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25 Apr 2011

Lorna Jane's Evening Walk

She knew she had to do it. Self-motivation was not an easy thing and she had pushed it for over 6 months. Struggling to find another excuse today, she finally opened the door to the garage and looked at the shiny blue bike. She could not remember the key to the number lock. There was an excuse lying right there, waiting to be picked up and relished. She refused to give in. She called her husband and after a couple of tries, managed to unlock the bike. Lights, helmet, computer, all found easily enough. All she had to do was fill air in the tyres and take off. Easy peasy. Excitement built up. Eagerly, she fixed the little floor pump in and started pumping away. After 10 minutes of trying, she knew she had to give up. It was harder to give up than it was to find motivation.

Refusing to let that bog her down and having decided to get some fresh air anyway, she decided to go for a walk around the neighbourhood. It was another long overdue activity she had in mind. Atleast that will get done today, she thought. She started off with one particular street that had always intrigued her. As she kept walking, admiring the beautiful houses and taking a couple of pictures, her spirits lifted. She entered one street, exited at the end and entered the next. By the end of the third, she could not do it anymore. It was too depressing. The occasional sounds of music of laughter, the family in the balcony, the smell of home-cooked roast was too much to handle. 

She had stayed in the locality for nearly a year and did not know a single person there. She wished she knew all the people in all these houses or atleast more than half of them. She wished she had friends whose houses she could just drop in for a coffee or dinner. People she could spend time with on a lonely evening. She tried to remember what it was she loved about being alone. It was hard to reason while she missed a companion so terribly. It was getting dark and with not much to see on the dim-lit streets, she headed home. 

As she unlocked the door, she looked at the time. It was not even 6! When she was outside, walking, it had seemed like it was late. Now, inside the house, she knew the evening had barely begun. If she was in any one of those houses, sharing a tea or biscuit and having a conversation, it would have felt early. If she was outside, drinking or hanging out with a gang, it would have been early. Exploring the neighbourhood alone and wishing she was part of all the fun and together things around her, it felt different. 

She tried to focus her mind on other things. How had she missed all those lovely houses in the last few months? It seemed strange that all the streets around hers had a few lovely houses whereas her street seemed to be boring with only apartments. Maybe it was because she was too familiar with the street, subconsciously. Walking along those paths, she had been sure that she would have made friends with the residents if she lived in one of those places. As she took quick strides along the pathway to her apartment, she realized that it was not so. She had not made friends with neighbours in her own apartment, let alone anybody in the other houses on the street. There were a few houses with fun and laughter that she often heard.

She looked out the glass doors of her apartment to the quaint house at the back, with the soft yellow lights. She felt better. The light in that house had been her substitute for companionship. When the owners had been away for 2 days and the lights had not come on, she had been upset. Like a 10 year old whose parents had gone on a holiday. She had sulked and stared at the house, willing for them to come back. She had rejoiced when the lights came back on. It might be different people now, there were no babies playing on weekends and the lights were on till late. That was ok. It was the soft yellow light that was her friend, the people had not even known she existed. 

"I am going to be fine. It is going to be fine", she thought, and went to the kitchen to make dinner. 

24 Apr 2011


The little fellow's eyes opened wide as saucers when he saw it parked outside the door. He smiled and ran to hug his parents. He turned 5 at the stroke of midnight last night, while he was busy dreaming of riding and falling, bruises all over his limbs that he scarce noticed.

Is that bike for me, daddy?

She clapped the back of her palm against her mouth to stop the noise that had emerged from her throat. It was the ugliest beast she had ever seen. Before she could blink, it spat on her face and she heard laughter. She opened her eyes. Her brother stood at the foot of her bed, a bucket in hand, clutching his stomach and laughing. Her face, hair and clothes were wet. So was her bed.

I wonder if that's water or wee!

Oh for joy and Oh for fear
Oh for surprise when it's here
Oh I remembered, Oh I realize
Oh it is for every kind of surprise


He stepped inside. It was an empty room with white walls. The walls were so white that there was no need for light even in the darkest hour of the night. As he got used to the glare, he noticed a box at the far end of the room. It was hard to tell how far, squinting against the brightness as he was. He walked towards it & stopped inches before he reached it.

It's beautiful!

It was an old trunk made of wood, unevenly black and brown in colour, with patches of green. There was nothing unique about it. Lying there, it looked beautiful in it's pristine surroundings. It made the whiteness seem less harsh. 

He had never understood why people paid a lot of money for the old stuff his father sold - 'Antiques'. Standing there in the illuminance of a hundred thousand lux in all probability, he suddenly understood. He looked around him and saw nothing. Yet he saw. 

Is this what's called enlightenment? 

The radiance, he likened to a world of glamour & glitz. Antiques to the trunk, a shade of ugly reality that blots out the excessiveness in a fancy world. 

The value of a thing lies in it's surroundings.

23 Apr 2011

Abseiling @ Kangaroo Point

I had made the poor guy wait half an hour. Yet, when he saw me, he gave me a wide smile and cheerfully said, "You made it!". People who carry such positive energy enrich your life simply by being in it for a few minutes.

By the time Marcelo Paiva was done showing me the ropes to Abseiling, I was convinced there was no way I could do it. He insisted that I should try. I would rather have pushed him off the cliff and run from there. Of course, I did not do that. Instead, I obliged. I had nothing to lose by trying, only by not. 

When the knots were tied and harnesses tightened, I was roped in. Literally! I walked slowly backwards, just as he had shown me. Instead of screaming & grabbing him in terror, I experienced a moment of knowing. There is no better way to describe it. Standing there, on the edge of the cliff and trying to lean as far back as I could, I suddenly realized that I knew how to do this. I knew that I could do it. I leaned back, lifted my feet off the edge, one by one & placed them flat on the vertical face of the rock. Once the first steps were taken, there was no looking back. I found myself concentrating on the ropes and the rocks. It was just the rock and my foot, the ropes & my palms - the rest of the world did not exist. When I landed, I was greeted warmly by another excited instructor from Riverlife. He yelled out to Marcelo and said, 'Hey, she has done it!

After I had done it once, I wanted to do it again. Of course, I had an hour and half in which to try as many times as I wanted. I tried looking down at one time and almost lost a foothold. My heart skipped a beat. The third time I tried a slightly different route. I tried a smoother, plainer surface of the rocks, knowing that it was not so much the foothold that mattered as it was my feet walking down the rocks as I lowered down by the rope. That was supposed to be my last attempt but I could not stop myself from going for a fourth. This time, I tried the new route and I looked down. No fear. I had conquered it. Atleast, as long as there was my own rope and a belay to support me. It felt great.

One of the best things I like about going alone anywhere is the new friends I get to make. The interesting people & conversations. The enriching experience. Marcelo told me about Capoeira - a Brazilian martial arts form - and I told him about Krav maga - the Israeli martial arts form. He is one of the instructors for capoeira. Who knows? I might end up there one day, to learn the Brazilian style too. And there's music to it, a bit of dance. I'm almost hooked.

I met a lady whose son loves Terry Pratchett and she was so excited to tell me about seeing him walk down the road during one of her overseas trips. Met a few people interested in my experience of abseiling itself. Then a few who wanted to know about rock-climbing and Riverlife. Without realizing it, I had ended up being an ad campaign for Riverlife and their abseiling, in those couple of hours. 

I found out that Kangaroo Point was a paradise for runners. There's a flight of narrow stairs, starting at the bottom of the cliff, right up to the top. I met 2 men who walk/run up & down - they try to cover over 200 steps each time. There is also a lovely park that I missed the opportunity to explore, given that daylight was rapidly diminishing. Not to mention the lovely restaurant atop the cliff with a fabulous view of the river, the Brisbane skyline and the activities at the cliff. 

Riverlife also does kayaking, night paddling, etc. If I don't go back there for rock-climbing, there are other things in store for me. If nothing else, Kangaroo Point itself has a fair bit I am yet to explore. Just when I thought I was running out of activities in Brisbane, a new part of the city presents itself. A lovely suburb. 

Incidentally, the CityCat ferries are back in service, post the floods. I did about 2 CityCat rides and 4 CityFerry trips across the river today. As if to make up for all the days that I missed? Was not intentional but hey, it happened. The new Groove Train at Eagle Street Pier is strategically located, right at the Riverside Terminal for the CityCat. I had just enough time to gulp down a pint of Tooheys Xtra Dry before I rushed off to take the boat home. It was my first time in the night. Black water below me, dark clouds above and blackness everywhere - the silhouettes of the trees that look so green during the day, the office buildings on holidays... the occasional spot of bright light, in many colours, dazzled in the dark of the night. I closed my eyes and took a mental picture.

Yes, it has been a wonderful day. 

Scaling New Heights

All of you who have fear of heights, please raise your hands. Since you cannot see me, let me tell you that my  hand is raised. It used to be worse before. I used to feel mortified at great heights. 

As part of various life experiences, I ended up in various places where the view from atop was breathtaking. I am a sucker for "views", so much so that when booking my flights I always want a window seat on the side that the flight enters the airport so I can see what it looks like down there, from up, in the aircraft. It was impossible to refuse getting to the top of places that held such awesome views. That was the first hurdle I crossed. I did not mind heights anymore. Only as long as I was within an enclosed glass tower (e.g. Eureka Towers in Melbourne) or on top of a hill (say, Mt. Coot-tha in Brisbane), where I knew I was safe. 

When I planned a trip to Sydney, a friend of mine insisted that I do the famous Bridge Climb. At the time, I was not aware of what it entailed and I let him convince me to go for it. Once I saw the bridge & suited up, it started to hit me that I might not be able to do it. As the group started the climb upwards, I felt less and less confident of being able to do it. At one point, my heart was in my mouth and I found myself thinking, "Karl was right in not doing this. One could just die from the fear". Once the moment had passed, I started to enjoy it immensely. The view all along was stunning. Watching the sunset from where we were, watching the city lights come on one by one and feeling the wind on the face made me forget that I feared heights. Since then, I've recommended the climb to everyone I've met and even managed to convince the afore-mentioned Karl to try it.

Chris Rawlinson gave me the first taste of rock-climbing when a group of 3 boys & 2 girls went to Mt.  Beerwah one weekend. I must have done less than 10m when the rocks, slippery from the light drizzle, started to alarm me. I looked down to tell Chris that I might not make it to the top and froze when I realized what a fall could do to me, from where I was. No harness, no guides, no safety measures here. Pure nature. The mountain, the hard rocks and the naked climb. Fortunately, experienced as he was, Chris guided me down the mountain. Later, watching the guys run up & back down like mountain goats, I felt a bit sheepish... I had barely done a small percentage of the climb they covered. Someday I would try this again, I decided. 

This morning, Sarat & I arrived at the Riverlife office at Kangaroo Point at 8.10AM, for a session of rock-climbing. Having done a few metres on a real mountain and considering the fact that there was an experienced guide to watch us over, I was confident I would be alright. However, that was not to be. Firstly, this was more real than I realized! This was a cliff with real rocks, just like the mountains, but worse in that it was an almost 90 degree incline. I barely made it 5m when I simply could not do anymore and had to be let down. Having a rope around my waist and a partner belaying was absolutely no help to my confidence. I could not get enough hand-holds and my shoes kept slipping. I hated it but I knew I had to give up. Standing stuck on a narrow foothold forever was not helping.

Then it was the turn of Kendra, a tourist from California, who had done some rock-climbing at an indoor gym. She had some initial trouble at the exact location that I had been stuck at but she managed to pull it off and make it to the top. Bravo! In his turn, Sarat scaled a little higher than I had but soon gave up too. I decided to give it another shot. Scrambled up, got stuck at the exact same location. The rock that I was trying to wrap my right leg and hand around was too broad for my height and I absolutely could not hoist myself up. I yelled down to Blair, our guide, that I needed a bit of help lifting up. With a little help from the belay, I conquered it and then there was no stopping anymore. I made it all the way up, just one rock short of the peak. Too excited to have gone that far, I did not even bother to attempt to go to the top, I yelled out to be brought down. I think, just knowing how I could get down using rope if I need to, with the help of the belay, had kept me going. 

I also noticed that once I gained a little more confidence, the hand-holds and foot-holds did not matter that much. As long as I was able to grip the rock for even a few seconds with my palms and shoes, I had the courage to move the body. Getting over that inhibition was the big deal. It felt good. We had paid for 2 hours of rock-climbing, so Blair asked us if we wanted to try the same climb again or another one. Sarat was done in, thanks to all the cricket from the previous day. It was scary business too, rock climbing for first timers. Kendra & I decided to try another climb, a different one. 

I let Kendra go first so I could get a mental picture of the landscape of the rock and also watch her movements. I was still a novice, I was not going to kid myself. The initial bit was hard because the rock seemed pretty smooth but she made it to the top fairly quickly. Then, it was my turn. I slipped about 4 times before I could finally start making progress. Blair offered to help with the first bit but I refused. I was sure I could do it. I took a deep breath and told myself I should not try to hurry. Go slow, go easy, this can be done. Within seconds, I was scrambling up more comfortably. There was again, another particularly uncomfortable rock but by now my body and mind co-operated better. Fear had taken a break. I gingerly placed both feet on the best foothold I could get and put both my hands on a single rock that jutted out, right above my head. I put my head down and hoisted myself up. Once that was done, the rest just happened.

One rock after another, I kept going. It felt great. I did not even believe anymore that I could not do it. I just knew that I could. I hesitated a bit at one point where a tiny stream of water wetted the rocks. I was going to look for an alternative when Kendra called out to not let the water deter me. So, I grabbed a dry part of one of the wet rocks and went on. It was a pleasure to find a flat surface at the top, where I could walk with both feet. After sticking my feet in crevices and balancing on my toes on small foot-holds, this was a great break. I wondered if I should stop because I had come up this far, it did not make a difference whether I made it to the top or not. Kendra yelled out and said to go for it. I remembered how I had not made the peak on the previous climb. I decided I was going to do this one right. So I did. 

When I looked down, my heart skipped a beat. I did not look down for long but I allowed myself another peek. I sucked in a deep breath and turned around, in preparation to get down. I called out to the belay to loosen the rope and let me down. It was exhilarating. I was right there, balancing on small foot-holds, grabbing on to bits of hard rock and looking down... feeling excitement rather than fear. I wish I had taken a moment to enjoy the view around me but that might have been a bit much to ask of a first-timer. 

I might do it again. I might do a naked climb on a real mountain or I might not. I do not know. What I do know is that I am grateful for my inane need to try everything in life and for that streak in me that would rather face the fear headlong than give up.

17 Apr 2011

Krav Maga Practioner Level 1

There was everything about the environment that an exam should have. The students in uniforms waiting outside the institute, some chatting and some reading from sheets of paper, some too nervous to say anything. Checking your name on the list, signing-in. 

Finally the doors opened and we streamed inside. Again, the instructions - go straight to the hall blah blah - were all business and exam-like. 

Instructors - external & internal - getting ready to start the test, in all seriousness. Even the warm-up was different today. Tim Alexander, lead instructor and director of KMTA - one of the world's best Krav Maga institutes - introduced us to the test with Kida (the bow). Piero Borgna (Pete), newly qualified instructor and Kurt Colpan, director of iKMF Australia were to be our examiners. 

The Q&A bit lasted less than a minute, was smooth sailing and nowhere close to what I'd feared. Tim started calling out techniques and within seconds we were all absorbed into the Kravving mood. Stances, techniques, punches, power, defenses, attacks and it went on for 2 hours. It hardly mattered who was watching, it was all about giving our best. It wasn't a class anymore but as close to reality as we could get - like performing on a dance stage after months of practice. 

When my partner & I teamed up, we did not even ask each other's name. He said, "I'd have preferred to work with someone I was familiar with". I couldn't agree more. I was pretty much looking for my usual partner Vanessa before I ended up with him. At the end of the grading - many strikes, hard knocks,  punches and kicks later - we were both thoroughly bruised and sufficiently beaten up. We had not only fared well individually, we had been excellent partners. Good job, mate!

I can now honestly say that I know what it feels like to be punched square in the jaw, kicked in the face with a shoe-shodden foot, choked into a coughing fit, repeatedly beaten on both hands till they leave coloured patches, kicked in the groin, etc. <sheepish insert: giving someone a black eye too>

When Tim said, "Your marking is done, now you've to earn your grading", I couldn't help but smile. Internally, a little voice whined, "Noooo!". I know what that means. When Tim says you have to earn something, he makes sure you work hard and you work a good sweat. So he did.

Finally, it was time for Kida, the final bow before the results. We had all passed. Pete said he was impressed. Kurt was pleased too. Got my feedback, exchanged congratulations with friends and headed home with Vanessa. We couldn't stop raving about it. Various parts of my body were talking too, in a sweet painful way. 

Returned home to FB pages full of today's grading. So much happiness everywhere. Yes, it was worth it. I'm glad I did it. I had some of the best instructors in Tim, Pete and Iman, how could I not?

Now for a beer, pav bhaji, the couch, telly and a book. A well-deserved rest.

8 Apr 2011

Not My Cup Of Tee

There are times in life when you suddenly decide you need a change. I have times like that all the time. So, last week I decided that I needed to pick up a sport. This was in addition to plans to learn a new language, join Zumba classes, cover all the Theme Parks in the next few free weekends (do not see one in sight for another few but I'm sure there will be one), preparing for my Martial Arts grading, etc. 

It must be easy enough to pick a sport, right? You like something, you find a play area and go for it. Yeah, right! Not in my life! After much thought, golf won the day. Next thing was to find out where I could get a few lessons. There is a little voice in my head that is screaming, "Do you know how expensive golf is? And lessons? Are you out of your mind? Did you win a lottery or something?". I tried hard to ignore it and almost succeeded. But you know how life is a bitch and all that? We had a day out at work and guess where we went? Victoria Golf Club. I decided it was Fate. I was meant to play golf. "Yeah sure, why not"

We headed to the driving range first. Suffice to say that at the end of an hour and half, I had managed to touch the 100 mark a couple of times, the 75 mark a few times and try as I might, I could not make the smiley at 150. It stood there, a large smiley face, eluding me like the times in school when everyone gets a smiley for their homework and you grow old waiting. Two buckets of balls later, it was time for Putt Putt Golf. 

You might think (if you are a non-golfer like me, you would) that the driving range was a practice session for the real golf (er... Putt Putt Golf). I arrived at the location, brimming with confidence. I knew how to hold the driver and I could swing now. Well, better than the start of the day, right?

Surprise!!! These clubs looked nothing like the ones I had just practised with! Apparently, those were drivers, these are putters. Well, they were shorter than the earlier ones and hence might be easier to handle. That is what I thought, anyway. First things first. How do I hold this one? Fortunately for me, a friend was kind enough to show me the stance and the action. 

I wonder if the Oz army has 'hot' as a criteria for selecting personnel. Or maybe just the ones with a certain name starting with T?

Hmmm. Where was I? Yes, Putt Putt Golf. ND and I started teeing off, took a couple of shots and decided we had no clue what we were up to. He wanted to go home. Poor baby, I know the feeling. 

Instead, we went over to where some of the others were playing. PF asked me if I was done playing and I told him I did not know how to play the game. "You can have my game", GJ came running to me. Tell me again why I think he is a nice guy? AL looked up from his mobile phone, put it in his pocket and said, "Go for it, it's simple" and started following us. I gulped. I could not play for the life of me and here was my boss' boss and his boss watching me. A mental thanks to TS for showing me how to hold the driver. Another one to JM for explaining what I need to do. 

My first shot and off into the hole. Yay! LM wanted to know the score. Score? What score? There was no shortage of surprises in this day, was there? We were playing for scores? How do you score? Someone explained it to me. Supposedly, I had played well. One shot. Good. Suddenly, my confidence was soaring. 

It was not long before I realized that golf was not my cup of tea. Beginners' luck and things like that started making sense. It was fun, so I will not mention the skin that peeled off and had to be hidden under a band-aid, the calluses on my palms that were black beyond recognition and other little bruises. No pain, no gain. Right? 

I am not sure I understand why someone would go through so much pain, spend an entire day (or half, maybe) doing this weekend after weekend. I cannot see myself doing that. I can see learning golf slyly being pushed behind some other sport on my list. I'm not ready to give up yet, so that little voice can stuff it!

I'm not sure what the other sport is but I'm sure it will be less dangerous than this one. In my defence, getting injured while playing makes golf a dangerous sport! 

Ah, you heard that little voice too, did you? Annoying, right? I know!

3 Apr 2011

Smile An Everlasting Smile

I heard the happiness in your laugh and your excitement. You sounded like a child. The word that came to mind was 'glee'. The term 'pure joy' made sense. I smiled. It came naturally. 

Mary J. Waldrip said, "A laugh is a smile that bursts". When you laughed, a speck from the burst hit me. 

I know what I said then. I heard it myself. I insisted you go easy. Maybe I was trying to sound worried. Maybe I was, a little bit. Despite all that, I was smiling. Almost laughing but preferring to hear you laugh instead. I remember it now and it makes me smile. 

There is a sound that warms me like a hug...

It was a beautiful morning, one that forced me to forget everything and just smile. No questions allowed, no reasons given, just smile. A deep moment of emptiness filling with cheer, as the lips curved lightly. 

I stepped outside. While I enjoyed the hamburger and coffee, I thought of you. I remembered the first time. You were here then. The memory felt real and made me smile. I walked down streets, all of which I had walked with you before. Then I reached some that we had not but I knew you would have loved it. My lips were not smiling but I felt a smile inside me as I strolled about. 

Yes, it is those memories and knowing they will realize once again that keeps my smile intact. 

The air was thick with anticipation. Emotions were at an 'almost happy' phase. Ready to erupt but holding back the smiles and laughter till we could be sure. The colour of tension was a multitude of shades flickering with an 'almost certain' sentiment. 

It was an awesome display of patience and grit, in my experience. The calm surrounding it was infectious. 

With the final swing of the ball in the air, you had us holding our breaths in a strange concoction of pleasure and disbelief! A befitting last ball sixer in response to theirs, something even the most hopeful could not have thought of asking. You gave a billion people a reason to smile in that instant. 

The applause will continue till the overwhelming sense of relief settles. You swept us off our feet and we are still reeling at the sensation. For now, we are unified by that smile you put in our days.

Aye Aye Captain, we are grateful... for spilling the lava of smiles over the country.

The perfect sleep is a long and deep one. When I awoke, I found a smile on my face. Just like that. Slowly, as I wound my way along the minutes, pleasant hours that had passed by pushed to the front of my mind. I sat down with a cuppa to enjoy them again. 

When I was finally stood up to move on, you sent me a text, "Please call". Unsure of what to read into it and unable to shake off the good climate inside me, I called you. The sound of two delighted voices tripping over each other had me gripped as you took off on a merry ride in the phone call. 

I confess, I love tumbling along from one reason to smile to another. 

"Smile, an everlasting smile / A smile can bring you near, to me..."