Saturday, March 20, 2010

My Mother – My God

I could have also written: My Mother – Oh My God!!! Since besides being the living god for me, she actually infuses the deepest sense of wonder and admiration each time I consciously think about what all she has done and continues to do.

I am what I am today and what I will ever be is solely due to my mother. She never told me what to do or how to shape my life or where my dreams must take me. Instead she encouraged me to dream whatever I wished to however big and wild and impossible they may seem, and she believed in my dreams and never stopped me from following them. She never said ‘no’ to whatever I wanted to do, and that’s where she planted the seed of discovery and exploration and adventure in me.

My mother was a young widow, with almost no one on Earth to help her out; neither would she have taken any help even if there were people to do so. She had very odd son. Who broke every rule and norms of the society and dreamt of things that normally people wouldn’t. I have no idea how my mother brought me up or kept our dreams alive since we had an extremely hard and impoverished childhood. There were many days when we didn’t know if we would have the next meal or not. But through everything we stayed together, grounded, and very much aware that life is not easy but it is lot of fun and if we didn’t give up on our dreams and goals we would get there sooner or later. She did all sorts of odd jobs and so did I to make ends meet. We had nothing but we were happy and fun and living as she would tell  stories at night of the mythological heroes, of the braveries of Gods and the Kings.

My mother came from a family of writers and musicians and she used to be a Radio artist when my father was alive. She trained into classical music and was an exponent of vocal, Kathak, sitar, tanpura, etc. Alongside she also wrote books, poems, limericks, lyrics and composed songs. She did oil and water colors, amazing textile work of finest craftsmanship. She loved children and trained to become a Montessori certified teacher and used to teach in Mother Teresa’s school. She worked for the old people and also was an active member of our neighborhood temple where she sang the evening prayers for the devotees each evening. She was and is a voracious reader and right from my earliest childhood I remember that books were the predominant occupants of our home. Books were everywhere and she bought them, made us read or read them out to us. Even today she has a voluminous library of books. She knew all the herbs and flowers of nature and the birds and animals and took us into the jungles and taught us to recognize many such species. From her I picked up my love for the outdoors and wildlife. Despite all these for some reason she always suffered from ailments. Even before my dad passed away she had already undergone three major surgeries and it had weakened her constitution considerably. Even so, her enthusiasm and energy and drive to do hundred things simultaneously never waned.

Losing one’s father at a young age, if it has to happen, is not a bad thing. I am thankful that it happened in the sense that it made us completely self-reliant and accept the fact that whatever we wished to do or be in life was totally up to us. We had no backups no safety net below. Mother drove this message home very strongly. We took few years to stabilize. I continued gallivanting across the world hopping from one peak to another and trying every possible ways to get killed. Every acquaintance of my mother told her how could she let her son keep doing such things and not force him to study or go to college. I am not sure what her answers were to them, but to me her stock advice would be, ‘don’t worry just go out and live your life the way you want to’. After some time I too picked up a measly paying job and then mother fell severely ill and had to undergo two more major surgeries, which broke her body significantly. Getting her expensive medicines and adequately nutritious food was a task we struggled with. But her mind remained unvanquished. And then I joined the Navy. With that our financial matters got stabilized to some extent. I told mother to indulge in whatever she fancied as she now started living with me. Wherever my postings took me, she came along.

Her zest for life and to learn and do new things skyrocketed thereafter. She became a homeopath practitioner, started her music lessons again, took up horticulture and became a trained arborist, started teaching children and adults, started her paintings, writing, playing mother to all my friends and course mates. She is a very social and gregarious person and loves entertaining people and stuffing them with delicious food. So while I was mostly away either on work or climbing somewhere, our home would have steady flow of visitors all vying for her attention. Mother advised parents and children and soon she became a councilor. Even other parents of her age group came to her for advice.

Though she followed the strict norms of a Hindu widow for a while, the moment we grew up enough and had means to follow, I strictly forbade her to do any such things. I always get her the brightest clothes possible all befitting the modern trends and all fancy accessories to wear. She has nice array of skirts, jeans, jackets, etc. Her winter wardrobe is of course the finest possible in the world as her collection has some of the biggest and best brands that money can buy. She is fond of scarves and hats and I get her one from wherever I go. Once I went off for an expedition and when I returned home after two months I found my mom’s room full of white paper sheets with puncture marks through all of them. She was busy puncturing another sheet with a funny needle kind of thing. I realized that she has finally become senile and insane as she was just turning 58 then. She shocked me out of my wits when she declared that it was Braille she was writing and she wanted to create a library of entertaining books for the blind. Till then I had known of Braille only vaguely. Till today I can’t figure out how she could have learned and mastered Braille (and from where?) within 2 months so that she was writing books for the blind. She started off by transcribing popular fairy tales and stories then went on to the likes of Thomas Hardy, Sherlock Holmes, Ayn Rand, Somerset Maugham and finally my writings. She even taught other blind people around how to read Braille. She labored day and night for years to get her collection as vivid, varied and entertaining as she could muster, till her cervical spondylitis prevented her from continuous Braille work. Though she still writes in phases, she has now donated her entire collection to a blind school in Kolkata.

She has complied a book of typical Bengali cuisine full of nutrition and health tips along with household tips. She has written many poetry and continues to write them as well as limericks, devotional and romantic songs. She has completed her first full length novel and is now working on the next. Few years ago she surprised me by asking me to find a place for her in Kolkata since she had found a music guru from whom she wished to learn Bengali folk songs. At 65 it’s a strange request and I tried to dissuade her out of it, sighting her ill-health, etc, but to no avail. So she left for a year and half and stayed alone in Kolkata just so she could learn music from one of the last legends of Bengali folk song. Attending classes with students less than half her age and few teenagers too, she was adjudged the best student at the end of the course. When I went to bring her back to Delhi, her teacher specially called me to tell me that in his sixty years of music career he had never met anyone like my mom. After this she decided that she wanted to live by herself, so I got her a place near Delhi and she shifted there lock stock and barrel. Soon enough she had found a music teacher and started her music lessons with renewed gusto. In few months she had become the universal guardian and councilor for the entire society. Grownups come to her to seek advice about their children, the children come to her to learn how to handle the grownups, quarrelling couple seek advice on how to live in harmony, and people even come to her to learn how to invest wisely.

My mother is now over 70 and she has a deep and unshakable faith in God without any ritualistic fervor. She believes and has always taught us that it is an inner thing, communion with God, it is personal and it needn’t be tied to any rituals or external manifestations. She never forced anything, no ideas, no dogmas, no ethics, no rules, nothing. She just did what she thought was right and left us to follow whatever we thought was right and best for ourselves.

She has recently taught herself to take photographs and make collages. Her botanical albums have been lauded by some of our leading botanical organizations. Recently she had a meeting with our national botanical society people where she gave a demonstration of how she has been collecting and preserving her collection. Her collection, courtesy me, has plant specimens from some of the remotest regions in the world.

Her health is frail though she looks much younger than her age as her joy for life makes her face glow. She refuses to say ‘no’ to life and even today can outclass any teenager in a party.

She loves to travel and when she was younger I used to take her to many places. Last year I took her to the Andaman Islands where she lived in some jungle cottages alone with deer and peacocks and then befriended the local Wildlife warden on her own. She can’t take long flights hence I can’t take her anywhere in Europe and she is absolutely petrified of any twisting roads hence my regret that I will never be able to take her into the Himalaya.

Her ideas and ways of life has always been way ahead of her time and I never hesitated to bring my girlfriends home. She accepted each one of them as her own child, even when she knew that they would go out of her son’s life soon.

Never questioning, never doubting, never judging, yet always supporting and backing us up in all our thoughts, ideas and actions, my mother has remained the single most powerful and motivating force of my life. I have never seen God but for me my mother is the incarnation through whom I see my God.

I would wrap up with the three pillars she taught me to set my life with, these are my mother's wisdom:

Never do anything for money or fame (don't follow money, follow your dreams and passion and money will follow you)
Always believe in your dreams (if you don't then no one will)
Always follow your heart (listen to your head for rationality, but always decide with your intuition and conscience and you will never make a wrong decision)

P.S. Some of you might have noticed that this is my 100th post and as a milestone in my blog, I wanted to dedicate it to my mother. If you recall, my 50th post was dedicated to my Uncle Fred. Between these two people I can find almost every reason, every season to be what I am and to become what I would ever be. I know for each one of us, our mother is supreme and I am sure all your mothers are equally wonderful and loving and this post is to all the mothers and to all the children whom they nurtured.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Befriending Fear

People say that I am courageous and I do things that need courage, but honestly I have never been consciously courageous, or felt courage coursing through my veins. In fact I am not really sure what courage means or how does it feel to be courageous. I do things that challenges me, excites me, makes me feel alive, keeps me on and off the edge. Whatever fuels my passion and love for the outdoors is what I do. But then what about fear! Now that’s something I can quite correlate to. I have felt fear, I know how your stomach knots and throat dries up when fear runs through your heart and freezes your blood.

Absence of courage is not fear and likewise absence of fear is not courage. Courage (if there indeed is a thing like that) is a fickle friend and is a weak ally since it flees so easily when faced with situations and adversaries. But look at fear, it never deserts you, it never abandons you, it stays and fear is not afraid of anything at all. Living constantly under the shadow and in the company of ‘death’ I confronted fear at an early stage of life and I also realized that it is a highly potent and overpowering force / phenomenon. I also realized that it was pointless to fight it, or to deny its existence or its potency. And I did what any sensible person should do when faced with something way mightier than him.

I befriended ‘Fear’.

It became my ally, my dearest friend and I was no longer afraid of it. Fear is an absolute feeling, though we end up relating it to different aspects and actions in our lives. As a force, as an entity it is absolute and is not necessarily related to anything else. It has its shades though and manifestations, incarnations, etc but I am asking you to befriend the entity in itself. Once you do that you would never be scared of fear. It is your friend now and instead it is going to give you limitless power and courage to move forward and do things that previously you couldn’t or wouldn’t.

Remember: Fear is not a Foe to be battled with; it is a Friend to be kept on your side. Fear is indeed the key to success.

So next time when fear stalks you (for whatever reason), look into its eyes straight and say: I am scared but I am not scared of you so please help me overcome it.

You will feel something amazing happening within and around you after that. Fear will hold your hand and guide you across the threshold of whatever had scared you.

Befriend ‘Fear’ like I do.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I am not sure if I am turning into a poet in the last few months since I haven't been able to go to the mountains and it is often said that poetry flows out of a bereaved heart. My blog might now be looking less like an extreme adventure travel and climbing blog but let me assure all of you that more nail biting edge of the seat stories are coming up soon. Meanwhile another rendering of the heart. This one was provoked but not caused by a line that a friend of mine said to me just a day before while we were discussing the friends in our respective lives. It triggered these thoughts and I took out the words from the world around. I have written these thoughts but I am sure it belongs to each one of you, it tells your story too. Somewhere, some time, someone you really loved and cared for did go away. So here's to all of you and to all of us:

Why do you hide
When I wish to find
Why do you run
When I wish to bind

Why do you stop
When I wish to play
Why do you cry
When I want you gay

Why do you melt
When I wish to hold
Why do you meek
When I want you bold

Why do you close
When I wish to seek
Why do you laugh
When I am bleak

Why go far
When I want you close
Why not sing
When great wind blows

Why can’t we be friends
When love is gone
Why can’t we be together
When our heart’s don’t belong

Must you hurt
When I am hurting too
Must your eyes moisten
When mine are smarting too

Why do people come
And people go away
Why those who matter
Don’t ever stay

Monday, March 8, 2010

Increase Camera Battery Life – Outdoor Photography Tricks and Treats

Unless you are a dedicated and hard core outdoor photographer it is highly unlikely that you would carry a solar panel with you when you venture away from the civilization, to charge your batteries. One of the biggest concerns of any outdoor photographer is how to conserve the battery power to the maximum possible limit. Since most often you can’t recharge the batteries in the outdoors you have to prolong its power by optimizing your usage pattern so that you get all the pictures you want and not let your battery die on you. The intrinsic battery power to a large extent depends upon the type of battery your camera uses; a lithium battery is much more powerful than normal pencil AA cells but needs to be recharged, whereas in AA cells always go for Duracells. I will discuss more on the battery type and power features and safekeeping in the outdoors in a separate post. The obvious solution to prevent running out of batteries is to carry extra sets with you and keeping them dry and warm till they are needed in a safe weatherproof pouch somewhere inside your backpack. Needless to say you must recharge your camera batteries to the maximum possible from the last possible place before you step out into the wild outdoors. Now let’s see what all you can do to increase your camera battery life to the maximum. You can blindly follow these tips and I can guarantee that your battery life will go up by at least two times if not more.

a) Turn off auto-flash feature. Use flash very judiciously only when you need it. Don’t use it for backlit compensation or night photography. You can do all touching up later in photoshop. Most of us avoid flash anyway since flash kills all effects. Though flash can be used very creatively to create effects and illusions, you don’t have such luxuries in the outdoors. Carry external flash for unavoidable situations. They have their own batteries and take much less energy out of your camera.

b) Avoid ‘Auto Camera’ mode as much as possible. Go manual or use one of the aperture or shutter priority program modes.

c) Go manual focus mode, switch off auto focus motor.

d) Turn off light beam aided focus feature. The camera would still focus in auto-focus mode unless the subject is really dark or indefinite.

e) Turn off LCD review screen. These days you have huge memory cards so keep shooting instead of needing to review each and every shot you take. Even if you need to keep the LCD screen on, dim it to the barest minimum.

f) Turn off all features that make a beep or an audio sound (like for auto-focus, etc).

g) Do not start reviewing, editing or deleting the pictures from your album while on the move. Most modern DSLR or point and shoot cameras have versatile features to edit your pictures like day light and exposure compensations, cropping, rotating, etc and it is tempting to start doing that when you are resting at night, etc but please don’t do it.

h) Don’t keep switching on or off your camera frequently. Switch it off only when you are sure that you are not going to take a picture for duration of 30 minutes or more.

i) Minimize using the auto zoom function. Zoom manually if you need it and your camera has that feature.

j) Keep the camera out of cold, snow, water, etc anything that can make it go cold when not in use.

k) If your camera comes with ‘Auto Power Saving’ mode, always use it when not taking pictures

l) Don’t use red eye compensation feature. Any red eye can be removed later in photoshop or picasa, etc

m) Select the picture resolution (raw/NEF/large/medium/small/fine/high/low) judiciously as per your requirement. Higher the resolution you chose, higher the battery consumption and for most regular pictures you really don’t need the highest resolution of your camera. Be selective about the resolution. I personally select lowest resolutions for pictures that I take only for memory and not for any aesthetics, etc like the name of a road or a village, or just the face of a person I wish to recall later.

n) Use viewfinder to focus and stop using the LCD screen for focusing. These days’ DSLR have started coming out with Live View modes as well but I doubt how many of us really use it.

o) Stop using multiple shot or multiple exposure features unless you are taking wild life and bird pictures. Use single shot mode.

p) At night remove the battery from the body and keep it inside your clothing or sleeping bag to keep it warm.

q) Don’t fiddle with your shutter button unless you really want to take a picture. While composing a shot just view the scenery through your view finder without pressing the shutter half way down, etc.

r) Always go for a faster memory card which can capture and store your images at a much lesser time. There are several brands in the market, and ask your dealer to suggest to you the fastest one.

s) If there are two or more of you and need to use flash then it is a good policy to use only one of the camera flashes while the others synchronize and shoot within that flash. You can count and at ‘3’ all of you click and only one camera lights up the view with its flash.

t) While charging your battery at home or anywhere, always take out the battery from its charger the moment you see the light showing that it is fully charge. Do not overcharge. By keeping it under charge beyond this point will actually lessen the life of the battery (besides increasing your electricity bill of course).

u) Always delete all previous pictures and format your battery memory card before starting to shoot new pictures. This will keep your memory card fast.

v) Turn off ‘clean sensor’ feature that in many cameras happen automatically every time you switch on or off the camera (Canon / Nikon etc)

Things you can do if you can:

1. Carry several sets of fully charged extra batteries. Keep them warm, dry and out of the weather in a safe place till you need them. Keeping batteries near an open fire or cooking gas is not a good idea to warm or dry them up

2. Carry solar panel and charger and adopter for your camera

3. Read the camera manual carefully and do a thorough research about your camera features on the net or with knowledgeable friends and simply turn off all features that you are not going to use. You will be amazed at the number of features all modern digi-cams offer and even more amazed to learn how little of those we really need and use.

Friday, March 5, 2010

All I Want is You

This is dedicated to all the women who are and were ever in my life, in whatever way, in whichever form... irrespective of where they are today and with whomsoever since there's no one with me... and all I want is you

Do I have to be around
When I want to be with you

Do I have to hold you close
When I am with you

Do I have to say the words
When I speak to you

Do you have to go far
When I wish to be with you

Do I have to come close
When I feel for you

Do I have to lie awake
To be cuddled to sleep by you

Do I have to walk away
When rejected by you

Do I have to bleed myself
For you to say I love you

Do I have to buy you presents
When all I need is you

Do I have to send you flowers
When I am sorry for you

Do I need to touch your soul
When I want to caress you

Do I need to meet your eyes
When I want to look at you

Do I have to tell you lie
When I wish to make love to you

Do I have to gather you in my arms
When I need to uplift you

Do I have to love myself
The way I love you

Do I have to perish finally
To forever be with you

Do I have to?
Do I have to?

When all I want… IS YOU

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I wonder

The following is dedicated to all women who stir such thoughts in our hearts through the silence of the night.

I wonder how you look
When you wear only your smile
I wonder what you took
When you went away for a while

I wonder how you passed your day
When you had so much on your mind
I wonder if you thought of me
When you drew the window blind

I wonder what you think
When you think of nothing at all
I wonder what you scribe
When in your dream you scrawl

I wonder what your heart says
When it speaks of me
I wonder if then your soul’s restless
As it ever can be

I wonder if you think of me
When the day is dragging along
I wonder if you know as I do
Together we really belong

I wonder how you look at me
If you look at me at all
I wonder if you hide your pains
The way I hide them all

I wonder how far will you go
Before you know I am not around
As you walk will you come to know
You trample me beneath the ground

I wonder will you ever know
How much you meant to me
I wonder how long will it take
Before I let it be

I wonder how you look
When you wear only your smile
I wonder what you took
When you went away for a while