Ruminations on the road

road stretched far and wideacross the open spaces connecting different cultures like a bridge, dusty and tarred like the cover of a book unused taking people on journeys to unknown destinations. approach nearer, horizon moves further on an endless stream as the human mind with the occasional bumps, downs and heights.

life thrived on both the sides unconcerned about this path of gravel and sand highway maybe, much rather way to heaven or hell. men went on their trivial existence women regarded as the lamp of the house, patronized birth, marriage, and death. an urchin hurried home, on a cycle eager to reach before the outpourings of mother earth from up above. lovers on a bike couldn’t make it stranded, they were left to drench away all the lies and guilt that comes free with the package of love.

rain has stopped awhile the atmosphere is now calm, serene, quiet. sky looks like a palette of colours spread unevenly with an added tinge of mystery. clouds brim with the reactions of the creator to the doings of mankind yet afraid to pour its heart out like the fear of a child in confiding a secret, to a friend who might turn a traitor.

‘tis a sight wonderful, not to the five senses but to others unexplained, the pristine beauty of nature unraveled to the human eye in all its glorious nakedness volumes of paddy fields flanked by mountains, the color of sapphire, palm fronds with limbs raised upwards in a prayer begging for just what’s necessary, nothing more, flocks of crane in deep conversation with bulls, human figures with spine bent, scattered to remove the worthy from the many.

nature is pregnant with meanings it is not clear as the pure oyster in the seashell but beautifully cloaked like an invisible stranger who reveals identity only when needed. it even gives meaning to the absurdities of life, the masks people wear, their hollow empty hearts and terminal voids in their lives.

cars overtake cars in a mad race, speed thrills but kills. slacken speed to crawl like an earthworm to gaze upon beauteous forms erected on the ground beneath our feet. precious time is not to be wasted on mechanical life ‘tis a vicious circle, routine, habit, addiction leading man to a life fruitfully wasted. breathe, feel life at its best the intoxicating smell of mud, after the first shower of rain the wafts of beauty laughing loudly. listen for the ditties played by rivulets and bamboo trees, amorous chirpings of birds gliding in the sweet scented air. behold colours of emotion not found in any painting or colour box, the true essence of living expressed in its heights. surroundings echo the cries of freedom, spread out wings and fly high, low through the balloon clouds maybe even to the doors of heaven. abandon yourself at will, redeem thy sins get purified by a dip in the Ganges. world suddenly will seem magical, fresh, new reborn again quirking with innocence, love, hope.

millions arrive at destinations everyday crossing horizons across the road. not real destinations as they seem but masqueraded beauties fooling even the sagacious human brain, that believes what it sees and sees what it believes.

roads are for journeys, not for destinations. but destiny may take pity on you and provide you a glimpse of such a journey which elevates you to destinations otherwise unattainable.

Summer in California

Every summer, I hibernate. It's a ritual I religiously follow, especially after I moved to Los Angeles, a way of putting down the weight of all that goes by in Fall and Spring. Summer offers me two wonderful months of just being with myself. It provides a way to reenergize, restore calmness, and re-find myself. This summer was not much different. I hibernated and ruminated. Mulling over a couple of things while making a meal or two can be exhilaratingly liberating. It's a liberty I don't often find in my otherwise busy PhD routine. During summer, there is no real need to socialize. This frees up my mind to wander sporadically, which is otherwise cluttered with conversations and useless, troublesome worries.

Summer is also the perfect time to enjoy some good Californian and Italian wine. This summer is dedicated to Bella Sera. She is a beauty! The Bella Sera Pinot Grigio floats down your throat with ease. The grapes come from the Veneto region of Northeast Italy. The wine is crisp and refreshing with citrus aromas and flavors of ripe apple and pear. So flavorful and pairs well with pastas, fresh vegetables, and chicken. Moreover, I never thought there was something called budget wine, till I met Bella. It’s definitely the best under $10 wine you can pick!

Traveling is an essential part of summer, especially the Californian summer! This summer I did a road trip with a couple of friends. We decided to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, from Los Angeles all the way up to San Francisco with pit stops in Solvang, Carmel, and Monterey.

Solvang is a quaint Danish town in Santa Barbara county. The drive to Solvang is beautiful on a perfect summer day. The white cumulous nimbus clouds hang over the brownish green dunes and hills. Cows graze along the fields and the bright sun looks over the horizon shining in all its glory. This is where you want to lose yourself. As a dear friend of mine would say, go lie down on the green fields, read a book, and take a nap under the vastness of the universe. To commune with nature as the Pantheists so delightfully wrote about in their Romantic verses is bliss. In todays busy world not many of us are lucky enough to take time off for such a rediscovery.

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After reenergizing ourselves with some pancakes and sleep, we left for the longest leg of our journey- from Solvang to Carmel through San Louis Obispo country and Big Sur. The beauty of the Pacific cannot be described in words. The California 1 a.k.a the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is one of the most scenic routes to travel upon. For countless miles, you drive along the PCH overlooking the majestic Pacific. She lies in all her azure elegance. Yet another way of ruminating and rediscovering myself.

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After hours of driving, we finally reached Big Sur. The 90 miles of Central California coastline known as Big Sur, midway between Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, extending inland to the abruptly rising Santa Lucia Mountains, has inspired writings by Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, photographs by Ansel Adams and music from sources as varied as John Adams and the Beach Boys. The magnificence of this place moves you. We got caught in a traffic jam induced by an accident and therefore had all the time to soak in the true brilliance. When we finally reached Carmel, it was evening.

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Carmel is a small beach town in Central California. We hogged on some Mediterranean food and then drove to our destination for the night, Pacific Grove. The next day morning, we got ourselves some bikes and we biked along the PCH- from Pacific Grove to Asilomar state beach. The weather was exquisite. To bike along the water and truly take in the fresh air was truly breathtaking.

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The road trip ended with our final leg to San Francisco where the highlight was kite flying! On our way back, all of us though tired felt a sense of rediscovery. To truly feel alive, you need to go out and breathe the air, feel one with nature.

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Summer has almost come to an end, but I’m now geared up for the next school season. Fall and Spring will feel much lighter now that the batteries have been recharged. Though of course,  I can’t help wait for the next summer already ;)

The Genuineness of Japan

As I prepare to leave Tsu city, there are a lot of thoughts rumbling in my head. It may be inspired by the rumblings in the over laden sky. I look out at the turbulent sea while waiting for “Phoenix”, the super ferry that will take me to Chubu centrair. I have an hour or so to kill and I wait along with a dozen others who do not comprehend any other language but Japanese. Yet, I feel perfectly at home. Everything about this place reminds me of home, well a cleaner home of course.  I always try to ruminate about my experience in a new country like every seasoned traveller would do in order to make sense of it all but with Japan, I know not where to start.

My first Japan visit was in Spring 2006 and that visit left an everlasting impression in my mind. Japan always beckoned. And today, after my second visit to this country I know why. The people don’t speak English, they don’t give a damn but even though they don’t understand you or speak your language they are extremely genuine. They still want to communicate with you, go out of their way to help you out, be a friend not a foe. During this visit, I visited a small grilled meat bar twice. The owner didn’t speak a word of English but his smile was one of the most genuine ones I have seen in my last two years of sojourn in the Western world. Here, people are happy. Even though they probably work around 60-70 hours a week, in the end they come back home to a family, they come back home to warmth. Nothing has ever stood in between the Japanese spirit and sprite. Not the earthquake, not the tsunami. Life goes on pretty much through all these calamities, a point I had realized early on in my school life when writing an essay on India’s achievements post Independence in tandem with Japan’s achievements after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese are highly resilient with the soul of a phoenix.

Japan has also been particularly appealing to me because of the Haruki Murakami connection. Japanese authors have been a favorite. Murakami, Kashuo Ishiguro, Yukio Mishima have all been bedtime companions during my adolescence. Like Murakami says in Kafka on the shore, “Even chance meetings are the result of karma… Things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events there’s no such thing as coincidence.” Maybe my two trips to Japan in the space of six years is no mere coincidence.

Six years have passed since my last visit, not much has changed. The cities, Tokyo and Kyoto have got more populous. The trains still run impeccably on time. People are still genuinely happy. The Buddhist temples still retain an air of mystery shrouded by an aura of the divine. Here, one can find peace, real peace. Amidst the fast, busy, day-to-day existence, there is something stagnant about the Japanese. As if they know how to truly live. Or as Murakami says in 1Q84, “Being alive, if you had to define it, meant emitting a variety of smells”. 

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Nihonshu - sacred Sake barrels at 明治神宮 (Meiji Jingu shrine).

Energy in transit

Discl: Read 'When life offers you a choice' before reading this. We were approaching dawn in the wee hours before the touchdown into Singapore. As always, I had no luck falling asleep on the four something hour flight. I’m not a huge fan of the window seat and I was assigned one and that too next to a drunk gentleman. I huddled up against the window the whole time, but for this once I was glad I was assigned the window. Outside, the sky was lit up in subtle hues of crimson and gilt. I had been deeply troubled after reading the news centered around Oslo and looking out at this bucolic imagery, my mind eased itself at the creases. I was reminded again of the beauty pervasive in the world at strife. The hues from the solar epicenter vibrated across the horizon. It made me forget Oslo, Hari Kambhoji, the drunken man. There is a perennial energy resonating throughout the ether, we feel her at times, we see her at other times, and we breathe her all the time. And, I happened to see and feel the energy too in the next leg of my journey from Singapore to LA via Tokyo. On this long 17.30 hour flight, it is rare to enjoy a middle seat and when I was assigned one automatically, I went to the Singapore airlines desk to ask for an aisle seat to gladly realize that I was assigned a middle seat in the emergency exit row, apparently one which you have to pay extra for and I got it free of cost! I was seated comfortably in the middle seat next to a 6 4’ tall man with shoulder length hair tied into a simple ponytail. Before long we had started an amicable conversation revolving around ‘Plato and Platypus walked into a bar’, the other book I meant to read on this long transit to LA. He thought I was a philosopher. I clarified my credentials and in turn discovered I was sitting next to a professional surfer, a deep-sea diver and a shamanic healer (talk about seeing energy!). I first became interested in shamanism after high school and had largely read about shamanic practices in Mexico and that was exactly were he was heading to, on a tour of South America for the next 4 months. He was a traveller, both in the physical and spiritual sense of the term. His travels to Mexico, Peru and Ecuador would lead him to Shamanic rituals. We talked about rituals atop Mammoth hill, Viracocha and the Quechuan language. He loved India having widely travelled to the north. The other 6 3’ guy in the aisle seat next to me now got interested in the conversation. He was an undergrad returning from Bangalore after 8 weeks of an intensive MBA program. What a funny revelation we had mid-air! I travel transcontinental to live the so called stereotypical American dream in sunny California and he took refuge in autos, canteen food, and the bustling motley crue in Bangalore’s Electronic city. All our paths were interwoven in the languid surreal space and time, seventeen hours felt like but one moment in the vast infinite sigh of cosmic consciousness.

When life offers you a choice

Awaiting the boarding announcement for MI467 to Singapore, I sat in the almost-empty slowing-getting-crowded gate#3 of the minimalist Nedumbassery International terminal reading ‘South of the border, West of the sun’. The first half of the title alludes to a Nat King Cole song. No surprises here since Murakami owned a jazz bar ‘Peter cat’ between 1974 and 1982 and music has been a common factor across his novels. The second half of the title describes ‘piblokto’ or Artic hysteria. The main protagonist, Hajime, succumbs to this hysteria and I drew parallels. His life remains mundane till the reappearance of his childhood friend, Shimamoto, an only child just like him, and me. I closed my eyes and contemplated and that’s when I heard a strain of Hari Kambhoji waft its way toward me. It completely took away the ground from beneath my feet. I was rendered lifeless. Just when I was getting into LA mode I was sucked back into the cushy comfort of home. ‘Uyire’ was playing in the eerie silence of the terminal at 11 in the night. I remembered a conversation I had with a friend some days before the departure day, my lamentations on Bekal fort, my yearning to go to Kasargode since 1996, all the recent conversations rolled by. I had met my nemesis in ‘Uyire’. The choice was simple, I could chose not to board the plane leaving behind everything I loved by boarding. Like Hajime, my mind turmoiled at the burden of the impending decision. I was deeply disturbed. The hour that passed after listening to ‘Uyire’ and boarding the plane was one of the toughest hours in my life.I am writing this while catsitting for my professor in La Brea. Leo is running about the apartment (another weird Murakami connection)! I traverse from this world to the other, with skype conversations, chats and mails. Sometimes, there are good things in life and other times, there are just hopes of what-could-have-been. Life is eternally filled with choices and you have the choice of rewriting everything that is written.

The drive

The warmth of the air rubbing against their pain-stricken faces did not stop them from speeding down the freeway carefree, like furtive lovers away to a hideout. She looked at him longingly. Age did not show on his face, yet there was something about him so distant as if he had lived 200 years and he continued to tell the tradition. He was a careful driver, forever cautious at the wheel. She could see the strained muscles at the nape of his neck, the tight clench of his fists at the steering wheel. She paused for a moment before she turned to gaze out of the window. There are moments and when they are lost you wait for them to come back much alike waiting for cherry blossoms to bloom. Cranberries played at the backdrop, it was one of the CDs they kept listening to. They hummed along. It would take them another hour to reach their destination. In that one hour they would travel time, travel the boundaries mediated by time and space, go beyond words, traverse finite feelings and myriad beings. There would be moments when he would become her and she would become him and both of them become no more.