Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Chronicles of Matheran: the monkey, the road and the poo

There is rarely a time when you hear the alarm ring at 4:00 AM in the morning and wake up to do something more than just turning it off. At least for night birds like me, it is pretty close to impossible. Exceptions to this case are times when you have something extremely exciting up your sleeve and the thought drives all the lethargy and sleep away. On last Monday, it was truly the latter because on that day, Matheran beckoned. Yes, I was up and raring to go at the break of dawn.

Ting-tong, "CST se Karjat jaane waali 5:53 ki dheemi local platform kramank ek par aa rahi hai." In no time, we found ourselves at Ghatkopar station, waiting for our train. Wait, when did I become we? My bunch of trekkers included a geek G, a topper T, a bubbly chirpy animal (strictly metaphorical) B, the youngest youngling Y, the mean M (Hindu astrology) and a makeshift Supandi that was, S. Here on I will only use the alphabets to refer to my fellow trekkers, in case I am forced to, not for reasons of discretion, but filling in more space with what we did, rather than who did what.

Traveling by local trains had never been so comfortable. There were enough seats for each one of us to go to sleep on. Initially, we spent a lot of time actually waking up and shooing the yawns away. The pleasant breeze contributed to the cause further. One hour into the trip, we finally looked like a bunch of noisy, energetic picnickers. That look also got the attention of uninvited visitors- the people who make the locals their homes every night. Initially they asked us for money, we refused and the left. But later, when we opened up our breakfast, some of them had the audacity to ask us for an entire plate of snacks, and oh my, they were so adamant that they stood there staring at us for a good 20 minutes. We gave the kids something to it, but then put a full stop on community service because we needed enough supplies to last the day.

Neral arrived in around an hour and a half. We could already feel the freshness in the air. We had a quick meeting to discuss the best route to Matheran along with the much awaited pee-breaks. Weighing our experience and stamina levels and the suggestions given to us by the locals, we chose to walk along the road, and bypass it wherever the jungles permitted (we underestimated the jungles). We were told it is a 6km trek.

It was time for a quick resource check, water, food, first aid kit, cameras, wind-cheaters, emergency medicines, all were in place. Putting on our respective hats, caps, glares, we finally were set to begin the trek.

The first impression we got was that the place had only two things, horse and horse poo. It was the repeated spotting of the poo that the group unanimously agreed to sing a birthday song for the a person who steps on the cake, the dung cake. As we moved on however, there were other things that took over.

The waterfalls and streams crossed our route on many occasions. We made it a point to stop over and freshen up wherever we could. On one of those, my dear friends decided to play a prank on me. The got me in striking range and then all of them with all their strength splashed as much water on me as possible. Freshening up is cool but I didn’t want to freshen up so soon after just having gotten out of the fall and dried myself.

We decided to cut across the road through the jungle once closer to the beginning, but were all itchy in around 10 minutes because of the thick undergrowth that lay scattered. We decided it wasn’t a wise choice. Another problem was that finding our way through the jungle was impossible without someone who already knew the path.
We had our share of encounters with animals, domestic and wild. I already mentioned the horses. We spotted cows and goats grazing on the slopes. We had a companion during a small stretch of the journey in the form of a dog. It didn’t look in great shape but followed instructions to the tee considering that we had barely known it for 15-20 minutes. Nonetheless, the animal that completely got us in frenzy was this monkey.

We were half way through at this stage. Walking along the road bordered by a narrow railing, we saw a few monkeys. We ignored them, but it wasn’t vice-versa. There was a monkey who I’m going to call Mawali here on. Mawali was particularly large in size and had a rogue like look on his face. The six of us were walking in pairs. Suddenly Mr. Mawali started trailing us. We still didn’t pay it much attention and continued to look the way. It suddenly caught up with T and B. They decided to put G in the firing line. As manly as he was, he tried to remain unperturbed, but then Mawali got the better of him. It pulled G’s wind-cheater first and then, when G threatened it with a pebble, he chased G. We never knew G could run so fast!! A timely screech by B scared Mawali off. Now, when I think about it, the whole incident makes me smile, but back then, I was so freaked out.

We took breaks at a tremendous rate, once every 500m. We stopped to click snaps whenever and wherever we could. We clicked everything covering the valleys, the trail, the jungle, the hills and the creatures (both primitive and modern, social and asocial). We stopped once in a while for a quick snack (not that we didn’t eat while we ambled along).

We also took breaks to get our breath back. Our lazy bones and weak muscles are not used to so much exertion. It was a little worse because some of us weren’t in good health but considering our past records, it wasn’t bad at all. At the later stages of the trek, I was beginning to wonder if we were taking breaks between walking or walking between breaks.

The Chronicles of Matheran: the food, the lake and the horse-ride

We reached Dasturi chowk, the entry point to the hill station. Whoever told us it was 6 km should have been shot dead because the sign board there showed Neral was 9 km downhill. We were so hungry that at that time, the only thing that was on our mind was lunch, so we delayed the shooting bit to a while later.

We found a reasonably decent restaurant and got ourselves something to eat. Dal fry and jeera rice never tasted so good before. All the time we ate, we had to be on the lookout for the monkeys, because they were all over the place and trying to find a way into the restaurant. We were over-conscious after having under-estimated Mawali. With our stomachs full, we reconsidered our plans with regards to what were we going to do while in Matheran keeping in mind the time we had on our hands.

We decided we will walk it up to Charlotte lake which was another 4 km from where we currently where. This time we took the mini-train track leading to bazaar peth and from there on the jungle trail on a trodden path. It wasn’t as difficult as walking on a cemented road was. Besides, the shade that the forest provided was another plus.

Charlotte lake wasn’t very tough to find, though we had our share of arguments on which way to take at times. The lake was serene. The forest had given it a green tinge. The water-fall emanating from the lake was a breathtaking sight. A peak faced it on the opposite end, its outline shimmering under the sun that was soon going to set behind it. We just sat there appreciating the beauty of nature. Anyways, we didn’t have enough strength left to talk or run around. There were a few very special moments, which made it all the more fun for others who weren’t a part of it. If you didn’t understand, forget it, you weren’t meant to.

In the end, we walked back to bazaar peth and from there decided to take the horse. Our legs were too tired to carry our weight back till Dasturi chowk from where we could get a cab. I haven’t had the pleasure of riding a horse before. It didn’t look very easy in the beginning but we got over our fears with time and managed to trot our way back to the chowk. How can I forget? Someone also felt a lot closer to God then.

We were back at the station by 6.15PM for a 6:38 local. With the spare time, we clicked the last few pictures of the outing. Five minutes before the scheduled arrival, M and Y realized they had misplaced their tickets, so the reliable G ran to get them a quick replacement. We made it in time for the train. Had we missed this one, we would have had to wait for a good hour before seeing a local to the city again.

We reached home in two hours and hit our bed as soon as possible to brace ourselves for the working day that followed. The next day, we all had bruised feet, tired legs, stiff backs, stiffer butts (thanks to the saddles) but revitalized minds and uplifted spirits, so the pain didn’t matter much. There’s nothing as invigorating as a trek, especially when it’s with your closest chums.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

60 Years : Age of Retirement?

The age of 60 is when most people retire in our country. It represents a change in life from the 9-5 routine to the 5-9 routine. Nonetheless, in the current context, when I say 60, I am not talking about the age of an individual and when I say retirement, I don't mean to imply retirement in the true sense. I am referring to the age of an independent India and the withdrawal of the rusty mindset that chains dynamism and the progress of a budding nation.

The average age of politicians in India is way above the world average. Yes, we have a stable government, unlike majority of our neighbours and we are a very strong democracy, but is the current governance truly the epitome of the axiom ‘of the people, by the people, for the people?’

We still have politicians who came first on stage during the freedom struggle. With all due respect to their efforts, the big question remains whether their vision is still coherent with the needs of a rapidly developing economy. We are taught the new economic policies of Liberalisation, Globalisation and Privatisation, but they are surely not the only thing a nation needs to become a developed country from a developing one.

Having reached the latter end of my education, I can illustrate the above argument by quoting the state of the education system in India. You and I are among the more fortunate bunch to have received no less than the basic educational qualifications. But still, when we look at the larger picture, we know how much industrial value our degrees hold in the job market.

One of my friends asked her interviewer, which subjects she should focus her attention on in case she secured the job, and the blunt reply she got was “nothing, your courses are far too out-dated to satisfy the requirements of our company.” Our education system is content with producing graduates who are more into services and support rather than core research and development. If that is the case, we have no right to complain about the issue of “Brain-Drain.”

A revolution in the education system, or for that, any structure, cannot be brought about by people who haven’t sensed the nerve of the problem. The stimulus of reform will come by if we have educated people who set the right goals first and then adopt progressive means to achieve them.

We have young open-minded politicians entering the governance of the country, but their numbers can be counted on fingers. We as the youth of today have to take initiative. By initiative, I don’t mean we must all join politics. Feeding a hungry child might prevent him from resorting to begging, cleaning up a beach with your college mates will show a sense of civic responsibility, formation of citizen’s forums will assist municipalities to serve the area better, the list is endless. It is just that someone has to take the toughest step – to begin.

How many of us will celebrate Independence Day for what it is? Rather, how many of us only take it as a welcome mid-week break? I know I do the latter, but I also know that if that is the scenario, I don’t have the right to crib about the flaws of our motherland.

No state is perfect, but we can definitely strive to move an inch closer to perfection. In that journey, we have to keep in mind, that a nation is only as perfect as its people. On this 15th August, think about it. Happy holidaying!

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Trips to the dentist can be rarely classified as happy memories. I have had many experiences on that ominous mechanised chair, but few match the gory nature of the one which follows in the coming lines. Read further if you don't mind it getting a little disgusting at times, but then I have spiced it up enough to make it entertaining.

There are a few things, looking at which, you can't help but ask yourself the question - "What is the reason for its existence?" A Wisdom tooth is definitely one of them. What's the wisdom behind having a tooth which serves no real purpose but adds to your agony (not always though in most cases)! To top it all, you don't have one, but four whole wisdom teeth. Besides, a completely unrelated query comes to my head when I write this. Does any one know why it is called a 'wisdom' tooth out of all things?

Mine too had been contributing to my share of problems. Mine was indented beyond repair, so it left my dear dentist with no option but to extract it. The appointment was fixed with a dental surgeon. She had a nice name, and a nicer voice, so I thought a pretty doctor won't do any harm when your stuck in a mess.

Fast forward. I am sitting on the dentist chair. I see this extremely stern looking yet dignified post-menopausal lady who has just told me "Don't shake. It'll just prick a little" with a long metallic syringe in her right hand. Just another injection I thought, can't hurt so much. She gave one prick, another a few milliseconds later and one more after that. I began to wonder if it was only the tooth she was extracting or was there more to it. She proved the latter right in a way, but my pat interruption and clarification prevented her from extracting the upper tooth as well. In the meanwhile, my cheek and lips had begun to grow heavy and numb.

She said "Just sit back and relax now." I wouldn't have minded this coming from a masseur, but when a dentist says this, you should know what's coming. She took up a swab dipped in some terrible smelling tincture that smelled like a mix of a disinfectant and urine and cleaned, or should I say, mopped my mouth. More swabs followed later, albeit this time, without the stenchful liquid, and completely choked the little movement of my tongue which was possible.

I didn't realise that what would follow was a lot worse. The primary tool (call it weapon) was a drill-like device which made a loud buzzing noise. She put it in my mouth, and all I could sense was it vibrating violently and making screeching noises. I wonder what would it had been without the anaesthesia and really didn't mind the needle punctures.

Showing the typical stubbornness of a Taurean, my tooth refused to cooperate and I felt she had to take extreme measures. Following the Divide and Rule policy, she kept taking out pieces of my tooth every now and then. The root was especially tough and at one point, the drill bit just got stuck and popped out of the motored unit. Seeing something like a screw driver stuck in your mouth can give any normal person the heebie-jeebies. She manoeuvred the bit out in sometime and decided to use something like forceps to dig the remain portions out.

It was over at last I thought, but alas, I was so wrong. A needle and thread and some dexterous suturing followed. It wasn't all that painful considering what I had gone through but then I always feel that stitching is meant for clothes.

In the end, she added more instructions: "You will have to bite and hold this swab in your mouth for an hour till the bleeding stops completely. Apply ice intermittently. Your face is likely to swell. You can't eat solid food today at least, though cold milkshakes and ice-creams are allowed." If she hadn't said that last bit, I would have felt a lot worse, being a complete foodie.

I know death is painful, but I really pray I don't end my journey the way my wisdom tooth did. May it rest in pieces and let me be at peace.