The Element - Book Review

Today I finished reading ‘The Element – How finding your passion changes everything’. Before I do my first book review, let me tell you how I came to know about Sir Ken Robinson, the author of this book. I like to watch TED talks on Youtube. As one watches one talk after another, more talks are suggested by youtube. One such suggestion was ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity’. This was a TED talk given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006. Sir Ken Robinson is a British born Educationist who is now living in the USA. His life work is in the area of public education.

In the book, ‘The Element’, Sir Ken Robinson gives persuasive stories and examples of how finding ones’ passion and pursuing the same, can catapult one to the heights of fame, or if not face, heights of satisfaction. He gives numerous real life stories of actors, dancers, writers, painters, musicians, entrepreneurs and even from his own life to show how these people found their passion and excelled in their chosen field.

Most of the book is then filled with examples like this:
XYZ was a very average child in his school. Most of his teachers in school had written him off. Somehow someone found that this child has a particular streak in him. He encouraged him to pursue that field of work. The boy found it very satisfying and slowly more and more opportunities came along the way. Finally, he turned out to be this great musician or painter or dancer that he is today. 

In this book, he defines something called as ‘The Element’. The Element, according to him is the meeting point of aptitude and passion. When a person is in his element, he loves what he is doing and in doing it, he feels he is in his authentic self. Then, he feels that time passes differently, he feels more alive, centered and vibrant!
I think this is very similar to What Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described as The Flow.

Sir Ken Robinson says that the Element is different for everyone and each one has to find it for himself. The Element has 2 main features and 2 main conditions.  The features are aptitude and passion. The conditions are attitude and opportunity. Only when the 4 meet together, then one can identify his element. Further, he defines a sequence that goes like this - I get it (Aptitude) ; I love it (Passion) ; I want it (Attitude) ; Where is it (Opportunity)? When all these are met in a particular field of work or activity, one finds his element. He says to be in the Zone is to be in the deep heart of the element.

One of the biggest impediment to the Element is ‘What will people think’.  This is what stops people from going forward and pursuing their passion. He talks about finding the tribe, or the people with similar interests is of paramount importance to sustain and nurture the element. He goes on to describe an important and very common factor among all people who have found their element – Everyone had a mentor. A mentor can have any of the 4 roles – Mentor brings recognition. Mentor brings encouragement. Mentor facilitates growth by giving advice/tips. Mentor stretches and pushes the mentee beyond his limits. Again, the author has substantiated each of these with examples and stories.

In the rest of the book, he discusses if someone does it for money (as a professional) or for the love of it (as an amateur). Again, he says, many people who have found their element have taken it as their vocation. But he gives some examples of people who found their element in their hobbies. They do not pursue it for their livelihood. He states that such people are quite satisfied and also perform well in their day jobs because they have an overall sense of fulfillment. And in some case, a transformation happens, wherein an amateur becomes a professional.

Towards the end of the book, he becomes quite pedantic as he describe what ails our education system and various models. He discusses a Reggio School model which is interesting. His main case is that the current education system which tries to compartmentalize and standardize everything does not nurture creativity. It rather stifles the same. At the end, he exhorts the readers to discover their own element.

I liked the book very much. Apart from the concepts that I have mentioned earlier, some new learning for me which standout are 1) one can try to find one’s element by checking which activity or field of work are the 2 features and 2 conditions satisfied, 2) find a tribe in that field and 3) get oneself a mentor in that field.  The numerous stories and anecdotes in the book can keep you engaged and motivated. Overall it is a good read. I would recommend it to you!

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes EverythingThe Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Kayaking at Hussain Sagar – My adventures in the water

Face your Fears. And what could be more fearsome than some adventurous water sports for a person who does not know how to swim. 

The planning started the night before. I had seen a post in meetup from GHAC regarding a kayaking opportunity some time back. I wanted to experience it and the next day being a Saturday, I thought it could be the perfect way to spend my morning. I registered for the same, tossed a pair of shorts and T shirt into my backpack, set the alarm at 5:00AM and went to sleep early. In the morning, when the alarm rang, I woke up and finished my morning routine. I had planned to start around 7:30 to reach the place by 8:00. But since there was an early morning errand that I had to do, I started around 7:00. Finished the errand and was on my way to Hussain Sagar.

Driving in a Saturday winter morning in the long Christmas weekend at Hyderabad is sheer pleasure. The population in this city comprises of many IT migrants. Thus, you can be sure that on a long weekend, half of the city has gone out somewhere. This in fact is a boon to those who stay back. On such a day, one can finally see how wide the roads in Hyderabad are. There is no encroachment of roads by any vendors or pedestrians or stationary vehicles. You can drive in peace in the top gear, without any noise or smoke in your face. The cool weather is an added bonus. For someone who is used to drive at 20kmph maximum speed in the city traffic, a traffic free road is like sheer heaven.

The Hussain Sagar lake, an artificial lake in the centre of Hyderabad was built in 1562. It is spread across an area of 5.7 square kilometers and is fed by River Musi. There is a beautiful boulevard called the necklace road that which connects NTR Gardens to Sanjeevaiah Park. There are many public green spaces, beautiful lawns, parks, restaurants  and recreation facilities and good views of the city of Hyderabad that line up along this boulevard. These are some of the pride of Hyderabad.

My destination was Sanjeevaiah park, which is one such parks dedicated to Damodaram Sanjivayya, a former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. I cruised along the necklace road and reached my destination. After buying a morning walker ticket for Rs 5, I went inside the park. Built on 92 acres (37 ha) along the banks of Hussain Sagar lake, Sanjeevaiah park won the Best Open Landscape Award during the 2010 Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage award presentations.

At 8:00 in the morning, there was an unusually sharp chillness in the air. There were few people going in and coming out of the park. They were morning walkers and those who wanted to do some exercise in the fresh air. The chirping of the birds could be heard all over.

There is something serene and peaceful about Old parks, that I love. I think parks are like wine. The older they are, the more curated they are, the better they are. New parks somehow do not have the grace and serenity of the old, well maintained ones. Sanjeevaiah park is one such park that has a grace and charm of its own.

The first thing that strikes you when you enter the park is the greenery. There are tall trees which line up the walk way. Then there is a smooth coating of clean and uncluttered green grass towards your side and beds of colorful flowers arranged neatly in the distance. The morning sun was spreading its golden light all over the park and one could feel the warming effect of the dappled light between trees against the chill air. The early morning sun light rendered a bright yellow hue on the green grass and the trees.

My thoughts went back to the parks that I have seen in Australia and Europe. I felt really good that we have such a beautiful park here in Hyderabad. And I was also ashamed that after having spent almost 10 winters in Hyderabad, I had never visited this place earlier.
I walked further down crossing morning walkers and joggers who were doing their constitutionals. I saw a tall bearded young man who was doing head stands on the lawn. Some places in the lawn, I could see white egrets, moving solo or in groups. They seemed to be feasting on the insects in the grass. On my left, I could see the waters of the lake. In fact, Sanjeevaiah park is like a small peninsula, a small land mass protruding into the water body. I had to cross the park completely to come to the end where my destination for the morning was.

Finally I came to a place where there was a very broad iron gate. Behind the gate, was a large shipping container painted green, with some posters and pictures pasted on its wall. It announced – ‘The Yacht Club of Hyderabad’.  

I went inside the gate and to the front of the container and then discovered that the container was in fact a make shift locker room. A narrow strip of land extended in front of it, all the way till a small concrete watch tower. There were yachts and boats of various shapes that were stacked on the strip. I could get a great view of the Hussain Sagar lake from there. Many water birds were peacefully floating in the water. There was a strong breeze and the atmosphere was very serene. There were some folks kayaking and some other milling around. I was anticipating a good experience!

Further down the strip, there were 2 men who were seated on white plastic chairs. They had a white plastic table in front of them with some papers on it. I checked in with them. They already had my details from the payment gateway where I had made the advance payment. I paid the rest of the amount. They gave me an instruction and disclaimer sheet to read and sign. They asked me if I was a swimmer or non-swimmer and gave me a red hand band as a non-swimmer to put on and a food token.

They told the locker room is behind and asked me to change into shorts and remove my shoes. Back in the locker room, I stashed my phone, wallet, car keys, bag, changed into shorts and walked back near the jetty.

There was an instructor who helped me put on the safety life jacket. You have to wear it as a normal jacket and zip it in front. There is a thigh and a chest strap which has to be fastened. It was very tight initially, but then he helped me loosen it and make it a comfortable fit. I learnt that the jacket can support weight up to 130 Kg. It seemed to be filled with some light material like foam which increased the volume. I felt bulked up. This I guess works on the Archimedes principle displacing more weight of water than its own weight, thus keeping it floating.

Having worn the jacket, we were instructed on the various parts of the paddle and the kayak. I do not remember all the names. But the critical thing was that there is a mark in the paddle which you have to have in your right hand. They told us how to hold it and how to paddle, how to maneuver, etc.

Then, we were told how to sit in the kayak. They were long triyaks, meaning it could hold 3 people. Each of them had a coach and 2 other learners. The coach sat in the back. I was supposed to sit in the middle. It was a bit of an experience getting into the Kayak. The kayak was bit unstable in the water and once you put your feet, it felt as if it would topple.  So, one has to be a bit careful while going in. The instructor help people get in. Since I sat in the front in my next round, I felt that sitting in the front is a bit more comfortable than in the back. There is more leg space in front. In the back, you have to keep the legs raised high on the sides of the front rower. This makes it an uncomfortable position for the uninitiated.

Once you sit comfortably, they will hand you the paddles. The coach sitting at the back will shout commands, left, left, left, right, left, right. This means you have to paddle on that side. It is very important to synchronize between the three. So basically, the first rower has to be followed. Again, if you sit in the front, it is easier as you don’t have to follow anyone but others follow you. While sitting in the middle, I was time and again told by my coach that I was not following the first. Since we had to paddle hard, I did not have time to look at the expanse of the lake. I was focusing on the paddles. Though I had some fear before going into it, I didn’t actually felt nervous.

Anyways, we went to a blue mark in the lake about 125 meters from the jetty. There he told us how to turn around. If you have to turn right, you have to paddle on the left only and vice versa. Again, we paddled hard and came back towards the jetty. My thighs started becoming sore by being in the uncomfortable position. My partner was very enthused and wanted to go for another round. I also agreed and we went for the second round. By the time we returned back to the jetty, I was tired! More than that, I was feeling very thirsty. I must have been in water for a maximum of 20 minutes by then.
So, I alighted and took rest.

Suddenly, I saw another person coming towards me fully drenched. Upon inquiring, I found that their kayak capsized and he was rescued.

I took some rest, had water and again went in to another kayak. This time I choose to sit in front. It was quite comfortable. In fact, while sitting in middle I thought the person at front will have to see the entire lake and that would be scary. But it was actually not so. We kayaked for some distance and then I felt my partner who was perched in the middle not paddling. I asked him what happened. He said back pain and he gave up. So, I and the coach, both of us paddled back to the jetty.

I enjoyed while paddling this time. I had learnt the trick. I knew that you have to put the whole paddle inside the water and pull it with all your strength, left side and then right side. It was great to move in the water like this. The water was splashing and wet my legs and some on my face. But that was ok.

Back at the jetty, the breakfast was ready. Hot idli, chutney and sambhar were served to all. After all the hard work, it was delicious. It was around 9:30 and being hungry since morning, I could have had much more than the 4 pieces that were served. That followed by a cup of tea.

I met Suheim Sheikh, the founder of the Yacht club. He explained all the activities that they do there including supporting under privileged children learn sailing. There were many sailing and kayaking course that they offered. He said that this was an expensive sport but it is a rewarding one. And as per him, Hyderabad yacht club is one of the best in the country.

Post the breakfast and chitchat, there was to be a kayak race. I was hesitating to take part. But the in the last moment, I joined. There were 16 participants and we made teams of 4. Our team was led by Gautam, a boy of about 11 or 12 who was one of the coach. The first pair from our team went in. They came back first. Then I and another guy went in. Again I was in the middle as he went in first. We started strong. Gautam was prodding us to go faster and faster. Somewhere something happened and in the next moment, the kayak capsized. I could not understand what went wrong. Suddenly, I found myself in the cold water. I went face down. But the life jacket helped me stay afloat. I did not panic. That was the first instruction that was given to us earlier. Then I tried to roll myself up to face upwards. I saw all the 3 of us in water. The coach asked me to hold the kayak that was toppled over. By that time, the rescue guys had spotted us and within minutes they arrived near us. First they lifted up my partner. Then someone asked my specs and I gave it to him. They asked me to move to the side of the rescue boat. Then they held me by the jacket and pulled me out of the water on to the boat. It was over in matter of minutes.  I was shivering in the cold. They asked me if I had drank any water and I replied in negative. The rescue boat took us safely to the jetty where we alighted. Having fallen down from the kayak and being rescued from the water, I completed the full experience of kayaking!

That was the end of my adventure! Wow, what a day it was!

Then there was a sailing offer using sail boats. Though I wanted to try that, I was not carrying enough money. Anyways, it had already been a marvelous experience and I did not want an overload of adventure for one day. It was great fun and exercise. This will remain as a good memory with me. I would recommend you all to spend at least one of your weekend morning trying this out. You will feel refreshed, energetic and earn some bragging rights!

And the sailing will be done some other day, for sure!

‘This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.’

Birding at Himayat Sagar

25th December, Christmas, was on a Friday. So, it was a long weekend and I did not have any plans as such. The previous evening, while browsing on meetup site, I found an interesting event. There was a meet up for bird watching and trail walking at Himayat Sagar on the morning of 25th .

Now, I am an arm chair bird watcher. Now, I do not have a camera (not even a basic point and shoot) nor a binocular or a bird book. So, I am not qualified to be called a bird watcher at all. And with my poor eyesight, it is really difficult to identify details on the birds. Hence, arm-chair bird watching is what suits me! I like to do facebook birding! I subscribe to some facebook groups and pages which feed me information on various types of birds, their habitat, their food habits etc. In fact, thanks to facebook groups, over the last few months, I have been able to identify different types of Kingfishers – Common, Pied, White breasted, etc, came to know that there is a bird called Wag-tail and that they are abundantly found in Hyderabad, in fact in our office campus itself, and that there are various types of wagtail, various types of Babblers, various types of Pipit, Hawk, Cuckoo, Myna, Heron, Owl, Plover etc. While my knowledge of birds has increased only a little, it has definitely increased my curiosity to know and understand more about birds. But due to lethargy, I was never inclined to go for an actual birding. But, when this opportunity presented itself, I thought it would be a great idea to go along with some folks who know about birds and learn from them.

This meetup was being organized by GJ. She is an active member of GHAC. Over the meetup site, she told us to assemble on time. We were supposed to meet at Gachibowli circle by 6:00. The previous night, I set the alarm at 5:00 am. Woke up in the morning and, got ready to start to the common meeting place by 5:30am.
By the time I reached there, it was still dark. The sun was rising around 6:20 or so during that week. I found a car parked and 3 more people waiting. I parked my car and went to them. Suddenly, one of the guys, asked me GHAC? I said, “Yes, How do you know?”. He said “From your shoes. I am Sayyad”. I introduced myself. There was GJ who was the organizer.

She gave me a disclaimer form to read, sign and pay the nominal meetup fee of Rs 50. Then few more people joined us. By 6:30, it was a group of about 7 people. GJ asked for a volunteer to collect the fees. I accepted. She gave me a bunch of papers. One which is a disclaimer and another to note down details of the payment. I collected the fees from the people who were joining. By 6:45, we decided that we should move. I did not know the direction. So, I decided to follow GJ’s car.

Himayat Sagar is an artificial lake about 20 km from Hyderabad. After the massive flood in Musi river in 1908, the Nizam of Hyderabad initiated a comprehensive program to control flood. As part of that program, a reservoir was created on Esi river, a tributary of Musi River. This was supposed to help in flood control. It was built in the reign of Nizam Osman Ali Khan and was named after his youngest son, Himayat Ali Khan.

In just about 15 minutes, we reached the reservoir entrance. We parked our cars there. There were few other folks who also joined us at the gate. I got back to the task of reading out the disclaimer to the new folks, jotting down their details, getting their signatures and collecting the fees. Then GJ asked all of us to stand in a circle and give our introduction. There were few students, few young IT professionals, and there were 2 families. There were a young family of 4 (Father, mother, son and daughter) and another elderly family of 4 (Father, mother, daughter and son-in-law). There were about 20 people in total in the meetup.

Then GJ informed that people who are interested in bird watching can stay back with her and others who wanted to go for a peaceful morning jog can run along the road built on the dam till the end just and come back. Some folks went for the run. The families, myself and GJ stayed back for birdwatching. It was a long paved road. After covering a short distance, we could see the water reservoir on one side. On the other side of the dam, there was a small green forest area. Lots of trees and shrubs were there. It seemed to be a place for many birds as we could hear their morning chirping.

It was a very beautiful, cool and calm day. There was a good amount of chill in the air. some cyclists with their modern cycles and cycling gear crossed us. As we walked along the road on the dam, we first saw few parrots. They were rose ringed parrots. GJ took out a binocular from her bag and adjusted it. Then she passed it to others to have a look. The parrots were beautiful.

There was a huge kite that flew on top of us. It hovered for some time, surveyed our group like a boss, and then went away, probably realizing that we were not good enough for breakfast!

There were many babblers and some pea cock in the jungle. The peacocks were in some distance. But the babblers were very playful and kept coming closer, making a lot of noise, crossing from the jungle area towards the road and going back, jumping from tree to tree.

We reached a small gate on the road. Entering the gate, we found ourselves on the top of the sluice gates of the reservoir. A sluice gate is traditionally a wood or metal barrier sliding in grooves that are set in the sides of the waterway. Sluice gates commonly control water levels and flow rates in rivers and canals. Though the water in the reservoir was in some distance, in the earlier days, when the reservoir used to overflow with water, the sluice gates would be opened to let water out of the reservoir. 

The opposite side of the sluice gates was a very deep gorge formed by the rushing water. The bed of the gorge was filled with big and small rocks. It looked beautiful. But there was no water there. It seemed the sluice gates were not opened for years.

We saw many other types of birds there. Some of the folks were taking pictures. In the reservoir, we saw couple of birds. They were sitting on some rocks and then one just glided into the water. GJ trained her binoculars on them and then passed them to us. We took turns one by one. Then she pulled out a much used book from her bag. It was the book of Indian birds by Dr Salim Ali, the famous ornithologist. The book helped us identify the different birds. The black birds in the water were Cormorants. The cormorants have a very smooth way of swimming. They go completely inside the water and come out after a few meters. They fish for their food inside the water. On the rocks, we spotted some Cattle Egret and Grey Heron.

Then there was a flock some black birds that were flying very fast. The folks who were trying to take their pictures were not able to as they could not catch them in the frame. They seemed to be like swift or swallows or sand martins to me. GJ immediately pulled out the bird book and asked me to identify. Looking at their features and reading the book, I concluded that they were Red Rumped Swallows. There were a colony of them nesting in the jungle and they were flying all around. It was a great sight to see.

By that time, the guys who went for the walk were back. GJ announced that we will go down, not into the gorge, but in a path beside it towards the plain land below where there were some big rocks. But before going there, she again made us form a circle, made us do some warm up exercises and gave some instructions. Then we started going down the trail.

It was a very easy trail. There were some trees beside the path. I spotted a sunbird there. Shortly, we went through the jungle patch to come out in a plain area where there were lots of rocks. The group, especially the children wanted to sit there. The young folks started taking out their cameras and posed for pictures. The families took out breakfast/snacks and had them. I kept exploring the place, jumping from one rock to another to another. It was a good fun workout.

I went even further and found a rock in the shape of a dinosaur. There were plenty of Gree Bee Eaters there. I had not seen a Green Bee Eater in real life earlier. This was the first time I saw them. It was wonderful. I could also spot a Black Drongo also perched on a tree. I was amazed by my bird spotting knowledge just by doing facebook birding!

Coming back to where our group was perched, I gave the news to GJ and we all started to go there and see the birds. The children and the group also spent more time on the dinosaur rock. Some music was floating in the air, probably from some nearby hamlet.
We spotted some more birds like the white throated kingfisher, myna, starling, white brow wagtail and cuckoo.  It was almost 9:00 am and time for us to return back.

We traced our ways back and reached the dam road. Then thanked GJ. GJ invited me to join other short trips and treks. All of the folks bade good bye to each other and left.

I really enjoyed the short trip. It was a pleasant break from the daily grind of city and work life. One feels closer to nature and does not want to come back. This trip also made me bit sad by seeing the litter and garbage that had been thrown around the reservoir. And also looking at the receding water level of the reservoir, or the dry bed of the water outlet which one day used to be a river! But there is a ray of hope. There are like minded people who are joining hands to help preserve the serenity of nature!

Rock Walk at Peerancheru

The Society to Save Rocks conducts Rock Walks every 3rd Sunday of the month. On 20th of December, a Rock walk was planned near PBEL City. Since I knew about their activities having participated in an earlier event, Run for Rocks, I was interested to go this time. Moreover, I wanted to take Sara with me as I thought she would enjoy nature.

That Sunday, by the time our brunch was over, it was quite past 3:00PM. I asked wifey if she would like to go for the Rock walk that I was planning to join. Surprisingly she agreed. It was kind of strange for me because she does not like these outings. But since I was very much interested she obliged to accompany me. Sara on the other hand vehemently opposed the idea of going anywhere except home. However, I persisted and drove towards PBEL city.

It being a Sunday, roads were empty. By the time we hit the ORR, Sara and her mom were fast asleep. By 4:15 we reached PBEL city. I looked around and could not find anyone anywhere in the vicinity that could give me the rock walk impression. We took a short spin and came back again. By that time, I saw a lady with some children getting down from a car in front of PBEL city. I parked my car, went to her and asked if she was there for the rock walk. She said yes and handed me a sheet of paper to write my name and details. Then she also handed some other flyers about Save the Rock Society. By that time, others were trickling in.

I came back to my car and asked the mom and daughter duo if they want to go. They said no. I persisted and asked them to come for whatever distance. Grudgingly they agreed. I promised to carry Sara if she would not walk at any point in time.

By that time, around 30 people had gathered. There were some folks from the PBEL city who knew the area well, Some folks from Save the Rock Society and some children from PBEL city and some kids from Kendriya Vidyalaya who were accompanied by their teacher. We walked towards a hill. It seemed like a plotted layout with tar roads. After some distance, we assembled for a group photograph. Frauke, the organizer, the same lady with whom I spoke first, told us some do’s and don’t and guidelines. There were 2 other folks who also guided us on the direction and what to do if we get lost.

Then the group started walking. Seeing so many children in the group, Sara was quite excited. She was the smallest among them. So, she was walking slowly and the three of us were trailing behind the larger group. The group went to a big rock and some of the boys started climbing. Sara was fascinated by that. But by the time we reached there, we were asked to move forward.  

Going a bit further, we left the plotted layouts and tar road behind us. There was a kuchha road. It was narrow and went up and down dangerously. There were some shrubs and thorny trees. Ducking them we pressed ahead and soon reached a place where we had to climb some rocks and came up to a very flat rock. The children started running helter-skelter there. They wanted to climb the bigger rocks. Looking at them Sara also said she wants to go to the bigger rocks. Knowing that she cannot climb on her own, I decided to climb the rock along with her.

Path to the big rock on the top was very narrow and one had to traverse several small rocks carefully, jump over big gaps and crevices between rocks , squeeze through a gap between two rocks and finally climb the large rock to come to the top. There were others who lent a helping hand to pull me up and to carry Sara. Finally both of us reached there. Sara was very happy.

Looking at both Papa and daughter on the top of the rock, mama could not stay behind. She also climbed the rocks and joined us. Coming down was bit difficult than climbing up. It is because here you haveto balance yourself from slipping and falling forward. But with help of others, we all climbed down safely.

The group started moving forward. We crossed the rocky patch and were told that there used to be a small lake nearby. Due to lack of rains, it may have dried out completely. We can go and see if there is any water. So, we marched ahead.

It was around 5:00PM then. The sun was beginning to go down. The yellow rays of the sun washed the rocky landscape and gave it a yellowish tint. There were dried shrubs, bushes, grass lands and thorny trees all around. We had to be careful to hold the twigs and sticks from the trees that were on the path. There were many thorns and grass burr that stuck to our clothes. Grass or cockle burr, are plant seeds (fruit), that are covered with stiff and sticky spines, designed to hang on to animals to spread the seeds far and wide. I had a tough time pulling them out later!

I told Sara that this was a jungle and she was not willing to accept. She said there are rocks everywhere. Where were the aminals. I told her that animals will come in the night. She told rocks are not living. Someone from the Save the Rock society was nearby and told her that rocks also grow very slowly. But unlike trees, which grow fast and we can plant them, rocks do not grow fast and we cannot create new rocks. So, we should save the rocks!

Going ahead, we came across some more rock formations. One of them were like a crocodile face. It was called the crocodile rock. We took some pictures there. Then we walked further and could see the lake bed. On the way, we found a baya weaver’s nest. We were told that there was a colony of baya weavers who have build their next on a tree. The male baya weaver painstakingly builds beautiful and complex nests out of fibre. It hangs from a tree. The female would visit all nests build by males and choose the best nest to pair up with the male. Later, we saw the birds’ nest hanging from the trees.

The other children were collecting various types of feathers that they were getting on the way. Among the different feathers, I could identify peacock and hawk feathers. Sara was getting edgy as she could not find any feather while other children were finding them. Then suddenly someone found a porcupine quill. Sara wanted to have that. Since she was the smallest, the girl handed it to her. Proudly she marched ahead with the porcupine quill. Then other children found more quills. She also joined them in the search. I had to drag her out of that party.

We went to the bed of the lake which had completely dried up. Sara was afraid to go there as the earth was dried and cracked. She was afraid that she might fall. But once I walked there, she also followed me.

As it was getting darker, we had to come back quickly. Back at the place where our cars were parked, the group had assembled. Frauke and her team passed some water, tea and biscuits. Then they were offering some books and memorabilia on rocks to buy. It was time for us to move. 

The trip was quite enjoyable. It made me go back to my childhood when we used to go on such hikes and trail walks into the jungles or hillocks near our town. It refreshed those memories and brought me closer to nature. Sara also enjoyed the trip a lot. It was an evening well spent!

Run for Rocks

Sundays are meant to be slow, sluggish and slumberous. After a week of hard work at office, and a Saturday filled with never ending household chores, it is only the Sunday that provides respite to the common man. Most love to laze on the bed for a few more hours on a Sunday morning to recharge, rejuvenate and refresh for the onslaught of life in the new week. But there are some crazy folks who do not agree to the above philosophy. Their idea of rejuvenation is to wake up at 4:00 AM on Sunday mornings, get ready in a jiffy and hit the road running.  They love to work out a sweat instead of lazing around. They are the Hyderabad Runners group. This is a group of people who are dedicated to the sport of running.

Then there are some other even crazier people, whose idea of rejuvenation is to look at, love, pamper and save Rocks. Yes, you heard it right - Rocks. They are the folks at Society to Save Rocks. They identify different rock sites in and around Hyderabad. They organize rock-walks and awareness programs among the general public and help preserve the beautiful huge rocks from destruction.

Now, what happens when both the groups, the Hyderabad Runners and Society to Save Rocks join hands? An event called "Run for Rocks" is born! The Society to Save Rocks which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year decided to organize a Run for Rocks on the 28th of June, 2015.  With help of Hyderabad Runners they organized the event.

The run was organized at Fakhruddingutta near Lanco hills. This is a Rocky hill, with huge boulders and rock plates on the top of the hill. This was the start point of the 5K and 21K run. When you on the Lanco Hills road from DPS, there is a non-descript small road going towards the right. This road again turns left and meets an un-tarred road that climbs up a hill. The ride here is bumpy and rocky. From the below, no one could ever guess what one would find just 300 meters ahead. While going on that, I felt as if I was in a Himalayan rally. But my old trusted vehicle could take me safely up to the top where I could see a piece of plain land, a la plateau. Scores of cars and bikes were parked. I parked on to a side and got out to survey the landscape.

It was around 5:15AM in the morning and the sun had not still come out. The dawn was breaking and there was some visibility around. I could see large boulders about 50 feet away. There were shrubs and a huge rock face in front. Turning around, I could see many other rocks. Some of them were as high as a 2 storey building. In some cases, there were rocks upon rock and again rocks upon them making beautiful formations and shapes.

Slowly more and more people trickled in their cars and bikes. The organizers had put up a Shamiana under which they started distributing the T-shirts and breakfast coupons for people who had registered. I went to one of the distribution desk where they asked my name. Hearing it, they told me to go to another desk which was for people with names starting from A to N. I went to the other desk and enquired. They checked their list but still my name was not there in it. I was surprised, but kept waiting there. After some time, one person came with another list where my name was available. Thus I got the breakfast coupon and the T-shirt. They gave me a medium size T-shirt first. I checked it but found that it was too small. Changed it for a Large size which fitted me quite well.

Wearing the white Tee, I went to the start point. There were the serious runners who were doing stretches and warm-up exercises. They were in groups. Some were chatting with each other and others were taking selfies and group pictures. Many were adjusting their gears and gadgets, getting ready to run. PV Sindhu, the badminton player was there. She flagged off to inaugurate the run and the 21K folks started. Then Sindhu gave some sound bytes to the waiting media folks.

At 6:30, the second run (meant for 5k) was flagged off by Sindhu. This was a bigger group. In this there were many people who were hobby and recreational runners. There were children and ladies who came to support their fathers or daughters. Some folks like me were there who wanted to run more than 5K but not a 21K.

I switched on my endomondo and ambled along. The initial run was downhill. Some people had started running. Some others were taking selfies. I ran slowly with the crowd taking care not to run over the small stones and slippery ground. After about 300 m, I was almost on the base of the hill and got the tarred road. Soon, I crossed the Lanco hills road and took the main road leading towards Nanakramguda junction. I ran slowly, soaking in the morning sun which had come out. The other runners had spread out by now. In the distance I could see the water station. There were boys and girls handing out Gatorade and water. I ran past them and checked my phone. I had covered almost than 2.5k. I was not thirsty or tired yet. So I kept running. From Nanakramguda junction, I took the service road towards Airport. Few others were running too. I caught up with a lady and had small chat with her. She said she was training for the AHM along with Hyderabad Runners. That day, she was not doing a long run as she was not feeling well. Even I said I will do a 12K and not a half. Then I went past her.

It was when I had covered almost 4K that I started feeling a bit thirsty. Looking ahead, I could not see any water station. Some of the runners were coming back. I asked them and they said it is down the road. With renewed hope, I kept running. But even after 1 more km, the water station was not to be seen. By that time, I was pretty exhausted and running low on my energy stores. I regretted why I did not pick up something in the first water station. I started taking a walking break. Some cyclists from Hyderabad Bike Club rode passed me. Returning runners encouraged me to keep pushing. Again I started ambling. Sometime later I reached the water station. I took a bottle of Gatorade and gulped it bottoms up. I took mini break there and checked my distance. I had covered bit more than 6k. So, decided to turn back.

The run back was difficult. I had to take frequent walk breaks. Mustering more will power than muscle power I pushed along. I started counting my steps and decided that I will take a break every 500 steps. 1 , 2, 3, ..500 steps went past, and I was still pushing. Set my next target to 1000 steps. Then I crossed that and set target as 1500. By 1500 steps I was really tired. Had to take a walk break. Luckily I saw a water station ahead. A father and a son were standing beside a swift with water and Gatorade. I picked a bottle of Gatorade and kept running. Soon I came over to a rock cut small artificial cliff on the road. I took some pictures there and again moved on.

After sometime, I reached the Nanakramguda junction. The water station that was set up there during my onward run was not there. I saw it before the DPS where I had to take a right turn to go onto the Lanco Hills road. I took another Gatorade bottle and started walking. Then I saw some real runners overtaking me. They were the Hyderabad Runner regulars. I could see them still fresh, energetic and jovial. They kept their bodies straight and took long and strong leaps. They did not show any hint of tiredness even after doing 19K. And I was struggling after doing 10K. Some of them came encouraged me to keep running. I started again, very slowly now. Somehow I reached the foot hills. Then the real challenge- the last 300 meters or so of hill climb - started. I could run for about 70-80 meters and then gave up running. It was difficult. Finally I reached the finish point covering 12K. It was few minutes past 8AM.

Breakfast was available by that time. I had idli, vada and a cup of tea. Looking around I saw the stalls from Society to Save Rocks. They were having a membership drive. They help preserve the rocks in and around Hyderabad. They conduct rock walks every third Sunday of the month. Other than that they do various awareness programs. Then it was announced that there will be a rock walk at 8:45. It being a Sunday morning and since I did not have any other plan, I thought it would be a good idea to join them. This was my first rock walk.

Ravi Setlam, who is also active in Hyderabad Runners and an active member in Save the Rocks, became our guide. We were a group of about 20 people. He led us on the opposite direction from where we came, though shrubs and a hilly path. There were large rocks all around. Rajesh Vetcha, the founder of HR was also in the group. We went in a single file hiking along the trail. Ravi was explaining all about the rocks, how and when they were formed and how they are being destructed. He said that these rocks were more than 2500 million years old, being part of the Deccan plateau. The Himalayas which were 40 million years old, are infact babies in comparison to the Deccan rocks.

In about 5-6 minutes we reached a place from which there was an awesome view of the Hyderabad - Gachibowli IT zone. The group gathered there. On the other side, there were huge rocks, one perched on another. Someone asked if these rocks ever fell down. Ravi said that over the millions of years, the rocks weighing hundreds of tonnes sit on each other and there is some fusing that happens between two rocks. This lends them much stability and they typically do not fall down. Rajesh added that these rocks have withstood earthquakes also without toppling.


 Then Ravi said we will go inside. I was wondering where we will go and he pointed to a crevice between two rocks. It was very narrow. Surely an adult would find it difficult to get in. Ravi asked people who may be claustrophobic (fear of enclosed small space) or chiroptophobic (fear of bats) not to proceed. I sensed excitement. Few people started going in. I followed them. We had to walk sideways through the narrow crevice. Even then the rocks were touching my chest and back. Few meters like that we reached a small opening where there were different pathways. The one to the left looked dark and I could smell the horrific odor of the bats over there. There was one to the right through which some light was coming in. We went in the one straight ahead. Straddling up and down the big stones and small rocks, we reached another opening. There were 3 rocky pillars that supported a big rock on the top as a roof. I took some pictures there. Again the group moved forward and we reached a huge rocky plain surface. There were rocky walls on 2 sides and it was open on two other sides. The group sat down to rest there. The view was awesome. Just below, there were large green fields. I could see farmers tilling their land using a pair of bullocks. On the right was the large expressway to Airport with vehicles moving at top speed. Further right was the IT corridor of Gachibowli.

The wind was blowing very fast. The atmosphere was serene. All of us settled down on the rock bed and people got lost in their thoughts, either enjoying the nature or busy with their phones taking pictures. I felt like meditating. It was so peaceful and serene. There is a dargah of Fakhruddin, a muslim saint in one of the nearby rocks. He was supposed to be living 650 years ago and was spritual teacher of the ruler of deccan at that time. People pray at that dargah even to this day. Due to the work of Society to save rocks, these rocky hills of Fakhruddingutta have been preserved from being blasted and converted into office or housing complexes.

 Two small girls were also there. I guess they were daughters of one of the Hyderabad Runners. Someone asked one of them why we should save rocks. The girl's answer was really stunned me. All of 6-7 years, she said, rocks cannot grow again once broken. So we should save them. I pondered on the little girl's answer for some time. Yes, Rocks are like little hearts. Once broken, they cannot be fixed again. Unlike trees, rocks do not grow. Once broken, they are broken for ever. We cannot create new rocks. It is thus very imperative for us to save these beautiful rocks. By saving the rocks, we not only save these sites, but also save the fragile ecosystem that these rocky hills support. I had spotted chameleons around. Snakes and bats also lived there. There were different predatory birds around that place as well. Even the shrubs and grass there looked different that the ones that we find on the plain. It is really a very fragile nature that ought to be handled with care if we want our future generations to enjoy this natural beauty.

After a break, Ravi announced that we will move even further up. But he said that only 6-8 people can go as it is a difficult climb. All kids were forbidden to go. I joined the first batch. We went back to the dark pathway and went to a mount of a cave. In front of the cave, the pathway took us to another opening. One had to climb a steep rock and there was space for just one person to climb.  There was another rock piece jutting above that steep rock and there were no grip as such. Also, I could not see what was there above it. But whatever was there, I imagined it must be very difficult to scale. Standing just below the steep rock, I felt extremely claustrophobic. Some folks in front of me were having a bit of struggle to go up. Looking at them I felt I would not be able to climb. Gripped with fear, various thoughts crossed my mind. What would happen if I slip? What would happen if I faint? What would happen if I fail? I knew I was giving up. I took a deep breath, turned around and retraced my path back to the rest of the group.

I sat there for some time and calmed myself. After about 15 minutes the first group returned. They were very happy. Some of them were saying that the climb is difficult, but worth it. I was tempted to go again. I told myself this was my only chance. If I did not go now, no one knows if I can go up there ever again or not. And in all likelihood, I will not. Mustering up courage, I started again with the second group. Crossing the mouth of the cave, I reached the same point from where I had turned back. Ravi had climbed up and when he saw me holding my phone, he told me to keep it on the ground. I kept it there. Using all my hands and legs, I scrambled up the steep rock, crawling on all fours, reached the opening. There was little place to stand. With Ravi standing there and myself, may be just one more person could fit in. On the left were more boulders. On the right, there was nothing. There was an opening between the rock which fell straight down to about 30 feet or so. I had to somehow climb a rock just above the opening to move to another rock from which we could go to one of the tops. Looking down was not an option. With guidance from Ravi on where to have a hand grip and where to have a footing, I slowly climbed up. Then there were some friendly hands from above who pulled me up. The view was awesome. It was a conquest of courage over cowardice. It was a victory of tenacity over timidity. I was thrilled. I had not climbed a rock, I climbed over my fears.

But there were even higher rocks. Some of the folks were raring to climb up. Aprameya, one young lad of 16 was climbing them like a mountain goat. I restrained myself. Unless I train myself well in this art, be physically even fitter, it was not advisable to go up. We spent some time clicking snaps. Then we climbed down. The climb down was in fact more difficult that climbing up. Again, with the help and guidance of Ravi and other folks, I managed to come down safely.
Then we hiked our way back through the trail to the place where we had all started from. I had some water. Bid good bye and left.

Thanks to Hyderabad Runners and Society to Save Rocks, that was one of the best Sundays I had. In the long run in the morning and the refreshing a rock walk, I saw a lot, I pondered a lot and I learnt a lot. Fear is a little voice inside our head. It is an obstacle that stops us even before the actual obstacle comes. And the only way to overcome fear is to just face it. For me, it was a day to remember!