Posts Tagged ‘Bangalore’

I hurtled around the two hundred metre track, as if my life was at stake. I had run two laps and there were eight more to go. There were fifty other competitors with me. And all of us were running under a scorching Bangalore Sun. Some like Hares and some like Tortoises. Eventually the Hares gave up one by one, a few at
lap number three, a few more at lap number four and a few, two or three laps later. But some of the Tortoises were gathering momentum. This was ‘do or die’.

The conditions were terrible. The weather was teasingly hot. The track was all sand. The dust repeatedly swirled into my eyes and nostrils. I sneezed and ran and then sneezed, sneezed and ran. My lungs were about to burst. My legs were about to be swallowed by the earth below. But I chugged along. Determined to breast the tape. I wasn’t going to give up. Never.

Six days prior to the race, I entered the “Nat Geo Everest Se Takkar” Contest. I saw the Contest telephone number being advertised on Television. I had tried calling the number a few times earlier, but never got through. This time I wasn’t going to give up. So I tried once more. A beautiful female voice
answered. I was told that it was the last day. Whew! Lady luck was smiling on me. It was a simple enough Tele Quiz. I answered correctly and three days later, saw an e-mail congratulating me on making it to the second round. My day had come. My dreams of climbing Mount Everest with the Indian Army, was no more on the distant horizon. It was at my doorstep and I wasn’t going to miss out on this mammoth opportunity. Especially after my application to an Everest Base Camp trek was turned down ten days earlier, by a prominent trekking organization, as the allotted seats were full.

Much before the appointed time, I was standing in a queue outside the playground where the event was schedule to start. I glanced ahead of me. There were thousands passionately waiting. Then I looked behind me. There were hundreds more joining the queue, by the second. We were scheduled to compete in five
rounds and each of them was an elimination round. At the end of the fifth round, five contestants from the thousands who had turned up would have been selected from Bangalore. They would then be joined by five each from Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. A seven day rigorous training program would then follow and the best five would accompany the Indian Army to the Everest Base Camp.

The atmosphere was electrifying. I let my eyes wander. Almost everybody was chatting about the event that would begin in the next few minutes. Thankfully a participant –standing before me – and I got into an animated discussion about Iraq and the hostile tactics of Gorge Bush and Tony Blair. Suddenly, the gates
flew open and we were sent in one by one. After the mandatory registration procedures, we were all given chest numbers and divided into groups of fifty. The first event of the day – and the second round – was a ten lap race around a two hundred metre track.

So there I was running around the track, huffing and puffing. Thoughts of giving up the race after the third round hastened in and out of my mind. That’s when Haile Gebrechalidze, the famous Moroccan middle distance runner’s image came flirting across and flapped those thoughts away. No! I wasn’t going to give up. I was definitely going to qualify for the next round and all the other rounds after that, and find my way to the Everest Base Camp with the Indian Army. After a few minutes, I panted past the finish line and crashed into the bosom of the burning ground below. I knew I had qualified. Because the National Geographic Channel’s cameramen zoomed in with their Sony Cameras to film me struggling to catch my breath. After all I was doing middle distance running some fifteen years after I had hung up my athletic boots.

From over a thousand, the contestants were now pruned down to one hundred and forty. The third round was an obstacle course or the web round. Where groups of fifteen were asked to stand on one side of a giant nylon spider’s web, ease themselves through the holes in the web, and reach the other side without
touching the nylon chords. The group with the maximum number of contestants reaching the other side in fifteen minutes would be the winner. There were hues and cries. Cheers and jeers. Shouts and screams. It was crazy out there. Soon, the whistle blew and the competition came to a halt. While a few of the groups
had seven and some had eight members on the other side of the nylon web, my group had none. We were distraught and disappointed, albeit only for a few seconds. Because when the judges announced the list of contestants for the next round, I was in that list and almost seven other members of my group had also
qualified. I was amazed. The decision was based not on the number of group members who reached the other side of the giant web, but in terms of camaraderie, leadership skills, teamwork and a whole lot of other skills.

The fourth round was a Psychometric test and a personal interview round. The contestants had now been trimmed to just seventy five. From over a thousand in the morning, this was amazing. And I was among the fortunate few. Whew!

After almost an hour and a half, the Psychometric test and the personal interview round was over and done with and I nervously awaited the results. One that would send me into the final round to be held the next day, where the final five would be selected to join the fifteen from the other three metros. I could
see many a fingernail biting the dust. I could feel a legion of butterflies in many a stomach. I could hear the chirping of birds gently ceasing. And just then I saw the Sun gently disappearing into the distant horizon. It was twilight.

Soon the successful chest numbers were being called out. The cameras began rolling. This was my moment. Everest was going to be mine in a few days. And I would be seen on the National Geographic Channel, April onwards. I wasn’t overconfident. It was just that I had a gut feel that I would make it. There
were a lot of cheers as the successful contestants got up and went on to stand on a specially erected stage. From seventy five we were told that the contestants were being pruned to almost half. My heart beats began galloping. Even its decibels increased alarmingly. The numbers continued to be called out.
The cheers rose to a crescendo. There were five more to go. Then four. Then three. Then two. My number had still not showed up. I bowed my head and prayed.

“Please Lord; I want to climb Mt. Everest. Please make it happen. Please. I’ll break a hundred and one coconuts. I promise. I’ll go on a pilgrimage to Nasik. I promise. I’ll roll around your place of worship a hundred times singing praises in your name. I promise. But just make this dream of mine come true. Please
Lord. Just make this dream of mine come true.”

The last number was called out. A short, scrawny young man jumped out of his seat and raced to join the other successful contestants. The cheers reached gargantuan proportions. I was devastated. How could I have missed the bus? How could Mt. Everest not be mine? I sat there with a few others who didn’t make it.
Most of them immediately left the playground. But I refused to vacate my seat. It was as if a tube of glue had been pasted to my chair. It was nerve-wracking. Darkness had set in by now. I waited for a while, then walked to the organizer and asked him to check whether my number had been missed out by a quirk of fate. He peered through his laptop, then looked up and said:

“Sorry Sir! Your number is not in the final list.”

Even the faintest of hope that had engulfed me, now lay shattered. I picked up my broken pieces, gathered my belongings and trudged out of the playground with a weary shoulder and a heart full of woe. Everest was a distant dream.

I reached home, took a hot shower and plonked myself on the couch in front of the idiot box. The India-Zimbabwe World Cup cricket match was on. My mind raced back to the eventful day. So what if I hadn’t made it to Mt. Everest? So what? Will I sit around for EVER and REST? Never! My dream would come true someday. Just then the phone rang.

“Can I speak to Mr. Narayanan Vincent?” asked the thick male voice with a lot of concern.
“Speaking” I replied, wearily.
“Sir, I am calling from the Youth Hostels Association of India. This is regarding the trek to Everest Base Camp you had applied for a few days ago…”
“Sir, I am happy to inform that you have been included in the list of twenty trekkers.”
“WHAT!” I almost screamed.
“Yes Sir! There was a last minute withdrawal of one participant. So I immediately fitted you in.”

I could not believe my eyes. I stood there with the receiver in my hands. Stunned, Stumped and Shaken.

Copyright © 2003 by Narayanan G. Vincent – All rights reserved.


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We first met when we were toddlers. He used to be extremely quiet, never known to using up his energies like I did. And as we grew up in two different geographies, we drifted away. Then came the first break in the ice. My father suggested that we kids go over to where our cousins lived, some 190 kilometers away from the Chennai where we had our residence, and spend the summer holidays with them. I guess he thought that we were becoming a bit of a nuisance and so decided to pack us off. But we did not realise that this would become almost an annual exercise. Nevertheless my brothers and I jumped in glee. This was the first time, we were being sent out of town ever since we grew out of our underwear.

That’s when I met him again, after so many years. He had an elder brother and a younger sister. Actually they were my nephews and niece. Their mother was my first cousin. But due to the disparity in our ages, we children generally introduced ourselves as cousins, and not as uncles and nephews. Though he was
younger to me by a good two years, we mirthfully got along well. He was more intelligent than his elder brother who was a year older to me. But because we were all of the same age, we went out together, played together, prayed together, had our meals together and slept the night together. There was a
wonderful manifestation of camaraderie between the five of us boys all the time. My niece, being a girl, was the odd one out. She would almost always be found cooking with a bunch of tiny wooden utensils using sand, water and leaves as the main ingredients. Some days it used to be her alone and a few other days, her friends would join her in the cooking feast.

While my niece cooked, we boys would bring the house down, jumping from the terrace onto the Chickoo trees, Mango trees, Neem trees and a delicate Guava tree that surrounded their house in a rather nondescript neighborhood. If we were not jumping from the terrace to the trees and from the trees to the
terrace, we would be playing ‘marbles’, ‘gilli-danda’, ‘French cricket’ and if our moods swayed or boredom got in the way, we could be seen playing ‘badminton’ with wooden table tennis rackets, that were available in plenty on the pavements in the town’s busy market place. And when we were fed up with all these games, we would most often than not play the all time favorite ‘hide and seek’. And guess where I would hide and never get caught? Up in the branches of the Mango tree. Oh! It was fun.

But the nephew I am talking about was a bit like my younger brother, quite diligent in studies. But sadly he was never into games or sport. In fact he was the only one who would hang onto the lowest branch of the Mango tree, when the rest us would swing like monkeys from the highest of highest branches. He was not the adventurous kind.

As time jetted around, my brothers and I would leave home and travel to different cities for our higher studies and work. And thus we boys got strewn around with the sands of time. But the elders on both sides faithfully kept in touch.

One day almost 10 years later, when I was working in Chennai I returned to my office after meeting a client. A colleague informed me that there was somebody waiting for me in the conference room. When I went in, I was aghast to see a skinny young gentleman perched comfortably on the leather upholstery,
leafing through a magazine. Recognition swelled on my face. It was my quiet nephew. He was working for a real estate company and had come to meet me regarding investments. I was thrilled to see him.

Thereafter we kept meeting at regular intervals, later on at his sister’s marriage, and further on at his elder brother’s marriage. The last was during my marriage. And every time I met him he continued to be the same skinny man I knew. At the same time his real estate business was becoming better and better
and he was gradually transforming himself into a young tycoon. I was glad. That was when his mother, my cousin, started scouting around for a suitable girl for him.

In October 2001, I had relocated to Bangalore. I got a call saying that he had been admitted at the Cancer Hospital in Chennai for Cancer of the Pancreas. I was devastated. I rushed from Bangalore. I found him lying on the hospital bed, all skin and bones. I was aghast. Tears swelled in my eyes. He smiled at me. I pushed the tears back, and went and gently sat down next to him.

Apparently, it all started with a simple stomach pain and constipation a month earlier in September. The local doctor in the town they lived treated him twice. But when the pain kept forging its way back, the doctor decided to take an X-ray. Doubtful of what he saw, my quiet nephew was asked to consult at this
famous Cancer Hospital in the Chennai. That’s where the specialist doctors attending on him detected stomach cancer. Soon many thousands of rupees disappeared down the drain. But gradually the treatment seemed to be coming alive. And two months later he was sent home.

A few months later when I met him, he was walking around, going to the movies with our other relatives and life seemed to be coming back to him. But he continued to look like the bag of bones I first saw on the hospital bed. That worried me. But I carried that worry close to myself and never discussed it with
anybody else.

A few weeks later, I got a call saying that he had once again been admitted at the Cancer Hospital after the pain in his stomach resurfaced again. Scans and X-ray’s were once again taken, but nothing came to light. So they decided to cut his bust open to see what the problem was. There was a thin cancerous film that
had engulfed his body from his abdomen and right up to his neck. The doctors were dismayed. They closed his body and told his family that the cancer was very advanced and that his days were numbered and nothing could be done about it. He was given two weeks to live.

Two days later when I saw my quiet nephew, he was very cheerful. Apparently he had been told that the medications would take a long time to heal and that he would have to bear with the pain and agony that came with the illness. But in the dark corner of his eye, I knew he did not believe one word of what had been told to him. And from the same dark corner of his eye, I knew he was ready to go. Only he didn’t say it. He remained quiet all the time.

When he had survived the two weeks, his family was asked to take him home. Relatives and friends came from near and far. Days rolled into weeks. And weeks rolled into months. On one of my visits to Chennai – where his family had decided to temporarily take shelter and stay, on account of the continued
treatment – I called on him. He was delighted to see me. My mind raced back as we cracked jokes and talked about the old times. It all seemed like yesterday that we were playing ‘marbles’, ‘gilli-danda’ and jumping from the trees and playing ‘hide and seek’. And now here he was lying on a naked bed, beside a
naked chair, that sat in a naked house, with naked windows and waiting for his departure from this world. Ah! How cruel could life be?

Some three hours later as I decided to leave, he held my hands and said:
“Remember how you ran away from our home after quarreling with my elder brother and how I came looking for you with your younger brother? I will never forget that day. I found you, you know. That was an incredible game of ‘hide and seek’ we played, isn’t it?”

I couldn’t believe that he still remembered this little incident after all these years and the unimaginable part was that he made that little incident look like a game – as if I was hiding and he was seeking me out. As tears swelled in his mother’s eyes, I hurriedly walked out saying that I’ll be back soon. That night I took the train and went back to Bangalore where I lived. Three days later, at eleven in the night on December 23, I received a call saying that he had passed away and that the funeral was to be held the next day at 11 a.m.

I took the 6.30 morning train. Having traveled by this train a number of times, I knew that this train was in the habit of checking in late, every time. I hoped and prayed and believed that the train would reach Chennai without any delay at 12 p.m., for that was the prescribed time of arrival. And I also hoped and prayed and believed that I would get to see the body before my quiet nephew was laid to rest.

Miraculously, the train was on time. But the city was being battered by a cyclonic storm. I rushed out, hailed an auto-rickshaw and asked the driver to take me to the cemetery, which was some 15 minutes away from Central Station. I was fervently praying that they do not bury him and that I somehow got to see him. Suddenly, the engine of the auto-rickshaw chugging through a river that used to be a street coughed and died. My heart died too. But my mind sputtered. I jumped out, paid the driver his fare, hailed another auto-rickshaw and raced through the rivers that had flooded this concrete jungle.

As I sailed into the cemetery, believe it or not, I could see from afar, the coffin still resting in the well of the Chapel, as if waiting for my arrival. The last rites had been delayed because of the deluge that had filled the burial ground. But just as I finished paying my last respects, the rain stopped and a few minutes later we buried him. He was only 29.

As I stood there, watching the earth swallow him gently, it looked as though he was playing a new version of hide and seek. A version where he had gone into hiding and one in which I would seek him out when my turn came.

Copyright © 2003 by Narayanan G. Vincent – All rights reserved.

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