Ek Akela sher

تم آؤ خزاں کی سرد ہواؤں کی طرح
میں زرد پتوں کی طرح تم سے لپٹتی جاؤں
-سواتی ثانی ریشم

तुम आओ खिजाँ की सर्द हवाओं की तरह
मैं ज़र्द पत्तों की तरह तुम से लिपटती जाऊँ
– स्वाति सानी ‘रेशम’


Chhattisgarh tour – the story in black and white

When we take active vacations together, we tend to push our limits, and we have more fun. We meet and connect with other adventure seekers, and at times make friends for life. Tarique and I have almost always taken active vacations (Yes, a wildlife  safari counts as an active vacation)

It had been long, and a holiday was long overdue. Cycle Safari announced a tour de Chhattisgarh from 26th to 30th January 2018, and even though I was not fit enough to cycle long distances; and Tarique was recovering from an injured knee, we decided to go for it for two reasons.  Chhattisgarh was a place that had been on our list of “to visit” places for very long and this was a fully supported tour, we had a choice of cycling for a part of the distance and travel in the support vehicles. I also decided to take our DSLR along, and it was a wise decision.

Despite not being in a great physical shape I ended up cycling the entire distance of 82 km on the first day but cycling such a distance after almost a year’s gap sprained my left iliotibial band.

Took a day off to rest on day 2 and put my SLR to good use. The rest helped me recover, and I could cycle on day 3 and day 4. On an aside, just before we got on our bikes on day 3, I slipped and fell down injuring both my knees. But that was hardly a deterrent.

What we brought back were tons of beautiful memories and lots of photographs.  After reaching home Tarique and I were browsing and processing the pictures taken during the trip on the iPad when I realised that black and white brought out the mood of the trip much better than colour pictures.

So here’s the story of our cycling vacation through the beautiful state of Chhattisgarh in black and white pictures.

Click on the thumbnails of the pictures to view them in higher resolution.

See more photos on my facebook page.


फिर से

गाँव की एक गली जो नदी की तरफ़ मुड़ती है
वहीं रहता है वो चौराहे पे
ताकता रहता है रहगुज़र
शायद वो आएँ
जो छोड़ कर चल दिए थे एक दिन अचानक
पलट कर देखा तो था घर को मगर
जब चल पड़े थे
बंद कर सारे किवाड़ और खिड़कियाँ
सोचता है वो
शायद आएँ दोबारा
और खोलें फिर से
उन बंद दरवाज़ों और खिड़कियों को
कुछ धूल साफ़ हो
फिर चले ठंडी हवा आँगन से सड़क तक
और सड़क से आँगन तक
कोई सींचे उस एक सूखती टहनी को
जो लाचार सी आँगन के एक कोने में
अधमारी खड़ी है
कोई फिर दीप जलाए तुलसी पर
कोई तो आए
कोई तो आस दिलाए उस बरगद को
जो अटल खड़ा है चौराहे पर
उसी गली में जो नदी तरफ़ मुड़ती है

How I became a Randonneur


November, 2015
After years of deliberating, I finally purchased a cycle. It was a Marin San Anselmo and was a good and comfortable bike, perfect for small distances. In any case, I did not plan to cycle beyond 25-30 km. That was till the bike came home. I was looking for training programs and one with the 30 Mile beginner cycling plan appealed to me. Even if I do half the distance, it will work well I thought and saved the pdf to my iPad, and started cycling as advised in the training plan.

My Marin San Anselmo with Tarique's Four Corners.
My Marin San Anselmo with Tarique’s Four Corners.

Soon I was easily doing distances I never imagined I could. On 6th February, 2016, I clocked 53 kms.  The training was complete, goal accomplished but I was just starting. Cycling is addictive, and I wanted to go longer distances.  By now Tarique and Aasim had already become Randonneurs having completed 200 km brevets in December 2015.

May, 2016
Since I was already doing longer distances than originally intended, Tarique gifted me a Surly Long Haul Trucker on our wedding anniversary. The bike was a dream to ride on. Following the convention of surly owners, I named it Dhanno (ref: the movie Sholay). I was clocking longer distances very comfortably now.

Surly LHT aka Dhanno
Surly LHT aka Dhanno

June, 2016
Everyone I know had told me not to attempt my first brevet in the crazy heat of Nagpur. But I had already done an easy  125 km ride on the brevet route in the month of May, when the temperature was touching 46 degrees, and I thought how bad it could be, I ought to give the June Brevet a try.
So I did. And I failed.

Fast Forward to October 2016

All through the monsoons, I kept cycling. My cycling speed improved, so did my technique and stamina. I decided to try and attempt the December 2016 brevet.

I began the preparations earnestly. One of the reasons I could not cycle faster was because my muscle mass was very low. To remedy that I increased my protein intake by eating three egg whites along with my breakfast, and also took care that all my allergies were in control. During the training sessions, I pushed myself, did interval training to improve my speed and was now regularly cycling at an average speed of 20kms per hour.

The Brevet day was coming close, I learned how to keep myself hydrated and fed during long rides. One of the reasons tiredness creeps in during and after rides is due to the depletion of water and electrolytes from the body. Replenishing these at the right time is critical for me, along with a measured quantity of food as I am a diabetic and can not risk hypoglycemia.

December 18, 2016. The Brevet

I am one with the force and the force is with me!

A cold winter morning, I was alone as Tarique had already left for his 600km brevet the previous day. He chatted with me when he was at 400 odd km, and I had told him that I am about to leave for the 200 km brevet. I decided to enjoy the ride, and not worry about the result. I was carrying a small camera and was planning to take some pictures along the route.

The route, however, turned out to be quite a drab. We were cycling on the Calcutta-Bombay highway and there wasn’t much scenery on the way to take photos of.  A few of us had planned to cycle the route together, but everyone sped past me, and I was alone most of the route – not an issue – I do enjoy cycling alone, it gives me time to think about so many things. Then the truck traffic started. They sped by in great speed and too close for comfort. I was glad we split and were not riding in a group. An accident is just not worth it.

The dawn broke. I stopped and clicked the sun rise across the highway.

Sunrise on the highway
Sunrise on the highway

The journey to the first checkpoint at 45kms was otherwise uneventful, got rid of my fleece jacket and gloves. I was well in time for a quick snack of Idli, biscuits and a cup of sweet tea. Despite being a diabetic, I make sure to drink tea with sugar while on the road, to give me an instant energy boost.

As I crossed the next village, the children there cheered and waved to me. A few of them shouted “Pick up, pick up”  – perhaps they meant “buck up” I laughed aloud as one of them gave me a high five.

Crossed several small rivers and hit the town of Bhandara. It was mid morning,  and the city traffic was bad. One of the motorcyclists slowed down started cruising with me and asked me a few questions. He wanted to know where I was from and where was I going. Then he asked me as to why am I cycling, and said it’s crazy to cycle around. My reply “because young men like you ride motorbikes” made him speed up, I did not see him again.

The river Wainganga was in sight. The graceful meandering river is very wide and a sight to behold. I have an affinity towards water, and I love the sight of any large water body. I got down from my cycle replenished my electrolytes by drinking 200 ml Enerzal, and took some photographs of the river. Decided to take more pictures on my way back and climbed back on the saddle.

Wainganga River
Wainganga River

Headwinds and crosswinds began somewhere around 9.45 am reducing my speed a bit.

Soon the road was passing through what seemed like a small teak wood forest, another quick break, took some more photographs before I pulled at the food point at 10.58 Am.

The food point was at 95kms and had Khichidi ready for all the riders. Met some fellow riders there, got rid of my remaining woolen clothes and gave to Mr. Aniruddha Kulkarni who was the volunteer at that point, to be carried back home. After a 35 minute break, T K Prashant decided to ride with me and I was back on the saddle towards the selfie and U-turn point at 100 km. Prashant had fallen down while coming was hurt and wanted to give up, I was urging him to cycle on.

While we were taking selfies, Nitesh pulled in. He too was suffering from muscle cramps. Told him to not give up and carry on the remaining 100 km.

I had eaten and was well hydrated so my energy levels were high and the return ride was reasonably fast despite the cross winds. Nope, there is no such thing as tail wind. I was cycling at 22-24 km per hour. Sped past a few riders and stopped over the Wainganga bridge for a few more pictures.

Wainganga River
Wainganga River

After Bhandara town, I noticed Poornima and caught up with her. The third checkpoint was about 12 km away, and she was tired. Urged her to keep up with me and we both reached the third checkpoint at 155 km almost together. Met Mr. Rajiev Narayan there. A quick tea and biscuit break and I was back on my cycle for the home run; Poornima decided to wait and eat something more there. As I crossed over to the other side to be back on the road, I hit my knee with the handle. A shiver ran through me as the pain took over. But I decided to continue. I had time, and even a bit of slow speed would get me to the end point in time.

The next stop was HB town at the edge of the city. As I entered the city, it was chock-a-block. Market day! I cursed the traffic but kept paddling. At HB town I had a glass of refreshing juice and was ready to brave more traffic through the Central Avenue. I had to reach the other end of the city where we had the end point -and my home. It took me one hour to cover this 16 km distance. 12.5 hours to complete the 200km distance, of which 10.5 hours were on the saddle and remaining was the numerous breaks I took.

Reached the end point amidst cheers of friends and called myself a Randonneur. My Surly LHT was a pleasure to ride and I was not tired at all except for the nagging pain in the knee due to the handle injury. A couple of hours later, Tarique pulled in having completed a distance of 600km.  Pleased with ourselves, we waited for more riders to come in before going out for dinner and retiring for the night.

Tarique finishes 600 km brevet
Tarique finishes 600 km brevet

Jahan gham bhee na hoN aasuN bhee na hoN bas pyar hi pyar pale

Aasim was a few months old and I use to sing to him so that he could sleep. Yes back then, I could sing. He would watch me sing with this toy in his hand, and with the gentle rocking of his swing, he would fall asleep.

This was his favourite song back then.

Aa chal ke tujhe main le ke chaluN ek aise gagan ke tale
jahaN gham bhee na hoN aasuN bhee na hoN bas pyar hi pyar pale.

On his 19th birthday today, my wish for him is that his world be filled with happiness always.

Kabhi dhoop khile, kabhi chhon mile
lambi si dagar na khale
jahan gham bhee na hoon aason bhee na hon
bas pyar hi pyar pale.

Happy 19th, betu.

Mughal-e-Azam the play.

Saturday, 22nd October.

I had specially flown to Bombay to spend the day with Urdu poet Janab Iftekhar Imam Siddiqui. I spent the day talking to him, listening to his kalaam and clicking a few photographs. Meeting his brothers Janab Noaman Siddiqui & Janab Hamid Iqbal Siddiqui, poet, and academician at Dinath building, in the office of Shair, the oldest, still in print Urdu literary magazine.

I was happy with the day’s work and was on my way back to Powai when I got a call from  Gaurav Vaz asking if I was in Mumbai on Sunday. He told me that he was in Mumbai to watch the play Mughal-e-Azam being performed as a dance drama. He suggested I go and watch it as well. I jumped at the opportunity and he graciously arranged for the passes. Thank you so much, Gaurav.


Sunday, 23rd October, Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA

While Mughal-e-Azam was originally written as a play, it was made into an epic historical film by K Asif. I grew up loving this epic movie. Even today, I watch it at least once a year – it is that kind of a movie. I know each of the scenes, each dialogue by heart. So while I was excited that it is being performed on stage and directed by none other than  Feroz Abbas Khan Saheb, but I had my reservations. Staging a play based on an epic movie raises huge expectations. The standards were set too high by the movie.

As I entered the theater and took my seat, I noticed Mr. M S Sathyu sitting right next to me. I felt nervous.

The play began with a message from Lata Mangeshkar, She spoke about the movie. As the play started, I heard a collective sigh from the audience. From there on, it was spellbinding.

Every major scene from the movie was there in front of us, being performed live on stage. The grandeur of the movie was replicated with finesse. The movable steps, Mughal era pillars (that were raised and lowered as per the scene demands), the intricate jaali work, screens, front and back CG projections coupled with excellent light design took me to the era of Salim and Anarkali, just as the movie did. In fact, the play in that sense was better than the movie because a movie has the luxury of shooting a scene with selective camera angles and close-ups, which a stage productions does not. It has to be achieved purely by set and light design and performances.


Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala in the movie also set the bar very high for acting. The actors, Nissar Khan as Akbar, Priyanka Barve as Anarkali, Sunil Kumar Paliwal as Salim, did a very good job on stage. What stood out was the actors’ perfect Urdu diction, and that pleased me very much.

Songs play a paramount role in the movie, and what set the stage production apart and made it very enticing, was the flawless live singing by the characters. Priyanka Barve as Anarkali sang the difficult songs, originally sung by none other than Lata Mangeshkar, extremely well, and Ashima Mahajan as Bahar was equally good.


The dances! Ah, the dances were mesmerizing, they breathed life into the scenes. The emotions of Anarkali was reflected in each step, each bhav of the collective troop of very talented dancers. I was told that the very best were auditioned and chosen from various kathak gharanas. Mayuri Upadhya’s choreography makes this production complete and a pure delight to watch being performed.

As I was watching the play, I remember waiting with bated breath for the song “Jab pyar kiya to darna kya” apart from the song and dance being timeless in itself, it was the depiction of sheesh mahal in the movie that had made big news. My expectations were raised as the play progressed, and my heart raced as the scene drew closer.

Jab pyar kiya to darna kya

Salim is on one side of the stage, and on the other is Akbar and Jodhabai. Anarkali is in the middle with her troop of dancers. The stage is a replica of Sheesh Mahal as it must have been in the Mughal era. There are huge arches with intricate jali and mirror work, and more mirrors hang from the ceiling reflecting the moves of the dancers dressed in long flowing costumes. Anarkali looking stunning in her gorgeous white and red ensemble singing “pyar kiya koi chori nahi ki, chhup chhup aaheN bharna kya”.

As the song progresses, the dancers gain momentum in graceful rhythmic steps they match the lyrics, and dancers emote every emotion that Anarkali is going through.

Parda nahi jab koi khuda se
BandoN se parda karna kya

At this point I was completely overwhelmed.  The sounds of hundreds of ghunghroo, rising to a crescendo, the fast, continuous pirouettes transport me to the era of Salim and Anarkali. It was magical, to say the least.

The other place where choreography wins is a scene where Anarkali gets her last wish of being “Hindustan Ki Malika.” Bahar is singing “Jab raat hai itni matwali to subah ka alam kya hoga Anarkali gives Salim the drugged rose, and Salim is about to faint. The emotions of both Anarkali and Salim depicted through dance were outstanding.

The meticulous attention to details in each scene, right from the start when the Sangtarash begins to narrate the story till the end when Anarkali pardons Akbar for her murder, is what makes this epic drama as timeless as the movie.


There can not be a better tribute to K Asif, to the playwright Imtiaz Ali Taj and to the movie Mughal-e-Azam than this. Go watch Feroz Abbas Khan’s Mughal-e-Azam on stage; I guarantee you will be richer by the experience. Here is a quick link to take you there: Book My Show


Photos courtesy: Team Mughal-e-Azam.

Another milestone reached. Aasim leaves for Drexel tonight

For all these years we have been preparing ourselves for this day. The day when Aasim will leave for the US for his undergraduate studies. He has secured an admission in Drexel University, Philadelphia, with a decent scholarship and will be attending the Close School of Entrepreneurship. He is flying to the US directly from Nagpur tonight, thanks to Qatar Airways flight via Doha.

There is excitement, and anxiety but also a reassurance that he will do well for himself. Being in Pune for the last two years has taught him vital lessons in survival though by no means all the life lessons. Those he will learn as he grows and grows up. While a parent can not stop being a parent ever, as parents, a major part of “upbringing a child” for us is over. We now have to take a backseat and just be there for him whenever he wants us. We too are preparing ourselves for this role.

So here’s to the future. Aasim’s and ours. Cheers!