Partings, Bitter and Sweet…

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

– Edna St. Vincent Millay: “Dirge Without Music”


They say learning to let-go is the hardest lesson of life. For it is not a person’s thoughts that are missed in their absence, as much as their thoughtfulness. All things do come to an end and when the farewells have all been said and done or in cases tacitly implied, parts of them – their sentiments, their gestures remain with us; having subtly shaped us and that shared past into the present. What is missed is their twinkling eyes and singular statements that betrayed a yearning, and the delicate significance within those ephemeral moments that withheld a thousand promises.

To forget them is to deny your very being and to live with them nigh impossible. So what must a man do? How does one accept and move on?


The Demise of Self

To be, or not to be: that is the question

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

At some point of time when Earth was still young – having just cooled off and home to raging storms and what-not – a few tiny entities unlike anything that ever existed before appeared. Organic specks in the vast inorganic sea. They were loners; they grew and died alone never having met the few others that existed alongside. Maybe even oblivious to the others’ presence. In time some of them realized they were better off pairing up with the rest and this soon made way for wild orgies. It wasn’t probably just a more fun way of living, but also meant a longer existence. As they grew and died, they picked up a few tricks of the trade along the way. Rather than perishing they soon learned to split up, giving birth to more in their form. And so they chose to give their end a meaning.

Thus they multiplied and the world grew from tiny specks to complex organic chains, to cells, specialized tissues, organs… up to an organism. These organisms, they learned to form packs (or modern day societies) much like their building blocks that evolved together to grow stronger. Nature, when you observe it, is like a fractal: an iterative pattern set within itself over and over again-indefinitely. There are elements in nature that exhibit such self-similarity – trees, ferns, neurons, snow-flakes. This way, every layer is but a speck and every speck contains within itself countless other entities.

The Mandelbrot set exhibits self-similarity. As you zoom in on the image, the same pattern reappears making it impossible to know which layer you are looking at.

Now here is a thought – If we take this fractal analogy the other way, these layers, ergo we, are but specks, destined to function in a predefined way that contributes and is contained within something greater that we can’t perceive and this infinite pattern is the grand design that extends to the whole of this universe and beyond.

It’s like studying the human society through a lens – with the deeper layers reflecting the same pattern as visible to our naked eye, all of which is a part of a bigger picture. Are we then meant to act, as a society, for a singular purpose, say, the continuation of our species? If so, then aren’t humans an anomaly, with their individual consciousness instead of a collective one? What of our personal ambitions and how do we then justify our desire to be different from the crowd?
Is there really any place in this design for Individualism?


As I finished writing this article, I came across an excerpt from the book Beyond the Frontier of the Mind by Osho. According to him, a child is born without the knowledge of self. Surprisingly, the first thing he becomes aware of is not himself but others, as all his senses open outwards. It is his interactions with others that give rise to a consciousness – Ego.

Cognizance of others prior to oneself and the consciousness being but a reflected awareness sound to me like an interesting theory. Excuse me while I dig this further.

Writing 101

Why do we write? Or as in my case: want to write, seeing that I am quite unable to do so often. Is it to give our thoughts a tangible form? Is it because we want to present our thoughts to anyone who would care to pause and give a crap about it – even if only to shoot it down? Do we really need that publicity or are we just seeking an opinion? And how much do we really care about that opinion? I guess it’s a little bit of all of those.

There is an inherent sense of awe as the seemingly random chain of thoughts in our head link to form a cohesive structure. A piece, a prose, a design, an art. And like any other artist we would want appreciation. Yes, but something more. Ideas, comments even criticism. A discussion – to see this piece induce in others a similar chain of thoughts. Like a living entity giving birth to something in its form. It is this joy of creation – the genesis of something new and meaningful and the pride of having created it – that drives us most.

It doesn’t always come out right at first. You sit hopelessly waiting for another of those countless swirling thoughts to fuse with that still unfinished structure, to give it a shape, some vague purpose. Art is for inspiring and unless others do get a glimpse of this inspiration, your work is unfinished. There will be disappointments and ever so often your work out there fails to look as good as it does in your head. Your hopes of giving it a good, if not a great ending, will seldom bear fruit. Not all creations are beautiful. And certainly not perfect. That takes time, patience and a lot of sloppy outcomes. So don’t be too hard on yourself or spend your time out in wait of an epiphany that would be your Magnum Opus. That would come too just like others, in its own sweet time.

Bricks and mortar, laid one over other, unrecognizable at first but then it grows and it has a shape and you wonder what it may grow into. Slowly, piece by piece, the structure rises. Take a step back now and examine. Have the courage to bring it all down if you must. Start afresh. Don’t wait for that perfect ending, just hope to finish it. Add a touch here and there and hope it all makes sense the way you pictured it to be. Then let it go. Let it grow and fend for itself. And hope this piece goes on to create a thought, an idea someplace else.

Don’t stop there, don’t pause. Don’t admire the workmanship, nor fret over its unseemly appearance. That’s not your job. There’s a long way to go and countless other pieces ready to be penned down. Don’t give up until you strike gold – the elusive masterpiece, and maybe not even then. For there is no joy as great as the joy of creation. And at the end of all things they are all that’s left of you.

McLeod – A Bastion of Hope

It’s that time of the year again when people make their way for new jobs: bidding the insti a final goodbye, amidst sad recollections and with a grieving heart. Some move out quietly, while a few others may find a bunch waving them off as they make their way to the buses and trains that await to take them away from that sleepy little town, maybe for the last time. And even as the volume of the senti status messages and wall posts decrease already, so will the number of calls and texts sent to that friend who lived down your corridor, whose room was the local hangout spot for night long bakar sessions and what-not. Moments will be missed and people will still be thought of – longingly, lovingly – but those contacts will be lost amidst the scores of new ones from work. And so life will move on.


Leaving college was difficult – almost as if a piece of me was being left behind. So naturally when my time at Roorkee came to an end, I went on this crazy, rampant spree of revisiting every nook and corner of the campus if only in a desperate bid to create memories – to keep the place alive, knowing fully well that the best of those memories had already happened silently, unplanned without me realizing then. I stayed back even as most of the people I knew, one-by-one, departed.

My trip to McLeod Ganj came about in June of the previous year, at the very end of my college term. It was an outcome of a long pending desire to escape the mundanity – of work, deadlines and wages – which was sure to reclaim me soon enough. As it turned out, McLeod didn’t quite appear to be the peaceful retreat I sought. The place was too full of people, and as a result, unquiet and often at some places unclean. Intensive commercialization had taken its toll on the surroundings and the once beautiful, serene location, home to the Tibetan government-in-exile had been reduced to a tourist destination that witnesses among others, countless Indian families with excess baggage and an even excessive litter of kids. The sheer number of cabs was an eye-sore and the blaring vehicles often ended up causing jams in the town square. My initial response was that of disappointment. And as I trudged up Tipa Road to Dharamkot, a mile away from the bustling crowds, I was hoping dearly the trip wouldn’t be for a lost cause.

The getaway road: to Dharamkot and beyond

A small dose of afternoon slumber, though, saw much more than a changed weather. The place grows on you and I, on my part, soon learnt to look beyond the throngs of people and buildings. And as we moved a little farther anywhere from the heart of McLeod, there emerged landscapes that have stood silent witnesses to the undefiled beauty this place once was. A small trek of just over 3 kms. lead to a small hamlet – the village of Naddi.

Deodars lining the slopes near McLeod

Road to Naddi and the Children’s Village, through the heart of Deodar forests

The narrow, winding path through the Deodar jungles was replete with its refreshing scent and Tibetan faith: cairns piled along the path and prayer flags fluttering in the cold mountain breeze, conspicuous among the branches by their motley of colors. The walk was delightful and the trees offered a much welcome shroud that broke only to offer some breath-taking views of the valley below. Far away in the distance, the Himalayas stood pensive, majestic; the very clouds descending over their lofty peaks. Most assertive of nature’s creations, the mountains have this humbling effect. We stayed there, soaking it all in, a silence broken only by the rushing of the stream in the valley below.

Prayer flags and cairns scattered around a clearing

The majestic Dhauladhars rising above the Deodar forests

In McLeod I saw Tibetans away from their homeland, as they lived and survived. A life in exile – each day a struggle to keep their traditions alive; keeping off the arms of modernism and local culture from snatching away their precious heritage. But more than anything else, they could be seen striving hard against their oppressors – for freedom, for a life of dignity and for the sake of their culture that is being systematically murdered. It was touching and inspiring at the same time to see a community bound by a common faith and the dream of returning to a free Tibet.

Stalls like these are lined all across the streets of McLeod

The place has so much to offer in terms of culture, adventure and volunteering. Treks of varying difficulty and duration can be taken up from here along with any gear or route maps that one may require. Food options are plenty, with so many restaurants that specialize in one or the other cuisines. Better still, the food is deliciously cheap. There is much to learn too in McLeod. And weaving through the numerous lanes and cafes of McLeod, I learned about the various initiatives like the Clean Upper Dharamsala Project – a reflection of Tibetans’ refined culture and their way of living that is in harmony with nature.

Tibetan Children’s Village: an effort at providing a semblance of normality

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the sensitivity the local government has demonstrated on such issues. In spite of the long grievous years of unfair treatment: invaded and exploited by an aggressively developing nation, sheltered yet shunned in another and snubbed, in general, the world over, the Tibetans’ have stuck to non-violence. They aim only to spread awareness and win the support of the international community for their cause in a world that would more easily pay attention to gun-shots and mortar. The cause and effects of the political nuances being played out at India’s northern borders are numerous and the petty bargains with China are keeping a nation’s future and their culture hostage.

A view of McLeod as seen from Dharamkot

McLeod is a sort of place whose beauty reaches out through the shrouds of human activity; its natural serenity in stark contrast with the buzz of life on its streets. It is one of those rare places that derive its color as much from the diversity of its people and their culture as from the enviable position it enjoys in the greens of Himalayas. To some, the place is a refuge, to others a symbol of resistance, while some others look back its way as a summer retreat. For me, McLeod was the end of an era – the most cherished one at that – and the wait for things new and unfamiliar… and a prayer that the wanderlust which grew in my heart then, may never die.

A World Of My Own

Everyday of this life is the sum total of two worlds – one that is shaped to our desires and the other of how life really is. If you are lucky, in a day, most things that come to pass will be parts of both these worlds.

But there will always be some days, when you would do all the right things and yet the only thing that you really wanted then in your life will elude you. It is difficult still, if you actually had that something for sometime. The heart, you see, has a way of holding on to moments, people or simply objects it comes to cherish. And it is then, more than ever, that the two worlds never felt more further apart. There is a terrible void instead that all the activities and objects of the second world are unable to fill in, as the mind continues to dwell in the only place it knows that dear thing still exists – the world of our desires.

Keep Walking

It all began on 22nd of March last year, when for some of us, the idea of going on a trek pipped the thought of celebrating Holi back home. What follows is an account of our journey to Har-ki-Dun, some of which was recorded during the trip itself while portions of it have been added later and lazily enough. While the most convenient time for visiting Har-ki-Dun is between May to August, an off-season trek has its own share of hardships and experience. Here is how the story goes:

Day 0:
Settled within the lower reaches of Garhwal is a peaceful hamlet. A small place – it ends just as abruptly as it begins, the residences fade away into the greens almost as silently as the little town itself. The remnants of a tarmac gradually disappear into a dirt track as the houses are replaced by tall conifers. In the distance, the snow beckons, through chilly weather, rough undulating terrains and water that is insanely cold. The voices of this town’s inhabitants, the tinker of the horses’ bells, the occasional crow of a rooster – all seem as natural as the twitter of the birds nestled high up on the pine trees or the rushing water in the foothills below.
This is Sankri – our first stop after endless hours of bus travel that started from Dehradun: over eight hours of journey through dusty plains, green hills, and over roads precariously narrow and fractured by the recurrent earthquakes. People here are simple, their lives slow but resolute; much like the mountains they dwell in.


Day 1:
We head for Taluka, 11 km. from Sankri – this is where the trek starts-off. As we wait for the jeep’s departure from Sankri, the hours slowly trickle by. The inactivity propels most to contemplate a foot trek from Sankri itself. Thankfully, good sense prevails. It’s not as much the road or the distance but the fact that another stretch of 14 km. awaits us after it that we stick to the jeep.

Conifers lining the slope near Sankri

The road we traveled was, well, hardly a road. It went in all directions and often quite suddenly. And from the luggage rack mounted on top which some of us chose to ride on, the threadbare routes seemed more hostile and the sheer drop off the edges a lot scarier. It was a matter of choosing visual delight over physical comfort as our rears took quite a beating. The unparalleled panoramic view, though, more than made up for everything. As viewed from atop the jeep, the rugged mountain slopes dwarfed all imagination; a sense of some giant hands molding and carving those great Himalayas settled so strongly within me. Titans, if ever they ruled the Earth, must have envisioned something to this effect – the earth rearing to meet the heavens. It took us 45 min. to cover that distance, as the jeep rumbled on, carefully negotiating every precarious turn and drop.

The view from above the jeep

From Taluka, we embark on our first leg of the trek up to Osla-Seema. Osla is a village up on the hills where most folks dwell, and at the base of the hills opposite to it is a cluster of small, rundown huts: Seema. Between the two flows the river Tons – the largest tributary of the Yamuna. There is an interesting legend about this river: The local inhabitants claim to be the descendants of Kauravas. The Duryodhana Temple in the village of Osla is a tangible proof of this belief. Folks say that the Tons, anciently known as Tamas, is formed by the tears of the local people who wept over the defeat of Kauravas in the epic battle of Mahabharatha. The river water is not used for drinking, as according to the belief, the tears still flow.

For most parts of our trek from Taluka, our path ran parallel to the river. Occasionally, the trail departed from the river to take us through dense forests. Here lay the most trying stretch of this leg as the path would rise and fall steeply and all too often. We had the company of a local who was on his way to his village Gangar, just 4 km. before Seema. Consequently, the first 10 km. were covered much faster than we had thought possible. The kind fellow gave us sufficient rests in between but quite obviously that wasn’t as much as we had hoped for. An occasional replenishment through Glucose powder and biscuits and water filled from the clean streams of Himalayas saw us through, as we covered the route up to Gangar in slightly more than three hours. The last 4 km. was a different story altogether. We were on our own, with our energy levels and patience both wearing thin. As a result, after much coaxing and resting and coaxing we covered the final stretch for the day in around two hours.

The stay in the GMVN guesthouse at Seema was alright and the food simple. A small, closed shack served as our kitchen/dining room for the night. The cooking fire provided the necessary heat and way too much smoke. Our eyes smarting and gasping through the suffocation, we downed our meals. We ate more out of necessity as we were going to need every bit of it on the final leg of our journey. The halt though was hardly as cheerful as Sankri.

Day 2:
In the morning we were greeted by a young local who wanted to know if we would like a guide. Since to the extent of our knowledge, one of the rest-houses’ caretaker was supposed to accompany us, we politely declined the offer. There was some confusion about which rest-house to lodge in. We were told that the caretaker will meet us on the bridge further ahead on our path and in the circumstance that we didn’t find them there, to continue walking as they would be sure to catch up with us on our way. From this confusion arose, probably the gravest consequences that almost jeopardized the success of our trek, yet in hindsight, feels like the most interesting thing that could have happened.

Morning @ Seema

We had around 12 km. to cover and although we planned to start earlier, it was nearly 10 a.m. when we did actually make a move. As we made up our way to the bridge, after a breakfast which was hardly better than the previous night’s dinner, the arduous climb leached out much of our morning vigor. At the bridge there was no sign of either of the guides, and following the reassurances given below we continued on the beaten-down track. The balmy morning did all it could to keep our spirits up, and the pastures spread over the slopes with the grazers and the herdsmen made up for a beautiful sight. Over on the other side, giant snow covered peaks stood in stark contrast. We walked fairly fast and from the timely exchanges with the trekkers who crossed our path, managed to stay on the right track.

LOTR-esque fields

The first signs of snow were scarce and sparse and a couple of days old at the least. Although soon there was enough crushed snow; hardened into a slippery, icy layer that made walking up the slope a risky affair indeed. As soon as we crossed this first real impediment, the most frustrating thing happened: we lost our way. We scrambled up and down the slopes and through thorny shrubs all to find anything that would remotely resemble a way forward. Although it was only an hour past noon, the sun was long gone behind dark, ominous clouds – a forecast of the cold evening that was in store for us. This posed a grave question – whether to continue looking for a way ahead or turn back? For without any camping gear a night out in the snow wouldn’t have been too conducive to our healths.  We chose to look around for a little longer. And so after losing a good hour or two we arrived on the path that was there all along, hidden away in the shrubs.
The journey here forth was mostly a matter of sticking to the path but the growing delay made us wonder if choosing to go ahead had been the right thing to do. And so followed the most testing times for us. Clueless and confused, we sorely missed the guide. Snow, now seemed more of a nuisance to our progress, and we dearly hoped the path we trudged along wouldn’t lead us astray. The occasional footprints on the dirt did much to assure us and three hours later we caught a most welcome sight. Right in front of us, on a huge boulder were chalked the words: Welcome to HKD. Oh the relief!

Keep an eye out for this

A couple of shacks that served as GMVN and Forest Department guesthouses were all there was to that desolation. But the sight really did cheer us up and we chose to munch onto some snacks while we waited for the trailing members to arrive. Whatever little hopes we had of meeting the guide here were summarily disposed off. Blanketed in snow and eerily silent, the place had us miles from any civilization. Standing there, watching the sun set, it felt like a different world altogether.

This sight alone made up for all the trouble

So here at the end of all things we stood at our destination – with no fire or shelter as dusk fast enveloped the surroundings making the desolation absolute. Thus began a spate of break-ins and trespasses as we tried to salvage the necessities from the vacant guesthouse. One of the doors had to be smashed open in order to gain access to the beds. Outside, it had grown forbidding as the temperature dropped rapidly and the water chilled the very bones. Without any kerosene oil, the insufficiently dry wood refused to catch fire and soon we gave up on our attempts at that. This meant that our evening meal comprised of uncooked noodles and the enclosed Tastemaker™ that went straight to our mouths. And frankly, that wasn’t all that bad. It was a solemn bunch of people – all five huddled together in a single room under layers of blanket that went off to sleep that night.

Day 3:

A view of the valley in morning @ Har-ki-Dun

We awoke early the next morning to capture the unspoilt view the place had to offer and to take-off before the snow started to melt. Even as the first rays of sun warmed us up, we set-off back for Osla after doing the little we could to set straight the remnants of forced entry. Early in the morning, the firm snow made for an easier walk. That and the downhill walk for most parts saw us covering our distances rapidly.

Set in Contrast

Within four hours we had returned to the twin villages. Our way ahead now had two choices – one meant retracing our way precisely back through Seema and beyond while the other offered a way through Osla which eventually descended to meet the previous route half a kilometer beyond the village.

Pastures near Osla

The network coverage disappears a couple of miles before Sankri and in order to get in touch with our families, we decided to head for Osla. It was here the most unsettling events of our trip unfolded. Near the STD booth, of all people, we came across the aged caretaker of the guesthouse we had chosen to ransack for our survival in that desolate wilderness. Drunk as he was at the middle of the day, his incessant probing enlightened him to the damage our (mis-)adventures had caused. The truth of our deeds stirred him into a drunken frenzy and he went about asking for a compensation of ten thousand bucks. Needless to say our refusal to comply further pissed him off and he offered to detain us until he could send someone to verify the extent of damages caused.
His foul mouth and temper had now really started to rub against us the wrong way. We tried to make him understand the helplessness of our circumstances and how he was partially to blame for failing to turn up as promised. For all it was worth, we could have argued with a brick. Eventually though, rest of the village-folk joined our cause and tried to make him understand. They prepared us noodles from the stock we were carrying with us. Those people really helped us suffer the old man and funnily enough ensured he didn’t come running after us in his drunken stupor as we left the place after handing him four hundred bucks as damages. And to think we could have avoided the whole confrontation if only we would have taken the other route.

Something that still justifies taking the route through Osla

We hadn’t quite made up our minds when we moved from Har-ki-Dun: whether to halt at Osla or keep pushing it all the way to Taluka and maybe Sankri. The above course of events though made that choice for us and we hurried on to our next stop: Taluka. It had started to pour when we were still a few miles from Taluka and the already difficult path through the forest became near treacherous at places. We walked into the sleepy town even as the lights began to fade away. We had covered, in all, more than 26 km. that day and were still hoping to catch the jeep back to Sankri. That place felt most like home somehow. Although the ride through the rough, narrow terrain gets dangerous at dusk, we succeeded in coaxing the driver to drop us off at Sankri. The extra money was of course probably still his biggest motivation. It was a pleased albeit a little tired bunch of five people that alighted at Sankri. We feasted and rested that night, filled with a sense of accomplishment all that while. We had an early morning bus to catch – to take us to Dehradun, to take us back to the clamor of civilization.

At Har-ki-Dun, I discovered the joy of being there and back again….

Silent Must be Heard

I am a the Common Man. I’m too busy with the mundane affairs of my life (job, bills, weekends et al) to be able to spare my time or energy to fast for the cause of a Jan Lokpal Bill. I try to find the time to update myself with the nuances of the schemes wrought within the Parliament and without. I admit, I am sometimes unable to do even so much. I have expressed my support for the Bill by discussing and/or arguing it over with my friends and acquaintances. I have signed/promoted/forwarded petitions demanding the same. I have blogged and tweeted and updated my Facebook status.

I believe I’ve made my stand on this issue fairly obvious to the world around by now, which to the best of my knowledge includes my government, its elected leaders & lawmakers and media. And yet if these incompetent fools, interpret my absence from the MMRDA grounds and other such places all over the nation as a proof of my being in favor of the sheer shamelessness being played out within the houses of Parliament, I wonder if blowing the whole damned building down – and the lot within it – is what it would take to make myself heard… a little clearly this time.