Different ‘stroke’ Diwali

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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.

Catch a Rainbow

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In the last nearly 25 years of my professional life as a journalist, I realised one important thing, I didn’t ever want to get lost. I was and still am passionate about writing and more so, NEWS. If anything turns me on the most, it IS news. But there is more to life and I never wanted to lose that and along with that, the need to have fun anytime and anywhere. It may sound slightly exaggerated, but i always live with that spirit.

Most Indian news organisations have developed a pattern to kill individuality and their staff having a life. Basically because most bosses have none, or their lives suck real bad. Those who do have fun are interns, new comers and the culture simply erodes and eats into you. We aren’t encouraged to take holidays and moreover to publicly say you enjoyed your holidays. The office ensures that feeling is killed instantly. So here I was, wiyh my life’s mission to travel, in such volatile environment. Now, by rule I’ve taken two holidays a year- 1 small and 1 big holiday. I basically work for my next holiday. This nomad, bohemian spirit was encouraged by my parents. But that lessened as I climbed the ladder of designations and with them came unnecessary burden of taking on other people’s responbilities. Holidays became rare and the duration even shorter. Initially it depressed me, but i realised through work I still travelled across the country side. The subjects also i wrote of took me to tribal areas, increased interaction with villagers and went to places away from main cities. I  soon realised I am a rainbow chaser and catcher.

Not that I go to a place to specifically see a rainbow, but i’m like a bomb spotter. Bang on, I feel I am close to nature and I tend to see, feel and smell things around me. And for this, one need not go to some distant lands. Often it is common sense, which I gathered reading and talking to villagers. A drizzle with thr clouds giving way to the sun, or a short spell of rains with the sun smiling in the background; look up, wander around and you will see a trace of rainbow. I can recount from college days that i’ve spotted a rainbow in Girgaum and have wanted to share the utmost pleasure with others around. And let me tell you i’ve got disappointed that people in our cities have lost the ability to enjoy small pleasures, plus they snigger at those who do. It is an inexplicable joy to see a rainbow. Recently I saw this Rainbow on my way to the gym in the evening. I again wanted to share this moment when i saw a young boy looking forlorn. I just looked at him and said “why don’t you enjoy looking at the rainbow?” He must’ve thought i’ve lost it and asked ‘where?’ This was the best part, as I told him “just look above you.” The young boy went crazy with joy. He mumbled ‘shit’ for not spotting something that was so obvious and had there been no puddles, he would have jumped about.  He promptly called his friend on the cell to share it. And i was glad for once someone else shared my joy.

My rainbow stories are plenty. I realised, I didn’t have to go on a holiday to enjoy such simple pleasures. Travelling way inside in Vidarbha on the train, as i missesd my dear Bombay, for the first time in my life i saw a full rainbow. Wide as ever and I could see all the colours-VIBGYOR. My absolute favourite place is Khandala ghats, the ever green spot to catch rainbows, same with Sanjay Gandhi National Park and most of all, the Himalayas. In peak December winter at Gulmargh, as i struggled to walk through calf-length snow with a friend, suddenly i saw faint streaks of a rainbow. Like i said, only if it excites you will you understand my extreme joy. It is simple pure and immense happiness, similar to seeing any sort of wildlife.

This year, in the initial days of showers, some friends posted pictures of a double rainbow. Now i admit that’s something i haven’t ever seen. And it is my aim to see a double rainbow once in my life. I am sure very soon i will be able to see a double rainbow. I’ve made myself a promise That I will continue my pursuit of chasing rainbows in this city and around. So what if underneath that beautiful coloured arch often there is slush, dirt, lakhs of homeless or sewage. The truth is, that rainbow still signifies beauty and hope. And both I will hold dearly, something so nice this very city has taught me to believe in..

Stop & statue!

Gandhi  Look closer on the head and the chest of the great leader, whom we have termed as ‘father of the nation.’ Appalling, is actually understating. I’m even ashamed to call myself an Indian.

This statue stands alone in a garden next to the ‘power seat’ of our state, called Mantralaya. The administrative heads, chief minister and all ministers sit, rather tightly on their backsides.

I always wonder they spend millions of rupees, (now thousands and lakhs have no value), fight among each other to get land allotted for a plot where they build statues. All in the name of patriotism. Really my a*%. Firstly, it is  a shameless form of capturing public land, which otherwise would have been used by children and public, deprived of gardens and maidans. I remember how as kids my father would bring us to these gardens-1. at Colaba, which thanks to the residents they’ve fought hard to retain. The other BIG garden was adjacent to Mantralay. Interestingly, one entrance to the state administrative building is still called as ‘garden gate,’ because like most things in our part of the country, once upon a time, there did exist a lovely garden. We all would come and play and we had sunday-sunday friends as kids. There was a mud pit where we could roll without being yelled at, tiled path along the garden which prevented us scatter-brained kids from trampling upon the plants. And yet another garden next to it, which was this. I don’t recollect the year when Gandhi’s statue was erected there. I’ve no problems to that, i have problems to the silly technical issues, like keeping it locked.
I’ve a HUGE grouse that they spend public money putting up statues and give NO thought to the maintenance and keeping it clean. I swear looking at it as I pass by everyday, it makes me want to up there on a ladder and scrub the statue. Birds droppings that aren’t cleaned except twice, or wait, may be max four times a year. The Republic Day, the martyrs day (Jan 30), the Independence Day and October 2, the birth day of Gandhiji. Rest of the time, he is a forgotten entity.

Then why do our leaders want to construct these statues? Leave aside the fact the politicians build them, which is a hangover of the British culture, we don’t deserve these luxuries; in fact the Shivaji Maharaj’s statue at Shivaji Park is in a pathetic condition. They not only forgot about this statue, but when they did remember, in 2010, to celebrate the 50 years of Maharashtra, the rascal Municipal and state officials, went and got this bronze statue of Shivaji painted to tar BLACK. If this is not pathetic, they went and painted the marble Flora Fountain into ivory white colour paint. They have lost their marbles!

The bronze metal has to shine brightly, instead they change the very colour to black and paint it. Now the officials will have to waste money to firstly scrub it, ensure it doesn’t get scraped and then polish it. As for the Flora Fountain, I am not sure anything can help, we only need a miracle. Now see the Bapu’s statue, black, with dried white coloured bird droppings. Yet, this government insists on constructing a Rs 100 crore worth statue in the middle of the sea. I am sure birds fly into the middle of sea too. If they can’t maintain one statue here, wonder what they’ll do in the middle of the sea. Besides, ofcourse they get an opportunity to fight with each other to try and show their right over the most loved King’s name and his history, Shivaji.

gym society

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Recently I had written about my weight loss and the many reasons I really dislike about gyms. Those were my hurdles, however I must say gym has taught me to be lot more tolerant. I’ve learnt about people lot more. I love to observe and hence I keep my eyes and ears open. It really has taught me to be less judgemental and every day I say, thank god for being the way I am, god bless for the parents I have and that i choose the decisions i make. There are all sorts who come to gym and believe me those who come to get ‘fit’ are an absolute minority.

Among the youngsters who come to the gym are mostly girls who want to get into the marriage scene. Either they’ve registered with bureaus, engaged or want to get, and they are the first to give free advice on how one should be religious about diet, how one should eat small portions. Like I said free advice, forget the fact that post marriage they are NOT seen few millimetres near any gym! The young men about to get married are what they are, trying to attract attention. Vests, tattooed arms, bulging muscles, who at that age believe their body odour is saxee (aarghhh) and will begin carrying deo bottles in their 40s, after being forced by wife to travel some countries around the world. They will eye young girls and women older than them.

The most interesting bit is about older women who come to the gym. There are docile wives of old men who accompany them, diligently work out, slow ofcourse, due to age. While their horny old husbands will flirt, charm their way through women’s groups at the gym, cracking jokes, talking till cows come home, did I say work out? Aah, well it is to be forgotten. These are the types whom I have caught staring at women through gym mirrors too!

Then are the younger wives, bubbly, getting good sex, still starry-eyed about marriage. Cooing on the phone when their husbands call, after many reminders from this rather young bride. They will shyly ask why they called so late. The speed of the exercise varies with the conversation and emotions attached to the interaction. For eg if the husband has time on hand and realises this is the ultimate call to speak to the wife, he will talk horny to her, she exercises fast, giggles and we around see it. Then in between she is trying to get Her point across the speed is real slowwww. The gym music has absolutely no effect, believe me. And yes, did I mention we have a view to die for, the Arabian Sea, so it adds to the romantic mood.

A young college girl meanwhile has ‘her guy,’ as they are addressed, besides many other ‘dudes’ on her WA and BBM. She will always be accompanied by a newly made fraand at the gym or from her neighbourhood. Arre, forget gym, it is rich father’s money being channelised to chat non-stop on WA and BBM. With plenty of calls “wassup, aaj kya plan hai? Pata hai tumhe usne kya kaha…haan yaar…hahaha…” and the conversations are interspersed with “sorry sir/ma’m, urgent phone hai..” IF by a remote chance any trainer asks them why they’ve been so long on the phone. Forget the fact there are notices put up everywhere saying “talking on the cellphone in the gym while exercising is not permitted,” joking or what?

Then there are those richie-rich who deal, negotiate on the cell like we’ve never heard before. And yes, they stand or sit looking straight into the mirro. “haan gym mei hu, cycle pe hu, I can talk..” or “arre yeh deal pass hua? Nahi? Kitna paisa boley?” and they will fidget caressing their mane, side-locks…

Then there are those many, rather majority, who really intrigue me, the housewives who are either bored or live in joint families. They come to the gyms to get a breather. Gym is ‘my time’ and we are so lucky those who understand it and choose it. There are many like these who have absolutely no idea about me-time. These are women who have never been given the opportunity or made to realise time for themselves is very important. So it shouldn’t be held against them when they come to the gym they seem clueless about exercise regime. They are interested in food, cuisines, gossip, talking non-stop about the pathetic lives they lead, many who are very well-off but now suddenly announce to me, “we want to have an extra-marital affair,” or the richer ones who sit there for 2 whole hours daily not realising this is time with their bodies, with themselves.It is really sad, they are mothers, grand parents, who have been ‘ideal’ wives, mothers, daughters-in-law, still toiling to get the approval and have never given attention to their bodies, to their minds, to their own needs and moreover no channelling of their emotions.

So here they discuss everything from affairs of Bollywood stars, their abortions, juicy gossip you and me would not have heard of, the inside stories of many a businessman’s family, who is swinging or having a torrid affair with, who has how many diamonds and shows off and who has that class of not bragging it around.

And there are those newly-travelled Indian housewives who has suddenly become ‘aware’ of fitness. Who has time at hand, as their husbands are busy minting money, who believe they know-it-all and will tell you as though their word is the seal. So be it marriage, sex, men, clothes, politics. They are first to tell, ‘gym is my passion,’ Hi5, because they are busy judging these all above women who at least come to unload their emotional baggage. These ones are the closeted ones, who hide their sorrows, who are obsessed with their looks and then have a word on all others around them. To the extent, they come and stand next to the members working out and talk about whether one is ‘looking’ thin, has lost weight or not, how others waste their time, are not interested and shouldn’t be here. Well, these are the first ones who need a shrink.

I am NOT including the loud ones who are only nuisance value in all gyms, or those young guys who go around calling every woman older than him as ‘aunty.’ They will fall into one of the above categories, they are still in infant stage, don’t know where to fit themselves. All in all, gym is just the reflection of our society. It really tells you the kind of upheavals that are occurring in our society. I always thank these women for giving me an insight into our society, about how pathetic is the status of a woman even today!

Weight-loss-a-lonely-journey

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In 2005 I got a second jolt of my life! I had developed deep vein thrombosis, which the doctor said was another sort of heart attack. Thankfully it was averted. One can get a heart attack with heart arteries clogged, while other with leg veins clogged. I was devastated. It began with, “why me?”

This was the second jolt, because first was the cause of most of my ailments. I began suffering from permanent amoebic dysentery, from early 90s, when I used to go to Marathwada every 3 months, after the Latur earthquake. I was eventually put on steroids which made me a bigger, fatter Neeta. Diet control, boiled foods, all failed. From binge, went onto indifference and finally watching what I ate, but was TOUGH.

Believe me this was all a mental turmoil, physical just the beginning. I was a whole new girl, unrecognisable to self. Born thin, waif, I never knew being fat. Yes, I was flat-footed, lazy (running is for my sister’s types). I’m crazy for adventure, love it. Will go to far-off distant lands on my own, go bald, but running, ain’t my kind of fun. I was an athlete because I played basketball and a Javelin thrower at state level.

I didn’t want those days back in my life. Yes, I was fit and all. But everything was time-controlled by a stop watch and moreover I had achieved beyond what was expected of me. All accolades were for my sister, according to my school I was a nothing. So to prove a point I ran despite excruciating pain, considering I never wore corrective shoes. (I never developed an arch on my heels). My feet are flat and pain, especially at nights. Today I wear comfortable footwear, with inserted arch in every shoe, tad late.

I got recognition, won medals, name appeared in newspapers and I felt like I’ve achieved enough, as I’d shut up people. By then my addiction was daily reporting of shoot outs, encounters, killings, political upheavals and news. This professional life was of odd-time eating, drinking. Because of the kind of places I’d spend maximum time-courts, mortuaries, public places, hospitals-I had to control my bladder. This too took its toll on my health. The doctor said here began many problems.

Post diagnosis, doc asked me to stop everything, including my silly diet and just go on brisk walks. Back to timings, huh. Believe me I do NOT fear anything, except ill-health. And this SHOOK me. Nobody wants to look after an ill person. I had lost balance on my feet, had gout, so I first underwent acupuncture and regained the balance. Began early morning brisk walking. Then, I was eating high proteins and calcium, but at wrong times and consuming very less water. So went on water therapy immediately. I began drinking one and a half litres of water as soon I woke up, before brushing my teeth and consuming 3 litres within afternoon time. I still do.

In this time my weight fluctuated tremendously. I cared a damn. Honestly, if anyone tried to tell, (which was all the time), it wasn’t helping. Till then I was defiant. The more people asked me to lose weight, I wouldn’t. One main problem then, I loved my body. However it may have been, I was comfortable with the fat, I could see my tiers naked and yet not get depressed. That is very nice for us women, but a mental block for losing weight. I still do love my body, now even more.

Then with my 2 other friends we started our early morning walks. They both stopped. So began with two more. This was fun. We began exploring our part of Bombay city, taking pictures. We bust a foreigner druggie encroacher on Siri road, had millionaire Adi Godrej as company, saw Peacock, admired trees, fauna. There was fun element in whatever we did. Come rain or shine we walked. Then one by one we began enrolling at gyms. I am ANTI-gym. I don’t like enclosed places. Body odours are a BIG put-off for me. So the motivation wasn’t much. Ask me to walk and I can do so, the whole day. I actually lost 4 Kgs in Paris eating cheese, having wine, just walking everyday.

So I had to force myself going to the gym. New place, strangers, I am NOT good at it. Somehow as a journalist I am a different person, I can talk to just about anyone, apart, I am different. I don’t like intrusion, I like to observe, sit by myself, happiest in my company. Worse I dislike is people like ghosts hovering behind me-Sales staff or people looking above my shoulder. Father says, he too hates it, we’d prefer standing face to face and talking. So there began a tedious journey of self-motivation.

I had to shake myself up every morning. I first joined a sad gym in Girgaum. The arm-pits of trainers would STINK. When they’d stretch over me it was HELL. Then imagine the diabolical combination of BO + perfume! Aaaargh.

It was a small place with politics like in our Parliament. Then I got malaria and the owners refused to refund money or extend membership deadline. I stopped going to this gym. Anyways they were more ‘gharguti’ (domestic) would switch off aircons to save power, very down market. So resumed walks. This time began walking on the steep slope of Malabar Hill. This walking on slopes is very good for hips.

See, walking was a dedicated time for myself. Here at the gym I didn’t feel so. Then I joined a new gym, at Saifee Hospital. Much better, but I’ve a HUGE mental block about gyms. I wasn’t losing weight, even remotely. Oh and besides the other deterrent being, the pathetic music in gyms. I’ve exercised to love songs. And did I mention that bloody crappy machine called treadmill? I want to shoot in the balls of the person (has to be a menacing man) to have made this machine. There’s a quote that says, “worrying and treadmill are alike. You keep doing and it takes you nowhere.”

There at the gym I’d see a foreigner, South Asian anorexic lady, running an hour on the treadmill. The Gujju uncles would fight that they’ve also paid and why is she monopolising the machine. (Deserved it). These are the reasons I HATE gyms. But the view to this gym is to die for! I just LOVE, as I exercise I look into the Arabian Sea. ONLY for this view I would pull myself out of bed, out of the house and go as if I’m doing a favour to this universe.

I tell the world I go to the gym and I exercise for that one odd hour. Then some of us started our own aerobics and here began some new fun. Still got bored as I found the environment was very casual in morn sessions. So I just changed my timings and began going in the evenings. There are lesser people, more fun and serious about gym. Yes, the body aches at night, but it has become a habit.

I set myself simple goals. I must be able to climb the stairs of Charni rd bridge, like myself looking into the mirror and fit in my old clothes. I can now run up the stairs without panting, I look thinner, I admire myself more and clothes altered! By August I’d finished 1 round of alterations, by Diwali I’d finished 3 rounds of alterations, spending few thousand rupees. But I made a promise that I will NOT buy new clothes unless I lost weight. More than weight, I’ve been losing inches. I weigh same since last December. The fact is, I get bored easily with exercises and I DETEST cardio, but it is the best for weight loss, moreover for building stamina. So my afternoon trainers have ensured that my schedule is modified. At our gym every 3 months our weight and inches are measured, which is also a major motivation.

Like de-addiction, even to go to a gym is self-motivational, no option. Biggest motivation, last week, I made my first purchase of Red HOT pants, 2 sizes smaller.

Dare to dream

When in school we’d have many people who’d come to give us speeches, lectures. Many were boring, many still would give talks saying how life is such and we have to overcome, all of which would put me to sleep. On the rare occasions I’d pay attention was when one would say “dream and follow your dreams.”

In the last nearly 25 years of my professional life, honestly the same pattern I’ve followed. I meet all sorts of people and believe me I appreciate and truly admire those who have dared to dream. This has been my guiding principle – Dare to dream.

This is a story of Shubhashish a former DNA money journalist and a friend. He had previously applied for a Masters course abroad, but had to give up on this BIG opportunity, obviously for want of money. It is not easy, considering he has been living alone, no family support to raise such huge finances. It has been quite a challenge.

However, this young, restless, journalist Shubhashish, obviously must have felt sad for giving up this chance, but didn’t let it sink him. He is someone I like for apart from many reasons he is one young journalist who has a conscience, believes in basic values, which is NOT easy. Now in today’s world when many tell me, “you have to move with the times,” here is Shubhashish who is trying to slip into the ways of today’s world but with keeping intact his ethics. Now, there is something to learn from him. Besides, he has dared to pursue his dreams.

Shubhashish waited for few years, moved on to Business Standard, has been doing some really hard-hitting stories and hasn’t stopped dreaming of pursuing higher studies in his field. He again applied, I’m happy and NOT surprised that he did get admissions, for pursuing a masters degree in International Relations in the U.K. Even taking into account his savings, he still needs to raise few lakhs of Rs . Meanwhile he learnt a lot along the way and hit upon ‘crowd funding.’ The idea of crowdfunding came about after reading Sleeping in Homes of Strangers: A month-long Journey of Trust by Mark Dickinson

Now we are all used to seeing the world through our hardened experiences, our perspective and way of thinking. Reading widens horizons, travelling a lot more. He could ideally have applied to the same trusts, funding sources or the best option which is rather most expensive, taking loans from Banks. Shubhashish dared to pursue the path of ‘crowd funding.’ Where one goes to all and sundry, those who can give a minimum of Rs800, these can be absolute strangers, foreigners, relatives, so-called friends, bosses, just about anybody who would ‘like to help’ another person in need.

There is absolutely NO human being that never needs help. We all do need at every given time. It may be to simply lighten one’s mental, emotional burden, but we are more than willing to shed it. Here is someone who wants to pursue, is hopeful that there is still some good out there in the world and I absolutely believe there is. Often what ails us from getting any form of help our own inhibitions, shame, even humility to say, “I want help.” I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Shubhashish to firstly accept at personal level, higher then that now he needs to go out and ask for money.

I think two most important factors that we needto support people like Shubhashish is the drive to evolve and more importantly, the need to acquire new knowledge, skills, I think this needs all the encouragement. Many told him they don’t want their money, instead he should help others. This has been the guiding principle of our family. From my grandfather’s time we prefer to ‘carry forward’ help. And that’s how idea of #Projecthope evolved. A project that he has committed to help other needy students like him in future. In little over one and a half months he has raised half the amount, he still has to reach his target.

Project Hope