Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?

Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?

Something isn’t right about what this little girl wants from her life. I googled the lyrics. Nowhere does anyone ask for happiness.

Bummer.

It got me thinking about last evening. I was at the Sonapani Music festival surrounded by amazing people. None of them were particularly rich – and if they were it certainly wasn’t on display. They were all beautiful in my eyes. Not pretty in the TV – bollywood – painted faces way. They were all lovely in their real skins, and amazingly talented. The women were beautiful because they didn’t need Maybelline to tell them that they were worth it.

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Sonapani Music Festival at the Himalayan Village Sonapani

I also spent the last month with four Ashoka Fellows. I have been working with them as part of a writing retreat, which required me to understand their work and their stories. The more I learned, the more I admired them. Each one of them is working to change something big, and has already achieved some measure of success.

These two very different groups don’t live by the lyrics of Que Sera Sera. Neither of them

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Harpreet & Moushmi

goes in search of wealth and good looks. They don’t care much how pretty, handsome or rich they are. The amazing artists at Sonapani – Harpreet, Moushumi, Shruthi & Shruteendra care about their art. They care about the world and all that is right and wrong with it. And that is captured in the beauty of their poetry and music.

Another line of “Que Sera Sera” the Ashoka Fellows don’t buy into is “what will be will be”. They look at what is, find what’s wrong with it, and work to fix it. They are not closed in their thinking. Not negatively invested in their particular organizations. They want change to happen – by whatever means. So they encourage others including their own employees  to create organizations like their own. The corporate world calls that competition. The Ashoka fellows don’t resist this competition – they encourage it.

One thing common to all these people is that they have realized early on in life that happiness will not come from money or looks. They believe it will come from some form of personal fulfillment. It could be art. Or Music. Or Poetry. Or doing something truly meaningful with their lives. In their own way each of these people makes the world a better place.

And then I meet people in other walks of life – especially in the corporate world. I meet the many people who completely believe that wealth is a proxy for happiness. The difference is stark. What strikes me is that many people never make a conscious choice. They take the default path set by society without question. The few who consciously choose business thrive in it and love that too.

No, I am not advocating poverty. I am simply saying that before your children ask for “pretty & rich” make sure they ask for “happy”.

It’s not the same thing.

 

*Talking about song lyrics, I also think they need to officially change the lyrics to one song. “She’s a jolly good fellow” has to be the new anthem. Three of the four Ashoka fellows I worked with were women.

Cartoon Credit : Dave Carpenter ( Cartoonstock)

 

 

 

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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.

A new baby at 45.

A new baby at 45.

Moving to the mountains was easy. Figuring out what to do here was harder.

The clichéd “make your hobby your profession” was exciting but also scary. unknown. I love writing. It can be mind-numbing and frustrating. But getting even a fragment right – what Mark Twain calls “a glittering paragraph” or the “luminous flash of a single sentence” can be its own reward.

So in July I got the zany idea to host a writing retreat. The “Himalayan Writing Retreat” sounded so cool. I knew of aspiring authors stuck somewhere along the way.  I had been one myself before Bokaro Jail*. I started with no curriculum, no product, no material. But a fabulous venue (a friend’s house) was a great start. I asked my old pal Roy Abraham, a multi-award winning copywriter, for help. The two brains started firing and the product evolved. Roy came up with some brilliant communication, including videos.

On August 15 we hung out the shingle. And village Satoli at 6000 ft welcomed six brave

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Intense. Absorbed.

souls. With one American, one Brit & one Kathmandu resident, and the oldest participant touching seventy, boredom didn’t have a chance.

A forest walk and bonfire were a great warm-up. The next three days were a mix of fun discussions, writing exercises, publishing industry analysis. We ended with committing to a “book writing plan” to get our books going, if not done.

Along the way we laughed a lot : often at irreverent quotes like “Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her (Jane Austen) up and beat her over the skull with her own

shin-bone.” We went for forest walks to meadows and streams. We hung around the fire,

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New friends.

we made new friends. I feel truly enriched with new writing wisdom – as much from the preparation as from the rich discussions with the witty, bright participants. I think I am now a better writer with the discipline to get my book done faster.

 

The participants echo that. The overall participant feedback score was 3.7 on 4 – cool for a first effort. Many great suggestions from them will benefit future participants.

Well-wishers helped in many different ways. Kiruba Shankar with brilliant advice, Arvindji and Mita Kapur with industry insights. Tim Sebastian helped by pushing the

retreat at the awesome iHeart café, Gagan by clicking great pictures, Annanya by putting up posters, and of course Ashish Arora by providing bread, muffins and free publicity. Topping the list was

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The man (Ladies, Roys the man. And he’s single)

Roy for, well, everything. And innumerable friends who spread the word and told potential attendees about the retreat.

 

The Himalayan Writing Retreat will now grow into a series of events to help writers across genres with many different interests. Specialist facilitators like Mariam Karim Ahlawat (an award winning  writer of plays and fiction for Kids and Adults) will enrich it even more. And Dr. Vandita Dubey (a clinical psychologist and published author) will help participants with techniques such as mindfulness to focus better and get more creative insights.

For this new journey we also have a shiny new website www.himalayanwritingretreat.com . It’s a new journey with many unknowns. Wish me luck.

*This blogger was incarcerated in Bokaro jail for a month in 2013 which is when he wrote his first book “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail” which was published by Penguin. Since then he has relocated to the Kumaon Himalayas, and the fun stuff he does besides writing this blog, riding the Himalayas, running marathons and contemplating the universe now also includes hosting the Himalayan Writing Retreat.

The Uncity School of Simplicity

The Uncity School of Simplicity

Contributor : Chinmaya Vempati, 16. Volunteer. Bangalore Resident.

Over my two week stay in these mountains I have come to truly understand this blog’s title: Uncity. Ergo, a kind of detox from the city life. I’ve lived in a few places in my 16 years: Bombay, London, Qatar, New Delhi and now Bangalore. All of them are cities – meaning they all have an artificial nighttime glow of the metropolis in its office buildings and traffic lights, with the air tinged with exhaust and tarmac.

Satkhol, a village in Uttarakhand, is something else entirely. I’ve been staying with Chetan, Vandita and their family while working in a school managed by an NGO called Chirag. I’m sat here on my couch in Bangalore, and I’m still missing the leafy scent of the

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The heavenly view from my room

morning. I miss the view of hills on hills, layered on top of one another, with snow-capped peaks in the distance, even belonging to another country depending on the direction you look.

But the life inside the house stood out to me. Was it a normal life? Yes and no, depending on how you define “normal”. The family was one you’d see anywhere, with habits, inside jokes, and the occasional argument. As an only child, I discovered in a small dose how it would be  to have younger siblings. There were neighbours and a convenience store nearby. Except, the convenience store was an uphill walk on a driveway cutting through farmland.The neighbours, instead of being adjacent, were a 10 minute walk . From the city mindset of everything you need being at your doorstep, a thought stuck around. ‘Doesn’t this need effort?’ As it turns out, it’s quite easy when you’re not distracted by the city pace and glamour. You have more time to be useful and self-sustain. The pull of technology and easy, instant gratification is less powerful. I found myself more than satisfied by simply

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Freshly plucked fruit. Tiger Shroff style.

plucking fruits, taking them back to the house hanging from a stick. For once, I felt truly useful.

That desire of usefulness is what brought me to the Chirag School. The people called me “iPad man” – my job there was to set up their recently donated iPads with learning resources for teachers and kids to use. I ended up working on the computers as well, so the nickname limits me, but oh well. I came into the school nervous, because this seemed like a JOB job, with deadlines and other terrifying official things. But I had no reason to be – the entire atmosphere was relaxed. The principal and other volunteers were cool, and the school community were so polite and kind. I was talking to people from the NGO Ekstep, and before I left they told me that NGO work is characteristically slow. And oh, they were right. It seemed like the electricity or internet were barely ever working. That’s a bit frustrating for someone working with Wi-Fi enabled electrical devices. However, that slow pace was a blessing. It allowed me to appreciate where I was and just relax, no pressure involved – and that’s how I work best. After trial and error, I managed to deploy an offline version of Khan Academy, KA Lite, in the school which could be accessed with any device. I also found iPad apps to be used as learning aids. It was an uncomplicated job, but even in the simplicity there was value that I helped create for the school. At the root of it, casting aside the obvious college-application-benefits etc. etc., I took so much pride in providing Chirag access to these amazing resources. .

I suppose I always have liked the hills. The brisk air. Moist earth and hillside rocks. The burn in your thighs after hiking up a hill, and the amazement when you look down. The cliché most people come to know in their teens especially is that each experience contains a lesson. It was more of a learning than a lesson for me. I had evolved. Nothing really specific, but just a feeling of change, a trend I noticed in myself and my life. Everything seemed simpler up there. It was easier to notice the fine points of where I was. I found myself taking things as they come, not worrying too much about commotion. It wasn’t a complex life. I’m just hoping to keep some of that sensation safe here in the city.

Author bio:

I’m going into 11th grade of high school. I’m a music, parkour and urban dance enthusiast, and I’ve just  spent 2 weeks in Kumaon recently interning at Chirag. I don’t know what I want in my future, but nowadays I like volunteering with NGOs like Chirag and Ekstep, an organisation that has created a learning platform app called Genie, available for Android. (Sorry for the product placement, but seriously, try it out, it’s great.)

Home in the hills? No, in the sky !!

Home in the hills? No, in the sky !!

Gurpreet Dhindsa was doing the Pin Parbati trek in 1995 when it struck him. These mountains – far above the urban chaos and superficiality – were home. This is where he belonged. He had to leave the city. He was 29.

He had planned the tough Pin Parbati trek with a group, but one by one the fellow trekkers dropped out.  Characteristic of Gurpreet, he continued and finished the trek solo, without a guide or porter. Pin Parbati is a brutal 11 day trek across some of the toughest terrain in the Himalayas, but Gurpreet completed it by compass, map and sheer grit.

After the epiphany, he went about shutting down his Chandigarh-based FRP fabrication business. The next few years were odd-jobs and piecemeal assignments as a resort manager, trekking guide, motorcycle tour organizer etc. All fun, none paying much, but all keeping him in the Himalayas.

Gurpreet’s other big passion was flying. He had tried learning flying formally – gliders at Pinjore flying club.  But his free spirit was stifled by the rules and regulations of the civil aviation authorities. Anything to do with an airport or airstrip meant external control by10658802_10203039989817545_740428542270924435_o often archaic rules.  Then he discovered Paragliding – a free and simple form of flying mostly controlled by the wind and weather. He started learning.

Six years of hobby flying later he hurt his shoulder at a takeoff in Nepal, and decided that he should get formal training and certification. By now Gurpreet was a part of the close-knit global paragliding community. He headed to the UK, where he earned his instructors license in a record 5 months.

Once certified, he set up PG-Gurukul  (http://www.paragliding.guru/ ), easily amongst the best paragliding outfits in the country (I can vouch – I’ve been his student). He is based in Bir village – one of the global hubs for paragliding. The initial few years as an instructor were a struggle for Gurpreet, but once the defence forces recognized his abilities and started learning from him, everything changed. That was when he also started the more technical SIV (Simulation d’Incident en Vol :French. Translated : Simulated Incidence in Flight) courses.

But while the flying school was about earning (no self-respecting pilot wants to live by

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Gurpreet (left) at one of his many podium finishes

Tandem joyrides) he was always looking to push the boundaries. That led him to competition flying. Over the past few years Gurpreet has had six podium finishes in international events and some near misses.

Sadly, the bureaucracy has arrived in this sport as well now. Did you know that they banned paragliding in Bir – over 500 km from Delhi – during the commonwealth games? The authorities might as well wear T-shirts emblazoned “ignorant non-pilot”. Gurpreet’s amazing achievements  have earned him the world’s respect, but none from the authorities that regulate paragliding in India.  That is because he freely speaks his mind from a place of science and true interest in the sport. And he is terrible at small talk and kissing up to people.   He still has the occasional run-in with the control freak political administration. He still rails against how the administration selectively hands out flying “licenses” – through babu’s who have never actually flown.

But then he goes up to the launch site at Billing. As he takes off and some strings and a piece of fabric lift him off the ground, he leaves it all behind and heads home into the open blue.

People on the ground look up and say “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, its Gurpreet!”FB_IMG_1436450857194

To see a Video of Gurpreet in the flesh click on the link below https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAEwDNjhrrk .

Yup, the hunk. That’s him.

 

 

Disclaimer : Gurpreet Dhindsa is a close friend. Authors views maybe biased. But so is everything else in the world so it really doesn’t matter. And now I can claim the disc. Ha!

 

 

 

Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson was Uncity. His advice.

Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson was Uncity. His advice.

The Calvin & Hobbes creator made a little-known comic strip about his world view on work and life. He is a master, and I can add zero value to his work, but his words resonate. I am simply transcribing them here. If you find these words powerful, and would like to see the comic strip these are taken from, please click on the link at the bottom of this post.

“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement.

In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life…a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric if not a subversive.

Ambition is only understood if it is to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success.

Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities…. Is considered a flake.

A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential. As if a job and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing … and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing.

There are a million ways to sell yourself out …. And I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy … but it’s still allowed … and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

Bill Watterson

 

See the actual cartoon strip here : http://imgur.com/gallery/nRI1l

My New Title : Vice President of something obscure

My New Title : Vice President of something obscure

“So what do you do here?” the uncomprehending visitor asks, waving vaguely at the surrounding lack of an office.

It is not just a question of income. It is a question of identity. Most urban professionals define themselves by what they do. Work is identity. I recently met a city someone at an event. We spoke for 5 minutes and I knew enough to create his linkedin profile : McKinsie, Genpact, teaching at a B school … the works.

I knew everything about him. Or maybe, I knew nothing.

The past 18 months is the longest I have been without a full-time job since college.* Quitting full-time work creates a vacuum. I think it is easier for my wife since she worked 6limited hours in the city and works limited hours here.  Harder for me. Right now my answer to the “work” question is a long winded “Oh I do some consulting and write a blog and am working on a book, and am getting my website off the ground  … and so on”. It used to be much clearer when I just said “I run a company called HCL learning Ltd”. Clearer – even in my own head.

Now, there are 3-4 things that I do – not just to earn an income (some of them – like this blog – earn nothing) but to find meaning. I do some consulting work. I am working on a schooling website called Kyaschool. I am working on a book, and I write this blog.

“Is it easy to quit full-time work?” You ask. My answer depends upon who you are.

If you are a city type looking for inspiration or a hero to worship, I will happily oblige with a nonchalant “No big deal”.

But deep inside, there is anxiety. I am no longer a CEO / President / whatever. I have given up the label that used to define me, so who am I now?

Author? No – to earn that title I should’ve  written something I feel truly proud of. “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail” doesn’t count. And this blog is too young.

Start-up guy? Hmm – but the site I am putting up is a duct-tape and bubblegum effort with a virtual team, and little expertise. There is a fair chance the whole thing will bomb. Or www.Kyaschool.com may be reduced to just a collection of Videos and Blog Posts.

Consultant ? Okay. It is a vestige of who I used to be. It is also the safety line back to full-time employment if I ever were to seek it again. Makes me feel less “left out” and a little more connected and relevant. So my resume (which, Insha-Allah, I will never need) does not have the dreaded “gap”. In many ways it is clinging to the familiar, because letting go of everything known is scary.

It is so hard to just be me.

It is not the worlds labels or expectations I am dealing with. It is my own (dis)comfort with being this new, free, unlabeled person.

Don’t get me wrong – work matters to me. Thing is, I want to do work that matters.  Over time I hope I will be able to let go and shift away from the security of the familiar into completely new areas which I know nothing about, but which matter somewhere deep inside. It could be waste management. Or something education related. Or writing.

I would like to think that eventually my work choices will stop being driven by familiarity or fear and turn into choices driven by passion. Gabriel Garcia Marquez says in “Love in the times of Cholera”:

“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

I agree. But I do wonder how long the gestation period is for rebirth.

 

*This blogger relocated to the Kumaon Himalayas from Gurgaon, and the fun stuff he does besides trekking, writing this blog, riding the Himalayas, running marathons and contemplating the universe now also includes hosting the Himalayan Writing Retreat https://uncityblog.wordpress.com/retreat/ .