Winter Solstice Morning of 2020

Year 2020 is not going to be forgot by anyone who reaches on the other side of it on 1st Jan 21. So this morning just as I woke up and went to porch around 6:10 am I noticed some reddish hues in the sky. It was really very refreshing and rejuvenating actually. I took few deep breaths to feel charged up and blessed. I also recalled from the memory that today happens to be Winter Solstice too. We know that 22nd Dec is always the longest night and the shortest day in the northern hemisphere. So I took my mobile phone and clicked few pics of this special solstice morning and in the process captured few wonderful glimpses of not to be ever missed beauty of the nature. It seems not everything is bad this year and I could see that I had one of the most blissful start of the day on the the shortest day of the 2020. Happy Morning.

The Morning Sky over Lucknow, India
The Morning Glory in a different Hue

My Guru: The Grounded Groundnut Seller of Lucknow Sadar Bazaar

Depending upon the time or season of the year, over a hand driven Cart he has been selling puffed rice and gram mix during summers and alternatively groundnuts during winters at Sadar Bazaar for years. I was introduced to this stall by my elder brother who was a regular to Sadar Bazaar due some of his friends living there. Riding on mopeds and cycles we used to go over to Lucknow university and other areas of Transgomati Lucknow through that area to cut some distance in 90s. Our subsequent upgradation to cars and therefore a desire to avoid the congestion of Sadar Bazaar has cut us now off from the area and now I sometimes do especially take that route to meet one of my Gurus and in the process relish Lucknow’s best groundnut and the the best Bhooja you can find anywhere in Lucknow.

Come winter evening and I have been frequenting his cart loaded with best raw groundnuts (sourced from Jhansi and other places) roasted every evening afresh and strictly as per demand of the evening. Using old style wooden fired Angithi he would roast groundnuts to serve them hot to you. He would give you them with a spicy salt pudiya which you sprinkle your tongue frequently to enhance the taste of fresh roasted groundnuts. It’s simply heavenly to have them this way. In the family we call this experience as ‘Jannat’(the reason behind this usage I will share in some other blog).

Peeling those groundnut shells one by one with your nimble fingers and sometimes with the support of your teeth and moistened tongue to pick up the reticent groundnuts from the broken shells and then occasionally get your head up to sprinkle the powdered salt onto your mouth from the corner of that pudiya and having the satisfaction of completing the recipe looks like an artwork to me. It’s an exercise tailor made for Homo sapiens and their ilk provided they want to enjoy the pleasure of life. My younger brother Akhil has mastered this skill though!

One fine evening while buying bhooja , I asked him to pack little more than I had been buying regularly from him, that is for Rs 200 instead for Rs 100. I wanted to consume some immediately and store some of it for just the sake of it. He looked at me and I asked why was I buying so much when I could eat fresh only and then buy again when I really wanted to have it. I looked at him and his suggestion and thinking of the whole perspective of him, I was speechless. In front of me was a petty seller who could have made higher profits by selling his customers as much as possible and on the contrary this gentleman was advising his customer instead to buy lesser so that the customer could enjoy the fresh Bhooja instead of consuming the fresh initially and them stored and not so fresh Bhooja. This gentleman was totally against Adam Smith! We know that all the capitalism and neo-liberalism surfing on the waves of consumerism and individualism is geared to sell more and more whether you need it or not and here this noble man wanted to sell me less so that he could see his customer having the best Bhooja even at cost of losing a potential sale. After all it was quite possible that I would not make it to his cart easily and he could lose his potential sale and some profit he might have otherwise made. Now this groundnut cart seller was throwing a challenge to capitalism with his humanism and ethics of taking care of his customer as a human and not as a hopeless jombie customer. In fact he was elevating his customers to the status of humans who should not amass beyond their needs and a human who should value the freshness of only required consumables. While initially I was hesitant to accept the richness of this poor man, the facts and the kindness of him were too overpowering to overcome my hubris of ability to buy a lot. What this gentleman was telling me therefore hit me like a tom-hawk and pulverised my ego like never before. Infront of me was a rich man seeking groundnuts and I was an ordinary man buying from him. I said thanks smilingly and left with a smaller pack of tastiest Bhooja and a most precious learning of life. I had just met my Guru in most unlikely surroundings.

The Saffron Kalamazoo Memories….

Going through Indian Express this morning I noticed a news of US Govt approved Pfizer’s COVID vaccine being shipped around USA from its Kalamazoo, Michigan Headquarters. The name ‘Kalamazoo’is unique in itself and I remember the place as a dining venue in 2018 while coming back to Chicago from East Lansing. Thanks to indomitable spirit of Munna Chacha ji who was most eager to drive us 400 plus km back to Chicago just to make us see the US Airforce spectacle next day, we hit the rubber immediately after taking the keys and quickly putting up things at dorm for Jyotsana at MSU.

On our way back we were hungry and with two kids with us, Chacha ji offered to have dinner at Kalamazoo as that place was likely to have Indian restaurants. I was little hesitant and did not see much optimism in finding a good Indian restaurant in that core US hinterland. I was wrong. Some googling helped us and we landed at an Indian Cuisine restaurant named Saffron. Chacha ji told me that Kalamazoo had many high value units and factories and the people of Indian origin were more likely to be there and therefore the Indian restaurant too would be worth trying.

He was right. The owner was a native Indian who had migrated some good time ago to USA. He was happy to host us particularly after knowing about why we were there. I particularly noticed that most of his staff were White Americans and they were quite comfortable taking names of Indian recipes with almost authentic pronunciation. It was a surreal experience actually as it showed that Indians and the Indian cuisine getting gradually ensconced in US ways of life. Food was also quite good and we devoured it in no time. We felt quite satiated and happy also because of the overall feel of the place and due to hubris of recognition and acceptance of Indianness at that place.

The place of Kamala Harris today in Uncle Sam’s scheme of things seems to be one more jewel in the crown of India diaspora and the spread of Indianness. Kalamazoo yesterday and Washington today. What do you think?

B.C.G. of Life: Blessings; Celebrate; Gratitude

Just finished talking to my daughter doing her UG in data science from Michigan State University, USA. As a father it’s always a special bonding with your daughter and therefore I always yearn to transfer my painstakingly accumulated knowledge bank to her in most natural ways possible. So while talking to her during routine gup-shup, I framed the above title-BCG. That is Count your blessings; Celebrate the life and have gratitude.

This was engineered to communicate that the people like her or me or my family members are lucky to be able to see, move, hear, travel, eat good food, go around and enjoy the nature. Is it easy to do that? No. Just see little afar around and you will find so many members in your family itself who because of age or other issues can’t see properly or can’t hear properly or can’t walk comfortably. If that is the case then should we not celebrate that her and me can do all these things so normally that we don’t even notice that, say like our breath. They say in Vipasana that only if you notice your breath going in and out of your nostrils consciously you would attain peace and may be even Nirvana! So if we could notice so many blessings like these, would we not be in the perpetual celebration mode? I think without further ado, we should.

Likewise I told her when you have so much wealth of being blessed ones’ with all functioning senses and with loads of food to take care of your entire life, then why not celebrate the sunshine and the moonshine and the weather and the company of your loved ones? We must. So after counting your blessings don’t forget to celebrate your blessings also. She agreed.

Finally we may have gratitude to all, the nature, the almighty or the cosmic energy whatever you can call it or relate to. Let’s say thanks to all of them to have bestowed us with these blessings without any expectations. Is it not such a wonderful thing? Is not worth having a truckload of gratitude to almighty or Mother Earth or to Milky Way? It is. So I closed my gup-shup with her with a soft inoculation of this beautiful BCG vaccine of life. What a great second Saturday to start with amidst this surreal misty Morning. Thanks a Tonne to my Milky way and its inhabitants. And Thanks to all those who have brought in this wonderful technology to transmit my thoughts to all of you while sipping a hot adrak ki Chai. Thanks all.

Winter Is Here…

Sitting at porch this morning and sipping a cup of hot Adrak ki chai, I was amazed at the beauty of Morning mist and the fog today. Though winter has been knocking at the doors of Lucknow for last few days, today it was here in its full glory. The mix of dew enveloped trees and the foggy sky-gaze ahead reminded me of many misty morning of hill stations like Nainital, Mussoorie, Dhanolti, Lansdown and many more. In Corona times perhaps the nature was compensating today by transposing the entire scenery right here in front of me.

And then I noticed a beautiful spider web painstakingly weaved by the spider last night which was now the anchor for hundreds of tiny water-pearl droplets dangling beautifully and resembling the nature’s best ever necklace. I could not resist taking a picture of that as you see here.

The Nature’s Necklace

The Way You See….

This morning as I am traveling from IGI airport to meet my Doctor at St Stephens Hospitals, Tees Hazari for my post op check and sutures, I noticed a blind gentleman travelling in a city bus almost parallel to my vehicle near Dhaulakuan. The man was sitting right behind the driver’s seat and was holding a stick in his hand. What caught my attention was that he was smiling continuously and probably humming a song or something which was not possible to hear or get from my vehicle. And this happened while I was talking to my wife about my philosophy of life in some other context.

Now seeing this visually challenged man with glowing in sun shine smile, I got a shocker of a thought that, is it too tough to smile? Are most of us not better than the gentleman but still keep frowning only? Why is that so? Though its tough to conclude just with a fleeting face that he was very very happy but I can bet he was. Its easier to say but it seems most of the sorrow we feel is due to our over obsession with our pain only. There are pain and sorrow and there are bright things too. But to us nothing else matters except our pain and the rumination about it. Our over jealousness to either solve them asap or curse everybody with a long face makes life still more hellish for us. It seems if you see around yourself with open eyes literally you will find that there are bright spots no less. In this regard I will like to quote one of the top intellectuals of 20th century and noble prize winner Bertrand Russel, who says,

” The secret of happiness is this, let your interests be as wide as possible and let your reaction to person and things that interest you be as far as possible be friendly than hostile.”

Now this seems to be true for my just mentioned experience of a sight of the blind gentleman humming a song perhaps and smiling. The moment I saw him and got interested in him in a friendly way I forgot my own sutures of an open surgery and utilised even the hold up time of Delhi traffic to create this blog and feel satisfied of doing some thing like after a long gap.

I found one more teacher today and I am about to meet my doctor!!

How Many?

In this age of multitasking this morning I watched the movie trailer of yet to be released hindi movie Manmarzian starring Abhishek, Tapasi and Vicky. It was interesting trailer and with Anurag Kashyap at the helm of the affairs, I got interested to watch it and therefore switched to app BookMyShow to book the tickets. I have been doing the bookings on the app for last few years and overtime I have developed a sense of comfort in following the sequence of steps in the booking process right from selecting the movie you want to watch to your favourite Cinema to show time etc leading finally to creation of digital tickets.

I started the process and those who do it on app know that after you have selected the movie and the theatre to watch that, you are asked to choose the number of persons or tickets for whom you want to do the booking. I reached this step in few seconds and as soon as I reached the screen showing an option of ‘how many’, my default setting almost took over and I clicked 4. But just in time I realised that the number four was somewhat discomforting today. Why was that? Are we four? Yes with Rashmi and two kids we are 4, but are there four for this show? I froze actually as for the first time after years I was not supposed to book a seat for Shreya-my daughter whom I have just left behind in USA last month for further studies.

This was an unnerving feeling. For years, I had been booking four tickets as I have always enjoyed and therefore valued the pleasure of watching a movie with all of us together. She always was quite keen to watch movies and was always happy to know that notwithstanding my always hugely unplanned official duties I had got interested in planning to watch a movie. She always knew that it would be all of us together. She always waited for this moments to arrive and was happy to the core in the entire process. Being Didi to my son she always got everybody together to watch that. She would even share some burden of me in getting mandatory popcorn and cold drink to herself and his brother and even sharing a sip with me and Rashmi. But now for the first time in many years, she was not going to come with us to smile and pep us and to accompany me to share my burden.

This thought unnerved me and I was actually clueless on how to proceed. This potential experience of watching a Bollywood movie of my genre tomorrow was handicapped by her too brute absence and I was left in a lurch. It took me lot of willpower to move further and click on 3. It actually hurt me and made me realise of her absence. How easily I had taken her presence for granted so many times and today I was in a situation when I had to go and proceed alone. Though we are three and do enjoy watching movies but it would never be same without her. It seems all three of us would be 1/3rd less without her. She made us whole and without her even the pleasure of watching a movie would not be an experience that it used to be. Though I have the tickets and would most probably reach the cinema hall tomorrow to watch the movie but I think it would be a different me. Its a new crossroad for me and I am as bewildered today as a rabbit is in front of glaring headlights of an incoming and speeding car. I was not ready for answering, How Many?

Less Than Perfect But Happy Self

I just finished reading the book ‘Selfie’ written by British author Will Storr. The book is about our self obsession and the evolution of the concept of “I” and “Self” since pre Christianity Greek Period.

2. The author distinguishes between the Western Greek Notion of importance given to I or Individual as the central pivot of state and society vis a vis more harmonious position of I or me in Eastern civilisation.

3. He tries to show through his arguments that our over importance and obsession about desirability and possibility of a perfect self(not possible normally for most) expressed inter-alia through uncountable selfies is seeding in more and more dissatisfaction in all of us leading to fall in mental health. He also reads a Neo-Liberal conspiracy in over promotion of the concept so that those at the margins of economy and society are left behind without a moral dilemma.

4. We have been told in last 2 decades particularly that all of us can be the best and the brightest and if we don’t achieve that, that means we have not tried well or that we did not do justice to our talent. This feeling only causes us to curse ourselves while the truth is that we all are different and less than perfect. We should accept our imperfect self also because happiness is not subservient to being perfect. Otherwise all rich and most beautiful would have been smiling all the day. We all know, this does not happen. Deepika Padukone suffered bouts of depression despite being a perfect beauty and some top scientists and sports personalities have been in many controversies including attempted suicides.

5. So enjoy your grey hair and less than perfect Greek Godish body and live happily with full of empathy for your environment.

Therefore I have got my fair share of questions answered after reading this book and I hope I will love and enjoy my life even more now!!

The Paradise Named as Deoriatal

I had been hearing since long that the Deoriatal located in the Uttarakhand hills is the India’s answer to Switzerland. I had also been hearing that it gets fully covered in snow in winters and remains as such up to March end. I was told that the best time to visit Deoriatal and nearby Chopta is in March and early April as that is the time of flowering of rhododendrons known locally as ‘Buransh’ and when the petals of red buransh fall on snow white snow it seems like some one has deliberately thrown the red sindoor far and wide over the white sheet of snow. I was really fascinated to hear all this and when in April, I was offered a chance this April by my Jija ji living in Dehradun  to see Deoriatal and Chopta up and close, I pounced upon the offer like a hungry tiger would upon a meaty Sambhar.

So here I was at village Saari after a night at Ukhimath. The village Saari is the place from where the track to Deoriatal starts. It is a comfortable 3 Km trek but it is best to do if you do in the early morning as the air is dense at this time and has more oxygen than in the afternoon. The trek to Deoriatal is an introduction to the mighty and most beautiful Himalayas and I think it is better to say that through the pictures. Words do have their limitations and may be pictures will narrate what the words can not;

 

The Village Saari: At the Start of Trek to Deoriatal

Beautiful Pine Twins!

The Glistening leaves in the morning sun

The Himalayas

Mighty Chaukhamba

Deoriatal with Chaukhumbha Images

The Campers Paradise Deoriatal

The Sunset Beauty

The Buransh(Rhododendrons)

The Buransh Laden Path

The Unbelievable but True Buransh Layered Path

Our Abode for the memorable night

Standing Boldly against the mighty Chaukhamba

The Deoriatal at 8000 Feet

The Beautiful Full Moon Night At Deoriatal

 

Do I need to say anything more about Deoriatal?

The Googley Ways

I don’t remember who exactly advised me to read ‘How Google Works’ written by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, but I did nevertheless finished reading it last night. The book written by actual Googlers or coming from Horse’s Mouth is a book with difference as it actually delineates the way Google works or better, the way Google thinks. The last para of the chapter-conclusion poignantly says that some where somebody might be creating something which may eventually render Google irrelevant. The authors who are the soul of Google in more ways than one find even this idea inspiring and not preposterous or chilling. To me they are entrepreneurs out there to make money but are also honest in their intentions and in the ways they run their companies and perhaps that explains why in just two decades Google is a 55 Billion Dollar Company spread over some 40 nations and employing some 50000 googlers.

If you look at the history of Finnish mobile giant Nokia now and what it was till five or 6 years ago, you may perhaps understand the seriousness of the possibilities. Nokia has been literally swept out of the market just by Android platform. It was software which threw Nokia out and not the hardware and that was not even aimed at undoing Nokia. They were doing their work(mobile operations) just differently and in the way which was more convenient to mobile users. So, Google may be outsmarted if it is ever done, by ideas of software and not by the hardware. However the way Google is ready to adopt and change and improvise and the way it is open to its own criticism, the possibility of Google being swept aside are minuscule as per my understanding.

I think we need companies like Google as that may also be the way ahead if human beings want to survive and reach out to the solutions of most if not all the problems of this world. I think humans can find out the solutions of most of the problems, because the solutions and problems are always interlinked. The challenge is to link the two. I would call that, the problem of Locks and Keys. The problems humanity faces like hunger, diseases and environmental issues  are locks and the solution we need are the keys. The placement of locks and keys together is the task for the global community and of Googles or Apples or IBMs of this world and of scores of many visionaries and entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and many more who need to put their heads and hearts together by collaborating and by sharing the information. It seems Google may be best suited to assume the role of the aggregator of the best pool of the talent we have on this planet earth. The ingenuity of humans to create problems is infinite. Just look what we have done to our own environment. The speed at which we have contributed to elimination of scores of species from the planet earth is unnerving and the way the icebergs are collapsing due to global warming and all, are unsettling. However the human capacity to find solutions of the same is also infinite. So the Locks(problems) created by humanity may be unlocked by the keys(solutions) only if we all put our heads together. It is like settling pieces of Jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are there, we need to just slog out hard enough to piece them together. I think we will.