A river in the time of dryness..

White Water Rafting: Ayung River, Ubud, Bali

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods; There is a rapture on the lonely shore; There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not man the less, but Nature more… – Lord Byron

I saw the color green for the first time. Every other time was a cheap imitation. Now I know why a ‘Christopher McCandless’ becomes an ‘Alexander Supertramp’ in ‘Into the wild’.. actually now I understand. “The freedom and simple beauty is too good to pass up.”- Super Tramp. There is immense peace in living with nature.. lts sights, sounds n smells. Something about laughing with strangers and sharing moments. They often give u the final nudge required to go through with a stunt which was always on your list. I would recommend rating through the tropical forests in the outskirts of Ubud in Bali. I have done wild water rating several times in several rivers before and this was a whole different experience..

It was like the movies.. a narrow strip of river sandwiched between lush green thick tropical forests where u just can’t help be awestruck by the wild life, waterfalls, wild fauna etc. This also reinforced my faith in free falling.. letting go.. jumping.. quite literally no strings attached.. Conquering your fears and takin a giant leap and really soaking in everything.. the rendezvous between you and the wild rivers.. smoothly swimming with the current and struggling against it. Much like life eh..! Sitting on the cliff with a friendly curious chatty local happily accepting his words, humble and sincere gestures..

Also I would recommend hitching a ride with a local pick up truck coz the way to the base camp is all uphill. Something about a rickety beat up vehicle which has more character than an All Terrain Vehicle also I think. Oh I also tried an ATV and discovered it wasn’t for rookies. So no detailed accounts of me looking bad. Back to the truck. Sitting there as the sun dries you in the openness.. it sinks in that you were there in the middle of the greens on that splendid river which you navigated.. under water falls.. through rapids.. maneuvering rocks.. realization underscores the disbelief.. and you can’t help but smile!

P.S. “If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed”- Alexander SuperTramp (yet again)

 


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Bali

A place blessed by happy spirits. Imbibing in it’s soul an attraction that compels and propels one to stay and come back. Bali goes under many names. Some call it the ‘island of the gods’, others Shangri-La. The ‘last paradise’, the ‘dawning of the world’ and the ‘centre of the universe’ are yet more names for this truly beautiful tropical island inhabited by a remarkably artistic people who have created a dynamic society with unique arts and ceremonies.  I remember watching this episode by Anthony Bourdain where he declares he has finally found a place he would like to stay back in. Maybe its owing to the friendly folks, the art in every object you see, the sheer beauty of the place.. It’s owing to what its sheer soul has become.

Bali has the strongest most developed, dynamic yet traditional culture I have encountered. Tt is in it’s music which besides Balinese music incorporates tunes from around the world. It is in it’s art from its sculptures, wood work, paintings to regular objects such as door knobs, cafes, ambience of places etc. It is in it’s dance, the free spiritedness of its various dance forms..

The only Hindu island in Asia, with majority of it’s people following Balinese Hinduism the subtle contrasts with their ideologies to the form of Hinduism made it’s culture even more interesting. For instance, It was amusing to see their physical representation of Ganesha in a slimmer and sterner form. Regarding the folks their curiosity, genuine interests and fascination is reflected in how they talk to you, treat you and respect you. It is not the plastic smile that customarily greets tourists, it is that of an honest genuine and fascinated islander towards a familiar foreigner.

From mountain ranges to paddy fields, from the vast sea to the wild river, from the vast expanse of beaches to tropical forests stretches, from Goa/Miami/Barcelona kinda parties to the Kurseong/ Niagara Falls/ Venice kind of quiet evenings, from intricate sculptures by master artists to charcoal or woodwork of a street artist, from traditional folk song and dance to the contemporary music and dance forms, from swanky world class resorts hotels and cafes to small quaint shacks shops and set ups I have reason to believe Bali is a cross section of so many landscapes and experiences. A slice of life literally for a true traveler. I for one fell in love.

I had seen such natural beauty after a long time and after Europe and NZ. I will go back.

“For I cannot be part of the cocktail generation: Partners waltz, devoid of all romance. The music plays and everyone must dance. I’m bowing out. I need a second chance.” Don McLean

There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard..

“I wanna free fall out into nothing

Gonna leave this world for awhile

And I’m free, I’m free falling”

There is something about a free fall. The letting go of all fears and just letting go of yourself really. I distinctly remember this being the only adventure sport that really made me want to quit last minute. In the freezing Queenstown, NZ, where every gust of wind was sending chills down your spine, standing on this rope bridge dangling over this threatening stream.. Well just gave me a frozen spine. Ironically I felt spineless! I wanted to not let my ego get the better of me and just admit to myself that I couldn’t do it. I guess somewhere though I know I owed to a promise I had made to myself long back. I would try everything in life once specially when it came to adventure and adrenaline.

“When you want something in life, you just gotta reach out and grab it.” This is one of my fave quotes from one of my fave movies- Into the wild. Which by the way is on my list. To pull of the stunt he did in the movie. Just go into the wild. Maybe someday I will. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions. Facing the blind death stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.

I always used to feel life is about jumping, taking that leap of faith, letting go, being, knowing that someone out there is going to get your back.. so go for it! I couldn’t not jump. I remember walking up to this guy (who was really undeniably unbelievably attractive) and had been curiously staring at me for awhile wondering if I would go through with it. I asked him bluntly if he would jump with me. He was shocked out of his wits and his expression told me he thought I was interesting nut case. He then grinned impishly at me telling me he would but then he would have to hold me real tight. I told him that was exactly why I had asked him.

After we were literally tied together he asked me to shut my eyes and trust him. He took the leap of faith for both of us that I couldn’t muster the courage to. He made us free fall.. along a waterfall swaying in the sky with the water below teasing us.. The adrenaline rush coupled with a sense of peace and calm yet topped with a sense of achievement and pride.. We were smiling dizzily at each other with our eyes locked knowing that we wouldn’t ever forget we did this together.. I haven’t.. I know he hasn’t..

Thank you stranger from my not so long back interesting past. If I ever meet you again and we do recognize each other, I owe you one.

P.S. But now am I free fallin? Guess not. I want to though. Maybe I will.

Of tea breaks..

Bridge over troubled waters..

Sir Job Charnock are you rolling in your grave or resting in peace?

Living in Calcutta, I’ve always been miffed at the number and length of tea breaks people take around here. This culture is imbibed very deeply amongst the people of this city. Whether it is university life, or the work place or house holds or friends hanging out. I guess the term “adda” must find its origin here and refer to long endless cups of tea and never ending conversation.

Another peculiarity in a lot of people that grew up here is the glaring contrast between their attitude towards work when in school and when in an actual work place. The life of me I cannot fathom how someone who was a dedicated tireless work horse in school, ambitious often scoring the best grades etc. be such a lump of uselessness in their work place? Did they exhaust all the mental energy during their pursuit of academic excellence, did their analytical skills wear out while discussing Shakespeare and Tagore? Did their ability to think on their toes and make timely decisions vanish with going so deep into philosophy and idealism that they have become time and reality delusional? What happens to the application of the intellect one claims to collect over years of thinking and reading? It is like the tea bag which is soaked till a point where it’s saturated and cast aside?

Calcutta is the best place to soak in history and a plethora of cultures. The real Calcutta specially is reeking with history in every side walk and one can see remnants of the British Rule in so much of its architecture and design. What is sad is that it still thrives on it’s past laurels. I don’t see any contemporary achievements. Its almost like watching a movie in slow motion. There is a script, there must be a method to the madness, there must be flow and a definite intended ending. But then again I think a lot of this city happened by accident and damage control thereafter.

I suppose it suffers greatly from brain drain which is a cause and effect of why it is the way it is. That viscous cycle. The smart ones who have it in them to make a difference leave the city where they don’t see much “scope in their personal scheme of things”. Having lost these folks the city continues to exist in a half modern half traditional world. Neither accomplishing the feats of a big city or the true charm of a small town. I would associate a big city with progress, with newness, with innovation, with young achievers, with walking with purpose and not dragging of feet.. I would associate a small town with a beautiful landscape, sans of problems of a big city such as indisciplined traffic, where people are content coz their lives are simple and revolves around thinking and behaving like a well knit community. It is caught in the warps of time and in an identity crisis. It has one leg in the past and the other in the future. What about the now? For how Long will the city’s claim to fame be the had been party capital of the country, the forgotten but true intellectual hub, epi-centre of urban design owing to the introduction of the country’s 1st underground transportation, the birth place of great authors and poets and Nobel laureates? I want for folks to wake up to the fact that nothing of great consequence which has a recent date to it is of local origin, the authors you produced did not get published and popular here, the literature and drama and poetry is aging, the painstakingly long and detailed discussions on everything is at the end of the day just cheap talk. There has been absolutely no reinvention of the wheel.

I could go on about the socio-political-cultural issues that take their toll on Calcutta but it wouldn’t be a discovery I am sharing. When I saw Chocolat its strange how the opening lines made me think of Calcutta “Once upon a time, there was a quiet little village in the French countryside, whose people believed in Tranquilité – Tranquility. If you lived in this village, you understood what was expected of you. You knew your place in the scheme of things. And if you happened to forget, someone would help remind you. In this village, if you saw something you weren’t supposed to see, you learned to look the other way. If perchance your hopes had been disappointed, you learned never to ask for more. So through good times and bad, famine and feast, the villagers held fast to their traditions. Until, one winter day, a sly wind blew in from the North…”

I think it’s high time a sly wind of change blew in from somewhere and awaken people here from their slumber, infuse some new blood into the veins that have aged before their time. Make it go from ‘Comfortably Numb’ to ‘Coming back to life’.

To be fair I often ask myself do I question the general sloppiness, laid-backness and errr tea breaks with a ‘grapes are sour’ kinda attitude? Why must people be so content and happy simply by sipping a sickeningly sweet cuppa tea when it takes most of us like me a perfect job, a great relationship, world travel, modern gadgets, social status, labels etc. to achieve the same? Do they annoy me coz they point out that the flaw is in me that I am unable to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and take it easy and make time to ‘smell the roses’? Do I grudge the siestas I pass of as laziness coz the truth is sleep doesn’t come easy to me? Have I been such a resource consuming kid that I don’t relate to the joys of splurging owing to a special festival? Do I check out the happy processions of people dancing on the street and exchanging pleasantries and gifts grudgingly? Do I call the general Calcuttan stagnant coz he has learnt to master the art of timetable life and doesn’t think it to be mundane and gets by with little or no excitement?  I think they merely get to me coz somewhere I wish I was that simplistic and know for a fact I am not.

“In life a person has three choices- to run, spectate or to commit” From the book the city of joy. I wonder which one we’ll take.

“And the waitress is practicing politics..As the businessmen slowly get stoned”

Listening to this song reminded me of this one time in Amsterdam. I was at this coffee shop and they played a lot of classic rock. I hung out longer and was wryly people watching. Piano Man by Billy Joel came on and I really really listened to the song and sized up the room around me again, and thought to myself this song’s apt background music! Then almost on cue my actors started playing their part and the sets formed themselves for my amusement.

“There’s an old man sitting next to me..Makin’ love to his tonic and gin”. Indeed there was. It seemed to me he had been having that conversation with his drink for awhile now. He must have gone the whole 9 yards with that glass. Right from wooing it, getting it, marrying it, making love to it everything. It was a woman’s body I thought he thought he had in his hands the way he was holding it, being a gentle lover, an outraged beast.. How he was looking at it smitten, passionate, bitter.. The way he shook his head at it in helplessness and submission..

“Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star..If I could get out of this place” As I looked at the listless young guy Man Fridaying the place. He had the air of superiority around him and kept giving the room and it’s people a bored glance every now and then. Intermittently, he would cast his reflection in the bar mirror and almost apologetic nod and then restlessly moving things around. I was so tempted to go up to him pat his back and say..Life’s like that buddy.. too bad but get over it..

“And the waitress is practicing politics..As the businessmen slowly get stoned..Yes, they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness..But it’s better than drinkin’ alone” This guy in a crisp business suit had an aura around him.. like he was begging to be saved. I felt sad for him with his empty eyes, tired face, sagging shoulders, fake smile.. years of wear and tear. He kept calling the waitress over at any pretext and somehow starting conversation. He was genuinely interested in anything she had to say as long as she was fixing her eyes on him.. Was his own life that empty? I shuddered at the thought of years of a mundane life. The waitress was beaming at him for being such an attentive audience and was happy to please..

“Well we’re all in the mood for a melody  and you got us all feeling alright” When u really look hard at what you’re seeing, you see the invisible ink that writes every story..

Oh! Rain Maker

There is nothing quite like the Indian Monsoons.. It’s been a relentless downpour since the past two days and the rain came down quite unexpected.. Complete with thunder showers, lightening flashes, sudden breeze, over cast sky.. the works! I feel like those who love the sun too much have never really danced in the rain. It’s the same for folks who run for shelter spontaneously. They haven’t been “out there” long enough to brave the change of seasons or ways of nature. Indians monsoons come with an unparalleled charm and romance. Remember those train rides just sticking your nose against the glass window to catch a glimpse of the rain on the fields? Or the time you were in school and threw all caution to the wind and played outside with your friends while it rained?

Rain does occupy center stage in the Indian drama. The most celebrated season, the sign of prosperity, the power of destruction, the marking of a new year, Like other mythologies the personification of an element of nature, the subject of songs, the stimulant for artists, the plot for screen writers, dope for environmentalists,  fuel to light the lovers fire.. Rain is that fulcrum which underscores Indian culture..

India has a legacy of Monsoon Ragas given to us by the greats such as Tansen to celebrate the monsoons to quench parched forests and farms…Their music has been a source of inspiration to artisits, dancers and writers for decades. Their ragas have my name as the most commonly used word as do other songs about monsoons in India, getting my attention and patronage automatically. What I find ironical about the battles between the Hindus and Muslims and their staunch stand on supposed diametrically opposite ideologies,  There was a time Hindu-Muslim (Sufi) cultures graciously merged to create a culture of celebration and romance with rain and the monsoons and this common theme united them.. i.e. rain and music brought them together. Translation of

of Kahlil Gibran’s poetry:

“I am dotted silver threads dropped from heaven
By the gods, Nature then takes me, to adorn
Her fields and valleys.
I am beautiful pearls, plucked from the
Crown of Ishtar by the daughter of Dawn
To embellish the gardens…
The voice of Thunder declares my arrival
The rainbow announces my departure
I am like earthly life, which begins at
The feet of the mad elements and ends
Under the upraised wings of death”

Or Rumi’s writing:

“Of a thousand lifetimes could not explain
If all the forest trees were pens
And all the oceans, ink?”

I think rain is nature’s way of demanding attention. Its her tantrum to get you to snap out of everything and check her out.  For distracting one from the hustle and bustle of their lives and taking a moment to bask in nature’s glory. I’ve noticed while driving in the rain, even though people seem to be really inconvenienced and hassled and delayed by the rain they can’t wipe off a half smile which threatens to break into a smile.. Even when they complain their grudges are more a result of conditioning and now a reflex action..

Rain undoubtedly has the ability to stir your feelings.. good or bad.. depending on your frame of mind and the time of the day.. For those happy souls say in love rain is the single greatest catalyst after music. The spring in the step, the hum of the song, the grin on the face, the sunshine in the heart. Nothing beats sharing the rain with someone you love. It’s happiness multiplies exponentially.. or the adverse effect if its otherwise is just as true.. It is at a summit of emotional submergence the sensitivity to connect with an element/force of nature develops..

Growing up in India we all have our fond memories of the rain.. The carelessly walking in the rain skipping school and indulging in the street side delicacies, The water logging of the streets of Calcutta and the paper boats floating on them, the getting drenched on the Marine drive in Bombay staring into the vastness of the sea and the infinite city lights, the driving around Vidya Sagar Setu in the heart of Calcutta yet so away and distinct from it, The suburbs of Bombay and the stand still life forcing time together, The warm cup of coffee and your fave song as you stare out of the window, the cursing in office for feeling the overwhelming need to break out and break free, the endless shots of tea in Pune getting soaked, The callousness of a young student and the brilliance of the Western Ghats, the bike rides and the stubborn mud on the denims and souvenirs of ruined shoes, The feeling dangerous and adventurous and venturing out to places I wouldn’t advise anyone go to, the stillness of the hills in the most torrential showers and the company of warm friends, watching out for the sibling playing football in the mud with the seasoned street players struggling to keep track of his identity under the cloak of mud, the rain dance that worked and the celebration by friends in your honor, all the other rain dances that did not, A rain maker passing by your town, the running to the terrace and claiming each time this is the best rain of the season, the dancing like no one’s watching alone or the embarrassed to be seen with you lover/friend, that thunderstorm in Goa which had an evil soul that lead to a fatal attraction.. it’s an endless list really.. Everyone has this list weather or not they remember it..

Rain melts you into everything.. Rain melts you into nothing.. hmm it’s just depends on what time of the day.. and what you’re thinking then..

P.S. I love my namesake!