Saturday, March 31, 2012


I was not aware of the moment
when I first crossed the threshold of this life.
What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery
like a bud in the forest at midnight!
When in the morning I looked upon the light
I felt in a moment that I was no stranger in this world,
that the inscrutable without name and form
had taken me in its arms in the form of my own mother.
Even so, in death the same unknown will appear as ever known to me.
And because I love this life,
I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries out
when from the right breast the mother takes it away,
in the very next moment to find in the left one its consolation.

~ Tagore

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Everest Calling - Machermo to Phortse Tanga

As I said, when we were about to leave the Red Cross Centre, a member of our group dropped to the ground.

And misfortune began…

The guy fainted. He vomited too.
He was fed immediately and he puked again.
The unrelenting medical staff fed him again and he threw up.
I don’t trust doctors completely.
Feed someone soon after they have puked! Giving the already strained stomach some more burden.
Whatever happened to “listen to your body”?

Had he been given only electoral or glucose, perhaps things would have turned out differently.

He should be carried back to Dole right away, said the doctors. It was dark. A porter would carry him in a basket on his back. He would use a hand torch. Someone among us gave him a head torch.
It was dreadful to even think about the prospect. To have to be carried by a porter along that trail, colder than in the morning, darker, the winds stronger… and to think of the porter’s plight…such a pity.

People started falling ill, one by one – headache, nausea, loose motion.

I threw up.
But had the sensibility to refuse to take solids for that day against the insistence of all who seemed to believe in the doctor’s advice.
I sipped small quantities of electral water.

I did the Sudarshana Kriya sitting in front of the Tandoor praying that I would not have to return to India without sighting Everest at Kala Patthar.
When I opened my eyes looking for my share of Dal that I had kept aside for having after the Kriya, it was gone. Perhaps for good.

The Red Cross doctor who had given the afternoon session peppered with humour, was summoned to attend to the grave situation. She was seated in one of our rooms and we saw her one by one.
I was not asked to take diamox because I had none of the AMS symptoms. In fact, she told me the examination was expensive (it was a simple examination) and I should go for it only if I had the symptoms. I liked her honesty.

I took more electral, rested for the night while many others retched like their intestines were coming out.

That night was the first time I slept in a sleeping bag.
It was cold to the touch and getting into it slow and formidable.
I liked it in a way because I didn’t have to tuck it to preserve heat as with a blanket. But I did use my shawl of 2008 to cover my face and chest.

Loss of water. Loss of health. But the bigger loss was loss of morale and confidence.
The really sick ones wanted only to go back alive from the death valley. Who cared to see Everest?

It the afternoon lunch that did us in. Noodles, potato wedges, pasta, refined foods...
We had become thoroughly bored of the food by then and had been nagging our tour guides to give us tasty interesting food.

What ensued was a change of plan. We would go back to Doley and from there on, take a different route, the Everest highway – this had been the plan B.
Had we had some buffer time, we could have rested a day until acclimatization was complete and stuck to our original plan.

I almost decided I would go back. I even dreamt that night that I would reach Delhi early and leave to Rishikesh, then to Khirganga to give Arun Babaji a surprise…

The next day when I had descended a few 100 meters and all was well, I hoped I would be one among the people who would make it to Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp. When N (a member of our team) prophesized that only half the people would reach Kala Patthar and EBC, that people would start falling out at each stop, I hoped that I would be among the ones who would make it.

The next day we were back at Dole for lunch.
I could not stop wishing we had been on our way to Gokyo instead.

On the way back we were joined by a member, the youngest in the team, who had fallen sick on the way to Machermo and stayed in Luza.

The breakfast that morning at Machermo – some sweet rice porridge with a few pieces of dried coconut felt like ambrosia. Really.

Reaching Dole, feeling fit and fine, I ate some spicy Haldiram snack wondering what would be for lunch, back to square one, back to worrying about taste buds, like nothing had happened in the last 24 hours.

I and Ravi were the first to reach Dole. Reaching, Phortse Tanga in the evening, I smiled a sad, wan smile, as we were asked to take a turn to the River Resort.

We met the one who had survived the night journey on the porter’s back.

We ordered chocolate pudding and apple roll.

In the night, I and many others had hot shower.

All was well.

The light fixture in our room that night.

I was back to taking pictures.

So all was well again :-)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Everest Calling - Dole to Machermo

We ascend to Machermo. With every step forward, and upward, Thamsherku becomes visible in more breadth and depth. More and more peaks rise all along the horizon. I swear at the clouds. I swear more at the remembrance of how they maliciously blocked the golden-sunset-mountain from me the previous day.

Our plan was to proceed to Gokyo the next day – the most difficult part of our trek – from where Everest would come into view.
But I wished we would return along the same route to view the golden mountains again. Had I known my wish would be granted, I might not have made it.

The trail from Dole to Machermo was through a moorland – a land exposed to elements. There were no trees, only thorny shrubs and rocks sprouting out of a dry land.
When the cold cruel unforgiving winds blowing against my face and hands hurt like a hundred needles, I asked, for the first time, if a view of the Everest was worth all that discomfort and all that struggle.

A white bright snow covered peak, very far away, contrasting sharply with the dark grey that stretched from us in all directions was among the few interesting things on that route.
The top of the peak was being blown away by very strong winds. It appeared to us like white fumes rising from the peak and diffusing ever so slowly into the blue surrounding – the effect as seen by us diminished by the distance.

We passed a place named Luza – that had about 3 buildings making it up.

Don’t miss the helicopter in the below pictures.

We reached Machermo.

Soon after lunch, we were told that there was a Red Cross Centre nearby and a session on AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) was to begin in a while.
We ached to remain seated in our hotel. It hurt to even think of stepping out. It was that cold.

We all walked to the centre in a file.

We learnt that we were in the ‘Death Valley’.
That people on that route had died. Of dehydration, very low oxygen in their body, of mountain sickness.
We were told about the various disorders that high altitude brought on. And their symptoms.

Drink lots of water, be warm, take diamox if you have the symptoms, don’t take sedatives to sleep well in the night, listen to your body, don’t push yourselves…

We were told of the myths and then of the truths.
There were porters available to carry people down on their backs, there was a helicopter service available, though it took time – and both took a lot of money.

Our oxygen saturation levels were checked. The following numbers are approximate not accurate.
In the plains the oxygen saturation level was 96-97. In the mountains it fell. If it went below 70 or so, you were in danger. A non invasive instrument with a small panel showing the reading was used. I wonder how it works. My number was 79. I was quite safe.

Just when we were about to leave, a member of our group dropped to the ground.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

When the Price of the World Was 80000 Rupees

After spending the first two years in Agra of which I have no memory, I moved to Mysore with my parents, since my father, a banker had been transferred to the place. I have no memory either, of the suburban house that we first lived in. Shortly after, my father bought a house in the then outskirts of the city.

Mysore, 25 years ago was an altogether different place; especially our Siddharthalayout. There were just a few houses in the immediate neighbourhood and there were vast open spaces all around.
As we stood in front of the house facing the road, we could see Lalitha Mahal diagonally opposite towards our right, not very far away - a white magnificent palace that was built for a visiting viceroy during the British rule.

On a full moon day, on the horizon facing us, the moon rose. It was so big, the span of it was wider than you could cover if you stretched both your arms outwards. It’s yellow colour gradually turned white as it went higher and higher up the sky. There were hardly any vehicles.
My grandmother and my mother would count the number of autorickshaws that passed in front of the house in a day and report it without amusement to my father, when he returned from office in the evening.

The silence was so complete that we could hear the lion roaring in the famous Chamarajendra zoo, a good two kilometers away. And the spaces so clear that we could see the Mysore palace, four kilometers away, from our terrace.

My father would return home in his Lambi scooter which he called a helicopter. It was another of his precious material belongings. His most precious material belonging perhaps was the idol of Krishna and ironically there was nothing material about it! This idol, my father had purchased in Brindavan which he had visited when he was posted in Agra. It is a marble statue, one foot tall, playing the flute.

My father bought this idol in Brindavan for 400 rupees. That had seemed very costly at that time – in fact prohibitively expensively and mother was not too keen. After a lot of dilly-dallying, my father finally bought it. It is probably the most valued article in the house. Through many transfers that took us all over the country, he carried the idol in his arm, carefully wrapping the idol in a soft cloth, too reluctant to put it in a suitcase, trunk or any other baggage.

He became so possessive about it that he did not allow any of us to go near it, leave alone touch or hold it. And in course of time, he became so attached to it that he would stand before the idol in silence and look at it. Further, there arrived a stage where he had to touch it at least once every day.

Twice a year, I would eagerly await my father’s return home on his helicopter. After mid term exams and final exams. He would bring with him my reward for getting the first rank in class - a 5 star chocolate. Once he had bought the diary milk. How I had looked forward to eating these.

Whenever my father had to summon me, he would call out ‘Soumithri’. That had been his only way of calling out to me. And that the was only nickname I ever had in my life.

It was a small house.
But we had a good amount of land between the outer wall of the house and the compound, left for gardening. My father planted various kinds of saplings. Three coconut saplings, a cheeku plant (or Suppota as it is also known) and a pomegranate tree were among the fruit bearing ones. Among the flower bearing, were the thorny bougainvillea, a pink rose shrub, a jasmine creeper …
And then there were the show plants. Ashoka plant, croutons etc.

The Christmas tree was right at the centre of the garden and beamed like a jewel. In years to come, it would tower over all other plants, over the house itself and over the entire neighbourhood.
10 years thence, there would come a day, when it would be felled to allow fruit bearing coconut and Suppota trees to flourish – a day when beauty would be felled for the sake of utility – and the family would forget that a Christmas tree had ever been there in the garden.

The soil was fertile; virgin as it was. All the plants flourished very well – with their shiny green leaves, branching twigs and all. Our garden burst forth with life.

Very soon, there were healthy and good looking pomegranates dangling from the ends of thin woody branches. Although not seedless, the colour of the fruit was a deep rich blood red.

One had to keep a watch on them to protect them from street urchins who pelted stones at them or mustered the bravery to jump the compound for the fruit.
Once, we plucked a fruit rather impatiently, unable to bear the thought of losing it to some rogue. Alas! It was half ripe. Then we decided to be more patient the next time.

When the fruit appeared on the plant we fixed the ‘auspicious’ day on which we would pluck it. Everyday my granny, my mom and my dad would go into the garden when no one else in the neighbourhood was noticing, take a good look at the fruit and return to the house with the assurance that everything was ‘alright’. Just one more day was left.
The three of them had a small discussion about whether to take the ‘risk’ of leaving it for another day or not. They unanimously agreed to take the risk.
We all woke up the next morning. Without saying anything to one another, we walked into our garden and towards the pomegranate plant. Alas! It was gone.

We all stood in a circle around the plant in a stupefied silence as if hoping it would reappear on the branch in a while. What a costly mistake it had proved; not plucking it the previous evening! We made our way back into the house. Everyone was silent the whole day. Not much was uttered but for the occasional remorse filled remembrance of the pomegranate fruit.

On luckier days, we did pluck the fruit. My father had taken upon himself the duty of cutting and distributing fruit to all of us.
This duty, he has been unfailingly performing to this day….after every family meal, day after day, for over nine thousand one hundred and twenty five days now, he has peeled fruits, diced them, sliced them, or shelled them and divided them into four unequal shares, always giving his children a little more.

We would all sit in the portico - I, mother, brother, grandmother, grandfather and father - and eat our share of the fruit - a handful of ruby like pomegranate pearls - with love and relish.
The initial excitement when the fruit was first seen on the tree, the vigilance of all the days and the waiting forever - this was the summation of it all. A few minutes of fulfillment on the portico.
The summation of all life is a few minutes of fulfillment.

1986. It was time to say good bye.
I had lived in this house ever since I could remember. I had no memory of any place before this. I had just completed 1st standard in Teresian primary school. The foundation had been laid. And a good one.

The croutons, the Ashoka trees and the Christmas tree and the pomegranate were growing well. The bougainvillea had grown wild. Its boughs laden with pink flowers had claimed most of the front portion of the house.

When I had found this resting place, my father had been transferred to a village called Nagamangala. There were no English schools there. It had been decided, after a brief consultation with me of course, that I would stay in my grandmother’s home in Hassan, for a year.

On the day of departure, I stood in front of my house, looked at our home and our garden with a keenness and with a fondness I had not felt before. I looked at everything as if it was for the last time. With complete Innocence and devotion, I genuflected before my home, even before anyone had taught me gratitude.


It had been my world. This home. My first home.
Living in this home, with my mother, father, his helicopter, his marble Krishna, the garden, its pomegranate tree, those blood filled rubies, and the five star chocolates –this home feels 100% real.

When my father had bought this house, he had been earning 1400 rupees a month. He had bought it for 80000 rupees and he remembers that day when he did not have 10 rupees left in his pocket after he had arranged the sum after much scrambling and given it away.

We returned to this house after 10 years of nomadic life.
Today, after all sorts of alterations, it is much bigger and much better decked. The helicopter has made way for a long silver grey car. The garden has become half its size, for the house has become bigger. There are much better pomegranate fruits available in the market – seedless.
5-star chocolates seem boring.
My father no longer calls me Soumithri. Somewhere during the battle that began with the beginning of my teenage, that tenderness was lost and so was the nickname.

It is still my home, my beautiful home. Within beautiful surroundings.

But when I close my eyes and think of a space, of a time, of an experience that’s 100% real, it is the home of 1986 that I think of.
For it was the home of a time when life had not yet begun to break its promises.
That home was my world.

And the world was so much more beautiful when its price was 80000 rupees.

Here is a picture my father had taken from his camera - perhaps his first camera. He had admonished me for some reason and I had been angry. He framed the picture and placed it in the showcase. Throughout our nomadic life, this picture of his had a place in many a showcase. Just like his marble Krishna.


This post has been written for the Kissan 100% real contest, hosted by Indiblogger: