Topsy Turvy……

Pic courtesy- Medical News Today

Growing up Aku and I would often hear the words “Why can’t you girls be more like her?”


The ‘her’ in question was our peer in church, whom I shall call Kate. The three of us grew up attending the same church. But while Aku and I evolved into moody teenagers, Kate was appointed as the church organist and worship leader.

Clad neatly in crisp cotton sarees, she would dutifully lend her powerful vocals to lead the congregation in worship. Additionally, she was known for being a top notch high school student; orator; and winner of several accolades in inter-church competitions. We looked up to her and
respected her ways.


I met Kate briefly for the last time at her wedding. She met her hubby at a conference and they were immediately besotted with each other. Her parent’s agreed to the marriage after much persuasion. But he lived in the USA, had a high-paying job and was on his way to successfully climbing to the top of the corporate ladder. Their post-marriage Facebook posts reflected a perfect life, filled with pictures of a newly purchased house, car and endless vacations to exotic places. On the surface they seemed to have it all.


So, imagine my surprise when a friend recently showed me a disturbing video of Kate. The hour long video posted earlier this year on FB, showed Kate listening to music through earphones and making incoherent gestures. Scrolling down, I was flabbergasted to see that her recent posts made little to no sense!


In the period between her extravagant wedding and 2019, Kate’s life had taken a sharp U-turn. She lost her beloved mother to an illness, divorced her loving husband, turned to drugs and alcohol and changed boyfriends at lightning speed. Needless to say, I was stumped!


Until then, I naively thought that drug and alcohol addicts were either trust fund kids or hailed from poor backgrounds and broken families. Deep down, I knew this generalisation was wrong, but I didn’t have much need to educate myself on the topic… until now!


I began to recall instances in our childhood that might have been red flags. Instances that her brother later confirmed were of his parents doing against her wishes. While we routinely wore halter tops and tight fitting jeans, she was forced to dress in a saree- that is typically worn by women not teenagers. While we partied and rebelled without a cause, she was made to ace the next round of university examinations. While we discussed the existence of God with our parents, her father – who worked as a reverend – never let her mind explore the same.


Mind you, they were NOT bad parents. In fact they were loving and did what they believed was best for their children. In hindsight, one begins to understand that they were strictly adhering to societal norms by raising the ‘perfect’ family. They were typical middle class parents who worked day and night to raise two wonderful children who embodied perfection.


All religions profess peace and harmony but it is the man made structure that makes adherence to it so hard. Your life needs to be faultless in order to be hailed as the perfect Christian, Hindu, Jew etc etc etc…. God forbid you stray every now and then from the yellow brick road.

Expectations towards perfection is even more unrealistic, especially for youth in India. You have to run faster than your competitor; you have to study harder than your neighbour; you should never develop feelings towards a member of the opposite sex – and in case you do it better be aimed at someone from the same religion and caste; you should be home latest by 6 pm; you must get a good job; you must marry early; you must have a child as soon as you marry (I cannot tell you the no. of times I have been asked why I do not have a child or if I have fertility issues since it’s been 3 years post-marriage).


Kate always adhered to this blue-print of perfection. She never strayed from the template laid out meticulously by her well-meaning parents. It was only after her marriage that she got a whiff of freedom – and she loved it! From what I gather, she allowed years of suppressed feelings take control of her life.


Last year she was diagnosed as having mental illness and was given pills to counter the same. Unfortunately, she became addicted to the pills. This year she was rendered homeless and her whereabouts are presently unknown.


I do not know how I or anyone else can be of assistance to her or her family. I wish I knew the answer to this dilemma. I wish I lived in California so I could join her friends in looking for her. I wish I could have grown closer to her when we were younger and listened to her while she vented out her frustrations…. I wish…. I wish….. I wish….. I wish…..

Power of Primitive Societies

Years ago, I had the good fortune of meeting tribal families and sharing life stories with them, over many hot cups of chai.

As an up-and-coming developmental officer, I took up this project thinking I could make a difference in their lives. Not knowing, that they were going to make a difference in mine.

The families all lived deep within the forest, in sustainable huts made from a mixture of wood, soil and animal dung. Each member of the family contributed towards the annual renovation of the house, that was meant to keep them warm during long winters and cool during hot summers.

As I penetratingly observed their way of life, I learnt that they held their elders and family members in high esteem.

I learnt that they respected mother earth and her menagerie of animals and insects; more than the well-meaning person clothed in a stuffy suit, preaching about global warming in fuggy cities.

I learnt the concept of sustainable farming, sustainable housing and sustainable way of living from them.

I learnt that you don’t necessarily need a whole lot of money to create happy memories with near and dear ones.

I went into the forest, thinking that as an ‘educated’ person I would be able to identify their mistakes, and find ways of correcting the same. And I came out of the forest, having identified my own faults.

The few hours I spent with them revealed my own shortcomings: My growing sense of impatience, my intolerance and my misplaced sense of entitlement.

I guess the power of primitive societies is that they remind you of the simpler way of life. They remind you that your social media acquaintances can never replace familial bonds. They remind you that a hundred ‘likes’ on Instagram, can never replace a warm hug from a true friend.

Most importantly, they remind you to let go of your own prejudice, and learn to live and let live!

A Tale of 2 Brothers

We first met N and W in the village of Yuksom; the day before we embarked on the Goechala trek (Base camp of Mt. Kanchenjunga). W had a pronounced limp, which led me to believe he stumbled and hurt himself. On the assumption that he had a pretty bad fall, I enquired if he was ok and required assistance. W replied that he was fine, and the limp was caused by a surgery removing a benign brain tumour. I immediately felt foolish and apologised for mistakenly asking him a personal question.

The brothers took it sportingly and introduced themselves as twins from Netherlands. N had hoped to participate in the high altitude Kanchenjunga marathon. This marathon is a unique opportunity for runners from India and around the world to run with local Sikkimese through mountainous region. N however, was left disappointed as the marathon was already underway.

We in turn introduced ourselves and told them about our plans to undertake the Goechala trek. The brothers had heard of the particular trek, but had second thoughts about it due to W’s aggravated limp. This high altitude route was difficult for even seasoned trekkers, as a majority of the trekking path was characterised
by a continual upward march over rocks and gravel.

Following this conversation, the brothers invited us to join them for dinner at a local restaurant. Here, they revealed a bit more about their lives. Growing up the brothers were fond of the outdoors, especially mountain climbing. In their youth, they summited a few peaks throughout Europe and Nepal. W spoke about having scaled mountains with fiery passion in his eyes. Now in their 40’s, they were both married to wonderful women and had lovely grown up children. The dwindling responsibilities allowed them to go on adventurous trips together again.

After dinner, the four of us met with a couple of local guides to enquire if W would be able to undertake the Goechala trek. They were all apprehensive since his severe limp would pose a definite hurdle. Dejected the brothers bid adieu and wished us luck.

The next day, G and I began the trek accompanied by an experienced team of guides. To our amazement, we ran into N at a pit stop. He explained to us that they resolved to see the Himalayas from up close one more time and decided to undertake the trek together. Since W would take much
longer to trek up, he left early that morning so N could leisurely catch up with him. N also took it upon himself to carry their luggage so W could maintain his balance and focus solely on the trek.

We were dumbfounded!

You see, this trek is not for the faint-hearted. It involves battling high altitude and low temperatures. It involves getting your body, mind and soul on the same page. One cannot successfully complete the trek, without having these 3 elements in sync. Though the local guides suggested that the trek would be arduous for W, here he was physically climbing over boulders and mentally overcoming the terrain, so his soul could be satisfied with another glimpse of the Himalayan peaks.

N, was super supportive of his brothers’ quest. He didn’t whine about having to carry his brothers’ belongings. He didn’t whine about having to go slower. He didn’t whine about the ever changing weather. He didn’t whine about anything! He remained jovial, positive and patient throughout the
trek.

A few days later we ran into N, who was making his way back from Goechala viewpoint. He was excited on having seen the sun rise over Mt. Kanchenjunga. He told us that W was camping and soaking in the views at Dzongri. W knew he had to rest well before the downward trudge to Yuksom, so opted to trek to Dzongri peak instead of Goechala viewpoint.

Trekking to Dzongri is not an ordinary accomplishment!

Dzongri is located at an altitude of around 4,200 metres (13,780 ft). Along with views of the third highest mountain in the world, some of the most well know peaks seen during this trek are: Mt. Pandim 6691m, Mt. Kabru north 7338m, Mt. Kabru south 7317m, Mt. Kumbhakarna (Janoo) 7710m, Mt. Simvo 6811m, Mt. Kabru Forked 6108m, Mt, Frey Peak 5830m, Mt. Rathong 6679m and Mt.
Kokthang 6147m.

We were super thrilled for W!

Thrilled, that he was able to quench his soul.

Thrilled, that he didn’t allow his disability to come in the way of his adventure.

Thrilled, that he had a mind of steel.

Thrilled, that he had a brother who happily obliged to help him.

Thrilled, that he had an amazing family back home who supported and encouraged him.

W & N not only inspired us to be better humans but taught us the importance of strong familial bonds. They also taught us that no adventure was too big, if you put your mind to it.

*For more information on the Goechala trek, you may read my post entitled, ‘Abode of Gods’.

The Reluctant Pillion

As children, my best friends and I would embark on bicycling adventures each summer. Our mums would pack some fruits, juice and water before we left to a nearby grove, where we would spread out a bedsheet and relax under the shade of trees.

As we grew older, we replaced the bicycles with gearless two wheelers. Once when we were extremely bored on a public holiday, my friend and I sneakily filled petrol in her mother’s non-geared bike and rode in the rain to the nearest hill fortress (Nandi Hills).

I have however, always been uncomfortable riding a geared bike, even as a pillion. I detested the idea of the high speeds that motorcycles were capable of reaching. I for one would never ride beyond 70 kilometre per hour.

And then I met Mr. G!

When we met, he had just completed a motorcycle trip to Leh- Ladakh in the Himalayas on his beloved KTM Duke 390. I knew then, that if we ever got together, I would have to embrace his passion for motorcycles.

As luck would have it, to celebrate our first Valentine’s Day together, G suggested we ride to Gokarna which was around 485 kms away from Bangalore. I always wanted to visit Gokarna; a temple town famed for its secluded and pristine beaches. But I wasn’t so sure I wanted to ride pillion, especially on his KTM Duke 390.

On the official KTM website, the bike is described as, “It guarantees a thrilling ride, whether you’re fighting your way through the urban jungle or carving your name into a forest of bends.” But one look at the seat meant for the pillion, and I knew it was going to be an arduous ride….

To ensure I got into the spirit of things, G gifted me a maroon coloured helmet. We then shopped around for a suitable riding jacket and found a faux leather jacket by Vero Moda.

Rookie Mistake #1- Finally, on 13th February we left Bangalore at around 5 am. The first few kms, I held him tightly around his stomach and rested my entire weight on his back. He stopped at a roadside tea shop, and corrected my stance.

Rookie Mistake #2- Over the next few kms, I turned fidgety; I was trying to adjust my helmet, double-check if my phone was still in my pocket and stretch out my numb arms and legs. This led him to stop at another tea shop and berate me for moving around and making it difficult for him to
balance.

Rookie Mistake #3- After visiting a beautiful waterfall and covering a few hairpin bends, the highway turned into one long stretch of tarmac. The repetitious scenery combined with the rhythms of the wind put me off to sleep. I dozed off with my entire body weight on him, thereby repeating RM #1.
This incident really shook G up. He stopped and told me to never-ever fall asleep while riding pillion.

Rookie Mistake #4- I hysterically waved my arms and pointed out to a restaurant and told him I was hungry. Again, he stopped and instructed me to never distract him while he is focused on the road. We then worked out a few signs such as gently tapping his thigh, if I wanted him to stop.

After almost 13 gruelling hours, we finally reached Gokarna. By the end of the 11th hour, my body turned numb from being in the same position for far too long, and I lost patience and turned cranky. But despite my frown and many rookie mistakes, G was super proud of me!

After an idyllic weekend spent basking in the sun and hopping from one beach to another, we prepared for our journey home. The ride back was not as bad since I improved my posture and got into the flow of things. But towards the end of the 485 kms journey, we hit a 146 kms per hour in order to reach Bangalore before sunset. G hated the idea of riding at night, when trucks of all sizes came out to play. He assumed I had no idea of the speed we hit, but unbeknownst to him, my eyes were fixed on the speedometer and my heart beat louder with every increase in speed. As we slowed down at a toll plaza, I got down the bike, burst into tears and rebuked him for riding so fast. He agreed that he would never ride fast with me as a pillion. I made him promise that he would never ride this fast with OR without me!

Before our next ride, I watched a couple of videos on riding pillion and how we can be of great support to the rider. I slowly but surely began to embrace the idea of going on long distance rides.

I learnt to let go of my irrational fear of motorcycles.

I learnt to embrace living in the moment.

I learnt to keenly observe the road and move in sync with G.

I learnt how to lean in the same direction as G when we are going around a corner.

I learnt to clench the bike with my thighs in order to maintain the dynamics.

Most importantly, I learnt to soak in the scenery come sun or rain or snow.

Today, having ridden almost 4,100 kms together on different bikes, terrains and even countries, my love for biking has grown immensely. I have a new found respect for G and the Duke. I could never ride pillion with anyone else apart from G, since I know he is a skilled motorcyclist.

As for the Duke, though her seat still makes me uneasy, my respect for her has grown immensely. She is a beautiful machine!

Shadow: My Gentleman

Dear Shadow,

Thank you…. For choosing us to be your human parents. We love you to the moon and back.

Thank you…. For loving us despite all our faults.

Thank you…. For maintaining peace in the family by positioning yourself between Mr. G and I, thereby effectively diffusing any tense moments.

Thank you…. For comforting us when we are at our lowest.

Thank you…. For keeping us physically active, by ensuring we play with you no matter how LAZY we feel.

Thank you…. For treating every other mundane day as Fun-day!

Thank you…. For swimming out into the ocean to protect and be by my side while I learnt how to float!!

Thank you…. For sharing adventures with us and accompanying us on terribly long drives.

Thank you…. For giving us the most precious kisses.

Thank you…. For being my pillow while Mr. G is away on a work trip.

Thank you…. For pretending to be happy everytime we return home.

Thank you…. Thank you…. Thank you….

You’re Paw-some!!!!!!!!!!

Exploring Horse Face

Besides the Himalayan ranges of North India, hikers have ample opportunities to camp or go on day hikes along the Western Ghats.

Western ghats is a mountain range that span across 6 States in India. It is officially recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage Site and is one of the 8 “hottest hot-spots” of biological diversity in the world. According to UNESCO, Western Ghats are older than the Himalayan mountains.

My favourite trail in WG would be Kudremukh. The name literally means horse face in Kannada (the language spoken predominantly in the State of Karnataka), as one side of the mountain resembles a horse’s face. The above pictures were taken while on a day hike to summit Kudremukh.

Given below are some effective tips and related news articles that might come in handy, if you are considering hiking in WG:

1) Start your hike only after gaining permission from the respective local forest department. Illegal hikes can result in a huge fine or even imprisonment.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/bangalore/crime/techies-nightmare-trip-trespass-western-ghats-chennai-trekking-club-manu-baligar-of-roerich-and-devika-rani-roerich-estate-board-shiradi-ghat-karnataka-forest-act-srikanth-balaji/amp_articleshow/39250035.cms

2) Camping or multi day hikes is largely forbidden anywhere in the forest since WG is home to wildlife such as the tiger, leopard, cobra, viper, elephants and the gaur. You can however camp in villages that act as the base camp, where you can taste local food and heavenly coffee or tea.

3) One always needs to be weary of animal activity in the forest. Speak to locals or your guide to double check if there have been any recent bear attacks or if you’re in the midst of elephant mating season. Trust me, you do not want to find yourself confronting an elephant in musth.

https://m.timesofindia.com/city/madurai/Woman-dies-after-being-attacked-by-bear-in-Kodaikanal/articleshow/21229521.cms

4) Always hire the services of a local guide, since paths through the forest are not well defined. It’s quite easy to wander off trail and lose your sense of direction when you’re surrounded by trees and more trees.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/when-death-tempts-the-young/article3646836.ece/amp/

3) Avoid hiking in WG during the summers since the climb to the summit will be characterized by sweltering heat and a view of dry fauna. This season is also not advisable since forest fires are quiet common.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/theni-forest-fire-a-trek-that-ended-in-tragedy/article23186792.ece/amp/

4) Monsoon in the WG is also known as the season of leeches. Equip yourself by getting a good pair of wildlife gaiters, but be prepared to find those slimy buggers in the hood of your jacket etc. They’re everywhere!!

5) Last but not the least, carry enough water since you may not always find a running river or stream to refill your bottle. Also carry some snacks, jacket and a raincoat in case of unexpected rain.

Remembering & Rethinking

Every so often, we are asked about who our role models are.

Growing up, I would blabber the name of a celebrity without an in-depth understanding of who they really are behind the glitz and glamour. The names of the so called ‘role models’, kept changing over the years depending on my age and mood.

This was until I learnt about my great- grandfather.

My paternal great- grandfather grew up wealthy as heir to acres of rubber plantation. Born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, he grew up witnessing wealthy neighbors and relatives indulge
in detrimental habits and resolved to not bring up his children in the same manner. On marrying he decided to freely forego his share of the estate as he didn’t want his children to be born surrounded by unimaginable wealth.

He then gained a degree in Theology and worked for the upliftment of the underprivileged. He instilled discipline and stressed on the importance of education especially among his four girl children; at a time when educating a girl child was not imperative in India.

His main teaching was that ‘True wealth is the ability to spend quality time with family’. This teaching has trickled down through generations.

As a child, I knew my family came from old money that ended up going broke. But I never really learnt the details, until an aunt recently sat me down and passed on the ancestral story.

She thought it was the right time to pass on the baton as my cousins and I were in our 30’s and were each settling down. She wanted us to know that wealth is never going to make us truly happy. That wealth would come and go, and there was no point building your life with it as the pivotal
point.

Instead, we needed to first and foremost focus on making pleasant memories with our family. Additionally, we needed to be kind and mannerly particularly to the less fortunate. We as a family required to be more thoughtful and considerate towards the unfortunate and pitch in and help out
whenever we could.

Yes, we would always strive to be on top of our respective careers, but the basis of this ambition should not be based on accumulating wealth.

This was what my great-grandfather wanted from us. And it was now left to us to fulfil it.