7 Men and 1 Woman – Rocking it in London!

International Women’s Day is looming, and GRIN has something very special lined up to mark the day. But before that, here’s a story I love to tell, and it’s about men! It’s about a trip I went on, where I was the only hapless woman, unwittingly ‘stuck’ with seven men! And what I got to see are sides to men we women might not acknowledge exists! Without much ado, here’s the story – in all its glory!

The year – 2006

Six of us – four men and two women had won a prestigious award and as a part of the award, we were getting to go on a study tour to London, no less for seven whole days. Of course I was excited. The trip was to a phoren land after all!

In my flurry to beg and borrow clothes, camera, warm wear, and other thingies one needed for a foreign trip, I quite forgot to get acquainted with my fellow awardees. I had met them all during the awards ceremony and then we all went about our job of getting ready for the trip. Two days before travel, I got to know that my sole lady co-awardee had opted out of coming owing to a personal problem. So there I was – with seven men (including the three persons from the organization sponsoring us). I wasn’t prudish or anything; rather other worries plagued me. Who would go shopping with me? I couldn’t after all shop for lingerie and cosmetics with men accompanying me. Would they know the difference between nude lipstick and otherwise, or padded or not? Out of question! And what if I needed to speak about my myriad health issues? Back pain, cramps and what not?

But it was too late so I decided to grin and bear it! I wasn’t going to compromise a trip to LONDON because of a flimsy reason such as this. My colleagues were all ‘boys’ in a sense. They were all much younger than me, and I think chivalry comes naturally to men when they see an older woman!

The next week saw me being made ‘one of the boys’ very quickly, even while recognizing that I needed just that wee bit of extra support when it came to setting foot on escalators that went to dizzying heights, or to slowing down their pace of walking just to ensure I could keep pace.  And all this with gracious acceptance and not condescension, “Oh, she’s a woman, give her a break.” Over the next week, I was pampered, coddled and treated like fragile china! I came back with my opinion about men taking a huge upward spiral. But enough about me. Meet them…

  1. Biju Mathew – All India Radio – he collects awards with prolific ease and I’ve lost count of how many he has won after we returned.
  2. Rajeet Sinha – Currently Press Advisor to a high-profile MP, but still exudes the same warmth and affection and humility whenever we speak.
  3. S Nagarathinam – effortlessly added on a PhD and a son to his portfolio after we returned and currently heads the Communications Department of a renowned university.
  4. Sanjeev Sharma – All India Radio – hasn’t aged a bit since I last saw him but I’ve kind of lost touch with him.
  5. Jacob John – I’ve lost touch but I’m sure he can never change. Lovely, lovely human.
  6. Khorrum Omer – Ditto. But I do see him on TV occasionally.
  7. Savyasaachi Jain – The BIG BOSS.

I have names for all of them.

The Wall (a la Dravid) Biju – solid, soft-spoken.  Took copious notes unobtrusively at all meetings.  I could sense a whopper of a story, or several stories in the making. He proved it on his return with all the awards he’s collected.

The Buzzzzzy bee Rajeet – here, there, everywhere.  Knew the tube lines inside out.  Assumed the role of gentle leader in no time.  Chased stories with the vigour of a seasoned newshound who knew the value and the volatility of TRPs and was committed to do his bit to make them spin.  Packed in 28 hours into a 24-hour day.

Waterman Sanjeev – affable, quiet, unflappable.  A very endearing mixture of fun and serious intent.  Mischief shone through his eyes.  Why Waterman?  He had the lovely quality of water about him and fit the vessel he was in.

Superstar Nagi – Hmm… found scoops lurking around every corner.  He found Tiruvalluvar wrapped in a shawl sitting in statuesque splendour under a tree in the University College of London.  He found Gandhi tucked away in a park.  He visited the Tamil BBC and walked away from there triumphantly holding a BBC diary like a war trophy.  Brought a smile to the Tamilians working in a store by talking to them in Tamil and giving them a taste of home.  Nagi and his camera were inseparable.  And he wanted himself in all his pictures.  We all ended up as near-professional photographers attempting to catch him in the myriad poses he wanted!!!

Jacob? Willing to learn, to participate and yet not pushy, or abrasive.  Great to have around.

Saachi – the long-haired genial boss! He had the London A-Z and the tube map in his head.  Even though he referred to it desultorily sometimes, one knew he did not need to.  Like a sure-footed antelope he set a dizzying pace that I at least went blue in the face trying to keep up with.  Many a time I found myself lagging behind.

Khorrum – always at hand to help. Silent, strong, dependable. Had all kinds of useful tips having been to London more than once.

To my utter horror, I once found myself setting up easy conversation with a long-haired individual in jeans and jacket, to whose back I spoke about the weather etc.  Only when the individual (a woman as it turned out), turned round and looked at me strangely did I realise I had detached from the group.  Huffed and panted my way back just in time to catch the tube with them. And they were all huddled together and watching me, giggling all the time!

A truly unforgettable experience. Especially when I once realized I had left behind my folder, notes and all at a bus stop and Rajeet ran back almost a whole kilometre just to retrieve it!

But this is not just a travel memoir or about singing paeans to my male friends. This trip in many ways changed my perceptions about men. The reason I enjoyed the trip immensely is because while I was with them they did not make me once feel I was different from them. Except perhaps when they mysteriously disappeared every evening to do ‘men’ things. After all they were in London – the land of pubs and nightclubs and all sorts of sensory pleasures! It is to their credit that they made me feel completely at ease – give me seven men like these any time and I will begin to believe there are no other kind in the world – that misogyny, patriarchy and male dominance are figments of female minds. More strength to them!

P.S. We still keep in touch over Facebook and other ways and on every ‘anniversary’ flood each other with memories and photographs, some of which are featured here!

Bharathi Ghanashyam

 

 

 

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Special people – their warts and beauty spots

I’ve had occasion to meet several celebrities – big and small in the course of my work and personal life. My impressions about them have been mixed – some have been lovely to be with, some have exasperated and yet others have left me ambiguous. This post is not meant to either judge or denigrate/venerate them. Like us, they’re just humans at the end of the day – we live in our worlds which are possibly simpler to live in, and they live in their somewhat more complex worlds and yet, some of them are so real. This post is to simply share with the reader, little known sides to them.

The Common Man

Who else but Late R K Laxman – the creator of the iconic Common Man? There was nothing common about him though; rather he was special – humble to a fault, somewhat brusque in his approach and I suspect completely intolerant with artifice or airs of any sort. I was fortunate to meet him and his gracious wife Late Kamala Laxman (a writer herself) in Bangalore in the early 2000s. He was in Bangalore to attend an exhibition of his cartoons. Despite his packed schedule, he had agreed to spend a short while with me. As it turned out, we spent over an hour together, during which he discovered our common Mysore origins and the fact that my grandfather Late Dr M V Gopalaswamy had taught him in college. Mrs Laxman won my heart with her gentle grace. Before I left, I asked Mr Laxman for his autograph and he grimaced, but in a good humoured way. Soon it became evident why. He didn’t just sign his name, he drew the Common Man and put his name below it. Obviously, it took an additional 10 minutes. But he smiled at the end of it and gave me what is still a treasured possession. Before I left, he invited me, more than once, to his event in the evening. I went, to respect his

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The Common Man – gifted as an autograph!

invitation, only to be sized up by the hostess, who (all but) screwed up her nose in distaste and asked me what on earth I was doing there, and who had invited me (I stuck out like a sore thumb among the other invitees, who were all acknowledged ‘high-society’ names of Bangalore). I mumbled that Mr Laxman had invited me. She let me in with ill-concealed disgust. My presence there was vindicated when both Mr and Mrs Laxman saw me from the dais where they were sitting and waved at me in recognition. That was the cue for me to leave, spurning the offer of drinks and little nothings to eat that were being circulated. I pointedly said bye to Miss Snooty the hostess and left, leaving her looking puzzled at me.

Music Maestros

I still remember the sunny day when I set off to meet the legends Late M Balamuralikrishna and L Subramaniam. I had been promised an interview with them, again, and had been cautioned to keep it short. I was confident that wouldn’t be a problem because being a music lover with no knowledge whatsoever on the intricacies of classical music, I knew I would run out of things to say in under five minutes. What happened was quite the opposite. Both the maestros were in an expansive mood and actually led the conversation sharing nuggets of priceless anecdotes from their professional lives with me. Balamuralikrishna spoke about the time he sang tillanas in Europe and the audience 419168_10150546391492424_1491019968_ndanced in joy. L Subramaniam spoke about how he was making music relevant for GenX. Before I knew it, I was armed with an interview rich with information, and I had hardly spoken! It was time to leave I knew, and with my heart in my mouth, I asked Balamuralikrishna if he would sing Pibare Ramarasam for me – and I waited for him to erupt in anger! Erupt he did, and how! Melodious notes gushed out of him and he sang the entire composition for me. I listened transported, scarcely realising that my eyes were moist. Kavita Krishnamurthy, wife of L Subramaniam and a renowned singer in her own right, pointed it out to my great embarrassment, and I quickly wiped my eyes and looked away. I came away feeling I had feasted on a ten-course wedding meal (moduve oota in Kannada).

Shankar Mahadevan – the happy man I call him! He is a person who doesn’t know how to frown, even if he is at the end of a 48-hour day. I was approaching him to explore whether he would agree to be the Goodwill Ambassador for The Akshaya Patra Foundation, an  organisation that I was working with. When my mail reached him he was thousands of

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The Happy Man!

miles away from India, on a hectic singing tour and yet, found time to pen a one-line reply saying Yes, I will! After that I had occasion to meet him several times – and each time I came away marveling at his ability to be child-like enthusiastic about everything he did. He felt so keenly for the cause of addressing hunger among children that his constant refrain would be – “Use me, I want to help.” He is also the ultimate romantic and his  lovely relationship with wife Sangeeta constantly amazed me. She accompanies him everywhere and sits where he can see her while singing and it is always to her that he directs his music. I moved on, and haven’t met or spoken to him in a while, but Shankar, your generosity and simplicity will always inspire me!

The revolutionary

CGK Reddy – my mentor, guide and role-model. But also a revolutionary, prime opposer of the Emergency in India, and very vocal defender of human rights. My short, very short time with him showed me that one doesn’t need a lifetime to be influenced by a person. I met him just four or five times before his unfortunate passing away, but in that short while, he made a huge difference to my life – he showed me the way to a brand new career as a writer. I will never forget his mantra – write 500 words as a discipline every day if you want to be a writer was his advice to me. The most endearing quality about him was his ability to reach out easily – as he had reached out to me, a total stranger who had written a letter to him in appreciation of his piece in the Deccan Herald. He invited me home to meet him and before I knew it, we were chatting like old friends. I never saw the other, fiery rebel side of him; I only read about his daring fight against the Emergency, and often wondered whether the genial man I knew was the same steely fighter. The cups of coffee (made to perfection by his wife Vimala) we shared, his ability to inject life and humour into conversations and his zest for life are fond memories even today. Every time I write something and cross the 500th word, I look up and remember him. There, I say, I’ve gone beyond your target CGK! As I have today!

There are so many others I must write about, but then, this piece will become very long, and go into many 500s. So I must stop here and go into another installment, another day! Granddad and Dad must wait, or I’ll be accused of nepotism!

Bharathi Ghanashyam

Someone might be reaching out to you even now – and you might not even know!

Now…

She is a young, vivacious, pretty girl, bubbling over with health and joie de vivre. A small town girl, she’s remarkably independent, holds a job, pursues higher education in her free time and loves clicking selfies and sending them to me. I unfailingly get a WhatsApp message from her before I wake up every morning and just before I go to bed every night, wishing me good morning or good night. That she takes a lot of trouble trying to source nice images on the internet is evident because they are never repeated.

A few years ago…

Emaciated, weak, unwell, gasping for every breath, depressed and hopeless – this was that day’s image of the girl I have described above. I visited and spent about an hour with her, collecting information about her condition, because I was writing a collection of stories on people suffering from TB. She was an MDR-TB patient and was on a treatment regimen which was to last for over 24 months. The medication was toxic and the side-effects were so severe she found them difficult to bear; they also made her suicidal. In the course of our meeting, she took my telephone number from me. I gave it to her almost absently and forgot about it. I went back home and life continued as usual.

In the interim…

After I returned home, the girl continued to call me regularly. She seemed to have drawn some strength from our interaction and on days that she felt very low, she reached out to me. On these occasions, she sobbed, tiring out her frail body even more. She shared her anguish and pain with me. She sometimes shared that she felt like jumping into a pool of water because her body felt it was on fire (side effects of the drugs she was taking). I confess that while I always responded to her, my responses were sometimes tertiary, distracted ones. She would catch me while I was busy or just not in a mood to speak to anyone. But it didn’t matter to her. She knew I couldn’t really do anything for her, except listen. And that’s all she wanted.

Then, finally, one day she called with a lilt in her voice, “Ma’am, I’m cured. My doctor says I don’t need any more medicines! I have gained 10 kgs and weigh 45 kgs now,” she said happily. We both celebrated this moment. She thanked me for standing by her and giving her courage, when I had in reality done nothing. I had only listened, but to her tortured mind and body, it had made a difference.

Now again…

Even now, even after she is well, every morning, regardless of whether the sun shines, or the rains come down, her messages reach me. I read them; I respond sometimes, many times I don’t.She sends me photographs of hers which tell me she has regained her lovely looks. She still seems to feel the need to stay connected and doesn’t demand I respond. She’s happy just connecting.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? I have often felt the need (I know most people do) to fill gaps in my life by connecting with people outside of my family, despite knowing they would be able to do nothing but listen. And like it was with my friend and me, the responses I got have been tertiary, distracted, or completely absent. But it was enough and I have felt comforted just opening out. That’s the way with people who reach out and those they are reaching out to. It’s almost always one-sided, and the need is always greater for the person who needs to reach out. But it helps to be available. It helps immensely.

So keep those lines open. You never know when someone’s going to need you! Just to listen!

Bharathi Ghanashyam

 

Bombay to Barcelona-the incredible journey of Amin Sheikh

In the beginning

When he speaks, he is gut-wrenching, brutally raw  and candid. Without flinching once, he says, “I ran away from home when I was just five years old, unable to bear the torture inflicted on me by my step-father, mother and employer. The first night that I slept on a railway platform, I was raped. Thereafter, every night, unfailingly, everybody there – be it the older boys or people from the very system that was there to protect people like me, did things to me. It was easy for people to find me because I was scared of the dark and always slept in a well-lit area. I sometimes woke up with my pants wet not knowing what had been done to me. I sometimes had men shoving their things in my mouth. I gagged and vomited, but they continued. I felt pain while going to the toilet. There were always people wanting to take me home, but horrible as my life on the platform was, it was preferable to my life at home.”

Meet Amin Sheikh (36) – owner of Bombay to Barcelona – a café library, and an oasis of beauty, set amidst workshops and hardware shops in Marol Naka, Mumbai, directly opposite the Fire Station. While I devour a slice of deliciously moist carrot cake drenched in caramel sauce and wait to finish with the fusion chicken vada pav, Amin speaks to me, his eyes dancing with emotions – sometimes ablaze with anger and pain, sometimes moist and soft with good memories. He recounts his childhood as a ‘street-boy’ in Mumbai, the reasons he was forced to flee home, and why he hated it every time he was ‘found’ and taken back. His eyes exude warmth and his voice softens as he also recalls being discovered by Sister Seraphin and Father Placido Fonseca of Sevasadan and being taken to the first home of his life, which signified love and warmth.

Amin has risen from the ashes so to say. The story of his life is captured in Life is Life, I am Because of You, a book he has written, which has gone into its 7th reprint, and also helped him collect the funds required to open his dream café. The book is not a tear-jerker, despite the potential it had, to become one, given the tumultuous turns Amin’s life has taken. Instead it’s written through the eyes of a child, lost and bewildered, sad and bewildered, pained and bewildered – but bewildered at all times. Amin is still the same – childlike, bewildered, wondering why the world is what it is, when it is so easy to love and be loved.

The child in him is still alive as is evident from the dessert spoons in his cafe, which are actually miniature kitchen toys. The lamps are large kettles with their bottoms sliced-off, bulbs hanging through them – to remind him of the tea shop he worked at when he was just five.

He was forced to run away from home for the first time because he broke a whole pile of tea glasses, which fell from his little hands to the floor and shattered. As he speaks of the tea-shop, he touches his ear and winces, as if still in pain, remembering the way the tea-shop owner had twisted his little ears with little or no reason. “I often complained to my mother about it. She always said I must bear it and I would get used to it. We needed the money that I was earning,” he recollects.

Amin’s life is too vast to be captured in one blog post and hence I will have to scrunch it. Any reader who wants to know more about him is advised to buy his book. Coming back to his story, Amin spent a few years at SnehaSadan – the best years of his life as he repeatedly said while I was with him. His sister Sabira (meaning:morning) too ran away to be with him and they both grew up at SnehaSadan. She is now a nurse.

Then he had the good fortune to be employed by Eustace Fernandes (the father of the Amul Girl, for those who don’t know) for several years. “As a Christmas gift, he took me to Barcelona once, and my life changed forever,” Amin remembers, “I saw my first library there and saw how easy it was to get knowledge. I made up my mind. How would it be if people could meet, get knowledge, eat and drink, all in one place? I decided that I would one day open one a library café, and it would be meant to give livelihood opportunities  to street-children like me. Today, here I am; my dream is a reality. I have put all my life’s savings into this venture. I pray it works and serves the purpose for which it was started. Even if it doesn’t, I will keep trying. I know how to ‘fall and rise’.” Everybody who works at Bombay to Barcelona has been a street-child and brings special talents to the café be it baking, cooking or hospitality, or even the grit to survive.

Amin’s other sister Sabiya (meaning:evening) works with him now. His mother lives with him and he talks dispassionately about her. “I needed to forgive her before I could heal, because she gave birth to me after all. But I told her that she had to make a choice between me and that man (his stepfather). She too had had enough of him and his vices. So she walked away from him. I have forgiven her and will look after her. I am so happy she gave me my sisters.”

Amin is a busy man (he is also a tour guide) and it is time to part, though I don’t want to leave his energizing presence. I ask him for a parting message. “I am because of you,” he says.

I look away shamefaced and think, “Amin, you are not because of us. You are despite us. Given a chance, society would have negated, obliterated your presence from this earth. We are because of you and people like you. You are what your name means – the beginning and the end. Continue being you! Don’t ever accept defeat. Don’t ever submit to society’s misbehaviour.GRIN is honoured to host you my friend.”

Bharathi Ghanashyam

Written with permission from Amin Sheikh – a very special human.

GRIN thanks KHPT and Sevasadan for making this story possible.

Three women and a rainy day in the jungle

Place: BR Hills, Karnataka, Southern India (houses a wildlife sanctuary)

Shangon, Renuka and I were in BR Hills at the Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK) on a writing assignment. We were to write about the life of Soliga tribals who lived in the remotest parts of the jungles of BR Hills and how VGKK was enabling access to healthcare for them .

We had arrived there late in the evening from Bangalore and chalked out our programme for the next day with the VGKK team. We were to be taken deep into the jungle by a jeep, from where we had to cross a little rivulet Bhargavi by foot, to reach the tribal podu (hamlet). On the banks of the Bhargavi was the famed sacred tree called Dodda Sampige (Big Champak). We were advised to stop and offer worship to the tree as it was a tradition and the consequences for failing to do this could be negative.The route had been explained to us by Dr Prashanth of VGKK, who was to also accompany us the next day. He had described the  podu to us and it all sounded very exciting, even exotic. I couldn’t wait to begin our assignment.

I don’t know if Shangon and Renuka felt the same, but excitement prevented me from sleeping much that night. The images of an old, wizened Dodda Sampige, with somewhat vengeful emotions running through it, a rivulet running by it, playing its way over rocks, and then, at the end of it, a little podu with tribals living in it were enticing enough to keep me awake.I felt in my bones that adventure awaited us.

A wet morning dawned and we learnt it had been raining on and off all night. More rain was indicated, but we were undaunted. The jeep waited for us; it looked a little tired, but we didn’t pay too much attention to it. Around mid-morning we set off for the podu, clad in casual clothing and slippers (most inappropriate in retrospect). Over the next hour or so, we drove deeper and deeper into the jungle, heading to the podu. Sitting securely in the jeep, everything around us looked beautiful; the forest was dark and dense and quiet, almost in a stupor. The rather noisy engine of the jeep seemed to be the only sound in the jungle. I wondered why there was no birdsong or other forest sounds. Maybe the rains were making them sleepy too, I told myself.

When we had travelled around eight kms, the jeep stopped. Prashanth explained we had to now reach the podu on foot. Climbing down the slope by the roadside, we got the first evidence of what inappropriate footwear and clothes can do. My feet slid down the slope, made slushy by the rain. My shawl fell into the slush and I was struggling to hold all my things together.

Carrying my footwear in my hand, I climbed down and saw my colleagues too struggling, but they seemed to do better than me. We had reached the Dodda Sampige by now and gingerly stepped into the waters of Bhargavi. A delicious coolness worked its way over our toes, as the clear water of the stream flowed past. Stepping over slithery rocks, struggling to get a grip, we made our way across the stream and reached the other end.

Our visit to the podu is incidental to this story so suffice it to say, we took our photos, recorded our interviews with the tribals living there, and made our way back across the stream, and into the jeep. And somehow, we forgot to pray to Dodda Sampige. My calf muscles were beginning to grumble from the forced and strenuous walk, where I was fighting against the will of the slushy ground to pull me down into its arms.

We sat in the jeep, somewhat relieved that we would soon be back in the VGKK campus. Afternoon had fallen by now. The jeep started, but would just not move! The wheels, made bald with frequent use, were turning in the same place and no amount of pushing or urging, made it move forward.

Three hours to a new life

Prashanth then pronounced the decision, which was to change all our lives! “Darkness will fall soon. It’s also going to rain. Let’s not wait; let’s begin walking. It’s a long trek back, but we have to get back. Staying in the jungle is not safe.”

Shangon, Renuka and I looked at each other and nodded without hesitation. It was just a trek through a jungle, which seemed so friendly and benign. Only that we had no umbrellas to save us from the certain rain that was looming; we had no drinking water, and we had no socks to protect us from the leeches that the jungle around us was full of. Looking back now, I realise how vulnerable we were. That day, we were shiny eyed and even excited at the prospect of the trek ahead.

Thirty minutes into the trek, the heavens were attacked by LBS (loose bowel syndrome) and they gave in! It seemed like the Biblical deluge. The rains poured down upon us in great, warm, molten sheets. I remember wondering about the warmth of the rainwater; it soaked us and our clothes stuck to us in odd ways, making it difficult to walk. I looked least like Sridevi and more like a wet crow. When the rain falls to the ground in a pristine jungle, it has no drains to disappear into. It makes its own fierce way around on the ground and we got pushed around. And my errant slippers! They decided to give a fierce fight till my feet were getting battered by the water gushing past and my slippers going hither and thither.

Shangon and Renuka were not having an easy time either. Prashanth decided to give us lessons in wildlife studies at that juncture. Completely unaffected by the rain, he discovered droppings of assorted varieties of wildlife – a tiger that had eaten a deer and thrown out the fur mixed in feces – he found this out by digging with a stick into the pile of shit – literally. A bear that had passed by and dropped its thing nonchalantly littering the jungle – biodegradable after all! Elephant dung mixed with the rain water and slush, running away.

We were also told not to stop because stopping meant inviting leeches to choose the choicest places on our bodies and feast away on our blood – well-nourished blood was hard to find in those areas. I then detected several comma-shaped black things on my unprotected toes and knew I was already leeched! Our hearts were bleeding with terror by then and adding their own marks to the damage that the leeches had already begun wreaking with bloody glee.

Shangon, the brave one, the composed one in our midst took matters in hand. Halting us in our tracks, the rain pouring down on us undisturbed, she spoke to us. Prashanth was at least a furlong away, earnestly hunting for more dung and droppings. “Look around,” she patiently explained, “how many people in this world can boast of an opportunity like this? Look around you. Have you ever seen anything like this? If we come out alive from this, we can boast of having had the adventure of our lives and overcome fear. Come on, let’s enjoy this!” And that’s what we did thereon.

We looked around. The most marvellous sights surrounded us. Centuries old creepers which had thickened and hardened into canopies stretching across the jungle, rare plants, age-old trees and huge water bodies with birds in them. It was really an exotic and wildly diverse world out there. So we slowed our pace and decided to enjoy the trek. Renuka regaled us with tales of movies like Anaconda and other scary films. We climbed onto a metal machan (lookout tower) which Prashanth swore gave the best view and would also give us some relief from the rain. But as we climbed up, we saw the floor was rusted completely and a hard step on it meant all of us hitting the ground in a heap. I was particularly warned to only stand on the fringes, given my generous girth and weight!

We continued our trek because the machan was a no go. And then it happened! I felt a jerk in my back and soon after, my left leg felt heavy and wouldn’t listen to me after that. Renuka hunted around and found a twig for me to support myself while walking. She couldn’t find anything more sturdy. Needless to say it didn’t help and then it was her comforting shoulder that I rested on. We plodded on.

Soon, our stomachs, completely unaware of our situation, began to remind us nothing had gone in all day. We had nothing with us, except little packets of salt and pepper that Renuka had picked up on a (now defunct) Kingfisher Airlines flight. Licking just salt and pepper to appease hunger? Try it, it works.

The rain had stopped by now; we had already walked for about three hours and covered what seemed like a mere two or three kilometres. Prashanth had gone ahead realising that we needed help fast and that he could fetch it as he could walk faster, being used to this terrain.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, we had reached the fringe of the jungle. We looked back. We were alive, hadn’t encountered any tigers, bears, snakes, nothing… I couldn’t walk anymore and my buddies respected that, scarcely worried for their own lives. So we flopped down on a pile of stones by the side of the road – painfully because the sharp edges were somewhat harsh on backsides used to plush sofas!

After we had got our breath back, Shangon gently reminded me of what can happen when darkness falls in a jungle. Kohl seems less black than that. At that time, even if we walk broadside into a waiting elephant, we wouldn’t be able to tell. So it was a choice now. Bad back? Life itself? The latter won. Two kind shoulders on either side of me, we walked. Suddenly, we were all hearing things! The sound of an engine. Yes, it was good old Prashanth back with a jeep. Clambering in, we reached the campus, sodden, tired, aching limbs and all – but also strangely liberated. Shangon had said it right! We had broken the glass ceiling of fear.

I reached Bangalore, lying prone on the back seat of a car, to weeks of bed-rest. But rid of fear and rid of the feeling of being a helpless woman. We had done something not many can do, not because they don’t want to but because they never broke boundaries. Shangon and Renuka, I love you both! And Prashanth, the honorary woman of this group, we love you too! And we love those moments of bonding, don’t we?

P.S. I went back a few months later and offered worship at Dodda Sampige in deference to tradition!

Bharathi Ghanashyam