Monday, March 30, 2009

Earth Hour

I've been rather busy lately, but I still want to make a statement before it's too late and things fade from our rather stunted memory. Earth Hour was held across the world this Saturday between 8:30pm and 9:30pm local time. I felt the buzz in the air this year, a buzz I hadn't felt last year, or the year before that. To be very honest, I didn't know of it's existence till last year. This year, however was different. Governments around the world endorsed the event. Institutions and individuals alike pledged allegiance to the cause.

On my part, I decided that I too would play my role in publicizing the event. I made a few leaflets and pasted them around IIT, only to be pleasantly surprised that the official posters had beat me to most locations. I also distributed a few of them around my house, not without animated discussions with guards which involved the word "paryavaran". I daresay that word is a mouthful when it comes to using it in everyday conversation. All in all, by the time Earth Hour came around, I was happy that I had played my small role in spreading the word. The pleasant surprises kept coming all day long. Right from the morning newspaper which gave the event unprecedented coverage, appeals from the Government and then the news that IIT would officially observe Earth Hour.

Ironically enough, there was a freak, unpredictable thunderstorm exactly the same day that a billion people around the world acknowledged the global climate crisis. The freak shower was probably to underline the problem to those who didn't accept it. I remember remarking to a friend of mine, "This is God's way of telling us that he'd shut off even our essential lights if we dared to not shut off our non-essential ones!".

All in all, Earth Hour was a grand success this year and one can only hope we move from strength to strength in tackling this issue. For those of us who didn't observe Earth Hour, I wish they wake up. Soon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shadow on the Sun

Shapes of every size,
Move behind my eyes,
Doors inside my head,
Bolted from within.

Every drop of flame,
Lights a candle in
Memory of the one,
Who lived inside my skin.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Closing Argument

The 4th IIT Delhi Parliamentary Debate (PD) ended (a success, I deem it to be) recently. As the event wound down to a close, and we handed out the awards to a group of gentleman who referred to themselves as "Baba Dal", I felt this deep (almost humorous) melancholy beginning to sink in. PD was my last debating activity in life. There would be no more arguing or judging arguments. Well, atleast with truckloads of money involved.

I started debating when I was in the tenth grade, some 8 years ago. My English teacher in school had coaxed me into it. Well, one never really needed coaxing to go to an all-girls school when one was growing up in an all-boys. I remember having won there, a hundred rupee note as my prize, and maybe some admiration from the ladies. From then on, there was no coaxing. Debating was all we were doing in school.

Then I entered college and found that people were practically making a living off their debating skills. Too intimidated to join the pool in my first year, I started in my second year. I have to admit I haven't won much, but debating's given me my share of stories to tell. I've met some great people, loathed many as well. It's taken me places, the most memorable being this one trip to Pakistan in my 3rd year of college.

It feels funny that I won't be debating anymore. But I also know that in due course of time I will let this feeling get time-averaged.

In the long run I know that the general order of the universe is intact. :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bummer - Part II

Dhar and I woke up earliest next morning to catch a glimpse of what was a beautiful sunrise. It was very relaxing to be out in the peace and quiet of the desolate town early in the morning. Much to our surprise, Nayyar also managed to wake up early and join us in a short while. A few hours later we found ourselves on the road to Chhitkul, an hour’s drive away. When we arrived in Chhitkul, we found ourselves mesmerized with its beauty. Chhitkul is a tiny village where the road stops dead and one must walk to get any further. On one end is one of the Bhagirathi peaks, and Gangotri is a week’s summer trek across the mountains. The village has a population of only 610, and almost half the people had headed south for the winter. Suri told us that it was 600 when he visited three years ago. The people are beautiful and very jovial.

(Below : Chhitkul, Mamta and Bunty)

We faced a similar problem at Chhitkul. None of the guest houses were open. We somehow found ourselves a PWD rest house to stay in. The trouble was that there was no running water. Any water required had to be drawn from a tap that supplied melt water. This would have serious consequences on any willingness to maintain basic hygiene.

After having packed our luggage into the rest house, we embarked on a trek down to the Baspa River where we crossed a wooden bridge into snow fields. Nitin’s happiness, of course, knew no bounds. After about two hours of buffoonery in the snow, we found ourselves back at the rest house; sitting in the lawns and watching the sun go down as the cold began to reach places where it shouldn’t.

(Below : Icicles, A very happy Nitin, Sikder making a snow angel, and sunset at Chhitkul)

By night, the temperature had dropped to sub-zero and the alcohol was being pumped at an unprecedented rate. The fire outside helped in keeping us warm for a while, and then got overpowered by the cold. Sikder, however, had been having a little affair on the side with his bottle of Blender’s Pride. With half the bottle down, he seemed to have felt a certain bien etre that made him rather delusional. He decided to take walk outside in the freezing cold and none of us stopped him, reluctant to step outside. After what seemed like an hour we realized that our man of God hadn’t returned from his walk. Alarmed, I looked outside and I couldn’t spot him. By now we were quite worried for his safety and began looking around. Well, two of us did. The other three were too warm to get out. I too would have abandoned my search in the interest of warmth, if I hadn’t found him staring at the moonlight a short distance away. Sikder found his way back safely, and after a few senseless games of poker and the temperature dropping to about minus four, we wrapped ourselves in every conceivable piece of clothing we had and every blanket available and slept (Below).

(Above: Sunrise behind the Bhagirathi peak)

Dhar, Nayyar and I woke up again next morning to catch the sunrise. Answering the calls of early morning by itself was a challenge. When we brushed, the water stung the gums. When we washed, the water hurt every part of bare skin it touched. The puddles of water outside had frozen over. The sunrise, however, was pristine and beautiful. After having taken a few photographs, we got ourselves ready and left for Shimla, about nine hours away. We paid another visit to Cheel Baba on the way back, this time just because of Nayyar and Suri’s devotion to the wise man.
A slight digression about Pahaadi songs, that you would invariably find playing in your cab when you're in Himachal. Tapes for Pahaadi songs usually come with only one or two songs on them that fill up the tape completely. The songs typically last for a good half an hour each and then keep looping till the road journey ends. Also, all songs have a short, funny sounding (due respect to the dialect) refrain that tends to get annoyingly stuck to one's brain. The driver, of course, will not take very kindly to you making fun of his music. What he will also not take very kindly to, is if he stops with a screech when a cat crosses the road and is waiting for someone else to cross the cat's imaginary line, and you're sitting there in his car, laughing about it. What might really drive him up the wall, is when someone's car does cross the line, and Nayyar yells, "Haha! Chhakka marega, chalo peechha karo! Lets see kaun si khai mein girta hai!".
By five the next morning, however, after a twenty hour road journey, we found ourselves at the bus station in Delhi with memories of a great trip. We were greeted at the bus terminus by two gentlemen, one of whom refused to take photograph of the group, and the other who took the photograph so remarkably well, that it cut out three and a half of us from the photograph. Nonetheless, we were happy to be back after a great trip, safe and sound, and in full cognizance of that one fact I had yelled out to Dhar in the throes of those warm glasses of rum. We knew we'd had a great time. We knew we may probably never get to travel in this group again. But above all, we knew that:

“The general order of the universe is intact”

Bummer - Part I

You know you've gone vacationing to a really cold place when you pack in only two sets of clothes for four days, and you still return with one of those two sets unused.

One Wednesday, Nitin, Arunav (Sikder), Aseem (Suri), Abhinav (Dhar(of Leh fame)), Ayush (Nayyar (whose name at home is a dark secret that does not leave the confines of the above group)), and myself set out for a four day trip. Most of us still had that tinge of Holi colours on us, given that just a few ours ago our faces were so coloured that our own progenitors couldn't recognize us. We gathered at the bus station where we were to board a bus to Shimla, Sarahan (in Himachal Pradesh) then being our final destination. As it usually happens with trips, you don't end up going to the place that you had initially planned, but we'll get to that later.

As our Volvo rocketed toward Shimla, breaking all land speed records (250kms to Chandigarh in 3 hours), we realised how futile it was to try and sleep on a road trip. Well, four of us did. Sikder and Dhar snoozed for 15 hours on a 6 hour bus ride. While they were asleep, we hatched theories on how Sikder was really "Sik-Dhar", Dhar's long lost brother and how our dear friend "Vamshi-Dhar" was their proud father. Jokes came, jokes went, we slept for barely half an hour and found ourselves in Shimla in the wee hours of morning. While alighting from the bus, I, being the macho man that I am, declared proudly that it was hardly cold, only to retract my words in half a minute and rush for the nearest available sweatshirt and some tea.

The beauty of most of the trips I take is that hardly anything is planned completely. We also wanted to visit Sangla and Chhitkul, which we had read about in our beloved copy of Lonely Planet (everyone must own one). After about half an hour of arguing over how to reach Sarahan, we decided to take a rickety bus ride to Rampur. As luck would have it, an hour later, we found ourselves, standing outside an overheated bus, waiting for a replacement in the middle of nowhere. The replacement did come eventually, and would change cause a significant change in plan. The replacement bus was smaller, and already had people sitting in it. Add all the passengers of our bus with all their luggage into it, and you have yourself a sardine tin. The hills work slightly differently from a city like Delhi. What do you do when you see a really crowded bus in Delhi? You let that one pass, sure that another would turn up in a few minutes. In the hills, there is just that one bus, so you get on to it even if you need to emulate Spiderman just to stay in the bus. By the time we reached Rampur, there were people standing on our luggage. And as we got off, it would be safe to say that the general consensus was to never take a bus again for the duration of this trip. (Below : Sunrise from the bus to Rampur)

After having seen rather disgusting goat liver sausages at some roadside food stalls, we decided to get ourselves some breakfast (not the goat liver sausages) before proceeding on to Sarahan, which was hardly a two hours' drive away.

Breakfast packed into our stomach, Nitin's lifelong desire for snow (if you remember the Dalhousie trip) kicked in. I have to admit that it served us well. It was quite hot in Rampur, and there were lynching threats issued against me because I'd proclaimed that the temperature could go as low as minus two and it felt like thirty at that point. We were also told that we wouldn't find snow in Sarahan. We were feeling recharged and we decided to attempt reaching Sangla that same day. It would involve an additional four to five hour drive, but it would give us a chance to visit Chhitkul (where snow was guaranteed), an hour's drive away.

Our driver to Sangla was well suited to our group. Ours was a group of what Nayyar calls 'Happy Campers' (and me). He gave my friends permission to smoke funny things, and sometimes cared to declare that he himself was wired on the stuff while driving us on some of the steepest and narrowest roads we had seen. It is here that I made the statement that gave this post and this trip it's name. "Dude you know what would be a real BUMMER? If the driver turned out to be an undercover cop!", said the wise SK. Nonetheless, we trusted him, and the divine plan. About 10 kms before Sangla, our driver stopped at a hermit's hut. This gentleman we have come to know as 'Cheel Baba'. 'Cheel' not as in Eagle. 'Cheel' as in an extension of the centre syllable in 'Chill' which is short for 'Chill with Chillum' (which was Cheel Baba's legendary dialogue). Three of us stayed away, while the other three (unnamed) and the driver found their way into the hermitage, and had the impossible task of finding their feet before they found their way out. An hour later, however, much to the surprise of all, we found ourselves driving into Sangla, safe and sound and in one piece. Two hands, two legs. All working.

(Below : On the way to Sangla, Cheel Baba's Lair)

At Sangla, we faced a peculiar problem. We had worked on the assumption that we would receive massive discounts in hotels owing to the fact that it was off-season and that were the only idiots out touring the most desolate areas of the country in winter.

However, because of the off-season, practically all the guest houses were shut. The houses in Sangla are forced to cut off their water supply in winter to avoid pipe bursts due to the freeze. Most of these guest houses hadn’t restored their supply yet and were not ready for service.
With great difficulty however, we were able to find a guesthouse with three rooms. All we had to do was to hunt down the owner at the local Nag festival. Sikder and Nitin decided to stay back while the rest of us went off to explore town and look for the owner.

Our short walk around town yielded few results. We couldn’t enter the Nag festival for the want of traditional Himachali headgear. However, we were able to catch a glimpse of the dazzling sunset behind the snow-clad mountains that surround Sangla. (Below)

It is on this walk that we hatched another plan. We would go to Chhitkul the next day, stay there overnight, and do a cannonball run down to Shimla the day after. Sarahan would not be visited on this trip. Poor Sarahan.

Upon returning I found that the owner hadn’t returned yet. It was beginning to get very cold and Sikder had already started one of his famous ten-minute power naps (Above). A short while later, however, the aforementioned gentleman did return and showed us into our rooms. At night we lit ourselves a nice fire, poured ourselves warm glasses of rum and relaxed after a day that had involved almost nineteen hours of travel. Suri began to tell his famous horror stories, which freaked out some of us (unnamed) so much that they couldn’t return to their rooms alone at night. The day did, however, wind down to a close with the temperature dropping to about 1 degree and all of us going to sleep in about four layers of clothing each.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Another One Rides The Bus

There are things in life one does, neither for the first, nor for the last time, and yet somewhere you wish you could stop doing those things. Imagine then, our protagonist (call him SK in the interest of brevity) strolling out of the IIT campus at the end of a hard day's sleep to go back home. SK does not have any transport of his own that day, and therefore decides to rely on public transport. With barely twenty of the local currency in his pocket, he realises that comfort is something he can ill-afford. Therefore, SK decides to take the bus. It's not the first time he's been on a bus, sure as hell won't be the last, but he makes a few earth-shattering observations on this bus ride.

Let's call the bus route 764, because 786 would just be too Bollywood. (Beside the fact that there was nothing holy about this route). The bus route connects N to NP. NP is the official hub of the town. N is the Jat (a community known for it's "delicate" handling of matters) capital. Needless to say, the bus has gentlemen for driver and support staff. The bus was already overflowing with people by the time it reached the IIT bus stop. SK has spent three years in a place called DU which changed his conception of what they call an 'empty bus'. So he boards the bus. Luckily for him he gets a seat (albeit on the ladies side). This is the cue for the Gods to go out and have their share of fun with him.

Observation numero uno : Ladies, you're not the only ones who have to suffer getting felt up in a bus. Thankfully for SK though, he's not at the receiving end of such pleasant treatment, yet. SK, being one of a mathematical bent of mind, lets his mind run and comes up with a law of bus rides. "In, Delhi", he thinks to himself, "as time elapses in a bus ride, the percentage of one's body in contact with a solid surface decreases exponentially". Just as he is lauding himself on the profundity of this new law, a lady yanks him of his seat with a nonchalant "Haanji bhaiya ladis seat". Grumbling, he gets up and is suddenly made aware of the incredibly loud music.

Buses in Delhi don't exactly provide the traveller a very wide choice in music. The choice quite literally is between the colorful music of the 80's and early 90's, or Himesh. Smart as he is, SK decides to put on music through his earphones to circumvent this issue. This creates a new problem. Now, the loud music in the earphones and the loud music outside are mixing to create a new, morbidly unbearable form of music. As Chris Reshammiya starts singing "Show Me How to Suroor" into his ear, the bus halts at a stop where everyone seems to have one aim in life : get to NP. To accomodate this extra humanity into an already filled bus, the two conductors gently start pushing people into the middle of the bus, the one at the back tells people to go to the front, the one at the front tells people to go back. In the ruckus, SK realises that his only contacts with solid (inanimate) surfaces are his index finger (on the bar above), and his big toe (on the floor of the bus below). We won't talk about contact with animate solid surfaces.

The journey continues. And just as Eddie Sanu sings "I'm still mohabbat karta hun" and SK painfully shifts his weight from one toe to another, wondering when life(or the bus atleast) will spare him, the conductor behind yells in his special language, the only words his parents ever taught him, "Agge jaao agge, bus to khalli padi hai".

True Story.