Archive for July, 2005

Massive Mount San Antonio- or Old Baldy if you prefer- is the grand climax of the 50-mile backbone of the San Gabriels. No other peak in the range rises to challenge its 10,064′ elevation. From its summit you look over a good part of Souther California- an expanse of mountain, desert and coastal lowland. On those rare days when haze does not muddy the atmosphere, the hiker on its boulder-strewn top can make out the tawny ramparts of the Southern High Sierra, 160 miles distant.

-From the guidebook “100 Hikes in the San Gabriels”

I’ve been wanting to climb Baldy for a while, and so jumped at it when a friend suggested we do it. Plans were made and changed, a date fixed, and on Sunday- Chaitanya, Mladen and I set out on a hike to the peak.

We decided to do a loop, take the shorter, steeper path to the top(4.5 miles, 3800′ elevation gain) and the longer path down. We left at 7-45 in the morning, and started on the trail proper at around 9.

The trail was beautiful, probably the best I have encountered yet in these mountains. It wasn’t difficult technically, but was by no means gentle and had the most breathtaking views. But what made things perfect was the weather – it was cloudy with a light mist that made the surroundings pretty without obstructing the view. And best of all it wasn’t hot at all.

We climbed reasonably fast- took about 2 and 1/2 hours to reach the peak, a respectable 1500′ gain per hour. I stopped quite often and played with my camera. Tried wide aperture in mist, and exposure compensation and all that. I really like the manual control options my camera has and I am getting better at using them. I have actually stopped using ‘Auto’ altogether.

It was great to reach the peak! Here is an excited Chaitanya-

After a while we started out descent. The route was different, but no less scenic.

And then the weather changed. Rain drops started falling, and soon a full-fledged thunderstorm started. Mladen and I decided that the feel of water on skin was an appealing idea and took of our shirts(Chaitanya kept his on). And then all three of us had the idea of running down. We ran the remaining four miles in hard rain and must have looked like lunatics to the few people who were using the ski-lift. Finally we reached the car an hour later, drenched, exhausted, and having had a rollicking time.

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Isn’t it reasonable that the expression of the most intense emotions, the most powerful feelings should lead to good art? No, dear reader, it usually leads to bad writing. A hotchpotch, a conglom of crap. You wish it would move her, but it doesn’t, and how can it, when it doesn’t even move you when you have stopped crying?

Yet, how I wish that the purest cry, like that of the phoenix, might lead to song, beautiful and whole!

Love. The Scottish highlands. Yes, the Scottish highlands. Music…associations..no words to express.

Except cryptic nonsense.

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On a stream of consciousness from my last post…one of Robert Frost’s best poems

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

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Has the world ever seen a phenomenon like Harry Potter? There are a million theories -spanning the whole gamut from writing skills to ingenious marketing- about what makes the series so mindbogglingly popular. Personally, I stand for the simplistic view that they are just outstanding books. Massive popularity quite often signals mediocrity- not in the case of HP. But then again, I am hopelessly biased. Like Fitzgerald, Polanski and Hardy, Harry Potter is mine in a unique way. Yet, somewhere over the four years since I read my first Potter, I have lost something. Call it growing up, if you wish. But I am getting ahead of my story; let me start at the beginning.

It all started in the spring of 2001. There were a couple of months left for the IIT entrance examination, and yeah, of course I had heard of Harry Potter. I knew it was a ridiculously popular children’s book, and I considered myself a fairly sophisticated reader and didn’t think it worth my while to read it. It was due to one of my friends’ repeated and extravagant praise that I finally deigned to try one out. It was book III- The prisoner of Azkaban.

It was brilliant, better than anything I had expected. As soon as I finished it, I made frantic phone calls to my friends to get my hand on the remaining Potters. Within a week I had read book I and book IV. Book II proved more difficult to find, but I finally discovered that M had it, and she lent me her copy to read during during the olympiad training camp.

Oh, the heady days of first love! I read the books again and again, and I remember telling my mom, and meaning it, that at that moment everything came second to the pleasure of being a part of J K Rowling’s magical world. If a new Harry Potter book were to come out out that day, I would have dropped anything, aye, even the most important exam in the world, and read it first.

It was not just the fact that they were such wonderful reads. It was something more than that- J K Rowling’s books had moments that lifted them to the very greatest works of art ever created. Like in book III, when Harry, Ron and Hermione travel back in time, and in an astonishing climax, Harry realizes that it was not his father by the lake, but himself, and that gives him the confidence to produce a real Patronus. And who else but Rowling could have thought of a creature like the dementor(possibly her greatest invention) that sucks the happiness out of people? Or written a passage as powerful and moving as the final clash of book IV, when Harry fights Voldemort, and the latter’s victims come out of his wand, and they are dead, but they urge Harry to fight on… Indeed, what made Harry Potter unique was the combination of brilliant ideas, magical adventures, and the intermingling of universal themes like love, friendship and death (or the core of ‘morality’ if you prefer, but I have always disliked that word).

Yes, I had, in a way, discovered Harry Potter, made him my own. Of course that is a ridiculous statement, in view of the sheer number of HP readers, yet I felt that I had seen things no one else had. To me, J K Rowling was a genius, and I was her greatest fan.

The wait between Book IV and Book V seemed interminable. And when it came out I read it almost non-stop! Oh the pleasure of being back back with Harry and his friends! To read of Dumbledore again, the greatest wizard that ever lived! Yet, in some ways, Book V was a bit of a letdown. It was too long, nothing really happened. The final confrontation did not have the charm of the confrontation of book IV. Still, it was Harry Potter.

And then came book VI. It released yesterday, and I finished reading it today morning. It is excellent, even darker than its two predecessors and almost as good as books III and IV. It is also the most epic of all the Harry Potters yet, and certainly the most devastating. I shall not say anything more of the plot, for I don’t wish to give out spoilers.

Yet, something had changed.

Harry Potter V and VI did not make me feel the way I felt, four summers back, when I read the first four books. Yes, they were excellent reads indeed, but somewhere, something got lost. Now, they are just ‘books’ for me. Harry’s world is just a well constructed literary invention. I am still a great fan, and when HP VII releases I will get hold of a copy as soon as I can even if I have to fight a thousand centaurs- but the fervent, almost religious love is no more.

Is it the books that have changed, or is it me? Certainly the books have been getting progressively darker, indeed book VI feels almost unrecognisable when compared to book I. But I have always loved darkness…and book IV was dark too, and I adored it, especially its final passages. Perhaps David Kipen of the San Francisco Chronicle hits closer to the mark :”It’s not that ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ is dull, exactly. … No, the main problem is that J.K. Rowling has now written six of these bricks. Even if they were getting better, they’re certainly not getting any fresher.” And also, it is true that none of the new inventions of Books V and VI have appealed to me as much as some of the ones- like dementors, time turners, unforgivable curses, Ron playing wizard chess- from the first four books.

Or maybe it is is just me, who has grown up. My tastes have certainly changed. Many books and movies I absolutely adored, even five years back, I don’t care for so much now. Or perhaps- and it is a scary thought- I have grown up too much to have such a fervent love for anything. Or maybe it has nothing to do with the books or me changing, it is just that any such love comes with an expiry date, like most relationships do.

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1. Once upon a time, I thought tidbits was spelt tit-bits. P corrected me.

2. I am hearing ‘Bheegey hont tere’ right now. There is something so intensely romantic about this song…and it affects me in a way I cannot adequately describe. It has the chill factor for me, and the line – Kabhie mere saath koi raat guzar,tujhe subah tak mein karu pyar..- I don’t find it corny at all, but sublime! Maybe it is the associations…

3. Harry Potter 6 releases tomorrow. Need anything more be said?

4. It is strange how so many people prefer female bodies that look like they have been starving for a month. I mean..they look like rickety wooden  dolls, how can anyone dream of having sex with them? A beautiful woman is curvy and voluptuous. Period.

5. This is an excerpt from Roman Polanski’s autobigraphy. “I am widely regarded, I know, as an evil, profligate dwarf. My friends – and the women in my life – know better.” Yes, I know better too, Roman. Because I love your work.

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It is summer, and there’s not much to do. In other words, there is plenty of opportunity to feel sad.

I suppose it is a season of dementors. They glide into you and take control, and sometimes they do their job so well that you think you’ll never be happy again. But eventually they let you go, they always do. When I was younger I didn’t know that, and once had the terrifying suspicion that they were never going to go away. I tried to express my fears into mediocre poetry, which, taking advantage of the reader’s patience, I reproduce below.


Lips trembling, face burning, heart pumping;
The forces of id work relentlessly to overthrow
reason from this temple – A strange unnatural heat
spreads through the body like a spirit freed;
Turbulence in the soul, sweat in the brow
And vague senses of doom in the ears ring.


Man’s worst enemy is at work, wrecking vengeance
On his conscious; Making me fear – anticipation
of something that is perceived to be killing
brings with it a poison far more galling
than what it seeks to analyze – And makes me shun
my most creative tool as greatest foe-my subconscious.

-written by me sometime in the year 2000. 

Yet, there is Mozart.

He makes me happy. He has this incredible capacity to drive away the dementors by the beauty of his music. He makes me think of pretty flowers and tender leaves, green vales and lofty mountains. He shows me all that is beautiful in the world and fills me with love.

This post should end here, but I just remembered something slightly unrelated. Once, after one of those moments of utter happiness granted by music- I was hearing Mozart and Salil Chowdhury- I wrote to someone:

“If I had to spend a lifetime on a desert island,
Three things would I ask
Mozart, Salil Choudhury, and Math
Yeah, that, and no more.”

To which she wrote back( and if you know her you’d know why it was the best possible reply):

If I had to spend a lifetime on a desert island,
I would ask to retain my imagination,
with the added quality that I not need anything real,
to project my imagination onto. “

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