Friday, September 30, 2011

Die hard love -- 2

There were three days left for Riya to leave the country that showed her the other side of life. In her fast paced life, unconsciously she had missed to live every moment of her life. Riya realized how her busy work schedule had kept her away from life!

Michael had shown her a way. She wanted to take him along.

The day before she had to leave, she sat their wondering how she would propose to him. She was also a bit worried about her family; would they accept a foreigner as their son-in-law?

Michael came to the airport to see her off.
Riya wasn’t sure if this was the moment when Michael walked up to her.
“Riya, you made my days brighter. Thank you!”
“Michael, it is you who showed me life beyond survival. Come to India soon to capture life!”
“Now that I have a splendid host, I will”, and he smiled.

Riya sat in the flight drowned in thoughts.
“Why didn’t I tell him, I love him? Does he love me?”
She knew Michael liked her and that was enough for her. Michael had told her once, it doesn’t really matter in life how others feel for you, all that matters is how you feel for them.
She murmured under her breath, “I love him, and I will let him know.”

Michael and Riya stay connected in the virtual world. After 2 months Michael was sponsored to make a documentary on the lives of Milk-men in Aarey colony, Andheri, Mumbai.

Riya was excited. She was living a renewed life. The trip to the US had changed so much for her, yet nothing.
Michael’s trip to India was very short and he was busy with his shoot. They met for dinner one night at Colaba.

It was a beautiful night. The sky was filled with stars; the moon was hiding behind the clouds. Riya and Michael strolled along the marine drive intensely engaged in a conversation. It was quite chill and the gentle breeze was teasing Riya.
“Isn’t it beautiful Michael?”
“The night?”
“God’s trick on people!”
“I love you! Would you be my man for a lifetime?”

Michael looked up. He held Riya’s hand looked into her eyes.
When Riya first met him, he took her breath away and now her heart. He was piercing through Riya!

“Riya, I love you, but..”

Dawn was breaking-in; Riya sat in her couch looking out through the window.
Michael never spoke to her after that day. Riya couldn’t handle the sudden void in her life. He came like a storm; swept her off her feet and now she lay like the left over debris.

She was agonizing herself by entangling in a chain of thoughts.
“God! How could he keep away from me? Doesn’t he love me? When did I lose myself completely to him? How could I let him do this to me? How could his absence tear me into pieces?”
“He can’t avoid me! He can’t...”
“Am I nobody without him? He brought in a bout of freshness in my life, he led me into beautiful meadow and now he is gone!”
“I love him…and all I wished for is life together. Why did he deny me that?”
She was crying. Riya couldn’t hold her tears back.
“I love him for who he is, even if he is terminally ill.”

She wiped her tears off, washed her face and changed her wet shirt. She closed the facebook page that she had kept open, and searched for tickets to Kansas, USA. She made a few calls and was ready to leave.

The clock in her bedroom showed 10 past 5 in the morning. She called Maya, “Hello Maya! I am sorry to wake you up so early…”
“Riya..Riya, is everything ok?”
“Yes, I have taken off from work and I need to report only on Monday. I am going to Kansas, USA.”
“Not official? “
“What is the emergency?”
“My life! I am going to live my life. I am in love. I will come back and give you details.”
“Riya, I knew it was a man. Good luck!”

Riya rang the door bell.
Michael stood stunned.
“I love you.”
“It doesn’t matter to me if you are diagnosed with cancer. I …”
“Riya, understand…I don’t want to take the moments out of your life.”
“You already are..!”
“Cancer is a killer, the treatment is grueling. I don’t even know if I will survive…”
“Michael, I want to be part of your pain and pleasure.”
“Michael, don’t you trust me? Together we can make every moment count!”
Riya tried hard to hold back her tears, “I am fully aware of the consequences of my decision. You make your life count by making films that will essay life! I want to make my life count by building memories of us together!”
“I want to give you happy memories.”
“You will Michael, let us live every moment, like you always say…Before it is gone!”
Michael held her close; and whispered into her ears, “I love you, together let us leave our legacy behind!”
“I love you, Michael. “

In the face of death, one begins to live!

Die hard love -- 1

Riya stood staring at the mirror, she couldn’t recognize herself. She collected water from the basin and held it in her cupped hands before splashing it hard on her face. Nothing changed. It didn’t even help clear her clouded mind.

“What has he done to me?”
“Why did I let him to do that to me?”
The phone rang.
She knew it wasn’t him and she didn’t want to talk to anyone. It rang again.
She slowly moved closer to the mobile and took a peep at the display.
Maya calling..
She held the phone and said,” Hello!”
“Huff! I finally get to speak to you.”
“How are you?”
“You tell me! Where have you been lately? Not picking up calls! Is everything alright, Riya?”
“Thanks for your concern! I am fine.”
“Your voice doesn’t say that. Can we meet sometime?”
“Not today. I am little busy, I will call you when I am free.”
“Maya, give me some time, I will explain things later. Bye”
“Take care! Bye.”

Maya was Riya’s best friend. She couldn’t believe she was hiding it from her.
It was late in the night. Riya was sitting in the dark still confused. She had to report to work on Monday. Recently she has been very sluggish at work; there were lot of tasks pending from her end. Initially she was distracted by the buzzing events in her life, now by fear.

Last week her boss had summoned her.

“Riya let me get straight to the point. Ever since you are back, I see a decline in your productive output, is there something wrong?”
“No, Sir.”
“Riya, you are smart. We have seen you do tremendous work here and I personally have seen you grow in your career from the day you started here. If there is any ethical issue at work, don’t hesitate to tell me. “
“It’s a personal problem.”
“Oh! Don’t let it affect your work. With appraisals around the corner, this kind of output from you will affect your growth. Is there anything I can do to help you?”
“No sir, I will be fine. Just give me some time.”
“Ok! You can take a day or two off, if that will help.”
“Thank you, Sir. I will join back work on Monday.”
Riya has been buying time from everyone in her life, but now she knows her time is up.


It was 5 months back when she had gone to the US on work, she met him.
It was a new country and a bunch of new people; everything around was new. She was sent here to win a project for her company. She had a challenge ahead and she wasn’t comfortable in the new environment.

She had to depend on others for her smallest needs and that wasn’t Riya.

Riya was waiting at the lawn, for her colleague to pick her up to work.
The green pastures, fresh air and white swans in the pond soothed her emotions. Today was a big day! She had an important presentation to make, as she sat their collecting her written notes she noticed him playing Tennis in the background.
He caught her attention for more than a few seconds. She was transfixed; her eyes followed his run-up and her heart missed a few beats.

“Hi Riya! I am Vinod.”
She couldn’t cut back her vision to Vinod.
“Oh. Hi, I am Riya!” She looked lost.
“I know. Can we start?”
“Well! Yes.”

It was a busy day. Riya was introduced to her clients, and every time she shook someone’s hand, she could only envision being introduced to him.

She told herself, this is a significant day in her life and she had to be at it.
Riya’s presentation started, she put him in the background and took a deep breath.
The outcome of the presentation will be the fruit for her hard work.

She did exceedingly well.
“Job well done, Riya.”
“Thank you!”
“Vinod will pick you up at eight; we are having a dinner party tonight!”

The nervousness of the new place suddenly left her. She was inexplicably happy.
Riya sat in her portico, sipping coffee.
He walked up to her.
“Hi! I am Michael.”
It was like a dream coming true.
“I am a film maker. I make short films.”
“Oh! That’s fantastic!” She blurted out.
“I travel around to capture the lives of people in their own nests. It really brings color to life. “
Michael went on to add, “There are several emotions that surround a human life, the tiny things that upset someone brings happiness to another. It is incredible capturing the various moods.”
“I have heard India is land of stories – touching stories. I want to come there one day!”
“Yes! Absolutely. Indian society is widely divided; you have a Dhobiwala surviving on a meal day and a rich business splurging on his dinner at Taj living only miles away. India definitely has many tales up her sleeve.”

“Interesting! India is land of love and hate.”

“Much more!! India is land of laughter, envy, celebration, agony co-existing. “
“..And, a place of the ever evading serenity!”

“You love your country! Don’t you?”
Like India, Michael had a soul rendering history too.

It didn’t feel like she was talking to him for the first time. In the one month she stayed in that country, they spent every single evening together.
Michael helped her cope with her new environment. He told her stories about the community, the economy, the entertainment industry, and a lot more. He made her self-sufficient.

Riya knew where to pick her newspaper! The little things that make our everyday living effortless are best realized in a foreign land. She, now knew directions to the supermarket, she could even suggest a traveler where to dine in the new city.

He made her independent.

Riya and Michael enjoyed each other’s company. On weekends they went to the country side, Riya watched him shoot and aided him in his work.

“Why do you make films?”
“Ah! There is lot of intense moments in life which we fail to live. My lens captures them.”
He continued. “Every moment has a life. In our struggle to survive we miss the pulse of life, by making films I capture them forever.”
“I believe I will live through these films, even after I am gone.”

Riya was perched on a rock by the stream. The stream glittered in the moonlight. She could see the reflection of a cheerful, charismatic and calm Riya in the stream.

A Riya she hadn’t known; introduced by the man sleeping in the tent.

She was captivated more by the film-maker who gave rendition to life than the muscular tennis player she saw first.

She was in love.

Read Part-2 here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Drakensberg – An Adventure seeker's delight!

Drakensberg is the highest mountain range in South Africa, situated in KwaZulu-Natal province. It is a wilderness area known for its trekking trails and Adventure activity. It is about 4 hours drive from Johannesburg that could take you away from the hustle-bustle of the city to the country side, tranquil and picturesque. I got to drive about 150 Kms on way to Drakensberg, one of my firsts on International roads. I found the Highway infrastructure here to be like that of the National highways (our new NHs) in India, rather should I say India’s NHs are as good as the South Africans only that our sign boards could be improved. It is not the infrastructure that gives you a great driving experience it is the lane discipline that everyone follows here which makes driving simple, speedy and safe! In India we got to trust ourselves as a driver, here we need to trust the others on road; one wrong move by anyone could send your vehicle go tossing up! You could speed at 120-140 Km/hr near blind spots, on roads that have no divider between the onwards and upcoming traffic, overtake trucks at curves and be assured that no one will ever come in your way.

Drakensberg is a world heritage center and a National park which has entrances from many sides. The region is divided into Southern, Central and Northern; one can imagine the vastness of this region! We had booked our accommodation in Ikahaya Lodge, near Bell Park dam in central Drakensberg, which means we could do/see things only in this area, as traveling to northern or southern region would take about another 1-2 hours of driving.

Many adventure camps operate out of Drakensberg, one gets to go Quad biking, Zip-lining, Abseiling, water kayaking /tubing (in the summer/after the rains), canopy tours and few more. I did zip-lining; it was fun, not a very long distance, neither was it very high but definitely worth your first experience!

After a day of adventure activities, we retired at our home stay – a beautiful farm tucked away in a serene milieu. As the sun went down and the darkness set in; leaving us at the mercy of the stars to lighten up our trail – one look upwards towards the sky; took our breath away! It was the most beautiful night sky I have ever seen in my life. I have always wanted to sleep under a glittering night sky and there I stood exasperated - Gorgeous! In the bitter cold, it was hard to lose yourself staring at her; we made fire and spent some time engulfed by her radiance!
We were up early for a trek into the National Park; we were at the Monk cowl’s end of the entrance into the Drakensberg heritage center. Trek trails are conspicuously marked, with a map outlining the difficulty of each trail. It is made so easy that no one would need a guide and there are no guides. We did one of the easiest trails to Sterkspruit waterfall and a pool nearby. The water was piercing cold; sat there chit-chatted a bit and headed out. The trek was quite easy, with a small kid in our group of six it was our best bet. The place is quite inviting and we did want to trek further into wilderness, but that would need at least one full day. Some of our friends were waiting for us at the home stay for our next activity - the horse trail, so we had to wind up though we promised ourselves an overnight camp the next time!

Nine horses were saddled up for us to take the trail up the mountain and down the streams. As we mounted the horses and got ourselves into reining the horses, instructions were given out on how we should ride them, take control and maneuver them around – didn't sound easy! We had two guides; one would lead the way and another to look over us, which meant we had to take care of our horses.
The name of my horse was Chief! He was busy grazing all the time before the start; I had a question – what if he wants to graze when we are on the run – the lady told me , “you are on the run, you are in command – hold him back, don’t let him graze”. Fact File: Horses graze 16 hours a day!

Here we go – initially it was fun getting used to the movement of the animal and gaining control of the reins. We were in a line as the horses followed each other in a particular order (we later came to know some horses are not compatible with others and females don’t like to be closely followed by males!) I involved myself in a conversation with Chief – He was listening to my instructions and riding me with grace. Few sections of the trail was exciting – riding up hill, crossing a very small stream and trotting! In South Africa, people can own their own game reserve; the place adjoining our farm was a game area. Interesting isn’t it? You could buy lions, probably cheetahs too and have your own reserve!

We were almost close to completion when Spa – the lead horse wanted to go for a run and went away for a real horse ride! As we stood waiting for our lead, Chief started grazing (He tried grazing on our trail too – I held him back all the while), initially I tried to hold him back and then I saw other horses graze too and let him graze. The grass was too low and he had to bend a bit and in the course I let the reins slip out of my hands!! Uh-Ah, the reins were gone, I tried to catch the attention of our guide who was busy capturing us on camera. As I kept saying “I left my reins, I left my reins” Chief decided to run – Ouch!! There was rush of adrenaline; he shook me up quite literally that I could feel my stomach muscles twitch. My mind said,” I am going to fall any moment” as my lips were saying “I left my reins”! As chief ran forward, his head moved backwards and the reins came up and I held on it – the defining moment. I held him back and said “Hold on Baby! – Stop”. He did and I sighed a breath of relief. It would have lasted only about 10-20 seconds but enough to wobble you up. I regained my composure and we happily trotted back to the stay.

We were towards the end of another exciting, engrossing and entertaining trip. On our way back, I noticed something quirky – all the electrical poles in the countryside were of wood [Picture inserted] isn’t that an economical way? We could save on the metal cost; should propose that back home.

Travel Info:

Drakensberg is a Trekker’s delight. Like I said, there are many trails from several entry points to the National Park, Hence one could go there again and again until one explores it all.

It is ideal for people who enjoy Nature, Serenity (who doesn’t?), Trekking, Hiking and Adventure activities.

I would recommend Ikahaya Lodge for stay – Pleasant. There are many places to stay around.

We missed to see the much acclaimed Bushman cave paintings of Drakensberg due to the fact that none was close by. It is in the norther region.

Best Season to visit – Summer (when after the rains it is all green!), Winter (to see snow clad peaks)

Weather gets unpredictable when trekking to higher regions.

Drakensberg can provide you an absolute experience with nature and wilderness!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Jo'burg - An outsider's view

It is exactly a week since i landed here in Jo'burg. It's been slow, stoic and simple!

Johannesburg didn't sweep me off my feet. My first impressions were - a city that is a dream to many!

As one walks off the airport, it is the infrastructure of the place that first catches your attention. Jo'burg appears to be a well planned city that is considerably ready to take on development. Contrary to the perception i held that the city retires early, i saw quite some activity on the streets at around ten in the night. It wasn't desolate as i had expected :) It is true that many places shut their doors latest by eight, but still one can find vehicles. I am still wondering where they go, the days ahead might have the answer.

It was end of day two in a new city, i was staring out of the window pane as we were driving back home after dinner at a friend's place. I felt the city was missing something, i wasn't sure what.

I still haven't been able to connect with the people of Jo'burg, may be the lack of human touch makes me feel empty! I did get to speak to few people, i do not know how to word my experience. There is a mixed ethnicity to the city that would need considerable time to dissect into ;)

People in general are warm and friendly, am talking of the superficial contacts that one gets to make in the public places. I guess it is one of those things you pick up in an era of globalization.

The country's history has many incidents of crime reported. In spite of reduction in the crime rate, everyone exercises caution in their daily activities as there is quite an extent of crime that gets reported even today. As a visitor to the country it definitely puts you on the back foot.

Behind this mask there is an enduring human value.

I believe this country has a long history and an intense culture which would be absolutely interesting and engaging to learn. Before i embark on this quest, i need to find my grounding which for now seems little hard to catch sight of.

At the moment i will need to watch my back as i try to tear off the mask this city seems to be wearing!