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Manga, Maggoo And Grumpy

A little less of you return each time, till, eventually, only a shell returns.

At least that was what I started this post with a few days ago. It was meant to be another of the ornate and obfuscated bits of writing that I am normally quite fond of writing. It would have covered a wonderful trip to the high Himalayas, the unexpected discovery of an effortless love and other significant changes.

Yet, I could not bring myself to write a single line after that. Not that I did not try. I did, on multiple occasions, but not even a single word could be added to that line. It is not that I have not had trouble writing before. In fact, it is way too frequent an occurrence; and the blame often can be placed squarely at the feet of sheer laziness.

But, let us get back to what I wanted to write about. First, the trip. It came together rather unexpectedly, which pertains to the ‘who’ of it than the ‘where’, as Spiti has been on the cards for a long time after the difficult passage in 2011 and the multitude of failed attempts since. Spiti was the reason why my white Gypsy (called rather predictably as ‘Whitey’) was acquired and a blown engine and many mountain trips later, she finally had her date with destiny.

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The trip was not without its own share of drama. As always, I had taken much longer to acclimatize and by the time we got to Kaza, the altitude did get to me, resulting in a longer layover in the town, which was the nicest way to be afflicted by an ailment. We got going again, crossing non-existent roads after Losar, up Kunzum La and a difficult drive down on its other side to finally head towards Chandratal,

The lake is an experience that cannot be adequately described in words and as my partner is fond of reminding me, it is a lake that does not want to be found, unless you are willing to go the extra mile or two for it. And even then, till you go up another hillock that betrays no existence of a lake, you won’t have any idea that something as special and spectacular as that exists there.

The shepherds there took a liking to us, which was something we were very grateful for. And we found Manga (the one in the photo), Maggi (lovingly mangled to Maggoo) and Grumpy (since she was the grumpiest of the lot). We spent two timeless days by the lake, watching the clouds roll across the beautiful blue skies, sleeping on the shores, with the trio for company. Manga, especially, took a liking to us and we wanted to bring her back with us. But as a soul that flies free in that magical land 15,000 plus feet up there, she won’t survive the heat of the plains, nor the prison that it must represent to her.

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After watching yet another spectacular sunset and the lake’s brilliant change in moods, we went to sleep, with the sad realization that the morning will be a time of farewells, to the trio and our gracious hosts — the shepherds — who looked after us like we were family and even sang for us one of the nights in their little shelter that was poor on creature comforts, but rich in warmth, affection and how freely they shared everything they had. When the time came for us to leave, the trio was nowhere to be found, a relief of sorts. It would have been really hard to leave Manga behind. Some goodbyes are best left unsaid.

We eventually made our way through to the by-now infinitely tamed Manali – Leh highway. Since it was past the peak tourist season, we had the roads mostly to ourselves, which was a good thing. Both of us have known the road from a time when it was not much of a road, which is a far cry from the slightly-difficult drive it is now for anyone. In a matter of a couple of years, it will be an all-weather road, four lanes wide in most places and easily doable in a single drive for most drivers.

Leh was mostly devoid of Indian tourists. It was so empty on our way in that we were afraid that something was not quite right. Eventually, we found a nice place to stay, spent a fair bit of time in the market and moved to Lamayuru. The drive from Lamayuru back to Delhi was rather uneventful other than for a monster traffic jam that we found at the Delhi border. It was almost as if the city was doing its best to ensure that it did not want to take us back.

In a lot of ways, we did not really want to return. And, even now, two weeks after our return I do have a tough time adjusting to life back here. As a fully city-bred person the city feels familiar, but the heart feels no connection to it. Every day breaks with the urge to see the pristine blue skies in the mountains and their warm embrace. There is a sense of inevitability to the end of the life here. It is not that I hate the life here. It is a city that gave me hope and a second (and many more subsequent) shots at life later. It is the city that, eventually, gave me the love that I have always yearned for in life.

Yet, it is also a city I have a hard time living in. In fact, I doubt I can live in cities anymore. Without even realizing it, I have been consuming less and using fewer things in life. I keep giving away clothes and things that I own after realizing that it has been years since I have worn most of them, it has to be of better use to someone else. Being not as well off as I used to be earlier also means I have little means of being a spendthrift anymore. And I don’t miss being able to buy yet another pair of shoes that I will forget I own. And it is not that I don’t buy expensive gear anymore, I do; but most of those serve a function than my own vanity.

For long I have known that I needed lesser; and without realizing it, somewhere along the way, I have started wanting lesser too. Within me, I feel that I have everything I need, while for most of the urban world, I have little or nothing. And that is a disconnect that is hard to overcome. There are only a few ways of living the city gladly supports and feeling that you have enough or not feeling constantly irked are not those ways. And I guess that explains the inevitability.

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Fake It Till You Break

It is quite sad that we all now live lives that place an inordinate amount of importance on making us dislike ourselves for what don’t have than to like ourselves for what we have. All around me, I see people who are faking it till they make it, or at least fake it like they have made it; while, behind the splendid veils of success there are broken, miserable people littered all over the place.

It would be pathetic to pretend that I don’t belong to the same tribe, because I do. It is hard to let go of trying to play the same game that everyone else around me plays. Like everyone else, I too pretend that everything is fine, while most often it is not. I pretend that I am on top of the game, while I have already lost almost each and every one of those that I have tried my hand at.

It is terrifying to see the society we are helping put together. In our public facades, we are all thriving and moving up in life. Bigger, better cars. Bigger, better apartments. We were normal people with normal flaws at the onset of the social networking age, now we all strive to look like supermodels in the pictures we put up. My current display picture is the coolest of maybe five I took in two days. You won’t see the four others that made me look uncool.

That is what we have reduced ourselves to.

Our self worth no longer has to do with how much we love or care for each other; or how grateful we feel to be loved as much as we are. We still need more of that too. We don’t feel like worthy parents if we can’t buy the most expensive tablet for our children, without which they feel worthless among their peers. The last family get together I attended had children, each with a tablet in their hands.

This is a world where we feel guilty about taking time off. Doing nothing and helping ourselves recover is almost a crime now. And when we do take a break, we feel pressured to click photos or post updates to share with everyone else to show what a good time we are having. How did we wind up hating the company of our own selves? How uncomfortable do we feel with our own company?

Behind the perfect facades, families and marriages are breaking up. We are mistreating an older generation that deserves all the consideration in helping them cope with a world that is vastly different from what they spent most of their lives in. Save the odd mother’s or father’s day, how often do they figure in our public persona? I guess that would be a rare thing.

Almost everyone I know live lives that are vastly better than how the majority of the world lives. Yet, the feeling is that nothing we have is enough. A perfectly fine car needs to be upgraded because it is no longer the cool model to have. A house needs to be upgraded to a bigger one because it no longer has space to store yet another collection of things that we probably will never use in our lives.

When was the last time we ever felt that what we have is enough? In fact, I don’t know many people who even know where that ‘enough’ is. Everyone seems to be sure of only one thing — that they just don’t have enough. Do you remember the last time when you met someone who was content with what they had, that they had enough? I don’t. And I will be surprised if you do.

If you do know someone like that, find out what makes them tick. If you don’t know someone like that, it is time you found that someone, either within yourself or in someone around you and find out what makes them tick, before it is too late.

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Mountains

A hurried move to cover her bare neck was a gesture that was unexpected. It was an amusing reaction as I was neither looking at her neck; nor was it the case that I could see anything on her from the distance and the height that was I at. I was merely observing her emptying a bag of waste into a slope that eventually merged with the stream far down below. In an environment as pristine as that it seemed a terrible thing to do. But it also raised the question, where could they dispose the waste our modern plastic-filled lives produce and who was I, an occasional visitor in that little Himalayan village, to judge them?

The mountains are a both a calling and a healing in competing measures. Once you heed their calling, and should it resonate well within you, a music then starts that your life never stops dancing to; yet, it is a music that nobody can hear, nor can you explain it to another. Faced with another who can hear the same inaudible music, you just nod in agreement, struggle in vain with words to express what you hear, give up and let your feet and heart tap and beat to the mad melody punctuated by the actual sounds of passing thunder and the chirping of the numerous birds.

Here, old wounds gently open up. If you allow yourself to, you start to feel again in the generosity of an embrace that stretches far beyond what the eye can see or comprehend. Life is ancient here. The trees carry scars far deeper and older than what you or I may hold dear in our short lives. Yet, they stand and they unquestioningly keep giving. You will love, lose, turn old, break a bone, die of some deadly disease, but they are always there. It is the ultimate truth and the eternal return, should you choose to seek that within you.

The healing has no words and it is a futile endeavour to attempt an explanation. How do you describe a moisture-laden mist that slips through your fingers? If you do not resist it, it will seep into every bone and particle within you, rake up both the hurtful and the happy within you. In their shadow, you learn to accept the generosity of the rain that strengthens the roots and also accept its destructiveness that uproots everything in sight. And yet, the mountains they stand, in spite of what happens to them.

Empress Orchid, by Anchee Min

The book is quite an easy read; so easy that you can almost skip-and-read vast chunks of it and yet not miss much. The pacing is quite inconsistent too as there is no consistency in how time is taken into account in the book. Short events may take a long time at times and long events are dispensed off in a sentence or two. That said, it is not a problem that is significant enough to make the book any less enjoyable a read, which it is.

The period covered in the book is the troubled 1800s when the old Chinese empire is on the wane, and under pressure from Europe. It is not a good book to read if you are looking for a historical perspective on what happened in that time period, as that aspect of the story only serves as a background with only just enough detail to provide context to Orchid, the main character’s, story.

Both the subject and the book had great potential to have been turned into something substantial, but Anchee Min does not succeed in doing that. You do get a pretty decent account of what eventually turns Orchid into who she becomes eventually, but it all feels very hurried.

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Strange

Sometimes, you get to experience something extraordinary that you have coveted all your life. Yet, in experiencing it, you so feel gladdened, so complete, that its mere existence is enough to make your life worthwhile, while possession becomes a matter of far less consequence. In a season of being relatively poor (not the same as poverty, which is far more serious a situation), that experience has left me richer than anyone else I know.

I can safely say that at this time in life, my sole valuable possessions are my beliefs. But, even beliefs are not things that can survive without the nourishment of validation in the best case scenario. and signs, in a lesser preferred scenario. In experiencing what I have been able to, I feel I don’t need any more validation in life that good exists and that good can happen, only if you give it a chance to happen.

And when it happens, on that rare occasion, it can be so perfect that it feels unreal. I have always thought that such an experience would always result in me wanting to grab on to it, make it mine and never let it go. Surprisingly, I find myself in a situation where I’m happiest to know that it exists and as long as it exists on its own free will, that is what matters and not whether it is mine or not.

Strange.

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An Interval

Recent times have been interesting, not because it has been reclusive in a manner of speaking —  I have always been that — but because it is such a departure from the familiar in practically everything else. A lack of control from an unwillingness to attempt it, over a variety of things, is scary; especially for someone who has spent a large part of his life attempting exactly that. This requires nothing short of blind faith in myself and in life that even in the worst storms, where a thing can’t be seen, I can stay true to my path.

Sometimes, the best escape from something is to run deep into that within yourself. It is crazy and extremely risky as the first thing that goes out of the window is objectivity. Secondly, there is always the risk that you won’t ever come out of it. Intentions are crucial here. If wallowing in something is all what you are looking for, you can easily wallow a lifetime on this path, which will be an unfortunate thing. If the intention is to know and face your own self in its crude, unvarnished and often unlikable self, there is no better path to be on. But it is a battle like nothing else you would have been through.

Chasing yourself down is tricky business. And, by yourself, I don’t mean what you feel. We all know what we feel at any given point in time — elation, sadness, bitterness, exhilaration — but we rarely know what lies behind those feelings and also how those feelings shape our worldview. Our thoughts regarding a feeling is more often partial than complete. In anger, we will process an event or an incident only to the exact extent where it bolsters the feeling that we are feeling at that moment. That way, we paint people we know as angels, demons and everything in between, depending on how it suits our purpose than often how they really are.

Once the necessary fortitude and the discipline is put into place, events and incidents often transform into a different picture. That which looked intentional and all about you often turns out to be unintentional and had nothing to do with you (yet, it was no less hurtful); that which looked to be a stroke of luck often turns out to have someone going out of their way to do something good for you or your own hard work; that which looked like a promise to yourself to never love or feel again often turns out to be a declaration of hurt and a convoluted manner of grieving.

For someone like me, doing that requires a certain degree of isolation. It is impossible to chase yourself down when you have spent a lifetime being a spectacular success at hiding behind others. It is also a crazy wild ride as I don’t honestly know what will eventually come out of it. But the first step towards finding out is to allow all of yourself to exist — the good, the great, the bad and the ugly — and it is strange that even in this world of over-sharing, how little we share of us, and our worst fears, with ourselves. We will delude ourselves, deny its existence and hope it all goes away.

What we need to understand is that those fears don’t ever go away if we don’t face up to them. Nor can we choose what our worst fears are. But we can certainly choose how and where we want to face them. That is the only choice life offers, but it is also probably the most important choice that we don’t often realize we have the power to make. For me, I believe, a life worth living lies on the other side of facing those fears. It may change everything I value and know for it can potentially re-frame my understanding of the world I live in and what role I have to play in it.

Till that is done, this is an interval, from almost everything else.

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A Collector Of Moments

A grubby looking man, with a good number of his front teeth missing, tells his story in a raspy whisper, of a life led feeding others. His own, though, were few as he never stopped long enough; sometimes enjoying the shifting sands, other times chasing the waves and for a few months every year living in this splendid valley of green giving company to the gushing river down below, where we met him.

For a land teeming with of eateries of all kind, it was strange not to find, save one, that offered good food. Yet, his was the tastiest food we ever had, in a place where few would look and even fewer would eat. He told tales of stones he collected, the way he sold them; how he learned English and many other things, which the raspy whisper made it not at all easy to follow.

On a table shared with two ladies, one of them later spoke of hopping islands and countries, how they sought out solace in the unfamiliar and their lives on the road. With a couple next door, retired, greetings were exchanged every morning and queries were made about a party nobody looked keen on really attending. A connection is sometimes attempted over the most mundane of things.

The streets had a music of their own; rising up often, promising weary legs only the hope of an easier return in return. Between the gurgle of the omnipresent water channel, the roaring engine of a vehicle braving the uphill climb and the cacophony of the territorial disputes of the canines, common songs came up, private jokes were born and a journey of no interactions became a carnival of one.

That stretch which looked impossible to cover, was covered thrice, made possible the struggle to keep from falling off a trail nobody seemed to have taken in a while. The distance was nothing to write home about, but the accomplishment of having braved, trusted and having failed in a way, but to have won many times made it worthwhile.

The couple said they tried the same from the other side, but to the same end. A waterfall that was aimed for and missed, was reached another day on a cycle that slipped its chain at the first encounter with the day’s big uphill ride. Villages were crossed, a familiar face was narrowly missed as we crossed our paths unknowingly and left in a familiar cloud of dust.

A rain that was promised never came, the end of a long trek into the wild came, premature, by the threats of the same clouds that broke the promise of the rain. The path was steep and hard and it held a promise of a magical meadow in it. In the end, a compromise was reached, a part of the evening was spent watching anglers try their luck with a fly. The meadow was never reached.

Every journey is a collection of moments, of all this, gifted by the surroundings and by those who surround us. We may never have company, but we never travel alone; all we have to do is reach out and look, sometimes in the eyes of strangers and at times in the eyes of those who are not that unfamiliar.

Because all we have in the end, are just those moments.

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The Expectation Of Magic

Most of my life I have thought that the distance between ignorance and self-realization was one of the hardest ones to cover. Going by the experiences of the past year or two, I have come to understand that that distance is one of the easier ones to cover, while the distance that lies between self-realization and self-actualization is far greater and far more difficult to cover. Knowing what you do wrong and knowing what needs to be done to right that wrong is very different from actually doing the right thing. And the expectation of magic is in expecting that now that you know what needs to be done, you will magically start doing that every time. Rather predictably, it is never that easy.

In a way, this is explained best by a pretty unlikely comparison. The expectation is that it works out beautifully like one of the best forwards in football working his way through the defence. It is literally poetry-in-motion, there is tremendous beauty to it and the finishing touch that deposits the ball in the net is the triumph of everything good over adversity. But, real life is much more like rugby, than football. The journey from self-realization to self-actualization is more like a journey from one try line to the other as an endless series of scrums. It is ugly, brutal, bloodying and every inch has to be earned and no quarter is given.

The hardest part in all of this for me is to remind myself to stand up for what I want in pretty much everything. If you have spent a lifetime having trouble clearly spelling that out, it forms a habit that is nearly impossible to get out of. And then starts the vicious cycle of putting yourself into situations that you don’t want to be in because you were never clear about what you wanted in the first place. Eventually, one day, a small stone is dislodged and the dam breaks; leaving everyone wondering how could such a small stone put and end to such a huge dam.

As it is often the case, at the time of occurring, even accidents happen in slow motion. From the time you see that vehicle heading towards you and the time of impact, time slows down considerably. There is nothing sudden about it. In life too there are almost no real sudden events. There is always a build up, but we choose to ignore it, hoping that it can either be suppressed or that the underlying causes will disappear with time. Unfortunately, neither happens most of the times and apparently-sudden-looking event winds up being a near-certainty.

So, the scrum is on for real and I am in the thick of it. It is immensely frustrating to see only the gain of half-an-inch or two after a whole bloody lot of effort. What is worse, sometimes you even lose a couple of inches in spite of your best efforts. And then there is the temptation to kick it all off and stomp off the field in rage. After 35-years of life, it should not come down to having to try so hard to accomplish something that a vast majority of humanity takes for granted.

And then you realize that there is no magic; there is only the expectation of it. And you wipe your brow, take your place in the scrum. Blood, sweat, tears once again; all for those precious few inches. And then you remind yourself, this is the life you chose. This is exactly how you want to live.

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Freedom

At some stage in life everyone has to choose the life they really want to live. Some make this critical choice rather early in life, others, like me, make it rather late in life. In leaving it that late, the choice builds into itself considerable grief for the person making it and also for those who love and care for that person. While I have been fortunate to be spared the considerably difficult problems like gender dystopia or questions related to sexuality, the confusion and volatility involved in getting to this point has been nothing short of significant.

What makes the choice harder, should it go against the accepted norm, is that the modern world is one that is working hard to eliminate the little nooks and crannies for people who don’t really fit into the mainstream. The 1970s at least had given the younger generation of that time the space to live and be something other than the mainstream. Sadly, the current millennium is so focused on its mono-cultural aspect that if you can’t be with the program, there is no corner of the world where you will be allowed to be.

From a very young age we all are taught what is the right way to live and the right things we have to aspire for. If you don’t learn it consciously, there is the subconscious indoctrination through family, society and culture. The happy picture of a family, complete with the smiling children, is held up as such an ideal that even within that picture we don’t allow for people to fail or accept failures or shortcomings as possibilities. By no means I’m looking to contend here that such a picture cannot be happy, but I certainly do contend that that is not the only happy picture possible.

For many years I have struggled with trying to accumulate those ten material things that are a key part of this happy picture. At different stages I did succeed in attaining various elements of it, but the complete picture always remained elusive and even acquiring those few elements were quite a struggle. Somehow, even when I have owned many of those things (and some of them of considerable value) I found that I derived not a great deal of pleasure from owning them, once the initial rush from the anticipation died down.

In the past few years I did give trying to fit in an honest shot and the eventual outcome is that I’m no good at it, not because I can’t fit in, but because I don’t want to fit into that picture. When I think about things that I want to do that makes me happy, it is always images of faraway lands, new people and things that I have not seen before that makes me want to move forward. For most of my life I have considered those images, and experiences of them I have had, as a diversion from the eventual return to the norm. And the norm was a the happy family life that we have been told since a young age is the right thing to do.

The truth, I realize now, is one that I have always held within, and trying to fit into the normal picture had become untenable. One of the things that very few people will ever genuinely tell you is that before anyone else, you have to be okay with whatever you really want to be, which should be the same as what you are trying to be. The lack of alignment between those two silently destroys the lives of many people as we try to fit into various pictures assigned to us by circumstances, people we care for and conditioning. Unfortunately, that lack of alignment has been a significant part of my life too.

The funny part in all of this that one day it struck me that I have very little of material value with me, but internally, I don’t feel the lack anything. That is not to say I am a miracle worker who needs no money to survive. I do, like everyone else, need money and I have been fortunate to always have enough to get by, but not having more of it has not bothered me much other than when my lack of alignment would give me a hard time that I don’t have as much as my peers do.

And, by all of that I don’t certainly mean to say that I don’t want more material things or I’ll never become any richer. The difference is that there are things that I am not willing to do to acquire those material things and should I acquire them, I would not feel all that attached to them anyway. When you have made do comfortably with five oranges, having fifty thousand oranges does not make you live any better. At least it does not make me live any better. That sort of mindset allows me to enjoy thoroughly what I have with me, and even when I don’t have them I don’t feel all that bad.

This moment is all that you have. Yesterday is a string of those moments past. Tomorrow is a string of those moments to come. If you cannot be happy with what you have this moment, it is very likely that both your yesterdays and tomorrows are unlikely to be the happiest you can be, even if you have everything a person could ever want. In that, what the Buddhists believe in — that death, or how you die, rather, is a reflection on the life you have lived, which is influenced little by all that you have had. You have nothing to fear in death if you have lived a life that is full and free.

So, one day I asked myself the question what is it that I really want in life? And the answer was that I don’t want to be a prisoner within myself. I wanted to feel a certain freedom that can only exist within myself. It is a kind of freedom that can never be taken away from a person even in the most secure and isolated of prisons. Somewhere, I do feel that I already have most of that freedom, what was missing was the responsibility in acknowledging it and owning up to it. And it is finally the time to own up to it.

To wind up this rather self-absorbed post I have to mention something that is still making me smile. For some reason I had left the “hello dolly” plugin from WordPress turned on in the site. I had been meaning to turn it off for a while, but never got around to doing it. It shows random quotes from the Louis Armstrong song and today it showed me this:

It’s so nice to have you back where you belong

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At Five

Five years is a long time by any standard and it feels even longer to have spent that time much where, externally at least, nothing seems to have changed. Around 2009 I stumbled, unknowingly, into a process that would, in the years to come, dig up large parts of my past and present, and also ask some serious questions about my future and my place in the world. The years since threw light on much inconsistency, lack of alignment and a multitude of other issues.

I won’t lie and paint a pretty picture of the process. It has been tough as hell at times and also something that is deeply private and personal. But, I’m finally happy with how things are. The answers have not always been what I thought it would be. The questions were, at times, painful to even hear. And there has been also a significant amount of hurt, to myself and others, that was created in the process. I guess most of that was avoidable, but a lot of times it is just not possible to avoid that pain, if you are searching for the underlying truth.

Fittingly, the outcome is not all that different. The pieces on the board are more or less the same ones, but the way I see it now is vastly different from five years ago. It feels good to feel light. It feels good to have a blank page in front of you and know that you can paint any picture that you want on it, only, this time, I’ll look to draw exactly what I want to draw. No more running, no more hiding. And a lot of happier, healthier choices.

Notes On ‘Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh’

af_coverAncient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh, by Helena Norberg-Hodge, starts with a foreword from the Dalai Lama containing the following excerpt:

No matter how attractive a traditional rural society may seem, its people cannot be denied the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of modem development. However, as this book suggests, development and learning should not take place in one direction only.

Even though those lines attempt to provide balance to a book written in a manner that challenges a lot of what we consider good and desirable in the modern world, it instantly made me wary and got my defenses up about a potential hippie-like onslaught that was to follow in the pages to come.

Strangely, even as I finished reading the book, I discovered that no such onslaught materialized in its pages. I did find a strong opinionated voice in the book. It was a voice that came out of spending years with the people of the land in Ladakh, than that of an academic researcher or, as it is common these days, of a tourist who spends a week or two a year there.

The book itself was written about a time, starting 1975, that is almost a good forty-years ago. What Hodge describes in the book as a land already on the way to destroying itself in the 1980s is what I would consider still largely unspoilt, since I visited the place first in 2009. That should also provide a contrast as to how far down the road of development the land has come to where we are now.

In terms of timelines, the book is not very current. though the editions have been updated through the years since its fist publication. It does not have anything on the 2010 flash floods, which had a lot to do with same runaway development that Hodge describes in her book. Nor does it have anything on mobile phones or the internet — two things that have completely changed the modern world.

And yet, the book is every bit current as it attempts to approach the endgame of the relentless march of the modern world as an answer that was already known to the ancients, than as something we, the modern generation, are trying to decode. It challenges the fundamental concept of what development itself is in the modern world and looks at life through the prism of a way of living that is considered backward and inefficient by most of us.

For me, the book has been a phenomenal read, as it did at least shake me out of my touristy manner of thinking about a lot of the places described in the book; places I have come to visit multiple times and love. Yet, for all that love, after reading the book, I realize that I know little of those places and the people who live there. I know I have to change that now and that is largely thanks to the book.

It is fair to assess the book as one that’s written from the heart than as something that is driven purely by facts and numbers. The main thesis itself can sound as if it is an outright rejection of all things modern (Hodge does take a lot of pain to emphasize co-existence, but the anti-development tone is so strong that it is easy to miss) and it does not provide a well thought-out way forward on how to live with the same values and outlook in the modern world.

Some of those shortcomings are addressed in Hodge’s work since she wrote the book. A lot of it is centered around ‘The Economics of Happiness‘. I have not yet read the book but this TEDx talk provides a good idea as to how far forward Hodge has taken her ideas.

Thanks to a considerably pared down lifestyle in the past four-years, I have been forced to step outside what is commonly called the ‘rat race’ and re-evaluate what I am doing with my life and what is important for me. That, in all probability, is why the book resonates so well with me as it mulls over some of the questions that I have been asking myself of late.

If you are curious about what joy, happiness, peace or contentment mean for you and what are the things that represent those things for you, the book will probably resonate with you too. Or, if you want to read a passionately argued different point of view on sustainable development and local living, it will make a lot of sense.

The glory of the morning sun.

Self

It is quite a long journey when you travel from a place within you where everything is clear, definite and absolutely right, to descend into craziness of a kind where guilt and regret are your constant companions in a seemingly endless journey, to eventually reach a point where you start feeling somewhat OK with yourself and the world around you. That is my story. It is not exactly new, as I have written about the same recently, albeit coloured in the usual flowery language. I am writing this, kind of non-flowery version, as a promise I have made to myself that I’ll try my best to keep it simple the best I can.

I have always been someone who has been curious about the inner workings of the self. But, as an adolescent (quite a troubled one at that), much of my curiosity was projected outward, with a great deal of interest in attempting to figure out how another person worked. Looking back, after so many years now, it probably should have been a big loud red warning sign. I guess the running had become a mainstay of who I was by then. Unfortunately, there support system did not manage to catch any of this and being a rebellious, troublesome child, any such aspect of my behaviour would have been eclipsed by the trouble I was creating otherwise.

Time and circumstances did give me a second chance that few people get in life. I moved to a new city, made new friends, got time to examine my problems and I was fairly convinced that I had dealt with them all and was quite sorted out by then. But even as early as that, there was an underlying theme of ill-defined boundaries to my close relationships. Vague boundaries set vague expectations that are not absolute. And since they are so ill-defined, it always allows for an escape hatch should you want to get really close, yet keep a distance.

It was a theme that would become the common thread that would sew together the fabric of all my close relationships for a long time to come. Through all of this I was very certain of my own self, as the loyal, ever-present, self-sacrificing close friend who would always be there for you. By then, life was a dance that moved only to a music that played in my own mind and yet there was an ever present aftertaste of being misunderstood, let down and disappointed by the same close ones all the time. And I would be the last one to say it was not exciting.

Everyone needs validation and appreciation. It will be strange for anyone to say they don’t need either or both of those. But when those two things are grabbed at, than given freely; when it is indirect or coaxed or cajoled out of someone, it becomes one of the unhealthiest kind of relationships that can ever exist. Over time, one way or the other, almost all of my close relationships became exactly just that. But, unknowingly, there was also a certain high that comes with living life that way, always on the edge.

A post-factum analysis could make the very zen-like case that since things are never defined so clearly you only have, for certain, what you share with that person at that time. But, I know better that there was little zen in my life at that point and the only realistic case was the most harmful form of self-protection, which is to wall everyone off from really touching you where you are really emotionally vulnerable. All that deception went on for close to ten-years and life was, through those years, a trail of broken relationships. None of which, of course, was my fault. Well, maybe a bit of it was, but I had my justifications ready, but most of it was not and it suited me well to think that way.

It was not to say that all of this was entirely of my own making. But the fact is that when you operate from such a point of view, you will seek out people who will play the other half well or people who will enable you to play your part well. The narrative that takes hold in your mind also takes hold of the relationships around you and manages to hide that fact from you. You always manage to find people who won’t show up when it matters, people who always let you down when it matters and somehow, even after the best of your intentions, everything becomes a mess in the end, all the while ignoring how it was you yourself who pushed matters to that end.

To not torture that point anymore, it is enough to say that things came to head in 2009. To be fair, there were other ‘to a head’ points before, but none of them had as profound an impact on me and people who were around me as the 2009 episode did. Looking back, it is easy to see it as a classic meltdown. I had left my regular job then and was trying to set up a business on my own. In terms of timing, it was perfect. As time away from the regular working environment means you get a lot of time to stew within yourself. The storm that was already precipitating was provided the catalyst it really didn’t need. The inevitable happened.

The meltdown was horrific. It was triggered by a single disappointment, but it carried within it an entire lifetime’s worth of disappointments I’d buried away and told myself that it did not exist anymore. The interesting part was that I had pushed circumstances to the point where the disappointment was going to be inevitable. It is never good to play both sides in any game and when it is your own life you’re talking about, it is a terrible thing to do. In the fury that ensued I set out to destroy every relationship that I held close and at least for a short period of time I did succeed.

There are numerous interpretations possible of what I did and why I did it all. Maybe all of them would explain what happened, maybe some would. The common thread, though, was that I was a terrible human being at that point in my life, harming, instead of caring, deeply for the same people that I claimed to have cared so much about. The bag of contradictions that I was carrying finally split at the seams and the picture of me that I saw in the mirror was someone I had never seen before in my life. The only certain thing was that it could not have been anyone else. It was me and it represented pretty much every single thing that I disliked in others.

Thankfully, I have always had this innate sense to survive, every time, even when it felt like there was nothing to survive for. When you hate the sight of yourself as much as I did at that time, you need find every ounce of willingness to keep going within you. I had only two options before me at that time. It was either to go deeper into this really unpleasant truth called me, or I could go deeper into the delusional narrative I had built up about myself.

Even then, I was not willing to give up my delusions easily. Initially, I told myself I’m going to look at the other self just to make a point that everyone else is terribly wrong and I will prove it. I was doing it as a favour to everyone, to even show how generous I am to accommodate their crazy theories. Strangely, the more I worked with it, the less sense what I said and what I actually did made. Eventually, the realization dawned that even as unpalatable as the truth looked, I had little desire to go willingly even further down the path of delusion. The only thing I was left with by then, my pride, would not allow that.

In a sense, I was saved by my own vanity. Whatever it was, I am grateful for that.

It has been a slow long crawl back from that point. I wish the story from that point is one of spring, bright colours, sunshine and a perfect picture of joy. To put it very simply, it was a major struggle, often with no end in sight. It was not uncommon to believe that you’d made a tiny bit of progress, taking one step forward, to discover five other problems, which meant you took one forward and took five backward. The work required is not easy and it often demands you to explore areas of your own psyche and memories that are unpleasant.

The turnaround, though, came in the most unpredictable manner. 2013 was one of the hardest years of my life as I poured in everything I had into work and personal life. And yet, at the end of it all, I had nothing to show for either aspect and it was a disaster par compare. The turnaround happened in the little fact that I managed to survive a massive double whammy of disappointments and I did not disintegrate into bits as I was given to doing previously. It was a tough period, but I could, thankfully, look beyond the disappointments and take, a tiny step a time, forward.

Life did not become a picture of serene perfection after that. I can call it best a work in progress, but one where the artist is finally someone who has finally found a sense of happiness within him and his flawed self. Even now there are disappointments and moments of rage. But I don’t  feel overwhelmed by it all, nor do I feel that is all there is to my life. I guess, for most people who have managed to read all the way through the 1640 words to this point probably may feel a bit underwhelmed by that revelation, but that’s honestly all there is to it.

But the real reason why I am writing this here is for the odd visitor who may chance upon this and can identify themselves with what’s written here. Long ago, I used to write on another site, more like a coded message in a bottle, hoping that someone would pick up on what I was going on about. This time, there is no code. It is written as simply as I can afford to do without taking liberties with the lives of the people who have gone through all of this with me. For that lone stranger in despair who is reading this, what I’ll say is, do not give up and keep going. If someone, who has wronged pretty much every person who they care for, can make it out of that darkness, there is still a lot of hope left for everyone.

If you want it badly enough and are willing to keep going at it, one day, the tide will turn. The ocean will finally open its arms to you and let you in on your rickety little boat that you think will take you under any moment.

And then you will get to see the sea. The sea and the land.

And then the land from the sea.

It is a whole new beautiful world out there.