Monday, June 28, 2021

*Travelogue Himachal Pradesh- 10 Jun 2021 Onwards- Part II- 12 & 13 Jun*

Clouds are nature's amazing creation. They come and go at will duly providing varied experiences to humans. Perched right at top of a hill,  our abode at The Kutir, Naldehra, Mashobra, Shimla overlooks majestic valley with hillocks and hills spanning till the vision travels. The clouds build up and dive into the valleys and then float upwards to The Kutir as if to kiss the cup of hot tea placed on the  railing.

The clouds built up ferociously late in the night and lighting striking over the horizon started travelling towards our tall French windowed room. Khalil Jibran had famously quoted- Let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of heaven dance amongst you. The hills know this the best. They remain rooted to their grounds and the winds gleefully played in the valley's adjoining peaks. They went down and rose up striking the tall trees in their way. They played a ferocious game with the valley and the jungle but not even a single tree gave up! The match was squared even as the Sun decided to close the game and rose up to remove the haze. The morning was fresh and bright announcing the Birthday of Karan Dewan, a young man who was scheduled to take an early morning trek in the pristine hills. He woke up happy to a rising Sun even as Mrs Manju Ahluwalia enjoyed a spray of rain falling on her pretty face and did not shut the windows of her majestic Scandinavian bungalow perched inside the hills. She is the de-facto Commandant of the Mashobra hills having seen them for close to 07 decades now.

The winds, storm, rain and sunshine all culminated in a lovely evening with an amazing ex- National Defence Academy (NDA) group of venerable Seniors from 26th (Kilo) General Manjit Ahluwalia; 38th (Foxtrot) Flt Lieutenant Sanjiv Dewan & 39th (Foxtrot) Maj General Anand Kapur and their magnificent families. We were welcomed with open hearts and assimilation was quick. Quickly we realized that the hills have great humanity. A phenomenal connect and we were all overjoyed to share the laughter in these tough times. Plenty of tales and trails hooked us on to the Mashobra Hills and quiet Leopards who silently roam these green hills.

Another rain soaked morning welcomed us today. The little storm accorded me the privilege to keep lying in the bed at The Kutir and chase the clouds flying past the giant windows. It seemed as if they were waiting to smoke my tea cup but I was in no hurry and hoodwinked them from the coziness of my quilt. 😎

Around 12 pm, we set off for an exhilarating drive to Tattapani where hot water springs come out even as mighty River Satluj winds its way through the town. This town announces the boundary of District Mandi. I entered inside the hot water pool of a hotel Hot Springs situated on the banks of Sutlej. It was an exotic bath and I was the solitary guest inside the pool. Felt quite like a royalty even as my body soaked the heat from Sulphur water.

We drove back and stopped at a roadside restaurant for a light lunch. Driving back to The Kutir and my thoughts were with the green hills and sights that ticked my imagination. We were soaked in the clean air and our lungs filled up again. Happiness prevailed all over and we also witnessed the setting up of a deity in a Sutlej riverside temple.

The hills of Himachal have a magnetic attraction. They are clean and green. They are ever willing to welcome tourists who must come with a pledge to keep the hills safe. We  witnessed 
first hand locals following all safety protocols and absolute lockdown post 2 pm each day. Kudos to the administration and the locals alike. These steps and all Government promulgated protocols including vaccination would definitely help

Looking forward to a great working week ahead from Mashobra Hills and beyond.





Wednesday, June 16, 2021

TRAVELOGUE HIMACHAL- 10 JUN 2021 ONWARDS- PART-1

The pandemic numbers started weaning at New Delhi and the urge to climb to higher abode again kicked inside us. The run to the hills ensures closeness to the nature's oxygen tanks. The mere thought of filling up the lungs acted as an alarm to wake me up at 0330 hours of 10 Jun. I wanted to burn the rubber early and reach the destination well within day light. Winding up the house, securing plants and fish for the long holiday kept pushing the time. Finally at 0600 hours we were all loaded and set the pace for Shimla and beyond.

The road blockades around Delhi merits circumventing around and this meant an extra 100 kms into the journey. The first 3 hours of a long drive are crucial to gain the best distance. The drive was fast and *Green Mamba* clocked speed with ease. Renault Duster is a sturdy car at speeds more than 100 kmph and grips well on the tar. I tested it up to 140 kmph and there was no hard feeling as the engine ran silently. The car has not been serviced since Sep 2019 as it has clocked less miles but held good. 

We missed our first pit stop at Neelkanth, Karnal and the smooth traffic flow meant that we surged ahead to find a decent pit stop at one of many Mannat Havelis. A quick and light breakfast with tea leaves in Milk shaped us towards Chandigarh.

A venerable senior from the Foxtrot Squadron, NDA was cruising ahead of us and recommended a stop at *Nik Bakers* at *Dera Bassi*. This was worth the stop but we again found milk ruling the coffee 😂😂!! We are too hooked to the *Masala Teas* and *Less Froth Cappuccinos*. Welcome to the milk rich Haryana and Punjab 😎😎.

474 kilometers later, we checked into a flat which we have hired at Naldehra, Shimla for the sojourn and to go around the area's villages. The valley is simply superb and weather very pleasant. The evening fell across the vast expanse of hills and hills only to be ruled by scattered lights which seems to put stars on Earth. There are beautifully colored houses spread over the hills and winding roads pass through high trees visible from our perch up in the hills.

We set up the home in this new place and the *Green Mamba* began its rest calming it's heated engine.

Pristine is the exact word for where we have reached this time though the construction has sheared a part and hallowed the untouched status.

We are looking forward to gulping some rare fresh oxygen, local fruits and meeting with some great local people including settlers. This is the first time that we are also trying a *VLOG* and would share the link once the movie is ready 🥰🙏🏽.

Have a great time folks, be safe, *Wear Masks* (we wore all through the drive), *Wash Hands* and *Maintain Social Distance*.






Thursday, April 01, 2021

TAMIL MARRIAGE IN MANIPUR- PART 2

The epitaphs for humans are written once they have left the planet Earth. Many stitch careful imaginations into realities thus etching a place for them in the history. Every time that I come to Indo- Myanmar town named Moreh in Manipur, I think about all those early settlers and visitors who stepped here. What must have been going in their minds when they took the hilly roads in vehicles that moved at snail's speed. The last post of India and settling down to carve out a life here must have been a task in itself. Generations after generations have grown here, lived here and adapted to ever changing political-economic scenarios. Strife, moving demographics and ever evolving trade have been the only constants apart from the bumps of roads dusty at many places.

Hearing a person who has left the town decades ago and now returned to partake in festivities is an experience. Their eyes swell as they recall days of the yore and acknowledge that however tough, the life was good in this small town. Their reminiscences kindle imaginations of the land, its people and who all traversed its lanes. The tony guitarist strums his strings and belts out a number in the name of God. His voice rips through the playful sounds of young children, even as the dogs of adjacent homes dare each other. The miniature sparrows with blue beaks come flying by to take short breaks on the tall Christmas Tree in the backyard. The Sun is setting and the badminton players illuminate their arena to begin the game stretching into late night hours. The body clocks are settled well now that the continuous supply of electricity and mobile data has penetrated the region.

The visit to the town was also to see the recently opened cafe by my extended family. It is called Love Byte Cake & Cafe. Do not forget to note the spelling of *Byte*, an important one in today's data hungry World! The efforts of my energetic Sister-in-Law and her 3 young children are bearing fruits. She makes delicacies which were far from this mofussil town trying to emerge out of a Kasbah. Her cakes, pastries, pizzas, burgers, shakes and Burmese delicacies are well sought in the town and lit up the wedding festivities. The 4 layered tall cake was a hit as it just disappeared after the groom cut it with his bride. The arena is changing at some pace here. Innovative creations find connoisseurs in every part of the World.

Children have started going to school. I ask them why no masks and the reply is no one wears them! Someone has to wear first and each one looks at the other one!! The lip balms hold priority over masks is the conclusion!! 

I set off early morning of 14 Mar 2021 to fall back to Imphal via Asian Highway-1. The road is coming up well and I am hopeful that next visit would be a faster drive. Crossing the posts of various CAPF forces is a pleasure in itself with quick tea meetings with the Sentinels of the North-East. The young and dynamic Officers fill my chest with pride as I reminisce about my days in Uniform. Welcoming a Veteran gives utmost satisfaction to both the serving and the retired. The legacy is definitely in safe hands.

The time to the Airport check-in gets closer but not before a great friend now settled in Imphal comes to meet me at the Airport with his entire family. Ayam knows me over our multiple phone conversations but we have never met in person. He makes a big impression on my heart by coming with his family for those short 5 minutes. These are valuable human jewel moments. I do not click a photo even as my heart wants one because I want to honor him at his home and take the coveted snap. What a surreal experience and I am happy to see the happy family safely settled in Imphal even as the dastardly pandemic continues to sweep through the World. There are 3 wonderful families who left Delhi even as if they foresaw the pandemic and fell back to Manipur to be with their roots. What an amazing grace of God and I saw smiling faces.

As I hug my near and dear ones, a lump build up in my heart but I am again rejuvenated to scale ahead. Maybe there is more of my life to come back again and again to spend time with wonderful folks who still give you unconditional attention and care. 

The Airport Team at Imphal is quick and swiftly clears the volume of passengers as three flights are ready for take off. I see some familiar faces at the Airport and yet another conversation begins. A gentle conversation is the best elixir for humans.

We are cruising at 30,000 feet plus in an Airbus even as I write this travelogue piece. Somehow, this height is perfect fit as outside temperatures plummet to minus while inside it is a comfortable 25 degrees. 

My luggage carries delicacies from Manipur. Dry fish as gift from an Uncle and various kinds of raw material from my Brother-in-Law would definitely cheer my best half back at home. The lip smacking taste is definitely going to continue for some months till we replenish.

When my epitaph is written, amazing Moreh would definitely find its place. After all, Moreh does mean resting place!


TAMIL MARRIAGE IN MANIPUR- PART 1

09 Mar 2021 marked the day of stepping back inside the Delhi's T-3 Airport. A quick check-in and settling of excess luggage was done. Walking through the spaced out queue one could see that the Mask wearing still needs to be promulgated. Mask under the nose and loose masks can be the failure of the first line of defence. We must honor correct donning of masks and of appropriate quality. It seems that some masks are now made to be worn under the nose or that the ear loops just give up as they punish the ears each day with their grip. Friends is it are the loops and the ears? 

The renovated Amex Lounge was ready to be the perfect host. I settled down to fill the stomach and read the morning newsprint. Aircraft landing and take offs presented a delightful sight to the eyes. 

The visit to Manipur this time was to attend a wedding. Traditionally it is the groom's family which traverses the geographical divide to complete the rituals of life's new start. 26 years ago, I should have travelled to marry my best half at Manipur but we made the opposite request. This time around the groom again made the request and the bride's family came down to marry in Manipur. Well, I had an invite from the groom's side and carrying traditional wedding dresses for family members, I boarded the Air India flight to Manipur's capital Imphal. 

The take off was right on time even as the face shield vanished from almost every face soon as the aircraft climbed. The tail winds hit the aircraft well and arrival at Imphal was 30 minutes ahead of schedule!! The view of Himalayas was soothing to the eyes and the cloud cover on top of Imphal did flutter the landing. 

Driving on Asian Highway-1 is an unique experience. I have seen this road for last 27 years and this time it does seem like a highway. The road is smooth in most drive section and its scenery is amazing as always. We stopped at a dirt track going up the hill. This track became visible this time when the road was being made and is a World War-2 track used to travel to Imphal. Historic, as I stood on its edge, I imagined how many would have used that road to reach a place called Pallel which incidentally also has an abandoned WW2 Air Strip. Operating aircrafts during those years must have been a great human challenge. The pilots in every sphere of life and of course of air planes deserve applauses. 

Day-1 and I reached Moreh. A banana from Bongyang Village actually tasted well. These bananas are not put in chemicals and taste not so sweet. My luggage distributed to happy faces, I retired for the night skipping any further calories- liquid or solid!! 

Finding the sweet spot in a new pillow is always a game which keeps humans tossed up in new beds. This bed, though not new to me, but settles with my body after a few hours of accepting each other. I had slipped into a delirium when sounds of gun fire woke me up again. 30 odd rounds were fired over an hour and kept piercing the night inching towards an early sun rise of North-East. 

It was business as usual for the city folks as we entered the early morning wedding at the Tamil Temple. Happy faces of all hues, playful children and breathing a while without a Mask. As the wedding progressed, we ate a delightful breakfast of Uthappam, Idli, Pongal, Coconut Chutney, Sambhar and topped it up with Halwa. Meeting people after decades is enjoyable experience as time does its work as a beautician. All are keen to know about the family and place of stay. Same questions are asked everywhere and one has to be very precise to give same answers lest confusion rules. Someday, we would have a pocket Alexa which would give similar answers! 

It is 5pm of Day-2 and the Sun has moved on towards its westerly stroll. There is another event which is inching closer as first of the stars comes out. As the music belts out, juniors will raise the dust from Mother Earth and seniors will sit in a separate lawn reminiscent of their times when not so much dust was kicked up! Dust is the real story of Human Life. It is said that Marriages are made in heaven but the life is lived on the Mother Earth with choices of kicking the dust or careful steps to avoid kicking of dust! 

Till the pattern of life is decided by the newly weds, it is time for us to bless them and enjoy the happiness of human connects.

Monday, November 23, 2020

TRAVELOGUE HIMACHAL PRADESH DAY 1-3

 *Travelogue Tunnel to Tunnel* - Day 112 Nov 2020


Cruising at 90 Kmph with all due diligence of Traffic Speed Signs, I saw the cars  ahead braking with no tail lights!!! Bruce Springsteen was belting out Dancing in the Dark and I found myself virtually standing on my brake pedal with all 4 tyres screeching on the road littered with construction dust....

Welcome Delhi to Panipat road. The Green Mamba (Renault Duster) behaved as desired and the 4x4 helped to bring the car to a halt just before the bonnet would have been opened apart like a knife ripping the abdomen. The cars behind too managed well and after a few pleasantries with the elderly Jat bhai who braked as he had a mobile call, I scorched the Duster ahead. 

The pains of poorly managed construction are visible all the way till Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh.  The woes of pollution have many culprits and the farmer's match stick being the easiest to blame as nothing can be done to him in any case!! If the construction is managed well and the dust around Delhi can be managed, it might help more to the cause. Our 15 year old technology wizard was excited to see a mountain soon as we turned Port (left) from Delhi towards Sonipat. He was jaded when told that it is the famous garbage dump of New Delhi which has still to find a solution. Maybe his generation would find when in power!!

We are now at Bilaspur for a pit stop for the night after  a 9 hour drive covering 375 kms. Green Mamba is secured for the night. Each moment is fleeting in life and one must find sojourn in what is available....
 
A light dinner of dal- roti will help to shape the game for tomorrow.
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Travelogue *Tunnel to Tunnel* Day-2 (13 Nov 2020); *Arrival at White Stone Cottages,  Tirthan Valley, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh*

Kenny Rogers, the legendary Country Music Artist, sang a heart touching song in 1979. It was called You Decorated My Life. The song has a mystical touch each time it plays for me. A couplet of the song says Then you added some music, Every note was in place. And anybody could see, all the changes in me, By the look on my face. Zing, the song goes past in the husky voice of the late legend Kenny Rogers.

The Green Mamba purred to life soon as the ignition key turned. As if she wanted to dominate the road to the next stop on this travelogue. She has barely felt the pressure of her pedals since 23 Mar 2020. The new wheels, the battery and it's engine were raring to perform. As we turned her right from the hotel parking, I could feel the engine asking for a ride and whoa she responded as I burnt the gas.

The roads curved, bent, climbed and descended. The wheels stuck firm and we zipped with thin traffic on the road. The roads are being shaped to develop a 4 lane highway from Chandigarh to Manali. There is big machinery cutting the rocks and making life easier for humans to travel to pleasure destinations.

A big machine was cutting a rock and the big boulder came hurtling down. The road supervisor was frozen and could not move. The big stone found another stone on its way and went past the supervisor's head opening a big gash! He fell down and the cloud of dust engulfed him. He lay dazed on the road and there were few vehicles plying at that time. His staff looked for help and a young local going towards the nearest town was flagged down for help. He was gracious and moved the man with him for the medical support. The safety norms to be followed at such remote construction sites merits a look by the authorities.

The road features changed to jagged looks and the Green Mamba sailed effortlessly on her 4x4 drive train gliding over the pot holed journey. The local drivers believe they own the roads and must be given due respect. We kept on driving at our comfortable speed giving way and racing at times to build the adrenaline.

A stop over at a roadside Dhaba and emerged the duo of Dhoni and Sachin!! Both were all cheered up and smiling as we took seats. Dhoni prepared fresh Omelette, Aloo Paratha and Maggi topped up with Tea. The chilled wind rose up from the valley and overtook us as we soaked in the Sun to enjoy the grub. A quick click with the duo and Green Mamba blazed on with all her front lights lit up. 

In a small town enroute, we saw a cracker shop. The 2 school girls helping their father were elated to show us the crackers. We picked a few green ones and all set to use them with the resort staff tomorrow to make their Diwali brighter. There are no noise makers and only some light creators.

After a run of 6 hours and a missed turn, the Green Mamba entered the pit stop premise to be parked next to another Duster of the resort. After months of being parked inside a basement, she is under a perfect blanket of stars- all dark and dusty but maybe happy at her journey where she ruled the roads of all kinds- clean, pot-holed and pebbled. 

We are settled in a cosy cottage with flowers all around us and River Tirtha flowing right behind the cottage. It's sounds are singing a lullaby far away from the sounds of passenger jets at Delhi. What a bliss with dropped temperatures and some fresh trout to give the much needed proteins.

And as Kenny Rogers had rightly sung in the heart warming lines- And you brought out the colors, what a gentle surprise, Now I am able to see, All the things life can be, Shining soft in your eyes.

Cheers and tomorrow awaits...…
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Travelogue *Tunnel to Tunnel* Day-3 (14 Nov 2020); *White Stone Cottages, Tirthan Valley, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh*

Deepawali, a festival of great importance and glamor at NCR, was getting eclipsed in the hazardous AQI conditions. This prompted us to drive out, find home stays and spend time with hill people. 

An early morning walk on the narrow hill roads with absolutely fresh oxygen built up the Diwali momentum. The Honeywell Car Purifier failed to pick up any number as the Green Mamba went through its morning start rituals before being washed with icy cold water from River Tirthan. A sumptuous breakfast and we walked into the river bed. We washed clothes next to the river to feel the icy cold water initially numbing the nerves but also making the blood flow through the veins. I took a dip inside the river and immediately found that my body temperature shot up, it was an amazing feeling as the flowing water danced around me. The Sun had built up and we sat on Field Chairs next to the river to soak in the Sun. The  sound of Tirthan River is all around us and the birds chirping makes it a pleasant experience. Two eagles emerged from their nest high up on the hill across the bank, flew casually and then soared up high. 

We walked through the village and met with local people. Ram was standing outside his yet to be named Cafe. He has 6 homestay rooms, is 26 years of age and eager to host people. I mentioned that I would be writing my experience and he wanted to host me for breakfast. I thanked him for his offer and complimented him for his clean cafe.

Down the road, the local dogs surrounded us. Prem Kumar was coming down the slope and said not to worry as these dogs like tourists. There has been no tourism since Corona came and they all are eager to welcome tourists. Prem works in the Electricity Department and walked alongside us. On the way, he mentioned about a homestay he has built for his son's business. His nephew is married to a German lady and she runs the Cafe next to the homestay Shanaya. We saw the well done up rooms and look forward to a future holiday/WFH from such locations. The Internet has its own boons too!

The local shopkeeper spoke about how his family survived Corona times. He earned close to INR 600 on an average before Corona hit. His orchard gave him some fruits and he dug into his savings. The Village Committee (Gram Panchayat) did receive some financial grant from the Government but it never came down to him or others. There was no free ration too! His family was optimistic to welcome tourists at the earliest and share their serenity with them to run lives. Vagaries of life but still happy people are all that we saw today.

The evening was lit up at White Stone Cottages. A young family from Maharashtra drove in and we all chatted as a few light crackers lit the garden to celebrate Diwali. There was no sweet as this travelogue has a week to go and we want to preserve the body chemistry. A light snack dinner, a walk under the watchful stars and we are closing down for the sleep as mercury drops further even as River Tirthan flows to cut the mighty boulders into pebbles. Nothing is permanent except change in this World. The Eagles too have returned to their nest and we intend to climb the steep hill early in the morning. No smog, no smoke, no noise and life is at a perfect juncture. Amen....

*(To be continued)*

Sunday, March 01, 2020

The Free Birds

Visiting the narrow and cold lanes of Delhi’s Chandni Chowk to meet with maternal relatives was always exciting. These lanes are beset with history and its footprints. As a young student, these visits invoked an awe as the latest lessons of history covered in school would come alive. The doors of havelis, the windows just inches away from the other building’s windows, the shops lined along the narrow alleyways and the aroma of various cuisines was enchanting. The dialect used by the local residents had its own old-world charm.  
Climbing on the high roof top of the ancestral Haveli would give a panoramic view of the real estate spread from Jama Masjid till Lal Quila. On the roof top were pigeon houses where various colored pigeons were reared by our neighbors. With the opening of the pigeon trap doors, the birds would walk out giving those peculiar calls. A whistle from their captor and the birds would take off in the air. It was a sight to see the large flock taking off from those rooftops and piercing through the sky lined up with kites of various colors. These birds would fly in different patterns as their owners would alter the frequency of their whistles. They would change directions and cut across altitudes with seamless ease! 
The final camp in the National Defence Academy is called CAMP TORNA. This camp tests the all-round growth and skills of the cadets as their passing out day inches closer after the final Josh Run. The run at the end of the 4th day of the camp is a high-octane event. The victorious squadron etches its name in the history wall of the Squadron and achieves an eminent status amidst the junior courses. The Camp Fire on the penultimate day’s evening is full of bonhomie and drawing strategies for the next day’s run. We were told that the TORNA of our times was a modified one and the Josh Run would be close to 30 miles if map reading was perfect. In case of an error, the run would spiral out distances and the heat of the day would sap the runners in their full military regalia with rifles. 
It all depended upon the draw as to what sequence would the Squadrons commence their runs. The early morning muster to get the dress codes checked, equipment details inspected and winding up the camp equipment happened. All were set to go, and the draw of names took place at the first light. The spirits kept falling further as Squadron after Squadron took off with a 4-minute interval with their respective road run maps. Incidentally the road map also includes crossing hills and meeting with the designated monitoring Officers at various check points to collect the identification tokens and muster of the entire squadron strength. We 18 from the Foxtrot Squadron were the last to be flagged that eventful day and were already 50 minutes behind the first Squadron flagged off! The gun shot was fired, we took off in the direction indicated by the map reader. The last Cadet in the running column volunteered to carry the single Light Machine Gun and the Medical Stretcher both! He had the energy to withstand the 30 miles+ distance with almost 7 kgs extra weight than the 18 kgs each carried by the others. Thank God for the small mercies as the iron nail fitted shoes started the climb on the first mountain range emerging on our distance map. 
The birds of Uncle K took off from the roof adjacent to ours. He had 75 pigeons and the most beautiful was the ash red one with a design around its neck. The birds lifted effortlessly as if their fluttering wings were giving the lift off thrust to their bodies. They circled on the roof top and at far off roof tops the other punters had put their birds up the air too. The race was all set to become exciting. The whistles were blown, and the birds started cutting across the skies. The ash red pigeon was leading the charge of Uncle K’s flock and its wings majestically cut the medium of air. The rapid commands by respective punters and the birds cut rapidly to right, left and changed the altitudes. The kites flying in the sky were busy in their own games of warfare as if the honor depended upon the command of the sky. Amidst the kite fliers and the pigeon punters, another danger lurked on one of the roof top. He was holding an Air Gun which was his new and prized possession. The neighbors had never experienced this kind of challenge and he was lurking behind the raised walls hidden from the pigeon punters and kiters. 
Motivating each other, the Fox Cadets climbed the first mountain range and hit the first check point with dead drop accuracy. The smart Major manning the check point was standing tall in his camouflaged Uniform. Behind his Ray Bans his eyes went through the details and he complemented us for a quick arrival. He pumped us for cutting 10 minutes from the 50-minute lead and set us towards Check Point 2. The Sun had started beating down and the next range appeared ahead of us. In the distance we could see a stream of other Squadron Cadets and the adrenaline pumped itself as the 10-minute gain over the time pushed us harder. We were now focused on our next aim to scale the second check point and gain 5 more minutes! The heat was also going to hit its zenith and the swat had bettered our backs loaded with the military weights. 
The flocks of birds were now competing and scaling the heights with ease. The punters turned them into opposite directions as the little hearts inside the pigeons pounded for that extra energy. The flapping of their wings created various forces and occasionally a bird would spear its wings to catch distance using the flapping of other birds! The red pigeon was clearly visible amidst the hundreds that flew that day. The lurking gunner waited for his chance. His shining air gun in his hands and he loaded the metal pellet into the gun’s chamber. He had the entire sky to himself. He trained his aim on a kite fight where a bright yellow kite was in a pitched battle with a blue kite. The kites were being deftly handed by their respective players and the shot of the air gun rang through the sky. The pellet created a hole in the Yellow Kite and the air crossed through the torn paper. The hole grew bigger as the kite flier tried to control its wobble and the blue kite ripped through the thread of yellow kite as it became taught. The yellow kite faded through the sky even as the blue kite team celebrated little realizing that the Air Gun had a hand at the game. The Yellow Kite team climbed on their roof walls to locate the miscreant, but he was safely hidden behind the walls of his roof with a mischievous smile on his face.  
The Sun never stops its climb and the Fox Cadets overcame the challenges of their body pain and agony to keep scaling the check points to cut the timings. The 1.5 Litre water bottles were getting empty and were rapidly replenished at Check Points and even from mountain streams.  At the 5th Check Point, the Fox Cadets arrived a few seconds earlier than the Squadron left at the 5th position. We knew that the game was tilting in our favor if we ran well for the last 3 check points after the 5th. The Military Muster is a unique exercise. All Cadets must stand erect with their line and column formation, make a report to the Officer-in-Charge and get their items checked. All was in order and the flag was raised to move towards the 6th Check point. 20 miles had been covered and the clock was striking 11 am. Mountain climbing is tricky as one false turn and the entire hill needs to be circled. Our map readers and the LMG/Stretcher carrier were going strong. The squadron line was not spreading as we were running with a plan to keep everyone in line of sight. The weights pounding against our back and thighs had started to hurt creating lesions and the iron nailed shoes were wet inside as the thick woolen socks had by now lost their shape and position- the blisters were itching to come out. No pain, no gain was the cry and we knew that all the squadrons would be fighting with similar symptoms. At the second last check point, the same Major of the first check point re-appeared. He applauded the spirit and said that he too was from our Squadron. This lifted our morale and we vowed to give in our best as the last few miles remained. He took off in his jeep and we started to move our aching bodies on the tar road by now radiating heat at its peak. 
The gunner had now hit his first aim. He now craned his neck to locate a pigeon amidst the hundreds in the air. The red pigeon caught his eye and fancy. He loaded the pellet and took the aim. He waited as the birds flew in rapid sequence and the cross hairs of his air gun kept the pigeon in sight. The whistle prompted the birds to change the direction and the red pigeon appeared in his front. He waited as the furious flock of birds crossed his roof and fired. The pellet ripped through the red pigeon and his flight stopped as it fell into a mangled heap on another roof. The falling of the bird was seen by the punters and they went berserk in their whistle calls to draw the birds back to their homes. The birds knew that one amongst them was lost and their senses misbehaved. The landings were not uniform. Uncle K counted 90 birds as they hurriedly landed to get inside the shelter of his traps and feasted on the food and water. The flight had ended for the day. The gunner slowly slipped by along the walls of his roof loving his prized new Air Gun which had performed for him. Uncle K and his competitor waved at each other to call it a day and counted victory based on landings. The loss of Red Pigeon was forgotten amidst the count of 16 new birds landing inside a new trap abode. The enemy still could strike but it would be seen on another day, another flight. Uncle K knew that the culprit would be caught sooner or later as the word would spread amongst the punters.  
The Bombay Stadium is the last check point for a camp run. The Fox Squadron and the Echo Squadron entered its gates almost together despite being the last two at the flag off early morning. The Cadets were completely drained, and the lesions coupled with blisters at their feet was a sure discomfort. The Major was waiting to take the muster and the military drill was to be followed. Both Echo and Fox were tied up in timings and the challenge now was to keep standing straight in the sweltering Sun as the kits were checked for completeness. The Major had the responsibility to declare the winner and the trophy would be home. The neatly laid out kits, the rifles, the Light Machine Gun, the casualty stretcher were all in order, but Fox had a mess tiffin spoon short! It must have slipped at some point of the run and the lost 4 inches long stainless-steel spoon was now the deciding factor between a winner and the runner up. The Major had a word of encouragement for the 2 Squadrons, their map reading skills, the will to run as a team, the LMG carriers and the minor difference which was the deciding factor despite same timing. He declared Echo Squadron as the winner and the Fox Squadron came the Runner-Up. The flock of 18 cadets had been bonded for life though they were all set to disperse in next 5 weeks to their respective training before getting commissioned into their respective Services. They had understood the value of ethos, integrity, honesty, courage, camaraderie, esprit de corps and the ability to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong! They still get together after all these decades and live to remember the great run that they clocked together. 
Uncle K got on to the roof and opened the pigeon cage gates. The birds walked out and, on the whistle, leapt into the sky for yet another flight across the skies. The gunner awaited his chance hidden behind the walls of his roof top. The adjacent roof tops were bursting with onlookers but there were some who were trying to locate the gunner! A shot rang from the air gun and the location was identified. The game was over for the gunner and the birds were free to fly again!  
The flock lives to this day for both the cadets and the pigeons. A new set is ready to take the skies and another set of Josh Runs would be going on this year. The wheel moves, cheers!     

Friday, December 13, 2019

DO I MISS MY GRANDMOTHER?

One last time in Jul 2005, I stepped out of my Submarine as my sea tenure ended. As I climbed out of the Control Room well stairs, the holding stair rails were cold. They were smooth as so many human hands had put their weight on them to slide down the steps or to haul themselves up. I stood on the Submarine’s black casing, looked back at the fin of the boat and walked out of the gangway to begin a new tenure into the Submarine Base from the next day. From this day onward, I converted to an off-shore Submariner from an on-board one. My skills on Submarine were now considered to be apt to support the next generation of Submariners taking over afloat duties. I had become “In my days” kind variant. I simply loved this transition as it brought higher responsibilities and greater challenges.

Today, as I ponder about the life gone by and its tales, a couple of people come into my thoughts. The memories with them are fading away but they impacted my initial years and contributed to what I am today. My paternal and maternal Grandmothers were the two grand folks in my life. Sharing the shape of their respective fates, both these ladies faced the impact of partition in their respective lives. Born in early 1900s to a landowner’s family, my paternal Grandmother completed her education before marrying my Grandfather- a banker positioned across the western borders of India (as of today). Imagining the travel of 745 Kilometers between the city of marriage to city of settlement provides perspective on how these folks moved their respective lives to adjust to new surroundings. The family grew as time elapsed and even as the fate of the British Empire appeared to be on a wobble in the Indian Subcontinent. She bore the pain of losing her few children as illness struck and there were no remedial measures.

The spirit of freedom touched India with fervor and during the Lahore Session of 1929, the “Purna Swaraj” (Complete Independence) of India was announced by the freedom movement leaders. This touched chord with Indians as the nationalists moved ahead to push for the dominion status at the earliest followed by freedom. My Grandmother donated her jewelry as the call for fund raising was spread in the region. The Indian Sub-Continent went through its own thick and thick even as WW-2 raged near its boundaries. Did my grandparents lived more stable lives even as the World around them was creating new fault lines by replacing the existing ones is a question which I ponder upon?

My maternal Grandmother was younger to the paternal one and growing up in the old walls of Delhi. A marriage at a young age was the norm of the era. She had my mother in her lap even as India divided and a 1000 kms away my father too was a toddler oblivious of the pangs of partition faced by his parents. The lives of both my Grandmothers changed as new Nations came into being and their distances reduced to less than 100 kms before the year 1948 struck its arrival. Both the ladies had a moment of cheer as they say when their respective grandchildren come into the world. They had a definitive role to play in these young lives and so they did with aplomb.

The discipline of student life was inculcated on the first day of school life by my paternal Grandmother. She was turning blind and this was a setback to an educated, well-read lady. She found a resource in my young soul and made me learn reading newspapers at the young age of 4 years! This was a boon not for her but for me. The young mind started shaping up thoughts around human dimensions as the newspapers and magazines became early partners. I would read out for her and could feel her expressions as the world around us moved at its hectic pace. 27+ years had passed since she had left her vast setup in the other Nation. She could make the sense of the World around her and its implications. Her commentary on multiple subjects gave me an insight into her analytical capability and helped in connecting dots to craft the figures emerging out of some where! In-spite of losing their hard-earned grandeur, she never lamented the changes around her. She embraced them with ease and taught us to fight on to live another day. She could live well within her meager sources and kept aside a little sum inside a holy book to take care of her rituals after she was gone. I was the custodian of her secret saving and could only reveal about its existence when she was gone!

The value of time was another virtue which she drilled inside me. The work is worship and she would be waiting for me as I came back from school. Keeping my uniform neatly, stacking my books correctly and finishing the homework before stepping out to play had a clock work precision. A walk into the parks and market area with her taught me to wish elders and handle money on behalf of her blind self. The days began and ended with something accomplished for good. The power of dressing correctly and treating humanity alike was also a great gift from her.

The maternal grandmother was an epitome of gentleness and calmness. She would never raise her voice and her white face reflected purity of thoughts. She would always be adjusting towards others and taught us to give other humans a place before claiming your own space. Today such thoughts might rattle humans, but this helped her to stay out of many conflicts in her personal life within the boundaries of a large family. There must have been many a volcano which she did not let erupt outside as this would have disrupted many lives in her innermost arena. These were important lessons in handling humans with a smile on face and good thoughts in the heart. The mind behaved clearly as it knew that the path of conflict needs to be avoided. The respect that she gave to family elders was a treat to watch and feel. The old patriarch and matriarch of the family always admired her patience and grace. The turmoil of her inner self was never visible to anyone outside. She remains a symbol of divinity for many of us who saw her.

As I settled into my new work place in the Submarine Squadron, I knew that it was time to give best support to the men who sailed those machines. It was a transition into another World as new roles would emerge. Keeping the learning from the elders and training into perspectives, I continued to carry out my trysts. The results had to be measurable and the results were delivered with no inconvenience to any other human. It was great team effort to count the success and a rare failure had a definitive accountability. The World around me kept evolving but I kept the lessons given by my grandmothers fresh with my actions. The World around us does not expect to be subdued but expects more frankness towards humans. With clarity of purpose, no target is difficult and if humans are willing to listen the right inputs. A correct command on the Submarine makes the actions tick like a clock. A gentle guidance from the Grandmother always brought in the best results and the process got ingrained smoothly.

Life in all its ways has a lot to offer, learn and teach. We expect to learn easily so we must also teach calmly. I was taught the Hindi Language Numbering System by my Grandmother as a game- I learnt it in no time. My first dive of Submarine was an easy one as I just gamed it happily. There were absolutely no hitches ever as the clarity within the fog of events is there to be assessed, analyzed and actions performed.

I bow my head in reverence to my elders who taught me patiently. Maybe they knew that the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex & Ambiguous) World was a reality. Now we know that the Artificial Intelligence enabled VUCA World has already raised its envelope for humans to be engulfed. What do we need? Maybe, the Grandmother’s conduct of her life holds the keys. Is it, eh?