So I am thirty three

I like to make myself believe that I take my own decisions and have charted my own life. Unfortunately to counter that there is an “Exhibit A”- “Himangshu had no say on when he was born or where he was born”. In spite of my most sincere protests, every year like the year before the calendar says it is 15th May, my google doodle changes and my parents call me to remind me that I had no say in my birth.

This year was my third birthday in another country in another timezone. That got me wondering when is my birthday. India is sometimes twelve and a half hours ahead from where I live. It got me pondering which is my accurate birthday. My parents always told that I was born on Wednesday of 1986. But 15th May 1986 was a Thursday, (trust but verify even your parents). On further investigation, it was claimed I was born at 2 am on 15th May. That was 14th May in San Francisco.

Its been three years now. I was a failed entrepreneur in Bangalore. It was the month of May. Four months ago, my Hb1c had reached 11.5. I was losing it all. Still, it was my birthday and I was sitting across what I thought was the love of my life then. Halfway through the meal, we realized we liked each other but we were not the one for the other. We talked and confessed and promised to give it a try for old times sake. Wisely we drifted apart the week after. In a few months time, I  left the city and the state and the country. I made a few new friends and great friends here. But I had too many repressed emotions. I kept my birthday hidden for two years. One of them tried to force me to go for dinner last year but I feigned work to bail out. Time passed, my privacy settings changed and I had a not so surprise celebrations this year(2019, in case I suffer from memory loss) round.

With thirty-three years elapsed, I need to take a moment to thank people who have helped me through my life for no reason. Some of the people’s faces have faded from my memory but their kindness lingers on. This list is not comprehensive in any form or fashion but I cannot make perfect the enemy of the good.

 

When I was six or seven, my father was seriously ill. Back in those days, my father used to drop me at school and pick me up. A few days he could not drop me but I went with an aunt to school. After school was over, my father got more unwell and my aunt could not pick me up. I told about my plight to a slightly older student of my school, he was 15 or 16 I think as the school got over and he got me home. Helped me cross a busy intersection. The only name I know was his pet name at home called Bablu.

There was a neighbor of ours whom I only know as Jan Dai. He was no blood relative of mine but he taught me to ride a cycle. This was when I was ten years old.

At the age of sixteen, I left Assam for New Delhi to complete my school education.  Papney uncle who just happened to meet me at a bank branch one day took care of me like their own son. Papney sure does not rhyme with any Assamese surname but I never felt more at home.

When I was twenty-one, I got diagnosed with diabetes and clinical depression. I had difficulty meeting people outside my circle of trust. I once got a severe hypoglycemic attack on the way from Calcutta to my college. I had to sleep on a railway platform for a few hours sipping on an energy drink. Since that day, I always had one friend or another accompany me to the psychiatrist/medicine purchase. Those were Nawal/Aniket/Nitesh/Nikhil. We did watch the dark knight six odd times. That is another story. When my thesis advisor refused to let me graduate. Prof. Sinha went and talked him out of it.  Sometime during my stay in college and new pharmacy opened, I finally could get my medicines from Frank Ross Pharmacy. One day we were going to somewhere and I needed to replenish my insulin. I think it was Nikhil who went to get the insulin while lazy me was in the car. The pharmacist told him they don’t have insulin. Nikhil shouted to me from the pharmacy that they don’t have it. The pharmacist saw me. He immediately told Nikhil that he has insulin but “only for Himangshu”. Apparently, he had only 1 vial left and he had kept it aside in case I need it. For him, other patients can die for all they need. Shobhit/Naru/Nanda and others who jumped across closed doors to get me insulin or sugar as the need may be. It was a village that kept me alive at college. Some of the villagers I haven’t met since and will probably never meet again.

My SFO room-mate (Rock) who took me to hospital and back when I was having a severe sugar attack. Our run-club friend and coach, in the particular order, Nichole who bullied a security guy to reach me in a medical tent as I was freaking out. To the mother on the street of Vancouver who let me have her child’s food as my sugar levels were dropping. To the two groups of friends who rescued me at Yosemite and to many other names not mentioned, thank you for what you did. Thanks to you all, I get to live one more day.

 

 

 

 

 

The weekend of February 2019

It is funny how life works. Like clockwork, every December I find myself setting goals for the next four seasons. Apart from the usual suspects like eating better and procrastinating less, I thought 2019 will be the year I would cover as many national parks as humanly possible. Remote, physically challenging, breathtakingly beautiful – NPS of US has everything that an introvert traveller like me yearns for me. Talking about national parks, Aaron Sorkin once said Yosemite makes America the greatest nation on earth.  I do not know what makes the greatest nation in the world but am pretty good at spotting a beautiful place when I see one.  It helps that I can go there using public transport. Yes, I do not have a car and also find driving a wee bit stressful.

As the year rolled by, I found myself lusting after another trip. As soon as the shutdown was over, I found myself looking for a place to stay inside the park. Thus far I have never managed to stay inside the park. I wanted to go on Feb 9th but there were no reservations for that day but there was opening on 16th Feb and 17th Feb. 18th Feb being a holiday, that worked fine.  This mundane detail had a lot of foreshadowing of how things worked out for my trip. As things stood, I got the terrible flu on 8th Feb and was bedridden for most of 8th Feb. Even if had booked a trip on 8th, I would not have been able to make it.

 

Speaking of foreshadowing, this was not the only alteration I had to do for my itinerary. there was heavy snowfall on 8th and all reservations in campgrounds for my trip were cancelled. But I had decided to go no matter what. I made an alternate arrangement and found myself staying inside the park for one day and just outside for the other.

Picture: On the road

 

 

 

Picture: Yosemite under the moon light

On the day of the trip, I woke up at 3:30 and took the bus, train and another bus to Yosemite. Did I say I really wanted to go during the weekend? After having booked the trip, I also found that my trip will be near a full moon and the valley will be bathed in snow.  I was pretty excited to hike in moon-lit snow. I reached the park without any incident and basked in the reflection of the rays of the moon or as some dictionaries in another language will say “Himangshu Jyoti”. Yes, that is my name and it literally means “Moon’s light”.

 

 

 

Picture: Start of upper Yosemite

Due to the heavy cover of snow, many of the treks were closed. I did my reconnaissance and found out the open treks. Early next morning I went out to hike Upper Yosemite Falls. A hike I had done one a half year back when the tracks were brown and stony.  I found out that the entire hike was not safe but it was safe to go to something called “Colombia Rock”.  This was going to very different. The brown soil had given way to a thick blanket of snow. I kept climbing and noticed there were few other hikers. Even as an introvert solo hiker, I like to meet other people on the trail for safety reasons.

Picture: One for the profile pic

 

 

 

Picture: The paws that made me run away

 

 

 

 

Picture: Colombia Rock

 

 

 

After some time I was startled by mini avalanches but I kept going on because I saw fresh footmarks in the snow. Eventually, I met someone returning who told me it was safe till Colombia Rock but that there was a bear prowling beyond it. I was worried about overshooting but kept on going. As I had feared, I overshot the lookout and kept on going. I had not met another trekker for quite some time. That gave me a pause but I had enough time to catch the bus back so I kept on going. All this story would have made for a great climax if I had a selfie with the bear but in an anti-climatic fashion, all I came across was paw marks. It was a bit scary all alone with fresh paw marks. I ran back double speed to human civilization.

 

 

 

Picture: Mirror lake that made me overstay

The upper Yosemite hike left me with four hours to kill during the day. So, I went to mirror lake. Mirror Lake was so pretty, I became a bit stupid and overstayed my intended stay by the lake. Long story short I gave myself very less slack to catch the bus. Due to heavy snow, most of the road signs were not visible and I got lost at just the worst moment and missed the last bus. So I found myself on the 17th of February in a snow covered national park without any way to get out. With no way out, I now was at the mercy of humankind.

 

 

 

 

 

I started asking for a lift to all passing cars. Of the fifteen-odd cars that passed by me over five stopped by. Sometimes, it is easy to get lost in the negativity going around but intrinsically all humans like to help each other. One of the cars was going in my direction. They hardly had any space but they decided to save the unknown soul and I found myself on a car out of Yosemite to El Portal. They drove me to a gas station which was a few miles from the hotel. Unfortunately unknown to them the hotel was another 5 miles away and it was a bit risky to walk on the road due to cars. So, I again found myself in a situation. Like before I got another lift to the hotel. Things were only about to get even better. Next day I was back in the park and while coming back, I found myself on the bus crossing the horsetail falls as it was about to turn bright red. I never knew about the Yosemite Firefall but there I was witnessing it from the comfort of my bus as the slow traffic ensured I got a very long glimpse of the miracle of nature.

Picture: Firefall a rare natural phenomenon

 

From the bottom of my heart, I wish to thank Saina from Portland who thought of saving me out of pure humanity and Suhas from Sunnyvale. I hope I can one day of some help to another human being like you guys were to me.

 

A song to make me smile and make me cry

 

My years in the world of consumer internet has successfully rewired a lot of  my neurons. I ,now , believe that any opinion standing on the shoulders of anecdotal evidence should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. I also process to be against hypocrisy. Yet, the very same neural patterns which have colluded to form my current worldview makes me make a conjecture that all human beings like music. While it is true that one person’s music may be other persons noise, every person I have met in my life likes some music or other.  My own likes and dislikes are an over-represented data-set of my universal set of data points.  This was a rather convoluted way of saying I love to listen to songs.

For me my love for singing sometimes goes beyond listening. I was once a semi decent singer. I have a few fragments of papyrus alluding to my vocal chords . I used my vocal chords to make a few of my ragging sessions to singing sessions.  In fact, I had used it to escape from physical drill of my first year NCC camp’s physical training . I performed a so-called musical performance for three minutes for the end of camp cultural performance and spent the rest of the camp practicing the song (eating food) and putting on weight while my friends went through a hellish boot camp.. While I no longer perform for an audience of more than me , I still try to learn a song once a while.

I come from a place called Assam and learned to express myself in Assamese. For as long as I can we always had an over-abundance of great music. The fact that our most important festival is all about song and dance could have a role in this. Invariably and frequently, I come across a song that touches my heart. I have away from my motherland for the last decade and a half. In these years, I have spoken very few Assamese words. I have seen  Assamese transition from my first language to second language to third and back to second. Today, Assamese is my second language but my vocabulary is bankrupt.

Yet, I feel an emotional connect when listening to Assamese songs which I do not feel when I listen in other languages. Of the songs that touched me, the song Majuli touched me a lot. I have never been to Majuli, It has always been an answer to a general knowledge question to largest river island of the world. I am not sure if it is the largest island in the world but our Assam based text books, sure, think it to be true. Whenever, I try to try to learn this song, I feel my eyes getting mist.

 

I feel sad that I do not know the meaning of all the worlds used in the song. At the same time the visuals of lusty green and flooded fields overwhelms my endocrine system. The sight of Assamese temple is very confusing. I no longer believe in existence of God and avoid religious ceremonies like plague. Yet it transports me to the days when I used to accompany my grandfather to our home temple as he conducted prayers. My grandfather who was far ahead of his times and did not care for the fact I was a product of inter-caste marriage. I see small kids sing to a joyous song to the tune of this melancholy song and get my emotions astounded, I should feel happy seeing happy faces but I feel sad. I see the colours of my state and I remember that it is reeling under unprecedented floods and I am not doing much to help. I feel anguish at the lethargy of fellow clan members which makes us languish at the bottom of the rat race of global civilization. I get distracted by song’s part about grandmothers love and the accompanying visuals of a kitchen. I travel back to my childhood to my grandmother’s kitchen. Everyone in the family had to eat in the dining room but I was special to my grandmother, My seat was always near my grandmother’s stove and nobody was given food till I had food. I remember my grandparents who are no longer alive. I remember the house in my village which has been long consumed by expanding river banks of Brahmaputra and then I listen to the same song in an infinite loop.

 

 

Redeem and Rebuilt

Not so long ago, I used to write blogs more frequently. Not so long ago, the website that I am using to write this looked pretty different. Only a month and a half ago, I was in the city that broke me and humbled me. A city where I met my first love and had my first break up. A break-up that seemed more like an act of mercy than any phase of heartbreak. A city where I dreamt of being an entrepreneur and saw me built a hasty retreat to job life. A city that saw me get fit enough to run a marathon and saw me unfit enough for my doctor to tell me to leave my job. Bangalore gave me the best of times and worst of times but it broke my spirit and me unhealthy and poor but wise.  I needed to rescue myself. Rather timidly, I just wanted to get out of the city.

I started looking for jobs. I got a few great opportunities but broken me did not want to walk through the streets of my failure. Having spent the bulk of my professional life in startups, I was no longer fit to work in larger organizations. Botched two-three interviews and then started applying to all countries of the globe. I even applied to exotic countries not know for their tech prowess. In the state that I was, I felt I need to come to startup capital of the world “SFO” or Israel. The way VISA works, it was easier said than done but I had gone well past the realm of giving a damn.

I took a contract position with a startup as a consultant with a possibility of converting to full-time employment if an O visa came through. In a months time, the job offer came through contingent on visa approval. After a three-month VISA process, greatly helped by the press coverage of zoomo, the VISA came through. VISA interview was really funny, I had to go to Chennai to get my VISA stamped. First time I went there the CM died and the consulate declared a holiday.The next time I found myself in the middle of a cyclone.

On 16th January, I was ready to leave home for foreign shores for the very first time. Twenty odd hours later, I was in SFO. Ever since I left Dibrugarh, I have lived in Delhi, Kharagpur, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore but I always missed my old home. I missed the rains, the muddy roads and most of all I missed the clean air and tasty water. I missed walking up to see a tea garden, every day of my life. But SFO was different. It was a city with clean air, beautiful trees, beautiful houses and lovely weather. There are many things to like about the city, the road by the ocean, the walk across the streets and the lovely smell of the pine trees. I  love the smell of the pine trees, I really love the smell of the pine trees, I really really and truly love the smell of the pine trees. I love the run on the road by the ocean, I love the trek to the nearby hills.

I was pleasantly surprised to see people on the roads so polite. Even the dogs are very different from back home. I have run on the roads quite a few times sharing space with dogs and never have I been ever chased once. It took me quite a while to get adjusted to not react to the presence of dogs while running. In the month and a half here, I have been to a few other cities but nothing compares to this city. To top it all, I have got my health back and my sugar levels are back to normal, lost two inches and love with the work I do.

 

In many ways, I am now living a dream which I had never dreamt.

When engulfed by stress and external circumstances, it is easy to lose faith in everything. A  year after the dark days of my life, I have started to take things more lightly. I am now only interested in completing bucket list items. I have jumped from a building, ran 21kms without any reason, went to Vegas and walked one whole day alone on the strip. Life has been really good to me in this distant land that I call home.

The guilt free sundae

 

In moral science classes of my very initial school days, I was often told “an idle mind is a devils workshop”.  Idle mind or not, many of my brain cells responsible for storing the memories of my life were empty back then and till date I remember these six-seven words in the same order.

Today things are different, although my dna report will match to me of two decades earlier, my thoughts and thinking process are not exactly the same. I no longer think that devil and divine fight for control of my mind. But it is quite funny what an idle mind can do to your life.

I try to keep myself busy either coding or running in the few seconds of the day when I am not doing any of these I busy myself thinking about all things in life which I will never have.  It has been now seven years since the Brazilian Grand prix won by Kimi Räikkönen . Incidentally that was the day I was told I am a diabetic. It would be a lie to say I was not expecting this news or to say that I was not shattered by it.  Bad news, even though we know is inevitable, always comes across as something sad.

Thankfully though, my willpower rose to the occasion and now I am largely non-diabetic – at least my blood test thinks like that. I run aggressively every day and am rather paranoid about food I take. If I see oil floating around I can’t eat the food. If the food tastes sweet and I don’t know how much fibre is present in the food, I find myself unable to eat.  I feel like a criminal if I miss one session in the gym.

But all these seems to be taking a toll on me. Every now and then I feel like is why and for long do I have to do this. Why do I have to do all of these just to stay alive and now and then , I try to recollect the last time I had a guilt-free sundae. After searching my brain for recollections of the feeling of a guilt free sundae, I only realise I have quite forgotten how it tastes and just wonder how many cousins of guilt free sundaes will torment me in my idle hours.

 

Here I Go on the road again

the call of the road

 

I love to drive. I really love to drive. I really totally love to drive. I really totally absolutely love to drive. Humans invented words to be able to communicate . While it is true that our mastery of larynx has enabled us to become masters of the world and deluded us into creating competitions to find the most beautiful thing that breathes in the universe, no matter how many daggers I inflict on the works of Wren and Martin and the guardians of English dictionary , I cannot honestly describe the joy that driving gives to me. Words can indeed be funny, only way to describe your love for anything is to write that you cannot describe them in words.

So, I love to drive. I love to drive fast. In India, driving fast is not something that any cardiologist will recommend to the fainthearted. Driving on the roads of India, it sometimes makes me wonder where did Stan Lee get the inspiration for his characters . Maybe it was good that he did not live in India or else his description of the physical self of his characters would be so much realistic. Every day in India you have people take to the road that they are the one and only spider-man and superman. Helmets are something meant for people whose brain skulls are made of fragile calcium composite. Driving on the wrong side is only way to drive specially if most of the lesser mortals who are driving at over 100 km per hour stand to disintegrate after a head on collision with the superman. The best part of it all is that the biggest superpower of Indian motorists is the high beam light that shields them from harms way by blinding the oncoming traffic driving on the right side of the road.

So, I have a self-destructive love. And there hangs the tale or whatever Lord Archer might have programmed my brain to mutter. If I am to analyse every thing I do in my life, my driving stands out as an anomaly. I was a lethargic when it came to physical activity , while I won accolades galore in academics and extra-academics, I have a resounding empty cupboard for sports. I used to hate games period and would actually study during the same in school. Yet, now I am one of the most regular guys in the gym challenging myself everyday to run an extra kilometer so much so that most of the fit members of the gym publicly declare me as an object of envy. Post diabetics, I have almost killed the foodie in me, I used to live to eat and I used to eat. For years, I could eat the most in my locality and now I am scared of having an extra serving of wheat bread. When I see oil floating around, it becomes difficult for me to chew and digest.

But we all are slaves to our own brain who will always find a way to justify all we do. While it is tempting to say that I am in control of my car, it is not really the right answer. I have had times when I lost control of my bike or car for a few fleeting seconds,seconds where only extraordinary symphony of circumstances saved my life. So I take refuge in my knowledge of biology.

When you are in fear, your brain produces adrenaline. A rush of adrenaline stimulates the body and causes a sudden release of glucose as well as an increase in blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. It makes you more aware of your situation and your body is physical more ready to react.Different people have different brains. Some brains needs a lot of excitement to pump out adrenaline (Formula 1-drivers, sky-divers, base-jumpers,), others, however, need just a little; stealing a candy bar, going into an examination.
After a while the adrenaline is no longer active in your body and you have indeed conquered your own fear. That makes some people feel “more alive”.
Some brains produce  dopa-mine, a kind of reward-drug: you get a good feeling about yourself. It’s all about these chemicals. Because of this reward-drug you may want to do it again, and when, for instance,  becomes too familiar, you need to go off-piste to ensure the production of adrenaline and dopa-mine.

Fully satisfied with my explanation, I can only mummer the lyrics of Bob Sager’s song “Turn the page”- especially the part “on the the road again“- juxtaposed with the background music of Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of glory”, and dream myself pressing my accelerator hard enough so that there is no air bubble between the shoe of the accelerator and the chassis of my car.

 

Evergreen Travel Memories

bomdila

Shall I say that I love to travel ? Love is a very heavy word enough to justify justifications like “everything is fair in love and war” . All I can say for sure that never has a new place failed to make me happy for days after I have left that place , provided it is not overcrowded with people. Maybe I am a closet introvert who just wants to run away from known faces. The thing about sentences starting with maybe is that there could be so many of them laying claim to be the cause that we can never be sure about the merit of those claims. Hours of pedantic analysis may tell us whose claim is greater but do we always need to know the whys of our emotions. Fair enough to say, I like to travel without any rhyme and reason. I think it wins a brownie point over my other passion of code for code earns my salary and my journeys use it.


Maybe, this has to do with the fact that every few years my fathers public sector job allowed us to go on free trips to any corner of India. While this coincidence could be the factor that influenced my likings. It is not a matter of conjecture that these free trips enabled me to see a lot of the country called India. My parents say we went on our first trip to Shillong, I don’t remember much of it apart from some lake where we did boating. The next was a trip to Darjeeling and Sikkim then Mumbai-Goa-Pune and then Chennai-Trivandrum-Kanyakumari and then Minicoy in Lakshadweep. Apart from these trips, my impressionable mind was overdosed with greenery of Arunachal Pradesh through my frequent summer holidays spent at my maternal uncles place. By the time I could take my own decisions, my travels were no longer hostages to freebies of my father’s company. I spent money from my pocket to travel to a few places in Arunachal, drove my bike from Hyderabad to Mumbai and back. My car clocked 20000 km in two years involving a few trips to places in and around Chennai and Bangalore. I have travelled as much as the limits of my budget would allow me.


Baseline established, I guess its time to come to the title of my post. Evergreen travel Memories. Let me give a background of the image that serves as the first image of this post. This was taken in an obscure hilltop of Bomdila. Bomdila is one of the most beautiful hill stations of India situated far above the clouds in the easternmost state of India — Arunachal Pradesh. We had planned to halt @ Bomdila for one day en-route Tawang. But the locals had some other plans. There was a strike in a town between Bomdila and Tawang and we had to stay for one extra day. We had one extra day @ Bomdila. Knowing nothing better we decided to go the highest point of Bomdila , they call it Tower. There is a military communications tower there. There was a proper road to it. But we decided that we should literally take the road less taken. We just ventured inside hills and decided to take the path devoid of any road so as to speak of. That was one of the best decisions I had taken in my life. We just kept on climbing hills asking local wood gatherers can we reach tower this way. Long story short, in our travels, we finally reached a mini hilltop. It had a nice grass devoid of any thorny plants. We decided to halt there. It was more a matter of lack of choice, we were dead tired. We were now high above the clouds and could look down upon a lot of geography. It was then the clouds took particular liking to our decision of hiking , it decided to let the various shades of green below us play hide and seek with our visual senses. I was told that green is a colour but the dance of the clouds was determined to clear my misconceptions and prove that green is not a single colour but a  range of colours. The photo above captures just one of the moments of this great poetic recitation of clouds.


Another image of my travel diaries that has stayed with we are from the coral reefs of Minicoy.  My primary school science told me about seven colours my knowledge of computer graphics told me about 65656 colours.   But Minicoy told me that colours are infinite.  This was not the statement of the white sandy beaches or the lagoon besides our hotel where you could see the bottom of the sea. It was school of fishes playing hide and seek in the imperfections of the dead exoskeleton of corals.  Many a engineers claim that modern hd tvs can accurately bring out the last pixel that a human eye can detect . I am sure this place has the other opinion. For no so-called high quality images have tainted my memories of that place. To top it all, I don’t have a single photograph of my trip to Minicoy so in a sense it is untainted by infrequent stimulus of digital pixels.


So, these places are beautiful but then why do I write about them some eight years after I bade farewell to these places. I guess it is the time that has elapsed that forces me to write about them . These memories stand out amongst all my geographical changes.  And then there is also the slight possibility that some of my friends who read this will want to do themselves a favour and find themselves in these places. To sign off, I will plagiarise the great Spock “I have been and shall always be in love with you -Bomdila and Minicoy”