Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Valley, a Lake and some Football

48 kms from Imphal is the largest fresh water lake of the region. Having learnt that, one of the key things I wanted to do when I came to Imphal, the capital of Manipur, was to visit and see the Loktak Lake.
Imphal is where the Senior Women’s National Football Championships are being held. 890 metres above sea level, this is the perfect altitude to be at if you are spending an afternoon watching football. It’s very pleasant, breezy and if you take your eyes off the football field, you see blue-green hills in the distance no matter where you look. The temperatures range between 9 and 29 degrees Celsius and even at 12 noon, if you are in the shade you are happy to have a jacket on.

Imphal Valley as it is called, is in the furthest north east corner of the country. It feels good to be here after being in the furthest west corner of the country at sea level. It’s laidback, rustic, and… military controlled. There are soldiers everywhere in a variety of uniforms. And there’s a wide choice of armed and armoured vehicles. Army trucks, armoured trucks, gun-mounted gypsies… the works.
But the people of Imphal are the most peaceful you’ve ever met. They are not wont to fight or even raise their voice. They are smiling and soft-spoken and their language sounds as sweet as the sounds of the valley. So what the military is doing here is not really obvious to the lay tourist. Loktak Lake is situated about 48 kms from Imphal. A bit of mental math tells me that would take 45 minutes.

But this is Imphal. And 48 kms is not really all ‘road’. And of course we have chosen to take an auto-rickshaw with an extra smart and a bit presumptuious driver to lead us to our sightseeing paradise.

Trundling along what is supposed to be NH 150(it takes you south to Mizoram) we pass cavalcades of army trucks, other cars, jeeps and of course auto-rickshaws, scooters and cycles. We reach Loktak lake, after a few hiccups and false stops, about an hour and a half later. It’s a non-touristy place looked after by the army. There are traces of the army everywhere.

A road winding up the hill takes us to a breathtaking view. The hill is actually in the middle of the lake and the lake stretches on all sides that the eye can see! It’s truly beautiful, serene and…. sadly, neglected.

Apparently a part of the lake has a floating national park. However most of this place is underdeveloped and difficult to reach simply because you don’t know how to get there. There’s so much natural beauty in India and sadly between politics and corruption we don’t value it. With these thoughts I came down the hillock and we proceeded back to Imphal in silence.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Understanding Fear

The day I really understood fear was many years ago.

That night I came home from a long day at work to an empty flat. I unlocked the door, stretched my hand, and flicked the light switch on. Nothing. Darkness. The light just didn’t come on. This particular flat was notorious for blown fuses. I pressed a few buttons on my cell phone to allow me to use the light to check the fuse box. Sure enough, the fuse had blown. Although smart enough to figure that out, I was not smart enough to be able to repair a blown fuse. It was close to 11 pm in the night. Too late to call someone to sort this out, I thought. I’d have to manage the night in darkness.

Luckily it was one of those winters in Mumbai where the nights were pleasant. So not having a fan or an air-conditioner on was not a big deal. With the help of my cell phone – it was too late to even bother looking for a torch, I managed to get by and in a few minutes was in bed, and asleep. In any case, what else did you need at night, but darkness, I thought wryly.

Then it happened.
Right in the middle of the night. A thud. A thump. A creak. Cre…eak. Soft padding sounds.

And roused from really deep sleep, I was gripped with fear.

It’s black. Dark. Pitch dark. Deepest-dark-of-the-night black. Like a thick-black-blanket-over-your-head dark. Like the blackest-hole-you’ve-never-seen black. It’s fear.

It’s a lump-in-your-throat feeling. A dry-mouth sensation. A pit-in-your-stomach moment. A sudden-wrench-of-the-heart spasm.

It envelopes you in a shroud. Clasps you with a death-like grasp. Renders you immobile. Leaves you blind with eyes wide open. You cannot see because all around you is black. And all inside you is blacker. And your mind is paralysed. It cannot think, it cannot do. It’s cold. It’s sub-zero. It’s frozen with fear.

Fear comes to us from a strange place. From within. Nothing external. Nothing tangible. Nothing you can touch. But something that touches you, all over… grips you in a stranglehold, and never lets you go.

I know when fear grips me. It’s like my hands are tied behind my back. My body pinned against the wall. My eyes blindfolded. And all of me covered in a cloak. I cannot move. And it takes everything I have to shake myself of the iron shackles that I am bound in, to break those deep black handcuffs, to free myself of the blindfolds shake myself loose of the deathly shroud and … and take one small step forward into… freedom.

Which is what we don’t realize.

The opposite of fear is not bravery. It’s freedom. It’s freedom from fear. Freedom from the shackles of paralyzing terror. Freedom from the binding grip of fear. Freedom, sheer freedom to do your will without nothing, no one, not even a thought stopping you.

So here I am. Alone. It’s pitch dark around me. It’s frighteningly scary within me. Fear has taken hold and I struggle to break free. The soft sounds continue. And then a thought occurs to me.
And I smile.

My cats! It’s just the cats, I think, playing hide and seek at night, their time to play. Ah freedom! I casually turn to one side and fall asleep.
And time and again when in grips of fear, no matter what the situation, I find a ‘just the cats’ explanation. And then…
I am free.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


It’s late and I am leaving from office. For one moment I am tempted to leave it all (all = laptop) behind. Walk out the door, not look back, go home, eat comfort food and crash. But no, the pull is too great. I turn, look at it longingly, I calculate something quickly in my mind and I hurriedly pack up my laptop, sling the bag over my shoulder and rush home – almost the way I rushed to work this morning.
My mind is ticking. No, clicking. There is work to be done.
I have to harvest the potatoes, then plow the fallow land, seed it again for the next harvest, milk the cows, collect eggs, (phew) and of course there are a whole lot of gifts to be sent. I really don’t have time, if I want to be a successful farmer!
So off I go home, eat dinner in a hurry (gobble like the turkey in my farm?) and am off to my farm.
The cows are waiting to be milked.
Click. Click. Click.
The goats are waiting for the mohair to be collected
(I haven’t used words like mohair and fallow since school!).
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
The trees waiting to be harvested.
And oh no… I need a new fence.
A new cowshed.
A new chicken coop…
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Now my eyes are bleary!
But a lost kitten turns up on my farm. I need to announce it to the world.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Just as I am about to log off I am told that a friend’s farm needs fertilizing. Now I can’t leave without doing that, can I? So off I set fertilizing farms till I run out of fertilizer. Phew! That’s quite some bumper crop we are going to get in the neighbourhood, I think, and it’s all my doing.
Proudly, I plan to log off. And then casually glance at the clock on the base of my screen! Horror! I’ve been farming for well over an hour! Wow! I guiltily try not to think of all I could have done in that hour (including sleep) it’s almost 1 am now! I quickly shut down and leave my farm to grow on its own. It’s satisfying but it’s tiring!
I decide I have a busy day tomorrow and will not have time to go to the farm. Sure enough the next day is demanding and I come home after a meeting ready to collapse. But something in the brain pings. No, make that clicks. And mentally I change into my farmer’s overalls and there I am… farming.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
It’s more than a week and I am bleary eyed. I am obsessed with my strawberries withering away. I worried about the wandering kittens in my farm. (Besides, I am constantly rearranging them. For once, these kittens listen). Now there is a clumsy reindeer too. I am trying to figure out where to put the additional cow shed. I am hankering after a brown cow so it can give me chocolate milk! (This is just plain ridiculous… chocolate milk? I don’t even like chocolate all that much! ) And I am anxiously waiting for the ugly duckling to turn into a swan!
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Phew! This has got to stop.
Then one night when I am really really tired, and the rice crop is ready, I convince my daughter to do the harvesting for me. She does it unwillingly, accusing me of engaging in child labour. I turn over guiltily and fall into a dreamless sleep. Farmers do get really tired.
It took me some time to realise that like a whole lot of others I had fallen prey to the charms of a farming life. Now it was time to strengthen my resolve and get out of it. But it wouldn’t let go. New tentacles wound around me like the tendrils of the grape vine. Christmas was nearing and suddenly a whole lot of surprise gift packages began to arrive. Oh no! I moaned. And succumbed.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
I finally did give up.
A New Year resolution never made before was now carved in a (Halloween)gravestone. I was giving up Charmville. I was not going to spend quality time growing virtual crops, milking virtual cows, expanding my virtual farm, spending virtual money to make more virtual money. I was coming back to reality.
So I abandoned my farm heartlessly on 1st of January 2010. The peach trees beckoned. The cows mooed. The clumsy reindeer ground his hooves. The chickens fluttered around. The cats purred sinuously. But no, I was as firm as a farmer without real land can be.
And as I abandoned acre after acre of my farm and found new quality time for myself, I gave it another name in my mind: Harmville!