Monday, November 19, 2007

Diwali dreams

The fataka bazaar was decked up like a bride; resplendent with the bright and colorful shops for Diwali, the festival of lights. The shops were a world in themselves, crackers of all sorts found takers here, there were the evergreens like fuljhari, anaar, chakri, rockets, atom bombs…which were always in demand, but what sold like hot cakes this year was the fireworks that formed colorful patterns in the sky. They were a little expensive but it was a joy to watch them, unlike a rocket that just leaves a trail of fire, the firework emits a thousand dazzling stars, which twinkle for sometime before fading away in the night.

Shubhu dreamed of bursting a firework one day, where he would find the money to buy one he didn’t know, but he thanked God that at least he could dream for free. He worked for ‘Pushpa fireworks’ a small shop in fataka bazaar, the owner of the shop Wasim bhai was an eccentric fellow he owned a restaurant also named after Pushpa (Pushpa was the name of Wasim bhai’s first love.) in Gandhi bazaar, the busiest market of the city. He was well known in the city’s restaurant circle as an extremely miserly fellow, he had the reputation of recycling food, infinitely; the recycling industry could learn a lesson or two from him. He mixed and matched the dishes so well that the end result was lip-smacking concoctions; days of recycling lent the food a distinct flavor, which somehow fresh food lacked, and as a result ‘Pushpa Restaurant’ did a brisk business all through the year.

Out of the many eccentricities of Wasim bhai, was his fascination for crackers, his father always set up a shop in the fataka bazaar for Diwali, and this is where Wasim bhai’s love for crackers blossomed. Diwali was Wasim Bhai’s favorite festival, though he was a Muslim he celebrated Diwali with much more gusto than Id. As a kid he used to spend the days before Diwali lost in the cramped streets of fataka bazaar, there wasn’t a single cracker that escaped Wasim bhai's greedy eyes. Chemistry became his favorite subject in school because he used to research the chemicals that went into making of a cracker, Copper gave the cracker a distinct blue color, iron made it emit gold sparks and so on. And the day of Diwali, what fun it used to be! He would ensure that he had all the varieties of crackers available in the fataka bazaar for the D–day; he fired crackers starting early evening deep into the night. Starting the day with fuljhari, anaar and chakarrs and ending it with a ladd of 10,000 bombs, the sound of which resonated in the night for fifteen minutes to the least and which Wasim bhai likened to the firing at a country’s border.

When Wasim bhai’s father died early this year, it was but natural for him that he set up the shop in fataka bazaar himself this Diwali. And so he left the restaurant at the hands of his assistants (warning them strictly not to serve fresh food) a month before Diwali and set up ‘Pushpa fireworks’, he loved being in fataka bazaar, the place resounded of his childhood memories and in Shubhu he saw his own self, the kid shared his fascination for crackers, his face had lit up on seeing the numerous crackers neatly stacked in the shop’s shelves when Wasim bhai had allowed him inside the shop for the first time. Shubhu was very good with numbers he used to always top his class in maths and he assisted Wasim bhai with the shop’s accounts.

Shubhu came from a poor family his father was a mechanic in a garage and his mother was a domestic help, but being the only kid of his parents he was well-loved, apple of his parents’ eyes. They would have never allowed him to work, but Shubhu was adamant, he wanted to work during the Diwali holidays and earn some money. Every year his parents brought him new clothes and sweets during Diwali never buying anything for themselves, he wanted it to change this year. Wasim bhai had promised him Rs. 500 for his help with the accounts, how he wished he could buy some crackers with them, but crackers are a waste of money he reasoned with himself, he would buy a sari for his mother and a brand new shirt for his father, it’s been so long since they bought new clothes for themselves. But his heart still ached for crackers, when people bought crackers worth thousands of rupees from the shop he envied them, he was a kid after all and no amount of logic would convince his innocent heart.

Diwali morning was sleepy but with an expectance of the celebrations that lay ahead, Shubhu had already selected a lavender colored Sari with a rich border for his mother, his mother would look lovely in it, he thought, as for the shirt he hadn’t selected one till now, but do so as soon as he got the money. Wasim Bhai was in a particularly good mood today, he hadn’t shouted on anyone since morning and when Shubhu went to him he handed him a crisp 500 hundred-rupee note with a pat on his back. “Buy some crackers for yourself and have fun bursting them tonight!” he said, but Shubhu told him sheepishly that he had already thought of spending the money on his parents’ clothes. He had said this with such longing in his eyes that Wasim bhai was saddened to his core, in a rare gesture of generosity he handed Shubhu a box of assorted crackers. And with a wink he warned him “Don’t tell this to anyone, it won’t do good to my reputation”, Shubhu was left speechless for a moment but when he regained his senses he thanked Wasim bhai from the bottom of his heart.

Diwali for Shubhu this year was nothing like the years before, his parents had tears in their eyes when he presented them with the gifts, both hugged him lovingly. And in the night he burst his first firework ever, as the cracker took flight so did Shubhu’s countless dreams, and as the firework burst emitting thousands of little green stars, they lent a twinkle to Shubhu’s eyes, a twinkle that comes from seeing dreams come true.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Trekking the Nilgiris: The Sholur Trail

The Sholur trail through the Nilgiris or the Blue Mountains is a breathtakingly scenic trail and more so during this season just after the monsoons. So when the opportunity to set out for the trek with Bangalore Mountaineering club(BMC) presents itself I lap it up with glee.

We, a bunch of 18 trekkers, start from Bangalore on a particularly rainy Friday night towards Masinagudi were our guides, Mohan and Swami join us, after stopping briefly for breakfast, we head towards the starting point of our trek. What is most noticeable as we reach the base is that the area is hemmed in by electric barbed wires to confine the Elephants to the forests. Vijay, who ventures to touch the wires thinking that they are active only during the night, is in for a rude shock. Our guides later tell us that the barbed wires are on, 24*7. After having distributed the tents, sleeping bags and foodstuff we start towards the peak, which according to our guides is 10 Kms from the base.

The initial stretch of the trek is pretty easy, the trees look fresh from the recent showers, small streams meander along the way and the biggest relief is that there are no leeches, you can walk at your own pace, drinking in the surroundings. As I start talking to my fellow trekker, Atish, I am in for a surprise, he turns out to be one of my best friend’s cousin, the world is small place, indeed.

A waterfall, albeit a man made one.

As we reach the first milestone after covering around 2 Kms from the base, our guide tells us that we have 18 more Kms to go; I sense that there is something seriuosly wrong with his calculation but then, I was never great at Maths, so don’t give it much of a thought. Having rested a while we again start walking, doing a variety of things on the way, plucking gooseberries and having them with water, marveling at the fact that the water tastes sweet after eating gooseberries, taking pictures of whatever subjects present themselves on the way, stopping to look at a strange insect or flower…

We take a short detour just before lunch to view a View, the place is a rock perched on the top of the hill; we climb the rock and see a picture perfect panorama, misty mountains in whichever direction you look. As we sit there for sometime it starts to drizzle we hurry towards our make shift dining place ‘The Bridge’, which is dilapidated, fully covered in algae, and trembles as the burlier among us walk on it. But it survives the human onslaught all right and we savor delicacies like rajma, dal fry, paneer butter masala, and obattu sitting on it.

"The Bridge": Our make-shift dining place.

The climb after the bridge is continuously steep and hence tiring, we keep stopping frequently after this, to our guide’s exasperation, who keeps prodding us to move every once in a while. JD, Rajesh and I stop at a rock to wait for others and a woodpecker comes and perches itself on the tree in front, the place is teeming with birds as we can hear a constant twittering from the forest. We move along as the others come and join us no longer asking the guide about the distance left, because we’ve understood that we’ll know that only after we reach the peak.

View from the trail as it snakes through the tea estates.

We reach a particular beautiful stretch now that reminds me of Ooty , tea estates everywhere as the trail snakes through them. We have reached Sholur and are now walking on pucca roads, after hitching a ride to a teashop to have some snacks, our guide tells us that the camping site is another 2 Km away. Its already getting dark Anjali, Ashwin, KP, Kiran and I don’t want to walk with our backpacks so we hire a jeep. Everyone dumps their luggage in the jeep and our guide lugs along with us; we plan to meet the others at a school in the village.

A villager at the tea-shop.

The jeep sways and swings as the road towards the school is in a pathetic condition. We finally see the light of the school, but the jeep refuses to go forward at a particularly narrow stretch of road. A haughty discussion ensues on what is to be done next, KP, who is the only one among us who can converse in Tamil , explains to the driver and our guide that we want to get as close to the school as possible so that we can meet the others. It takes some time for the message to sink in but finally we are on our way back to a place we had crossed earlier. We wait at the place for sometime before we see torchlights in the distance, we shout for JD and he replies, to everyone’s relief.

After relieving the driver we walk down towards the school, our campsite. Tents are pitched, a bonfire is lit and we again have a round of Ready To Eat(RTE) delicacies as dinner. It’s chilling cold as we snuggle inside our sleeping bags for a round of blinking sleep before we get up in the morning to a stunning view outside. Sunlight playing on the contours of the tea estates, the brilliant play of shadow and light makes the already beautiful hill scape breathtaking.

Beautiful view in the morning.

We start for a wildlife trail in the morning; we have fresh luscious carrots on the way for breakfast. We cross the fields and estates to reach a hill scape which is yet uncivilized, grasslands with patches of forest in between. We see a lone Gaur grazing in the distance, we manage to click a few pictures before it becomes aware of our presence and runs into the forest. We walk towards the peak, which looks very similar to the suicide point shown in Bollywood flicks, we see a circular rainbow formation in the valley below, before the valley and even we get covered in clouds.

We walk back to Sholur after spending sometime at the peak, where the hospitable villagers treat us to tea. On our way back to the base an Aunty from the village joins us. She is easily above fifty and is wearing sandals, but she sprints down the way to my surprise, I try to keep up with her for sometime, but then give up. We take a slightly different route on the way back to the base so that we get to soak in the waterfall. A small stream falling down a height of ten feet or so forms the waterfall, the water is chilling and liberating, after the bath we walk towards our vehicle with renewed life in our step. On our way back to Bangalore we spot Elephants, gaurs and a herd of deer eyes in Madumalai wildlife sanctuary.

The timeless game of Antakshari follows a heavy dinner at a roadside restaurant, I finally succumb to sleep, the body ache hasn’t made its presence felt yet and I am already dreaming about the next trip, next excursion, next adventure.