Thursday, November 27, 2014

A barbaric bibliophile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2014

Honestly Rude?

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

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

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

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

"But it WAS the truth."

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Upper Mustang Trek - Finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND now the links for pics.

Photocredits: Fellow-trekkers. None taken by me.

The Upper Mustang Trek - VIII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photocredits: Fellow-trekkers. None taken by me.