Friendly gestures !

My friend came visiting yesterday. We were roomies for many years at college and afterward. He was notorious even those days for his cleanliness and discipline. He used to get up early morning on weekends, wash all his clothes, and hang them up neatly on the balcony for drying. The rest of us used to get up much later in the day to the sight of these clean white shirts dancing in the wind. Without doubt this used to be one of the most frustrating moments those days, the thought that you have to get up and go to 'Wash'ington on a beautiful Sunday morning wasn't very encouraging. He used to sit there in the balcony sipping tea, or reading the news paper, with a smile on his face, as the rest of us dragged our holy asses in and out of the washroom.

He was on a day's visit to the city and decided to stay at my place. Considering the nature of the beast, I did spend a couple of hours the night before, burying the dead bodies, cleaning the floor and folding all decent looking clothes while dumping the visibly unpleasant ones into a small basket. I temporarily designated this basket as the 'keeper of dirty clothes', all of which are due for a trip to Washington the coming weekend. Though the real story would most likely be much
different, the arrangement looked credible for the time being. Like the magicians do, I even used 'distraction'- in the form of a large collage near this basket- to drag the eyeballs away from the basket. Then there was the ultimate deception tool - alcohol. Nothing works better than a bottle of wine in keeping your expectations and needs grounded. It did work well and we spent the night talking about good old days. He didn't even notice the cockroach that took a nibble from the peanut plate.

But it was a different story in the morning. The sunlight and coffee brought sense back to our heads and immediately he noticed that the kitchen is not well lit. I wanted to tell him that it was purposeful to avoid stray glances landing on the vegetable cuttings strewn on the floor. But before I could structure the sentence in some meaningful way, he yelled from the bathroom that there is only one tap there. I pretended to be deaf and concentrated on the coffee. It did help temporarily, but only till he discovered that I use the same sink in the kitchen to wash plates, brush and to shave. He also found that the mirror kept just above the sink is so awkwardly positioned that you have to stretch and flex your body like a ballet dancer to get a good look at your face.

I tried to change the subject and started talking about the chick at college whom both of us admired. As I told him the story of meeting her with her husband sometime back, I noticed the prolonged silence from his side. I thought for a moment that he got lost in memories, but realized that he was busy cleaning the mirror. I had never noticed white patches all over it, in fact they looked to give a matte finish to the images. I secretly wished he come visiting every couple of months. Once he finished the morning chores and took a bath, the comments suddenly stopped. He looked like a well fed kid who got nothing more to cry about, though he casually mentioned that he will come a day early next time to fix things in advance. what a nice gesture!

I think one of the side effects of marriage is this unrealistic and unnecessary set of expectations you seem to develop about life. As we were about to walk out of the house, he asked me whether I use deodorant roll-ons. Without waiting for my answer, he took out one from his bag and kept on the side shelf.

He had not even once mentioned the stink. Now, that is what I call friendship!

I see roaches.. dead roaches !

I grew an year older about two weeks back. It all happened overnight that I didn't even realize. It is a little unfair to wake up one morning and find yourself a tad older but no wiser. My friend called up at midnight to wish me, as if to remind me that she is the only one who remembers my birthday. To be frank, that was the only call I got that night. when I woke up in the morning everything looked the same. No star in the east, no magi with gifts, no welcome banners. Just the same shit, a different day! Don't know what the hell I was expecting anyway!

Thanks to Facebook and Orkut, there were a few more folks who were aware of the tragedy. Some chose to express their delight or disappointment with scraps like "Happy Birthday, how many more before you get married".A few others chose to use the phone, but the same sentiments essentially. It was a little awkward getting so much attention all on a sudden. I felt like Quasimodo who was made the 'pope of fools' and paraded across the streets of Notradame by the Truands. Some of the relatives were super-sensitive in wishing me, always appending the marriage question at the end. I don't know how birthday is related to marriage, but every one of them were adamant on educating me on the importance of the topic this very day.

For the first time I felt like I am doing a crime by staying bachelor on the wrong side of thirty. I am not sure whether people were simply jealous at my freedom or it was the genuine curiosity to see whether my kids look like monkeys once I procreate. Either way, I realized that I am not the only one who is worried about my life and well being. The thought was uncomfortable in some strange way. Whenever someone lectures me on the evils of late marriage, I used to quote the example of my own parents, who had a late marriage but still managed to produce fine pieces like myself. But as we have differences off late on the usage of "fine" and me "in the same sentence, I refrain from quoting that excuse anymore.

But, jokes apart, I have started noticing some changes in life after this birthday. I now see roaches... dead roaches! Few days back when I woke up, I noticed a dead cockroach near my bed. As I walked to the hallway I found two more. There were three more in the kitchen. All of them were dead and strangely were lying on their back. Though I am not an expert on the dying rituals of cockroaches, I think it is reasonable to assume that all of them won't suddenly jump on their back and die. I hadn't used any bug killers and if they could survive on the food I prepare this long, I don't see a reason why they suddenly fall sick and die. I don't think roaches are stupid like us to commit suicide either.

Though I could attribute global warning and economy crisis as two possible causes, (pretty much applicable to anything these days, from earth quakes to ear infections) I see this rather as a sign from the heavens. It definitely has to be a reminder from the powers above (or below.. suit yourself) that I cannot take care of my kingdom and people all alone. I cannot even save poor roaches from dying. What better sign than dead roaches! And this happened once again yesterday which made my rational mind conclude that this is no foolish, random event.

I have a feeling that the rapture is near, or HE wants me married. Either way I am screwed!

Balapalli Trek

There are bad times in life, but then there are really bad times as well. Members of our regular trekking group were getting rusted and round, after some unfortunate events in life rendered few of them immobile (read marriage & associated conundrums). We have been planning for some adventure for a while now, but 'every body continued their state of rest as there was no scope for external forces to act upon them, owing to immense gravitational pull towards the center of their new found universes'. Finally we somehow reached an agreement on a 'trip' to Badami & Aihole, an adventure fit for primary school students at the best. But as the story goes, 'unforeseen' and 'unavoidable' circumstances made all of them pull out at the last minute and I found myself staring foolishly at another boring weekend. It took a while for my clay filled cranium to accept once again, how futile it is to fight the natural life forces. But then causation is the essence of life, everything happens for a reason, and I decided to go with this group from Chennai, who were on a trek to Balapalli in the Venkateswara range, near Tirupathi.

Few people from our upcoming Himalayan trek were part of this group and that was another incentive to tag along. There was no one else from Bangalore and I agreed to join the team at Renigunta. I had not booked any tickets but managed to get on the 10 o' clock bus to Tirupathi from Majestic bus station. The 6 hours journey was horrible, as the back-seat-effect in association with excellent roads denied me any sleep all night. I reached Tirupathi by 4 in the morning and the small town was already crowded with pilgrims who were on their way to the Venkateswara temple. Renigunta is about 10kms from Tirupathi, and as I was supposed to meet the gang only at 7:30, I checked into a motel, had a shower, and tried to sleep for a while. It was too hot even at that time in the morning, and I started sweating the moment I stepped out of the shower. After an unsuccessful attempt at sleep, I finally checked out by 6:30 and took a bus to Renigunta. I called up the Chennai gang who were delayed by an hour and they asked if I could travel a little further and meet them at a nearby cafe, to avoid a detour to pick me up. With no other option to kill time, I decided to walk up to this place from Renigunta instead of taking a rickshaw. The two kilometers walk was a good warm up for the long trek ahead.

I think the fun of life is in meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. The people I spent the next two days with, were nothing short of 'awesome' - Tamal, Nagi, Nitheen, Khadir, Nannan, Nivedita, Thiru, Chandu, Deepak, Madhu, Abhishek, Vinodha, Pavan, Murali and Akshay were all exceptional in their own ways. More on the people as we unfold the story. After a quick breakfast, we traveled to Balapalli check post where we had to take necessary permissions to venture inside the forest range with our guide Mani. We all picked up our respective food packets and started the trek by 9:30. The sun was already out, mercilessly showing off his might and we had no tree cover but the caps on our heads, to shield us for the first few hours. By lunch time we reached our first water source - a few pools of stagnant water, which is actually part of a stream. We opened up the food packets, ate some "coconut polis", apples and pears. The water bottles were all empty by then and we refilled all of them with the sweet water from the stream.

After an early lunch, our next destination was the watch tower, with a few more pools next to it. The thought of the water-pools were the best possible motivation for all of us. It almost became a ritual for everyone to jump into them as soon as we reach one, at times with the shoes and bags still on. The heat and steep climbs had taken its toll by then and few of us were down with multiple cramps. Nivedita's alternative medicine therapy and Tang worked on most of them, but one or two really struggled to reach the watch tower. We had already lost some time owing to the frequent stops and were worried that we might be forced to camp at some place before the intended camping spot. The trail after the watch tower is more or less through flat terrain, and we managed to make up the lost time. So by 6:30 in the evening, after some 7 hours of walk, we climbed down to this gorgeous river bed. It was a full moon night and the granite rocks on either sides of the river were reflecting the moonlight, giving a surreal aura to the whole place. The river looked like a string of pearls with numerous water-pools connected by narrow streams of flowing water! The river bank was the perfect camping spot - spacious, clean and open with stone walls on either side like an old castle.

The whole place was safe too, till someone mentioned elephants and elephant dung. It was while searching for firewood that we came across relatively fresh dung. Our guide Mani had earlier warned us that elephants frequent this area as the water sources inside the forest have all dried up in the summer. Elephants or no elephants, none of us were in the mood to flee this beautiful piece of land we conquered, we intended to keep it at least for the night. Frankly, most of us were in no position to walk another inch, and the rhythmic snoring from a few 'dead' bodies confirmed this. Soon we got a fire running by the river side. A few of us huddled around it and started preparing dinner, over an animated discussion on Carnatic music and Indian Cinema. Deepak and Nivedita were trained classical flautists and Nitheen & Nannan enlightened us with their hilarious dissection of Indian movies. Nannan had already shared with me few of the Tamil movie stories as we were climbing up the steeps.. that was his way of forgetting how far ahead the next pool is. Soon under the supervision of head chef Tamal, the soup, rice, chicken & Soybeans were all ready.

If you ever want to eat really tasty food and enjoy the experience, don't bother looking for those swanky restaurants in the city. All you need to do is walk till your legs and body aches, then wait and watch as the food gets cooked, and finally have it like an asteroid is going to annihilate our planet in the next 30 minutes! Dinner time was the most peaceful 20 minutes of the entire trek, nobody uttered a word. The sleeping bags and mats were out in no time, and all I remember doing after dinner is staring at the full moon and pulling down the skull cap over my eyes. Everyone woke up pretty early the next morning. The pools were looking so inviting and our plan was to spend a few hours in the water before starting back. Most of us could not wait till the breakfast is ready, and we were in the water as early as 6:30 in the morning. The sleeping mats were rolled and tied together as floaters for the non swimmers. One of the pool was deep enough for people to dive from the rocks, while there were two other pools with shallow waters. We took turns at diving, trying out various flips and styles. Akshay and myself tried catching some fish for lunch but ended with just 5 of them; which we released back into the water.

After a breakfast of pongal and more coconut polis, by 11 o' clock we started our return journey. This time Tamal, Khadir, Nivedita, Akshay, Murali and myself decided to take a different route along the stream, while rest of the group decided to retrace the path we came up. There were numerous pools on the way for us to cool off and that was a great advantage of the path we took. All of us fell down a couple of times stepping on the slippery rocks, but it was all part of the fun! Soon we joined the main group near the watch tower and had our lunch. More apples, pears, polis and chocolates were shared and washed down with generous quantities of Tang and Glucose water. This time Mani took us through a different route and by 7 in the evening we were back at the check-post. I said goodbye to the group and reached Tirupathi by 8:30, got a ticket in the 9:30 bus and reached Bangalore by early morning Monday.

At times it is good to steal a few moments from life and run away with them... away where 'nothing is real and nothing to get hung about'.

In spite of all this...

I am enjoying my extended Easter holidays at home, back in Kerala. I am also working from home, so to speak. Today when I told a friend about this, she asked me why am I based out of Bangalore when my job allows me to work from any place, as long as I am connected to the web. She said she would have packed her bags in no time if she had a job offer like this, to settle down in her village in Punjab. I told her the reason is the lure of leading an irresponsible, reckless and carefree life, away from the watchful eyes of the people who recognize and cares for you. She laughed at the remark and decided not to argue on the point or lack of it.

Later in the evening as I thought more about her question, I realized that it IS probably the only real reason for leaving such a serene, peaceful and beautiful place like my native, for a chaotic and pretentious city like Bangalore. I just walked inside the house, after an hour of fooling around with the dog in the rain. Walking in the rain is quite an impossible task in Bangalore, without a few raised eyebrows or even 911 calls. I have been in trouble in the past, for walking in the rain, in the city. I sat there in the front porch watching the rain and listening to the backup orchestra. The water hen family which lives by the stream started the chorus and the frogs soon joined in. The chimes on the willow tree did play a tune or two while the rain drops handled the percussion with the thunder. Imagine having a cup of black coffee in one hand, some hot snacks in the other, and watch the rain falling down. Throw in a little Sephardic music (Yasmin Levy, I say) if you may, and you can't be very far from Niravana!

For the past few days I always woke up to the local birds symphony. Trust me when I say this, it is quite a divine experience waking up to these shrill voices. I could identify at least half a dozen birds from their calls, right from the comfort of my bed, something I was quite surprised and happy about. There were Cuckoos, Coucals, Treepies, Drongos, Barbets, Water hens and Mynahs, all contributing a line or two for their version of 'We are the world'. The crows were always around and the Babblers come visiting a little later in the morning, like a restless gang of bikers. I have always seen them in groups of ten or fifteen, living up to their name and busy flying from one tree to the next. With the sun comes the Green Bee-eaters, Wagtails, Bulbuls, Sun birds, Weavers, Oriental Magpies and an occasional Minivet or Oriole. Owls, Red woodpeckers, Kingfishers, Barn Doves and Blue-ringed Parakeets also come visiting quite often. Once a while we get to see Hares, Mongooses and Monitor lizards here, in addition to the omnipresent squirrels.

We have two tenants living in our house. They neither asked for permission to stay nor are they paying any rent. On the roof of the first floor veranda stays a House Martin family. Their beautiful, neat and sturdy mud bungalow has been there for the last few years. This is more like a Winter residence for them; they come every year for a few months, repair the house, lay eggs, raise the young ones and the whole family flies away one fine morning. The Jasmine creeper next to the ground floor porch is the preferred spot for the Javan Muniyas to make their nest. Even they are not permanent residents. They make tidy and intricate houses with dried leaves and grass; just sturdy enough for one season. They are one big joint family with five to six members working on the house or caring for the young ones at any time. Though a few inches in size, the muniyas always make their presence felt with the continuous chirping.

There are always some fruit or other available, which is one of the reasons why more than 20 different types of birds are seen around all the time. Even after feeding all the Treepies, bulbuls, crows and squirrels, there are papayas available all the time. The Barbets and bats seem to be having enough and more to eat that the guavas are all left alone. Bananas and pineapple are available in plenty and so are the 'Bell Apples'. Now is also the season for tasty jack fruits. In short, there is enough for somebody to go on an exclusive fruit diet for a month and still gain weight! Climbing a guava tree, finding a comfortable branch to sit, plucking the guavas and eating them then and there - it is far more fun than what it sounds. None of the kids or parents worry that the unwashed guavas, with all the bird poop and dust on it, might cause allergies or stomach ulcers.

In spite of all these I prefer breathing the smoke-infested city air, enjoy being herded into shopping malls on the weekends like cattle, and writing useless blogs complaining about the things I am missing. Charles Kingsley knew this already when he said "We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about."

Sometimes things that seem small and mortal are in reality immense and divine, but can only be experienced in small and mortal increments !

Blessing in disguise..

I never had qualms in accepting that everything happens for somebody's good; just that I was not this 'somebody'. I always used to be one of the 'other bodies' who would be rubbed on the wrong side to benefit this 'somebody'. But the other day, as Jupiter aligned itself firmly between Saturn and Mars, the 'other-body' and 'somebody' became one; that's me.

I found myself sitting beside this twenty-something cute girl in the bus, on my way home. She had an air of nervousness around her and she was clutching a handbag so tightly as if she is carrying state secrets inside it. Apart from the moisturizer, sun screen, lipsticks, foundation cream, mascara, lip-glow, eye liner, tissues, nail polish, deodorant, perfume, combs, hair bands, mirror and a family photo of Jesus or Krishna, I couldn't think of anything valuable inside a lady's hand bag. I tried talking to her but hearing her monosyllabic answers, turned the other way and put the earplugs firmly into my ears. Frank Loyd and Idris Muhammad were playing 'The House of the rising sun", and I prefer it any day to an indifferent female.

A few hours went past without anything happening inside the bus, except for an occasional coughing or sneezing. Then my friend called to talk about the awesome organic farm he visited during the day. As we were talking, I noticed the young lady getting up and talking to someone in the upper berth. The bus had semi-sleeper seats on the lower berth and sleeper seats on the upper berth. By the time I was done with the call, she left the seat beside me and climbed on to the upper berth. She never came back. I am not sure whether my discussion on composting and bio-gas had actually irritated her. But my fellow passengers had already reached their own conclusions and started staring at me like I have done something terrible. Can't probably blame them either.. why should a girl suddenly get up from her seat and move to another, if not for some improper behavior from my side.. right?

For the first few minutes I enjoyed the attention, as people from all the seats around started noticing me.. with that "I know what happened" look in their eyes. There was a mom-daughter duo seated right in front of me and I saw the mother asking her kid to straighten the seat, lest she might fall on my lap by accident! She then turned around and looked at me with suspicion written all over her face. At first I ignored her, but when she turned around for the seventeenth time in two minutes, I squeezed a smile on to my face and waved at her. I was ready to wink at her in case she turns back again; but she had made up her mind by then that I am indeed dangerous. The stares stopped gradually as I generously offered smiles in return.

I had the entire two seats for the night. Also some extra space in the front as the mom-daughter duo decided to sit straight and sleep through the night. I raised my legs up on to one seat, stretched my body fully, and had the sleep of my life, while my co-passengers twisted and turned to get into the comfort zone. The girl had also left half a bottle of orange juice on her seat.. and it was a really hot night!

Fending off the sarcastic stares from your co-passengers - Hard. Waving and smiling at the aunty who stares at you - Dangerous. Getting an empty seat and extra leg room in the bus, without paying or fighting for it - Priceless!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...