A Mountain of Memories

Keep Traveling, Keep creating memories

“You never climb the same mountain twice, not even in memory. Memory rebuilds the mountain, changes the weather, retells the jokes, remakes all the moves.” -Lito Tejada-Flores

“Uttarakhand?! Again??” I was asked with incredulity by friends and family. The answer to how many days left them more stupefied. “Uttarakhand?! Again?? And that too for just 3 days?!??” That’s how our planned weekend break to Uttarakhand was greeted with. And of course, our friend Murphy didn’t seem too pleased either about the trip. Our flight from Mumbai to Delhi had to be delayed which led to us missing our connecting train to Kathgodam. If well begun is half done…

That chain of events saw us getting up really early in the wee hours of the morning when even the blessed milkman was sound asleep. We stumbled into our taxi, where surprisingly, but thankfully, we were greeted by our rather cheerful driver. Even then, our mood wasn’t helped by the deserted and sleepy, fog-filled Delhi roads and the approximate journey of 7.30 hours appeared daunting..

We swept past Delhi and Ghaziabad and hit the national highway just before daybreak. The silhouette of under construction buildings and giant oversized hoardings gave way to an open expanse of land on both sides. The first light of dawn revealed a carpet of lush green as far as the eyes could see. Monsoon and mathematics had worked together to create magic! Rectangular fields of different sizes and hues of green were laid out, like a giant quilt; tall narrow trees lined up on the edge of the fields, equally spaced out, a neat arithmetic progression; little square ponds and watering holes popped up every few kilometers. The pretty patterns were broken only by the randomness of the shops and houses jostling for space in the towns which whizzed past – Hapur, Gajraula, Moradabad, Rampur, Swar, Bazpur. Our driver, Mr. Sonu was from the mountain ranges in Himachal and started talking about his village in the Kangra valley. A few hours on the road and our moods had considerably brightened..

As we passed Bazpur, the highway had narrowed down to a 2 lane road. Suddenly, the farms started giving way to wild shrubs and grasslands. The road seemed as if it was cut through a jungle, with dense foliage on both sides. The signpost on the side read – Kaladhungi – 1 km ahead. We were close to Corbett territory – the sprawling notice announcing that Jim Corbett national park is just 44 kms, tempted us to take a detour but we kept going. Just as we began our ascent up the hills, the clouds and fog had descended down to greet us. The road had now started snaking it’s way around hairpin bends amidst almost zero visibility. We dutifully followed the road signs as we divorced speed and were really gentle on the curves. I rolled down the windows. The gush of cold crisp air felt comforting and familiar. The smell, the sights and the sounds, all felt familiar. And yet, that feeling of deja vu was absent, in spite of being on these winding roads many many times before. It felt as if each time these mountains have that unique capacity to surprise and delight with every fork in the road, with every new vista that they lay out in front of us..

Indeed, you never climb the same mountain twice. While the same mountain range appears forbidding and imposing on a trek to Gaumukh, it also appears benign and beguiling at its foothills in Hrishikesh. Sometimes it appears as a picture perfect postcard as the Mandakini flows gracefully from its bountiful glaciers, caressed by grassy banks on both sides at Harsil. Sometimes, it is in the mood to show-off all its glory, resplendent in white, basking in different hues of yellow and red and orange in Kausani; while sometimes it appears moody and brooding, refusing to reveal it’s might at the edge of the world in Munsiyari. Today the same mountain range appears covered in mist and fog in one instant and in the very next appears draped from head to toe in the same lush green carpet from the plains, with the oaks and deodhars and pines adorning it amidst broken clouds and scattered sunrays…

We had reached Nainital for a quick pitstop after a journey that unexpectedly ended up being quite memorable. And then, equally unexpectedly, Murphys good brother helped us stumble upon a poem from the inimitable Ruskin Bond, printed on the back of a restaurant menu. It summed up my mood perfectly…

“Once you lived with the mountains

Under the whispering pines

And deodars, near stars

And a brighter moon,

With wood smoke and mist

Sweet smell of grass, dew lines

On spider-spun, sun-kissed

Buttercup and vine;

Once you have lived with these,

Blessed, God’s favourite then,

You will return,

You will come back

To touch the trees and grass

And climb once more the windswept mountain pass.”

Yes. Every time you climb a mountain, it feels different. The only constant however, one you are amongst them is the promise you make to yourself to keep returning and keep creating more memories…

Under the Pillow..

Memories, experiences are the best gifts that Life has to offer. Go and make memories!

“If I were you, I would check under my pillow…”

The young boy, frantic by now, had almost given up hope when he looked up at his mother, his eyes pleading for a hint…

It was his tenth birthday that day and mom had promised last night that he would find a surprise waiting for him in the morning. He could barely contain his excitement as he tossed and turned his way to sleep that night.

The next day, for the first time, he woke up without his mom being his alarm clock, without him having to ask her if she could wake up him after just 10 more minutes. He looked around alert, searched his drawers, searched under the bed, searched his cupboard and almost every possible hiding place..

Dejected, he went to mom with his most innocent helpless expression which he knew had done the trick in the past. Sure enough, Mom told him the password. He jumped on the bed and turned the pillow over and finally found his gift…

pillow

A gift which he found almost every year thereafter, neatly gift wrapped, resting under the pillow…

It was his birthday again today. He was in his thirties now. He looked under the pillow and sighed. The gift was right there.

It was a Memory box. A collection of stories. Incidents of shared love and laughter. Songs sung together, movies seen together, trips taken together. Memories, to last a lifetime. All under his pillow…

A story in a tea cup

Everyone has a favourite story, a favourite memory which revolves around tea. Which one is yous?

Aaaahhh” You could almost hear the entire landscape of Munnar say it in unison, as if it had just partaken of a sip of hot, refreshing cup of tea, whose leaves were plucked just hours ago. On that Sunday morning, the scenery around the tea estate evoked that same feeling of refreshing energy. Those endless rolling, sloping, tea gardens had draped themselves in the freshest coat of green as the dew drops glistened and bathed themselves in the sparkling winter sun. In the midst of the tea gardens, the flame of the forest shone a bright orange, matching the intensity of the sun. The bees swarmed and buzzed around happy flowers as the hazy fog shook of its laziness to reveal the mountains and forests beyond. It was time to have a cuppa myself, I thought..

Chai

The tea was had just the right balance between sweetness and kadakness. But instead of that “aaaah” which usually follows a well made cup of tea, I sighed. There was something missing, the same deja-vu feeling whenever I have had tea in these last 6 months..

In a family of self-confessed tea addicts, where my uncle had even composed an ode to his fondness for tea, it may seem surprising that I started consuming tea on a daily basis only after I joined the corporate world. Though it may seem obvious, I can assure you that there is no correlation between the two..

On one of those days after I had started working, my mamaji had come to visit us. I was excited, for the simple reason that mom was bound to prepare an elaborate feast for her brother. Lunch was served, was seen and was heartily consumed. I sprawled around on the sofa, looking dazed and confused, with half droopy eyes, a reaction befitting a glorious gujju lunch. Mama looked satisfied as well, but I sensed he was waiting for something more…

As most gujju family get-togethers go, lunch soon gave way to tea time. Uncle’s lips curled up in a ear to ear smile as he took in the aroma wafting in from the kitchen. The first sip led to an almost meditative closing of the eyes, as if he was transported into a trance like state. I wondered what had mom added in that tea which otherwise did not induce any such feeling on a daily basis….

I cautiously took a sip. It certainly was different. There were a couple of elements which she did not add normally which enhanced the flavour dramatically. There was the usual slight hint of ginger and then there was fresh lemongrass and mint. It was wonderful. And it was unfair. Why was this not served on a regular basis, I demanded as I did my best Oliver Twist expression, asking for some more..

Though she always gave a roundabout answer, I guess that it was more to do with the fact that certain things are meant to be kept for certain occasions. A sort of artificial scarcity. Like when she had family coming over. Or on some special days. Or the time when she had to impress my in-laws, life imitating that silly bollywood song on mummy calling home for chai and my father-in-law’s reaction as he told his daughter “please learn this recipe and make it for us the next time you come home….”

Unfortunately that recipe was never written down and it never felt the same even though several honest attempts were made. The proportion of milk, water and sugar, the quantum of lemon grass and mint, and the brewing time – all went through numerous iterations and permutations. But again that feeling of something being amiss refused to go away. Maybe, to use a cliché, the missing ingredient was love. Or perhaps, she wanted it to remain a fond memory, undiluted by reality…

…As our leisurely breakfast continued, I told this to my wife. She just smiled and said “yes, maybe we will never be able to create that tea that your mom used to make. And even if we were to come close, perhaps, it is your mind who just wants it to remain a memory, a small little legend…”

Aaaah! Yes, indeed. The legend of my Mother’s Tea..

Attention Deficit Disorder

Oh, our poor little rich mind. Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Emails, Phone calls, Hashtags, Likes, trending..How much can it possibly handle?

I entered office, settled down on my desk, started my PC and opened my mail box. There was an important mail lying there, screaming for my attention. Urgent! Queries to be responded to. I started typing out my answer in earnest. Dear Sir…

…Oh Shit! Kya hogaya Infy ko aaj!” screamed my colleague sitting behind me. I looked at his screen. Infy was down 10%. “What the hell happened?”, I asked him. “Revenue guidance lowered for the next year”. “Kharidna chaiye kya?” “Pata nai, thoda research karna chaiye”. I opened moneycontrol.com and started scrolling through the ‘expert opinions’. Seemed that the reaction was exaggerated. The consensus was that you need to….

“Arre yaar! Phir se wohi rising short delivery aur out!” groaned my colleague on the right. “What! Match started kya?” “Haan, Raina out” I quickly opened a new tab cricinfo.com and checked out the Gujarat Lions batting lineup and the latest score. I sincerely hoped that they could pull this one off after a string of disappointments in this edition of the IPL. If only the batting lineup could fire…

A couple of interesting pictures on my colleagues computer on the left suddenly caught my eye. I was intrigued. “Kya dekh rahe ho aap?”, I asked him. “It’s a very fascinating article, trivia on India.” “Arre, send it to me as well, please?” A new tab was quickly opened that basically contained four little known facts about India. Iltutmish saying no to Genghis Khan, Hemu hit by an arrow and the third one was….

Beep! Beep! Whatsapp. I checked my phone. One of my friends had messaged asking if today was Seema’s birthday. Shit! How could I forget her birthday! A new tab was opened and I quickly logged onto Facebook to check if her birthday was indeed today. There were three notifications. Someone had made a smart alec comment on one of my status messages and I felt compelled to reply. I was thinking of a smart comeback and was about to post it….

“Shit! Gone Mccullum!” “Abbe! Infy 15% down!” I was momentarily confused whether I should open Cricinfo or moneycontrol. I opened Cricinfo. Caught at gully chasing a wide one outside off. Reactions were already pouring in on the site. It was timepass seeing those…

Whatsapp was buzzing again. Did you check about Seema’s birthday? Oh! I checked my Facebook homepage. It indeed was her birthday. She is going to kill me, I thought. I checked her status on Whatsapp on my phone to to see when was she last seen. Safe to wish her online first and then call her later, I thought. She wasn’t. I started scrolling through the list to check if anyone else had recently updated their status or profile picture. Vikas! My friend from school. It looked as if he was about to get married. It had been months since I had spoken to him. I pinged him and started chatting up with him for a while. Felt good catching up. Vikas then asked about Seema, who was a common friend…

Oh God! I forgot! I quickly dialled her number. No response. I dialled again. “What?” was the curt one word reply. She was furious. I apologized and wished her. She started talking about some problem she was facing. I started giving advice, my favourite pastime. I was telling her, “You need to focus. Pay Attention!”, sounding as if I was the most attentive, focussed guy that ever lived. “You should not let your mind waver….”

Just then, I saw a pretty girl walk across the door. I had never seen her before in office. Was she a new joinee? Hopefully, she had joined our department. I should go and introduce myself…

“Are you there? Hello!!”, Seema was screaming on the other line. “Haan, sorry, Boss was here”, I replied sheepishly. “ As I was saying, you need to focus, pay attention….”

Just then, my boss tapped me from behind.” Have you sent that mail yet?”….

The Usual..

On why the routine and the mundane is essential..

That Monday began like any other day. The commute, the pushing, the rushing, the haggling, the usual. The boy was tired about the usual, the normal, the routine. He was tired of responding “the usual” when someone would ask him what was happening.  And he was tired of having nothing new to say when anyone asked him what’s new! But he was powerless  to do anything about it which, truth be told, frustrated him even more.

He sighed and braced himself for another routine monday. But then he received a call just as he reached office. On hearing, his expressions changed completely, as if all color had been drained from his face. His dad had collapsed and could not move, his mom told him. Considering the disease which afflicted him, he panicked and rushed back. On the way, terrible thoughts plagued his mind and he was unable to shut them out. He reached home and saw his dad lying sprawled on the floor. He was in obvious pain but still managed a smile. They rushed him to the hospital where the doctor informed them that he would have to be operated after two days.

The next two days were long and painful. His head was a minefield of emotions. All sorts of thoughts toyed with his vulnerable state of mind. Thoughts on fate, faith, karma.  Why put his dad through so much agony for close to ten years when he has not done anything to deserve that. And then he thought about all the things he always wanted to do with dad and if he would ever be able to do it.  Watch Wimbledon. At Wimbledon. Travel to Ladakh. Gardening…. he gravitated from pain to anger to helplessness in an endless loop. He tried to distract himself with reading, friends, TV. In vain.

But curiously, his dad, who was the protagonist, smiled through those days. He was jovial with everyone who visited him and never once did complain about the pain or his fate.

The day of the operation was nerve wracking. Time moved at a snail’s pace. After close to three hours of surgery, his dad came out. His face still showed a feeble smile. After the initial relief, the boy was gripped by worries of ” what next”.  His dad could see that his son was worried. Even angry. That was when he decided to tell his son words which left an indelible imprint on the his mind.

“I am facing this situation which you or me can’t reverse. Either I can face it with a smile or be sad and despondent about it. The choice really is very simple. And if you can’t reverse the situation, there is no point in thinking about the why and how of it. We tend to cling on to the past more than necessary and not move on. We have to face it positively and do the best we can. Leave the rest to God! He has plans for everyone. It’s important that you stop thinking about it and return to a normal routine.  That routine, however mundane is the best way to get over this and watch things fall in place, slowly but surely. That will make me happy as well”

It seemed as if someone had waved a magic wand and a heavy load had been lifted from his shoulders.

The following Monday arrived.  It began just like any other day. There was the pushing and rushing to catch the train, there was the haggling with the autowallah.  There were the hundreds of mails to be replied to.  It was the usual. But he smiled. Because that monday, he was grateful for the usual. His dad was right! It was a much needed diversion. The usual never felt better. Nothing new never felt so good…

When Love and Hate collide..

Mumbai is Maximum City because of the migrants, the several hundreds who pour into this city from all parts of India. And Mumbai in turns offers them a chance to make a decent livelihood, provided you are willing to work hard and smart for it. And yet, several share a typical love-hate relationship with this city. An open letter from Mumbai to its citizens regarding this relationship..

To,

Whomsoever it may concern

You tell me that I am pathetic and terrible. You tell me that I am a big gutter that is full of shit!. You tell me that I am maddening and a pain. That I cause you to tear your hair out in frustration. How would you feel to be abused relentlessly? But that, my friends is the sad reality I have to grapple with almost everyday as you complain 24/7 about major aspects about my personality – the infrastructure, the traffic, the sanitation problems, the high cost of living, the overcrowding…But at the same time, defying logic, you love me as well. You love the buzz, the vibrancy, the culture, the people, the money and the magic, the spirit..you and I, we share this unique love-hate relationship.

I am not oblivious to the problems you state. But I ask all of you, is it my fault that I am seen as a land of opportunity, the commercial capital of the nation, a land which promises the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Is it my fault that so many of you come to me and take solace in my loving embrace that I have always provided for so many years? Is it my fault that there is no really viable alternative destination which can lend a shoulder to me and provide similar opportunities? Is it my fault about the apathy shown by your elected representatives who have neglected me?

But you continue to blame me and abuse me and yet you continue to live here. It may be because some of you have lived with me and loved me too long and going and settling anywhere else is no longer an option. Some of you have learned to adjust with me like sitting on the fourth seat on my local trains. And some of you are forced to stay with me because you know that the opportunities I provide are not available elsewhere. But your abusing and adjusting at the same time, alternating bouts of hatred and love have continued to confound me.

And then I ask myself – how did I become what I have become today? This thriving and yet decaying paradox? And the answer dawns on me – humbly and simply. I am just a collective noun, a representation of a unique people. An assimilation and a melting pot of all of you and the values you embody.You are the ones who have made me famous and have given me this vibrant, dynamic, cosmopolitan nature. You are the ones who have turned me into the city which never sleeps. But it is equally true that you also are the ones who have the power to elect your representatives responsible for governing me efficiently and protecting me. You are also the ones who have created the garbage and the traffic jams, the pollution and the greed…Most of you have good intentions. But most of you are too busy in your daily lives to do anything about it. It’s not that you have not tried – the victory in the battle to preserve my open spaces and your intense and continuing pressure on the govt. over the state of my potholed roads fills me with hope. But much more is needed. You know that as well.

I hope that you realise that I am only as helpless as you are. You have made me what I am today. And only you have the power to prevent me into turning what I am now becoming – decaying and crumbling.

Yours (hopefully),

A city of dreams/nightmares,

Mumbai

Walking in the rain…

An ode to the romance of the first rains..

I had a few meetings lined up in town today. After finishing the last one, which was quite close to Marine Drive, I decided to walk for sometime on the promenade and take a cab after a while to VT station. But no sooner had I passed the imposing NCPA apartments, was I already questioning my decision. It was past 6 pm but the sun was still blazing down mercilessly. The placid waters of the Arabian sea were reflecting the sun light with such intensity that one could not look at it without squinting. By the time I reached the Air India building, I was already sweating profusely.
 
I decided to take a cab from opposite Oberoi and just then in the backdrop, I saw dark clouds closing in from the east. They looked ominous. And something inside me said “Wait! Keep walking'”
 
I decided to take a detour and buy something for home and took a right into the leafy sleepy boulevard of CCI lane, home to the Brabourne stadium. I reached 210 degree centigrade just outside Samrat restaurant – a favorite hangout spot when we were in college and picked up freshly baked bread and biscuits. Steeping out, I realized that the clouds had mobilized their army in far greater numbers. But still the humidity was quite stifling.
 
Again, I decided to take a cab from outside Churchgate station as I passed the landmark Satyam gift shop on my right. But, as if angry with this decision of mine, the clouds started to rumble. And I found myself telling me – “Keep walking!”
 
I had hardly walked a 100 metres when I felt the first drops of rain. I looked up. The sky was completely dark grey now. Not a speck of blue on the horizon. I smiled. People around me quickened their pace. Why were they in a hurry?! I reached Flora fountain. The famous Vada pav wala on the corner and the Booksellers on the corner adjacent to Amex bank were quite well prepared as a nice blue canopy had already been put up unlike a half dug up road on the side.
 
I went past the Standard Chartered building and other colonial era structures on Fort and it was now drizzling steadily. I smiled even more broadly. A few umbrellas popped open around me. A few makeshift umbrellas were created out of office bags, books and handkerchiefs. Why were the people walking so quickly?! I looked up and felt the raindrops falling gently on my face. I found myself humming – ” Raindrops keep falling on my head…”
 
The clouds rumbled again. And finally opened up. A torrential downpour began just as I reached Mcdonalds. ‘Am loving it’ I told myself! It was a fantastic scene. The BMC building loomed straight ahead and the magnificent Victoria Terminus ahead on the right. People realized there was no point in running anymore. For a moment, they turned school kids again as they forgot their worries and soaked in the rain. For a moment, their troubles seemed to have been washed away by the rains. The beautiful smell of wet earth wafted through the air. Sounds of laughter and excited chatter could be heard all around. The temperature had dropped considerably. The sky began to turn on a hue of yellow and orange, a portrait that only the monsoon could paint. It was a magical sight. Pure unadulterated joy!
 
I reluctantly entered VT station dripping wet and caught a train. A guy sitting next to me was updating his status on Facebook – “First rains!! Am loving it..” I looked at him and smiled. He simply smiled back..