Time & space aren’t relative here. They’re vague.

Time & space aren’t relative here. They’re vague.

Pahadi’s are the people of the mountains. And they are clueless about urban measures of distance and time. That is universal whether it is Kashmir or Himachal or Uttarakhand.  If you’ve ever hiked through mountains, you know how useless it is to ask a pahadi about distance or travel time. The typical conversation goes like this.

“How far is Sagnam village from here?”

“Oh not far.”

“I mean how many kilometres?”

Pat comes the confident reply “Oh, less than one kilometre.”

You dig out your map, do some math and know that cannot be true. You try another tack.

“Okay so how long will it take to walk to Sagnam from here.”

“It’s just a 10 minute walk.”

“We’ll reach Sagnam in 10 minutes?” You ask, sceptical but full of hope.  Maybe you got your math wrong. That 20 kg pack has been feeling like 40.

 

 

“Yes yes, 10 minutes.” He repeats with authority. “It’s just past that little hill” he points to a mountain in the far distance.

So you continue your trek. After half an hour of walking that “little hill” seems as far as it was before. You stubbornly continue and after an hour of trudging you come across another pahadi. You eagerly ask him “How far is Sagnam from here?”

“Oh, not far” he says “Just 10 minutes.”

And so it goes.

In our neck of the woods this vagueness had been institutionalized and put into stone. Literally. If you drive from Mukteshwar through the IVRI forest reserve you will cross a milestone which will say “Sitla 0”. A hundred yards later there is a second milestone which says “Sitla 0”. That much I can still understand. But then you drive down a good half Kilometre. The Village of Sitla has been left behind, and you are now in the Village of Satkhol, and you come across a third milestone. And guess what it says?

“Sitla 0”.

These photographs are testament. And then the other day I went to Mukteshwar. This time I decided to measure the distance between the two milestones. Both say Mukteshwar Zero. They are exactly 1 km apart.

 

Welcome to the mountains.

A cafe with a conscience

A cafe with a conscience

Imagine a cafe that actively reduces its profit to save the environment. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. It’s real. But before we go on, a little background.

I love the mountains, and I hate the plastic that litters them. We’ve all read about how plastic chokes the environment.  I no longer take the free bottle of water they offer on the Shatabdi train. I avoid bottled water in hotels and airports.  I bring my own waterbottle from home, and refill it from safe water sources as I travel.

Why does this matter?

What travelers need is safe drinking water. There are many ways to find it without using up extensive amounts of plastic. Bottled water is the most convenient and irresponsible way to get clean drinking water. In a world where all airports come with water fountains and any home and restaurant you visit has a decent water filter, avoiding bottled water is about just a tiny bit of planning, and being just a little contrarian. A simple thing like carrying a waterbottle from home. It can be helped by buying a good waterbottle (so you dont lose it and refill it often) that fits perfectly into your bag or hand. If it’s expensive you’re less likely to lose it. Decathlon has a full range.

So, of course, it pisses me off when I walk into the average city restaurant and find sealed plastic bottles of water on every table. It’s a default sale for the restaurant. I always call the waiter and ask if they have  a water filter. Eyes roll. But restaurants invariably do have potable filtered water. Of course, giving away anything free reduces profit. Even water. And restaurants are about profit maximization at any cost, it seems. So you can imagine my delight when I walked into Chandi Mati cafe in Mukteshwar the other day, and found this on the menu.

waterline edited

 

Wow! No bottled water sitting on each table. By default they serve filtered water. Here was a business actively reducing its profits by telling you not to buy something.  Just because it is the right thing to do. And Chandi Mati is not some huge, successful enterprise. It is a young business working hard for its own success. Yet, it is clear on its principles.

So the next time you visit Mukteshwar, go to the Chandi Mati cafe.  Click a selfie with their menu and post it on Instagram & Twitter & Facebook and myriad other online places.

This will boost Chandi Mati’s  business and make it wildly successful, maybe some other restaurants will follow suit. The use of plastic bottles will reduce, and you would have made the world a better place because of your responsible social media behaviour.

And yes, do buy and use a waterbottle.

 

 

* And if you know of any other restaurant with a conscience, please do share as a comment on this blog. Lets spread the word! You can check out Chandi Mati online at https://www.tripadvisor.in/Restaurant_Review-g1162527-d10438116-Reviews-Cafe_Chandi_mati-Mukteshwar_Nainital_District_Uttarakhand.html .

I am happy with too little

I am happy with too little

Contributor : Philip John

My problem is I am happy with too little.

A little work that I enjoy,
A little writing that turns out right,
A little love after a long, dark night,
A bird singing in the tree outside,
A small luxury, like a wireless speaker.
All these things fulfill me
Disproportionately.

It’s not a good thing, I tell myself;
I can work more, write more,
Love more (read: start a family).
Sometimes I chide myself:
You’re not hungry enough.
You’re happy with too little.
You’re an anomaly, a beautiful loser,
A problematic outlier
In the otherwise Olympian story
Of human success.

But then I write some copy for a brochure.
I wrestle with the sentences,
Trying to get them to cohere
Around an idea I have.
I like this process.
It’s like composing a symphony.
Then I counsel a friend, try to get him
On the path of reason, of compassion
Without losing my temper.
People can be so stupid, so stubborn.
I have to be patient.

All this takes a lot of work.

Then I have my simple, home-made lunch,
And open the novel I’m reading.
I read just two pages and I come away
With almost supernatural bliss,
A mental orgasm if you like
(Such beautiful, pitch-perfect writing),
And by now, (I am embarrassed to say),
I am so ridiculously content,
So happy. And with so little.

I know my happiness is small when
Compared with marketplace happiness.
My happiness comes too easy.
It’s not big enough, not bright enough.
But my happiness has all the
Self-sufficient, narcotic bliss
Of a glass of wine.

Is this self-actualization?
Or fatal contentment?
I don’t know, really.
Who can say for sure?

Since definitions are uncertain
I decide to say instead,
“My blessing is I am happy with little.”
I can live on a well-written sentence
All afternoon, after all.
Now that, fortunately or unfortunately,
Is my reality.
So yes, my blessing,

My innate, ennobling, damning blessing
Is I am happy with little, too little.

No use fighting it anymore.
Best to sing it out loud,
Best to be proud.
So this then is my bittersweet song to myself
My elegy for opportunities foregone,
My resignation letter to marketplace happiness,
My making-peace-with-myself declaration,
My moment of sublime self-acceptance
(Or sophisticated self-deception,
I don’t know. Best to be
Healthily sceptical always,
Even of one’s own philosophy).

But if it is indeed a blessing
Then I know it is just like
A gift for language
Or a cleft lip
A talent for cooking
Or a sixth finger on one hand.
What a mixed blessing this is;
Being happy with (too?) little.

I am going to the park with my book.
Join me if you like,
All you beautiful losers,
You poets, you philosophers,
You worriers, you misfits,
You self-proclaimed failures,
You quietly desperate beautiful children
Of the god of too little happiness.
We shall hunt for a ladybird in the grass.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen one.

About the contributor : Philip John co-runs a boutique creative agency in Bangalore. He is also an independent creative consultant and writer. His short fiction has been published in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Out Of Print, and Helter Skelter. Philip teaches a creative writing program at Bangalore Writers Workshop. He is an alumnus of Mudra Institute of Communication, Ahmedabad (MICA). Any comments about his poetry will be conveyed to him.

Want to Uncity? Make a choice. Expat? Or Migrant?

Want to Uncity? Make a choice. Expat? Or Migrant?

So you want to leave your gated community in the city for a gated community in the village? Like in the above ad of home-in-the-himalayas ? Your gated community must be eco-friendly, of course. Options abound. Tata Housing sells its “Myst Eco-luxury residences” in Kasauli as a super-premium gated community. “This exclusive gated community has been designed by the world’s leading expert in sustainable architecture…” says their website.

Another similar property touts “an exclusive residential address, a community of like-minded people who value the same ideas of wellness, privacy and under-stated luxury.” The background picture shows a large, eco-friendly gate.

In the city one key thing a gated community provides is security. What are they afraid of here, I wonder?

All these exclusive properties tout how sensitive they are to the environment. The Tata Housing site says “Never before has luxury been more sensitive in its approach and more evolved in the statement it makes about those who choose to live here. ” Strangely, none of them talks about how sensitive they are to the local people and culture.

Eco-friendly is better when it is also people friendly. And that doesn’t mean just a maid and a caretaker.

At the other end of this scale is Ashish Arora. He moved here from the city over a decade back. He has built a thriving business not by excluding the local communIMG_20170601_110934.jpgity but by including them. He actively helps all the village people in their issues. He was recently elected to the van-panchayat of his village. He works hard to save the forest, employ local people, and is an integral part of the local community. He is invited to every local celebration. He pays homage when any villager dies. His wife Deepa single-handedly employs well over 50 local women through their enterprise called Chandi Maati.

Arvindji is another great example. He moved up here and set up a library which the entire region benefits from now. And of course there are many who work and contribute to the local NGOs.

These and many other amazing people are not here as expats, but migrants – woven into the local fabric.

You dream of living in the mountains. Who do you want to be?

You can be the rich city Expat who lives in the gated community in the mountains, making exclusivity statements. Or you can be the migrant who makes a statement by making a difference. Someone who connects with and changes the lives of the people around you for the better. As a city-bred person with education and exposure you can do so much for the local community. In return, you actually get to be a part of a real community – possibly for the first time ever.

Please don’t tell me you will live in the gated community and integrate with the local community. That statement doesn’t even sound right, does it?

_____________

About Chetan Mahajan:  Chetan is a full-time author and blogger who lives in a village in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas. The amazing creative influence of the Himalayas inspired him to start the Himalayan Writing Retreats: writing getaways for both novice and advanced writers. You can learn more about these retreats at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com .  He also writes and edits this blog.

The shooting star caught me off guard

The shooting star caught me off guard

Contributor : Arun Kumar M.

A slow, deep breath. As I exhale I open my eyes to the star-studded dark sky. I could sense myself going into a trance, deeper amongst the stars.

In a remote village, 6200 ft above the sea, the breeze was a chilly 14 degrees. A day before, Erode, the place where I came from was 41!  This cool calming transition allowed me to sink into the beautiful night.

It is not often we look up into the sky at night, let alone see stars. A sky overflowing with them is a rare sight for city dwellers like me.

Lost among them, as I was trying to figure my way out, I stumbled upon a peculiar thing. One ‘dot’ was moving. The first question that popped into my mind was, “Am I hallucinating, or is that ‘dot’ really moving?” A shooting star is not the way it is shown in Disney movies. (Hey Arun, take out the phone, try capturing it and see if you can upload it to get a lot of views). Somehow, that thought suddenly felt cheap.

Wow. It felt amazing. To be part of this ever-surprising nature can happen only when you un-city yourself. That is a pity, but such is the state of our tightly packed concrete jungles.

But hey! When people see a shooting star, they make a wish. Oh man! It is gone now, and I spent all the time I had figuring out what the dot was. It was a bummer not to have made a wish.

But guess what happened? Another star. I grabbed the opportunity, and this time I made the wish. Having made my wish, I now lower my eyes to some funny expressions from my group mates. They found my reaction to the entire episode quite naive.  “Arun, shooting stars are common here. You know what? You can sometimes see the light from satellites as well.”

“Are you kidding me?”

Oh, what has the city done! I was jealous.

We were huddled around a makeshift barbeque stove. After a long day of writing, learning, podcasting and trekking, the blend of the cold night and warm embers was perfect.

Back in Erode, I have now started looking up at the sky often – trying to peek beyond the few stars that I can spot. No shooting star, unfortunately. Beyond the pollution, just knowing that they exist is soothing.

A deep breath!

 

About Arun Kumar M : Arun loves to be constant in one thing. That is to learn. After earning his degree in Aeronautical Engineering, he went on to establish and head a research forum. He has also completed courses in philosophy and model thinking. All he needs is a good cuppa coffee and a book. He blogs at https://maktheway.com .

About the blogging retreat – this is not an advertisement.

About the blogging retreat – this is not an advertisement.

Contributor: Anhad Mahajan

This is about the Himalayan blogging and podcasting retreat but it is not an advertisement. I am going to tell my personal experience at my dad’s retreat. OK, where do I start? I should start with the bad things first. I don’t know about the rooms I have not stayed there. As a 10-year-old, I got super bored. The wifi was not good and the light went often.

IMG-20170430-WA0002
This is Julie the pup at the retreat sleeping in the fireplace.

 

Now let me tell you about the good things like food and more food and also people. Okay, so food. They have good food and if you’re lucky you might also get a barbecue. I was lucky by the way that’s how I know. If you want to know more about the retreat then go to the writing retreat website at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com. So to tell you about the people – there were 10 people who were attending the retreat. Two hosts – my dad

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This is iHeart cafe. It’s my favorite.

and Kiruba uncle. He also has a blog. And I liked the guy who wrote about iHeart café. iHeart is my favorite cafe in this area.  There was also my boring cousin sister Shruti didi and Manoj uncle who owns the place where the retreat was happening and he does the barbecue.IMG-20170430-WA0000

 

In the retreat I also committed to a 50-day plan – in 10 days I had to write a blog and that’s what this is.

That’s about it for the blogging and podcasting retreat. I forgot Podcasting was also there but it was boring.

About Anhad Mahajan: Anhad is an animator who has published his own comic book titled “Nature Heroes”.  He is in grade five, and is currently recovering from a broken leg. That setback allows him free access to most of the events organized by his parents under the Himalayan Writing Retreat banner.

 

IMG-20170501-WA0004
At the end, everybody is happy. It’s not bad after all.

 

Change your privacy settings – to Himalayan.

Change your privacy settings – to Himalayan.

Contributor  : Vandita Dubey

It had barely been a couple of weeks since we had moved from Gurgaon to our new home in the Kumaon Himalayas. Boxes piled up, unopened. Fitting a four bedroom bungalow worth of stuff into a small two bedroom place seemed like an impossible task. In the midst of this chaos, I also needed to get some writing done for a book deadline that loomed. One morning as I sat down in the verandah converted into a drawing room-cum-study hoping to get some words down as the kids were at school, a most unusual thing happened. The glass door of our house was suddenly pushed open by Aama (old lady/grandmother in Kumaoni) who lives next door. She walked in confidently, though leaning heavily on her wooden stick, and sat down on one of the chairs. She said not a word.

So, I had a visitor in the house who did not feel like a visitor: I did not know what to do. Many years of social training finally kicked in and I stood up, offered an uncertain IMG_20170507_072226“Namaste.” She non-chalantly accepted my greeting and in the same breath told me to continue my work, adding that she would just sit there. Social interactions in the city don’t follow this script and so I felt at a loss about what I should do. Was I actually supposed to carry on with my work? Or, was I supposed to set it aside and pay attention to the visitor? I turned back to my writing as instructed, but my brain wouldn’t work. So, I shut the computer and turned my attention to the lady. “Would you like some tea?” She readily agreed. Cups of tea were made, she wanted to know where we had come from, what I do, etc: Usual getting to know the new neighbour questions. Tea over and some curiosity satisfied, she went on her way. I still did not know what to make of this social interaction.

There is a common perception that Indians do not have as much of a concept of personal space as North Americans or Europeans do. I always thought it was because we are all so tightly packed – such a huge population and such little space, especially in all urban areas, even towns and most villages. But many villages in Kumaon, including the one where we live, have houses set far apart. I have heard that at one time, before city folks started buying second homes and urbanizing this area, people used to actively welcome a family that moved close by. It meant that there would now be more people extending help in case there was an emergency or natural calamity. Aama is someone from that time. She has virtually adopted us and we are grateful for all the help that she and her family have extended to us in the past two years . But quite remarkably they have been able to maintain the fine balance between offering help and interfering or taking over our lives.

We urban folks tend to worry about our privacy and erect tall fences, lock our doors and install door bells. Even in areas where safety is not an issue. Here, village folk regularly walk through each other’s backyards and nobody raises a heckle about trespassing. While people of various nationalities have made this area truly home by integrating themselves in different ways with the local community, others have failed miserably. The most recent incident involved a French & Israeli couple who rented a house and rumours are, wanted to grow marijuana. Now, marijuana is a grass that grows in most people’s backyards and does not catch any attention. This couple, however, erected tall fences around their house, effectively blocking direct access to the houses below. The residents of those houses were forced to walk a long way around, up the hill, to access the road. Soon enough, the villagers made a complaint to the DM about the marijuana crop. The house was raided and the couple arrested.

There is much unlearning we have done since our move here, fortunately without getting arrested. As they say, when in Rome do as Romans do: In Kumaon that may mean changing your definitions of privacy.

 

About the contributor: Dr. Vandita Dubey is a US licensed Psychologist and a permanent Uncity resident. She continues her conselling practice from her village home on phone and skype. The book referred to in this post has since been published by Rupa, and is titled “Parenting in the age of Sexposure : raising the precocious generation. ” She also co-hosts the Himalayan Writing Retreats. You can learn more about her at www.vanditadubey.com .