At the age of seven months I moved from the US to India. At the age of eight, 2015 March 25th was when we moved and my birthday was March 3rd. Honestly I was scared because I thought Leopards and Tigers were the same and they could eat me. I also was teased at school because I did not know good Hindi but English.
I found very very easy (what) they were teaching me. He, she, it. No offence but the teachers were worse than me. And my favourite subject math in the first 3 months it was revision of plus the next three months was minus revision. How much revision can I get when in Shikshantar I was learning Multiplication. (Shikshantar was my school in Gurgaon.)
In Gurgaon I had wheezing and difficulty in breathing and no clean air and I am living next to one of the most polluted city in the world. No offence again but it is Delhi. I like both places equal.
I like the shops, restaurants and friends of Gurgaon but I don’t and never will miss the pollution of Gurgaon and Delhi. I like the Greenery in Kumaon and Satkhol. The kid upstairs is our landlords son. He is in boarding school. Now I have friends here. I have also written a 40 page comic book.
(This content is exactly what he wrote – only spellings have been fixed. He actually has written a 40 page comic book titled “The Nature Heroes” with superheroes et al. If anyone could help illustrate it, that would be awesome! He is keen to have it published. Please do get in touch if you would like to chat about this.)
Gurpreet Dhindsa was doing the Pin Parbati trek in 1995 when it struck him. These mountains – far above the urban chaos and superficiality – were home. This is where he belonged. He had to leave the city. He was 29.
He had planned the tough Pin Parbati trek with a group, but one by one the fellow trekkers dropped out. Characteristic of Gurpreet, he continued and finished the trek solo, without a guide or porter. Pin Parbati is a brutal 11 day trek across some of the toughest terrain in the Himalayas, but Gurpreet completed it by compass, map and sheer grit.
After the epiphany, he went about shutting down his Chandigarh-based FRP fabrication business. The next few years were odd-jobs and piecemeal assignments as a resort manager, trekking guide, motorcycle tour organizer etc. All fun, none paying much, but all keeping him in the Himalayas.
Gurpreet’s other big passion was flying. He had tried learning flying formally – gliders at Pinjore flying club. But his free spirit was stifled by the rules and regulations of the civil aviation authorities. Anything to do with an airport or airstrip meant external control by often archaic rules. Then he discovered Paragliding – a free and simple form of flying mostly controlled by the wind and weather. He started learning.
Six years of hobby flying later he hurt his shoulder at a takeoff in Nepal, and decided that he should get formal training and certification. By now Gurpreet was a part of the close-knit global paragliding community. He headed to the UK, where he earned his instructors license in a record 5 months.
Once certified, he set up PG-Gurukul (http://www.paragliding.guru/ ), easily amongst the best paragliding outfits in the country (I can vouch – I’ve been his student). He is based in Bir village – one of the global hubs for paragliding. The initial few years as an instructor were a struggle for Gurpreet, but once the defence forces recognized his abilities and started learning from him, everything changed. That was when he also started the more technical SIV (Simulation d’Incident en Vol :French. Translated : Simulated Incidence in Flight) courses.
But while the flying school was about earning (no self-respecting pilot wants to live by
Tandem joyrides) he was always looking to push the boundaries. That led him to competition flying. Over the past few years Gurpreet has had six podium finishes in international events and some near misses.
Sadly, the bureaucracy has arrived in this sport as well now. Did you know that they banned paragliding in Bir – over 500 km from Delhi – during the commonwealth games? The authorities might as well wear T-shirts emblazoned “ignorant non-pilot”. Gurpreet’s amazing achievements have earned him the world’s respect, but none from the authorities that regulate paragliding in India. That is because he freely speaks his mind from a place of science and true interest in the sport. And he is terrible at small talk and kissing up to people. He still has the occasional run-in with the control freak political administration. He still rails against how the administration selectively hands out flying “licenses” – through babu’s who have never actually flown.
But then he goes up to the launch site at Billing. As he takes off and some strings and a piece of fabric lift him off the ground, he leaves it all behind and heads home into the open blue.
People on the ground look up and say “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, its Gurpreet!”
The Picture uploaded above was the Pamphlet being distributed by the Government to help manage the fire. Helpful, huh?
Anyway, my big firsthand lesson was that you fight fire with fire.
We had set the forest below the road on fire in an attempt to control the oncoming flames. In just minutes the entire forest downhill from the road was burnt or ablaze – and the fire had been cut-off at the road. It seemed to have stopped its forward movement.
Since this front seemed well manned (apologies to all feminists but “personned” just doesn’t work for me) and under control, I headed to Sushil’s house. A bunch of volunteers and visitors had all come together and were fighting the fire together. They had the advantage of access to a natural spring: water. I joined in the efforts and we were able to put out the fire all along a jungle path. Except a small section of the fire that had spread into a forest down from the path which was a sheer drop – too steep to go down and fight. Powerless, we saw it spreading slowly, steadily into the valley below. We threw a few mugs of water at it. If a fire could’ve laughed at us, it would’ve. Across on the other side of the same valley was another house. We could see that the fire would eventually find its way there. (It did later in the night, but was contained by Sushil & co). That was when I realized how difficult it actually was to put a fire out. You have to put it out in all directions. Even if you could not see the end of the fire, you had to find it, and then put both ends out. Otherwise it just circles back around the fire line and catches up.
Hungry and tired, I headed to Sonapani hoping to find some food. Vandita – my wife – had already left to be with the kids. At Sonapani a remarkably non-chalant Deepa was discussing handicrafts and showing her hand-painted T-shirts (which are pretty awesome) to some guests. Naïve, I didn’t realize she was – rightly – trying to keep the guests mind off the fires. I could see two fires in the distance, and now in the dark they looked particularly ominous. I knew her crew was out fighting one fire but wasn’t sure they knew of the other one, which was off to a side. I jumped on the parapet and started pointing to them and talking about them. Through gritted teeth Deepa told me to tone down my non-stop gibberish about fighting the fire (while she quietly called her team and told them to head to the second fire).
I finally got a bite to eat, and called Sushil to check how things were going. Predictably, he said the fire was back on. I was dog tired – it had been a long day. A non-smoker, I felt like I had smoked a thousand cigarettes in one evening. But I figured one last visit was okay so headed to Sushil’s. The fire we thought we had put out was back on and closer to the house. We had a pipe with running water and buckets, and one by one doused the two fronts on which we were fighting the fire. The shell-shocked volunteers were city folk who had come to holiday or to volunteer at Aarohi. Some looked decidedly at-risk as they teetered up scrubby, pathless slopes lugging buckets in the darkness in their delicate city shoes. They had come expecting to have a relaxed holiday or some easy travel, and instead were pitted against forest fires in the dark with torches, headlamps and buckets of water to lug.
No frying pans and, suddenly, fire.
Later one of them was to tell me how impressed they were that I turned up in the night and was carting buckets up and down. I had blushed right through my unfair & lovely cheeks.
Afterthought : I don’t think my effort actually made much of a difference to any of the fires. As a first timer I was learning on the job and making mistakes as I went. The bravado in the above article is largely to make myself feel important. One of the benefits of writing first-hand is that it is always your version. Ha.