Cool Buddies

The Searcher’s block [by Sharada]

Posted in Humour, Life, writing by Ratheesh & Sharada on August 31, 2015

From the most eloquent best sellers to the newbie amateurs, from the authors of great epics to weekly columnists, it has impartially crept up on all writers at some point or the other. You might attribute your missed deadlines to it or hide away your procrastination behind this mysterious, dark curtain. But you have to acknowledge the writer’s block.

“Oh, that!” “gosh!” “there is no such thing” “of course, sometimes…” these are some reactions you receive from seasoned writers who can readily give you their theories about it or free advice on how to overcome it.

It is that sudden “abortive” emptiness that you experience when you finally sit down to write something. You start getting nervous and annoyed when you take the pen to a blank sheet of paper or a blinking mouse cursor to the first line in a blank word document.

Being a writer, I can find myself nodding agreeably to these symptoms of writer’s block. But how many of you have experienced the “Searcher’s block”?

You are sitting in front of google.com with some bouncy animation pouncing at you, threatening to distract you while your mouse cursor is blinking on that empty text box which urges you to type anything.. anything! And, you cannot remember what you want to search for.

You may have found answers to the deepest questions, solutions to all your problems right at your fingertips, but you just seem to go blank and develop cold feet or rather, cold fingertips.

It is like God appeared and said “I will grant you any wish you want. Just name it! Anything!” and you just stand there blinking, stammering, biting your lips, stupefied, and not knowing what you really want.

How disdainful! Especially since everyone else seem to be happily finding all they ever wanted on Google, from long lost friends to secret slimming recipes to phone numbers of their favourite celebrities. IT IS ALL THERE. You only need to ask!

Till then, I would have mentally noted all that I need to ask Google, but, why on earth can’t I remember anything meaningful? What makes this worse is the fact that just because I got to the page, just because I made the effort to boot my system and open a browser, I start looking for generic, meaningless terms that Google rewards suitably with irrelevant search results.

This is not the same as knowing what you need but unable to key in the right words that will give you the best results. That is a different problem altogether.

My worst nightmare is when I am in some remote place, where you need to change buses, walk kilometres to reach a place where you get network and it is a rather slow network where the google home page takes a couple of minutes to load and after all the effort, I just can’t remember what was it that I was seeking.

It used to happen to me when I had to go to a cyber center, when I had ten minutes still left after sending my emails, and I wanted to make the best use of the paid time. Then when I start searching for lame, useless stuff, I would feel like kicking myself.

That, my friend, is the “searcher’s block”. Just like all other blocks, it is real; it is right there hiding, like a virus waiting to attack its next unsuspecting victim!

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How to transfer money from India to Nepal?

Posted in Travel, Trekking by Ratheesh & Sharada on June 2, 2015

We have written about our previous experience of trying to send money to Nepal in our book. We spent several days and did several trips to banks, numerous phone calls and finally were unsuccessful. After that, since there was no need, we left it at that. Now, an urgent need again came up. This time, we were prepared mentally. We knew money transfer would not be easy, but we also had to send it urgently due to the Earthquake relief work that needed it badly. So, we started where we left off back in 2010, were careful not to repeat the same mistakes and still it was not easy.

Finally, as a last resort, we had to call up Pasang (our tour operator for EBC trek in 2010 and who is now on a mission to work for earthquake victims in the Everest Area) and request him to setup a bank account in Nepal SBI! And guess what, since we were so persistent, he agreed to do so!

Note: We do not have credit cards, probably that would have made it easier, but not sure.

So, here are the pre-requisites, without which do not even try to go further:

1. Sender from India should have an account in SBI in the same branch from where they want to send money
2. Recepient should have an account in Nepal SBI Bank Ltd.
3. Account number, Cheque book, ID proof, preferably passport (attested photocopy) or DL of Sender
4. Name of account holder, Account number, Branch name, contact no. of the Receipent in Nepal

Once these are ready, a trip to the bank is all it takes. We are now one small step away to send the money. This visit to bank is broken down into smaller steps:

1. Go to SBI bank and speak to NEFT transfer department or Branch Manager and request a transfer. Clearly explain that it is to Nepal SBI and Nepal is another country (it might look stupid or rude, but better to be careful)
2. Fill in an NEFT transfer form (challan) using the details mentioned in pre-requisite
3. Nominal charges for transfer are applicable. Check with the bank personnel the charge applicable for the amount you wish to send. Eg: for Rs.20,000, the charge was Rs.100
4. Write a cheque in name of “YOURSELF” for the amount you wish to send + Charge applicable. Eg. If you are sending Rs.20,000 to the recepient, the cheque should be issued for Rs. 20,100, including charges of Rs.100. Do not cross the cheque
5. Attach a self-attested copy of your Identify proof (passport) to the challan and cheque. In the challan, write the recepient phone no. right on top (there is no field to enter this, but it is required)
6. Wait till they confirm the details and stamp a seal on the acknowledgement
7. Inform the recepient in Nepal, they would need to go and check at the bank. It takes 2-3 days for the money to get transferred.

Kanmani! Want to fall in love with you… [by Sharada]

Posted in Uncategorized by Ratheesh & Sharada on May 12, 2015

Right from the way they meet, unconventionally, in a railway station, and an engaging scene of them trying hard to communicate across people in a church, the movie draws you towards them. You start living with these two young, spirited and carefree people as they start their unexpected, spontaneous romance. We laugh with them, we fear for them, we cheer for them. The young couple, bold and ambitious, both equally passionate about their own career choices and unable to “let go” of their personal goals, decide to settle for a “no strings attached” relationship. The choice of talented, bubbly Nithya Menon and Dulquer Salmaan pair adds the right amount of freshness to the film.

The film, through its combination of crisp dialogues, a well blended background music and brilliant cinematography achieves what every film aspires to do – provide an experience. When you forget that you are watching a film, when you forget the names of the actors, and that they are acting, when you forget to notice camera angles, you move into a zone where you are completely involved. Your heart races in anticipation, you unknowingly shed a tear and you smile when something nice is said. You start connecting your life with those of the characters, you start believing you are them. This is when a film becomes brilliant; when it touches you. Mani Ratnam, known for his strong hold on relationships, strikes a chord with this film. He is able to give you the experience of falling in love. The film will make you want to fall in love all over again.

If it would have been just this, it probably would have given you an one-sided view of love. He goes deeper when we are introduced to an older couple, equally lovable. The silent, gentle husband played brilliantly by Prakash Rai, who captures you without imposing his overpowering presence, yet manages to hold your attention with his simple, gentle gestures. The extremely lovable, forgetful wife, played by Leela Samson, provides the well-timed comic relief, giving us a lighter side view of the agonizing, heart wrenching disease, Alzheimer’s. The mature love between them, as viewed by the young couple and how it changes their relationship is what keeps the film moving forward. The scenes of carefree life of the young couple, their adventures in love are juxtaposed against the committed and grounded relationship of the older ones. The young couple slowly start realizing what they would probably look like when they grow older. When the romance fades away, what is left is pure love, an invisible bond that makes you love your spouse unconditionally.

Where the film wins is in the way it captures the right situations, emotions and behaviour of all its characters. You can connect to almost all the characters including the strict brother and the very talkative and suspicious sister in law. You know these people. Seeing them on screen immediately makes you smile. It retains the humour till the end and manages to create emotions without being melodramatic.

One aspect where I might differ from most others was in the way the second half looks forced. Although it takes a very long time to reach the point, there is a certain hurriedness to get to a closure. You start feeling let down as the story loses its spontaneity, boldness and tries hard to become clichéd. I felt it would have been much better to have left it as it was, without having to force a logical ending, giving a feeling that it is the only way. For someone whose dreams would have taken flight imagining the possibilities of a “live-in” relationship, the eventual, conventional end would leave them cheated. The film could have ended the way it was, and in fact, would have made it shorter and crisper. Yet, the film wins because of its smaller moments that are like precious gems strung together to make a beautiful necklace.

Mani Ratnam has definitely tried to bring in some elements of contemporary youth, the “live-in” relationship goes down smoothly, but some others like the ultra glorious life of a software professional, the “forced” video gaming theme that appears in the beginning as well as in between, some of the songs, which can be called experimental, create the unnecessary distractions to the beautiful canvas. It breaks the flow, unintentionally and you start thinking about that instead. The film would have been complete even without these, in fact, probably, would have been better.

For someone like Mani Ratnam, who has already delivered his best with Roja, Bombay long ago, it is unfair to compare his latest work with his earlier ones. This film does not in any way stand up to the high standards he has set himself by his earlier work. Yet, to be fair, it is a sparkling love story, just like its title “Kanmani”, made with a pure heart and has the right elements to touch you; Although, it might not stay with you for as long as you would expect it to.

A dream called Badanavalu [by Sharada]

Posted in Uncategorized by Ratheesh & Sharada on May 7, 2015

Badanavalu is a small village tucked away between the boundaries of Mysore and Chamarajanagar districts of Karnataka. We can see this as an obscure station in the railway route that runs between Mysore and Chamarajanagar. One might miss it because the express trains do not stop here and the passenger trains stop for a few brief seconds. What may be easily forgotten as a small dot in a magnified view of a map, at closer look, has an astounding history behind its existence. The villagers, especially the elders, are full of stories from a bygone era.

In the last century, Gandhiji had visited this village. And the most interesting part is not the fact that he visited, but the reason behind his visit. Because, this was no ordinary village. Back in those days, when Gandhiji was advocating “Swaraj” and “Self-sufficient” villages, Badanavalu was a living example of one such model village. The Khadi and cottage industries Centre started by Shri. Tagadoor Ramachandra Rao was a flourishing enterprise, providing employment to the villagers and helping them produce some commodities, mostly hand-made. It played a major role in women empowerment as a majority of its employees were women, who could come and work at their convenience. DSC_0085

And not just the Khadi centre, Badanavalu was a leading supplier of milk, curds and other dairy products to all the nearby villages. Legend has it that, a dynamic woman named Parvathamma used to take this train everyday with her supplies of milk and curd for sale. And the train wouldn’t leave the station until she boarded! Such was the glory of this place and the people of this village. And this is what drew Gandhiji’s attention to this village. He came to experience this beautiful setup and see his dream of a self-sustained village come true.

DSC_0168The vast nine acre campus of the Khadi Centre would come alive every morning with the tinkling sound of women’s bangles and anklets, as they walked towards their spinning wheels. The tranquil atmosphere was broken by the welcome sound of the women’s laughter. The day would start with a daily prayer in front of the Gandhi Mantap. The various neatly constructed structures housed each unit like Khadi spinning, weaving, paper making.

Each building was decorated with its own garden with various flowering plants. The entire setup resplendent with brick walls, tiled roofs and well-trimmed garden gave a homely feel to the Centre. The hand spun yarn would go the weaving unit and any waste generated would feed the paper making unit. The paper making unit housed large machines that would process the pulp. Three living row houses served as quarters for any visiting officials and guests. The water needs were taken care by a well in the premises.

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But now, this place is desolate. The once flourishing industries are all shut down, barring a handful of looms that are still managing to exist. There is a deathly silence as you enter the campus. The tree roots are reclaiming the building and towering over them.The buildings are in various stages of ruin – some which are missing tiles, some whose walls have fallen down, some that just exist as a rubble heap, each of them speaking of neglect.

DSC_0179The quarters look like bombed homes, with the kitchen walls still covered in soot and the door frames decorated with vestiges of dried up mango leaves; a chilling reminder of life that was lived between these walls. The campus resembles an excavation site, a chapter from a history book.

The paper making workshop looks like a ghostly hall, with huge machines now standing silently, covered in cobwebs. The place is now house for bats that rest here during the day. A small black board with production log still adoring the wall, a reminder of work left incomplete. Although the pathways to these buildings are still visible, the gardens lining them are long dried and vanished. The entire setup looks like a miniature of how the planet would looks like without its people.

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The few women who still come here to work do so with their own determination and grit; driven by poverty, with nothing left to enthral or motivate them. They sit all day and spin yarn, rotating the wheel in an endless loop; their eyes glazed and looking away into a far off past. Some of these women are almost a hundred year old and have been working here for the past forty years. They have witnessed the grandeur and downfall of this place and yet, they continue to sit at their wheel, stoically, day in and day out, unmoved.DSC_0024

It is heartening to see their excitement when someone visits the centre and spends a few moments with them. They greet you with toothless smiles and gestures signalling “did you have lunch” and then nodding their heads when you ask them the same question. Their voices are drowned by the constant sound produced by the spinning wheels.

With the industry unable to provide work for the villages any longer, they are faced with a new challenge – of men migrating to nearby cities in search of daily labour. The women see their husbands and sons board the train each morning with the hope of securing some work, and returning late each night, often inebriated and abusive, from despair. The railway line which was their lifeline has suddenly turned into a curse. There is no milk or curd produced now, it is bought in packets from nearby towns. Severe water shortage has left them helpless. They are now depending on the fast depleting ground water for their needs, with bore-wells drilled as deep as a hundred feet. The place is scattered with structures that look meaningless and ridiculous, even – like a huge water tank with no water, a well that is completely dry, serving as home for pigeons, electricity poles and lines that run everywhere but with nothing to carry.

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But, all this is about to change. A few spirited people made this their home for the past twenty days and started a Satyagraha movement here for Sustainability of Villages. The Khadi campus was host to a large congregation of five thousand like-minded people from across the country, from various walks of life, who came here to stand for our villages; to stand for a dream called Badanavalu. Important issues were discussed and brainstormed. One could witness an atmosphere of high energy and positivity, with everyone resolving to do their bit towards sustainability of our villages. Even the tamarind tree at the entrance sprouted fresh green leaves, as though expressing its support.

DSC_0080Sustainability of villages, people losing their life because of migrating to cities, villages unable to provide basic facilities for them to live comfortably, Govt. policies, or the lack of it were some of the issues discussed on that day. Eminent scholars, experts in their fields, celebrities who care, activists from various sectors were part of the discussion panel. The Badanawal Declaration, blessed by Elders, senior Gandhians, proclaimed that GDP is an inadequate measure of growth, as it completely ignores human happiness; and that traditional practices like cattle herding, hand spinning and cooking should also be considered as wealth generators.

Our country, unlike western nations, has a rich tradition that boasted of villages that were self-sustained. The villagers had enough work, good food to eat and led respectable lives. But, a few industries and the lifestyle that goes with it, imported from the west, has lured people to move to cities and leave the villages and villagers ignored. We have trampled upon our traditional knowledge, shunned the grandmothers who told us these stories and burnt the land that gives us food. If we need to come out of this mess, we have to first recognize and respect our villages. We need to build a society that treats villages with respect and stop promoting the false notion we have created that “cities are rich; villages are poor”. The Badanavalu Convention was an effort to understand these and create a paradigm shift.

The people of Badanavalu had never experienced such warmth in years, they reciprocated with open doors. People came here to search for something within themselves – a true “Satyagraha” (Search for Truth) and left with a fresh mind filled with enthusiasm and new ideas. This movement gave a new hope to a lost cause; like a battered army receiving enforcements when they are at the verge of surrender. The people have something to look forward to and talk about in the days to come. And, the cycle continues.

Help Khumbu Sherpas: A heart wrenching letter from a Sherpa

Posted in Uncategorized by Ratheesh & Sharada on May 6, 2015

We got this plea from Pasang Sherpa, who was our trek organizer for our Everest Base Camp Trek back in 2010. Having seen the devastation first hand, he considers it his mission to reach out to the remotest villages of Khumbu region to help the earthquake victims of the Nepal Earthquake.

Read this post to see how to transfer money from India to Nepal through SBI:

https://coolbuddies.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/how-to-transfer-money-from-india-to-nepal/

———- Forwarded message ———- From: Mountain Sherpa Trekking & Expeditions <tripshimalaya@gmail.com> Date: Fri, May 1, 2015 at 8:39 AM Subject: CHARITY FUND RAISING PROGRAM To: “sales@guidenepal.com” <sales@guidenepal.com>

CHARITY FUND RAISING PROGRAM

MISSION: Nepal Earthquake and Everest Avalanche Victim Fund in order to directly help village families survive.

Dear Friends,

Tashi Delek and Namaste from Nepal.

Nepal is in major crisis and suffered a huge loss of life and property due to the massive earthquake on April 25th 2015, including a series of aftershocks that followed the main jolt. This catastrophic earthquake also caused a tragic avalanche on Mount Everest and many Sherpa guides, cooks and climbers’ lives were lost.

The Earthquake’s direct effect on the closest districts of Nepal including the capital city, Kathmandu is tragic. At the moment Nepal is crying, each and every Nepalese eye is covered by saddened tears.

The whole Nepalese community has suffered from the devastating loss of its people and properties.

Solukhumbu district is a remote district of Nepal where Mount Everest (the highest peak of world) is located. According to the recorded district headquarters of Solukhumbu a total of 21 people including Sherpa guides and porters (as per recorded date of 29th April) have lost their lives due to this horrific earthquake. Everest Base Camp has also been afflicted as a result of avalanche activity.

As a village born Sherpa from the Solukhumbu district where I grew up, who became a porter, later trekking guide and now secretary of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) who operates a professional trekking company in Kathmandu since 2002, I must take immediate direct action.

My heart and mind is calling me back to my homeland and its needy poor families who lost their lives due to this deadliest natural calamity ever to have hit my homeland.

Solukhumbu is remote, very beautiful and suffering however the Government of Nepal’s aid funds are not yet reaching those in need.  No one is trying to reach to give sympathy and prayers to the families of the 21 deceased as a result of this disaster.

I can’t tolerate it by just watching the trouble from Kathmandu. I am a Sherpa from same district of Mount Everest, son of Himalaya and have direct association with the village people of Solukhumbu. I am feeling deep sorrow and profoundly saddened by the ultimate demise of those brave people of Solukhumbu.

Thus keeping humanity in mind, I decided to personally visit Solukhumbu during the month of May  and going to meet relatives of the deceased people and help those needy families who lost their loved ones in the tragic natural disaster last week.

During my visit, I am going to provide donated money to the village people so they can buy their choice of foods, pay education fees or buy any goods they really need to survive and begin a new life.

If we can help them by cash rupees, they can use that cash for any purpose; especially their children’s education at the nearest school so the future of the children can be bright.

How transparent is my victim aids?

I am a professional business man running a trekking company; I am also one of the victims of the earthquake. My office is damaged, my house in Kathmandu and Solukhumbu is cracked but the biggest thing of my life is my family is all safe.

If you don’t have health, food and shelter life is not possible. In order to make a good life for the remaining family of the deceased people of Solukhumbu, I will:

  • Visit the victims’ families myself
  • I will take photos of each and every victims family I meet
  • I will distribute the donated funds you provide to me
  • Each family will receive equal donated funds
  • I am going to thank each individual on Facebook but if you do not want to be acknowledged via social media please let me know as I respect your wishes
  • I will provide a bank receipt to all fund contributors and send to them via personal email
  • I will post photos of the destitute people of Nepal my Facebook to show the fund in action.

Please add me in your face book friend:  Pasang Sherpa Pinasha  and you can see my daily social activities regarding earthquake victims charity since earthquake happen. You also can send me questions at:  sherpapasang@gmail.com or my company e-mail.

This is not a social organisation’s fund raising campaign and no any other administrative cost involve, that means whatever the cash you can donate, that help goes directly to those desperately needy people of Nepal. It does not involve any political parties or brokers or human workers to pay, it is direct, immediate help to the people in need.

I guarantee that your every dollar will reach those people those are real victims of the deadly earthquake and avalanche.

If you have any questions about my charity fund raising program please do not hesitate to contact me via email or social media.

How you can donate/help?

BY WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFER

Western Union money transfer is fast, reliable and free of charge to send money to Nepal for earthquake victims. Please use my name and address below when you transfer donated funds via Western Union.

  1. a)      Name: Pasang Sherpa
  2. b)      Address: Kapan- 1, Kathmandu, Nepal
  3. c)      Subject: Nepal Earthquake and Everest Avalanche Victim Fund
  4. d)      (+977) 9851060947: my cell phone if you require

In regards to the core help for the victims of the April 25th 2015 earthquake and avalanche, every donation of your help will be truly useful and I would like to humbly request for your generous support to make a new life for the Nepalese people.

From the poverty-stricken people of Nepal, I am very thankful to you in advance and sincerely appreciate your kind help and much needed support.

Kind regards,

Pasang Sherpa

Solukhumbu District

Now – Kathmandu, Nepal

SHERPA, Pasang Managing Director
MOUNTAIN SHERPA TREKKING & EXPEDITIONS( MSTE) P.LTD GPO BOX No: 14444, Thamel, Kathmandu,Nepal Phone: +977-1-4435828 Fax : +977-1-4435828 Cell: +977-98510 60947 / + 977-97510 55600( 24 Hrs) E-mail: sales@nepaltrekkingtours.com / Sales@guidenepal.com Website : www.NepalTrekkingTours.com www.GuideNepal.com www.MountainSherpaTrekking.com

A fortnight in Khumbu: how the trip changed me [by Sharada]

Posted in Uncategorized by Ratheesh & Sharada on November 10, 2014

“So have you trekked in Himalayas before?” asked our guide when I met him for the first time in Kathmandu. “No not in Himalayas, but have done some two day treks in the south of India” I replied sheepishly. “Good good. So nothing in very cold, very long?” he further pursued to my dismay. “No. No. Nothing like here” I said, my voice barely audible. “It’s okay. It’s okay” he said smilingly. Now, I wondered, was it really okay?

When I was excitedly making our list of “must see” places, Everest Base Camp (EBC), Nepal figured as one of the places in Asia. At that time, I had not given much thought about the logistics or the difficulty level of this trek. Little did I know that it was a 15-17 day trek with medium-hard difficulty level. When we (me and my bestfriend / husband) realized we have limited time and budget on our hands, the EBC trek slowly made it to the top of our wish list.

As though to validate our decision, we got a gift – “guide to trekking in Nepal” – a book by Stephen Bezruchka. This is when I started framing a mental picture of the places in Nepal, which was till then so obscure and inaccessible, only represented by words like Mt. Everest, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary that was so firmly etched in my memory by ever-persistent geography teachers.

It was my long cherished dream to witness the tallest peak in the world. Mt. Everest stood there amongst several other peaks vying for the first place, lifting its head majestically above them all. Initially, the first human instinct, ‘It must be conquered’ did cross my mind. But the little voice inside was urging me not to. A King deserves respect; we should be going there to show our respect by spreading our arms, kneeling down and prostrating before Him. According to both of us, climbing mountains to demonstrate strength, to show we are better than them was not our way of experiencing the Himalayas. It was important for us to feel a sense of gratitude towards these magnificent creations of nature, for they have been forgiving.

Initially, the trek was only a means to reach my goal of seeing the Himalayan Emperor up close. Only after we embarked on this journey did I realize that it had nothing to do with the visuals, it stirred something more; deep within.

Lukla was to be the starting point of our trek to the Everest Base Camp. It is a small town situated in the Khumbu region of the Himalayas. The Khumbu region lies within the Solukhumbu district in Nepal towards the Northeast. Some of the world’s tallest peaks are situated in this region, including the Mt. Everest. We decided to fly to Lukla from Kathmandu in a small dornier aircraft.

It was one crazy decision to fly on this plane due to its notorious landing strip situated at the edge of a cliff; we had contemplated it numerous times and finally decided to go for it. If we landed safely, we could be one of the few privileged ones to have taken this up and would have a very interesting story to tell. If we did not make it, we would become part of the statistics. We took our seats and held our breath, the take off was smooth. Soon we were flying over lush green valleys, flowing rivers and after a while, at a distance we could spot the snow capped mountains.

“There is the landing strip!” someone shouted. I squinted my eyes to see a thin strip of asphalt the size of a little finger precariously hanging at the edge of the cliff and before I could think how the aircraft would land, we started descending. Would the aircraft align itself exactly to the thin strip? I held my breath in anticipation, it was almost unbelievable. But the pilot managed a perfect landing and everyone in the plane gave out a loud cheer.

The trek itself took us through some of the most beautiful landscapes; we were days away from our destination but we had already realized the magnanimity of the landscape. The mountains were so large that it would take us days to go around and cross over into another. We would often realize that at the end of a day’s walk (about 4-5 hours of trek) we would have gone around half a hill. We were aware of only Mt. Everest, but we realized there were several mountains that were nearly as high and equally beautiful and intimidating at the same time. On the second day of our trek, we reached a place called Topdhara where we got a picture perfect view of Mt. Everest. This image I saw will remain etched crisp in my mind; it was the first time I was seeing Mt. Everest, so far had only seen pictures of the tallest peak in the world, had heard only statistics. It looked intimidating, with its menacing peak towering high over all other mountains in the vicinity, guarded fiercely by Nuptse and Lhotse, whose edges cover most of Mt. Everest. I had expected it to stand alone, in the middle of a plain, suddenly rising towards the sky. But there were several others surrounding, it was like an entire army dressed in white, standing guard. And there can only be one King, and he was well protected by an impenetrable fort.

The trekking got progressively tougher and it started taking a toll on my body. The physical effects were noticed at first – heavy breathing, difficulty in climbing, slower pace, tireness, need to rest more often. The psychological effects were more dramatic and took time for me to identify.

We were warned about the symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) which is commonly noticed among trekkers in this region. The tolerance levels of individuals could vary, so some might be hit at a lower altitude whereas others might be hit at a higher altitude. People living in higher altitudes might be better at handling AMS than people from the plains. For me, it started with extreme tiredness, thirst and a splitting headache while we were on the fourth day of our trek on the way to Dole from Phortse Tanga. The headache got worse and I had to take tablets, but it wouldn’t go away. I lost my apetite, so could not eat much. Since I had not experienced AMS before, it was from theoretical knowledge from my reading that I could gather that I had been hit by AMS. We decided to change our plans and stay an extra day at Dole to see if the symptoms subsided. The next day, without much improvement, our guide suggested that we descend to Phortse Tanga and change our route. Our plans to climb further up to see the beautiful lakes of Gokyo just vaporized in a moment. It was hard for me to believe at first that we would not reach Gokyo, I had read so much about these lakes and had been keen on squeezing this in our itinerary. We had limited time and budged and the greed to see more in the given time drove us to have a grand itinerary. When I sat here in Dole, far away from home, with extreme cold winds gnawing at my fingertips and with a heavy head, it did not seem very hard to make the decision to descend. At that point, all I wanted was to feel a little better and the effect of the descent was almost dramatic. As soon as we descended, I started feeling better, my headache was gone and I even felt hungry.

This whole episode had taught me one great lesson – never to underestimate the power of nature’s forces. All my ambitions, ego came crumbling down and I became even more submissive towards the sublime force. I could right now look at myself in a mirror and laugh; laugh at the greed I had in packing as many places as possible into our three-week vacation without considering our mortal capacities; laugh at the way I got carried away by the impressive and tempting itinerary that our tour guides presented according to my wishes; laugh at myself drinking garlic soup religiously thinking it would help me overcome the symptoms of AMS!

We decided to let go of all our plans, throw away the itinerary and lose control of our lives. Here started the spiritual part of our journey that would change us as people and would empower us to trivialize the urge to reach our destination. This change in us would just let us enjoy every moment of our existence in this beautiful place and thank nature for letting us be amidst her most precious creations.

The headaches stayed with me for the next few days. But now the psychological effects were more pronounced. A deep sorrow, hallucinations of grasslands and home started haunting me often, a strong feeling of being homesick and a sense of indifference or aversion to most activities. By the time we reached Gorakshep, which is the older base camp (we had already crossed the 5000m mark with this), both of us could only manage to ingest a couple of spoonfuls of soup. The views got more and more breathtaking, the landscape changing dramatically from a dull brown to an icy white. We saw the Khumbu Ice fall, a large glacier that runs all the way separating the base camp from the rest of the path to the summit. This Ice fall is one of the most difficult stages in the Mt. Everest expedition, with many people failing to cross it successfully. It looked fascinating, from a distance, of course. But people who crossed and hence would have seen the deep crevices up close would have a different view altogether. But our journey would end here at the base camp; for people who would go all the way to the summit, it would be but a small milestone in their much larger and more arduous expedition.

Ironically, the base camp, although would bring us close to Everest, it would cut us away from the beautiful views of the peak that we had so eagerly sought. The peak gets completely covered by the strong and protective twins Nuptse and Lhotse. We know that it is there somewhere beyond, but we could not see it! It was an awkward moment for our guide-porter duo (Lakhpa and Dorje) as well. They just threw their bags and sat down on a rock, not saying anything, just looking away. And we looked at eachother and smiled; this was where our trip ended. No exhiliration, no hi-fives, no taking photos against the peak in the background. It was a poignant moment, we just sat there in silence for a few minutes, till our condition forced us to turnaround and start our return journey. But I was far from being disappointed, my mind was completely at peace. I was overcome by a sense of humility and respect towards these mountains. I just sat there and thanked them for allowing us amidst their territory and letting us step into their magical world, atleast for a few days.

There are several blessings in our life that we take for granted. We tend to complain about trival discomforts like a bus coming late, traffic jams, power cuts and inadequate TV channels! But we conveniently assume that we have a fundamental right over creature comforts and so easily take for granted what is made available to us mostly due to the fact that we were born in a certain place at a certain time. In the mountains, we saw people smilingly endure such harsh conditions of living – extreme cold, freezing water to wash clothes, no electricity, firewood stoves that take time to light up, unavailability of fresh vegetables, unavailability of a variety of food stuff. I was humbled to see the womenfolk working tirelessly from early morning and resting only after sundown with a hot water bath, the only luxury that they allow themselves in a day. One of the cheerful ladies, Sonam, we met a lodge in Namche Bazar was excited to know we were from India; she loved the Indian cinema. On the outside she looked like an effervescent lady who sits and watches TV, with no worries, but as we spoke to her, she opened up and told about the cold that she has to endure here as she fondly remembers her childhood that was spent in the plains in much warmer and comfortable surroundings. Another lady Dhona we met at Khumjung was keen to speak to me and know about life of women in the cities, how we lived, where we worked. She had accepted her life and did not feel she had to change anything, she was just curious to know how the world outside the mountains was.
It was so cold that it took great effort even to have a shower, which we so often forego in the city due to laziness, even with hot water readily flowing from the taps. Back in the mountains, getting a bath ready was a two hour project and even the thought of slipping out of the comfort of the thermals was intimidating. After I came back, I made it a point to never say no to a nice hot bath!

People go to the Himalayas seeking a spiritual experience. What is spiritual? Is it spreading a mat in front of the mountain and meditating? Is it visiting an ancient monastery and praying to the lamas? Is it thinking of God in every step of our journey? Is it standing at the foothills of a huge mountain and experiencing humbleness? I was not sure. While we were walking we had to exert our bodies to great limits. We had to push it beyond our normal physical abilities and cajole it to move even at great altitudes. With all my senses concentrated towards trekking, I had little chance for serious, complex thoughts like “what is the meaning of life?” “What is the purpose of our existence?” My mind was clear of any deep thoughts. It had the tranquility of a five year old. This childlike state of mind in which I went about walking, tripping on small stones, astonished at huge boulders, trotting alongside our guide without worrying about the route, the weather, place to stay was what gave me peace of mind. This banished any traces of doubt or fear in my mind and retrenched the mind to way back into my childhood where I was carefree and fearless. And to me, this was spiritual.

This was an inexplicable state of mind that I longed to be in much after we returned from our trek. The feeling that made me leave behind all thoughts of family, work, environment, world behind and pulled me from all the human flavors of envy, jealousy, sorrow and joy to a state of stillness and calm – this was what I missed the most once I was back to civilization.

We leave our footprints, sounds, smell in a place we visit that changes it in a certain way; But what the place leaves us with, the way it touches us can sometimes change us completely, like we have never been before.

Film Review: Haider [by Sharada]

Posted in Film by Ratheesh & Sharada on October 14, 2014

(Disclaimer: may contain spoilers)

Her enchanting eyes rivet you right from the beginning – those deep, brown eyes that drown secrets and sorrow with aplomb. Haider is the untold story of the “disappeared”. Those fathers, husbands, brothers and sons who are arrested by the armed forces in Kashmir and taken away, never to be found again; a few thousands who are methodically erased from their everyday lives.

Ghazala Meer tells her son Haider “we are called half-widows here…”. They wait eternally, initially with hope that their husbands will return; then with indifference that they atleast locate their dead bodies. Poignant scenes of a wife’s praying silently for her husband to return, a son’s search for his lost father haunt us throughout the story.

Haider’s search takes him through some dark secrets of his family and sets him off on his internal journey of self discovery – from a college kid to a mature man to an insane “madman”; his metamorphosis forms the main storyline of the film.

But what towers over all this is Ghazala’s character. She is a demure wife, teaching in a school and the proud mother of their only son – Haider. She has accepted her dispassionate life in exchange for a decent living with all creature comforts. All she wants is what any other wife asks for – a loving husband who provides, a safe environment for her family and a cozy, comfortable home that she can call her own. When she starts feeling these are about to be compromised, a deep fear engulfs her and she panics. She begs him to stay away from danger; but her deepest fears come true as she sees her house bombed and her husband taken away, branded a criminal.

Left to fend for herself with nowhere else to go, she is faced with a difficult choice – to fight alone for her husband’s return or to accept the worst and take refuge in her brother-in-law’s house. She chooses the latter, knowing well that he secretly harbours a desire to marry her. This is made clear by his frequent flirting, his refusal to marry anyone else and his shameless ogling. When confronted by her son on her questionable intentions, she hides away her shame behind her anger and justifies her actions.

Although a helpless half-widow, she is fully aware of her charm and uses it to her benefit; just as she had exercised emotional blackmail with her son in his childhood, as he recollects. Torn between the love for her son and her future hope of becoming Khurram’s bride, she years for the utopia of a perfect life in the blood strewn icy slopes of the valley. Like a lioness who has lost her mate to a younger, more aggressive male, she stands by her new partner, fully aware of the fact that the new male will eventually kill her offspring.

Haider’s girlfriend and constant companion in his pursuits, Arshia is a young journalist. Their deep love for each other and their innocence is beautifully portrayed. This is in sharp contrast to Khurram’s lustful pursuit of Ghazala and their adulterous relationship. Kay Kay Menon’s convincing portrayal of Khurram marks yet another of his illustrious performances. He proves yet again what a fine actor he is. He is just Khurram during the film; there is no Kay Kay Menon. He can be seen as a “villan”, but then again, you will forgive him for just being human. Tabu as Ghazala personifies grace and beauty. Alternating effortlessly between a helpless mother and a cold, distant mistress, she forms the strong strand that sews the film together.

The film does justice to the place it has chosen as the backdrop – the Kashmir valley is shown in its pristine form in peak winter, resplendent with snow flakes, frosty lakes and vast expanses of white. The cinematography befits a large screen viewing. The scenes of blood on ice haunt you long after you have left the theater halls – an agonizing reminder of the conflict. However, the music is disappointing, considering it is a Vishal Bharadwaj movie, the expectations were a bit high.

But where the director wins yet again is in exploiting and exposing human relationships; the layers of a person, the multiple facets of a human being. Supported by brilliant actors, it only falls short in its inability to build towards a better (and less cliched) ending and the brilliant-effort-yet-not-there acting by its younger star cast which fails to evoke the necessary emotions towards the protagonist.

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It is only an animal [by Sharada]

Posted in Uncategorized by Ratheesh & Sharada on September 27, 2014

When the boy killed a lizard for “fun”
you dismissed it as naughtiness

When he tore his sister’s homework
you dismissed it as sibling rivalry

When he poked fun at the girls in his class
you dismissed it as classroom jokes

When he shouted at his mother
you dismissed it as teenage tantrums

When he was caught eve-teasing
you dismissed it as a transitional phase to a man

When he rapes a woman
why is it that you are so shocked?

“Kaimagga” [by Sharada]

Posted in Social Work, Travel by Ratheesh & Sharada on September 22, 2014

Every kurta has a story behind it. I picked up one; off-white with blue stripes and ran my fingers over it. The coarse feel of raw cotton, the minor imperfections at places which comes with handloom and the brown buttons carved out of coconut shells got me thinking. Where did this one come from? How many people would have been involved in getting this beautiful piece of garment to the wearer? What was the motivation that got them to make it? I never knew that these seemingly random thoughts about a kurta would set me off on a trip to the place of its origin – Charaka.

When RangDe came up with a field trip to Charaka on Independence Day, my interest in understanding the weaving process was rekindled. The eagerness of spending time in a peaceful ashram coupled with the excitement of driving to a remote village – of which we knew very little – made the decision to visit, an easy one. With two of my friends, we set off on the Bangalore-Honnavar road towards Sagara; a diversion at Ulluru set us off on a village road. A few minutes later, we would be entering a lesser motorable mud road, which would take us to “Shramajeevi Ashram”. Mr. Ramesh was waiting at the entrance of the path that would lead us to the wooden barricade of the ashram. We dropped our voices a few decibels down when we noticed the peace and quiet of this place. Apart from a few far-away birdcalls, the air was still and we had to readjust our tired city-ears to pick up the faint sounds of nature. IMG_4660 Charaka is a weaving community setup in the village of Heggodu near Sagara taluk of Shimoga District, Karnataka. It was started as a dream, passion and ideology of Mr. Prasanna, an alumnus of National School of Drama, and a well-known Kannada playwright and theatre director, who started Charaka to start a positive activism and empower rural women in the village of Heggodu. Desi (meaning native or indigenous, stands for Developing Ecologically Sustainable Industry) is the marketing division of Charaka, which has over 9 outlets across Karnataka to sell Charaka products.IMG_4662 Charaka has improved the livelihood of multitude of womenfolk from in and around Heggodu and has given them confidence to stay independent. They talk about the ashram with a sense of pride that can come only from hard work, which befits the name given to the ashram “Shrama-Jeevi” meaning “Hard working Soul”.

A winding pathway lined by a natural fence created from Cassuarina poles separating the path from the rest of the vegetation, consisting mostly of shrubs and thin, tall trees. The use of earthy material for constructing the place ensured that the human settlements blend well with the natural beauty of the place. As we walked, to our right we saw the prayer hall, which we would visit the next morning. Beyond it was Mr. Prasanna’s living quarters, which he had made his home. The pathway led us to rows of huts constructed around a large courtyard which served as a flower / vegetable garden. The huts were simple mud walls and mud flooring, with roof lined with tiles. The walls were painted yellow with simple hand painted designs around the doors and windows. The whole place is powered by a handful of solar lamps and there is no electricity in the huts. The hut is modestly furnished with a charpoy and bed and a small kerosene lamp serving as the single light source during night.

IMG_4672“Raghupati Raghava Rajaram …” sang all of them in unison; their voices had a restraint and calmness to it. Assembled in the prayer hall around 9am, they sat around Gandhiji’s portrait, delivering soulful hymns, sometimes a main voice leading and the others repeating after her. They paused between lines; the momentary, purposeful pause and the sudden silence caused thus gave us time to register and contemplate. With noble thoughts filled in our minds, we walked out of the prayer hall, following Mr. Ramesh, who would show us the weaving process. The women proceeded to take their positions behind their charakas or handlooms or tailoring machines, depending on their core skills and their work. As we walked, looking curiously at each equipment, pausing to take photos (and in some cases, pose for photos), my eyes met some of the womenfolk in a fleeting moment; some smiled shy smiles, some giggled, some others just looked downwards, too reserved to smile at strangers. Of course, in most cases, we could hear them burst out into laughter and small talk about us as soon as we walked away; our strange ways and our curious looks offering them their share of entertainment for the day.

The cotton is spun into raw thread in the mills. So, the first step in the cloth manufacturing process, which is processing of the cotton and spinning them into yarn, is not done at Charaka. This is the only part, which happens outside and hence, their raw material for starting the process is the cotton yarn procured from mills situated in and around Shimoga. We also understood the difference between cotton fabric and “Khadi”; khadi is hand spun yarn, which is spun from raw cotton using Charaka; it is a manual process. Cotton garments, which are non-khadi start from the yarn spun at cotton mills. A batch of ladies was working on large wooden wheels that would spin the yarn on a bobbin. These bobbins would later be used for the weaving. IMG_4693The next step in the process requires special skill and a keen eye for design. This is the step where several bobbins are arranged on a huge wooden rack in a particular order, then a thread from each of these are carefully drawn by hand and fed into a device having fine teeth like a comb. The order in which the threads are drawn and fed into this comb determines the overall design of the fabric. If the cloth requires thin blue lines interspersed with white and yellow, then the designer has to carefully arrange it in such a way. This requires utmost concentration and they had their best person on the job for this. IMG_4728Once the threads are arranged in the feeder, they will then be routed to the huge wooden rolls in the same order to form the entire length of the fabric. During this process, it is important to ensure number of turns of the barrel is accurate and there are no cut threads in the process. If there were an error, it would have to be corrected and in some cases retraced till the point of error and then corrected. It takes almost 1-2 days to lay out the thread, in this manner, which forms the length of the cloth.These rolls have to be firm and tight to avoid any knots, breakage during the weaving process.

These huge rolls are then placed on the loom to start weaving the breadth of the fabric. The hand loom, so called due to the human effort involved in moving the “bullet” from left to right by pulling a string by one hand and stepping on a wooden stepper at the same time in a rhythmic way. The bullet carries the thread that will run through the breadth of the fabric, with the length being supplied by the huge rolls previously arranged. The weaving also requires the thread from the rolls to be arranged in a way that the bullet moves through in between two layers of thread (the number of layers determine the thickness) to ensure it is “weaved” in tightly. The rhythmic movement is essential to avoid crimps in the fabric. Although this seems easy, trying a hand at it for a couple of minutes, we were successfully able to create several crimps, which would then pass off as imperfections of hand woven fabric. We also got a compliment from the supervisor, amidst giggles and guffaws from onlookers “This kind of weaving is suitable for coarse rugs”, subtly indicating that the imperfections caused disqualifies it for a kurta!IMG_4719

What comes out of the loom is ready to be stitched into garments. It will then be sent to the tailors to cut and stitch into desired designs. The other post processing like block printing, ironing happens in the next room. They use dyes to create designs using wooden block stencils. The final finishing like stitching in buttons happen after the prints are dry. We also visited the creative team that uses mostly waste material (pieces of discarded cloth from stitching clothes) to make quilts. These beautiful designs are discussed in a room, then each person in the room takes up a part of the quilt, one just cutting waste cloth into square pieces, another stitching them together into patterns, another stitching them together into quilt with a foam layer in between. The end result is a vibrant, multi-color quilt with beautiful patterns and designs.

We were ushered into the kitchen for a tea break, where we again met all of them. Just behind the kitchen area is a large soot-covered cauldron, which boils a concoction of various vegetable matter to prepare dyes. The bubbling liquid gave out a pungent smell, which we were unable to place, and later learnt was mostly of pomegranate peel. The thread obtained from the mills are dyed here and kept for drying in a IMG_4741large room filled with racks of thread. They need to be turned over periodically to ensure uniform drying. The duration of dipping of the thread into the cauldron determines the shade of the color. There is an in-house lab, which constantly experiments with various combinations of dyes to produce different, new colors. The successful ones that pass the experiment are determined mainly by which holds well and whether the color would run when rinsed. All the successful ones are documented for reference. Since no chemicals colors are used in this process, some colors are not obtained. The raw material required for preparing the dyes (like indigo, pomegranate peels, areca) are sourced from other places.

After going through the entire process, we were eager to see (and shop for) some finished goods! Bidding farewell to our kind hosts at Shramajeevi ashram, we set off towards the Charaka outlet that is on the way to Sagara. It is an old house, artistically constructed; we later came to know it was Mr. Prasanna’s house before he moved into his dwelling at the ashram. We were soon engrossed in appreciating the fabrics, spoilt for choices. This time when we picked up a kurta, or even a pillowcase, we did so with certain respect; respect that comes out of knowing the toil and care behind each of these finished pieces. And of course, with a certain satisfaction that we were encouraging this dying art of handloom, which provided a window of opportunities to women from this village of Heggodu.

RangDe has funded part of this initiative by lending a collective loan to this community. By doing this, they promote handloom and provide recognition to this beautiful community of weavers.

44 little ways you can save the planet

Posted in Environment, Life by Ratheesh & Sharada on September 20, 2014
  1. When you leave a room, remember to switch off lights / fans
  2. Do not leave gadgets on Stand by mode unnecessarily
  3. Always hibernate your computers, switch off monitors when not in use
  4. Do not throw plastic covers containing edible items, always empty them into food pits, separate out and wash the covers before throwing
  5. Avoid asking for plastic bags in shops, always carry your bag or shop for lesser items that you can carry with two hands
  6. Adjust the refrigerator temperature / AC temperature according to the weather outside
  7. While buying electric gadgets, always check for their power efficiency and buy the most efficient
  8. Buy only as much as required, avoid wastage
  9. While running washing machine, always load it to the maximum extent to save on water and detergent
  10. Try to walk distances whenever possible
  11. When buying items, always buy ones that do not come in with lot of throwable packing
  12. Do not wash cars everyday, use limited water and no soap
  13. Use only 20% of prescribed (or advertised) amounts of cosmetics, toothpaste, ointments etc.
  14. Reuse vessels during preparation and serving, do not take new plates for second servings
  15. Always carry a mug and spoon for coffee in office to avoid paper cups / stirrers
  16. Do not use AC in car when not necessary
  17. Switch off automobiles at every given opportunity at signals
  18. Use the water from washing vessels / vegetables etc. for watering plants (but make sure they do not have soap mixed)
  19. Carry enough vessels when parceling food from hotels
  20. Use CFLs instead of bulbs
  21. Feed edible leftovers to animals – cows, squirrels, birds
  22. Make small notepads out of paper, use one sided printed paper for making notes
  23. Print non-legal documents on both sides, two per page to minimize paper
  24. Print only when absolutely required, do not print any documents that can be read online / on computers
  25. Always carry a hard kerchief / hand towels and avoid tissues
  26. Do not flush toilets to the fullest all the time, only use as much water as necessary to maintain basic hygiene. Use flushes that come with this feature
  27. While ordering food, always order less than the maximum require quantity, more often than not it will be sufficient
  28. Use power saving modes in computers, electronic devices to adjust brightness, switch off monitors etc.
  29. Buy locally grown vegetables and fruits, avoid exotics (at least limit their use)
  30. Give preference to locally made products within the state / country that minimizes transport
  31. Be vegetarian
  32. Always look for handmade alternatives made locally instead of industrially manufactures, it will use lesser resources
  33. Buy / Borrow second hand gadgets when possible
  34. Give away stuff that you do not have use for, you could prevent someone else from buying a new one
  35. Grow your own vegetables
  36. Avoid calling both the elevators, one will go waste
  37. Take a paper napkin only when you have to use it (not out of habit) and take only one at a time
  38. Buy good quality, durable material so as to avoid frequent use and throw
  39. Run a bath (using bathtub) rarely, use showers sparingly, use limited water in a bucket for showers
  40. Use good quality fuel, even if they are slightly priced higher than the regular, in the long run, it will save on mileage and wear and tear
  41. Buy clothes that are hand woven and colored with natural dyes, these will use lesser resources and does not contribute to industrial pollution
  42. Opt for electronic mailers, indicate that you do not like to receive hard copies
  43. Use unpolished rice, it is healthier and reduces processing effort
  44. Turn off Wi-Fi, locator services on phone when not in use to save battery
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