Pelican Pilgrimage

“Bike ride?”, said the husband. He had that smile twitching at the corner of his mouth and I clutched the line like a drowning sailor. Solitude is a luxury. Especially so, during Navarathri season.

I quoted Walt Whitman as I wheeled the bike out from the garage.

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Song of the Open Road – Walt Whitman

Had we gone on a walk, we might have been tempted to talk. But as it was, the bike ride was perfect. We biked along companionably, grateful for the riverside along which we pedaled, taking in the sights of the setting sun. Birds flitted effortlessly. The wind against our beaks were making cycling hard going, and every now and then, I glanced up at the hawks, geese and smaller sparrows and warblers, apparently holding their own, but probably wisely using the wind to their advantage.

We stopped for a breather near the marshes nearby, and only then did I truly appreciate the scene before me. Dozens of pelicans took flight into the sunset heading towards the bay in the west. They rose courteously, together. With every scoop of pelicans that took flight, one of them flew out in a different direction from the others. It was curious at first, but they may have had a smart reason for doing so, seeing that their knowledge of aviation is certainly superior to our own.

A pelican’s muse

NPR All Things Considered – The Pelican Experiment

I don’t remember when I first saw a pelican. I have lamented this before. But this seems like the sort of thing I should remember. Marvelous creatures. Regal, graceful, social, elegant and peaceful beings. 

Countless times, I’ve stood admiring their coordinated fishing. If that isn’t dancing, I don’t know what is. Gracefully, beautifully, they duck in and out, in and out. Floating along seamlessly together, good naturedly taking in their fill. I especially love to see that little hump in their beaks. I thought it was a curiosity – something that reminds us that perfection lies in these little imperfections. But as it turns out, the hump only appears during breeding season and disappears thereafter.

The pods of pelicans near the lakes and bays of California are a source of eternal joy, and though I feel I could never do justice to the marvelous creatures like Aimee Nezhukumatathil does in her book of essays, World of Wonders, my homage is nevertheless as heartfelt.

Where was I? Yes – cycling and watching the scoops of pelicans take flight into the sunset. Instinctively moving into formation so they conserve energy and stay together. There are very few experiences in life that compare to an evening like that.  I suppose spiritual seekers feel the same way after a pilgrimage. Satiated, renewed, and grateful for life on this beautiful planet among beings we love.

On the way back, we cycled in the same direction as the wind, and we found the going much easier. Slowly, companionably, we headed towards the social life of human-beings.

To Fall In Love With Earth

 “Good going amma! You are doing well. Just try riding a little faster, okay?”, said the daughter, and then the children gave me a thumbs up, and smiled encouragingly. We were out cycling on a relatively flat trail in the mountains nearby.  I was amused at the encouragement. It was true that I was in worse shape than I expected. 


It had been decades since the days of pointless cycling up and down the hills, and the old spirit was reviving with every pedal stroke. I looked up yearningly at the tree-tops, and the pinecones hanging from them. All Earth looked and smelled inviting, reminding me of the gratitude for having such a beautiful planet on which to live. Today was not the day to rue the state of our laws, or how fast climate change is creeping up on us. Today was a day to feel grateful for what we have, so we may learn better to conserve what we have for future generations better. It was in this moment of great gratitude that I was admiring the tree-tops against the clear blue skies when I promptly veered off the bicycle path and crashed into some brambles nearby. 


I tottered back to the path to chuckles from the daughter.  The husband in the meanwhile, was acting as though as he was in his teens again and cycling with both hands off the handle bar. The elementary school going son, gave me a shrug and said, “Show off!”. But I caught him trying to take his hands off the bar one at a time, and smiled to myself. 

The son had graduated to a bigger cycle for the first time and his face registered joy, and a little trepidation, as he stopped pedaling and went whizzing downhill. The adrenaline was pumping, and his cautious nature was kicking in at the same time. When we stopped for a break a few minutes later, he looked happy, and ready to start pedaling again. 

Out amidst nature that day was a wonderful balm for the soul. The air still felt nippy – there had been a light snow and rain at night, but the clouds had scattered nicely and the trail had some wet patches through which we went zipping with joy. The skies were blue, and the glistening snow and raindrops on the trees in the path brought about a pristine joy. 

The fresh, moist, clear air reminded me of Kate Harris when she wrote in the book, Lands of Lost Borders:


“I’m not sure where I go when I spin wheels for hours on end like that, except into the rapture of doing nothing deeply—although ‘nothing,’ in this case, involves a tantrum of pedal strokes on a burdened bicycle along a euphemism for a highway through the Himalaya.” 

― Kate Harris, Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road

We were not in the Himalayas. We were on safe biking paths with brilliant nature folding us lovingly in its embrace on all sides, and yet the feeling was the same. There was harmony there between human souls and the Earth, and I could only hope that we never truly lose touch with that feeling. This is our only home after all.

We stopped for a while to take in a small hike around a place that has the wonderful combination of meadows, marshes, forests and river. A more Wind in the Willows kind of setting I could not have imagined, but there it was, and like the rest of the surreal day, I found myself feeling increasingly happy at being there. As we walked listening to the surging snow melt in the fast flowing stream nearby, I felt a sense of clarity, and I thought of Mary Oliver’s words:

I walk in this Earth to fall in love with it. – Mary Oliver

How Prowling Panthers Enabled a 100-km Race

There are some stories that cling to personalities for years, even decades. Most of them, while initially painful and embarrassing to endure, soon envelop you in its warm mockery. If only, we develop the mindset to laugh at ourselves a little; we can enjoy them. We can work really hard to purge them or add to them exotic flavors that make that little story about ourselves develop into a complex one. So, here I am, about to concoct another story from a childhood one, and see how it goes.

The brother (the one who almost masochistically went on a 100 km bike ride across London in the pouring rain to support a worthy cause) has always fancied wheels. He is a loving man and loves his family almost as much as he loves bicycles, bikes and cars; but if you were to plant some wheels on us and stick an engine to our rears, he would love us more. Just saying.

Wheels have not always given him warm, fuzzy experiences though. I once saved his life by shouting at him to move out of harm’s way when a scooter hurtled towards him. He becomes defensive when I say this and claims that since I was the one driving the scooter in the first place, I should not paint rosy pictures of myself (Po-ta-to, Po-taa-to). Anyway, the fact remains that I saved his life. Sister #2’s contribution. You can read one of my past posts and decide for yourself: Bajaj Chetak and how I saved my brother’s life.

We sisters are a competitive lot, and not to be outdone, Sister #1 saved his life too. See? We lived in the mountainside with narrow roads overlooking steep valleys and often parapet-less roads showed us what happens to careless rocks that slide down the mountainside, hurtling hundreds of feet into the valleys below. Every now and then, in this beautiful haven, there would surface rumors of panthers and assorted wildlife designed to test the brave. When this happened, our School had a No-going-out-after-6-pm rule in place. Fertile imaginations, stoked by ridiculous stories fanned the hype and no one dared test the rule. It was during one such time that Sister #1 had to get down at a bus stop called Valley-View and walk down to our house, a few kilometers away. Since she was to come well before 6, we had no fear of panthers getting her first, or at least were tactful enough to not say it to her face. No point scaring the girl and all that. But we were worried. The brother was always eager for anything that allowed him to take his bicycle out and he volunteered to cycle to the bus-stop and accompany her cycling slowly beside her while she walked back home.

The plan was perfect. She got down at the lonely bus-stop at Valley View and found the young fellow atop his bicycle with a huge beaming smile on his face. (He always seemed to smile while on the bicycle.) He put his plan to action as swiftly as he could and asked her to start walking while he cycled with her telling her about the Panther on the prowl. This Valley-View road had sweeping, beautiful views of the Valley on one side, and on the other still had tree cover. (Now, I hear luxury vacation villas have claimed the land). The birds were chirping their noisy way home and the setting sun had an annoying habit of throwing spooky shadows at you. One jumped at non-bird like noises on the best of days. On days where the Panther story made the rounds; it is prudent to take the brother’s cycle, have him cling to the cycle carrier while riding pillion and cycle your way home as fast as thine pedals would allow.  That is precisely what the Sister did. All with me so far? Good. For this is where the point of her saving his life comes.


The Sister, whatever she may claim, is horrible when it comes to anything on two wheels. She asked the brother to get on and started off. Rocky starts are her best starts and she jerked the cycle into action. She pumped her heart into the thing and kept a ticking pace as she maneuvered steep turns on the road. As is her wont when worried, she jabbered on more than usual. When she got in this mode, we would ‘Aah’ and ‘Oh’ at regular intervals, and that was enough. Just when she’d got into the rhythm of the thing,  a dog ran across her path and fear gripped her. She swerved right and left and right again. I don’t know exactly what happened after that, since details were not forthcoming at this point in the story, but she managed to de-seat the little brother. She threw him off the cycle on the winding road, and made off. The problem was really not throwing him off. It was the fact that she hadn’t realized what she had done. She pumped on for another mile or so, before she realized that the bike felt easier and lighter to ride. The nerves gripped her.

Setting the immediate problem of the cycle upsetting-dog aside, she had left her brother somewhere near a forest with a panther on the prowl. She cycled back as fast as she could shouting his name as loudly as possible. Her voice sending reverbrating echoes along the valley. She says this was to let prowling panthers know that they were to keep off her brother. See how she saved his life?

She found him jogging towards home, with a mildly irritated look on his face. She scooped him up on the cycle and came back home. Ever since, the brother has always hesitated about giving his cycle. He used to take us riding pillion, if need be, but would put up an extra-ordinary fuss about giving up his cycle.

It is this trait, that enabled him to finish cycling 100 km in the pouring rain and sleet. I am sure cab drivers could have taken him and his cycle along when the rains pounded down, but he held on. Cycling by himself to the last kilometer of the race, pouring rain or not.

What did you do over the week-end?

Come Monday mornings and I am cooking up interesting answers to the ‘What did you do over the week-end’ question. See, sometimes Geeta Ben comes a-cookin’ and we get some good old Hindi action. But really nothing that can make people sit up and say enviously, “Wow! How jealous I am of your captivating adventures over the week-end?!”

A friend of min had blogged about the very thing a few years ago:

I suppose “Ate more than usual” sounds far less glamorous than “Holidaying by the lake nestled in the mountains and having a moonlight dinner to boot. Oh and did I mention that my brother did a 100 km cycle race in the pouring rain in London? No? Well…not only that, my brother-in-law ran a half marathon in New Delhi in the stifling heat. But you know – nothing else!”

Yet, that is what happened. The week-end saw different continents bear the brunt of the exercising streaks that seem to have hit different factions of the family tree. We cheered them on in spirit (and food) and applauded them as they each achieved their targets, while we holidayed in the mountains.

Congratulations to the cycling and running brothers – we are all proud of you.

I sloped around with an Ask-me-about-my-week-end look all day and folks ignored me.  Years of being at the receiving end of boring answers does that I guess. When I could bear it no more, I decided to come online and blog about it. You see the window of opportunity for a question like that is so slim. By Tuesday morning, you are already pushing your luck. On Wednesday, if some one asks me about my plans for the upcoming week-end, I plan to deftly steer the conversation towards the last week-end and give them the works.