What was 2008 like? Years later, it shall mark the beginning of my search for Paradise; not one, but many. The search is not over yet, though the year is. However, the year was far from disappointing. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it was the best of my life.
– At Sarchu, on the way to Leh from Manali, inside a dark candle-lit tent while the bone chilling wind blew outside, late in the night, I, along with an enthusiastic cheering and ‘ooooh… aaah…ing’ group of eleven, guessed successfully a girl’s sunsign. She was a Capricorn who later tried to convince me that she wasn’t like a regular Capricorn, much like all Capricorns do.
– Sang Kabir along with Shabman and Prahlad Tippaniya and a bunch of friends. There was tambura, dholak, manjeere, khartal and yes, spirit of folk music.
– For the first time in my life, saw a Test Match live at Kotla, Delhi. It was a tie between India-Australia, not the most amazing one though. Yet, that it marked the beginning of a paradigm shift in the realm of following Test Cricket is never to be forgotten. It was Kumble’a last Test of course. And most importantly, I saw Sachin without the mediating TV Cameras!
– Slept on the road to Jalori Pass in Himachal after lunching in the lush green and drinking from the streams. A small car after about twenty minutes came to a screeching halt; the driver was positively baffled.
– Lost for directions, drenched in the heavy rain, walked endlessly through the forest and villages, through endless grasslands and rainwater ponds, with a bunch of four in Sukhtawa, Madhya Pradesh.
– Listened to Kishori Amonkar at NCPA, followed it up by walking along the Marine Drive, then walking up to Colaba and having Seekh Kebabs there. Walked to VT then and local back home. Even in 2008, Bombay was beautiful as ever; except for those ugly moments.
– Just before dawn, crossed Zojila pass from Laddakh side to enter Sonmarg. Full moon night. Moon was right above our heads and it made zojila look beautiful like nothing ever has. The highway, smooth as silk, smiled in agreement and dished out a reflection of the moon like only a placid lake can. Other side of Zojila, Sonmarg was another story altogether. In search of paradise, that was close.
– Bathed in almost every river and waterfall of Madhya Pradesh over a month long trip and walked through many many forests.
– Cycled from Kullu to Jalori through a landscape so beautiful as entertaining was the bunch of friends coming along. We parked the bikes wherever we liked, bathed in the river waters along the road, drank from the streams and ate from the little restaurants and then, at the end of the say, camped next to a river so the music wouldn’t be interrupted all night.
– Floating vegetable market of Srinagar at 5AM. A solitary lady on a small row boat rowed by a boy sat still. In the most noisy but alive market, a solitary silent lady was a sight more to the pleasure of irony than beauty.
– Traveled on the rooftop of a bus to Manikaran on the narrowest possible highway of sorts, breathtaking views around.
– Camping in a small school on a hilltop on the way to Araku from Vizag, I chatted with a bunch of children till late in the night talking about what had been the highlights of my life after having left the job.
– Was treated with every delicacy of Bikaner – Kachori to Pandhari to Rasmali to Rabri to Gaal ke laddoo. Surprisingly, it is a very small town with a buzzing night life, with a difference thankfully. The nights were pleasant and windy, starry and full of chatter and other activity.
– In the back seat of a bus, inside a dark tent in a forest, climbing a hilltop, day and night, sang my heart out with a bunch of middle-aged and young men and women. Talat was the favourite; Rafi could never be ignored. Hemant Kumar and Mukesh too had a lot to add to the experience.
– Enjoyed the starriest of nights at Sarchu, Ranikhet, Munsiyari, Jibhi and Berinag. Well, I think starry nights look most beautiful when it is really cold around you.
– In Munsiyari, a small high-altitude town in the arms of Panchchuli range, talked for hours to a kumaoni girl, the daughter of the owner of guest house. She was beautiful like no city-bred girl can ever be and innocent like only imagination can be. Yes, in 2008, during Munsiyari winters, love was a possibility.
– Walked miles barefoot on the east coast from Vizag to Bhimunipattam. The colour of sky, the temperature of the waters, the type of sand, the mood of the sun, the curves of the coastline kept changing as if to entertain themselves.
– Made friends with schoolboys, retired army officers, political activists, enthusiastic young men, birdwatchers, seasoned trekkers men and women, research scholars, wildlife filmmakers, small restaurant owners, hotel owners in small towns and almost everything in between; even tribal men. And everywhere – Kashmir, Manipur, Himachal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra, Chattisgarh, Delhi… Villages, small towns, cities, forests… Not that I am in touch with each one of them but that was never the aim. I befriend them in spirit still, I think of them often and always with warmth. I surprised myself with the kind of tear jerking farewell my heart gave to them. Oh yes, it was also a year high on emotions.
And well, the few friends I made on JNU campus remain the most precious. I may have serious disagreements with them but after all these years of living out of IIT campus, their company pulled me back to the days of super-idleness that Mr Russell could have taken a leaf out of. The films we watched and downloaded, crores of teacups we sipped together and all those debates we had – they all had a fair bit of my hostel life in it.
– Ate heartily almost all types of food – very local to the places I traveled to and also global food. From Trout to Lamb Stake and a memorable Seafood Froth, the year offered good variety. However, my pick for the year would have to be the omlette I had at that roadside café the name of which I cannot recall. We noticed it while mountain biking and once we started, we took about two hours to finish. Countless omeletts were ordered one after another. Appetite had never known this excess. Later on our return we repeated the feast and enquired about the recipe. Well, we were told of many herbs that were being used from far too distant places than one would imagine from the location.
Another must mention has to be Sattu Parathe. This year, I must have had around four hundred of them and the next year figure can only look up.
Yes, 2008 was a year worth living. And I lived. I listened to people’ stories and told them mine, several times over. We had time and eagerness to listen to each other, things people around us haven’t had always. We ended up making promises we may not keep but what matters is that those promises are meant to be kept, honestly. What happens to them later is up to the time to arrive. Whether it shall keep its promise, we’d know only in future. What do you think, 2009?