The setting sun – like

an ice-cube gently sliding

in a glass of scotch.

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The woman holding the nest of sparrows at the traffic signal to hang on the rear view mirror of your car does not account for the space making and signal breaking abilities of the couple in a rush on a two wheeler, and manages to save herself but not her stash, which is now scattered in the middle of the road. The traffic signal is ticking and you can see how many seconds she has to salvage her livelihood for the day. 87,86,85 the clock ticks in red, reminding a man his time is up every time he waits on the signal.

Her sparrows are waiting to be murdered under the wheels of MRF and Bridgestone and Apollo tyres, an odd Yokohama too will take part in the massacre.

A pillion rider jumps quickly and starts helping her.

She’s taken by surprise – who helps a woman who looks like she hasn’t allowed water to touch her skin for a month, and whose saree could be of the colour my kids make in the water when they are painting, the brush dipping in all colours and water one by one.

The colour of dirt.

The car owner right in front of her is smarter.

He gets down from the car, which would have been the tank responsible for the majority of the massacres. That gains a few more seconds for her, since now the clock is ticking 32,31,30 and still the sparrows are scattered.

She’s lost the ability to panic and react after all these years, her face has the stoicism of a hurt cow which has eaten too much plastic to care.

The two men gather as much as they can, except for a couple of sparrows whose destinies are sealed.

The signal turns green. People start honking.

The car is blocking the way.

She joins her two hands to him in respect.

He waves her off.

He’s gruff. Unsure of how to acknowledge the acknowledgement of his own act of kindness.

This is how wounds heal.

They need not look pretty as long as the edges somehow stick together.

Blood will always be spilt in heartbreak.

Very few are gracious enough to acknowledge it.

The best you can hope for is a kind one picking up the pieces and gruffly waving you ahead without a word.

Scrubbed clean.

There’s a modern day question which I never understand though I ask it often myself. “Is it worth it?” Is reading this fat book worth it? Is spending a 1000 bucks on the new animated movie worth it?

We question every experience before we have it. We wonder and fret over choosing two different experiences, will staying in that hotel be better or will spending a couple of thousand bucks more for the better rated hotel be worth it?

And there-in enter the modern day concept of ratings and reviews. If we were to do everything by ratings and reviews, no one would make a tender coconut flavour ice cream because chocolate would always have high reviews and then would trying a tender coconut be worth it? Ratings and reviews democratise personal experiences, and often give you a preconception of what to expect when you go for that scuba diving or the elephant bathing experience, and allow you to know exactly what to order from the menu when you visit that newly opened highly rated culinary experience in town. I use ratings and reviews all the time, and I am sure so do you.

Behind every “worth it” question, lies a single underlying fear. That of disappointment. It’s the fear of disappointment that makes us plan and predict every little thing we do. I’ve a couple of philosopher friends who go deeper into this worth-it malaise and ask questions like – is working on Saturdays worth it instead of working 5 days a week? Everything has to be judged on this parameter of worth-it, this invisible scale that tilts here and there, making us live upto our own expectations of ourselves all the time.

Just where is all this coming from, you may ask?

Today is International Mountain day, or so I read. Everyone who knows me knows my disdain for all sort of days. But mountains hold a special place in my life, they are a panacea against everything scaled and balanced and perfectly weighed. A week or two in the mountains every year gives me that freedom to stop judging, evaluating every experience trying to somehow squeeze out the best possible experience, and just be. Last year we made a plan to trek to Gaumukh Tapovan with our base camp being Gangotri, but when we reached there, the entire night it kept on snowing, it just wouldn’t stop. We were put in a guest house which would be rated a 1.5 on tripadvisor but there was nowhere else to go. It had a balcony from which we could observe the snow gently falling and piling up on a single pine tree, and an empty bottle of bisleri. There was a thela outside our room which served decent chai and bhaji and Maggi. A single charger point which 5 of us rotated as when there was some power supply which was rare. We’d walk a km to another seedy guest house where we’d have food. Lunch, dinner, breakfast – the three breaks from the monotony of watching snow fall in a dark 10*10 room huddled in a blanket.

And there. One day turned to two. Two to three. The weather didn’t relent. The tree had inches thick snow, and someone like me who had lived on plains all my life, couldn’t get enough of it for the first two days but the third day, even I had had enough.

Gaumukh and tapovan weren’t calling us. Shivji and Ganga didn’t want us to visit, that was the only rational explanation, however paradoxical that sounds. The trek was no longer on the horizon. The trek leaders offered us an alternate trek.

Dayara Bugyal.

A trek which we wouldn’t have ever gone if we would have trusted the reviews. Hell, it was easy on the trek scales, and we never chose anything which fell below moderate to difficult. People could do it with their 12 year old kids, they said. Why would we, the conquerors of roopkund, 16300 feet of glory, opt for a trek kids could do?

But how wrong we were.

Dayara wasn’t tough in a way that you would pant and promise yourself you will never ever do this again. It wasn’t so cold that you would need to wear layer upon layer and pray that the hair standing up on your hands and the burning on the tip of your nose would stop. It wasn’t awestrikingly beautiful where you’d see range after range of snow covered mountains.

But. Dayara had something else.

A virginity, an innocence, a forgotten look about it that made you feel you were in the middle of a story that was left midway by the father when the daughter went to sleep. A cover of green which, while you slept, slowly crept into your sleeping bags, through your socks, right into your arteries from which blood would then rush through into your head and the green would seep into every corner of your being, sweeping into all the corners driving away all the remnants of anxiety and trepidation and worry and fear and insecurity and that edge in your head that makes you snap at people, all buried under green. Every corner of your head you’d look, all you would find was flowers. Tiny purple coloured ones. Some yellow. There would be a maple in the corner somewhere guarding against the devils that infest an idle brain.

Dayara was home where you’d pitch a life and start anew once you were done with what you thought you came to do.

Dayara was where you could walk miles and miles like the earth slowly revolving around the sun, and turn into a barely perceptible shadow as the moon shone through. Here and there, you’d find a tooth lying on the ground or a pelvic bone, you’d pick up the tooth and dream of dinosaurs walking around you.

Dayara was the kind sweet soul in your class whom no one noticed and remembered in your 20th reunion, whom everyone had forgotten. If there’s a union of Facebook and tripadvisor, soon we will start rating friends. This friend gets a 4.2 for helping out, that one a 4.7 from 2343 people for remembering a thousand jokes from school days, that woman gets a 4.4 but god knows what she’s done to deserve it except pout in deep cleavage.

Dayara? This friend has no ratings.

No one comes to his home unless they miss a train in his city and there’s nowhere else to go.

But when they do come, they are charmed by the sumptuous food and the warm blankets and the clean bathroom and their own company.

And when they go back, they’ll promise to come back but they never do.

When they meet a friend, when asked whether it was worth it, they nod enthusiastically and say, “If you are stuck for 4 hours in the middle of nowhere, it’s totally worth it.”

They want to keep it their own secret – their own indulgence, those 4 days spent getting to scrub every corner of your heart with green. They believe it’s their own choice that has let them down this time, how could they love something which no one else even notices?

But the best loves are like that. Intensely personal.

They live and die with you.

And that, is always worth it.

Periscope

When I was a kid we used to do a science experiment in which we made a fun device used in submarines known as a periscope.

It involved using sheets of cardboards and mirrors in different angles to allow one to glance at the lower lens and get a view of a much higher place through the upper lens. Sailors in a submarine could remain submerged in the water and just raise the periscope above to peer at the horizon.

How high you could see only depended on the height of the cylinder and the angles of the mirrors. Theoretically you could be buried deep on the ocean bed and glance at the stars.

That’s what a glimpse of you is for me.

A periscope.

I could still remain buried in a claustrophobic sea bed if all I had was a periscope every day.

I could almost breathe the stars by just glancing at them.

It need not even be a personal star inaccessible to only me. I’d probably drown in joy if that ever happened but its not a condition of survival.

When I was a kid I used to glance at a star called Sirius. If you identify the winter sky you can easily see the belt of Orion and the three stars in a straight line point to Sirius. I used to believe that as long as I could see it, the world would be ok for me since it looked so bright, so strong, standing alone carving its own identity in the night sky. In summer it wouldn’t be seen for a few months but it would always come back.

A glimpse of you is a glimpse of me as a child trusting a star far away, one that is unaware and indifferent to my existence but has never broken my faith.

A glimpse of you is all that matters. Really.