for economic opportunity and political freedom, a world of ever-diminishing open spaces, disappearing natural resources, with great seismic shifts in political, economic and cultural power wherever you may be on this planet…..

We cannot ignore them, and as the last four years have demonstrated in tragic fashion, a military response is inadequate. If … hostility is not addressed in a more effective manner in the West, and in the Islamic world as well, we will live in a perpetual state of terror and rage on both sides of the equation.

So a primary challenge of your time is to bank the fires of hostilities that are now burning out of control, to neutralize that hatred, to expedite not just global competition economically and politically, but also global understanding, and especially global opportunity.

To do that requires more than a fresh political strategy or imagination.”

The full text is here. The context has shifted a bit. But the fundamental contradictions remain. Only exacerbated by a new crop of leaders who whose jingoism and sabre rattling divides people even further.

Imjingak is a reminder that we need to look beyond the narratives that the unreasonable madness in the political leadership of the modern day. We need to search for and connect to a deeper humanity in each other. Cliched it may sound. There aren’t easy solutions. But the absence easy solutions must not get us lean towards letting the dark clouds loom from the ground. We still have several silver linings today. The capabilities that are present in us to operate from ‘imagination’ is one such. Perhaps we could start there.

 

Earlier Post on my Korean travel is here

 

Thailand Diaries

The American author John Steinbeck wrote a line that left an indelible imprint on me. “People don’t take trips, trips take people”.

After yet another trip, as I download my pictures, dust my shoes, clean up my suitcases and unpack my memory, how small the world is. How similar we are and yet how different. The richness in our differences gives us numerous opportunities to learn and rejoice. This time around the trip was to quieten the mind and take the opportunity to reflect and renew. Much of the trip was spent doing nothing. Or just shuffling my feet to street corners and vaguely staring at the world go by.

Only that the world doesn’t go by vaguely, if the world happens to be Thailand! Its sights, smells, voices can be arresting to energise every pore. The world comes to experience ‘Amazing Thailand’ for that very reason. The land has much to offer. Especially so, if you are able to go past the richness that is on offer and dished out on a plate to anyone who lands there. To be able to transcend that richness is an ask, I must confess!

But beyond what lies on the surface, there is true pageantry to the soul. A wistful energy in the eyes and an authenticity in the smiles. Talking to people on the road will expose the smiles in their heart and somehow a certain unpretentious completeness in their way of life and livelihoods.

My Thailand Diaries are full of random scribbles and rapid notes. Deciphering them is going to take a while. Few pictures are here.  Over the next week, I hope to have at least a couple of blogposts up on my experiences.

As always, do let me know what you think! 🙂

Thailand Travel vendor

Thailand travel shopping

Thailand travel market

Donkeys!

It was quite a sight. A sight that is not a regular one at that. You can see a parade of cars. A convoy of jeeps. A bevvy of bikes. But then, what do you do when you are walking down a road and you see a set of donkeys walking by. In big city Mumbai!
 
First the eyebrows arch. Then seeing the number, the mouth goes open. But the sight of them all being deployed to carry construction material gets the mouth to stay open. 
As an city dweller who has been part of the technology revolution, the mobile phone is phished out from the pocket and a couple of snaps result. The sight of construction workmen with harnesses, helmets walking in near formation with a set of donkeys was something that the camera could barely manage to capture. 
 
Growing up in a smaller city, the sight of donkeys carrying sack loads of clothes to the laundry was common.  These days the donkeys with four legs are a rarity. 
 
As the donkeys walk by, there are a set of people having the tea break from work. Fashionable. Young. Creative folks, perhaps. At the local tea stall.  They sit and watch the donkeys pass.  They watch the donkeys unmindful of the pair of eyes that are watching them watch the donkeys. Erudite people. One of them asks, with a pronounced drag of a half done cigarette. “What is the collective noun for donkeys”?
 
A discussion ensues. Pride. Convocation. Army. It continues. They laugh. Giggle. One of them offers to look up Google. But then, the cigarette is done. Last  droplets of tea to wash down the conversation flows down their alimentary canals. Dusting their behinds they walk off towards their work places. ‘Forget the donkeys. We have to face the asses now’. They say. Grim faced, they walk away. The world is ruled by sign off lines. 
 
If any of them is reading this post, well, the collective noun for donkeys is : ‘drove’. Or ‘herd’. Or ‘pace’.  
 
Of course, this  piece of information on collective nouns, is useful to all of us in the country at this point in time. There are so many donkeys all braying out aloud, that reminding ourselves of a collective noun will well help us bunch them together, complete sentences properly and get on with life. 
 
No, there isnt anyone particular in the mind. There are hordes. Oh no. There are droves of them.  

head-weight


When the humdrum of big city life gets the bloated ego to balloon (in addition to the body that is), it is travel to small cities and experiencing a life that is lived at a different rhythm that swings the pendulum back.

Semi-urban India offers a diverse array of uniquely simple folks who go about their lives with so much of ease, quiet and sense of ‘get-on-with-it. Infact that is part of how life is lived normally !

Ofcourse, readers could be more familiar with that life. These scenes have appeared ever so many times in our movies and even more so in discussions on ‘rural empowerment’, ofcourse, set in five star hotels.

In the corporate humdrum dominated city life, sticking-neck-out-plying-of-wares is more of an exercise with an eye on the annual increment and what the ‘boss’ thinks. ( I didn’t intend generalizing, and am sure you the reader can point to several people (including yourself) who are very different. Yet, I guess, the world that I describe is the world that I often see) !

When viewed in a hurry, it is only natural for people to relate to these scenes with the superficiality of what the picture seems to hold and not explore the depths of the story that is pregnant within.

Think about this. When you don’t have a degree to back you up or a set of ‘Key Result Areas’ to confine yourself to while being expected to support the family, provide for the future of children with whatever you have, I guess, you carry a different load in your head. We all will.

Yet! To have no choice but to look forward to everyday. To walk more than 20 KMs with a 10 KG weight on the head. To do this day in day out. Shouting out to customers. Arguing with middlemen, bus conductors and sometimes fellow bus passengers, these folks are such an inspiration to life. These folks are human. And anyone of us could have been them !



Urban settings and offices, call them ‘unskilled labour’. ‘Daily Wages’ is their compensation structure. A twang laden educated air engulfs our collective view of such ‘labour’. An educated air that is devoid of basic understanding and respect that one human being could accord another.

And so, I sat there in a bus stop. As ‘small’ farmers, merchants and their wives got down from buses, struck deals with middlemen and sold their wares, in an almost rural setting. There were others who loaded and unloaded and moved about with purpose. Looking at me with curiosity, if at all. They had a job to do Perhaps families to feed, livestock to rear and children to raise.

They balanced the loads on their heads, carried some more in extended arms, hips and parts of the human body which strangely transformed to grooves for holding such stock.

Not for a moment seeking attention, pity or even any physical help. They were proud people going about their daily routines.

I don’t know for how long I sat there. Doing nothing but soaking it all in. Every image registered in the mind. The slow rhythms of life in a small town can be supremely captivating superlatively preparatory for life elsewhere. Especially when the urge to stand and stare rules.

As old women hauled weights that seemed far in excess of the frail frames, I realized that my struggle was not really the most supreme. Infact, some of it appeared rather small. If you are reading this post, we ( you and I ) are perhaps part of a blessed minority. A minority that can read, write, has basic needs taken care of, can access the web and have the capacity for thinking and thought.

Its about time our education and our capacity to think, alters our understanding of weights on other peoples heads. Even as we stick our necks out to reach to a new height at work, may we have it in us to see these weights with new eyes.

May we spread a smile. Perhaps a friendly wave. Even more, a full-throated greeting to the man and woman on the street who have no options but to just ‘get-on-with-it’! Above all this, may we travel and see the ‘exotic’ness of sights that we miss seeing with the heart!

May we all make it large !

Marathon Post !


So he asks, did you do the ‘foool marathon’. I nod in agreement. “You actually did the foool marathon” he asks three quarters in disbelief.

Savagely moving a large lump of paan from one cheek to the other making visible a coloured tongue with a resplendent red, as he sucks in air, producing a hissing sound. For a moment, the sound reverberates across the the space in the lift we both share.

After 42 kilometers of running, I am finally in my apartment and taking the lift home. This is a man that I know.

We meet in the lift often. He hisses for a while longer. I fear he may suck all the oxygen out of the lift. He runs his hands over his pronounced paunch. “Will I ever be able to’, he asks. I have just about energy to tell him, that that’s exactly where I started two years back.

Regular readers here, know about my running and the pompous spin that I give to a rather pedestrian pastime. Okay, strictly not ‘pedestrian’. This after all is about running.

‘Demented bluster’, lead me to think that I indeed could run the full marathon and register for the 42 KM. Announcing with fanfare and chickening out before implementation is what the government is teaching by example. I announced it too. Not out of great admiration for the government, but it was frankly a very convenient option! I could always quietly slink away.

The blokes at Striders had a different plan though. Challenging, pushing in an ever so non obtrusive manner, ‘slow & easy’ manner that it would fit in the category of non-invasive surgery. Of the mind.

The kind that the missus would call ‘magic’ because, her pretty much invasive attempts to get me to other things like stack up read newspapers in a manner that could be called ‘mildly orderly’ has only resulted in massive inaction that could befit a lump of limestone. Or something of that ilk. You get the idea, right ?

Practice happened over the last several months. Regular travel made me regularly irregular. But running is an activity for which all that you would ever require is a pair of shoes. So I ran alone wherever I went. Often inviting the attention of curious onlookers sipping in coffee from roadside stalls in remote corners of India.

More often than not, inviting the attention and unrequited anger of stray dogs. I presume they were mad at me. Perhaps my speed was incongruent with my heavy breathing. They would wake up and holler as though they spotted Veerappan or someone. Upon seeing me, some would whimper and growl. Mostly in pity I presume. Most others would just not bother to do that either!

The group at Powai I train with is an awesome bunch. Sticking together. Often chatting, laughing and infusing an excitable energy. A special mention must be a made of all friends. Hitesh in particular, who runs barefeet : my running partner! He is a much faster and far more experienced bloke that ran alongside for most of practice and the race too.

On D day, I did run. 42.2 KM. Surprising myself with a time of 5.07 hours. But that’s not the story. Or rather is just one part of the story.

The story of how Mumbai turned out to cheer us is, is the big story !

Expecting beautiful women ( and handsome men), evidently just out of bed , take notice of balding, paunch carrying projectile, would come close to ‘a wonder of the modern day world’! But to see them cheer for me ( yes, I looked all around in surprise, I was the only character in 50 meters), was, mildly put, very exciting.

Or for that matter. Slum kids who lined up the roads of Mahim, who erupted into such dizzying shouts of joy when a runner give all of them a high five, as they held out outstretched hands.

‘Bhagho Uncle Bhaaaaaaago’ ( run uncle run), they screamed. From the stress on the ‘bhaaaaggoooooo’ their estimation of how fast I was running was apparent.

I ran, holding out my hand to the kids. What caused them excitement to have a stranger running and giving them a high five is something that is beyond my brain, but boy, it sure did energise me like no other sports drink or energy drink can. Taxi drivers cheered. Old men shouted slogans for me. Some men stared in disbelief. Even cops clapped and gave us a thumbs up sign.

These as you can see, are beyond the realms of everyday life.

Running is an exercise as much for the mind, as it is for the body. Especially long distance running ! And sometimes when you run with a complete stranger, even for a few fleeting moments as he passes you or you pass him ( or her), a strange bond is shared. Acknowledged a few times with a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘keep going’ or a ‘well done’.

At other times, the silence is broken by an exchange of heavy breaths or the sound of feet pounding the pavement. Not a word is spoken. Not a gesture exchanged. Yet, conveying much.

Ofcourse, there are exceptions like the ‘elite runners’. Those Kenyans, Ethiopians and others. Who by the time I finished the race would have fathered two kids and sent them to college. But the point is not about speed. The 42 KM is one heck of a distance. The body knows that. The point, is about the mind. That opaque thing called ‘mind’ has travelled a longer distance.

Heres a world of thanks to all friends who called, texted, wrote on the FB wall, clicked on the ‘like button’, sent messages on the BBM and for the few who actually travelled all the way to South Bombay to cheer… I have nothing but a gaping sea of gratitude. You made it possible.

This is a world where the following are common : Running for office. Running away from problems. Running away with the neighbour. Running from the media etc !

But the real running, the running on the road holds untold charm, an almost surreally unbelievable sense of freedom and wins some amazing friends.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it !


Toll Tales !


If there were any more objects of interest than the roads themselves, they are the toll booths.

They have been a subject of enormous interest and intense enchantment. For me, that is. Are you rubbing your eyes and wondering if my lunacy has had a fresh bout of energy infusement, well, indulge in me as you always do. Oh, I shudder at the plight of the world without kind readers like you who have progressed to the 4th line on such a topic of egregiously earth shattering importance like the toll booth.

For it is at a toll booth you catch glimpse of the moron who overtook you with such blinding speed that you really thought he was taxiing to take off to the Mars or someplace beyond. You catch the elderly grand mom kiss her sleeping grand daughter. And the grand dad looking away. I know what you are thinking here. No, I didn’t mean it that way. Whatever you were thinking.

It is also the place, where you see some strange acts performed with an intensity that bellies the seeming innocuousness of a toll booth. Like, picking their nose, brows furrowed in concentration that would befit a nuclear scientist on the verge of a mankind changing discovery.

Ofcourse, you would not be surprised to see those that would honk like there were virgins waiting in heaven for the loudest and most fervent honker ! If you are still not awakened completely, the attendants manning the toll booth wake you up in a jiffy.

Usually they talk to you from that elevated booth that somehow seems to you as though they are speaking from a distant star. Sometimes, there is paan stowed away and showing up as a lump in the cheek. By the time you comprehend and respond you realize that the line behind has grown at a pace that is faster than the birth rate in China and the honkers were having urgent apparitions of the virgins in heaven !

Ofcourse, then, that is the beginning. For the chap doesn’t have change for Rs.500 and you have nothing else but Rs.500/-. So there you are. Villain to a population on the highway with even the heavens hearing the noises !

All in all, the toll booth is such an interesting place !

In Kerala though, things are slightly different. First of all, Rs.7.50/- for a return journey is a fare that seems unbelievable. Especially to the wallet that grows lighter by Rs.150/- and more on trips to Pune. Rs.7.50/- ? That’s like a discount store selling off unsold stuff for free.

There are no high pedestals. The toll booth operators stand on the road. Ofcourse, it would take two lifetimes for you to pull out Rs.7.50 exactly. He comes in to help you.’ Give me Rs.10’ he says, not even bothering to look at you. As you hesitatingly fish out the Rs.10, wondering if you will get change in return, you get a small package in return!




The small package essentially is the balance of Rs.2.50/- packaged with the Toll Booth receipt !

Move on”. “Move on”.

In a jiffy the toll booth moves to your rear view mirror!

Ofcourse, you despair the opportunity of missing the other promised sights at the toll booth. But then, just to see that surprised smirk in the toll booth operator’s face, as he sees your expression change upon receiving the ‘packet’ from him….well, that’s priceless !

Defining a state

Driving through Kerala is an experience. For starters, whats called the highway has just about as wide as for two regular trucks to go past barely scrapping each others paint on the bumper. That may not be completely accurate all points of the highway. Someplaces, its actually worse.

Yet, it is an absolute pleasure. For several reasons. For it is in such a drive that the contradictions clean out any preconceived idea that you came laden with.

One, the perpetual sea of green that adorn the sides of the road is such a soothing alternative to Mumbai. Where the roads are so seamlessly and almost by way birthright encroached upon by a builder, a hawker or a gawker. The road side in Kerala is a green.

Two, is the colourful array construction that surprised me no end. Truth be told, some choice of colour left me open mouthed debilitation of the eye. Churches , temples, mosques, toddy shops all hold your attention. Amidst them the churches predominately hold attention. Atleast they did so to mine.


Just as you are taking a turn at the road, if you need to be keeping yourself mentally alive and occupied its easy to do here. You could play simple game like betting with yourself (or with the people in the car that you are traveling with ) that the visual element that would next meet your eye, upon taking the turn, would be a ‘purple coloured spire with some connection to Jesus’.

You could be right. In most cases, I was. Or wrong. Like I was. In yet other cases I was yet to recover from the intensity of the previous sighting or the point of interest it generated.


For instance, you couldn’t think of a South Indian temple without thinking of the golden staff that adorns them. The permeability of culture to enable people to settle into a new idea or religion and help them feel at home was evident in some churches sporting the same golden staff.

But then disappointment or joy doesn’t matter. Either way, the sight is arresting with a limitlessly boundless feeling. Of either joy, wonder, curiosity or ‘what-were-they-thinking’ ! For the sight of a green coloured toddy shop or a bright yellow temple or at the least, an aesthetically constructed and ever so visually appealing to the eye kind of a house (bungalow) ensure that there just is no dearth of what the eyes can soak up.

At other times, distant cousins of Schumacher and Hamilton will shake you up as they rev the cracker of an engine in what would seem like a bus that would barely survive the corner swerve. The only warning signs are written on the sides : ‘Super Fast’ . In a rather quiet and demure way.


If you look at the shape of the bus that seemed to have rubbed its body against dinosaurs and conclude that super fast would be as glacial movement, well, let me put it this way : please be prepared for a rude awakening.

But try wrapping your arms around the state with a singular idea or a definition, and realization quickly dawns that its tough to do that.



Somewhere between all these churches and temples, communist party supporter still thrive.

Amidst all the relaxed ambiance of nature that thrives by the side of the road, the super fast buses rule the roost in the middle of the road

Wonderful stately artistic houses nestle in the midst of purple spires, yellow domes and toddy shops painted in green.

The simple pristine dhoti is the regular wear while big billboards advertise for jewelry, seemingly by the kilo, that could well have the potential of making the Reserve Bank of India feeling downright jealous.

The artistic quotient in the real movies of Kerala is perhaps the best in the country. Of the other kind of movies, that get made have an equal if not exceedingly alluring claim to fame too.

It is these contradictions that seem to have made peace with each other and thrive in a seamless ease, that make the place rich for me.

Much like a husband and wife who have a productive and harmonious marital life. Yet, he annoyed at the way she squeezes the toothpaste out, even as he gives the same toothpaste case the treatment she would give to a jewellery box.

And she perennially cheesed off by his insistent perpetual oddity of chewing dosa with loud chomps that would fit a primate even as she would insist on using a knife and fork to prise open and transport the the masala dosa from the plate to the tongue with elegance that can reach a hall of excellence in that category.

The red flag waving communist complemented by the purple church spire and yellow temple dome. The clean roads matched only by elements of nature and insistent ‘towers’ that are coming up now. The oodles of history besotted by the imminence of the present day. All of these, and much more, make what perhaps is an idea that is Kerala.

An idea that is not defined by singularly by geography or history or Economics or by this all encompassing word of ‘culture’ ! For the state comes alive in its boundless contradictions and uncanny beneficence of nature and hospitable people.

Who make some awesome boiled rice and fish curry. On that invigorating thought, I rest this post.


Previous post is here

From The west of the west !

The cobwebs are getting dusted and its all just settling. I pick the pieces and start writing. Again ! Many reasons can fill in the silence in this space as a cogent explanation that range from ‘plain laziness’ to ‘bloggers block’. However, none gives it the exalted status of an exotic excuse in my mental map like ‘travelling’ !


Yes. I write this from the west of the western world. The ‘Bay Area’ as they call it. Our time here has been one of travel, catching up with the family. Resulting in several things, the chief amongst them being a mind that is calming down and sorting out priorities in life that REALLY matter. Quite obviously, this blog is back in action !

🙂

There are countless stories to tell of this land. A land that I have heard of ever so often. A landscape that we have attempted to explore by road, by sea and by air. Criss crossing a few states, experiencing snow, rain and Sun. A landscape thats ever so familiar yet ever so distant. A people that are polite, courteous and let you be.

I have been warned enough that I could well seen to be singing paeans to the American way of life, in a rather blind sort of a way. Other well meaning friends have cautioned me against looking at this ONLY through an India centric lens. A few others have encouraged me to just stand, stare and absorb for the ‘the truth is somewhere inbetween’.

Over a few next posts I am going to tell it like I have seen it and experienced. I just read that statement again, and it sounds like this blog is going to give some serious competition to wikileaks or something of that ilk ! Bah ! Regular readers know how farther away from that truth that statement is !

Ok here are some immediates. The tongue has been smitten by Starbucks coffee. However, the mouth refuses to close from the awe triggered ‘open’ position it took, looking at the sizes. ‘Tall’. ‘Grande’. ‘Venti’. ‘Trenta’ are how the sizes are named ! ‘Trenta’ is about a year and two months of my consumption. Well, almost.

More posts are coming. Will try and keep this space as updated as possible, snatching time between travel and such else.

Oh yes, there is something else that I have enjoyed quite a bit here.

Pushing the button to stop the traffic is cool just to let us cross the road. Back in Mumbai, an outstretched arm to stop is all that is needed to stop a humungous truck. ( Well, you are reduced to a small newspaper snippet, If the truck doesnt stop).

So people, I have been pushing this button, with glee that perhaps adorns the face of a rogue dictator when he pushes missile button !

Schwarzeneger is fading here. But then, I’ll be back !

Cricket confessions !

This is cricket season. Everyone is glued to the TV sets. Tweeting simultaneously. Commenting on how squalid Ravi Shastri’s commentary is or how queer the pitch is and how this game could be a ‘cracker of the game’.

Ofcourse, expert comments come from people ranging from the next door aunty to the ex-gully cricketer who now spouts a belly and has a ton of stories from ‘my playing days’.

The eloquence that is waxed on players and their performance, is a perpetually swinging pendulum that swings from creative abuses that will shame the insipid listlessness of a laggard bowler and extend all the way to the elevation to a GODly status when a personal milestone is cracked !

Before you label me with definitively pronounced adjectives like ‘unpatriotic’, ‘unfit to be Indian’, let me hasten to add that I follow the game too. Not quite with the same intensity that people put on display in restaurants and public places. And boy who can forget twitter. Tweeting fervently, exhorting others to sit where they are or hold on to their pee until another man scores a century ! ( No, am certainly not making this up).

Am not necessarily an ignorant small towner. My own growing up years saw many a summer day that slipped by in battling bowlers from the next building with utter disrespect for the Sun and searing heat. To hit, to run, to roll arms over irrespective of where the sun was in the sky, as long as he was out there in the sky! Ah, it’s a lovely game. Yeah. G-A-M-E !

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. Age takes a good catch, always. The hair on my head is receding and whatever is left of it is as stark as the black & white photograph. Cricket is well, different. The frenzy is several time more pronounced. Outlets to wear it on your sleeve, is multi pronged. TV channels are a famished lot without the game. The result: everybody is an expert. Vocally so !

Truth be told, I can never get myself to sit before the TV for many hours on end and confine my exercise to jumping to conclusions, stretching the statistical truth and pushing the country’s luck (exhorting people to stay still and hold their pee)!

I harbor no ill-will against the people that are more passionate. The world is made of all kinds. For long, several well meaning people have popped the obvious question at me : Why ? Why don’t you follow the game as closely ?

For an equally long time, I have either maintained a stoic silence. A silence that could outdo a hermit in deep penance. Or have hidden behind a decorated façade of ‘a game is meant to be sweated out’ argument. Now its time for a confession. The real reason is Statistics !

Yes. Really. Statistics.

The sheer magnitude of statistical trivia that International cricket can spew ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, perpetually pushing the boundaries of both the sublime and the ridiculous! Quite obviously what is sublime to one has another searching for words that amplify ‘ridiculous’.

‘Dilshan is the seventh batsman to face Abdul Razzak when he is bowling from the Khetaramma end in the Premadasa stadium’.

Well, well. That could well be a rather tame concocted example.

The more informed amongst my friends rattle of statistics that could perk the ears of an encyclopedia maker and could go like “This is the third highest, seventh wicket partnership between Kenya & Zimbabwe, the second highest in in a one day game in Nagpur and is also the seventh highest in all world cups and 293rd in the history of one day internationals “.

Even as my mouth opens in awe, experience has taught me not to be surprised if someone else strikes a degage pose and throw a rejoinder that could go like “It actually is the 294th. The 167th got mired in a controversy because of a thunderstorm which sometimes is not counted…”.

Such powerful stuff is pregnant with poignant potential of sending the partially interested into perpetual coma!

That’s when I go looking for my running shoes.

Eyes and ears !

This post follows two earlier posts describing Nepal, fleetingly seen in limited time ! This is the concluding post.


Swayambu. ‘Buddhas eyes’, they say. Peaceful and serene. Looking over all of Kathmandu. More here.



Eyes that seem to invite you to just sit there and do nothing while the bells keep whirring away, which perhaps is the most ingenious mechanisation of mantra chanting !


‘With sacred mantras written in them, all you have to do is to keep spinning’, the gentleman who accompanies me states in much of a matter-of-fact manner. Perhaps in a matter-of-mantra manner !

Buddhists and hindus jostle for space with tourists and cameras. Against a backdrop of a wistful sky, a small group of animated locals peddling stuff to open mouthed tourists set upon an evening chill. These serve as a perfect recipe for permanent storage in the mind.

The hill country is so pristine that makes you scamper for a word that embodies ‘pristine’ better. The Pashupati nath temple is simple and stately.


Legend has it that Lord Shiva got bored of Mt.Kailash and discovered the Kathmandu valley and ran away to settle down here. That was Lord Shiva. My inarticulate meanderings of how pristine the place is, needs not a single additional letter.

They speak in such an easy tone.



Beyond a point, you cant walk with shoes on and beyond another you cant walk with cameras! For many centuries now, the priests for this temple come only from Shimoga district of Karnataka, India!

People throng the place yet there is a sense of peaceful order. Just beyond the temple, infact adjacent to the temple, by the banks of the Bagmati river, is a cremeation ground with dead bodies on fire. Lessons on how close Creation, Destruction and sustenance are, couldn’t have had a better stage setting.


The Nepali cops and armed forces look majestic! A smartly dressed traffic cop with a tie on and such else is a pleasure to watch. Perhaps the only respite against the stiffest of traffic. And the cops, indeed have a way of carrying themselves and their costume err..uniform, with such artistic élan that can only kickstart envy !

The Nepali’s prominent headgear, which some of my sources tell me is called the ‘Dhaka Topi’ is a piece of evidence in that direction. It’s almost the first thing that I notice as the immigration officers sports this. The one that waved me in wore such a funky design that he caugt me staring at it and perhaps regarded me as a rather ‘slow person’ as it took a while for me to answer his questions!


The caps come in many patterns : checks, waves, stripes etc. The good people they are, gifted me one of these and the missus has since been thinking of so many designs for the headgear that she could be given honorary citizenship there!

She is mighty excited you see, one more piece of clothing to look out for and ofcourse, to go discount hunting for! Exciting i say !


The earlier posts are here and here