Where Have All the Hippies Gone

The motivation to write this particular blog arose after I saw a particular episode of the PBS series American Experience. This one was titled Woodstock – Three Days That Defined A Generation. (The show is now also available on Netflix.) The movie was remarkable!

For some reason or the other, even though I did not live in the United States at that time, I have been drawn to the US of the 60s and the 70s. Part of it was the music. I do not know if others of my generation who lived in India at that time remember this, but we used to be easily able to get comic books from the US in India during those days. I used to read any that I could get my hands on. Many of these comic books would include pages where they advertised certain music clubs in the US that you could join to get the few albums for almost no cost. Even though we were not able to join these clubs, I used to read about the music. I could even listen to some of this music on shortwave radio.

Anyway, it was not until the 1980s that I was able listen to more of this music, and to even obtain the complete official live recording of the music of Woodstock. We still have the VHS tape of this recording in our basement. I will be honest in admitting I did not really completely understand the spirit of those times since I did not live in the country, but, as I said before, I was still drawn to it. Maybe it reflected something that I felt in my inner self.

Which brings me to today. The movie from PBS which I saw last week tells the entire story of the Woodstock concert. It is not a music video. It is a remarkable documentary. First of all, the event itself would be considered a complete disaster from the point of view of the staging of any kind of event. Almost everything that could go wrong in the organization of the event went wrong. Our sense of organizational structure these days would not allow a concert like this to happen in the United States today. The organizers of Woodstock completely miscalculated. They did not have enough time to set up for the concert, and the crowds that came were many more than they anticipated. They did not set up enough resources for the concert-goers, including food and sanitation. The place was a disaster zone by the end of the four-day event.

But a remarkable thing also happened during those days of Woodstock. Hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in an open field, under very, very, crowded, and appalling and dangerous conditions, to listen to music, to get high, and to basically have a good time. During the almost four days, they slept where ever they could. They managed in spite of the lack of toilets. They took to skinny dipping in the local pond to clean themselves and have some fun in the process. When a dangerous thunderstorm passed through they sheltered in place, and then they started playing in the mud like little kids. And they managed to have their fun in spite of the chaos and the terrible conditions around them. They did not riot. They behaved as a giant human family – taking care of each other, and managing with whatever they had. The kids were completely peaceful in spite of the worst that others were expecting of them.

There are too many things worth noting about the concert. (If you are interested, it is worth watching the movie to get a better insight.) The organizers had to make it a free concert because people arrived well before the fences around the field had been set up. An activist commune from California called the Hog Farm provided “security”, and whatever organization and community service that was needed – even feeding the people after the concessions ran out of food, and also taking care of the people who had overdosed on drugs. The members of the Hog Farm were hippies who did all of this for the benefit of the community just because they wanted to, and not because of any monetary incentive. The community of Bethel, NY, where the concert took place, was a deeply conservative one. They were generally Republican folks who supported the war in Vietnam, something that the young people were against. They did not want the concert in their backyard, and opposed Max Yasgur, the farmer who provided his land for the purpose. In spite of their opposition, the locals banded together to provide food for the kids when the situation grew desperate on the concert grounds. The military even flew in doctors and medical supplies to take care of the kids. (The Huey choppers that flew in for this purpose were similar to those being used in the Vietnam war at that time.) The musicians had to be flown in to the concert grounds in helicopters because the roads were all blocked. Each group that was performing had their own unique story line and attitude that they brought with them to the stage. It was a remarkable set of circumstances.

And I should probably say something about the music itself. The organizers tried to keep the music going all 24 hours of the day, hoping to keep the kids entertained and in a good mood. They did not want trouble to break out. The music was of the times – starting with folk music on the first day, and moving on to more mainstream pop music and rock and roll. There was a general anti-establishment theme to a lot of the music. The kids were rebelling against the voice of authority, they were against the Vietnam war. Richie Havens was the first performer. He improvised the song Freedom on the spot at the end of his set. The organizers had him performing well beyond his initially allotted time because the next band was not ready. Santana apparently took the excitement in the crowd to a higher level on the second day with Soul Sacrifice (listen to the mother of all drum solos in this rendition!). Sly and Family Stone took the crowd higher with their final rendition of I want to take you Higher in what was apparently one of the most energizing sets of the concert. Who would have thought that Funk would work well in the middle of a series of rock and roll music sets? On the last morning, after many of the concertgoers had already left for home, Jimi Hendrix woke up the remaining crowd with the now classic rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. The sounds and the violence of the Vietnam war (“The bombs bursting in air!”) come alive in the song through his guitar. It was electrifying! If you do a search on the “Best Performances at Woodstock”, you will find a few articles that tell you a little more about some of the songs that were performed at the concert. Here is one such article. There were apparently a few duds at the concert, including the Grateful Dead. They were too stoned for their own good.

After seeing the movie, I decided that I wanted to find out more about Max Yasgur, the farmer who had provided his land for the concert. I found a great video – a talk given by Max’s son Sam Yasgur to a legal group. The video is supposed to be about the First Amendment and free speech. I found the entire video interesting, but you can skip directly to the 40th minute of the video to go directly to the part where Sam starts talking more about the circumstances of Woodstock, and about Max himself. Sam Yasgur is an amazing speaker, and quite entertaining. And Max Yasgur was a remarkable human being. (I hope that this video does not get removed by Youtube!)

I did a little more of searching on the Internet regarding Woodstock. This is a video of an interview given to the The Guardian more recently by one of the organizers of the original concert. You can find interviews with a few people who were at Woodstock, including this video. There were attempts to have concerts at the original location (or close to it) for the 40th and 50 anniversaries. I do not think they were very successful. I am sure there were a few people who went back for these concerts to try to relive some of the days of their youth. There is apparently an art center near the original site of the concert.

Although, I was not here in the US during the time of Woodstock, I somewhat identify with the sense of idealism of the kids. They were the hippies, the flower children. They were questioning the ways of their society. They were not into materialism. They were looking a simpler way to live. They wanted a peaceful way of life. They were against the war that was going on. I get the impression that at least a few of the young people of the 1960s and 70s remained true to their original spirit as they went on through life. I am guessing that there must be others who went on to become conservative Republicans. I wish we could feel and see more of a positive impact of these youth of the 60s and 70s in the culture of the current times, but it is difficult to influence the world in the major way when your life is based simply on peace, love, and understanding.

The world has changed a lot since the days of Woodstock. It seems to have become tougher, and life has become more regulated and seemingly more systematized. Society is less inclined to allow you to take risks. But, I would like to believe that the young people today are still idealistic, although it must be more difficult than ever to confront The Man in today’s world. Life ought to be about looking out for your brothers and sisters. I wonder how many people think that way today. For heaven’s sake, we cannot even come together in our country to confront the corona virus!

An event like Woodstock would not be allowed to happen today – even if there were enough interest. There would be too many rules. There are new causes for the day, but it is a different crowd – a less mellow one than before, I think.

Passages of Time – Let the Music Play on (8/1/2014)

This is a letter I sent to my former high school classmates in 2014.  I studied at a school called Central School, or Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV), in Chennai (formerly Madras) in India.

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“On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

It feels like life in recent times has been particularly eventful for me, especially in the context of deaths of people that I have known one way or the other. Starting with my sister’s father-in-law’s death towards the end of last year, and continuing with my own father-in-law’s death while we were in India, including a good friend’s mother’s death around the time of my FIL’s passing away , and continuing with the recent news of the passing of PN Sreeniwas, and the latest – the death of a parishioner in our church a few days ago.  (She had been very a very active person in social outreach programs and was actually younger than me – a tragic loss.)  We did also lose a member of our acapella chorus to cancer earlier this year.  He was also younger than me.  There have been others.  I will mention Suma’s dad in particular even though I did not know him.  Ramu also lost his dad not too long ago.  We have lost a few other former teachers from KV recently.  We are at that age where our elders who are still in this world are in the end-game of their lives, and we ourselves happen to be vulnerable to the ravages of middle-age.  Cancer appears to be a common scourge.  While we mourn all the good people that we have lost, we perhaps also cannot help wondering how vulnerable we ourselves are, perhaps even feeling that we have become more vulnerable with the passage of time.

But we also know that death is simply an unavoidable component of the pattern of life. It is the nature of life that there is death at the end of it. One does not make sense without the other. The body does deteriorate with time even if the spirit may not.  We might find ways to extend our lives, but the end is inevitable.  Is there a reason to get depressed about all of this? Can we afford to be afraid of our destinies?  If it is inevitable, what is the point in worrying?  Should we not simply focus on taking care of things today?  Should we not straighten out our relationships with the world today?  We should not postpone things – because the tomorrow that you are waiting for may never come.  We could celebrate each day as if it might be our last, and find a way to ignore what is irrelevant in this regard.  For me to try to keep this kind of a perspective is difficult, but I must try.

Other than the cycle of life and death, I have found other ways of marking the passage of time in my life.   In my own case, I am very aware of how quickly the world is changing around me. Because of my overall background, it is the rapid development and use of new technologies for communication and entertainment that I particularly think about.  The rate of change is amazing even to me.  But the experiences in life that I identify with most, as far as marking the passage of time is concerned, have to do with the popular music of the times.   When a piece of music plays, my brain automatically tends to identify it with a period of time in my life.  Getting back to childhood, I have some very faint memory of my mom noting some music from the Beatles even when I was very very young (we must have just returned from our stay in the US).  During the period of life that includes my teenage years, I usually listened to contemporary music.  It was the music of Hindi movies that my mom played and sang to on the radio. And it was the English music that was locally broadcast, and which also came from far off countries and continents over the shortwave frequencies.  I was a child of the music of the 60s and 70s, and it will always remain that way.

My dad bought us a stereo system at home at some point, and I ended up buying music on vinyl from a store on Mount Road regularly.  (Anyone remember The Bay City Rollers?  In hindsight, their music was not very good. (sample)) The 80s came by, and I was a graduate student at Stony Brook before I started working in New Jersey. I ended up collecting older music in the CD format that was becoming popular at that time, while still continuing to listen to contemporary 80s music, both pop and rock, mostly on the radio. In general, there is less music from this era that brings that feeling of warmth, but there is still good music to be found and even bought (sample).  The 90’s rolled by, and by this time, I begin to feel like I was becoming dated.  There was less music that I could identify with, but, as a part of a continuing process that had started earlier on, I was getting more into the older music of a time before I was born.  I was getting more exposure to the original music of America – mostly jazz and the blues. Our kids are born during this period of time, and they spend their life listening to daddy’s music.

While I do get to listen to the music of the 21st century on occasion these days (when the kids turn on the radio and I am not in control), I do not go looking for it, and I do not quite identify with it.

But I am getting older, and nostalgia is only a matter of time.  The music that was once rejected has now become more familiar, and is capable of putting me in that unique frame of mind that comes with listening to some of my other older pieces of music.   I am not prepared yet to admit that the pop music of the 80s was anything more than atrocious, but I am enjoying it (perhaps in the same manner that I enjoy some of the atrocious music of the 70s).  It certainly makes me happy when I am exercising on the treadmill or cooking in the kitchen, and it also reminds me of a period of time in my life.  Time has passed, and I have changed.

I don’t know if I will live long enough to enjoy the music of the 90s. If and when that happens, it will be another milestone, another marker, for the passage of time in my life.  But it does not matter whether that happens or not.  I have to enjoy the music today.  Let the music play on.

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Riding with Dan Q (1/30/3005)

It is not that I have run out of ideas, but I find myself recently unable to find some quiet time for the mind.  I have become quite distracted in recent days.   So, I am resorting to posting an old email that I had sent to family and friends a long time ago when I used to volunteer in the furniture program at our church.  We used to pick up furniture that people wanted to give away and deliver it to the homes of needy people.  I wrote the following.
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I am sorry folks, but I have gotten the bug! I cannot stop writing, even if there is not much to say. I wake up on the weekends with the neurons clicking in my brain, with phrases forming in the head that I want to put down. What is one supposed to do? The good thing is that you can always trash my e-mails, electronically speaking that is, if they are full of junk.

Woke up today, Sunday morning, to the white of winter and the sight of snow gently falling all around the house. Truth be told, my first instinct was that this whole winter business was getting old, it was getting to be a big pain in the rear rend – this was getting me down, making me sick (middle of last week), and also getting in the way of things that one wanted to do. I have not been able to run for three weekends already (but then again, what is three weekends in a year, or a year in a lifetime). Although one is missing the quietening and balancing effects of the outdoors, one will definitely survive, although in a crabbier mood than usual, with the crabbiness factor increasing exponentially as time passes. I was also supposed to go out to perform at a music show this afternoon – that’s right, innocent people were going to pay to hear me sing, and I was thinking of the pain of driving in these conditions. (That show has since been cancelled because of the weather.)

What then has changed my mood? I was looking out into the backyard through the patio doors, just watching the white stuff come down – it was a steady fall, not the big thick flakes that float around and make people go “Ooooh” and “Aaaah”! The snow was heavy and wet – it made the work of shoveling the driveway later more difficult. A white layer had formed on the branches of the trees and the nets that I have around the plants, and you could see that some of the smaller branches were bending over with the weight of the water. I caught sight of a squirrel scurrying across the snow – a black figure bouncing about on a pure white background. It was hopping along, occasionally stopping to look around, and then heading off in a new direction. Soon after, I saw another squirrel. It did not seem to mind the snow either. Then, there was the red breasted bird sitting on one of the leafless trees behind our property. Even though it was small, the bright red on the grey and white background could not be missed. As I became more aware, I noticed that there was another small bird with a head of black (black capped Chickadee???) on the tree just next to the house. Looking up into the sky I could sight a couple of birds headed southwest, gliding through the sky and through the falling snow (how does that feel, I wonder?). Life is still going on as usual all around us….

The next part of this e-mail is not meant for the faint of heart, or for the children who may be misled by the misdeeds of supposedly mature adults. Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. This was one of these occasions!

I helped with the furniture program yesterday. Pat Byrnes sent me out with Dan Q., in Dan’s pickup truck. The mission was to pick up a sofa and a love seat. This was the first time I was meeting Dan Q. – a young white man, clean shaven and thin lipped, hair on the head completely shaved off, wearing wraparound sunglasses, and speaking with a strange accent that I could not place – looked tough! We arrive at this home and pick up a really nice sofa and love-seat set. These are loaded into the back of the open pickup truck, and we pull ropes over from one side to the other over the furniture to make sure everything is securely in place. The cushions are stuffed into crevices to make sure that they do not fly off, and the throws (smaller cushions that you throw over the sofa) have been secured in garbage bags which have been shoved under the ropes. Dan says that he will drive carefully. I did not realize then that “carefully” was a relative term. About half a mile into the trip back to the storage area, Dan informs me that one of the garbage bags has fallen off. Luckily there is no traffic since we have not hit the main road yet. I pop out of the passenger seat, run back, grab the bag, and stuff it back more securely into the back (or so I thought). Off we go once again. We are now on a busier road, Route 118, and Dan is driving “carefully” once again. As we pull up to the traffic light just after the Interstate 270 overpass, we hear desperate honking behind us. A van pulls up beside us – you lost one of your bags, we are informed by the driver. So Dan makes a U-turn (carefully!) at the light and we head back. There, in the middle of the busy road, on one of the lanes carrying traffic in the opposite direction, is our garbage bag. As we prepare to make the next U-turn to pick up the bag, I notice that our second bag is also on the road, further along the way. We have lost all our throws! It was just amazing that nobody had yet driven over the garbage bags. Further defensive (or perhaps, in the opinion of some people, offensive) moves are made. Dan pulls up in the middle of the road, and Mr. Joseph has to get out of the truck to pick up the bags. Timing was critical in these maneuvers, and Mr. Joseph performed admirably. The passenger door of the truck had to be pulled open with perfect timing to make sure that it was not taken apart by traffic in the next lane. Mr. Joseph proceeded quickly, and with surprising dexterity, to carry out his mission and make sure that both he and the garbage bags returned to the truck in one piece. The throws made it back to the storage center in the cab of the truck and on my lap – I would not have needed an air bag if Dan Q. had gotten us into a pickle (which would not have been surprising considering the way he was driving). That was my adventure for the day – risking life and limb for a noble cause!! Actually, I have spiced this write up a bit – the traffic was rather light and it was not really that dangerous. Do not worry…..

It turns out that Dan Q is an armed security guard. It is a job he was forced to take after he lost his original job with Verizon many years ago. He is trying to get top secret clearance so that he can get a better job in the government. He intends to complete his master’s degree along the way. He has ambitions. Meanwhile he is also investing in real estate and selling mortgages. He has formed a Limited Liability Company with his wife (now, where have I heard a similar story?). His father was a Chemical Engineer who worked for the government. Dan is from Eastern Maryland – hence his accent. He thinks that the war in Iraq is a big mistake. (There is still hope for America!) That is one more memorable person/character I have met through the furniture program. I do not know if I will get to ride with him again.

I should stop here. This has gotten longer than I wished it to be.

later
kuria

Harpers Ferry Over The Years

My regular exposure to Harpers Ferry over the years has primarily been because of my weekend runs along the C&O Canal towpath.  It has been mainly about the connection between the town, the Potomac river, and the railroad line that crosses the river and passes through the town. I run past the town on the other side of the river, under the railroad tracks that cross over the Potomac into Harpers Ferry in West Virginia after emerging from the Harpers Ferry tunnel on the Maryland side of the river.  Often I even experience the rush of the trains while running in this area – trains that are crossing the river with their horns blaring, or those on the tracks on my side of the river south of Harpers Ferry, and those on the tracks on the far shore of the Potomac north of Harpers Ferry.

January 2008
Winter view of Harpers Ferry from the C&O canal (January 2008)

October 2007
Sunrise behind the hills at the bridges of Harpers Ferry (October 2007)

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Early morning freight traffic moves through Harpers Ferry (January 2008)

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Blasting out of the tunnel on to the bridge across the Potomac (January 2009)

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Racing across the river on a winter morning (December 2013)

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Train crossing over the Potomac (July 2015)

There are the pictures taken from the tip of Harpers Ferry where the Potomac and the Shenandoah meet.

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Maryland Heights in the background as a freight train crosses the Potomac (July 2015)

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Maryland Heights, the railroad bridges, and Route 340 road bridge over the Potomac (May 2012)

Then there are the pictures taken from across the Potomac river, from Maryland Heights.

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The town of Harpers Ferry nestled between the two rivers (September 2008)

April 2010
Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights (April 2010)

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The Amtrak Capitol Limited stopped at Harpers Ferry (April 2010)

When we have guests visiting, a view of the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac is a must.April 2005OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is picture of the river flowing in the direction of Washington, DC, taken from high up on a hill in the Harpers Ferry cemetery .April 2005 2This picture was taken in 2005.

It has been a while since I ran on the C&O canal across from Harpers Ferry, and this is primarily because the weekend exercise routine has changed in recent times.  But I do miss the experience, and the connection still remains.  I still hold a hope that I will be able to return to the activities of my past years.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgia

I believe nostalgia has to do with memories that evoke warm feelings. For me, the trigger for nostalgia lies in many things that are simple and familiar – a song, a picture, a season, a smell, an type of encounter, a type of situation, etc..  In my opinion nostalgia can sometimes be  misleading and not a true representation of the past, and can perhaps even be dangerous if one wallows in it too much. You may start yearning for a past that can never be duplicated.  Nostalgia also ignores  the negative things that happened in your past.  Perhaps it is a good thing for your sanity, but if those negative experiences still remain unresolved, particularly in the sense of its impact on people around you, you end up with a false sense of reality.

Anyway, I went looking for pictures that could capture the sense of nostalgia for me.  It was a dangerous quest, and I got my head buried in old photo albums, a process that would have never ended had I allowed myself to succumb to my overwhelming feelings of nostalgia that the pictures evoked.  It was difficult. So I resolved to quickly pick a small and random number of pictures from the many that I encountered.  Since nostalgia is a personal thing, I am not sure if any of this will resonate with others who have not been a part of my experiences.  Suffice to say, that I have a lot of things that I feel nostalgic about, and that I consider myself quite fortunate in this regard.

The following picture is from my youth.  My remember my uncle, a great man, very well.  My siblings and I lived a very nice life on a beautiful college campus. We had a lot of friends and were sheltered in so many different ways.  I still remember the weekend movies at the Open Air Theater on campus. It was a great place to be!
021-6x8-1-copyI used to play field hockey with my friends in school.  This is a picture of the school team. We used to compete with other Central Schools.
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I do not have pictures from life as an undergraduate student.  When I went to graduate school in the US, I lived at a place we called “The Establishment”.  I made some new friends.
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Life changed after I graduated and started working.  We got married and had kids.  Those days are also now part the memories.
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The following pictures are from a family road-trip that we made about ten  years ago.
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And this is from another occasion the same year.  I still had black hair at that time.
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These pictures bring back good memories and fill me with nostalgia.  The kids are all grown up these days and are off doing their own stuff.  Let the good times continue to roll!

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Partners, Then and Now

Perhaps I am guilty of hijacking this week’s theme.  But I do consider the cousins to have been partners through the years.  So here is my submission about long-term partnerships.

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And the team continues continues to grow.

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One cannot be sure of where the future will take us, but I sure hope the partnerships continue going forward, and that I will be able to continue to chronicle these with pictures through the years.

Broken Wings (9/4/2008)

When I was a young lad growing up in Madras I used to enjoy the trips to Kerala for our summer vacations.  It did not take me too long to get bored during my stay in my grandmother’s place once I was there, but the travels on the train were one of the highlights of the summer experience.  The romance of these journeys by train never dimmed.  Arriving at the train station and wading through the crowds, to try to find one’s reserved compartment at the beginning of the journey; trying to sleep on the berths next to the noisy ceiling fans during the night as the train rocked rhythmically and sped on to its destination; trying to wake up at various points in the night so that I could see all the stations that the train stopped at, and perhaps even buy a cup of tea from a lonely chaiwalla on an empty platform; experiencing a sense of the power of the diesel locomotive while listening to its distant horn in the night – these are just some of the many, many, memories that come back to me as I write this.  The train would lurch back as the engine connected to the carriages of the Trivandrum Express at Madras Central Station, the horn would blow just as the train started inching forward into the evening, and from then onwards it was a nonstop adventure until the time we reached our destination.  Perhaps I was the only one sitting in the moving train during the daytime with my head against the iron bars of the open window peering towards the front trying to catch a sight of the engine every time it rounded a curve. Was I the only one trying to count the number of carriages on the train?  I might have been the only kid with the railway timetable for the Southern Railways in hand trying to figure out where the train was supposed to be at that particular time, watching the hundred meter markers by the side of the tracks and trying to figure out the speed of the train, trying to anticipate when exactly one would arrive at the next station.  I most likely was not the only one with my head stuck to the window staring at the passing green fields and coconut groves of the Kerala landscape, watching the local folk go about their the daily activities – magical people living their lives in a faraway enchanted land.

The first train stop in Kerala, after it crossed the Western Ghats, happened to be at a place that used to be called Olavakkot Junction.  (The name of this station has since been changed to Palakkad Junction.) If we were lucky we would break journey at Olavakkot Junction and we would make our way over the back roads to my aunt’s place the little village of Dhoni.  At that time there was nothing more than a few houses and surrounding farms in Dhoni.  But Dhoni was a great place to visit for a vacation. My aunt’s little house with its open front veranda looked out onto wide open spaces and the hills of the Western Ghats.  Up in the distance on the hills to the east you could see the trees and the forest, and if you looked up carefully you could even see the dirt road that led up into the woods.  Towards the front of the house was a bald hill where I probably experienced hiking and rock climbing for the first time.  From the top of the hill, one could survey the surroundings.  Getting to the top was a big achievement for me and I would feel a sense of elation.  In hindsight, I do not think that the hill was really as imposing as it appeared to me a child, but nothing got in the way of my imagination and the spirit of exploration.  I have to imagine that Dhoni these days is not the same as it was when I was growing up.  I am sure that the place has developed quite a bit and that one would be quite disappointed if one were to return, not just because the place has changed, but also because the sense of wonder seems to become more scarce as one becomes older, more jaded, and better trained for living and surviving in this world.

So, here I was many years later, a middle aged dude with internal plumbing problems, driving through the mountain passes on Route 15 north of Williamsport, PA, on our way back from Rochester after dropping Christina off at college, still feeling a little bit of that sense of awe and wonder while observing my surroundings.  It is not as if the hills of the Alleghenies are one of the great wonders of nature, but it still does not seem to take too much for me to be impressed when I out in the natural surroundings.  Hill after hill stretched out in front of me as the lanes of the endless highway weaved a magical path from mountainside to mountainside while leaping over the valleys that lay in between them.  Looking at the hills one wondered what it would feel like to be on top of them.  My instincts told me that I should explore the mountainsides on foot and look down on the valleys, the lakes, the rivers.    So long as it was a new experience in natural surroundings, it had to be interesting.  It occurred to me that perhaps in matters such as this I was still an easily impressionable little kid at heart – a kid occupying the mind of one who is supposed to be an adult.  Why is it that growing up and becoming a responsible person appears to be a somewhat orthogonal process to finding a way to continue to enjoy the simple and innocent things in life.  Something is wrong with the way we are being taught to think in this world.

Altered States of Mind (1/1/2006)

I wrote this to my family on New Year’s Day 2006 after returning from a trip to India. I have added pictures to the narrative.  I hope it was a useful endeavor.

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I woke up at 38000 feet, high over the mountains of the Eastern Taurus range of eastern Turkey.  This is the birthplace of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers that call to mind the beginnings of civilization. This is the land of Mt. Ararat and Noah’s ark.  I am headed northwest towards the cities of Erzurum, Trabzon, and the Black Sea, skirting Iraq and the trouble spots of Mosul and Kirkuk. The brilliant white peaks stretch all the way to the horizon, seemingly covered with a fresh layer of snow.  Below me is the town of Van, on the banks of the Van Golu, one of the big salt water lakes of Turkey.  It is a bright and beautiful morning, with not a single cloud in the sky to spoil the wonderful landscape that unfolds before my eyes as I lift the shade that covers the window next to seat 46A.  The sun reflects off the silver wing of the giant 747, the shining silver and bright blue on the engine cowling informing me that I am indeed on a British Airways jet.  The white contrails from the port engine closer to the fuselage speed past my window.  We are moving fast, and I am headed home.

This has been a quick and eventful trip to India.  The smell of Chennai welcomed me as I deplaned after the long flight from London. Long unruly lines met me as I proceeded through Immigration.  Chaos enveloped me as I attempted to locate my suitcase on the baggage carousel.  Arriving at Madipakkam in the wee hours of the morning, sleep escaped me.  Finding Mamma sitting on the floor of the kitchen later in the morning on the same day with a bloody gash on her head made it all seem so surreal.  Did I need to wake up?  Thank God the injury was not serious (although it did need stitches).

The rains of the unending monsoons of Chennai come poring down during the KV Alumni meeting day on the 17th of December.  The cricket match with the school kids is rained out with the Alumni team losing more wickets than scoring runs.  We are showing our age.  It feels great to meet people like Josey George after 30 years!  There are many other people to meet and stories to tell.

100_1324100_1326 100_1330The roads into Madipakkam are a mess.  I am bouncing around in a auto-rickshaw late in the evening in the pouring rain after the KV Alumni meeting, with the driver trying to avoid the potholes that make the road.  This is indeed not a road but a collection of holes.  An ordinary American vehicle would not last 100 yards without a broken axle!  You need an SUV. We make it home safely. Am I still dreaming?

Daddy is admitted to St. Isabel’s Hospital in the middle of town for the hernia operation.  I cannot sleep that night because of jet-lag.  It is raining outside.  The light goes on outside the window and I find Mamma headed for the gate in the middle of the night.  This cannot be happening.  It seems that the pump that has been turned on (to remove the water that is flooding our yard because of the rain) is not working.  The blasted pump needs to be primed at 3:30 am in the morning! It takes me a while to figure out the science of this process and get things going.  I must be awake – there is water spurting all over my hand from the pump as I stand in front of it holding a torchlight and spanner in the middle of the dark night.

100_1347Multiple trips are made to and from St. Isabel’s Hospital. The roller coaster that is the approach into Madipakkam from Velachery is navigated by taxi each and every time.  The road sees its share of stranded trucks and other vehicles.  Vehicles maneuver in all directions trying to find a safe path through the water-covered potholes of indeterminate depth.

100_1348I spend hours daydreaming in the taxis, stuck in the traffic jams and at the traffic lights of Chennai City itself.  Perhaps it is the effect of the pollution on the brain.  Maybe it is the mesmerizing effect of the chaos unfolding all around me.  Two wheelers, both human and gasoline powered, squeeze into impossible spaces.  Vehicles drive on all sides of the road.  People risk life and limb in the middle of this mess of traffic.  People go about their lives on the roadsides – I am sure there is a story to tell for each and every one of them.  Somebody should take this opportunity to study the theories of chaos.  Chaos actually works, though perhaps not in the most efficient manner.

Endless hours, most of it uneventful, are spent in the hospital environment, most of the time with a book in hand.  I find time to practice my music in a secluded corner of the building. The lazy breeze plays with the curtains covering the window of the hospital room in which I spend many hours conversing with Daddy.  I play the role of caretaker as Daddy comes out of surgery.  Anxious moments are felt as the doctors deal with the problem of the blockage of urine flow, and when we go down to the ground floor to get the ultrasound tests done.   What will the doctor say?   I have just finished reading Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain”.  Is this all part of the supernatural plan as Merton would lead me to believe?  Is this one of things that I was destined to do?  I also conclude that it is impossible to play the role of a patient in the hospital unless one is suitably humble.  You are put into unusual situations that you would normally not dream of being in.  Your real character shows.  You will suffer more than you need to if you have too much pride.  Between long periods of inactivity I am rushing around trying to get the medicines from the pharmacy, get the hospital bills paid, and get the discharge process completed.  It is an environment that I am not familiar with.  Nobody seems to care, nobody seems to be in a hurry.  I have not woken up from my dream yet.

I get adjusted… The celebrations for our 30 years after graduation from high school takes place at the Gandhinagar Club next to the Adayar river and bridge.

100_1371_closeupThe IIT Madras Silver Jubilee celebration also takes place after couple of days.  I see many faces from the old days, several only recognized after some initial conversation.  Thank God we are wearing badges with our names on them.  What a feeling of nostalgia!  A movie is seen at the Open Air Theatre (OAT) for old times sake – Where Eagles Dare.   I take a long walk covering the IIT campus in the early morning.  Health-conscious joggers do their daily exercises.  The deer wander all over the road unafraid of the humans.  The IIT Madras campus is still beautiful.  We are lucky to have grown up there.

100_1418100_1444The postponed trip to Bangalore to meet Amma and Appacha takes place.  It is good to see them and the rest of the gang.  This trip barely lasts a day.  It is now time to head home.  I am really not that tired in spite of the fact that I am not sure if I am coming or going.   When the doorbell rings I do not know what city or time-zone I am in.  I am keeping up because I am getting a lot of rest between activities.  I come to realize that the Madipakkam environment is really not too bad.  The volume of the street music in the morning has gone down – no more speakers from the temple on the street corner.  I love to walk on the terrace in the evenings, soaking in the street sounds including that of the buses bringing back the masses after their day at work, feeling the cool of the evening breeze coming in from the sea in the east, and listening to the planes heading to and from the airport.  It is time to enjoy the good things in life as they are, and to not get worked up about things that one cannot control.

I am now back in Gaithersburg.  I have survived the long flights and third-world toilets of Heathrow’s Terminal 4.  It is readjustment time once again.  It is cold and cloudy outside most of the time.  I have no motivation to get out and do things.  Just like me, my car also needs a lot of help to get started once again.  It is then back to work on the 3rd.  Give me a few days to get used to the changes.  Pictures will eventually be posted.

Happy New Year!

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Flower from our garden in Chennai