Thoughts On Finding Fanny: Of Goa, Gabo And Guffaws

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Somewhere in the midst of watching Finding Fanny, I thought of Wes Anderson and his delightful The Grand Budapest Hotel. Both movies open with a narrator setting the context for what lies ahead. Here, it’s Angie (Deepika Padukone) describing a fictitious place in Goa  – Pocolim, as a “puppet-show as large as a village”. A reasonably interesting bunch of characters are then introduced, most of them slightly dysfunctional, setting the stage for a promising plot. Unfortunately, that’s where any similarity between the two movies ends (well, there is a common thread of a feline meeting a violent death, not sure whether that was coincidental or an intentional hat-tip).

Anderson lords over the quirky/whimsical genre of film-making, with an attention to detail, depth of characterisation, and deft touches that made TGBH such an engrossing masterpiece. In stark contrast, Homi Adajania, who made an impressive debut with Being Cyrus, disappoints with his latest effort.

The story revolves around Pocolim’s postmaster Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah)’s search for the eponymous Fanny, the love of his life, forty six years after he let her slip away.  Angie orchestrates matters such that Rosie, her matronly mother-in-law with the ample behind (Dimple Kapadia), the local artist Don Pedro who lusts after Rosie as his muse (Pankaj Kapur), and Angie’s admirer from the past, the Bombay-returned Savio (Arjun Kapoor), are their fellow travellers on this quest. FF1

This basic premise of the five companions who band together for a road trip feels like a slightly contrived setup. Ok, Savio still pines for Angie and maybe can’t say no to her, but there’s no reason for Rosie to be there, except that she then becomes the bait to get Don Pedro into the scheme of things – and of course, he loans his car too. It’s almost like Adajania doesn’t care too much for details, he just wants to somehow bundle up his cast of characters for a madcap ride.

The overall attempt is to be drolly..and cool.. and deep and poignant too, but its badly hampered by the fact that the movie tries very hard to be all of these. (Exhibit 1 – The conversation between Angie and Savio about post-coitus rolling over and falling asleep).  There are scenes that fall straight in the realm of bad slapstick (Exhibit 2 –  the Don Pedro tea-biscuit scene). There is a longing for the Goa of yore and a veiled reference to how this once idyllic town is being taken over by the mafia (Exhibit 3 – Scene with the loony Russian).   At best, these kind of sequences elicit some forced guffaws. An extremely weak climax also doesn’t help at all – a clumsy attempt to tie things up at the end works at cross purposes with all that the film has tried to be till then.

It’s probably not a stretch to figure out where Adajania gets his inspiration from.  Angie’s backstory is that she was widowed on her wedding day – her caricature for a husband (Ranveer Singh in a fleeting cameo), chokes on the marzipan , but the real reveal is that his character is named Gabo. The imaginary village of Pocolim is very likely Adajania’s version of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo.  Goa is beautifully shot in the film, and Pocolim, with its coconut palms, churches and bylanes evokes a nostalgic feel for a quaintly magical place. Like in Marquez’s novels, those who feature in Ferdie’s quest for love have their own imaginary world intertwined with the reality of their lives.

What I felt really let down by, is that Adjania had such a first-rate cast at his disposal. Naseer and Pankaj Kapur could have done these roles in their sleep – competent all right, but more clichéd than compelling.  Arjun Kapoor is still finding his way, has promise.

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Deepika Padukone is resplendently gorgeous, lighting up every frame with her presence . Dimple Kapadia seems to be having fun wiggling her bottom and delivering lines like ‘wine is not good for me because… it makes me spread my legs’, with panache.

So yes,  I get that this is not a movie with a story line,  is more a metaphor for life, about how we are all lost in our solitude, etc.  But its a bit all over the place, and loses its way often. A lot of the dialogue has a Konkani lilt (I ‘toh’ felt, etc)  , which is good.. but in between, Angie also comes up with a  “return of the prodigal son” kind of line which feels oddly out of place in that particular conversation.

The characters are half-baked, we don’t feel for them like we should. At least I didn’t.

Finding Fanny, for me, felt like a recipe which has mouth-watering ingredients, which fail to come together as a dish that you can savour.

Categories: Movies Tags:

Zola Budd, redux.. 30 years on.

August 27, 2014 Leave a comment

zola_buddZola Budd was my first crush from the world of international sport. Ok, technically speaking, John McEnroe came before her, but let’s put that one down as an obsession and not a crush (by then, I was quite sure of my sexual orientation).

If you’re in your forties or older, her name will probably ring a familiar bell. Zola Budd’s anticipated clash with American Mary Decker in the women’s 3000m was the most hyped up contest during the build up to the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984.

As personalities, they were very different. Mary Decker, reigning world champion and regarded as the greatest distance runner of the time, was America’s darling and hometown favourite. She had to miss the Moscow games in 1980 due to the cold-war caused boycott, and an entire nation desperately wanted her to win her deserved Olympic gold medal this time. Zola was the shy, almost waif-like 18 year old barefoot running prodigy from South Africa, who had been hastily (and controversially) granted British citizenship to enable her to compete in the Olympics – South Africa was barred from all international sport those days because of the apartheid regime.

The race took place on a summer day in August, 1984 – thirty years ago, almost to the week. As it happened, it did live up to all the pre-event billing, but in a different sort of way. A New York Times article described what happened in a recap piece:

Before a screaming crowd of 85,149 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Miss Decker led for more than four laps of the 7 1/2-lap race. Then, on a turn, Miss Budd edgedmd
a foot or so ahead on the outside. They bumped for a moment, which happens often in this sport. Seconds later, they made contact again, and Miss Decker and her hopes went sprawling on the ground.

At a post-race news conference, a teary Decker declared, “I hold Budd responsible for what happened. I didn’t do anything wrong.”  Budd, initially disqualified from the race, was later reinstated to her seventh-place finish.  

Indeed, the image of an inconsolably weeping Mary Decker being carried out from the stadium by her husband, was one among the most enduring images from that Olympics.

Young readers may not be able to relate to this, but those were the days of no internet, no YouTube and a grand total of one (government owned) channel on TV. So watching endless replays at will wasn’t an option for us. Given the huge press that the incident generated, I did manage to see clips from the race a couple of times later on news bulletins and the like. In the throes of my teenage crush, I was of course, firmly convinced that Zola was not at fault. After an investigation, the authorities came to the same conclusion.
zb_mdBy all accounts, the incident also cost Zola Budd a possible Olympic winning finish. The stadium erupted with boos immediately after Decker fell down, Zola’s eyes welled up with tears, and she faded away in the race from then on. She said later that she did not want to win after what happened, fearing the expected hostile reaction from an emotional home crowd. She also maintained that she never saw footage of the race again.

 

 

Budd then trained to compete in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But just before the event, she was engulfed in controversy again, when African nations alleged that she had competed in an event in South Africa. Despite her claim that she had merely attended the event as a spectator, the Athletics Federation suspended her from the Olympic event. She did make an appearance in the 1992 games, this time representing her home country, which by now had been reinstated into the sporting fraternity after Nelson Mandela became President. However, illness hampered her performance, and she never won an Olympic medal in her running career.

After three decades, I read about Zola Budd in the news recently, and as you may have guessed, it was about another controversy at a running event. The Comrades marathon is one of the toughest ultra-marathon events in the world. Participants have to complete a distance of about 90km in under 12 hours, plus a number of timing cut-off points along the route, each of which runners must reach by a prescribed time, or be forced to retire from the race.

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Zola Budd (now Zola Pieterse), age 48, finished the 2014 Comrades in 6 hours, 55 minutes. She placed 7th overall and first in her age category, earning her a gold medal. She was however later stripped of her title following accusations that she did not display the required age category tag while running. As of now, Budd has challenged the decision, and is contemplating legal redress. In an interview, she said, “My whole athletics career has been plagued by politics and interference from administrators who are selective and do not apply the rules consistently.”

I’ve can’t but help wonder as to how one dramatic event sometimes alters the course for the rest of one’s life. While Zola Budd did seem to move on from 1984 and apparently made her peace with life, it’s funny that controversy somehow manages to rear its head in her life every now and then.

What if, I think.. what if there was no collision that August day, and Zola Budd had actually gone on to win the race that day. How would her life have turned out then..

But then, C’est la vie, I guess.

Here’s the video of the 1984 race. The pivotal moment comes after the half way point in the clip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Annapurna Circuit Trek, April 2014 – Thoughts, and a Trek Diary

April 28, 2014 1 comment

 

 

In your life there are a few places, where something has happened. And then there are the other places, which are just other places.

                                                                                              —— Alice Munro, Face

The summer of last year was a disappointing one, at least for my trekking attempts. Planned three treks. Had to bail out on two of them at the last minute, and one fizzled out. The only thing that actually resulted was major frustration and some very bad haiku (worry not, dear reader – that was my first and last attempt at verse).

This year promised better things. All the organising and scheduling were done by others who were far more efficient & capable, all I had to do was show up. Having never done the Nepal side of the Himalayas before, Gokyo Ri–Everest Base Camp sounded very enticing. EBC is a boost to the ego, and the Gokyo trail meant that you avoid the ‘highway route’ to Kala Pathar. I couldn’t wait for the flight to Delhi and then onwards to Kathmandu.

DSCN1922As John Lennon famously said, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Landed in Kathmandu all right, but bad weather forced cancellations of all Ktm- Lukla flights the next day, and the outlook didn’t look good at all for the next couple of days. A quick confab, and we decided that rather than being at the mercy of the weather, we’ll head out west from Kathmandu instead of east and do the Annapurna Circuit (AC) trek instead.

 

 

Karma, I guess. Two of my three aborted trips last year were to be to the Annapurna range. Der aaye, due to rust aaye, I told myself.

The AC route is generally regarded among the trekking community as one of the best treks in the world. It spans a clutch of 8000m+ peaks – Manasulu, Annapurna I, Dhaulagiri.. and nestled between the last two is the Thorung La crossing. At 18000 feet, Thorung La is the highest point of the route and the Circuit goes around the Annapurna ranges down into the majestic Kali Gandaki, which is the deepest gorge in the world.

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The views enroute are spectacular too. Snow-capped peaks greet you very early on, stunningly beautiful scenery all through competes for top spots in your memory archive as you traverse the majestic mountain ranges. The Annapurna Circuit is undoubtedly the best trek I have done, an absolute must-do in any bucket list of treks.

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Sensory delights apart, these sojourns in the mountains also unfailingly offer meta level lessons. Stirring thoughts inside you, leaving behind impressions which are often transformative, long after you get back to your regular life routines. This one was no different.

A casual conversation with N, the American who runs the tea house in Gumsang on the way to Yakkharka, led to this quote from him “You don’t come and live in the mountains to get rich. But I have a wealth of peace and quiet here.” On the way to Thorung Phedi, a truly unique experience of seeing a mother yak delivering her baby by the side of the trail, triggered a myriad of thoughts on rights, liberty, nature, ethics, etc. (more details in the trek diary below, includes video). Enroute to Ngawal,  we gaped at an avalanche that broke out on an adjacent mountain, awe-struck. And then came back home after the trip to read about the sherpas killed in another one on Everest, because they were unlucky to be on the same mountain when the avalanche broke out, and not an adjacent one like we were. In a parallel universe, probably would have happened the other way around.

But above all, these magnificent mountains are a reminder of the sheer insignificance of our individual self in the larger scheme of things, also known as the Universe. After our descent from Thorung la into Muktinath, we bought ‘shaligrams’ (ammonites), from local vendors – black limestone ferreted out from the Kali Gandaki river which contain fossils of shell fishDSCN2185 and other sea creatures inside.

The Himalayas are the youngest mountains in the world, created when Continental Drift caused the Indian part of the Gondwana-landmass to split away from the African continent, move across the Indian Ocean, and slam into Eurasia from below, giving birth to these spectacular mountain terrains. Sitting a thousand miles away at home in Bangalore, as I look at this souvenir from our trip, it’s mind-boggling to think of the journey this creature has made, from a deep ocean millions of years ago, to a place inside a rock in one of the highest places on earth. Really puts everything about your life in perspective.

A trek, like life, is always about the journey, not the destination. Whenever the mountains have come calling, it’s been an experience of a lifetime. Every time.

“Annapurna, to which we had gone empty-handed, was a treasure on which we should live the rest of our days. With this realization we turn the page: a new life begins. There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.”

                                                                        ——–   Maurice Herzog, Annapurna

 

A trek is also about the people who you’re with. My best ones have been with folks who made the whole journey unforgettable with loads of camarderie, laughter and fun. This nice little montage put together by B captures the mood of our trek perfectly.

 

So here’s to all the memories, guys.. thanks for all the hasee & khushi, and a fantastic couple of weeks.

 

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Ladki, kulfi, khukri – the labels were many, but she defies categorisation. Her wish to see snow got fulfilled chappar-phaadke (though by the end, she had enough of it to last a lifetime :-)  ). After years of making plans and one almost-made-it attempt, we finally trekked together. Here’s to many more.

 

 

 

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My boss’s boss at the workplace more than a decade ago. Great to see you again after so many years, in a different avatar :-) . Fantastic to trek with – all the wisecracks, the steady pace, mentally so strong. Also my role model for life after 45.

 

 

 

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Has canoed in the Zambesi river dodging crocs, among other things. Cool as a cucumber. Chief planner. Account keeper and our annadaata. Insanely fit. A walking Wikipedia on anything and everything to do with the mountains. In short, ‘Bond’.

 

 

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London-waasi, Bombay born & bred, but with pahaadi genes that make him streak like a mountain goat across difficult trails. Generous, effervescent, bubbly, a morale booster in any situation. DJ extraordinaire. Unsurpassed at selfies.

 

 

Yours truly. Not to be taken seriously, mostly. DSCN2051

 

TRIP DIARY

Kathmandu to Besishehar

DSCN1903We land in Kathmandu on a humid afternoon to a welcome of garlands. Inching our way through city traffic, we finally check into the Thamel Eco resort – clean, functional and right in the heart of the shopping  DSCN1911district. Nice lunch at New Orleans café, a visit to Pandeyji’s office to get our permits and porters organized.. we are now free to walk around the streets of Thamel, checking out curios to pick up on our way back and do a bit of trek shopping. Dinner is at the iconic Rum Doodle bar, a place to visit more for the hype and lore than the quality of the food.

Our flight to Lukla is next morning, we make a touchdown at the Pashupati temple enroute to the airport. Seems like god has other things in store for us, though. We spend hours at the airport, waiting forlornly for our flight. Turns out the weather has made it impossible – no flights take off that day. From the reports we get, seems like the chances of getting a flight are very low for the next couple of days too. By afternoon, we have made a decision (amazing that we do so, and is a credit to the people I travel with). Gokyo-EBC is replaced with the Annapurna Circuit route instead. V graciously agrees to the plan too – he had done the AC route a dozen years ago. It’s a happy memory for him, as he first met his future wife on that trek.

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So we are back again in Pandeyji’s office. Maps are opened, and a quick re-scheduling of routes and stops are made. Our guide Dhurba gets the new permits, and we start a 6 hour drive from Kathmandu to Besishehar, which is the start point for the AC trek.

 

Besi Shehar (Chamche) – Dharapani

DSCN1934A short drive in the morning from our overnight halt at Besi shehar gets us to Chamche. After a sumptuous breakfast of Tibetian bread, omelettes and chai, we “officially start trekking”. The trail leads us through an DSCN1949 unfolding landscape of deep gorges and swaying bridges. We are a chirpy bunch, happy to be finally walking on our feet. In an hour, reach an arched entrance which leads to Taal – and offers a stunning vista of a pristine lake flanked by a sandy bank on one side and rolling hills on the other. Running like excited children towards the water, we click away on our cameras/phones. It’s amazing what a sight like this on the first day of a trek does to lift your spirits. It really does set a positive tenor for the rest of the journey.

 

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Reach our first day rendezvous, Dharapani, late in the afternoon, at about 4ish. B & V race ahead to find a nice tea house tucked away from the main street, which has nice rooms, plus a courtyard. Copious quantities of pakodas and hot ginger lemon tea are consumed, and the menu is enhanced later by good ol’ Khukri rum. I also discover first-hand how luxuriously different trekking in Nepal is, compared to my earlier treks in the Indian side of the Himalayas – hot shower, a nice bed with blankets, properly built loos… it’s a completely different experience from holing up in a tiny cramped tent, spending cold nights sleeping on hard ground, toilet tents.

 

Dharapani – Chamye

The alarm sounds out loud and clear at 4 AM. Except, none of us had any plans of waking up at such an unearthly hour, it’s an enthusiastic rooster in the vicinity who thinks we should be up bright and early. So anyway, we set off by 7 AM,DSCN1963 a  commendable routine that we would faithfully adhere to, for the rest of the trek.

DSCN1973Today, the path winds through a forest-like stretch with small, gurgling streams – which cause this region’s version of minor traffic jams. An amazing aspect of the Annapurna Circuit is that we get our first sighting of snow-capped peaks at this very early stage of the route (and as I would discover, these sights get even more breath-taking further up). Manasulu and then Lumjung elicit plenty of oohs and aahs, as we walk with our necks craned upwards.

 

 

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChai break at Timang – a gorgeously beautiful setting with open meadows and the mountains around us, making the piping hot tea taste even better. End of day halt at Chamye is in a place better than the one in Dharapani.. perks include an open lawn facing the flowing waters of the Marsyangadi river (added bonus – the toilet in the lodge has a western commode. Seriously, what more can one ask for!).

 

 

 

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V discovers a tiny hot spring buried under some big boulders alongside the river. He had stayed at the same tea house on his AC trip a dozen years ago, and happily recounts some nostalgic anecdotes.

 

 

Chamye – Upper Pisang

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As dawn breaks, the first rays of the morning sun light up Lumjung’s peak with a glorious golden hue. In contrast, I’m holding a toothbrush in hand and staring, mouth agape. Lumjung escorts us through most of the day, and is joined after a while by the Queen of ‘em all – the Annapurna in her pristine glory (Annapurna 2, to be precise).

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Today I learn about plumes – condensed clouds of snow dust that float atop peaks. For other ignoramuses like me, plumes are created by the immensely strong winds which blow snow off the top of these great peaks. This snow dust mixes with the moisture in the air and forms clouds that float away in the strong breeze. Mt. Everest’s plume for example, is estimated to span a distance of 15-20 kilometres.

Why do school textbooks say that clouds are only formed by evaporation and condensation of water from our oceans, rants B.. what about these ones created by these magnificent mountains, he asks. Why, indeed.

DSCN2036Today is also a day of unending visual delights – the show ain’t over yet. As we cross a really windy bridge, the ‘dome’ of Pisang comes into view. A massive expanse of rock covered by snow, with a thin wedge running through the centre. Not wanting to have such a spectacular sight remain without a name, B christens it as ‘the El Capitan of Pisang’.

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On Dhurba’s recommendation, we choose Upper Pisang as our destination (as against Lower Pisang) and even after we get there, climb up to the highest point of the village to find a dwelling for the night – and are rewarded with stunning views of A2 and El Capitan, as we slurp our noodle soups.

There is also a splendidly built Gompa (monastery) right next door, with impressive murals and lovely architecture. Drawn to the gompa’s serene setting, we spend some very relaxing moments inside. Eyes closed, meditating, reflecting, introspecting. A calming end to a fantastic day.

 

Upper Pisang – Ngawal

As I walk down the next morning from the slopes of the Himalaya tea house, a familiar face greets me outside another lodge below. It turns out to be an ex-colleague from Bangalore, who’s also doing the Annapurna Circuit with his wife and 7- year old son (who is definitely the bravest seven year old I have ever met) . H used to sit in bay adjacent to me at work, and we’ve done some weekend cycling rides in the past. But I hadn’t seen him for ages, imagine running into him in a small village in Nepal at 12000 feet above sea level!

From Upper Pisang, we take a detour to Ngawal instead of the straight path to Manang, the ‘biews are better’ on that route. This involves negotiating a steep ascent via Ghreyu, a 400m uphill climb which makes my lungs scream at every turn. I look over my shoulder to A for inspiration. He has been down with a painful tooth infection since the previous day, has been on a steady dose of painkillers, and his steady pace is a testament of his mental strength.

But there is cosmic justice after all. As I huff and puff my way to the top of the hill, there is a roar from the mountain nearby – and I am witness to my first ever experience of seeing a snow avalanche at close quarters. In a few seconds, the slopes are shrouded by an enormous cloud of snow dust, as the avalanche cascades down. It is an awe inspiring sight (video), and also a reminder of the majesty of the mountains and one’s own insignificance in the larger scheme of things. Nava (M) and Angel (F) at Ngwal with Bond 2

The second half of the trail is easier, and we check into the tea house at Ngawal by noon. The friendly lady there rustles up some fine food. B takes her pet apsos, Angel and Gava, for a walk around the village while the sun is still out. Soon, the  breeze picks up and a chill sets in. We huddle in the warmth of the dining hall as little snowflakes start to fall. KV, who’s been fervently praying for some snow during the trek, has her wishes granted, and sets out for a walk under falling snowflakes for the first time in her life, a broad smile lighting up her face.

 

 

 Ngawal – Manang

After heavy snowfall the previous evening, the morning luckily dawns clear. We have an easy day today – Manang is only about 3 hours away, and is actually at an altitude lower than Ngawal. It’s a leisurely trek, stopping at Brakha for some delicious Cinnamon and Danish rolls at a German bakery (we were told of its existence the previous night by some fellow trekkers at our tea house – world famous in Brakha, I suppose).

Manang is among the largest villages on this route – shops selling trekking gear, a fair sprinkling of largish tea houses, a nice coffee shop, where I drool over the freshly brewed coffee – it’s the first time I get to have caffeine after we started trekking. KV & V decide to order the yak burger on offer.

Since we are at Manang pretty early in the day, I hike up for a short trek up a nearby hill with B & V to Chorsar point (3800m), which ends right at the foot of the Gangapurna glacier. Spectacular close-ups of the glacier are on offer, plus a panoramic view of the Gangapurna taal and the river plains below. Also make a trip to the lake while coming down – the green coloured, still waters of the lake framed by mountains all around is among the most picturesque sights I have ever seen.

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Glacial water contains tiny bits of rock and minerals called “rock flour” in suspension from the grinding action of the glacier. The rock particles refract the green spectrum of the sun’s light, so the water appears GREEN.

Manang also offers other entertainment options and since we have time on our hands, we end up in one of the local cinemas to see ‘Seven Years In Tibet’. The theme (a climber’s story of redemption) and the plea the movie makes for Tibet’s freedom, are an appropriate fit for our general mood, and triggers conversations over dinner later.

 

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Manang – Yakkharka

We’ve now got super-efficient at our early morning start routine. After a delicious breakfast of fried eggs and toast, we leave Manang behind in the morning haze. A 500m ascent is the order of the day, which will get us to Yakkharka, and also DSCN2100to a 4000m altitude. The first half of the route is ardous, with a steep hike around a mountain right after we begin.

Mid-route break at Gumsang. End up chatting with N, who runs the lone tea house there. He is originally from Colorado, but a love of the mountains brought him to Nepal for the first time a decade ago. He then made a trip every year, and finally ended up marrying the daughter of the original owner of the tea house about a year ago, and has now made Gumsang his home. “I am not rich, but I have a wealth of peace and quiet here”, he says, and it seems unlikely that he will return to the country where he spent a large part of his life.

The weather at Yakkharka stays true to the now familiar pattern – warm and sunny when we get there, but very soon turning frosty, with heavy snow fall. This time, all of us get out and horse around in the snow for a bit. V even makes a mini-snowman.

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But we are back inside very soon. I try to get some part of my foot edge-wise near the heater in the dining room. Dumb charades, scrabble, etc. get us through the afternoon, with cups of steaming ginger lemon tea.

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At this height, the altitude starts becoming a factor in all your planning, and we have multiple chats about how slow or fast do we schedule our route from here. A fellow trekker from Israel is heli-rescued back to Pokhara after displaying acute symptoms of Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS). Another lady in the dining room is down with hypothalmia. It was relatively easy going till now, things will start to get exciting from here on.

 

Yakkharka – Thorung Phedi

A tough, but spectacular day. All that snow from the previous day has turned everything into a sea of white. It also means that one has to be careful while walking, and look out for stretches of ‘black-ice’ – slippery as hell, but more importantly, difficult to spot sometimes over black rock.

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The day is about gorgeously beautiful, milky white scenery all around, but comes with a treacherous down slope about halfway into the route, just before a bridge. It’s about half a kilometre of steep descent on a narrow, zig-zaggy, snow-covered trail, and has to be negotiated with extreme caution. Right after the bridge, a brutal, but (thankfully) short climb up a hill leads to chai-break stop, where the tea tastes heavenly. Reach our destination at Thorung Phedi just in time, as the snow begins its now customary routine again.

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The Thorung Phedi lodge has the best dining room of the trek by far. Large, warm and open, with double glazed glass windows and groovy music too – the familiar sound of Bob Dylan’s raspy vocals greet me as I walk-in, and the bar (music-wise, I mean) remains high through the day. I settle down at a large table with my book and decide that I’m not going to get up till evening. The other guys go out for an acclimatisation walk, but I am not convinced enough to give up my cozy nook.

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Earlier in the day, just before the stretch of the tricky descent, we saw a mother yak deliver her baby right next to the trail. Expectedly, she soon attracted a crowd. I stayed for a couple of minutes and left, didn’t wait till baby yak came out. Actually, am unsure about what I feel about this whole thing. Is this part of the natural cycle of life, like so many other things that I have seen and experienced on this trek. Or does the yak deserve her moment of privacy, and not have a score of trekkers watching her give birth ( I try to imagine how the wife would’ve felt if there was a bunch of yaks watching her when A1-A2 were born.).

Like I said, not sure where I stand. I walked away pondering over this one.

Btw, if you’re interested, the scene was also captured on video. General reactions : beautiful, moving.

 

 

Thorung Phedi – Thorung La

D-day. We have decided to change our original plan of staying a night at HighCamp. So today, it’s a straight climb from Phedi (4500m) to HighCamp (4900m) to Thorung la (5416m), and then all the way down to Muktinath (3800m). All this in about a foot and a half of snow. In other words, a heck of a long day.

Its 3:45 AM as we start on the trail to HighCamp, our head lamps shooting white beams of light through the darkness on a half-moon night. The stiff breeze feels bone-chillingly cold, the altitude leaves me short of breath ever so often. V and I do the 75-step routine – walk 75 steps, pause, deep exhale 5 times, walk 75 steps, rinse, repeat. It works. In about an hour we join fellow trekkers beginning their day at the High Camp tea house over porridge, boiled eggs and tea.

Dawn breaks. The all encompassing whiteness of the landscape reflected against the sun is almost blinding to the eye. It’s bewitching to stand and stare, but in A’s words, snow is nice to look at, but tough to deal with. I trudge slowly along a narrow, almost invisible trail, carefully trying to find footprints of other trekkers as they are our only guide to a sure footing. Walking sticks are put to maximum use. We poke, prod and anchor them in the snow for balance, fully aware that one false step will take you sliding down the icy slopes and buried in tons of snow.

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It’s probably the altitude playing tricks with our minds, but feels like a never ending journey to the pass. Every ascent leads to yet another uphill, and it takes an agonizingly long time (four hours, but seemed way longer) to finally get to Thorung La. Immense relief, much Hi-fis and posing for pictures ensues. Hungrily wolf down the tastiest veg noodle soup ever made, and begin descent to Muktinath.

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Thorung La – Muktinath

The descent to Muktinath makes the first part of the day look easier, at first. The downslopes leads to a lot slipping and falling. All of us have our share of landing on our bums in the snow at least once. V has a pair of crampons in his day pack, which he gives to K and A. A gives me a tip on how to tackle snowy descents – land heel first, do the Charlie Chaplin walk with your feet diagonally outwards. I slowly get a hang of it, but it’s still a long stretch to cover – all 1600 metres of it. After an eternally long effort, clearly the longest of the trek by far, warily troop into Muktinath after 4 PM. A 12 hour trek today, but worth savouring every minute of it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThorung La Pass descent Satish

 

 

 

As I walk down the main street of this revered temple town in search of the tea house that my friends must have carefully chosen, I pass by a Bob Marley restaurant. If he was alive, this is the last place on earth where Bob Marley would’ve DSCN2180 expected a fan club. We are like this only, maaaan!.

 

 

 

Muktinath – Jomsom – Pokhara – Kathmandu

We had initially thought about going further down from Muktinath to Ghorepani and take in Poon hill also, but decide to drop plans. KV’s daughter back home is unwell, she wants to get to Kathmandu and head back home. The rest of us also decide then that Thorung La has provided a perfect end to a great trek, and decide to chill out for a couple of days at Pokhara / Kathmandu, before we return to our respective home bases.

The road that has now come up on this side of the route has means that there is a regular stream of jeeps and two wheelers downstream from Muktinath to Jomsom, so it’s not such a great idea anymore to cover this part of the AC trek route by foot. We take a combination of jeep+bus rides from Muktinath, which takes us to Jomsom via the scenic plains of Kagbeni, along the Kali Gandaki river.

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Reach Pokhara on Nepali new years’ eve. As down our drinks at nearby waterhole, there is lots of gaiety and celebration around us. Festivities end reasonably early in the night though. Its 11 PM and ours is the only table that is occupied. And obviously, none of us have reached our alocohol threshold levels either (exception being Bond of course. A teetotaller!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA pleasant walk the next morning around the lake in Pokhara, with a decent view of Machupichure, the fish-tailed peak. . Spend a lazy morning exploring the coffee shops and other knick knacks on offer. I like Pokhra Lake Bond, Avtar, Ved, SatishPokhara better than Thamel. More relaxed, and has more character.

 

 

So after 2 weeks, we are finally back at Kathmandu. A and B have a tradition of doing a grand dinner at the exquisite Garden of Dreams after their earlier Nepal treks, so we continue the tradition. Garden of Dreams is an erstwhile palace which has now been converted into a wonderfully done expanse of green, and open to the public.

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Beautiful landscaped gardens, fountains, exotic flowers… its like an discovering an oasis just a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Thamel. A place where one can spend a lovely evening walking around, followed by dinner at the restaurant inside.

K, B and V are leaving the next day, while A & I will spend a day more in Kathmandu. So this the last evening when all of us are around. We clink our glasses for a celebratory toast, recount our favourite stories and moments of the trek. As usual, there is incessant chatter and laughter.

A memorable evening to end a magical two weeks.

 

Auto Raja

March 20, 2014 4 comments

Last week, I had the best auto ride of my life. It was my first experience with mGaadi, the start-up co-founded by fellow runner Vishy Kuruganti (@ulaar on Twitter). mGaadi is an attempt to address the perennial woes of auto commuters in Bangalore whose stress levels routinely crosses dangerous thresholds whilst attempting simple tasks like trying to get rude, unprofessional auto drivers to go to one’s desired destination and then being forced to deal with the ‘one-and-a-half kudi, sir’ situation, on top of it.

A friend and I had to get to City station last Friday night to catch a train, and being a satisfied user of the mGaadi service a few times already, he had made a booking through his android phone (btw, bonus points to Vishy & team for a smoothly working Windows Phone app too!). My friend’s experience had been very positive – he said it works pretty much like a Meru or any other cab service – when you book an auto, you get a text with the contact details of the driver an hour or so before your specified reporting time. He had already talked earlier to our driver to know where he was, so the auto showed up almost exactly when we stepped outside our apartment gate.

Ravikumar (1)Actually, to term our ride as just an “auto” was doing this particular specimen of the 3-wheeler species a gross injustice. Beginner’s luck had probably got me the crème de la crème of all the autos in the city for my first mGaadi ride.  Gleaming light bulbs on the outside greeted us, making me feel like a celebrity as I got in. A bright tube light lit the inside very well… get some quick work done on your laptop, sir? No? Then how about humming along with your favourite movie song as you ride? A switch was pressed, and voila, a small LCD screen came to life in the front. Ravikumar, our driver, proudly beamed as he chose to play a number from a recent movie – Auto Raja – featuring the Kannada movie star Ganesh. And his punch line was delivered even more beamingly – the auto used  in the filming of that song was the same one we were riding in. We were truly privileged to be ferried by the Auto Raja of Bangalore that night.

(Aside : the original ‘Auto Raja’ released in the early 80s, starring the late, revered Shankar Nag. It has long been considered a cult movie among the auto driver community in this part of the world).

auto raja poster

Not to be outdone by his noble steed, Ravikumar too, turned out to be Royalty, as far as grace and manners go. We realised very quickly that we had underestimated Ravikumar (2)Bangalore traffic, and should have got him to report atleast 15-20 minutes earlier. It was touch-and-go in terms of making it in time to catch our train at City station. We explained this to Ravikumar and asked him to go to Cantonment instead. Initially, he said that he had another customer  appointment at City station after our drop there, but when he realised the gravity of our situation, he graciously agreed to divert our ride to Cant. No grumbling at all. And when we got there, he read out the standard amount (mGaadi charges Rs. 10/- extra for the service, apart from the metered fare). I was totally mind blown. Of course, we paid him extra to compensate him for his detour, but am sure all of us would have gladly done the same.

The key takeaway was how happy I felt after an auto ride in Bangalore, smiling away as I alighted. Smiles/happiness & auto-ride –  almost feels like an oxymoron, doesn’t it! But it did really feel like being in a parallel universe.

Of course, I realise that I probably lucked out a bit and got the absolute best of breed that night. But Vishy says mGaadi is over a thousand autos strong in Bangalore now, and growing each day.

I don’t believe in good omens and all that, but a ride with the Auto Raja that Friday night was a perfect start to a weekend trip that turned out to be an inspiring, humbling experience, one that I hope will greatly enrich my life in the future.

So here’s a huge shout-out to the mGaadi team. May thousands of such Auto Rajas thrive, to spread joy and happiness in the city.

Categories: Autos, mGaadi Tags: ,

Thirteen

February 16, 2014 10 comments

The setting, for what was among the most significant moments of my life, was pretty ordinary. I had ordered a masala dosa at Geeta Bhavan in Chembur on a February morning. Rush hour traffic honked away outside, any pretence the city had of a winter had ebbed away and the humidity had started climbing already. Geeta Bhavan was one of the thousands of ubiquitous udipi joints that dot Bombay’s streets, though this one came with some celebrity lore – it was said that the late Raj Kapoor used to make the trip here from the nearby RK Studios quite frequently.

The phone rang just as I was tucking into the second piece of my dosa. It’s happened, said the voice at the other end, come fast. I left my plate half-eaten, hurriedly img016sipped some coffee, and rushed to the hospital down the street. Twenty minutes earlier, as V was being wheeled inside for the C-section, I asked the doctor how long would it take? Having no prior experience in these matters, I interpreted her will-take-a-while response to mean about an hour, which explained where I was when A1/A2 started taking in their first impressions of our planet. As I registered the presence of what looked like two miniature mummies with some pink icing at the top, a cousin quipped that they looked like fried prawns. Paternal emotions notwithstanding, the description wasn’t too far off the mark.

A father to twins and a few weeks from turning 30 (didn’t know those ‘30 is the new 20’ type lines then). Life as I knew it, was definitely getting reset.

How do dads become heroic icons for their sons? I can imagine myself as a dashing air force pilot as the boys grow up coveting my stylish cap, hoping to emulate me in their adulthood. Or a wise scholar, inspiring them to intellectual endeavours with infinite words of wisdom. An artist, or a musician… enriching their lives with sublime skills that make life worth living.

How about a life steeped in white-collar middle class mediocrity? Totally, abysmally pales in comparision.  Hero, I definitely was. Not.

DSC01116What about best friends then? Here, I think I am on more solid ground. From the time they were very small, doing things together was always great fun, like with best friends. Reading books aloud every night when they had no idea what an alphabet was, watching them react to sounds and the expressions on our faces. Memorable vacations. All the road trips. Chatter and music in the car (Bob Dylan and The Beatles met with approval, Bach and Bhimsen Joshi are still a work in progress). To-die-for bhindi fry with hot tandoori roti at our favourite dhaba.

As they grew older, the conversations that started happening –  just shooting the breeze, cracking up when one of us gets ‘pwned’, from frat stories to existentialist discussions about god and other things. The questions, sometimes trivial, sometimes tough, always fascinating… not one of which was answered with a ‘you don’t need to know this now, you’ll know when you become older’ response. Cycling on weekends. The lovely sound of silence when the four of us  are head down, immersed in our books. The way the cacophony of the idiot box has been somehow silenced – there are days on end when the TV doesn’t get switched on at home. (exception of late:  when an Arsenal or Chelsea game is on – A1 is a gunner for life, A2 swears by the blues).



DSC00268Opening up to inadequacies and failures, because that’s what best friends tend to do. Telling them about your childhood dreams of becoming a Nat Geo photographer  that never came about, because you never had the courage to chase your dreams.  The role reversal when you nurse a terrible hangover and spend most of Saturday morning hunched over the commode (man, A2 really takes off at me for that one. Thankfully have given him hardly any opportunity in recent times  :-) ).

Being vulnerable. Being there. Being best friends.

Between hero and best friend, prefer the latter. Brings meaning to life.

Taking a cue from biologist Richard Dawkins’ superb thought experiment to explain human origin, I have my own one for A1/A2  –  I imagine a photograph taken every day of their lives from the day they were born till today –  a single photo for each day – and then stack these in chronological order in two boxes, one for each of them. I could then pick any one picture at random from a box and instantly know if I am looking at a new born A2 or a toddler A1,  a kindergarten kid, a boy, etc. But it’s impossible for me to pick two successive photographs from a box and say that THIS is the day A1 grew up from a baby to a toddler, or on this day A2 regressed from a cute little boy to exasperating rebel.

V and I talk about them finally becoming teenagers and us getting ready to deal with all the angst and heartache. I’ve told her about this thought experiment as my metaphor for their growing up. Today, on their birthday, I picture that imaginary stack of photographs of the last thirteen years, wondering how do I relate to their metamorphosis from fried prawns to young adults ready to discover what their world is going to be like.

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Not sure if it’s an answer at all, but this is what comes to mind – I can imagine a day very soon, when I’ll wistfully tell the wife, “do you think A2 will ever again make me turn around when I wake him up in the morning to sleepily clamber on my back and get an extra few seconds of sleep till I drop him at the washbasin?” Or, “you know, I just realized, its been a while since A1 quietly rested his feet over mine as we sit across the dinner table..it probably won’t ever happen again, right?”

It’s never about a single day, about two successive cards, is it? Watching your children grow up is not about the present, it is always a bittersweet reminiscence of the past.

 

Here’s to a great thirteenth, guys. DSC00827

Do what makes you happy. Never take yourself too seriously. Be good human beings. And Don’t Panic.

Happy Birthday.

Love,

Appa.

—————-

A beautiful poem I read some time ago and has stayed with me. (Hat tip: Deepa Krishnan)

Son

- Vicki L. Wilson DSC00576

There will be a last time that I carry you,

and I won’t know it.

There will be no celebration, no certificate,

as when you were born,

just the offhand thought: He sure has gotten big.

And when I set you down, on your own two feet,

I’ll think nothing of it.

—————

Related Posts:

God and a few other things

Two experiments with truth.. and some questions

Q & A

Categories: Nostalgia, Personal

Joyous Running: The Year Running Became a Part of my Life

January 3, 2014 2 comments

<Very Long post. very self-indulgent too. You’ve been warned>

I ended my post on my first Full Marathon at Bombay (SCMM) in January last year with, ‘ I don’t know if I’ll ever run a FM again. Maybe I’ll shoot for a sub-4 hour goal, maybe I’ll be happy running only Halfs.. I really don’t know

After the last running season ended with the beautiful trail at Auroville in February (where I ran a half), my running spluttered and then pretty much came to a halt. Was out on travel during the TCS 10K in May, so there was no motivation to continue training in the summer. True to type, I said to myself. Cycling had always been the thing I really enjoyed, and I was happy with my daily commute to work and looked forward to the occasional weekend long rides. Running was soon consigned to the back burner.

WP_20130725_001Then the new season beckoned with the Kaveri Trail marathon at Srirangapatana in mid-Sept. My sloth-like training routine didn’t show much life, even after the arrival of a new pair of fluorescent cubbon park neon shoes that I was pretty kicked about. A calf strain also played its part, with even walking becoming a painful affair at times. Courtesy a couple of my friends (thanks, I & H!), got pushed into  a few weekend 10-15Ks, and managed to finish a half marathon at KTM a couple of minutes faster than my last year’s timing there.

By now, registrations for SCMM 2014 had opened, and I had bravely signed up for a FM again. I had run last year’s SCMM in 4:35, and picked a goal of cutting my time by 20 minutes for this year. 20 was an arbitrarily plucked number, and I wasn’t really sure if I’d do anything different to get to it. B, my running guide & mentor, was quite shocked to know that I ran my FM last year without having done a 100KM training mileage month ever (anyone serious about training for a marathon does a minimum of 150 – 160KM per month for 3-4 months). Like I wrote, I didn’t expect to finish last time – some inspiration, some luck, whatever.

Being the gracious and generous soul that he is, B diligently chalked out a customized 16-week SCMM 2014 training plan for me, with a sub 4:15 goal. Reducing over 20 minutes meant that on race day, I had to run each kilometre 30 seconds faster than last year on average, and do that consistently over 42.2 KMs.  B advocates a training philosophy known as ‘Run Less, Run Faster’. It involves 3 training runs a week, with each one focused towards a specific goal. Given my lazy disposition, there was no way I could’ve kept up with most conventional running plans which talk of 5-6 days of weekly running  (which is where the ‘Less’ in RLRF comes in). So this seemed like a good thing to try out. (RLRF also includes 2 days of cross training, but that’s a bit much for me).

The first week was a non-starter because we were on vacation in Sri Lanka at the time (did do a lovely beach run though). But since then, I have managed to stick to my training plan for the most part, give or take a few runs missed because of muscle strains or travel. More importantly, I haven’t missed a single long weekend run for the last 12 weeks.

Don’t how it happened, but somewhere along the way, something inside  clicked…. 3 years after I started, running has now become an integral part of my life.

In his cultish ode to barefoot running, Born To Run, writer Christopher McDougall talks about how the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico embody the spirit of joyous running, when running doesn’t seem like a draining, physical chore, but something that nourishes your soul.

578961_10151137838267636_1067457846_nI am undecided as yet on taking up barefoot running, but I looked at pictures of mine from last year’s Bangalore Ultra (left) and the one this time (right) – insignificant sample size I know,  IMG_1900 (2)but really illustrates the change I feel within.  Another trivial trend – till last year, when the morning alarm rang, I used to curse, find excuses to push my run to another day, etc. These days, I am usually mentally awake a few minutes before the alarm goes off, and love the silence and solitude of the morning as I get ready for my run.  I’ve also noticed that if I don’t run for a few days, I feel a bit low, get tetchy, irritable (V can attest to this). The surge of endorphins on a consistent basis is doing wonders for my life, in general.

For me atleast, Runners high is not a touchy-feely, feel-good myth. Running, these days, fills me with joy.

And like these things tend to happen, when you’re feeling good, serendipity gives you a little nudge too. Through a casual conversation, I was very lucky this season to discover Dr. G, who’s now my physio cum miracle-man. With his uncanny understanding of muscle and bone structure, Doc got me out of my perennial cycle of injury and rehab. He correctly identified that the root cause of all my injury problems was that I had abysmally low joint and muscle flexibility (the first time he made me do some stretching exercises, his quip was that it was like trying to bend a steel rod), which put an abnormally high strain on my joints, ligaments, etc, leading to injury.

Doc’s influence on my running has been almost talismanic. A week before the ultra, I developed a bad foot inflammation, wincing in pain when my foot pressed on the ground. Frantic phone call happened, some foot stretches were recommended. I wasn’t sure if I should risk further injury, but he told me to go and just run. Joyously. (Yes, Doc’s a barefoot runner too :) ) And run, I did.

Goa River HM 2013Oh, and along the way, I ran my first sub 2-hour Half too, at the Goa River Half Marathon in December. Again, one of those serendipitous happenings. Goa was not on the Goaagenda at all this season, but a cousin was very enthu and suggested a few of us go run and also do a mini-vacation. The said cousin dropped out later, but V and me went ahead with our plans and had a great time (Joets in Bogmalo is highly recommended), with my entry in the sub 2-Hour Half club and a PB for V being the icing on a lovely extended weekend break.

So a year later, its SCMM time again. Based on my training runs, I feel good about beating my goal. Of course, it all depends on how things turn out that Sunday morning – the weather, how your first half of the race goes, etc. And the fact that I will be flying over the north pole across a 12 hour time zone to land in Bombay on Saturday will make it interesting too.

But here’s the deal. Whichever way it goes.. 4;15, 4:30, even if I have to hobble and pull out, whatever.. doesn’t matter. Really. At all.

Running is now an addiction. I’ll keep getting my highs.

Here’s to joyous running.

 

I have never, ever met an unhappy runner. Running makes you happy, it takes away everything. 

                           — Milind Soman, on barefoot running

 

After running a few marathons I can explain to people why I run. It calms me. I can’t imagine not having it in my life. It helps me to sort through things. It’s like stepping outside myself and getting a better perspective of who I am.                          

                           — Gail Kislevitz, columnist, Runners World. Author, First Marathons: Personal Encounters wih the 26.2-Mile Monster

The Times They Are a-Changin’

December 4, 2013 Leave a comment

thetimestheyreachangin

So it’s been bad news of late for men in positions of power. For those who believe their position confers them with carte blanche privileges for despicable actions.

An editor who thought he was god and also god’s gift to women, then tried to be jury and judge for his own crime, has ended up in the unfamiliar environs of a prison cell – where he will hopefully remain for a long, long time.

A senior Supreme Court judge apparently tried to woo an intern his granddaughter’s age with wine – nothing wrong with that, except that she thought he called her to his hotel room to discuss legal briefs, but got indecently propositioned instead. Things are beginning to get uncomfortable for him, and the long arm of his profession has started catching up with his mis-deeds.

A prime ministerial candidate given to hubris, displayed touching concern by deploying the might of the state’s ATS mechanism to tail a woman without her consent or knowledge. His party, and more sadly, prominent women supporters, defended this as a father’s inalienable right to snoop on his adult child. What next…. bring in the army to enforce the khaps’ death sentences on young couples in love?

For women in this part of the world, its bad news to just go about their day to day lives.

But the old order changeth. And the young are showing us the way.

The Tehelka reporter wrote : “Had I chosen silence in this instance, I would not have been able to face either myself or the feminist movement that is forged and renewed afresh by generations of strong women.

To her, the law intern, and all other courageous women out there who are breaking down patriarchal hierarchies – RESPECT.

womenvotingindelhielectionsAs I write this, there are reports of record voter turnouts in the Delhi elections, following similar patterns in other recent state elections. And here’s what makes this trend even moreVoterSexRatio cheer-worthy – a significant increase in the sex ratio of voters over the years.

 

Women in India are making their voice heard.

Taking control of their lives, defining the world they want to live in.

The times, they are a-changin’.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times
they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

   – Bob Dylan, 1964

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