26 September, 2008

Jumbled Generation

We are of the generation that heard of the Emergency from our parents, the instability of the 90s passed by in gulping down milk and sniffling through games of vish-amrit. We were conveniently born decades away from the struggle that defined our country's independence, saw Gandhi only in the first pages of our NCERT books and think Coca Cola has been in our country since forever. We vote, but take our voting system with a handful of salt, democracy is another word and politics comes across as a farce, a comedy of errors if we would elaborate.

I came across a book that defined for me my country, at a time when defining myself seemed difficult enough. Below is an excerpt that seemed written for me and many of the people I know. Hopefully, it will urge you to pick up this trenchant piece of literature.

"There are many of us, but, among India’s multitudes, we are few. We have gown up in the cities of India, secure in a national identity rather than a local one, which we express better in English than in any Indian language. We rejoice in the complexity and diversity of our India, of which we feel a conscious part; we have friends of every caste and religious community, and we marry across such sectarian lines we see the poverty, suffering and conflict in which a majority of our fellow citizens are mired, and we clamour for new solutions to these old problems, solutions we believe can come from the skills and efficiency of the modern world. We are secular, not in the sense that we are irreligious or unaware of the forces of religion, but in that we believe religion should not determine public policy or individual opportunity.
And, in Indian politics we are pretty much irrelevant."

Pg 43 – Shashi Tharoor – “INDIA: From midnight to the millennium and beyond”

14 September, 2008

Kinnaur ki kahani

To me, Kinnaur was just a name on the irritatingly stubborn sticker on another juicy apple. That a place called Reckong Peo even existed was beyond my geographical knowledge. So being told that I am to spend a month (or more) in an unheard remote god knows where place was, in my warped mind, extremely interesting. Of course the fact that it was snuggled somewhere between the western border of Uttaranchal and the rest of Himachal irrefutably placing it in my favourite holiday destination called the Himalayas worked towards buoying my spirits.

The journey started off in its unnerving clichéd manner. There had to be a rondu kid right behind me with his coochicooing mother in tow. The ac in the bus was on maximum making a kulfi out of me in spite of all the layers I’d lugged along. Three expressionless skimpily clad babes wooed the long lashed haseena that Ranbir Kapoor is on a very grainy screen the entire night. As dawn threatened to usher in another day, Salman obnoxious accent Khan decided to come on with his nasty God Tussi Great Ho trick, thus dashing any hopes I had of catching up on some sleep. So much for my over night bus hai I shall keep everyone awake with my snores plan. Then our bus left us while we were eating our breakfast (we had to catch it in Rampur, which was a feat in itself), we nearly lost our luggage, I managed to narrowly escape being the target of projectile vomitting and we nearly missed our stop by oversleeping. Our reaching Peo intact, with our entire luggage, in admirably upbeat spirits was a miracle in itself.

Its been a week since then. What have I been up to?

Been walking through enough apple orchards to expertly guide anyone about plucking the perfect apple for your personality type (OK I made this up but apples are like people: some sweet, rosy on the outside, then there are the crisp slightly sour ones, the over-ripe full of fluff ones and the rotten from inside kinds). Been cracking open enough almonds (the l is silent for god sake) with my teeth to give the Vicco Vajradanti walnut cracking guy a run for his money.
  1. Been trekking enough to actually not have to gasp before tackling distances in double digit kilometers. One Kinnauri actually said, "Aap toh Dilli ki nahin lagti." I decided to take that as a compliment : )
  2. Been learning that you cannot buy land in Himachal and if you do want to own some land in this paradise of a state, you will have to marry a Himachali girl. To top it, your kids will only inherit your land/property if they also marry someone from Himachal!
  3. I have come to understand that polygamy exists here – the eldest marries a girl and she is wife to all his younger brothers. People who retaliate against this system migrate to lower places (altitude wise of course) like Kullu, Mandi etc.
  4. I have learnt how to use dry toilets, which are common here because of the lack of water. Ingenuity at its best.
  5. And most of all I have come to learn about the ephemeral nature of our being. Witnessing the spoils of an accident that had occurred hours before we reached the spot. Seeing wailing relatives beside flattened metal that had once been a car. Peering out of the window and marveling at the blue waters in the gorge below. Watching the dust rise as the wheel of the car spins uncontrollably over the edge. And so:
I close my eyes to capture the moment I find myself in. The sun playing along the contours of my face. The wind whistling through the Deodar needles, the fresh fragrance of coniferous resin tickling my nostrils. The sound of the Sutlej gushing somewhere far below, its blue waters mirroring the sky. I could picture the landscape in my mind. Snow clad crags, a tree-line forgotten at another altitude, the sky an honest blue, the clouds all fluffed up, carried away by the slightest mention of a breeze.

Jaypee, blasting away parts of the mountain, to build yet another dam over the Sutlej. Whatever happened to the entire process of EIA I wonder.

Making of Chang, the local alcoholic brew, made of wheat/jow by rudimentary distillation.

Enjoying a simple meal in a Kinnauri living room. Homemade butter and freshly chopped onion serves as a good accompaniment to rice and curry.

Wool making is an activity that involves the entire family. The old lady wearing a Kinnauri cap (green) had a marigold flower tucked over her ear.

The moon at Reckong Peo. The mountains are the Kinner Kailash, considered Shiva's abode.


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