Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Life Less Ordinary

Think of the world "traveller" or better still, "explorer" and let your stage be the entire globe. What are the names that come to your mind ? Amundsen, Peary, Marco Polo, Columbus, Vasco Da gama, Ibn Batuta, Fa-Hien.......

Ever heard of a certain James Holman? Chances are that you have not. Yet, clocking about a quarter million miles and coming to contact with about 200 different cultures, he was and remains history's greatest traveller in the truest sense of the word. Add to this the fact that he was completely blind and you have before you the most daring, astonishing lives ever lived.

He was known simply as The Blind Traveler--a solitary, sightless adventurer who, astonishingly, fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon and helped chart the Australian outback. James Holman triumphed not only over blindness but crippling pain, poverty and the interference of well-meaning authorities (his greatest feat, a circumnavigation of the world, had to be launched in secret).
Once a celebrity, a bestselling author and an inspiration to Charles Darwin and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the charismatic, witty Holman outlived his fame, dying in an obscurity that has endured--until now. (from A SENSE OF THE WORLD

Priced at close to a thousand Rupees, it would be the most expensive book that I bought. Yet going by my book buying instinct for the last three years or so, which is to buy completely random books without any pre-conception solely based on the book cover, title and blurb, I thought I would take the plunge. I can't and I won't even attempt to write a book review here. That's way out of my league and instead of making a complete fool of myself I would rather refer you to the website of the author, Jason Roberts who, through his marvellously researched book has tried to accord Holman his due as history's greatest ever traveller.

Poet, doctor, lieutenant, traveller; few men before or since must have lead such a charmed life.
"I see things better with my feet." said James Holman and so he did, embarking on a journey of the globe and experiencing it in a way the sighted could only dream of. For him, his blindness was not a handicap to be pitied upon, it merely meant finding a different way to sense the world. He rode horses, studied medicine in the University of Edinburgh, climbed up Mt. Vesuvius to witness its famous eruption circa 1821, climbed the masts of ships, travelled across Siberia right upto the Kamchatka Peninsula, made friends with natives and in the process visited every inhabited continent on the planet.

He knew no foreign languages, had almost no money, and carried little more than a primitive writing machine--yet he also had a prodigious memory, hyper-acute remaining senses and vast amounts of
personal charm.

As the author found out, there is very little information available on James Holman anywhere in the world. Comparison of the Wiki entries of Holman ( with that of Marco Polo ( is just an example.

There's a famous quote saying "Life should be big, not long" . To me the life of James Holman epitomises this. I won't try to dish out what the book taught me or meant to me personally. Just getting to know about such a life was prize enough for me. Read this excerpt from the book and who knows you might also be prompted to go ahead and read the entire story, one of a life lived to the fullest.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

In Good Company

The mercury was soaring and so were our spirits. It's not everyday that you get an engineering degree (2 in fact !), it's not everyday that you get to wear a rather gaudy orange gown and roam around crazily clicking pictures of yourself and your friends as if the world were coming to an end, it's not everyday you come to the place you spent five years of your life and for some unfathomable reason it feels different to the point of emptiness.

It's as if life has changed gears. "Kitne baje ki Train hai ..." has been replaced by "Kis Flight se jaa raha hai...... Jet?". Card has replaced cash, 3 bedroom apartments have taken the place of hostel rooms, people you used to live your life with were scattered, found and scattered again. But in between all these, it's the time spent together, time spent gossiping and giggling, time spent over a bottle of beer or vodka, time spent over sumptous meals ranging from Chicken Lasagne to Kukkad Kebab to Railway Mutton Curry that linger in memory.

The Convocation was a fantastic weekend. Late nights at a dear friend's house, spent with the best buddies you will ever have, the awesomely boring dress rehersal and the final convocation ceremony highlighted by a very relevant speech by Azim Premji (who also happened to quote from Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat"), the mayhem that followed afterwards under the scorching sun with the photo sessions, the beer sessions at Masala Junction and Scorpion Moon so typically spent discussing "life ke funde", the weary eyes, the throbbing headache; the two days were eventful to say the least. To add to all the excitement was the realisation on landing at the New Delhi airport that you have forgotten to bring your return tickets, the solitary auto rickshaw to be seen at 2:00 A.M charging Rs 600 to go to NOIDA, the Airtel roaming facility ditching you at the moment you needed it the most and the sweltering heat and humidity which made sure that my love for Bangalore went up by quite a few notches.

Nevertheless, things got sorted out, I got my degree(s), met friends, went to my hostel where again the feeling of emptiness was the most dominant one where I had expected nostalgia/sadness/belongingness and finally was back on the Jet Airways flight to Bangalore.
At the airport there was more good company as another dear friend and fellow Bangalorean was found arriving from Chennai having extended his working days in a week from 6.75 to 7.00. The Bada Saheb that he is meant we got to go to his home where we had Britannia GoodDay biscuits (the Brand being important for the fact that he works in ITC!) and then had the company ki gaadi drop us at our house.

The fun and frolic of the weekend spilled over to the 15th of August also. Sure it was the Independance Day but to admit candidly, it was no more than a holiday for me. So I got up at around 9:00 and then helped my friend prepare sandwitches for breakfast which was fun, what with boiling potatoes and all. The rest of the day didnt seem to promise much and was about to be spent lazing around alone perhaps reading a book. Then suddenly the Bada Saheb called up informing of the expected arrival of another and his unexpected availability for the entire day. Soon they were near Maharaja Hotel, the landmark near our house where I went to pick them up on my now famous bike which has become the laughing stock in some circles and at the same time has elicited mixed responses of "Cool.. but thoda aarbit nahi hai ..." from others.
After that it was time for lunch which we had at one of the best restaurants I have been here in my short stay at Bangalore. Sahib, Sind, Sultan, modelled as a old time luxury railway coach proved to be the perfect blend of ambience, great food and a bill that won't empty your wallet. I have always wondered at the effect a good lunch or a dinner with good company has on an individual. For me it's the best part of any day and the gourmet that I am, the potent combination of food to tickle your taste buds and friends to spend entire lives with, was and still remains, one of the few moments to savour and relish for ever. Add to that I had my inspiration as far as the quantity of eating and the choice of non-vegetarian items goes, eating alongside me.

The afternoon rolled into the evening as we lazed in our house under the weight of the immensely heavy lunch reluctant to go anywhere. Two more friends joined us soon. One, my current flat and company mate and the other who was kind enough to give us a shelter when we were house hunting. It was evening and people were throwing around options regarding how to make it memorable. Movies, Pubs, Bowling everything met opposition from someone or the other until finally someone came up with the greatest idea of all time...."Yaar aish karte hain aur chill maarte hain ..." Legendary lines spoken by a person who is little less than one himself!
And so we started chilling out. The glasses were laid and the vodka came out in complete defiance of the dry-day that it was and the ball was aptly set rolling by a series of small anecdotes on the life changing power of alcohol and its wonderful affects when taken in heavy doses. There was the dim light to get the feel, photography bordering on the surrealistic :D and Marilyn Monroe in her famous pose to stare at and debate whether she was mischevious or out and out sensous. Thereafter it was a laughter riot for almost two hours at a stretch as two or three of us took centrestage to narrate the most weirdest, funniest, insane, improbable, logic defying, gross and downright mindless incidents of hostel life that you will ever hear. So much so that our jaws and stomach started aching. By the end of it all we were at our wits end. In between this there was also a walk down to the nearby Corner House for a taste of Death By Chocolate and Black Forest with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce. The night was getting better and better and better.

Finally it was time to sleep and it was decided to lay all the matresses together (5 in all) to accommodate the 7 people we had. Then somebody had the idea of the night. Why not sleep on the terrace. The insanity of the numerous anecdotes had had their affect on us and so an instant decision was made and we went up the stairs on the terrace to sleep with the sky and the clouds as our roof. There was a chill in the air as we debated on the colour of the clouds and their movement. One of us who happened to be sleeping at one extreme end also had the fear of a coconut falling and hitting him to contend with due to the proximity he had with the beautiful coconut tree that stands next to our house. So after few moments of giggling we finally went to sleep.

Daybreak saw a return to sanity which lead us to scurry to the warmth of our house. Slowly the guests left and the house was quiet once again. A weekend gathering was planned at one Samarkhand which was vouched to be the best restaurant he has ever eaten in by none other than our very own Bada Saheb.

Now as I sit in my office with so much time so as to write this entire blog in one go, I eagerly await that weekend, that gathering which brings so much fun and happiness that for once I tend to forget the ends and the means which have been troubling me. I am beginnning to think that maybe life's all about these little moments, inconsequential to the world but immensley satisfying to the self, maybe no matter what you do and where you are, happiness is after all, a state of mind, it's about being in good company.

Friday, August 04, 2006

And Life Goes On.............

Remember the first time your father let go of the bicycle and you discovered one of the most amazing miracles of everyday life, your first crush in school, the first day in college, the first drink...... There's something about these firsts which persist in our memory irrespective of their actual quality. So are the lasts, but I will leave them for some other day, some other time. For now let me celebrate the new firsts that have been happening day in day out in my life.

After three weeks of intensive search finally we had our house, a first of sorts for most of us. The peculiar house renting rules in Bangalore meant that I had the priviledge of writing the first cheque (2 in fact) of my life. And what a first that was. With one swift stroke of my hand, Rs 1.5 lakh had been payed to our landlord, albeit in a postdated manner. The first salary followed soon after, soured somewhat by the hefty amount that the IT took away. Strangely I didn't feel anything particularly exciting on receiving the salary. The transition to the salaried class was very everyday to say the least.

A couple of days ago I had a chat with a very close friend and that too after quite some time. To say that it was one of the highpoints of my life after coming to Bangalore wouldn't be an overstatement. I have always seen him as one of the most level headed guys around. The clarity of thought he presents when you are talking with him tends to leave you amazed though there are some topics in which this very same clarity and in depth knowledge makes you run for cover. Anyway, if you happen to be regular reader of my blog, you would know that I have Lost Control, and though I am yet nowhere near finding the solution, yet chatting with my friend was so soothing that I felt a strange calm descend on me after that. He told me how even he is unsure in his own way of his life ahead, in a different level and context though. We chatted for quite a while on these issues, of life and finding a calling and in between he came up with his trademark straight-from-a-science-journal advices. I don't know whether it was what he said to me (which was mostly on the lines of take it easy and it happens to everyone) or simply the effect of talking to someone you like, someone you look up to in a certain way, someone who knows you, I went back home a happier man.

It's strange to think about the number of things we demand to stay happy, to feel in control of ourselves, to live. The first few days in office were without any instant messenger, GMail or Orkut and needless to say we were almost at our wits end. At home there was no TV and no computer. A month into this city and the home still looks the same though the office space has changed to only "No Orkut ". The one thing that has significantly changed though is that it doesn't affect me anymore. The hiatus from orkut hasn't stopped my life. It hasn't infact changed anything so as to say. I still talk to people who matter to me. I wouldn't mind having a TV when I come back from office, but its absence has meant that I spend more time reading Thomas Friedman's wonderful commentary of the age that we live in, titled The World Is Flat.

I think we tend to bring more and more things in our lives in an attempt to make it happier, more comfortable, more liveable and more engrossing and end up making it more complex and more dependent.

I don't know what's making me think about all these things these days. I was never the person to think about anything other than the present. I have acted on instincts in most of my decisions in my life. Maybe the lack of work is prompting me to have all these thoughts in my mind, maybe its the first job blues which has triggered off this introspection phase. Whatever it is, the one thing that is definite in all this sea of confusion and chaos is that right now I am doing what I like doing the most.......talking to me.