Friday, December 23, 2011

Nepali currency and noodles

Pre-script:What follows is a tale based on two things-my friend MT went home recently; and she told me when I asked her how the trip had been, that all she could tell me was that her trip was exciting and that the souvenirs she got from it were-Nepali currency and a packet of noodles. So me driven to nuts by my thesis decided to get some sense into my life by driving some sense into this story. Henceforth 'I' in this story will refer to MT, for this is her story after all...
Statutory warning: This post is long. So people with very limited patience will probably need a few sittings if they do want to finish this one. For the first time I, Leo wouldn't blame you. I tried doing something different and it has turned out a bit long. But this being my work I don't like to chop at it.
Packing and setting off:
There, gifts for mom,dad,grandma check. Damn the bag is bursting, people would think Iam a gulf-returnee.Where is the scarf for the night?ya ok..a book to read?hmm ya packed..I won't be needing it hopefully eh?MT isn't that why you chose to travel in the sleeper compartment so that you could watch the people in this part of the country and their behaviour? That idiot Mawe had warned that this would be an uncomfortable experience, said that it would make me regret it every moment cos there would be hardly any people-observing but a mad desperate attempt to sit in my seat throughout the journey. Ahh..I will prove him wrong. MT can certainly travel sleeper class and will live to tell him that it was a good experience ha!Hey its 11:45 time to go downstairs and wait for the auto. Damn this heavy bag!
Oh thank God the auto wallah was on time and the way he is driving I'll probably reach the station in no time. Good job MT..part 1 of journey working well..Oh wait what's this idiot doing! doesn't he see the bus coming ahead?mgod!!noo...Damn!!!that was close..what freaking idiot can drive like this?!Shit that was close! Kalyanpur looks so busy..wonder when this selling and buying and crowd ever vanishes during the day..Oh the dust..pooh..who am I kidding..from Coimbatore to Kanpur, it seems like dust is following me everywhere. Oh old-lady-with-pots bike behind you! bike behind you! damn that was close. Every one in this mad place seems to be driving the way he/she wishes. Wonder how many reach their homes each night! I'll just close my eyes till I reach the station; I can't watch any more of this- oh wait MT what about your resolve to study this land and its people?; remember these are the very people you were bent on studying. Damn! Oh God just get me to the station in one piece! Oh wait why is the auto slowing down? Crap! jam-in the middle of the day - at bloody 12! oh yeah train has crossed; why didn't I think of it before? Every  time a train crosses, its a jam on Grand Trunk Road - wise old saying in Kanpur. You'd think they were running on the road!Ooomph oh will you idiots please turn off your smoke belching engines? Wish their a/cs could circulate this smoke inside their cars, then probably they will remember to take them for a smoke check every 12 months atleast..Ahh moving ahead finally..Ravatpur...Parade..every where the humdrum of life-nice..Ahh..Railway station at last!!

Hmm now to find the platform. What? platform 4? C'mon luggage you and I have a long way to go. Ahh as untidy and ugly and crowded as ever-Kanpur railway station how else can you be? Still I don't think I'll enjoy you as much if it were not for these crowds you know. Without them you are just another colonial style station, just like Coimbatore and Chennai and all the others, with your arches and overhead covers. Elegant still, but not quite interesting without this crowd you know. Ahh platform 4 at last; lemme see.. the train is half an hour late so it will probably arrive at 2:15. Time to find a place to sit - half an hour is not bad considering that trains have been known to be running half a day late in these parts eh? Mgod what a large family that is! looks like four brothers and their entire families - yeah one,two.....ten kids..yeah about right..haha that's small in these parts..Must have come for a wedding by the looks of their shiny sarees. Oh who am I kidding, the women over here wear shiny sarees all the time - probably more festive the occasion more the shining, though I'll be bewitched if I can differentiate the degree of shining! Thought that only Rajasthani folk wear bright sarees but it seems the whole of North India has taken up the competition. Urchin group approaching; uh-oh MT get some change ready. When will this ever stop? On one hand we have people buying Porsches and on the other kids like this living and dying without knowing what it is to have a good life let alone sit in a Porsche. People going through entire lives in a parallel world! 

"Gaadi no do paanch aat nau char Ghorakpur se Thiruvananthapuram tak jane waali Raptisagar express 4 no platform par 2bajkar painthalees minute pahunchegi.yathriyoon ko pahunchi asavudha par keedh hei.Train no 25894 Raptisagar express from Ghorakpur to Thiruvananthapuram is running late by 1 hour and is expected to arrive at 2:45. We regret the inconvenience"
Damn another half an hour to go..Will Mawe arrive by the time this bloody train comes?Anyway back to people-watch MT.

There comes the train, finally. Now where's S7?
"Bhaiyya wo mera seat hei. dhekiye seat 53 mera hei."(That's my seat please get up. See seat 53.)
"Beti hum Jhansi tak hi hein. Adjust to kar lena sab ko jana he tho he."(Iam only going upto Jhansi please adjust. Doesn't everyone have to travel?)
Only here in India could anyone get away with saying such a dumb excuse and flashing a pan-coloured toothy smile at the same time.Damn! now I'll have to put up with this guy till Jhansi. How about getting atleast my berth secure? That atleast should be dealt with without any doubt.
"Uthar jhaiyiye dheko ye mera berth hei. Aap neeche akke bhait jhaiyiye"(Please get down from the berth. That's mine.)
Ugly guy on upper berth just looks on as if he hasn't heard anything.
"Arre kyon usko pareshan kar rahe ho. Uthar jhayiye, ye unka seat he. Uthar jhayiye" (Thank goodness uncleji from nearby seat has turned good samaritain. Ugly guy from upper berth is getting down. What if I can't secure my seat for now, atleast Iam safe for the night in my berth.)
"Thank you uncle"
"Arre kuch nahin betti aap ki to seat he"(Oh its nothing beti. After all its your seat.)

Ah finally captured berth. Mawe was right eh? Its pretty crowded here. Looks like half of North India has decided to suddenly move. Uncleji and his wife and their daughter,ugly guy seems to be travelling alone-going to set up business in the South or just looking for a job?you can never tell...idiot who took up my seat,Muslim guy with long beard with his son - also in white-and-white - is it mandatory that they dress in salwar and kurta?must be orthodox types.And who is this opposite me?Is he a Nepali or just someone from the northern part of U.P? Hmm well shaven and dressed moderately..has had a haircut too and real trim too..dressing has a sense of neat-strictness to it, that's an oddity. No pot-belly so business-man is ruled out, c'mon that's the regional profession of North India, what else is there? Tell me not-so-old man where are you from?across the border in Nepal or this side of the border in Garhwal? and what is it that you do?'cos whatever it is you are the odd-one-out here...Oh well MT you will just have to wait and find out won't you?

Hmm uncle and aunty have decided to have supper. Where has this train reached?Bhopal?
"Khaana nahin kha rahi ho beti?"(Stranger from opposite berth has spoken)
"Huh?haan abhi kuch hi dher mein.gaadi kahan pahunchi he?"
"Abhi to Bhopal pahunchi he. Agar kuch khareedhke khaana he to kareedh lo. Agla stop Nagpur bahut dhoor he. Udhar jhane mein khafi dher lagegi."
"Oh haan.."
Will have to do with Poori and dal MT. God don't let this ruin my stomach. Stranger guy has brought his own food. All wrapped up - and neatly unpacked. Oh shouldn't stare..sorry stranger-guy; just curious as to who you really are. Dinner over, now time to sleep.

Yaaaawwwn..where have we reached? goodness its 7a.m already, how I have slept! Is everything I bought still with me? Oh thank goodness, slept like a log; thieves could have had a party here and I wouldn't have known. Stranger-guy's up, he's reading a newspaper..hmm..a man aware of his surroundings..c'mon stranger-guy out with your mystery. Oh..should brush.
"Aap newspaper padna chahengi?"Crap stranger-guy caught me staring(Would you like to read the newspaper?)
"Nahin. aap padke dheejiye."(No please finish it and then I would like it please.)
"Yeh leejiye. Aap kahan jha rahe hein?"(Here. I am done. Where are you going?)
"Coimbatore aur aap?"(Coimbatore and you?)
"Mein tho Chennai jha raha hoon."(Iam going to Chennai)
"Acha Chennai jha rahe hein. Udhar business kar rahe hein?"(Oh you're going to Chennai? Are you doing business there?)
"Nahin business nahin, udhar ek hotel mein chef hoon-The Noodle Shop"(No not business. Iam a chef at a hotel there-'The Noodle Shop')
"Oh mein aya hoon udhar. kuch 6-7 saal pehele. Aap the us samay vahan?"(Oh I've come there. Some 6-7 years ago. Were you there at that time?)
"Haan bilkul. Hum vahan 2000 se hein. Ab gyarah saal hue hein."(Yes. Of course. I have been there from 2000. Its been eleven years now.)
"aap kahan khe hein."(Where are you from?)
"Beti mera gaun nepal mein he. Chitwan district mein."(Beti my village is in Nepal. In Chitwan district.)
"Oh gyarah saal. yahan akar kafi saal hue hein na?"(Oh eleven years! Its been a long time since you came here!)
"Haha India aur mera rishta kafi purani he bhitiya. gyarah saal to kuch nahin. Hum idhar aye te 1977 mein, enlist karne Indian Army mein. Fir 2000 tak theyees saal Gurkha Regt. mein. Sune ho Gurkha Regt ke bare mein?"(Haha..My relation with India is much older. I had come here in 1977 to enlist in the Indian Army. Then I till 2000 I served in the Gurkha Regt. Have you heard of the Gurkha Regt?)
"Haan Haan wow. Tho apne kafi exciting jeevan bhitaya he uncleji?"(Oh yes. wow. Then your life must have been quite exciting uncleji)
"haha haan kafi exciting! theyees saal India ke shandhar regimenton mein se ek mein aur nikhala Lance Naik Bhupendra Nath bankhe."(Haha exciting indeed! 23 years serving in one of the finest regiments in the Indian Army and left it as Lance Naik Bhupendra Nath.)
That explains it. The sturdy posture, the trim hair-line..some habits never change..the strict dressing. The configuration below has changed with 'idiot' probably getting down somewhere in the night and an elderly couple taking his place. They are taking out a large nylon basket. Oh I should have guessed rotis and sabji. So this must be the food-bag for the journey; God now they will eat their way through this one.Oh and all spicy food too, mgod I am stuck on top! all that potato and groundnut will surely convert to gas?!

"Chaai...chaai, sirjee chai piyenge"(Tea! sir will you have tea?)
"Haan ek cup deejiye, beti aap bhi piyengi?"(Yes please.. (to me)Will you have tea too?)
"Nahin uncleji..aap peejiye"(No thanks uncle.)
"yeh leejiye panch rupaiye"(Here's five rupees)
"yeh kya bhaiya - nepali rupaiye nahin chalenge"(Brother Nepali currency doesn't work here)
"offho galti ho gayi. dheejiye ye raha panch rupaiye"(It was a mistake, return it, here's 5 rupees)
"uncle khya mein use dhek saktha hoon?"(Uncle can I look at that note?)
"kyon nahin yeh leejiye. mere pas kafi pade hue hein"(Yes why not,here; I have plenty of them with me.)
"Ye Nepal ke raja the na?"(This was Nepal's king right?)
"Han abhi yeh chal base hein. Log unhein kafi pyar karthe the"(Yes but he has died. The people loved him)Aapka notes ka collection he shayad.rak leejiye. mere pas kafi hein(Looks like you collect currency. keep it I have plenty with me.)
"nahin rak leejiye. nahin tho muj se iske liye apko indian rupee lene padenge. agla chai mere aur se"(No I couldn't or I could give you Indian rupees in exchange. I could buy you the next tea in return.)
"haha teek he"
"yeh kya hei aapke haath mein jala hua nishana he. Hotel mein cooking ke beech hua tha kya?"
"Oh yeh! hmmm..yeh koi cooking ke wajah se nahin he ji, ye tho kafi saal purane ki baath he"(Oh this. This is not from a cooking accident. This is from something much older)   What's that dreamy look coming to his eyes?
"Oh meine socha, ke aap jho Chinese cooking mein tawa go gumathe hein, uske beech thel girne se ya kuch aise hua hoga. Jyadha personal baath he tho sorry, math bathayiye please"(Oh I had thought it was probably from oil flying off the pans when you swirl them in the chinese style of cooking, or something like that. I'm sorry please don't tell me if its something personal.)
"nahin aisa kuch personal baath nahin he. Iske baare mein sochke kaafi samay ho gaya he. Bahut sal purane ki baath he. Aap sunna chahengi? Ab tho mein buddha hoon, par ye jab hua tha tho jawan tha, shareer mein aur peshe mein bhi..haha"(No its nothing personal. Its just that no one has asked me about this dfor a long time and I had stopped thinking about it. Its from a time quite long ago, Would you like to hear about it? That was at a time when I was quite young and still a jawan in the Indian Army)
"Sahi mein? tho bathayiye. mujhe aisi kahaniyan bahut pasandh he"(really? please tell me more. I like such stories)
The train was passing over a gorge it seemed. There was such noise along with the rit-rat-tattling of the wheels. It was quite dark in the top berth but I was so hooked onto this story now, that nothing mattered. Not 'new' uncle and aunty seemingly battling over who would eat more groundnuts and litter the floor. I had kept a wary eye over the proceedings till now and it seemed that uncle was 'winning', but aunty was showing no signs of relenting. But I cared for nothing other than this old man's story now. What beats a fauji(army) story anyway?

"Then listen. As I said this happened a long time ago when I was still a jawan in the Army-3rd Gurkha Rifles. a well-trained infantry unit. There was pride in being a Gurkha. It is the case with every man in a regiment- a sense of pride and loyalty to his unit. We were posted in Kashmir at the time. Somewhere in Batlik sector. Life was harsh. There is no place as beautiful and as painful as Kashmir. For one thing, the place is beautiful, but the people have gone through a lot in their lives. Life as you know is harsh over there, a struggle to live in some parts. What with the terrorist activity in the region, life is sacred to the people there and our lives were intermingled with the lives of the people there. It was a very stressful period, when you are always on the highest alert everytime you are on duty and that happpened every day; it was enough to drive normal people half-mad. In the armed forces that's a way of life and it has to be come to terms with. My unit was headed by Capt. Rajesh Sinha, a young officer but very caring and at the same time strict with us jawans. We enjoyed our time with him. He was quite frank, open, no room for doubt and life was simple for him and that suited us as well. Its when you have a good superior officer that life becomes bearable in the army. Barrack life was good; me,munnah, chalu, everyone, it was one for all and all for one there. Everyone owed their life to everyone else and it was simple that way. We would go out on sortees on recconaisance according to our duty-schedule.

It was the height of winter in the valley; snow was falling covering everything feet deep. That day our unit had to go on a recce and we set off in our truck for the first leg of the journey, till the outskirts of the village we were in. One round of the village and there was no sign of anything unusual. We headed out to the outskirts, where we left the truck and headed out on foot over what was once a goat-track, through the snow. There were houses ahead in the hills and we would check up on them as we passed, and out into the wilderness and the hills beyond. We had food for two days in the wild as we would probably have to camp out for a night or two. As we passed the houses nearby there was no sign of any untoward activity and the locals waved at us as we passed. We reached the last of the houses where the local head informed us that all was well, but we'd better check on Amjad Ali's house as we went as he had not seen Amjad or his wife Rani for quite a few days, and since there had been a blizzard was not able to go check himself. We thanked the chief and as we walked ahead, the captain called us together and explained that it was probably nothing but we had be a bit careful about this last piece of news. True, a blizzard could have kept people estranged but there had been news of possible terrorist crossings into the region, and a missing persons report is a possible sign of trouble. This put everyone on a new sense of alert and we continued forward. Amjad was a goatherd who lived in the hills ahead. He lived with his wife and their daughter Shamjana and theirs was the last house in the trail, quite removed and in the hills. We started climbing and each breath was a spike to the chest. The snow was falling thick and we were actually thankful, for, in our present condition it would mask our arrival if there was anything more to the chief's story. We split into two columns and each man scanned the area around him as he walked. About a 100 yards from the house and deep into the thicket surrounding it, the captain signalled for us to halt. We were surrounded by sal trees and brush vegetation, all covered with snow and the house was yet to come into view.

The captain explained the plan- we would split into two groups. One would approach the house from the front and the other from the rear, and both would take cover in a 25 m radius from the house. The lives of the family was top priority. It was agreed that we would draw the terrorists out of the house if possible and start shooting. But first we had to check whether they were really in the house and it was decided we would start a natural reaction - get the goats to make some noise maybe and Munna would be in place to intercept Amjad/Rani if they got out. But if it was anyone else he would be given a signal by the group infront and he would go into hiding by the goat-pen. A sniper would take out a terrorist if he came out alone/accompanying the inmates after giving making sure that the man gave his companions an all-clear signal. For it was clear that only confusion could give us the edge here. Once the man outside was taken out, we would storm the house within five seconds; one team through the front and the rear. The confusion was the only way we could save the inmates in a hostage-situation.The two teams split, me among the one going via the front, the other circling outwards to the rear. The approach now was even more measured; no one knew if there was a sentry lying in wait. The house came into view and no sentry was spotted,perhaps they thought that the snow was enough to keep away visitors; if they were there that is. We found cover facing the house and the sniper got into position. Munnah circled around to the goat-pen taking care not to disturb the goats until he was in position. He was to try and ascertain by  listening at the windows the location of the enemy if there were any, and signal to the captain by hand signals, who would then relay the info to the team at the back by radio. It was a two room house and the location of the enemy would greatly help the operation. The localites had been educated to show distress signals if they were in situations like this. Vital info including the number of men inside and locations if possible could be conveyed by simple waving of hands and such. So if Amjad/Rani got out and if they were under duress they would signal discreetly in hope that someone was watching - that was our only hope of this ending fast. I said a silent prayer - asked God to save us and the family inside. The moonlight was filtering through the trees and the snow, giving a diffused light and eerie look to the whole scene. Everyone trained their breathing, it was vital we concentrated to the hilt, and getting our hearts to beat easy was vital.

All eyes saw the house through the view points of their rifles, each a different location, ready to strike. The snow was falling heavily now and it was really difficult to see anything. I thanked my strenuous training - there was a time this snow and the hours of sitting in a position would have broken us - but not now. As we squinted through our scopes, the captain's whisper broke through the dead-silence only barely audible "Munnah says he can't hear anything. The glass and the walls must be too thick. I'm relaying the info to the bravo team. All eyes on their target area. Dhillu(he was our sniper) the door!" "Yes sir. All set sir." Five whispers back. I could her the capt. relaying the info to bravo team. Munnah would start disturbing the goats in a 25 sec window which would probably get over now. As the goats started bleating I saw the front door opening and Rani walking out. She was carrying a kerosene lamp and as I watched she covered and uncovered the lamp in quick succession. Damn, that was the distress signal! She was followed by a man in an overcoat a few steps behind. Munnah had seen this from his position and taken cover. Rani got the goats to stop and the man looked around to make sure it was safe. He turned back and yelled "koi nahin". As the duo turned back to the house, Rani in front, Dhillu got his man. Clean, and as he fell Rani jerked and turned around but continued on inside - brave lady, but there was probably something going on inside that she couldn't leave - probably a hostage situation. As she reached the front steps though, we saw someone reach the front door, it was too quick and there was a cry of alert and she was pulled inside - they had seen the body. There was a hail of gunfire as we tried to gun him down. The door slammed shut. Even as the capt. roared into his radio to 'bravo' "surprise out plan B", there came shots from inside.

The windows were flung open and bullets rained towards all directions from inside . We launched our reply each man taking a specific area, praying that he didn't hit one of the inmates and leashing out hell. The rear was a picture of silence, not a bullet came from the bravo team - that was plan B. Snow flew in all directions as bullets zipped into it. The still mountain air was broken by the rattle of semi-automatics and the tree trunks around us shattered as bullets sank into them. We dug in deeper and returned fire. For five to ten minutes, I don't know it seemed like eternity, it was pure hell. Shards of rocks and bark flying and snow too and we kept to our positions. It was then that it happened - there was a loud explosion from inside and then - bhaamm! fire was seen through one of the windows. Either one of us had hit something explosive or they had done it. As we looked at the capt. for instructions, each man dreading the same thing - what of the ones inside?, he signalled-"wait" and seemed for a few seconds to be listening. There it was - gunfire from the rear. Those cheap bastards!! they had tried to distract our attention and tried to make a get-away. With that the capt. signalled us, three to  the front, and two to the sides to make a 'cleaning-up' run. None of the bastards should escape. Me and two others ran to the front in zig-zags. We were to storm inside and rescue the hostages if any and 'clean-up' if required. We slung low as we ran to the door getting no gunfire. One of the guys kicked the door down as two of us stood guard on either side. We swung in from either side and scanned the house. There were no signs of any terrorists, but we were recieved with a blast of the burning inferno. We could see the family hunched over at one of the corners,  tied to a shelf which was already burning. We rushed in and as we crossed into the room parts of it started falling, burning. I reached them first and I cut the ropes of the trembling couple and unconscious child with my 'khukri'. As my partners helped the couple up I swung the unconscious kid onto my shoulder and started to make my way out when it happened. A part of the wooden beam broke off and the burning embers fell onto my hand. I jerked my arm free and managed to shift the child out of reach but my shirt caught fire. I ran out of the house with the child and putting her onto the ground sank my hand into the snow. I managed to put out the fire on my shirt but I did get burns -  the marks of which you see now.

All in all the mission was a success. The cowards - six of them including the one we gunned down in front in the beginning, had come over in the dark a few days before just when the blizzard started, and had captured the house and forced the family into submission. As we thought, they, after being alerted by the body, had tied up the family and started firing. When it seemed that they were outnumbered they fell for our plan and thought there was no one in the rear and could make an escape. That's when they blew up a petrol bomb to create a diversion and ran outside from the rear. Of course bravo team had let them take a few steps to get the whole gang outside before clinically gunning them down. They had talked of raising terror in the valley and beyond from what the couple told us. The child had been knocked unconscious after she had been slapped by one of the gunmen while tying her hands and probably from the shock of the final explosion. She responded to our first-aid and we swung into putting out the fire immediately. We did help in rebuilding their house and became good friends with the family and with young Shamjana in due course. Nice kid she was. Ha! that's that, but beti that is how I got these burn marks on my fore-arm."

"Wow uncle mujhe pata nahin kya kahna he. Aap ki kahani kafi thrilling aur katharnak hei. Aap ke jaise jawan log hi is desh ko ab bhi suraksha kar rahe hein. Thank you."(Wow uncle I  don't know what to say. You story was thrilling. It is army people like you who are keeping this nation safe still. Thank you.)
"haha kuch nahin beti. yehi hamara kaam hei aur jeene ka maksat bhi"(That's alright beti. That's our job and our goal too, what we live for.)
Lost track of time. That was some story and to hear it from someone who was actually there! What a treat! Ah the lights are coming on - goodness its already seven, how time has flown.
"To fir aap chef kaise bane?" (How did you become a cook?)
"In 2000 I decided to take voluntary retirement. I was good friends with the cook in our unit- Balu a South Indian. He too left with me. It was he who suggested that we could set up a business in partnership in Chennai. And that is how 'Noodle Shop' was set up with some of the cash we got from our retirement money. I brought some friends and relations from Nepal to work in our venture and he has some people he knows working there too. Altogether it has been a good venture so far. We have very recently got orders to either send chefs or supply to one of the 3-star hotels in the city."
"oh woh to acha hei" (that's nice)

 " has been good so far....There is one thing I haven't told you though. And the more I see you the more I think of her. I have a daughter Kusum and she looks very much like you. You are probably of the same age I think. She is going to college, studying B.Sc at Chennai. And it is for her that her grandma has sent all this food here(points to his bag)..haha..loves her...infact wait..I have something for you too. Here (opening the bag and taking a packet)-Nepali noodles, you should have them as a gift from me."
"No mein yeh le nahin sakthi aur yeh apke beti ke liye hei."(No I can't accept this. Besides it is for your daughter.)
"haha use to kafi baki hei aur woh jab chahe mujhse bana leti hei. tumein dhek kar usi ki yaadh aa rahi hei. yeh leejiye mere aur se ek chota mat kahiye."(haha..she has enough left. Besides she makes me make her these whenever she wants. You remind me of her. You should have this as a small gift from me. Please don't say no.)
"Dhanyawad."(Thank you)
"Boil it with water and eat. No masala required. Its all there. It will be the best you have ever eaten. My mother- her grandma is a fine cook"
"oh..ok"(grinning from ear to ear)
Must get up to wish 'uncle' goodbye at Chennai.
"Good night uncle"
"Good night beti"

Ah! Chennai at last.
"Beti hum jha rahe hein. Apna kyal rakna. Fir kabhi milenge(beti Iam going. Take care. Will meet again someday.)
"Bye uncleji. Fir milenge. Apne beti ko bhi mere shubhkamnayein dhena jaroor."(bye uncle. Will meet again. Give my regards to your daughter too.)
And like that he was gone. And next I woke up to my alarm vibrations as the train was nearing Coimbatore. As I pushed my way out of the train and to my waiting parents, I realised that his story will stay with me forever.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My love-escapades with Saturn

I have an on-and-off deal with Saturn a.k.a shani for Indians and I am positive that he loves me more than I love him. He does have this tendency of returning back like an illicit lover and like every illicit lover has his whims, and 'gifts' that he likes to shower on me to show that he has returned. Well he chose last Monday to return and boy was he fretful when he returned!
I should have taken signs from the weather to know that something was up, but I didn't. The temperatures had plummeted the previous night and the cold was biting at my bones as I tried to pull the blanket around me in a desperate attempt to get in a position to keep warm. I looked at the watch on the table "6:30". Damn! and I could hardly see four feet out of the window. The world was just a mass of swirling white outside my window. I got up in bed and leaned over to switch off the fan and flopped down into 'warm' position again. I decided to sleep for a little more to get the sun shining outside. Next I opened my eyes, the watch showed 9:45. I jumped up in bed-those morons at the mess-counter have a tendency of-late to pack things off when the clock strikes ten. The chill had crept into the room, and my toes wanted to curl and get back under the blanket. After much debating about what to do, the situation was under control when I thought about what would happen when I faced 11o'clock at the Lion's den. It is much better to face the Lion with at least a full belly if not a full brain to go with it. At least you have the satisfaction that your physical body is intact when your mental part takes a beating. So after more choice curses I creep out of bed and painfully complete brushing my teeth. As I returned yawning away(I hate over-sleeping), and regarded my watch again "10:15". Where had time raced?Surely there must be some mistake? Not proceeding to think, I grabbed my sweatshirt and ran to the mess. I saw that the counter-guy had removed everything and was cleaning the counter. The mess-clock showed 10:17(damn now I'll have to beg and plead). I approached the counter-guy.
"Bhaiyya chai he kya?"(Is there tea?I tried starting from the bottom and moving onto more important things)
"Nahin. Sab katham ho chuka hai bhaiyya" (no everything is finished.)
What? The mess people hadn't started having food. Surely there's more of everything left? This guy is messing with me. I continued as if I hadn't comprehended what he said.
"Bhaiyya mein dhooth ki baath nahin kar raha hoon. Chai he kya?"(I'm not talking of milk. Is there tea left?)
"Nahin bhaiyya sab katham ho chuka he."(No everything is over)
"tho aap log kya piyoge?"(Then what will you people drink?I was getting angry now. I knew I was late and had no right to get anything, but this prick had always been a pain in the arse and he was really getting on my nerves today.)
"Dhikayiye kaun pi raha he. Idhar kaun pi raha he"(Show me who is drinking here. No one is drinking tea.) That does it. This guy has stepped over the bloody, fucking line. Not only did he have the nerve to say lies, now he had the impudence to challenge me.
When I say challenge, the reader shouldn't read that we follow a feudal set-up here. Quite on the contrary, while the mess-workers(most of them) treat us with respect, we reciprocate and treat them with respect as well.
Claanggg. The plate I held only a second earlier went flying onto the counter. I turned and walked back as counter-guy continued to blabber on. Pride in full and upto the brim, tummy quite without, I was fuming as I stomped back to my room. I didn't notice anything as I threw stuff into my bag and flew out of the room and began my cycle journey to the lab.
I should have paid attention to the sudden change in circumstances then, but I didn't. Silently cursing the mess-guy with all my might, I braced myself against the heavy fog and cycled on. The weather had taken a sudden dip since the past two days, but today was extra special. The fog circled everything like a white blanket never letting go and I hunched low on my cycle to keep warm and drove on. Today was one of 'em bad days, ah but they come and they go, what's to fuss about. Oh no Leo, you are speaking too soon son. Anyway as I cycled into the Academic area and swung into the corridor like I always do, I noticed that the corridor was pretty wet from the dew condensing on it. It is out of bounds for cyclists, but I hate using the paved path instead. Reason-Oh I want to get to the lab without my private parts getting bumped all the way, Thank you. And thinking what oafs people were to take the brick-paved road I cycled on. Past Leo's corner(that's a different story), I remembered to slow down considering the damp corridor. See I knew this was one of those days. And on I went thinking how many days it would be before I get into trouble and have to explain my very 'valid' reasons to the professors. As I reached the last bend on the corridor near the library I slowed down and swung into the bend. The next I knew my cycle went flying. It was like someone had swept it out from under me. I saw myself falling. I don't know why, but every time I have taken a fall in these IIT corridors I have loved it(ahem not the 1st time, glad you noticed). So in mid-fall I realise that Iam falling and I don't do anything to break my fall. Iam so captured in the beauty of the fall that I fail to do anything. Oh no Leo! So I hit chest first onto the bricked floor with my bag falling on top of me. I don't know when any of my limbs touched ground zero, but I seem to remember thinking that my head wouldn't hit the ground. Baammm!!! thought too soon baby, my head hit the ground chin first and then the side of my face, so hard that it practically numbed me. Maybe that was why I lay there kissing the ground for a few seconds before the brain regained control and sent emergency panic messages to every nerve in my body. I jumped up to hear thumping footsteps and saw that some passer-by had come running to help me up. I saw that my the jacket had a dark patch of dust near the chest region from where it had taken most impact. That fall would have done Christiano Ronaldo proud; of course he makes sure there is very less impact when he 'falls', but mine had so much of flight involved that I'm sure he would have loved it. And any ref would have given a free-kick and would have booked the  other guy without so much as a second thought had it been a football match. But sadly this was no football match and there were no die-hard supporters jumping up and down and booing the other guy in unison, no one shaking their heads at the atrocity levelled, no cries for punishment, just silence and the passer-by who looked at me as if I were the first guy he had seen falling. What a disappointment! As my head was still quite numb, I turned to the Good Samaritain who had come running.
"chehre pe chot tho nahin he?mujhe kuch lag nahin raha he".(Is my face bruised? I can't feel anything.)
"Hmmm..nahin re. kafi lucky ho hero"(no. you are lucky 'hero')he replied after an inspection.
"Thanks. to fir mein chalta hoon." (Thanks. Then I will be on my way.)
I picked up my cycle and seeing that there was nothing wrong with it(Really Leo? Was there nothing wrong with it?), I cycled back to the lab. Now I was quite certain it was one of those days. But to think that it was a re-visit by Shani?, no I didn't think it was that yet(oh Leo you poor idiot). As I walked into the lab, Lion gave me a look as if to say "now what have you been doing?". The day passed onto lunch time with nothing much accomplished, yet the fog outside stood guard in the form a mild chill. As I started to cycle back I still had the hairs on the back of my neck up-something more had to happen.As nothing happened I felt a bit warm cycling back. I avoided the corridor-ha! I wouldn't fall for that a second time!
I was about to cross the atm junction a few yards from the hostel when it happened. Two girls on a cycle, one riding pillion were about to cross from up ahead. Remembering the way of things I swung over to the side to let them cross. Oh wait! why are they shifting to my direction too? Damn idiots! why don't you just cross dammit! I clutched the brakes with all my might. WHY THE HELL AREN'T THEY RESPONDING? The brakes just wouldn't hold well. The cycle had been quite ok after the crash in the morning eh smartass? Very smart you were then eh? I had been in quite a good mood seeing that nothing had happened and was at a steady pace when this happened you see. It was like those knight-fights you see in the movies, where they ride towards each other with spears outstretched-except here we were two 'knights' who were trying our maximum to avoid getting any closer. I could see the whites of her eyes-the one in front, pretty much like the knights did when they got pretty close. And I am pretty much she saw the veins in mine as well in those 'slow-motion seconds'. But just before the crash I shut my eyes real tight and hoped we would just pass by without crashing. Oh God please don't let me crash, just let her swing to the side! I have to agree with those chaps in Inception. The brain just processes such a lot of information so damn fast when it needs to. In dreams which last only a few seconds entire worlds are created; as for me those few seconds or split seconds before the crash my brain was on over-kill. As I closed my eyes another thought dawned on me. What if I opened my eyes and she is lying in my arms? Iam no pervert, and it was not a romantic feeling that I had, but if Shahrukh can get that happening in that many movies, it stands to reason that I can imagine it happening. I mean c'mon it will probably be next only to the girl-next-seat dream that guys have. You know when you go on a journey alone and you wish that some girl your age sits next to you. Its just one of those things and as I rightly read in some FB update, Indian Railways has some weird 'magic' shit going for it that this never happens. Just a wish that someone your age from the opposite sex sat next to you rather than 'uncle' who looks as grumpy as his age and who eats from the start of the journey to the end of the journey conveniently fed by 'auntyji' from next seat. I wonder how they can eat continuously, all the while complaining about sons,daughters,and the respective in-laws, the neighbourhood kids, the neighbours, the state of affairs in general, the country going to waste. I look at the floor; the pile of ground-nut shells and vegetable droppings and other paraphernalia 'slipping' from the couples' hands have begun to cover their feet. "And the children of responsibility..look at the one infront, rotten no doubt. They grow up, they forget parents, no manners, creating problems...." I force myself to not break out laughing. Oh where am I, it is understandable if someone wants a person from the opposite sex of his age for companionship on a long journey-just practical nothing crass about it. But in my knowledge only once has this event ever occured- to my friend on a bus journey from Coimbatore to Kochi. For it is not important just to get a girl sitting next to you, she has to be someone who doesn't treat you like you have the plague, and actually wants to have a conversation. Someone who is not weird for a change. And the friend afore-mentioned has been the only recipient of this honour. If you are reading count yourself lucky you idiot! Anyways I thus imagined with a sense of pure wonder if that would happen. Bammmm!! I felt my cycle's handle pumping into my tummy and the air going out. I opened my eyes and struggled to stay on my legs. It was an almighty crash and no-no girl lay in my arms. The one in front was picking herself up while the one riding pillion had gone flying from what it looked. The bag she carried had probably aided and both had gone flying and lay equally sprawled in the middle of the road.I nursed my hurt stomach and was thankful that nothing else had happened. I wasn't that sure about the girls though.
"I'm really sorry. Are you hurt? I really couldn't do anything. I had pulled over to let you pass"(How could I tell them the Shani story anyway?)
"No it is ok. I'm fine"girl-in-front spoke. I wasn't so sure about her companion though. But she helped herself up as well, gingerly, and nodded her head to my enquiries about her health and well-being. So I assumed it would be best to leave the surroundings.
He likes me. He really does-Shani; and this is his usual way of showing love for all the days he has missed me. I get this from time-to-time, so its no big deal. But you have to admire his handiwork. He does it with such panache that you just fall for it everytime-oh Shani! I sometimes end up feeling relieved that I'm alive and all my limbs are in working condition. Many times I don't get the latter satisfaction you see- so it pays to be thankful for small mercies. And for the times that your life structure hasn't changed by his sudden outburst of love for you. Oh such love!!
PS: It was revealed on inspection that the crash in the morning had actually smashed the brakes and there were no brake-pads to speak of. Shani had designed it so well so that the fun lasted till the afternoon. Damn you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chachan and I went Trekking...(Epilogue)

To @ with love
The trek back
The next day it was a long trek of about 23 kms. straight to Chidwasa our first spot, that awaited us. We had breakfast and said our final good-byes to Nandanvan and the mountains around. It was a joyous lot that made their back. We had achieved what we had set out for and the trek back was mostly downhill so there wouldn't be much of a strain. We clambered over the rocky section and Chachan was fortunate for having not made it with one limb less when Shuttle upset a one-ton-or-so stone. We set off at a terrific pace and we had wonderful conversation along the way. Chachan and I discussed everything under the sun. When we stopped for a break DK Bose showed us the fun ain't over anymore by stepping into what seemed like quick-sand. He was knee deep when we pulled him out, but he insists he had found a foot-hold..maybe he did. We passed people on the way after Goumukh and Bhojwasa. And I was cheeky enough to wish a French dude 'salut' after he gave me a 'namaste'. Someone ought to tell these guys that namaste is virtually unheard of nowadays and they look really funny bowing and saying 'namaste' as though we don't know a word of English. Small kids nowadays are taught to wave and say 'bye-bye' or 'hello', but hey its nice to hear a namaste once in a while. I wouldn't score high if my French ma'am heard that I wished him an informal 'salut'. But it was part cheek and part bro-hood on these mountains, so French guy if you are reading-"salut". We reached Chidwasa by evening, but Dude was nowhere behind. He was limping somewhere far behind, given company by a tired Kaanta. When he finally made it to camp, the whole camp cheered for its only 'lady'. Hey but he did brave the boils a long time. The next morning I made sure my last dump on the mountains was memorable by selecting a good spot like before. After this I went over to the river-bank to pay my respects to the river one last time. It was a solemn affair, and that was when I got the idea to get you what I got you-@. It was tough finding, but it was worth the trouble and Chachan helped too. After breakfast we made the last stretch back to Gangotri. Me and Chachan met a group of Malayalees on a pilgrimage and were treated as heroes for having been to Nandanvan and Vasuki-Tal. Our small moments of pride; it was nice to meet people from back home. On the way back to Uttarkashi it was more heart-clinching turns by bus and more camaraderie. We got back day after to the insti saying goodbyes to Jhansi & c.o and Kaanta 2 at Haridwar. It was the day after we started from Uttarkashi when we dragged our tired arses into SAC.
Final Words
It was a trek I'll remember for a life-time. It had so many incidents, so much thrill, so many mishaps, so many heart-stoppers, that it truly reflected the name Adventure and Trekking (club). Right from the start to the very end it was a nerve-trying, gut-wrenching ride and in between all this fun. It was a trek in which I was reborn-twice, with many near-death experiences. Like Kaanta said "in sab mein hamein seekhne ki bahut sare cheezein hein"(There's a lot to learn in all this). It was something which made me think more of you-@, everything connected to me, and life in general. I shall never forget the new friends I made on this trek. Guys, the time we spent together will remain with me forever. Hope we could do another one soon. Waiting for that and the memories it will bring....

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chachan and I went Trekking...(Part 4)

For @ and the rest of my already-family...
Dreams that won't go away...
The next day I woke up to an altitude-sickness-free morning. I rubbed my forehead in glee, it had probably gone away sometime in the night. It was then that I remembered something-the three dreams that I had had the previous night. The 3 dreams that had woken me up and that which I had gone over again to relate to Chachan in the morning. For they were so strange that I felt I really had to tell him. But that could wait-first I had to find the watering hole for some urgent business. Someone had drunk my precious 'essentials' water and I shuffled my way over to the stream uttering some choice curses to the chill mountain air. It was so cold that the tents, the boots that lay outside were all covered with ice. The dew had frozen. The lichen and the small grass on the ground were all covered with ice. The ground was a thin layer of white under the rocks, on the grass, everywhere. I found Chachan by the stream by a gutter he found filled with- ice, that's right, and we broke the ice and carefully collected the water underneath. I once again found a beautiful spot behind a rock to take a dump. Why do I find such awesome spots? Awesome view of the mountains all round, really if someone could give me hot water, I bet there was nothing to beat the experience of taking a dump on the mountains. After the morning chores me and Chachan got talking on a rock near our tents. I told him about the dreams.
"Did you dream yesterday? I had the most astonishing dreams yesterday-and 3 of them can you believe it?!
"Did you?..Ente aliya yesterday I had a very terrifying dream. I have never been this scared about anything for a long time."
"What was it about? I will tell you about my dreams after you say yours-in a stretch."
"Onnum parayanda(Don't even ask!) I dreamt that I was re-admitted for Sunday Catechism in 10th standard!! "(For those of you who don't know. Its just religious education for an hour or so every Sunday. No big deal-even a lot of fun. We meet our friends there and its always a chance to see the girls in the neighbourhood.)
"What! that's what scares you? Harmless Catechism? What's scary about that?"
"You don't know. I have always been scared of Catechism and I have never gone after 10th."
I had visions of Chachan's dad tugging a very reluctant 'small Chachan' to the Catechism class and of an older Chachan who dragged his feet to the class while the rest of the class was perched on the church boundary walls keeping a sharp lookout for the neighbourhood beauties coming to church. Poor Chachan!sniff!-no that was just me clearing my nose.
"Well yesterday I had the most beautiful, yet strange dreams of my life. All about @. Each continuations of the one before it. And it was so clear that when I woke up in the middle of the night, I decided to go over the story again so I could tell you."
"Really! My God! all about her?"
"Yep all about her. All taking place at our insti. Each in perfect correlation and  even having direct references to what has already taken place. But there was one main difference."
"What was that?"
"There was a character who doesn't exist in real life. There was a villian in the story, a guy who challenged me."
"That's ruddy brilliant! Never heard anything like that. A guy who challenges who doesn't exist..Mawe I don't know a lot about this whole dream business, but you know I do read stuff about psychology right?"
"Yeah what about it?"
"Well what if your brain is taking all the obstacles in your path and giving it a human form? You know the rest of your story fits in real life even though some of it is yet to occur. But this particular character..what if it is just your brain talking to you? There's talk of that kind of a thing happening, in psychology lectures..."
We didn't speak for a while as we thought it over. Damn that sounded fascinating, I hadn't thought of that. But the more I thought about it, it could be have been possible, my brain picturising my obstacles indeed..and what if things ended the way it did with the guy?Oh my God! I felt a warmth running through my veins!!...
By now guys had woken up. I could see Kaanta2 coming out of his tent. He had braved a lot of boils on his feet on yesterday's walk and was a real hero in making it, the way they hurt him. There was Dude limping about, his face a sorry Monalisa-he had a lot of boils under his feet too and some had broken. There was Trekker running about with toothpaste- I reckon he was the only one with toothpaste atleast enough for a month in the mountains. I could hear someone shouting to check in on DS-DS was a late waker, a bit shy to wake up, but once on the road there was nothing late about him. Did he get altitude-sickness? From the shouts I heard there was nothing wrong with him. It felt good to be in the world of the healthy again and I was looking forward to the hike. Very soon I could Jhansi and c.o fooling around and the sun stepping up over the mountains. The ice on the tents started dripping, and we had our breakfast.
Hike:Nandanvan-VasukiTal (approx. 6kms 1-way, max. alt. approx.4900-5000m)
We set off after that without our rucksacks-phew! across a valley that lay to our left with Shiv-link behind us. We followed the stream a long way, and the path slowly climbed onto a ridge that lay as long as the eye could see-long and winding and climbing. I was enjoying it, what with no altitude-sickness and no rucksack I was very happy. We climber over more stones and were walking on the ridge both sides of which had begun to fall sharply to rocks and crevasses. We must have gone half an hour when Shuttle clutched onto a rock and sunk to the ground.
"My head is killing me!! I cannot walk"
Altitude-sickness again. Shuttle joined Bob at the end of the queue and someone gave him water to help reduce the pain. We carried on, Shuttle and Bob struggling along and still keeping up. As we walked we saw glaciers far below. The water collecting in big pools, the sunlight glancing off the melting ice. We were walking on a ver narrow ridge as usual and sometimes there was no way but to walk on the slopes, slipping and sliding, with sheer falls on one side. We must have walked for about three hours and we had a glacier ahead. Huge rocks lay to the bottom with loose sandy and rocky slopes to get to them. The ice in the rocks was melting at places and there could be rockfalls at anytime, the guide had cautioned. From this point on no one who wasn't sure of his bearings could go, and we had to leave the ones who were ill behind. They had braved a lot of pain to reach here with us, but it was too risky to take them further. What followed was more slipping, sliding on the slopes, nerve-wracking jumps over rocks and sure-footed landings on some. We finally reached the side of the mountain we had to climb to reach VasukiTal on the other side. There was a slot in the mountain-side and since it wasn't high enough to walk in, there was a rope strung through it and one had to catch hold of the rope and walk slanted on the mountain-side. There was a sheer drop to huge rocks in the glacier for a lapse in concentration.
Cats have nine lives.I have used up one of mine.How many have I left?
We began our journey upward. I caught hold of the rope and tried my first footholds. The mountain-side was slippery what with there being loose sand on a rough surface. It was one step at a time. And every step with the utmost concentration. We were walking slanted on an already inclined surface. On the way my bottle slipped out of my pocket and fell away. I could hear it thudding away a long way below. No just concentrate in your next foot-hold. As we reached the top about 10-20 m. below the rope gave out. THERE WAS NONE OF IT. EITHER IT HAD WORN AWAY OR SOMEONE HAD TAKEN IT OFF. SO WE HAD 20m TO CLIMB ON A SLIPPERY INCLINED MOUNTAIN-SIDE AND NO ROPE. THERE WAS A GLACIER WITH HUGE ROCKS UNDER US AND WE HAD NOTHING TO HANG ON TO. What followed was the most nerve-wracking, gut-trying, tense period of my life till then. We clutched on whatever we could get. We made hand-holds, dug our fingers into the sand and found surfaces of rocks to hold on, found niches in the rocks, burrowed our hands into the sand groping for hand-holds, searching for footholds, testing some to see if they would hold-and praying. I prayed to God with probably the most intensity and frequency during that period of my life till then. Finally after pulling our bodies,climbing over the surface we made it to the top. 13 of us 14 of us with the guide of the 16 made it to the gentle slopes of what was VasukiTal that lay below. There was delirious joy having made it risking our lives and with much difficulty, everyone mad with joy. The lake was beautiful, the calm green waters a sight to remember, in that valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. We ate our lunch remembering to keep some for the ones left behind and drank water from the lake. There was a photo-session of the victorious group.We decided to make our descent in order that we get back in time before sundown. And that's when we understood what we had put ourselves into. To climb up without a rope was o.k compared to getting down with gravity forever willing to take you down faster and the slopes as slippery as they were. Blood drained from our faces as we set about to do it. We descended, trying to gain footholds but this time facing the deadly drop below; we lay on the ground pasted on the mountain-side and gripped whatever we could trying to make our way down. That's when the guide reappeared by my side.
"Daro math.kade hoke neeche apke haath deejiye..mein aapko jaane nahiin doonga agar mein chala gaya fir bhi.."(don't be afraid.Descend down standing.Give me your hand I won't let you fall even if I fall) With that he showed me how to do it.M'God! this man was a sure.
But that showed me how to do it and I mustered courage and descended standing up. We reached the rope section. I must have taken a few steps down when it happened- I slipped, and for a few seconds I hung by the rope-the whole bloody ravine below me. My grip on the rope was always good and that saved me, as also did God's grace. I regained my footholds and made my way down. Cats have nine lives. I had used up one of mine on our way here and I had used up another now. Damn how many have I left? From the rope section it was back acrooss the glacier. More precision jumping, slipping, sliding and climbing up to the ridge. We made our way back to the campsite-a victorious and happy lot, we had made it to VasukiTal-and back too, to tell the tale and our joy knew no bounds. On the way the Kaantas and me had the fortune of seeing a stream start to flow right before our eyes. Ice had probably melted somewhere. It was evening by the time we reached back at Nandanvan. And the sun was just saying goodbye. We set about gathering the dried grass and whatever dry that could light up for a bonfire.
The night is ablaze
That night was a night to remember. 16 guys and a guide who were deliriously happy and a blazing fire that sometimes smoked our eyes off. All of us took turns on tending to it but DS was 'chief fireman'. We recounted old insti stories, girl-friends too were remembered. HALL-2 anthem was proudly sung atop Nandanvan-but what happened to Hall-3 anthem eh?(hahahaha)It was some night, 16 guys around a blazing fire the light dancing on our faces, us standing with our arms outstretched to get them warm. It did get us warm pretty quickly and at times made us cry too-ohh that smoking grass! Remo on his ingenious ways of getting the fire to burn right...Jhansi in a desperate effort to get his bottom warm..Laughing,cracking jokes...DS swaahaaying to the fire..what fun! Oh..we had a night to remember-Kaanta was supposed to park his arse on the smoking ashes after 1 hour to see if they were still hot, and if it was and he lost the Hall-3 guys had to sing their anthem in jubiliation. We know that Kaanta lost for sure-na Kaanta? but still no anthem?? Apparently that's only for 'special' occassions eh Hall-3 waale? Lets leave them to it..
To be continued...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chachan and I went Trekking...(Part-3)

For you @, though it will be sometime before you read this..
Day-3 Trek Bhojwasa-Nandanvan(Approx. 14 kms,max alt 4500-4700m. odd)
Breakfast on the third day was a solemn affair for me and even though Kaanta urged everyone to eat more and finish the dhaliya and maggi, I took care not to eat more. 'cos this was the day that it would 'f@tegi', in short we would have to sweat it out. The day involved a massive climb till 4700 odd m. and a distance covered of nearly 14kms which was no mean feat. But we would get further surprises from the terrain later on. I got into my 'harness' 'cos that's what it was-my left shoulder-band tied firmly to my waist-band, and once in, I was in for the day; and we set off. The path began a steady climb and at times it would fall for a respite(in the mountains its always like this-the guide explains). We walked in single file, some impatient to move on even disobeyed Kaanta's orders of no-overtaking. DK Bose and Trekker were members of this category, but a new member would join them by the end of the day. The wind was a constant companion, harsh and unfriendly, but still sticking to Hutch's philosophy(the network always follows). I wished it would push off really. What with 6-point something kilos in rations alone, I had enough trouble to cope with without the leaky and sore nose that the wind was bringing in. The nose felt like it would break off any minute. The terrain changed rapidly- now there were rocks in the path, all with undisturbed edges. Now the style changed to walking on the rocks..selecting edges to walk on. This must have gone on for a couple of hours and I was just settling into a rhythm when we reached Goumukh. We saw the icy-rocky cave from which the Ganga supposedly originates. The board near the small hut of a temple announced-Goumukh(4000m.). We had jaggery and channa and Gluose-D and I rested my bag against a rock and sat stretching my legs. We resumed again cursing the stop 'cos it broke the rhythm and our leg-muscles felt like they had frozen stiff. More rocky terrain followed and gradually we got accustomed to walking on the rocks. There were couple of times when I would bless 'em hunter shoes for preventing a sprain as these would hold the legs quite stiff. I was dragging myself-a towel tied across my fore-head to beat the wind, and before long I found myself towards the back with Kaanta who was there to encourage people along. It was him who perfected the theory of walking on the rocks-never use your hands, don't be afraid of them, walk right on the edges if you can. With him back there encouraging it was easier, for with nearly 4 hours of continuous trekking things were getting monotonous and blurry. We rested for a while in a valley finding shelter behind a big rock. More jaggery and channa followed-I have never had so much jaggery in my life but it was for sustenance and no one asked questions, just shoved it down their throats. Water we got from way-side streams-crystal clear and ice-cold. The guide pointed out Nandanvan for us-ahead of us and to the side, up and behind a mountain range. It looked like another 3 hours of climbing. We set off and must have gone about half an hour when the terrain again changed. We were surrounded by mountains, barren and solemn, towering custodians of-something, what we couldn't figure. It was like they were watching as you passed amidst their midst, the silence was quiet eerie. But that was not what I meant; the terrain had pulled up a surprise-ahead of us lay what was probably centuries of rock-fall. Big huge rocks the size of rooms to small ones that rolled away when u stepped on them and our path was through them. I was walking at the head of the line with the guide infront of me and we started making our way, climbing over rocks, jumping from rock to rock, landing on edges, running over them, squeezing between them- I was enjoying this part, I was putting to practise Kaanta's theory and I was loving this. There is something in knowing which rock to land on and where to land on. I must have cut my fingers a couple of times in the process, but I didn't care. We must have gone about 15-20 min when the guide announces "halt! the normal way is gone..there must have been another rockfall.We will have to go around, figure our own way."(what way had there been?it was always clambering on rocks in a general direction.) So we 'de-toured' not that it made sense to any of us, but he probably knew where he was going and that was enough for us. There was more climbing on rocks, more jumping like goats a la commando style from rock to rock,slipping,sliding. We walked on ridges with a melting glacier on one side and a sharp drop to rocks on the other with hardly space to lay a foot-it was just a pointed ridge of loose mud and rocks; we just walked on the slopes and on it whenever there was space. Sometimes it was a steep climb over the rocks with people stopping to catch their breaths-and it was probably around here somewhere that Pack Mule showed his identity. As I said there's nothing wrong with this fellow he's just impatient to move forward, doesn't understand anything else and doesn't understand any language that's being spoken to him when he's doing so-all he wants is to move forward-as stubbornly and as bluntly as any pack mule ever born. He cared little for Kaanta's stern words of no over-taking and wouldn't care whether people were waiting for people ahead to catch their breaths-as far he was concerned he wanted to-that's right keep moving forward. But he was a great chap mind you and was always giving out words of encouragement whether people needed them or not. So with Pack Mule butting about we clambered over more rocks,climbed down many and finally climbed the steep climb to Nandanvan and stood at the far end of a huge meadow. Meadow 'cos there was some wild-grass/lichen growing and lichen everywhere..on the rocks,under them-some life-form in this barren world. We walked to the far end of the meadow where there was a rock that would offer little shelter from the wind and set up camp near it. We were on a table over-looking the valley we had passed and surrounded by mountains. Peaks Shiv-link, Bhagirathi 1,2 and 3 stood majestically around us filling us with awe. Their snow covered peaks and slopes were majestic in the evening sun that was setting over the mountains. With passing time the clouds that had begun to form since afternoon began sweeping around these mountains and slowly began to envolope them and by dusk they would have hidden them from view.
Bluuurrrgh!! and more news:
As we pitched tents I started getting a headache and a heavy feeling in the head accompanied by uneasiness.Jeez! don't let this be altitude-sickness-but it was. It began to get worse,the heavy feeling and the dull throbbing in my head. I shut my eyes and rubbed my head fiercely wishing I could crush the pain. It did offer relief but the situation didn't change. I crawled into my sleeping bag in the tent to escape the biting wind and wondered why I was sick even though I had tied a towel around my forehead. Chachan got me soup that was already cooking in the 'kitchen'. Kaanta poked his head into the tent-opening.
"Oyye no one in the tents. Come we are going for a walk".
"Oh c'mon Kaanta a little more time. I'm sure this headache will go away then".
"No, no it will not go away. You have to come with us. It will go away only with acclimatisation. Come I will give you medicine too later."
So saying he dragged me from the tent. I joined the others and we had a walk around where we spotted wild-goats-these are the only animals found at this altitude except for a crow-like mynah which is found in these parts. The goats are sure-footed devils and they go about prancing as though the steep slopes and the sheer drops mean nothing to them-indeed that's the case. So it was that our li'l party thought a bhakra(goat) or two for dinner wouldn't be out of place, and set about trying to catch them, me watching from a distance, Pack Mule-kind soul that he is, giving me company. As far as I could see even though Remo, Jhansi and Kaanta ran helter-skelter with the others giving them ample support our gang of fourteen(excluding me and PM) couldn't round up a single goat. Those nimble things were too good. After dinner channa where Chachan tried his maximum to help me eat(bless him!), we settled into our tents. Oh! one word about the water-the only source of water here was a stream that would flow in the afternoons and freeze over-night. Even in the evenings water would be found only in the gutters in the stream-bed. This was probably fed by ice melting in the afternoons somewhere. So it was that everyone remembered to fill up water for their essentials in the morning-one bottle-full. Kaanta gave me a Dygene just before sleeping and asked me to wake him up if the situation went seriously bad(I don't know what we would have done without this guy). We went to sleep in prior fashion; sleep being an extremely scarce and coveted commodity on the mountains. I don't know what time it was when I heard a shout and someone clambering over us from my left. I tried to make out who it was-either Bob or Shuttle. Shuttle was a regular case of altitude-sickness and Bob had complained of stomach troubles the previous evening. He burst through the tent opening(thank goodness one of the zippers was gone) - and not a moment too soon.
Bluuurrrgh!!!(Iam not trying to be gross, just trying to paint the scene in the tent.) Blaaarrrrghhhh...
I felt sorry for the poor guy. He was probably puking his insides out. Chachan gave him his 'essentials' water to clean up. I squirmed in my sleeping-bag with each out-burst and tried not to think about it. I felt that I had to be the next customer, I had altitude-sickness didn't I? Bob clambered back in saying he was very relieved. Through the night my headache had kept increasing and between patches of sleep I became more and more tensed-what if this thing didn't wear off?What would I do for the hike the next day?I must have been sleeping for sometime I guess-when I woke up feeling a sudden urge to pee. Remembering the condition I was in I checked myself by standing in the tent-nothing. I stepped over Chachan and out of the tent-and I felt myself reeling. I still don't know how fast that feeling came, with the first blast of the chill mountain air, I felt the blood in my head draining, the world was going unsteady under my feet and I knew I was nearing a black-out. I clutched at the central tent-rope and hung on to it-literally hung on to it-my feet were useless, and I called out to Chachan.
"Chacha..da thala karangunneda..enne pidikku!.."(Chachan Iam feeling dizzy. Catch me!)
"Eda athu ullatha ii kurachu neram avide irikku"(Its usual at this altitude. You sit down for sometime, you will get well.)
And I sat. Now why hadn't I done that in the first place instead of hanging by the rope? 'cos that was all the sense I had at that time and just hearing his voice was probably a reassurance. Chachan would tell me later on in the morning that he didn't remember a thing and that he had probably sleep-talked.
Anywho after sitting for sometime, I felt the situation return to normal and found a spot quite close-by to pee. As I peed I raised my eyes to look at the sky. And oh my God!! I have never seen anything like it. The sky was so clear here that I could see millions, millions of stars. The sky a deep black and the stars a sparkling deep-blue -like jewels scattered on a dash of velvet. It was like I was at the centre of a black, glass dome with millions of brilliant blue jewels strewn across all over. I have never seen anything more brilliant. I clambered back inside only 'cos I was wary of my condition. I slept peacefully after that but not without incidents but that was for discussion only the next morning.
To be continued..

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chachan and I went Trekking...(Part-2)

Dedicated to you @...
For sometime on the bus it was carried around in whispers, but by the time we arrived in the hotel in Uttarkashi it had become clear-we were not going to Lamkhaga. Long story short, DS had been trying to get the permit for a month and it still hadn't seen the light in the District Magistrate's office. How quickly we process things in our Govt. offices! After much swearing and debating on what was left in this trip(where nothing had gone to plan), it was announced that we would be going to Gangotri instead and make our way up from there. The news was that this was an easier trek and all of us felt let down. This was not what we had taken DS's morning p.t for and not what we had dreamed of. But Kaanta made it clear that this would be a proper trek and though it would not be that difficult it would be worth it. We went to sleep at Uttarkashi on that.
Day-1(Gangotri-Chidwasa,9kms,max alt-3500 odd m.)
We took another bus in the early hours at Uttarkashi to reach Gangotri. On the way Jhansi and c.o entertained the group with their hilarious accounts and also held an informal get-to-know session with the juniors. Trekker and Bob shared their life-stories. I think Bob did really have a life-size story 'cos I could hear him for so long. After a quick lunch at Gangotri we set off at approx. 2.30 p.m., and that was when I got the first lick of what was to come. On a full stomach with 7.9kilos in rations alone(rucksack totally might have been 17odd atleast), climbing up from Gangotri felt like pulling a cement-truck up the incline. But not to be outdone and swaggering like a veteran I chatted with Chachan as we climbed up the hill-side towards-Chidwasa we were told. I couldn't guess where we were going. Names like Chidwasa,Bhojwasa,Nandanvan,Tapovan kept floating and from what sense I could make of it the first stop was Chidwasa, so Chidwasa it was. After about 15-20min. we reached the check-post and rested for a bit. I grounded my imaginary cement-mixer and panted like my neighbour's lab-remember him? Chocolates(mango-bites) were passed around(mango-bites? where were the glucose-drips and a protein shot too while you were at it?). I took a healthy swig from my water-bottle remembering that too much would add to my 'cement-mixer', and ate the mango-bite in silence.
"C'mon,move forward guys!!" it was Kaanta who reappeared from the check-post.
And move forward we did, me walking just ahead of Chachan. As we walked we started noticing the terrain. There were sal/pine trees all around and the path was littered with stones. The soil was loose and it was sandy most of the time. The path climbed quickly and we soon had the Ganga roaring furiously far below. Taking care not to trip on the stones I walked bent forward as I pulled my 'cement-mixer' forward. Words were scarce and were just passing references between Chachan and me as both took notice of the heavy loads they were carrying. The terrain was beautiful, littered with sal trees on the hill-side and the Ganga flowing turbidly below, that it was a shame that we had to deal with the weight also. Very soon we made aquaintance with a new member-the wind, it blows down the valley at speeds ranging from a breeze to a small gale. The local people regard it as a life-force but I in my present condition could hardly figure out how that made sense. It was chilly and bit into you and also carried the loose sand of the valley along with it. As I moved forward, it pushed into my lungs and the sand stung my nostrils. I looked around at the others. Except me and Chachan most had the new rucksacks, a bit heavier, but in better condition. But maybe that hardly made a difference as some were struggling while others pushed stubbornly forward. We walked forward for what seemed like an hour or two, I don't know-I was scared to look at the watch, just wanted it to be as long as it could be. On the way we met a group of lawyers on a trip to these parts. These lucky guys had given most of their luggage to porters.
"Hello where are you guys from?" I asked the nearest one.
"We are from Chennai and you?"
"We are from Kanpur. What do you do?"
"We are all lawyers. Me and my friends are on a trek to Goumukh. What do you guys do?"
"We are from IIT Kanpur"
"Oh so you are engineers? That's great"
"Aama engineers than. Aana ipo eruma-maadu mari sumandhittu irukkirom..(Yes engineers, but right now we are carrying loads like cattle) I said laughing.
"Oh Tamil theriyuma? Where are you guys from? And is this trek voluntary or a course?"
"We are from Kerala"I said pointing to Chachan"And ya Tamil konjam theriyum(I know a bit of Tamil) and no this trek is voluntary."
"Appo pinne then you have to carry. Did you have training for this?" (then you have to carry) he said laughing.
"yeah..haha..We did 1 month conditioning for this."
"Oh..that's good..c'mon then you can do it"
"Thanks..yeah I will"
In a short span of a few dialogues exchanged we became friends with these people and we would later meet them at Chidwasa and on the road to Bhujwasa as well. We had until sunset to reach Chidwasa and since we started out at 2.30 that was give or take 4-5 hours in these parts. The walking was always in a fast pace then and my breathing laboured. With the cold wind to aid, my nose started dripping like a leaky tap. I just kept wiping it with the back of my hand and it soon became sore-who cares, I just thought about moving forward as that was all I could think of. We passed several people on the way, most old pilgrims, many families, most of them on mules, others walking, carrying a stick. Tottering along would be the proper word for these people didn't walk, they just waddled forward ever so slowly. I felt sorry for these poor people-so much to gain moksha. Most at an age when they should be sitting in their backyards watching the sun set over their guava trees, here they were trying to gain that extra bit of moksha huffing and puffing the lives out of them. There were foreigners too, walking along with sticks that ought to be of use to serious climbers, but now looking comical being used on dry sand at far less an altitude. There were couples along the way and they were probably the only ones who lent a bit of colour to the scene apart from the rich canvas spread out by nature herself. We passed over two streams with logs across them serving as bridges. It was fun to walk balanced across these logs(max. 3) with the stream rushing furiously down the hill-side. Somewhere in between a rhythm had bulit up and we walked mechanically-some like Trekker were filled with enthusiasm and kept overtaking people. Very soon the heavy-rucksack-to-personal-weight ratio started taking its toll on me, and my old worn-out rucksack didn't help the cause. Me and Chachan were careful even in shifting the load from shoulder to shoulder-there were already rips in the rucksacks and we didn't want it to split open by a sudden jerk. So it was that with around two hours of walking, I found us towards the back of the queue, Chachan there because I had begged for him to be there for moral support(folks remember I had shown-off back at SAC for having had 7.9 kilos in rations alone? I repented with my whole heart for the act, and wished many times that it had not been the case.) In such bad condition was my rucksack that the band which is supposed to be around the waist and take some load off the shoulders was flapping around just above my knees, and I was staggering forward. Chachan noticing the poor state I was in would proceed to lift my bag for me from the back many-a-time so that I could have some respite-bless him!! I still don't know how I could have made it that first day without him back there for moral and physical support many times. We trudged forward for what seemed like hours, the gang eager to make it before night-fall. After many episodes of physical support from Chachan, Kaanta who was at the back of the queue took notice of the situation. He rushed forward and tightened the stuck bands of my rucksack so that it was bearable. It was 6.30p.m when we stood over Chidwasa-our first camping spot.We descended to the banks of the Ganga to the sheltered spot of Chidwasa.
It was a relief to set up camp surrounded by trees and on the banks of a younger Ganga. We walked on to the pebbled banks and drank in the beauty of the dusk falling fast. It was fun that night to rub our sore-shoulders and thighs and sit in the middle of the camp-site and relate stories in the darkness while the cook got stuff cooking-the kerosene flame lighting up the kitchen area. It was during this story-session that Kaanta told the others how I was walking in 'flash-back' and how the nick-name stuck(@-I owe that to you,who else). Jhansi,Brainy and Remo had cool stories to add of treks they had and Kaanta too joined in with witty old details. We had dinner of rice and dal where I lost a few odd kilos from my rucksack. Everyone was conscious of weight reducing from their rucksacks-every 100 gram gone was met with delight. We went to sleep in our tents with DK Bose sticking his elbows into me and Chachan shivering on the other side.
I woke up early and went on a recce to the river. It was a wonderful scene, sunlight just breaking out on the farther slopes and the river flowing busily on in the virgin dawn. I sat for a few minutes drinking in the view. Then I hurried back to find a spot to take a nature's call. Its fun to shit out in the open-really, the view is so magnificient compared to the graffiti we have back in the hostel "flush you @#$%"- you get the was probably the best spot I had of ever taking a dump-surrounded by bushes with red,yellow flowers, was a hue I can't forget..and ohh..the view ahead-the mountains standing majestically ahead, the sunlight still not having reached them. Its just that each time you wash your hands on the mountains you feel like they will sever off and fall-the water is so frigid, it feels like you are gonna get frost-bite. We had coffee on the banks of the river, me having found the 'mermaid-stone', lying on it in a mer-man pose. Brainy and c.o going bare-chested in a photo-session.
Day 2: Chidwasa-Bhojwasa(distance-5kms,max alt-3700 odd m.)
We had breakfast of dhaliya and maggi(someone's rucksack was lighter and Shuttle sneaked out a Glucose too-so his was lighter too). Immediately after breakfast(note that), we packed our tents and set off for Bhujwasa. This one was easy and we had plenty of time to make it compared to the 9kms in 4hrs. that we did the previous day. We again trekked up a steep incline from the campsite that took our breaths away and having got back on track walked to Bhujwasa. DS was leading and from what I heard Shuttle and his crony Bob tried to match his pace, but even though Shuttle had spent hours telling us how he had won the x-country when Kaanta was in it, he was no match for DS on the mountains. So after a while Shuttle took his place behind DS and stuck to it-DS had gone on a terrific pace. The terrain changed as we walked-the trees gave away to bushes on both sides and the wind was a constant companion. So was the leaky nose. The load was probably lighter by a kilo-and-something but since Kaanta had tightened it, it felt better. The stones on the road also changed, they were no longer rounded-off by passing feet but sharper. There were fewer passers-by here. It must have been an hour into walking and we were passing through boulder-strewn area that it happened-the left strap on my rucksack finally broke. Remo rushed to my side and helped tying up the strap to my waist-band so that I was in a sort-of harness. But it made it easier to carry so I couldn't care less. We passed over another small bridge and climbed over boulders and rocks in valleys. It must have taken 2-3 hrs. to reach Bhujwasa. This was an open camping spot, open to the wind with the river nearby. We descended to Bhujwasa.
We set up camp and the guys started roaming around and finally got playing volleyball. Me and Chachan went exploring and found a sheltered cove under a huge rock,by the river, sheltered from the wind. There was crystal-clear water in the cove fed by branches flowing into the river and this would become our watering-hole. After a dinner of rotis and dal I guess we fell asleep in prior fashion(DKB digging his elbows and Chachan shivering away). Sleep is a scarce commodity on the mountains-you barely get 3-4 hours of decent sleep. The rest is troubled,twisting,turning,waiting for dawn to break, the cold seeping in through the cracks in the tent-opening. In our case to poor Chachan's discomfort the zipper on the lower part of the tent-flap broke off leaving a gaping hole for the cold to flow through. That was also the night when DKB kept us all awake with a series of tales through the night. He tells a lot of stories that kid, but DKB I fear I was the only one listening in the end. And yaawn..I trust myself to have heard the last of em. We don't know what did it, but we dreamt a lot in the mountains and it was in that night that I probably first dreamt of you-@. Nothing that I remembered later-that would come later. In the morning, again I was an early bird and this time I made a bee-line for the cove and to the first sheltered place, 'cos here at Bhujwasa hiding places to take a dump were scarce. Again I found a spot that offered a majestic view of the mountains, but I also had to keep a look-out 'cos I knew it was quite near to where a baba who prayed at the nearby, small temple lived. You can't be too careful about these babas waking up early you know. I finished my chores just as baba came out for brushing, and after a friendly wave with the bottle as I walked by, I walked down to the river-side for some introspection. I found that Chinky had already beat me to it and was introspecting in earnest-so I joined him from a farther stone. Some time later Chachan also joined me and after enjoying the dawn breaking over the valley we had a photo-session with Shuttle.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Chachan and I went Trekking...(Part-1)

Characters making their appearance in this tale:

1.Drill Saab- no intro required,co-ordi,final yr IITian.
2.Dy. Drill Saab/Johny Depp/Kaanta- As the last name suggests, tough as a thorn.
3.Ration Kada(Ration shop)- He was the one who made our loads lighter.slip him a fifty and you could have 2 kilos off..kidding..nothing worked
4.Shuttle- plays the game.loves to eat.Loves to fib.
5.Bob-From wild-wild-west..shuttle ka sathi. Romeo..
6.DK Bose- He packs,unpacks,irritates,tells nice stories....yaaawn..
7.Pack Mule-the name has nothing to do with his IQ which is quite strong since he has cracked JEE..its just his other qualities..
8.Dude- the eldest member of the group. At 27 he is still romancing ladies in our French class.
9.Remo- old co-ordi...the kewl dude.
10.Jhansi- loves his food..senior to the btechies..with a kaamedy mind.
11.Brainy- senior from Hall-3..
12.Chinky- senior..jovial..wise..his wisdom pours out through his spectacles..
13.Kaanta2- very kaanta..finished 2nd in half-marathon..jolly guy..
14.Trekker- the future of trekking club. He has dedicted his life to trekking.
15.Chachan- IIT mein sathi..
16.Mawe- That's me.

Dedicated to @
I even earned a nick-name on this trip 'cos of you 


"Bon@#$%%e what have you guys bought? Why have you bought Diary-Milk when I asked you to buy Five-star? And why is the channa all squishy? Cdn't you have torn some packets and eaten and checked? And where are you guys? Why aren't you at the SAC and packing?" it was Kaanta shouting through the mobile.
 I rubbed my head. Now what could this idiot want? Me and Chachan had finished almost the entire shopping-list for the trek earlier that day. The Lion(guide) was in his den and I was flooded with work. It certainly pissed me off. What Five-Star?What channa?And how the f#$k could this junior be swearing at me?
"Wait I'll come there"
Now to slip out without the Lion noticing. I pedalled furiously to the old SAC. I entered to see almost the entire gang present surrounded by rations. Kaanta was bent over a kerosene lamp pumping furiously.
"Bon@#$%%e tu kis ko gali detha hai re? Aur kya kah rahe ho? Hamne pura saman kareedh liya tha na?(#$$$ Who do you think you were swearing at?And what are u saying?Haven't we bought all the stuff?) I cdn't bear to think a junior could swear at me.
"Saale tum logon ko kisne bathaya Dairy-Milk lane ko?meine kaha nahin kya ki 5-star chahiye?Aur ye chana khake dekha kya?Saare karab hein"(Who asked you to buy Dairy-Milk.Hadn't I asked for 5-star?And had you eaten this chana before buying?Its all squishy)
Now how the hell could I know this guy had a fancy for 5-star? I liked Dairy-Milk. I looked around for Bob who had told me we could get anything. He was hiding and shoving in rations into a polythene, not even daring to look in our direction.
"Arre Bob ne bola tha kuch bhi la sakthe hain.Aur hum packet wali channa kaise kholke kha sakthe hein? Aur tumein kya lagtha hai?-ki mujhe aur Chachan ko koyi kam nahin hai.Udhar lion meri sir kha raha hai(Bob had told us we could get any chocolate.And how could we open the channa wich was in a packet?Do you think me and Chachan are jobless?) The voice levels were raising. We both were shouting now.
"Saale Dairy-Milk agar ek bar garam hota hai to karab ho jata hai..koi nahin kaatha use..feink dethe hein. Aur chana bilkul dry hone ki check karna chahiye.."(Dairy-Milk once it gets a little warm as what would happen when we set off would get bad..people wouldn't even eat it then. They would just throw it off. And the chana has to be checked to be perfectly dry)
More shouting. We were both eye-balling each other now. Ration Kada and DK Bose came to seperate the two of us. Ration Kada explained that in IIT gali-wali(swearing) was considered normal between senior and juinior either way. 
So much for my theory that Dairy-Milk was the better chocolate. We both cooled off and I realised he was probably right. I didn't know how Dairy-Milk worked after heating and cooling. Whereas he with his loads of trek experience probably knew. And if the 3 kilos of chana were bad it had to go. Trekker and DK Bose were asked to go return the spoilt items. Me and Chachan would again go the next day and finish the shopping-list.
Meanwhile now that our argument was over, I joined Kaanta where he was working furiously with the kerosene stoves. He showed me how to remove the dirt from the nozzle and get it working. We worked in the flares of the kerosene stoves. There is this thing about Kaanta-he is dedicated to what he does. Infact after the swearing episode, I learnt a lot from him and gradually felt my anger for him fading away. There was something about this trek. By the time it finished, I would come to be thick friends with the ones I hated in the beginning..We finished with the kerosene stoves and divided and packed our rations. I had a whopping 7.9 kilos. I showed-off my heavy ration packet. As far as I knew only Pack-Mule and Trekker had more. What an idiot I was to show-off.

Finally the next day we were all packed and ready. After seeing off the Roop-kund group we picked up our bags two each-one for the 'seniors' who would be joining us later on in Rishikesh. So carrying our bags and half-draging the extra-ones we waited for rickshaws. More than half the IIT-junta was leaving for mid-sem breaks and rickshaw wallahs made a bee-line for easier passengers. Who would want to take-on tons of camping equipment? So it was that most of us began our trek from the SAC itself dragging those heavy bags till the IIT gate. Lucky Roop-kund people-they got a damn vehicle right upto their buses.
After waiting for nearly an hour the Qualis and an Omni we booked quite on-spot arrived at the gate. We got in and began the drive to Lucknow. Me and Shuttle with most of our luggage in the Omni and the rest in the Qualis. As we zig-zagged through Kanpur and out I could see half of someone's arse hanging out of the Qualis and few of someone's limbs hanging out too. It must be a tight squash in the Qualis I thought. I must be in a quite luxurious position even with the gear lever of the Omini being furiously shifted between my legs and Shuttle squirming with his long legs in the Omini front-seat. As we whizzed past what looked like a family on a motorcycle, with papa-jan trying acrobatics, I remarked to Shuttle about the poor state of affairs in the North what with no road-rules being followed. As we neared Lucknow it was all silence in the Omini. We were upto figures like 5 kms in 10 min.-in Lucknow traffic. It was a tight squash. As we neared the railway station with only seconds to spare, Shuttle offered to run and stop the train(do whatever he could). We screamed to a halt at the railway station and like commandos we burst out, each carrying a heavy rucksack and half-carrying, half-dragging atleast another. We ran to the 3rd platform to see the tail-lights of the train moving ahead of us and Shuttle screaming, and running alongside the guard-car, pleading, begging for the train to stop. Now when has that caused a train to stop?
It didn't and we were left stranded on the 3rd platform. Ration-Kada and me went to pick up the left-over bags from the taxi. As we trudged with the heavy bags we got a call from Kaanta to tell us that there was another train at platform 5. So it was more running like mad to platform 5, where we found a train-only it wasn't the one we needed.
"What?At platform 5? We are at platform 5.Where the hell are you guys?" Ration-Kada was trying to make sense of what Kaanta was bellowing from the other end.
More suspense as RK tried to block out the combined noise of the crowd and listen. He dug the mobile into his ears. I felt that it couldn't get more inside. I was wrong; pressed it in further.
"Oyye!! Mawe hurry up. We are on the wrong bloody railway station.C'mon" RK proceeded to run back to the exit on a mad run.
What?Wrong railway station?What the hell did he mean?Has RK gone mad?I followed him anyway and more running ensued. It was only as I ran that it dawned that there were indeed two railway stations in Lucknow. Which idiot designed it that way I wonder. And both having trains going whichever way. Not even the seperate one for local trains mind you. What bloody craziness. We found a coolie mid-way and shoving the luggage into his trunk we ran like crazy with him following. Everyone else was on the train weren't they and what crazy luck if we were the ones left off? All because some idiot had thought of two stations. As we reached platform 5 the coolie suggested we run ahead and stop the train for a few seconds. We ran like crazy, quite bollywood-filmy-like, arms-flailing..screaming for the guard to stop. He must have felt some pity 'cos he asked us to calm ourselves and get into the nearest compartment. We got the coolie to throw our bags in and we jumped in as the train started off. Seconds later we hear more shouting and see Kaanta again running filmy-like to our compartment. What drama. The guard must have seen enough for the night. He jumped in, took a few seconds to catch his breath.
"Are all of you here?" Kaanta asked.
"What are you saying? I thought all of us are on this train"
"Call the others to confirm"
"Wait I'll call Chachan". With that I dialled his number.
"Hello Mawe.You guys ok?Me on the train".
Thank gooodness, they were safely on. The whole gang was probably there with them.
"So you are all safe na? Which compartment are you guys in?"
"What do you mean all?Only Pack-Mule and I are here with three bags and a set of sleeping-mats. We are probably somewhere in the middle of the train. Are all of you towards the last compartment"
"WHAT??Only you and PM are there?Only me,RK and Kaanta here.Where are the rest of the guys.I thought we were the last to board?Are they in compartments further ahead?"
"Mawe only Pack-Mule and I are here. And no one has passed us ahead".
"Shit!!!..wait there then. I will call you when I know something".
I relayed the news. WHAT ON EARTH HAD HAPPENED? WHERE WERE THE OTHERS?KAANTA HAD RELAYED THE NEWS ABOUT THE PLATFORM TO EVERYONE.Another call confirmed it. The rest were stranded on third platform itself. I looked at my mobile. It showed 'DS calling'..
"Hello"it was DK Bose/Trekker on the other end."is DS with you guys?"
"What do you mean? You are calling from his mobile and you ask me where he is?He is not here. Isn't he supposed to be with you guys?"
"No he is not here. His mobile is with me. So he cannot call any of us. I thought he would be with you guys".
More drama. WHERE ON EARTH WAS DS?Kaanta had had enough.
"You guys go on. I will gather the others and follow somehow" he looked out. The train was pulling out and we were among a lot of criss-crossed tracks. It must have been somewhere on the outers of Lucknow railway yards. We were moving slowly. Kaanta jumped out onto the tracks and was lost in the darkness. I felt more respect for this guy.
In the middle of the night we regrouped us and Chachan and PM. They told us that DS had been found with the others. We went to sleep. Dude would be joining us from Moradabad. We were to be awake to show him the compartment. I don't know what woke me a few miles off Moradabad. I woke up Chachan and we had tea as the train rolled into Moradabad. The others were asleep. We saw Dude as the train rolled in and shouted out to him. As the train stopped he didn't appear among the crowd that rushed in.
"What's taking this idiot so long?"
Dude reappared at the window."Why aren't you guys getting out?"
"What the hell are you saying? Get in you idiot before the train leaves" I was sick of everything and didn't want further weirdness.
"What are you saying? DS told me I was to wait with you guys here in Moradabad?"
"We are going to Roorkee you idiot. What are you blabbering" By now the others had woken up.
"Iam saying the truth. DS asked me to wait with you guys here"
Ration-Kada took my mob and called DS. After a few minutes he bellowed.
"Everyone out! They are on a train right behind us. And it doesn't go to Roorkee. We have to wait for them here".
There was a mad scramble for shoes(damn them hunter shoes.They were always hard to be worn in a jiffy.),socks and our luggage. Within seconds four stunned guys and Dude stood on the platform with the luggage as the train started to pulled out. It was lucky that Chachan and I had been awake to see Dude and to get him to spurt out the news. WHY ON EARTH HADN'T SOMEONE CALLED US AND TOLD US ABOUT THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE? Maybe our mobiles were out-of-reach. Within an hour the other train arrived and the whole gang was together. We boarded a bus to Haridwar where Kaanta2 was to join us. We hired a bus from Haridwar to take us all the way to Uttarkashi, picking up the 'senior' gang on the way at Rishikesh.
A word upfront about the bus-drivers and conductors in Uttarakhand. They are about as devoid of a sense of humour as donkeys are of intelligence. I have never seen such sullen,surly idiots. I wonder where they have lost that precious factor. Maybe with each bump that their rickety buses take enroute, some of their brains and their sense of humour is knocked out.
We were enjoying the ride now, cutting jokes, even with the bus conductor trying his maximum to make the environ as sullen as the insides of his dull brain. We watched the beautiful countryside slip by and the bus started winding up the hills towards Uttarkashi. Valleys slipped by and we saw the Ganga far below winding down the valley. Grinding down hill-sides, twisting,turning, churning, in a hurry to get somewhere. Turbulent waters and torrid. The hill-sides were beautiful and everywhere there were beautiful flowers blooming. We passed a few suspension bridges too. Wonderful specimens of engineering.

The bus was taking a tight right-curve high up in the hills when we felt a violent shake and felt it come to an abrupt halt. The initial notion was that the driver had applied sudden brakes-for what we didn't know. We scrambled out of the bus and only then did we realise what had happened. The bus was indeed taking a turn, but as it had done so a bolt from the steering-assembly had fallen off and instead of steering it had headed straight off the road. The violent jerk we felt was not the brakes-the driver explained that he didn't get any feedback from the brakes; it was the bus hitting a cornerstone on the road and it had taken the full impact of the bus. The stone had split open and the bus lay with a wheel over the ravine below. It was a deadly drop down to the ravine, far,far below. But for God's grace there wouldn't have been enough left of us to put into coffins. I felt a cold chill down my spine. I thanked God that I was still alive.
"Aaaaawwwesome!!" that was the giggly chick who had laughed hysterically all the way. I wondered whether this idiot even knew what had happened or whether she cared to find out. Or was it that her vocabulary was limited to 'awesome' and 'chooo chweet'? She jumped out of the bus and proceeded to laugh hysterically and walked down the road with her seemingly lost-his-head boy-friend.
We sat on the road-side. The driver started to wrestle with a wrench. My attention turned to a 'trendy' baba who had moved over and sat on a stone further up the road. He had straight, white hair and beard, wore a pair of dark spectacles and had on Aiwa head-phones. Probably was a pilgrim. But it amused us to see a 'trendy' baba. Meanwhile the driver was huffing and puffing with the wrench. I knew nothing of steering-assemblies and stayed out of it. After a while we noticed 'trendy' baba had joined the driver and within a few minutes had the steering ready.
"What if the bolt again goes loose. Iam not getting back on this bus" it was an anxious passebger airing his views.
"Arre, you wouldn't understand it is being further strengthened by a double-nut. It will never come out. It is a matter of engineering, you wouldn't understand. I can assure you that you will come to no harm because of it" that was the baba talking.
I felt new respect for the man. He single-handedly gets the steering assembly ready and now he talks engineering too. This must be some learned person on a pilgrimage. I walked upto him as we were getting onto the bus and shook his hand.
"Thank you for everything".
"Why are you thanking me for?"baba asks
"Well for what you have done. What do you do? I mean normally"it semed stupid to ask a baba what he did. But I had to know who this man was.
"What I do? What I do is what you had to do and failed to do"
I wished I could evaporate. I had been in this position before too where I was found lacking in practical engineering knowledge. Its alright to be speaking of stress and fluid flows but if you have to call a mechanic to figure out what is wrong with your car I figure you make an oaf of an engineer. I had tried to bridge the gap before but it never was enough. I still had his hand in my grasp and it felt uncomfortable. All I wanted was to be miles away from this situation. My head hung in shame. I could see my friends noticing my predication and a few diving away to escape the same fate.
"Let this be a wakening call for you"the baba proceeded.I nodded.
"What is your name sir?" I simply had to know.
"My name?Why do you want to know my name? You would forget it after sometime anyway"
"No I won't. Not after what has happened anyway"
"What is in a name? A name is just a puff of air, right? A puff of air that is here now and then gone. If you want, to remember a name, remember always the name of God if you can-if you can......."
We shook hands on that and climbed back onto the bus, the words of the baba ringing in my ears. I returned to the teasing looks of my friends but those words rung in my ears far thence. I still remember them now and a promise to myself still pending...
We continued on our way and reached Uttarkashi after a break enroute where we had hot pakodas and tea. It was night by the time we reached Uttarkashi and we trudged up to our rooms and feel asleep...