Thursday, June 30, 2011

Everest Calling - The Smell Of A Home I Have Once Lived In

16th April 2011. Kathmandu.

I had to make a phone call.
Because everyone else was doing so. Calling up family to let them know they were safe.
Unfortunately for me, I come across as a strong independent woman and everybody assumes I am safe and can take care of myself. No one really worries about me. But I called anyway. Mom had asked me to.

I went to the phone booth after dinner to make the call.
Different people had been charged different rates per minute of call. 20, 30, 50 Nepali rupees.
I and friend walked up and down the narrow road looking for a booth and most of them were closed.
We found one. I made my call.
The charge came to 20 Nepali rupees. I paid 20 Indian rupees. After a quick math, we agreed that the boy owed me 10 Nepali rupees.

He held the 10 Nepali rupee note in his right hand, while his left hand touched the right elbow.
I was touched. It was ‘the smell of that house I had once lived in’.
(I am borrowing words from a friend here)

I asked him if that’s how he gave, whenever he gave something to people. Yes, he said.
‘Do you know why it is done like that?’ I asked
'Aadar', he said - meaning respect.

We at home too had been trained to give like that. Always give with your right hand. And the left hand should be touching the right elbow. Or the right wrist. Or join both hands in a cup.
You should give with both hands - it symbolizes whole hearted giving.
Whether you give alms to a beggar, change to a rickshaw driver, money to a shopkeeper, water to a thirsty…

I was touched to find people here practicing and keeping alive a tradition, a nuance that we at home had discarded long ago. The youth of today would even scoff at it.
It was gone. Almost. Only during religious or cultural events, when people performed certain rituals and rites, they use both their hands. When making an offering to God, when pouring ghee and other offering into the holy fire…

Symbolism. What’s a culture with it?
When we find symbolism in literature we appreciate it. Why, when we find symbolism in other cultures we become curious and even reverent.
Our own life and our social traditions in India are full of such symbolism and nuance but we scoff at them.
Superstition, blind belief and other such names we call it.
We fail miserably to understand that it’s the spirit and nuance behind the symbolism that is the whole point.

In the days that followed, I would be touched by a few people – naïve and otherwise, in high and low places alike, extending their right hand to me with their left one gently touching the right elbow. Not really the Buddhists in the mountains where we spent most of our time, but the Hindus in Kathmandu and elsewhere.

But the very first time I observed the gesture, it lingered in my mind. It was ‘the smell of that home I have once lived in’. In a tiny shop, on a narrow street of an unknown land full of strange looking people, I had met the last shadow of a dying innocence that had been swept out of my big home.

A few weeks later, in my city, sitting in a shop selling plastics, I would think of this Nepali boy and his innocent gesture, as the busy owner of the plastic shop, whom I had asked to show me a stool I was interested in buying, would push it callously towards me with his left leg.

As I returned from the phone booth and reached the main road, a few young boys with spiky hair accosted us with the shouts of 'Nepali dance...Nepali dance dekhna hai?’
I thought they were going to perform on the street - just like our Nukkad Natak...
I turned to the boy to ask something when my friend hushed me and said, ‘they are here to take people to dance bars. Lets go quickly’. He pointed to the topmost floor of a building to our right.

I looked up and saw the flickering disco lights. The pink and yellow lights coloured the walls in turn. Apparently the music was on, liquor too, and women were dancing. I smiled.
I thought about the innocent boy in the phone booth.
And wondered if he would go to the dance bar that night after closing his shop.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Everest calling - Kathmandu

Sleeplessness had fatigued me so much that it came down on me with its full weight at the airport when we were waiting for a few members of our troupe to join us from Chennai. I sat on someone's baggage first, then sat on the floor, reclining against a pillar whose protruding panels hurt my back. I cursed, shifted to the middle of the baggage of 20 plus people on the floor, reclining against the baggage first and finally lay supine on the floor with my shawl for my back and pillow.

The airport itself was not much – small, looking run-down, having brick finished appearance, brick coloured…, small filthy bathrooms. It was a view of ugliness after the gorgeous Delhi international airport whose only flaw was the gate 10B that was very far away from the security checkpoint. I told you I had almost missed my flight.
The only pretty thing about the Nepal airport was the mirrors with carved wooden frames on all pillars.

My neighbor in the plane had said 500 rupee notes would be confiscated at the airport. Not on arrival but on departure from Nepal. I had 4 or 5 500 rupee notes with me. We hoped to get it exchanged at one of the foreign exchange shops. We would learn soon that even the exchanges did not accept these denominations.
Upon entering the airport, the notice about 500 notes caused us all much anxiety.
A good way to make money I thought - confiscate 500 rupee notes from unsuspecting Indians!

After finishing all formalities, which were not much, I saw the custom guys near the exit opening peoples' wallets and checking. I quickly took the notes from my envelope and put it under my clothes in the big bag.

I learnt later from Jaggy (a friend and part of the troupe) that Pakistan prints counterfeit 500 Indian rupee notes and circulates them in Nepal and other countries to destabilize Indian economy. That’s why Nepal does not allow people to carry these currencies into or out of the country - for fear that those might be counterfeit 500 rupee notes.

So do not carry 500 or higher denominations of Indian currency to Nepal. Carry only 100's or less.

Coming out of the airport, I saw that Kathmandu was ringed by distant shadowy hills.

I mistook the airport entrance gateway arch a few hundred meters away from the airport, for the Pashupatinath temple. My neighbour on the plane had said the temple was close to the airport.

The Pashupatinath temple that the cab driver pointed to as we drove to the hotel, seemed like a collection of temples with pagoda tops. A temple complex. We would visit this temple after our Everest trek.

I dozed for most part of the drive to the hotel, not seeing much of the 'foreign' city. When I opened my eyes, I realized there was not much to miss in the first place.
The road where I got down was a narrow lane that had a profusion of overhanging electric and other cables for festoons.

After finishing some business at the counter, we entered the courtyard of hotel Thamel Eco resort.

The interiors were in complete contrast with the ugliness outside.

After resting for a few minutes, we left the hotel room for a stroll on the street just outside, lined on both sides by a motley mix of interesting colourful shops.

there were beautiful paintings in on eof the shops. They were paintings of various mountains, scenic places, people crossing bridges, yaks, rivers...
I asked him if they were created in the image of real places or mere imagination. He said 'real places'. We told him we were trekking to Everest Base Camp and asked if we would see those pictures on our way. he said 'yes' and my anticipation soared.
Photography was forbidden and I had to position myself on the opposite side of the street to take this picture. They were too expensive or I would have bought one.

This is a tea shop where you get a variety of tea.

Dinner at the hotel was buffet.
‘Pure vegetarian’, said the elderly attendant at the dining hall pointing to the buffet.
'Do people in Nepal eat veg. mostly or non veg.? I asked.
‘There are both kinds of people but mostly they are veg’.
‘Are the Hindus more in number or Buddhists?’
‘Hindus are more in number.Hindu Rashtra Hain Na', said he.

It was the only Hindu kingdom in the world. I learnt it from my father when the king of Nepal was killed in that family feud a few years ago.
All the men of Nepal had shaved their heads. In the Hindu tradition, the raja is considered the father (Pita Saman). The king is expected to look after his subjects like a father would his children. And when a father dies in the Hindu tradition, sons shave their heads.

I felt sad for the state in which the only Hindu Kingdom of the world should be. Impoverished. Naïve.
When Air India flight had been hijacked from Kathmandu, it was understood by people (whether or not it was true) that Nepal was a poor country so it was easy to bribe people even at an international airport.

We were 29 of us. Introductions were still going on. Smaller tables had been joined to make one long table around which we all sat.
Food was good. It tasted quite Indian. North Indian.
People looked good too. Excited. Fresh. Clean. Energetic.
We did not know then that it would be a long time before the food tasted that good again. And people looked that good again.
It would be just 16 days but it would seem much longer.

The trek had been organized by an adventure group in Cognizant, an IT firm whose employee I used to be, years ago. I learnt about the expedition from a friend still in cognizant and I had joined. There were a few others too who were not from Cognizant.

Cognizant T shirts were given to all of us to be worn upon reaching Everest Base Camp.
When was the last time I had received a Cognizant T shirt?
I had resigned in 2003 September.
Who knew then, when I had left, that one more T shirt from the company was due to me?

The hotel had 24 hours hot water supply. I oiled my hair, following the once-in-3-day ritual.
Not my usual hair oil but the new parachute coconut hair oil. It had the scent of jasmine. So close was it to the fragrance of the jasmine flower that I wondered how they infused it into the oil. Mankind was making a lot of needless progress in the wrong direction.

Some chemical added to the water for purification or whatever had made the water yellowish. After washing, my hair felt like coconut husk. God…

There was no electricity in the hotel. And lighting was due to generator or inverter or whatever.
Suman, the guy who agreed to charge my lithium camera battery at a special plug-point, said that for 18 hours a day, there was no electricity in Kathmandu and all over Nepal throughout the year.
‘Are there no power stations here?’
‘There are. Many. All the power is sold to India. UP, MP and other states’
I felt truly sad for the state of the only Hindu kingdom in the world.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Burial At Sea - Khushwant Singh (based on Nehru's life)

If the book were just fiction, I would dismiss it as cheap dirty titillation, with some mention of Gandhi and freedom thrust in to hide the obviousness of the cheap matter and to make it seem worthwhile, but since it is based on the lives Nehru and Indira Gandhi, may be Motilal Nehru too, it attains significance as it tells you the inside stories of these people worshipped by our countrymen and the skeletons in their cupboard.

Kishan Lal Mattoo, a Kashmiri Brahmin (a character based on Motilal Nehru) wanted to bring up his only son, Jai Bhagwan (a character based on Nehru) as an English aristocrat. He employs an English Governess Valerie Bottomley to groom his son and his daughters.
In addition to her duties as a governess to the children, she comes to offer her services to Kishan Lal too, who, having become lonely in life, solicits her to ‘save’ him and seduces her savagely.

While this may not be factual representation of Motilal’s life, he was surely known for his sexual perversions.

Kishan Lal Mattoo was closely associated with Gandhi who would visit the house of Kishan Lal at times.

Victor Jai Bhagwan (the name Victor was given him by Valerie Bottomley) went to England to study. There he lost his virginity at the age of 14 to a wayside prostitute and later on had liaisons with many prostitutes. He also made friends with a Madhavan Nair, a member of labour party's left wing socialist group in London, who was to become his adversary later in life.

Upon his return to India, he married a woman of his mother’s choice. She died after giving birth to their daughter Bharati who fell into the care of his mother.

Disagreeing with Gandhi's vision of future of India (who was for people spinning their own Khadi), he opened textile mills.
…Gandhi is quoted as saying 'I became a barrister but gave up legal practice after a few years. I felt there were more important things to do than earn a living off other peoples' quarrels.'…
He then diversified into other businesses as well (the English made sugar out of beetroot, he made it out of sugar cane) and made Bombay his head quarters.

He appointed the prickly Nair GM of his shipping company and bought a yacht.

India got freedom from the British meanwhile.
He acquired a house on the banks of the Ganges near Hardwar after his father’s death.
He visited Hardwar, saw Ma Durgeshwari, bathing naked in the Ganges along with Sheroo, her pet vegetarian tiger.
Durgeshwari, a tantric woman, introduces him to the pleasures of unbridled sexuality and upon his request, moves to Delhi with Sheroo.

Along with her came the yoga teacher Swami Dhananjay Maharaj, member of Durgeshwari's ashram.
He is teaches Victor how to get rid of gas in the stomach (Khushwant Singh’s favourite subject, one he cannot omit in his writings). He was appointed to teach yoga to family and servants.

Victor’s daughter Bharati (Indira Gandhi) – headstrong, self willed and sharp tongued, studied in Switzerland, grudging her time spent in that place she did not like.
She returned to India and took over her father's business gradually and tours England with Nair.
In England she is seduced by Nair on the same sofa cum bed on which her father had lost his virginity to a prostitute 30 years ago.

In the course of her yoga lessons from Dhananjay Maharaj, she commands him to seduce her and he obeys.
“She suffered from an acute father fixation and found no man good enough to be her husband.”

You may want to note that Nehru too was known for his sexual perversions. He died of Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease. His affair with Edwina Mountbatten (Viceroy Mountbatten’s wife!) is well known.
He also had a clandestine affair with some Sadhu woman in orange robes who gave birth to his child and disappeared.
Indira Gandhi was also known to be a notorious woman who had many men in her life. The allusion to acute father fixation seems so true in her case.

Madhavan was detested by all workers in the mill for his prickliness. Victor ignored the complaints against him.
Madhavan disapproved of the presence of the tantric woman and that yoga teacher who seemed to have taken control over Bharati who used to be in his custody before.
Swamiji treated Nair with a condescension usually reserved for a defeated rival.
During a confrontation between him and Victor, Victor suggests that Madhavan should follow his political career, indirectly telling him he was no longer needed.

Madhavan Nair for his part provokes the trade unions to revolt against Victor, gets an editor friend to write ill of Bharati and Victor. In the war between the two, Victor and his family gain an upper hand and thwart Madhavan.
Further, Madhavan champions the case of communist China and after Chinese attack, became a laughing stock.
‘…those who spit at the sky have the same spit fall on their face…’

In a gathering of factory workers following a fire incident in the mills, Victor slaps a union leader who made crude remarks about Durgeshwari and questioned Victor’s relationship with her. That incident led to Victor’s downfall. The angered union leader swears revenge.

Nair misbehaved in the parliament and was criticized in his excitement to get even with Victor when the agitation over Victor's slapping the union leader presented him an opportunity, and had the papers write about it.
But though he loses his battles, he wins the war.

Durgeshwari who had stated clearly when she moved to Delhi that there would be ‘sambandh’ between her and Victor but no ‘Bandhan’ (relationship but no bonding) wishes to return to her ashram after the slapping incident for it shows that Victor was behaving like her husband.
But before leaving, she tells him she is pregnant with Victor’s child. She reveals it to Bharati who exacts a promise from her that no one except herself (the mother) will know where the baby is when it will be born.

Victor spends a lot of his time in his yacht, away from the buzz of the city, after Durgeshwari leaves him.

...the best way of doing things for his country and its people was to maintain a respectable distance from both. Distance lent objectivity and a clearer perspective; closeness made you aware of warts and blemishes - there were far too many of those...

One day as he is walking towards his yacht he is shot dead, probably by goons hired by the insulted union leader, though the author does not say it explicitly.

The title of the book ‘Burial At Sea’ is because Victor is buried in the sea.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Real Beauty

Everyone’s talking about Real Beauty – the beauty of a kind heart, of a generous nature, of grandmother’s love, of a helpful soul.
All of a sudden, there is an outburst of deep and mature people on this planet who seem to have understood that beauty is only skin deep.
When all are so enlightened, why is it that fairness cream, anti aging cream, plastic surgery and Botox injections are pouring into the markets like never before?

I am sure, even as people wrote articles about real beauty for this contest by yahoo, they had some fairness cream or some other make up on them : - )

Such is the time in which we are living; a time of strange juxtapositions.

Order burger with extra cheese. And a diet coke.
Take an escalator. To the gym.
Trek to the mountains to detoxify. And smoke marijuana there.
Wear nose stud in a swim suit contest. To represent Indian culture.
Spend millions for a beauty contest to select Miss Earth. Who will then protect the environment.

Enough of the satire.
For all my sarcasm, I am glad so many people are thinking about Real beauty. I just hope their thinking results in some meaningful action too… that the sales of cosmetics will dip and some of them will close shops.

Since too much has been said about ‘true beauty’, ‘beauty beyond the skin’, for a change I will write about beauty of the skin. Why not? That’s also beauty, though at the skin level. And skin has come to matter today like never before. Isn’t it?

No metaphor. No symbolism. I will simply share with you a few tips to remain naturally beautiful, to delay premature aging. That’s all.

First of all, do care about how you look. No one stands to gain anything if you look 45 when you are only 35.

1. Soak a few almonds (5-6) for 8 - 12 hours. Throw the water. You are not supposed to drink this water. Peal away the skin. Eat the almonds. Helps your skin, hair, memory, heart.

2. Drink lots of water.

3. Take fruit juices. Never take milk shakes. According to Ayurveda, milk and fruit make an unharmonious blend. Even if it’s a pulpy fruit you are taking like papaya or cheeku always blend it with water, never milk.

4. Remain slim. If you put on weight, you tend to look older. If you want to look young, you must be slim.

5. How to remain slim? Do Not go to a gym. Weights cause demineralization of the bones, treadmill jerks your knees and ankles. Suryanamaskara is the best you can do. It exercises every muscle of your body.

6. Do not use any kind of cream. Trust me you don’t need it.

7. Apply castor oil/olive oil to your skin and massage for 10 minutes. Leave it for an hour before you take bath. Do this once in four days. That will take care of all the moisturizing, nourishing your skin needs

8. Do not even apply soap. Plain lukewarm water is sufficient.

9. To get rid of facial hair, people go for waxing/threading. They will gradually cause wrinkles to appear. And make you look awful for the first few days of hair removal too. Instead apply turmeric - mix with water, make a dilute paste and apply it where required. Wash after 10 minutes. It leaves yellow colour on your face so do it the last thing before you go to bed. The next morning, you may wash your face with soap to remove the colour. Or better, have the oil massage ritual after this and wash with gram flour. Do this once in two-three days and in 6 months, you will see reduced hair growth. But make sure you avoid application close to eyebrows and the hair on your scalp. You don’t want to lose hair there.

10. Premature greying is on the rise. Understand that what you eat is more important than what you apply to your hair externally.

11. Do not use cosmetics - foundation cream, vanishing cream, eye liner, lipstick… except on occasions. They hurt your skin. It’s a cruelty if you are using these.

12. Eat a few pieces of Alma (you get them in the supermarket - sweet and salt). You can have amla pickle. Or amla in any form. It prevents greying, balding and promotes growth. A gentleman told me he noticed a few grey hair on his head and immediately started eating Amla. Within a few weeks, the grey streaks had turned black.

13. Do not colour/straighten/perm your hair. They cause hair falling, thinning and God knows what other problems.

14. If you are sitting in an Air Conditioned office, you already unfortunate, for it causes hair falling - it sucks moisture from your skin, eyes, scalp. Get into a secret pact with your administration department and get them to switch off the AC every few minutes and reduce the cooling to a minimum. During all seasons except summer, keep the AC switched off. Because you don’t need it!
I can’t understand jerks who want AC with high cooling and the, to protect themselves from the cold, wear a jacket in office! When you tell them its cold, they ask you to get a jacket too!

15. Do not use AC at home. Blend with the elements. When all plants, animals, creations in nature can sweat, why can’t you?

16. Do not comb your hair very often. Once a day is good.

17. Oil your hair once in three days. (I would recommend Neelibhringadi haair oil - available in Ayurvedic dispensaries) Soak for an hour at aleast. Wash. If you have any connection with the countryside and its people, get shikakai powder. They pluck it from the tree and grind it fresh. Nd then mix shikakai powder with soapnut powder (I am not sure of the English term). Its called Sujjal Pudi or Chigrey Pudi in Kannada, Arapu pudi in tamil.

18. Do not apply comb directly after hair wash. Finger comb your hair to remove the knots. And then gently, very gently comb it. This way you lose minimum hair after a wash.

19. Don’t use nail polish. The area around your nails are very sensitive. You can sooth your nerves by applying certain natural agents - like butter - around your fingernails and toenails. Imagine how sensitive they must be.

20. Have sprouts - they are rich in proteins - good for your hair.

21. Have dry fruit - almond, walnut, fig, dates, peanuts, apricot, raisins. Avoid cashew and pista.They contain fat.

22. Avoid going out in the sun as much as you can. The Sun today, I believe is harsher than it was in the past. Always carry an umbrella when you go out in the sun. since I don’t use sunscreen, I prefer avoiding the Sun. Even though you may carry an umbrella, UV rays are bouncing off other surfaces around you. even if you are using a sunscreen, you never know. Many people say they don’t make a difference. So after you come home in the evening, apply tomato, cucumber for restoration, recuperation.

23. Get at least 6 hours of sound sleep a day.

24. Meditate. It makes your skin look young, apart from the higher benefits.

25. Try to find ways and means of finding happiness in spite of your circumstances. Don’t complain, lament, worry, nag all the time. Just be happy.

Adding to the list above... (will do this from time to time)

26. Neem is a blood purifier. The minute you spot a pimple, boil on your face just beginning, pop two Neem capsules (I buy Himalaya Neem capsules - available in medical stores, Health & Glow etc) and seem them disappear the next day.

Beware of all the advertisements on television/magazines trying to promote beauty products. Know that they are all crooks who have mastered the art of conning people.
The surge of cosmetics in the market post 1991, when India opened her markets to foreign companies - the year when mysteriously, Indian women began winning international beauty pagents (so they could sell these useless creams to us) - is a drain of the nation’s wealth.
Millions of rupees are spent on these worthless creams that do more harm than good in the long run. You might as well flush that money down your toilet.

Know that anything that is not natural is a candidate for suspicion.
Anything that promises quick results is a candidate for suspicion.
Anything that defies nature - makes fair people dark or dark ones fair, stops aging, changes the shape of your nose, lips - is a candidate for suspicion.

Be Natural. Be Beautiful.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Everest Calling - Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai

When we were children, we were taught that when someone asks for water, you always give it to them. You never refuse. If you refuse water to a thirsty, you will be born a lizard in your next life.
We believed it.

As we grew up, we understood that the truth of the belief about ‘turning into a lizard’ did not matter in itself, but the habit it had established in our way of living was a noble one.
No matter who it was, a visitor, a family member, a stranger, a beggar, even a salesman who was otherwise unwelcome, if he asked for water, it would be given.
Even the meanest of people would not refuse water.
If you did, people thought you wretched.

We have come a long way from those days of innocence. Indeed, we have.

I told you about this restaurant called “The Food Street” in Delhi Airport that I walked into, to get some South Indian food.
Plain Dosa cost 110 rupees. The white chutney which first tasted of ginger and resulted in a first impression being good, turned out to be stale the next second. The Sambhar was kind of bitter sour but I was not sure it was stale.

Sometime after eating, I asked for a glass of water - regular, not mineral.
You have to pay for it, she said, the waitress.
That’s ridiculous, said I. Any restaurant that supplies food also provides water.
I understand you have to pay for mineral water, but for regular water, you should not expect a customer to pay.
The waiter girl sent another girl from the counter. The same exchange was repeated. I asked for the manager. He arrived. The exchange was repeated again.
We have forwarded the complaint to our senior management, said he.
I would not relent. I said, give me water that your staff drinks.
He deferred at last. And brought me cold water in a long white paper cup.

This is why they want capitalism, I thought, as I drank the water, wanting some more but too exasperated to ask!
That too Laissez Faire – complete freedom to do business as they like.
Ease of doing business, no interference by government. No regulations.
So you can grudge a customer a cup of water he needs in between morsels to wash down your stale chutney and pungent sambhar.

Why wouldn’t a restaurant give water?
Tap water is available for free.
But oh no. it’s not really free. You still have to pay the corporation water bill bi-monthly.
It’s a bare minimum, just a few rupees for a 100 liters, but why spend even that much?
Ok. You can add that to the cost of food and charge the customer.
But then what if someone drinks 4 glasses instead of the 2 glasses that you assumed while apportioning cost?
And then there is the task of collecting tap water in a container every day.
A staff member will have to spend 30 minutes of his time.
And time is money.
Moreover there is the cost of the container and the cost of tumblers.
So you have decided to give only mineral water.
Ok, so do you charge the customer only the cost of it?
No, you might as well make some profit out of it.
Why not? So you add a 20% margin.

Where will the calculation stop?

Squeeze until you get the last drop and then squeeze some more.
Do these fellows have conscience?

Take 100 rupees from a customer and refuse to give even a glass of water! This, in a country that has taught the world what giving is.

Time and again, it is these businessmen that verify my preconception that freedom, for most part, is freedom without responsibility; that State regulations and interference are indispensable in trade and commerce, because calculative minds, if left to themselves will compete with each other for higher profits and the highest levels degeneration.

Wish the State would make it a mandate for restaurants to provide regular drinking water for free.

And all the business schools in the country, please do include, in your curriculum, among ‘strategy’, ‘finance’ and ‘marketing’, a subject called ‘Humanity in Business’.
Those discussing the oxymoron have used this phrase as an example for long, evoking much laughter. Let us ‘get it’ that this wretchedness is not a laughing matter but a crying shame.

Nobility will have to be enforced if it does not come voluntarily, hence the need for regulations; but let there also be continuous effort to ensconce nobility in the nature of men and women; education, textbooks, curriculum, anecdotes, example, precept, whatever it takes to turn business men into human beings.
And if a superstition about ‘rebirth as a lizard’ can achieve the purpose, it is welcome too.

Friday, June 10, 2011

EC - Flying and Scrambling, Crouching and Racing

It was a bumpy plane ride; the worst of all I have experienced. I was half asleep and therefore less afraid.
My father had mentioned air bubbles once… it seems the air hostesses had abandoned the food carts/trolleys right in the middle of serving and fled…
Were we passing through one of those bubbles now? Or was it something else?
It felt like driving on roads with alternating road humps and potholes.
I could actually feel the plane diving suddenly and my heartbeat stopping every time that happened.
And I smiled away foolishly, eyes closed, rather enjoying the boisterous slapstick comedy, not caring to fear, sure of my destiny, for no reason at all.

Another feature of this ride was the impervious-impermeable Vada that was served alongside Idly. It was so impervious to the hot Sambhar in which it was immersed, that it was brown on the outside and when I bit into it, it was spotless white inside. As I chewed, there appeared Vijay Mallya on the screen before me, proclaiming he had tasted the food personally and made sure it was perfect.

We were flying cattle class in Kingfisher.
The seats were closely packed. The namesake reclining seats moved only 2-3 inches backward while I continued pressing the button and pushing the back of the seat with all my might.
The Bangalore – Delhi journey was miserable!
And the little speech by Mr. Mallya was a source of comic relief to one and all.
“The airhostesses have been personally chosen by me…! “
Yes. We believe you.
I thought of a joke by a friend during peak recession “Why King Fisher employees need not worry about being laid off?
Because they have already been … … by……
Ha ha ha…
Sorry about the crudeness.
The very plastic, artificial Yana Gupta was giving security instructions in Hindi on the small screen pausing between sentences at all the wrong times…

‘Hum aapko suraksha ke’
‘Bare mein’
‘Soochna dete hai’

The Delhi international airport!
Wow!! What a sight! How grand and what aesthetic sense! Every inch of it had received attention.

The first thing I noticed was the carpeting! The complete length of the corridors, stretching up to hundreds of meters was carpeted.
The way it stretched from this end to that, it made me think of Paris airport!

There were conveyor belts to carry people who preferred to simply stand and at the same time be transported to the opposite end of a long corridor.

Every bend and turn at the airport offered a surprise.

High ceilings created an atmosphere of majesty.

In one place, there were Mudras in metallic finish fixed to the wall, that was covered by huge copper coloured concave metallic plates - each mudra being as tall as I am.
There were 10 or more of them in all.

The wall opposite was covered with posters of cricketers.

I had to meet a friend during the three hours I had before my next flight so I moved towards arrivals.

Granite tiles polished to a sheen covered the floor that reflected the hundreds of light fixtures on the ceiling above.

I noticed, there was a long strip of murals covering the length of the building as I walked toward arrivals.

The snake charmer was there; it seems to me that no amount of development - glass finished buildings, malls, computers and all - will take away from the snake charmer, his right to represent India before all else.
Then there were the Classical dancers, Elephants, the Tabla and the Shenai, Tagore…
And this one took me by surprise - the Naama - the mark on the forehead worn by the Iyengars, and the Vaishnavas in general. I was happy to see my community represented.

I did not notice then, but the Taj Mahal was not all pervasive.
I am glad someone had discovered there was so much more to India than a grave.
(Make no mistake; I am emotional about Agra and the Taj Mahal. I spent the first two years of my life there. But definitely, there is much more to India)

I walked slowly towards the exit savouring the sights.

The Hindi translation of Exit ‘Nikas’ caught my attention as I traced its root to a word in Sanskrit that I thought I had read recently.

The arrival lounge is lined with stalls on both sides – stalls of all kind, books, food, bakery,…

The one that faced me as I entered this lounge was a very attractive ‘Kingdom of Dreams” - What was it? Some agency for booking hotels? That’s what a certain taxi driver, waiting at arrivals said.

When I googled it, I found something very interesting. “Kingdom of Dreams is a spectacular world of unparalleled imagination, which brings to you a blend of India’s culture, heritage, art, crafts, cuisine and performing arts buttressed with the mind boggling technological wizardry of today. This unique tourist destination, situated at the apex of the golden triangle of Jaipur, Agra and Delhi offers you the carnival that is India.”

I will surely visit this place on my next visit to Delhi. The website is so gorgeous.

I saw these metal book marks in a certain shop … stencils of Krishna, peepal leaf, peacock paisley, elephant, flower, lotus and autorickshaw!… 500 rupees each. I almost bought them but held myself.

As I stepped outside the arrivals exit to meet my friend, I saw some more art on the pillars.

Last and the least was this restaurant called ‘food street’ that I walked into, to get some South Indian food. Plain Dosa - 110 rupees. The white chutney which first tasted of ginger and resulted in a good first impression, turned out to be stale the next second. The Sambhar was kind of bitter sour but I was not sure if it was stale. I had to negotiate with three people before I could get a glass of regular drinking water without paying extra.
This restaurant must be a shining example of the decadence that Laissez Faire capitalism can bring about. More on this later…

I had one more hour to go before my international flight took off.
I said goodbye to my friend and moved towards the next gate. My heart sank when I saw the queue. The king fisher staff who filled the form for me at the counter by taking details from my passport…thank you so much…

Once I had my boarding pass, I felt somewhat relieved. I had to reach gate 10B. I had 10-15 more minutes but did not panic since I thought the gate must be close by.
There was no end to the enticing distracting glittery shops and I clicked some more pictures. Anti-consumption though I may be, I could not help feasting my eyes on all the dreamlike material abundance.

I pushed my trolley, walked to this bend and took that turn but gate 10B would just not show. When someone pointed to the bend at the very end of a kilometer long corridor, my pulse began racing. I had no idea Delhi airport was so huge.

I ran with the trolley as a voice announced the last and final boarding call to passengers flying by IT-65.

I must thank the driver of the electric car who went out of his way to escort me. The one meant for passengers shook his head when I signalled to him and drove in the opposite direction. The other who was loading or unloading some goods – drove me to the ever elusive 10B terminal.
I reached, just in time, still panting from the effort of my marathon.

I almost missed my flight twice on the same day. The flight from Bangalore to Delhi had also been a scramble, because we had underestimated the crowd inside. The number of people that had turned up at 5 in the morning! Where were they all going?

Had my mother been witness to all my scrambling, that too twice on the same day, she would have shook her head from side to side until…

So I was inside Kingfisher again, flying cattle class again. The refreshment for this international flight, however, included a chocolate pastry, which I must admit, tasted good.

I had gotten used to Yana Gupta by now.
What kept my childish whim occupied (and amused) this time was a Faux pas.
The recorded announcement said something about alcohol consumption being prohibited on plane and the big prohibition symbol appeared on the screen - on your face.

After water, wet tissue and head sets were offered, the lady in red appeared with “Some beer for your sir?”.
When she tried to offer me one, I asked her about the earlier instruction about prohibition of alcohol, out of idle curiosity (I am a teetotaller).
“That’s for domestic flights only, not international flights’.
Why the message then, I thought?
Cost cutting - by shooting a single video for two messages!
Somehow, cost cutting had characterized several happenings of that day.

By the way, did I tell you where I was heading to?
Oh! I forgot.
Some believe that you do not choose a mountain. The mountain chooses you. Must be true, for I swear I had no plans of going to this place this summer. But long before the onset of summer, a certain mountain, in The Great Himalayas of Nepal, over 29000 feet tall, had chosen me, to take into her proximity.
And here I was, responding to that calling.

Here I was, flying and scrambling, crouching and racing, lumbering and trudging, ambling and hopping and doing whatever else it took to reach the glorious Mt. Everest.