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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Tribute to Friendship


In the rebellious youth of yore, I declared to my mother - 'You love me not because I am Balachandran V, but because I am your son. As an individual, I demand respect and love for what I am. That is something neither you nor my siblings and relatives can ever give me. That is why I value friendship more than blood relation. You are bound to love me, whereas friends are not. There are no obligations in friendship'.  Words to such effect delivered oh-so-pompously, self-righteously. 

I can now imagine how hurting those words would have been to her. I can understand that shadow of pain that crossed her face, because now as a father I realize that I love and respect my son not only because he is  my blood, but for the good fortune that I have in knowing him, in nurturing him - it is like watching a tree growing; you love the tree not only because you gave it water and sunlight or  for the shade and happiness it gives us, but also for what the tree is, for the very being of that tree. 

Anil's latest post, 'Matters of fact', in which I figure rather too prominently ( glaringly, like my bald head!) is about friendship. Friendship, I now know is not something that you can have with only those other than blood or familial relations, but your spouse and offspring too can be friends. 

Suddenly, I am engulfed in a surge of great joy - I realize that P & K are among my best friends! 

Below is a poem I wrote long ago. I reproduce it here for all the friends in my life. From Cheriyan in the US, one of my oldest friends that I am still in touch with ( we haven't seen each other in the flesh for - 45 years!), Pradeep, Venu, Shibu, Abe, Jacob, Balu, Rahul, Anil, Sreekumar(s), Vincent, Dr Sreenivasan, Satheesh, Gopi, Parameswaran, Unnikrishnan, Suresh, Mohan, James, Bindu, Dr Antony, Arun, Ousu, Kalpana, Sumi, Thomman, Kavitha, Melange - (I realize  there are too many to write, so those names omitted, pl forgive). 

I look at the panorama of the circle of my friends and I see that it extends, extends, extends....

Thanks for being around, guys and gals! This poem is for each of you. 

A Library of Love

My friend! What brought us together?
Was it the love for each other’s presence?
Was it the comfort in each other’s being?
Was it the glow in our eyes and hearts?

Was it the joy, the warmth and mirth
Was it regard, respect, the reason
Or was it because we just felt at ease?
Was it just the way we were?

Weren’t there times when it came to an end,
Weren’t there moments when we flew apart?
Why to each other did we take
Why each did we value, more than others?

What made you my friend, my friend?
What was the chemistry, what was the fusion?
What, pray tell me you see in me
What made you say I am your friend?

It couldn’t be just the love for music
Or for mountains and musings on life.
It couldn’t be just the interests same
Or sharing the simple joys of life.

Something did happen when we met
When we said hello and looked in the eye.
Something right did fall in place
A seed, a bond that then grew in time.

The rides on bikes! The walks on hills!
The spray of rain, lashing winds!
Numbing cold! Gasping breath!
Evenings cool, a warm drink in hand.

Sun at dusk, sun at dawn,
Moonlit nights and starry skies.
Green clad forests, snowy peaks
Chaotic cities and villages calm.

Long were the paths together we trod,
Lord! How short, how short was it all!
How much further would we have
To walk on, think on, side by side?

My friends! There is such gladness in my heart
That I could be all I wanted in life.
Each of you filled a void in me
Each of you were what I weren’t.

Each of you were what I wished to be
And each of you had a little of me.
What would it matter if we had to leave
When we have filled each other’s cup?

My friends! Like my books you are
Always kept within my view.
Just within reach, always at hand,
My friends, my little library of love!

Balachandran V, Kottayam 28/07/2005

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Aaloo Paratha Route to Himalayas Part III

In the beginning, I had some misgivings on writing about this trip. When the prime objective of reaching Leh could not be achieved, what else remained, but to write about the rest of the trip – and about the Aaloo Parathas and Momos that I ate? And the company of dear friends?

But that would be the story of my life, too. I haven’t achieved in life what I’d have loved to; dreams remain, like that of going to Tierra del Fuego, some day. Or ride through Scotland in my bike as Bikram has done. Or spend a month or two in the Amazon river. Or turning the entire world green with one wave of my magic wand. Or finding a home to all the street dogs of the world. Or – well!  When you get to middle age, when you see your dreams and fantasies charred to ashes, when you see your aspirations remained mere aspirations – when, due to reasons whatsoever, you realize your mediocrity – that’s when you really start living, having accepted finally who you are, what your limits are. Long, long ago in the turbulent youth, I used to exhort my friends – ‘Break your limits!’ Now, decades later, I have accepted my limits. Of my dreams – I smile gently to myself, light a cigarette and watch the smoke rings wobble in the still air.

Having decided to make the next attempt to cross Rohtang on 11th, we lost 2 precious days of our itinerary. We languished. We walked to Manali town and did some indifferent shopping. Manali’s shops cater to the freewheeling, gullible  tourists. Most of what you get in Manali, you can get in New Delhi for half the price. We investigated - what else, restaurants. Near the Hadimba Devi temple, we drank excellent Lassi, ate Momo and Fried Rice at ‘Green Forest’. Waiting for the food, I take photographs of the beautiful Roses. The small teashop near the Old Manali bridge was our favorite haunt. We have been saying too many goodbyes to the old man who owned the teashop.  But the pick of our choice was ‘Chopsticks’, a Tibetan restaurant in the Mall Road. There was a very pretty Tibetan girl sitting in the counter, so pretty that one might cry. She looked as fragile and lovely as a Rose petal. Sitting at a table near her, I watch her beautiful slender fingers drumming on the desktop. Her straight hair falls across her face whenever she prepares a bill. I eavesdrop. She is talking politics and China. She smiles and like a springy doll, nods her head up and down in agreement with her friend.  

The food is excellent and the service, friendly and courteous. I gorge as usual on Momos and Thupka. Bit expensive, but sumptuous and very tasty. Ananthu has an obsession with Chowmein or Chopsuey or such other gooey stuff. Doc is enamoured with Veg Manchurian. For starters we have chilled beer and Momos. Gopi orders some fancy chicken curried with bamboo shoots and shares it with me. Satheesh is a vegetarian and dunks his head in his delights.

You might wonder why I am not so enthusiastic about Manali. Till this trip, I hated this place. Because it was here in 1995 that I was robbed of my entire camera system, the Canon A1 and three other expensive lenses.  It was a disastrous trip. I had badly wanted to come to the mountains, but P, would not let me go alone. There weren’t any friends to join. Desperately, I managed to rope in a partly willing acquaintance, whose carelessness resulted in my loss. The equipment was worth about 40,000/- then, an immensely huge amount for the likes of me. I had painstakingly built it up, saving money so frugally.  I was devastated. I roamed the streets of Manali for 4 days, staying in a decrepit hotel in the village and hung around the Police station. I still remember the Police Station; on the front door were pinned notices, of missing  persons. Young foreigners who had ventured out into the vastness of Lahaul, Spiti and Zanskar and disappeared forever. In fact, it was those faces that finally calmed me down.

As our hopes to reach Leh seemed to flounder, my friends jokingly accused me, saying that it is the curse of Hadimba Devi and Lord Manu, the presiding deities of Manali, for hating their town. 

There isn’t much to see in Manali town, other than the Hadimba Devi temple. You can walk around, do window shopping, ogle at the scantily clad foreigners, visit the Tibetan monastery, the hot springs at Vashist and if you have children, go to Solang Valley for a round of paragliding (3 minutes in the air for Rs.1000/-) or bungee jumping etc.  You can do river rafting in many places downriver. In the outskirts of the town or in an undisturbed corner, you may discover a quiet nook and watch the Beas.

So went Ananthu, paragliding. We elders thought it best to humour him.

Feasts and drinking bouts later, the next day, the 11th July, we set sail again for Leh. Matters were more abrupt and clear this time; the road was blocked right at Marhi. We were told that the Pass would be open by 1200 noon, we waited till 1600. It was obvious to us that even if we were able to cross the next day, i.e, the 12th, we would reach Leh the latest by 13th evening (which would mean rushing through the 3 Passes and missing all the beauty of the landscape). High Altitude Sickness would take its toll on us without a day’s rest – and we have to catch the flight on 15th morning.
 It was a gloomy group that trundled back to the same guesthouse once again. Doc said that it had become a second home to us.

Booked bus tickets back to New Delhi for the 14th evening; our return flight home was on 16th morning. Over rum, whiskey and vodka, we discussed how to utilize the remaining days. Options were few; we decided to visit Jalori Pass in Kulu district, about 80 kms from Manali. Turning left from the mouth of the tunnel at Aut, we pass little villages like Banjar. At 10000 odd feet and lush with Pine trees, Jalori Pass and the climb to the Pass is pleasant. Aalu Parathas again and we walk into the forests for a 6km trek to the --- lake and temple. We are making do with what we can. It is an easy walk with a couple of climbs.

We walk in the incessant rains and thick mist. Stopping to catch my breath, I notice the white paper stuck on a tree. It has an arrow pointing in the direction to the lake. Below it says – ‘ Better alone than with bad company’.  I ask Satheesh, panting beside me –‘ Who is my bad company, myself or you?’
PS: I check the ‘net for news on Rohtang Pass; as on July 24th, the Pass still remains unpassable.
********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 27.07.2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Aalu Paratha route to Himalayas Part II

In the newspapers today, there was yet another tragic news. Three youngsters in their early 20s, software engineers working in Infosys ( that is one of the ultimates, isn’t it?) died in a car crash. Two others are seriously injured and fighting for their lives. One of the deceased was the daughter of a Malayalam movie director. She was 23.
We dream, plan and then execute. So it is for our future, so it is for our little journeys. We secretly believe that nothing is going to happen to us; tragedies are for the rest of the world. I have not traveled far and wide, but well, more than many of my age and situation.  I cannot honestly say that I have been free of dread; fear of accident or loss of life, though it is not for myself but for the sorrow that could befall those who love me. But, honest, this fear was unknown before I got married and had a child. I used to be reckless ( P says still am) in driving  as well as in decision–making.  Now whenever I go for a long trip, I am torn between the desire to move out and the pangs of being away from my family.
Risk is inherent in every act. So many have died choking on food, while driving cars, while swimming, while – well, sleeping, as my brother-in-law did last week. But the risk factor doesn’t deter us from what we want to do, does it?  The degree of risk, of course varies. One assesses risks on the basis of one’s capabilities to overcome. I’d be stupid if I were to jump into the ocean and swim the Palk strait or something. But give me a Royal Enfield Bullet Bike – I tell you, if you can provide me the logistical support, here I am, ready to ride the bike to the ends of the world!
The young kids who died in the car crash would have never dreamt that their lives were going to be so brutally cut short. Who’d think of death at 23, unless you are a schizophrenic or something?
But we got to live. We got to live as if we will never die. There is always a chance we will be alive the next moment, next hour, next day, next year…
When we started off from Manali on the 9th of July, we had no inkling of what was to come. Gopi and I discussed about the places we should go, the things we should do at Leh. ( us being veterans of Leh, all the other three could do was to chaff at the reins). Starting off at 0500 hrs ( I had frowned at this late hour – I had suggested at least 0300 hrs- always start early and reach early  in the mountains. Never travel in the afternoons.  My Thumb Rule #1) we reached Marhi, the watering hole below Rohtang Pass. Far above we could see the long winding queue of vehicles. At the tea shop where we had our Aalu Paratha, Rajma, Omlette and Amul Butter, we were told that the traffic block up in the Pass has been there since yesterday. In no time we cover another 8 kms and joins the traffic block. The time was 0730 hrs.
 (Aalu Paratha #2, with Rajma- wiping off the last bit) 
The narrow roads of Rohtang Pass had deteriorated in many places due to the monsoon showers. Slush and mud and glacial streamlets running down and the invariable landslips that were hurriedly cleared  by the GREF marred the roads. The large majority of the traffic constituted of tourists going up to Rohtang Pass. That was the last point of the tourists who would walk the glacier, frolic in the snow and pose on Yaks. The rest were the trucks, buses and other vehicles like ours going beyond the Pass to Keylong and further to Leh. In their hurry to get ahead, there were two, at places three, lanes of vehicles going up. There was no sign of downcoming traffic.
Time moved on. Sometimes we would inch up a few meters. The only vehicles that were coming down or moving up ahead were the occasional bikers. They would stagger through the mud and negotiate the treacherous path while the bigger vehicles looked after them with envy. I look at the riders all helmeted and jacketed and carrying loads and the mud splattered on their boots and trousers and the haggard look and the burning concentration on the rutted path and the deep thumping of the Bullets and the wind – I had done this 4 years ago, almost to the same day. How I would love get my hands on one of these bikes!
1730hrs. We discussed. As per our original plan, we were to reach Leh in two days, spend 4 days there and catch a flight back to New Delhi on 15th morning.  We had two options; either to stay and see the night out and hope that the Pass will be cleared the next day. I personally had no other option in my mind. Those who have been with me in the mountains know how transformed would be my personality in the heights. I am no longer the wishywashy Charlie Brown I am in the plains. I am in my elements up there. I tell my friends to store up water, buy whatever food available ( there are Corn vendors, 'Biscooth' vendors who have come up to the Pass from the villages down below- a coffee costs 20 bucks, an omlete, 40! ). Somebody called up our friend, Hari, a former mountaineer in New Delhi. Hari advised caution. Somebody called up Gopi's friend in Manali, the trekking instructor; he advised - return to Manali.

 We inched up our way till 0030hrs midnight. By then, the intermittent drizzle had strengthened. It was very cold and windy. We were nearabouts 10000 ft. Then we reached the exact spot where the largest landslide had occurred. Between the partly cleared rocks and the chasm on the other side, there was just enough space for a car to squeeze through. The few policemen posted out here were there since couple of nights, sans food and sans sleep. Bulldozers tried to push the vehicles sunk into the mud, up the incline. Four-wheel drives could go up, but cars like our Innova slid backwards, dangerously close to the edge of the road beyond which there was nothing. Then the skies opened up.

We are shut inside the car. In the darkness, to my left I can see the tons of rocks and mud that had slid down from the mountain side. To my right, again, nothing but the chasm. 'This could be it', I told myself. I have been caught in landslides in Himalayas before, but not this uncomfortably close. Then a policeman came and rapped at our windows. 'Go back', he said. 'it is too dangerous to be stuck here now. The rains can bring down another landslide, get away, get away', he said. Our driver, Prem Thakur, is an unbelivable expert. He managed to reverse the Innova – I could hear the tyres slipping, the engine screaming, as we slid closer and closer to the edge. Men came out from the night, from the other vehicles and manually lifted the car and turned it around.

Even Gopi and I were shaken. We were a bit too close – to death. Smoking my umpteenth Gold Flake Kings, I imagined the little obituary in Malayala Manorama... But never say die; I suggested that we go down to Marhi and wait the night out there. Anyway it was already 0100 hrs and we could snooze in the car. We could come up again in the morning. But I was voted out. We returned to Manali, to the same beautiful guesthouse and slugging a couple, went to sleep... We decided to wait till the weather improved and the Pass opened up and try again the next day.

To be continued ....

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Aalu Paratha route to Himalayas

(Morning view from the guesthouse, Old Manali) 

Part I

“Life is a journey, with unexpected twists and turns”, began the friend and I retched inwardly. It is such a cliché, stale but so dully true. It would also sum up my latest trip to the Himalayas.

To stretch the metaphor, what is more important in the journey of life or that to the Himalayas, is the company you keep, the route you take and how you travel through.

My wanderings in the Himalayas began more than 25 years ago; I visited its different regions regularly, mostly alone, with family, then with a friend or two or organized treks and bike rides. I still prefer to do it alone; though I wouldn’t really say so about my life – the happiness I owe to my family and friends and the society at large is much more – or different- than I would’ve got, if I were alone.

From Jalori Pass deep in Himachal Pradesh, there is a short trek of 6km to a little lake and a temple. We walked through the pine forests in incessant rains and thick mist. Signs and inspiring words pointed to the destination. I come across one – ‘ Better alone than with bad company’.

But I had great company. Dr KVS and Satheesh , friends since 23 years, Gopi, fellow biker, mountaineer, professional wildlife photographer and Ananthu, Satheesh’s 15-year old son. What we had in common was love for nature and a passion for Himalayas. Even Ananthu was on his second trip to the snows.

Our destination was Leh, in Ladakh. I had been to Leh twice before, on foot and on bike – this trip was to be in a car- I wasn’t keen on the mode of transport but again, for the sake of my friends I curbed my desire to bike it through.

Aalu Paratha

The Volvo bus, which left ISBT New Delhi at 1930, stopped at one of the innumerable roadside dhabas near Sundernagar in the early morning. We tore into our Aalu Ps that shimmered in the sheen of slowly melting Amul butter chunks. Chena Masala, a double-egged omelet, Dahi (curds) and a pickle with unidentifiable pieces of vegetables embellished the breakfast that had us running to the loo in no time.

Reaching Manali in the afternoon, we stayed in a guesthouse in Old Manali that belonged to a friend of Gopi. (To those who haven’t been to Manali – there are two Manalis, the town frequented by Indian tourists and the village by foreigners. Manali is a typical touristy hill town – which to choose depends on your tastes and interests.) The next day we spent walking to Solang valley about 13 km away. Manali at 1950mt is ideal for acclimatization if you are going to higher altitudes.

A few kilometers into the trek, Dr KVS declares he has had enough. The path is quiet and beautiful. To our right flowed the Beas, rushing down to Manali from the high mountains.

We are a mixed lot, physique-wise. Anathu, youngest at 15, is a lanky, athletic fellow, who skims over ascents as rapidly as he fires questions to every answer he seeks. Gopi, 36, bachelor, certified mountaineer, trekker, solo biker, photographer, French linguist from Pondicherry, keeps generally to himself as he ascends the hills as if on an evening stroll in his seaside town; except of course, in the evenings he goes garrulous about Latin America and Eduardo Galeano, aided by the warmth in the belly. Satheesh, 45, heading one of the largest NGOs in the country is 100 plus, though he claims he was a champion sportsman in his younger days. Doc and I in our mid 50s are the stragglers. I am more experienced in Himalayas than my friend – the advantage is in knowing what to expect and how far one may go. Mountains make you aware, not only of the mind, but the body too.

Ever since I ate my first steamed Chicken Momo somewhere deep in Sikkim in 1988, I have been a devotee of Tibetan cuisine. Like the land and its people, Tibetan food too is simple, bare but nourishing. Be it the Momo or their music, one is transported to the vast, seamless horizons, the bare brown mountains with snow-capped peaks. The bright red chill chutney that comes with Momo – I bite off an end of the Momo and carefully stuff its cavity with the chutney to the brim, pause – and with a yearning, anticipating yet another moment of bliss, carry the Momo gently into the cavity of my mouth – tongue catches fire – messages of extreme pleasure are sent to and fro between the brain and the sensitives nerve-ends in my mouth. Fulfilment as my teeth meet the meat and grinds it gently, with great relish.

In that little tea-shop in Old Manali, we are served plate after plate of steamed vegetable Momo. These are excellent, succulent, home-made Momos, so easy on my stomach – one forgets the number of Momos consumed. I share mine with a street dog. We eat, belch, wait and eat again as Ananthu goes rappelling across the stream. Mid-stream, the operator swings the rope and Ananathu is buoyed till he skims the surface of the gurgling stream. We wait for the next day when we would ascend Rohtang Pass, and across to Lahaul valley and Leh.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Door to Tranquility

One of the best designed landscapes in our city is the electric crematorium at Thycaud. It is called 'Santhi – kavaadam' or the door to tranquility.

My 6-year old grandnephew gripped my hand. We were standing behind my nephew who was about to start the last rituals. Attired in a wet dhoti with a band of red cloth tied around his waist, my nephew stood still. Then one of the assistants pulled out a thread from his father's dhoti and tied it to his. Behind him, we stood touching the one in front with our hands. And then the assistant broke the thread. The symbolic end to what connected the dead person and the rest of us.

On top of the white shroud that covered my brother-in-law, a handfull Vettiver roots lay. A few pieces of sandalwood were strewn over. A lump of camphor was kept on it and lit by my nephew. As the camphor caught fire, the door of the electric crematorium lifted up with a groan. Though we stood a good 5 mts away, the blast of heat from the furnace reddened our faces. Then the trolly on which the body lay was slowly pushed forward.
How eager were the flames! How quickly it ate up the red pattu, the white shroud that covered my brother-in-law! The door came down and ground to the concrete floor.

Shanku, my little grandnephew I love so much, tugged my arm and asked me – 'Can I ask you a secret question?' Shanku is always sharing secrets with me. 'What happens to Appooppan ( grandpa) now? Will he turn to ashes?'

I stand before many. Parents of my friends, my own mother, relatives, friends, young men – once, even a little 2-year old. In the hollow, worthless knowledge that nothing exists beyond that door, in the barren, arid,  comfortless zone where no fake beliefs and holy men and religions dare to step forward to me in pretensions of solace, in that state of limbo, I caress Shanku's head, bend down and kiss him.

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 21-07-2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Back to Sea Level

Trivandrum, nearly at 0 msl. So be my spirits. As soon as I switch on my cell phone, calls come in, informing the demise of my brother-in-law. Not that I was particularly attached to him, but it sort of dampened things, like the intermittent drizzle...

Just to let you know that I am back from the mountains. It was a mixed experience. Couldn't reach Leh due to the landslides at Rohtang Pass, but the company of good friends and the choice of other lesser destinations made the whole vacation a memorable event in my life. 

What with the cremation and rituals etc etc, it would be some time when I post about my trip. But I slouch before my little netbook and wonder if I should, at all. Watching the cold corpse of my brother-in-law being pushed into the freezing chambers of the mortuary ( He passed away on Saturday, but his son in US would reach only tomorrow, Wednesday) like a slab of dead flesh, the plate slides in smoothly, the door shut and locked - 

I wonder I should call it a day here at my blog. Sometimes it is as unpleasant as the real world. 

Sorry for the depressing words, folks. I might take a little time to bounce back to my old self...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Growing Up

About 6 years ago when K was in school, he asked me to help out in writing an article for the school magazine. We discussed his idea; I made him write out what he wanted to say and then re-wrote it. Words might be mine, but the thought is his. 

In a corner of the drawing room in our house, one can see faint pencil marks on the wall. It starts at about 2 or 3 feet from the floor; short dashes against which, if you look closely, you can see some dates. 15-7-1994, 15-7-1995, 15-07-1996, etc. It ends at 15-7-2002. Not that I have stopped growing up, but my mother would have somehow forgotten to do it anymore.

I look at my parents' wedding album. My father has black moustache and thick black hair and is trim. My mother looks very young. Both grin at the camera widely. But now after 15 years, they look so different from that old picture.

From sometime in January 2000 till 30-6-2004, my grandmother ( father's mother) was with us. She lay on a bed or sat propped up on a chair. She had Alzheimer's Disease and she couldn't walk because of a broken hip that never mended. She had forgotten everything. For hours she used to lie, staring blankly at the walls. Sometimes she would look at us and smile. Then one day she died;quietly.

In the family photo album, there are pictures taken when I was a little baby. There are so many photographs taken throughout all these years. I look at them and see how I am changing. I am in my teens now. I will be an adult in another few years ; I will get a job, marry and have children – and one day I too will be gone like my grandmother.

The toys I played with when I was a small boy is of no interest to me now. I hardly watch cartoons in the TV. Instead, I listen to music or play computer games. I guess I am growing up. As I realize that, I  realize that I have growing responsibilities too. I realize that along with all the fun and joy, I also have to learn to bear pain and suffering.

There are many things I would like to do, many places I would like to see. I have to take one day at a time. But I have to look ahead too, so that I can plan my future. Whether things will turn out the way I want or not, I can always plan and think on what I am going to to do with my life. Because this is my life and I have to decide. I am sure my parents, my teachers and my friends would help me out, but the final decision has to be taken by me. It is very serious. It is very exciting also.

Like the lines of one of my father's favourite poems by Ernest Henley, ' I am the captain of my soul, I am the master of my fate'...

Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 05-07-2011

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Invisible Cyclist

The sudden spurt of pleasure in bicycling a couple of months ago nearly had a premature death, what with my old lower back pain's reappearence. The roads of Trivandrum, esp., around where I live are not the best for biking. They are in a horrible state of repair. Moreover, after 5 minutes in any direction you have an incline, which in my surge of enthusiasm, I tried riding up which in turn strained my poor back again. And living in the heart of a city...

Now that I have to leave for Ladakh on 6th July, I thought I will give whatever preparation I can for my muscles and took up bicycling again.

Have you recently rode a bicycle in your city? At the peak hours? You should, if you haven't. It is as if the cyclist does not exist. He/she is invisible. The cars, buses, motorcycles and autorickshaws cannot see you. Maybe they cannot be blamed, because there are hardly any cyclists in the city streets. I was forced out to the verge of the street into the ditches and potholes  several times; there of course you have to deal with the pedestrians who totter directionless onto your path, talking into mobile phones.

My only weapon is the Klaxon, faintly remembered by the older generation here as that of the call of the fish vendor. I give it a couple of squeezes and it goes – 'PEEEYOOO! PEEEYOO!', jerking the passersby out of their reverie. I am looked upon as a strange creature, this anachronism from the past.

Yet, there is great pleasure in the anonymity. I ride by, like an old man on an evening stroll. My face is frown-free, my lips have a smile, I hum an old song – Ye Apna dil to aawara, na jaane kis pe aayega..'

I see hoardings I have not noticed before, I notice the rear of pretty girls walking by with great appreciation, I appreciate the brilliant red of a brand new VW Polo. I am all humility and pleasance to the rude motorists who curse me for straying into their speeding paths. ( I just now looked up the WordWeb dictionary for 'pleasance' – it says - A fundamental feeling that is hard to define but that people desire to experience). I am in no hurry, ladies and gentlemen, my apologies. I smile at them and see puzzlement in their faces.

In the streets of Chalai Bazaar, (it is a fascinating area), I am submerged by the crowds, swallowed up by the waves of humanity and internal combustion engines. I can see everything, right from the little puddle in front of me to the new shopping mall that has come up. Yet I am totally anonymous and free. The realisation of  being non-existent to the rest of the world is so exciting, so liberating; more so, because the rest of the world is craving mad for recognition.  I guess – if what some people say is true, that the dead aren't gone away, they are around you all the time – I guess this is exactly what the dead would be feeling, the bubbling joy of being unseen but seeing it all.

Perhaps we all ought to go on a retro. Take up bicycling. Chill out. Take your right foot off the accelarator, ease the right palm on the grip of the throttle.
******** Balachandran V, Trivandrum 02-07-2011