Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A fading icon

The high pitched petulant tone of the calling bell sounded like an old soiled audio tape. Three youngsters were waiting in the verandah when she opened the door. Though couple of them seemed modern, it was the dhoti clad man who energetically greeted her with folded hands.

Yes?” Gloria Fernandez sounded impatient.

Jeffrey’s friend referred us. Though we do not know Jeffrey by person, Emil told us that we can meet him. Is Jeffrey around?

He has not come back from church. Can you please wait? He will come now. What’s the matter?”

Heard that there is a car for sale here. We came to check that up.” The dhoti clad youngster directly jumped into the matter.

Oh Christ! Although she was expecting it to happen sometime, this arrived as a shock for her. She wanted to hide somewhere. She should have guessed it, when they were looking around to spot the car shed. She had kept quiet whenever Jeffrey asked about it, and finally he took her hush as consent.

Please sit. Jeffrey will reach anytime.” She wanted Jeffrey to handle this mess.

The youngsters seemed to be perturbed by Gloria’s abrupt bout of depression. “Will things go fine?” One of them whispered to Ravi, the dhoti clad man. Their hopes were on his business flair.

Gloria felt that the folks waiting in the verandah had come to steal that final physical presence of love. She knew that the bungalow also will be lost soon. But then, the car had a lively charisma around it. When she looked through her window, she never observed the flat tires or the tons of dust that engulfed the car – All that came to her mind were those flashbacks of memories rushing through the narrow bridge of tears.

Fifteen years back, as they marched with swift vigor in business, Melvin Fernandez waved his magic surprise wand at her in the form of a black ambassador car – A souvenir to her on their fifteenth wedding anniversary. As she gazed at that car, she could see all those reminiscences about Melvin unravel. She could remember that day when a ten year old Jeffrey jumped around with bliss, and the way they danced after sharing some wine. All of it seemed like yesterday. The progress in export business came rapidly for Melvin. From that small rented house to the bungalow with a garden and pool. Soon the car arrived. Even when the business grew to sky, Melvin never thought of changing the car.

From then on – To church during Sundays, To beaches on evenings, To the shopping centers of the town, To different ceremonies, To hill stations whenever he got a couple of free days…. those pictures floated as bubbles in front of her. In all those images, she saw Melvin behind the steering with a Ray Ban glass, and to his left was Mrs. Gloria Fernandez. That car has been an inseparable part in their life for fifteen years. Even if it was almost pressed to the ground for the last six months, she was sure that the interiors will still have that fragrance of State Express and Brut.

Her son Jeffrey, who is planning to drift to Australia, will never comprehend this. After the unforeseen demise of Melvin, he viewed the car as a white elephant. “Should it corrode in this sultry climate, with no one even starting it? Why is mother so stubborn? Anyway we are going to leave this place for our ‘home’ climate. If you just keep acting out of emotion, the car will be of no use for anyone.” This is his standard argument. He cannot understand…..His age is like that.

Gloria could hear the sound of Jeffrey’s bike at the gate. “Hello! I am Jeffrey. You…?” She could hear Jeffrey speaking.

Emil referred us to you. I am Ravi, and these are Soman & Sasi. We came to see the car

Oh! Please come. Did you see the car? Please note that we have already paid this years tax and insurance. No one has touched the car except Daddy. ‘Single Owner’, in its literal meaning. There will be some dust since no one has touched the car for past six months. No Bargaining. I should get 65.” Jeffrey directly got into the substance.

Everyone walked to the shed with Jeffrey. Ravi started to inspect the vehicle in detail – He energetically ran around the car, looked under it and started knocking at different places to check the strength. Watching him looking at the car from diverse angles, Gloria felt that he would be an ideal person to choose animals for slaughter. She was watching them through the window. She saw Jeffrey coming inside to take the key. Gloria took the key in her hand and pressed her face into a pillow as she wept. The keychain was made of brass with a shape of Lord Ganesha, and it had the words G F Fisheries embedded on it. (G F for Gloria Fernandez). Melvin was very obstinate about having Lord Ganesha as the logo, since he believed that it would give his business a good prosperous start. He ignored the teasing words from Gloria, and told “An out and right Christian, and an out and right businessman”.

Mom, Where is the key?” Jeffery came to her after searching the desk.

Why are you crying, Mom? Anyway we will be parting this place soon. So what’s the sanctity in keeping that piece of junk? Please give the key.” He grabbed the key forcefully from Gloria’s hand.

Yes. He will not understand. For him, it is just another junk piece of metal. He has been like this all the while. All that Jeffrey learnt from his father was his business mind. He never absorbed the values of Melvin - who made it a point to have some light moments that he enjoyed with his family in spite of the busy working hours, who put a heavy price tag to human emotions. When Jeffrey learnt that Australians allow Anglo Indians to migrate, he started running around to abscond from the place where he lived all the while. ‘Home country’, it seems! How can he even consider leaving these local boulevards through which the nomadic guitar tones linger, the gorgeous Chinese nets, the Gulmohar flowers and their sleepy fragrance, the melody of the lake and sea, the languid and loving people, the garden with chrysanthemum, begonia and anthurium in its borders and this bungalow that has Melvin’s breath in every corner? Yes. Jeffrey will never understand. He has always been like this.

Mom, the deal is fixed. 62000 Rs. Not a good profit, but not a loss either. They will come within two hours, with a good battery

Jeffrey, you may go to the tea shop and get them something to drink. I am going to Elizabeth’s house. I will come back in the evening. Anyway, I can’t bear the scene.”

Gloria took the umbrella and opened the door. She burst into tears as she approached the car for one last time. As she kissed the steering wheel, she could smell Melvin’s cologne in her nose. She wiped her face and stared on, till she felt like leaving. Is Melvin opening the front door of the car and coming out? She could hear the sound of his shoes. She could feel his presence near her. Gloria did not know how long she stood there.

Mom, have you not gone yet?” Jeffrey’s question brought her back to the world. Gloria opened the umbrella and slowly started walking - to those memories rushing through her mind, to the air that smelled cologne, to the frames of life frozen with Melvin's picture.

- Translation of a short story written in Malayalam by my Achan (which was published in a magazine). Today, it’s 5 years since he left us.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Lets confess - We are bloody bureaucrats

First Rank in Kerala State SSLC
First Rank in University during Plus Two
Tenth Rank in IIT Entrance Examination
Offered Scholarship in prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Rejected it for his moral obligation to the nation.
First Rank in IAS Entrance Examination
First Rank in IAS Training Institute

Most of us know whom we are talking about. It’s about one extra ordinary person who remains stubborn and refuses to budge to the corrupted bureaucracy bludgeoning over him. He created mayhem among ‘officials’ when he widened the sides of a very congested and busy road in Thrissur town. He practically slapped on the face of a local minister who wanted to turn his hospital to a medical college without any mandated infrastructure. There are many more incidents to be quoted through, but you know where I am getting to. This stubborn gentleman who had made/is still making a huge impact among the youngsters in Kerala is none other than Mr. Raju Narayanaswamy. He was transferred a million times and insulted another zillion times by our government, before he escaped as he took leave for serving the UN who were excited to get a person like Mr. Swamy on their rolls.

Time passed by, and a new government under VS - the very last comrade of a generation of inspiring ‘genuine’ Marxist leaders, came into power. Things started to look rosy when VS personally handpicked Swamy, Suresh Kumar and Rishi Raj Singh for handling the Munnar encroachment issue. Munnar might be that ‘one-off’ incident where the government itself supported a motion against corruption to such a large extent. There has been lot of pressure on VS, and he retorted to them saying “I have sent three cats to Munnar, and I don’t care if they are black or white. What matters is if they catch mice — and they really catch them, both big and small”. For the first time in my life I proudly heard a common passer-by shouting in the rain - ‘Leaders should be like VS, without bending his knees to the money of these big-shots’, as I watched JCBs bringing down those encroached structures at MG Road in Cochin.

Things went on well…..ahem…not for long. In a typical case, a land scam involving a local minister would have bitten dust in the collector’s office – but not when Mr. Swamy is the around. The repercussions of the land scam came out loud, and a certain TU Kuruvilla resigned from his post. Quite obviously there were too many concerned faces in the assembly, as Mr. Swamy went ahead strong on his attempt to wipe the system clean. When he started exposing the illegal land holding of PJ Joseph and his kin, the ‘system’ started showing its clever face. VS was jolted on his rib by a hand that came from the back seat of a plane (yeah!! You guessed it right – the same hand that grabbed at a lady), and he suddenly, out of the blue, realised that Mr. Swamy was very inefficient in executing his duty as a district collector. Yes folks, the same VS who brought him back from UN to wipe Munnar clean got an ISD call from God - a divine intervention. VS made the announcement that Mr. Swamy was an inefficient district collector. The best part was yet to come – since he was inefficient as a district collector, they transferred him to be the….errr…..the…. district collector of Pathanamthitta. The mind-blowing solution suggests that all you need, to sort out your inefficiency, is to just switch the district. So all those failed cricketers, inefficient salesmen – here is the new mantra from our government, Just jump on the next KSRTC bus and move to the next district :). And what does the highly knowledgeable PJ Joseph say about Mr. Swamy? “This person has been transferred through 6 districts in 18 months. He is an immature official; he will be liability to whichever district he goes!”. Yes Sir, PJ Joseph! That was a hilarious joke from you and the UN is a bunch of idiots. We know that he was transferred because of only one reason – He is born as a man of ethics and he stands by it, like a man.

These are not scenes from a Suresh Gopi movie. It’s something that has been happening right in front of us – making all of us citizens a bunch of sleepy hoodwinks. Shame on you, old comrade VS. Being a person who still admires the ‘real’ Marxian principles, I had a tinge of hope that you will do the state proud. But, shame on you! We know that you are powerless against the goons that actually rule the state. But I would rather throw the bloody chair and walk, rather than bending my back and my principles. I would hold my head high and take a stroll.

These politicians, irrespective of left or right, just stamp their foot on the face of innocent people and stroll with that pompous charisma – And all of us just stand by and watch like corpses, without a reason. Even when the government puts its hands on the pockets of the poor working class to collect a day’s salary for ‘disaster management due to rain’ while it gives 5 lakhs to Sreesanth (who has enough money in his kitty); Even when the government doubles the road taxes while thousands of common people rupture their spine and die, as they laboriously move through our damned roads; Even when these ‘leaders’ make a mockery of democracy and accuses rare talents like Mr. Swamy of inefficiency – We stand paralysed. We remain as dumb as a piece of wood. We do not have the time or patience to move even a finger. And that’s because we have mutated ourselves to be a part of this system. Let’s confess – We all are bloody bureaucrats……

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Review - Shyamaprasad's Ore Kadal

I had been waiting for ‘Ore Kadal’ to release; right from the time the news about Shyamaprasad’s new movie based on Sunil Gangopadhyay’s novel ‘Heerak Deepthi’ started doing its rounds. Lot of things happened in between: Controversies involving novelist Subhash Chandran and Shyamaprasad, association of KR Meera in the script – but finally, the much-awaited movie released. Essentially ‘Ore Kadal’ analyses the intricate nature of human relationships through an in-depth portrayal of four complex and emotional characters. Making a movie that can belong to any contemporary time period/geography is a challenge of its own. Shyamaprasad can be proud of achieving just that.

Mammooty plays a renowned economist Dr. Nathan who does not believe in any emotional relationship, and trusts that his mind is not to be bound to any specific individual or liaison. The careless debonair of an alcoholic intellect and the overwhelming guilt of being dispassionate, looms over the character of Dr. Nathan. Mammooty portrays the divergent images that take his mind between a rough unemotional exterior, and a warm confused interior, with ease. Meera Jasmin plays Deepthi, a mother and housewife who has the strings of her mind being pulled by the isolation that she despairs to leap out of. Deepthi has a gentle psyche that brightens on the unexpected love it finds, moves into a frenzy as it evolves through lust and reaches a devastated stage where she is caught between the passions in her relationships. As a person who thought that Meera often goes over that narrow border between acting and overacting, I should acknowledge her phenomenal performance in 'Ore Kadal'. At times I feel that the class of an actor is not in expressing strong emotions for short durations, but is rather in displaying the subtle tenacity of light emotions with consistency – Meera has done just that. If she could win Urvashi for T V Chandran’sPaadam Onnu: Oru Vilaapam, this should be a cakewalk. Ramya Krishnan does a fantastic job as Bela, a very mature character. She acts as the alter ego of Dr. Nathan, which acknowledges the weaknesses of Nathan’s character and tries to let Nathan observe it. The bottomless melancholy of grief from the hard times of her life shines through the hazel eyes of Bela, through her occasional glance here and a short dialogue there. In a cast jaded by superstars, Ramya does her part without a lot of drumbeats and applause – quietly going about her job and all the while exemplifying that her acting skills stands much taller than item numbers. Naren stars as the husband of Deepthi, a normal middle class person who tries to make ends meet for his family and at times is reduced to be a mere spectator as the drama of life evolves.

For a movie that has most of its screen time indoors, the scope of impressing the people through camera work or technical gimmicks is almost negligible. Azhagappan accomplishes the near impossible - Using the light as a delicate background to the movie’s theme, and presenting some exquisite visuals. Editing a movie that moves between four diverse poignant characters, without the observer experiencing the turbulence of impulsive transitions requires a lot of skill, and the efforts from Vinod Sukumaran are laudable. The art direction and costumes made sure that the negligible space in Nathan’s flat was exploited to set up the careless slapdash attitude of his character. Unlike the so-called ‘mainstream’ movies, the music of 'Ore Kadal' had released devoid of ‘noise’, but it truly takes away the cake for being the vital part of the movie. Ouseppachan might have just made the best music of the year, especially handling the tough job of composing 4 different songs in the same raga ‘Subha Panthuvarali’ to match the moods of the movie.

Shyamaprasad has returned with a bang after his 'Akale', which did not strike the right chord with audience. Although Shyam has handed over the accolades to his remarkable cast, the movie is essentially teamwork – A rhythmic coordination of a team striving for perfection. And for that to happen, we need a director who has a lucid idea about his theme and an approach to let his audience perceive it. As a director, there are umpteen occasions where he could have slipped off that narrow ridge, and fallen into the deep gorges of overemotional melodrama, lust or vulgarity. Shyam stays away from all of it, distances himself from forcing any judgment on the viewers and most importantly facilitates a rare opportunity for the spectators to come up with their own verdicts on the deeds of the characters. I felt couple of glitches in the movie when common sense gave way to continuity, but then - what is perfect? Dealing with such a sensitive thread of infidelity and betrayal, which often presents that thin line of morality to the viewers, is a colossal challenge by its own. We see a director’s shining signature that was displayed with ease in Peruvazhiyile Kariyilakal and Agnisaakshi reaching its pinnacle during ‘Ore Kadal’. Be it in that symbolic frame that occasionally interludes to cast the image of a secluded electric pole where a lot of power lines meet & disperse to new directions, Be it in the revelation that there is a ferociously lashing sea of ‘Self’ between the shores named ‘You’ and ‘Me’.

The crowd expecting an outright 'masala' entertainer seeing the cast lines of Mammooty and Meera might be disappointed – as I could guess from the cat calls in the theatre. But, I regard a movie worthy if the mind lingers with the visuals and characters of the movie for days. 'Ore Kadal' has been so enticing that we could see ourselves standing next to Nathan & Deepthi, wandering in that dim apartment trying to reach that narrow frame of light through the balcony - all the while trying to come up with a conclusion on these complex yet amazing characters. That is exactly what I call triumph of a director and zenith of recognition for a movie.

Verdict – Recommended, with Two Thumbs Way Up!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Chickens Run for TV air time

In the interview with a Rediff correspondent, Ronen Sen (Indian ambassador to US) had made the statement “The agreement has been approved here (in Washington, DC) by the President, and there (in New Delhi) it’s been approved by the Indian cabinet. So why do you have all this running around like headless chickens, looking for a comment here or comment there, and these little storms in a tea-cup?”.

The statement was obviously aimed at the news correspondents who twist the facts to increase the circulation multiple folds.

The fun starts now: Guess who got so hurt and was all tears about the headless chicken?

Sushma Swaraj, the BJP leader and former minister made this comment – “Today the ambassador has said in a statement that those who are opposed to the deal are headless chickens. We have demanded such an ambassador should be recalled,"

Well…This comment by Sushma did not come as a surprise since her chief focus as a minister was on banning a few channels in the pretext of maintaining ‘the so-called’ ethics and spoiling the name of national awards by giving it to naïve performances of Anil Kapoor/Saif Ali Khan (Kamal Hasan, Mammootty and Nasseruddin Shah might have dumped their Bharat awards when they saw the news), when the National Information and Broadcasting industry was being shredded to dumps.

But what surprised me was when comrades like Prakash Karat/D Raja did not even glance through the essence of Sen’s statement and start crying aloud with a kerchief on their hand about chickens. People like us who ‘ve read Marx and Engels with respect and has soaring regards to their ideologies, have no much choice but to despise the state of the ‘new-age’ leftism which gazes for just some ‘air’ time in the controversy hungry news channels.

If Sushma/Karat/Raja read between the lines and assumed that they were THE headless chickens, then I should appreciate that their self-evaluation is quite a matter of fact. Who else will waste the 22-lakhs/hour rate of running the parliament for such an amateurish self-appraisal?

And I hope that the actual headless chickens would not file a case against the three for bringing their name to disrepute. :)

P.S -> This post is not aimed at analyzing the content of the agreement or on discussing any views regarding the authenticity of the agreement. Its directed at these ‘politicians’ that make a mockery of the parliament time when there are far more important things to be looked at in India, than their ego.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

An experience of lifetime - Himalayan Odyssey 2007

Jhooley, friends.

I've been protected by some unknown forces and has landed back safe n sound after a 14 day trip to the planet named 'Himalayas'.

(Warning: This is a long post)

Rewind….. July 2006 – Dhanush and Me watching Himalayan Odyssey 2006 in NDTV with awe, in Bangalore. Months of planning. Mixed emotions. The ecstasy given by the very deliberation of disappearing to the highest motorable roads on a Bullet. A bit of hesitation. Getting the bike in shape for taking the trip by its horns. Some Confusions. Transporting the bike, and hesitantly adjusting to the fact of not riding it for a month’s time. Medical checkups with extensive tests to make sure that I am physically fit to take the expedition. Phone calls with Dhanush every evening to confer the preparations and strategies. That feeling of guilt for taking a break from work when my presence was really needed, and that prick of conscience of leaving Amma for 2 weeks. Answering the same old question most people had “Have you really gone crazy?”, as if this is the first time I am going insane ;-). Then boarding the flight to Delhi in Air Sahara on 22nd June. That’s the last I remember about this corporeal world. Being transported to a different planet is an experience to be enjoyed in person.

It all started in the dry scorching heat at around 45-48 degrees in the Delhi-Chandigarh highway on Day 1, with a more human climate between Chandigarh and Manali on Day 2. The opening day was inauspicious for me, with a fuel overflow recurring at regular intervals due to the impure petrol from Delhi – but I was fortunate to get it solved by shaking the carb, and was even more lucky as that was the sole problem my bike showed for the entire trip. The second day was quite appalling for our group, as some among us had pretty ghastly accidents though luckily nothing was too somber. As the third day started we observed a Buddhist Llama doing some poojas for us, and when our organizer Sachin told “Picnic is over. Real trip starts now” we got an insinuation of the ominous things in the offing for us. We passed a lot of tourist traffic till Rohtang pass, and from then on traffic was merely zilch except for a rare truck or army vehicle. The road to Keylong from Rohtang set things in perspective, as the whole concept of ‘Road’ started depleting with every kilometer and all that was residual was a lot of rubble with sand and mud from landslides.

The much acclaimed ‘water-crossings’ started to present themselves in front of us. The streams just surge down the mountains and rule over the path, leaving it to our luck to negotiate the slippery rocks that are hidden inside the gushing water - the depth of which remains abyss. During a lengthy stream-crossing, the front tyre of my bike hit a rock that concealed itself deep inside the torrent, changing the direction of the bike to head right at the visage of our photographer Sundar who was kneeling down on the banks of the stream with his camera focused on me. Thankfully, somehow the direction of the bike got changed towards that of a narrow gap between the cliff and mountain named ‘road’and I could observe the amazingly quick reflexes of Sundar which made him run a mile atop the nearby mountain in 0.85 seconds to escape my bike maneuvering skills in streams :). Another 50 kms drive and we stopped at the fuel station at Tandi to top up our tanks. A signboard near the fuel station read “Next filling station 365 kms ahead”. I’ve never seen a signboard that has a better impact on your 'shiver' cells!

At Keylong, the snow-capped mountains were luring us and it was sure that one of those mountains could be Baralacha La. The next day hosted the nastiest road that we encountered in the trip (from Keylong to Sarchu). As I read somewhere during the research before the trip – Baralacha La is known as the ‘Killer Pass’, since it’s the first time we are to climb altitudes of the magnitude of 16000 ft and Acute Mountain Sickness will hit you out of the blue. The climb to Baralacha La started from a small camp at Darchu, and hardly 5 kms drive through pebbles and dust from Darchu we were welcome by an insane sight. Rubble was dumped to a height of around 10 inches in whatever was residual as ‘road’, that too for a stretch of around 4 kms of steep climb – Maybe for tarring the road in future. As we ran our bikes into that mess, an enlightenment of the intricate task at hand flashed right into our eyes. The tire was unable to grip at the layers of loose metal, while the ardent task of giving enough power for the bike to maneuver the acute angle climb was already making the journey thorny. People were using both their legs to gain balance and everyone knew that one false move at the right end of the road would take them down the cliff. Many bikes got stuck in the metal, and some went off balance. However the riders were up to the challenge and after some real testing moments, all of us managed to cross this unbelievable terrain. There was dust all around and we could see people gasping for breath after crossing this section. Personally for me, this was the most notorious part of the whole trip. After many more water crossings and non existent roads which were competing to give wake up calls to our spines, we reached Baralacha La. The presence of life had almost reduced to void with hardly any signs of civilization. It was just mountains, mountains and more mountains – snow capped ones, brown ones, green ones, rocky ones. The oxygen levels started to hit an all time low and I could feel it while driving, as I started to breathe harder. Even the activities that we normally regard as inconsequential were taking a toll on our body and no one was stopping at the chilly Baralacha La for taking snaps. All I could manage was to sit in the bike to take the camera from my pocket to take a snap of the signboard ‘Baralacha La’.

By evening 4 pm we arrived at our camp for the day at Sarchu, where tents were setup by our logistics teamm. Mountain sickness had started taking toll on the group, and some people were in doctor’s tent under oxygen support. As night fell, my headache aggravated to an extent incommunicable and sleep was hard to come by. At times I could feel myself slipping off to that narrow gap of unconsciousness. The night was very long with the frosty cold and mountain sickness holding hands to deprive me any sleep, with a very jealous me looking at the peaceful slumber my friend Dhanush was in. I could feel the dawn break around me, but the lack of sleep and the painful headache was making me feel disoriented and it was tough to get the head upright.

Next days drive covered the steep climbs of Gata loops, Naki La, Lachung La and the second highest mountain pass in the world Tanglang La. After some contemplation on taking the day easy by loading the bike on the truck and taking respite in the support vehicle, I decided that I could not let pass the fun. Quite a few people from our gang were already traveling in the support vehicles due to mountain sickness. It was tough to drive due to the disorientation that troubled me profusely during the 21-hairpin climb through Gata loops to Lachung La, compelling me take it easy and slow during this stretch although the roads were pretty ok. The key to driving a bike in Himalayas is to make sure that you do not gaze at the spectacular sceneries that unravel before you – A slightest slip in your concentration, and there you head into a part of road eaten off by the landslide.

By the time we stepped on the 42 km cold desert at More Plains, I was physically doing far better, although the bike had lost a lot of its pulling due to the severe lack of oxygen. The view of More plains was just too celestial that it immediately froze a frame in my mind to treasure forever. A huge expanse of desert, surrounded by brown mountains at the horizon with an outline of clear blue sky - Words can’t describe the beauty nature lends to your eyes. But, the route through More plains is not as nice as its sceneries. Roads cease to exist at regular intervals and you are left to do some off road driving to negotiate the sand in the desert. Driving the bike on lower gears through the deep sand is a skill that we got first hand training on, in More plains. Many of the bikes were stuck in the sand, and we had to stop at times to help those people to move out.

After successfully negotiating More plains, a grand snow capped mountain which sheltered the worlds second highest mountain pass ‘Tanglang La’ loomed over us. With great reverence to the pass, we embarked on the steep ascent to the top of Tanglang La which lasted for around 24 kms. The air was very wintry, with the wind chill making the effect worsen. No one even thought of stopping at Tanglang La and just drove on to flee the brute of nature. The days halt was at Rumtse, a valley right after Tanglang La. Yet another night where mercury dipped to unimaginable limits which left us shivering through yet another bout of mountain sickness. Sleeplessness had become a habit by now.

The following day’s ride from Rumtse to Leh was a nice and relaxed drive of just around 80 kms. We drove into Leh before afternoon in a 2*2 formation, the same way we did in all cities to make sure that no one loses their way. The next 1.5 days were to just relax, to complete all the repair activities for the bikes, and to make a small trip to the Buddhist Monastery at Shey. The visit to Khardung La, the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 ft, marked the half way mark of our trip – amidst the celebrations and cheering from the whole group. Surprisingly, the climb to Khardung La was far easier than the ones we had at Tanglang La and Lachung La. Since Khardung La was just 40 kms from Leh, we could wrap up the visit before noon to have rest for the remaining part of the day. Reaching till this point was a delusion for lot of us just two days back, when we were driving through the rivers and rubbles with attempts to just stay alive for the day.

If the very thoughts of going through the same hardships on our way back were insane, we were up to the task in following up the madness. But the return journey was far easier since our body was acclimatized with the oxygen levels in the mountains and we were familiar with the roads. We stopped at More plains for an official photo shoot, since this might be the only place where all the bikes could be sheltered in a solitary snap. The distance that we covered in 3 days on the onward journey was covered in just 2 days during the return leg, with the only stay being at the Military camp in Pang. Living your life in that vacuum at Pang is not really human, and the first hand experience of what our soldiers are going through made all of us spare a thought for them. With the admiration for the border protection force going up multiple folds, we headed to reach Keylong through the minor snowfalls at Lachung La and Naki La. We covered around 340 kms through the toughest roads in just 2 days. The route we were supposed to take from then on (through Sach Khas-Chamba-Dalhousie) to reach our ultimate destination Amritsar, got blocked due to a landslide near Udheypur. After deciding the alternate route (Manali-Dharamsala-Pathankot-Amritsar), we visited Triloknath temple near Udheypur before heading to the camp set up near Chenab river in Udheypur. Rest of the journey involved just driving on the plains, with maybe the hilly stretch from Mandi to Dharamsala deserving a special mention for the joyous curves the route provides to the bikers. The numerous accidents involving our group as heavy rains lashed out between Manali and Mandi was probably the only difficult part during this stretch. It reminded me of the curving roads of SH33 from Kattapana to Thodupuzha that we took during the BangaloreCochin trip.

The last day of the trip seemed to arrive in a flash. . The route from Pathankot to Amritsar deserves a special mention - for the ruthless high speed drivers irrespective of the vehicle they are driving and the presence of flies. After covering the 275 kms between Dharamsala and Amritsar in around 5 hours, we promptly headed to the Wagah border to watch the famous India-Pak flag retreat. The body did not accept the sudden increase in temperature, and lots of us were totally dehydrated by the time the retreat was over. Next dawn was spent in packing the bags, and parceling the bike back to Kerala through GATI. The chequered flag of the trip was marked by a quick visit to Jalianwalah Bagh and Golden Temple.

The fact that the dream trip had ended hit me hard while sitting in the train from Amritsar to Delhi. The wonderful people that we got acquainted with in the trip and the blissful places where we drove on - all of them hung as frozen frames in my mind. The helping hands that we got from the support engineers from Royal Enfield, each of them – Jagdish, Vinil, Alex, Lovely, Solomon Annan and Ganesh enabled our group to ride on, in spite of the rough terrain, rivers, oxygen issues. The wonderful logistics arrangements by Ashokji combined with the organizing efforts from our leader Sachin, made the trip such a pleasant experience to remember through the life. A special gratitude to our team doctor Dr. Bishan for giving us the required support in spite of the harsh conditions at those altitudes. The oxygen cylinders certainly benefited many team members to survive. Then the terrific Mallu gang that came with us – Anoop and Gopettan - The encyclopedias of bikes, giving us the much looked-for gyan on many things that we didn’t know about the technicalities of bikes, Aravind with his daring attempt for doing such a grueling trip on the oldest bike of our trip – a 1987 model Standard 350 – Me and Dhanush rode with Aravind for most part of the journey and always tried to stay behind his bike due to sheer respect for the pioneer, Then the energetic spirit of the oldest participant of our group – Balettan, the 50 year old banker who led us by example in keeping our energy levels high and spirits upright throughout the journey. One mandatory thing during a trip, especially an arduous one like this, is a group of people of comparable wavelength and that’s unerringly what we had in this one. Then, of course, one Mr. Dhanush is always there – from planning and execution, to closure – suffering from acute chalu sickness due to my presence – without whom, the whole trip would have still remained a dream for me.

You tend to forget the unhappy incidents in the trip – the accidents and health issues of many team members (most of which I have not mentioned here), and take your psyche back to the breathtaking memories that nature gave you. What I experienced was totally different from what I had thought as a naïve thrilled biker who wanted to just roam through places. The resilience test that you will be put through is much harder than what you imagined. But, you emerge a much strong hearted person and the memories can’t be more rewarding. I close my eyes and can see those gorgeous brown mountains capped with snow, gradually merging into the dazzling cerulean skies. Those castles carved by wind on the faces of mountains, the eerie stillness of the valleys that you see for miles below, the twisting winds that roam freely in the cold deserts, and a mere mortal watching it with awe…. It’s just a ‘once in a life time’ experience. Between 24th June and 7 July, I was ported to a different world altogether. A world where you had two wheels instead of two legs and your heart was a 350 cc engine that religiously took you from one destination to another. A world where you can turn your head around to see no signs of life for miles to come, but yet feel to be in the company of a heavenly power. A world that makes you realize how stunning this abode named earth is. A world that heaves you into vacuum, a world that throws you a foreboding challenge every single second of the journey through the toughest of terrains and most scenic of surroundings. A world that shows the insignificance of something named ‘me’ and makes you lose your identity. A world that makes you just surrender yourself to the overwhelming aura of nature. That’s Himalayas for you. For me, it will take some time for the reality to sink in. Half of my mind still roams in those gigantic peaks….among those valleys and snow clad castles, with one hand on my faithful partner - my Bullet.

Friends, what are you waiting for? Go for it. The Manali-Leh highway is open only between June and August end. Hurry!! :)

My complete set of snaps from the Odyssey are available at http://picasaweb.google.com/abhilash.kishore/HimalayanOdyssey2007

A video from the sand dunes at More Plains is available here

Friday, June 29, 2007

Reached Leh

After 6 days of the toughest terrains and endurance skills, myself and Dhanush has reached Leh safely with our bikes in good conditions. The ride was much more difficult that what we thought it would be.

Will update more once we are back home on 9th of July. The roads back till Amritsar is supposed to be even more difficult.

Cheerio till then!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Onto the sunbright summit merging with the sky

After 11 months with the Royal Enfield Thunderbird, after two long cruises in the bike, the ultimate dream of heading to the mountains in the Bull is coming true.

From June 24 to July 7, Dhanush and myself will be a part of the Himalayan Odyssey biking expedition conducted by Royal Enfield. The expedition starts from Delhi, proceeds through Chandigarh, Manali, Rohtang, Keylong and heads into the mighty Himalayan passes like Baralacha La, Lachlang La, Tanglang La into the grand More plains and Pang Lake before reaching Leh. A visit to the highest motorable pass in the world – Khardung La at an altitude of 17,582 feet, and return to Amritsar through the newly carved course through Sach Khas.

It will be a test of the utmost kind for the man and the machine. There are going to be bouts of High Altitude Mountain Sickness due to the lack of oxygen, mucky snow covered pathways for major stretches, streams running gallantly right over the roads….. But that feeling of having snow covered mountains all around us, with the crystal blue Pang lake staring right on our face just makes the heart salute the thought.

So, here we come! Through Delhi, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir...To the most beautiful place on earth.... To the mountains…. To the snow filled gradients of Himalayas.

Friends…see you all in 15 days time!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A bargain for future

Location – Palarivattom, Cochin.

Boisterous group of drunken 17-year-old kids, in a bus from South Kerala. Blue flags adorn the sides of the bus, representing a grand meeting of a famous students union to be inaugurated shortly in Cochin. Alcohol bottles kept swapping around in that bus. Suddenly, the intoxicated student union members notice a group of school going girls in the private line bus moving in the parallel lane. They proclaim their presence with swear words and filthy language. A group of student politicians extend their hands from their window trying to grab at the little girls in the bus. Groups of shell-shocked people sit frozen in the line bus. The girls gaze around for any retaliation from the crowd. No action from anyone. The boorish paranoia persists. Aged people, Family heads, Boiling young people of ethics and values – everyone remain silent in the bus, ignorant of what they were hearing, ignorant that one of those girls could be their immediate relative. The only thing that was fighting the ongoing licentiousness was the paralysis of our crowd. And among them, I see myself waiting for a spark to ignite. Everything goes dark. I too started to melt into a paralysis… spineless!! I was a lingering shadow.

In the background, I hear an announcement – “Welcoming you all to the footsteps of Gandhiji. Our ‘prasthanam’ of young people following the principles of Gandhiji invite you all to attend the all Kerala convention of QQQ followers. Join us and follow the footsteps of father of the nation”. Through the darkness in my mind I see a spotlight where a dhoti clad old person stared at me. He had tears in his eyes. He kept his hands open as he asked for mercy. I tried to shout. My brain switched off. Again…paralyzed. Everything was pitch dark. Nothing, but vacuum.

Student politics for the greater good of nation, it seems. Indeed, my dear leaders…. indeed! These young students are your future. Lure them to a path of darkness, and let Churchill’s half naked fakir weep. Let him beg for clemency.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Blogless Moments

  • Confusions & Inconclusive Decisions
  • Dreams. They keep us going, right?
  • Embarrassment, which rarely happens.
  • Missing that old hand of support, yet again.
  • A bit of nice work, for a change. Doubt if am in a roadside motel to take rest and move ahead?
  • Owner of a moving gymn – A car that has its power steering stuck, which is now used to enhance the biceps. Seems Schwarzz (whatever his spelling is) is trying to become Cochin Mayor to gain access to this new facility.
  • Met the old gangs and just relished their company. Blore Boyz - You are the ones! Premier No. 1 s.
  • Good Positive Thinking.
  • Lots of Laughs. Lot more smiles.
  • Attend 3 marriages every weekend. Seriously doubt if some kind of ‘emergency’ is declared in Kerala?? Are people in a hurry to stop enjoying life? ;-)
  • Tiny personal achievements including addendum of loans! But sure will think twice before doing anything related to construction/renovation of a house or buying land. Just eats your time.
  • Many more movies, very less books (Strange!)
  • Missed both Aaraatupuzha and Thrissur pooram. Fortunately caught Irinjalakuda pooram on time, with a satisfaction of having attended the closing pooram of the season.

    Sorry gang – 50 days that was, without blogging – I am going to be back soon.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Have a Good Night, Sir!

Just as his security manager had directed him he bowed his head ever so slightly without his security cap falling off, to be on a subservient note, as he held that glass door open with his mouth whispering the same repetitive tone “Have a Good Night, Sir”. The bending of head is supposed to prove the submission before the exquisite knowledge and talent of the kids who just walked out of college to the ever-so-fascinating stream of IT. Bending the head is very much a part of being a security, he was told. And like his foot he cared! He wanted to catch that idiot who had this heavenly light in his head about bending the head down to prove you to be meek. It’s just another gesture for earning his salary of which each tiny bit builds the food for his family, and there’s absolutely no more meaning attached to that. You bend your head down, and you earn your money. He often wondered what made the software engineers so hot, to let them earn so much money. Damn…He works much more than they do, that too on a 12-hour shift, to keep the floor secure, to jump up and open the door whenever someone decides to leave, (oh yeah! With the head bend down!), to carry all those gizmo computer stuff that arrives at the doorstep to the network store rooms of the company, to bring coffee to the managers, to save electricity when employees leave, and…. Well, it’s difficult to list everything down. Anyway, who cares?

It’s always interesting to watch the IT whiz kids work. A walk through the lobby and you realize that software is the best job in the block. You see most of the people working on some programs named orket or rocket or something. It seems this is the latest technology and the kids are really enthusiastic about learning it completely. Then there are chat specialists, who have around 10 chat windows open in the monitor and move their fingers with the mastery of Yehudi Menuhin to maneuver between these windows. They say that these chat windows provide a world of ‘opportunities’. It’s pretty amazing how they can think about opportunities, when they are working on a job that remotely requires you to do anything at all. Man is a greedy animal, indeed! Now we walk into the gossip zone. You see so many heads sealed close together as a huddle, and you wonder if it’s the cricket team. Then you understand that guys/girls are secretly devising the strategy to spy on the new beauty/hunk that’s joined in the block. He felt like saying “Ladies, if you looking for a hunk…. me the man, baby!”, but holding on to his security cap seemed to be the right priority at that moment. The manager was pretty busy as usual, as he was in the phone talking to his wife about the EMI rate comparisons and location of the flats. Manager had asked him not to forward any official calls to his extension, since his wife had this nice habit of cleaning the broom on his face if she’s stopped in between her conversation. Amidst this chaos, he used to see a few people who work like no end and he didn’t know how they could adjust to this crowd. The most interesting part about all these IT people is that when he bends his head down in the morning and evening, they pretend to be so full of work that they don’t even smile. Aaah…They had forgotten to smile. The only expression in their face is ‘frown’ and some extremely privileged people keep their face ‘plain sad’. He always wondered how they could earn astronomical salaries and still be unhappy, when people like him are struggling to make both ends meet and still manage to smile all the while. The key to good life might be less money, as someone great told. But he acknowledged that he too didn’t mind being a bit sad for some more money…. And then he cursed himself “Hey…I need to stand by my principles…but…ahem ahem”. But he had no doubt in his mind that the most hyped up career was that of an IT person’s. They don’t do anything that’s so worthy of the bloated up salary that they get, and they just make the life of common man so difficult by reducing the value of money. He always believed that those military personnel or a doctor or even a casual laborer deserved much more than these whiz kids.

Next day, he woke up in his hopes. He kept getting these visions about future in his sleep. He saw years flying past him, as he closed his eyes to a generation groomed with only the words ‘IT’ in mind. Nature and Greenery became an alien in this world. The world gradually fell into a dark glassy concrete alley where it finds no food but lots of computer programs. It kept growing till that black day came, which decided the paradigm shift. The Gates and Balmers just realized that they couldn’t eat windows and their attention rightly shifted to food. The world had completed that vicious circle of technology evolution and was heading right back to those ages of farming. He saw himself sitting in front of an infinitesimal paddy field, which was secured by huge walls. He opened those glass doors to the farmers who swiped in, to earn 6 figure salaries. These farmers work hard for their money the whole day and did a worthy job in that too. There were no complaints, no gossips and every face was gracious for this new world of light after a long stretch of darkness. More than anything he accepted the smiles that they gave him when they left for the day. It’s with a look of contempt that he tore off the resume of that useless IT manager who wanted to apply for the job of farmer. And he smiled at that beautiful sight of sun setting into the orange horizon as the green fields and shining silver streams danced together to that old song of nature. Now, he did not mind extended shifts too, when he stood right at the edge of that serene greenery, enjoying the waft, knowing that the world has become just that tad fairer as it ought to be. The night was as beautiful as it can get. The cool breeze rehearsing the paddy foliage to dance in the music of nature, an occasional shooting star sketching designs on a sky painted with blinking stars, the soft yellow candle lights wobbling at the distant houses, the slow rhythmic giggling of the flowing water…His world had become beautiful and his heart was never as full as it was. He slipped into a serene slumber, with a light heart. To peaceful days…to his dreams.

The knocking on his desk by the security officer disturbed his sleep. He heard the familiar sound say “I’ve to stick with the regulations. Another day’s salary gone…gone with your sleep. How can you be so irresponsible?”. He realized that he was still sitting in that old chair in front of that IT company. Nothing had changed, and his beautiful world seemed to be a dream. As his officer further despised his laziness, he smiled coldly. He could not have cared lesser about a day’s salary being lost. He knew what was holding for the future. He knew that the darkness will soon shed and the days of luminous moments will resume. Those expectations will fuse through, soon. And he could hardly wait, as he stood with his head high and said "Have a Good Night, Sir!".

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The real leaders!

They say some leaders are born, and some evolve due to circumstances. They say leaders are populace who lead from the front, distributing the flowers showered on them to their cohorts and taking the brunt of hard-hitting brickbats single-handedly. Although the illustrious high profile leaders readily appear in our minds, have we ever contemplated about the less famous leaders whom we might have met in our lives, who have led astutely but yet remains just one among us? Well, this has been one thought that has been ringing bells in my mind for sometime, and I’ve been trying to recollect those who caught my eye as leaders even in a small inconsequential endeavor. Here are three among them.

Right towards the end of a very dull Michigan winter, I got a call from one Mr. Kapil Arora from JDM Systems Consultants asking about my interest in joining a new cricket club he was forming, to participate in the Detroit Cricket League. He brought together a group of enthusiastic cricket lovers for the team, and we christened the team as ‘Titans’. Kapil was the sole organizer and captain; he bought the cricket kit, arranged the practice sessions, scheduled practice matches with professional teams, maintained scores/statistics and got a bunch of novices to play the professional cricket league. He never got tired despite our team of amateurs loosing all the practice matches we played, despite the difficult job of pleasing everyone in the team by giving them chances to play in matches while making sure that we had a good enough team, and more than anything, making sure that all of us enjoyed spending the moments we spent on cricket. For all the days and nights that he spent for motivating the team, I am sure that Kapil Arora would have been the proudest person when his team Titans went on to win the Detroit Elite Cricket League, upsetting all the favorites en route. Cheers to one of the most honest, trustworthy and motivating leader I have - Kapil Arora, who deservingly remains as the president of DaimlerChrysler Cricket Association in Detroit.

Then there was our dear friend Choodan aka Anoop, who was the heart, vein and blood for the IT festival that we conducted in our B-Tech days. In the midst of other leaders who were given leadership tag-names for coordinating various activities, it was very evident as to who was the real leader who kept motivating us by his ‘no-talk, only-act’ attitude. He was omnipresent - for setting up the stalls, putting up the banners, running around for gathering enough PCs for the gaming area and even bringing water and food for the ‘otherwise’ busy guys. If we could point to one reason on why our first IT fest in Cochin University was a huge success, the fingers direct to one person who belonged to no committee, who just helped everyone day and night with an untiring ethic and non-egoistic attitude, who didn’t want any credit or tag for the work he did – our Choodan!

As mentioned in my previous post, Velu Appoopan, who was spending his life as a beggar after devoting his entire life for leading a miniscule village in Tamil Nadu to self-sufficiency, is the most inspiring. A man who gained nothing out of giving everything he had, to get the uneducated poor farmers to stand on their own feet. He defined some dimension of his own.

We tend to close our horizon with a defining boundary named ‘famous’, when we talk or think about leaders. Once we move out of that Horizon, we are exposed to an inspiring world of small leaders – the ones who do things differently in the tiny society that they live in. In a world where some people call themselves as ‘Leader’ and bribe the Guruvayoorappan for the forgiving the sins they’ve done during their tenure of ‘leadership’, I place my small leaders who remain bright in our day to day life, much higher – They are the ones that really matter. Maybe they are the ones who really makes us discover ourselves, who change our world!

Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine. -- Lance Secretan