Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Hike across Sierra Nevada

Update for week ended 28 January 2011

Dan was going through his mid-life crisis and having lost his dear father recently and the tumultuous turn his love life was heading to, he was edgy. Dan was otherwise a physically strong man, having been part of the college basketball team and physically active even after that. He would participate in all the triathlons, especially in New Zealand and Australia. His passion for swimming started in school and he continued to swim with the sharks. But this depression was a difficult phase, he would stay awake all night and see black dreams – even cry without any reason. But being a person of steel, he decided that the only way out of this was to undertake a physical task that would detach him from the world – for the moment at least. So he decided to cross the Sierra Nevada. For a person like him, this could be done within 5 days, with the right equipment and it would be a breeze. He informed his office colleagues who cheered him on and also helped in getting his gear for the trip – some people also arranged for the freeze-dried food that would sustain him through the journey. On day one, his colleague dropped him off at base camp and Dan did not find the initial trek difficult. The weather was pleasant and his limbs were all excited to give his heart a boost that he needed. That night he slept under the stars, in his sleeping bag, and relived his college days of night-sky reading – as he traced the constellations and a stray shooting star. His spirits were lifting already. Day 2 saw him wake up early with the sunrise, and head northwards towards Lake Italy. That would be his peak before crossing over the saddle to get to the east. He enjoyed his climb, until grey clouds gathered overhead and without any warning, a storm blew right in from the Pacific. Winds at 80 mph were howling at this height and Dan could not stand straight and in his hurry to reach the lake and perhaps a log cabin by it to rest at night, he slipped over a slippery crag and fell, breaking his compass, and right wrist while hitting his eyebrow on a sharp ledge. The throbbing pain in his wrist and the trickling blood from his face made it difficult for him to move fast. The sleet was giving way to icy snow and the winds were stinging his face. If Dan stayed where he was, he would die of frost bite, so he covered his head and using his left hand, started finding his way forward, holding to the side of the mountain for support. But without a compass for guidance and the blinding snow making visibility at this altitude almost negligible, he used his instincts to move ahead. But he slipped a couple of times, to tumble onto a ledge – which thankfully broke his fall that could have been fatal. That night – Dan truly slept under the star-lit sky, but was miserable. He cried again, but not our of depression, but desperation. He was hurt, lost, had no communication, and that bargain for a cheap compass could cost him quite a lot – even his life. He did not sleep that night, partially because of the cold, but mostly because of fear that he would not see any of his friends or family ever again. He had realized that he was truly lost, because by now he should have crossed the lake. Day 3 and Day 4 were only spent in trying to retrace his steps – but the lethal combination of injury, desperation, depression was not helping him to think straight. He tried to head eastward, but the sheer drops, slippery rock faces, and inept hands kept him sliding downwards till he just stopped on the rock outcrop, and lay on the ground, tired, hurt and not anywhere near the state of exaltation that he desired to be at the end of the five days!

The D Street Boyz seem to be fighting their inner demons this week. They initially headed to the café on the rooftop of their office building to try and drink a few shots of caffeine to boost their sagging spirits. But that did not sustain as they battled inner fears, and stumbled and tumbled on their ways down the stairwell. At times, stumbling, slipping, tumbling down, and the in the bargain bruising their hands and heads. And even before they could recover, a few shoves and pushes from the surging horde of D Boyz behind, snowballed them into a moving mass of legs and hands and torsos downwards. Even good news from their American friends the W Street Boyz did not seem to shake off the depression and assuage the hurt D Boyz. 700 odd steps down and they were clutching to the SENSEX at 18396, looking forward to some hope and help. Their positive attitude was still intact.  

Dan was waiting for help now. He did not know where it would come from, but his positive side always hoped for the good. He nibbled at the chocolates his friends had packed for him. A teardrop trickled down his left cheek, he smiled and knew that there would be a good ending to his ordeal. And he was right, he heard a distant roar that sounded like a rotor blade. He nodded, picked up a torn red scarf from his backpack, and tied it to his walking stick, and stuck it in a crevice at the highest point of his ledge.

And just as we, at times, battle with our demons, must always remember that positive sunshine will shine on us. The dark night will never be forever. There is always light at the end of the tunnel; but one must always stay clear of the railway tracks within and step aside …..

Have a nice and safe weekend – Cheers.


Diamonds are Black

Update for week ended 21 January 2011

The high profile guests had started arriving and their swish cars were driving onto the porch of the Presidential Palace. The red carpet was well trampled that evening as the stilettos and the brogues stepped gingerly out of the limousines and walked up the sweeping staircase to the main entrance. This was a big party. James stepped out, adjusted his bow-tie and walked right in. He entered the grand hall where scores of people were milling around with crystal glasses in their hands, making small talk. James walked straight up to the lady in red. She wore a blonde wig, blunt cut, and her feather boa hung loosely from her arm. He walked up to her, initially in quick steps and then slowed down as he approached her, whispered something into her ear and walked right ahead into the corridor to the north of the hall which had the marble steps that took you to the quarters on the first floor. There was no-one around, it was a wide corridor lined with pictures and paintings set wide apart and the ceiling height was so vast, that the wide distance between the frames did not look so wide when seen from a distance. As James stepped onto the stairway, he heard footsteps behind him. He quickened his steps and climbed faster, and at the head of the stairs, he was met with a rude shock. One of the security guards in black questioned his movements. James looked around furtively and from the corner of his eye, saw a flash of red dash across the white marble floor and before he knew it, a shot whizzed past him, it just went “zzooopp”. The silencer was on. Lady Red cocked her head signaling him to move ahead, as she gingerly looked around to ensure no-one heard the thud of a falling dead security guard. James started to sprint into the hall ahead and headed to the largest door at the opposite end of the staircase head. It was ornate, mahogany from Madagascar. Strangely, it had a handle, but no latch or lock. How was he to open it? He fumbled and fiddled as he heard a few harder footsteps approaching. These were definitely not stilettos on a marathon, but reinforcement for the Man in Black who was no more. He was sweating and pulled up his sleeve to reveal the expensive watch on his wrist. He turned the dial and pressed the winding screw, letting out the ultra-violet blue laser to scan the door for a hidden lock. He was right, there was none, this was a decoy. And just as he was about to turn, four burly men in black suits and matching revolvers were standing, aiming ready to shoot and kill. James bumped his right shoulder on the door-handle and as he felt a taser-like electric shock, his quick thinking brain had the idea of the moment – he pointed the watch to the men in black and unbuckled it, lightly flicked it out and it detonated into a mini smoke bomb. James was not visible, shots rang, this time only a few went “zzoopp”… But a metallic ricochet set off the door opener, as what was a wall till then, just slid aside open. The men in black ran forward but gingerly, as the smoke stung their eyes, syn-Propanethial S-oxide (C3H6OS) working its way. This onion extract always did the trick. Just as the four men approached the now open wall, an unseen hand got one unawares and before he could react, the fingers had twisted a nerve on the neck. The man just slumped down dead. Before the others could react, similar fate lay in store for them. The smoke screen started clearing and a shadow emerged out walking up to the Lady in Red standing at the bottom of the staircase. With one arm around her slim waist and another on his gun, he made that trademark arm-cross and his furrowed brows would make any woman swoon for his charming looks. She drew her lips closer to his and before he could kiss her, he shot her and let her drop to the ground. She wanted the black diamond, but he ensured she would not get it. It was safe in the hands of Secret Agent 007.  

The D Boyz were missing their dose of Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. They wanted the heady dose of suspense, thrill a minute twists, turns, molls, money, palatial residences, gunshots. They got it all dramatized on D Street, as the SENSEX went into a spiraling 100 point rocket launcher, to be shot down into the ocean to depths of 200 points below the surface and other such thrills. So even when the day looked good, it ended bad, just like some Bond Girls – who start off as aides, but are glamorous spies ready to outdo James and sell the crown. The dizzying action all ended till the curtains fell on Friday (today) and the Credits had just one number emblazoned – 007… (SENSEX ended this week’s ride at 19007). So if the Presidential Palace hosted the change in cabinet ministers, it had its shares of spills and spoils. The onions still did their trick as they continued to sting the common man in his eyes with the natural syn-Propanietial S Oxide (C3H6OS).

The trendy bar was not packed, but not empty either. James sauntered in, sat at the bar stool and was about to order his drink. Before he could even say Martini, it was there for him. James had never been here before, so how could the bar tender have known? He looked at the perfectly made drink, looked up at the bar tender and recognized those brandy eyes. So liquid, so luminous, and so seductive. He smiled that wicked crooked charming smile, and picked up the olive. He raised his right eyebrow and read what looked like a wrinkle on the pickled black olive – on it was engraved her home address.  

I hope all of you have a rollicking weekend. At times, one needs some thrill to just add that chutzpah to a humdrum life where tomatoes, onions and other such veggies keep screaming out for attention!

Have a nice weekend. Cheers…

Captain – the last man standing?

Update for week ended 14 January 2011

Everyone looked to Vijay to lead them out of this place. He was the only one who had raised voice for the miners against the mine owners. It was thanks to him that their children’s school got a teacher, and their colony a doctor and a primary health centre. The salary assurances were also thanks to him. But Vijay was panicking. He had been in a similar situation like this many years ago. And then, too, like today, he had 30 odd people who looked to him for help. But he was helpless then – all perished, except him. He carried that guilt with him and he shuddered with fear that history was about to repeat itself……


…….. Vijay was on deck since morning and had been tense. They had just survived a pirate attack off the Eritrean Coast in the Gulf of Aden. The Somalis were a nuisance along this route, and thanks to the weather, they could avoid a hostage situation or something worse. But the bad weather around Cape Horn was not good for the ship. Vijay had already given orders to the engineers to keep the engines running at full steam, which meant more power, but not necessarily more speed. Winds were lashing out on the galley and waves not only lashed, but also rose fiercely threatening to toss the ship. Vijay had taken off his white, Captain’s hat and had put on his life vest. He ordered all  thirty of his shipmates to follow suit. And then the dark skies had flashes of lightning. The storm was getting fiercer. Fearing that the ship would roll over and capsize, Vijay took an important decision that seemed the best for the moment. The lashing waves, the bobbing ship, the blinding rain made it difficult for him to steer the ship in the high seas, and worse was yet to come. The sonar radar was their only source of direction. And then crash! Lightning struck the swirling satellite dish atop the deck, and all power failed on the ship. Vijay shouted out the orders to shut off the engine. This would eventually be a bad decision, but Vijay had to act on the spur of the moment – the ship was being threatened by the gale storm, they had no radar for navigation and could have hit a reef, as the strait narrowed; and perhaps by shutting down and hopefully staying put, Vijay felt that this was the only way to survive. And then the wind roared even more fiercely than before, the waves crashed, and washed onboard and the ship swayed dangerously. The ship rocked and another crash! This time, it was not lightning, but the ship seemed to have hit something. It started keeling over. There was panic in the cabin, and everyone held onto handles on the deck, or any fixed piece of furniture, lest they get tossed out and off-board. In one jerk, the cabin door swayed open and Vijay fell out. Before he could even react, a large wave engulfed him and washed him offshore. He gasped, floundered, banged himself against what must have been the stern railing. The life-jacket, helped him get back to the surface, and as he floated, and adjusted himself to the wetness, he looked ahead to see the ship keeling over faster. He wanted to swim to the ship to behave like a captain – be the last onboard; but then something stopped him and he just looked on as the ship keeled over and he cried. He cried out loud, but no-one could hear him in that storm.

Last week was bad for the D Street Boyz as the foreigners who were regular buyers on D Street, suddenly deserted the street and started scaring the daylights of the Boyz. And even as the Boyz were getting used to it this week, the clouds on the D Street horizon gathered closer. Clouds made up of rising inflation, rising interest rates, lower Industrial production just lashed down on D Street, turning it into muddy lake or river, not unlike the Queensland floods. And the D Boyz had to bail out of their cosy offices, and there was mayhem all around. And everyone looked to the usually good IT help that could have saved them, but the storm was too heavy, and the Info systems did not work well. And D Boyz floundered in the waters that flowed through D Street and saw the waters drowning the SENSEX – it is down below 19000 levels ending at 18860 – 740 points down.

Vijay was exhausted and slowly went off into a fatigue induced sleep. Fortunately the water was not cold, else hypothermia would have killed him. But at daybreak, another vessel that lost contact of his ship, pass through the strait and saw a bobbing head with white reflective life vest and helped pick him out of the water. And when Vijay gained consciousness, he only cried and cried and clammed up. He knew that none of his 30 shipmates survived and despite him being the captain, he had survived, not out of providence, but out of choice. He never went back to the ship when it keeled over.

Vijay shook out of his reverie when he looked around and shouted out instructions to the coal miners. He was in command now and he knew what to do. Mangal was sent to check the tunnels to the east, while he would man the narrow route to the mine shaft. The elevator was still there and he ordered the younger, thinner miners to file into the lift and go to the surface. His order was not even doubted or refuted. Everyone complied. But the waters kept rising in the mine and it was becoming difficult to stay afloat. Vijay took tough decisions, but right ones, as he steered forward and helped as many people out of their trapped situations. He would not repeat the Gulf of Aden experience tonight.  (To read about how Vijay and the miners got stuck in the coal mine – read The Black Rock )


As we end a fortnight into 2010, we head into a slew of festivals. Magh Mela on the Ganges banks has started, and the first official dip into the river will occur on 15th. The Sagar Mela off the Ganges Delta will also have similar dips in the river-sea and the Tamilians will cook rice and milk with cane sugar and jaggery as devout Malayalees will sight the ethereal light/lamp of Makara month, as Maharashtrians pop sesame and jaggery balls into one another’s mouths spouting sweet words. The kites will fly all over Gujarat as the Marwaris eat the ghee laden, filigreed ghevar. Happy Festival to all – Pongal, Makara Sankranti, Sankranti.

Have a nice weekend. Cheers.

Laal Maas

Update for week ended 7 January 2011

The January winter chill had set in. Chowkidaar was finding it difficult to stay at his post outside the erstwhile palace residence of the Rajput Prince. The creaky door that had been tightly shut was not keeping the icy breeze out. Chowkidaar tightened the shaggy woolen blanket around himself, knotted the muffler around his ears and his neck, over the monkey-cap and steeled himself to walk out of the post and into the palace main entrance. He would continue his duty from there. As he walked through the quickly gathering fog, he felt his bones freeze, and ambled on very difficultly into the palace main building. Once inside, his nose immediately picked up the scent of that valiant Rajput mutton curry, the laal maas, translated into red meat. The chef was preparing dinner for the night and the sharp, tingling smell of cooking red chillies has filled the air. And in winter, with the air getting more still and heavy, the smell lingered on. Chowkidaar hoped that he would get to taste the mutton. He had gone that morning to the butcher to select the goat shanks. The chef always trusted Chowkidaar’s choice of meats. He knew how to select the most succulent cuts, whether they were goat, sheep or even chicken. Chowkidaar also knew how to procure the not very easily available khargosh, rabbit or bater, partridge or even game venison, but no blackbucks – that was taboo in Rajput land. The chef had learnt the art of making the delicately cooked but fiercely hot mutton curry, laal maas – which got its name from the fiery red hot red chillies, that almost went in by the kilo-ful. In fact for one shank, the chef used at least 25-30 large red chilies, enough to fire a rocket into outer-space. But the hotter and spicier it was, the more it would be appreciated by diners. Chowkidaar only hoped that the diners would not eat much of it tonight given their inexperience in eating so much solid fire; and that he would get to eat the laal maas so that it could keep him warm for his night duty at this hill station for the Rajput royalty. And tonight was turning out to be colder than one he had encountered in a long time.

The D Boyz also felt the chills on D Street as winter truly set into the Indian subcontinent. In fact, the non-mountainous regions recorded colder weather than the mountains, so Delhi was colder than Shimla and Mt Abu was the coldest place in the plains (though technically, it is perched on a hill in the desert region of South Rajasthan). And someone was cooking Laal Maas of a different variety on this street, as loads and load so of red chillies were soaked and used to cook everything on the street, that the SENSEX looked redder than ever, dropping 900 points down since the past week to end close to 19600. The pricey onions, and other food items did not stop the cooking of the SENSEX into a red curry. And D Boyz were ready to drop it like hot potatoes or coal, or whatever is hot!

Chowkidaar did catch a few winks in the night, but every once in a while, he would peer out of his post cabin, and clear the frosted glass to look out at the lawns and the palace beyond. He was able to stay warm, thanks to some pieces of the left-over red meat curry that he did finally get to eat. God bless the Chef. When he emerged from the cabin to open the gates for the milkman in the morning, he was greeted by icy white lawns. His feet almost slipped when he walked on the now frozen ground and it took him a while to realize that the cold winds last night also brought icy frost with them. When the lights got brighter with the rising sun, he noticed that all vegetation also had a thin white crust, almost like someone had dusted white sugar onto the landscape. This was indeed a cold winter morning, one that he had experienced only a few times in the past on Mt Abu.

Hope you are all enjoying the wintry conditions in your respective towns and cities. Take care and enjoy it the way you want to.

Have a nice weekend…. Cheers