A little bit of solitude
Within a little bit of infinity.
A little bit is all that we seek.
Posted byAtul Sabnis
Posted onOctober 31, 2013
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Sat on their park bench
There’s a space between them, between these Old Friends, if they are sitting like bookends. That space must be all the years and experiences they have had – together and apart. I’ve always been intrigued by old friends (not the song, but actual old friends). In the movies and such, they will have you believe that old friends talk mostly of days gone by and the troubles that hover over white hair or bald patches. I have no idea what old friends talk about or what their silence is about. Catching up seems to be a very young-friends thing. There’s excitement that exceeds the time we seem to have. We are desperate to create memories, rather than be with our friends. I have often wondered what I would do, when I am sitting on a bench like this, with an old friend.
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
On the high shoes
Of the old friends
But this post is not an analysis of the song. If you every have wondered about what Paul Simon’s songs really mean, or how to get to know them better, I strongly urge you to visit Every Single Paul Simon Song* – a blog I recently discovered and fell in love with instantly. Without doubt, for me, this has been the best discovery in recent times. I can say that without any hesitation. No, no analysis here, just a couple of scattered thoughts and one story, about old friends.
It was the early winter of 2005. I was to attend a wedding in Kolhapur. The rest of my family were unable to attend. It was up to me to represent the family. I decided to go. A cousin joined me. And later, an old friend (from school) joined us. We started two days earlier, and instead of taking the shortest route, we drove along the coast of Maharashtra. We drove at will, stopped at will. While we were on the road seeking an unplanned adventure, Vijaypat Singhania was on his way up in a hot air balloon to become the first man to soar 69,852 feet above sea level. We took a couple of photographs of the balloon and set off on our own possible adventures. A few mini-adventures across Kashedi Ghat, Mirya, we reached Sakhartar.
A picture-postcard-village is how you’d describe it. There is no other way to describe it. We stopped for a while to take in what we were seeing. And for a few photos. Here’s one of them:
The old men
Lost in their overcoats
Waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city
Sifting through trees
Settle like dust
On the shoulders
Of the old friends
I’ve been in love with this photo since that pleasant November day. I posted it to my Flickr account a few days later. It was a wonderful mystery all the while. Who were these people, what was their story, how long and ho many times have they walked like this. It was a great portrait to keep looking at, without knowing anything about these two friends.
Until September 2007; when another Flickr user, from Sakhartar, commented on this photo.
Mohd. Anwar Sakharkar and Fakir Mohammad , best friends Sakhartar
I never saw their faces when I took the photograph. Now I knew their names. I knew that they were best friends. I knew that someone else knew it, besides me. Everything I had ever thought of this photograph became real.
Can you imagine us
Years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fear
It would be nice to go out for a walk with an old friend.
PS: Right-aligned, italicised text are the lyrics of the wonderful song, Old Friends, by Paul Simon.
I don’t want to forget this.
We are in Kashedi Ghat. Climbing. It’s the afternoon of 18th April in 2012. A few trucks pass us by, carrying various types of loads. Some are empty. My niece who is keeping a watchful eye on the surroundings and taking the beautiful drive in Konkan, has a question for me.
“You know these trucks, they carry stuff from here to there?”
“Yes,” I say, “what about them?”
“These truck drivers, who drive them?”
“Do they ever get curious to know what’s inside? Do they ever stop and look at what they are carrying?”
I don’t think I ever asked this question, but I know that this question had occurred to me, many years ago. I explain to her, how it works. They are already aware what they carry. The person who asks them to carry the cargo usually tells them what’s inside.
This is curiosity at two levels. First, her own curiosity about whether the drivers are curious, and then about the drivers’ curiosity itself. This curiosity possibly spans another level – the third – her own curiosity about what’s inside the trucks.
It’s the October of 2007. I have been tagged. There is a bit of a history to the tag, but it seems I have delivered the tag pretty well. I start the tag with:
It’s a calming view.
The mountains and the faraway sea are deeply in love, quietly courting each other. The late afternoon sun gleams wide over the sea, spreading its warmth all over. The valley is a shade card of all the green and hay that you will ever see in your life. Little sparkling silver streams line the ridges of the mountains, playful and eager to trek downhill. The leaves on the tall trees that line the mountain walls are a lush green, fresh, wet from a recent rain. You are driving through the road, angle-sliced on the mountain’s slope, in your car, cruising at a comfortable uniform speed along the locus, lost in happy peaceful thoughts, one with yourself and with the world that allows you to be such. One hand on the steering wheel, the other resting on the window, elbow sneaking out just that little bit, feeling the moist misty breeze. You almost don’t need to pay attention to the many curves, the slight turn on the steering comes to you naturally. The tag, as such, had nothing to do with travel, or driving, it was about writing. However, I did start off the way I did.
Two years and four months later, this piece of fiction becomes reality. Almost. There was no rain. But the experience was intact. And in that, there was no transmission loss between the thought above and the experience I had, a couple of weeks ago.
We took a couple of days off and coupled them with a long weekend. Off to Chiplun for a couple of days and then to Panchgani for a couple and back to Mumbai via the NH4. While the entire journey was one of the most memorable, the highlight of this trip, was the crossing of the Kumbharli Ghat. Which, interestingly led us to the discovery that there isn’t a single-word equivalent in English, for Ghat. The closest you can say is – mountain road. You take the first left towards Karad when you enter Chiplun’s biggest cross-road island – Ambedkar Circle. For a while this road meanders through the town, and soon you are faced with a lofty soldier of the Sahyadri range that you immediately begin to climb on a good quality road, not like how I remember it from many years ago. The amazing views from here appear as if in slow motion and after a few minutes reach a breathtaking crescendo. You’d be tempted to stop, as I did, at the first possible option to breathe in as much of the freshness of the view that you can. You’d make the same mistake that I did. Not because what your eyes will see is disappointing, but because you will have to stop again, later. After you have travelled a third of this approximately 85 km stretch across the Sahyadris from Chiplun to Umbraj, you come at the most basic and most strategi-touristically located hotel and you will stop for tea. The tea is good too. At over 2,300 feet, tea does taste good, no matter what.
After you have finished the tea, and reluctantly drag yourself back to the car, thinking it is now going to be all downhill any way (pun intended), there begins a bigger surprise. The rest of the road to Karad is bordered with beautiful farms and lovely trees bearing flowers in every shade of pink and red. With wonderful friends in the car, willing to enjoy as much of the drive as you, if not more, and stop as many times as you want, the flowers begin to look more colourful, the road becomes smoother, and the sun turns the dial to just about the right temperature of warm. It is an enchanting movie with varying landscape fleeting by you of mountains, hills, farms and flowers.
But this is it.
This is as much I can achieve as a travel-writer. I could write the piece above better, if I started questioning the raison d’être of every word and imagined the ride more dreamy and poured every possible diabetically romantic adjective in my cauldron in the travelogue.
But then, I wouldn’t be telling you the truth. And space-filling facts, I have none.
Because I hardly ever travel with a plan. Even to get the distances and the heights, I consulted Google Earth. I am of those that cannot enjoy travel if they know where they are going and when they are going to get there. I usually like to know that I have a place to sleep, somewhere on the way, though, there have been times, when I haven’t bothered about that either. This makes it difficult to travel with most folks. People have a plan in their mind – people decide what, how, when and where they are going to enjoy. Living the week with an agenda suffices my need to be in control. More than. And that is why, this peregrination was such a pleasure. All four of us were thinking alike (which means, we weren’t quite bothered about stuff). I have travelled with folks who have been so bothered with the destination, that they never did experience a journey. Some have slept through it. For some, like me, the journey is the destination.
This blog’s slug is “Travel, life, thoughts, ideas, wish-lists, and everything else”. I have hardly written about travel, though. And it seems, with good reason. I am a rubbish travel writer. As an afterthought, I added “Thoughts, mostly.” Which is good, because I travel a lot in my mind and I can write about those travels. And, what I write, has the potential to be true, even if it is two years later.
And when such a thing happens, it is a wondrous experience!