Monday, June 15, 2015

Ladhak & Kashmir 2010 - Day 6 - Back to Leh

5th July 2010

We returned to Leh. Most sights were familiar, some were unfamiliar.
The thing that looks like a wooden palace is a hotel very close to where we were staying.
The Gompa on the hill top would have to be a destination for the next visit.

We had completed what was to the east of Leh. Tomorrow, we would head left. With our bags and all, towards our new head quarters, wherever that was to be.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Firm - John Grisham

Liked it. Liked it enough to want to read another John Grisham.
Unlike most of the literature in the genre of mystery or thriller that leaves me in the end feeling certain things were not explained, that some questions/riddles are not answered, that the novel was too fast paced or the plot too intricate to grasp, this one turned out to be consummate.

There aren’t too many characters – or I could say the central characters are a few and that helps. The protagonist is a brilliant fellow and it would require brilliance on the part an author to create such a character and a plot that serves as an instrument for bringing out a character’s brilliance.

Mitchelle McDeere, a lawyer from Harvard, gets recruited into a law firm in Memphis – Bendini, Lambert & Locke - that makes an incredibly lucrative offer – salary, bonus, car – BMW, house, perks, yearly vacation in the Grand Cayman (Carribean) and more.
He accepts the offer, moves to the city with his wife Abby and begins working for 18 hours a day. He is assigned to a senior partner who gives him clients and files to work on and has an efficient secretary Nina.

Very soon he is approached by an FBI agent Wayne Tarrance, who warns him about the dangerous situation in which the lawyer is, that his car is bugged, that his house is bugged, that his office is bugged, that two lawyers working in the firm who had reportedly died in a boat accident in the Carribean, had actually been eliminated, that he was being watched very closely by the firm and was to be careful.

Mitch unable to decide whom to trust – the firm or the FBI agent, relates the incident to the senior partners of the firm, keeping certain details to himself.
The firm which indeed is a dubious one, becomes alert at once and increases its vigilance of Mitch.

Mitch has an elder brother Ray, who is in prison. During one of their meetings, Ray mentions a co-prisoner and friend of his, Eddie Lomax, now free and working as a private detective in Memphis and tells Mitch to avail his help in need.

Mitch approaches Eddie with his doubts and fears and sets him on the job. Eddie finds out that the two lawyers who die, died very mysteriously and so did the other lawyers working in the firm in the past.
In a few days, Eddie is killed. His secretary Tammy, who is to be most useful to Mitch in days to come leaves the city for a while.

The firm becomes worried when one of their men following Mitch reports having seen him meeting Tarrance again.
DeVasher arranges for Mitch to be sent to the Grand Cayman with a senior partner Avery Tolleson, where he is solicited by prostitutes arranged by the firm. Mitch, a married man in love with Abby, tells one of them off.
But having consumed alcohol, he gets carried away by another woman to a secluded beach and after much resisting, gives into her coquettish charms. A photographer hidden behind a tree at a distance takes pictures.

Once back in Memphis, DeVasher meets with Mitch, shows him the pictures and threatens to post the pictures to Abby if he is ever seen having anything to do with the FBI.

What DeVasher does not know is that while in Grand Cayman, Mitch has met with Larry Abanks, the local who had rented his boat to the two lawyers who had been eliminated in a mysterious looking accident in the sea, in which Abanks’ son too had died. Mitch had spoken to Abanks in detail, let him know his suspicions that it wasn’t really an accident; this acquaintance was to be a great help to Mitch one day.

During Mitch’s training in Washington DC, the FBI arranges to discreetly take him to a secluded place where the FBI director himself, Denton Voyles meets Mitch and tells him the complete story. The law firm is actually owned by the Morolto family of Chicago, the underworld. The new recruits are given clean files and legitimate clients to work on while the partners and senior lawyers do all the dirty work – money laundering – taking black money of the underworld out of the nation to Grand Cayman, depositing it in banks there, bringing that money into the US as clean money, investing it in property, companies in the US, doing all the law work – partnerships, tax work, among others for these companies, helping other clients to evade taxes legally...
There is the fifth floor and DeVasher there is monitoring and tracking the output of all the bugs in the cars, offices and homes of all the lawyers, meeting with the underworld family members, reporting to them...
The FBI had smelled all this and had approached two lawyers, the insiders to help them collect evidence. These two had died mysteriously days later.
Nobody ever left the firm alive. Except senior partners who retired. To become a senior partner, a lawyer worked for years, and at some point was made part of the crime, let in on the secret and by that time, the lawyer was so involved in the conspiracy that he gave up thoughts of leaving, stifled all inner voices and joined the gang.
All others who thought of leaving were eliminated.

The FBI has now chosen Mitch to get their evidence. If he chooses to cooperate, he will get life-long protection from the FBI, a new identity, a new passport, a job in any location of his preference, any number of relocations, a million dollars.
If he does not, then the FBI will find another way of getting its evidence, bust the firm, jail all its lawyers and partners, cancel their licence to practise and it indict all of them.

Mitch knows he has no escape. Because the mafia never forgets. It will get back. After ten or twenty years. Until then, they will have to live in perpetual fear. They will have to undergo surgery to get a different face, live under pseudonyms for the rest of their lives, live in remote locations to remain inconspicuous, be on the run most of the time... it will never be the same again.

Mitch agrees to cooperate with the FBI.
He is a brilliant guy. When FBI offers him 1 million dollars, he asks for 2 million and asks also for the release of his brother Ray from the prison.

He starts work.
He smuggles in his briefcase all the files, some clean and some dirty, that he is able to lay his hands on, to a small rented place a few paces from his office where Tammy is carefully copying all the files on a sophisticated copier that’s been arranged by Mitch.
Tammy becomes his assistant and a brilliant one at that.

Mitch delivers the first set of files and has the first million dollars deposited into a bank and account number of his choice.

Mitch and the FBI arrange to have clandestine meetings in various places at various times. The firm follow his trail closely but with the help of the FBI, he manages to get away. The firm however, smells something fishy and begins its verification. The mafia begins to investigate on its own and in the end begins plans to eliminate him.

Mitch has to continue meanwhile: copy the highly guarded dirty files. And this is a brilliant plan too.
Avery flies to Grand Cayman on business. Abby and Tammy are already waiting for him there. Tammy poses as a prostitute and lures Avery. They both get into the condominium where Tammy prepares a drink for him with sleep inducing pills mixed in it. She takes his key-bunch and opens a room in which are hidden many dirty documents and files. She fills as many as she can into suitcases and walks to a room nearby in which Abby is ready to make copies. They have purchased a sophisticated copier and arranged for it to be delivered to their room. Abby hands the copying task to Tammy for a while and leaves to a smith with the key bunch and gets duplicates made in the dead of night.

They spend the whole night making trips to the condominium where Avery is sound asleep, returning copied files to their place and loading new files into the suitcase.

They put the copied files to suitcases and fly them into the US.
There is a small room in Memphis that Mitch and Tammy have rented to serve as a storehouse for all the copied files.
Tammy makes many more trips to Grand Cayman equipped with the duplicate keys and manages to get all the files so the FBI will have all the indictments they want.

The time has come for the FBI to keep its promise and release his brother Ray from the prison. One night, it is arranged for Ray to walk out of his prison, climb the high wall of the prison using a ladder kept in place for him, jump down, meet an escort to be taken to his car and drive away.

Mitch sends Abby away to be safe; she is to wait for his next message.

He knows he cannot trust the FBI. He knows he has to run from the firm. And from the FBI.
Through the copies, Mitch learns of the various banks, account numbers, money transfers done, etc., in detail.
He transfers 9 to 10 million dollars from these bank accounts owned by the firm to his own account, his in-law’s account, his mother’s account and Tammy’s account. Once the run begins, they will not meet anyone – family or friend.

Through an FBI agent that the mafia knows, Mitch’s involvement with the FBI is confirmed. It is arranged for him to fly to the Grand Cayman in the private plane owned by the firm which will blow up in mid air. He will fly alone, so Avery is arranged to be hospitalized for heart attack.

The FBI agent who is a traitor is found out and the FBI knows Mitch is in danger.

When there are 3 more hours to go before the flight to Grand Cayman, Mitch gets a call from Tarrance and the code word for ‘Danger, Run’.
And the run begins.

When the FBI expects Mitch to run away from the firm and towards them, Mitch tells the FBI he does not trust them and runs from them too.
Mitch communicates to Abby and Ray who are all in different places through Tammy.
Abby is being followed by a woman.
She meets Ray in a designated place and they both manage to gag the woman in her room and run.

FBI begins chasing Micth, Abby and Ray. So is the firm.
Mitch meets Abby and Ray and they drive from place to place in a van loaded with all the copies of files. Their fake passports and other ID documents reach them in time, thanks to Tammy.

In a motel room on the East Coast, Mitch sits before a camera and makes 16 hours of tape explaining all the neatly stacked copies of files, telling as if a story – how the firm operates, who the clients are, which banks are owned by the firm, the various bank accounts, transactions, amounts...

The FBI as well as the mafia knows his trail by now and are within a few hundred meters of him. All the partners of Bendini, Lambert & Locke are on the beach looking for the three.

All airports, roads, toll gates are blocked. The sea is full of boats looking out for the three.

He keeps his promise and arranges, through Tammy, for the tapes to reach the FBI.

One night, the three of them set out separately and linger at the beach within a few metres of each other. Abby walks to the edge of pier, holds a torch before her and flashes green light out to the sea. A goon from the mafia sees it, knows there is only one explanation and rushes to Abby. Mitch and Ray kill him and toss him into the sea. The three of them descend to the rail under the pier and wait there, flashing the green light.

A boat arrives and Larry Abanks helps them to descend to it and they sail away. They are introduced to Larry’s friend and accomplice who has been living incognito for years now. Mitch, Abby and Ray, with millions of dollars in a bank, sail to the quiet unknown island which is the abode of their new friend and begin their life of seclusion unseen by anyone in the outside world.

Many other things apart, one things that stands out in this work is the most important, all consuming American preoccupation with money – get rich, quick money, easy money, wealth, the multiplying of it, never ending thirst for more and more money, money, money. The protagonist and the antagonist are the same in this...

But as I said, it’s a well narrated story and I am going to pick up another John Grisham. Its thrill that comes with its supply of information – about how people, things, and institutions work in America.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Random Thoughts

There comes a point in your life when u realize that all the things you thought you needed to be happy are irrelevant and all you could ever want, is to be loved.
For much of our life, we seek admiration.
And then respect. Appreciation.
After a point, we begin to notice love.
And one day we realize, love was all we ever needed.

People who take the path of least resistance.
There are different ways of doing it. And there are different lengths to which you can take it.
Saying and doing things that would be agreeable to others, things that wouldn’t hurt or annoy or provoke others.
Always presenting a side of yourself that’s agreeable, that the other person would like.
But I realized it can drive me mad.
To know that I don’t know your true self at all. That you are impenetrable. In a way, a stranger to me.
Eventually I want to know you for what you are, whether I approve of you or not.
It’s important to achieve a balance between being agreeable to others and being who you are.
And it’s fair to people, that in the end, they know who you really even if it means they will hate you.

Let us not become hardened.
People hurt us and let us down all the time. Let us become strong but not insensitive, not immovable, not hardened.
If we allow people and situations to harden us, then we have lost the battle. And they who tried to hurt us have won.
For, that part of us which is tender, gentle and innocent, which trusts, hopes, loves, weeps and gets hurt, that part which is naïve and vulnerable and continues to become attached even after being betrayed, that sensitive part within us is what makes us human.

Infatuation, crush, flirting, ‘seeing’, ‘going around’- all these I understand not.
Love. That’s the only way I know to like a man.

Shared memories. They bind people like nothing else I think.
It’s wonderful to have people in your life with whom you have shared memories.
It’s wonderful to have a sibling, for instance.
I and my brother. We are close and we are not.
But at times when we are watching TV, there appears on the screen, for just a few seconds, a now forgotten song or ad that we both had watched 15 years ago in an old home at an old place in an old life.
We don’t say anything, but look at each other, smiling a knowing, nostalgic smile.
It is at such a moment that we come closest.
That moment of a shared memory, a shared past, a shared home, a shared time and shared life belongs to just the two of us, no one else.
That look you give each other when you catch onto something no one else gets. That perfect moment…

Every desire has a validity period. If it does not find fulfillment within that period, it expires. Unless there is fresh hope, fresh revival that gives it a new lease of life or a new promise that keeps it going on.
Make a wish and wish that it comes true before you no more wish the wish.

Some people are a good work of engineering but without a hint of art.

The power of a caustic tongue is much greater than that of many a good actions.
O friend, your many good deeds, favours – thank you for them but I could do without them.
But your caustic, abrasive tongue – a few minutes spent with you vex me for the next few weeks, and that is something I would definitely like to do without…

It’s good to be very sure of yourself. But always leave room for doubt. To be too sure of yourself is one way to stop growing.

"So much of what you are is where you've been."
ABSOLUTELY! and 'where you have been' need not be co-ordinates far away from your own - there are people who go to America, live there for 20 years, and come back without having 'seen' much, because they did the same thing they used to here, lived the same life, mingled with only those from their own community/ethnicity, ate the same cuisine, etc; and there are people who have not gone out of their town since they were born, but went to 20 'different' places in it and explored all of them to the full. Which means, you have actually 'been' to a place if you have stepped out of 'your domain' into the 'domain of that place' even though it be a small step.

I try to look at the brighter side of things. I am an optimist. There is always hope. But there are certain things in life that do not have a brighter side. And I don’t imagine that there is one. My optimism is based on reality not on delusions.

Love is its own reward, its own punishment.
Matters of heart should not be judged. They should only be understood, sympathized with and forgiven. Yes. Forgiven.

Listening. I have moved a step ahead. Rather than telling the speaker whether I agree or not immediately, I try to find ‘where’ this is coming from.
Also, I realize that people don’t have a ‘listening problem’. It’s just that when people are full of themselves, they are incapable of sparing time or thought for other people’s stories.

I don’t understand why and how people find it difficult to tell the difference between, love, attraction, infatuation and sweet nothings, when love towers above them all and stands apart so distinguishably! The litmus test is - love hurts, the others don’t! Also, love stands the test of time. Others don’t.

Addiction to melancholy
Melancholy is a dangerous thing. Not so much because of the suffering it causes. But because it is addictive.
When you suffer the fate of unrequited love, and all you have had is a bleeding heart for days and weeks that eventually turned into months,
when you have gotten used to the arrow stuck in your heart,
burning in separation has become an everyday habit,
the silent suffering, the song of your heart, the melancholy, the sad love songs, love letters, love poems and love stories your companions,
you start liking it and the thought of not having it in your life from tomorrow is saddening.
Still when you get over the person, when you drop him from your heart one day, more than the relief from all the burden you have been carrying all these days, what you experience is a sense of emptiness, a void, an emptiness.
That’s being in love with love itself.
Melancholy is addictive. There is so much more beauty in the suffering of the heart than in its freedom from attachment.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Ladhak & Kashmir 2010 - Day 6 - Pangong Lake

5th July 2010

It had been a difficult night. For all of us.
But I did not know at that time, it was fluid in our lungs. The result of poor or failed acclimatization.
It affects different people differently – headache, dehydration, fever...some people have fluid in their lungs.
The key to acclimatization is gradual gain of altitude. Gain 150 meters a day, no more.
When you fly from Delhi to Ladhak, you fly from a few hundred/thousand feet to 11000 feet.

When you have fluid in your lungs, you can’t sleep in the night. During daytime, the fluid rests at the bottom of your lungs and you are able to use the top part for breathing.
In the night, when you recline, the fluid spreads all over the lungs and you can breathe effortlessly, you have a ‘Sinking Feeling’.

So, all three of us were awake, almost all through the night.
At one point, I turned to look at my father and did not see his body heaving up and down and I feared.

I sat up at another point thinking aloud of Hitler’s poison gas chambers and how those victims must have struggled for breath.

We woke up to a grey morning.
There were thick clouds all over and silver grey lake beneath.
The waiting began. For the clouds to part, for sun to show, even through a tiny hole in the sky and for the lake to turn blue.

The local folks knew from one look at the sky it would not happen until the next day but I hoped anyway.

I waited and prayed, in turns.

After a while, I asked the driver to take us to Spangmik. I hadn’t been there the previous year.

We drove. There was no road but a trail along which an SUV could move. After a point, it was uphill climb.
It gave us a view of the lake from above and what a sight it would have been if it were blue!

And then we returned.
We ambled along the lake for sometime, sat on its banks here and there.
There was ray of hope. But just a ray. For just a few seconds it turned to a shaft but no more.
The lake was grey to silver to pale, pastel, powder blue but not a patch of peacock. (that's 2 more p’s than I need for an alliteration!)
What disappointment it was!

It was with a heavy heart that I sat through the journey back.