Friday, February 14, 2014

a memoir writing workshop by Cheryl Strayed, conducted by Literature Studio | is that a beginning for me?

The past always lights up our path I feel. Whatever way we decide the light to take us, but it's always the past experiences that mould our resilience, analytical capability as well as emotional quotient. The most powerful moments from the past always keep coming back and drowning you with an overwhelming intensity. I have not been talking about the past for some time now, even the mandatory new year post was given a miss this year. I just could not bring myself to write about how the new year makes me feel or how I try to cope with it. It was the last day of the year 2009 when Mithi, our daughter left us and each new year has been a challenge since then. No I don't get depressed, but it does make me go back to those times more than ever. I started writing this blog when she was with us, writing about the present situation, however sad or painful, is easier I now realise. Back then, I thought this is the bravest thing I am doing by sharing my struggle with the world. I even thought it would make the readers sad but then many people wrote to me saying they find strength by reading the posts here. Although they cried sometimes reading those everyday struggles of a child, and a mother as well. I understood what they meant.

And then life changed, I forced myself to get busy with so many other things that the past just stayed with me like a secret, to be shared with only few, if needed. Although I wanted to write about the experiences and my own journey through that, I couldn't deal with how forcefully it comes to me when I try to pen it down. I never understood why, because I have been writing about the wretched struggles in the past.

I got my answers, at least a few of them, when I attended a memoir writing workshop by Cheryl Strayed. My friends Vijay and Vibha (from Literature Studio) invited me for the same. I had little idea what I am headed for. But let me tell you about Cheryl Strayed first. I had come across this column by Dear Sugar in the past and had found her insightful advises really genuine. Now that I always felt these agony aunts always come up with superficial advice to funny people in our news paper and magazine columns, this one seemed like she had seen life in true sense. I could not point a finger how and why she sounded right but she was someone who had lived all shades of life, has related well to others, has connected with human soul and has observed those inevitable patterns of pain, suffering and healing in her life. I had no idea what sugar had experienced or where her perspective came from. Later I forgot about this column as there was too much to handle on my own plate. I never knew who this sugar was.

This workshop was a pleasant surprise when it started. An author whose work I had not read came across like a warm personality and started the workshop quite casually. It was when she mentioned she was the anonymous writer of sugar columns, I started getting a few glimpses of what all she wrote. And then she told she had written this book Wild which was about a solo trek she took after her mother had died. I could relate to what all she spoke and could very well understand why she took 20 years to write this book after the real experience. A memoir of a solo trek that she took after her mother's death. A powerful story of grieving, healing and bringing life in perspective.

And then she gave us all a few exercises. It was a class of 15 and everyone wrote a few lines, some of them shared what they wrote, some kept quite and I was quieter than the quite ones. She had told us to write about overwhelming moments, about talismans and about the people who touched us. It was only one thing that kept coming in my mind and that was so overwhelming to be shared with a straight face.

But I felt a clarity in my thoughts after hearing Cheryl sharing her experience. She also felt that the same trauma kept coming back into her writing for the initial years. And that it's okay if it happens like that.

Thanks to Literature Studio and Cheryl Strayed, I will be a bit more liberated from my cobwebs probably. Sharing will be easier and the craft of writing, weaving a story, creating a meaningful memoir will be better. Amen. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

a cyclothon with team Evernote...


Cell phones are getting swankier by the day and we feel inadequate sometimes. At least I do. Keeping pace with all the new apps that can do so many things by the touch of a screen, I think my fingers are most active part of my body these days. Yes they are.

I find myself adapting to new ways to store useful information, new ways to process pictures, making pictorial notes, logging my calender, verifying caller identities, keeping record of my walks and runs, personalised news tracking, tour/GPS tracking etc etc. I would not have imagined so many things done so efficiently through a pocket device a decade ago.

Imagine, all these kinds of applications are used by someone who believes in going back to older ways of living. Eco friendly living. We prefer walking to do our grocery or other daily chores, keeping the carbon footprint minimal. Being smarter for the phone should be an eco friendly activity.

I wouldn't argue about how eco friendly are cell phones :-/

I got introduced to Evernote last year and tried the basic free version. I am amazed with the way it can store a lot many information, just like my office files. Easily accessible information at the swipe of a screen, using my phone or I-pad, or even the desktop or laptop.

We both trek and bicycle a lot to faraway places, our own way to be with nature, watch birds and other flora and fauna. I have been wondering how much we can use an app like Evernote in recording bird species, flora with pictures in a certain geographical area. Like we did in Dehradun and Uttarkashi recently. Keeping log of the activities and tracking the routes will be so convenient. Evernote it is on our next trek or biking trail.

Recently we got to know more of such features of Evernote when we were invited to bike with  'Evernote Life cyclothon' with Cyclesutra. Mr. Troy Malone, GM, APAC, Evernote was touring India and being an avid biker himself, he decided to promote Evernote in a unique way. It echoed with our way of popularising cycling and walking on the roads more and more.

The idea was to cycle from Akshardham temple to Green park (Approx. 17 Km ) and to capture the public/historical places along the way through Evernote app. Imagine the joy we experienced during this cyclothon.



Here is the screen shot of the trail I recorded through my Runkeeper app. Can we do it using Evernote? I have to look for it, may be the paid version?



Did I tell you that this was our first bike ride in Delhi. The early winter fog of November second week was so pleasant. We witnessed sunrise a few minutes after we started cycling and then we could see flocks of birds in the sky too.



Cycling through the greenest parts of Delhi, past a few flyovers and morning traffic, it was a lovely start to the Sunday. I so wish I had the motivation to get up early every day and be on the roads. I so wish the traffic was better, the air cleaner in the winter mornings. The smog has started playing havoc in the mornings and evenings now after just 2 weeks of that cycle ride.



We had good company of Radhika Nandwani and Karan Bhujbal form 20:20msl.com team and Yogesh Khanna and Neeraj Jalan from Cyclesutra.

See how Yogesh kept taking pictures through Evernote app.


Few Delhi monuments were left behind. Some of them were clicked through the cellphone.

Here is the Peace pagoda.


National museum..



Cyclists on a winter morning chatting on the way.




Some elderly runners made us think why we don't get up early.


 Empty roads in  few places.


On the way to Hauz Khas Lake and Deer Park...


Near Hauz Khas Lake


The Barah khamba tomb.


It was such a fun ride that day. I will be doing such rides again very soon. May be with a group or may be alone sometime. If not Delhi it will definitely be one of those YHAI biking expeditions.

Here is Troy Melone and 20:20 msl team having fun after the cyclathon. We were all in jolly mood after the ride, the whole Sunday was there to rest and get energised for the beginning of a new week.


Thank you team 20:20 msl and Evernote for this bicycle rice through the heart of my own city. It will always be a good memory.

~ written by Arvind Khanna.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Go...hug a tree...





Go...hug a tree

meditate

commune with nature

the chlorophyll force

bringing energies down

the earthy bundles of xylem

transporting the essences of Earth 

to the sky

with open stoma

making them ONE

meditate and commune

with the elements

of the tree

and see how


it hugs you back

wrapping multiple arms around you.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Birds at IIP Dehradun Campus : Blue-bearded Bee-eaters, Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, Green Bee-eaters and Lineated Barbet

Bringing you another post on the birds of IIP Dehradun. We spotted a few Bee-eaters on the Eucalyptus trees that line up the long road. We actually get a strong whiff of Eucalyptus oil when we reach this spot, a very pleasant start of a long walk I must add.

The Bee-eaters that made a racket on top of the tall trees, looked excited as Bee-eaters always feel like. We could see the beautifully spread out wings and their characteristic flight, excitedly taking a small flight taking a round and then coming back to the same spot. Often a coupe of them would perch on the same branch, do some talking and start flying in the characteristic manner. It's a pleasure to watch Bee-eaters when you have enough time..


This is the Green Bee-eater with that unmistakable elongated central tail feathers, as if a stick juts out from the tail.


You would see them almost all over India except very high altitude but to see them in wilderness is so much fun.


They keep showing up here and there, often knowing someone is keeping an eye on them.


And there are these Chestnut-headed bee-eaters found in foothills of Himalayas and forests of the southern India. These are marginally larger than the Green Bee-eaters.


Beautifully feathered, lovely eyes.


The most delightful sighting was the Blue-bearded Bee-eater. We saw them in large numbers but always too high up on the trees and it was only their silhouette that gave away their identity. These are larger birds than the other Bee-eaters and the blue beard shines beautifully again light. The beak is a bit longer too.


We were hoping to see a lot of Barbets there in Dehradun and I was particularly expecting the Great Barbet that we spotted once in Simla.

We did get to spot a Lineated Barbet which we don;t find in Delhi so it was quite an achievement. Actually one fellow lived on a smallish Banyan tree right in front of the guest house canteen so we could spot him many times.


And they were found to like these berries very much.


An avid birder friend recognised these berries as Turkey berries. I wish I had known these berries earlier. Would have plucked some and cooked for the record :-)


The Brown -headed Barbet comes to drink water from my rock garden and a Coppersmith-barbet is often seen on a wild fig tree near my house, these two are the only Barbets we see in Delhi. The great Barbet was seen in Simla and Blue-throated Barbet once in Palampur Iwish I could see other Barbets soon in different parts of India.

And yes, I was expecting the Blue-tailed Bee-eater as well in Dehradun but could not spot them. May be next time?

I am hoping I will be there every year for the bird count.
Amen.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Birds at IIP Dehradun Campus : White-browed Fantail and Warblers

 We traveled to Uttarakhand last week. The motto was to go for The Great Himalaya Bird count assisted by Archhimalaya.org but we had booked the guest house at IIP Dehradun so we could stay there and enjoy birding ahead of the bird count. It turned out to be a good rest after a hectic week and a flu attack I was suffering. We actually were pondering over the possibility of cancelling the trip as I was not too confident of feeling well, but since we had 4 days at Dehradun to rest we decided to go ahead with our plan. It was a great decision as I got to rest properly with 2-3 hours of bird watch each morning and evening in the beautiful campus of IIP.

The straight road from one end of the campus to the other is the most beautiful road to walk and people have spotted leopards and other animals on this road. The tall trees look beautiful in the morning and you can see the tea gardens flanking both sides of this road.


It is a heaven for birds and birders both.

In fact the first morning was a sign of the times to come, I woke up with a sweet bird song, at about 4.30 AM unbelievably, and wondered which new bird I would see and whether I would be able to recognise this bird song with any of the bird I would see. The bird, in fact came to show me off her beautiful song and dance performance later in the day and I felt so blessed. It was a White-browed Fantail and the dance is synchronised with her song. It was wonderful to watch this bird several times.

The first time this bird was spotted by Arvind when he was walking alone around the other end of the guest house where some construction work was going on. I was not well so returned to our room for a short nap after a 2 hour morning walk. He came back and shown me these pictures. Seeing the bird I felt so jealous because I wanted to see this bird myself, I had seen a wonderfully shot video of Flycatchers some time ago and instantly recognised this beauty.

White-browed Fantail is a delightful bird to watch. But I had still not heard this bird so I could not associate the morning bird song yet with WBF flycatcher.


The background is not good for making the picture look good but the bird is really beautiful. Especially the way it fans the tail and turns quickly at 180 degree to fan the tail again.


Seeing these pictures I had no idea of the dance performance it does.


And then we decided to have another walk after lunch. We walked from the guest house on the beautiful road that spans from one end of the campus to the other, 4 Kms in total. Just as we crossed the turn to Director's bungalow, I could hear the song again on a tree. Looked up and here it was. Dancing and singing away in glee.





We enjoyed the song and dance performance twice more but clear pictures could not be taken. Partly it was too far and too fast moving and party because it's difficult to click pictures in thick foliage when one is standing right below the tree.

I will keep posting Birds of IIP Dehradun in a series this time. Sharing another bird in this post. We saw so many warblers and the identification of warblers is so difficult for amateur birder like me. The best I could identify this one is a Lemon-rumped Warbler.

See this series of pictures so different angles of the bird is visible. Let me know if you think it is Dusky warbler that I was contemplating regarding this one.









Lemon -warbler or Dusky warbler. Please confirm if you recognise them.

And stay tuned for more and more birds coming up. We spotted around 100 birds in this trip, some were common to make the count but some birds were spotted for the first time by us. Overall a really good good trip birding wise.

Friday, October 25, 2013

how to pack a toiletry bag for trekking or general traveling

I have been traveling a lot, it has been a week's travel almost every month this year. Most of the times we end up walking around the places a lot even if it is not a full fledged trek. Seeing the marketplaces, walking on the streets and interacting with small time shopkeepers and passersby is a great way to know local culture and lifestyle, as we have experienced. So we get a small backpack, water bottles, couple of fruits for the day and get walking all around the place when we are there.

Yes I tan a lot when I travel. My skin is prone to get burnt too but I haven't found any good solution to it as all sunscreens I have tried till now have been either too suffocating to apply or have had some really irritating perfume. So a cap is all I have for my defense mostly and a large framed pair of sunglasses. Walking around the places leaves me quite exhausted by the end of the day and a warm bath helps a lot. So I take care to carry everything that gives me the comfort of a nice warm bath after a days worth of roaming around. Not that I am too conscious of products but a few basics are good to pack. Mine is quite a frugal toiletry bag.


One thing to take care is not to put the toiletry bag in checked in baggage when flying as a leaked out sunscreen or shampoo will be a lot of mess to handle. Try and keep it in hand baggage or segregate the products before you sort out the stuff. My toiletry bag often carries a few random things like a knife, few safety pins and may be all my medicines too, which I take out and keep in drawers when staying in hotels or guest houses.

  1. Shampoo: I prefer a tube pack but a small pack of whatever brand you are currently using will be great.
  2. Bath gel : travel pack definitely. Sometimes I carry soap bar instead.
  3. Face wash : tube pack or a bottle. It can be quite versatile if you are pressed for space or have a limited baggage restriction. *Read how I managed on our last trek.
  4. A sunscreen or sunblock ( I carry a lactocalamine lotion as I find it quite useful for me)
  5. A foot cream if you have the habit of applying, I pack a jar Boroline as it is quite a multipurpose cream. I use it as a hand cream too after the night bath. It is a good antiseptic cream for small nicks and cuts or bruises.
  6. A bottle of hand sanitiser that I carry in my hand bag all the time. One is packed into the toiletry bag as well.
  7. Detergent powder sachets : I find them useful to wash any accidental stains or if I need to wash any essentials during my stay.
  8. Mosquito repellent cream: I am intolerant to any heavy feeling cream on my skin and even the perfume, but when there are mosquitos we have to be careful. I often apple the MR cream on the headboard of bed or any solid surface rather than my skin and it works for a while :-)Applying it on my nails also works. Yes I am creative :-)
  9. A pain relief spray: This is required when we get minor sprains. It has not happened often but it's good to pack especially when you are expecting a difficult trek.
  10. Savlon or antiseptic solution : this is more of a first aid kit essential but has to be packed.
  11. Ear buds : I need them a lot and these are useful for many random purposes I see. 
  12. Lip balm : it goes into my handbag but I pack it in my toiletry bag as well.
  13. Sanitary pads: I pack them in a foil bag and keep them in the toiletry bag (which is transparent) just so the pads are not visible if I have to take out the toiletry bag in public for some reason. Especially during treks. (it is not seen in the picture as the bottles and tubes are placed above the pack).
  14. Tissue papers: I keep tissue paper in almost all bags I carry, just for the usefulness. This also goes in polythene bags or foil bags.
  15. Disposable panties or panty liners : I found these really useful when I was on the Kullu to Leh mountain biking expedition. You are often not left with a choice to have a nice bath and change but the panty liner can be changed to feel fresh.
  16. A toilet seat sanitiser : I found a product called Peesafe which is very useful during travels and treks as we use public toilets a lot. Just spray the product on a toilet seat, wait for a few minutes and do your business. I prefer spraying the door knobs and taps as well to prevent any potential contamination. A very useful product I must say. I got it from SafetyKart, you can also order it online if you wish.
  17. Deodoriser spray or roll on: I personally don't use these as all chemical perfumes are a strict no for me. A good bath is good enough for me and this is not on my list. I mentioned as many of you might like it, but please take care to ask people if you want a generous spray and you are surrounded by a few people in a tent while trekking. Someone like me might be allergic to it.
  18. Vicks or pain balm if you have a tendency to get colds or headaches. I keep my tablets in my toiletry bag too.
  19. I always keep a knife (often wrapped in a handkerchief to avoid any cuts)and a few safety pins in my toiletry bag too. Used to have a needle and thread too but I required it so now I am careless about it.
  20. A white cotton or polyester rope : I find it really useful in many ways so this is a constant in my toiletry bag, which you see is a multipurpose bag in my case :-)
  21. A comb and a small mirror if you need. I mostly don;t pack the mirror and have sometimes lost my comb and have felt jut okay without them. But These are essentials it your travel is not of trekking type.

*We did a nice trek last week as well which was fairly tough and I had to chose the absolute essential toiletries from this list. The best decision I took was to carry a bottle of face wash that doubled up as a bath gel and a hand wash as well.

Do let me know if you pack some more. Knowing more is always better.

Yes I was on a 10 day long break and came back just 2 days ago. Will be sharing a lot about this birding oriented trip which turned out to be a surprise trek as well. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

new kid in the garden | lessons of life with Oriental White-eye

Change in weather always bring something new in the life. Season has been changing , giving space to new plants to grow, new flowers to blossom. After bountiful of rain, when water was available in plentiful quantity everywhere, this was the first time that the garden soil needed some artificial recharge. More when you wanted to grow a few new crops. While we were busy with cropping and watering the plants, a generous leakage in watering- hose was strategically placed to optimally utilize the water. Like humans and plants other inhabitants of the garden also need water. Hence a strategic placement of leakage to cater the need of plants and birds at the same time. Bird baths have been empty for a while now, Dengue outbreaks in Delhi have made us learn a few lessons and implement on them too.

Now the garden is not only one shade of green after the abnormally long monsoon season this year. Some younger shoots of lighter green, some sprouting roses with reddish hue and an occasional yellow cosmos. Birds are all there already.

You see any color different from green is also welcome in our Green space, be it red rose or a bird.



Yes, a young Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus) or OWE, hopping in the garden under the watchful eyes of its parents. Having fun as a community. These little birds have been in the garden for years now, taking showers from the hose every now and then, photography opportunities were limited back then.


Group of three because the white-eyes are sociable, forming flocks which only separates on the approach of the breeding season. We don't necessarily have spot a OWE chick to know they are here, the flurried activities of the parents gives it away almost every time. The way they keep making very soft chik chik voices around one place and then bring some food in their tiny beak. You know there is some interesting story unfolding.


While the one parent is busy with feeding the kid the other one keeps a close eye on the surrounding. Those familiar with our garden can easily identify the place and the plants.


But the parenting is not only about feeding a kid, it also involves giving them few more lessons of life, connecting with them, playing with them, giving confidence to them so that they can handle the worldly situations by themselves.

When it comes about life lessons, it also involves drinking water and taking a bath into it. See the profusely leaky hose, positioned strategically.


See the water gushing out. But this lesson is not so easy. This parent has to lead by showing example and keeping a close watch on chicks' activities.



Showing position before dip .


Enjoying themselves in the process too.


And now its the little chick's turn to enjoy.


They fluttered wings, got wet, fluttered again to drain off all the water. And then they take the dip again. Quite playfully.

We have seen dozens of them having a shower under the hose many times when we water our plants, taking pictures was not always possible as one of us would be sleeping when it happened.

This time they decided to take a dip in the leaky hose and now we know how to attract them for good photo opportunities.

Hoping to come again with many more such bird stories.