Monday, March 10, 2008

Beauty in the Concrete Jungle

There was traveling in a boat to a remote lodge in the Amazon Rain Forest in Peru. There was living amongst the nature, seeing unheard, unseen, undecipherable (but highly distinguishable) creatures including insects, reptiles, mammals, birds. There was walking in knee-deep muddy waters and getting bitten all over by who-knows-what-all, and seeing the sunrays struggling to creep through the tall canopies. There was a boat ride in the dark, to locate the caimen. There was the slight rain (by Amazon standards), there were interesting breeds of trees... there was everything one would want to be amidst when one said ´ I want to be one with nature´

But a 45 minute bus ride in the heart of Lima during peak hours was way more entertaining/involving.

Finding out one´s way around a country whose language one does not know is an under-rated challenge. When in school, I remember a teacher telling us that an average English-speaking individual knows a couple thousand words of English. I found that rather unelievable. That´s a LOT of words. But when I simply could not ask for directions, and then when I managed to ask, I could not fathom the reply... it struck me that all I was looking for was simple words like ´bus number´, ´last bus time´, ´frequency´.

But living in a similar city teaches you many skills. Smiling and gesturing, without any hesitation puts the person at ease. Also, most people are willing to help and try their best in assisting if one shows enough concern on one´s face. Public transport is almost always safe and challenging and exhausting (thats the fun of it). Walking confidently is the best way to walk, no matter how little one knows about where one is going.

The sigñor who helped was a middle aged guy who spoke no english. NO english. And yet we smiled and talked. He took me to a place to eat, bought some bread for himself, and bought a ´pollo´sandwich for me, took me to the bus, and instructed the bus driver in no unclear terms as to where to drop me. I dont know how to show gratitude to such people except to keep chanting ´muchos gracios´.

The bus was almost as crowded as the local trains of Mumbai. And after a long time did I have to use my arm strength to keep my body in place. I heard the all-familiar chattering of young, professional girls discussing the day, the tired laborer sleeping while standing amidst the brouhaha, the beautiful lass staring alternately between her mobile phone and out of the window, the college kid lost in the music playing in his earphones, the conductor squeezing by where ants wouldn´t dare to tread!

And then I reach the destination (after pushing aside everyone heartlessly, to disembark).

It was a sight to behold. The yellow lights decorating the proud cathedral, the municipalty building matching wits, standing tall, the shops in the adjacent streets with the vendors beckoning to all those who passed, the colorful wares displayed temptingly, the discount and sale boards placed such that no one could overlook them, the smell of fresh food... and amid all this was the huge garden with a fountain in the centre. All this made it a beautiful sight, but what made it so fetching/appealling was that the garden was abuzz with young lovers... arm in arm, hand in hand, kissing, smiling, arguing, laughing... lost in their paradisical world. None cared as to who else was passing by, watching them with envy/curiosity. They were there just to enjoy companionship. It was like a typical garden in Mumbai, or bandstand, or Marine Drive, or other such hang outs... except there were no moral or actual police monitoring any activity. The world was free to a large extent.

Love, in any form, makes events or terrains or places or even activities more beautiful. Jungles and mountains and nature have their raw beauty to fall back on. But people typically are more interesting to people.

Friday, March 07, 2008

A questionable Shangri-la

There was a moment of suspended bliss.

All around her were lush green mountains subtly hidden behind the fleeting clouds. The clouds moved like proud vagabonds, changing the view dramatically with their slightest movement. The combination of slippery mud and wet rocks made the path look like that in the jungles of children´s drawing books. The vegetation adjacent to the path was wet and flowery... wild flowery - flowers that have grown out of choice, and not by planning and nurturing.

The slight drizzle combined with the light wind made her skin titilate. Walking in such a weather, at such a height (couple thousand feet) amidst the Rain Forest and the Cloud Forest was an unforgettable experience. She felt like a small child out of a fairy tale, only alive to sing and walk with a springing gait, to ask questions to the trees and to get answers from the winds, to speak softly to the clouds and see the mountains move in unison, to be curious about her body, to question her life, her smile, her motivations, her ideaologies, her philosophy... her.

Who was she? Did it matter? What matters? What was the goal, if there was one? Happiness? Or happiness at ANY cost? How did one measure cost? What was the goal, again? Is it just a vicious circle of questions that get answered if the previous one gets answered? Does any previous one get answered?
Is thinking about this of any worth? Is ignorance really bliss? At what levels? Is she a human incorporation of all that she was taught in her school, home, travels etc? Or is there such a thing as original thought?
What if she was kept in a closed enclosure for 23 years? Would the intersection set of her thoughts then, and now, be non-empty?

Or should she just laugh and be merry now.. and be inquisitive about why she occasionally feels miserable for no reason?

Treking in the high mountains gives her a vague confidence... She thinks the same thoughts she once thoght in the Garhwal trek years ago...
Mountains don´t have a sense of beauty. For the mountain, there is no definition of a beautiful mountain. It is just the way it is. It does not try to fit in, or to become more like it´s role model mountain.
A mountain is.
It is happy the way it is. It does not try to do anything about it, but be itself.

That is why ALL mountains look beautiful. Or all rivers look appealing. They just are.

Does the capacity for thought make us want to improve ourselves? To fit in? Or to stand out? Or to become an epitome of all good things for others?
Why do we have a collective sense?

The path curves, and she sees an opening. The scene is perfect, except for one anomaly. Her.