Woollens vs lycra: do you find your bliss on a snowy peak or a pebbly shore?
Read this to find out whether you’re a mountain person, or a beach bumbrunch Updated: Nov 11, 2017 22:29 IST
Climber or swimmer?
Rivalries, when they’re not bloody, can be bloody good fun. That eliminates many sporting wars – and all football ones. Some of my favourites are Delhi vs Mumbai, The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones, and the Biryani Wars. (Sorry, Kolkata. Yours is delicious, but Awadh has the last word.)
There’s one, however, that runs far deeper. The great Mountain vs Ocean debate. For intensely personal, and often indefinable, reasons we veer solidly towards one rather than the other. A bicontextual orientation is much more understandable, but rare. It’s fascinating how quickly we form personal opinions based on this innocuous question: are you a mountain or an ocean person? (I, for one, feel you can learn more about people from the way they order, and respond to, food at a restaurant.)
Which of the two you prefer could be put down to where you come from. I’ve lived my whole life in Mumbai. Some of the defining moments of my growing up years have featured the Arabian Sea. Pav Bhaji weekends in the ‘80s on Juhu Beach, bhutta evenings in the ‘90s on Carter Road and beery 2000s at Marine Drive. If ever there was a natural-born sea-level person, it is I. Climbing a pavement is liable to give me altitude sickness.
Naturally, I tumble down to Goa every now and then, like a wave to the shore. Apart from the oceaniness of the ocean (“How weary of description must thou be ,” ends a Vikram Seth poem lampooning oceanic odes) I love the climate it is associated with. Give me humidity over that wretched, soul-destroying dry heat anyday. (Bombay 1–0 Delhi).
High on mountains
On my first flight from Bombay to Srinagar, when the last cloud turned into a mountain, and then snow-capped peaks were all the eye could see, something strange happened. I wanted to touch the mountain. To smell, hear and even taste it. Mountain experiences lodge themselves deep. They become a kind of sensory identity. The sweetness of river trout. A hot toddy on a cold night. Morning light that spawns a million Instagram posts. And perhaps most worryingly, well-intentioned watercolours that haunt holiday homes forever with their startling mediocrity.
I seek the mountains often enough. The Himalayas are my friends – but those I meet occasionally, with all the joys and discomforts of long absences and tiny incompatibilities. It’s always too cold. The nights are too dark. And solitude turns to loneliness if you give it half a chance.
Mountain-lovers reading this might insist that the setting lends itself to a kind of poetry and nostalgia that no other can. The secrecy of mists. Haughtiness of birds who know how beautiful they are. A busy stream that’s always in a hurry, yet always late. Bonfires that compete with fireflies that compete with stars. Sadly, I’m too busy sneezing under a monkey cap to enjoy much of this.
How deep is your (ocean) love?
The ocean is my happy place. The first dip in the morning sea, getting in bit-by-bit, and soon losing all sense of wet and dry, land or water, past or future. Unruly waves that mock lofty thoughts. Somewhere on the shore someone you love has ordered you a plate of rawa-fried mussels. And a gin and tonic.(It’s not that early in the morning.)
Perhaps there’s something that the mountain/ocean divide reveals about us. The one: immutable, solid, tall. The other: transient, fluid, deep. Symbolically, the contradictions are numerous. But it’s more rewarding to look at the complementarity. The ocean is where life originated. It’s home. The mountains are something to aspire to. The dream. We carry both inside us, as an affinity and a longing.
Whether we enjoy them in woolens or lycra, we’re lucky to still have these retreats. Immersive experiences that change us, often for the better. And provide enough fodder to keep silly rivalries going. (Also, The Beatles are so ahead of the Stones, it’s not even in question.)
From HT Brunch, November 12, 2017
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First Published: Nov 11, 2017 22:29 IST