Friday, May 20, 2016

Pluviophile


Mild surprise. In eyes not used to seeing me leave office this early. It's only late evening. But I am compelled.
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Beyond the air-conditioned sterility and the glass walls. Down to the basement, down to the beast. There it is. Black and orange with Metzelers for shoes.
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Grumbling up the concrete, out into the world, out into the wind. The first drop hits my neck. Cold, steady and sure, a wake-up call tracing its way down my spine.
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Fumbling around in my back pocket. Need to find that token, get out the gate. The security folks won't accept anything else. Found it. License to slink away then, responsibilities in my rear view mirrors.
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Rain washed streets glint under the streetlights. In a special personal sort of way. Puddles line up on the road edges - speed sucking swamps awaiting their next victim. 
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So I follow the Buddha, hold the middle path. A couple of twists of the throttle later, vanish into nirvana.
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Monday, April 25, 2016

A brighter shade of blue














Blue we were, a brighter shade of blue
Young, restless, lonely... but with a crew
Evenings endless to fill, not a thing to do
Rumours like cigarette smoke float, from God knows who.
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Laughter there was, there was fear
Anxiety there was, so was cheer
Swear words flowed easy, reddening earth & sky
High Hopes played on loop, deep... deep into the night.
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These walls these fields these stars they knew
For long had they from boys, men drew
Whatever else they may be, this much was true
These guys... were a brighter shade of blue.
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[http://virtual-inksanity.blogspot.in/2016/04/a-brighter-shade-of-blue.html]

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Arunachal Diaries : Kharman Chronicle


Huff. Puff. Huff. Puff. Boy, this is beautiful! Boy, this is killing! Just a little while more. Time to call it quits. Glory. Failure. 


Machete in hand, a Monpa tribal song on his lips, Rinchin Tsemyang leads the way. He pauses every once in a while to cast a benevolent look backwards. The practiced ease with which he scales up the steep slopes of the forests beyond Kharman, is well beyond my abilities to keep up with. Years of cubicle rot and a reluctance to engage in any sort of physical activity have led me to such a condition of disrepair.  

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Possibly, if I weren't wheezing like a steam engine, I could have focussed more on the experience. Then again, maybe, pain is multiplying the gain. 

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Impact, it has to be said, isn't in short supply. Kharman, a picturesque little settlement in the remote Pangchen Valley of north-western Arunachal Pradesh is my base station. The homestay run by Mr. Tsemyang, in an initiative supported by the World Wildlife Fund, is a cozy stone dwelling with bright blue windows. Perched as it is, at the top of a steep hillside overlooking the valley of the Nyam Jang Chhu, its location is enough to keep me enthralled without even venturing out into the jungle. 


-But I am in the jungle, a beautiful beguiling jungle, made all the more mysterious by the rain clouds invading the valley on this morning in early May. The grayness of the clouds brings out the lushness of the green even more effectively. The sunlight often finds a window or two to throw a spotlight on a particularly beautiful tree proudly displaying itself in moss covered finery. The trek out of Kharman has seen us pass orchards and the kitchen gardens of little houses sprouting up like magic mushrooms on the sheer hillside and we are long past the temporary hamlets of the 'people who live beyond the last village' as Rinchin dramatically put it.  




The air at 8000 plus feet is cold, crisp and as per signals from my plainsman's lungs, in short supply. We pause often, allowing me to pretend that I am taking pictures while quite obviously catching my breath. Pictures are in a way, a lost cause, because every time I turn around to look down, the view is so much better than it was a 100 steps ago. The ribbon of white that is the Nyam Jang Chhu cuts through a infinite palette of green all the way down, deep down to the valley floor with the mist from the rain providing the aura of a Japanese water painting. To the north are the massive snow covered sentinels of the Tibetan border from where the river emerges to make a quick detour into India before meandering westwards into Bhutan. 

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These are forests of plenty and the avian citizens who flitter in and out of my visual range provide liberal doses of colours, some known & others not but whose psychedelic shades blaze themselves into my memory. Home to fauna like the musk deer, Himalayan black bear, blue sheep & takin which have thrived due to the strict no-hunting code implemented by the village councils on the principles of Tibetan Buddhism, the Pangchen Valley continues to be a natural wonderland despite it not having any government designated protected areas. 

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Not to forget, these forests are also a stronghold for the indescribably cute and very rare red panda, imaginatively called the fire cat, due to its distinctive fur. It was a thrill to walk through their home although in summer months, they tend to prefer the higher colder reaches where I did not venture. As I look around to see seasonal waterfalls springing from random locations in the surrounding hills and little wooden logs strung across burbling streams as bridges, I can only imagine how happy animals must be to have a place like this. Even as a human, I am filled with an indescribable joy. 


-The human is not entirely absent from this scheme of nature's bounty. Once in a while, a water wheel makes an appearance, done up in exquisite bright colours, spinning under the influence of a tumbling mountain water channel. The golden dome of a distant gompa on the mountaintop opposite glints with a message of peace and serenity. The white chortem where we pause, yet again, a memorial to ancestors past,  is covered with fluttering prayer flags, casting their ancient mantras to the breeze.  


-As tired and beat-up as I am, the truth, already well known to men like Rinchin, is plain to see. Impatience, wanderlust, restlessness - are often a city man's creed, it takes a walk through a forest for him to be finally freed.


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For any and all information regarding the wonderful homestay(s) at Zemithang, please contact the conservation rockstar and local hero Degin Dorjee at +91-9402955593/+91-9402859651 and learn about the WWF run programme at https://bpwange.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fire & ice



Leap. Snap. Crackle. Burst.
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The campsite is noisy. The flickering campfire sets faces aglow - some singing, others laughing and still others reflecting their wandering thoughts. The fire is the heart of all the action - at least of their limited world. The bitterness of a Himalayan winter night cannot enter its circle of power. The flames stand tall, embracing and protecting all those who seek its shelter.
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The campsite is quiet. At least it seems so when seen from beyond where the sounds carry and the cheer spreads. Beyond... where the forest lives, moving to its own rhythms, unmindful of a handful of city-bred ape-like bipeds creating a ruckus just because they can. Its animal citizens are out doing what they do best, eating and avoiding being eaten.
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The night skies have been cleared of the spoilsport clouds of the afternoon, chased away by someone with superpowers & wanting to get a better view. Because it is quite a view. Even the noisy ones in that little corner by the flames go quiet once in a while. 
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The snow covered giants of the Nepal Himalayas - wisps of icy steam curling off their tops, the silver glow of the forest under the moon's longing gaze and her distant cousins whom she'll never meet, a million pin pricks of brightness across the canvas of the skies.
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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Aam Pachak v/s Walter White


Blue meth's got nothing on this s**t.
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It looks so innocent on the outside.
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A yellow plastic tube with a friendly mango saying "Eeyah!"
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On the inside, is a darker, more malevolent force. Take a couple of tablets, it says. But my stomach is empty, my brain replies, I don't need digestive boosting. Never you mind... take a couple, it repeats.
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My arms revolt... obeying the dark side and guide the potent tangy sweet spicy contents towards my mouth again. And again. And again. Till the tube is empty.


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I feel helpless. Like I have felt before. In front of packets of Pachan Amla & Hawa Ban & Fatafat. In front of the stupendous selection of the drug cartel Jaina Silpa Mandir's stalls at the Pujo Pandals.
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Whatever it is that they put in there, pachaks, churans and aachaars [or as my Dad calls them 'tokktokiyaa'] are chemically designed for total domination over self-control. Strange circuits light up and on long, busy office days, my overworked brain keeps begging for more.


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Don't know about all the other stuff that they claim India invented "first" but I can guarantee at least this... that the slogan "No one can eat just one" sure wasn't originally coined for a packet of Ruffles Lays or anything sold in Albuquerque. 

Sorry, Walter... but Aam Pachak is the one who knocks.


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[http://virtual-inksanity.blogspot.in/2016/01/aam-pachak-vs-walter-white.html]

Monday, January 4, 2016

Phanoosh


New Year's Eve. Close to midnight, the party at my cousin's is picking up pace.
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But I am not feeling it.
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Only a couple of days before, I was at the Nimtala Burning Ghat. The closure that the final journey and the all consuming flames seemed to offer then... doesn't feel as complete right now.
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Like so many times before. we had taken for granted that Kaki Dimma would return home from hospital all smiling and chatty about the latest pain & complications she had overcome.
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This time though, she gave us the slip.
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This party is peopled by my paternal side cousins & their families, with no connections to Kaki Dimma, the last of her generation from Mom's side. They obviously are in a completely different frame of mind.
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The rooftop of my cousin's building is dark. An ensemble group ranging in age from 8 to 50 tumbles onto it as all around the city skies light up. A spray of colour here, a boom of sparkliness there - all in celebration of what was and what will be.
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What was. Dadubhai. Dimma. Pishi Dimma. Kaku Dadu. And now Kaki Dimma. Wrinkly knobby slow moving hands, snow for hair, indulgent to a fault and never without a smile to spare - they occupied a unique shelf in my childhood cupboard of categorisations. 
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"How can anyone be so nice? Are they for real? If so, why can't everyone else be like them?" 
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Restore & double the lost money of a recently pick-pocketed 10 year old grandson; jump out of sick bed to fulfill the luchi-aloo bhaajaa demands of that same grandson; from his own shop's stock, pour out more brown and white wrappered Melody chocolates than a small pair of hands can hold - all legend establishing standards of care.
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The roof is abuzz with activity. Brothers, sisters, brother-in-laws, nephews and nieces have set about clearing the pooled firecracker stock. Charkhas whirr in duets and rang-mashaals blaze with no particular agenda. In the darkness beyond, I watch with borderline detachment.
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The 'cells' make an appearance, their heavy cylinders packed with surprises to be revealed a few hundred feet up in the air, with a flash of sound and light - if things go to plan. As it turns out, things do go to plan to everyone's relief.
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The bigger plan, the plan of plans, however, never goes to (our) plan. Fully aware that nothing is permanent, we, quite foolishly, cling on to the hope that it is. 
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Enthusiastic conversationalist armed with a girly giggly laughter and a wide-eyed concern for all, Kaki Dimma, of all people, the sweetest of all my Dimmas, had seemed timeless. 
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On our rooftop, it is phanoosh time, the closing act. Phanoosh - the funny sounding Bengali word for hot air balloon - also moonlights as the word of choice for Chinese sky lanterns. 
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After the manic razzmatazz of the 'cells', the careful unwrapping of the thin papered lanterns brings a dimension of calm to the proceedings, a thoughtfulness so far missing in the revelry.
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Careful planning and teamwork by us, cousins and brood, cannot prevent our first launched phanoosh from confidently sailing into a neighbouring building. There are no screams of terror that follow nor does the attacked building go up in flames soon after. In retrospect a minor mishap. 
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The phanooshes that follow the pilot launch are significantly more well behaved.
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It may be the near disaster of the first launch and the resilient cheerfulness of the launch team. It may be that other phanoosh that rushed groundwards, only to catch a breeze just in the nick of time, rising straight up into the sky, past a wildly cheering group of cousins. 
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Whatever be the reason, I am feeling significantly better.
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Come to think of it, the only flavour added to my life and to that of many others by people like Kaki Dimma through all her years is the flavour of happiness. Being morose on account of her is contradictory to how I want to remember her.
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The sadness will remain, no doubt, a gap never to be filled. Yet there is some comfort to be drawn from a constructed image.
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The analogy of a loved one becoming a star is, if I may say so, done to death. 
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It is much better to think of a phanoosh, the way it brings a group of people together under the flickering light of the flame. There's the wait for the hot air to fill up the delicate paper. There's joking around, there's impatience and finally there's the tug.
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Should we let it go? Is it ready? Are we ready to let it go?
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All questions answered as the phanoosh climbs, ever so slowly, leaving a glowing trail of smiles and cheer, a bright spot of familiarity in the endlessness of the dark night sky.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dimmaar Baari


Coziness. Warmth. Immunity from prosecution by Mom.
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While Dimma fretted about how small her flat must feel for her restless grandchildren, we did not share her opinion. For us, G-5/6 was just right.
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The right size for Dadubhai to open out the folding dinner table for us to have meals and bring in the 'folding khaat', our passport to adventure story nights during load-shedding; just the right size to barge out of, run into Anushua Maashi's next door and play with her Pomeranian; just the right size to go one more door over to Chakraborty Dimma's and look at (for the nth time) the brochure of miniature city Madurodammarvelling at the brilliantly detailed little toy buildings, canals with toy ferries plying and true to real life model trains running between stations carrying the make believe citizens of this make believe world to their make believe work.



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Greater adventures lay beyond. Down the road to Pinaki Dada's house where a treasure trove of Tintin comics awaited; further out to the Mother Dairy outlet where Didi and I would contest to be the one to put the token inside the milk vending machine and watch with amazement the cowless milk delivery. Even the boundary walls of Labony, their three striped walls with peepholes patterned on it like a fort, lent a special quality to the then quiet housing estate peopled with retirees like my maternal grandparents.
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Not to forget, "Nondolal". The grandfather clock in my grandfather's house. The pendulum never ceasing to tick along ever since he made the long journey from Czechoslovakia to G-5/6, a prize for Dadubhai's extraordinary bridge playing skills. The weekly winding that Nondolal got and the unmistakable noise that his springs made were as much of a ritual as Dimma's worship of Krishno Thakur in her little wooden mandir. The pujo had special significance for us as we grandchildren would get the 'remaining' baataashaa offered to the Lord once he had had his fair share of it.
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Dadubhai and Dimma have long gone to the place, where all things, good and bad, must fade but Nondolal marches on. Now on the wall of our Ripon Street home, he marks time, like he always did, partly because it is his mechanical duty, mostly because he represents the continuity that binds us all.
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People often talk, gloomily, of wanting to go back to the past as if it is something we left behind on the trail of time. Walking down Labony's leafy tree lined lanes, up the dimly lit stairs to the first floor and into a familiar flat, I see a flaw in that theory.
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This much is true. Gone are my Dimma's cool-er and tetul-er aachaar in their opaque plastic jars. Gone are the almirah full of crisply pressed white kurta pyjamas that were almost like Dadubhai's post retirement uniform. The rooms, empty and dusty, as late winter afternoon sunlight filters in, look so very different in the absence of those who made this place special.
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But this much is also true. The past is not locked away in a chest somewhere, only to be looked and polished once in a while. It's a real place, a real time that shapes and influences how we experience the present. What was once a happy place does not cease to be a happy place because time has moved on. In a strange twist, it remains forever happy because time has moved on.
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Dimmaar baari lives through everyone - daughter, neighbours, grandchildren touched by its warmth. Dimmaar baari lives through every conversation that fondly recalls a moment of spontaneous laughter within its walls. Dimmaar baari lives because no matter how hard the sands of time try to bury what we call the 'past', it always peeks through, a source of comfort, a reminder of gentler times and carefree abandon. 
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[http://virtual-inksanity.blogspot.in/2015/12/dimmaar-baari.html]