The Mysterious Parcel

I was stumped yesterday evening by a receipt lying on my office desk. It was from the Department of Posts, India, and asked me to pay a customs duty of Rs. 1161 + PF Rs. 100 = 1261 total. The folks taking care of posts at office told me that I'd have to go to the post office, pay the money and collect the parcel. I was left wondering what that could be. I hadn't ordered anything, nobody had told me they were sending me a parcel, and my friends and relatives wouldn't have my office address! Clueless indeed I was.

My teammate, Manju, jumped in to help. He put forward his theory: parcel must be sent by someone in HP, for the simple reason that only they would be able to find my office address with ease. I bought this theory, but deferred the visit to the post office till today morning.

Once at the post office, things became clear. Parcel was from my colleagues in Europe. We work quite closely. The contents: A shiny new, gray coloured riding jersey. Fits me like a skin. Although I had to pay the duty, it didn't break the bank and I didn't have to seek financial advice from one of those sites like lovemoney.com. The note with the gift said

We hope this shirt will accompany you safely in all your bike trips !

A very thoughtful gift, and one that I appreciate very much. Thanks again to Patrick, Philippe, Engelbert, Markus, Jochen & Wolfgang !

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Cycling and More!

Two of my friends, Harsha and Vicky (the same blokes who helped me come back from Dwaraka) are on a journey of a different kind : Cycling and More. They are starting off by organizing a two day bicycle ride from Sakleshpur to Madikeri, mostly riding in Coorg.

From what I have observed in Bengaluru, cycling has quickly grown in popularity among the well-paid professionals(many readers of this blog would come under that category), especially over the last couple of years. Trekking as an activity got popular much earlier than that. Most treks I know of happen on weekends. Quite convenient for weekend-happy software engineers and even engineering students! Weekend cycling, I feel, is set to go the same way too. Indeed, some may argue that it has already gone that way.

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A view from the other side

Most of you know this, but here it is again: The Tour of Nilgiris 2009 is an 8 day, 900 km bicycle ride. The dates: Dec 15-23. The TFN, as it is known, aims to provide a different kind of cycling experience. A chance to feel the rush of fresh air whilst you ride among the greens. Free of worries, all arrangements taken care of. Just you and your bicycle. Interested ? The Tour is over-booked, hard luck. If you feel like clicking the "I'm feeling lucky" button, then here it is.

What could you look forward to in the Tour of Nilgiris ? Things aplenty. Coming first would be the joy of riding your bicycle through the greenery of the pine trees and tea gardens of the Nilgiris. The scent of the Nilgiris - ah! have you experienced it yet ? Riders will, no doubt, look forward to the chill of the winter air, the morning mist in the hills and mountains, the streams and waterfalls, and the coffee estates. The pains of climbing the hills would be erased by the joy of reaching the summits. The joys of a descent would be rendered all the more sweeter by the pains of the ascent. Some riders will fight their bodies, some their minds. Hopefully, none would fight broken bones. The distant mountains will come closer, surround you, and as they recede, they will leave memories. The experiences will matter, the outcomes won't. And in a weeks time, these will become memories to be cherished for a lifetime.

Some riders, I reckon, will use the empty moments to ponder about anything. Or perhaps, everything.

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Experiences make the person…

I've seen a lot more reaction to my previous post than I ever expected. In purely monetary terms, without accounting for depreciation, I must have lost about 1.5 lakh rupees worth of equipment. Many of you have wondered about (and appreciated) how I was able to take things as I did. I believe there are two aspects about my reaction to the situation: maintaining composure during the situation and taking the material loss.

I'm not worried much about the material loss, for a good reason reason : I am no stranger to adversity, and have seen prosperity in some measure as well. We were well off when I was a kid. My father used to run a government-funded research project. He had a home-office, and two computers (286 machines, I think. Very expensive in those days). I use to play games on the computers, and started programming in BASIC when I was barely in class 5! Unfortunately, by high school, both my parents were no longer around to support me. For four years, I was an 'inmate' of Bapuji Balaniketana, an orphanage in a village called 'Alike', in Dakshina Kannada district (Alike is well known for its schools run by the Satya Sai Baba Trust, and has a reputation for churning out top-10 ranked CET students). Being in an orphanage has its ups and downs. The good things: you learn to be self reliant and pick up some skills. I have done manual labour, book binding, all sorts of chores. We learnt other skills too, for instance, creating umbrellas from close to scratch. Necessity is the mother of invention. And 80 kids managing a whole year on a budget of 4 low quality footballs is necessity. To keep the show running, I 'invented' a method to flawlessly stitch a football; that's something I'm still proud of. After my Pre-University education, I did Engineering at B.D.T College of Engineering in Davangere. Again, with a lot of help from my sponsors: Dr Nagaraj Rao sponsored half my mess bill, the other half was borne by a gentleman fondly called 'Paddu' (he used to run a tea shop and perhaps a hotel), as also an annual grant from the Sri Krishna Hostel committee, plus fees by my uncle Seetharama (lives in Sunticoppa, Coorg Dist). Towards the end of Engineering, I landed a well-paying campus recruitment job in ProcSys, effectively improving my finances. From all these, I must have learnt that one's financial position can change quite fast. Loss of equipment isn't that much of a setback.

Exposure to adversity leads to development of skills related to crisis management, and that helps people cope with difficult situations. You will be surprised to know that the previous incident wasn't the first time I had very less money, and with a need to travel some distance. The first such incident happened when I was in class 10.

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The Fool Loses His Tools, and What Happens After

As many of you know, I am back in Bangalore already. And, you know it right, I came back sans my bicycle, sans my mobile, SLR camera, three lenses, GPS receivers, bags, ah well. The list is painful indeed, and includes even KP's trusty pannier bags and my sunglasses. Needless to say, I had no choice but to abort the trip. This list is an effort to recount what happened, and how I reached back Bangalore. It's long, but I'm sure you are all curious to know all the details. And, I owe to you, the reader. So here goes.

I woke up on the morning of October 10th (Saturday). I had had a good sleep after the midnight break. But, where was my bicycle ? It was gone! And where was the friend-for-a-day ? He was gone too. His bedsheet and creaky bike were all that were left. I saw his chappals in a few moments, and I knew what had happened : friend-for-a-day (read more about this chap in the previous post. Sorry for the redirection) had flown off with all that I had. How many hours earlier, I couldn't say.

It took a few moments for the situation to sink in : I had lost even my mobile, and my purse. My trust had been royally betrayed. Trusting fool I had become. And here I was : 20 kms away from Dwaraka, not a penny in my pocket, and not a known contact around me either. No cellphone address book to contact people either. To be honest, I didn't feel bad. I didn't feel the pinch of the loss, and I feel it much now, either (at the time of writing). I'm happy I took the loss well.

And what did I have left actually ? The following

  1. Manohar's sleeping bag
  2. Shoes, and a pair of socks
  3. A towel, a dhoti
  4. Dirty yellow riding shirt, spanky clean saffron dhoti
  5. Red shirt with sweaty stains, dirty blue track pant
  6. Two water bottles, slippers

That's all I have of all my possessions. I push everything into the sleeping back. No chance of taking the slippers. They are too big, and who needs them anyway ?

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The tale of the Haves and the Have-nots

Oct 9: The house where Mahatma Gandhi was born and lived is preserved as a museum. This opens at 8 AM, before which I have enough time to down two cups of chaai, and photograph a few kaathaiwadis. These middle aged and old men go berserk posing in front of my camera, and I have a hard time taking leave of them. Anyway.

The house is an interesting place. A few rooms are very well preserved, among these being the room where Gandhiji was born. The principal attraction is the section of the house converted to a museum of pictures. Lots of pictures. One striking aspect of these is how the Mahatma is almost always bare chested, and wearing perhaps only his dhoti. This sets him apart from all the other subjects in most of the photographs. Other dignitaries are covered in the photos, which aren't really arranged in a chronological order, as I would have wished.


Ride on till Porbandar

Oct 8: Nothing much for today. Had the earliest start of the tour : 6 AM to be precise. The weather is cool and riding is pleasant. The surroundings are changing as I make my way towards Porbander. Coconut trees and greenery everywhere. 50 kms go by pretty quick - by 9:30.

After breakfast, things go bad again. A strong headwind and sun come back in contention as tormentors. Nothing much really to talk about the day. Another one of suffering... I slept more under the Banyan trees and drunk more water that I can keep track of.


More of the Village, and Somnath

Oct 7: Woke up really late, at 6:45. Ok, I'm still in the village, and relaxing. No need to hurry yet. I've willingly piled up the delays today.

First, a visit to one (out of three) temples in the village. The old man has changed to spanky clean white clothes. Looks like the shoddy ones are for the market ! Half an hour of prayer, I'm about to yawn. Imagine me the atheist sitting in a small temple trying to look a little devout! Next up was what we, in kannada, call the somari katte. The old man was joined by another person from the same family tree(kutumba). Many more people joined us - farmers, the local politico and the local headmaster. I was the center of attraction. Many things were freely discussed - from the rains in north Karnataka to my salary !

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Staying in a village at last

Oct 6 : Late start from the dhaba again. Dhaba boys pleasantly surprised after seeing the camera. Am on my way to Diu as early as possible. Very slow progress. Bad roads. I am tired for no particular reason.

When a motorbike rider asks me to visit his home for tea, i quickly take the offer. We go to Ramesh's fathers ashram. This is a small cool place surrounded by neem trees. A place where he has spent about 12 years as an ascetic, chanting Om so many times that he runs out of breath every now and then. I talk for a while with the old man. As happens everywhere else, the old man asks about my salary. He cannot believe that people can earn in lakhs by just doing a naukri. Caste is an important item of discussion too, and again he is surprised to know that I'm a brahmin. Too many surprises in a day for the old man, so I shift attention towards Ramesh, who has just returned, tea in hand. Ramesh grows pretty much the same thing as everyone else around here, but has a considerable amount of land, 200 bighas(2.5 bighas = 1 acre). I bid Ramesh goodbye at 10.


Pleasant Climes At Last

Oct 5: It rained heavily in Palitana yesterday night (by local standards at least). Kids enjoying getting drenched, a sight to watch. Memories of a carefree childhood die hard indeed.

Rains ensured a cloudy day, a blessing for me the rider. I started off on the road to Diu, avoiding the typical highway route. The road was OK, a state highway maintained in average condition. The road I took skirted the Shatrunjay dam, the largest in this part of Gujarat, for a while. Then it wandered off into the hills. I had been warned discreetly by a tea shop owner to not take out my valuable electronic equipments till I reached a place called Jhesar. The hills here have a semi barren look, and the place has picked up a reputation for unsavoury elements. I took my precautions and nothing untoward happened. The sun was trying all the while to pierce the veil of clouds, but didn't succeed until afternoon. And only barely then, at that.

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