Sunday, December 25, 2011

Everest Calling - Shopping at Namche Bazaar & the Final Preparartion

The Everest Bakery at Namche was one thing we all knew we did not want to miss. As soon as we reached Namche, we went to the bakery. The stuff that I and a few others were looking for - apple pie, apple crumble, we found at the bakery opposite Everest bakery. They were yummy. Mmmmm....
I would have loved to taste everything on the glass shelves but they cost money. Everything you touched cost 200 – 300 Nepali Rupees!
I decided to try some more on the return visit.

The tailor was found finally. I had been looking for one. The pair of black pyjamas I had bought from a heap on the street had not survived the 3 hour trek from Lukla to Phakding. Why, it had not survived the stroll I had taken in Lukla market, I think. When I asked a tailor (the only one in the market) to mend it, he had said, he would take any clothing that had been tried. It had to be washed and then given to him.
There had been one tailor in Phakding and it was already getting dark when we got there. I did not feel like going to him. He had probably closed shop.
So it was that the tailor in Namche did it for 100 Nepali. I haggled and he actually did it for less – 90 or so.

We all had come prepared for the trek. Our bags were full. But there’s always more. Especially when you headed for Mt. Everest.
Six of us entered a shop to buy what they call a poncho. It’s a raincoat of good quality. They came in a few colours. When I tried a bright green one, someone commented this was a Pakistani green, so I settled for a light sea green. Green is my weakness.
The guy at the shop was an the old man. We had assumed he would give us discount for 6 raincoats that we were buying in all – for he had given some discount for one poncho bought yesterday by one among us – was it Fazeel?
But he refused to give any. We were surprised and annoyed. ‘You gave him discount for buying one raincoat yesterday, and now we are buying six of them and you will give no discount!’
‘Yesterday we became friends and something happened and I got carried, I can’t give you discount’ said he waving a hand in dismissal. It was amusing, his innocence, his naivette.

The way we had been spending money, we realized we were not carrying enough. It had been only three days and we had spent so much. We looked for an ATM.
ATM was closed.
The only way was to swipe a card in a shop and take cash from the owner for a fee of 12 percent on the amount of transaction.
Thanks to Amit. I had a few thousand Nepali more.
Only the 500 rupee note that Fazeel had, had the picture of Nepal king on it. I exchanged it for mine. Hoping I would not have to spend it and take it home for collection.

We returned to the dining area of Himalayan hotel.

Initially, we had decided to tell the other team that we had actually seen Everest and to describe it vividly, making them real jealous but once we had the snowfall, we no longer felt the need to resort to Everest. We told them about the snowfall and believed that we made them jealous.
Apparently, they all saw the scalp of a yeti in the monastery at Khumjung village.

The dinner consisted of Hakka noodles with 3 pieces of capsicum, 3 pieces of carrot and 1 shred of cabbage, no salt, momos with potatoes for filling, a vegetable roll and soup. The soup was good and when I asked for another bowl, Nar Bahadur told me off with a wave of hand.
He also scolded me when I asked him to get me tea in a fresh cup. He had wanted me to gulp down water in my cup so he could pour tea into it.
Narayan, another guide, compensated by offering me a spoon with a flourish like he was offering me a rose. And a tea bag too.

Hot water shower was an adventure in itself.
It cost 300 rupees, for 15 minutes. They said, after 15 minutes they turned off the tap, or there was some automatic setting which turned off the gas heater or something. This was scary. The one next to the dining area was occupied. When I requested the proprietor, he took me through a long corridor behind the dining area to what seemed to be a luxurious room with an attached bathroom. He showed me how to operate the gas heater and left.
Once I locked the door and was all by myself, how would anyone stop me after 15 minutes?
With the local folks here grudging every glass and every mug of hot water for the last 2 days, this bath was godsend. When I heard the rapping on the door, I panicked for I thought someone had noticed that I had crossed 30 mins, but when I came out, I was told my roomy was missing me badly. I had the room key with me!

I dried my hair near the Tandoor while conversing with the chief guy who was leading the ‘All Women’s Expedition’ from Indian Air Force to the summit of Mt. Everest. There were eleven women in all plus some men assisting them, seated opposite us on the other side of the Tandoor. All eyes surveyed them in awe. The chief talked about the rigorous training the team had gone through for a year at various places including Siachen, the coldest place. They had scaled lesser peaks in preparation – 17000 ft, 24000 ft, etc. Some women had postpone their marriage plans and some women, their family plans. He talked about the year 2005 or 2006 which had been a very bad one. The weather had been violent, stormy, and so many of them had died. I wondered why people took such risks. Was it worth it? Was anything under this sun worth this beautiful life?

Diamox. I am not someone who likes popping pills. But that night I found myself in a dilemma. Diamox is a blood thinner and is supposed to be consumed in the mountains. It thins your blood and helps in achieving balance with the outside low atmospheric pressure in high altitudes. It is supposed also to help you cope with low oxygen levels. If you have low BP you are not to have it.
I had been to the mountains before and never used anything. When I found myself with 3 or 4 of these guys who all advised me take one, I dilly-dallied for a while and then popped half a pill. Half a diamox.
A costly mistake. I did not know it was a diuretic. I should have had a good night’s sleep before the arduous day ahead of me. Instead I woke up 4 or 5 times in the night to use the bathroom, dark, cold and a mile away. I heard a book has been written about the simple art of saying NO. Now I know why.

A friend was had been sniffing at something when we had began our trek that morning. Upon asking he said it was camphor and it supplied oxygen. Oxygen or not it surely smelt great. I decided to buy a packet of those from a store the next day.

And I did. Only, upon opening the pack and inhaling the white ball with closed eyes, all ready to savour it’s flavour, I realized he had sold me naphthalene balls.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Waiting For The Barbarians - J M Coetzee

“I have never seen anything like it: two little discs of glass suspended in front of his eyes in loops of wire. Is he blind? I could understand it if he wanted to hide blind eyes. But he isn’t blind. The discs are dark, they look opaque from the outside but he can see through them. He tells me they are a new invention. ‘They protect one’s eyes against the glare of the sun’, he says”...

These lines with which the narration begins set you thinking that the narrator is a humble, ignorant, innocent villager who has never seen nor heard of sunglasses and hence wonders at them. Soon, you learn he is the magistrate of a village. It is not any village but a frontier village with a remote quality and solitary air.

Beyond the frontier village, is the border region of the empire, the barrenness, where dwell the barbarians. Or so the Empire labels them. From time to time, members of this barbarious tribes – men, women, old men, children are caught straying into the boundary, sometimes doing things the Empire disallows. They are made captive and confined in a prison cell.
And then comes a Colonel from the capital and the torture begins within the cell. Sophisticated torture.
Occasionally, the tribe seizes a lone man from the village that has strayed into their territory and kills him. The hostility deepens. The Empire with its sophisticated strategy and weapons strikes back with venom and crushes the barbarians.

The magistrate who thinks the Colonel too high handed, sympathizes with the tribesmen suffering in the dark cell, silently though.

“When I see Colonel Joll again, I bring the conversation around to torture. I ask ‘what if your prisoner is telling the truth yet finds he is not believed? Is that not a terrible position? Imagine: to be prepared to yield, to yield, to have nothing more to yield, to be broken yet to be pressed to yield more! And what a responsibility for the interrogator! How would you ever know when a man has told you the truth?’ ”

Once, the magistrate, out of sympathy for a girl of the tribe who had suffered torture in the cell along with her father and had seen her father dying, tries to help the girl, by treating her wounds, feeding her and taking her back to her tribe on horseback.

He is found out. The Colonel, ruthlessly inflicts torture upon the magistrate and confines him to the wretchedness of the same cell where other prisoners were kept and tortured.

‘No matter if I told my interrogators the truth....they would press on with their grim business, for it is an article of faith with them that the last truth is told only in the last extremity...’

The Colonel ventures into the barrenness where the tribes dwell and brings back with him some tribesmen, stark naked and stringed together with a rope passing through one cheek of each one of them. He parades them for all the villagers to see and pelt stones at.

The story presents the blurring of humanitarian considerations in the wake of nationalistic feelings and shows how completely compassion and justice are obscured when an appeal is made to the nationalistic feelings of people.
Nationalism as an ideal has been disputed by many people – by Tagore, to name one. Some of the material that I have read on the subject discuss the necessity to broaden one’s horizon, to accept all that is good (regardless of the nation of its origin) and other such issues.
While such writing criticise nationalism for its narrowness and limitedness, this book screams about the shameful grossness and wretchedness of nationalism.
For this story is on the subject of enemy torture – it describes in intimate detail, the treatment meted out to those human beings – some of them women, old men and children – labelled as enemy by the State, in the name of nationalism.
It is a very serious subject and cannot but make an impact.

“What has made it impossible to live in time like fish in water, like birds in air, like children? It is the fault of empire. Empire has created the time of history. Empire has located its existence not in the smooth recurrent spinning time of the cycle of the seasons but in the jagged time of rise and fall, of beginning and end, of catastrophe. Empire dooms itself to live in history and plot against history. One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues it’s enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation...”

The story makes one think about the nations currently at war. Afghanistan, the Middle East and wherever else innocent people are being treated like worms by the enemy. It makes you think about all the medals we give out to soldiers for killing innocent people on the other side of the border. It makes you think about the true place of patriotism in our ideology.

‘Each moment, each one of us, man, woman, child, perhaps even the poor old horse turning the mill wheel, knew what was just; all creatures come into the world bringing with them the memory of justice. But we live in a world of laws, a world of the second best. There is nothing we can do about that. We are fallen creatures. All we do is to uphold the laws, all of us, without allowing the memory of justice to fade...’

The book is an eye opener – it teaches us something new most of us would not even have thought of. It makes us re-evaluate our sense/beliefs about right, wrong, about nationalism, patriotism...

Narration comes from depth and reaches the depths of the reader.

As you read through the second chapter, you are somewhat disappointed because it digresses from the expectation set by the 1st chapter.
What in the beginning promised to be a grave subject concerning nations, people, societies and civilization in general, thinned and wavered till it became a story of an individual – the magistrate, his life, especially, his sex life.

Lines from the book I liked. Read...

‘That’s an experienced not to be missed, the fishermen carry flaming torches and beat drums over the water to drive the fish towards the nets they have laid’

‘Like a wounded snail, I begin to creep along the wall’ – the simile...

‘A fool in love is always laughed at but in the end always forgiven...’

‘...those daydreams......Without exception, they are dreams of ends; dreams not of how to live but of how to die...’

‘...I was the lie that the empire tells itself when times are easy, the truth that Empire tells itself when harsh winds blow...’

‘When some men suffer unjustly, it is the fate of those who witness their suffering to suffer the shame of it...’

‘To each, his own most fitting end...’

‘To the last we will have learned nothing. In all of us, deep down, there seems to be something granite and unteachable...’

‘And who am I to jeer at life-giving illusions? Is there any better way to pass these last days than in dreaming of a saviour with a sword who will scatter the enemy hosts and forgive us the errors that have been committed by others in our name and grant us a second chance to build our earthly paradise? ...’

‘I swim through the medium of time, a medium more inert than water, without ripples, pervasive, colourless, odourless, dry as paper...’

‘The crime that is latent in us, we must inflict on ourselves, not on others...’

Monday, December 05, 2011

Forgive Bipasha & Mallika, Vidya Has Arrived

Watched Vidya Balan’s ‘The Dirty Picture‘ on Saturday. Why did I watch it? I like, nay, liked Vidya Balan and I thought that, though the clips were appalling, since Vidya had agreed to the role, there must be something in the movie – a powerful story, some point…

After a few minutes, I saw, that there was nothing in the movie.
It moves from one bare all costume to the next and one vulgar scene to the next.

There is much ambiguity in the portrayal of Vidya’s character. Its ridiculous in fact.
She is shown telling producers and directors she can do ‘anything’ to get a chance in the movie, she is a dance girl doing dirty moves, she sleeps first with Surya and then with his younger brother Ramakanth but when the papers and magazines write about her and call her Draupadi, she becomes all offended and emotional and burns those magazines as if she were sensitive to such matters.

The film claims it is based on Silk Smitha’s life roughly, and on dance girls in general and on how they were rendered jobless when mainstream heroines who had once been concerned about their image, became ready to do what the ill-famed dance girls had been doing.
But this point is not brought out in the movie. There is just one dialogue ‘Jo Silk karti thi, who hum heroine se karvayenge’ – the lead actor says, ‘What Silk can do, we will get done by the heroine’. Except for this one dialogue the movie does not bring out the point, when it shows her decline. Her decline seems more because of her personal rife with the men who had helped her get a break in the beginning.

Since the movie was about the life of the dance girl and therefore her side of the story, it was only expected that the movie would present the human aspect of the woman, the person behind a mere sex object, the side which the public never got to see, the feeling/thoughts that were personal to her, the internal workings of her mind, her struggle etc., getting the viewer to sympathize with her.
But the movie fails here. Like I said, it moves from one bare all costume to another, one vulgar scene to another and presents merely the ‘dance girl’ in all her nakedness, not bothering at all to show the person behind the dance girl.

But it gets confused now and then and attempts to evoke sympathy from the viewer – there is a scene where she receives an award and lashes out at the audience for eagerly watching her movies and then calling her dirty - in a speech that has all the appearance of a fierce passionate speech but turns out in the end to be without any substantial point and quite misplaced. It evokes no sympathy for her from the audience and leaves you asking why a woman who had run away from her mother and chosen the life she had led, of her own will, should make such a speech.

In the end, in her suicidal note, she asks questions such as ‘why everyman put his arm around her hip but no one on her forehead’ and such… which sound irritating again, coming as they do from a woman who chased men and seduced them recklessly.

These sudden attempts to evoke sympathy for her fail as there is no corresponding portrayal of the human aspect of her character in the movie.

There is no story. One scene after the other shows her almost naked, or seducing someone, or shooting hot scenes and nothing else…
What was there to Silk Smitha‘s life even that called for making a movie on her life? Nothing at all.

VULGAR FAT. Agree that Silk Smitha was fleshy and no way slim, but the movie overemphasizes the fatness. A few scenes showing her in costumes revealing the stomuch were enough to tell us that this was a fat actress. There was no need to rub it in. With those fat thighs and Dunlop tires around the vast expanse of her stomach, sitting sloppily on her couch, she looks disgusting and most vulgar.

Her outfit in every scene is designed to reveal whatever there is to reveal in her. It was Bipasha who had started a very wrong trend in Bollywood and Mallika Sherawat had taken it further. But this girl, Vidya, has taken Bollywood to its depths of depravity. She has beaten all heroines and cabaret dancers that have ever set foot in Hindi films. She could not have fallen below this. One can at last forgive Bipasha as well as Mallika.

What the television clips show are a lot better than some of the actual scenes in the movie.

Why did she agree to do a movie like this? The sum of money offered to her must have been HUGE and it must have been difficult for her to refuse it.

So what’s the next step in her progression towards boldness?
Will she work in blue films?
Why not? After all ‘Sex in an integral part of our lives’, ‘Times have changed’, ‘Indian cinema viewers have matured’ and all…
And when she has already come this far, just a few more inches will not hurt her. Pornography is just a few inches away.

The movie is almost a porn movie.
And Vidya is fit to be a porn star.
After the initial promise of being different from other women in the industry, she has proved that she is indeed one among them, in fact, worse than them, lacking any self respect and here for money.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Everest Calling - Namche- Acclimatization- Everest View Hotel

19 April 2011

In our itinerary, this day was set aside for acclimatization. We had to allow our body to get used to the atmosphere surrounding us – altitude, oxygen level, pressure, cold, terrain and all. Towards this purpose, we would go for a short trek to some place nearby and return and resume our main program the next day.

Some of them wanted simply to rest and not go through any exertion at all. But our leader was strict and declared that it was a mandate to trek and no one was going to stay back in the hotel.

We had two options.

One, Khumjung village with a Buddhist monastery.
Two, Everest View hotel, which promised a glimpse of the Everest.

The group split into two.

I chose the Everest View Hotel.
Out of pure impulse, I asked if you could really see Everest from the hotel, not realizing that that would become gossip fodder and giggle fodder for some of the men during the rest of the tour.
Men and gossip? Oh yes, of the many things that I learnt during this trip, one was that, Men gossip. A lot.
More on that later...

Up to a certain point, where the highest airstrip of the world was situated, the two groups had a common route to follow, after which we would go separate ways.

It was a cloudy morning.

The picture to our left as we stepped out of the hotel.

Namche, as we started to climb.

After sometime, we found ourselves in a sort of landing where there was a rock at the edge of it – a sort of lesser precipice where the guys practised acrobatics – scrambling on all fours to the top of it as other down shouted asking them to be careful, sitting and standing there and posing for pictures, sliding down it and all...

This was the picture taken after – we were resting against a rock that was opposite the precipice. We are all laughing – don’t remember what the joke was.

We reached the highest airstrip in the world.

There seemed to be a small settlement of people there – as suggested by the jewellery shop on one side of the trail and some LPG cylinders on another.

Some kind of tower...on the hill facing us.

The group became two teams.

Our team proceeded on the runway. What surprised me was that the runway full of rough gravel. This runway was where Fazeel got a new name – One of us mistakenly called him Shakeel. And then on, he became Shakeel, which was soon upgraded to Chota Shakeel.

The climb to hotel Panorama was somewhat effortful. Thats Aparajita, my roomy prithu and I.

The panorama hotel.

But the walk thereon to Everest View hotel was effortless. The overhanging fog and clouds gave a grey coat to all beneath.

We reached the hotel.

On all the walls around, hung framed paintings of the mountain range, of Everest, of trekkers trudging on snow, of Ama Dablam. I wondered what 'Ama Dablam' was in the beginning, was it one mountain or two, but towards the end of our trek, it became the most familiar thing to us wherever we went.

We entered the dining area. Our long table was adjacent to the outer wall, most of which was made of glass panes which made it possible for us to get a view of the outside while being seated at our table, without having to go to the roof or terrace outside. On the terrace outside were two neat rows of spotless white tables with white chairs around them. Beyond this, we saw the valley down. So the hotel must have been standing on the edge of a cliff looking down at the valley below. A glass door led to the roof outside but it was cold and we remained inside.

Eager, eyes wide open, we looked out of the window to get the first glimpse of Everest. What greeted us was a grey blanket, thinning a little here and a little there, showing a patch of snow or a jagged rock but never giving a clue even to where Everest might be.

The declaration of the restaurant proved to be overconfident. The curtain of thick clouds and fog would not lift for us to view the Everest until the next day.

It was a star hotel but we ordered food anyway.

I and roomy Prithu order Veg Chowmien and there was a never ending speculation about what it would be like.

By now, conversion from Nepali to Indian was happening more quickly. Everything cost in 200 and 300 and we were all used to it by now.

Our guide Rabin had carried Nepali bread for all of us, each one wrapped around a lump of cheese (was it yak cheese?). Someone happened to be carrying peanut butter as well. I tried it and found it quite tasty. Tasty or not, it was surely rich.

Seated at the table, Fazeel tried to blow away the clouds with his breath. And I hoped he would succeed.
We were unable even to imagine what the picture beyond was like. We desperately asked many questions of the hotel waiters about Everest as seen from there, so we would at least have some idea. How big was it? Was it at the centre of the picture before us or at the side? What was the shape of it? How far was it from us? Was it like this, like that, asked we, pointing to the pictures hanging on the wall? And if I can recollect correctly, there was not a single picture of Everest as seen from that point. There was, in the dining area, to the left of our table, a model of the entire mountain range in paper pulp or some material like that. Smooth pyramids of various shapes and sizes and heights packed together. We looked at it for a few minutes, figuring our own position, the situation of Everest relative to us...but we didn’t get much out of it. We gave up. Though not fully.

And then it happened.
Snowfall. It was more like hailstorm. Some us could no longer hold ourselves back and we opened the door and stepped out. A chill wind blew. With great difficulty caused by numbing fingers, I clicked pictures and hurried in, only to step out after a few minutes, again. Every one of us was delighted. Some of us were seeing snowfall for the first time. My first time was in 2008 May on Darva Top beyond Doditaal in Uttaranchal, India.
We were happy we had chosen this destination and not the monastery in Khumjung village which our other friends had.
Finally I returned to my table. Every time someone opened the glass door to step out or step in, a chill wind blew in, making us wish that the guys would not keep opening and closing it, though thats what we had been doing a while ago.

After the hailstorm and the rain, the weather started clearing. The neat white tables and benches on the terrace outside and the valley beyond looked absolutely charming. The Devdar trees outside gathered some of the hail and looked like Christmas trees. It was a perfect Christmas picture. Mountains that were brown and green became covered with white flecks. And the mountains closest to us, revealed themselves. Taboche, Amadablam, Thamsherku. All but Everest.

Thats Ama Dablam, with 2 peaks...

The Sun shone bright, and as if by magic, earth and sky, hitherto united by grey, now took pride in their distinct identity and became earth and sky again, taking on separate colours of blue and green.
It was refreshing, as if eyes were seeing colours for the first time. I might as well have been a baby, excitedly looking around me, identifying blue and green and yellow and brown, having just learnt my first lessons in colours.

Somewhere in this picture, slightly to the left, was Everest.

It was time to leave. We literally tore ourselves away from the place. The sun was bright and the sky more or less clear.

Although it was the same trail on the way back, sunlight made the picture entirely different.

I saw a beautiful thing happening. A layer of vapour, one foot thick, was spread over the brown field to my right. The sunshine immediately after rainfall was causing the water soaked by earth to turn into steam and rise from the ground.

Srikant, with the guide

We could see our Namche village in and around that mound.

Sankool and fazeel on the airstrip...

We retraced our steps, walked to the other end of the runway for a short cut down to Namche.

Hotel panorama from below


Namche has a museum. We thought of visiting it but decided to do it on our return from the base camp. That however, was not meant to happen.

The walk back to the hotel seemed never ending.

In the end, my questions 'Can you really see Everest from 'Everest View Hotel' was a valid question. For the answer is 'No', 90% of the time!
So much for all that giggling...