Comfort in the Box

Comfort in the Box

Contributor : Lakshmi Anantnarayan

 

Fold the cardboard

Nail the sides of the crate

Make sure it’s sturdy

It won’t fall apart will it?

Use the thick marker

Is the paper water proof?

Laminate it so it will prevail

Let the font be bold

God forbid it be mistaken

For something else

Stick the label on top.

Open the lid

Climb right inside

Crawl into the little bed

You made for yourself

Stocked up on your essentials?

Now seal it tightly shut

And be safe

That this box

Your box

It is the best one yet.

 

About the poet : Lakshmi Anantnarayan describes herself as “just a 40 something person learning to feel happy taking pictures and scribbling I guess”.  We would like to add that she does much more and, amongst other things,  is an excellent photographer. You can learn more about her and her work  at https://storygarage.org/about/people-contact/ and read more of her prolific “scribblings” at https://oldbrownshoes.wordpress.com/ .

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Breaking the City Habit

Breaking the City Habit

(First Uncity post – reblogged. Update at the end.)

Cities threaten us – with pollution, with traffic, with papers full of crime. We are even threatened by the number of classes the neighbour’s kid goes to “Music, soccer, cursive writing and Tuition!!” you say to her with a gritty smile “Wow!”.

We forget the simplicity of our own childhoods. The big green trees, the vast abundance of time, the easy conversations. The time when vacations lasted months – not the “long weekend” which is invariably too short. We forget a time with a lot of time.

We think the city habit is a necessity. And breaking habits is hard, so we adapt. We make financial plans, and factor in “quality of life” as one line item. To achieve this quality of life we then work long hours and weekends, otherwise we risk missing that increment, that EMI.  And we give that small inner child seeking open green spaces the lollipop of a “park facing” house.

I lived this very life for many years. But something never felt quite right. Many things about our city life – the ironies and absurdity – bothered me. But when my six year old son started wheezing and the doctor and some friends said it was pretty common in city children, we were forced to relook at our priorities. In Goa, Chail, even Allahabad my boy breathed clean as a whistle – but he choked up the moment he entered the city.

It wasn’t him. It was the city air.

And I didn’t think any city or career was worth putting my little boy on medication.

So after 20 years of corporate urban life we decided to leave the city. My wife had wanted to move to a simpler life in a greener nicer place for years. But quitting the rat race can be hard if you’re married to a rat.

We started our search in the spring of 2014. We both knew we wanted to live in the Himalayas. After a year of travel and research, we packed our bags and moved to the Kumaon Himalayas in March 2015. We chose that area because we liked a school there.

We moved tentatively – unsure how long we would stay. We rented a place instead of buying or building. I quit my city job but switched to consulting so I continued to work remotely. We rented out our city house – so we could go back if needed. We weren’t far from Delhi – an overnight train journey.

The move was a big change for everybody. A family of four, it would have to work for each one of us. The biggest change was for the kids. They had moved from a massive urban English medium school to a tiny rural Hindi-medium one. My wife – a US licensed psychologist – moved her practice to phone & Skype and – surprisingly – still retained half her clients. She published her first book, and has even added new clients after moving here – and now does dedicated therapy retreats where people work with her one-on-one in these serene surroundings (curious? www.vanditadubey.com).

Since the move life has become simpler. Easier. Our house faces the mother of all parks.  We get milk from cows, not plastic packets. OurIMG-20150406-WA0001

View from our park-facing house

neighbour has five cows, and my daughter – a newly discovered naturalist – knows each one personally. No milk-enhancing injections or funny fodder here. And the milk is so fresh it’s still warm when it reaches us. Vegetables and fruits are often plucked from the local farms and orchards. We don’t need RO Filters. TV’s are few, and watched lesser, so people talk more. And the few TVs around look like TVs – not like king size beds tacked to a wall.

“Throughput” in management speak “has gone down”. We earn less (money). We spend less (money). But we have a lot more time. We go for long walks and explore the mountains around our house. I play a lot more with my kids. Badminton, Monopoly – whatever. Last October we completed our first trek as a family.  My son, now 8, walked 30 km over 3 days – up and down mountains – without any problem. My daughter rode a mule – and developed a relationship with it. She now wants one to ride to school everyday.

We have rediscovered living in a community. We share food with our neighbours. We celebrate festivals together. We reach out to neighbours when we need help.  Credit cards are not accepted, but people extend credit because they know you.

My kids don’t go to any classes or tuition. They enjoy school, and live without pressure. They learn much from nature – and from an awesome science teacher in their school. Their curiosity is alive and well, and with the internet available (yup – we have broadband!) – in a controlled manner – they have access to learning beyond what the school offers. And we have time for them.

We don’t fear crime or traffic. We often leave our doors unlocked. The kids – 7 & 8 years old – walk to their friends’ houses without any adult, and sometimes the 3 km to their school. Sure, we have to deal with the occasional scorpion. And keep our dogs safe from leopards. But the threats here are fewer and less vicious than those in the city.

We do miss a few city things. Eating out is a big rarity – the nearest restaurant is a 40 minute drive, and the next one is 80. We cannot order Pizza – or anything else, for that matter. Provisions and choices are fewer. The pace is slower. Some city visitors – those that sync their calendars on their ultrabooks, ipads and mobiles – ask us “But what do you do here?”

Everything has not gone perfectly. Our son took a while to settle in. Initially he missed his school, and his old friends, and felt like an outsider. My travel was rather gruelling – 10 days a month can feel a lot more than one-third. And sometimes the lack of urban options and choices does irritate.

But all things considered, we love our new life. It has been a year now, and I don’t think we are going back. Sure, the city offers some good things. But they are no match for the many great things we have discovered away from it.

(Update August 2016 : We have been here 17 months now, and did the six day Pindari trek in May. A new restaurant opened close by. We sold the city house and are building one here. I am reducing travel and am trying to do more stuff locally – like the Himalayan Writing Retreat – https://uncityblog.wordpress.com/retreat/ . And we’ve started baking our own bread and thin crust pizzas.)

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

IMG_2162
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!

 

 

 

Leave the city? And ruin the kids future?

Leave the city? And ruin the kids future?

“Hindi medium?” said my city friend, aghast. Eyes wide open. Mouth also. The food was going to fall out, so I quickly said “It’s not that hard. Let me explain.”

She swallowed the food, but not my reasoning. I could see that my logic completely missed the mark. Let me try again here.

The essence of what I told her was that my wife and I were not necessarily looking for a highly competitive school with lots of tests / tuitions / cutting edge technology. Quite the opposite – we were looking for a simple school. One where kids stayed innocent a little longer. A school where our kids would be happy and enjoy the learning process. Both my wife and I remember school as a stressful, unhappy place. But we believe that joy and learning are not contradictory, and should not be.

The last one year has largely borne out our beliefs.

Our two kids moved from a large, urban school to a small rural one*. Both schools follow a similar belief system and methodology – but differed in many other things, including the medium of instruction. Our kids left all their old friends behind, and how quickly they adapted depended a lot on how quickly they made friends.

Our daughter R was not yet seven when we moved. She loved the open green spaces and all the natural beauty of the mountains and she was perfectly at home within the first few days. A was eight, and took longer to adjust and get accustomed to the new set-up.

But they have both adjusted and evolved in their own way.

R has embraced everything around her. Whether it be butterflies, or what the cow eats, and when it gives milk, to how long a pony lives or what a horseshoe does – she is seeking IMG_20160524_063422out knowledge of nature and our surroundings with an amazing curiosity. Her Hindi has improved a lot, and she now speaks two versions of Hindi – one in the house, and the other with her Kumaoni classmates and friends. The difference is drastic. And of course, she is picking up some Kumaoni as well.

A is more reserved, and took longer to make friends. But he has been able to get deeper into things that interest him. The stuff he now chooses to do are driven by an inherent personal interest, rather than the influence of friends or peer pressure. He has developed a deep interest in paper folding which he feeds by teaching himself stuff from the internet. He has also developed an interest in Chess, and plays that with the computer and also some of his classmates.

They are learning about life from the cow next door having a calf. From our pet dog delivering a litter of six pups, taking care of them, and the pain of giving them away. They learn from finding the skull and bones of small carnivorous rodents in the forest, taking them to school and researching them. And learn about life simply from the extreme seasons, and understand what grows and when. They don’t just study the relationship between the seasons, and when fruits ripen – they live it.

One of the most satisfying things for me personally is the interest they have developed in Hiking. We have done two hikes, the last one being a six day hike to Pindari glacier. R rode a mule while A walked 60 kilometres up and down forest trails with small backpacks over 6 days. What surprised me most was that on the last day of the hike A was already planning the next one!

But above all this, the biggest factor is the time I am able to spend with them – be it reading together with them, going on picnics, playing games, plucking fruit or doing small woodworking projects. Being a father in person beats being a father in absentia hands down. And I’ve been both. Since we have left the city I have much more time for them, and they both notice and appreciate the change.

We all love the time we now get to spend together. And that’s hard for even the best school to compete with.

 

*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/ .

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/ .

 

Forest Fires : Part 2

Forest Fires : Part 2

The Picture uploaded above was the Pamphlet being distributed by the Government to help manage the fire. Helpful, huh?

Anyway, my big firsthand lesson was that you fight fire with fire.

We had set the forest below the road on fire in an attempt to control the oncoming flames. In just minutes the entire forest downhill from the road was burnt or ablaze – and the fire had been cut-off at the road. It seemed to have stopped its forward movement.

Since this front seemed well manned (apologies to all feminists but “personned” just doesn’t work for me) and under control, I headed to Sushil’s house. A bunch of volunteers and visitors had all come together and were fighting the fire together. They had the advantage of access to a natural spring: water. I joined in the efforts and we were able to put out the fire all along a jungle path. Except a small section of the fire that had spread into a forest down from the path which was a sheer drop – too steep to go down and fight. Powerless, we saw it spreading slowly, steadily into the valley below. We threw a few mugs of water at it. If a fire could’ve laughed at us, it would’ve. Across on the other side of the same valley was another house. We could see that the fire would eventually find its way there. (It did later in the night, but was contained by Sushil & co). That was when I realized how difficult it actually was to put a fire out. You have to put it out in all directions. Even if you could not see the end of the fire, you had to find it, and then put both ends out. Otherwise it just circles back around the fire line and catches up.

Hungry and tired, I headed to Sonapani hoping to find some food. Vandita – my wife – had already left to be with the kids. At Sonapani a remarkably non-chalant Deepa was discussing handicrafts and showing her hand-painted T-shirts (which are pretty awesome) to some guests. Naïve, I didn’t realize she was – rightly – trying to keep the guests mind off the fires. I could see two fires in the distance, and now in the dark they looked particularly ominous. I knew her crew was out fighting one fire but wasn’t sure they knew of the other one, which was off to a side. I jumped on the parapet and started pointing to them and talking about them. Through gritted teeth Deepa told me to tone down my non-stop gibberish about fighting the fire (while she quietly called her team and told them to head to the second fire).

I finally got a bite to eat, and called Sushil to check how things were going. Predictably, he said the fire was back on. I was dog tired – it had been a long day. A non-smoker, I felt like I had smoked a thousand cigarettes in one evening. But I figured one last visit was okay so headed to Sushil’s. The fire we thought we had put out was back on and closer to the house. We had a pipe with running water and buckets, and one by one doused the two fronts on which we were fighting the fire. The shell-shocked volunteers were city folk who had come to holiday or to volunteer at Aarohi. Some looked decidedly at-risk as they teetered up scrubby, pathless slopes lugging buckets in the darkness in their delicate city shoes. They had come expecting to have a relaxed holiday or some easy travel, and instead were pitted against forest fires in the dark with torches, headlamps and buckets of water to lug.

No frying pans and, suddenly, fire.

Later one of them was to tell me how impressed they were that I turned up in the night and was carting buckets up and down. I had blushed right through my unfair & lovely cheeks.

_______

Afterthought : I don’t think my effort actually made much of a difference to any of the fires. As a first timer I was learning on the job and making mistakes as I went. The bravado in the above article is largely to make myself feel important. One of the benefits of writing first-hand is that it is always your version. Ha.

Afterthought2 : They just released a podcast about me talking about writing. It’s always fun to hear people who know very little talk with much authority about something – just like this blog. Check it out at https://soundcloud.com/firstbookpodcast/chetan-mahajan-advice-on-how .