Philosophy of Life by an Indian Carpenter

Remember that illiterate carpenter I had introduced in my earlier blogpost on Maid in India (Part 2)…Over the course of my book rack, I got to know him a lot better. Our conversation never ended without him giving an anecdotal story about his life, his experiences and his journey so far. The book rack is complete and I may not get to talk to him ever so often, maybe never. But his words will surely stay with me forever. The anecdotes, unfortunately have blurred in my memory but the quotes are stuck. Here are some of his words (almost verbatim) on topics as varied as his personality.

On Business

  • Charge less to the poor. Charge more to the wealthy.
  • Create wealth not to sustain yourself but to sustain the households of your employees.

On Roles of life

  • Respect everyone’s role in life.  If the cook doesn’t cook, you’ll die of hunger. If the cleaners wont clean, you’ll die of pungent smell.
  • You yourself have multiple roles to play. Play each one according to the need of others. Be a child with a child. Be a husband to a wife. But be a friend to a foe.

On Friendship

  • Friendship is not about showing off your worldly possessions; friendship is about showing off your true self.

On Challenge

  • Why fight with others? The only fight should be with yourself.

On Truth

  • Half truths will always haunt you. Truth is what will make you fearless.

On Meaning of Life

  • Pray for everyone. If everyone does the same, the good wishes will come back to you.
  • Everyone lives to die; those who live after death are the real men.
  • The true path of life is always difficult to walk on, but far more satisfying. And satisfaction (of a good life, of a good deed) is the currency of the soul.

I tell him I’m surprised at his philosophical expertise, esp. since he cannot read or write. He says, “I’m because I experience. I cant read words, but I do read people every day and process them through my heart.” 

I ask whether I can blog (to him..write) about his words of wisdom. He says,  “Pls. do spread my word around. The world doesn’t need everyone to be good. Only a few good men will do.”

Nothing less than a certain “Jewish” carpenter..right?!

Delhi Belly with a conscience

I have been resisting the urge to do a piece on “Delhi Belly”, but its been steering up a storm in my pysche as well as in this side of the globe. (The only contender thats giving “Google+” FB updates a stiff competition). So I let myself loose…In fact, thats the moral of the story, as I get it

The story is about 3 of the India’s 20+ generation  that live on their own terms, make their own rules and of course have no hang-ups about sex and shit(ty) talk. (Btw, I’m hoping someone is patenting the “3 guys Bollywood formula”. Nothing has succeeded like a “3 friends in a movie” in the recent past. I’m sure “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” will only prove this point further.)
Nitin is the stereotypical fat friend, whose love for sensory pleasures is intact, but the means are always questionable. (i.e If you can’t have girls, pin-up photos would do. If you can’t have chicken tikka in a restaurant, germ-ful hawker-handed ones would do.). Whereas Arup is your quintessential “loser” guy. He’s talented but in a dead-end job. He’s lovable but heart-broken. (Comes in handy when the filmmakers need to make a parody.) But both Arup and Nitin’s characters are there to accentuate Tashi’s
(the clear hero amongst the three…with a gorgeous, well-bred, girlfriend, non-chalant attitude and a head that can think on its feet.). Their love for mess and desire to hang-on tight to their hostel lives is what keeps them together. Crude language and cuss words come to them as naturally as their daily ablutions that are so gloriously elaborated in the movie.

But scratching the surface beyond the crassness and the unabashed language, what is the story telling us? Its giving us a peek into the lifestyle of a certain young Indian generation, albeit with jarring nakedness.
Interwoven throughout the movie are subtle(like the conclusion to Tashi’s love triangle) and not-so subtle (like the disdain for the gifted Red Santro) endorsements of the fact that they have no qualms about prioritizing independence and individualism over money. While in the same vein, priortizing a comfortable life over love (as in Arup’s girlfriend case.).

True to their cool attitude, they subscribe to the school of thought where two-timing is ok, lesbanism is empowering, and even blackmailing is fine if the blackmailee is cheating on his wife. But this is contrasted with their sub-conscious yet firmer beliefs such as “Friendship is forever”, “Money is never more important than people in your life”, and “Follow your passion (whether its about the girl or the job)”.

So for all those who think that the movie has no messages…here’s one that I found hidden in the layers of laughter and cuss language. Its that independence, passion and friendships should not be compromised, whatever the cost. Thats only apt, considering the rut of rat race we get subjected to, after college. Thanks to Aamir Khan for showing it in a way the rest of the 20+ generation would relate to or enjoy.

And for the rest of us…its ok to let yourself loose once in a while. (i.e. not be embarrassed to laugh at the toilet humor).

The inside of a women’s locker room

Thanks to my love for swimming, I have been frequenting the women’s locker room at the exclusive country club (an integral part of the hip and happening lives of the neo-age Gurgaonites these days). The chlorinated smell mixed with the aromatic fumes from the shower rooms brings back memories of yester years as well as thoughts about how things are different.

Nakedness is pretty demystified in Western locker rooms. But wonder just how do Indian women deal with a public place for private affairs! Are they shedding their inhibitions as they shed their clothes? Isn’t the locker room the only place you can do that without giving two hoots about what the world thinks? After all, its for the women, by the women, and so forth, right?!

Well, Apparently not. Just as easy it is to attract a man’s attention..its just that hard to hide from a woman’s gaze. At first glance, all you see is lot of skin, waxed legs, designer swimsuits and loads of sunscreen getting applied(, but there’s also sets of critical eyes that are checking you out. Surely there’s a democracy of women, but where vanity reigns supreme. One’s influence is calibrated through one’s physical attractiveness. Just track the server girls(yes..Gurgaon clubs have server girls in the locker rooms to hand you the towels from the racks and fill your cuppa water before and after your swim.) and you’d understand.

So you’re left with only one choice…Flaunting off your fairer skin and most toned curves while tucking in the inches and hiding away fat in whatever little lycra is at your disposal to bring out the most possible near-perfect appearance outside the changing room. Alas, your hair cannot come to your rescue since that has to be tucked in the cheap fakes of Reebok swim caps (Why don’t they make designer swim caps..surely an untapped market opportunity!) Rest assured, everyone else is doing the same. That’s a pity..considering Indian woman that has just begun to set free from her traditional avatar, is now getting trapped in the confines of her external appearance. Some even take it to the extreme…by applying lipstick (well, ok lip gloss) and practising their smile before taking the customary dip. (Too much FashionTV I say!).

But at the same token, if her toned body and facial-ed skin is giving her the ability to face the world confidently, so be it. (In fact, my patronage to the health clubs and beauty industry in India). The shyness that she harboured because of her conservative cultural universe is slowly giving way to the shyness that’s now coming from her cellulite marks. Luckily cellulite marks are not as permanent as age-old social blocks imprinted on her mind.

By the by, while we are still in the locker room…why is it that we don’t give ourselves the luxury of upgrading our inner wearings, while everything external from swimsuits to bathtowels have to be designer? Most of us still hide our lingerie as if its a loot from the hood. Is it because its not for the consumption of the external world and therefore not consequential?! Why do we try so hard to please the world while ignoring our inner-self?

But I see hope when teenage girls in their tees come zooming in and zoom past, completely oblivious to this locker room charade. Their nonchalance makes me believe that they will be comfortable in their own skin, designer-wear or not. And I sigh relief.

Btw, for the menfolk, here’s a video that be more appropriate:
Peeping into a Women’s Locker Room

LIA to R2I : Decoded

So when a friend checked up on how I find returning to India after so many years of living in America, she became the 29th person in the last 3 years who posed this question to me. I believe its a classic topic for Indians LIA (Living in America), only second to the stagnant house prices in the US.

Three categories of NRIs reside in the US these days: one that want to R2I (Return to India), one that think that the ones that want to R2I are out of their minds, and the rest who stay in Fremont or Sunnyvale (or such equivalent “mini-India” suburbs). Regardless of the category, they are always interested to find out how it is to return back to India, or how is it different or how does it feel.

Blame the IT crowd and their access to tools, many a probabilistic models are available on the net to help you determine the success rate of your R2I decision. But these models however mathematically sound they may sound, offer more mental turmoil than respite. Plus, today’s India has changed. Brain-drain to culture shock..its all reversed. So here are some fresh insights for those still in the dilemma. I assure you these are missed in the weighted ratio of “sense of belongingness” vs. “kids upbringing”.

The chaos rules

While US thrives on rules, in India chaos rules. In India, anything that can possibly break down, will break down and when you least expect it to.(Murphy would have surely visited India before he created the law.) From your washing machine to your water pipe, from land lines to power lines, from anyone breaking the traffic light to the monsoon gods breaking the roads..No doubt, your appetite to deal with such chaos is going to be inversely proportional to your frustration quotient, esp. if you are used to machine-dried clothes, working from home and driving on the freeways. But if you rise beyond your frustration, you’ll realize the true value of it. Chaos exists to make you more tolerant, more adaptable and never taking things for granted. Take India as the breeding ground for the new age “social Darwinists”.

Cricket, media and more

Cricket lovers don’t need much convincing. The fever, the final pages of the dailies and the BCCI (that ensures that you never face cricket-free nights again) are reasons enough to lure you to India. Not to mention, the ability to watch cricket in prime-time and in box seats and not at the wee hours on internet or via expensive TV packages. If you are not into cricket per say, apply this analogy to Bollywood.

The rest of the thrill for the day is provided by the news media. Back in the US, you could be shuffling the newspaper only to read headlines such as “Percentage-point drop in student-teacher ratio and its impact on the divorce rate” or “Ban on the legalization of gay marriages”. The Indian newspapers have no space for such mundanity. Indians rob and rape, kill and kidnap, bribe and strike all in a days worth of time. Each ending up competing for headlines the next morning, albeit for your reading pleasure. The broadcast media does not falter either. They’ll use every tactic at their disposal (such as highlighting, flashing and breaking the same news 8 times an hour in different fonts) in order to arouse you. There is never a dull day. Entertainment is in the air!

Irrational exuberance

As fresh-off-the-boat R2Iers, you’ll be expected to lead the way in leading an “American lifestyle”. This is similar to how the US investors exhibited “irrational exuberance” back in the 2000s. You’ll be expected to (or inclined to) splurge more money, ignore the inflation, and buy expensive cars (instead of expensive stocks). (SUVs for men, and automatics for women pls.) So what, if you drove a second-hand 1999 model Toyota Corolla and saved every penny for rainy day when you were in the US. And forget about budgets. Its passe to even roughly estimate how much your lifestyle costs. Credit card statements are no longer a yardstick here because 75% of your expenditure is done in cash. Something is wrong if you’re not visiting the ATM every day. I suggest that future ATMs be housed in temples so as to add to the daily ritual of worship…and withdraw. Falling prey to the predictably irrational human psyche, women like myself get prone to develop a currency conversion bias over time. as in “That 100$ dress never looked so accessible in the US, as does the 5000Rs. one here in India.’
Btw, the best kept secret to-date (for women) is that you can get more beautiful in India. The sight of slim, trim, make-overed women around you is inspiration enough. Add to it, the beauty services available at your doorsteps at the fraction of the cost. Experiencing exuberance yet?!

The Human Touch

As much as the US is infatuated with automation and human-less systems, India relies on its ‘human touch”. In fact, that’s the USP it can boast of. After all, there are a billion hands at hand. You will have a maid that will not only wash your utensils, but will wipe them dry and put them in their proper opposed to the dishwasher that only does the former. And she’ll not differentiate between the oil-smeared kadhais and the fine chinaware..she’ll wash them all in one cycle. The Indian waiters will serve you food in your plates as opposed to on your table. In India, the elevator has an operator, the vending machine a server, and the “xerox” machine a copy guy to provide that extra human touch to these lifeless pieces of automated machinery. But even the human touch can get to you…if its frisking you at every mall, theater and airport.
Or worse yet, harass the crap out of you if it is of the horny hands amidst the metro mobs or the hands of street peddlers forcing their goods on you.

R2I=Return to Infinite Opportunities

India is the only place investment bankers come to, when they get bitten by the “writing” bug. But then again, IIM-A graduates can become anything they can dream of, in India. Baba can become Mahatma by the power of his followers.
If you are an aging actor, you could try your luck in the Parliament or join any of the 19 budding NGOs that suit your style. And if you are not, then the idiot box is your oyster. You could be doing talk shows, talent shows, cookery shows, or even dating 12 eligible candidates at the same time.
And If you are in IT and have lived in the US for more than 5 years, you could consider yourself demi-gods in the paradise of job opportunities. You’ll have 3 MNC job offers each willing to outdo the other in terms of your “price” err..compensation. If compensation does not tickle your bones, they will throw in a “management” job profile. The LIA tag should suffice for any lack of real management experience. But its not just about the corporate opportunities that you can avail. The freedom to explore unchartered territory is most enticing. Almost behind every really successful R2I story is someone’s attempt to grab an opportunity to do something that has provided a new meaning to their being. Friends who’ve become enterpreneurs from employees, bloggers from full-time moms, celebrity cooks from corporate junkies. India has an insatiable appetite for one and all. It does have a fat belly.

But I digress from the satirical nature of this piece. Here are some “mastercard ad-priceless” abilities that you can acquire, only if you R2I.

  • The ability to get ready-made (better yet, custom-made) furniture without ever having to exercise your carpenter-skills for assembling the IKEA pieces.
  • The ability to talk to a doctor when your child is suffering a minor cold (even if its more for your mental peace than his runny nose) or to get instant access to Dadi’s nuskas.
  • The ability to drive on the right and the wrong side of the road instead of just the right-hand side.
  • The ability to do facebook without worrying about your house-chores as opposed to the ability to do it while doing your house chores.
  • The ability to wear colors without being bound to the color of the season.

Btw, if you are still confused as to which way to oscillate on your R2I decision pendulum, here’s a friend’s quote that sums it all up “40% of things are better in US than in India, another 40% are better in India, and the remaining 20% are the same. You have to decide which 60% work for you.”

Maid in India: The "bai" wisdom (Part 2)

They all have a story..and unfortunately one that underlines issues that plague India from a socio-economic perspective..illiteracy, domestic violence, urbanization, poverty, etc.

No one ever wants to become a “bai” ..Its not a career of their choice. The only career progression they aspire is to retire one day. But they still keep at it, either in pursuit of some life goal or as a way to escape their reality. Some toil because they certainly dont want their children to follow the same path. Some want to go back to their village and live in peace. Some just want to be “happily” married or “respectfully” single.

They get feisty because that’s the only way they’ve known to deal with life. If it were not for their fighting spirit they’d have succumbed to depression, abuse, illegal paths. Their belief system, right or wrong, becomes their guiding force…and their source of finding solace in little things life throws at them. Tucked in their tales below, are some “pearls of wisdom” for us as well.

When we moved from Bangalore to Gurgaon, our maid, an elderly 50+ traditional South Indian lady living alone with her abusive husband, was the only one who cried inconsolably..I was immensely touched, and frankly a little surprised. Its not that I was paying her anything out of the ordinary or that she didn’t have dearth of work. ‘I’ll find other homes’, she said. ‘But who will call me “Ammaji” now?’ (Ammaji is a respectful salutation for a mother.)

[Little respect does go a long way.]

Btw, hard to resist while we are on the topic of respect, an earnest request for menfolk who feel the right to show their manhood on maids: Isn’t it good enough that they are there for your dirty laundry?

Mistreated by her mother-in-law, eventually divorced, and physically abused by her own drunkard brother, when she came to us, she was a wreck. I felt pity and kept her even though I had another nanny at the time. I couldn’t do much..but I would listen to her as she poured her heart out about her past. She stayed with me for a year and a half, caring for my kid in a way he didn’t miss me while I was busy with work. While her “fighting spirit” (of the literal sense) eventually got the better of me, it was the only thing that led to her own life transformation.
She went back. (But still calls up to inquire about her “mannu” and my son still misses her. In fact, she’s the only reason he wants to visit Bangalore.) Just the other day, she called me to say..’I’ve found myself a husband…He doesn’t drink and doesn’t live with his parents’.
A life-long bond has been formed just because I had given my ears to her tears.

[Show Empathy. It never goes out of style.]

And now I think about it, I used to teach her how to conduct life on a day-to-day basis, but she’s shown me how to live it. With hope and on your own terms.

But I found my “mother of pearl wisdom” from lo and behold..a 30-year old, illiterate, slum-raised carpenter! While haggling for the last 5K which my baniya mind had calculated to be over the top and thus not ready to let go, I got a response that I had never expected.
‘This may look like a premium for my’am. But let me tell you, this exact money will go towards teaching 10 slum kids the skills of the trade. I run a free workshop for such kids on Sundays. When they become carpenters and a source of income for their families..they will thank me directly, but will also thank you indirectly.’

This 30-year old illiterate carpenter has figured out how to leave his legacy…Have we?

Maid in India : The "bai" wisdom (Part 1)

If you are a nuclear family living in the expat suburbs of India, just succumb to the fact that the bais are taking over. They are surely ruling your minds..practically ruling your homes..and I’m thinking if they put their mind to it, they could be ruling the nation (esp. in lieu of the gaping holes created by our current political parties).

And by bais here, I mean the domestic help available in the form of maids, nannies, drivers, cooks, dog-walkers, car-washers and helpers for any other chores that the upper-middle/rich in India can afford to offload. There’s a secret why we are the Outsource Capital of the world. We, in turn, are outsourcing our mundane jobs to the “bais”.

Todays bais have understood their role in the life of an Indian household and in this cycle of wealth-creation. Sometimes they manipulate, sometimes they use this knowledge as a shield for their own basic rights. Just a side-note for those double-incomed, quality-time starved couples, forget talking about finances or buying that fancy car while car-pooling to work..cos there’s a driver in the front seat, thats adding up all these figures and calculating how much share of that can be safely assumed as a salary raise in the next cycle.
Actually bais have an uncognitive dissonance for money, which makes them all the more unique. While they are always eager for the next higher-paying opportunity, they can also leave a job bcos the boss doesnt salute back, or asks too many questions or talks too little. My 3+ year tenure in India as a homemaker is filled with such “bai” experiences that I feel well-equiped to write a book on “Maid Management”. I believe the sueder MBA programs would surely embrace it. But thought of starting with a blog first.

‘You have it easy, dont you?’..says my coming-of-age 17-year old full-time nanny/maid one day. Rationalizing around how hard it has been through one undergrad degree, two post-grad degrees, three job changes, and just surviving in the rat-race wont help. To her, materialistic comforts are the only yardstick of easiness of life. So you can either abandon the worldy goods or make her a shareholder in the materialistic pleasures. After a minute of introspection and juggling with options, I say ‘Maybe..but dont worry you have it easy too’.

The part-timer on the other hand (Pls. dont get envious folks…you dont get a full-timer in the elite condos of Gurgaon without selling her on the fact that there’s a part-timer doing the “ground” work), refuses to eat anything that has been in the fridge for more than few hours…You could lay fancy desserts or other culinary delites, but the answer remains, ‘Hamare yahan to taaza hi khate hai!’ ‘I only eat fresh food!’ You’re better off puttng some extra pounds on you, rather than convincing her out of her perceived notion of edibility (which is likely governed by the fridgeless world she comes from.).

And between the two of them, there’s always a relative that is sick or will become sick in a week’s time. Perfect excuse for a day off. I now understand why the smarter homemakers always have their speed-dials filled with back-up bais numbers.

And of course, where there are maids, there are maid issues.
If your bais are too friendly, you are worried. If they are not, you are doomed. Everyday you get to partake in the “give-and-take” of verbal innuendos and political tactics that would put politicians to shame. Lo and behold if you decide to take sides, dont just use fairness as a criteria for conflict resolution, cos there’s hierarchy that needs to be respected. A full-timer obviously commands more respect and listening power than a part-timer. And if you cant handle it all, seriously consider hiring a “head-maid” to manage the maids. Delegate the dirty work, as they say!

All said and done..”bai” is an essential commodity..And since you’ve put your MBA trained mind in doing the cost-benefit analysis of retaining vs. hiring new ones, you are constantly trying to figure out ways to survive and sustain a “bai” beyond a few months..

My husband’s advice of doing “A one-minute manager” on them rarely works. They get inflated with praises..but get defensive with the criticism, however short and sweet it is.

Giving them ownership and sense of responsibility only partially helps. Believe me, I have tried that too..with mixed results.
While the living room gets dustfree everyday without my nudging, it has been rearranged according to my maids taste. While the fridge is never empty, its invariably filled with goodies that her taste buds appeal to. And while the wardrobe is neatly arranged, my fashion sense is scorned off at many such cleaning sessions.

The single effective way I seem to have sustained mine is through a barter of services. Her obsession with the English language (Thank You Western World) has fortunately come to rescue. Speaking English signifies freedom to her..and I’ve become the key to her path of success. But when she learns English..what then? Computer skills as a selling tactic maybe?!. :-/

ps. Let me leave you with a classic bai QOTD ‘tension lene ka nai, tension dene ka!’ ‘I dont take tension/stress, I give tension!’

Viva la Goa

I’ve been to Goa before..but it has been for work conferences that invariably happen in the posh resorts of South Goa. So our impromptu plans to go to North Goa for the Good Friday weekend created much excitement. And true to my belief, both North and South Goa offer a very different experience. While South Goa is swanky and secluded, North Goa has character.

Of course, for a Gurgaonite, the weather is the first thing that puts you at ease (or shall we say, the holiday mood). There is surely something in the air. And couple that with the lush green foliage and the Arabian sea playing hide-and-seek with your sight, you already starting to have pleasant thoughts of the days to follow.

I couldnt fail but to notice the portugese influence during our long ride to the hotel. (Btw, they really need to figure out a better location for the airport, it really is in the middle of nowhere, at least from a tourist’s point of view)…Portuguese style churches and houses sprawled across ghettos of palm trees and pasturelands. But what appears that the russians are trying to conquer Goa these days. Every other road sign we saw had a Russian translated footnote.

One hour later we reach the destination. After oogling over our resort and a customary dip in the pool, we headed to the world-famous “Tito’s lane” in Calungate. Just for the dance-challenged and similar nerdy clan, Titos is not just a nightclub..its a cult in its own right, with followers across the globe. But with a child in arm and no dancing shoes on our feet, we decided to settle for an equally uber-cool joint across the street called “Fiesta”..(based on a reliable recommendation). With an ambience so romantic, and food that transpose you to the hole-in-the-wall eateries in Rome, needless to say, we had a great evening.

The second day was spent in kid-friendly beachy stuff: sunbathing at Candolim beach, Dolphin-watching cruising at Sinquerim beach, sight-seeing at Fort Aguada, alongwith tasting local cuisine at The Plaintain Leaf, drinks at the Fort Aguada Taj followed by another lovely italian dinner at Mamma Mias. (What to do? My kid has an insatiable appetite for pasta!). Btw, one thing I have to give it to the Goans, they know how to do their food and drinks right. All the meals were a pleasure-trip for our taste buds so far.

The next day was reserved for water-sports. So Baga Beach it was! Where else can you get a combo deal (includes para-sailing, banana-boat ride, sea-tubing) under Rs. 1000? Btw, dont think you were ripped off if you’ve paid twice the amount for similar stuff before. This is the Gujju group negotiation skills put into use..i.e. we could only pull it off bcos we were in the company of another Gujju family..Pls. dont attempt such bargaining unless you’re a group of Gujjus or can fake looking like one!

But I digress. Anywho, for the thrill-seekers, I recommend the banana-boat ride. This is where you are seated on a banana-shaped inflated log that is being tied to a motorboat. Once you are in the middle of the sea getting zoomed at ~80km/hr, they decide to invert the log, toppling you into the sea. Sheer Adrenalin-rush!

By now, if you’ve started wondering, ‘But isnt that what most beach destinations offer?’, you’re probably justified in your thinking. But let me tell you whats so strikingly different about Goa. Its the commingling of cultures at every level. Luxurious five star hotels co-exist harmoniously with roadside shacks. There are equal number of temples to visit as there are churches. Konkani lyrics jam melodiously with Western beats to create mesmerizing Goan music. And Goan people that have portuguese surnames, speak Konkani, follow Hindu traditions but are stark Catholics.

And finally, want to leave you with some “Only in Goa” sights/experiences:
Bitches on the beach (this is quite literally..pls refer to my FB potos for evidence.),
Bouncers on Blackberrys,
Waiters in the water,
The most stylish beach wear hanging on cheap roadside manacins,
Prisoners living in a fort (that too with a sea-facing view),
Petrol getting sold in Bisleri bottles (Recycling, the Goan way),
And last but not the least, the Goan airport security check…its really is a “lifetime” experience…Let me just leave it at that!

So Viva la Goa! Its guaranteed to show you something you’ve never seen before.

The Grippin’ Zippin’ Tale

‘Good luck! You’ll need it’ said George, the bulky British instructor, trying to get an expression out of me. ‘Yeah, yeah…I’ve done many such adventures before. This is nothing thats not up my ally.’ I thought. And so began my Sunday “Flying Fox” adventure, at the Neemrana Fort, Rajasthan.

We had heard about Neemrana from friends before…but ever since I found out that it operates a “zipping tour“, my adventurist soul had been aching to go there.

5 ziplines (with one of them the longest in Southeast Asia), a two-hour aerial journey, a bunch of college kids for company (as opposed to my 3-yr old, who my loving husband decided to babysit for while I zip), should keep it all very exciting – I figured. Conveniently they forget to mention the hike to the starting point. Well, no big deal! Its just a kilometer and a half to the top of the mountain from where we start zipping. But hang on..its 1.5 km where the first km is all vertical, that too under the gruelling Rajasthani summer sun. And on a path that would give the Registan desert a run for its money. So after the first ten minutes, I’m gulping water like a camel. The flying fox folks – the British company that operates the zipline tours had given each of us a bottle of water, anticipating the need of the hour. After the next 10, thoughts are racing. ‘Why am I doing this? What do I have to prove? I’m sure I’m never doing this again. Why cant they operate a trolley like the ones they have on the ski slopes?’

Uh oh..what is this?! Is this water leaking from my bottle? S##T, I only have 1/4th bottle left now. How did that happen? Water is important. And leaking water is not good..followed by flashes of James Franco drinking puddle water in “127 Hours” running through my brain. I definately dont want to be drinking water from an Indian puddle! Calm down, calm down! I said to myself. I fastened the lid of the bottle and that took care of the leak. After that point, I decide to concentrate only on the entertaining banter of the college kids..that encompassed everything from hair straighteners to their sex lives.

And so we reach the top…the cool breeze already starting to soothe my nerves and my dehydrated-self. We rush through the instructions and practice to get to the first zipline. The sight of the first zipline, about 350ms horizontally and vertically, from the highest point on the mountain makes me skip a beat. My nerves have started getting the better of me..and I ask George – ‘What if we stop midway?’ George is in full form now , ‘Then there’s only 2 options you can either cut the chord and jump, or you can take the opportunity to build some muscles by manually crawling the cables’.
I remember and miss my son and husband, not knowing what the next hour will entail. I decide I’ll go least I’ll learn from watching others. They all zip through, some willingly and some unwillingly. Finally its my turn. I’m more mentally prepared now. I can do it. And there I go…the jitters vanishing as I flying through the cable, like a dove in the sky. Its actually enjoyable. I start seeing the other end now..Oh cool! And suddenly I remember..George had asked me to brake. So I put my other arm on the cable and start braking. But George is shouting..‘WHY ARE YOU BRAKING?’ I dont understand. But I’m completely stopped now with still 50 meters to go. I quickly understand and realize that the braking was not supposed to happen until his signal.
Well, I do use the opportunity to build some muscles after all!

Lesson #1: If you can conquer your fears, you can make it. If you cant, you dont.

The next one is more tricky he says. Its the longest and the steepest and with the current wind direction, almost a 90% chance that we wont make it all the way to the end just by gravity. I’m determined that I dont want to build any more muscles. I wont look good with bulging biceps I figure. I decide to use my first trick and let a couple folks do it first. Both of them dont make it. I ask why. George says, ‘they are not keeping their bodies inclined enough so as to use their body weight as a counter balance to the wind direction’. Oh okay, I keep that in mind. Its my turn now. This time my motto is to follow the rules, even if its from the smart alec George. And viola, I do use my body weight effectively this time to finish exactly at the finish line. (Finally, all those extra kilos on my body found some use!)

Lesson #2: Follow the instructions and keep faith.

The next zips were just pure fun. Felt like a monkey jumping from one end to another.

Thanks to my BB, I could capture pictures of the fort from above..the never seen footage is for your viewing pleasure! 🙂

And more thanks to my stark supporters, my son and my husband. Without their cheering, shouting and clicking pictures for 2 hours, it wont have been so much fun.

Lesson #3: Enjoy the ride. Thats most important.

Btw, for all the eager souls: If I did it, you can too..Its lot of fun if you can endure dust, sun, and cowdung smell, hike a mountain without complaining, and just let it go when George asks you to. And would I do it again? Only if they start running a trolley for the hike up the mountain. 🙂

Of traditions and values!

My mother calls me today. ‘Did you know it was “Gudi Padwa” yesterday?’, ‘Well, yes..I saw some updates on FB!” ‘Then what did you do about it?’ ‘Well, err..nothing’. The lecture starts…‘You are supposed to do this and this..How will you teach your son about traditions when you dont follow them yourself?’.
So unlike her passion for sports, where I’ve somewhat managed to redeem myself by my cricket-watching this season…I dont “meet expectations” on her scale of the religious barometer. On the contrary, I’m a disappointment.

Well, my take is…teaching kids traditions(esp. the religious ones) is like teaching them the tools..and not the art. Why do we have traditions? Traditions are to affirm values. And religion is just one of those values. To me, values such as truthfulness, honesty, discipline, hard work, ethics are equally important, if not more. Esp. when we are aspiring our kids to become the next generation Sachin and Sainas. We need to create traditions/rituals that inculcate these values.

Btw, I’m not against religious traditions nor am I preaching against it..Just one humble suggestion though: If you have a religious tradition/ritual that you follow in the house, good to also ensure that the kids understand why these are followed..There has to be a value associated with each of these. In fact, I found this interesting link Indian Traditions: Why do we on Indian traditions and the values it depicts.

As far as I’m concerned, the family tradition he’s learning right now is yoga. Its spiritual to do yoga together as a family every other morning. Also, something that will make him healthier one day. For the rest of the traditions, I’ll leave that to grandma.

And for all those who’re wondering how my conversation with mom ended…Here goes: ‘Guess what mom, I started tennis lessons yesterday.’ ‘Oh..thats nice. Keep it up.’

Allz well that endz well.

What does "cricket" mean to you?

Resonating with the mood of the hour..tons of thoughts battling to find space in my mind. While 90% of Indians are now catching up on sleep after the victory dancing last nite, I’ve decided to streamline these thoughts before they vanish through the crevices of my mind.

Cricket culminated in a “larger-than-life” story yesterday..Over the last few weeks, I saw it being associated with politics, religion, corporate practices, upbringing, value systems, entertainment and lo and behold, even sex and porn. (Ms. Pandey as a case in reference.) It truly became the one all and be all for us Indians..more like the “Bhagwad Gita”!

Personally also, it has been an enlightening journey…
A story of a true convert. For all those who know me well, they know I was never a cricket fan. On the contrary, I used to hate it. My parents never missed a game..and I never watched one “ball-by-ball” in my life before. How can people subject themselves to 8 hours of mindless TV watching? What can one possibly get from it? But now I know…You can actually get wiser if you so wish..and not just by drinking Bud(weiser) through the match! I’m proud not only bcos India won yesterday..I’m proud that I, for the first time, understood what it means. Cricket and this win has been a manifestation of patriotism for me and likewise for all Indians(-at-heart). How could these billon+ Indians proudly show their love for India, had it not been for cricket? Way to go, cricket!

Equally enlightening has been the “bonding” experience with family, friends, acquaintances, and even random strangers. My parents now think of me as a “worthy” daughter. :)Yesterday, a total stranger (that too a seemingly snooty-looking Delhiite) wanted to take a photo with us..just bcos we had a flag and he didnt. Btw, cannot ignore the significance of “social media” in that regard. Would the feeling of watching and winning be so euphoric, had I not been able to share it with my loved ones and friends across the globe?! I dont think so. Thank you, FB!

So my advice to myself and others who care to follow: Allow yourself to indulge in new experiences. And keep your mind open. You never know what you’ll learn from it.

And at a societal level, it has showed us that:
Even though the confluence of good and bad is ever so pervasive in our psyche, the good news is that we are still in the practise of celebrating the “good” and abandoning the “bad”. Some feel if the 1 Cr award money is justified for the players. My take is at least its sending the message that you can make crores by doing “right” things in India, not just through corrupt means. India needed this victory to show to themselves and to the world that…We can also do it, the “right” way!

So to all my fellow “cricket-fans”, spare a thought! What does “cricket” really mean to you?