“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Theory of Impermanence

(This post was written months ago- I let it lie on the Desktop till now…)

‘Death. My favourite topic. Been wondering about death ever since my hormones started jangling. Why? When? Where? There was a time when I used cower with fear thinking about my final moment. Now, after a few brushes with the event, I find myself pretty calm about it. Maybe that’s the only real progress I have made in life. I am beginning to grasp the theory of impermanence. The holy detachment to everything, including one’s life.’

P G Tenzing – Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke for Directions - Penguin Books, India 2009

I have never owned a car. My father had one long ago. It was a Studebaker Champion, circa early 1950s model. I was a little kid then, in my primary classes. I remember that huge black car; I had to walk, to reach from one end to the other of its rear seat! The longest trip we went in the Studebaker was to Mysore to watch the Dussera, in 1964 or 1965. As an adult, I could have bought one, but somehow I didn’t. One of the reasons was that my ancestral home in the heart of the city where I have lived on and off for the last thirty-three years didn’t have car access. And the boy in me always preferred a two-wheeler.

Ask any bike aficionado. The exhilaration that a bike ride offers is far more than a ride inside the cocoon of a car. Exposed to elements, the intimacy with the surroundings is something hard to get in a car. There is something raw about riding a bike. As Pirsig would have said, there is oneness with the rest of the world. So I have gone around in scooters and motorcycles. Given a choice between a Mercedes and a Harley-Davidson, I would opt for the Harley, any day.

I had never met Mr. Tenzing, though both of us have spent considerable number of years in the same place, Trivandrum. I, as its native and Mr. Tenzing, a native of Sikkim, as an IAS officer in Kerala cadre. I don’t particularly remember seeing his name for the nearly 20 years he was in Kerala; probably because there are so many IAS people around and that too from other states. The first time I noticed his name and read with interest about him was when he resigned from the coveted position of the head of a Government department in 2006, straddled a Royal Enfield Thunderbird motorcycle and rode all over India for a period of 9 months, clocking 25320 kilometers. Mr. Tenzing was a fellow biker. That is something I would do, if I had the guts and the money. He published a travelogue of his ride across the country.

Mr. Tenzing is no more. He passed away on 26th July 2010, at the young age of 46. He had terminal cancer of the blood. I read eulogies about him, how good an officer he was, how charming, friendly and absolutely in love with Kerala, about his long ride.

Reading the book is like riding the pillion behind Mr. Tenzing as he speeds his bike fast and furious across India. Everything passes in a blur, except the sketches of people whom he meets en route; former friends and new friends that he made on his whirlwind tour. If you are looking for detailed description of the places he went through or its history or for introspective reflection on the philosophical and spiritual aspects of traveling, you have come to the wrong book. The book accelerates at a high speed, with short breaks allowed for peeing. Mr. Tenzing took only 16 hours at a single stretch to go from Leh to Manali, which I did in three days. Not that I cannot, but my idea of biking is more of the cruising kind, relaxed, laidback riding. Perhaps Mr. Tenzing knew that he didn’t have much time left.

But there is a great pleasure in living life on an impulse, which is something that ordinary mortals can only fantasize; something only a few like Mr. Tenzing could do. You sigh, as you read the last line of the page because you realize that this is something you will never dare to do.

There are certain images that you retain in spite of the racy ride. Mr. Tenzing’s great love for Kerala where he spent most of his adult life, his amusing irreverence for politicians and officialdom, his courage in chucking the most prestigious job in India, his deep feeling for Sikkim, the caricatures of people whom he introduces to you and the darkness of India as he passes through Bihar, Jharkand and UP. His language is fluent and modern. There is rapidness in his words like the revving of a bike. Yet Mr. Tenzing exposes himself at an unaware moment or two; like when he mulls over the death of a cousin and his own death.

Mr.Tenzing - can I call you PG, like your friends did? – PG doesn’t mince words when it comes to criticizing the baboos and politicians and the Great North Indian Attitude. His verbal slaps are, for the reader, a cause for huge merriment. PG is sitting in a hotel somewhere in Himachal being served by a fellow from Andhra Pradesh in south India- waiting for a rainout. Listen to him: ‘The locals said that the rainfall was too heavy and the summer too hot. Same old climate-change gripe. We’ve fucked up nature big time and now we must pay the price. I cannot understand the reluctance of the big business lobby – especially in the United States – to acknowledge the problem and to take steps in concert with the rest of the world. Those guys are going to get rid of the human species one way or the other. By climate change or nuclear holocaust’.

It is good to learn that such a man lived among us. A man who dared; and cared.

I am leaving it here, PG. If people want to read you, let them. Who knows, some youngster might be inspired by you; and another, yet another…

Palden Gyatso Tenzing 1963-2010

Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 24-11-2010


  1. Studebaker champion???? Wheres the car now? Hope you have it preserved! Oh my! oh my!! Thats a legacy.

    I agree with you when you say "Sigh!" We dont dare to live the way we want to... sighs are all that remain.

    A super fast racy book. Have to read it. Yours was a crisp summary :)

  2. @Insignia: We had the Studebaker Champion for a few years. We couldn't afford to keep it. It guzzled fuel - I remember father saying - ' 14 miles to a gallon of petrol!

    I quote the last lines of PG's book:
    'Look at me. it's just getting to be a year since I rendered myself jobless, and the cowries from my retirement bonus have long run out. but i'd had a blast of a year, hadn't I. And, far from starving, I feel richer than - I'll bet - most of you do. You and I have Thamzi, mate, like it or not. Catch up with it any time you like. We'll be waiting. Thamzi and I'.

    Thamzi is bond; bond between people.

    PG was an awesome guy.

    I will give you one of the earliest SMS I recd in my mobile and still kept - nearly 5 years ago:
    'Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, " F***! WHAT A RIDE!"

    (Excuse me for the four-letter word, but nothing else would capture the spirit)

  3. Bala, I have read somewhere that a good review of a book that the reviewer feels is worth reading should impel the reader (of the review) to read the book.

    Yours does exactly that. Your personal reminiscences add to the pleasure.

  4. Thats a spirited SMS you received. As they say, neat and organized is a museum, have some thrills and spills :)

  5. I feel like buying that book right now!

  6. This was the third post of yours in the recent past where the topic was the dead- a kind of eulogy, a requiem.

    Why blame the USA alone for fucking up the climate and enviorn? Are we far behind ? We are at the foremost in many ways. Lucky for PG that he rode away .

  7. The way life is lived there may not be much left to deposit in the grave. ha !!

  8. Wah! and I mean a BIG Wah!
    This was one amazing post and your reply to one of the comments was all the more excellent.

    I came across this book once, but brushed it off assuming it to be just another travellogue. Wish you had written this post earlier. I am going to lay my hands on this book, with no delay.

    The SMS you shared speaks for itself. PG is one amazing person. Crazy the world may think, but that is what the essence of life is. Rightly pointed out : Impulsive decisions are the most memorable ones. And satisfying ones too.

    Some live, others exist. PG lived.

  9. @sm: Thanks. I've been to your blog; very informative. Thanks again.

  10. @Wodehouse: Thanks, Sir,glad you liked it.

  11. @Insignia: I've a feeling that you are an exception to your brood of techies, am I right? The other day, a mother of one in Technopark told me that the youngsters are kind of de-humanised; that they move in a cocoon; that all they do is gaze at the screen, mumble into their mobile, and in between, munch munch munch. Do you think you could write something about them? I am curious.

  12. @sujata: That'll be money worth spent!

  13. Thanks for introducing PG to us...frankly speaking i have never heard of him before .And i am in love with him already.

  14. @Sreejith: If you look at the reviews in the 'net, you will find differing reviews; the problem with reviewers is that they are just reviewers of books. They have a mental standard or a set of criteria as to what a book out to be. It is difficult for them to accept or to understand a unique and original thought.

    PG did not ride for the masses; nor did he write to get it published. He wrote what he wanted to write; take it or leave it.

    You wouldn't regret buying it.

  15. @Anil: Dey, we can only be what we are. But we can always dream of the possible escapes; who knows, maybe the breakthrough is just around the corner!

    Fucking up nature is not the prerogative of US alone. If they can fuck up nature good, we can fuck up nature better,Jai Hind! Tatas and Birlas and all the rest of the development progress buggers are doing it, so what's bugging you, man?

  16. @Kavitha: I have written somewhere that the greatest regret of aging is the recurrent losses of things familiar - be it nature, the surroundings or people whom you knew.

    When people like PG moves on, the sense of loss that it creates is fathomless...

  17. A considerable percentage of the people we meet on the street are people who are empty inside, that is, they are actually already dead. It is fortunate for us that we do not see and do not know it. If we knew what a number of people are actually dead and what a number of these dead people govern our lives, we should go mad with horror.

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  19. This guy was in the newspaper where it was mentioned that he left to his home in sikkim in his Bullet. Naturally I searched for his details in the net, but did not find anything what I looked for. The moment you started describing about him I recalled this. I never knew that he has published this book. Waiting to get my hands on it.

  20. I am far behind the world, I realize now. Just few weeks back I saw two books on my friend's table, 'One life to Ride' by Ajith and PG Tenzing's book. I finished 'OLTR' in 3-4 days and am mid way of PGT's book. I most visible difference was that there were so many photos of Ajith on his OLTR, including color photographs. But not even a single photo of Tenzing on his book! I wanted to see him and googled, to my disappointment I found news that he is already dead :(. [this is why i told I m far behind the world]. I felt as if my companion rider dead in the mid-way of a ride. Thanks for this article, it is very interesting.

    1. Thank you for visiting, Mohd Kutty. Don't feel bad about not knowing the passing away of PG. He would live on in our memories; another example of the indomitable spirit of humans...

  21. pg is no more but why am i here..unknown to him...feeling sad for him....may be a thamzi of our previous life...
    thinlay tibet


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