Saturday, November 12, 2011

Annapurna, here we come....

12 November 2011
2.00 am.
Three months of planning and dreaming, and six iterations of packing a rucksack are behind me. I will be in Kathmandu in a few hours, and starting the Annapurna trek tomorrow. I've been reading so much about the trek that I'm quoting lines without remembering where I read them...
"Leave the village with the Maryasandi river to your right....ten minutes later, you will come across a stream with a wooden bridge across it....." Yes I will!

The trek itinerary that Sekhar and I have created so diligently looks like a consulting assignment output. I'm filled with anticipation at the world I'm going to be seeing over the next two weeks, and the people I'm going to meet. In about 5 hours from now, I will meet four people at the airport that I've never met before, and at the end of two weeks I will either loathe them like I've never loathed anyone, or they will become my friends for life...but I will know them really well.

We will climb for as much as 10 hours on some days, we'll eat exotic things, we'll sleep in bags, we'll rent and ride cycles, and we'll meet lots of crazy people. Not the least of which is the guide Santaman who sent us a kilometer long email in reply to the one liner we sent him. It was a lovely mail, describing the beauties of Nepal, in the most lyrical prose, and it ended with:

You are welcome to spread over your footprint in our holy Himalayan Region.

Let's go get the tears.

The exec summary of the itinerary
The pictures above are sourced from: 1.; 2.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Emperor of All Maladies

In a world where being a fan of fiction is looked down upon like few things are, I fiercely defend my love for novels and stories. "Escapist literature!" - my father used to get so annoyed at the P.G Wodehouses I was addicted to. "I never read stories, I read to improve my mind, not for entertainment" - said the guy I was trying to impress with my large bookshelf, his lip curling in disgust at my Terry Pratchetts and Ashok Bankers.

My affection for fiction comes unabated. I will stop reading novels when I no longer get the tingling feeling of anticipation when I hold an unread book in my hand, the anticipation, that in a few minutes some people will come alive in the here and now, whose destinies I will get involved in, whose troubles will make me cry and whose joys will make laugh. I share this passion for creative fiction with my little sister Leena, who is the only other person I know who can inhale 500 page novels in one afternoon. And Azar Nafisi agrees with me: 

“A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.”

Non fiction can do this too sometimes. I've just finished reading Siddharth Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies, and if any book can make you hold your breath and keep you awake at night, this one can. I recieved two copies of the book on my birthday (thank you, Sekhar and Anal!), and its one of the best birthday presents ever! Before 12 pages were done, I knew I was going to love it as much as the most thrilling fiction I've read. Mukherjee calls it the 'biography of cancer'. The book is that, and so much more. It's a thrilling page turner of a book, where the science and the discoveries blend so effortlessly with the human joys and foibles. No courtroom drama, or detective with magnifying glass can keep you so riveted for 600 pages. The stories pour out one after another, of how disfiguring surgeries acquired near religious fervour then lost favour, of the decades of war between tobacco manufacturers and activists, of gene discoveries that were as much chance as years of passionate work...And then there are human stories of victory and defeat, like the Jimmy fund and the Herceptin trial, that make you well up.

The book won a Pulitzer this year. But that's not why I recommend it. Read it because never before has science been written about in a way that reminds of poetry and detective fiction.

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