Monday, April 29, 2013

I Sit Too!

Here is a poem by a Japanese poet Shuntaro Tanikawa that describes my state of mind, captured in two earlier posts Two Months Later and This Ain't No Switzerland, so aptly and succinctly. 

That this state is but a state of mind, I am acutely aware of. That all one needs is a little peek beyond the corners of heaven to find hell, that too I am acutely aware of. But for now, I sit. Enchanted. 

I Sit

One afternoon with the sky covered in thin clouds
I sit on a sofa
like a shelled clam

There are things I must tend to
but I do nothing
simply sitting enchanted

Those that are beautiful are beautiful
Even those that are ugly
somehow look beautiful

Simply being here is
I become something other than myself

I stand up to
drink a sip of water
water is also wondrous
by Shuntaro Tanikawa
from minimal
publisher, Shichosha, Tokyo, 2002

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Fan Call!

My mother's iPhone is filled with contacts. Nothing odd about it, except that most of them are first names only. Sometimes there are surnames too, but they are not of much use, believe me. In contrast, my contact list is filled with names like Sanjay Carpenter, Kapil Driver, Irene K Soka, Irene W. KP, Bryan M. HP etc. For those of you who think I overdo it, read on.

Well one morning, mom decides to call the husband of one of her friend's daughter to discuss purchase of fans etc for the house. His first name is Divyasheel, so she searches her phone and comes up with a number for Divyasheel Mahajan. I said his surname is not Mahajan, but she says "Aur kiska hoga? Waise bhi yahan sub log Mahajan hee hotay hain. Yehi hai uska number." Translation: "Who else could it be? In any case, everyone here is called Mahajan. This has to be his number." It sounded strange but this kind of logic is hard to defy by someone who has just moved into this town, so I acquiesced.

Having chosen the number, she hands me the phone to dial because this fan installation is my responsibility. The call was received by a woman, not a man as I had expected. Totally ruffled, as is my habit when things don't go as expected, I handed back the phone to mom, saying "It's a woman! You talk!". Had I been alone, I would have simply disconnected the phone without any explanation- that's how odd I am. 

But oddness runs in our blood- it just takes different forms in different family members. This is the conversation that followed between my mother and Divyasheel. I only heard one side of it, but it was enough to send me into a paroxysm of uncontrolled laughter. Total ROFL. 

Uhh hello is Divyasheel there?
Oh, you are Divyasheel!  I am Dr. Chandrama Anand speaking. 
(At this stage, any reasonable person would have apologized for dialing a wrong number, but my mother's curiosity had been piqued and she had to find out who it was!)
Yes yes, I am fine. How are you?
(After of course making some small talk! )
Ok Divyasheel, where are you?
(Subtle are we?)
Hmm I see, at home. Ok listen, just where do you live?  Dharamshala?
(That didn't work. No time for subtlety anymore!)
Chandigarh? Oh I see! Hmm...I mean, how do we know each other?
(OMG! Let it be mom! After all, you are the one who called her!)
Oh! Dental college. Yes yes now I remember. How are you?
(Ok this is the real small talk, unlike the fake one earlier! )
Yes yes. We will meet sometime when I come to Chandigarh. 
(Yeah right!)
Ok. Now I will go. I had just called, you know. Bye beta! 
(Yes yes you had just called, we know, and by now even she knows, without knowing who you were talking to!)

I can only imagine what the poor girl thought of the entire conversation. Did I mention it was pretty early in the morning, like 7:30 am, when this conversation happened.

How was the rest of your day Divyasheel Mahajan of the Dental College?

Friday, April 26, 2013

What Am I Exactly?

Aloka: Mommy, are you a housewife?
Me: Err...I need to be a wife to be a house wife no?
Aloka: Teacher said if your mommy makes food and does other work in the house, then she is a house wife. You make food all  the time!


Pious Chipmunks!

Aloka: Mom what are chipmunks?
Me: Some kind of animals. I have only seen in cartoons. 
Aloka: Noooo! You have seen them. We saw in Mcleod Ganj. They were walking there wearing red and orange clothes.
Me: Ooohh! You mean monks, not chipmunks!! 

After laughing for a couple of minutes, the conversation continues. 

Me: They are people who are devoted to Buddha. They spend their time praying. They don't have any wife or kids or a home.
Aloka: Oh poor people, tsk tsk, they have nothing. But I know why they don't want kids. Kids make a lot of noise (to illustrate she makes some sounds like wah wah bah bah) and talk non-stop like me.
Me: That's right. They make too much noise. Would you like to be a monk when you grow up?
Aloka: No. I don't like their clothes. 

Flight Doctor

When I first arrived in Singapore in year 2000, I was miserable and would find it hard to be with myself for even a weekend. To top it, I was short of money, having arrived in Singapore with less than S$2,000 in my bank account!

Rightfully, I should have scrimped and saved my money for the next few years till I became financially comfortable. Instead, something quite the opposite happened. I started traveling. I would plan a trip on any pretext, be it a long weekend, or a public holiday in the middle of the week, or just because I felt like. Most of the trips to South East Asia were last minute, depending on how far and how quickly I wanted to run. Traveling was like medicine. It always numbed the pain, and sometimes it healed me too.

Between 2001 and 2010, I made several overseas trips every year, spending every penny I would save in the months in between. In later years, I began traveling officially as well to meet customers (UK, US, Dubai, Japan). There was another change too- I became more adventurous with our holiday destinations (Burma, Mongolia, Turkey, South Africa, Tibet).

Being an Indian citizen, I needed Visa for almost every place I traveled to, but that didn't faze me- I was that crazy about traveling. In the process, my close family, mainly Atreya and mom, got to see a lot of the world too. At the end of the 13 years in Singapore, I had spent huge number of dollars on travel, but hell was I richer in so many other ways!

Recently, I looked up my old passports to see where all I had traveled in those years and this is what I noted. I have included my official trips in the list (marked with an *) just to show the frequency of travel. But this doesn't include my official and personal trips to India (3-4 every year).

  1. September: Malaysia- Desaru (Atta and I)
  2. October: Malaysia- Pinang (with RS, his friend and Atta)
  1. January: Indonesia- Bali (with mom, dad and Atta)
  2. May: Malaysia- Sebu Island (with Atta and Mallika)
  3. September: Malaysia- Langkawi (Atta and I)
  4. December: Cambodia- Seam Reap (RS and I)
  1. February: Thailand- Koh Samui (with mom, dad and Atta)
  2. August: China- Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Hangzhou  (Mom and I)
  3. November: Malaysia- Desaru (Atta and I)
  1. June: Europe- UK, France, Italy, Switzerland (Atta and I)
  2. *July: Indonesia- Jakarta
  3. *August: Indonesia- Jakarta
  4. *September: Indonesia-Jakarta
  5. *October: Indonesia-Jakarta, Jog Jakarta
(The Jakarta project was committed by my boss when I was away in Europe and sucked my entire year. This is one travel I didn't enjoy because I had to leave Atreya alone in Singapore for long periods of time.)

  1. January: Thailand- Bangkok, Pattaya (with mom, dad and Atta)
  2. Month not sure: Thailand- Hua Hin (with Arun, Manjari, Revati, Shruti and Vasanta)
  3. *September: UK
  1. March: Malaysia- Sebu Island (with Atta and Vasanta)
  2. *June: Dubai
  3. October: Malaysia- Kuala Lumpur (Mom and I)
  4. November: Burma- Yangon, Bagan, Inlay Lake (with Shalini and mom)
  1. Feb: Srilanka (with Shalini and Atta)
  2. *March: Spain
  3. Sept: Mongolia (with Shalini, mom and Atta)
  4. *Sept: Dubai
  5. Dec: Malaysia- Tioman Islands (Atta and I)
  1. January: Thailand- Phuket (with Atta and Ashu)
  2. *July: Japan
  3. August: Thailand- Chiangmai (with Shalini and Vasanta)
  4. *September: US- New York, Florida, Texas
  5. October: Turkey (with mom and Atta)

2008 (I didn't travel much because Aloka was a baby)
  1. *December: Brunei
  1. January: Cambodia (with mom, Atta, Aloka and Mallika)
  2. June: Canada- Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, US- Chicago (Mom and I)
  3. *Sept: Brunei
  4. Dec: Malaysia- Kota Kinabalu (with mom, Atta, Yu Shuen, Aloka and Mallika)
  1. *May: Brunei
  2. *November: US- San Francisco, New York, Washington DC
  3. *November: Australia- Sydney 
  4. December: South Africa- Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Garden route (with mom, Anu, Arun, Sushil mama, Aloka and Atta)
  1. January: Indonesia- Jog Jakarta (with mom and Aloka)
  2. August: Tibet- Lhasa, China- Beijing (with mom, Swati and Meenu)

  1. July: Morocco- Fes, Meknes, Merrakech (with Swati, Rachel, Julie and Heiki)

  1. January: Thailand- Chumpohn (with mom and Aloka)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

This Ain't No Switzerland!

I have been posting pictures of Khanyara and nearby areas since I moved here. Looking at these pictures, many people have commented on the beauty of the place. It has been called paradise, among other things. And why not? The pictures I post are of sights that take my breath away, the best this place has to offer.

But the truth is that these pictures show only one side of the coin. I capture what I like and ignore whatever bothers me. Beauty truly lies in the eyes of the camera-holder! Not much different from ads for Incredible India showing snippets of India that make it incredible! We all know India is a lot more (and less) than what is shown in these ads, but still we can't help loving the images. In reality, there are so many more dimensions to India, and to Khanyara, than its occasional incredible beauty.

Here, as in most of India, there is no concept of garbage collection and disposal. As a result, you will see garbage dumped along hills and on road sides. There is a particular spot where you see beautiful colorful flowers growing naturally on one side of the road, and equally colorful garbage strewn on the other side.

Roads are so bad that when by God's mercy we come across a good road, like we did near Palampur, we can't stop ooh-ing and aah-ing about it. Road repairs are done often, but using substandard material and very hurriedly, without use of a road roller. Everything is washed out once it rains, and potholes become even bigger than before. It is hard to conceive that making good roads and maintaining them would be so difficult in a country that routinely sends satellites into space!

An uncontrolled tide of development (!) seems to be overtaking natural order everywhere one looks. Lovely kulls, man-made many years ago and in complete harmony with nature around them, are being cemented in a hurry. High tension wires carrying electricity from Hydel Projects high up in the water-rich mountains criss-cross green valleys. Ugly multi-storyed buildings are popping up everywhere faster than you can say IPL!

Here, no one cares about maintaining the beauty, because this beauty is incidental and not really useful to those who live here and struggle to make a living. Just today, while conversing with our carpenter about the lovely view from one of the windows, he said that this view shiew is for people who come for a short while only- people living here are too busy making a livelihood to be impressed by it!

So how do you reconcile to this ugliness in the midst of this incredible beauty? Initially I did it by averting my eyes, by mentally photoshopping parts that I didn't like. by readjusting the way I saw things. But now, I accept ugliness as part of beauty of this place- Yin and Yang!

This doesn't mean that I am desensitized to what I see, just a little more understanding and accepting of the reality. Instead of getting tired just thinking of how to solve the garbage issue of the entire village (something NGOs haven't succeeded in doing for years), I am focusing on how I can treat our house garbage better. Instead of lamenting about the ugly building around us (including the one just next door to us), I am focused on making our environment closer to nature. Instead of tsk-tsking about the quality of environment education here, I am working out how to contribute to one school nearby. As for the rest, I take it as cost of development, something the poor people of this place need, and even if they don't, they can't escape it.

Here are some pictures of the other side of the coin. More pictures to come later today!

The ugly neighbors 
(The biscuit colored house is ours)

Garbage by the side of the road!
Unkempt housing board flats

High tension wires everywhere