Last 7-8 months, living in UP has been a revealing experience for me. I had had my apprehensions about this sea of humanity before coming here. Not that IIM-L undergrads have much to do with what goes on ‘outside’, but I am a person who likes to explore at the grass root level, and I wasn’t without my concerns about what I was going to see over here.
I had the confidence, or call it faith, that we were going to win this one.
Confidence, as India had won the last two matches in pressure-cooker situations against strong oppositions while Sri Lanka had had it easier. And therefore India were in a better position to handle the pressure of the final. It was like, after lifting 200 kg in two bench press sets, they had been allowed a half hour break and then asked to lift a sparrow. For Sri Lanka, well, it was a world cup final.
Faith, is kind of unexplainable, but Sheila Dixit, the aunty-CM of Delhi, put it really well. 121 crore people of India were praying for an Indian victory against 2 crore of Sri Lanka. Surely the vibes, if not the Gods, would give at least a helping hand? And this team had it in it to make any extra helping hand count.
Sri Lankan wickets kept falling at regular intervals but Jayawardene held fort and the Sri Lankans scored in the last power play to reach a healthy-looking 274. It did not matter. If the Indians batted with the intent they were bowling and fielding, nothing could stop them. Even otherwise, all it needed was about 15 overs from Sehwag. During the break, as we went out to replenish our beer stocks, everyone in the market was betting on a Sehwag blitzkrieg.
Sehwag fell, and Sachin followed soon after. Malinga was smoldering, and the next few overs were actually a bit tense. But once India reached to about 100 in 20-odd overs, the match was in the bag. There was a long line-up of players in good form playing or yet to come. Everyone somehow give their best when Sachin is out cheaply. And Sri Lanka bowling was now looking ordinary.
Lightness was in the head when Yuvraj got two near misses. Music started playing in the 46th over. ‘Aarambh hai Prachand‘ was playing for the second time when Dhoni hit the six and brought things to conclusion.
Within 2 seconds, dhol started playing in the Galli. Me, Pawan, Murtuza and Siddharth ran outside. The entire Galli boys were there, dancing their assess off. We were stopping the oncoming traffic and making people dance. We were lifting each other up, sharing high-fives with total strangers. Girls were staring and smiling at us from balconies. Some were making videos of us. Out of the irresistible beats of the dhol, one could clearly make out the words ‘India… India’ and ‘Jai Bharat Mata’.
Soon after, we left for India Gate. It was my idea. I wanted to take a look at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, the most inspiring sight I have found in Delhi. We were three people, me, Pawan and Murtuza on my bike. I was riding without a helmet. Around us, people were riding four or five people on a single bike. Whatever four-wheeler there were, people were dangling out of the windows, swerving and shouting like crazy. There was police all around, but for once, they were not interested in the fortune that was there to be made. To every Indian, and firang, that I saw on the street, I screamed ‘Jai Bharat Mata’, or ‘Jai Hind’ Or ‘India… India’. Although it later came to me that it was ‘Gali gali mein naara hai, world cup hamara hai’ which was the most popular line everywhere.
About 2km before India Gate, I realized that everyone had had the same idea as us. The entire Delhi, it seemed, was going to India Gate. As a result, the roads were blocked. And once they got blocked, Everyone opened their car doors, and turned on the stereos full blast. Dancing, interspersed with a snail’s place of traffic movement, was everywhere. Everyone was dancing or shouting. For once, cars were standing in the middle of the road without a volley of abuse deluging from behind. People were shouting, but in glee. The only expletives flying around were out of pride or love. “Duniya ki M* C*** Di!” and “B****** utro na gaadi se neeche!” followed by the best improvisation of salsa over Bhangra music you could ever find. Girls were roaming around in Delhi, making videos of boys at past midnight and nobody was paying any attention to them. Horns were honking loudly, but for a change, today they were conveying bonhomie rather than an intent to decimate. I brushed my bike with the side of a Wagon R, looked sheepishly at the aunty sitting at the passenger side, and said Sorry. All I got in return was a ‘Arre bhaiya, aaj ke din sab chalta hai!’ I suspect I would have gotten away with murder.
We could finally see the Chhatri behind India Gate beyond which it was impossible to go. A lone policeman was manning the barricades, forbidding people to go anywhere nearer to India Gate, even on foot, and for once, nobody argued with him.
Traffic had come to a complete standstill now. After another half hour of frenetic dancing, I came to stand at the side of the road, staring at the Chhatri, gazing at the Tiranga flying everywhere. A guy had somehow managed to get a piece of road cleared and was doing bike stunts on his Karizma. Some body-builders had taken off their shirts and were posing from on top of their SUVs. The entire town was partying together, and each one in his own way.
I danced like mad, soaking in the moment, catching a glimpse of India Gate now and then, and had the very indescribable feeling that I was in the middle of things. That this was it. That I belonged. That at this moment, we all belonged. That we were where we ought to be. Ahead of everyone else. That we hadn’t achieved anything extraordinary, but had taken what was long overdue to be rightfully ours.
And that is the emotion in me. It’s a great sporting achievement for the players, support staff, selectors, board and everyone else involved in the process. As a nation, it is great, but not extraordinary. We haven’t achieved anything which was out of our limits. We haven’t pushed our limits. We have merely reached where we are supposed to be. A nation of 120 crore cricket crazy people which provides for 80% of cricket’s spectators deserves to win the World Cup 80% of the times. As simple as that.
Just that even breaking even out of repression is an ecstatic feeling, too.
Holi, for me as for almost every one of you, brings back fond memories. Right from the innocent days when girls and boys together would take a holy dip into the friendly neighborhood under-construction house’s not-so-deep tank and splash around for hours. To the riot at college, when you would tie knots on your torn T shirt and whack everyone within vicinity (irrespective of his size) a reddening blow on his bare back, while the better species among our classmates would look on at this spectacle with (what I guess was) some amusement.
Somewhere on this pattern of memories, as colorful as my face and as indefinable as the shape of my T Shirt on any one of those Holi days, lies a particular brush stroke of fate . One spot, which is indelible for the rest of my life.
I was in class IX at that time. In an age when mischief has not started taking altogether new dimensions. And among other things, I had one unique favorite hobby – setting things on fire.
We lived on the outskirts of Ajmer, just at the edge of the town. The colony was perched atop a plateau and overlooked some of the higher of the peaks of Aravalis in the district. Just beyond the colony started the thorn – forested hills. The colony itself had a lot of vacant plots, on which wild, mostly thorny plants grew. This whole setting provided an ideal backdrop for a number of my hobbies. Among which, of course, was my insatiable desire of setting things on fire.
I had once set my dad’s garden compost dump on fire. One of my favorite evening activities on no-cricket days was to gather a bunch of kids, go to the jungle nearby, collect some firewood and have a bon fire. Even on a lot of cricket days, we would collect some firewood lying here and there on the playground and set it on fire and sit around it and discuss the day’s play and leofy each other.
The ‘Ravanas’ that I made on Dussera consisted of a heap of firewood. Some kids would gather in their curiosity as I would set it ablaze. And these were big, roaring fires. I remember on one Dushera two girls hugging each other in fright that the Ravana kind of scared them.
But the Holika I had never ventured to make.
There used to be a ‘Vikas Samiti’ of the colony. Some of the residents had had differences with the people running this Samiti and as a result they had rebelled and floated their own parallel Samiti. There was a mutual one-upmanship between these two committees. The rebels had had their own temple constructed. They even had their own Holika Dehen. The members of the two groups did not go to each others’ Mandir or Holika Dehen. We kids, though, were exempted from this unwritten, unspoken rule.
The Holika Dehen used to be a sort of a show of strength of the two warring factions. Whoever had the higher Holika, or the larger crowd in attendance, naturally scored a psychological point over the other. I think this was one of the major reasons behind people making Holika with so much zeal.
It was in this background, that in class IX I decided that enough had been enough. That groups could continue fighting and politicizing the Holika. But this time there will at least be one Holika free of politics and guided by the noble principles of good triumphing over evil burning bright in this colony. And that that would be mine.
(Truth be told, I decided that my instincts of making a high heap of firewood and the pleasure of setting it on fire will no longer be stifled by colony politics. I will be making one. And I don’t care if others make higher. As long as I set on fire mine.)
So a few days before Holika Dehen, I set about making my Holika. There were two large plots vacant between our and our nearest neighbours, the Khoslas’ home. That was chosen as the venue. Alongwith a friend of mine, who used to do domestic work for the Khoslas, I collected firewood. Wood was in inexhaustible supply from the nearby thorn jungles and from the vacant plots of the colony. But handling it was tricky. These weren’t straight logs of wood, but thorny bushes. Curved, twisted, and well, full of thorns. However much you cut the branches, you really could not have a straight ‘log’ of wood. Therefore, the irregular shaped bushes were all that we had to make do with. We dug a small pit, inserted the base of the thorny branches inside and firmly filled the pit with earth and water. This now looked like a proper cone, a giant 10-12 feet high flowerpot actually, rather than the inverted cone that Holikas are supposed to be like. To give it a more proper structure, we put branches around its sides. Twigs and hay were brought in. Finally, the Holika started looking somewhat like a bucket.
All this hadn’t been done without any political intervention from the powers that be of the colony. I had assumed that the exemption granted to the kids in visiting Mandirs and Holikas of the other group extended to even actually building a Holika. Thinking along the same lines, my parents had only hesitatingly given their permission. But we had been mistaken. There had been an intervention and taunts by some people of the opposing camp while we were making the Holika. There were some murmurings in the colony suggesting that ‘that’ side was preparing two Holikas instead of one this time around as a show of their strength, and that they had stooped down to the level of involving their children to pass it off as a ‘children’s game’ so that nobody could raise a finger. These were stray voices, but they were there. Nevertheless, most people were happy with our effort.
On Holika dehen day, a dozen odd people turned up to watch our Holika burn.
And luck, or lack of skill would have to have it. On the Holi day, the Holika did not burn.
We tried our best. We put a torch this way and that. Some stray twigs did burn. At times, the flame seemed to have just about reached the tipping point. But reach it did not. Tried this way and that, we could not make it catch fire. Nobody around had kerosene in their home. And my parents would not allow any petrol/ diesel being handled. So after about 15-20 minutes of futile trying, we gave up. The neighbors who had come to watch the Holika too went away with some words of encouragement. I went home, dejected.
The next day was Holi. We played with colors to our hearts’ content. And after coming back, washed up and slept off. Nobody paid any attention to the Unburned, somewhat blackened Holika. In the evening, as people came out for the evening stroll, many noticed the unburned Holika. Evidence of a failed effort doesn’t look good. I decided to dismantle it the other day.
From the next day was school, the usual routine of school-home-homework-cricket started, and I sort of kept putting off dismantling the Holika as I had intended. People had been coming for strolls on the road in front of my house, as was usual. People had been noticing the Holika. After a few days, some people had started complaining to my parents that an unburned Holika was inauspicious and should be removed immediately. That evening, as I came from the playground, my parents firmly told me to remove it. The next day was a holiday, and I promised that I would remove it the first thing that day. People were superstitious and will get upset. The situation was already quite politicized as it was. Better have the end of it soon.
The next morning, I woke up to the sounds of some confusion. A neighbor was in the dining room, talking to my mom. From my bed itself, I strained to hear what the conversation was about.
What I heard made me jump up. I went to the door and listened. I could give no reaction. What I had first overheard had been right.
The neighboring aunty, the old Mrs. Khosla who lived in the other house adjacent to the plots where we had made the Holika, had all of a sudden passed away.
Before anyone else could pass by to go to their house or before even the incident set in and the mourning started, I crept out of our house, went to the adjoining plots between the two houses and dismantled the Holika.
I did not, and still do not have much respect for the modernity of the Ajmer people. People were superstitious to the core, and some people were always looking for excuses to bitch about each other. People had already been talking about the inauspicious Holika that did not burn. I was dead afraid that sometime, someone somewhere might say something connecting the unburned Holika to Mrs. Khosla’s death. And that that might open a Pandora’s box. But I never got to hear a word about it. It seemed to me that this thought had never crossed my parents’ mind. Or maybe they did a very good job of hiding it. Same goes for my neighbors the Khoslas. They remained as genuinely sweet and affectionate as they had been earlier.
Maybe that was how things were to be. Maybe I was being paranoid when I thought that people might connect the two things. But I cannot believe that this thought never came to people’s minds – my neighborhood aunties had kept fasts whenever any snake was killed nearby. I had known people to put Totkas on the roads in their wish to have a son. And everybody else believing in them and not touching them, no matter what. I never knew a single family buying anything made of iron on a Saturday. And you could never find a single barber shop open on a Tuesday anywhere in the city.
Still, maybe the people were so broadminded that in this case any connection between the death and the Holika did not occur to them.
Or maybe this thought did come to people’s mind. That the inauspicious Holika was in some way responsible for Mrs. Khosla’s death. But that they had then rationalized. And came to the conclusion that that couldn’t be true.
Or, that they had had an idea somewhere that the two issues were related but then they had thought of me. That what had happened had happened and any loose talk about it could severely impact my young, delicate mind.
All these require a level of rationality which I cannot give my neighborhood people credit for. I know all people could not have been like that.
Another possible explanation could be that maybe people were just so taken aback and aggrieved for aunty’s death that this thought never crossed their mind.
Perhaps the fact that Mrs. Khosla was kinda old (65 around) but appeared much older saved the day for me. That people just took her death for a natural one. And that because of this, the Holika never came to their thoughts.
These theories are again highly disputable. For the most part, I believe that people did connect by Holika with the death. At least some of them did. And that some of them did talk about it. But not many did that. And whoever did, maintained a level of propriety so as not to say such things in front of children or my immediate neighbors or people known to me.
What ever the case is, I’ll never get to know the truth now.
I lived in some stress for a few days; until the death itself got kinda erased from conscious public memory. I never told about this to anyone. The stress was not high, as I was too broadminded enough to have any feeling of guilt or shame about it. But the fear that some fool some day might point fingers at me, and that might make things unpleasant for the Khoslas, people I liked a lot, or my parents. But nothing of that kind ever happened and slowly, time layered everything over.
Two years later, I left Ajmer. I suppose I am no longer in conscious public memory of that place now. I forgot about this whole incidence. Except when I saw Holikas.
This is no longer a sad memory. Time has turned it into just another memory for me now. It comes every Holi. May Mrs. Khosla rest in peace forever.
It was the first day of placements. M$ and DE Shaw. We were standing in 220’s wing, discussing the outcome of the day’s placement. M$ had not given any offers. Piyush and Prashasti, we were told, had answered every single question asked by the interviewer. When asked why they had not given any offers, the explanation given by M$ had been that people were “not good enough this time”.
We stood there in the wing, laughing our guts out. “Saala, koi bhi place nahi hua, sab ke sab chud gaye!”
The conversation slowly was beginning to take a morose turn, when suddenly, Himank appeared in the wing with all the momentum (an amount which I can never hope to muster) possible for him.
“Abe, saalon, DE Shaw bhi zero! DEShaw bhi zero!”
“DE Shaw bhi zero!!! M$ – DE Shaw: zero – zero!”
“Abey ye match to draw ho gaya!”
And there was another huge bout of laughter. I remember wondering at that time when was the last time I had laughed so hard. And also that why one earth were we laughing so hard.
Throughout the initial placement season, laughter, and roaring laughter at that, was something that was always round the corner. A year has gone by, and I cannot imagine how much more difficult things would have been, had it not been for that laughter.
It was the fifth day of the placements. In the past four days, we’d had a total of six companies, with a grand total of six offers. Two companies had not given any offers, Three had given one each. Amazon had been the God, lord and master, with three offers. The same set of people would wake up every morning, dress up in their formal bests, write the papers, give interviews and come back rejected. There were people who, in the beginning, had cracked all writtens but were rejected in all the interviews. By this time, they had stopped cracking the writtens as well.
So the Vice President of this company came for the PPT and said Good Evening. To an audienceof 180 people, none of whom, at this point of time, was capable of finding anything good about the evening.
“Good Evening, guys!”
Feeble, can be the term for the response from the audience.
“Good Evening, GUUUUYSS!” He again exhorted.
The response from the ‘guuuyss’ still wasn’t very encouraging.
“Okay,” said the V-P. “I’m not likely to receive a nice good evening from you people like this. Let me give you an offer.”
The V-P seemed strangely confident about this offer as he continued, “See, the louder the ‘Good Evening’ I receive from this class, the more the number of hirings I’ll take from here…” he finished with a broad self-satisfied smile on his face, the kind which I suppose comes from the satisfaction of having created an awesome, god-level piece of humor.
I don’t remember the reaction of anyone else, but I didn’t find anything remotely humorous about this proposal.
“Okay people, ready? Say, Good Evening!”
“Good Evening, sir.” The voice was a bit louder now.
“Umm, not good enough. Say it again!”
“GOOD EVENING, SIR!”
“Still not good enough. I might take three for this. What say, Madhu? He asked his HR.”
“GOOD EVENING, SIR!”
“Ho-hum… four, Madhu?”
And this process repeated itself, till the time, in increases in steps 1, his hire count had risen to 7. Towards the end, people were screaming at the top of their voices. And at least a few of them, I know, were screaming in the wild hope that maybe it would make a difference; that the V-P had be telling the truth – that he really would take more people only if they screamed a bit harder.
I was sitting exactly in the middle of Motorola hall, unable to utter a sound. I didn’t cry during the placement period; that time, I really came close.
I had quit hard drinks long back, but I had promised myself that I’ll drink whiskey when the last person of the batch got placed. I never really did that. A few people who got placed, making themselves inelligible for the other companies got their joinings on a date a year afterward. A company which came for recruitment turned out to be fraud. A company which came for recruitment shut down. Quite a few packages, not much to begin with, were further slashed. The placement committee was still functioning atleast till October.
The person who spoke on behalf of the placement committee at the farewell congratulating everyone for their ‘100%’ placement, one of the few good men credited for whatever jobs 2k9 passouts have, will be coming to Hyderabad today to join his job.
Sometimes things are so away from usual, that for better or worse, they start appearing amusing sometimes.
After stopping for a sumptuous Maharashtrian lunch of Bhakhri, Brinjal, Kadhi rice, Lahsun ki Chatni, dal and Pyaaz at a comfortable place before Pune and confessing home about the trip, we landed in Pune. I had been drenched and dried up innumerable number of times. While the moisture goes from your clothes, the dirt which the rainwater carried with it doesn’t. And you only bother to, in fact you only can, wash your face and eyes at the roadside Dhabas.
Thoroughly shivering, I stopped for a mug of hot chocolate in Pune. The receptionist of the mall gave us strange looks. I headed straight to the washroom, and as I looked into the mirror, I knew why that had been so. And I had a sudden, secret two minute crush on my friend for hugging me when she had met me a few minutes back. I wouldn’t hug someone who looked like I was looking now. And never in my life if I were a girl.
It was the second straight night on the bike. Dusk fell as the lights from Pune were left behind. Climbing the Western Ghats, it grew chilly. The socks which had been adorning the tail lights, the shoes slung on the front bumper, and the windsheeter which been tied around the waist all came back to serve their purpose.
Upon the Ghats and later was a journey I do not wish to describe in full detail. There were the two of us riding for well over 24 hours now, now under a thundering Western Ghats rain, over bad, treacherous mountain roads, in the Mumbai Pune highway (and not the expressway) traffic in the night. On top of it was a fog thick enough to facilitate a view of your own shadow formed by your own headlight right in front of you. If you compare our journey to that of the fast bowler’s spell, this was the time when under 45 degree centigrade temperature, Sachin and Sehwag were blazing away at full throttle and there were Chris Gayle, Ricky Ponting, and Kevin Pieterson oiling their willows in the pavilion. With the added clause that one wrong delivery and the bowler, alongwith all his balls, will go for a long, long toss. Full marks to Daddu for his bikesmanship. In terms of real adventure, this was the only patch on the whole trip where we encountered any.
There are numerous ways to enter the huge Megapolis, and a wrong turn can cost you another hour or so in reaching your destination. The road turns ugly on the ghats near Mumbai. Because of so many trucks plying on the road, and not less because of the heavy rains, and not the least because no government gives a shit about mountains and mountain roads, it is often broken. And for most of the way smells sickeningly of oil. Stopping trucks that are hurtling down the hills in the middle of the night under a roaring sky, and asking them for directions was one remarkable feature of this patch.
From the height on the edge of the Ghat, when you first look down on the patchwork of islands and reclaimed land stitching them together lying below, it looks like a forest on fire. So much light that against the darkness of the forested Ghats, it is positively blinding. As we rode towards it, I couldn’t have enough of looking at the sun which is always risen in India’s west. The heart and soul of India’s economy, the city which never sleeps, where lights never go off. Mumbai.
We reached Vashi at around 12. It was Ramzan time, and I got packed a Tandoori chicken from Sion. We reached Narsi Monji after a full three hour bike ride, this time over the still busy expressways and flyovers, dark lanes and lonely bylanes of Mumbai. The hot bath I then had at Sanket’s brother’s flat, after which the entire bathroom was under a layer of gooey blackness, was the best I’ve ever had. After that, the Tandoori chicken was the best I had ever eaten. And after that, the crash on the simple mattress in that cramped students’ apartment in Juhu, resulted in the best sleep that I ever remember having.
I lived a whole life in those 53 hours. A few things I’ll always remember. The shopkeeper in Karnataka who gave us water melon flavoured ‘medium class chocolates’, four for one rupee. The Dhaba owner in the middle of absolutely nowhere, who gave me a tattered chatai to sleep on. And where moisture seeped into the ground due to the rains outside and I practically froze from the cold wave coming in from the earth while I was lying face down on that chatai, using my jacket as a blanket. All this, while Daddu slept on two plastic chairs in the rain outside.
The dhaba owner boy refusing the tip I offered. And telling us to ride carefully as we took leave.
Finding a drunkard crawling on the highway near Solapur, and passing him by. A while later realizing that one simple act of dragging him to the side could have been a possible life saver, and that in our hurry to reach home fast, we had left him for dead from our side. Being condemned to live with that thought for the rest of our lives.
Coming across places called ‘Bhosari’ and ‘Shitole’.
Leaving home from mumbai, all set for a 750 km long journey, and getting wet inside out within the first five. And then realizing that there was no polythene to protect the cellphone, picking up a cover from the drain overflowing nearby and putting the cellphone in it and keeping it in the pocket.
Almost getting stamped upon the highway by a truck gone mad. And a few kilometers down the line, finding out that it actually had stamped a few people to death.
Riding into the setting sun for two days straight, riding into the full moon on the third night.
And on the fourth morning, to finally reach Hyderabad, our new home, riding into the rising sun.
Like the Hindu mythology says, the end itself contains the seeds of a next beginning.
What do I write about my Mumbai bike trip?
What do you write about the British teenage pacer who bowled for two days on a flat Indian test match pitch, and returned figures of 60-20-100-2? Except for the two wicket taking deliveries, the odd half chance which ‘could have been’, maybe one or two misfields, or the odd LB appeals, what did the bowler do, really?
We hit the highway at around five, and were pretty much drenched by six. It were the monsoons, and rains were not something we could make an excuse for stopping. so the sky became our washing machine, and the wind our dryer. I was the smart one here. Wearing sleeveless gym T-shirt over my drip dry track pants, which I had rolled up to my knees. Like the Hindu cycles of births and rebirths, I would get wet, dry up, then get wet and dry up again. There were no such cycles for Sanket, though. Wearing a cotton shirt and vest over his thick denim jeans and jogging shoes and socks, he was accepting with aplomb, and then not letting go of, any of Allah’s offerings.
Well, to each one his own. As long as the other one remains beside you and does not ram you into the truck passing from the side. That’s the first lesson you learn on the road.
We both tend to get a little high on the open roads. The mind leaves behind all the clutter of the corporate life, and the vision is clearer. The thoughts which come gushing in then, are more neutral and plenty, and make for some mind blowing BC. The only problem is that although you are able to soak in the rain, and are able to see the skyline five kilometers to your left and five to your right, and can look up and count exactly how many stars are in the galaxy, and can scream ‘Hey you up there, I’m down here’ without thinking about your manager, other people still are not looking beyond their desktop monitors a few inches away. They don’t have any reason to look up, ‘coz they would only see the ceiling (often false, that too), so they don’t even do that, and thus the computer screen remains their world, and thus…
Conversations like this happen.
Boy: Hey, how’re you doing?
Girl: I’m good. Do you know what time it is?
Boy: Um, hmm, I’ve kinda lost track (Checks his mobile)…yeah it’s around twelve.
Girl: Okay forget it. Where are you?
Boy: Umm, somewhere in Karnataka.
Girl: What? Where in Karnataka?
Boy: Somewhere. Some place you won’t know.
Girl: Okay okay. What are you doing there?
Boy: Right now? I’m lying down, face up.
Girl: Where are you lying down?
Boy: Umm, see there’s this grass on the side of the highway.
Boy: Yeah, so that’s where I’m lying down.
Girl: What? Aniket! ANIKET! ANIKET!
Boy: Hey, hey! Hold it. I’m gonna visit you tomorrow.
Girl: Okay! When do you reach here?
Boy: It depends.
Girl: Depends? On what?
Boy: On how fast we ride the bike.
Girl: Bike? what bike?
Boy: Ohho… tumko to har cheez samjhaani padti hai… what bike can it be? Vahi jispe hum aa rahe hain!
Girl: Aniket! ANIKET! ANIKET!
And this would go on.
If you notice the number of exclamations and question marks on the ‘Girl’ side, and the corresponding lack thereof on the ‘Boy’, you would realize how much was the difference in the states of mind. It’s mind boggling that the conversation actually took place.
Tired of riding slowly in the rains, we slept off in the dorm of a roadside motel, and were on the highway in four hour’s time. While we had been heading west, into the setting sun the evening before (which had made for some awesomeness), and I had sung practically all the Lucky Ali I knew, this was dawn. Time for spiritual, soul stirring Mantra Chanting, and Kailash Kher, and Piya Basanti. And it became a new journey again.
We would pass by a tree, where the birds were a bit lively. The sound of the Royal Enfield, solace to lonely ears in the stillness of the night, was then the roar of a hungry lion intruding into a Wordsworthian pasture, and so we would kill it. And let the birds have their say. We would stop by a hillock I would find particularly interesting to climb, and we would park the bike at the side of the highway and climb the hill. And the gazing at the vast, flat Vidarbha countryside, so covered with young, freshly washed grass shining under the cloud cover, we would smell the air. And then we would do nothing but close our eyes and feel the air filling our insides with all the promise of a new birth, till we felt as if we had been born again.
We would see a mandir, and bow to the one who has made it all.
And then we would move on. It was the most beautiful morning of my life.
It was one o’clock in the night. All through the previous day, people had been closely following what looked at that time to be the strange and increasingly worrisome disappearance of Dr. YSR from over the Nallamalla forests. Sanket and myself, along with Sanket’s cousin were closely following each and every second of coverage of the disappearance over the net, while BCing away to glory into the night. Out of our fertile imaginations, various theories about what could have happened, what will happen next and the reasons for them were emerging.
Out of the blue, Sanket suggested that we went to Kurnool and took a first hand look at the search operations going on. We looked up the search area on Wikimapia, and realized that it was some 100 km farther from Kurnool. Kurnool is some 250 km from Hyderabad. We figured out that the round trip from our home in Kondapur, Hyderabad to the search area and back would take the entire next day. We still decided to go ahead and leave at 2 o’clock in the night, i.e. in half an hour from then. I went downstairs to clean my bike to get it ready for the trip.
It was only then that Sanket’s elder cousin, who had been a party to all the planning we were doing realized that we seriously intended to go. He firmly put his foot down on the plan, saying that there was no way he was going to let us go at 2o’clock in the night to cover 700 km on bikes, in the middle of the monsoon season to the Naxal infested Nallamalla forests on a wild goose chase. We decided to reason with him, but realized that it was futile. So with our tails firmly between our legs, we went to sleep at around 2:30.
As soon as the news of Dr. YSR’s death reached Hyderabad, there was mourning all around. In addition, there were chaos. Congress workers started shutting down shops. They sent home all the public transport and beat to pulp anyone who dared protest. Our managers sent us home as a precautionary measure. Since office had closed for the next day, which happened to be a friday, also, this translated into an extra long weekend for us. Both of us had been wanting to go to Mumbai for some time, so we decided that this was the best time to do that.
We left at around 4:00 in the evening from our flat on Sanket’s Thunderbird. We looked for an ATM to withdraw some cash, but realized that even the ATMs had not been spared the bandh. Similar was the case with petrol pumps too. Along the roads, there were signs of violence. Tyres were burning here and there.
We reached a deserted Allwyn Circle, halted our bike and shouted questioningly over the roar of the Royal Enfield to a lone 7-Seater driver –
Looking us up and down with some curiosity, he pointed out towards what I already knew was the direction on the highway.
We set sail for Mumbai. With exactly Three Hundred and Sixty bucks in our combined pockets and 80 kilometers’ worth of fuel in our tank, with no source of cash and/or fuel nearby, and faced with a situation unprecedented in the history of India due to which we did not have a clue as to how far we’d have to go before we found any of these. But none of it mattered, really.
‘Coz we were on the road. Under the boundless sky.
“Hello, Where are you, sir?”
“I’m in front of the school building, Shekar, where are you?”
“Even I’m in front of the building, sir…”
I raised a hand, and moving it so as to catch attention, I did a full 360 degrees, looking around for someone talking on the phone. I registered no one.
Still waving, I said, “Shekar, do you see me…?”
And almost as soon as I’d said it, I wished I could eat those words.
Of course Shekar didn’t see me.
That was because Shekar couldn’t see. If he could, there was no need for me to be there.
He was one of the students of the Special School for whom a group of us from Samvedana were acting as ‘scribes’, for their intermediate AP Board examinations.
Lost for words, I raced my mind for another plausible question which he could answer to reveal his location to me.
“Uh, okay, what colour shirt are you wearing, Shekar?”
“Umm, black sir, it’s black.”
I was out of the school campus now. Looking around, I saw at some distance what appeared to me to be a group of visually impaired kids. One of them was talking animatedly on his cellphone. I went to him.
“Hey, are you Shekar?”
The voice recognition was instant. “Ohh, Aniket sir.”
“Yes, Shekar, how are you?”
I held out a hand, only to keep staring at it for about ten seconds. Finally, I extended the arm and patted him on the shoulder.
He was wearing a maroon-colored T Shirt.
The exam was Hindi, and by conventional standards, Shekar wasn’t very good at it. Neither had I expected him to be. After all, hailing from a village in Andhra, he isn’t supposed to know Hindi in the first place. But far above anything else, he doesn’t read, and he doesn’t write. Whatever he knew was what he had remembered from what a dedicated teacher had read to him.
He knew the Antonyms and Synonyms very well. But when it came to doing sentence correction, he simply fluttered his blank eyes with all the more fervor. And had all of them wrong. I had anticipated this situation, and had planned to write as much as I could for him. Also, I had resolved to let this be his knowledge that I was writing whatever he was telling me to. But now I was mired in dilemma. Didn’t Shekar deserve to know the exact place he had carved out for himself in this world full of kids more advantaged than himself? Should the chance of this one humble, but true pride be denied to him? Or should it be the case that given his condition, he should be allowed to use as much luck as came his way? Will it be luck at all to get more marks than what he actually deserved? Or did he deserve more than what he actually would have got under a neutral scribe, and thus a partial scribe was only a fair thing to have?
What will be better for him? Knowing exactly where he stood in the world, or the confidence boost that inevitably comes after a good score in the exams, howsoever may it have been acquired?
The exam got over, we gave them chocolates and packed their bags, and Sushant, my co-scribe for another kid and I asked them who was coming to take them home. There was some confusion at first, but a few phone calls here and there (the kids kept some important phone numbers to memory) confirmed that they were going on their own.
Sushant and I were worried, and asked them whether we could walk them to the nearest bus stop at least. But they insisted on going by themselves. Concerned, we kept watching as they walked down the road for some distance, and then stopped. Sushant and I, convinced that they were in trouble, went to them to offer help, but we needn’t have worried; as soon as we came within earshot, we realized that they had stopped only to do some BC and to discuss about the paper.
We, the eyed ones entered a nearby shop to have a pepsi. The three and a half hour exam had been tiring for us, too. As we came out of the shop, we saw the kids at the far end of the road, barely visible now.
While on the way to IIIT, Sushant revealed to me that Sujaykar, the kid he had been writing for, had solved almost the entire Sanskrit paper, and could easily expect 95+ marks. Sushant had assured him that his paper had been written in a very legible hand, and that he could expect excellent marks from the paper. At this, Sujaykar had told him that he wasn’t worried about passing or failing. That the results were all up to God.
Indeed it must be this faith which keeps their hopes and sincerity up in these times when people with everything provided for are giving up. As the picture of the kids, walking down the far end of the road and farther away from us came to my mind, I wondered how far would I have gone.
Thanks, Samvedana, for providing me with this wonderful experience. Let’s go some distance along the steps we have taken.
Warning: This post contains explicit content. Parental advisory advised. Those (biologically and/or emotionally) below 18 years are of age strictly prohibited from proceeding further. Ladies and former nice boys of girly-girly co-ed schools warned to proceed at their own peril.
Those from all-boys/ government schools, try not to get too nostalgic.
I’ve been fascinated by expletives ever since I was introduced to them in class VI by my friend who used to sit next to me in the class. This friend, Arun, was a born teacher, and very patiently explained to me the meaning and usage of each and every in-vogue word and also helped me out with the pronunciations. These free of charge classes of his, which used to run parallel to the regular classes which our parents were paying fees for, later advanced to using visual and textual demonstrations for those generalities of which the expletives are but a part. I got away with just a 5% decrease in my percentage at the end of the year. Arun failed all the subjects and had to start off as my junior the next year.
Anyways, coming back to expletives, I’ve always been fascinated by them. Not of the form as such, but of the content and purpose. I’ve also always been a fan of creativity and subtlety. Put two and two together, and you have a combination that well and truly turns me on.
Yeah, improvised expletives, (nothing to admire in the normal bolvachan, any bum can pronounce them) the epitomes of cheek, the heights of creativity. The lethal weapon which turns tree trunk like legs to jellybeans and makes chameleons (of the type that only turn to various shades of red) out of thoroughbred Homo Sapiens. Aaahhhh… the beauty, the wonder, the creativity!
This incidence happened in class VIII. It so happened that two of my classmates, Vicky (Vikkee) and Vikas, if I remember their names correctly, started arguing. The argument soon transcended the physical boundaries set by the school authorities, went beyond the principles of decency (of the banal type) set by the society as well as defied the laws of physics set by the almighty and reached a transcendental plane where the focus of the debate shifted over (from whatever it was) to who was capable of giving more pleasure to the feminine members of the other’s ilk. Fisticuffs soon began to fly, and it wasn’t too late when the next teacher’s appearance at the other end of the corridor caused swarms of classmates to grab and push away from each other the protagonists of this philosophical, metaphysical debate.
While they were being pushed away, and each was still trying his level best to have a go at the other’s chin, hair, tie or shirt, Vikkee swung his fist desperately in thin air. Frustrated at the little contact that the efforts of the referee classmates permitted, he roared at Vikas threateningly,
“Saale tu ruk, mein aaj raat ko tere ghar mein ghus jaoonga!” (Just wait, O you-whose-sister-I’ve-married, I’ll forcefully enter your house tonight).
Biting, pushing and scratching against a wall of humans trying to push him behind, Vikas then spontaneously delivered the line which, some of my south Indian friends might argue, depicts the typical north Indian sense of justice, but which remains the epitome of creativity and timing for me to this day.
Vikas simply shouted this, and no more, to Vikkee over the din and clamour on the classroom –
“Apni Ma ko bhi leta aaiyo!” (Come with your mother).
I think Vikas said something further, and the remaining part of the sentence got lost in the uproar. But maybe it was just I whose senses could work no more, as the brain was too awestruck with the pure genius hidden behind the veil of a seemingly innocent dinner invitation.
In Kota, where I went for IIT coaching, my building was shared by a group of Bengali guys from Farakka.
Living in a city where no one speaks your language can be a very liberating experience, as one of those guys, Anirban, revealed to me. While we Hindi speakers were a bit circumspect in throwing endearments on one another in public, the Bengalis found that they had no such inhibitions in a Hindi city like Kota. So they talked in endearments as the rule rather than as the exception and relentlessly tried to outdo each other, since they had little else to do all day. (For the uninformed, studying is one thing that comes last to an average guy preparing for JEE in Kota, be it a Bengali or a Haryanvi). The sense of innovation crossed the barrier of language and several Hindi endearments which they threw around still arouse a sense of warmth in me as and when I recall them. Ahhh!
Anyways once it so happened that my room partner, Rahul, was demanding a treat from one of the Bengali guys, also named Rahul. This Rahul Mukherjee had recently won an ESPN school quiz and was going to New Zealand to spectate a test match between India and New Zealand. Rahul Choudhary was requesting, cajoling, coaxing Mukherjee to give us all a treat in Convenio, a popular hangout in Kota.
Mukherjee was restrained in his replies, as he still didn’t talk much in terms of endearments outside his Bengali group. Occupants of the communist Bengal, the usually fixed-incomed Bengalis are known to keep their money well, and this particular group was penny pincher to the extreme. They would think five times before giving 5 bucks to the guy who came and cleaned toilets for them. Spending more than 50 bucks on a meal would play havoc on their digestion.
Choudhary, the quintessential Jat from Haryana, fell a little short in the art of cajoling.
“Kya yaar Mukherjee, tu New Zealand jaane lag raha hai fokat mein. Hamein Convenio hi le chal. 400-500 rupaye toh kharch karde!” (What pal Mukherjee, you’re being taken for a free ride to New Zealand. Atleast take us to Convenio. Spend 400-500 bucks atleast!)
As soon as the figure was quoted, a hush fell over the room. The 6 Bengalis, in permutation and combination of any of the acts of talking, laughing and scowling fell silent and looked at Choudhary, dumbstruck, as if he’d just given to each one of them a Jat version of the friendly ‘slap on the back’, knocking the wind out of their lungs in the process.
Mukherjee himself took a step back from where he was standing and regarded Choudhary as if he was an alien from outer space. Then slowly, he thrust his hand inside his pants.
We all looked on, our mouths open, as Mukherjee’s hand did some halchal (activity) inside his pants. It then came out as a fist. Stuck between and emerging out from the tightly clenched fingers were some small, shiny hairs.
Sticking out his fist at Choudhary’s face level so that the small hairs emerging from the fingers almost touched Choudhary’s nose and tantalisingly threatened to reach inside his open mouth, Mukherjee looked straight into Choudhary’s wide eyes and stated very firmly in a very matter of fact manner,
“Le, le le, le. Treat Chahiye na, kha le treat.” (Take, take take, take. You want a treat, huh, eat the treat.)
Needless to say, Mukherjee was never asked for a treat again.
PS: I really, really regret this. I forgot to mention earlier that this post has been inspired by GB‘s post on expletives. By inspired I mean that the incidences and narration are entirely my own, but the idea of writing on expletives I got from his post. It’s sort of like, a small band covering a legend. And I should have made this acknowledgement while posting the first draft. Will keep this in mind in the future.
In the last two posts, I’ve talked about my experiences in Devabhoomi. I argued in the last post about the shortcomings of photographs, and then gave a supporting example.
I don’t deny the importance of photographs. A picture does speak a thousand words. But words themselves have their own significance, and it’s important we keep our words close and not let them get lost in the maze of pictures that we’re bombarded with nowadays.
Here are some things which words cannot do justice to:
Standing at the edge of Parvati river was our base camp, and this was the view of the mountain we were gonna climb. Just looking at it snapped us into euphoria, and if you think that this looks fabricated, cliched, straight out of a picture postcard and so on, you’re not alone. We thought so, too.
From the base camp, we proceeded to higher camps and were put up in tents like these which were located in some clearing in the forests. 10-12 people shared each tent. The tents not only provided for some much needed warmth and protection during the night, but were also witness to some of the most insane, mind-blowing BC I’ve ever seen.
Finding a suitably well-hidden, clean and level spot behind some rock or tree in the mornings was one big ordeal. Here I am suggesting a possible alternative to our group members.
I had climbed this ascent bare handed till about the highest point you can see in this pic, when I was ordered down by our team leader Sanjay Ji. I was proud of my climbing skills, till Ravi (the little pahadi boy beside me in this pic) ran down this slope. I repeat, Ravi ran down this rock. Quite a humbling experience.
This was Zirmi, a paradise nestled deep in the hills. The place was so enchanting that Suneja and I went on to explore this bhaloo-infested valley unarmed and on our own. While climbing back up, I gave Suneja the scare of his life.
Also, this was the place where I got the biggest craving for poetry I’ve ever had. I literally rolled on the groud, beat my fists against rocks, recited one of my self-composed poems to a lady and grabbed a girl by the shoulders and made her listen to some Yeats I remembered after assuring her that the poetry wasn’t intended for her. I could have killed for some Wordsworth or Yeats then. The high wasn’t quite settled till I finally scribbled about a hundred lines of poetry, sitting on a rock which provided a view of the artistry of the clouds…
And while I was writing, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one bitten by the poetry bug. Sitting on nearby rocks were Pradeep and Vishal, scribbling away to glory.
As we took our first step in the snow, our hearts filled with apprehension and overflowed with reverence. The pure whiteness of the snow told me that this wasnt an ordinary place, but a ‘Bhagwan ki Jageh’. I’m not particularly religious, but the shouts of ‘Har Har Mahadev’ spontaneously escaped me as I started walking up this patch. Others around me followed suit, but no, the valley didn’t reverberate with the sounds of our ‘Har Har Mahadev’s. Rather, our sounds just got lost in the vastness of the surroundings.
This stone structure is a ‘Monument of Estranged Love’ created by the humble villagers. The guide told me that if someone who has got estranged from his love prays with a true heart and places a stone on this structure in her memory, God soothes the agony of both the ex-lovers’ hearts. I’ve never had a love which I could get estranged from, but I nevertheless said a prayer and added my stone to the pile. Maybe it’s still there.
The picture shows (from the left) myself, Pradeep and Vivek.
At the height of 15000 feet, only 60% of the amount of oxygen that we normally have in the plains is available. Walking in itself is an ordeal. Here’s Doley Ram, carrying more that 20kg of load on his slender shoulders. And he does this everyday.
Not everybody who comes from the city for a trek in the hills is used to the hills. Kishore just got the life scared outta him while rappling down a slope.
A unique experience we had during the Sar Pass trek was sliding down a hill slope sitting on a piece of polythene.
Here’s one of us, probably Vivek, sliding down a slope.
You are bombarded with snow flakes from all sides as you slide, and it’s impossible to prevent some from entering your shoes. A 4 hour trek to the camp in wet clothes and shoes follows the slide. As Vivek reached the camp, he was in no condition to walk any longer. (click on the pic to fully appreciate the contours).
A trek is only as good as the company you have on it. Here are some of the wonderful people I had the pleasure of meeting on the trek. (From the left) Pratham, myself, Shobhit, Rohit, Vishal, Pradeep, Nishant, Vineet.
And finally, a lot of thanks to YHAI without which this trek wouldn’t have happened. And as for the wonderful friends I met, well, it was a pleasure. I’d like every trek of mine to be with the same set of people. Wish it were possible.
And yeah, for the people who were there on this trek, guys, just one last time…
SP 16, BALLE BALLE
Baaki saare, THALLE THALLE!