Monday, September 26, 2011

III. The Seers of Ayda

I. The pain of Ayda.
II. How Ayda came to be.

On the higher foothills of the Kshitidarr, there is a small mountain pass above the snow line from where it is easy to see leagues ahead. But most times the view from there was spoiled by clouds. Not that it meant much, because the men who dwelt there were never interested in watching over worldly affairs. They prayed for an existence that Ayda could not offer. They wanted heaven - not for the lure of its pleasures but for a union with the souls that ever left Ayda - the brave, the wise, and the beautiful.

Summers when the rays of Vetar would meet the snows was a short period here. And when a summer happened, you could see them all out on the slopes with their arms raised skywards in a gesture of submission. And when it got dreadfully cold in the long winter, they crept into the caves and crouched inside in their dirty blankets, still mumbling the chants held sacred. Five of them were considered to be the elders. Riders going to meet the King always found the elders in the open. The elders braved the winters and stayed outside in the same posture till they were buried in snow. It was as if they never moved. Food was a forgotten memory-they drew their nourishment from the elements.

The young ones in Ayda were told that the prayers of elders and the other pious men were the reason for all that was good in their kingdom. It was rare for a kid to not know the story of how these men could transfer their souls to any thing that moved.

One had to get across this high pass to get to the cairn of the Great King.

On that day, Garde stopped in the distance and hovered over the pass, and Aniveh and his dispatch riders wondered why. Given the nature of the assignment, Garde should have gone straight to the cairn to give the King the message of great grief.

Their horses struggled up the mountain pass and it was some time before Aniveh and his party reached the top point of the pass. The sight that awaited them brought an old curse loud to their lips, almost in unison. Out there on the snow patches, thick blood was frozen on what was four ice statues. Aniveh knew instantly that four of the elders had crossed over to the other side. A hole existed on all four ice structures at about the height of a man's heart, from which the blood had poured out. When exactly, no one could tell.

Strangely enough, it was the beginning of summer, but the other men who usually would be seen outside immersed in their prayers were not to be seen.Anxiously, Aniveh surveyed the fifth statue, the one that was always positioned at the highest reach on the pass. That was the point for the Eldest among the elders, so to speak. The Eldest showed no signs of blood, and Aniveh heaved a sigh of relief. He dismounted and motioned to half of his men to check the elders, and walked up to the Eldest with the remaining company.

With bare hands, they removed the snow and ice packed on the body. It took them some time, as the winter was just over, and the snow-covering on the body was yet to melt away. Finally they cleaned off the icicles and the visage of the Eldest came to view.

Aniveh sprang back in shock as he looked at the face of the holiest man in the kingdom. The face of the Eldest was blue - the darkest shade of the color possible. Visions of his sister, the princess, came floating in, and his grief was beyond measure.

He did not even feel the hand of his deputy on his shoulders trying to reassure him that things may not be as bad as it seemed. Then something happened that jolted him back to reality.

The shriek of Garde, who took to flight in the direction of the cairn of the Great King. Shouting commands to two of his soldiers to search for the missing men on the hills, Aniveh mounted his horse and galloped away through the pass at a pace never witnessed in those reaches. His company tried in vain to keep up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chro: Jan 3, 2008

Steven did not come that day, he was off on a hunting vacation. They send a junior doc who looked intelligent.

Jr Doc: Jim, Good day?

Yes. Good day, except Steve is out hunting, which does not sit well with me.

Jr Doc: I wonder why it does not sit well with you!

Well, it brings back old memories that I do not like. Forget about it.

Jr Doc: No, tell me. Steve has told me you're a good conversationalist.

That's charitable of him. Personally, I really like to forget the 1930s. It was like I was doing God's work, helping the villagers stay safe. I was in Kumaon, in British India, and the region I was in was infested with tigers.

Jr Doc: Wait a minute. You said 1930s?

You asked for it and a good conversation you shall get. If you will not interrupt, the villagers called me Corbett the Savior, and I used to go alone to hunt down the tigers that cost them their livelihoods and in some cases their lives. It was an enriching experience. I wanted to write a book about the man eaters of Kumaon, but before I could write that, I ended up here. [Sigh]

Jr Doc: Oh Really! What happened that brought you here?

I know you don't believe what I'm saying. You think I'm cookin up stuff. Not that I care what you believe, so here's what happened. I was hunting these terrible animals down with the zest of an evangelist who wasn't afraid to take the gun. Then one fine day, I was sitting there in my pajamas, planning my offensive, smoking a bidi, when a little kid called Biddu came up and told me in Hindi "Saheb, you have started looking like a tiger." I thwacked his head jovially, and walked into the forest to hunt the menace which was the bloodiest I've ever encountered. This tiger had killed 3 people in the last 2 weeks.

Jr Doc: Ok...

Truth be told, I emerged victorious in a jiffy. The tiger was distracted or idle after a fine man-meal, and I shot it dead easily. Then I stopped to drink water from a light current flowing nearby and I saw my reflection in the water - my face was furry. My moustache was longer than usual with the strands separated in a sweet polished feline fashion. I blinked at the reflection and my eyes looked bloodshot.  My mouth went dry and I used my tongue to wet it and my tongue came up to my eyes. I then remembered what Biddu mentioned, and I ripped my fatigues apart and I saw - I had them stripes on my chest - of the tiger. In anguish, I cried aloud, but it sounded more like a fierce roar in the forest. I had become the very animal that I wanted to hunt.Grotesque!
Or so, I made myself believe that day.

Jr Doc: Why couldn't you shake yourself off that thought and get back to life?

I did get out of that, but before I could do it, the villagers heard my roar and came running. I bit Biddu's dad's head off  before I knew it. The next thing I know, I'm in your facility.

Jr Doc: Hmm - Too bad. [Injection] This should help you sleep for a while - Mr. Jim la la Corbett.

The drug that is flowing through my veins seems to help, after a long gap of about seventy five years. Hey Doc, look..

Jr Doc: What?

Look at my sharp claws.[Sink]

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wikileaks Kerala

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/01/2018
REF: DIA REPORT AUG. 30 2007 S-119 883-07/CNT
Classified By: Political Officer Parnell Steward for reasons best known to him.

1. (S) SUMMARY: Kerala is a south Indian state that is vital to our ilmenite interests. However, the state is a communist/socialist outpost and 50% of people refuse to believe in the capitalist model. The problem is not the people, but urban legends. END SUMMARY.

2. On May 5, 2009, 6 poloffs (political officers) met with the Chief Minister of Kerala, Mr. VSAP, who expressed dismay at the cultural misunderstanding between East and West. Our officers were taken aback by his frank gestures and communications [He reminded Officer 2 of a Noh dancer, but we’re not allowed Japanese jokes here - FYEO].

3. Our attache was there, and he asked how communism thrives in Kerala. Mr. VSAP kept saying “revolutionary democracy”, “Poland”,and more frequently a word called “Onam”.

4. During this time, Officer 3 googled and found that Onam was some sort of Thanksgiving in this part of the world. Apparently, there was a bad [terrorist/asura] king by the name Mahabali aka Maveli who ruled this land a long time ago -thousands of years before Amerigo Vespucci was born. And he was ambushed by the good folk [Vamana/Vishhu], for the good of the people. There was a peculiar problem though, because the asura/terrorist king was pretty good with his ways and people adored him. He was a suave dude who made sure everyone got the cut. Everyone in Kerala was equal in wealth and status under his rule. Before banishing Mahabali to the netherworld, the powers that be granted him a wish - to return to see his folks in Kerala once a year. That homecoming festival is celebrated as Onam.

5. Our attaché, after receiving this input, and firmly digesting it [the indigestion it caused him is still the butt of jokes in the White House], asked Mr. VSAP how the f, he managed to retain a pseudo socialist government against all odds, especially from his own comrades who wanted to ditch him. And he laughed the laugh of a Prajapati. He admitted that that the legend of Onam was a socialist creation. [He belched.] Mr. VSAP said that it was an urban legend, so that the people of Keairlaa [sic], believed that they have a socialist past. They were all illustrious once-in ancient times-all were equal and thriving, till the capitalist Devas led by Vamana took it all away. The story of that day is just that. Vamana and Mahabali were all creations of an emancipated [EMS] mind. But the people believe, and that matters. Mr. VSAP went on to harvest some more crops of the ideology that was fertilized with the thoughts of a German atheist.

6. Mr. VSAP then spoke ill about the parents of a dead NSG commando, all his political opponents, and an erstwhile ruler of Travancore. He was getting worked up, so we offered him what we were carrying. He was skeptical about our offering, but then he saw that it was ice cream that was made in the US, tasted it, and praised it saying nothing available in Kerala was in its League. And then Mr. VSAP danced on his way to the rest room. After coming back he laughed....and hummed "Manushar ellarum onnu pole". Our translators say that it means "people are all equal". [Potentially explosive socialist thought] While we were leaving, he called us from behind and shouted "Happy Onam".

7. Apparently, someone named O.V Vijayan called up our attache to say he is turning in his grave.


This is fabrication.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Once upon a time in March (Deoria Tal, Tungnath, Rishikesh Rafting) - 3

Part 3: Whitewater Rafting in Rishikesh

[Part 1 can be found here: Deoria Tal.]
[Part 2 can be found here: Tungnath.]

When we woke up the next morning the sun was shining down brightly on Syalsaur GMVN. The cottages here are pretty good, and the views are breathtaking. Syalsaur is becoming a popular destination for honeymoon couples.

We started our journey to Rishikesh by around 10. We lunched again at Cozy Restaurant in Shrinagar. 
Starting from Rudraprayag, we could see the occasional beaches and camps on them by the side of the Ganges. The road traces the path of the river, and we spotted a good number of rafts navigating the river.

By around 3 or 4 in the evening we reached the signpost which said “Camp River Wilds”. We could see dense vegetation for a long distance ahead and a steep trail down, but no human presence, save us. [Smacks head, for expecting a receptionist in the wilderness.] We called up Sanjay, who runs the operation who was on his way from Dehra Dun to meet us at the camp. He told me that we were supposed to yell “Virender” at the top of our voice and the blow the bus horn three times! It worked better than Morse code, as Virender yelled from somewhere inside the vegetation “Coming Sir”. "Virender" apparently was no "Abra cadabra", but the guy in charge of things.

Virender came up and we dragged the luggage down for a couple of hundred metres. The worry of hauling our luggage up while going back did cross all our minds. But, that worry had still two days left to fester. Anyway, soon we were greeted by the sight of our camp and the vast expanse of our private beach on the Ganges!

Though we had seen pictures on the Internet, I was a bit concerned whether the beach would be as good as was being claimed. This was more than what we expected. 

There were close to 12 camps, out of which we took 8 on a twin sharing basis. After dropping the luggage, some of us played volleyball, some just sat around chatting, while a few ended up just gazing at the place. 

The mound in the picture below buries the volleyball.

Sanjay joined us for the camp fire and he briefed us about the camp, its facilities, and the flora and fauna surrounding it. He warned us against venturing into the water without lifejackets. Many a people have learnt that lesson in the past, without living to tell the story. He explained the story of the evolution of rafting in India, especially in the Ganges. 

A few notes about the camp:
Makeshift restrooms are called “Thunder-boxes” here. :-)
They keep lanterns in front of each tent. Trust me it’s too romantic an atmosphere.
Food is really yummy. If the camp fire is going on, they keep serving you starters. 

The camp fire lasted a long time and it started with jokes, stories, and songs, and ended up with the bane of most Indian gatherings – the Anthakshari. It was fun in the end as some of us managed to cook up songs (the dreaded Laksmikant-Pyarelal combination) without the others not even noticing. 

Our rafting would start by 10 in the morning the next day. The day’s session was going to be long, as we would raft the complete stretch from our camp to Rishikesh. I think whitewater rafting is an undersold or misunderstood adventure sport in India. The excitement it gives and the relative safety of the sport should be enough to keep all rafts in the country occupied. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I remember watching “World of Sports” in Doordarshan years back, and wondering “Are these guys crazy, what’s the fun in the that?” All of that attitude changed when we rafted in the Kali River in Dandeli (Karnataka) during our office outing in 2010. It was electrifying and at the end of that session which was about an hour or so long, all of us ended up asking for more. Tomorrow we’re going to heed that request.

By the way, we call it whitewater rafting because white is the color of the water in the rapids, because of the turbulence, bubbles, and foam. 

The third person from the left in the picture below is Kruthi, the fastest currency counter in the world.
Another currency counter.
Water level was good the next morning, and we started after a briefing by our two captains – Sudheer and Virender. The raft manned by Sudheer had two huge paddles, which meant relatively less rafting effort on the occupants. I ended up in the other normal raft where we had to work our ass off, thanks to my immediate show of hands when they asked “how many of you have rafted before?”

All good rapids have names, and a story behind those names. In today’s stretch, we would cover rapids like Three blind mice (there are three rapids in this - one after the other, and you wouldn’t see the next one till the current one is over – hence the “blind” analogy), Golfcourse, Money Maker (an innocuous rapid named so because early rafters made a good amount of money with it.), Black Money (an industrialist has a huge property by its side. Duh - Don’t ask me why the name?). We started off with a Level 1 rapid, called Sweet Sixteen. It's a mild rapid, and I don't know if it's named so because nonrafters lose their rafting virginity here.

Hours went by, as we rafted like crazy, jumped into the water occasionally in placid stretches, splashed water at each other, (what is it about splashing water at others that people love so much?). Splashing also led to Sudheer’s famous quip – if I use my long paddle, you are going to be in trouble.

We negotiated one rapid by standing on the raft. It felt almost like standing in a BMTC bus going through a heavily potholed road. In another rapid, we entered the water and caught hold of the ropes on the side of the raft – something called body surfing.
This was the eureka moment. People tend to weigh less in water. Pulling them up is a breeze.

Golf course turned out to be the toughest, and Saurav actually fell into the water by mistake. We somehow got back to rafting, and he somehow came back into the raft. Those were anxious moments, but one good thing about rafting is the safety jacket and helmet. Unless you get stuck somewhere, you wouldn’t drown, even if you don’t know how to swim. Presence of mind is however the key - and we found that he has oodles of it.

We stopped by the wayside for some snacks and some of us went cliff-jumping – jumping off the top of a 30 ft(?) rock into the river. Yes, unless you have guessed it by now, our team does have some serious thrill issues.
By around 2 or so the rafting for the day was over. The hard part was getting the rafts on to our vehicle. We helped (most of us I think pretended to help, by putting a few fingers on the raft already up in the air.) 
That's Kumar, playing javelin with the paddles.

The basic lunch tasted pretty good, thanks to the exertion of the past few hours.

We drove back to our camp and relaxed for a while. Most of us found relaxation a painful task and took to playing games again. 
An idle mind is a devil’s workshop. Want proof?

In all this, there was one nagging question. Did our captains judge us good to scale The Wall? The Wall is a level 4 rapid (the biggest that we did was level 3, but the rapid scale is kind of exponential.), and easily the mother of all rapids in accessible India. One of the office posters was in fact centered on the Wall. 

We checked with them and both Sudheer and Virender said that our level of rafting was not fit to scale The Wall tomorrow. We went by their recommendation that “The Wall is no joke” and would do a smaller stretch tomorrow.

That night was a repeat telecast of the previous night’s proceedings. Next day morning, we bid goodbye to Camp River Wilds and took our oars again. The imagined agony of hauling our luggage up turned out to be a non-issue, as the camp folks took care of it. Our luggage would meet us downstream at the end of our rafting session.

There’s no point in discussing the day’s rafting, as it was only part of the previous days stretch. It was more enjoyable though because we got into the water more often and took it at a relaxed pace. We also visited the Agustya Gupha (cave).
Walking back to the raft.

I joined the paddle boat so we could shoot some videos. Unfortunately, we couldn’t shoot the Level 2+ rapids, because we might lose the camera too.

The rafting that day ended in a free massage in a rivulet that feeds the Ganges. The water here massages you in a way no masseur (or masseuse for that matter) can.
Gossip session, in the middle of all this.Can you believe it?

This video captures 30% of what we did.

In the evening, we reached Haridwar, and watched the Ganga Aarti.

 Waiting for the Aarti to begin, boredom not showing in Nirmal's and Sudhir's fcaes.
We did some shopping, and while doing that, realized that the original plan of playing Holi in Hardwar the next day was shot. Holi is supposed to be India’s festival of colors – a happy event. I don’t know if this is true of entire North India, but Holi (as we saw it) was just an excuse to ched (is there an English equivalent of that word?) girls. We found guys in bikes telling small kids, which girls to target with colors. Obviously you wouldn’t hit a kid, would you? We found color packets raining down from the upper floors of the dense crossways of Haridwar. Thankfully, none of us got drenched or anything, and we made it back to the comfort of our hotel, but it was disturbing. 

We went with the hotel owner’s recommendation and just relaxed in the hotel the next day. Which turned out to be a good thing after all, after all the efforts of the past one week. Zipped to Delhi (on the the way we had our dinner at Sher-e-Punjab in Rudrapur) and flew to Bangalore. Case closed (for now).