She queries me on her diamond mookkuthi
Undoubtedly it's dazzlingly pretty
It's sure to have cost her lover a fortune
And she will not part with it so soon

Your mookkuthi is a shining star

I reply to the beauty without par
But even the brightest star fades as the sun ascends
Thy two adoring eyes, my dear, are much more magnificent.

(Mookkuthi is the Malayalam word for a nose stud.)

                                                    The story behind Mookkuthi

"I had a really nice time with you. Unforgettable".

I was on the phone to a woman I found irresistible. We had just spent a couple of hours together and I thought I was falling... fast... into that four letter word that often complicates our lives.

"Yes me too", she cooed, "It was a beautiful day. But the best part of it was the food we had in Pizza Hut. Usually they mess up the order or make the pizzas very crusty but this time it was perfect."

I felt let down so I said " Really , that was your best part ?"

" Actually ,now that I think of it, no.."

My pulse was racing and sweat beads of anticipation were crowning my forehead.

After a lengthy pause she confided : " If I'm really honest I have to say that the garlic bread was the best. So creamy, cheesy and crispy. Yummy,Yummy ! "

Well I am no relationship expert but that comment pretty much dashed any hopes I had of scoring with her. The sad truth was that while I was lost in her eyes among many other things, she was directing her attention solely on the  garlic bread and pizzas.

This incident happened many years ago. As you would have guessed, nothing much came out of that lunch date except the birth of a poem, a raw uncut piece written on a high that only love can produce. It perfectly explains how I felt about the object of my affection then. I always had a thing for women wearing mookkuthis but on that particular day she was wearing a diamond one ! Yet  even a diamond mookkuthi couldn't outshine the light and beauty of her eyes!

Do you think that I should have shown her this poem ? Would it have made a difference? Would you fall for a person who penned a poem for you even if it was not exactly Shakespearean in scope ? Has anybody written a poem for you ?

My previous attempt at a poem took the blogging world by storm receiving much critical acclaim. Let's see how this one fares... :-)

The French Connection

"Are you from France?"

I wheeled around to face the questioner, a dark young pot bellied guy in a faded gerua T shirt and pants, trying hard to put me at ease with his paan coloured smile.

That had to be the best compliment I got in my life, being compared to the sexiest sub species in the human kingdom. For a moment let us not focus too much on the qualification of the commentator in making such a statement but just let the comment sink in. Ahhh ! I’ve been mistaken for being a Brazilian, Sri Lankan etc but that was ages ago in a far away city called London. But the fact that I've been complimented for my looks here in my own country by a fellow countryman , I realized I had finally arrived. Big time ! This had been the purpose of all my years of wandering, vagabonding and travelling. The grand finale ! The climax ! The setting was also scenic and intensely spiritual, right on the ghats in Benares by the inky black Ganga. I had to summon every ounce of my inner strength not to get misty eyed...

sunrise varanasi
Sunrise @ Benares

Seeing my blissful knowing smile, Mr. Pot Belly assumed that I must indeed be French and  began a conversation in French to which I responded gamely with smatterings of the language I picked up in college and later. He offered his services to buy me hasish, ecstasy,,ketamine and 10 other drugs I didn't even know existed. I slowly realized that Mr Pot Belly was hinting subtly that I looked less like a French sex God and more like a French drug addict.

After I stopped running for my life from Mr Pot Belly, I met an old gentleman who headed me in English and wanted to know which country I was from. Look guys, I was dressed in kurta and jeans just like any other self respecting Indian intellectual. The only difference was that I just had my bath. Was this some sort of scam where these guys lower your defences by softening you up comparing you to a gora and then try to sell you hasish and  a boat ride? Having learnt early on in my travels never to underestimate the ingenuities my countrymen were capable of, I gave him the cold blank expression befitting a French drug addict.

A very short train journey

'GE-1' misspelled the sms from IRCTC. So I  walked into G-1 compartment and confidently parked my ass there.  Another half an hour for the Garib Rath to Delhi to take off.  I decided to go for a stroll. Just 10 minutes before departure I return to find a seductively smiling bhabhiji occupying my seat. She cooed that 69 was her number and that GE-1 was a different compartment altogether. Shell shocked by this revelation, I hauled my luggage out and started looking for GE-1. G-1 was just behind the engine so there was just one way to go. The train seemed never ending as I walked/ran the platform. G-9,G-10....G-14, G-15...  Where was GE-1? Was it a part of the train at all or just a figment of Railway's imagination? A perfect case for Mr. Bond. Then the platform started to curve so I was not really sure whether there were any more bogies. Finally after a million miles, I see GE-1. Why shouldn't it be called G-20 since it came after G-19? Maybe the British had forbidden more than 19 bogeys from being named to a train and this was Indian Railway's ingenious way to circumvent the law.

An elderly hair dyed Auntyji immediately pounced on me seeing I had the coveted LB( Lower Berth). Since nodding my head and saying yes involved the least exertion, I did just that. Thankfully her berth was the middle one, just above mine, so I didn't have to climb to Mount Everest which was the height of the Upper Berth. The TTE (Train Ticket Examiner) came at the ungodly hour of 10:30pm to check tickets. I was really tired and was looking forward to a good night's rest.

indian garib rath
The inside view of a Garib Rath coupe

The next thing I know my blanket is being pulled down and a torch is being shoved at my face. Thinking that either it's a hold up or rape attempt I go for the wallet hoping to pacify the attacker whatever his intentions, with money. I just wanted some sleep. But no this was the TTE asking Auntyji to get down at my stop. I tell him in a gruff voice that my name is Bond and I'm not Auntyji for Christ's sake ! He slithers away and I notice that Auntyji has already vacated my LB so I shift down. The time dear friends :1:30 am.

A couple of hours later the incident is repeated except that this time I don't use the Bond line but the choiciest Hindi expletives at Mr. A.K Singh the TTE villian. More like A.K 47 if you ask me and no where near fancy as Dr. NO. He slithers off again with no reaction and I lie awake the rest of the night anticipating the next intrusion. But all that happens to break the monotony of the rocking train is somebody yelling that their phone has been stolen in the wee hours of the morning.

Tunganath - A Himalayan trek Part 2

The next morning we got up early to catch the 7:30 bus to Chopta. This is the only bus to Chopta for the entire day so if you miss this, you have to shell out 2 grand as taxi fare to reach Chopta. The bus stops right outside GMVN and you can actually see it climbing laboriously from the other side of the valley. Chopta is an assortment of shops and lodges that serve as the base for the trek to Tunganath, the highest Shiva temple in the world. The ride between Ukhimath and Chopta has to be one of the best rides in india. The road was freshly tarred and tall pine trees stood in majestic silence en route. It felt like one long journey through never ending  forest. There is little traffic and if you can haul a cycle up there somehow, this ride is highly recommended.

On the way to Tungnath

Paved pathway

A sight for the Gods !

Tunganath at 12,000 feet is just 4 km from Chopta. You will be entertained with amazing vistas of the Himalayas en route on a clear day. It is the easiest temple access wise on the Panch Kedar circuit. Since we had munched on our quota of aloo parota at GMVN we just had tea at one of the numerous dhabas  and headed out. After an exhilarating climb made more fun by running up ‘short cuts’ we reached Tunganath in quick time.

Tungnath Temple

The accommodation in Tunganath is mostly dormitory. The Kedarnath Badrinath Mandir samithi has nice rooms but they are usually ‘booked by a party from Delhi’ who always fail to show up. We were holed up in Hotel Soorya (in reality a shack!) , a double room with attached toilet, a luxury, for a princely sum of 500/-. As usual we were strongly persuaded to purchase thalis to please Tungnathji. The thalis contain assorted bizarre items to ‘please the lord’ and a priest chants mantras to make sure that  your son/daughter/parents/neighbours are all ‘taken care of’. These offerings contains plastic as well which are dumped just outside the temple . Sad !

Waste outside the temple

We declined this opportunity to please the lord and instead tried to sit inside for sometime. Luckily for us it was a quiet period during the day and for a couple of hours we just sat there enjoying the silence. Where there are devotees in large numbers, there  are Pandas or priests whose sole aim in life is the money in your wallet. I’ve heard that Tunganath had just one priest not so long ago but now to cope with increasing tourist footfall ,there are at least half a dozen. They are all very keen that you buy the‘thali meals’. A shame coz this is a place of meditation, contemplation and silence. The pandas yap away when they are not busy looting devotees so you need to be a good meditator to shut out the noise and focus on the divine vibes. Unfortunately this problem is not exclusive to Tungnath, it’s there in every big popular temple in the Himalayan region. If only these guys devoted some time to their personal sadhana  they would see at what a special place they are privileged to stay at.

Sunset at Tungnath

R is certainly feeling the chill factor !

The evening aarti was simple and by six the sun had set in a blaze of glory. The chill was setting in and like all self respecting yogis we dived under the rajais (thick quilts). We had dinner later at night and washed our hands with ice. It felt that way, whenever contact with water was made.

Sunrise over Tungnath

The cold felt so bad that we continued with the rajai sadhana and opted to miss out on the morning trek to Chandrashila, a nearby peak, for viewing sunrise. We started our journey back to Chopta  early as we had to catch the only bus to Mandal that would leave at 9. We visited the temple for a final darshan and meditation. I took an instant liking to a panda who had come running to the temple in the morning as soon as the doors were opened. My eyes filled up as I thanked God for showing me at least one sincere priest. All was not lost in this kali yug after all ! However when I went inside the temple I realized that Mr. Panda had rushed there because his devotees had already arrived with the thalis.  He was all smiles screaming Sanskrit mumbo jumbo and invoking the God’s blessings. One could literally see Rupee signs in his eyes like they show in cartoons ! Later I saw Mr. Panda celebrating his latest conquest with a beedi in one of the adjoining dhabas.

For more pictures click here