Freewheeling post

Last weekend

1. Show I watched on TV

Anchor gushing over Kareena Kapoor ‘If rumours are to be believed she is being paid 6 crores for the movie. That makes her the highest paid actor in the industry ..er…atleast in the female genre’

Genre? Really?

2. Harry potter and the deathly hallows

Earned eternal wrath of grandma since I was buried in the book throughout the family gathering at uncle’s place on Saturday. But at 2 in the night, I put the book down triumphantly and hugged myself for having seen potter mania live.

Of course at the end of it all, only Bollywood can be used to sum up the hero’s immortality - ‘Mere paas ma hai’

3. Die Hard 4.0

John McClane is your average Joe doing his job. Only he jumps down fire escapes with just a small scratch, jumps off burning buildings with just a small scratch and even jumps off an unmanned, burning fighter jet with just a small scratch.

Isn’t it weird that our superheroes like Spiderman spend all their time brooding over girlfriend and best friend problems and puff and pant to stop the merest train from falling off a broken bridge but our everyday heroes seem not to blink an eye while saving the world a.k.a U.S. Why have movies changed so much since I was a kid?

I love Bruce Willis though.

4. Traffic signals

Ever since I read Rohinton Mistry’s Such a fine balance I shudder to see maimed beggars at traffic jams since I am always wondering if their limbs have been deliberately tampered with. I don’t want to give alms and encourage the begging syndicate to enroll more people into their ranks. But I wonder if I should just give the alms so the beggar on the street continues to be fed by his syndicate. I have no answer to this one.

5. Shopping

By what can be deemed only as an Act of God, I managed to visit 4 sales and not buy anything.

6. Barista

Grump grump. Why is their tiny café always crowded with teenagers who order one smoothie between the lot of them and sit around hugging a table permanently like they are preventing it from being cut down? And why does the Raspberry iced tea taste and look like pot pourri floating around in diluted Rooh Afza?

Sigh. Sunday night.


Being an old maid

Women across the world go through a phase (usually in their teens) when Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is their all time favourite book. They can practically see their mirror image in the plain, middle-class and intelligent Elizabeth Bennet and have no doubts about a handsome, rich and brooding Mr Darcy coming into their lives. This is probably why most of them are very clueless when they end up like Charlotte Lucas. What do you do if are also plain, middle-class and intelligent like Elizabeth but sadly have reached the unmarriageable age of 27 without Darcy having ever stepped into your life? You take a deep breath, hitch yourself to a dolt like Mr Collins and spend the rest of your life avoiding him inspite of living under the same roof.

Little girls around the world in my generation knew there were only two options in the world – get married or become a hostel warden.

Or so it seemed when I landed up at my all-girls high school hostel. The wardens were psychotic witches who clearly took great pleasure in tormenting young kids. They were indifferent to the dirty state of the toilets, rapped your knuckles if you whispered in the study and were constantly telling the younger ones that they must be really unloved if their parents left them in a hostel. The older inmates wisely informed me that this worrisome behaviour was a result of being ‘frustrated’ on account of being unmarried.

Unmarried. You either existed as a married person or in its negative state. Conversations your parents could encounter centred around the progeny’s impending nuptials, even if a groom was yet to be identified. Sometimes, there was never a groom and all conversations with the parents died and new ones opened up around them. As in the case of my aunt’s blighted 40-year-old unmarried friend. My aunt spent hours lamenting her friend’s fate till my uncle got fed up and suggested maybe he should offer her succor. This shut her up.

When I reached college, I finally came across a normal single woman. My professor was not of a particularly friendly disposition. But she was certainly far from the sociopath lot who roamed the hostel corridors. And I had no clue what she did in her personal life. Which is probably why, finding myself single at 27, I had no clue either what I was supposed to do with mine. After all, my peers cum role models were all people who got an education, got a job, hung out with friends for a couple of years, dated for a year and got married at 25. So at 27, they all seemed to be busy tending households and trying to have babies. It seemed obvious that I should spend my time quickly getting back on the normal road to eternal bliss by meeting every random guy proffered as a groom.

Boy, was it a miserable existence. Not only did most of them remind me entirely of Mr Collins, but also the sense of eventually ending up as a hostel warden was growing stronger with every passing day. I even wondered if I should be chewing glass bottles to really slip into the act. This went on for a while till I finally found out that I had more fun in my aerobics class than scouring internet dating sites in search of Mr Darcys. I also seemed to have more fun in travel. I had fun going for Salsa classes. I had fun writing stuff. In short, realization dawned that life beyond 27 did not have to revolve around an eternal wait for a perfect guy. The power of being single meant I had the time to do just about anything I wanted to try my hand at.

Whew. Movies, books, aunts, uncles, parents (thankfully not in my case), neighbours everyone had conspired to make you think that you can only be unmarried, not single and hence your entire life must center around rectifying that defect. Every single action has to be about finally entering that joyous moment when your spouse in a crumpled pair of pajamas and manly stubble brings you your morning cuppa. Suddenly I discovered that there was also much joy in waking up to a cup of coffee made by the porter on my Himalayan trek and served outside my tent perched on the confluence of two rivers. Face it, how many women manage to marry men who like going on treks, or who let them carry on anyway without giving them a guilt complex about spending sparse vacation time and good money on personal gratification.

This is not to say I have renounced the path of holy matrimony and all happiness that can come with it (Don’t worry, Mum). It is just my life has become simpler ever since I discovered what I had than listen to the world about how unhappy I should be with what I did not have.


HKD 6 - Delhi

Finally. I was there and there was no turning back. One sure reason was that Indian Airlines might not have been too pleased with its passengers stepping back into the plane.

Delhi was HOT. As I stepped onto the tarmac the loo wind physically pushed me back. The pilot had kindly informed us earlier on that it was 46 degrees outside. This should have immediately caused a change of plans in my local transportation. However, my friend had stated in no uncertain terms that unless I followed her instructions there was a huge likelihood of me being mugged, molested or killed. Hence, meekly I got into a non air-conditioned prepaid taxi and made my way to Gurgaon.

A Maruti 800 is a very tiny vehicle. Especially if you are trying to stay away from the windows to avoid sunburns. In the event, I somehow folded into myself and looked dazed at the car ahead that proclaimed in big bold letters ‘JAT BOY’.

When I finally reached the journey’s end, I got into air conditioning and then refused to get out till it was actually time go leave.

PB was waiting for me at the food court in Nizammudin station, trying to look observed in her book. Apparently that was the only way to discourage the ogling male folks around. Her backpack was bulging and propped against a pillar. Mine was added to the collection and we chatted for a while before mustering the energy to lug our stuff to the platform. This being Delhi, the curious actually did not just contend themselves with impolite stares. A mother-daughter combo sat at our table and then asked if we were going on a trek. Satisfied that their guess was right, they went back to pretending that they were invisible to us.

I had to walk leaning forward slightly so that my centre of gravity was stable. If I leant back a bit, there was a very good chance that the weight of my backpack would pull me down and I would look like an insect with its feet sticking in the air.

The train to Dehradun arrived in the station. We got in; found places for our huge lumbering backs, showed our tickets to the TT and slept.

HKD 5 - Uttarkhand

Uttarakhand is one of India ’s newly minted states, carved out of Uttar Pradesh. The region had been agitating for a separate existence and identity as early as 1930. Finally in 2000, they got their wish and Uttaranchal was born. For 3 years or so, the people of the state lived in peace and harmony, largely occupied in the business of painting fresh signboards that said ‘Uttaranchal’ instead of ‘Uttar Pradesh’. When the paint on the last signboard had dried people realized that they did not like the new name after all. So began another agitation to change the name to Uttarakhand. This was successfully completed in 2006 and all evidence points to the fact that people have decided to expend their energy in other productive causes.

For all its shiny newness though, the area was pretty significant in ancient myths. The Pandavas decided to end their mortal existence and ascend to heaven via the region’s Swargharohini peak (a stunningly beautiful snow clad peak and with a sharp ascent that would explain why it would have been easy to lose mortality there). The place is also riddled with the sources and confluences of several holy and important Indian rivers. Both the Yamunotri and Gangotri glaciers are located here. Haridwar, the place where the Ganges River emerges from the mountains onto the plains is located here. Rudraprayag where the Bhagirathi River meets the Alaknanda River is right here. Infact, trekking in this region was and still is rampant under the guise of pilgrimages. The Char Dham route of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath is as strenuous as it is holy. With every little effort, the faithful can get the eternal salvation they seek.

Our trekking destination was less holy and more modest. We were headed to Har Ki Dun (HKD) and Ruinsara Tal. Both are located in one of Uttarkhand’s main regions Garhwal (the other being Kumaon), about 7 hours from the state capital of Dehradun. HKD is a fairly popular route as testified by the number of tourists we met. The route was very well defined, if a little tiring. Ruinsara Tal, on the other hand was off the beaten path and a little scary. Throw in a couple of long landslides, and it becomes an area accessible only to the more enthusiastic beginners. Together, they notched up a ‘moderate’ in the trekking scale of difficulty. By themselves, both should have been easily doable by the moderately fit without much prior preparation.


Singing praises

Singing is not my forte. Ask anyone who has heard me sing in Antakshari games and you will get an unbiased opinion on my pitch being the exact one that will strike a chord with the canine segment. Sadly, with the blind spot that afflicts most parents, there was a time in the past when I was enrolled in singing classes.

I was about ten and living in Calcutta. Living a few streets away was Ambi Saar who taught Carnatic music. His genius lay not in imparting a solid music education to keen young minds. He recognized the price that nostalgic non-resident Tams would pay to expose their offsprings to Tamil culture. Consequently his classes were full and attracted more than their fair share of singularly untalented kids. My sister and I sat in the 6th row of class and added our voices to the cacophony. On day one, we were taught the warm up chords ‘Sa Pa Sa Pa Sa’. On day 30, we were still singing ‘Sa Pa Sa Pa Sa’ like a couple of birds, albeit clockwork. On day 31, we were off on our month long annual vacation. When we returned, Ambi Saar was off on his. Three months later my parents took stock and realized the following

1. Two daughters – can sing Sa Pa Sa Pa Sa (which is beginning to get on everyone’s nerves)
2. One music master who has been charging fees whether classes are held or not
3. 600 rupees spent as fees
4. One book full of music notations which neither daughter can read well since it is in Tamil

Our music lessons ended.

It was with some surprise that I found out recently that a cousin of mine had taken to singing like a nightingale. She was apparently cooing at all competitions in college and had appeared on Regional TV no less. I was quite proud. So when she was called to sing at another cousin’s wedding, I waited to hear her in eager anticipation. Surrounding us was a sea of relatives-to-be-by-marriage all of whom seemed to have spent their childhoods running from the art class to the music class to the dance class. My own family assiduously avoids public singing and the whole experience was new to all of us. My cousin took centre stage in her silk saree, gold jewellery and jasmine flowers. And promptly burst into Cranberries’s Zombie with a kind of fervour that only kids in college bands can muster. The richness of her rendition really came through in the ‘in your head’ bits that reverberated through the silent hall. After a pregnant pause, people clapped politely and sweetly refrained from remarking ‘we were expecting something more traditional’. My cousin admitted later on that perhaps her choice was slightly unconventional for an engagement but having practiced it non-stop for her college cultural event this was the only song she could come up with at the spur of a moment.

All the same, singing genes do exist in our family and clearly the next generation will also be put through 3 months of Ambi Saar’s classes before reality shows the way.
P.S. This is my 100th post. i.e. if you don't count the first 2 which were removed at some point or the ones that have been abandoned in my C: When I last checked, no public ceremonies have been organised to mark the occasion but I must admit am pretty proud. Pat on the back


HKD 4 - Pre trip jitters

Things that can go wrong before a trip

1. Knees go kaput. After enduring 2 – 3 days of pain, I mustered the courage to go to the doc. He ordered X-Rays and blood tests and with a pessimism completely unbecoming, suggested that I spend the rest of my life avoiding treks, stairs, heavy weights, running, aerobics and if possible, walking. I was stunned. Instead of the past flashing before my eyes, my future flashed by instead. I would be this fat and overworked mother huffing behind a pair of brats with snotty noses. However before I could wallow in unnecessarily dramatic self-pity (if you don’t count the numerous calls to friends and irrational fantasizing), the test results came back. Nothing serious and knees were pronounced fit and healthy.

2. Catch a cold, and then feel dizzy because of the sun. All this leading to a complete break in fitness programmes. At this point, I decided to take AW’s advice on feeling fit, not being fit.

3. Be hounded by well wishing but ignorant friends and acquaintances who are convinced that I would fall down the mountainside in a Hollywood ‘Cliffhanger’ style. At the end of it, I was also worried. Then mom pointed out that I would be trekking and not mountaineering and would clearly not face situations of rappelling or rock climbing.

4. Discover only the two of you women will be alone in the wilderness with a bunch of North Indian male guides since no one else has signed up for the trek. We could not figure out whether going alone would mean being brave or foolhardy. Finally we figured out we knew enough about the trek organizers to take a chance. Worst case, if things did not feel right in the first few days, we could march right back to civilization and call the whole thing off. As it turned out, Uttarkhand people were nice, polite and tuned into tourism hospitality. The guides themselves were locals and turned out to be quite conscientious and protective.

In the midst of standing under the shower with my rain jacket on to check if it worked, I decided that no trip can be free of stress points and the thing to do is to get going. Then I switched on the ac and wore my polyfill jacket to figure out if it held out in 10 degrees.

HKD 4 - Fitness

Doing a google to figure out recommended fitness programmes is quite pointless. It throws up numerous sites, all of which tell you that right from the time you took your first baby step, you should have leapt onto the treadmill and started preparing. I checked with Z who told me that she took long walks every day. It was too hot to do that in Chennai. SM told me he had started by quitting smoking. I think that is the only time in my life I regretted not being a smoker. It seemed so much simpler to quit smoking than to hit the gym. So I wrote to my fittest trekking friend, AW to get his opinion on it. He wrote back with a philosophical reply instead of the practical to-do list I was expecting. ‘You need to be fit’ he wrote ‘but more importantly you need to feel fit. It is all about your mental attitude’.

I persisted and wrote back pestering for more measurable goals. AW finally gave in and suggested I should target 5 kms a day with a two-day rest period. ‘This would be a piece of cake,’ I told myself.

The first day at the gym I walked 1.5 km, cycled 2 kms and did another 2 kms on EFX. With more than 5 kms done, I proceeded to the office smugly where I almost passed out when the exhaustion hit me. Luckily things improved with practice. Not to mention, I also signed up for swimming classes and given the thrashing about I was doing in the water; I was not at all unpleased. I may not have been learning swimming, but was clearly improving my stamina. In the end, 20 days before I set off, I could manage 15 minutes of cross-country walking on the treadmill, 15 minutes of hill cycling and 15 minutes of EFX.