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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Insignificant World out there

It was early morning 0630 hrs. I have seen enough of early mornings in my life to last me a lifetime. When I was training early morning was 0500 hrs, when I was doing a morning watch on board my ship, early morning was 0400 hrs. Now I was doing this Sky Diving course and early morning was again 0530 hrs.

I had got up early morning then, and a cold and uncomfortable army jonga had ferried me to the airport from my Mess. For those adventure seekers, I recommend a ride in a cold, uncomfortable army jonga with an army jawan driving it. So there was no question of me being still sleepy when I reached the airport. I think our instructors had some doubt, so they had fauji chai ready for us at the airport. I was not sleepy at all, but my nerves were frayed and that tea did nothing to soothe them. Fauji chai....hmmm lots of everything in it, except taste.

So I had the chai and now with my parachute strapped behind me was waiting for the
Cessna to start up. I am usually emotionless and maybe the instructors mistook it as confidence. I was chosen to be the first one to go up in the small aircraft, and obviously that was not all.....I was also to be the first one to jump out. The aircraft spluttered and misfired and then finally started. It taxied to the runway and our instructor jogged up to the door. He signalled us to get in as per our pre decided sequence. My jump partner went in first and then the jump master and finally me, as I was to jump out first. The pilot, a cute sardarji looked at my sweating face and gave me a cute smile.

I immediately banished his smiling face from my mind and tried to concentrate on my jump. We had been trained enough on the ground, to the point that we had got irritated and were itching for some real action now. The make believe "out, in, out" and "1000, 2000, 3000" had haunted us in our sleep and we were all eager to feel the real thing. Suddenly now, as the plane was speeding to get airborne, I felt that I was not ready....I needed more training, what was I to do if my chute didn't open....Shit, I had forgotten. What if the plane crashed, what if I fell down now only.....my mind was blank, I was sweating, I wanted to get a grip on the smiling sardar's neck and force him to land the plane back. God, why was I doing this......and why in heavens name, had I volunteered for this? As the plane kept climbing, my pulse started racing even faster. My determination, not to jump steadily increasing.

The jump master patted my leg.....I forced myself to look at him. He gave me a thumbs up. That was procedure. He gave me a thumbs up, if I was ready I gave him a thumbs up. There was no looking back then. If I did not jump, i would be pushed out. There was no way I was giving him a thumbs up. No way in the world. I wanted the plane down, forget thumbs up. Well, speaking of soft drinks, I guess the sprite ad kicked in and I finally gave him a very shaky and sweaty thumbs up. The jump master immediately got into action. He aligned the pilot over the drop zone, asked him to slow down the plane, attached my rip chord to a strong point on the plane, maneuvered himself half in and half out of the door, and looked down.....5000 feet below waiting for the exact spot where he wanted me to jump.

I already told you I was emotionless. Now I became heartless, brainless, weightless....just mechanical. I forced my body onto the edge of the door and took my right leg out and kept it on the wheel of the plane, as I had so often done on the ground. But that was the ground and this was 5000 feet in the air with a strong wind making every movement impossible.
I braced my body with the left leg on the step of the plane and both hands on either side of the door frame. I dared not look down.....I looked straight....into the
sun.

So here I was, all ground instructions forgotten, heart beating wildly, 5000 feet above the ground, wind itching to pull me out of the plane, jump master waiting to give me the dreaded pat, wondering WHY I was here? My life flashed by in a second. My parents, brother, wife....all my seemingly large problems in life....nothing really mattered now. All that mattered was when the pat would come and whether I would jump.

And "pat" it came. Seemingly suddenly...out of nowhere. I looked at my jump master with a "What am I supposed to do now" look. I guess he had seen others like me. He calmly pointed out of the door and mouthed the words "JUMP". I nodded.....hesitated.....did a very unconvincing out....a huge in...and although I wanted to just stay in now....I shouted "ouuuuuuuuuuttt" and jumped out, not caring anymore what I remembered, what I had forgotten, what had happened to me, how scared I was, whether I was going to live, die......I just jumped and closed my eyes. I forgot 1000, 2000, 3000.....I forgot the emergency procedure.....I just jumped and waited......suddenly there was a huge flapping noise and my fall was broken. I knew what had happened or rather I hoped what I thought had happened and expectantly looked up (this was part of procedure) to see the huge blue and white canopy rapidly filling up with air...all lines were untangled and OK (in subsequent jumps, I was to have twists and other small emergencies, but thankfully the first jump was perfect) and the canopy deployed perfectly.

I immediately regained my composure and all the ground training kicked in. I steered the canopy into the wind using the rear risers and pulled out the toggles for steering my canopy further. All my anxiety gone, I started enjoying the flight now. I had done paragliding earlier so flying the canopy was not difficult for me. The terrifying part was jumping out of the plane and thankfully that was over. I enjoyed the proximity of the sun, the wind on my face, the sound of the fluttering canopy, the squares of different shades of green below. I did a couple of maneuvers, a stall, S turn, figure of 8 while continuously checking the altimeter. I did not stray too far from over the airstrip as that was my largest and safest reference (on later jumps I would be dropped so far away from this reference that even getting back as the crow flies was a miracle).

As soon as my alti showed that I was flying at 1700 feet I started on my landing circuit. it was very important to land into the wind and for that it was very important to do a perfect circuit. Also as I was the first jumper, I did not want to have a bad landing and scare the rest of my group. They say the only time you can actually get hurt while skydiving is on the ground (while landing). So I did a perfect circuit, the downwind, crosswind and the final landing leg and flared my canopy just when I was one and a half times my height above the ground. Thankfully I landed gracefully on my feet (I have always landed on my feet...till the time of writing this post...lets see how long my luck lasts).

I could feel my legs trembling and mouth parched and I walked back to the expectant group of waiting jumpers. I tried the Clint Eastwood swagger acting as if I just crossed a busy road and that was all. Everyone just pounced on me as soon as I was within pouncing distance.

"How was it?"
"Did you have an emergency?"
"How did you find your reference?"

There were a couple of beautiful girls in this expectant group, including the beautiful Chitrangada Singh, and I just waved off all questions. Remember, I had just crossed a busy road...that's all. I reserved my best smile for her and gave her a confident thumbs up.

I then rushed back to the hangar and downed a bottle full of water. The next thing I did was to thank God almighty for keeping me alive. I had to concentrate on my legs to make them stop shaking. I saw myself in the mirror and saw my scared, sweating and red face. I could not help but smile at myself for the way I must have looked out there trying to look unfazed while the truth was so evident.

Authors note: That was my first jump. An experience of a life time. I have had a few more after that. This is what I love about adventure, where life is at stake. EVERYTHING else in the world looks so inconspicuous and insignificant.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Glenfiddich

Only one thing beats scotch...and that's scotch on the rocks. I was recently introduced to the pleasures of sipping scotch. I have been drinking from a very young age. Dad was trusting enough to let me sip the last drops from his beer can....So it kinda started then towards the end of school. I remember I joined the Navy as a cadet and being a cadet is not like being in college. We had no free time and "lights out" was at strict 2230 hrs....till then from 0530 hrs we were on our toes or even hands occasionally.

But then, our course had some ardent drinkers, who even after an action packed day had the energy to wake up till the duty officer finished his rounds and fell asleep, the news of which was transmitted to us through clandestine signals. We then brought out our bottle of Old Monk (the cheapest rum available), thermocol glasses and cheap namkeen. We then made our way to the roof, lay on our backs, watched the stars and sipped on our Old Monk, the hard day forgotten, waking up the next day nothing to worry about, blisters on our hands and feet seemingly stopped paining, the faces of seniors and their expressions when they hit us now seemed comical, the worry if we would be able to manage some extra butter on our toast tomorrow insignificant. Whatever they were, they were our biggest fears and worries, but right then our Old Monk took us to a different world where we were each with at least four girl friends and rocking and dancing and enjoying life.

Cut to now.

Its still the same. As sips of scotch find their way from my glass, to my lips, down my throat and to my stomach, the smile on my lips grows larger, the heady feeling increases. I forget what happened in office today, I choose not to remember what I have to do tomorrow. The friends and their laughter and banter has been replaced by solitude and sound of the AC humming. The wife's threats of no dinner if the flush is not repaired by tomorrow seems comical and at the end of the day, it seems to be a great world out there.

Three cheers to scotch on the rocks.

Authors note.

Drinking is injurious to health.

However me and my doctor share the love for scotch.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Day Ten Years back in time


It was raining cats and dogs last Sunday. A rarity in Delhi. The wife and I have spent numerous glorious years in Bombay immediately after marriage and we love the rain. Then we didn't have a car and used to travel from Powai to Colaba for shopping and Marine Drive, come rain, hell or high water (literally).

So just to relive those memories of bygone years the wife said spontaneously "Lets go out on a bike and get wet in the rain".....she had a twinkle in her eye. We had a car now, but preferred the bike.

We put our wallets in plastic bags (like the old times), took off our watches, put on sandals and set off on our bike. We just drove around soaking in the rain.....and when the rain stopped I drove through puddles just to get the real feeling.

We had skipped lunch and felt hungry by evening. We had now reached Chandni Chowk and decided to eat in the line of dhabas opposite Jama Masjid. The marinated chicken and fish hanging outside the shops looking ever so tempting. We finally selected Rafiq Chicken Corner and ordered a plate of chicken fry and roomali roti. We had Kentucky Fried Chicken now, but we preferred to eat this desi fried chicken.

Since we were on that side of town and Delite cinemas was close by, we decided to check out the much acclaimed Kaminey. As luck would have it the movie was house full. Now we had Delite Gold (a multiplex) right next door but we chose to buy tickets in black in the old Delite only. It must have been at least 6 - 7 years since we had bought tickets in black and so this only added to our nostalgia.

The movie was Ok and we came out by 9 feeling hungry again. As we were walking towards our bike in the drizzle we saw a thele wala making fresh jalebis on the pavement. Now we had Gole Market and Bengali Market on our way back, but we still chose to eat the lip smacking jalebi from the thela.

It was only when we got back home that we realised that we had unintentionally spent the day today as we would have 10 years back, when Cafe Coffee Day and multiplexes and KFC were not even visibe on the horizon.

We had a hearty laugh.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bondage...err...Marriage


A thick pal of mine.....beshht friend I'd call him if we were in school was speaking to me over a couple of drinks last week end.....He was fed up with his wife. "She doesn't let me do this, she doesn't let me do that".....he rattled on.."If I am away for more than an hour she calls in to check where I am....I have to call her thrice from office".....That discussion ended that day with a few more drinks, a couple of fags and a trip to Hardrock Cafe to sway to the hard rock music......but the next day and since....I have been thinking......

"What is marriage?"

Now I am sure everyone has their own answers to this question. Happily married, unhappily married, just married, enough married, unmarried girls, unmarried guys.......I am sure each has a different answer.......I dont want to dwelve into the answers that these people have on their minds...I have my own definition of the word marriage.

I remember looking at my Mama and Mami as a young kid and thinking how wonderfully married they were.....After I grew up, I asked Mami the secret....."Space" she said...that's what it is all about. I did not comprehend the enormity of that word in marriage until I got married and luckily for me, the wife and I got to stay close to them for a loooong time and I daresay our relationship is modelled on theirs.

A person does not stop being himself after marriage. Before marriage he has friends, he has ambitions, desires, hobbies, parents, moods, habits......so does the other partner. One cannot expect that after marriage, a person just pulls the reins of his life and hands them over to this partner for leading him.

Marriages last in India today as thankfully we still believe in traditions and customs and Divorce is taboo. But not for long...we are catching up with the west and already the number of divorce cases popping up in courts is increasing. As a very learned friend of mine recently told me...the two maximum number of court cases today are cheque bounces and divorces.

I think the marriage can only work if the partners respect each others individuality and provide each other with the space and freedom to grow. The relation is built on trust. If I am happy in marriage, if I love my wife and my family I will not stray and even if I do...I wont get far as this love will pull me back. Mind you, not the nagging of my wife...but her love will pull me back. In the other case, if my partner keeps suspecting me, nagging me, pulling me....I am more likely to stray.

Give the partner his time. Let him hang out with HIS friends occassionally. Give him time to persue his hobbies. Better still, try and enjoy each others hobbies and spend time together doing that. The trick is not just to spend time together but to spend quality time together. Spending two hours a day respectfully and lovingly conversing and cuddling is far better than spending the whole day together fighting and spitting venom on each other.

People say they get married when they grow up....I say get married and then grow up.



Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wings to fly


There was a time they were inseparable. She would call him everyday in the morning as soon as she reached office....before she started work. He would get up in the morning and start waiting for her call.

She would tell him of the day gone by. The screw ups she made, the things she learnt. She was just starting out in life. There was so much she would learn everyday and there was so much she had to tell him.

Sometimes he would advise her....sometimes he would just listen and let her fall....to stand up again and be stronger woman. He liked her, was attracted to her. She was a one in all....friend, confidant,punching bag, fantasy woman, child....yes she was that...nearly everything....

This went on for five years...and then she moved on.

Now he looks her up on orkut..he knows she has her stealth mode turned on....she always did. She will not know when he visits her profile..she wanted to be left alone. He visits her on facebook. Looks at her beautiful picture.....all her friends have commented..he dare not do it....and to think there was a time when she forced him to comment on every pic....made him reply every scrap.

He talks to the picture..she's still his confidant.....he smiles at her while he talks......"You know baby I am confused.....this happened today....kya karu aunty?".........she just keeps smiling back. Obviously she cant hear.

He gives up..cant talk to a picture. He feels the emptiness.....just logs out of facebok.....thers nothing he can do.

He prepared her for the world..gave her the wings......AND NOW SHE'S GONE.