Thursday, December 3, 2015

Flatmates trying hard to be in the 'wilderness'



The guy who talked the most is the one who had the most peanuts, points Peter.

​Last weekend trip to Corbett Tiger Reserve was significant, despite being, perhaps, the 20th in the last five years. Obviously, I can’t think of any other place to visit particularly with my flatmates.
Peter, my current flatmate, the 16th, has decided to do a trip-report, so I’ll dwell on the non- reportorial aspects of this trip and other such trips in the past. It is customary, almost, to travel to Corbett with my flatmates, former and present—the members of the C500 Club.
So, here I am, sitting in the balcony of my dear friend’s beautiful cottage in Bhimtaal, after a fairly disastrous trip to Corbett, boozing in the company of my two flatmates, Thomas, the 13th, and Peter, as sun descends behind the green mountains. The full-moon blooms, stars glitter in the clear sky, memory of the past fills the present. Conversations ensue. I was trying to be funny. That’s really funny. I was trying to be interesting. That can be distressing. Incoherent, I can get, sometimes slur, of course I’m under the influence, not of alcohol, but of nostalgia. 
There’s present, will be past soon. There’s past, will get distant. So much of time has passed between the two--the present and the past. Jan and Arthur were here twice with me, seems like it was just yesterday. Johannes, Baptiste, now Thomas and Peter. Paavo, Irene, Manuel, Tarun or Charlie undertook many admirable journeys in India, but not with me to Corbett.  
Last few years of my life are stored in my memory like blocks, in terms of who my flatmates were. When I had none, the intervening period, which is a block in itself, when I was looking for one, is like the dark ages of my recent history. 
It’s interesting, and much more, they, my flatmates, are perfect strangers when they arrive, we dwell together, get to know each other, invariably become best of friends, and when they leave, they leave a home in Delhi, my extended family is extended by one. Many have come back. Many want to come back. Many, hopefully, will come back. 
I see Thomas and Peter yawn, then force a smile. Despite, I continue the monologue, about the real and the occult—the distinction between the two blurred, I slurred, eyelids became heavy, slumberland beckoned. We slept really well, with our mouth open, though that didn’t prevent us, some of us, or all of us at some point in time, from snoring. I dreamt of a reunion party with my flatmates in Corbett. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Travelling!



There's still couple of days to go but I feel saturated. It isn't that I'm in a rush to get back or that I'm not open to new experiences. I just feel saturated.

Today morning I woke up after a good night's sleep, my mind is numb.

The sum total of all experiences, pleasant and intense, in company of loving people, people I love, kind people, is this numbness.

But I'm active.

I'm happy to confirm that all is well. The family and friends are doing what they are supposed to do at this hour.  Some seem to have woken up early, some are up late in the night, they're experiencing something that's not condusive to sleep.

I'm so rich (in experiences), lucky and blessed. But at this hour,  nothing seem to matter. I feel empty inside and outside world seems mundane. I'm breathing easy, my body is witness to and has supported all my adventures--carnal or spiritual. I have nothing to complain  is my complain.

Travelling sometimes takes you so far away from things fimiliar that you fail to recognise your own self. I'm lost in these various varying contexts.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Come to Light!!

I came to know an elderly gentleman who has done very well for himself in his earlier life. Now is passing through a transition. Transitions are usually a humbling experience. Many a times it shakes the edifice of past, things find reasons to go wrong, together or one by one in quick succession. One is forced to do certain unpleasant things. The past is not enough to find inspiration for the future. 

Changes, that were long due, happened but reluctantly. Life loses suppleness after accumulating years of existence. Such phases visit everyone at some point in time in their lives. Some emerge stronger, many other perish. Impermanence is the essence of life, we all know, but is difficult to negotiate. 

The change in his life was partial loss of vision, just enough to walk without support. Sharpness and vividness of vision is a thing of past, like his illustrious career. It's just a phase. Vision and success will come back in full glory, I am sure, but not in a hurry. 

We have had some wonderful conversations about nothing in particular, but his ideas are precise and pertinent. He's well read and synthesises his knowledge with his day to day experiences. 

Motivations for life are glorious myths, he asserts, myths are lifeline. I discussed my set of myths with him. 

I invited him home and presented him a copy of my book. This my way of saying I care. He gave it a cursory look pulling it close to his face. He promised to read it.

We have met many times, since. It's been a good journey. I bombard my restless on his reposeful intellect. We seem to do good to each other. I talk about about people who have shaped me, my motivations, frustrations and, of course, myths. And the need for a change without venturing out of the comfort zone. I know it doesn't work that way. 

He listens to me quietly sipping tea. I wonder if he's bored. So I ask: 'Are you bored?' I can't invent a polite conversation as my mind is occupied by issues that I can't ignore nor deal with. 

The other day we met at a coffee shop. In want of anything better to say, I asked him if he has read my book. 'I will,' he reaffirmed 'very soon.'

He was eagerly waiting for his teenager daughter's examination to get over. It did last week. He persuaded her to read an article for him. A long one published in the Harvard Business Review. It took her more than an hour. She loves reading cryptic texts to her father.

I narrated to him the story of a father's friend's father who died at the age of 90 plus. He was foretold that he will spend last few years of his life in seraphic blindness. He mugged up the works of his favourite Urdu and Persian poets. And when darkness descended in his life, it actually did, he stood in good stead.

The blurred vision has changed his life in unexpected ways, has sharpened other sensory perceptions--he hears better. He experiences subtleties that is often lost in the bright light of the day. He's learned some important lessons the hard way, never to take the body for granted.

I didn't realise for a long while, but it suddenly dawned on me. There's a significant reason why he hasn't t read my book apart for the usual--paucity of time and interest and better things to read. I was so embarrassed to have insisted on him to read my book, repeatedly. 

I promised to read my book to him , one chapter at a time, in our future meetings.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The day Arvind Kejriwal made me proud to be a Delhiite!

Delhi Chief Minister with his deputy at New Delhi Railway station. Photo:http://whatthafact.com/interesting-facts-about-arvind-kejriwal/


Delhi is happy. Last week was a happy week for Delhi. People were congratulating each other as if it was a Christmas Eve. Someone said, ‘well I didn’t know how sad I was for last few months, till this happened.’ She was referring to Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP winning 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi Assembly election—a dictatorial majority.
So much has already been written that there’s nothing much left to be said, just few sentences on how I spent the day Kejriwal became the undisputed leader of Delhi and harbinger of 'alternative politics' which has potential to change the way politics is practiced in this country.

I experienced an inherent joy. It’s not about a party, or an individual, or society at large, or for that matter polity or democracy. The joy was about triumph of determination, of human will against all odds, of perseverance. It was a situation where logic failed and faith prevailed. And I felt I have in me, all of us have, the potential to change the world, for better or worse, single-handedly.

My exercise regime that morning was freestyle dancing.

Later in the day, I went to office to declare: I am too happy to work. I roamed the city that mostly bore a deserted look. City, in general, seemed stunned. There were pockets, though, where celebrations ensued. Kejriwal implored his supporters to be humble in victory. He hugged his wife.

In the evening, I attended a party co-hosted by Mahesh Vee to celebrate AAP victory. KB Singh joined us. Kejriwal is the politician I trust, I told everyone I met, and there were many people to meet. I explained the reasons for my trust in him with the qualification that trusting people doesn’t come easy to me. The alcohol level in our blood soared like AAP's support in the city. Conversations were enjoying. Joy, and not happiness, was the overriding sentiment. I have issues with Delhi, population and pollution are part of the problem. But on that day, I loved Delhi, being a Delhiite. 

I was left alone on the street looking for an auto-rickshaw to drive me home.  Finally, I found one. I was asked to pay flat Rs 100. This was about 30 percent extra. ‘Kejriwal won, so yes’ I told Mukul—the auto-driver. In a rare show of empathy, he was visibly embarrassed. He shared his sentiments: joy unbound. Delhi voted for change, for poor, for hope, against corruption to mention a few.

He refused to be paid. ‘Kejriwal won, this ride is my gift to you,’ he said.  He was adamant. We both were rather militant that evening about being generous. ‘Okay, then let’s have tea,’ I offered. A compromise was reached, I was to pay  for tea. The tea stall was shut, it was well past the midnight. He knew a place where we could get tea. I was transported to Mool Chand Metro Station. We not only had tea but also egg paratha, one each. I paid for the late-night-meal and he dropped me home for free. We are friends now.

He vowed to charge by meter and not escalate the fare depending on gullibility of the passengers. 'abb to humari sarkar hai (now it's our government),' he grinned.

It took me a while to go to sleep. I was wondering what Kejriwal would be experiencing at this moment. I was convinced: exhaustion!   

Saturday, January 31, 2015

In the memory of Jens Hansen..

I wrote about my ten-day-road-trip across Europe in the summers of 2013 in a travelogue titled Two Men And a Car [http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/living/two-men-and-a-car]. Jan Peters was my travel mate. Apart from the thrill of being on the move, nomadic way of life, the travelogue documents the profound experience of walking on the ocean floor to reach the island of Langeness in the North Sea, just ten kilometres off the mainland in western Germany.   
The profound walk on the ocean floor



We walked barefoot on the seabed to reach Langeness, almost a 10-km walk. Twice a day, for about six hours, when the tide is low, the water drains out and you can walk from the mainland to the island……there was ankle-deep water with thousands of sticky, white, gelatinous, mushroom-like objects all over the seabed. I concluded they were jellyfish, waiting for the water to return. There was hardly any wind, the conditions were ideal for walking. I was told that I am damn lucky to get this weather. When we were halfway there, the mainland behind us was a bright line, bisecting land and sky. On the other side, the island was still hidden. The sun had set, the sky was deep blue, the water on the ocean floor reflected the sky. A deep blue infinity surrounded us. We stood in the middle of this emptiness like inconsequential dots.

We stayed in the island of Langeness for 36 hours. Jan worked here for a year as part of mandatory civil service, some ten years ago. 

The island is sparsely inhibited. Cattle and many kinds of birds migrate to the island in the summers, like tourists, and outnumber humans by many fold.
We roamed around, cycled, witnessed vastness of ocean unfold before us, sitting in the sun, by the lighthouse at the far end of the island. That day it was hot, no breeze. But sun means fun in Germany.  

Jens Hansen/1982/Photo:Rainer Schulz
This note is in the memory of Jens Hansen—the grand old man of Langeness—who spent his entire life on this island. Though, remained stay put here, a herdsman who lived close to the nature, away from the mainstream and the mainland, he had a profound world view.

Photo: Jan Peters
I have never met him nor will ever meet him--died few years before I came to this island. But, I seem to know him well.
Jan introduced me to him by revisiting his life and his personal space. We peeped into his locked apartment from the big, dusty glass windows. It’s very basic, simple, but affirms his values, approach to life. “Nothing is changed,” Jan said. Just some inactivity. His absence stays here. But this absence didn’t overwhelm his strong presence reflected by ever article of his personal use. He lived alone, never married, but was never alone. He had a big family, every inhabitant on the island, who lives or lived here, and came in touch with him, was part of his extended family. He is alive here in the lives of those who live or lived here. He has had a profound influence on many lives.
Like that of Jan. He treats him like a grandfather. The life on this island inspired Jan to become an ecologist, instead of a social scientist, Jens played some role in it, but 'minor' says Jan. 
Jan—the civil servant
Jan was initiated into birding here that is become his life-long passion. He travels all over the world with his binoculars that he purchased when he was here.He takes pride in the fact that it still looks fairly new. He existed barefoot for months together. Impressive!
photo: Jan Peters
Jens is buried next to a local chapel. His grave is between that of his younger brother who died sixty five years before him—a young German soldier killed in the last few days of the second World War—and that of his mother who lived the significant part of her life with him on this island.
There is a little museum here, images from his life and times is preserved in the Waddensea House on Peterswarf. It's build on a 'Warf' or an artificial hill, like other houses on the island, to protect against storm-induced-floods and corroding-rough-sea.  
Photo: Jan Peters
Jan narrated to me in great detail about Jens, that he was friendly, age was no bar. And that he misses him but is happy to be back here. He visits this island, often. I read homage paid to him in form of hundreds of letters sent by his extended family and friends from all over the world. They are all complied in a thick folder for everyone to see.

I decided to cook for those stationed there, a new batch had just arrived and the older batch was about to leave. I attempted biryani—meat and rice skilfully cooked together with Indian (used the German) spices. It took me hell lot of time, German chicken take longer to cook. I did manage to cook something that vaguely resembled biryani.

We all sat huddled around the round table, next to the open kitchen, to eat--where Jens would often join the folks for a drink or meal. This space acts as a community room where inhabitants of this house spent time together. We took a minute off to remember him.


This old young man, who is not alive yet present, lived a long and fulfilling life on this island, grew rich in wisdom by sharing it, and his simplicity was key to small pleasures of life. I dedicated this meal to Jens Hansen. And we invited him to join us in spirit.
The folks clapped, their eyes wet.
Recently, I came across a film on his life which I couldn’t follow much because German is Greek to me. But here’s the link: http://www.ndr.de/fernsehen/epg/import/Altwerden-auf-der-Hallig,sendung332776.html  
For someone like me, the visit to Langeness became a sort of pilgrimage.