Sunday, August 31, 2014

Monkey on my back

Hello Self-doubt, my old friend! Your sheer constancy absolutely amazes me. Most people, within rather short acquaintance, become quite sure that they have had all that they want of me for a life-time. Why, I have even see people ducking into stinking lanes merely to avoid me. You, though, never leave my side - not even for a moment.

Of course, you are silent for more time than you used to be. I really cannot remember whether you started operations when I was a baby - you may have but, since I knew no language then and, maybe, nor did you, your presence did not register. All I remember is that you really were at your peak when I was in my teens. Not a moment passed when you were not whispering, "Ah! Really? You think you can really do something productive?", "Yeah! Right! You are some sort of Adonis, are you not? Which girl would look at you twice even if she can stand the first sight?", "Friends? You really think anyone would think of you as worth befriending?" and things like that. Nag, nag, nag all the time but I must say that you never abandoned me.

You are very pragmatic, though. The moment you see that your message gets disproved by what happens in life, you switch tracks and move on to a new thing. Of course, for your message to be disproved, I should try out the very things that you assured me to be beyond my capabilities AND succeed. If the success is known only because others praise my efforts, you have a standby of saying, "They do not really mean it. They are saying it only to please you." It is only when the issue is placed beyond all doubt that you give up. If, perchance, I do not succeed, you can continue harping on the same thing till I stop even thinking of doing it.

So, yes, the older I got, the more silent you became, since most of the things I was doing or was thinking of doing were things that I had proved myself capable of doing. It would have been nice if, like most other people, I had stuck to doing the same things over and over again. I quit my job, started thinking of trekking and back you were at the same stand harping away, "You? Trek? You can hardly walk two steps without tripping over your bootlaces." You made me sorry for having badly misjudged you by thinking that you had abandoned me.

But, jeez, I never realized how energetic you would get when I started writing. If there is one thing that you love, it is inhabiting someone doing something creative. Taking up something creative is like inviting you in, rolling out the red carpet, seating you reverently on the best arm-chair, handing you a glass of Scotch and begging you to have a go.

Unlike other things, where the doer can, by himself, judge how well he is doing (like, you do not need a certificate from someone to know that you completed a trek), creative pursuits always need the external world to say how well you are doing. The external world, being what it is, often offers valuable hints on how you can do better but is strategically silent on how good or bad you already are (OR, of course, it can overwhelm you with praise and make you feel that it likes you so much that it transfers the liking to your work). More so when, like me, you are of an age when they can assume that you already know how good you are (as you should, if you are pursuing the same thing since the age of 25, instead of taking up a new one at 50) and take their responsibilities to keep down your hubris very seriously. Boy! You, my good old friend, are really having a ball now! Now I know why most people my age just refuse to take up anything new.

I must be glad, though, that you skipped some classes when you were being trained. Every now and then, you do say things like, "You cannot even boil water without burning your fingers. You are absolutely useless. It is a wonder that your parents still suffer your presence at home" but, most of the time, you totally forget to make me feel worthless even when you make me think that I would be useless at doing something. Otherwise, you would have been drumming in the message, "Nobody cares for you", every hour on the hour. Maybe that is why I could live alone - otherwise, I might have had to surround myself with people whose chatter would drown out your voice. It is quite another thing that, some times, those very people may end up reinforcing your voice rather than drown it out.

You have a point, though. Like with most people, I concentrate only on the bad things in those who surround me and totally fail to see the good. So, I am also being unjust to you. Were it not for your nagging, I could well assume that I knew everything and, thus, stop learning and stagnate. As long as I can just let you out only on Sundays and keep you muzzled the rest of the time, I should be able to benefit from you. So, do not abandon me, just yet.

There you go again - "You putting this up? Do you really think anyone is interested in reading this muck?" To which, all I can say is, "If I do not put it up, no-one is going to read it anyway. So, what have I got to lose?"

Well - this is a Sunday, my old friend, and you have had your say. Wear that muzzle like a good chap and stay off my back till the next. Au Revoir!

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Trekking in Kothagiri

So, okay, I kept calling myself a trekker and the only evidence I have provided for my being a trekker is getting caught in the Uttaranchal disaster last year. When I cite a foot injury or a broken hand as reasons for my not trekking recently, a lot of you said,"So, next time, will it be the death of a great grandmother?" I needed to grin (NO - it was NOT a grimace) and bear it, so far. Just so you guys know how wrong you were all along about me, I have just completed a two day trek in Kothagiri. So there!

And then there were those who thought I had no pics in my posts only because I knew not how to put them in. So, here is a pic - put that in your pipe and smoke it. If you had thought that I did not know how to TAKE pics you would have been right - this one was sent to me by a co-trekker, Ramesh, of whom you shall hear more later.


To be absolutely truthful, this trek, too, almost did not take place. The bus that Ramesh and I took to Coimbatore decided that it had worked enough for the day and stopped somewhere after Erode. It had taken due care to stop on the bye-pass road so that buses towards Coimbatore did not cross our path and allow us alternative transport. The only problem, though, was that there are always those maverick buses that take the untrodden trails and we managed to snag one, went to Avinashi and from there to Mettuplayam where our friend, Chandru, picked us up and took us onwards to his summer home at Kothagiri (near Ooty for those who know it not).

The next day, we were joined by Jayendra and Shrikant, as well as Riddhi and Pooja who had unexpectedly decided to join unknown strangers on the trek based on a mutual friend's say-so. The day's trek was to Rangaswami peak and, though there is a perfectly motorable road up to the steps that take us up to the temple, we trekked through the forest to reach there. (Trekkers ARE like that. We just do not like the easy way out).

The path, by trekking standards should count as relatively easy - or so Ramesh said. Maybe there was a time in life when I would have said so as well but THIS was not that time. But then, I was in no position to say anything considering that both nose and mouth were too busy dragging air in to satisfy lungs that kept screaming for more. The fact that it had rained all day before and that it was intermittently raining even as we trekked was no help either since it takes more effort to walk through wet ground and since I was notoriously capable of slipping even where the ground offered no excuse for doing so.

Up and up and up through all that lovely greenery and we came to a sharp right turn in a relatively open area when we spotted a herd of elephants on the terrace below us, grazing peacefully. Our guide was advising us about how to escape charging elephants - run uphill, apparently. Me, I had decided that the easiest way to escape an elephant was to yield to it. Once you are a smear on the landscape, you need have no fear of any elephants. (One look at the steps that had to climbed from there on and I was vexed that the elephants had not seen fit to charge. It would have put me out of my misery.)

Onwards we went and the most irritating part was the fact that Ramesh was always a couple of kilometers ahead of us. It is one thing to be made to feel like an escapee from the geriatric ward by youngsters but to be shown up as an arthritic zombie by a chap older than you was beyond bearing. As though that were not enough, Ramesh HAD to keep telling us about how it was not a picnic and how much faster we would need to walk. He compounded our misery by insisting on taking a further trek on the way back when there was a perfectly serviceable road that could take us back to our cars in no time at all.

As we were wheezing along in his wake, we solemnly promised ourselves that we would take him apart in the evening to see if he worked on muscle and bone like the rest of us ordinary mortals or on gears and lube oil. The only fly in the ointment was the fact that, by day's end, there was only one person who had the energy to do anything at all - Ramesh! I could not have lifted a finger to save my life.

Later that evening, at Shrikant's place in Coonoor, I did find that I could not only lift a finger but could hoist a glass with my hands. Single Malt has that effect on me - though, of course, since modern medicine does not consider whisky as a life-saver, I can still claim that I could not lift a finger to save my life.

The next day, we trekked to Tipu's fort (the view in the pic is from there), a walk in the park according to Chandru. About the trek itself, all I can say is that people do have different ideas about what constitutes a walk and what constitutes a park.

Why do I trek then? Not because I like to keep my muscles screaming for surcease. The entire experience - the views, the birdsong, the unexpected sighting of wildlife in its natural habitat, the changing sensual experiences depending on weather - is a pleasure that can be enjoyed best only when you do it. Even the physical exertion is a weird form of pleasure - water tastes like ambrosia when you drink it when you are thirsty; taking the weight off your legs for a few minutes is heavenly and, of course, splashing in a stream or bathing in a waterfall (did not happen this trek, though) when you are hot and sweaty is a sensual experience that no Jacuzzi can match.

At the end of it all, my enforced absence from trekking did not seem to have marred my endurance very significantly. So, Mustang trek in Nepal - here I come!

Monday, August 25, 2014

I, the orator

I was, probably, born as good an Orator as Cicero but for one small failing. I had a starting problem, like I invariably do with most things in life. Where, for most things, I would probably have succeeded but for the fact that I never started on them, in the case of oratory my failing lay in the beginning of the speech.

"L.l.ladies and G.g.gentlemen..uh..sorry...I suppose I should start with Respected Chairman, Ladies....oh...just noticed, there is only one lady...so..uh..lady and gentle...I am wrong again..nobody who boos is a gentleman..."

After that fantastic start, I found myself booming out the rest of my speech into an empty auditorium. Stymied by the start.

Then, of course, I got a lot of unsolicited advice. All well-meant, of course. One of those grand ideas is to start the speech by telling a joke. The idea, I suppose, is that the audience would be so breathless with laughter that they would be unable to walk away.

"Let me tell you a joke about Pat and...that name is on the tip of my tongue..one sec...starts with 'M'...ah, yes, Mike. They were walking down a street in...what was the name of the place...somewhere in Ireland I think...hmm...well...D..Du..DUBLIN! Yes, Pat and Mike were...hey why are you laughing...I have not even told the joke...stop...oh well...you may as well laugh..you have made me forget the joke"

THAT for the idea of joking an audience into staying around! The audience did stay around, doubled up with laughter. It was the speaker who made a hasty exit this time.

Then there was this suggestion from someone who said that I should forget that there was an audience and focus on one person and talk as though I was talking to him. Seemed like a fair idea...after all, when I had pigeon-holed someone, the difficulty for me was not in talking but in stopping.

The next time, I started off making eye-contact. The first person I focused my eyes on looked at me with such a grimace of pain, as though he had swallowed a porcupine whole and was dealing with the after-effects, that he put me off my stride. I switched my eyes around to a lovely lady and thought my task was done - till she glared at me and made an unmistakable gesture at her foot-wear. High-heeled slippers in the face is not quite an inducement for great oratory, so I switched again hurriedly to meet a couple of eyes like the guns of a firing squad and a granite face that dared me to speak any longer than the recipient could bear.

Wodehouse talks of an orator preparing for a speech by saying "Mi Mi Mi Mi" in front of a mirror in order to ensure that he was in good voice. Now you know why my career as an orator has not gone beyond screaming "Mi Mi Mi Mi" to the mirror.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Strange encounters of the pleasant kind

Just as you find a certain level of confidence about people, someone comes in and totally upsets all your convictions. I mean, here I was feeling quite wonderful about the fact that I was a good person after all, despite the fact that I hardly ever even thought of doing a thing for anyone else, since everyone in the world was quite like me and, then, these people pop into my life and mess up all my confidence.

You hardly expect to find goodness shoved into your face on a train journey and that too from among a bunch of youngsters full of sound and laughter. Yet, there was this pesky girl who pushed my face into the idea that there was more to goodness than I thought of as existing in the world. So what if there was an old woman in the compartment, with a daughter-in-law traveling in another? What if the morning came and the lady was squirming with no-one to help take her to the bathroom. Did this girl HAVE to notice it, ask the old woman if she needed help, insist on overriding her feeble demurrer about waiting for her daughter-in-law and help her? Did she have to so diligently check up on the old lady and help her in all things all through the 42 hours of the journey, while still engaged in repartee with her friends and newly-wed husband? I mean, I enter the train feeling confident that, if you extended help ONLY to people close to you and ONLY when requested, you were good enough to be going on with, and this girl comes around and messes it all up. (Thank God for the daughter-in-law who redeemed all my expectations. She made one appearance and learnt that the girl was being helpful. THAT was the last we saw of her till the journey ended.)

There was the day when I was in a train on a RAC ticket, morosely brooding over the fact that someone had nicked all my currency from my wallet at the hotel and thanking my lucky stars that I had had some money left in my pocket (in the days before ATMs. Yes! There were such days). The other person sharing my berth asked me if we could pool together and manage another berth by 'managing the TTE'. I, perforce, had to admit that any managing had to be done by him, all by himself, since all I could do was just about manage to scrape enough to travel home by bus from Old Delhi Railway Station. He must have, since I ended up having the berth all to myself. Imagine how taken aback I was when, while disembarking on the next day, this kid accosts me, checks out whether I could manage to get back home and insists on dropping me home by his auto before going onward to his home. Huh! I am still not sure that the help he extended to me was worth the blow he dealt to my own idea of my goodness.

One would have thought oneself safe in foreign environments and, more particularly, in the West. It was all the more easy to feel that way after a fortnight in Manhattan where, if you accosted a person for directions, you would get that how-dare-you-disturb-me-when-I-am-rushing-to-save-the-world glare. And then you land in Paris and, while trying in vain to communicate your need for a day pass on the metro - using loud English, Punjabi, Bengali, Hindi and semaphoring - you find the next man in the queue taking it on himself and even arguing with the counter-clerk to get you the cheaper option. You reach the station with the vague idea that you need to board a train headed for 'Nation' and, after a few tries, you find one man who understands that your 'Nation' is his 'Naashiaan' and takes you along all the way to the train and sees you safely aboard before going about his business. At that time, the plastic smile that had your cheeks aching, while he talked non-stop in totally incomprehensible (to you) French, seemed the least you could do for the warm friendliness. It was only later that resentment started burning in your veins - why should he have been so good and make you feel so small. It was not even like it was Japan where, apparently, people HAD to do such things to keep in with Society.

More recently, I was at the end of my walk and had my hands on my hips - my usual posture by around that time since my Tees get all sweaty by then and become too irritating under the arms, if I do not air them. I suppose I do look like I have a severe back-pain. So, this young chap stops his car by my side and asks me if I need help. All my thoughts about self-centered youngsters, who are too wrapped up in themselves to see other people as more than vague nuisances, shot to hell. Really, there must be a law against these guys. The way they trample over all cozy convictions is just not funny.

So, apparently, there is more goodness in the world than I thought existed. I just had to get it out of my system so that I could revert to harping on all the selfish and brutal acts in Society and feel safe in the assurance that I am good, after all.

P.S: Inspired by a post by Indu Chibber Datta about interactions with strangers.