Thursday, October 27, 2011

Unconditional Love and The Gilded Cage

A financial planner asked one of his clients while he was doing up their portfolio “What is your retirement plan?” The man answered without any hesitation, “My son”. It gives a whole new meaning to the word unconditional love. The son has to “earn” the love of his parents and the baby boy’s little shoulders at birth have already been burdened with the future of taking care of his parents. To further drive the point home, daughters are also loved but with a feeling that one day, she will leave home. So there is no need to spend too much on her education or invest on her. Let her future husband do it. Times are changing but this is prevalent in many families. Loving a child with a future expected reaction is akin to building a gilded cage, beautifully decorated and keeping the child within its boundaries. The cage looks good and the child is mentally programmed to do as per the parents’ wishes after adulthood.

We do not have children to be our safety cushion. We have children to experience the joy of parenthood, to give our very best to them and to see them fly away ultimately as they seek their own futures. But since the children are attached from birth to the family, it is the sole responsibility of the parents to show them freedom and allow them to make the right choices, even if it means going far, far away. Upbringing has its ways of moulding the child to “earn” the love of his/her parents. The decision to look after the parents during old age is more weighted on the freewill of the children than the demands of the parents.

Now when it comes to unconditional love among couples, this is what is also termed True Love. This kind of an emotional reaching out is said to be one of the most implicit feelings felt toward the significant other. A feeling of always wanting to be around or be there with the other. The feeling is also stronger as the “other” is hitherto unknown and yet has struck something within the heart to make it rise in song. But developing an attachment could be only a one way affair. Having a desire or expectation in this case is again creating a gilded cage and hoping the significant other will fly in all by himself/herself. But what if the other does not share the same feeling? Then the empty cage of expectation still sits on the shoulders and weighs us down. Instead, throw off that cage and feel the buoying of the soul as it reaches the ethers. Feel because you want to feel. Love is again all about freewill of the soul.

Just as a true friend cannot be possessed, a true love can never be possessed. It brings more joy to love and acknowledge that the other has opened up compassion and a brighter view of life. Give thanks to the other for instilling this new view and let him/her go. No expectation brings no sorrow. Internalize this feeling of love and make it unconditional. Nothing is expected from the other. If reciprocation happens, be grateful. Otherwise, watch the other find happiness and know that nothing was lost.

Live and let live. Love and let go. Everyone’s a winner.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


There lived a great Master deep in the jungle on a mountain. Common knowledge was that it was very hard to reach him and only the most devout could make the journey.

 A short tempered man who wished to see the light decided to become the Master’s disciple. He sought peace with himself and embarked on the arduous journey. He battled the weather and the forest. Insects and other parasites made a meal of him on the way. But all through, the man saw only the final goal of being the disciple of this great Master.

After climbing the final cliff, the man reached the abode of the Master. The calluses on his hand and the grazes on his body seemed to fade away as he approached the door. With trepidation, he opened the huge door. It creaked after years of being closed. The sight of the Master humbled the man as he approached him. The man had finally reached his goal.

Falling at his feet, he asked him in all earnestness, “I have traveled long and hard to reach you to be your faithful disciple. Please show me the path to enlightenment”

The Master opened his eyes and asked “On which side of the door did you leave your slippers when you entered my abode?” The man looked at the Master in disbelief and asked in anger “What sort of a question is that? I’ve crossed the most difficult barriers to be your disciple and you ask me a question about my slippers?!”

The Master replied “Seeking to be on the path requires great awareness of oneself in each and every action undertaken. If you do not know where you left your slippers, you are unaware of any action you make. Without this very first step, I cannot teach you anything. You may return.”

This seemingly ridiculous statement has so much latent meaning in it. Everything we do in our daily lives is more out of routine. We mindlessly follow the grind so much that creativity is lost. Awareness of our every step keeps us rooted to the purpose of our existence. Like sweeping a floor, cooking, walking or playing with a child.

When we are aware of exactly what we are doing, there is no ego at the fore challenging our hearts. We hear the soft voice of our instinct showing us the path.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Trek 4300 review – 3 years on

This is what I do as often as possible on a daily basis to reach office. Tiny hops over Himalayan speed breakers and kerb hopping on foot-high pavements. I’ve been cycling to work almost everyday for the last three years barring the horrible Hyderabad summers where the effort on the cycle is just not worth the time taken to cool down after reaching office.

The 4300 has held strong on every count. I ride hard. For me, the game is to reach office without putting my foot down anytime except for the red lights. And the apathy of the municipal authorities is a fantastic boon to an MTB owner. Potholes and stones won’t break my bones. The roads are made with tar mixed with salt and sugar. One little drizzle and the tar dissolves away leaving dangerous craters in the form of potholes. And when the rain fills them, one has no idea where the potholes are.

Now imagine riding at speeds of above 25 km/hr and ramming your 12 kg cycle into one of these potholes holding your weight of 65+ kilos. Its enough to bend a wheel. But not on the dinky little 4300. This VFM cycle has handled most everyday abuse that I’ve thrown at it till now without a single issue.

Frame: Very suited and balanced for speed on trails. The composure it maintains on bad roads and trails has to be ridden to be believed. The compact nature of this bike gives it great maneuvering in traffic and on sharp bends. 2 feet drops are a cinch.

Suspension: Absorbs all the thrashing very well. Any hopping off kerbs is first done on the front wheel as this is a hardtail. The Gila forks have managed well till now and continue to take a beating.

Ride: Plush. The difference between the MTB and a road bike is like a Hummer and a Nissan GTR. The Hummer loves it when the going gets rougher. The GTR burns tarmac. Pretty much the same here. The 4300 is NOT for racing. It is the bad boy only on the trails and a laggard on the road behind roadies. But it is possible to achieve 40 km/hr in traffic. The paradox is that the shorter straight handlebars actually help maneuver well between cars. But on a trail, on a kerb, on sand, this bike shows off its ability. I have ridden on a thin layer of sand many a time with so much construction happening these days. This bike did not skid even once. On a trail, it exhibits so much control with the tyre pressure set to 40 psi. On the road, I set it to 60 psi and it works great. This bike works well on all surfaces. It has and continues to serve my commuting purpose to office since day one very well. It is perfectly suited to commuting. The extra effort needed to pedal actually helps lose more calories. If you’re a long distance rider, a hybrid would be better. But for an all round purpose, this is just great.

Quality: I love the sealed bottom bracket. During the rains, it is a common story in India to see sewage overflowing on the roads. The flowing water on the roads could be set to a biohazard level. Through all these 2 feet high levels, the 4300 just wades through as if nothing ever happened. I have changed gears while they were completely submerged under water. Both derailleurs worked fine each time. I go home and pour a little clean water to rinse off the muck. And the 4300 is waiting the next day without as much as a creak to ride all over again. No component has worn out till now. I have had to only change the brake pads twice during the 5000 kms mileage. Every other component is holding up just great. The forks, drivetrain, wheels, tyres, handlebar, frame, brakes and even the grips are all in great condition.

Brakes: I ride hard and fast only because I trust the V-brakes. I love doing brake turns and the V’s stop the wheels almost instantly. Skidding rubber is something I like on turns and these brakes do not fail me. The pads get worn out but that’s how it should be. The brakes are the single component subjected to the most violent frictional forces in any vehicle. If I can go fast, it is only because of the trust I have on the brakes to stop me in time. And they work great even in the rain.

Issues: None till now.

The 4300 is a very very dependable bike. It has taken abuse on a regular basis and still sings along happily. I have no regrets whatsoever and am more than happy to suggest this to anyone looking to buy a bike in India to consider the 4300 as an entry level serious performer for daily use. I thank Rohan Kini of for his invaluable suggestion to get this bike.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

God’s Gender

I’m an agnostic. Yet, I cannot help but wonder the trail of thought in the human mind. Time and again, across all religions I know, people refer to God as HIM. Whether God exists inside each one of us or outside is in our perception. The interesting thing still being that both genders refer to God as HIM.

This must make me a maverick. I find God to be more of a HER, if a gender must to be assigned. I would’ve ideally just left it at something of a higher power without a gender but let’s just stick with this.

The masculine energy denotes aggression, power, and offense. But it is the feminine energy which is receptive, loving, caring and understanding. Every one of us has both attributes within. When we choose to balance the two, we are at peace with ourselves. While the masculine vibes are testosterone driven, the feminine soothes and keeps everyone rooted to their purpose. The feminine receptivity also teaches us to accept everything around for what they are and give everyone a chance to see themselves deep within.

Great wars have been fought over such fragility. These wars have been accepted and best sellers written. The marauders have always been men and hordes of innocent lives have been lost all to make a woman part of a harem. The thrill of the hunt seems to drive the male more than the actual spoil itself. These numerous glorified stories always have the same ending. Deaths and sacrifice romanticized to justify man’s killing.

We associate God with compassion. Pure love irrespective of any deed committed. Compassion is at the highest level of love where one feels grateful and wishes well for all others. This is one of the most powerful feminine traits for keeping peace and moving on the path of spirituality. Compassion alleviates suffering. It causes us to empathize with our fellow organisms. It is a natural feminine instinct and the virtue that we see in ourselves when we seek God and wish that God treats us the same way.

So perhaps God could be a SHE more often that not. Or is it just a reminder for us?

Monday, October 03, 2011

Deccan Trails – A versatile getaway

This is a gear headed post written by a hapless romantic. Read on to be confused.
The leviathan roared. As a grin spread across my face from ear to ear, I felt this white beast getting ready to chomp the 68 km meandering stretch to Deccan Trails. Jaggu was kind enough to loan me his Safari for the day’s trip that we had planned.

I pushed in the key and gleefully felt the engine rumbling to life. Having stocked enough food and water to last a small war, the 8 of us were ready to make the little trip. My better half sat next to me in the front and vanished inside the huge bucket seat. The rest were bundled behind. A nudge of the throttle and the beast grunted slowly out onto the main roads unwillingly. The traffic was stifling and city roads were clearly not for the Safari. Autos shifted chaotically like blobs of cholesterol blocking other traffic and RTC buses regurgitated venom from their horns to dissipate everything out of the way. I was getting irritated and my calves were cursing me for working them dry on the clutch.

But once we reached Langar House, the traffic thinned out and I had all my freedom to ride as I pleased. The grin reappeared on my face and I stepped on the gas. The double CAMS and 16 valves synched to pull the 2 ton monster away. A second later, the turbo charger kicked in and the needle touched a 100. I was reliving the Fast and the Furious. Sweaty palms and brows, mind and body is perfect unison as I veered past the other lowly 4 wheeled contraptions. The kids were overjoyed at flying so low over potholes but alas! It was not to be

A chatter that started slowly grew louder by the minute. It turned out to be frightened Uncle’s teeth who was also white knuckled as he held on tight for dear life and saw the roads and some of his life go by. My better half’s hot glare bore a hole in my temple and the message was clear. Decelerate or suffer the consequences. I looked mournfully at the beast who grunted his approval and settled down to a more sedate purr. Sigh.

The route was beautiful as greenery presented itself on both sides of the road. Pattering drizzles lent a warm, romantic welcome to our presence. We slowed down on the way to admire a small trough full of fields with the clouds and sun above showing off their preserved beauty. Even the beast quietened down in the face of nature and enjoyed the ride.

As we entered the Deccan Trails gate, the mood swung from boisterous to mellow. The canopy of trees welcomed us and the sunlight through the brush tickled our eyes. Our breathing slowed down as we looked forward to the next 24 hours in the hope of something magical happening. And it did for me.

I hugged and thanked the beast (when no one was looking) for getting us safe and turned the engine off. With a sigh, the pistons burped to sleep and all was quiet.

We embarked slowly and made our way to the swings to settle down. The children began playing and as my thoughts drew me within, the voices seemed far away as nostalgia kicked in. Smiling within, I knew this experience was going to be different. The staff then served their famous hot pakodas and tea. Not wanting to stuff ourselves, my better half and I ate for the sake of tasting and a little while later, we made our way to the tents. Dusk was falling and I did not want to miss mother nature’s life reminders for anything.

On the little hill, the maidan welcomed us to enjoy nature. Settling into our tents took only 5 minutes as we could not miss the setting sun. We were soon out for a walk and later sat on the maidan to greet nature. The grandeur of all that was around warmed our hearts. The gentle breeze caressing our faces, the green carpet of flora all around, the chirping of birds as they went home made for a melancholy feel.

The clouds ambled along like pachyderms on the serengeti and the skies opened up for one last time before the sun went down. They say the sun is the brightest just before sunset. The sun and the sky complemented each other with beautiful shades of slate grey and orange as only nature can to show off the last collage of the evening. The setting sun here could fill a heart sensitive to the daily mysteries of life. If sunsets make you cry, this atmosphere is a perfect setting.

As we watched the sky turn from grey to black, the night came alive as we had long forgotten. The solitary bulb in the maidan came to life and insects attracted by the light kept dancing around with some occasionally burning themselves to death. All that we take for granted or frivolous has so much meaning on this great grid of life. Watching those insects accept their fate for just wanting to see the light pulled me deeper within myself. As if on cue, the rain began falling with a consoling touch. As the drops wandered and fell on our faces, the wind gently spoke and  reminded that all was happening as it should. There was a solitary creeper climbing on the support rod with its leaves swaying and giving in to the power of rain. No offending stance, just giving in to the rain, accepting its form.

I was shaken back to reality by a rumble of thunder. The rain stopped and fireflies roved in the dark as if to offer other life their precious light. Crickets and other insects voiced their love calls till they reached a crescendo which was music to the ears. The fragrance of earth and freshly cleaned leaves gave us the much needed reminder to slow down and search for our purpose in life by taking steps one at a time.

Dinner was served shortly. The staff and services are excellent for a place like this. Food was served in the dhaba style under the thatched huts. Phulkas, ghee, 2 sabzis, curd, a rice dish, papads and a sweet, all very well made and served with pride. The food was very tasty to say the least and in the dim lighting, our thoughts drifted away and we relished what we had in front of us. Dinner was over and we made our way back to the tents to see what nature had to offer us next.

A great secret about this place is the area above the rock climbing section. It is all of 3 stories high and sneaking in during the night to enjoy solitude is something which everyone has to experience. Be it solitude or with your lover in tow, the view from up there in the night gave us the tingles. Looking down, all I saw was the vastness of black and the sounds of the night so beautiful. Looking up, we saw the grandeur of the universe. All the stars winked from above and kept us engrossed for as long as we remembered. No words were needed. Only nature could fill our hearts with white flecks on a black canvas. We enjoyed this solitude of knowing that nature was always with us and returned to our tents hand in hand.

We put two chairs outside and began talking for over an hour. The atmosphere screamed with the wind whooshing in our ears and the tents flapping about. As the warm glow of the bulb radiated off my better half’s face, I was reminded of the first time we fell in love. Let me put it this way. If you believe in tickling your heart, this is as good a place as any so close by. I heard a little nightingale sing in my heart as I relived my first days of love. This is a beautiful place for lovers curling up together with a book to read and the wind reminding us of its presence on the flapping tent. Nothing to do, just be present and enjoy the company of your loved one. It was a blissful sleep later.

The glorious morning changed the mood entirely from romantic to energizer. Birds began chirping and it was time to capture the rising sun. Through the clouds, the sun played hide and seek. I managed to get a few snaps as below and it was then time for the easy trek.

The jungle paths chosen were easy and playful. Along the way, blossoms showed off their vibrant colors. Slush and mud hugged our shoes. Thorns grazed us all reminding us that we’re not alone in this world and that timely pokes and pricks are needed from time to time. Few more photos of some beautiful flowers below.

The trek was completed in about 40 minutes and returning triumphant, everyone made their way down to breakfast. The morning sun rays gave everything a nostalgic feel.

Post breakfast which consisted of idlis, poha, chutney, sambar, tea etc, it was time to move a little and get the rusting body parts oiled. There is plenty for the mild adventure enthusiast here to do. From playing cricket or just running to rope climbing, rock climbing, burma bridge etc, there is lots that can be done to relieve the everyday stress.

Monkeying around like children is a beautiful thing to do as you lose sight of your ego and mental barriers. With few people to see us acting like children, it is a joy to let go and do something fun. Climb the ropes, sit on the rope hammock under the trees and feel nature’s blessing.

As they say, every happy story has a sad theme in it somewhere. The huge turkey at Deccan Trails was found to be a tad rude. Although many of the visitors kept their distance, we couldn’t help but feel for it. It turns out that this turkey lost its mate a few years ago. Out of loneliness and sorrow, it turned harsh. The nicest portrayal of humanity is that the staff here have neither killed it nor do they abuse it. The turkey is left alone but gently kept at bay by them. The small expressions of emotions towards any living thing is a great indicator of the service levels of this place.

One point of note here is that in most other places, all the adventure activities are charged extra. But here at Deccan Trails, everything is covered in your day’s rate. Helmets and safety gear are all provided by the staff who are polite, courteous and willing to let us do any activity as many times as we pleased. They are also genuinely concerned for our safety.

The tents are comfortable, down to earth, with a rustic flair. The attached baths are interestingly constructed, again clean. There were no odors in the tents. The best experience is cuddling up at night with the wind whistling in our ears and the canvas flapping wildly. The staff also keep a can of water outside each tent for the occupants.

Yes, one should make a visit to this place during or after the rains. Summer time sees this place turn into a bale of straw, hot and tiring. But the monsoons and the winters make this place glow.
There is something for everyone here. The romantics can wile away their time shedding tears over the sunsets and the greens. The adventure seekers can run, play, climb. The elders can just sit and reminisce their fond memories. The solitude seekers can walk around doing nothing yet just being there.

In the end, Deccan Trails is a must visit for anyone. The great levels of service, quality of food and concern displayed by staff along with the down to earth environment and the overall hygiene are welcoming. The rates are still a steal and we will going there soon.

I wish I was 27 again to feel the rush of first love, the butterflies in the stomach and the outpouring of the heart as the feeling surges up the body. Deccan Trails makes for a good nostalgic reminder. Please note that this is not a hill station or a resort. It is a great getaway at a fantastic price and so close to the city but in pure nature.