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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Big Sur Monologue

There was high alert of earthquake and tsunami across the Pacific. The sea by the Highway 1 was more violent than usual. The ocean was constantly striking the rocky cliff, which is standing high along the shoreline. Their struggle was making any known human struggle insignificant. It was like two gigantic beast were wrestling; fighting for existence and giving shape to each other. It was just senseless insanity. But it also reminds that, in essence, the nature of all creations; the nature of any existence is the same. Struggle is inevitable. Its the reason behind the way we are. Its the reason behind every  inch of our perfection.

Eight of us were driving along the shoreline in search of solitude. Solitude from human existence; Solitude from all struggle. The pacific seemed to show no mercy on us. We headed towards east and drove through the wilderness of Big Sur. The six cylinder engines of our two BMW were roaring, flexing their muscles and  tearing down the sanctity of the silence. After beating every winding turn of  the hilly stretch we reached the foothill of the Ventena Wilderness. And soon after, as the engine stopped, the impenetrable mist along with its silence wrapped us around from all sides.

My backpack was little too heavy for me. I wanted to make myself believe that this is the heaviest thing that I have ever carried in my life. But then I thought of the family I've left behind, thousands of miles away on the other half of the globe; I thought about the relationships I've left behind to race after the so called better standard of life;  and I realized that the burden of separation is the heaviest weight that man can ever carry on his back.

It was the drop of rain that made me realize that we have already started walking on the trail. Few minutes later the only sound we could hear is the sound of insistent rain fall. I had never let myself soaked in the rain this much before; Neither I had let my shoes sunk in the mud so carelessly. But it was not worth fighting . The insolent rain was too much of an opponent to fight. We were walking along a small creek which was flowing through the slope of the hill, taking all the short cuts; too certain of its destination. On the other hand our trail was winding; climbing ups and down like a sinusoidal curve. As if it wanted to challenge all our motivation and determination. I was feeling foolish and satisfied by the adventure at the same time. But it was that pain on my legs that brought me back in reality. My legs were trembling and giving all the signs of betrayal. But when I looked at the faces of my fellow backpackers, I couldn't discover any trace of struggle. So I kept walking  ignoring the protest of my legs. And I kept walking until I forget about the pain. And here is the kicker...As soon as you ignore the existence of is all good...nothing is there to hold you back and nothing is there which is impossible to achieve.

After camping in the delta of a creek for the night and hiking few more miles, we reached the top of the hill with the sun shining with its full glory. From the peak, we could see countless mountain tops covered with dense wood, some have been explored and many were not. The sight was spectacular. I looked towards west. In a far distant through the standing mountains a small 'v' shaped window was open, and I saw Pacific. From this distance, and this altitude, Pacific looked  tiny. Its waves were no longer gigantic. For a moment, its existence seemed ordinary. I guess, these are the moments; these are those rare moments when man can feel pride in its struggle. Man can feel mightier than the mightiest ocean. Suddenly, all our struggle and pain made perfect sense. The bottom line is, no matter how much we try to escape from  our  struggle, we always end up finding peace in it. And if thats the thing we are all looking for then many more winding roads we have to beat, many more mountain tops we have to explore.

   * Photography by Shafi.
** The trip was sometime in March, 2010.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hope for the Dreamers

It takes a village to change one's life. Well, tonight I saw  a village full of people who can change lives. The location was Esquire Grill, Sacramento and the mission was to raise money for a school in Pabna, Bangladesh. If someone mistakes the gathering as one of those from Sunset boulevard then hardly anyone can blame him. The contrast between the wealth of this crowd and the unimaginable poverty of the people, this party had thrown for, was so big that no one can imagine any connection between these two. Even the cumulative wealth of this hundred some people can easily shy the budget of the whole country that claims Pabna.

Four of us were invited by the host of the event and the president of the organization ,who is a student of my roommate, learning Bengali . It takes quite a luck to be an eye witness of the jaw dropping effort, people were making in this distant land, for the handful of poor school kids none of whom have ever met this crowd nor has any possibility of meeting them in near future.We were awfully surprised and overwhelmed by the effort, our host was taking to make us comfortable there. Even though its open bar had the finest collection of wines I couldn't reach the bartender for the second times; partly because I wanted to absorb the enthusiasm of this crowd in sane mind but mostly because of the guilty feeling of not contributing even a single penny to the cause.

So here is the host of tonight, Chrysa, some twenty years old college girl,  in her dazzling salwar thanking all the guests for their presence.  She has a slender face and a body with pleasing features of womanhood. Her defined collarbone was evident even in the faint light of the restaurant. In the opening speech she was sharing her passion about the kids from the school they are working on. Enthusiasm was shooting through her pores. She was acknowledging that  it was her father's  wealth that gave her the confidence to invest herself in such an extraordinary mission. But we all knew that, what it takes to withdraw oneself like  her from the  indulgence of American life and changing lives in a land where none of her friends could imagine themselves in their early twenties. In a distant, standing with the dinner plate, I was feeling poor and even poorer in heart.

One can be very certain that half of these people are  more concerned about their tax savings due to the charity that they made and most of them even unaware of the tiny existence of that small village called Pabna in Bangladesh; But at the end of the day nothing matters as long as these hundred people can change the future of those school kids; as long as they can give them the dreams and hopes they deserve.

Chrysa told us that tomorrow she is taking a flight to Bangladesh to meet the school kids. None of us from tonight's crowd will be there. But I can easily imagine the faces of those kids when they will see Chrysa; I'm sure their faces  will  enlighten with hope; their faces will be far shiner than the faces of tonight's crowd.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rajasthan Diary

As planned, I left most of my luggage at my friend’s home and reached New Delhi rail station. I was waiting in the platform with a cup of chai at three in the morning. Suddenly a female voice announced “the Delhi-Ajmer express is two hours late from its scheduled time.” Well, I heard ‘Welcome back Home.’

My first stop was Jaipur, a city famous for its forts and palaces. As you can imagine, enough has been written and said about the city over the years; and I didn’t see anything different either.  The only thing that still shines behind its pink wall is its legacy. I was restlessly waiting to get through the day; finish my visit of the history and reach Jodhpur. As usual, after the delay of couple more hours, I reached Jodhpur in the next morning. I rushed to the local bus station and took a two hours bus ride further north from Jodhpur.

So here I am; after traveling precisely 7864 miles and 100 years backward from American civilization, Im in this small village of Rajasthan named Osian. The village itself is little known for Jain heritage and its bearer, a 8th century built Jain temple. Due to the fact that the temple is on top of a hill and in the backdrop of Thar Desert, the panoramic view from here is breathtaking. Now if someone thinks, the temple is the only thing in this village then he couldn’t be any more wrong. Rather, the real Rajasthan starts from here.  The village is known as the gateway of Thar Desert and the exotic beauty in it is just beyond imagination.

  But the problem is that it’s so hard to get reliable information about these little known places unless you take a package tour from a travel agency. Again with very few tourist-info center, self-traveling is even harder in India.  Now here is a quick tip for self-travelers in India which I got from one of my friend. The deal is that you got to drink lots of tea. Well, Im talking about drinking tea in the local tea stall. While drinking you can ask all sort of questions to the tea stall owner. Trust me on this; he will give you more information about the locality than any tour guide could ever give you. So I bet on this and asked the owner, where can I go for desert camping.  At first he told me about a place called Raggie’s Camel Camp. Well, the price tag can easily shake the base even of a rich westerner. So, I told him “Do I look like a person (aka white foreigners) who can spend rupees 10K per night?” He gave me a smile and handed over the contact of another desert camp.

I took the phone number and called them from the local PCO. Well, I got a deal with one seventh of the previous price which includes all possible things that you can do in the desert. Few minutes later a guy came to pick me up with his motorbike. After riding four miles further north from the Jain temple, we reached this small shack; they call it ‘Desert Cafe’   

Several things were on the agenda and we began with the ‘Jeep Safari’. We started with a visit to the years old tiny “Bishnoi” temple. Here, the “Bishnoi” community worships one of their heroes (only body) who fought alone with the Mughal solders until his last breath. The myth is that he was so brave that even though he was beheaded 6km far from this temple; he kept fighting only with his body throughout the entire route. My guide Vim Singh kept explaining that they still sacrifice hundreds of goats to honor this great warrior. He was explaining so passionately that belief was shining through his eyes. I had neither the guts nor the urge to argue with that belief.  So we kept following the route of his fight and paid our due respect at the other temple where they worship their hero’s head. Now, goat was not the only thing that they offer in these temples. To my surprise, they offer alcohol both ‘Desi’ and ‘Belati’ to honor him. I can’t imagine how much this guy used to drink.

After consuming a little from the offering we jumped into the wilderness of Rajasthan.  

The roads through the desert were bumpy. Sometimes the roads were so bumpy that you can hardly see what is coming in your way. “Its even more important to keep driving faster in such situations”, my guide explained, “otherwise you will be dragged to the sand pit”. Someone has to keep moving with the sheer belief that there is better road ahead.  And quite often than not, the road ahead is smoother. I was wondering isn’t it true for every aspect of our life? Isn’t our life could be far better if we just keep moving without allowing our past to drag us in its pit?

People say Rajasthan is the land of the Kings; I feel pity for all those kings. Is it even possible to think oneself as a king in the middle of this emptiness? Is there anybody ever lived on this land who have beaten the harshness of the nature which is roaring around me. I found this place rather perfect for surrender and "let things go".  The only thing that can rule here is Nature.

The scorching sun burned everything around me except the soulless yellow sand of the desert. The heat burns not only all the living organism but also burns human soul; all the accumulated pain, misery and bitterness in it.   I wanted to throwaway my t-shirt and lie down over the sands for hours. Not to get a good tan (I'm born with that) but to burn all the scars on my heart.

As soon as the darkness of the night declared its supremacy over the desert, I took shelter in the tent of our camp. The hospitality of the camp was more kind than I had imagined. I was directed to a tent which had a bed and even a personal bathroom. The only scary part of the tent was that there was no lock in the door; to be more precise there was not even a door. So with every puff of air the curtain was dangling so widely that one can only imagine that something is entering the tent.  The sight was fearful but with several reassurances from the guard of the camp, I sunk in the bed with sleep.  If anything fearful did not enter to the tent that night, one thing surely did; and that was cold. But that night, nothing could have taken away my sleep; least of all -- cold.

Next day, at the end of the first leg of my journey, when I got into the train for Delhi and said goodbye, I felt nothing but gratitude and humbleness for the offerings of this barren land. I felt empowered. I realized royalty has nothing to do with the countless forts and majestic palaces; neither it has anything to do with the wins in the battlefield. If one can win the battle with his own soul; if one can dominate the mundane misery in it; royalty becomes an inseparable part of his lifestyle. So, I no longer wonder why so many kings born in this place. I no longer wonder about the majestic beauty and power of the sand.