Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Prophet of Doom
I am a great admirer of Khalil Gibran, have always been, and his book ‘The Prophet’ is one you will always find prominently displayed in my book rack. But that has got nothing to do with my friends often labeling me ‘The Prophet of Doom’.
Since my early childhood I have been fascinated with disasters, both natural and manmade. Always wishing that one should or must befell me. When I used to travel by train—a tiny toddler with my parents for company—I would wish that the train would derail or crash into another or would be robbed by dacoits or hooligans, or a short circuit will cause it to erupt in flames. Even the fat snoring uncle toppling off from the upper berth; any excitement would do for me. Then when I started traveling by air, I wished that the aircraft would develop engine snag and fall off the air, or jam its hydraulics and get into a tail spin forever or a hijacker would take over the cockpit. Every disaster scene of Nat Geo air crash investigations series would flash in front of my eyes. How I wish that the aircraft door will suddenly burst open and all of us would be sucked out into the space or the pilots might be struck with food poisoning and be incapacitated to fly. Nothing ever happened. The nearest I got to an aerial disaster was when on a Guwahati bound flight, within the sight of Mt Everest, my plane hit an air pocket and we dropped like stone for good 3000 ft. Everyone around blanched like baked tomato, few throwing up like a water sprout and the petite airhostess skidding onto the aisle landing nearly on my lap. I smiled through it all and helped the cabin crew to calm the befuddled passengers later. For my Samaritan work I received smiles, handshakes, thank-you(s) and a bottle of Chardonnay in that order. How I wished the last object too was bequeathed in plural.
Since joining the Navy I have traveled over and inside water countless hours and nautical miles and would play the scenes of pirates boarding, huge waves crushing us into Davy Jones’s Locker or a hole punctured in the bilges. My submarine getting crushed by water pressure was my favorite day dreaming sequence. When I would dip into the sea, I would wish the shark from Jaws to appear and devour every one of the bathers or a tsunami would flatten the shore forever. Climbing a dormant volcano I would visualize the crater erupting its lava on the innocent bystanders or burying an entire city aka Pompeii. In a jungle it would be the hungry lions, tigers and virulent snakes that would conjure my imagination.
Riding a bus on a dizzy mountain road, as I am often found, be it in the Himalaya or in the Andes or Caucuses, I would try my best to engage the driver in an inane conversation so that his eyes would avert from the road and he would take us all into a gory and direct plunge to the bottom. How I would wish that a massive landslide would roll down from above or a flat tyre would help us skid just when we were taking a hairpin bend on the narrowest section of the road.
In short I always wish a disaster to occur with me at the centre of the catastrophe. No wonder, no one wants to accompany me ever. But the irony is that despite chalking million miles in air and water travel and god knows how many moments in the world’s wildest places, nothing much really happens to me. Whereas rank outsiders and peace-loving people, out on their first honeymoon by the safest beach in the world get gobbled up by an alien shark or people simply fall out of their aircraft on their first journey above land. How fair is this? Not very, I must insist. And this does nothing to improve my reputation in the field of adventure world.
Forget about the journey scenarios. If I talk only about mountain disasters that I have lived through then too it doesn’t sound impressive enough. Let me try and remember and give you a brief perspective.
I must have been buried under avalanches at least a dozen times but unearthed by some kindly soul right before I breathed my last (though on two occasions my companions were not so lucky) … how absurdly boring! Then I must have fallen into crevasses at least on a score of occasions, again rescued and pulled out by fellow climbers at the nick of time. My nearest brush to eternity in the icy dungeon of a crevasse being when I fell into a 40 ft deep one and landed right atop a sharp ice shaft that neatly severed my clothes and my back in that order… missing my spine by a mm (which would have paralyzed me for life). I lost more than 20 gallons of blood on that occasion and I still remember being bundled up on someone’s back while the ‘someone’ running crazy like a rugby player in sight of his goal. Again I remained alive… how absurdly boring. Then I must have fallen god knows how many times from a mountain face or a rock band. Just let gravity take charge of my body and let go. Nothing much happened then too… just gashes and stitches on my head, broken knees or ribs, concussion and brain hemorrhage and temporary loss of vision; nothing too serious or death defying… again, how absurdly boring. Struck by lightning on two occasions and being nearly electrocuted by a million volt jolt, I have no idea how I did not convert into micro-waved ‘Satya’ the latest hill delicacy from the Himalaya. Nothing exciting there too, as you can see. On countless places I had been left for dead—dehydrated and hypothermic as I was—but no, just before I would cop up, some inner boring voice would chide me to stay alive and send me crawling back to life. Was I stupid or what!
Then confronting wild animals, be it the lions or hyenas of Serengeti, or the gorillas of Congo, or polar bears of Norway, or the Anacondas of the Amazon, or the maneaters of Sunderbans, or dragons of Komodo, or the Sharks of Hawaii, or the Bacterian Camels of Gobi, or the wolves of Alaska; none could or would eat me up for reasons I can’t explain. Either they would come close or I would approach the fiercest and wildest animals on earth, each one reputed to tear off human flesh in seconds, and nothing would happen; amazing, either I tasted too bad or I happened to find animals whose bellies were full. I was destined for such an unexciting life.
I am forty-five, going on twenty-five, and many of my fellow thrill seekers are here no more. I can’t justify my still being on terra-firma. Pure luck or my adrenalin-less life, one of them is responsible I am sure. As I look around each year hopefully that while ordinary everyday people who only ply from office to home and vice versa, throwing in perhaps a detour to the temple or church and an occasional movie or restaurant, who are experiencing disaster and catastrophes I too should have my share of thrills and spills. But no, nothing!
When I had started off with my so-called pseudo adventurism at the tender age of ten I had thought and all had predicted that either I would not live to see my thirties or I would hang up my ice axe in my twenties. Neither has happened and I am pretty perturbed, so I compensate my sedate life with my wishful disasters. So unfair; I jump across waterfalls and out of aircrafts, I insert my head into snake pits, I arm-wrestle (well, ahem, almost) with primates, I jump into Arctic lakes and frozen pools, I dive inside shark caves, etc etc, trying again and again to infuse some excitement, but nothing at all happens.
Well, would you believe it, the Navy in its wisdom even para-dropped me over the impenetrable jungles of Batticoala in Sri Lanka during the height of the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) operation. As I descended slowly towards the thick rainforests, with few grenades and guns stuck to my body, with war paints covering every bit of my exposed skin, I had thought that finally I would be devoured by the wild animals or would be butchered into tiny pieces by the Tamil Tigers. And in the ensuing days I fought along with my comrades (many of whom did not return) some of the fiercest battles of that mission, even got hit by bullet in an ambush on my helmet on a day when I decided to wear it the other way around (that’s what stopped the bullet from piercing my head and killing me instantly), but well, at the end of my nine month long deployment I returned walking on my own feet with barely a scratch anywhere else.
Having tried my best in every manner possible, both described and not prescribed in books, to kill or maim myself, now I have decided that I would just stop trying so damn hard and simply live a sedentary life of the ordinary common people. Perhaps then would I find some excitement. So from this day on, I convert into a law and book abiding citizen. But meanwhile, if any of you can suggest me something that I haven’t tried yet, some really really exciting affair, some catastrophe in the making, then do let me know… of course I wouldn’t be tempted to partake in that crazy stupid insane venture of yours but still it would pacify my mind in knowing that well there are still options left for me if no hope otherwise.
This is dedicated to all you people who go to the office each morning and once in a while fall into the open manhole of the sewer. I never did. I envy all of you.