Sunday, April 29, 2012

Everest Calling - Phortse Tanga to Pangboche

23rd April 2011

The hike to Pangboche from Phortse Tanga.

That was where we stayed in Phortse Tanga.

We spotted a musk deer. Or so someone said.

We reached this village in a few hours after which the setting changed.

Can you see some of my team members climbing ahead? A somewhat unusual trail…not by the side of the mountain with the valley on one side and the mountain itself on the other… but a trail along the slope itself so you have the mountain on both sides and no valley.
We had to reach the ridge of this arid mountain to know what lay ahead.

The view from the ridge.

And then, it was a trail by the side of the mountains…as usual.

That’s Narayan, one of our tour guides. We have reached Pangboche.

The hike to Pangboche from Phortse Tanga was much unrewarding – not many pictures for my camera, the down jacket was a liability and the trail, quite boring for someone who has seen many mountains.

There is a television in the dining hall – playing the movie ‘Step Up’.
They changed it to another movie ‘Alive’. Given our own situation, this was a horror movie, for it had snow everywhere!

One of the caretaker boys here, a Buddhist, has studied in Bylakuppe, near Mysore.

Evening. When garam chai was served, I asked if they could make pakodas. The pakodas were not to come, and my craving was to become a joke in the group, for the next few days, exaggerated and all…

There is music.
The song ‘Tum Mile’ is playing… ‘Tum Mile To Jadu Cha Gaya, Tum Mile To Jeena Aa Gaya. Tum Mile…’ takes my mind back to a something I have forgotten now, in this paradigm.

Sandwiches were served with Yak cheese. Didn’t like the smell. Yak cheese, I thought, smelt like puke.

The mood has changed. People have taken to playing cards since yesterday.

It’s very cold here.
I like the sleeping bag now. The initial feeling was that of claustrophobia. I am getting over it now.

Here’s is an interesting thing.
We all took a shower in Phortse Tanga(last night). 300 Nepali Rupees for a shower. This morning, while making payment at the counter, it came to pass that some had left without paying. Perhaps it was someone from another team, not ours. Perhaps it was an oversight…but the hotel people would live with it.
There is an honour system here. They don’t keep strict records of trade – purchase, payment. People are trusted to be honest and to make their payments at the counter.
Lovely. Isn’t it? Enclaves of Treta Yuga in an ocean of Kali. With dishonest people taking advantage of them however, its just a matter of time before the enclaves will soon be submerged in the ocean…

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Everest Calling - Coping with High Altitudes

There are several variables, factors and solutions that you could try to bear in mind while ascending high altitudes, but the most important thing according to me, is this.


Be slow.

Your limbs may not ache and you may feel you have the strength to hike some more but that doesn’t mean you should.

If you are young (which is likely if you have chosen to trek in the mountains), you even tend to show off before your fellow trekkers who are panting and puffing and rubbing their joints.
But please don’t.

There are usually several factors to reckon with – the cold, loss of water (because of sweating), the climb, body ache, low oxygen levels, change in diet, difficulty in digesting food, increased heart beat,... and so on.
Instead of trying to cope with each of them individually, one must find a holistic way of coping.
And that is called acclimatization.
If your body is allowed to acclimatize to the altitude, then all the above factors will be automatically taken care of.

And for acclimatization to happen, you need to ascend very gradually, for all the strength your body may have, because the body cannot adjust to sudden changes.

Try not to ascend more than 200 meters a day; that is, do not gain more than 200 metres or 660 feet of altitude per day.

That way, your body will have time to gradually acclimatize to the change in surrounding conditions little by little, day by day.
And if you allow your body to acclimatize, it does not matter how high the altitude. The body can cope with it.

Only when there is sudden altitude gain, the body buckles.

Leh is at an altitude as low as 10000 or 11000 feet. Yet, the day you land there from Delhi, you feel breathless in the night, and are unable to sleep.

One of the reasons people are unable to sleep in high altitudes is that they have fluid in their lungs – a sign that acclimatization has not happened.
So when you are sitting erect during the day, the fluid settles in the bottom of the lungs and you are still able to breathe with the rest of the space in there.
But when you lie down in the night, the fluid spreads throughout the lungs because of your horizontal position, and you feel as though you are sinking and you are unable to breathe and therefore unable to sleep.

If you are able to sleep well in the night, that means your body has successfully acclimatized and you need to worry no more!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Destiny through Freewill

Paradoxical though it may sound, it is so true that you can experience destiny only when acting under freewill.

And it is an irony that most of us, Indians, proponents of ‘Karma’, another name for ‘Destiny’, perhaps have the least experience of it, for our lives are so sheltered that most of us have never known free will.

Not most of them from the previous generation.
All women.
Most of the men too.

The tall figures of father, mother, grandparents, elder siblings, relatives and the community were always there to block our view of destiny.

For it was they who decided what we would do.
And it was again they who came in the way when we tried to do what WE wanted to do.

That being the case, the tentacles of octopus hauling us through life, how was one to see the wispy hand of destiny?

Father decided which school you would go to, mother decided what clothes you would wear, grandparents decided what games you would play, together they decided you would become an engineer, join an MNC, save so much every month and marry this guy...
And after that, the spouse’s family joined yours in making decisions for you.

So everything you did and everything you did not, you could ascribe to those people. Your family and your community. There was never an opportunity to ascribe anything to destiny.

In fact, more than the things that we did because of family or community, were the things – so many of them - that we did NOT do, because of them.

For years I thought...
If not for my granny, I could have kept my velvet skirt.
If not for my aunt, I could have continued to have short hair, like I had always had.
If not for my father who would not let me stay in hostels, I could have taken up engineering in Bangalore instead of BSc in Mysore.
If not for my mother who told on us when my father came home, we could have had cable connection to our TV like all our friends.
If not for my father who locked our telephone, I could have kept in touch with my college friends after we moved to another city and not have to go through years of loneliness.
If not for my mother who opened my letters to see if they were from a boy, I could have carried on my correspondence with friends without tension and guilt.

When my father exacted a promise from me that I would marry the arranged way and not ‘love some guy’, I gave him my word, feeling like his victim and wishing he were more broadminded, wishing we were not Indians, but westerners.

Some day, I thought, someday, after I started earning, when I would be free and independent, I would do all I wanted, buy all I wanted, have all I wanted, because then who would stop me?
I would live life as I pleased.
I would have everything my way.
Nothing could stop me.

There came a day when I moved out of my house because of work and started living on my own in a different city.
I began drifting away from the person I had been influenced to become towards the person I was meant to become. Myself.

And after half a decade of acting under free will,
When I began to see there was no relation between cause and effect, not always,...

When strangers walked into my life and became part of it...
When friends I thought I would grow old with suddenly became strangers...for all the freedom I now had to telephone them, write to them and meet them all I wanted...
When I was offered on a silver platter, the job that I had not known existed, but suited me perfectly...
When I left the job I thought I would keep all my life...for all the freedom I now had to work anywhere I wanted and live in any city...
When I came to live close to a Guru I had no faith in...
When there came a day of faith and I was on my way to say goodbye to him...

And when years after the day my exasperated mother asked me if I had a boy in mind, never mind the promise made to my father, I found myself still waiting for the man of my dreams and no one had appeared on the horizon yet, for all the freedom I now had to marry anyone I wanted,...
I saw that hand...the hand of destiny.

For there was no one else nearby trying to bear influence.
No one to stop me. I was acting under free will. Complete free will.
And yet...

Even though I had all the freewill, I could not have my way.
Not for all my freewill. Not even with the cooperation of those who had once opposed freewill.
Without my willing, many things came to pass and with all my willing, I could just not make certain things happen...

And that was when destiny was clearest to me. That wispy hand stronger than the tentacles of any octopus, carrying me along the path of my Karma...

Like gravity. When you are on firm ground, you don’t see it. Only when you plunge, when under free fall, you know gravity.

Paradoxical, but true. Only when you are acting under freewill, you know destiny.

And only when I was under freewill, I was finally able to forgive all those people who had curbed it once, for at last I was able to see them as mere instruments.
Of destiny.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

A Better Wor(L)d

‘…and when sometimes she chose a different word or a new phrase it was like the pressure of a potter’s thumb on clay – changing the thing itself and their knowledge of it…’

I am very sensitive to the way people use words; with their choice of adjectives (to begin with).

I first started noticing this when I entered college.
Everyone around used certain words simply because everyone else was using them; these words were in vogue.
Some exclamations for example – Awesome! Cool! Too good for words!
And then there were the swear words – shit, fuck, damn, so sick…

These were seasonal. They changed with season.
In one particular season, one set of words were in vogue and everybody picked them up from the air like it was common cold and started using them.

Occasionally I would be influenced and start using these words but after a few times of using the word, would give myself a jolt and remind myself to choose my words carefully, to take care while using a word that it’s meaning, purport, power, and intensity be suitable to the occasion.

This habit of using certain words used to be so contagious that everyone would be affected by it and they would use it once in every sentence.
Everything was either ‘cool’ or ‘so sick’, ‘awesome’ or ‘what the fuck’, ‘too good’ or ‘it sucks man’… depending on the season and the then latest fashion.

That’s when I started hating the word ‘cool’ and later I started hating the word ‘awesome’ too. You will not find me using these words even once in a month, nay, a few months.

I feel like an idiot when I roll them around my tongue. I am doing it right now ‘cool!’, ‘awesome!’ and feeling totally unintelligent.

And the way people use superlatives in the most ordinary of circumstances makes me pity - not the fellows using them but the words, for I see them losing their power.

Gorgeous! Superb! Mind Blowing!

Some jerk sitting next to me in a restaurant, sloshed after a drink and some dance in a discotheque, said “O the Vedas! Fuck! They are so awesome man! O Fuck! They are so deep!

And the way they bring the ordinary and the extra ordinary to the same level!
This dog is cool! The cake is cool! My new shoes are cool! These flowers are so cool! What a cool movie!
The Himalayas are cool! This handbag is cool!

Dog, cake, shoes, flowers, movie, Himalayas and handbag, all are on the same level now because some ‘half baked’ with a vocabulary of four words ascribed the same adjective to all of them.

Words have lost their power now. And when you witness something truly extra ordinary, you don’t have a word to describe it – for you have already used and spent all of them for the banalities of everyday existence.
You have used, overused, abused and misused words.

With the proliferation of IT companies, and hence of the American ways, people have taken to using the word ‘great’ in offices too often.
‘When can I have the updated document?’
‘If you can wait for half an hour, it will be great’
And I want to say, ‘Hello! What is so great about it?’ why don’t you just say “In half an hour. That’s perfectly polite.’

Colleague from the next cubicle - “I need that training material from you. If you can mail it to me, it will be great.”
Methinks, “There is nothing great about it. You NEED it. And I am SUPPOSED to send it as part of responsibilities assigned to me, in my job role. And I WILL send it to you”

In fact, people are so used to such language that the one who speaks economically and correctly is frowned upon.
This chicken brained woman whom I used to report to, called me once and asked me if I could be more polite.
“….hmmm… instead of saying ‘Please review this by end of day’, can you say ‘it will be great if you can review this by end of day?’…”
My response, “No I cannot. Because there is nothing great about it. This is not my personal work. It is required for the project. She is expected to review it by end of day. And that’s that.”

You could bitch about people behind them, you could be mean, shrewd, whatever but superficial politeness on the face was a must.

Coming to the matter of accuracy.
How many of us perceive the fine difference between beautiful, pretty, charming, attractive, cute, good looking, smart looking, hot, sexy…?
Or the difference between smart, wise, intelligent, shrewd, sharp, knowledgeable, mature, deep…?

Most of the time, we use any one of the words to describe any other attribute in that category as if these words were synonymous.

When we remark that ‘she is pretty’ or ‘he is intelligent’, are we sure we are using the right word! May be she’s actually ‘beautiful’ and not just pretty. May be he is just ‘shrewd’ and not really ‘intelligent’.

There is also the matter of the ‘weight’ and ‘depth’ of words.
One needs to tell one situation from another considering the difference in their gravity.
For instance, I know, a lot of people these days ‘having a fling’ and ‘going around’, but when I see two mature individuals, whose relationship is of a more noble quality, I prefer to say ‘they are in love’ or ‘they are committed’ and NOT ‘they are going around’.
Even ‘affair’ sounds less solemn to my ears.
A lot of them may be just ‘making-out’ but some of them were ‘sharing intimate moments’.
This pointing out the difference between casual flirtation and true love, between carnal fever and divine trance was just to give you an example.
We find people making such casual references almost everywhere and failing to distinguish between situations differing in gravity. Thanks to the useless notions about fashion that people have.
We think it ‘cool’ to use slang and colloquial in our speech. We seem to have forgotten the correct and proper way of speaking.

Another dimension to the misuse of words is the matter of labels.
Many innocent words, because of the way they have been used and the things they are ‘made to denote’, have become ‘labels’ with ‘connotations’.
Something new, when given that ‘label’ acquires a new dimension, not its own and that could be misleading, even dangerous, because of the previous associations of the label.
And then other labels are coined to achieve vested interests.

One such label, coined in the recent times that outraged me was ‘Saffronization’.
It was coined by certain political parties to dub certain other parties ‘fundamentalist’ and the label was propagated by the media (of course).
Whatever it may stand for, I felt my insides churning when ‘they’ used it on one occasion to describe an effort made to promote Sanskrit.
What sort of blindness could make an Indian forget – regardless of their political agenda, mother tongue, caste – that Sanskrit is not yours or mine but OURS.
And how dangerous this label would prove if it achieved its purpose.
Many of the young would resent Sanskrit! For fear of being associated with a political view, with a political party, for fear of being seen as unfashionable and so on!

We have to beware of labels. Not only while using them but also when others try to use them for us.
“Oh! So you are a ‘communist’ (label!).”
“NO. I believe individuals can be selfish and the STATE has to take care of public welfare and therefore regulate all businesses. And that’s that”

“Are you a collectivist (label) or an individualist (label)?”
“Usually, one is not a pure collectivist or a pure individualist. I mean, one does not have to be. They are like two ends of a spectrum. One can be and one usually is somewhere along this spectrum, closer to one end or the other.”

That was about the CHOICE of words.
Another important matter is the choice of WORDS.

Even if communication be perfected, language is inherently inadequate in its power to express all the finer nuances in our life.
One has to admit the insufficiency of words to represent the entire range or spectrum of human ideas, thoughts and feelings that differ from one another in intensity, depth and power by merely a shade.

How many different colours can the computer tell from one another? My computer configuration says – 255*255*255 = 16581375!
What about the human mind then? Surely, it is more complex than the computer.
So, there must be as many different thoughts, feelings, ideas in our mind... but we do not have so many words in the Oxford dictionary to distinctly represent all of them? No.

Sometimes it is best to leave certain things unclothed in words. We should not insist on coercing all feelings into the limited forms, frames and structures known to us. Because the subtle, when contained in form and structure, that are inherently gross, actually becomes gross. It no longer remains subtle, divine and noble that it is, when put in words. It becomes plain, banal and mundane. Even vulgar or gross.

Contrary to the above condition, there exists the case of censorship.
Certain feelings and thoughts do not permit themselves to become manifest in words.
We dream in a subconscious state because our conscious state acting like guardian does not allow certain thoughts, ideas to become manifest when we are waking, however true they may be.
That happens when these thoughts and feelings are socially unacceptable or unacceptable to our own mind because they defy our very identity, the image we have of ourselves.
Similarly, words, acting like guardians of the society that created them, do not allow certain truths to become manifest. The only way they are allowed to manifest is in the form of denial. If a truth were to manifest as the ‘denial of truth’ or admittance but with guilt, reluctance and shame, is it worth manifesting it in words? Is it not best to leave it in its formless state?

For instance, once in a way you meet a person you feel you have known from another lifetime. There is a bonding, connection which you cannot deny. What is it? Friendship? You know, it is more than that.
Love? The larger context in which the two people are situated may make “love” seem unholy. But then, is it necessary to give it a name, a word, at all?

A friend, a perfect gentleman, once told me about an innocent kiss that transpired between him and a woman he liked, at a time he was already committed to another girl. While I understood the innocence of that moment, someone who doesn’t know him, hearing of the incident in ‘words’ would look at it very differently and think him flirtatious or morally loose.

Concluding this article, I will say the following.
Words are very powerful.
All the same, words are delicate.
Words are the carriers of culture.
Let us appreciate ‘words worth’ and be economical, correct and loving in the way we use them.
Because ‘what you speak is who you are’.
A better word could make a better world.

When I thought about what I wanted to change in the world around me, there were many lofty things that I could choose from… but many of the ‘lofty’ and the ‘high sounding’ somehow fall outside the realm of our immediate everyday personal life, most of them, we deem to rightfully belong to the Government’s agenda.
I thought why not the ‘word’ which made man a man?

‘…and when sometimes she chose a different word or a new phrase it was like the pressure of a potter’s thumb on clay – changing the thing itself and their knowledge of it…’

This post has been written for the Time to Change contest, hosted by Indiblogger: