Million views or make millions

I’m not sure you have seen this video or not. If you haven’t I suggest you SHOULD. As a journalist I had learnt that one always gets a bloody good story in ordinary life! This video too my friend and co-creator of this YouTube channel #thereport and me got from ordinary life. We don’t track our videos on a regular basis. Sometimes we do, when suddenly we remember we have shot lovely videos, we have a channel and as a small reminder to ourselves we tweet them. the best part is while surfing YouTube this afternoon I read we have received a million hits!

Wow! This is called a video has gone viral, right? We entered this virtual world to make millions, we are to make a beginning nowhere near million, but we have reached the million mark of hits. Now you will not have read of it or heard in any mainstream media. Because we do not lobby with the tech writers who obviously do not do proper research. But the virtual world is tracking it all and also has acknowledged our video. A young girl contacted us Last year on the comments below this video requesting us to allow her to feature the video. She wanted to also feature the team behind this. and that is how we were featured by http://hitpunjab.net/innovative-indian-cutter/ .

Suddenly we had people informing us to give a price for this video, interested vendors wanting to buy this video. And their terms were of course absurd. They wanted us to give away our rights, if you please. Then few portals and online networks wanted to tie-up with us. I bet none of these had faith in both of us when we first embarked on starting this video. What clicks nobody can predict.

We showed the knife vendor the many thousand hits. He was nonchalant for being featured. He is a lesson for how to go about doing one’s work day in and day out, the same routine, at the same time, saying the same thing in the same tone!

The point however is about our channel and the success we have seen. I can say it’s NOT a dream gone wasted. We were called losers because when we were asked about business and marketing plans. And we will never have any. We are two creative and people and as we learnt from our subject we will continue doing what we believe in and that which gives us utmost joy-making videos.

This was what we wanted to do for our city Bombay. To showcase her in smallest manner with details that we see on daily basis. I think the important part here is to do it continuously with no expectations. Of course it is our dream to still make millions online ever optimistic 🙂 There is nothing that gives us more thrill than capturing the nuances of our city. So cheers! Time to celebrate.

Court valued my life at Rs 300/- in an accident

ideal

A lot is being reported on law, bail and the legal system of India especially after the hit-and-run case of Salman Khan. Mine is no chilling tale of h&r. However, I am a survivor. Moreover, after my accident, I have personally experienced what usually happens in such cases. Curious bystanders, many who watch for amusement, rare few true helping hands and lastly, but most important, those in your own vehicle who walk away from the scene of the accident, leaving others to suffer.

In 1995, I do not remember (moreover no longer care to remember) the exact date and month of the incident. I was a member of the crew shooting for a promo. We spent second half of the day at a bungalow in Juhu and wound up from there by night time. We left for Cuffe Parade and right behind my house, at Sukh Sagar we were suddenly hit in full force in the middle of the signal. This signal is exactly 5 minutes from my house and imagine till the time I shared this news with my parents, nobody had any clue. There were NO cellphones at that time. We were travelling in a Maruti 800, that belonged to cinematographer Sunil Mehta. He sat in the front seat with the driver, the director, another assistant director and me in the back seat. I had blacked out. I recall my name being called out my legs had become limp. I know now how it feels when we say ‘there was no more life left in one’s feet.’ I nearly tripped as i tried to walk, I was shaking and believe me I was angry that I let myself feel vulnerable. I shook myself and flew with rage to slap the driver and the police dissuaded me saying “Tumhi kayda tumchya hatat gheunaka tai, amhi ahot, amchyavar bharosa theva.” I must give it to DB Marg police and the traffic police. They pulled him out and crossed questioned him, i saw the fucking asshole’s eyes were blood shot red.

Now understand, this was in 1995, pre-internet, pre-cell phone or even pre-pager days. There was absolutely NO awareness regarding drunk driving, anti-speed laws, or a civic sense that even though we still lack on large scale basis, is being strongly felt. So we were left to fend for ourselves. There was 1 more car ahead of us, a Bohri family with an elderly man and his family-9 lives were at stake, at the mercy of this drunk man! There was NO remorse on his face. Our Maruti 800 had become nearly 1/4th its size, we smashed into the Bohri uncle’s car who too were shaken. There was chaos and while police cornered the drunk man, the director coolly held the hand of the more frail and shaken assistant director & said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” May be I should have listened. As I walked few steps with them out of sheer disgust, I looked out for Sunil Mehta because it was his car we were travelling in.

There I saw him on the divider outside cafe ideal guiding the traffic and unaware that blood was streaming down the back of his skull. I walked back to Gupta kulfi, shaking with fear because Sunil had no clue of his condition. The kulfi man gave me handful of ice which i wrapped in my napkin and asked Sunil to hold on his skull and told him he was bleeding. From then on began our useless ordeal. I am glad Sunil agreed we should lodge a complaint at the DB Marg police station. We went to Lamington rd station and were there till midnight. All the 3 cars were towed to the police station while our statements were being recorded.

At that time we all sat around recounting the horror of that night. A production person prodded the director of how the day was a waste, shooting going bad and problems of continuity. Nonchalantly they turned to me and said I should never have got into filing this complaint. “We could have settled this matter and saved time and money of the company.” This was UTV, mind you, making profits. I don’t think any one of them to date realise or even have the sensibilities required. This was shocking to say the least. Here are potential parents and in many ways killers if all they think of is ‘settling matters with money.’

This all occurred within 5 minutes distance of my residence. The accident spot, the walking away cold heartedly, the DB Marg police station-every scene was in half kilometre radius. And nobody in my building or the lane was remotely aware of what had occurred. Worse still, here were educated colleagues and boss who lacked all sensitivity and respect to anybody else’s life. That was the first jolt. The cinematographer called me later and even assured me of support if I were to pursue the case, which I did. I still am not sure if my decision was sensible. I did what is right and what comes naturally to me -to abide by the law.

A few years after that, the matter came up on the board twice. Now this I am sure is still a followed practice. An absolutely unfriendly and indifferent, abrupt and I do think communication-challenged public pleader was ‘appointed’ to take up my matter. She NEVER interacted with me regarding this case. The matter would come up at Girgaum Court, which is a dingy, dark and depressing court to be honest. The public prosecutor behaved with me as if I was the accused. She refused to listen to me. And considering that I already had television news experience going to courts, I was confident of dealing with these lawyers.  But no, she deflated all my confidence. After a few months when the final hearing was on board, this lady refused to defend the matter the way I wanted. I seriously don’t know what she put up to the Judge. Sunil’s driver too was present and all I can say is we felt like total shit. The court declared the accused was from out of Mah. MP or some such state, (that asshole was present in court and looked far from guilty) so he was let away. The judge told him to pay rs 300. I shouted, “This is not fair, my life is not so cheap.” Yes i took the liberty and refused to care two hoots for what the court would think of me. The gall of the judge, who said, “Whatever you have to tell, go to your lawyer.” That cow was not even hired by me, she was NOT ‘My” lawyer. The all round challenged moronic cow snapped at me and asked me to shut up. I cried, NOT because of the judgement only. Because a potential remorseless killer was let free. Moreover out of helplessness, since I had NO powers to fight for myself, the driver and my colleague. Worse the freaking judicial system valued me worth only Rs 300/- DO you know how cheap that is? Even a sex worker in 1995 must have charged lots more than that.

Do you know how shit it feels? It had ramifications on me. I was dealing with multiple frustrations. I did not inform my parents of this accident for long, I was on medication for back ache, was scared in case of any internal injuries. Thankfully after a few weeks the pains stopped. Worse were the mental scars and the need to overcome any sort of fear. I am surprised I did not become an alcoholic or a mental case. I still cannot get over the fact that a court has valued our lives worthy of only Rs 300! This made me an angry woman, I know I often pull up rule offenders. People think I fight for no reason. But it is a matter of existence – do I walk away silently as I see it happen repeatedly? Not that the offenders listen, so why waste my time? I am learning, you can’t change others, one needs to change. And every day I pray I do NOT become an indifferent person..it is a daily battle every single day of my life.

A new ride

NMMT bus

Hello! After a long time that i felt i should share my thoughts. These usually i’ve been capturing on either my camera or cellphone camera. With the change of my job, my bus travel has become rather different. I now travel in the air-condition bus AS4 and it most convenient. Except for few stray transit passengers, most of them are regular ones, who have been on this bus for few years. Now yesterday, March 30, as I boarded the bus, I saw some new people. What I didn’t know was they have been regular passengers who have been on this bus for longer while, but weren’t to be seen for few days. As soon as the conductor came to give me the ticket, the lady opened a box of mithai, my abso favourite, kaju katli and asked the conductor to offer me. As I took a tiny piece (Practicing self-control), she said “Take the whole piece.” I asked her the occasion for sharing sweets with us on the bus, she said, “It is my super annuation day.” I congratulated her not thinking for a second it could not be exactly the happiest day of her life. Recovering that it could be her retirement, I asked her what the term meant. Bashfully she told me, “It means I now will retire after working at a place for 35 years.” Another regular fellow passenger sitting next to her told me he knew the meaning and hence did not congratulate her. I actually felt she must be so scared of the freedom and ample time on hand. I reassured her, that the good part was she now needn’t have to board the bus as early as 7.00am!

Just the sound of those words echoed in my ears. “Worked in an office for 35 years.” I told her honestly that I shudder at that thought. I asked her if she will be given a farewell. So she said, “No all that is over last week. They took me for lunch, dinner and I took some on different days, now it is officially last day tomorrow.” When I asked if she was nervous? “Yes I’m nervous, I don’t know if it’s good or bad.” It seemed all so overwhelming to her. Yet, she had remembered to bring 2 separate boxes for the conductor and bus driver.

Today, as I took my seat like yesterday, I faced her. She looked away from me and she was visibly preoccupied. She had worn a golden coloured saree with gold border, a lovely golden decorative neck piece and yes, retirement day was here! I wished her and complimented on her looks. She thanked me and told me “It is mixed feelings. There are tears and cheers, as they say.” That moment i felt if anyone of us were to hold her hand, she would have burst into tears. She thanked the conductor and bus driver doing a Namaste to them. All other fellow passengers cheered her on. It was all so sweet and emotional, I shared this on twitter. It was a very ‘awww’ moment. I found out that Stella worked in the government ministry, I overheard her saying Shipping.

These are the wonderful experiences I will cherish as a citizen of this city..cheers to all.

Police too can be nice, after all

2015-01-04 17.53.37Now, in early October 2014, i received a call from the police station in my area -DB Marg. They asked if any police verification was pending? Then again mid October they called& asked when had I got my passport renewed? Had i come to the police station? I replied i cannot remember and one of them had the gall to ask sternly how i couldn’t recollect if had personally visited the police station. I was really annoyed. I had renewed my passport in 2012, thereafter I had visited Europe in  2012 and Krabi Island in 2013, now they had woken to harass me? I too sternly informed them it has been 2 years ago and even gone abroad. Again for 2 months i did not hear from them. Then i received a call in December.

The man on the left, Mr Shinde had called. He was very polite and informed me that i need to personally visit the police station and bring a list of documents that i was required to submit in a day. He said, since i had got my passport from ‘tatkal’ scheme and that entails police verification to be done later. Now, my dear police station and that time Sr PI didn’t do it, worse still the passport registrar’s office did not think of it then. Just to respect the cop’s word, because i felt he was polite, i need to go personally. I reached the station in like 8 minutes.

Here I was in for a surprise. Mr Shinde now treated me like an accused. As soon as i entered he said, “here see madam. You had wrongly written the name of the police station.” I was shocked, i never recall writing name of police station. I said i have not written it, so he accused saying someone did and i should have been more careful. From that moment onwards the conversation was no more a polite talk where they are supposed to help customer. Now this is a ‘help desk’ at a police station, yeah so imagine how helpful it was. That now let me explain is a squeaky small room. Another bulky man sits at the entrance, who is a writer. Then these 2 constables. Behind them is a blank white wall, with no sign of ‘documents required for renewal and verification of passport.” there is a semi-partition on the right, where another bulky officer sits and is never to be seen, he is the senior of this help desk.

Around 7ish at night, i am firstly accused of erroneously writing the name of the police station. It is no breach of law. Then 1 lady sat while i was made to stand as if i am in a witness box. So 1 by 1 i too read aloud the list. I was horrified. I asked repeatedly, 14 documents for police verification? They insisted its less and just bring them along with copies. Impatient at my questioning, the cop seated behind tells this young man, “give this slip to her, if she wants to fill it, let her, else forget it. apla kay jata.” Yeah i had not told them who i was, no, because this real picture would never have unfolded in front of me. Mr Shinde said “madam you have to submit all these documents, else your passport can get cancelled.” Now that was my break point. I was on a war path thereon. I said go ahead cancel, it. Let me see whose father cancels it, go, do it. Then they tried to calm me down. I sounded aghast when i asked them why they needed my bank passbook. Simultaneously i had WhatsAppd my personal banker about the statement part. I irritatingly informed the cops we no more get pass books. Now the minute i said this, Shinde turned to the lady seated and asked if she had brought her passbook. She said yes, he turned round and said “See she has brought hers, what are you saying?” I was livid and said mine is not Shyamrao Vithal or cooperative bank ok. He admitted later he shouldn’t have done this. For me this was the lowest. I was no accused, had committed no crime and being verified by some strange lady who was stupid enough to get 1000 documents, it was a total insult to my intelligence. I came out and raved and ranted to my colleague and friend. Dharmesh had a point, why the hell was i speaking to 2 rude constables? It is a help desk and not a place where i am called for questioning. He asked me to head back and bring up this matter with the Sr PI. He was surprised I had meekly got out.

I asked for the senior PI – he happens to be the head of the station. It was then i gave my visiting card, a  journalist. His PS asked me to talk to some Patil, which i outright refused. I was told to wait. At that time somebody saw my visiting card and mumbled about tv reporting, all this i could hear. I asked another crime journalist friend to speak to the sr PI and tell him of my episode. It was an hour after which the Sr PI came.The first thing i asked is as a citizen am i allowed to ask questions? At the outset i praised the constable for being polite on the phone, but said i was disappointed with the whole experience. Meanwhile i put up on twitter my experience and more horror awaited me. In Andheri cops asked for 20 odd documents. Another friend shared his terrible experience.

So the Sr PI like my friend Dharmesh confirmed we need 3 basic documents for renewal of any passport – Proof of Birth & Age, Proof of residence and Proof of Education. One needs to note that. Now for police verification one needs to show –  Proof of Birth & Age, Proof of residence. The reason they list 14 documents is because most often people have varying addresses or information on many documents-some give old add proof, some have made changes but do not have it changed on all documents, some don’t have many of these documents. Which i understood. Now i shared my experience verbatim. He fired the hell out of these 2. A week before another lady had complained. And it came as no surprise that ladies asked more relevant questions and it bothered these 2 cops. I like what the Sr PI said, “These are not accused or criminals. You both are here to help them.” They were given orders to respect us. Later as we continued talking, i suggested why don’t they put up a board. The Sr PI summoned Mr Shinde and we returned to his desk making peace.

On the way another police person recognised me and asked Shinde if he knew me and that i was a senior journalist. Shinde by then needed no introduction to me. He apologised and said he should never have asked the lady as he did and should have answered my queries patiently. I too said hey sorry i had to complain to your boss and we made peace. He then advised that i only bring the following originals and 2 xerox copies- Birth certificate, pan card, ration card (yes despite the fact it is no more a valid proof, SBII branch is ancient) and electricity bill. I went the following sunday and both were helpful. They sat and completed my full form. We chatted amicably and were thrilled that i took their photo. They thanked me for telling their boss to put a board for us citizens and also give the cops a better place to sit.

At the end all was fine. But the cops too have a valid point. Keep all your papers in order, ensure all the basic facts like name, age, DOB and address is the same on all legal documents. Else get them changed, so that you do not face problem in future. Most of all, do not fear asking any question, however stupid. Also ask even though it may irritate the police, that is your right. Respond to their calls and go visit the police station. The police only verify and send it up to SBII. but they are there to help us, so we too can help them to help us.

My day at Tienanmen Square (In 2003)

Tianemen

Recently, during the Assembly elections, a childhood friend contested from my constituency. It was his first time as a candidate. For me, as a journalist, I have been covering elections since post 1990. He got a ticket from a party that I really dislike. But as a friend I had committed to help me in personal capacity. Often in the evenings we would analyze the possibilities and probabilities in the elections. As we neared to the day of voting and later results, we would discuss ideologies at length. Now his party strongly believes in regional identity. They have indulged in extreme violence too.

Frequently we would take stock of the situation and all of us exchange notes. As the election date drew near my friend R seemed confident that he could bank on the Maharashtrian vote. He did tell me that his party president had done lot more and gone beyond his capacity to help him win. Their rival party had put dummy candidate was what he was given to believe. I wasn’t confident. However, beyond all this was the strong ‘Hindutva’ ideology that he was up against. That is something he could not believe.

We had arguments and I realized this friend would not understand till he learnt his lesson. Point being even though the voters in our area are otherwise hard core ‘Marathi manoos’ otherwise, as another friend said, most of them are Brahmins. They are staunch followers of RSS- Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sanghatana. The RSS had ensured that otherwise cynical Brahmins came out in large numbers and voted for BJP. My friend could not fathom that these very Brahmins otherwise show allegiance to Marathi manoos politics, but how they could ditch it for a non-Marathi candidate. It is this ‘ideology’ that over rides all thoughts and actions. He initially had refused to believe, but as he saw the booth wise report he seemed disillusioned.

Mao40002(have deliberately put my pic outside Mao’s memorial, for pictographic evidence of this incident and visit). Now, this reminded of an eerie experience I had in 2003 when I went to China.  I remember I was mighty excited to be in the land of Mao. My first halt was Beijing and I am glad I got see and learn a lot. I got the best of guides. Now this was before the Beijing Olympics and China had just begun to open up. The  college students had begun speaking in English and that too only in Beijing. Most would double up as tour guides. But the fact was we were being followed, checked upon and that every guide told me. They asked me not to ask too many questions.

On the first day I climbed the Great Wall of China and had already begun preparing my 2 students guides about my visit to The Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. I have always been accused of asking too many questions. Before it became my profession, I had learnt that if I didn’t open my mouth, I have lost an opportunity to learn anything new, moreover, often people misunderstood because you just let things pass. I told the boy I was excited to visit Mao’s tomb and most of all the Tienanmen Square. This seemed to have upset the boy. He said firstly he was not at all upto it to accompany me there and why was I so excited about Mao. I told him how the man has impacted the South Asian region till date, India has suffered and our struggle against the Maoist groups. I wasn’t admiring the ideology at all nor was I fascinated by it. I told him I felt bad about the Tienanmen Square firing and wanted to know more, except I feared no one will talk in China. Now this was the iffy part. The guide refused to tell me initially the reason he would not accompany to the square. He said he would take me to the Forbidden City, posed for photographs with me, was cheerful, but the minute we would have quiet discussion or any hint of the square, he would change the topic.

In 2003 too, China was not open. I was well warned in advance that I was to be careful. No political discussions and since I was a journalist, there would be people who would be listening to my conversations. The college kids were well aware of the Chinese mode of functioning. So we had an understanding when we would be well away from the driver, or any such people who we thought were keeping an eye or ear on us, we would speak of Bollywood, life in India and safe topics like Dr Kotnis, etc. Such sensitive issues, we would talk when away from crowds, at the historic places where only te 3 of us would be able to speak. So we decided to live up to the name of ‘Forbidden City’ and speak of why he was embittered and angry with his government, moreover Mao.

beijing18

Now for non-Chinese and rest of the world, the Tienanmen Square is etched in memory for the pro-democracy movement protests. These protests ended on 4 June 1989, with the declaration of martial law in Beijing by the government, wherein the army was ordered shooting in which hundred or possibly thousands of civilians were killed and the exact number of dead would never be known. Now what the guide told me was chilling. The reason he hates the ideology was among those dead was his dear friend’s brother. He was part of those lakhs of students out on Tienanmen Square. Many parents though supported were scared for their children’s lives. These were ordinary citizens who wanted democracy but had no courage to say so,  He came near the square while describing and asked me to closely observe the landscape and buildings. The day the shooting took place, the government officials were in continuous discussions with the army and students’ representatives. The minute the sanctioned armed action and the army began firing upon the innocent students, many parents stood at the windows of the government and Communist Party office and watched their children die. They did not shed a tear, the guide told me. He was in tears while he narrated to me. That is the commitment to the ideology. I remember sharing it with my friend in China and Mao sympathisers in India. Some rubbished it, some had nothing to say, yet some said these were rumours. I do believe that it is NO rumour.

I held this secret for a long time, after I shared it with my college friend who lives in Shanghai. He asked me to keep this secret, however much later I shared it with my Indian Mao sympathizer friends here, when the police and ATS had begun arresting the Maoist group members. This was not appreciated by the followers. It has two aspects I believe. While I do understand their fear of allowing such stories to pass around, one obvious is the negative. What I find intriguing is the staunch belief in ideology. How did such stories not come out in the foreign press then? In China mainland, people don’t talk for obvious reasons, they FEAR. But it is known. So did the media not penetrate enough in the 90s? Did the foreign media not enough reach, at that time? I do believe it that was the scenario. My friend moved from Thailand to China many years after this incident and till 2000 the environment was still not as open. He did not rubbish it though neither did he confirm it. That is how it has always been China about such sensitive matters.

But when Indians over-react to Mao and Naxal, they should not forget, any indoctrination, Maoism, RSS too is part of that ideology. So while we condemn one, I am immensely shocked that the other in modern Indian times is finding more followers.

(All pictures have been taken by me. The 1 of mine, the boy guide took).

Different ‘stroke’ Diwali

stroke

It is Diwali and I wish all a wonderful Diwali and a prosperous year ahead. I finally have decided to write it all. I do not like personal intrusions for many reasons. Firstly since it is personal, whatever anyone may say that individual and their family only has to go through it. Secondly, I call it intrusion because I can’t handle people reacting in far too dramatic a way. I don’t mean to undermine their good intent but often find people are too melodramatic and emotional which, i cannot handle.

Our day began as usual. My sister was visiting us, my brother was down from Pune..so it was one different sort of Diwali, us siblings together after a decade. My parents were thrilled and especially after few trying months. My father is a recovering cancer patient. That too was detected in July, when he had a near ‘total renal failure.’ We admitted him by noon and by the end of the day, the family doctor looked shaken and colour had run from his face and asked to speak to me separately. He asked me to go and prepare my mother for the worst. When I shared the readings of his reports with my Doctor friend R, he told me it was a near TRF. Baba hates hospitals and suddenly was in the ICU, something i’ve never seen and ever want any parent to experience.

Well, my father’s family is endowed with some war genes. The way they bounce back is amazing. And the first sign is when they ask for food. Baba first asked for an idli in the morning and the sisters in the ICU said its fine, give anything but liquids. Later, he insisted on a masala dosa only from dakshinain-we believe one should have a memorable end, eat good tasty food, if alcohol permitted then the best of it, as death should be worthwhile. So contended with his food, by evening father was set to leave. Even though he was out of danger, drs wanted him to be put under observation. By the end of the second day, he came around completely. In those 10 days, he underwent innumerable tests that were gruelling and could have taken toll on him,but he was rock solid.

The news of cancer was not told to him till then. My family doctor first asked me to prepare my mother. But I was clear baba needed to know first and yes, usually the tough part of telling the harsh truth is my job. Like me, Baba too had a hunch it was cancer. My father’s mother, his older and younger sister had all died of cancer. He has an excellent sense of observation having been an ace photographer (professional). And he had picked up the leads already. He was just waiting for me to tell him. He wasn’t shocked and we discussed in details life here after, the options and time frame.

After the biopsy, endoscopy and other tests we learnt my father’s prostate cancer had spread. Now there is a good and bad to it. Bad is that it had spread a lot, affecting his urinary tract. Good part is it had not spread to his bones or vital organs. We had few options and going by his age, (was nearly 82 then), there weren’t many choices. Thankfully it pays huge dividends to have very good doctors in the family or neighbourhood. We have in our extended family and school batch, friends who are fine doctors. We took second opinion from one of the best doctor and we were told the possible treatment option and the side-effects. The fact is going by his age, doctors made it clear prolonging his life was NOT the priority, which I too 100% agreed. Our priority is to give him a good quality of life in the remaining days/weeks/months or even years. Moreover, we felt he should be most comfortable. We were told to look at the hormone therapy as the best option. I went online and read in details.

Hormone therapy is especially useful because prostate is to do with hormones, I mean that’s why we are born in the first place…now the down side to this treatment and that’s where relevance of today’s illness comes into picture. It enhances the chances of heart attack, stroke, enlargements of breasts (imagine male he first boobs), etc. What caught my eye was the stroke, heart attack bit. But you know, what was the choice? We want only the best for our loved ones. I had seen my aaji who took the stand in the fourth stage of oesophagus cancer that no needle will be pierced into her body and she died in 21 days of internal haemorrhage; both other atyas who took the medical treatment of every intervention, surgery, name it and they both suffered through it all. Or then the option of hormone injections. We opted for the last. And what a memorable period and healthy life my father has lived!

Initially he struggled to get up in his bed to even have food, then a bigger struggle after 2 weeks to take stand and even walk with the help of a walker. From August 15, there was a complete turn around. He began to move around in the house without any support, do every chore in the house, walk from one end to the other- and by Bombay standards the house is a cricket field! This was a huge improvement and we were actually relieved for him. Honestly, we had forgotten he had cancer, despite weekly urine checks and monthly blood tests with the injection and medicines.

Now, talking of Diwali. My sister was to leave on Friday night and she wanted to buy clothes from a specific shop. I had taken her to the suburbs and within minutes we got a call from brother asking us to rush back home. My brother said baba’s right side had gone numb and speech was slurred, there was pain in his head and he wasn’t normal.

Now for the symptoms- My father was watching a serial, after it got over, he stretched to pick up the remote and he felt no sensation in his fingers. My brother saw my father’s jaw shift (yes such things happen) and his right knee and right hand had gone numb, while his speech was incomprehensible. He suffered two strokes at home in half an hour. There began series of phone calls and i called two friends Dr R and my school friend. Dr R said my father has to be hospitalised immediately. And my school friend who is a HOD in Saifee said I should move him immediately to Saifee hospital because it has a full-fledged ‘stroke protocol.’ Among the many hospitals in this city, we may not be aware of which has what facilities. There are certain compulsory tests that are required before the person who suffers stoke is admitted.

We moved him for MRI and Angio and in the MRI they detected an ‘intracarnial haemorrhage’ and said it is serious. I read the word ‘haemorrhage’ and for a few minutes I went through mixed feelings. One wants only the best for one’s parents and in limited choices we had taken the best and now we were seeing the impact of that! I believe we have to accept the inevitable but when you see it unfold in front of your eyes, you feel life’s not fair. From a hale and hearty person to someone in tubes, who now has to be told, it may only get worse from here, is not fair for a man who had not seen a hospital in his life. We waited for his neurologist to come, a very senior Dr and just listening to one fact i was sure this is the best Dr. He does not carry a cellphone, he does have a number but nobody knows. He has a residence number where one has to leave a message or at the two hospitals he is attached to and he responds ASAP. This says he is a stickler for discipline which is so important. He is very senior and he is just SUPERB. Firstly he was at the hospital within forty minutes of admission, on a public holiday. He walks in with a brisk gait, absolutely soft spoken but dreaded by all. He was upfront of all possibilities and said the impact of medicines was important.

The problem detected was the blood clot was in a sensitive area of his brain, which controls vital functions-respiration swallowing, palate, speech, etc. The doctor even asked me to prepare father to get a pipe inserted for food intake. Ugh. Never in my worst dreams I’d have imagined my father in this situation. The  doctor was more diplomatic, but i told Baba what Dr had said. I had to explain how things will deteriorate and swallowing food will become hard and he may eventually choke on it, if the pipe was not inserted.  That sparked off a weird conversation on life, death and we spoke of euthanasia, Indian laws (which he thinks are absurd) and compulsions of living a life. Let me make it clear, my father is NOT the kind to want to give up or take his life. He only told me he will never want to live in that condition. He will motivate himself he said and i was confident. Believe me early next morning when i met him, his speech was fine and my father looked normal.

My school friend called the ICU head and asked for my dad’s report and the ICU head gave a green signal to shift my dad out. It was timely medical intervention that helped andhad a positive effect. The ordeal of waiting in the casualty, getting a vacancy on MRI machine, billing, admission is all a bloody time consuming process, which i battled. We lost time on it. And most of all, being a bank holiday the charges are double. Yes, it doesn’t matter for one’s loved ones, but these practical details we aren’t aware of and miss out. Processes that would cost not more than 5-6K just get doubled because these are ’emergency services’ for which specialists are required; and they work for us even on a public holiday. Despite all those procedures and yes, even the ambulance took 20 minutes to leave, we got him admitted by post noon. Dr felt we had lost vital time, then i told him father suffered third stroke in the casualty in front of the docs who had kept my dad waiting on the stretcher.

Like I said on a normal day in a normal life anything extraordinary can happen, I shudder to think what would have happened if it were not Diwali? There wouldn’t have been two more people to help me and be around for help. Human power is so important and we lack in modern changing Indian society. My brother was prompt in calling the doctor and asking us to rush back. So actually I do mean it was “A happy Diwali.” Had it not been for this festival, we all wouldn’t have been there to celebrate and be here. while one of tackled the docs, the other tied up to shift father to the hospital. It is not the best way to spend the Diwali. But now with parents ageing, i think everyday should be celebrated like a festival and i’m NOT saying it for the sake of it, I truly mean it. So live it up for your parents if they are old and celebrate each day…have a splendid festival season.

Farming to stamping books, farmer misses feel of the soil

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This is Yang Peiyan who found the terracotta soldiers on his farm in Xian. He now sits in the gift shop at the Qin museum stamping and signing the book on his life, how he found the statues and life thereafter.

In 2003, on my trip to China, my college friend Bivash had asked me to visit Xian. I first went to Beijing, stayed there for 4-5 days and took a train to Xian. The tour guides were informed in advance they’d stand waiting with a board with my name written. (Forget my surname, my name though simple to pronounce was different, like my features and moreover colour). Most tourists were European, Americans and Japanese, apart from local Chinese who love to travel. I recollect reaching early morning in Xian and the guide asked me to go rest, as he dropped me to the hotel and said he’d come post breakfast. I was to go to Qin museum and then I’d said I wanted to go to the Mosque, which my friend insisted I should. It was drizzling and cold and I was already in love with China by then. Yes, this trip was a year after my US and judge me, but I was more in love with China than the US.

I can’t remember vividly, you need to forgive me as it its over 11 years now. But some incidents, conversations I distinctly recollect. My hotel was cozy and it overlooked a pagoda and a pond. Later I have unclear memories of going first to the Pagoda, a palace like structure and then over 3/4ths of the day at the Musuem. The guide at Xian, unlike my young student guides at Bejing was impatient with my questions. He’d tell me things and I’d nod with questions. He kept losing his patience, saying “Ma’m I’ve told you before no questions. I will not answer and pl I request you to not ask around so openly.”

Ok, noted, but do not expect me to follow it strictly. I went to the terracotta museum and I fell in love with those statues. Except I felt disgusted with the royal excesses. I mean the emperors wasted taxes and money on such personal luxuries. The army of terracotta statues was made to be buried with First Emperor Qin Shihuang, (the museum is named after this Emperor), which just confirms my belief. Anyway, I remember a huge white gate and i was not wt any group per say, the guide took me around. I made him take my pics near some horse and soldier, which are not to be recognized. But I enjoyed myself thoroughly reading of it and now seeing statues taller than me!

Excavations were on and nobody stopped me, despite police presence and CCTV cameras from grabbing a handful of soil.  Imagine soil which is over hundreds of years old! The guide was aghast and looked away and left my side…haha. He said he will wait out, poor man didn’t want to get into trouble me thinks. After hours of walking, returning to few spots I came out..finally. By then it was bright and sunny and not to my liking. I requested the guide to accompany me to the museum shop and began my trolley of questions. He said he can’t talk on my behalf, we’ll get caught. I forgot to mention, the guide kept looking over his shoulder, just in case there were watchers. Somehow my persistence paid and we approached Yang Peiyan.

As I came to his table I realized all he did was look down at the book, sign, stamp and return it. Many smiled, thanked, but he had a robotic feel to the whole thing. It seemed like he was doing what he had to, may be not enjoying, but I’m sure it paid his monthly bills. I ofcourse couldn’t confirm it directly. All I know is, as the guide said, “This is China, nobody is allowed to talk to foreign press. You will get us all into trouble. Yang will not speak, he is not allowed by the government, he is kept there by the government.” I pleaded and even told him the lady next to him had gone to the loo let’s finish with it.

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With the guide as my interpreter I asked does he enjoy what was he doing and whether he missed farming. (point being he would NEVER have told me he did NOT enjoy sitting there). “I am felicitated by the government and I sit here and fulfil that duty. I am a farmer and my hands miss the feel of the soil. I am of no use here but this I what I have to do.” I asked again about farming and he gave a fantastic answer. “I said my hands miss the feel of the soil. But of what use would I be as a farmer today? It is all modernized in China. They use a tractor and machine, I used my hands.”

I requested for pics, he nodded looking ahead or down. He doesn’t look anywhere else. I couldn’t focus properly, in the dim light I had to quickly take 2 pics. His assistant, or as my guide and I suspected, a government stooge stormed in. She saw me click and asked if I’d taken Yang’s pics, I said no, I was just testing and clicked randomly to show her. (This was manual SLR). Immediately I covered the lens and kept it away. She had seen me talk and began snapping in Mandarin to herself and aloud. We all went about our lives as if nothing had happened.

But this was my story and it was real. The guide was initially upset and then admired my spirit to get out something from Yang. We exchanged our readings and interpretations of what he had said. Guide felt he had deliberately spoken of tractors to console himself and convince may be what this job he’d opted for was worth it, though he had NO choice.

Guide said, when Yang found one or two statutes he was surprised and informed the District officials. Once he informed the district officials, the then Chinese government officials came to check, they needed to excavate Yang’s farms and other adjoining ones. The farmers would not have given up for nothing. This was the more conservative, hard-core Communist government. Nobody could dare them. So he gave up his farms, instead he was given the Lotus, the government’s symbol of felicitation, compensated, given a house and promised monthly income of a book which was written for him. He had sit there at the museum during the working hours, the tourists, mostly foreigners who could afford to buy the book, would get it autographed from him and at the end of the day, he would go home, which was given by the government. So there was no way Yang could do or say anything other than what he had just done.

Later the guide opened up. He appreciated my courage and pondering over Yang’s words he shared his feelings about his government and the rules. I asked him do they question the one-child policy, forced birth control and abortions if couples got more than one child? The guide cried. He said they all live in the interiors, while all the opportunities are in the bi said this metros. His daughter too lived in Shanghai and will get married and go. They wanted one more child and he said the forced birth control made men feel impotent. When I asked him why the Chinese don’t question their government, if birth control was successful why had China crossed 1 billion population? He was disturbed. He said the Chinese looked up to India for her freedom and the choice to do things. He left me with an important question unanswered-“you all have so many choices and freedom to make it, why don’t you all Indians make good of it?”

The guide and Yang had left me with 2 pertinent thoughts..

New beginning…concept of a diary

My dearest French friend C, has been goading me to take to writing a diary. Well, not in the sense of emotional rambling, daily chores types, but putting together 25 years of experience, different interactions in my professional and personal life. I was reluctant initially, coz I can be scandalous, I’ve very strong view. read my blog for evidence and most of all i’ve lived on my own terms. Now i will enlist many reasons why i strongly believe i can write a diary better than a book.

I do believe introspection is necessary, do it but think it is also pathological if we write. Then again i’m very concerned about the misuse of one’s diary, i often equate writing diaries with depressed, suicides, having covered crime for over 20 years. I’d rather flush it out that day than carry forward anything the next day that can haunt me or others. I’ve made it a compulsion to sleep over everything. and if one can sleep over any issue, then it wasn’t one of matter of life or death. And the whole idea of a diary is cope and sleep over a death.

So then we discussed writing a novel. Now for years friends have been telling me to write a book. I tighten up, my brain freezes, i can’t focus and i mentally feel i’ve been forcibly put on a roller coaster with my stomach ready to burst. I am the last to ever write a book. I don’t mind doing a book on photographs with stories of people, but NO writing a novel.

Firstly anyone and everyone across the world is writing a book. Now I don’t feel equipped and qualified to write one. I live on fiction, mainly thrillers and crime, espionage and cold blooded murders. I DESPISE ghostly, scary types, I admit I can’t sleep at night. And more so I draw up a list every night for those I wished to be dead, so I dream they are killed in them. That list i would rather see unfold than feel some nocturnal spirit hover around me. In real life I love peace and hate violence, I’m dead serious.

Now more important than all this is I do NOT have a thought process and skills to write fiction. many speak of discipline too..not interested.. and many ofcourse say words just come flying out of their head, ohk. No such sort happens to me nor do i crave to experience it, My life and experiences are to do with real life issues, too much of harsh realities and I’m sorry I refuse to write them in form of fiction. I tried hard. I was told of a fantastic love story that unfolded on the night of 26/11, a couple that lived through that night in the Oberoi. The lady’s first male cousin told me about it, a prominent doctor family. I tried to write in fiction, but i can’t fantasize. How could i? Dammit I was focusing on the blood bath, terror strikes and I could not imagine any love and romance in it. i was there present for those nights and days, i directed my childhood friend and his wife to the officials to enquire about his sis and brother in law who he found lying dead in blood. That couple also need a break having witnessed so much violence in one night, that can last a life time.

So, after lots of bouncing off of ideas we conceptualized a form of diary writing. I begin with that day’s incident and link to the previous such in my personal or professional life. In this manner, my work gets recorded, references to the past, historic information too is recorded.  So today there will be 2 entries. 1st the introduction as to why my blog looks naked, with no picture Where I can give a pictorial reference I will, else bare body text. I love pictures, cartoons, videos. I get bored of only text, may be this the dominant reason for me to not write fiction.

Now being the political season, with State elections in Bombay and Maharashtra on October 15, I will begin with some of these current issues with connections to the previous elections I’ve covered. I often feel I was a dog or predator in the last birth. I rely immensely on my sense and mainly the olfactory senses. Tis has helped me greatly in covering news. I could smell something will become news. Firstly, it is a gut feel, other is of course the professional drill. But I believe one needs to be born with a news sense, even if you try to develop it, it is not the same as being born with it. So strangers and general public can get pissed off with journalists who get excited in the most tragic, extreme incidents. There are stories in it. But you will get pissed off if I said I get uneasy in most peaceful times, when nothing is happening in the society and there is an eerie peace. My antennae go up, I smell some trouble and experience has not proven me wrong.

One sees a pattern in things, in events and situations. Being a journalist and covering news all these years teaches you a lot. We are like hungry wolves and I find it difficult to believe we lead normal lives. Many things we couldn’t report and still many we can’t reveal. I’m not sure I can tell a lot in this diary, because somebody may read, make a reference to it and then misconstrue. I’ve been privy to few things and then one wonders whether these secrets will go with me..  What I can remember and reveal I will tell as the diary travels through the decades.

Kaas, the exquisite valley of Flowers in Satara

tree dew4I had heard of the Kaas plateau as few of my friends had visited in the recent months and seen the wonderful pictures.. we read about it before going, but the real life experience is simply inexplicable and wonderful! The beauty enthrals you and leaves you enchanted forever…

So we drove to Kaas, the valley of flowers in Maharashtra, Koyna back waters and Kolhapur. Now I’ve been to the original Valley of Flowers up in Uttaranchal, way back in the 90s, when I visited the Himalayas once a year, without fail. That’s another story altogether, but the memories linger till today. I was hoping for the same andh believe me the anticipation grew every mile we drove.

Road trips have become a theme for Hindi films of late. As a journalist, my life has been spent on the roads in this city Mumbai and western coast. Apart from that A and I have done quite a few roads in this country. Ladakh, Punjab and Kaas. Believe me there is a lot to appreciate in our own country. So we booked an Innova, 4 ladies and a young son of our friend too came along for 2 days. This was around the long weekend of August 15, when half of Mumbai was venturing out of the city. The good part was we left very early in the morning and it was much later at night when we were enjoying the chilly weather in Satara that we were informed of long traffic jams, wherein people were stranded on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway for 7-9 hours. We faced no such problem. Yes, the signs were evident, that a lot of people had left the city and in the fine delayed monsoons all wanted to make the most of getting to the hills. We skipped going to the food mall at Talegaon and Lonavala. Our driver halted at a the pump to fill diesel and just seeing the crowds we decided to skip the expressway food malls. We survived with biscuits till Pune and we turned around to go to Joshi’s vadewale. Instead we went to this place adjacent. Some spice restaurant, more like udipi. It was drizzling so we wanted to go sit in a place and use a toilet. It was a good decision to go there.

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I’m glad we didn’t have vadas, which spared us acidity problems. Also,since we were in the car to avoid gas one shouldn’t eat vadas. We had some good butter idli-remember in Pune they give white butter in decent quantities, that’s the best part about Pune food, dosas and decent coffee. After this halt we faced the problem of severe jam at one pocket while approaching Wai. We just have no traffic discipline, so while the main old Mumbai-Bangalore NH was jammed, smart alecs began taking the closed service road and chocked the mouth of the NH. If that wasn’t enough many impatient, actually majority in this country seem to be in some sort of a race), actually went on the other side of divider and drove towards the toll plaza from the wrong side. So for a while there was honking, indiscipline driving and moments when I’d have love to get into road rage..it was also warm then, because that stretch there was no rain.

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However, the saving grace was the greenery all along the highway. The first sight of waterfalls greet you as we turn on Vashi bridge and after that it is only lush green, hills and hundreds of tiny waterfalls like little white strips running down the mountains. Once we hit the Expressway, the experience was altogether different. One glaring fact that hits you is, we pay such a huge amount of toll and forget the whole expressway, right after the toll plazas one encounters baaps of potholes! Rest of the expressway was a breeze and once we turned towards Lonavala and Khandala, it was a dream. It was sheer nostalgia, as this was how these 2 hill stations since our childhood have been. Scores of waterfalls across the Western Ghats,greenery and suddenly one is engulfed by clouds..they linger on as we move along the expressway. Now I had the print out of the road map, yes, I am NOT a google-map savvy person, I rely on having a hard copy of a map, seeing, asking around. We were directed by some local people and went to Satara city. We turned right to go to Satara city and went along the road which is called a ‘Powai naka.’ (Yes, many names are common in this country, like there is a Bandra in UP, Powai in Mumbai and Satara).

Once notices that this part of the state is developed. We see a more IT, modern, urban type till ahead of Pune and once we approach Karad,it is semi-urban and rural. This is our honourable CM’s constituency, well his family was Congress loyalist from this belt, but ofcourse he served Delhi and 10, Janpath more loyally. The area does need more resources, employment opportunities and overall looked less developed than even small towns along the highway. The vast expanse of fields indicate that this whole region gets good rainfall and sugarcane, amla, other vegetables and fruits grow well here. We were enjoying these small pleasures, this green that completely rejuvenated our eyes and now the anticipation had begun building. We were dying to see the resort.

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As we were guided to go along the narrow path towards the Kaas plateau, you come to a fork, straight ahead is the tunnel and we took a left that said ‘wayto the plateau.’ Glad we were on the right path as I called the owner and he said “come up the mountain road and in the middle you will see the only structure.” How do I explain the first view? It was misty, drizzling, we drove along the mountain path and suddenly to our right we saw a huge valley, while all around us was forest area. It was like walking in the clouds and dream-like.

We stopped at the resort and realised that there were many day, passer -by visitors, revellers. Many who had stopped by for ‘drinks and meal we checked in and went up to our rooms. This experience was like straight out of any Hollywood film. We opened the balcony door and a gush of cold air welcomed us. Serene, untouched beauty, trees, forest, sounds of a brook passing near the resort, sights of monkeys, calls of a peacock and breath-taking view! Our lungs must’ve taken a while to suck in this amount of pure air!

After a short while we went down to the restaurant to eat lunch and I must say the quality and taste of food in Nivant resort is by far superior. We decided against resting and went in our car to travel around. We ofcourse didn’t know the directions, so we went around with more drizzle, moving in the clouds with intermittent breaks of lake, river, greenery, cattle heading back home and more rains. We went up and down the mountains, driving to the rhythm of the rains. We had no specific goal, no specific destination, except to greedily take in as much beauty and pleasure as we could. We decided to go along the road
to the plateau, which is the valley of flowers, but the light was going and rains had got heavy.

Back at the room, A insisted we see Zindagi and for next three nights I was made to see the Pakistani dramas. I have general aversion to television soaps, which ever language. And after the Zindagi channel we’d go for dinner. The hotel owner a young man he, spoke to us about the valley, the time for us to leave and what to expect. We were aware that we should early (yet another day of early morning, which results in assault on the stomach). He told us often the city revellers, who can be very disturbing, come with their diesel cars creating long traffic queues along the forest road. He suggested we don’t get out of
the car if it rains and drive along the road straight down to the backwaters of River Koyna.

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One important point I must mention here is that one needs fine, compatible friends. We were in no hurry and while taking pics if i requested the driver on occasions to reverse, stop to click, nobody complained,in fact within few hours all had begun alerting me to the flowers. They were colourful, rare and beautiful to say the least. Have I mentioned beauty, speechless and clouds too often, by normal Bombay standards? Well that’s how much of it we saw every minute.

Now the one problem I have with us Indians is that we have something so exceptional like a heritage value valley of flowers, then why can’t we maintain it with as much care and respect? Do we stop ourselves to ask and let our conscience take over a few seconds before some quarter glass bottle of alcohol is chucked out in the forest? Do we hold ourselves back with as much passion as we’d do to keep the insides of our cars clean? Then with why throw lays and wafer wrappers, bisleri bottles, other non-degradable and environmentally harmful trash around?? it is so frustrating…Anyways, through the rains we went to the backwaters of Koyna.  It is unbelievably breath-taking. And there one saw the evidence of the nature’s revenge. Whatever was thrown in the waters of Koyna, the river had thrown back on the shores with as much vengeance! There the boat owner told meone should come after the monsoons to see the sanctuary across the backwaters. One has to take a boat and it is worth the try. I’m happy to see any bird other than crows and pigeons, who I’ve come to despise.

rainbow2 copyWe decided to go grab a nice breakfast and we went to the waterfalls and yet another place. What a disappointment! Obese men, in complete holiday mood had stripped to their bare chaddis, boxers in varied sizes are NOT for public good and is yet another peeve about Indians. The men strip down to nothing and the women with them it is permissible. Aargghhhh…just listening to the joyous screams sounded scary to say the least, we women refused to step out of the car. We drove to the foot of the Sajjangadh Fort. My favourite King, Shivaji’s fort. This was the first time I found easy steps to a fort, but scarily slippery, thanks to the green moss on it. I had to hold onto the railing. I can’t keep repeating about the beauty, but I inhaled every bit of clear air that I could, as if it is soon going to run out forever. Drops of rains had collected on the wild plants and grass that was along the path, which made the climb more bearable, I stopped listening to my panting and I am aware as long as I am on the move it won’t last. I just saw the huge oval door of Sajjangadh with a welcoming sign. One flight below is a shop where people can pose in the pagdi and sword of Shivaji. No, I’d rather imbibe his intelligence and policy of governance and his immense vision which I wish we could replicate in our times today. So the lone hiker went to the entrance where I got totally put off seeing people remove their shoes. Now speaking of shoes, on my descend I barely managed to take hold of myself and not fall flat on my face, The sole of my shoes had come off thanks to the rains and wet ground all the while.

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Anyways, the time had come for those keds and it also meant buying new chappals for the remaining trip. We went to the town market and we then went to a restaurant that had advertised along the highway and across Satara, I’d say do NOT waste your time. We went to the waterfalls and all i can say is, I’ve blanked out the shrill sounds of catcalls and mawalis who were vying for attention. This deterred us from even rolling down our window glasses and we just asked the driver to speed away. Within a short while we decided to revisit the Kaas platau area. Along the way since the morning, I had already seen three rainbows. Now, I do believe I am a rainbow catcher or spotter. I saw the three and within seconds they began fading.absolutely exquisite!

The impression I was given, that there are long queues and traffic jams, well it wasn’t that bad, but yes a huge cacophony. Loud shrieks, whistles, honking –we are Indians and we love to honk-my friends did not wish to get out..this is what I had come for and I volunteered to go out in the slippery but splendid view. We had not had enough. This was straight out of a dream!

As I crossed slippery, muddy puddles trying to avoid making a spectacle of myself (I usually am the first to trip and slip), I stood still as I saw in the misty haze the whole plateau full of buds, just-blossomed blush pink coloured flowers, white flowers that looked too pretty. I got an urge to roll on that grass and mud, but alas, I had to ensure that I don’t trample upon those dainty shrubs and plants.

flower12 copy   Some of us replanted few plants as fellow countrymen and women walked upon them- many died and many more wilted. It broke my heart. The weather was so weird this year, these rare plants deserved more respect and love. But since we need to adjust to this world, I decided to behave touristy and began taking photos. Walking around the muddy paths is best advised as no flowers or plants come under one’s feet. There to my luck, I saw numerous wrappers thrown into this carpet of plants and flowers. Yeah, I went around collecting like an idiot, but I’m sorry i’e realised I’m just getting older and finicky.

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I returned to the car a happier, thankful person who reached yet another nirvana. First was in Tadoba, where i saw innumerable birds, animals and i admit the Tigress with her cubs gave me the ultimate nirvana. I love nature and I am grateful that I’ve been fortunate to visit such beautiful places. We went back to the rooms, back to our lives of viewing television, Pakistani serial, reminiscing the whole day’s experiences and recalling the Kaas visit. The next day we set out for Kolhapur, we went in search of some place for lunch and ended up at Dehati. Absolutely delicious, mouth-watering authentic Kolhapuri food. Now the popular misconception is Kolhapuri is spicy food, it is NOT. Their chilly paste and chutneys, pickles are like missles, but not their regular food. It is by far the best. For the meat eaters, they give meat along with tambda rassa and white rassa, The vegetarians can ask for the rassa (gravy) and it is worth it. I ate the vegetarian thali which was beyond filling. We drank sol kadhi to digest this heavy meal and returned to our cars like Mogambos and stuffed pumpkins.

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We travelled around the city, saw the Mahalaxmi temple, beautiful lake and later went to the palace and Shivaji museum. There in the premises, for over two hours we were treated to an exclusive sight of deers and a peacock special. That the deers are petite, quick and agile we were aware. But that they were adorably loving was a new facet I experienced. Few of them posed merrily and their sharp ears were sensitive to all sounds and murmurs, The peacock true to its personality took his own sweet time to give an appearance. I’ve not put in such energies and patience for even a man in my life! That bird takes the cake for showing what a personality means.

peacock2 copyWe went for dinner and little did we know we would be involved in a huge drama, Initially we sat inside the restaurant and the young owner, Chandrasen came and asked us to sit out to enjoy the chill. It was far too windy to sit through the whole dinner. We ordered our appetisers and chaas and requested that we sit inside. Adjacent to our table, across the aisle was a group of men. They were drinking and honestly looked shady. They were quite loud and few times we saw the man with the earrings open and shut the window. I was distracted and found that slightly irritating. My friend A thought they were feeling hot and that is why they wanted some fresh air. However, L had decided to pay detaled attention to this threesome male group. She told us that the man with earrings was behaving badly and trying to draw the attention of two teenager girls sitting out on the deck.

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The girls were very attractive and must have been his daughter’s age. They were sitting with their parents and brother. Slowly the other two men went away and so did this pervert. By then L had began hyperventilating, all set to go to the parents to tell them how cheap he was behaving. We then saw the pervert come from the garden end to the deck right where the girls were sitting. He tried to signal to the girl while holding onto a cell, talking into it. Now L had told us so we 4 women began watching the course of events. On our left side was the wall and a huge fish tank and across it was the lobby. Within minuted we saw the father of the girl had accosted the pervert in the lobby, We got excited, we wanted this man to be beaten for what he had done. He was shamelessly defiant and his accomplices came wanting to drag the father of the girl outside. We feared these ruffains were ganged up and the father alone, not realizing who was more powerful. A asked me to tell the girl’s father not to go out alone. He tried to assure us he won’t beat the man, thinking we didn’t want to see these events. At that time we all women said, no we had no problem if he was handed over to the police because we saw him behave lewd with the young girl and he deserves a tight slap. Suddenly the manager and the workers from the hotel ran out.

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Later the girl’s father came to the fish tank with folded hands bowed and thanked us, We felt he was pucca like a politician. Soon, he came with the owner’s father and said “I’ve come all prepared, but didn’t do anything, Please tell uncle I wasn’t at fault and just protecting my daughter,” This father was a rather young man and we looked across his daughter was still crying. Then all was fine and we all said byes and retreated to our rooms to prepare for journey back to Mumbai. The next day as we left the resort, along the highway, the driver asked us if we knew what had transpired. We recounted the incident that had unfolded in front of us, After which he told us what had occurred outside. The man was beaten and after he tried to hit the father, the hotel staff rushed to pin down the pervert, Wait, now is the interesting part. The pervert’s wife came and begged forgiveness, her grown up son tried to defend the father and was given a tight slap and then the wife begged to leave him, as they had a daughter of the same age as the girl! The father of the victim turned out to be the brother of the late Vilasrao Deshmukh’s wife, And yes, the driver excitedly told us he too gave two tight slaps to the pervert, On the way we did stop at Joshivade wale and we were not disappointed. The typical Marathi authentic vades are the ones which have thin layer of gram flour, not thick like leather. Satisfied, like our journey to Kaas we ate the guavas, roasted peanuts in the pods and yes this time we even had boiled sweet corn!

We returned to a rainy city, but noisy, with traffic jams from Chembur and scores of people having baths along the highway and road, all in the name of Dahi Handi. A thorough let down from the near-heavenly abode to stark reality of loud noise, dirt and urban madness.

Kashmir, the turning point in my life

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Way back in 1987, I was a scatter brain, not confident, had a track record of not being efficient in handling money and was dyslexic. I however was into outdoors, sports and always a trekker. By then, being a member of Youth Hostel Association of India, I had walked with a broken foot in Chandrakhani Pass, Himachal Pradesh, Kalsubai peak, highest in Maharashtra, Matheran and places in Western Ghats . Listening to the options, was absolute music to my ears. One was Pindari glacier and the other, Unbelievable! A 15 day trek to Ladakh. The YHAI office was just opposite to Charni Rd station, I promptly ran to Bombay Central station and checked out on Jammu Tavi tickets. It was as I believe the Universe had come together to conspire to ensure I go to Kashmir.

This trip is special and will always be. Many incidents, memories of my life are a blank slate today. However, this trip, a turning point of my life is etched permanently in my memory. I first booked my tickets and then took permission from my parents. My father surprisingly agreed. (He was comfortable with me going alone, never with anyone else). Mother and I have never ending issues, she let her elder daughter travel and stay in a hostel, but never me. Had it not been for my father, she would never have allowed me for this trip.

Please understand these were pre-historic days compared to today’s internet, advanced days. Ladakh was the northern most tip of India and we from coastal Bombay had NO clue of what such cold can be. Thankfully a second cousin and lived in Jammu, as her husband is from the renowned Camalin Dandekar family owned a factory and were well-versed. The family was relieved, there was ‘some’ contact. I only knew from the brochures which told how you should get acclimatized to ‘altitude’ and such basic things. I was excited, firstly was to go alone and most of all to Kashmir. Nobody could believe my parents had agreed to let me. I vaguely recollect the only things I heard from general janta was “watch your wallet,” “Kashmiris are cheats, you will be fleeced” and such. These were their experiences and I was not interested in listening. I did go to libraries and read up on Ladakh in books, magazines and newspapers – yes, there was NO Wikipedia or Lonely Planet then. And loads of information and tips given by the J&K tourism centre at World Trade Centre.

Being a student, I was on hand-to-mouth-subsistence money, which meant second class travel and one long journey. Though Jammu Tavi was superfast as I recollect. I had stayed  at my cousin’s for 2 days and we had booked my ticket for Srinagar on a state transport bus of J&K. On hindsight I think the only one sensible  thing I seemed to have done, was to take my student’s identity card. I can’t tell you what wonders it did to me in Kashmir. My experience changed my life forever. I had decided to stay only at state tourist homes. This tip was given to me by the J&K tourism people. They had said i’d get good discounts, not knowing I would get up to 75%.

Wherever I stayed thereafter in Kashmir I was given a discount. Wait, moreover wherever I ate, I was NOT allowed to pay. My secret to look ‘not alone’ was to show i’m waiting on somebody. I would walk in looking confused, I’d see foreigners or tourists and take a neary-by table & sit by myself. Remember i was just 18-19 years old then. Whenever i was asked if i was waiting for someone, i’d answer in affirmative. But I would end up in a tricky situation at the end of the meal, because as i’d remove cash to pay, the Kashmiri uncles would just not let me pay. At every restaurant the owners would say, “you’re an Indian student who is alone.” They would either take token money after persistence, or most often refused to let me pay. There was something good in them that made them feel protective towards me. Their eyes would shine that a ‘girl had come from India by herself.’ “You are a guest of Kashmir” and they would ensure I was even dropped by one of their staff or family members.

These uncles would speak to me and asked how my parents had allowed me to come to Kashmir. Now let me explain, in 1987 skirmishes had just begun, there were intense anti-India sentiments. I being starry-eyed Indian who believed Kashmir should remain united with India. However, this opinion changed nearly in the middle of my trip. Never one to be scared, I loved to debate I’d have engaging conversations with Kashmiris and army officials. As part of our trek, we were made to travel short distances in army trucks or lorries, that’s how most traveled in Ladakh, back then. That uncle said he was proud of my parents to have shown faith in Kashmiris. He said, it was their pledge that I would be sent back a changed person and my story would be different. (I always knew my story would be different).

I vaguely recollect that it had rained for four consecutive days in Srinagar and the city was shut, all vehicular movement had stopped to and from Ladakh and other highways. There were protests and some talks of army action. In the midst of all this I was absolutely besotted and judge me for being ‘filmy.’ I did all touristy things like riding a horse and going on the route where Bollywood films were shot, in Pehalgam. Problem was, my horseman was so dead gorgeous I couldn’t get my eyes off him, I vaguely remember him mumbling Shammi Kapoor and Sunny deol. Yes I was a young college girl from Bombay, who had come to the Himalayas highly influenced by, Shammi Kapoor’s Kashmir ki Kali and Dil Deke Dekho and who found every Kashmiri handsome and beautiful. I remember seeing blood-red cherries, like never before. We’d get yellow ones in Bombay back then.

After a short break i was to join Sonamarg, where our base camp was. I swear now when i look back i was so god damn ill-prepared, all information i had got was from asking around, the information given by the 2 aunties at YHAI was so brief, 1 would have thought, the journey was a B’bay-Pune one.

I’ve vague memories of the base camp and girls sleeping in a classroom. I don’t remember anything but waking up at night shitting and puking. An army doctor was called on the day our trek as many like me were ill. Our trek was kicked off by Farooq Abdullah the CM. I gave my camera to some members of my group from Orissa and cursed i was laid in bed. Oh! did I mention, we had no flannel, thermals, enough warm clothes or sleeping bags back then? There was no twitter where one could call on friends to give their jackets and stuff. I had one huge rug sack, trekking shoes, gloves, sweater and jacket. None which could help me survive a winter in Pune, forget a summer in Kashmir.

The army doctor came visiting the camp and told us the water was contaminated and many of us had got gastro. Frightening. That was the time I remember missing my dear Girgaum and Bombay. Wonderingif i’d taken the right decision of going on that trek. I somehow made friends, it wasn’t a difficult task, but the way I was told to be careful, as if i should suspect every Indian of being a cheat. Almost all were helpful, friendly and yes nobody was a cheat. There was a mix, some college students, many working, some turned out to be Income Tax inspectors who were in the same trekking batch as mine. This small group took me under their protective wings and ensured I drank black coffee, ate biscuits and walked few steps every day to regain strength.

Our delayed trek began. We got feedback that due to the heavy rains and blockades rest of the groups were returning to the base camp. Tempers flew around and our trekking batch decided whether we traveled in trucks or lorries we should move. We had to wake up at unearthly hours to get on the Zojila pass. Most of the memories are blur, but I remember Drass, because we were put in a school there. The windows had NO glass and was killer cold, we were happily told it is the coldest or second coldest place on earth! At night when we’d go to the toilet, we could hear sounds of the wind, the urine would get frozen in that cold! It all seemed eerie. No I don’t want to remember, the way we we were put up by YHAI, no wonder they charged us so less. The toilets, less said the better, to shit between wooden planks at a height that one could faint. Yes, the best part was we got to see places at subsidised prices, we met new people, it gave us confidence and we trekked on some beautiful and difficult paths. I do hope we haven’t contributed to the environmental degradation.

The whole terrain of Kashmir and Ladakh is distinctly beautiful. And yes, my SLR with film rolls were with me. That was the best part, I’d stroll around with my camera and met some wonderful kids and people. I had to ration the films because they needed to be developed and printed. Most of all the fear of my photographer father at home who would scrutinize every frame. I couldn’t waste a single frame, forget the roll.

I visited all the places one needs to in Leh and nearby towns, villages-Lama Yuru, Hemis, in fact saw Dalai Lama as he had come to launch the Hemis festival and went around drinking Tibetan tea, their food and was well acclimatized. And till now I haven’t highlighted one main point, we never got more than three ‘lotas’ of hot water to bathe. It would mostly end up getting ice cold, that’s another story of going on treks. In Leh for the first time we had the luxury of paying Rs 5 or 8, requesting some hotels to allow us to bathe in hot water. In 1987, Rs 5-8 was a lot. The whole road journey made me feel I’m in one dream world, in my Never Land. It was straight out of films, as I had expected. The beauty, the colours of the terrain, the trees, the greenery and most of all the grand Himalayas, all exquisitely sensuous and beautiful.  I was just too overwhelmed. By then our trekking group had become fairly big.

We met some interesting people too. Some medical college students from Bombay, who seemed strange. They had brought millions of pills for everything. They’d show off big time, scream that every bottle of water-whether straight from the melting snow stream to a bisleri was contaminated and had to be purified. So they’d jump, screech, pull out some pills pop them in their bottle see the fizz, count upto to some number and drink. While it seemed fascinating to them, it completely alienated them, not that they were keen on being with the rest of public. Even when the whole batch moved, they would move together so when a small group of us decided to go to Amarnath, i was shocked to hear this medical group had shown some interest.

Finally, many of us, mainly from Bombay and Pune decided to go to Baltal. The IT inspectors did some sweet talking with the army officer at Baltal and we got to stay at the army station for few hours. Me being the youngest, one inspector spoke to the army officer to let me sleep near the coal burner. It was a HUGE copper vessel with a chimney and coal burning at the bottom. It was the warmest memory of this trip.

Most of the members of those who had initially said they were interested, turned around after walking a few metres. The army officer told us that the official road to Amarnath had not opened till then and since i ended up being the only girl in the group, he sent two sentries to protect our group. All this was told to me much later. We had to wake up on a chilly morning and started trekking by 6.00am.  Now, if you have seen Tarey Zameen Par then one will know what I am saying. 20 people will walk on a path, will not trip, no stone will give way under their feet and they will be able to walk without any problem. The 21st person, that’s me, will be THE one who will trip on a stone, slip in the mud or water and yes this happens even today. Now imagine this on a mountain full of snow, where we had to make a path, with no proper footwear to walk in snow, i was living Lucy Balle.

On the way we saw a baba in white, Muslin cloth in that snow & cold. He looked completely doped out, who walked like a charged bull and then after a while saw him walk back. I mean in times of buses and ponies/horses which human walked up & down Himalayas as if in times of Vedas? They need a better purpose I thought. That Baba was the only other human apart from us whom we’d seen the whole day. We reached around noon and nobody was there except our group. While all walked to the shrine, I slipped from one end to the other and had to be caught to ensure I didn’t slip down in the valley. It was just like slabs of ice piled up. As i’d heard and read, a drop of ice kept falling from the ceiling making formations.

In some time I realised my feet were swollen and one member warned me I had would be victim of frost bite. Soon some match sticks were lit to warm my feet, I sat barefoot with few men scrubbing my feet and after nearly four weeks I recall crying that I was a young, college girl who for the first time was out for so long in the most unbelievable circumstances. Then the men told me all girls had backed out and I was the only one who had climbed with them. And the fun was about to begin on the descend. I was fed gluco biscuits and within an hour we were back on our feet. The walk back was a mini shock-there was a land slide and the road seemed unrecognizable, we spotted a fox and the sentries showed us how the path we had made had got covered in some areas.

The last two days were interesting. I met a Sikh volunteer who was recovering from the 1984 riots, he described his horrifying experiences. That was first time I met somebody who had survived the Sikh riots. Some termed him crazy, but the fact was his experiences were real and they had left him scarred permanently. I think he was brave to volunteer to be with strangers, meet youngsters who may have given him a reason to live and hope for. He needed help and he had chosen his path-trekking, as a way to reach out. That was brave. All said their farewells and I began on another three days of travel back to Srinagar and Jammu. Again a time to be on my own, but this time with treasure of experiences to shar.

I owe a lot to Kashmir for this trip, it made me a new person, a new woman altogether. The small attention the locals took to protect me was touching. Due to the political environment, they ensured, when the bus stopped for passengers to go out and pee, the men in the bus would send the women from their families to accompany me. They took care never to leave me alone. This kind of hospitality I have NEVER encountered in my entire life before or after. It spoke immensely of the faith the Kashmiri had in themselves and more so in a stranger girl from a land they didn’t like.

Seeing the young army cadets who were sent to Kashmir to fight in the tough terrain, it irked me to learn they were seen cheap labour. To face death and be treated in this manner, before one’s life had begun, it taught me the first lessons of management, which I experienced in life much later, However, I was lot more prepared to fight than these young men. Their spirit brought immense pride.

The Kashmiris would discuss with me about college, life in Bombay, impact of films and most of all the politics. I was too young, may be my vision was tainted, but they never disrespected or rejected it. They didn’t rubbish my idealistic view. They allowed me to learn a lot about their lives and they let me into their world to see the bitter truth. I learnt a lot of real history being with them for a month than I’d have learnt in history books or through our biased media. Yes, I am part of that very media, but no denial it is biased. I used to write every day or 2 days to my parents on inland letters. Letting them know I’m fit and safe. When I returned, most expected me to tell some sob story or was cheated. To their shock my story was rather new. They of course refused to believe and not that I cared.  It was like I found my true self, I had found my course of life and swore never to stop travelling.

I began believing in myself, because till then I was never given a reason to. My experience taught me to have faith and most of all it taught me to travel on my own. I learnt to be comfortable in my own company. I developed a habit for going to Himalayas, nearly every year & I admit i love these mountains more than humans. I also learnt to live in a new place, meet new people, speak to strangers who don’t know my language and who may even dislike the place I come from. They still welcomed me warmly and that was an eye-opener.

I knew one thing for sure, I’d return to this beautiful place again. I went back in 2007, to Ladakh, but this time in luxury. I can happily say, i observed not an inch of difference in the topography, it was beautiful as ever. The colours of the soil are as violet, red and brown like before, the cabbages greener than I’d ever seen. The saag (vegetable grown there) greener than the spinach we eat, cherries redder than our blood, small apples that are juicy and tasty, the fragrance of Kashmiri saffron that can drown you and most of all the Himalayas standing majestically towering over you…one circle of life completed after 20 years, taking me back to the place that changed me forever, Kashmir.