Thursday, June 27, 2013

Life in a Cube

Often hailed as the world’s most popular and most recognizable puzzle game and also the most perplexing, I doubt if there are many on this planet who haven’t heard of Rubik’s Cube. And I am sure most such people have always harvested the desire to solve one, if one could be solved. With 43 quintillion permutations (43,252,003,274,489,856,000 to be precise) this cube has long puzzled mankind leaving only very few cube crazies to be able to do it. When we look at a scrambled cube and start to unscramble using whatever little brain or logic we have, very soon we realize that we are not reaching anywhere. And after few hours we are ready to throw it out of the window out of sheer frustration. Yet when we watch a master turn and twist the abominable cubies or cubelets (the tiny cubes that make up the entire cube) and place before us a perfectly solved cube in seconds then we can only gasp and wonder at the magic of it all.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Don't Talk Just Climb

I am motionless as a spider spying upon its prey. I am stuck on a sheer column of ice, no thicker than few inches with visible ground far beyond my eyes dare to travel. I feel like a spider but wonder (the most irrelevant notion at that moment) if ever a spider has ventured across icy terrains of such smoothness and vertical travesty. Even as my eyes, though still, look for places where I could place my ice pick, my four limbs glued to the element begins to grow weary. Precious seconds are ticking away and all I can do is gasp, breathe, and pray for a miracle.

With mother Earth nearly 100 m below I am venturing upon a new ice route in the cold frigid mountains of Colorado’s Telluride town deep end of box canyon on one of the most treacherous and iconic winter routes of all, the dreaded ‘Bridal Veil’ graded WI 5-6 under normal conditions. It is a tottering column of such jumbled ice sculpture that from the bottom you cannot see even 1/4th of the way up.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Short Guide to Happiness for Dummies

I like to believe that I am a happy and content human being even if I aspire for more. And this self-belief has only been heightened by hundreds of my friends who seek my advice and guidance in matters of happiness at moments of perplexity. So I figured I must be doing something right to be in this constant state of flux, always changing, transforming, yet smiling and happy and joyful – most of the time. Few religious beliefs and schools of philosophy has led us to accept that ‘life is suffering’, also most of us find life too difficult or complex and complicated. But not once do we see that the key to happiness is with us, within us. Happiness and sorrow are simultaneously present no matter who we are, where we are, what we do or how we live. The difference is in our vision, in our attitude, in our way of life. I must explain the title to this post before we proceed further, lest some of you may be offended: a short guide since your guide here is short (I am only 170 cm in my heels) and by no means I am implying that any of you or all of you are ‘dummies’, it’s just a figure-of-speech I like.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


I just got back after climbing a big mountain, really big, really high though may not be really difficult. This story is not about this mountain or about the climb but about a vivid dream that I dreamt one night in one of the high camps and then on waking up, remained so clear that I jotted it down in my diary (which incidentally has not even one line about the climb). So here is the dream verbatim as the way I remembered and recorded in my diary.

This is what I saw…

A wise man from a fair skinned nation once traveled to the great East, into the Himalaya and chanced upon a naked sage, who, it was reported, had remained stationary at one place beneath a towering peak for as long as one could remember. The wise man, full of wisdom and himself, drew level with the naked sage and asked, ‘why are you stationary, so seeped into stillness when everything within this cosmos is in motion?’

The naked sage smiled through his dense beard and muttered, ‘my honorable friend from far, you answer your own question; for tell me how can one study motion if one is not still himself! By moving with motion how will one know who moves; the observer or the observed?’

‘But then what about stillness, how will you study stillness by being still yourself?’ the wise man retorted, bent upon to demonstrate his superior learning.

‘My friend stillness doesn’t need to be studied. It is like the silent still water of a perfectly motionless pond across the distant hills upon which the cosmos is reflected in its entirety; the azure, the mountains, the flying birds, the sun and the moon and the rotating stars, even the passage of the seasons and the rainbows. And my friend if you can’t see it, feel it or grasp it then it is you who is still groping for stillness.

‘Life from the outside is like the rolling waves and tides of a great ocean where despite million collisions, upheavals and resistance within, they all move and flow in perfect synchronicity, in one smooth pre-designated patterned path; therefore there is life as there is death like the trough and crest of a distant wave. One cannot exist without the other and without them being together neither can the flow of events. We live inside therefore we see chaos, the collision, the battle, the turmoil, but from afar and without to an observer sitting on a distant shore, we all are moving in perfect harmony like the dancing Wu Li Masters.

‘And just like the waves when they strike the shore breaking up into infinite pieces of complete disharmony, so does life break its pattern when we urge it to stop flowing its cosmic unending cycle. For life is in ‘motion’ while harmony is in the ‘wave.’

That’s where my dream ended and I woke up. The above may be a garble or riddle or plain as day. It may mean nothing or anything… go figure!

Wandering Shiva

Recently I climbed a big mountain; big both in girth and loftiness, very big. Much happened during this climb and much that should not have happened, but today’s story is not about this mountain or about the climb, it’s about something else entirely. Something that is intriguingly significant to me and even though I do see its rationale in afterthought I am still puzzling over the incident.

Lord Shiva is one of the primary Hindu Gods, in fact the most supreme of the trinity. He is on one hand the destroyer and on another the procreator since without annihilation there can’t be creation or so we believe. Shiva certainly is someone’s figment of imagination on high testosterone and the legend is an extraordinary saga. Of all the facts about Shiva that we are led to believe, the one I hold closest to my heart is that He resides in the Himalaya and his five abodes are spread across the length of the icy peaks. Therefore with that belief, he is my only god since Himalaya is my home too and the icy peaks my abodes. Even if He indeed exists, I doubt if He does so in the way we depict Lord Shiva in our myths; wearing tiger skin, snake around the neck and holding the moon in his hair locks. Yet this image is so deeply embedded in any Hindu mind that I cannot imagine him to be any way different than this.

Memory defies me as to its origin now, who gave it to me or where did it come from, but for over two decades I have had in my possession a tiny Shiva statue, measuring no more than an inch by half. It has been my inseparable companion for all these years during all my climbs, all my voyages over land, sea or air. No matter where I went, it went with me. It stood atop one of my ice axes while at home. In this statue Shiva is in His benign form, smiling, all forgiving and truly magnificent. As I went through my adventures and misadventures, repeating my death defying and death-inviting motions, I came to regard this statue as my guardian angel, as if Shiva Himself stayed with me to safeguard my limbs and life. I grew bolder, crazier and reckless with this belief.

On any climb, the statue remained inside by breast pocket, therefore remaining close to my heart and to my pulsating life. I never parted with it and never failed to carry it, no matter where I went. I knew it was only my belief that gave this statue mythical power over life and death and despite all my rationality I was fine with it. I have seen logic-defying things in the outdoors and out there I believe in things that normally I may not. Hence it is obvious that upon this big mountain too I had this statue right where it belonged – deep inside the breast pocket of my climbing jacket / suit. And that’s exactly where it remained for the duration of the expedition.
Everything went off well and I could feel the statue against my skin through the clothes every now and then. The climb continued as envisaged. We finally reached the summit camp one fine windy afternoon. We had planned to start our summit push the same evening. We were well within the death-zone. The statue, as far as I can recall now, was very much there. After this things get fuzzy.

In the bone chilling freeze we got ready for the summit bid, clipped on our oxygen masks and breezed out into the gale that was blowing in from the west. After 20 hrs and a successful summit when I returned to the tent I had no recollection about the Shiva statue. I looked for the statue in all the lower camps till the Base Camp but the statue could not be found anywhere. I fail to understand how could the statue fall off from the inside pocket of my down climbing suit, since the pocket was well zipped off. I hadn’t fallen any place. The statue could not have disappeared, yet it had, as if it never existed. I looked everywhere except of course retracing my path to the summit once more.

So the question is why did Shiva decide to take a hike upon this mountain!

Either he was tired of me or of returning to the city life again and again or he decided to stay back into the Himalaya this time and what better place to go roaming than the highest Himalayan arena. His main abode of Sri Kailash isn’t too far as well. By now He must be with his friends and overlooking the limpid blue waters of Mansarovar, relating the adventures he had shared over the last 20 years in my company. So I wish him luck and accept that He is gone.

Does that mean I would go get another statue of Shiva or that my guardian is no more with me; certainly not! Like I said, it was always a question of my belief and the strength came from inside me into the statue and not vice versa so now I don’t need a statue anymore. 20 year long belief can pretty much conjure things out of thin air.

Om Namoh Shivaya!