Full moon on the Ganga

                                The pictures I click  while on travel usually don't make it to this blog because I usually don't carry a camera. They are mainly clicked in my mind's eye. But sometimes I get into a mood and shoot stuff. These snaps were clicked some years ago on a full moon night without a tripod. The beauty of Gangaji is almost impossible to capture on camera especially by an amateur like me but I think you get a feel of the magic of staying on her banks in a solitary place. Enjoy !!! 


An enduring love affair

                                        The train journey was uneventful in the Jana Shatabdi. It was amusing to see many people travelling ticketless standing in the doorway on this fast train to Dehra Dun. In the South, it’s pretty hard to get into a Shatabdi unless you have a ticket. Here the TTC only asked for tickets from people who were in seats. The corridorwallas and stepwallas (people standing on the corridors and sitting on the steps of the train) were not even given a cursory glance.

As I make my way through the crowds of ochre coloured sadhus in Haridwar, I am at ease again. I’m back home again by the Ganges, in the foothills of the Himalayas. I remember my first encounter with Gangaji. In Trivandrum of all places! As a teenager, in a movie hall enjoying a Malayalam film, I was caught unawares by the opening scene and song of the movie. The protagonist walks in Calcutta (not Kolkatta then!) by the banks of the Ganga searching for a long lost friend and there’s a song about the river in the background. My hair stood on end and an incredible feeling coursed through my entire being. This strange reaction was all but forgotten in the intervening years until I finally had my first real life darshan of her. My eyes thrilled by her sight welled up with illogical tears and again that strange elation coursing through the body. It was definitely love at first sight.

I have since been her companion in the mountains and seen her various moods. She is never the same ever. Her moods change every day and all along her course she constantly surprises you with her infinite hues. I’ve plunged into her icy waters at 4 in winter mornings chilled to the bones taking the ritualistic 3 dips before scampering back out for dear life! I’ve swam in her welcome cool embrace in the scorching summer never wanting to leave her. It’s not that I’ve not been with other rivers. Many have been bigger, wider and more beautiful but there’s something about the Ganga that always draws me back. Not surprisingly I’m not her only lover.

Twice I had the audacity to raft on her waters. At the second outing,  on the most dangerous rapid on the river, the boat did a mini flip and I was thrown overboard. The last thing I saw before going down was the look on the raft guide’s face: pure unadulterated panic!  I was dunked under the water repeatedly by the huge screaming waves all around me. All I could see was water; all I could hear was water. I liked the way she played with me. When I went under, I held my breath, strangely thinking that there couldn’t be a better way to die than in her arms. I was OK with that. The raging waters took me way ahead of the raft. Later on her banks, dripping wet and recollecting the experience, I was surprised by my calmness. People usually drown in a rapid even with a life jacket because they drink too much water when the dunking happens. Not a single drop entered my mouth. A true miracle and relief all around especially the guide who looked like it was he who got the 2nd life.

For 3 years she has been my constant companion. The first thing I hear on waking up is her gentle murmur or roar depending on the season. I sit by her at night gazing at the stars. Under the full moon her beauty transcends the mind. Sitting by her side gazing into her waters is meditation. I’ve swam, dipped, played and almost drowned in her. She’s beautiful when she flows gently over the rocks murmuring sweet nothings. She’s majestic like a queen when she tears through the land in her floods.

Ganga dazzling under the full moon

 I was there right by her side when the floods came earlier this year. As with many other people, we were cool because Gangaji has never flooded in June. When the levels kept on rising, we hurried with shifting things. But again I felt no sense of panic but just immense wonder at how a shy demure little thing suddenly turned into an angry vengeful woman. The room I was staying in was flooded for a day. When she went back she left a present, around 5 feet of Himalayan mud in the room! How that was cleaned is another story.

Like some women Gangaji has a peculiar beauty when she’s in one of her angry moods. I remember standing on the ghats in deserted Rishikesh during the floods and watching her make huge waves after waves. It seemed that the sea had come down to the land of the rishis! Oh what a performance it was! She carried with her everything from chairs, beds gas cylinders to humungous trees that defy description. The sound of her roaring waters still rings in my ears. The way we are abusing her and the mountains, I think, that this show was just the curtain raiser.

 The only evidence of her fury now is the enormous piles of sand and the scattered logs on either side of her banks. Uttarakhand  is deserted, one scolding from the Mother and all the bhaktas seem to have taken to their heels. Rishikesh resembles the town I’ve read about in the old travel chronicles and what I’ve heard from the sadhus who have been here for ages. I like it this way, especially because I have to endure less competition for her attention.  And she’s back to her inviting shy demure self again. My love affair with her continues…

Gangaji ki jai ho !

Another journey begins ...

Swarnajayanti Express sounded very fancy but knowing Indian Railways as I did, there was no expectation of gold plated furnishings, cutlery et al.  Of course being a magician and an acrobat helps in any train journey in the subcontinent. I didn’t want here to get started on the toilet first but it’s an integral part of long distance travel even though the actual time you might be spending there might be small, God willing. But let’s get the dirty part over with first. I don’t think the railway official who decided how long the chain has to be that ties the steel mug has ever travelled on a train or washed his ass for that matter. You have to be a magician to know how to use it. Being a yogi is also helpful if by your will power you can add several meters to the length of the contraption for it to be of any practical purpose. Previous experience of acrobatics and gymnastics is absolutely essential. It’s like passing motion in a washing machine in spin mode. But to give credit where it’s due, the toilets were cleaned twice during the 3 days trip. 

I travelled III A.C, putting the reality that is the heat and dust of India at arm’s length. There’s always romance in a journey, the romance of the voyage into the unknown, the unseen and a million other things even if your journey is preplanned to the minutest detail. Anything is possible including meeting a beautiful witty stranger as depicted in ‘Before Sunset’.  But as I survey the scene these days, all I see are people obsessed over their cell phones and laptops. How do you start a conversation?  But then I would have to remind people what exactly a conversation is…

  A family of three gave me company on this journey. The dad, mom and daughter all lost in their respective mobile world. I’m still fascinated by India speeding along outside a train window but it seems very few people are. They talked in monosyllables and occasionally glanced in my direction as well. There were so many kids in the compartment that we could have started preschool but they were surprisingly silent and well behaved.  

The trip to Delhi from Thiruvananthapuram took 50 hours most of it spent in deep sushupti. There’s something deeply relaxing at being rocked to sleep in the AC compartment in a train. Quite a few fellow travelers spent a considerable time curled up under the blankets. Alluring as this is, it is always a good idea to step outside once in a while to smell the ‘fresh’ air outside. In India the possibilities are endless.

On the outskirts of Vijayawada, the train stopped on top of the bridge over the river Krishna. It was fascinating to look down from the door of the train into steps and then a sheer drop into the green waters swirling below. The gentle lapping of the water could be heard clearly , and one could see fishermen struggling with their catch on a boat not far away.

In Bina jn, I saw that somebody had come to see their family off. She was so arresting in her appearance that I had to click some pictures…


Before Sunset Part 2

continued from the previous post...

It was past seven and the evening shadows announced the end to a perfect day. They were almost at the end of the walk when they unexpectedly came across an unmanned railway crossing. There was not a soul in sight. 

‘You know I’ve always wanted to do this in England, be in a deserted place by the tracks just to watch trains speed by’, Krishna said as they were climbing a small wooden platform for a better view. They sat together watching trains speed by in opposing directions. 

‘We’re like those trains ,innit, just meeting for today, one whole day in the exclusive company of another and then speeding away.’ , Krishna philosophized in his fake cockney accent which brought a half smile onto her lips. 

He was starting to feel a vague sadness engulfing him knowing that their time was up.
“You’ve suddenly become an old man’, she laughed, pulling out some of the white stallion’s hair stuck in abundance in his black hair. Her hand lingered on and she was now stroking his hair, both of them looking straight at the parallel rails never destined to be one.

The sinking sun on the horizon painted the skies a mellow orange and bleeding ochre red, almost like the colours in a Kancheepuram saree. Krishna thought it funny to be thinking about sarees at this particular time watching a sunset with an English woman. 

Krishna watched in amazement almost like a third person as his hands cupped her face. She mumbled something.
‘What’s that? , asked Krishna breaking out of his spell.
‘Vaneesha means blessed’, she murmured gazing shyly into his eyes.
‘I can see that you have that effect on me’.  

It was almost dark when they finally reached the rail station. The intensity of the day had drained them and they let life take the lead to inevitability. 

On the London underground they couldn’t bear to sit together or look at one another. Yet they couldn' refrain from stealing glances at each other. She was surprised that she could feel so much sorrow and pain for parting from a man she met just this morning. She looked at him from the corner of her eyes and found he was smiling to himself. These things didn’t affect men the same way, she thought.

Krishna felt tremendous gratitude and thankfulness for such a profound experience coming uninvited. His heart was already heavy with longing and sadness yet he was smiling. He heard her say again for the third time that she would send him the snaps. As the doors of the tube were shutting she turned around and mouthed something which he never heard. It could have been ‘I had a nice time’ or ‘I want to walk with you again’ or even ‘I love you’.  He would never know.

It’s been many many years since the day Vaneesha walked with him just for a day but Krishna still checks the spam folder of his email hoping to see the promised mail. Why didn’t he ask for her email id or number? He went for many walks after that but he never saw her again. Why hadn’t she contacted him? Maybe it was due to her boyfriend whose hangover was the reason she came walking alone that day anyway. Maybe things were better and simpler this way. Occasionally, Krishna dreams of a woman travelling with him on the tube suddenly getting up to go but not before turning around and mouthing those unheard of words. He just winks at her and smiles.

Before Sunset

                The train sped along the blossoming English countryside and he began to nod off.  The journey was an impulsive one. Krishna had been in the country now for almost 3 years and had recently taken a fancy for taking long walks in the countryside on weekends. Time Out magazine had come out with a book which listed walks with easy access from London. There was also a timetable for walks where people could just show up on a designated day, usually over the weekend. The detail provided was meticulous including the train timings from London. Usually he liked to walk with the group but today he thought it would be better off if he walked alone. So he took the later train in the day.

He got off at Wadhurst, the terminal point, fiddling with the book, trying to find the correct page. 
‘Oh, are you doing the walk as well?’ He spun around to face a smiling young woman who also had the same book in her hand. So they set off together chatting like old friends. Because they were having such an animated discussion they soon got lost. But because of that they were rewarded by the sight of bluebells in full bloom on a field on the way. Vaneesha was good with directions and they were soon back on the path. She had bought the book just the day before and had missed the earlier train because she got up late. Krishna joked that fate had conspired to bring them together. 

They exchanged their personal stories while at the same time enjoying spring unfolding all around. It had been a long time since Vaneesha ventured into the countryside. She was like an excited kid stopping ever so often to smell the flowers. At one stretch of the walk, they had to walk through webs made by caterpillars and it was amazing to see them spin webs just like spiders. At the end of that stretch through the woods, they were covered with webs and caterpillars. 
‘Looks like Spiderman has zapped us’, he said. They picked the cobwebs off each other and laughed.

Krishna looked into her light brown hazel eyes. She had a prominent nose which somehow complimented her beauty. Her dark brown hair was tied back in a ponytail. She was wearing one of those walker’s trousers where you could detach the part just below the thighs to convert it into a shorts, which she did one hour into the walk. She had beautiful legs and exquisite skin. I’m walking with a Goddess, Krishna thought smiling to himself.

On some stretches he walked ahead of her, for there came a time when there was nothing left to be said, when there was no necessity to speak or for physical proximity. Once he turned to look behind him and she had stopped at the stables that he had just passed. She was patting a huge white stallion. He walked back towards them secretly wanting to do the same. He had never patted a horse before. She told him that she had grown up with horses in a farm and had her ways with them. Without asking, she took his hand and placed it on the stallion’s neck. His heart beating fast he marveled at the touch, the soft touch of her hand on one side and the smooth skin and underlying hardness of the stallion’s. She took pictures of him hugging the horse and nuzzling his head against the beast.

Summer was just around the corner and the day never seemed to end. All along the walk, she was competing with nature for his attention. But were they really different from each other? He marveled at the sheer physicality of this woman’s beauty, the sonorous voice, the carelessly swinging hips and the rise and fall of her breasts. On the way she shared her knowledge of plants naming almost all the flowers they saw. He was happy to be silent, listening to her, feeling love well up in his heart for her, the incredible beauty around them and the power that made all this happen. 

To be Continued...

Making both ends meet

I have never worked more than 4 hours a day for the last 10 years. There I have said it. Is there a greater sin than this in workaholic India Inc. where employees are afraid to take even their due leaves? A much greater transgression than that is the fact that I have been in full time unemployment for half the time during the past decade. Yes, unemployed and making the most of it to further my vagabond plans! There’s nothing more repulsive to a man to see a fellow being unemployed and enjoying it! Seriously, there is no redemption for me in this sacred land!  

Of course being the irresponsible bastard that I am, I hardly give these issues a thought unless and until I’m back in ‘civilized’ society.  It doesn’t get more civilized than in Kerala, God’s own country, populated by the Devil’s own people. Less than a week into my stay here I’ve been ripped apart wherever I go. And go I must! The younger sibling’s getting hitched and I have to tag along with the parents for the dreaded ‘invitation ‘ rounds, where close relatives and so called friends of the family are formally invited to the wedding, which often involves meeting people I have not set eyes in a million years ! A typical encounter unfolds thus:

(All conversations translated from malalyalam so loses a considerable amount of punch and meanness!) 

Host uncle/aunty: Hey I haven’t seen you in years. Mone, (son) what are you doing these days?

Pan (with a touch of pride and arrogance):  I’m in the Himalayas…

H (a bit bewildered but makes a smart comeback):Oh, kollam,(good! Good!) How wonderful! What WORK do you do there?

Pan(intuitively sensing danger): Err, I just chill around, a bit of social service, helping…

H: That’s marvelous, but what WORK do you do there ?

The father now steps in…

Father:  Actually he’s a bit into meditation and all that kind of stuff.

Pan doesn’t fail to notice that Father cringes a bit while giving explanation, almost as if his son is involved in the gigolo profession.

H: (with narrowed eyes sizing up Pan): What kind of stuff are we talking about?

P: He He (artificial hollow laugh trying to lighten up the mood) you know Yoga, Pranayama, and…

H: But what about your career, your savings? Is this the way responsible people live?

P squirms uncomfortably in seat yet tries to look at H with compassion as befitting a wannabe Yogi from the Himalayas !

P: See Sir, the thing there’s something in life apart from money coz you see…

H: But mone, you’re ruining your life. You know my son Thankappan, who was in the same class as you is now a radiologist in Canada. He’s happily married and VERY well settled too.

Pan thinks fondly about his dear friend Thankappan and even more fondly about his gorgeous wife.

P: Uncle, I understand. The thing is…

H: And for God’s sake you are not even married. You look so thin. How can you be otherwise when you have none to cook for you?

H now gets real excited and turns the guns on the Father, who was carefully studying a stain on the floor throughout the conversation, as if it was the subject of his Phd thesis. H really goes after him for not reigning Pan in, and for letting Pan do what he likes. You would have thought that Pan was still in his teens.

Finally the massacre is over and Pan and Father troop out of the room with hung heads with absolutely no scope for redemption in this life atleast !  Host uncle has a smug look on his face which proclaims that he’s done his social dharma.

Emily Harper - Story in a Song

From my days as a pimpled teen I have been a sucker for songs that tell a story. This song is an all time favourite. Enjoy !

Lyrics :-

Emily sat right next to me
Five days a week in the same bus seat
For a girl she was pretty cool
She wore an old ball cap, hated lace
Played a mean shortstop and second base
Never missed a day of Sunday school
And I never told a soul back then
That Emily Harper was my best friend

We carved our names on an old oak limb
On the bank of the creek where we used to swim
A farmer's son and a preacher's only daughter
We ran barefoot through the garden gate
All afternoon we'd laugh and play
'Til the sun went down on me
And Emily Harper

About the time I turned sixteen
I noticed Emily's eyes were green
And how they shined when I made her laugh
I liked it when her hair was down
I hated other guys around
I played it cool but I had it bad
Lord, her Daddy had a fit
When he caught me stealing my first kiss

We carved a heart on that old oak limb
On the bank of the creek where we used to swim
A farmer's son and a preacher's only daughter
We used to sneak off in my daddy's car
Sit on the hood and count the stars
'Til the sun came up on me
And Emily Harper

It all seems just like yesterday
We grew up but some things never change

We still hold hands by that old oak limb
On the bank of the creek where we used to swim
A farmer's son and a preacher's only daughter
She sure did make a lovely bride
We vowed to grow old side by side
'Til the sun goes down on me
And Emily Harper
Emily Harper
Me and Emily Harper


Independence Day Special

15th of August , as far as I can remember, has been a non event my entire life. The holiday aspect had been the only highlight during the student years. A terrible sense of disappointment ensues when the day falls on a Sunday. I have never even bothered to go to school/college on the day for the flag hoisting ceremony. So it was just a holiday like every other holiday, with nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the red letter days on the calendar. I wonder how many of us born post independence feel anything for those people who gave up their lives for a free India, even on Independence day.

But one year, not so long ago, was different for me. I was in a small village in the heart of Uttar Pradesh, working (for a change!) for an N.G.O. in a small school. Over the course of several months I got close to most of the kids. Due to a genetic anomaly, I seem to communicate better with the shorter version of human beings. Most of them seem to look at me with a mixture of awe and bewilderment, as to why a guy who could ‘enjoy’ life in the city would want to spend time in a god forsaken place. Most of the little ones  have never been outside the village and the only information they have of the city is through the television.

Yet they definitely saw me as a hero. Not in the bollywood league but someone who cares to stick it out with them, share their food, homes, dreams and life. Anybody from the city who visits a village school and cares to stick around to help will definitely earn the admiration of the kids. Definitely much easier to impress kids from the villages than the city !

So here I was having a whale of a time and suddenly it’s Independence Day. All the kids are lined up in assembly waiting for the unfurling of the tri colour and the more important part, sweet distribution at the end of the ceremony. I was chatting up a newly joined not bad looking  ‘Miss’ when the Principal comes and pulls me  along with him. 

Principal Sab whispers something in my ear.

‘What ?!! Are you insane? You can’t be serious!’, I say.

‘No, I’ve talked it with all the staff. It’s all fixed.’ 

Principal Sab doesn’t look like he’s kidding coz he’s dragging me to the flag post. I pinch myself to confirm that I am in the real world and not in a nightmare.

The thing is I have a very bad case of crowd phobia. I don’t see the flag pole, only 300 faces looking curiously in my direction. Then there is a bloody announcement of who is doing the dirty job. Princiapl Sab rubs it in real nice shouting over the microphone:

‘Do you know who this is ?’ pointing in my direction as if I am an exotic animal behind bars in a zoo cage. Funnily, I don’t feel much different from a caged animal.

A big roar from the kids. They are loving this Independence day surprise. Principal sab gives a short account of exactly what I am doing there for the school, just in case anyone has forgotten. By the time he’s finished I feel it would be a good idea if the earth opened up and swallowed me. My shirt is soaked in sweat and my heart is going around 300 beats/minute. The suddenness of it all took me completely unawares. I managed with great difficulty to convince the authorities that I was in no position to deliver an extempore speech. Then came the big moment!

I zombie walked to the podium. Principal Sab explained in detail how to pull the string to let the tri colour free. After two failed attempts, I was third time lucky. The kids were cheering as if India had won the World Cup. The relief I felt was indescribable !

 But that Independence Day changed something inside. I felt a certain commitment and love for this country. Maybe it’s up to the privileged among us to help those in need, in whatever small way we can and not wait around for the Government to set things right. Even if it means having to be out of our comfort zones . A small sacrifice compared to what our countrymen did 60 odd years ago...

Snow in Kerala

It’s raining cats and dogs in Kerala, or more colloquially it’s raining coconuts here! So much so that the temperature during the day time is around 24°C. Do you guys know what that means?

This is all I’ve been hearing during the past few days :

“It’s freezing boss”
“Tonight’s gonna be realllllll cold , 22°C !!!”

Sometimes I take them on :
“You think it might snow?”

They look worried.
“You know the way it’s going I wouldn’t be surprised if we have snow in December”, they reply.

I half expect to see people wrapped in sweaters and jackets when I step out with all this talk about the chill factor!

I vividly remember the time when I first went to London after having lived my entire life in the tropics. I was travelling alone and the jet was about to touch down in Heathrow Airport. The pilot’s smooth husky voice floated over us. Have you ever wondered how most pilots have a deep husky voice? I bet they get voice training as part of their course. Husky voice to most people, especially women, equates to a tall dark handsome stranger who can weather the craft(any craft!) through all storms. So I’m pretty sure that husky voice training is part of the pilot syllabus just to reassure people. Anyway our pilot was growling thus : “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to touch down in Heathrow Airport. It’s a sunny day outside and the temperature is a pleasant 16°C.”

I thought the guy was surely being sarcastic. How on earth can 16°C be pleasant? I think I had at least 5 layers of clothing when I came out of the airport and STILL I was shivering. People were looking at me as if I had landed from Mars or something. An acquaintance who had come to pick me up was full of sympathy and assured me that I would get used to it. Sure enough in six months time I was walking around in T shirts at 16°C. Yes, it was definitely pleasant! It really is  incredible how quickly the body adapts to the environment.

Yet the funny thing is that if I stay in Kerala along enough I get the cold bug and soon start shivering at 25°C, even doing the unthinkable like having hot water baths because it is colddddd! But on the plus side this mallu body is cool in heat, no pun intended. I remember trekking in the Himalayas and my companions from the North of the country used to marvel that I never used to sweat walking long distances carrying heavy bags while they used to get drenched. They put it down to my fitness but I guess it’s the mallu body factor that comes into play. We are born into heat, live in heat and die in heat!