Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Good Ol' Kokan :)

It's surprising how easily one can lead a double life. There I was on campus, staying up every night till the cows started going out again, and hogging anything remotely edible at any time, including nthe almost ritualistic feast every night at 2 before the NC closed. I was dreading the prospect of going crazy with hunger at odd times during my visit home after the term exams. But I went back to my old routine without any trace of the old habits. Sleeping at around or before midnight, and eating like a normal human being at normal times. Adaptation makes life so much easier.

30th September, and my time in Pune was up. It had been, as life has been over the last few years, an absolute roller coaster of a time. In the end, I am neither regretting going back to Kampus, nor particularly looking forward to it. Kampus is good for my morale though; the never ending list of things to be done ensures that I don't wallow in depression and self-pity which I have an unerring tendency to veer towards given half a chance. The coming semester and particularly the coming month promises to bring new extremes of craziness and sleep debt. With summers round the corner and the economy reaching new extremes of unpreditability, it's going to be a high pressure month. Add to it the fact that this semester is finance heavy, and you quickly start looking forward to the next term break.

After falling in love with Kozhikode and Kerala and shouting from the roof-tops that its the most beautiful place in the world, Maharashtra, and particularly the Konkan region made me think twice about that proclaimation. I've always found the Western Ghats and Kokan extremely beautiful, but I'd thought that the praise that it sometimes got was a bit more than appropriate. How wrong I was. I'd never seen it during its best, and it was an experience which left me gasping. Minutes after the train pulled out from Panvel station, I was staring outside the window with my mouth half open, as landscape after stunning landscape passed by. I'd forgotten how maginificent a look the Sahyadris adorn at the end of the monsoons, in the end of September and the beginning of October. The grass is at its tallest and greenest, and any small, large or humongous open piece of land is covered by those ubiquitious yellow flowers, the name of which I know but always tend to forget. Imagine this in the foreground and crisp blue skies with fluffy clouds interspersing them,throw in an odd tree or two, maybe a small hill covered with thick forest, a crystal clear stream tinkling along, and you can come close to the stunning vistas which keep coming up all over the place. It's like a kaleidoscope. Every shake and turn will bring the same old bits together, yet arranged in a never-before way.

If it's the sights and sceneries you want to see, there's a tremendous difference between traveling by rail and by road. Roads, as essential as they are, bring along with them the unavoidable bogie of 'development', in the form of more money, more commercial activity, and probably the worst of all, the cultural impact on the local populace of any and everybody passing through. In a few years, the best of places degenerate into a mess, stuck between what they were, and what they can never be, in an in-between ghastly state. People become too money-minded and stop caring for each other, without the inherent safety and the facilities which cities offer. Railways, on the other hand, stand isolated from the landscapes, other than at those few unavoidable places where they mingle with it. This difference is nowhere more stark than in Kokan, where the single rail track of the Kokan railway runs through some incredible patches of dense forest, beside small communities with little contact to the outside world, present yet lost to the people living in the area, simply due to the fact that it does little to change their way of living. I'd thought of Kokan as over-rated when I traveled through it by road. I'd say it's under-rated now that I;ve seen it by rail. I just look forward to the day, sometime in the distant future, when I jump onto a bike or into an open air vehicle and travel through it at a leisurely pace, exploring it to my heart's content.

The single track meant that the train kept stopping frequently to allow other trains traveling on the opposite direction to pass. As frustrating as this can become after a while, it was a blessing in disguise, as we stopped at the tiniest of stations, ones which did not even have a road elading upto them. One such station became a favourite the moment I saw it. Ukshi station was made up of a single platform nestled between 2 tall hills with long tunnels. A small waterfall descended onto the ground on the side opposite the platform. A dense thicket of plantains had conquered the space immediately outside the station, as if informing man in unequivocal terms that this was nature's territory, where he was but a tolerated guest. It was a stunning sight, the late afternoon sun streaming over the mountain top and lighting up the small valley. I hope Kokan railway runs local trains (ones which stop at every station on the way) on this route - it would be a fantastic way to explore this route.

Traveling by train has always made me very philosophical. There's something about train travel which makes me think, think deep about life and the place I am in it. I've always been a sucker for symbolism, and this train journey was the most appropriate way to describe life as it currently is. Stunning landscapes suddenly rolled into dark, never-ending tunnels without the taken-for-granted light at the end being visible most of the time. One moment, I was thinking about how happy I was in the stunning views unfolding in front of me, the next, I was staring at the stone cold, stark, concrete slabs at the base of the tunnel we were passing through, wondering at the dark mess life was.

Evening descended quickly, and soon the beauty of the world outside was lost to me in a blanket of darkness. It was time to entertain myself with more artificial pleasures, and wait for the next day, when episode 2 of the MBA experience would start unfolding, an episode much dreaded by people who've been there and done that. Semester 2, they say, is the watershed of b-schooling, it tells you how tough you are and what you can take and continue moving ahead. With a bit of trepidation but little hesitancy, I look forward to the last quarter of 2008, a year which has changed my life in ways I'd never imagined, good, bad and ugly. Whether there were (more) twists in the tail, only time would tell, but I hope that life leaves me alone and at peace for a change and derives its pleasures from some less sadistic means!

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