Travels in Sikkim-3rd Part


Travels in Sikkim-3rd Part

So what is the first thing you do when you hit the north east? You give into the clichés and eat momos right? And of course that’s exactly what we did once we exited Bagdogra airport. But first there was a minor kerfuffle in locating our driver who was supposed to pick us up at the airport. Not having visited the north east before we had to trust travel websites to decide our place of stay and itinerary. Thankfully a friend in Kolkata gave us the contact details of a well-established travel agency conducting tours of the north east and we made the arrangements – even paying the fee upfront for an airport pick up to airport drop trip entire travel experience.

And then when we landed at Bagdogra we couldn’t locate our driver outside the airport. I kept getting calls on my mobile from an unknown number – someone called Pandey (according to true caller) who kept saying something in Hindi, but as the only Hindi I knew was limited to Baba Sehgal singing “aaja mera gaadi mein betja” I couldn’t understand what he wanted me to do. I mean, I had expected the driver to stand outside the airport arrivals with a big board bearing my name – as seen in numerous movies. I hadn’t expected him to call me and give me directions (in Hindi) to go somewhere. So laden with luggage, I did the only possible thing which came to mind.

I looked around till I could find a south Indian looking army officer (it shows in our faces right?) and I explained my predicament to him. The army officer (he was keralite by the way) took the next call from the driver and gave him an earful in Hindi such that the driver was present in front of us within the next five minutes. We learnt that he had parked way down the road to avoid the parking fees at the airport parking and had hence been giving us directions to exit the airport and walk down the Siliguri road to where he was parked. We communicated to him in our broken hingilish that we didn’t mind paying the parking fee in future if it means avoiding the long walk uphill dragging heavy luggage. And with that sorted out we began our journey into the hills.

Now the first order of business was to get some hot food inside as we had travelled by a budget airline in economy class and they basically will give you nothing but water for the entire flight. So as we travelled on the road to Siliguri we broached the topic of a late lunch/early evening tiffin. Meanwhile our driver asked us the passport size photographs the travel agency had recommended us to carry for applying to get a permit to travel to the Tibetan border. As a couple of us were not carrying two passport size photos per head we decided to get it taken in Siliguri itself along with all the Xerox copies of the various documents required and so, we first made for a fast food joint were we ordered momos with hot sauce- authentic Tibetan style and meanwhile got our pictures taken.

I have never had much taste for momos, but given the cold weather and our empty stomachs since breakfast, those momos disappeared fast. And then we had that most magical of drinks- authentic Darjeeling tea for after all we were in Darjeeling weren’t we? And then we were on our way hoping to reach Gangtok in time as the travel time – optimistically from Siliguri to Gangtok up in the hills was five hours when there were no landslides or accidents. We had travelled a long way to get to the Himalayas and just couldn’t wait to see the famed hills.

And that’s how our trip up that long, narrow treacherous road into the hills began. But you just had to roll down the window and look outside to forget all the dangers and get mesmerized in the beauty of the landscape you were passing along. The mighty Brahmaputra roaring out of the gorges, the long beautiful tea plantation’s everywhere, tiny streams and thundering waterfalls everywhere. Not to mention the cold, the bone freezing chill as went ascended up into the hills, clad in singleton t-shorts appropriate for hot and muggy Kolkata from where we had come.

 

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How History Is Written- An Explainer


How History Is Written- An Explainer

The king was sitting impatiently in the audience chamber while the nobles around him argued loudly back and forth. One of them shouted “but we can’t keep allowing these migrants to invade our country, they might soon overwhelm our native population at the rate at which they breed. The best way to stop them is to build a wall across the border and make them pay for it”. Another minister screamed even more loudly “and their culture is so primitive- they worship the fire and offer sacrifices- animal and human to it. They don’t have gods like us”. Meanwhile a third noble stood up and said “but my lord we have to remember that these are peaceful refugees, they are unarmed. We cannot in good conscience turn away starving women and children who are fleeing famine from our bountiful lands”.

Another minister offered his view “he is right my king, these refugees prefer to settle in the forest areas by clearing the plantations. They don’t trouble our native populations except to work for them or to trade with them”. And one of the other ministers tried to interject “and they bring certain useful animals with them. That horse animal they have domesticated for sacrifice that seems to me a far more practical animal for travel than our own native racing bulls”. At this a whole host of voices tried to shout him down as a “barbarian lover”.

Meanwhile the king scratched his head and asked “so what do you want me to do? I don’t think these tribes are any threat to us in our strong citadels. They might trouble a few far-flung villages but we have received no news like that till now. Can we postpone making any decision for later?”. The general of the army stood up then and said “why not send a warning my lord?” the king looked at him hard and long “what kind of warning?” the general, who was a pretty bloodthirsty one as generals go “ the kind of warning these half naked fire worshippers will understand. Pick the next batch of refugees illegally entering our border and kill them to send a message to make sure that others don’t follow them”. The king frowned “women and children too?” the general shrugged “of course, elsewhere is the message that our borders are inviolable? We can’t allow any tom, dick and harry to cross our borders”.

The wise chief minister stood up then and said “if that’s the course you follow your majesty, let me add a small piece of advice. These fire worshippers would like nothing better than to burn their bodies in their fires, so deny them that and just bury those bodies in plain view outside our citadel as a warning to further intruders.” And so it was done and a refuge band of fifty men women and children were massacred and buried outside the citadels walls as a warning to others.

Four thousand years later a group of archeologists were excavating the area and they accidentally chanced upon the citadels walls and the graves nearby. Excitedly they dug up what was left of the buried remains and sent them to foreign universities for DNA analysis for identification. The next day all the newspaper headlines screamed in bold letters “Aryan migration theory disproved by new DNA Evidence- Aryans have always lived here” “DNA analysis conclusively proves that it was the fire worshipping pastoral Aryans who were the builders of the great Indus Valley Civilization”. “The Indus valley civilization was a myth- it was the Aryans all along says DNA evidence” etc. And that’s how history is written – by whatever/whoever survives.

Dedication : To Tony Joseph for his piece in The Hindu on the IVC excavations.

Travels to the North-East- Part 2


Travels to the North-East- Part 2

As they say to travel to the north east, you have to first head east. And the gateway to the east is the magnificent megalopolis of Calcutta, nee’ Kolkata as its now pronounced. For those who don’t know, including me till this visit (although I have been to Kolkata before), the city is actually two, twin cities- Kolkata and Howrah joined together by the iconic Howrah bridge. Like all good things ruined by communism the leftists had ruined the once thriving capital of united Bengal into a bursting at the seams poverty ridden provincial township. Thankfully after the departure of the socialist regime lock, stock and barrel, things seem to have taken a turn for the better.

Kolkata now, on this visit, seemed filled with huge skyscrapers and long flyovers reducing the traffic snarls to manageable levels. There is also a general bustle in the streets and a sense of optimism in the people. Say what you will about Mamata di, the city of Kolkata looks spic and span in the brief period she has ruled over the state even if she prefers to stay over in Howrah and commute across to Kolkata to work daily. I was told that this was one another way for her to differentiate herself from the snooty communist bhadraloks who used to look down on the old city of Howrah while preferring the Victorian era genteel Kolkata.

I spent a day touring the tourist favorites like the Howrah Bridge and the Victoria palace and even ventured over into the old city of Howrah to see the authentic old gallis which Dominic La’pierre had written about in the bestseller novel ‘city of joy”. I came away with a sense of completeness to my journey into the Bengali consciousness as evinced by their pride in their capital Kolkata. And most surprisingly my taxi driver with whom I tried to communicate in English /hinglish ended up talking to me in my mother tongue telugu as he was a migrant from Andhra Pradesh. He informed me about the large number of migrants from Andhra who were living in Bengal for generations with just a remembrance of their language to connect them to their ancestral state. So instead of learning Bengali from my taxi driver as I had planned to I ended up speaking in a language I was comfortable with since childhood.

Having done the official part of the trip successfully, and with a win in the elections under my belt it was time for the actual vacation to start. And where better to head rather than the hills. The mighty Himalayas beckoned and from Kolkata I took a 45 mins flight to Bagdogra airport in north Bengal- an area called 24 parganas for reasons lost in the mists of times. It was a pretty short flight to say the least. I had just plonked down on my seat on the flight, adjusted my seat belt and got comfortable after the seat belts off sign came on, when the pilot again announced the seat belts on for descent into Bagdogra airfield.

For those who have never visited Bagdogra airport take it from me that it’s the size of Koyambedu bus stand in Chennai but serves a lot of important tourist spots in the north east –Siliguri, Darjeeling, Gangtok etc. Its approximately 20kms away (and one hour away depending on the traffic) from the nearest city- Siliguri and from there it’s all uphill into the Himalayas. Siliguiri is the last place you see the plains and as soon as you leave the city and head into the outskirts you can see the tea plantations start- the famous Darjeeling tea. And then you run smack into the largest landmass feature of India- the Himalayan ranges. More on my next post into the hills.

Travels In The North East – Part 1


Travels In The North East – Part 1

As a South Indian, especially someone who lives in the deep south of India, in the state of Tamil Nadu, you grow up with stories of the north-south divide and how the hindi’ans (yes that’s a term) look down on all things below the Vindhyas which divides the north and the south of the country. You also get frequent reminders of this from the other perspective when some North Indian language chauvinists stress that Hindi should be given precedence over your mother tongue or the common lingua franca down south- English, which everyone speaks in addition to their mother tongues. Finally you get the whole how south India is more rational and accommodating of all religions while the north is filled with rabid hindutva’vadis who would just as soon do riots or destroy mosques rather than worship god in the privacy of their homes theory which is a part of the popular narrative bandied about as self-evident knowledge.

But travel has a way of opening one’s eyes to some unpleasant truths and making you see things from the others perspectives. I recently spent a week in the northeast, yes that part of our country which is often marked in maps as an itsy-bitsy add on to the rump of the landmass. As a South Indian I must confess to my shame that I had almost zero knowledge of the north eastern culture except for what I learned in school textbook geography. My knowledge of the region’s History was again nada/zilch- for all of Indian history is filled with horror stories of conquerors and destroyers who came out of the northwest- present day Pakistan and built pyramid’s out of the heads of the native Hindustani’s they had beheaded and destroyed temples by the score. All of which fear mongering I had taken to be children’s stories designed to explain the backwardness of the north when compared to the south or the west.

But as I said travel opens one yes to the reality. Textbooks come alive and history is shown to be real and not a figment of someone’s imagination. Some of the sights I saw up there showed me that history is alive and well and is the source of all the fear and angst against the outsider. I could finally see and accept for myself that all the rich culture I take pride in naturally as a South Indian- all those beautiful art works, the majestic temples etc down south, survived and in fact were all spared at the expense of the north.

The barbaric invaders from the northwest were so busy destroying anything which reeked of the local culture (hindu culture) including our temples and artworks in the north of the country that they never got around to doing the same in the south. It’s based on the sacrifice of the north- the utter destruction of hundreds of magnificent landmarks and iconic temples that Hinduism survived and flourished in the deep south- a fact which is proven again and again whenever you see the ruins of ancient temples all over North India and compare it with the majesty of the Tanjore Brihadeeswara temple or the Madurai Meenakshi temple which have stayed the same over a thousand years.

The same is true of our borders – it only takes a trip into the mountains of the north- those magnificent Himalayas and look up into the mass of the Chinese army poised to rush down into the plains of the peninsula to appreciate the constant fear of the people of the north east to be run over by the chic-coms and start speaking mandarin. It’s here that you really get to appreciate the Indian army and its many sacrifices in guarding the borders. I spent a week in the border towns along the Chinese-occupied Tibetan border and I came away a chastened man with a better perception of what it means to be an Indian, a Hindu and to be at the mercy of two enormous hordes of barbarian armies poised to the east and west of my country straining at the leash to enter the Gangetic plains and down south to finally erase the idea of India from history like they have been trying to do (and failing) for millennia. The threat from the unwashed barbarian hordes to the west and the yellow peril to the east is indeed real (as spoken from the times of Kipling) is what I came back with.

The idea of India- in fact the very survival of this fragile idea of hope, optimism and freedom is in a precarious position and guarded by a few regiments of die hard soldiers on our borders in the midst of sub zero cold and absolutely zero comfort is what shocked me. I have come back with my eyes opened and a great deal of respect for our men in uniform. And an iron resolve to do my bit for the safety of my nation, for its very survival amongst such overwhelming odds. More to follow in my next few blogs as I report on my experiences in the frontiers of India.

The October Revolution(s)


The October Revolution(s)

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and it behooves us on certain anniversaries to reflect how that innocuous path taken in the beginning led right to the sulfurous pits of fire. And no I am not referring to the recent history of demonetization and its appalling aftermath. I am jogging your memory back to a similar economic terrorism let loose on an unsuspecting population based on the noble ideals of social equity and punishing corruption.

A hundred years ago, back in 1917, there was a large country, riven with rifts between the devastatingly poverty ridden majority populace who lived hand to mouth existence as serfs and the fat cats who ruled over them by colluding with those in power, all of which was centered around a single family rule. Sounds bizarrely similar to current India and a certain congress party? No, I am talking about imperial Russia and the ruling tsar family. There was even a secret advisor who had the ear of the empress like a certain pc of the UPA government who was widely blamed for all the illogic laws affecting the poor populace and whose ill-intentioned advice was responsible for the majority of the anti-people edicts which so poisoned the serfs and peasants against the then ruling government of the tsar.

History, shows again and again that rulers who listen to the backroom boys with no ear to the ground among the people are the ones who end up with all the opprobrium and hate of the people while the backroom manipulators escape with their reputation’s untarnished to serve another set of rulers again. Meanwhile the long suffering poor and downtrodden looked out for a messiah, even if he appears to be a snake-oil specialist to all un-blinkered realists and a charismatic demagogue appeared on the horizon – someone who promised to end the single family rule and put the fat cat capitalists in jail. The October revolution happened and blood flowed all over Russia. The imperial family was decimated, those close to the tsar were hounded out of Russia and all looked rosy.

But. As a corollary to the main show of political freedom, the new rulers of Russia, Lenin and his thug, Stalin, a backroom manipulator of the party, who together ruled over the government and the party decided they needed a grand economic narrative, something to change the course of history and etch their names in gold for posterity. So despite the best advices from a host of economic experts, the two not-so-wise men of Russia decided to implement socialism in one stroke, overnight. Eliminate private property by converting it all into public property and hence destroying the ill-gotten gains of the corrupt with one surgical strike. Anyone who protested the illogicity of such drastic action and its obvious effect on the economy were labelled anti-nationals and either shot or sent into re-education camps in Siberia, something which has thankfully not happened over here.

The move to destroy all property ownership was received with acclaim by the poor and downtrodden as they were happy (vicariously) to see the rich suffer the same fate as themselves, much similar to a hundred years later when everyone was happy about their neighbors and dog queuing up outside the atm’s to receive two, two thousand rupee notes a day from the ration shop turned ATM’s. But such vicarious pleasure at the sufferings of others only offers temporary gratification and does not feed the belly. The economy took a nose dive and crash landed so badly that the starving masses instead of getting their bellies filled just had new competition for scarce resources in the form of the newly poor and desperate. These were mostly the middle class and the intellectuals who were treated with contempt and anathema by the illiterate thugs now in power and who had always harbored a secret envy of the educated middle class who had till then somehow managed to just about stay above the poverty line.

And as a corollary, the uber-rich managed to flee the country with their ill-gotten gains, courtesy the corrupt amongst the new ruling dispensation to safe havens in Great Britain aka how Vijay Mallaya and Lalit Modi fled a 100 years later.  The thugs of the ruling party, local commissars who let their petty power go their heads, stifled dissent in the name of patriotism, destroyed all individual initiative in the name of progress and instituted a widespread surveillance system to root out those desperate enough to speak the truth and all this in the name of doing good to the country.

And Russia instead of getting the change they hoped for, went into the dark ages for a hundred years with countless millions dying of food shortages and official apathy while the rulers celebrated each anniversary with pomp and pageantry and self-pats on the backs for achieving equality and egalitarianism. The economic experts re-wrote fudged data numbers showing bountiful harvests even as millions were slowly starving. The newspapers , the paid media of those times, reported the obviously false data as verified news and sang paeans to the rulers and everything looked hunky-dory till it all came crashing down almost overnight and all the lies were exposed for what they were, mere self-delusion.

The October Revolution of 1917 has now been universally condemned by history as a colossal failure led by megalomaniacal rulers who brooked no dissent in their belief in their own infallibility. History has a way of surprising us when it repeats itself, first as a tragedy and subsequently as a farce. To conclude, I can only repeat the cliché that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Unfortunately we didn’t and we did. I rest.

The Brave Cowards


The Brave Cowards

I recently finished a book called “Origin” by author Dan Brown which stars his favorite hero the Symbologist Robert Langdon. Langdon is not your conventional hero who goes all out swinging right from the first page. He is far more realistic and like the majority of us someone who survives (shivering and cursing) being thrust into situations not of his making. He admits his lack of guts and never hesitates to use his brain instead of brawn.  And it’s refreshing to read about a mainstream character from a bestselling author who refuses to be brave all the time. Most literary heroes would never admit to any doubts about their lack of guts. Offhand I can’t recall a single major character from any bestseller who admits to fear or acts a coward, without a redemption story. If at all a character is written like that- he becomes a side-kick or comedy relief like Neville Longbottom of the Harry Potter series who ends up becoming a brave heart (of course) by the end of book in a mandatory plot twist. All of which made me wonder whether bravery is synonymous with courage? And my conclusion was that both are as different as chalk and cheese and I will now explain why, in a long blog post guaranteed to bore you to tears.

In my younger days (damn…those feel like eons ago) I used to watch a cartoon series on Tv called “Courage the cowardly dog”. It was one of my favorites along with Oggy and the cockroaches, Heidi and Chotta Bhim. Anyway the premise of the show was that the dog Courage, contrary to his name, was a bit of a coward and afraid of pretty much everything under the sun. But as luck (bad luck) would have it, in every episode he would have to face one of his worst fears and battle it to save his beloved owner. The moral of the cartoon series was on how love (for others) makes us conquer our worst fears and act courageously. One of my takeaways from the ‘toon was that no matter how much of a coward you are, sometimes you just have to stand your ground and face your fears without retreating. The reason may be immaterial but when you have no option to run and hide you are called brave and only you know the true extent of your knees quaking under the table. Which brings me to the concept of bravery.

When people say so and so is brave what I assume is that the said person is fearless and has always been fearless and has a track record of being fearless. These must be exceptionally gifted people who have never seen failure I suppose. Or never ever entertain the thought of failure in their lives. Their confidence in themselves, courtesy their upbringing or maybe their socio-economic status or their lifestyle, must brook no option of their even losing or being humiliated in public or god forbid getting maimed in limb or life. But unfortunately for average people like you and I with normal middle class upbringing there is no such over-arching self confidence in our success rates. We are the ones who have been trained to walk on pavements, look both ways on the road before crossing even if it’s a zebra crossing with red lights on etc. We are psychologically trained to admit that shit happens in our lives despite our best precautions. For us it’s never a question of being brave all the time – there is no absence of fear from our lives where it lurks just under the surface. It’s merely a fact of conquering fear enough to step out and do what is necessary despite admitting that our best may not be enough and the probability is great that we are going to fail. And that’s why I rate courageous people better than brave people. It’s easier to accomplish things in the absence of fear, but conquering fear? Ha… that takes a lot of courage.

To end this post, I would like to paraphrase a quote from Tolkien “the bravest step he took was the first one from his doorstep”. Indeed, for a hobbit the fear of leaving the safety of his snug house must have looked more daunting than facing those orcs or beasts or even the might of mordor. And likewise every step we take out of our houses in the morning is a badge of courage for all of us naturally cowardly people. Would you agree?

Absent Empathy and Low Emotional Quotient


Absent Empathy and Low Emotional Quotient

When you are sick and at home a’bed you have time, lots of time, to rehash the past and go revisit all those wounds which scarred you over the course of your life. Although not a healthy practice in everyday life, sometimes it does become necessary to reopen old scabs and inspect the wounds underneath, to stare at and learn something from past errors. The most worrisome thing is when you rehash the past and find that you haven’t learned anything at all from it but have kept on doing the same mistake again and again.  And that is something I find I am guilty of. I have never seemed to have learnt from my mistakes. All of my actions, say for instance in my relationships, seem to follow a predictable pattern. Invariably I have been associated with people (let’s leave it that) who have been barely stable psychologically spanning the entire spectrum right up to frank psychopaths. I could give specific instances with examples, but as that wouldn’t serve any purpose other than titillating you the reader- let me pass lightly over all those unsavory types with overactive imaginations who read too much into casual things and couldn’t deal with reality but tended to lash out at me for not acting up to their imaginary expectations.

After much thought into why I repeatedly attract psychos towards me – I can only think of two reasons- either I am one of them too (if I were, would I know it?) or it’s because of my innate empathy- my high quotient of emotional intelligence which makes me sympathetic towards those who are barely there psychologically. Unfortunately no good deed goes unpunished and those very same unstable characters that I alone am able to tolerate their antics of, react like the asp cladded to the chest and tend to bite me as soon as they can and poison my peace of mind. So in retrospect I think I would have been better off if I had behaved insensitively right from the beginning and been the kind of self-centered asshole most men are when it comes to women. Being sensitive has its punishment- it attracts the wrong types who subsequently manage to make life hell for the sensitive person. It’s always better to be an asshole rather than be at the receiving end of one. Be bad or be crushed is the conclusion I can come to after reviewing my entire case history. Empathy, sympathy and all kinds of tolerance are the enemies to decent people. Assholes have it easy, good guys don’t. That sums up lesson number one of my relationship error history- be selfish in getting what/who you want.

Lesson number two immediately follows- never mistake pity for love. Many times I have been guilty of dating the undateable, loving the unloved. I can’t help it- I am made like that. I am a great friend of all street dogs, homeless people and the left behinds of society. That might be a part of my job as a doctor- to help the unfortunate but when it comes to selecting someone to spend the rest of my life with- that’s about the biggest error to make- as I have learnt to my cost. There are some people who have been left alone because they deserve to be. Why society, even nature has judged them and found wanting – that they are fit to be alone all their lives- the confirmed spinster types. And it’s the height of foolhardiness (masquerading as bravado) to go and start something with them. They won’t give you any love or gratitude for rescuing them from a life of loneliness. They will instead show all the pent up hatred towards society for neglecting them all this time- all on you. You will become the symbol for everything they have lost in their lives till then- all their wasted youth, all their lost dreams all their expectations towards finding a good match- all of it foisted on your head and the blame laid solely on your head.

Let’s come to the gold diggers next. Those women who don’t give shit about you or your emotions except in learning how to manipulate them to their advantage before finding a good enough reason to justify dumping you after their exploitation. These are the types who often scream “harassment” and “stalking” and all those carefully pre-selected keywords which immediately stroke the ire of the femi-nazi brigade who they hope will confuse the issue enough by talking about women’s empowerment to mask the bare faced financial swindling they subject the men to. Their logic is simple when a woman screams harassment nobody ever asks so how much did you borrow from him or how much did you make him spend on you? I know that it’s not a given that anybody, any woman who makes money of you should get compulsorily emotionally involved with you, but when you dangle emotional entanglement as a carrot for financial benefits it becomes a straight financial trade doesn’t it? To make him spend his last rupee before he realizes that no she has not loved him, has never even been in love with him is the ultimate goal of such gold diggers.

Compared to these type of women the straight sex for money kind of dealing by professional sex workers is far more honest as at least you know what you are getting into right at the beginning and will by the end at least have some money left in your pockets instead of being completely wiped out- both emotionally and financially. And that’s lesson number three- when a woman is more interested in your financial background, asks how much you make per month and wants to be taken to expensive food joints in the guise of experiencing new ambiences- all those are warning flags that you are about to be swindled left, right and center. No woman who is looking for lifelong commitment is going to make that decision based on how much you are willing to spend for her on every single date. Just take an about turn and run.

Finally the point of having a life time commitment is that for a long time you not only have to tolerate each other but also depend on each other- for everything. Your life partner is not only going to be your closest friend emotionally but also your financial planner, your investment adviser, your banker and the first person to listen to and give advice on any and every major decision or event of your life. Would you choose someone who gives you wrong advice? Or who is clever enough to guide you on the right path when your mind is fogged with emotional turmoil? Or would you select someone standoffish who doesn’t want to hear your troubles but prefers to talk about their troubles all the time? Which is the worst option? Based on such questions alone should you select a life partner- someone with whom you going to share food, share a bed, share a room, share kids, share money, share property and share everything else- including when you are old and feeble at the fag end of life. That’s not a decision taken lightly is it?

Hence my decision to look for someone with high emotional quotient and real empathy and to sterr clear of psychos henceforth. Wish me luck, comrades.