Uncity in the City

Uncity in the City

Contributor : Mariam Karim Ahlawat (reprinted)

I was to wait outside a school which was hosting a competitive exam in RK Puram New Delhi. Hot dusty April, the hottest in decades, swirled about. This school is in one of the narrow old lanes of the colony built years and years ago. I got out of the car to look for the gate the children were to use. Many other parents stood about with anxious faces. Suddenly a fragrance I had known as a child assailed my nostrils..the sweet, all too sweet fragrance of wild figs. An orchestra of chirpings and chirruppings and cheepings seemed to be playing—I looked up to see an immense, goolar tree, the ficus indica, spreading its long boughs laden with the ripening fruit . And in the branches there was nearly every species of bird that inhabits the trees of New Delhi: parrots, mynahs, brahminy mynahs, white-eyes, pigeons, green pigeons, bulbuls, sunbirds, babblers, and even kingfishers ! And of course there were the squirrels running up and down the branches, bobbing their tails, going from fruit to fruit, testing  their ripeness!  The cool shade offered by the old spreading tree and the delicacies of the wild fruit along with the insects they attract provided a heavenly arbor for all these creatures –  a rarity in the city today. I can say the wait outside the school was a wonderful treat indeed. Yet I found few people looking up, caring if there was a sweet orchestra of birds playing, noticing that here in real life was a programme in progression which they might watch with interest on Discovery or Animal Planet… in fact there was a man in a long expensive car parked under the tree, windows up, AC switched on, chatting away on his cell-phone. The air around the car was getting extremely hot because of the AC.

He opened his window for a moment to look out and see if the exam time was over and if any children were emerging from the gate. I took the opportunity to approach him – I told him it was very cool under the shade of the tree, there was no need to keep the AC on, and it was in any case adding to the heat all around. I pointed out to him the variety of birds in the tree. I said “Your child will go to a premier Institute of Technology, so at least a little awareness of the environment on your part won’t go amiss”.  He looked nonplussed for a minute, but luckily for me he smiled, and agreed that he shouldn’t be using his AC.

I realize that our day to day lives do not include awareness of our immediate surroundings any more. We think about the traffic, the petrol we spend, the time taken to get from one place to another, the movie we must watch in the evening, the contacts we must make for our various businesses,  the money we owe or someone owes us, the mobile bill…anything at all. It is obviously foolish and without profit to look up into a bird-filled tree. What good will that do us? Leave it to ornithologists.

We are no longer excited by the life that exists around us, and that is why we are losing it so quickly. A grown woman watching birds and squirrels? When her son is sitting for such an important exam on which his entire future may depend? She must certainly be soft in the head!

No, we do not live in the world any longer, we live in flats and cars and malls and

27mptbmariam
Mariam Karim-Ahlawat – co-host of the Himalayan Writing Week, April 2017.

restaurants and keep the world out. We are afraid of the heat and the cold and the dust and we shut ourselves in cocoons and refuse to live each moment. When we feel spiritless and hollow inside of ourselves, we run to gurus and babas and chanting groups and kirtans and samagams…now even psychotherapists—when just around the corner, Nature provides beauty, harmony, melody, joy, relief from stress, in little pockets that still exist in the teeming cities.

 

We look desperately for God in human gatherings and we ignore, neglect and abuse the world God created. Spirituality can lie only in the preservation of Nature and all creatures great and small, with the lives of which our lives are intimately linked; otherwise search where we may, inner peace and harmony will always elude us.

About the contributor: Mariam Karim-Ahlawat is a published author and playwright and will be co-hosting the Himalayan Writing Week in the Kumaon Himalayas in April 2017. To learn more about her, please visit www.himalayanwritingretreat.com/#facilitators . Mariam lived in Delhi.

This article was originally printed in the Times of India Supplement under a different title, and is republished with the author’s permission.

The Difficulty with being Sexy

The Difficulty with being Sexy

Contributor : Gurcharan Das Chetan Mahajan

I always had this belief that I was really good-looking. Somehow, the world at large seemed to disagree.  Until now.

The call from the casting company changed everything. It started with a facebook post looking for a 45+ marathon runner for an ad film, went on to an online audition and finally culminated in me sitting in the airport lounge typing out this post, en route to Mumbai and the beautiful world beyond.

The moment the casting company confirmed the assignment, I felt an overwheming urge to end world hunger single-handedly based on my fabulous good looks. I now notice my ridiculously handsome reflection in every mirror and glass I walk past. And am seriously considering launching my own line of fragrances and deodorants. I can’t wait for my name to be in every underarm in the world.

The village is no place for a budding model – the supply of beauty and skin-care products is so limited. But I went to our local store and bought an exfoliating scrub, the age defying cream and some other random cosmetics – even though I couldn’t read much of what was written on the labels (reading glasses really don’t fit in this new world you see). The other stuff was okay but I really didn’t like the age defying cream. It tasted horrible, which was shocking given it was more expensive than a whole tandoori chicken. Of course the next stop was the salon to have my hair styled.

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Irfaan ki Dukaan. The best (and only) Salon in our Village.

Many other cosmetic concerns emerged. Will I have to start using skin lightening cream? But the mirror told me sex appeal oozed from my dusky hue, so I decided against it. The casting guy had loved me just the way I was. And will I have to shave off my chest hair and stop eating puris? I hate shaving even my face. Then I remember Sean Connery with relief – at least for the chest hair. I wonder what the Hollywood Scottish do for Puris, though.

I am really looking forward to being at the shoot, although I guess I won’t have much to do but hang around and look pretty.

Letting such raw sexuality loose in a rural setting, however, is not without risk.  The other day as I caught my own reflection in the window pane, I pouted. I noticed some movement outside the window and heard a crashing sound. I rushed outside to find a cow had fallen over outside the glass I was pouting at.  As I bent down to take a closer look at the cow, the bovine beauty made a sudden jerking movement. I swear she was trying to kiss me. I guess it was just my irresistible animal magnetism.

The cow will eventually get over it and return to normal quite quickly. But I wonder how long it will take me.

The guy who wrote this post, along with his more talented but less good-looking colleagues host the Himalayan Writing Retreats – a variety of events on writing, blogging and podcasting at gorgeous Himalayan locales. You can learn more at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com.

Time is precious. Waste it wisely.

Time is precious. Waste it wisely.

Heartstrings. The word is meaningless unless you have a pacemaker. I always thought of it as one of those unnecessary words writers make up – until I heard that voice yesterday.

It was the sing-song of her typical Kumaoni way of speaking that made me smile. It was the sound of simplicity, of an unhurried, uncomplicated life. It was the sound of home. I did not ask her name, but I did will her to speak some more. She did, asking the price of the bhindi, and asking why the beans weren’t fresh. I then caught the shopkeeper staring at me and I realized I was staring at the cabbage with a big smile plastered on my face. He looked carefully at the cabbage and then back at me.

I was at a vegetable store in Bhimtal, headed back home after many more days than were

road-neo
The road home.

necessary. And hearing the lyrical Kumaoni lilt of her voice triggered a joyful jangle inside me that I could almost physically hear. It was like some latent thing inside me was suddenly awakened, resonating with the music of beautiful memories. And suddenly “heartstrings” made perfect sense.

 

Maybe 38 days in the land of pubs, imported custom kitchens and business conversations was too much. Maybe it was just the knowledge that many of the meals I had with friends in the city cost more than a month’s salary for my friends in the village. Maybe the fast-talking, deal seeking “fame, success, money” types were just way too much work for my rustic soul. I pined for the land where speedpost takes 5 days, and no other courier works. A place where it isn’t strange to sit and have tea and a conversation with the postman when he brings your mail.

I missed the land of rustic familiarity. And the woman’s beautiful Kumaoni song-voice started the journey of my return, triggering the feeling of being back home. Everyone along way was a friend.  After the vegetable store my next stop was the grocery store in Bhowali – the man there asked me about my prolonged absence. I then drove further on, and at one point crossed my contractor and architect headed in the opposite direction. We both stopped our cars, stepped out, shook hands, and talked briefly. They weren’t just helping me build my new home, but we shared a strange kinship. Like we were the few that knew the secret of the mountains.

I remember the look of envy on the faces of city people who see pictures of my home. And a few lines form in my head:

You chose the huge car, the massive house

Take pleasure in that hi-tech Bluetooth mouse

Why then, the Famous Grouse?

Village folks along the way ask for a lift. I give a ride to everybody who asks till my car is full. As I chat with them, I can feel the city with its 100 rupee teacups slowly peel off me and fall away like unwanted dead skin.

I feel new again. And I wonder, why did I ever leave?

Tha above video is the dawn I came back to.

The Kumaoni Luggage Cart

The Kumaoni Luggage Cart

Kumaon doesn’t have an airport, ergo the Kumaoni Luggage cart doesn’t exist. So how come this topic? Well, Harry Potter doesn’t exist either, so humor me for 380 more words.

In another era as a busy corporate type, I traveled the world a bit. From my travel’s I realized that there is a lot you can learn about a place from its luggage carts. Yes, those boring metal things that float around at airports.

Take Paris – it has the nicest looking luggage carts, except they don’t really work very well. Go to Frankfurt airport – Germany – and you will come across wart-hog ugly carts that look like they were created by battletank designers. But then you see them on an escalator

baggage-cart-chicago
Typical US Luggage cart

– yes, on an escalator – and you realize why they are a marvel of design. Load up a German cart with luggage and walk right onto an escalator – up or down doesn’t matter – and the cart easily gets onto the escalator without a single piece of luggage falling off. And then rolls off effortlessly at the other end (This video is from Geneva, but you get the idea https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIVvYekG2nQ  .)  Go to the USA and you will find rather basic luggage carts that carry cheerful messages welcoming you – along with advertising panels selling stuff. And you have to pay to use the cart, of course. Credit cards welcome. Amsterdam has probably the most classy looking snub nosed little carts. Back home in India, our carts don’t move when you push them. Then you realize that you have to press down on the bar. Once the pressure is on we – and the carts – work just fine. Although the occasional squeak is par for the course.

This whole thing got me thinking about what a Kumaoni luggage cart would be like. In my mind’s eye I imagine something rather old world – probably made out of dark wood. The Kumaoni cart isn’t fast, but people would hand you the cart with a smile, and chat with you for a bit in a sing-song pahadi lilt. The cart will have a small flower vase built in with some fragrant flowers. Maybe a little bird-house as well. No cupholder, though. In Kumaon we sit and drink our tea. What’s the rush? The Kumaoni Luggage cart moves at a comfortable, relaxed pace. It would still get you there, but would make you wonder about the point of travelling anywhere else from here.

Yup, that is about how I imagine a Kumaoni luggage cart.

P.s. The guy who wrote this post also hosts and organizes the Himalayan Writing Retreats – mostly in Kumaon. You can learn more at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com.

A new baby at 45.

A new baby at 45.

Moving to the mountains was easy. Figuring out what to do here was harder.

The clichéd “make your hobby your profession” was exciting but also scary. unknown. I love writing. It can be mind-numbing and frustrating. But getting even a fragment right – what Mark Twain calls “a glittering paragraph” or the “luminous flash of a single sentence” can be its own reward.

So in July I got the zany idea to host a writing retreat. The “Himalayan Writing Retreat” sounded so cool. I knew of aspiring authors stuck somewhere along the way.  I had been one myself before Bokaro Jail*. I started with no curriculum, no product, no material. But a fabulous venue (a friend’s house) was a great start. I asked my old pal Roy Abraham, a multi-award winning copywriter, for help. The two brains started firing and the product evolved. Roy came up with some brilliant communication, including videos.

On August 15 we hung out the shingle. And village Satoli at 6000 ft welcomed six brave

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Intense. Absorbed.

souls. With one American, one Brit & one Kathmandu resident, and the oldest participant touching seventy, boredom didn’t have a chance.

A forest walk and bonfire were a great warm-up. The next three days were a mix of fun discussions, writing exercises, publishing industry analysis. We ended with committing to a “book writing plan” to get our books going, if not done.

Along the way we laughed a lot : often at irreverent quotes like “Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her (Jane Austen) up and beat her over the skull with her own

shin-bone.” We went for forest walks to meadows and streams. We hung around the fire,

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New friends.

we made new friends. I feel truly enriched with new writing wisdom – as much from the preparation as from the rich discussions with the witty, bright participants. I think I am now a better writer with the discipline to get my book done faster.

 

The participants echo that. The overall participant feedback score was 3.7 on 4 – cool for a first effort. Many great suggestions from them will benefit future participants.

Well-wishers helped in many different ways. Kiruba Shankar with brilliant advice, Arvindji and Mita Kapur with industry insights. Tim Sebastian helped by pushing the

retreat at the awesome iHeart café, Gagan by clicking great pictures, Annanya by putting up posters, and of course Ashish Arora by providing bread, muffins and free publicity. Topping the list was

roy
The man (Ladies, Roys the man. And he’s single)

Roy for, well, everything. And innumerable friends who spread the word and told potential attendees about the retreat.

 

The Himalayan Writing Retreat will now grow into a series of events to help writers across genres with many different interests. Specialist facilitators like Mariam Karim Ahlawat (an award winning  writer of plays and fiction for Kids and Adults) will enrich it even more. And Dr. Vandita Dubey (a clinical psychologist and published author) will help participants with techniques such as mindfulness to focus better and get more creative insights.

For this new journey we also have a shiny new website www.himalayanwritingretreat.com . It’s a new journey with many unknowns. Wish me luck.

*This blogger was incarcerated in Bokaro jail for a month in 2013 which is when he wrote his first book “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail” which was published by Penguin. Since then he has relocated to the Kumaon Himalayas, and the fun stuff he does besides writing this blog, riding the Himalayas, running marathons and contemplating the universe now also includes hosting the Himalayan Writing Retreat.

GOVT : “Gyan Obtain of Vision Technology” and other delights

GOVT : “Gyan Obtain of Vision Technology” and other delights

No country spares the English Language, not even America where people often drink a bunch of water, and kids and criminals alike “ain’t done nothin”. But given that India is a melting pot of a few score nations, we’re far ahead.  With our blenders we can grind our way to happiness (see pic above). We have petrol pumps named “Siddharth Feeling Station” (of which, unfortunately, I could not get a picture) and so on.

img_20160701_084704The government itself can rename and re-spell legends – probably hoping to throw off  google maps.

 

 

 

 

dscn4265We all recognize and appreciate the value of Government education, so this dude called his “Education Institute” (unclear exactly what they do) G.O.V.T. –  “Gyan Obtain of Vision Technology”

 

img_20160704_172932When we marry a fitness band to Mountain Dew (how appropriate) this is what we get. Darr ke aage Kuljeet hai.

 

 

 

 

img_20160731_115530We have gender-based AA messaging : we exclusively tell old women not to drink alcohol.

 

 

 

img_20151025_110331Our KFC stands for the Kapkot Food Court, which serves fish 24X7.

Kapkot is an obscure village in the middle of Kumaoni nowhere, which is even more nowhere than regular nowhere.

 

 

img_20160809_103601_hdrAnd finally, the guy who runs the Ojaswi Himalayan Resort did not find a word good enough to describe his place in the English Dictionary so he invented one : Butiane. That is Butane with an “I” in the middle i.e. an ego surrounded by gas.

 

Cheers!

Elon Musk, Success, and bad poetry

Elon Musk, Success, and bad poetry

I think Elon Musk is very cool. Not just because his name sounds like an expensive cologne, or because he has only taken 2 weeks of vacation in the past 10 years. And certainly not because he is rich. That even the Ambanis and Trump are.

He is cool because he pursues his passion with everything, and puts his money where his mouth is. It is not everyone who at 31 earns 180 million dollars – mainly from selling his business (Paypal), and then starts two hugely dreamy, hugely dicey businesses : one to make battery powered, self-driven cars, and the other to make reusable rockets. And he then invests so much in his dreams that he has to mortgage his house after the 180 million were consumed.

Fundamentally he is trying to change the world for the better – make it safer and eco-friendlier and expand human horizons.

I can see many great examples of similar, driven individuals around me – whether it be Ramya with Centa-TPO or Jo & Ramakant with Touchkin or Kavita with Adhyayan. Each of them, in their own way, is trying to change the status quo and make a difference.

When I look at such people it invariably makes me wonder – what am I doing? How am I changing my world?

And my answers are much smaller. Sure, I am helping a few individuals become better writers and published authors. And a few of my consulting clients succeed in their start-up ventures / businesses. And one day I will write my Magnum Opus. But something else has changed that makes me feel “successful”.

To explain my success, I have to rewind to 2014. Back then I was never home. I used to work long hours, travel a lot, and even when home I used to spend a lot of time on the phone or on the computer. But I wasn’t changing the world. I was just earning an income and paying EMIs. My kids missed me a bit when I was gone, but not much. They were largely indifferent to my presence or absence as I was hardly ever there anyway.

Then last week I left home for a 4 day work trip to Chennai from here (Satkhol Village).

My wife called and said my son A was feeling really sad. But he said he felt better by remembering some lines of a poem he recently learnt.

“Prithvi Kehti Dhairya na chodo, jitna bhi ho sar par bhar.”

(The earth says don’t lose hope, whatever be the pressures on your head.)

Evidently that made him feel better. Sniffle. She also said that when I travel my daughter R counts down the number of days to my return.

So while I am not changing the whole wide world, I have changed something in theirs – and mine – and that sure is satisfying.

When I get very emotional and soggy eyed I write poetry. I think I am a terrible poet, and my poetry should be banned, but since this is my blog I will burden you with some of it. Although it might be in your interest to sign off here.

(Title here)

The first card – Gold. Then Platinum. Titanium.

From what precious metal will the next rung come?

The carrot. The bait? the next level will entice

We dutifully pursue it. That is our choice.

 

Wharton. Kellogg. Stanford. Yale.

Same version of the exact same tale.

Economy Class. Business. First. Private jet.

No, that isn’t the end of it yet.

Full price from Nordstrom? Or cheap end of season sale?

Will tell your worth – that one small tale.

 

We bow to the scale, the glitter measure.

A few pursue a different treasure.

How many smiles from the little child?

How many sunsets in the wild?

How many deep green miles did we walk?

How much more silence? How much less talk?

Give up the abject slavery of time.

Enjoy writing poems that barely rhyme.

Go from Titanium to home-baked bread.

Fight the glitter tongues in our heads.

 

Then he turns up and looks down his nose

At all my choices – school, car, clothes

Retiree. Slacker. Runaway. The label.

How about Real? Conscious? Able?

 

My friend, if your choices I don’t grudge

Don’t wield your gavel. Don’t be my judge.

You won’t get it, I can’t explain

birdsong can’t enter the pressurized plane.

The attempt to explain my belief is futile

Can you hear your footsteps in the carpeted aisle?

(Dont tell me I didnt warn you)

 

*The guy who wrote this post, along with his friend Roy Abraham are hosting the Himalayan Writing Retreat next month at a gorgeous Himalayan locale. He thinks he can help people write books (Can you believe that? Thank god for Roy!). You can learn more at https://uncityblog.wordpress.com/retreat/ .