Monday, March 31, 2008

A Shogi State of Mind

(Originally written: Sunday, March 30, 2008)

When you start the morning with an hour-long trek in the hills of Shogi, clambering over avalanche-hit slopes, dirt tracks and paths beaten by hill goats, it looks like the day ahead will be good.

The trek is just about the only exercise one gets in an otherwise lazy weekend getaway at the Park Woods Resort in Shogi, a tucked-away village 15 kms below Shimla and easily accessible from Delhi via the Kalka Shatabdi. Bamboo huts, Swiss tents and an activity centre where the physical minded can generate adrenaline are all that there is in this resort popular with corporates looking for team-building venues.

But, throw in a few motley families with children and a bunch of schoolgirls from classes 9 and 11 - who have driven nine hours by bus all the way from Dehra Dun for an excursion - and you have an interesting amalgam. The families can’t make up their minds whether getting away from the hustle of daily life means doing nothing through the day or whether it means finding things to do in that paisa-vasool mode some people get into (every minute then must be planned and not be permitted to pass idle). The girls are evidently close to becoming women and even a nine-year old boy can’t help but comment that “they are a bit top heavy”. ‘Small trees, big fruits’ was the descriptor in our college days – but today’s youth probably employ more graphic and less subtle metaphors. Affluence is on show in their designer apparel and their physical structures indicate that they enjoy eating. So, every meal in the common dining room becomes a feast. The bonfire after sunset is a time for mirth and giggle-filled squeals rent the cold air. And treks are abhorred.

It is, honestly, not cold. Our morning trek started out with jackets that were soon pulled off and tied around waists as the sun went up. The path itself was a meandering one and largely safe except for an avalanche-hit stretch. No animals were encountered though some dung piles were crossed carefully (probably belonging to cattle). A late lunch under pine trees that shed their needles without warning into the raita, ensured that weary bodies would sink into slumber for at least a couple of hours and would rise only to the continuous growling of thunder in the distance. The hills are notorious for rains that come without warning: this one was threatening to rain forever it seemed (almost like that falsely-macho Mohun Bagan supporter who threatens to attack his East Bengal opponent unless he is held back by his adda cronies!).

But rain, it did. And when the drops came down, they were blown by a strong wind that abruptly made the place cold. Should one leave a warm bed and enjoy the rain or stay within the sheets and hear the pitter-patter of tiny drops on bamboo walls and thatched roofs (how can you hear rain on straw-covered roofs? oh, but I did!)? The birds one had heard in the morning chirped away again – all of them except the parrots that were still gallivanting somewhere and would return only after sundown. A long-tailed black-and-white bird with an orange beak and a tiny black crest was the highlight of the morning and a call made to an ornithologist friend resulted in no real clarity save a long SMS referring to Dr Salim Ali’s book but not quite getting the species right. Not that it mattered though – the effort though was well worth it and pretty much what a true friend would do.

What else does one do when it rains in the hills? Ask for a cup of steaming hot masala chai and watch the rain come down. It’s freezing but that’s what it’s all about (as Billy Joel might say). So the hour after the rains cease and the fresh, damp smell of the soil has evaporated is spent watching two completely contradictory events.

Their accompanying teachers have rounded up the gaggle of 45 girls – reluctantly, it would appear, from their complaints. The excitement of crawling Shimla’s Mall Road in their Saturday best is being replaced by the dread of exercising their rather heavy bodies with a frenetic round of rope-crossing, rappelling and other similar energy-draining activities. That’s what one can see from the end of what the resort clichedly refers to as Sunset Point.

The other end, with a conveniently-parked bench, is for watching the sun set. Obvious, isn’t it?

I clip on the iPod and listen to Billy Joel nursing the piano keys as only he can and crooning New York State of Mind and The Stranger. The sun is making its way down slowly, fighting a losing battle to beat the dark clouds that still hang heavy. The hills are shaded in various hues of grey (they were a myriad shades of green in the glorious morning light) and you wonder why the same sun goes down in such a rush in the city while – like all things else – it slows down in the hills and the sea. You think back of the days that were, of the chaos you’ve left behind at work, the stress that wasn’t packed in the small Muscat-acquired strolley that’s on its last wheels after 10 years of being trundled around. And how easy it would be to get tempted into leading this life minus the pressures of the daily grind.

And then, you spot a villager in the distance, on the same path you’d climbed breathlessly just hours ago, carrying firewood on her head. That’s when it comes home that, no matter what your state of mind may be, the state of your life isn’t going to allow you to sit back and watch the sunset every day from a place like this.

Which makes this moment even more rare and worth cherishing. It’s been a great break thus far, and instead of moaning mentally about the Monday that will hit me when I return to work, I’d rather look forward to the next break.

The sun will set soon. But, thankfully, it’ll rise again tomorrow.

I pick up the bottle of water I’d brought along – it’s still half full. Mercifully.


you know who... said...

just back date it to 20th march. why the drama... :)

Subho Ray said...

why no photos?