It's downhill stupid, or is it?

Why life appears to be a journey through a treacherous mountain pass at times, and then exactly the opposite

By Suresh Pattali

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Published: Thu 7 Dec 2023, 5:05 PM

Life is like a journey through a treacherous mountain pass. Like the ones I traversed over the Himalayas last year. A perilous voyage through the unknown. The vast expanse of rugged terrain beckons you from far, but the thought that you ought to cross all the challenges it would throw your way bewilders as you get nearer.

The first instinct is to get up-close and give the brilliant glacier peaks a passionate hug — the youthful faculty that every human commands. Once the journey kicks off and you get the first whiff of the loneliness the mountains manifest, the need for someone to talk to rears its head. You long to have a co-traveller around to ask, "So, how do you find it?"

"Great. What about you?"


You then plod on, either rummaging in your mental backpack for a couple of pleasantries to exchange or leaving it to the other person to play catch-up.

And some time during the journey when the sun begins to burn with all its brilliance and the whole world glimmers in full glory under your feet, you look around for the just-met co-traveller or someone new to exclaim: "This is so, so fantastic, isn't it? Life is so beautiful. By the way, I'm X, from Bangalore."

"Hi, I'm Y, from Imphal, Manipur."

"Let's keep going. Hey, you want a hat? I see you are sweating. Take this." You dig out an extra from your backpack and toss it on to her head.

"Thank you so much," she says, tipping the hat in gratitude and her eyes fluttering in merriment.

You feel you aren't alone any more. Your meaningful monologues are replaced initially by dialogues and then by banters and whispers. You both are in a competition to outwit each other. At the end, you enjoy playing a loser to conquer each other.

"Come, catch me if you can." You run ahead while she stretches out and hangs on to your loose sleeves. You both feel at full steam.

And somewhere in the heights, when the world is blurring under the veil of infinite fog that covers the valleys, you take some rest, having each other's back. It drizzles and snows. The air is thick with romance, and you reach out to hold hands. You find warm comfort in each other's arms and thank God — did you? — for all the bliss you are showered on.

As the sun begins to slant and the valleys change their hues, you pick yourselves up, dust yourself off and resume the passage.

"Mind your steps over the rolling stones. One misstep, and you are down the slopes of death." You hold her hand tight as you cross the water seeping down the glaciers. She hugs you tight as a shooting rock flies past you.

"Wait a minute. Did we cross the glacier we marvelled at the start?" she asks while toddling down, one step at a time.

"We have miles to go." You become poetic.

It's downhill, stupid. You don't feel it as the forces of denial and negation overpower your cognitive senses. I ain't kidding. When did my descent begin? When was the first time I told myself, "Hey, slow down. You are past the prime." I raced on in the fast lane until an MI flashed from the rear. It was too late to give way and I crashed.

Suddenly, there were signposts all around.

"Dad, didn't you assemble the Bose after you shifted?" my son asked as he came down from Germany. "What's happening to you? You haven't even emptied the book cartons."

"I assemble words, not speakers," I shot back but cursed myself for failing them. I wasn't like this. My former self drove to the desert at 3am to see the sunrise, launched my own website in the 90s, and spent hours setting up complicated sound systems. The thought of handling the red, green and white wires suffocates me now. The tiny words that make up pocket product literatures blind my eyes. I have ceased to be a self-styled engineer.

"Get a new one if you can't assemble the old," I said to my son as he grappled with some gizmos.

"Dad, stop playing the age card. Resume TT and cricket, drive to Khor Fakkan, Hatta or Shuweihat, and for God's sake, go to Al Seef every day for a walk. If you can do the Himalayas for nearly half a month, you are as fit as Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. I can't believe that you could not even set up your Apple Watch. Dad, shake off the rust."

"Boy, I am done and dusted on the ground." I said, ruminating on the great glacier journey far in the horizon. Come spring, the mountains and clouds begin to beckon me. After all, it's not all downhill as long as I can afford an extra hat.


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