Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Part 2 of the Walk-in-the-woods post

After our snack break, we carried on towards Kanheri Caves. Somewhere along the way we had been joined by a dog of an unusual shade of brown. He kept pretending that he was on an independent mission but that he was with us was unmistakable.

Chuck promptly christened him Sanjay.

"Because he has appeared to us as the spirit of the park" he explained.

Sanjay strolled along with us without affecting to know any of us personally. Indeed, he would keep going off on tangents, investigating interesting smells and the occasional posterior of such fellow members of his species as would cross his path from time to time but his allegiance was unmistakable. We felt like the UPA government getting issue based outside support from a small regional party. Just as inexplicably, after a little while Sanjay vanished. Looking around, we found he had decided to tag alongside another group of people walking in the opposite direction.

"Definitely small-regional-party-with-issue-based-outside-support", concluded Mohan, and we all silently nodded our heads

The road had now become an incline. My age began to show in the shortening of my breath.

"Damn" I thought "What if it turns out I'm having a heart attack?" and tried, unsuccessfully, to look nonchalant.

"Why are you looking like a dying duck?" asked Harshal.

"I -er -I was wondering if er- I was having a heart attack"

Harshal luckily was quick on the uptake "Oh the breathlessness? Don't worry, everyone's winded".

I was reassured. But this is an old failing of mine, this paranoia. I once went, with three other friends, to a high altitude lake in Sikkim called Guru Dongmar. I had read that it was at an altitude of some 16500 feet and was quickly consumed by a conviction that I would die of altitude mountain sickness. Two of my companions were dismissive

 "Dude, we are DRIVING there. Not walking. You wont have any altitude giltitude sickness" averred one of them.

But the third chap was a man after my own heart. He did his own internet research and came to conclusions similar to mine.

"Boss, we need an oxygen cylinder. Your dad is a doctor, no? As him where we can get one"

The parent was puzzled "You cant carry an oxygen cylinder to Sikkim from Bombay. Have you any idea how much one weighs? Look for one locally"

The local Sikkimese were equally non-cooperative. The mountaineering supplies shop we went to told us that the cylinders were all in his go-down and he would be damned if he would go down to his go down and open it just because a couple of weirdos wanted to go somewhere, especially since the mountaineering season hadn't begun yet, or words to that effect.

And what luck we didn't find a cylinder! When we went to GuruDongmar lake, it was full of septuagenarian aunties and uncles happily strolling about and cracking jokes. Perfect doofuses we would have looked, a couple of mid-forties guys staggering around with a whacking great oxygen cylinder.

Anyway, coming back to the res, after a longish climb, with the old heart thumping along in allegretto tempo, we reached the caves. A small stall stood near the entrance and when it was noticed that the said stall was selling soft drinks, a beeline was immediately made for it. Presently, everyone had slaked their thirsts and we decided, spontaneously, to climb up to the top of the hill.

"You can see the Tulsi Lake from there" said Divya.

The only dissenting note was from Srikeit who had had enough of all this climbing geeimbing and decided to sit in silent satyagraha. We left him there and carried on to the said spot, observed the said lake Tulsi, I showed off my knowledge of forestry by pointing out to a random tree and declaring it to be sterculia urens, and returned to base. On the return journey, mercifully, even the diehard commandos in our group agreed to take the bus back.

I returned home and rounded my eight km walk to the nearest round number and told the missus I had walked ten kilometers. She looked at me with skepticism but I think my demeanor must have been sufficiently beat, because she did not challenge it.

All in all, a day well spent

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In which I take a walk in the woods with some fellow lunatics

You would never believe this but there is a 103 square kilometer forest right within Bombay. "You mean Asaram Bapu's beard" you will say, with a twinkle in your eye, for you love your little joke of a morning, but you would be wrong (and not just because Asaram Bapu is not in Bombay). The place is called the Borivili National Park. At least that is what it used to be called when I was a kid. Now, like all things big and small in this country which fall within the government's power to christen, it is named after a deceased member of the Gandhi Nehru family and goes by the wordy title of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Which of course suffers from the minor problem that it quite a handful to type and hence shall be hereinafter referred to, unless repugnant to the context thereof, as the lawyers like to put it, as SGNP.

My friends Chuck and Divya thought it would be a lovely idea to stroll around this place on Sunday morning and I enthusiastically jumped up with a "me! me!" when they asked around if anyone would like to come. Chuck and Divya are capable, among other things, of making jokes of unsurpassed silliness and their puns are so groanworthy that you are ill advised to carry sharp objects while hearing them lest you give in to the impulse of stabbing yourself. For instance, Chuck's recent masterpiece was this story about two Aryan priests one fine October morning in 1000 BC where priest-1 proudly declares to priest-2 that he has written this manuscript full of original hymns and spells which will surely guarantee him immortality when to his consternation he discovers that someone has changed all the words. So priest 2 tells him not to worry and recommends that he call it the Rigged Veda. You will have got the idea.

Like me, a few other fans of Chuck and Divya also decided to tag along and when we assembled at SGNP gate on Sunday morning, there were Tony, Srikeit, Mohan, Harshal and another Divya who is called Dibba to distinguish her from the previous Divya. 

The entrance to SGNP was surprisingly crowded. Citizens of Bombay, for all their faults, love to sleep in on Sundays as far as I know, but on that morning many had decided to take in the park scenery. I had prudently lugged my eight seater minivan along because Mohan had mentioned wanting to go to Kanheri caves, a minor matter of eight kilometers into the park, several of them uphill, and I thought we would all fit into it. I had, alas, figured without the maniacal levels of biophilia sloshing about within the members of the group. "No, no! We will walk" said Harshal. "Of course" said Mohan who, being Australian, is given to practicing self flagellation in various ways such as running marathons and climbing Himalayan peaks "I used to come here to practice when I went for my last mountaineering trip". And to my dismay, I found no voices of support for my lets-go-in-the-van-its-such-fun doctrine. Feeling like a Marxist-Leninist at a convention of Tea Party activists, I shuffled along in a subdued manner.

But the company was too ebullient to let me be morose for long. There were several groups of people with naturalist guides who were evidently pointing things out about the forests of the "this plant is an epiphyte, that insect there is a member of the order phasmatodea" variety.  For a while, all that erudition cowed us into silence but soon, someone - possibly Chuck - broke out into a faux eco-tourist-guide mode and some wholesome fun was had by all.

Presently, we came across a woman selling cucumbers and guavas and in true Bombay style, everyone took a snack break. A word about this snack break thing. I don't know if this is unique to Bombay -it certainly isn't evident in other places I have lived- but there is an overpowering urge here to be eating something all the time. The citizen of say Mysore, will hungrily consume his set dosai and strong coffee for breakfast and might even add a baadam halwa or two if he's particulary ravenous, but once that is done, he will steadfastly refuse to look at purveyors of foodstuff till it is time for lunch. But the Bombay guy? Scarcely will the chana chor have settled in his stomach when his eyes begin to yearningly seek out the batata wada so famous in that area. And even that will not sate him for long because there is this legendary sandwich walla to check out and so on. ... (to be continued)

Friday, November 8, 2013

On the greatness of Sachin and other timepass things

I've been inundated with TV commentary on the greatness of Sachin these last couple of hours that I've been watching TV. It's not something I normally do, watching TV, I mean -congenital defect - but today, I've been stood excellent beer by an old friend, who is also a bit of a Sachin-is-god pill, and one is obliged to indulge one's hosts.

"Sachin", he told me, over an ill-suppressed beer burp, "is God Himself". I had surmised as much, given the gushing quality of the commentary pouring over the tube.

"Really? I don't see HOW he is significantly better than, say, Hayden or Ponting" I rashly responded.

"Ponting? PONTING?" my friend foamed at his mouth "You are lucky I am not Henry the Eighth, or I would have you beheaded"

"A fate reserved for his wives, as far as I can tell". The beer had made me needlessly reckless

"No, no. A vast majority of the people he sent to the executioner's block were chaps like you, with unsound views on cricket. Ponting, it seems!" And with the aid of a julienne of carrot and a peanut, both thoughtfully supplied by the restaurant to its beer consuming customers, illustrated how Sachin had dispatched an Andre Nel delivery to the cover boundary, a feat, apparently, beyond the cricketing capabilities of messrs Ponting and Hayden.

Just not my day, in short. Earlier, the missus dragged me out shopping for bed linen.

"We want duvet covers", she told me, "and they have to be bought NOW".

"It's like the Nike slogan, Annie" said the younger one.

"Nike slogan?"

" Just duvet".

He nimbly evaded my attempt to slosh him one and disappeared into his room singing "Duvet, just duvet" to Michael Jackson's "Beat It"

We went to the most insanely crowded square mile in Bombay, the square mile around Crawford Market, and bought, along with the duvet covers, bed sheets, turkish towels, door mats, dupattas, salwar suits and one box of mulberries

On my way back I was stopped for breaking a red light (Bombay is REALLY changing) by what must be the nicest policeman I have ever been hauled up by.  "Sir" he addressed me, and you could have knocked me over with a feather, "can I see your licence please?"

I kept the poker face


"Sir, you jumped a signal"

I smiled my most ingratiating smile and, proffering him my licence, muttered conciliatory things in Marathi. To no effect. He firmly and politely told me to cough up the princely sum of Rs. 100, wrote me a very legible memo recording the transaction, and wished me happy divali.

The missus was not unduly upset. The successful procurement of duvet covers seemed to have mollified her. With a distracted "I wish you wouldn't drive like a doofus" she continued gazing at the package containing the duvet covers.

The day, all said, seems to have turned out all right