Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Adieu to Lisa Chow

My world was falling apart. I felt alone in a city I'd moved to and decided to make my home. Disillusioned, lonely, heartbroken, I needed a friend. I returned home every night only to be enveloped by the silent walls of my apartment where my mind screamed for some peace of mind. I needed an escape. And I didn't want to be alone.

Here I was, miles from home, in a new city to be with the man I loved and yet in the aftermath of the relationship, making my way through the carnage of my shattered dreams I craved for somebody to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, somebody to need me, somebody to just be there and break the silence of the looming walls of my fourth floor apartment.

Sometimes animals lend you the support humans fail to give. One sunny afternoon I made my way through Russel Market. I didn't know what I was looking for. Was hoping to find a pet, probably a duckling. Then I saw them; their beady red eyes glowed in the sunlight and three furry creatures turned their curious little noses towards me and captured my heart. Henry Hog, Lisa Chow and Molly Glutton found their way into my heart and into my apartment in Bangalore and turned it into a home. Coming home wasn't so bad after all. I'd fish out my key from my purse and the sound of the door unlocking would send the threesome into a frenzy. Their squeals brought the house alive. I'd watch with amazement carrots, cabbage, tomatoes disappear into their ever hungry stomachs in seconds.

The three guinea pigs became more than just pets..my roommates, my friends, my family, my emotional walking stick. As I watched my world crash and my dreams shatter the threesome made themselves comfortable in their new home. But it was time to move on, and move out and return to Bombay. Time to start a new life. Emotionally drained, I don't think I had the strength to start anew or even the courage to deal with what was happening. My family thought I'd be better off moving back home to Bombay with my pets. They'd help me deal with my pain and keep me engaged. Well....they were right.

Hog, Chow and Glutton flew to Bombay, Indian Airlines, economy class. Happy with a bigger enclosure and the new city they decided to start a family. 4 months after we moved to Bombay, one morning Chow very coyly introduced us to her litter of two. Soon our guinea pig family grew from three to nine.

In the months that followed some friends adopted 4 of the piglets and two continued to live with us even after they grew up and the five pigs provided endless hours of fun and companionship.

Over five years have passed. The pigs grew old and passed on. Lisa Chow, the last of them lived to a ripe old age of five and a half years.
A lot changed over five years and most importantly I changed and with me my life changed. I didn't need an emotional walking stick any more. I was stronger and ready to take on life. I think Lisa Chow waited till she knew in her little-guinea-pig-way that I was strong enough now and she was free to succumb to the hand of time.

I returned from a 3 week vacation to find Chow on her side, a film covering her eyes had blinded her, her little feet had no strength to support her body and still she called out in recognition every time I passed her basket. In our five and a half years together she could recognise me from the sound of my footsteps. The vet recommended some medicines and gave her three days to recover. "Put her to sleep in three days if the medicines don't help and end her suffering; she's lived a full life" he said.
I watched her writhe in pain for 3 days and she very demurely let us feed her medicines(with a dropper), water and food. Her condition was beyond repair and on 5th September just before midnight Chow breathed her last.

This is a final adieu to my guinea pig family. They shared with me the worst and the best years of my life.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Iron Fort - Lohagad

The Indrayani Express lugged through the rain drenched ghats in the early hours of the morning. We alighted at Lonavala station to find out we'd just missed the local train to Malavli. It didn't dampen our spirits. A hot cuppa tea at the station and off we went to Malavli by rickshaw.

From Malavli station we started our walk, past the railway crossing, a bridge over the expressway, through the Bhaje village and soon we were trudging through slushy paddy fields. A crab popped out from under a rock to say hello and a pair of startled brahminy mynah's took to flight. A cool breeze enveloped us and we were intoxicated with the sights, the smells and the sound this scenic setting had to offer.

The rain gods had finally obliged and waterfalls rushed down the hillside and transformed into gurgling streams.

We reached the road that leads up to the base village. Although motorable I'd only drive up that road if I'm allowed to drive a hummer. The road wound and climbed, leaving the inexperienced trekker a little out of breath. We stopped often and flopped ourselves on little rocks along the way, more to admire the breathtaking view than to rest. In the distance another local train blew it's horn and snaked it's way to Pune. Above us the twin forts of Visapur and Lohagad towered like benevolent monarchs. Their history excited and intrigued us.

The history of Lohagad can be traced back to many dynasties and time periods - Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Yadavas, Bahamanis, Nizamshahis, Mughals and Marathas. The mighty fort, which is one of the better preserved ones today was captured by the Maratha ruler, Shivaji in 1648 AD. The treaty of Purandar forced Shivaji to surrender the fort to the Mughals in 1665 AD but he recaptured it in 1670 AD using it to hide a huge treasure he amassed when he raided Surat. Some people believe the treasure is still hidden on the fort waiting to be discovered.

Soon we were at Lohagaon, the base village. A village stall promised hot bhakris with spicy zunka and even fiery hirvya mircha thecha.

We placed our order and started our ascent up the steps to the Iron Fort. Hordes of monkeys climbed down the walls of the fort to inspect the human invaders. Some pensively watched from the distance and the bigger, bolder ones even barred their teeth in warning. Undeterred we continued through the four huge doors leading up to the fort. First through Ganesh Darwaja, past Narayan Darwaja and Hanuman Darwaja and finally Maha Darwaja we were atop the fort. The fort has remnants from the Mughal as well as the Maratha rule...an old cannon, water tanks, temples, dargas...

We walked through the clouds, the rain coming down in torrents, the roaring wind threatening to blow us off the fort. By the time we'd scaled the length and breath of the fort we were drenched to the bone, our teeth clattered and our muscles ached for warmth but our hearts were captivated by the beauty it had to offer. Our stomach's reminded us of the hot lunch that awaited us at the village.

As promised, the Maharashtrian lunch followed by piping hot adrakwali chai were delicious. Satiated after a delectable meal and warm after a change of clothes we bid our adieus to the hospitable villagers and started our journey back.

We still had one more detour on our agenda. The waterfalls we encountered on our way up extended an invitation which we readily accepted. The cool water engulfed our tired bodies as we lowered ourselves on the rocks. The veiled sun was slowly moving across the sky towards the horizon. Soon darkness would set in and it was time to head back to Malavli.

We got into the local train at Malavali, got off at Lonavala to pick up chikki and fudge and then boarded a bus back to Mumbai. Weary, we rode in silence. Some fell asleep. I shut my eyes and savoured each moment of my blissful trip to Lohagad.