Mt. Whitney (Optimism:3, Realism: 0)

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I love hiking. Very few things give me as much joy looking down on a valley from above. Fewer things give me as much joy as knowing I have come a long way from my past habits which made me a diabetic in my teens. Even fewer things allow me to have a guilt free sweet(s). I have been calling San Francisco my home for last thirty three months. In these months , I have climbed Fuji, Triglav, Half dome , backpacked across Iceland, New Zealand and as of yesterday Whitney. In all of my trips, I have tried to shun cities and stick to remote wilderness.

Ever since I moved to San Francisco, I wanted to climb half dome. The lottery to climb it presented a further challenge. To compound matters, for last two years, I forgot to apply for preseason lottery. Last year I did apply for end-season special lottery for last week but I was not lucky. This year I was determined to climb it using they daily lottery. I did the math (or rather some else did the math and published it),  there was a thirty percent chance of winning the lottery on a weekday. To further optimize on my odds, I decided to take leave on Friday and Monday. Now I had four days to apply for daily lottery. This meant I had 66%  probability of getting the lottery. To further increase odds I convinced my roommate and his two friends visiting  to apply for lottery on one of the weekdays that I was applying and my odds increased to 91% . To no surprise of me I got the lottery to get to half dome.

Unknown to me at that time, (I had not heard of Whitney then), I was planting the seeds of a Whitney hike. I do not have a car and try to avoid renting it unless I am forced to. I usually take public transit for my hiking trips. This meant I could not carry camp gear with me to Yosemite nor could I stay outside Yosemite for my twelve hour hike. I had to stay inside the park. Like a seasoned visitor of the park, I started looking for accommodation inside the park for my target days. I searched for all places that did not cost an iPhone or both kidneys. I booked myself two three nights at housekeeping camp and one at Tuolumne meadows. For the people not familiar with the terms , they are very far apart and there was no prayer for me to do a hike of half dome while I was staying in Tuolumne. Thankfully , I got the permit for one of the days I was staying in housekeeping camp and Tuolumne happened to the best part of Yosemite. Tuolomne is open for a very short window and is located at a higher elevation than the more visited parts of Yosemite. At Tuolomne, there is no place to eat dinner apart from the lodge dining and if you are a single guy traveling alone (exhibit me), you have to share table with strangers. All my life , I have found sharing meals with fellow travellers is a great way to learn about their culture . I have learnt a great deal about my adopted country from fellow travelers. One thing lead to another and I found that there exists a mountain called Whitney which is the highest point of continental US and it does not require any mountaineering skills. In other words, by the end of dinner, I had decided I was going to climb it.

Climbing Whitney requires permit which are usually sold in April and August was not April. I had to do the math. I saw that there is a high probability of getting a permit on Tuesdays,Wednesdays and Thursdays.  I took leave for one Tuesday to Friday with an eye to climbing on Wednesday or Thursday .  I convinced my office colleague to join me. I planned on taking train and bus from San Francisco to Mammoth lakes,  staying at Mammoth lakes, taking a rental car from Mammoth, getting the Thursday permit on Wednesday and climbing Whitney on Thursday.

There was a problem though unlike the last few weeks, the option to buy Thursday permit did not appear on website Wednesday morning. The website said “W” as in “Walk in permits”. I decided to take the chance . Now I had to get a rental car from Yosemite airport . I went to website and tried to book a car but for some reason, I could not. I decided to take another chance and took a cab to the rental car center. The reason I was not able to book any car was because there were no cars available . I was out of luck on how to reach the “Walk-In” permit center. But while we were getting disappointed at the rental car center, there was Alison from Mammoth who was heading to San Diego. She overheard that we needed to go to Bishop. She told us she will take us there.(What were the odds?). The rental car center could not believe their ears and eyes. They called the rental car center at Bishop and blocked a car for us .

Optimism: 1, Realism: 0

An hour after the miracle at Mammoth rental center, I was on a car to Lone Pine to try my luck at Walk In permit. Once I reached the “permit center”, I was told that they do not give “Walk in Permits”, they had been asking recreation.gov to stop listing the option on their website for a long time.  They told we need to book it online . I had checked online in the morning but I tried to do the same experiment and expect different results. The Gods did not disappoint. Out of nowhere, two permits became available and we found ourselves with permits to Whitney for next day.

Optimism: 2, Realism: 0

Thursday we climbed Whitney. Unlike my other climbs, I got a bout of AMS. I have had migraines ever since I could remember and I can usually power through it. Unfortunately another effect of AMS is diarrhea. I was not prepared for it. My stomach started bloating up around half a mile from the summit. I had to open my bag straps and belt and my stomach had bloated like a hot air balloon at the summit. I did not put on 3 inches of belly fat between 12000 feet and fourteen thousand five hundred feet as the images of my summit might suggest. The climb back from the summit to parking lot was miserable till about 11000 feet. I was barely able to 1 mile an hour and had to take very frequent breaks to tend to my bodily functions. But towards the end of the never-ending descent, I had recovered enough to carry the bags of a fellow climber Mark . He had given up about a mile before the summit and had left for the parking lot about three hours before me. When I talked to him, he was very dis-oriented and tired and could barely tell his name. During the descent , we also lost the trail for a few minutes under darkness but we managed to find it . In net, I did the climb and down in eighteen hours instead of planned twelve and my pictures at the summit makes me look like a rounder Smiling Buddha than I am but I did climb the highest point of continental  US.

Our initial plan was to return the car at Bishop and take a cab to Mammoth and take the morning bus from Mammoth to San Francisco. But it was too late and I did not want to get stranded at Bishop. We instead drove to Mammoth . I hoped to return the car next day morning and take the 6:50 bus from Bishop to Mammoth. As per plan , I woke up @ 4:30 and dropped the car at the rental car center at 6:30. But uber told me there was no cab available at 6:30 am and I missed the bus. I then tried calling other local cab providers for a ride to Mammoth to reach by 8 a.m. But all calls went to voice mails. One guy did call back but he could not reach me and reach me to Mammoth by  8 am. He could drop me at Yosemite but that would cost me 450$. I would rather stay another day at Mammoth. I told my friend I will figure a way to reach Yosemite in time for 4:40 pm bus . I started looking for options to reach Yosemite. Google maps told me there was a bus leaving for Reno at 7:35 which could drop me at Juno lakes and I could then catch another bus to Yosemite with a connection time of 10 minutes. Unknown to me, I would be chasing the same bus that I was supposed to take at Mammoth. This time , I did not even try for uber. I sprinted to the bus stop with a forty pound backpack. I reached the Reno bus on time. The driver asked me where I was heading. He told me Juno bus was touch and go. Google had given me kind of false hope. It said that YARTS will leave from Juno at 9 am but it was to leave at 8:50. I booked another ticket for my trip to Yosemite.The ticket told me that the YARTs leaves at 8:50 and not 9. I panicked but then me and my friend realized I was trying to catch the same bus he was in and I was scheduled to travel. I told him to stall the bus for a few minutes in cases I was late at Juno.  The Reno bus driver was reading my mind, he said that Juno was touch and go for me and I should instead try to catch the YARTs at Lee Vining and he could drop me there with time to spare. I coordinated with Matthew my hiking buddy. The bus to Yosemite was to leave Juno at 8:57 and I was supposed to reach there at 8:58. Yosemite bus was supposed to reach Lee Vining at 9:20 and I was supposed to reach there at 9:10. I asked the Reno driver to drop me at Lee Vining and at the stroke of 9:20, I was on the bus to Yosemite en route to home.

Optimism: 3, Realism: 0

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Antonyms and Synonyms (Oh fuck !! and Oh sex!!)

All the dictionaries of the world unite in proclaiming  antonym as a word opposite in meaning while synonym is a word that has the same meaning. I can’t speak for all languages but the ones claiming to be an authority in English, there is little ambiguity in the matter. But over the course of our lives, we also use words outside the recommended vocabulary of the parliament. The ignorant and not so ignorant classify these words as slang. This classification is not entirely wrong but what is not wrong need not be right. I have a self-proclaimed pseudo-intellectual who need his dose of intellectual masturbation.I call this facet of our vocabulary as swear words.

Fuck and sex. No matter in which language you speak, the verbal interpretation of sexual intercourse lends its vocal syllables to swear words. Although, I do not need any certificate from any censor board, and I am  a fan of the writers of GodFellas, I guess it will serve my post no purpose if I elaborate on my exhaustible knowledge of derivatives of fuck in different human languages. In short fuck and sex in human vocabulary  is ubiquitous. I hope I have put my point across.

Now comes the part of the post wherein I dwell on the conflicting emotions that drove me to write this post. Although sex and Fornification under consent of king  essentially mean the same thing to a laymen, when he swear he means entirely different context in both the use cases. I used the term laymen for the overwhelmingly large percentage of my rationalist and hyper intelligent friends can go to any lengths to research all the garbage under the sun and create a ten thousand word long essay on the difference in meaning of fuck and sex. Having shut down the critics with the most infallible argument -“Please suppress your rationality” , it’s now time to come back to the topic. I can’t help wondering how many of our conversations would read like if we had interchanged the words. To drive the point home, I shall first give a brief background of the situation.

So here are a few of imaginary conversations

  • One of your friends of opposite sex (I know they are rare if you are a male iitian), looks full of energy for a competition.I hope you get the idea and fill the dots and blanks. You cheer her up saying you look all sexed up for the occasion. I am sure you will still be friends after that. Imagine trying to encourage saying you look fucked up for the occasion.
  • Your friends girlfriend is looking real hot and you are with your girlfriend. (yeah yeah Utopia, what the hell!! lemme create a world I please in my blog ), You compliment her saying that she looks sexy. I guess she would be happy.I think saying that she looks like fuck wont qualify as a complement besides the other side effects that might occur.
  • To end it all from where it all started, I was thinking of a few mods to my bike and exclaiming in my mind that it will look like sex, if every some one uses fuck in relation to my bike I would really start pitying the intelligence of the person.

I guess that is enough in this interesting observation which I find quite humorous.

Temple in the shadows

To start off, I seek refuge in a rather  inapt quotation “When a big tree falls, the ground beneath shakes”. For the ignorant, you are blessed and I shall not try to take away your blessing, for the not so-ignorant I now relate this shame on India to many things that gets overshadowed by monumental occasions or persons or institution. In the context of this blog, the dictionary entry called “institution” reigns.

In the light (or rather shadow) of what happened on 25th of February, one ex-cricketer was deprived of his well deserved sending off.This post is not about him too.

This post is a tribute to my school which celebrated its fiftieth birthday a few days back. For the observant, the url of this post says more about this post than the one hundred words that precede this intermediate. For the benefit  of the lethargic readers, it contains the words  a hundred rupees the monthly fees at my school.As to why the chose the letters of the sentence in the largest font is that somehow for a iitian of the early 2000’s every thing that has contributed to my life academically somehow becomes consigned to a footnote.A glance across my tag-cloud itself screams in disgust at the overbearing presence of KGP/IIT in making who I am. Even this post is tampered with a liberal dose of moments of my life spent in IIT.

It was the year of 1996 that I became a student of Don Bosco Dibrugarh. It was the first year wherein I graduated from wearing shorts in my previous school to trousers. It was the year I bought my cycle, It was the year I first tied the knot of my tie. It was the year I typed my first computer program. It was not the universal Hello World. But back then a Print 10+20 and getting 30 on pressing return in your GW BASIC terminal was  leggg(wait for it)endary.

I did not win my first certificate in this school. But won most of my honour list. Every year we had something called class in action. Full day was spent in social and cultural events. Disposing off all remnants of humility, I shall now boast that in my six-year in my school no body earned as many certificates as I did so these extra-academic adventures were really special for me. Did I tell you, this was the school that killed my stage fright, that taught me to speak in front of any crowd. In my very first year I found myself alone in front of a mic and thousand odd students giving an extempore speech. I also found kind of gradual change in the way I conducted myself during public appearance. For the first year, I was staring at the magnificent ceiling of the auditorium  so that I could escape the glances of  all the eyes fixed on me. By the time I left, i learned to draw strength from the little nods I got from the audience and concentrate only on them. Somehow speaking/singing on stage no longer remained a performance, it became a conversation. I guess it’s now time to say one of the may Thank yous I should say to my school.

Somehow my memories of extra-academics overpowers my memories of academics for my kgpian friends this should be no surprise. A day we always looked forward to was annual arts and science exhibition. This was the ultimate lesson in confidence building. We were a boys school people from girls school and co-ed(LFS 😀 and the likes) came to our school on that day to try to tell us that girls are better. Never to be cowed down, I was one of the guys spearheading the fight in intellect wit and bluffs. Scientific formula of Sodium became (S) to answer of people who were hell-bent of humiliating us :D.

The last year of my school life was my most fulfilling . This was the year I spearheaded the campaign of my school in quizzes and won two of the most prestigious quizzes that year. I was third in two, that’s a different story. But our boys school defeated L.F.S. (the girls school) in all but one. Wow what a celebration we had. In the one quiz I was defeated(3rd), there was no audience to take in pleasure of seeing us loose.

Our school had a hockey ground, a tennis ground, a football ground and table tennis. These are seemingly mundane features but then for a hundred rupees per month, our school defined what token fees is all about. Poor kids were given free lodging and food and tuition in hostel. A separate school used to run in afternoon for the poor kids who could not attend school.At the same time my school was the best that was in town in spite of many things that defied economic sense. For those who disagree, your comments, if any,  shall be deleted.

In the midst of all these, I guess I forgot to tell you that my school was the first to have computers in my town. I saw the huge 5′ floppy drives pasted on the walls of our  computer lab. And yes I worked in computers with only two floppy drives thanks to my school.

I guess that’s all of the unconnected threads of memories I can recollect and rejoice now. And yes a thank you to my school and all who made those six memorable years

What is bad music

I live  in the electronic age, if there was any statement that could stake claim to the Nobel for “stating the obvious”, the opening line of this post would surely make the cut for the shortlist. Having logically argued that the information contained in my opening sequence has 0 bit(not the glamorous bits and bytes but the less famous cousin from information theory) of information, I now shall attempt to straitjacket my digressions from the topic of the post. In the age of iPods and its less successful imitators,   hardly a day goes by when our drums are left parched by the torrential downpour of what makes or has made to popular music charts of the world.Besides any random rendezvous with contemporary literature re-acquaints us with phrases like “face the music”-“music to the ears”. Two phrases that are as far poles apart as literally possible in the sphere  of human interpretation

As with any great specimen of art or human creativity, we all make attempts at being politically correct and at some point of life find ourselves saying you can’t compare A and B, it is like being asked to differentiate between your own children. Having partaken in these diplomatic utterance drenched in the stench of cowardice, we all have our own favourites and the not so favourites. Some wise man once said that we are all hypocritical at some point or the other, I also subscribe to this larger brotherhood of sinners. I shall make no attempt to tell what my favourites are nor will i waste any electricity communicating to you what are my less favourite numbers.I nevertheless shall try to hypocritically try to find a common thread to all that is bad music in my ears.

In my short-life, I have come across people with varying musical tastes,some like Bollywood, some classical, some rock, some pop and others metal or “melodious death metal” as some people refer to it. I find myself navigating across almost genres without prejudice or malice towards any.However I find myself unable to sway my head or foot to cheap imitations or the din called death metal and most forms of rap. But there are people who do like them, hence I find myself reflecting whether there is something wrong with me or is it that there is no universal bad music or good music. Like beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, music might  be a feeling that resides only in our ears. For some, even the irritating sound of broken horn could be  source of melody. But as soon as I start to believe this train of thought,  some observations of my life derails my thought process . There are exceptions to everything and there is a reason for existence of the word “exception” in English dictionary, we need a word to describe events that rarely come to pass in the world of our dreams or the world where dreams get created.

This conflict of reasoning ignites in me the hypocrite in me who was simply biding its time, it offers me the easy way out listening to the dictates of the mob and consign my opinions to the billboards. It is then that Pritam comes to my mind. Music sales and theft figures extol the greatness of his scores. But the Indian in me gets  disgraced when I find that he has shamelessly lifted his tunes and does not even give credit to his rightful masters. At moments like this, my conscience wakes up and asks me to free myself from the shackles of hypocrisy and declare that any music I don’t like is bad music.A thinking mind is really nothing but evil, just when I had made peace with many of my conflicting heads, it talks about the songs I have started to detest just because I  had  to listen to them in infinite loop because some of your friends really liked the piece and wanted to announce to the world that.

Having debated over it again and again, I  draw a conclusion that appeals to all warring factions of my conscious mind “A bad music is one that is either rap,shameless cheat,death metal or something I had to listen without my consent”

My hero

Evey few heartbeats an unknown neuron in my brain
Raises a war cry
it forges the blade to cut through the thorns of my past lives
it weaves the basket to collect the rainbows of the days gone by.

It makes me want to jump like a mad man
It makes me want to laugh like a drunk man
Vistas of an eden in my future beckons me to march ahead
And I walk, I run, I sprint, I leap ahead