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.

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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).

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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.

DSC00522

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

Champion Indian ODI teams: Which is the best among them all?

June 26, 2013 2 comments

India’s victory last week in the Champions Trophy 2013 brought back memories of another title 28 years ago. No, not the World Cup – that was 30 years ago. This was the win in the World Championship of Cricket (WCC) which was held in Australia in 1985 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the State of Victoria. For an Indian fan, there are some striking similarities in the two tournaments. Both the CT13 & the WCC 85 featured the top teams of the world pitted against each other (though the WCC had only 7 teams competing, as against 8 in the CT, since South Africa wasn’t part of world cricket in 1985). India entered both tournaments as winners of the World ODI title held 2 years earlier. Like in the CT 2013, India won 5 matches on the trot to lift the WCC trophy in ’85. Then too, India fielded an unchanged side almost all through, until Roger Binny fell ill before the final against Pakistan, and Chetan Sharma had to take his place.

For those of my generation, the WCC triumph will always be symbolized by images of Ravi Shastri winning his Audi as player of the tournament and the entire Indian team somehow WCC 85managing to pile on the car and taking it for a spin around the MCG. The WCC was also the first time we started getting live cricket coverage from Channel 9 in Australia. Coloured clothing, out of the world images, classy commentary.. and of course, bikini-clad girls among the spectators… for someone brought up on DD and AIR drabness, this was like getting access to paradise. Sigh.

For my money, that WCC winning team was the best limited overs side that India ever put out on a cricket field. After the victory in Australia, they won the Rothmans cup in Sharjah a few weeks later, which featured wins over Pakistan ( a rampaging Imran Khan, with figures of 6 wickets for 14 runs, shot out India for 125, but they fought back and surreally bowled out Pak for 87), and Australia in the final.

The first obvious comparision is with the ’83 heroes. Though the core nucleus of the team from 1983 remained, the emergence of exciting new talent like Azharuddin and L Sivaramakrishnan in the ’84-85 season added considerable meat to the batting and bowling in the ’85 squad. These guys were of far better calibre than bit-players like Kirti Azad, Yashpal Sharma, Balwinder Sandhu – gallant contributors all in the World Cup win, but of limited cricketing ability. The boisterous Sadanand Viswanath brought additional dash to the batting over Syed Kirmani. The batting order was also re-jigged – Gavaskar moved into the middle-order, leading to a very successful opening combination – the solidity of Shastri and the dashing boldness of Srikkanth.  Skill-wise, this outfit was definitely a notch or two above the ’83 one.

A couple of games into CT ’13, I tweeted that this current Indian team reminded me of that WCC ’85 Indian side. (luckily, I didn’t end up jinxing anything with that tweet, like it has happened umpteen times before). And minutes after Ashwin bowled that final ball and Dhoni uncharacteristically jumped around with whoops of joy, I tweeted again, and this time I pronounced judgement. 5 on the trot to win WCC ’85. 5 wins on the trot in CT ’13. This team is better than that one. Best ever Indian limited overs side, IMO”.

I guess some of that judgment was influenced by the elation and thrill of watching India clinch a nerve-wracking cliff-hanger. So, with the sobering light of reason three days later,  I ask myself, is this team really better than the ’85 one?

Lets stack up the batting line-ups first.  The aggression of the Dhawan/Rohit opening combination easily bests Srikkanth-Shastri.  Then the middle-order – Kohli (who will probably end up as one of the best ever in ODIs), a resurgent-Dinesh Karthik, Raina, Dhoni, all of whom found their calling primarily as limited over specialists first, must find favour over a line-up of Azharuddin, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath and Sunny G (he of the infamous 36 not out in 60 overs).

The bowling is more evenly matched. Bhuvaneswar Kumar with his swing and control is the 2013 version of Roger Binny in ’85. Kapil is in a league of his own, and Madan Lal was an able ally in the pace department. Umesh Yadav & Ishant fall a bit short in comparision. But 2 top-class tweakers in Ashwin & Sir Jadeja score over Shastri’s left-arm spin, Siva’s guile mixed with a leg-spinner’s profligate tendencies and the gentle medium pace of Amarnath (the joke those days was that Jimmy’s bowling run-up was faster than his bowling speed).

The defining feature of that side however, was the plethora of all-rounders they had. Kapil as one of the best ever in the history of the game, Shastri & Amarnath bringing solidity at the top of the line-up along with their bowling, Binny & Madan Lal as competent bowling all-rounders. That team almost did not have any tail. Before Ravindra Jadeja became his go-to man, MS Dhoni often expressed his fond wish of finding an all-rounder who would bring that all important balance to his side. The team of ’85 had an embarassment of riches in this department and was a huge factor in making that team what it was.

Fielding wise, it’s a no contest. Only Azhar and Kapil from that team will come anywhere near the likes of Kohli or Raina. The rest were mostly in the Ishant Sharma category. But I feel that this is a bit of an unfair comparision – fielding in those days was not the key strategic asset in a team’s arsenal the way it is now.

Overall, it’s a close call. A much stronger batting in this modern India team, the allrounder advantage for the senior generation. What I think tilts the balance in favour of the current team is MS Dhoni. Not just for his batting and wicket-keeping  – again, he will go down as one of the greats in ODI history, Sadanand Viswananth doesn’t even merit a comparision – but for his captaincy, the culture and vision that he brings to this side. Clearly, this 2013 CT winning squad is HIS team.  As the senior most leader of the squad, he would want to mould and nurture this bunch to even greater glory.

Dhoni CT

And, for me, that is what will lay this debate to rest. If this team manages an encore in 2015, then any lingering doubts about this being India’s best ever ODI team can be safely discarded. But even if they miss the pinnacle of glory in 2015, I would rate this team very high on the pecking order.

PS: I have intentionally not brought the 2011 WC winning squad into the consideration set. While the amount of pressure that team soaked up on the way to their victory was immense, I think that playing in home conditions was a key factor in that win. That attack, and that batting line-up, would have been found sorely wanting if  the WC had been played in another continent. And all those oldies were a big liability while fielding (think 20 runs every game).  On sheer cricketing ability, they don’t measure up.

Thoughts, comments?

Thoughts on ‘Bombay Talkies’

June 3, 2013 2 comments

In the Karan Johar helmed short in Bombay Talkies, there is a scene where Randeep Hooda’s character Dev finds the unabashedly gay Avinash unexpectedly knocking at his door one bombaytalkies1evening. Avinash knows that Dev’s wife is not at home, and asks him, “want to come out”? We know by now that he is attracted to Dev – who is married to Avinash’s attractive colleague from work (a ravishing Rani Mukherjee) – and the dialogue is a play on Avinash’s fond hope that Dev will, you know, “come out”.  A corny line – there are other ones too (gale mein mangalsutra, man mein kamasutra) –   and so reminiscent of many such one-liners in Johar’s grating TV show, but I’m nit-picking here. Johar’s effort in Bombay Talkies rises well above expectations. He manages to hold his own against the other three luminaries of new wave Hindi cinema.

I liked little touches in the screenplay, like when it’s the turn of Dev, slowly awakening to his repressed sexual orientation, to land up at Avinash’s tiny hovel. Just as a thought blurb went inside my head <how the hell did he know where Avinash lived.. but hey, this is a KJO  movie, details don’t matter, do they>, Dev says,  “office se tumhara address mila”. A passionate lip lock then ensues between two adult men on a mainstream Hindi cinema screen.  Breaking new ground, and done well.

The thing I didn’t get in Johar’s film, is the connection to 100 years of Hindi cinema, which all the four miniatures in Bombay Talkies are supposed to be a celebration of. A brief reference to Madan Mohan, Dev’s extensive collection of old Hindi film songs? Too weak a link. So here’s a theory:  Johar’s film opens with a small girl begging for alms in what looks like the Dadar station over-bridge, singing the evergreen classic, Ajeeb Dastan hai yeh.  Ajeeb dastan = strange story. Strange = Queer. A story of a love triangle with a gay twist – was this about Karan Johar riffing on Hindi cinema’s age old love triangle theme, with his own personal stamp?

Dibankar Banerjee continues to impress as a filmmaker who intimately understands the medium of cinema and is imbued with a fine sensibility that permeates every frame. Working on an adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s Patol Babu Filmstar, Banerjee’s craft deftly weaves in references to serious issues like the collapse of Bombay’s Lower Parel mills and its impact on thousands of laid off workers and their families, the bizarre craze for emu farming which took root  in parts of southern and western India a few years ago (the opening sequence where the marathi bais in the chawl crack vulgar jokes, with the emu hopping around in the corridor, is such a delight), the demise of the nautanki form of folk theatre, all inside a heart-warming 30 minute short about a father who accidentally stumbles on a day of fame as a movie extra and as a result, redeems himself in front of his daughter.

bombaytalkies2

And with a talent like Nawazuddin Siddiqui as his star, what results is magic on screen.  Plus that cameo from Sadashiv Amrapukar. Uff. Go see, if you haven’t already.

Zoya Akhtar turns the spotlight on how the allure of movie stars gives rise to so many celluloid dreams amongst our teeming masses. A young boy gets besotted with Katrina Kaif when he sees her gyrate to Sheila ki Jawani on TV. He starts worshipping her poster and wearing his sister’s clothes whilst obsessively mimicking her dance moves. In contrast, his father wants him to “be a man” and focus on sports like football, even fending off his daughter’s beseeching pleas to pay for her outstation history trip at school, to cough up the football fees.

Training her lens on this fairly “normal” family, Akhtar insightfully zooms in on deep rooted  gender biases that exist even among our educated middle class. In her trademark understated style, she allows the audience a nuanced view on the husband-wide relationship dynamics, the bonding between brother-sister, all of which add a solid emotional connection with the story. The casting is pitch perfect too.

bombaytalkies3Thankfully, Akhtar steers clear of any attempt to try and tie up all the ends. She does not offer any comment on the possibility of the protagonist’s alternate sexuality, justify why a child performs a very raunchy item number, or any hint on how the anticipated hostile reaction from the father would be resolved. For a short, any of these would have added unnecessary clutter to the story. The rousing climax with a freeze frame of the boy deliriously happy to have found his calling, is a gratifying end to a well made film.

The premise of Anurag Kashyap’s story – a small towner coming to Bombay to try and get an audience with Amitabh Bachchan to satisfy his ailing father’s wish – seems to be, depending on your POV,  a banal storyline or one with all sorts of possibilities. A couple of friends that I spoke to about Bombay Talkies were of the former view, and felt a bit let down that Kashyap didn’t come up with something   more “edgy”. I hugely enjoyed this one though. Of all the four shorts, I thought that Kashyap’s film embodies the manic obsession that Bombay’s Bollywood engenders among its fans (especially from the hinterland), the best. Growing up in in Bombay, relatives/friends who visited used to ask about “Amitabh’s house”. Whenever we passed by Juhu, I saw fans  outside Bachchan’s bungalow in Juhu hoping catch a glimpse of Hindi cinema’s greatest star. Kashyap captures this facet of hero worship beautifully.

He taps into his  Gangs of Wasseypur ensemble to unearth another dynamite performer in Vineet Kumar Singh, who essays the role of a son on a mission with aplomb. One gets the sense that the maverick auteur  is indulging himself and having a lot of fun with this film – naming Singh’s character as Vijay, the name Bachchan had for his most memorable screen roles, Vijay’s raconteuring bombaytalkies4 to his fellow travellers in the train before tragedy strikes – there is an element here of the bit actor Singh evolving into a performer within the character of Vijay that he plays – I felt like there are layers to what appears as a simple storyline.   Amit Trivedi’s music score lives up his high standards as usual. The twist in the story at the end, though a bit predictable, leaves us smiling at this bitter-sweet tale.

I found it hard to pick a favourite out of the four films. Each has its own voice, and a unique perspective of looking at the way movies have touched our lives over the years. Among the best to come out of Bollywood this year, Bombay Talkies is an experiment that works. One jarring note though – the garish parade of Bollywood stars dancing awkwardly, smiling to the cameras in the self-congratulatory song at the end.. should have cut this part out entirely.  Almost leaves a sour after-taste to what is an otherwise engaging couple of hours of good cinema.

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