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Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Hard Things (and other pieces of inane advice)

A lot of my friends on Facebook are urging me to read the Business Insider's list of what makes you a successful person. I'm a confirmed listmaniac, but this list bothers me. It has some useful advice, but it just puts so much pressure! It encourages you to adopt a focused lifestyle, which is not a bad thing at all. Except that for a lot of people, it ends up becoming a choice that takes over your life so that the only time you feel happy are weekends, and sometimes not even then. As the wise Anmol Joneja said in his infinite wisdom, when he learned that a loved friend had not made any plans for the upcoming weekend - "Always make plans for the weekend. They're the windows into what your life is supposed to be." It's funny, but it's also a little sad.

My take on the list follows. I've only responded to those elements in the list that moved me. Like I said, some of it good advice, some is dull and obvious, and the rest will just kill you if you followed it for any long periods of time. I've lived by some of last kind, and learnt some valuable lessons. You're welcome.

You Have To Do The Hard Things.

You have to make the call you’re afraid to make. Yes, but first, be sure of what you want to achieve in that call. Is it taking you further into another 'kickass' workplace where you will have to do a lot of 'hard' things and then live your real life only on the weekends?
You have to get up earlier than you want to get up. But get to bed early if you're planning to get up earlier. Inadequate sleeping destroys brain cells. Irreparably.
You have to give more than you get in return right away. And not grudge it, and not brag about it, and not constantly remind the people you gave to. Give for the fun of it.
You have to care more about others than they care about you. Again, and not grudge it, and not brag about it, and not constantly remind the people you care about. Care because you care, and when you don't care, don't pretend that you do!
You have to fight when you are already injured, bloody, and sore. Choose your battles, please. Not every fight is worth getting injured, bloody and sore over. And give yourself some time to heal.
You have to lead when no one else is following you yet. Ummm, but at some point, do turn around and figure out why they're not following you yet? 
You have to invest in yourself even though no one else is. Oh absolutely! Especially if no one else is!
You have try and fail and try again. Okay, but how many times? When do you turn the page of the universe's catalogue and say, okay I'll try this instead!
You have to run faster even though you’re out of breath. This person has obviously never run. When you're out of breath, slow down, stretch, smile at the other panting people, sip some water, and then run faster.
You have to be kind to people who have been cruel to you. Be kind, and walk away from the cruel people! The world is full of good, kind people, don't waste your time being kind to the undeserving ones.
You have to meet deadlines that are unreasonable and deliver results that are unparalleled. This is the attitude that promotes rat races and sweatshop cultures. Why not have a sensible conversation and set reasonable deadlines?
You have to be accountable for your actions even when things go wrong. Unfortunately, this is true.
You have to keep moving towards where you want to be no matter what’s in front of you. Oh this is the most important one!! Also the biggest piece of b.s. Keep moving sure, but first make sure you know where you want to go, and make some course corrections once in a while!

You have to do the hard things.

But you don't just have to do the hard things. I wish everyone who reads "motivational" stuff like this, also read the Desiderata - Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.....With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world

In doing the hard things, it is so easy to forget just how beautiful the world is

Monday, September 16, 2013

Airport City

Alexander McCall Smith, speaking for Isabel Dalhousie in one of those delicious Edinburgh based stories, writes that "....hell must be like an airport, with a surplus of artificial lighting and fake smiles...", or some words to that effect. I cannot remember (or find online) the exact quote, so if anyone reading this can point me to the book I'm trying to remember, I'd appreciate it a lot. Or we'll just have to wait until someone develops an exhaustive quotes page for this wonderful author.

New Delhi's T3, one of my favorites (picture from
I remembered the phrase when I entered Dumdum airport today evening. I was weary, weighed down with Sunday evening blues. But I felt an instant lifting of spirits as I walked into Dumdum, and realized that airports always have this effect on me. Even when I'm grumpily taking 4 AM flights. I find that I'm seized with sudden involuntary happiness every time I walk into a terminal. Perhaps it is the chance to do unabashed people watching - there are people hugging, kissing, crying (or struggling to not cry), arguing - and all of it is fuel to my soul. I love the bright lights, the book stores and the doughnuts; I love the gleaming floors and tall ceilings. I even love the 'fake' smiles of the airport staff and sales people. Besides, who am I to say that the smiles are fake?

Further introspection reveals that what sums up the magic of airports for me is the air of anticipation. There's a feeling, that from this moment on, anything can happen. You're off to another city, another country, new and exciting experiences will follow. Even if it's a city that I'm returning to for the 97th time, the terminal whispers - you never know, something utterly different can happen to you tomorrow.

I think we're meant to feel this way about life in general, every minute of it - that there is just so much to look forward to. An airport perhaps is the place where the mind is able to pause, stop being mindless, and reaffirm that there are potential new beginnings, all the time, and everywhere.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A trek to Mont Tremblant (The "Trembling Mountain")

Or, my recommendation for what to do if you have a weekend to spare in Montreal.

Mont Tremblant (pronounced "Trom" to rhyme with "mom", and "blent" to rhyme with "blond" without the "d") is a city in the Laurentian mountains of Quebec, approximately 130 kilometers from Montreal. The city may seem like the weekend getaway of the fancy people, with golf courses and spa resorts aplenty, but it also has a beautiful wooded hill, perfect for a day trek, lakes to swim in, and dozens of little coffee shops and pubs that you can keep walking in and out of over a weekend

To get there: I took a bus from the Montreal bus station. Buses run from Montreal to Tremblant 3 times a day, and can be booked online at the GAMTL website. The buses are super-comfortable (I saw a loo inside a bus for the first time in my life!)

My room in Le Couvent
To Stay: There are many hotels and homestays in the city, which consists of 4 municipalities, all quite close to each other, and all quite picturesque. Among the four - Ville St. Jovite, Paroisse de Saint-Jovite, Mont Tremblant, and Lac-Tremblant-Nord - I recommend the Mont Tremblant village because it's the closest to the mountain, where all the excitement is. I stayed at the Le Couvent, a charming homestay (run by one Susan Staub, who serves the most amazing breakfast ever). For my second night in the village, I chose the Hostelling International's hostel in Mont Tremblant, which is a steal beyond belief.

The Trek: Trekking in Mont Tremblant can seem a little tame, but if you're in the mood for a short day hike through a steep forest trail, wonderfully silent except for the sound of wind through trees and filled with delicious jungle scents, you will not be disappointed. 

Susan gave me a map with a well marked route from the village to the mountain base - it was a lovely 3 kilometer walk at the end of which is a cable car that takes you to the foot of the mountain. There's also a information kiosk next to the cable car where they'll tell you everything you need to know about the trails. There are 6 trails to choose from, with varying degrees of difficulty and ranging from 2 hours to 6 hours for the climb and back. There's a second cable car at the mountain base that takes you to the top, and there is a very well hidden notice board that tells you that the last return trip from the mountain top will be at 5 PM.

The trails are marked with colored arrows that correspond with the markers on your map (I did say it's a bit tame), but the path is steep enough, and lonely enough to be adventurous. There were times when I had minor panic attacks when I thought I had lost the trail, but they turned out to be all false alarms, except for one very exciting half hour, when I reached a dense and dark place and retraced my steps with prayers in my heart. It took me a total of five hours (3 up, 2 down), and it was a lot of fun. I've put some more pictures of the trek on my Facebook page.
The Mont Tremblant hiking trail

My tips if you're planning a trek on this hill (relevant for any day hike, in fact; please take notes) -
1. Start early. I cannot stress this strongly enough. My over confidence and over reliance on Canadian sun's late hours made me start my trek at 4 PM, and I spent a very alarming hour hiking down the mountain in steadily increasing darkness.
2. Carry more water than you think you'll need. 
3. Carry a torch even if you're sure you'll return long before it's dark.
4. Carry insect repellant.
5. Carry Food. I know few things worse than hiking on a grumbling stomach. 
6. Make sure you have your return trip planned. Is there a cable car? What time does it get back?

But overall, I think I prefer climbing in the Indian Sahyadris, where you're seldom sure where a wrong turn will take you.

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