Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Trip to the Melting Glaciers

There are a few self-evident truths in the journals of travels. Wear your most comfortable pair of shoes, if you have none, just buy one. Never wait to take a better photograph. The gamble is not worthwhile in the age of digital photography…the sun and the moon wait for none. Walk that extra mile if that was meant to be your final destination. I realized a more important one; never wait to take a trip to be with nature- if you have the time, and maybe the company, do it right then.  The Earth seems to be changing fast enough for us to perceive and record.
I was at the Glacier National Park in Montana for three days last week. It was beautiful, the weather glorious, the flowers in full bloom, the waterfalls gushing, and the glaciers…melting. Twenty six glaciers remain in the park out of the 150 from a few decades ago, and the rest will be gone in the next twenty years. They blame global warming, but I might blame the Big Bang if I dared to claim I understood the ever changing universe. While this could be a sober jolt to imagination, it is more comforting to know that I made this trip, and that I walked that extra mile.
The tickets were booked three months in advance and the packing a week before, the planning was very nearly perfected, and of course there were last minute hiccups. I ripped the driver’s side mirror in a nasty parking lot the night before, spent the morning travelling to junkyards and auto-shops to fix it next morning, only to walk into work a little after 9, and find an emergency waiting. After a few more hiccups before leaving work and while driving to the airport (not worth mentioning), I was the last person to board my flight. We reached Kalispell, MT late that night, and drove towards the park the next morning.  
The journey began on the Going to the Sun road. I cannot resist mentioning here that the road itself is a modern engineering marvel. Without the intervention of technology, one could not possibly experience this proximity to nature. The narrow two way road winds around the rocky mountains on one side and offers an open view of the wayside pine and spruce trees, the lakes below, the glaciers above and the waterfalls in-between. The Logan Pass was the first stop we made. We chose to hike only half the highline trail that day for fear of meeting stray bears if we stayed in the wilderness for too long. It was scenic, but the constant view of the roads far below was not an ideal supplement. The most exciting part of the trail was meeting a herd of bighorn sheep, and being forced to follow one on the trail for sometime.
Bighorn Sheep
Having hiked a good 7 miles, and an hour’s drive left to the lodge, we decided to catch the sunset at Lake McDonald. Only at the end of three days, did I realize that sunset in this park was really more elusive than anywhere else I’d been. Do beautiful hills, lakes and clear skies seem to form an unbeatable recipe for a sunset…No matter where we went, the sun always managed to stay behind other taller mountains. In fact, I did not find a good picture even on the picture postcards or fridge magnets. However, we were treated to some beautiful hues from the benevolent sky.
Highline Trail

Lake McDonald

We began day 2 early (500 AM), as we had a 3 hour drive within our park to Many Glacier which was the trail head for the 12 mile Grinnell Glacier hike. The first 2 miles were fairly flat but pleasant with views of the Swiftcurrent lake and Lake Josephine. I stood barefoot in ice cold Lake Josephine on both legs of the journey. The return stint was the only tonic for my tired feet that could have kept me going for the last couple of miles. After ascending around 4 miles, we were treated to our first view of the Grinnell lake. I cannot describe the blue and do it justice, but the memory is a treasure in life’s annals. The next view we looked forward to was the possibility of viewing all three lakes from a spot. This too happened soon enough, and it was unimaginable for me that this hike would get any better…
Grinnell, Josephine and Swiftcurrent- Right to Left
and we still continued to hike, the end view completely hidden still. The going seemed to get a little tougher, and well I was hungry, and the trail and the views seemed quite the same now. We may have been a mile away from the end, when I finally sat down, opened my backpack and sneaked out a thepla.  I wished Parks only made trails as long as the view was good, not longer when it remained the same. And interrupting my muse, someone pointed out a corner on the trail, and said, I had to climb the last 0.4 mile around that so-far invisible corner. Oh! We were in a valley of ice, with wind trapped and blowing in circles, the Grinnell glacier partially melted appearing to be a frozen lake at the top of the mountains. It was bliss, and then the shocking realization that this was going to be extinct in 9 years, and would eventually dry up the three feeding lakes.
Grinnell Glacier

Day three involved two shorter and easier hikes totaling 8.2 miles. The first was a visit to the turquoise green Avalanche Lake, and the second to the St. Mary falls and Virginia falls. The beauty of the falls to me lay in their force and the peace that only that sound of water can give. We made our last stop in the park at the St. Mary Lake. Although we could not see the bashful Sun, we did see its blushing colors in the company of huckleberry icecream( I loved the flavor). The moonlit journey back on the Going to the Sun road was beautiful but we chose not to stop for fear of wildlife and dangerous terrain.
St. Mary at Sunset

Close to 28 miles of hiking in Glacier National Park finally lets me bid adieu to my shoes that saw me through Big Bend National Park and Grand Canyon.
I never blogged my trips to the Rocky Mountain National Park and Yosemite, maybe I will, maybe I won’t…but memories are what count.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Curing Only the Symptoms

The world has been spiraling in one long downward roller coaster ride ever since the industrial revolution. Perhaps  there have been a few breathers where we have coasted along and felt pleased at all the achievements and exhilaration, but I do not believe that the power holders have once looked forward to see where we are headed. I say world here because no country has proved to be an exception.
Undoubtedly, one may argue that it has been progress like progress never been seen before. But all the new technologies and gadgets have come with a price. We have become so consumerist in nature that most people feel that buying and owning new things can truly make them happy. It does, for a while and once the euphoria wears out, we are back for more and then for more and now we have trapped ourselves into believing that all of this is an essential part of life without which we cannot live. We are in a worse state than drug addicts, because we have no one to cure us. The rare ones who transcend are also labeled as the society’s parsimonious outcasts.
It is common crisis of the mid twenty-ists and the mid forty- ists to be unsure of where they are headed, and what would make them really happy. They all end up making a few life style/ career changes which keeps them going for a few years, and to that sporadic nagging voice murmur connivingly that happiness is after all a disciplined state of mind, and nothing more. Have we spotted the trap yet? How many people really examine the purpose of this ride? Why are we really doing the things we are doing? Ask yourself five consecutive “whys” to your answers and see where you stand.  Even while we have become so good at analyzing complicated problems at work and common mishaps, why do most people shy away from collating their own lives? I think it is because people believe there are no real answers. And that could make one feel even more discouraged than when they started. But I believe that the darker path will have a light at the end, while the seemingly lighter path really goes on forever.

And I think it is this inherent human nature that reflects on everything the society does, on everything a terrorist or a common thug does, on every bill passed and every shallow reform. I am not trying to insinuate that we as a human race are incapable of finding permanent solutions, but yes I do think that the ability is only restricted to simple and straightforward issues.  For instance, let us look at the first few news headlines of today. I am going to quote here random picks from today’s news, but you are free to add yesterday’s and tomorrow’s news to the corollary.
1.       US Debt Ceiling and spending cuts to cut costs of ~$2.1T over the next ten years- How did that solve any problem? No Congressman has had the guts to stand in front of the American people and tell them in as many words “Friends, we have been spending way more than we can afford, and unless we change this in every single home, we are completely doomed”.  Unless the problem is openly acknowledged, there is never going to be a long term solution. The reason being that people are so used to this lifestyle and wastage inherent in a capitalist society, that even the notion of examining this could careen the nation.
2.       Cabinet yet again cleared a Rs.1200 Cr bailout for Air India- This could give rise to multiple questions. First, is money Air India’s biggest problem? When people fly over 25 hours round the globe, nobody wants to be stuck in an aircraft with uncouth and rude air hostesses, perennial flight delays, baggage misplacements and dirty toilets! While the government continues to hire inefficient people based on recommendations and reservations instead of merit, there is no hope for the future. Another more pertinent question: Is it the business of the government to run airlines? Has the government in India ever been good at running or managing anything other than individual bank accounts? If Manmohan Singh is really an honest man trapped in a stronghold of corruption, why does he not dare to come forward and testify against every corrupt politician of his acquaintance? Empty statements and thoughtless policies will not take us anywhere forward.
3.       Dhoni laments tired India- ???.  I have idolized Sachin nearly all my life but this man who is supposed to be the master of all preparation has finally fallen in my eyes. He claimed back in April that everything he has ever done was all towards that moment- the moment where India would hold the world cup. Sadly, it seems he along with everyone else in the cricket team has lost sight of the goal of excellence. How would any conscientious person prefer to tire themselves playing IPL, the most deplorable form of cricket to make a quick buck, choose to sit out the West Indies tour and play test matches in England against a top English team with no preparation what so ever?  West Indies might play a vapid bunch of 11 people, and yet playing them on Caribbean grounds would have been preparation at the very least. Zaheer’s hamstring injury and Harbhajan’s abdominal tear were no accidents.  Why again, are they all playing cricket for the country? Personal pride? Money? If they asked themselves this question, they might hope to realize that national pride is not even among the answer choices.
 “Too much Cricket/too much terror/ too much competition” are symptoms of the real problems, and those need to be addressed, but they are not the causes.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

All Questions Lead to One

Oh,why? Why this cruel smile?
Must I cry or simply smile

Suffer might I to stay afloat?
Pull not with a cripply smile

Was flying spark heavenly light?
fizzling out my wimpy smile

Then why my bottomless depths?
you smirk at my limply smile

Is the game a mighty puzzle?
There seem clues in impy smile

Do the questions have answers?
Or exist to evoke a grizzly smile

Why a phoenix if fire is to end?
Answer not with that frisky smile

My experiments with the "ghazal" continue. I still have not tried to adhere to a beher, and although I find the "radif" tiring sometimes (It does not sound quite as natural to me in English as in Urdu/ Hindi), I see the necessity of using it to give structure to my lines.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A humble Offering

I cannot recall when it was that I fell in love with you
But do you remember the doubt that first behest you

A while it took for me to shed my vain defiance in full
Perhaps  when a part of me was in thirst to be just you

I could never have known an entire day of futile gloom
Had you bestowed that smile on me that once vest you

If I have learnt to value every unfinished hour of the day
It is a trifling tribute to every single virtue that crest you

Vain now are your rebukes and your distant demeanor
It is your love and patience not your anger that test you

This phoenix rises not out of ashes but from gentle flame
Stoked by those tender caresses that could only nest you

This is an offering for a friend who means a lot to me, and who I often miss dearly.

The other person I acknowledge is a friend who suggested that the ghazal form of poetry might better suit my style. Although I have not strictly adhered to all its rules, I have tried to embrace it in principle.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Calvin is in Everyone- II

The Tender Roots of a Bookful Life

Life has been too busy for a good book, or a blog or for anything  that matters truly in life..yet I opened up a news site this morning to see what experts had to say about Australia's thumping triumph over New Zealand...and I never even found that out. A side headline acknowledging the demise of "Uncle" Pai stirred memories within me so deep that I had even forgotten they existed.
I did not read the contents of a single news article, for I knew they would all have thrown vain handfuls of words eulogizing his contribution to Indian comics and yati yati yata. My earliest memories of any book belong not to any alphabet books, but to the Amar Chithra Kathas. I was barely four when my mother used to sit by me and read with me the tales of Ghatotkacha, Prahlad, the conquests of Durga and of Krishna, the enlightenment of Sidhartha and even the wondrous devotion of Ravana. I would join the words, and my mother would bring meaning to them transporting a whole new world to me...a world of imagination, of wisdom, and a thirst for knowledge. Not only did these books teach me to love to read, but also instilled in me a deep love for mythology, and a pride in our age old wisdom.
The days of Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Narayan and Wodehouse found their spaces as time went by, but those afternoon stories were buried deep  underneath. I had the memorable opportunity of standing 2 feet from this man who had made my childhood so meaningful when he was in Hyderabad conducting a quiz about 13 years ago. I was in the audience giving answers to obscure questions from Indian mythology. I remember the excitement and the disappointment of not having qualified myself. 
Admittedly, I was never an ardent reader of tinkle, even as a young girl the book seemed always overpriced for its content. A few Suppandi and Shikhari Shambu tales were fun but not particularly life changing. Alas, my brother and I owned around 100 such Amar Chithra Kathas thanks to my father, which are no longer even published. He took special care to bind these treasures into three volumes until I watched without protesting as my brother loaned them to people I knew were not careful by nature. I never saw those books again and the thought of these books being given away for their weight in paper still manages to cause an ache in my heart.