I was on my treadmill this morning, getting that mandatory 40 minute workout. I usually listen to music while I trudge away, but today, I thought of logging into a live video session with Dr. Shefali Tsabary and Renee Jain, authors of the amazing book “Superpowered”. During the on-going discussion, Dr. Shefali said something that literally stopped me in my tracks. She said: “you know, this virus, it’s like Yoda! So many teachings, so much to learn!” Being a STAR Wars fan, I simply couldn’t let that one slide and I spent the next 30 minutes recalling all the quotes of Yoda I could remember, and I thought to myself, “oh bloody hell! How right she is!”
Here’s some of the quotes I thought of while still walking, and then some more I couldn’t immediately recall – aunty Google to the rescue! Here’s my Top 6, in order of their absolute relevance to the situation we all find ourselves in – the world over:
“Of the moment, be. In the moment, live. The art of remaining in the present, learn. Neither the past nor the future exists.”
Yes, the future scares us all. But can we control it? Do we have any clue how badly this virus will impact India? How long this lockdown will last? When the corona vaccine will come? We don’t. So why not focus on things we CAN control? I can control the time I have for exercising – I know early morning is the best time, before the child’s online classwork and WFH pressures spirals everything out of control. I have control over my own lethargy, printing out my daughter’s class worksheets, creating my to-do list, planning the day’s menu. I have control over keeping myself and the family safe from the virus by ensuring we wash our hands, not touch our face, wash down all the groceries before they come into the house. So, these are the things I focus on. Today, now. It keeps my anxiety at bay and stops me from worrying about things I hold no sway over.
"Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is."
One of my most revelatory moments during this entire lock-down period has been my 8-year old. For someone used to being out of the house for 12 hours in the day, to be stuck indoors 24 x 7 seemed an inordinate ask. And she’s surprised both my husband and I. Between her LOL dolls, her online school classes, and her imaginary space station (with poor Kismet, the ever patient fur-sister, as a co-pilot), I have yet to hear those dreaded words: “I am bored”. This virus has taught me to recognize my little one’s resilience, her ability to adapt to an altered environment without protest. To simply be.
“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."
The aftermath of hatred towards a whole community that emerged after the religious congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area, took me by surprise. Rational, educated, cultured, well-traveled folks were in my Facebook feed, dripping vitriol, some even calling it “bio-jihad”. As the feeds came pouring in, I could feel my angst rise. A whole community being vilified, demonized Why? It was fear. I understand that now. Fear of what would befall them for the criminal acts of a mindless few. As Yoda rightly said: Fear → Anger → Hate → Suffering. We went through the first three cycles in the span of just a day. How long do you think the last one will take? And how long will it last? Not just for those feeling the fear, anger, hate…but for all of us, all of humanity. How long?
"You must unlearn what you have learned."
Everyone talks of the “new normal”. The Monday morning meetings, the physical files moving from desk to desk, the coffee machine banter, the bitching in the office aisle, the cigarette breaks with colleagues…we have all had to “unlearn” this now. The whole world is now working from home. There’s no metro to catch, no car to drive to work, no plane to fly on to reach a meeting. For some of us, the virtual office has been the norm for a while, but for the large majority, not having an office to go to or holding an important meeting via video conference and save on carbon footprint was a non-starter. We’re now learning to work with the new alternative, and I dare say, perhaps make it the new norm? Once the virus has been through its marauding march, will corporates go back to their old ways or will we have all learnt what Yoda taught young Luke Skywalker?
"If routine you count on, disappointed your hopes will be."
It’s hard to have any sort of routine right now. Between WFH, cooking the meals, cleaning the house, doing the laundry and supervising the brat’s classwork, routine has gone out the window. So, don’t count on it. Flow, just flow, be in the present. That’s what I am learning from this Corona virus!
“Give off light, or darkness, Padawan. Be a candle, or the night.”
Here’s what the virus taught me – don’t react. Annoyance, sarcasm, hostility, outrage – it serves no purpose. Someone has an opinion contrary to yours, it’s best not to react immediately. It is a conscious decision I have made until we emerge out of this darkness – I choose to be the candle. I am tired of the angst and anger, the fear and fulminations that we’re bombarded with. I’m done with the gloom and doom. There’s so many stories of compassion and kindness emerging from every corner of the world, let’s share that instead. Let’s spread that light. This night too shall pass.
I’ve been through cancer and a car accident. I’ve had 12 surgeries and have been laid up in bed for months with my right hand strapped to my chest and my eyes shut, surrounded by darkness. And in all those months, I learnt to eat with my left hand, could make out who had arrived at the door by the way they twisted the handle, and could recognize my parents’ emotional state by the imperceptible break in their voice when they spoke. And in all that time, I knew one thing…that this too shall pass.
As Yoda would have said: This virus is teaching us a lot. For us to learn it is.
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I received this email in my in-box. It stumped me. Totally.
Hi, I am xxx from xxx - world's largest intern hiring platform...I am writing to discuss a partnership proposal...In collaboration with you, we can engage our students for a thrilling travel internship experience at exotic locations in profiles like - content writing, photography, videography, etc. It will be a great learning experience for students where they implement their skills while visiting new places and experiencing diverse cultures.
I found everything wrong with this email.
But what piqued me the most was the fact that "a great learning experience" came in the last line of paragraph three.
I think these platforms do our kids an injustice. To assume that our 21 - 24 year olds are flaky and just looking for a good time is presumptuous at best.
Since my days at STAR TV and National Geographic, I have always believed in a strong internship program.
I always felt that as "seniors" in the industry, it is incumbent upon us to create a respectable second line that can grow to occupy the positions we are in right now. In fact, it should be made mandatory.
Today, when I see the line-up of names in senior positions across television, journalism, and even e-commerce, I recognize several of them as juniors who worked with me or interns who came in fresh from college - and nothing gives me more joy!
As the Director of Outward Bound India-Himalaya - an internationally recognized outdoor leadership development program for students and professionals, we run a well-honed internship program and several of our interns have come back as full time employees.
In My Business, An Intern is An Added Responsibility
In the outdoors, we have experts who've been doing their job for years. Our instructors and facilitators come with decades of experience, they know the safety protocols, have done first aid and search and rescue courses and we trust them with the lives of our program participants.
A newbie in the wilderness is not much of a help, it is simply an added responsibility for the team. So, I always hesitate to take an inexperienced intern on an expedition. Many of them apply for an Outward Bound internship thinking they will get to trek in the Himalaya and learn kayaking on the Ganga - and maybe they will, but that's not what they're being hired to do.
What We Look For In An Intern
I'm looking for organizational skills, a multi-tasker with the ability to problem-solve and prioritize successfully within tight timelines and high stress.
I'm looking for a strong and effective communicator, both written and oral. Preferably bi-lingual with the knowledge of Hindi and English and the ability to speak with both young and adult audiences.
I'm looking for computer skills - Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint.
I'm looking for someone who's okay with irregular hours and weekend work.
An internship is serious business. My team and I spend our valuable time teaching them the necessary skills we believe they will need to succeed in the field of their choice. This 45 or 60 day period isn't a holiday.
So What Should One Expect From a Real Internship?
1. Learn to work the back-end first
To learn any business, you need to work the back-end first. In Outward Bound India, they will learn this by sitting in the office and creating a detailed itinerary - with their research done down to the last minute. It's amazing to watch their eyes roll back in their head (because it's something their college doesn't teach them) when I ask them if they've made allowances for the highway under construction while calculating distances and time taken to travel them. It shows me their research is incomplete. Because one quick Google search will immediately give you an indication of road conditions. And if you've said "1 hour" in your itinerary and it actually takes 1 hr: 45 Min, things can begin to fall apart pretty soon.
2. Learn how to budget
The business is learnt by putting together all the costs and creating a budget for that itinerary; by understanding what GST is applied; by comparing those costs with your competitors to see if you've reached a viable pricing or have priced yourself totally out of consideration.
3. Learn how to speak with a client
Answering client questions and addressing their concerns is a great way to learn on the job. There is no better teacher than an enquiring, curious, and often, ignorant client. Their questions will tell you where your marketing has fallen short and where your communication has gone awry. Or, for that matter, your budgeting.
4. Learn brand building
Learning to tackle the brand's social media, website and other marketing tools will hold them in good stead. Most kids today are tech savvy and that's an added bonus - a skill I can tap into and mould, to get an understanding of a brand larger than themselves and their personal profiles.
And finally, after they've done all of that, they will get to go on a trek or a rafting expedition - preferably the same one they researched and budgeted - if they stay long enough.
Attitude Is Everything
I had an intern once who said to me: "It's not what I came here to do." To me that line is like waving a red flag at a bull. That, and "It's not my job." Two definite lines that will have them looking for another internship. To me attitude is everything. Aptitude can be nurtured, but attitude goes way back to childhood. I see it as a clear reflection of how they were brought up as children and by the time they're 21. there's very little anyone can do to change that. Perhaps a few hard knocks may help, but I'm not about to play Aunt Agony or help them change what's become an intrinsic part of their nature.
No Job is Too Small
When I walked into the NDTV studios to help with the launch of STAR News, on my first day there, I crawled under the news desk to help hammer in a nail that STAR TV's Head of Network Presentation John O'Loan was trying to bang in. I learnt the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-jump-right-in from the master himself and it's something I expect from my team. No job is too small or irrelevant. Everything we do is a learning experience, even the most innocuous of jobs - it all adds up to making us the professionals we are.
Show No Mercy
Anyone who's interned with me will know this - no mercy. When I was heading Programming and Marketing at National Geographic channel, I had, as usual, thrown an intern into the deep end and packed her off with an experienced production team to direct short-form content for one of our big shows coming up.
The script was hers and instinctively I knew she had it in her to do the job.
I got a call from her at 7:45 AM.
I was in the office early to complete my own tasks and really wasn't there to solve someone else's problems.
The intern was in tears. "They won't listen to me!" She cried. "I'm telling him where to put the camera, and he won't listen to me!"
I immediately understood where the problem lay. An experienced camera and lighting team - all men at that, weren't going to take instructions from a new chit of a girl, even if she was way smarter than any of them. In short, their power play was on.
I spoke to her, slowly and clearly so there was no misunderstanding: "I entrusted you with a job, get it done. You're simply getting bullied. Stop the f.....g tears and stand your ground. At the end of the day, you're the director, the captain of the ship and everyone on that team understands there's a job to do. Figure your way out, and don't call me back."
No mercy. Today she's leading her own team in an e-commerce company we all love so much and doing a tremendous job:-).
"Apna khud ka business kaise chalaoge?!"
I took an intern with me on a short trek, when I first joined the adventure travel business.
As part of the team, not only was he supposed to trek with the clients, but once we reached the campsite, he had to assist in setting up the tents, help in the kitchen, and serve the clients.
I could see that the trek had taken the mickey out of him. It had been a steep climb to the top and he was plain exhausted. He threw his knapsack on the meadows and flung himself to the ground, throwing his peak cap over his face to block out the sun.
Our chief trekking guide Mahender walked up to him, pulled his cap off and laughed: "Kya hua? Itni jaldi thak gaye?! Apna khud ka business kaise chalaoge?" (What happened? Tired already? How will you ever run your own business?).
My Only Advise To The Young People Reading This
Choose The Right Internship.
It could land up being your first job, or better still, you will actually learn something more than simply pushing papers and filing them. Be smart, do your research, ask your interviewer the right questions: What do you expect from me? What would I have learnt when I leave from here? Is there one person I will report to, a mentor?
Remember one thing - they need you as much as you need them. It's a symbiotic relationship.
No one is taking on an intern to just add one more real estate space in their office. You're there for a reason. Pin them down to find out what that reason is - so when you find yourself getting the coffee too often or filing papers or being the local runner, you can remind them (and yourself), why you were hired.
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A version of this article first appeared on my LinkedIn page.
It was 9 PM when the phone rang.
"Hi daddy", I said, wassup?
"Where are you darling?"
"Still in the office dad. Came in at 7 this morning and still got stuff to wrap up."
I heard a split second hesitation, and then the words, which ring in my ears even today, 22 years later...
Dad was a Tata man through and through. Worked with the company for over 30 years and legend has it that all TAS (Tata Administrative Service) personnel were sent to him as part of their final internship - if you survived Jal Master, you were ready for the battles ahead. So went the folklore. I know that IIM-B students looked forward to his guest lecture visits there - he brought insights straight from the markets to the classroom.
There was an element of truth in what he had said, I had to grudgingly admit. But I found it difficult to break away from the cycle I had created for myself. It had been 5 years and I hadn't taken a day off - except when I had the measles.
It's Hard to Break That Cycle You've Created
Ten years after that phone call, things hadn't changed much. Except now, I was the boss. And I made sure of one thing - I expected people to come in on time and I expected them to finish their work and leave at a decent hour. Everyone except myself.
I thought I needed to be on call seven days a week and because a large part of my media career was managing news channels, I was, for the most part, on call 24 hours a day.
Come home...He's Not Looking Good
Until the day my mother called. "He's not looking good," she said. "Come home." I was Senior VP at National Geographic Channel at that time, and I'd already given in my papers and agreed on a 6-month notice period. My replacement had been hired, it was the handover period. I asked my boss to let me go a month earlier. He agreed without hesitation. I spent 4 months at home with my dying father - trying to make up for all those days, months, years I had had "no time" to go home. And I learnt four key lessons in those four months:
1. You're Not That Important
Don't be afraid to take those 21 days of holidays that is your due. No one is that important. The skies will still hold and you'll be surprised how little has changed when you return. Same shit, different day - as the media adage goes.
2. Be The Best You Can Be
If you're good at what you do, no one dares to hang around waiting to take your place. So just be bloody good at what you do.
3. Build A Good Team
Focus on building a good team around you - one that is able to function without you around. While heading STAR TV Ops, I was once told by a colleague: "You're making a mistake teaching your assistants everything you know. They'll just replace you someday, and at a lesser salary." If you're afraid that your organization will replace your decades of experience with a tyro just learning the tricks, you need to quit in any case.
4. You're Not Indispensable
No one's indispensable. No one. Not even you. The organization will find someone to fill in your shoes. Perhaps they will need two or three people to manage what you did single-handedly (think about that for just a minute), but you WILL be replaced, AND soon.
Conquer Your FOMO
Of course you have "no time". You have to "make time." For yourself, for your family, for your soul. Stop saying "I wish I could come on that trek with you." Actually, you can. It's just that, you won't. What's really holding you back? Fear? Of what? Of losing your job? Of not being missed at that man-com meeting? Of not getting that project you were hankering for? Conquer that fear.
Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Step out into the high mountains, with just your trusty feet powering you on and intermittent mobile signals. And you will realize that there's a whole world out there. A world beyond the four walls of your cabin, in that towering building overlooking nothing, on that 14th floor where you can't even open the windows. And that's when your soul will thank you, for taking the time - to make time.
My Top 6 Lessons and They've Served Me Through Pretty Well!
1. Keep walking, no matter how steep the climb.
You can’t stop mid-way, you’ve got to keep moving up. There’s no way to turn back, besides downhill is way tougher on the knees! A little flag fluttering in the wind across the valley marks the highest point. Look out for that. That's your target. And really, it isn't that far. Once you get there and turn around, you will be amazed at how do-able it actually was!
No matter how impossible the task seems, you will get there eventually. Just. Believe. That.
2. When it’s a tough haul, take it a step at a time.
When the road seems long and unending, when my destination is this nebulous spot almost two valleys away, when the icy cold winds are piercing through my down jacket, and I am so exhausted that I can’t move another inch. I learnt this little trick and I use it often… I look down at my hiking boots and I make a deal with myself.
I’ll do 40 steps and then stop for a breather”. And then I put one boot in front of the other, and I start to count to 40. At 40, I look up, stare at the mountains, enjoy the icy cold wind on my face, then I look down again and I do another 40.
I’ve crossed valleys this way, literally taking it a step at a time.
3. No road is too long, if you have good friends for company
On my Kuari Pass trek, I reached a point where I felt I couldn’t move on. I hadn’t been drinking enough water, and my body was giving way, my spirits flagging. I stopped and sat down on the edge of the path.
My friend and trekking guru Pavane, came up from behind me...”what’s up?” she asked. “I can’t do this…I can’t” I cried, almost in tears. She looked at me with a stern face and said “shut up and move.”
No sympathy, no kind words…and it’s exactly what I needed at that time. If she had so much as put a hand on my shoulder and comforted me, I would have crumbled right there.
In life, take along these friends (and family and colleagues) with you, who will tell you to shut up, stop whining and move on. They're keepers.
4. Stop and smell the flowers dammit!
Enjoy the beauty around you, smell the flowers, even the horses that trek with us know the wisdom of those words! Gaze at the mountains, admire the reflection of the trees in the still waters.
Often, I’ve seen people so focused on getting to the next valley, on being the first to reach the camp, they forget to admire the amazing beauty that surrounds them. Guess what? There's no medal for reaching the camp first!
I had 14 - 16 hour work days for over two decades – and besides a fake Oscar statuette I never really got a prize for it:-). I have finally learnt to spend time with my family, watch a good movie, head out for treks, rafting expeditions, travel, see new places, grow my food.
5. Venture beyond your comfort zone
Here's a little secret I haven’t told many people. I hated trekking. I didn’t get the idea of walking all those miles – that seemed to lead nowhere. I loved the beach and the sea and for me that was the best holiday ever. Until I decided to venture beyond my comfort zone. I camped by a stream, amidst the amazing mountains. I made friends with a curious cow. Said hello to a mongrel puppy. Rafted a Grade 5 river.
I quit a high paying corporate life. And through it all, I learnt that there was a certain magic in the unknown!
6. Impossible is nothing
It was always just a great tag line. Until now. I've learnt that you can do anything you put your mind to. Anything. I led a trek to the Siachen Glacier - probably the only woman over 45 to set foot there. Definitely the only female trek leader on the glacier. I learnt to ski with my daughter - she was five, I was 50.
Impossible is nothing. And don't let anything or anyone tell you otherwise. Not your age, not your wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers-in laws. And oh yes, not your doctors either! Certainly not the doctors!
This article first appeared on my LinkedIn page.
I must have seemed like the cruelest mom in the mall...
My 3-year-old little girl slipped smack down on the shiny marble floors wailing, while I waited on the side lines for Act 2. As a standard routine, she'd lift her nose off the floor, look up, realize mommy and daddy weren't going to come to her aid, pick herself up and start scampering again. But this time, the script took a slight detour. New actors stepped in. Helpful strangers who didn't know better, tried to help her up. On cue, I roared from the sidelines, "Leave her alone! She'll get up on her own. Thank you!"
Rearing A Little Warrior
It's not easy bringing up a little girl these days - in the times we live in, even the tiniest of them are not spared. My husband and I decided to bring up a little warrior. So, little tiny scratches are to be dismissed and the bigger wounds are medals to be worn proudly; a fight in the garden with her best buddy has to be sorted out between the two gladiators; a nip by the family pooch usually means you've either been teasing her or not reading the signals she's giving out.
For the longest time, the only toys she had were hand-me-down Legos or stuffed toys, they were her best playmates - Georgie the giraffe, Leo the lion, and Ballu the black bear. Until Barbie came along. That twitty, airhead Barbie with blonde hair, a tiny nonexistent waistline, and no personality to speak of. And it was hard. We'd avoid the Disney section of Hamley's just in case we bumped into Barbie, but she was there to stay. My little warrior wanted a Barbie doll for her fourth birthday. We refused. She protested. We stood firm. A kindly 'aunty' came laden with gifts on B-day, and what do you know, there was Barbie in all her pink shining glory! I shuddered and looked at my friend accusingly. "I knew you'd never buy it for her, so I got one" said the traitor. "Every little girl must have a Barbie." This was, I realized, going to be one long fight.
The Little Mountain Goat
We're a family that lives, eats, and breathes adventure. It's our work and our passion and when the little warrior was turning five, we decided it was time for her first trek in the mountains. She was a month short of five years and my mom thought we were crazy. "How can you expect a kid to walk long hours! Take a doctor's advice; it's not good for their bones; are you sure she's ready?" "Well", I said, "we'll soon find out won't we?" We chose a trekking circuit in Kashmir that was just a four-day trek and less than two hours away from Srinagar and emergency medical attention if required. We really shouldn't have worried. The little warrior charged up the mountain side and across the meadows like a mountain goat and while the 10 KM uphill hike on the second day left all the adults breathless, she reached before everyone else, slipped into her shorts, jumped into the icy cold fresh water stream flowing past our campsite and decided she was going to spend the rest of the evening with the ponies who'd come to cool off there. The husband beamed with pride. I just sighed with relief. The fear that we may have to carry a 15 kg package on our backs up the mountains was totally unfounded.
Let The Creativity Unfold
I came home the other day to find the whole drawing room overturned. The cushions were missing, as were the chairs. Curious, I entered the bedroom to find all the missing furniture pieces lined up in a row and the pillows and cushions all neatly lined up on top. Saira was in the tunnel below with the glazen-eyed Barbie alongside her. "What are you doing" I asked. "Making a spaceship" was the prompt reply. "Really?" I asked, "and who's the pilot?" My little warrior looked up at me like most little ones do, with that gosh-what-a-dumb-question roll of the eyeballs and corrected me, "Astronaut. Me!" "And Barbie?" I asked, "what is she doing in your spaceship?" "Nothing. She does nothing. She just sits there. So I'm going to leave her on Mars and come back." I may have lost the Barbie battle, but I certainly won the Barbie war!
The Day I'm Better Than Daddy
Her best buddy Z has got a new addition to the family - the cutest, fluffiest kitten ever. Of course, my warrior princess wants one too. So there’s a bet on between her and the dad. If she gets better than him in skiing and roller-blading, she can get a kitten home. Even before the “deal” could be cemented with a handshake, she donned her roller blades and helmet and turned around to look at the beleaguered father: “Come on then, teach me!”
She’s been skiing since she was three-and-a-half, taking the family tradition a generation further. She’s good but nowhere close to being as good as the dad, but that doesn’t stop her from dreaming about that kitten cuddling up to her at night. “You did say that if you threw a message out into the universe, the universe would give you what you want, right mama?” Umm…yes, I did, in a totally different context of course, but I did. And I’m guessing it will not be long before we have another 4-legged fur child gamboling around the house.
She's a girly girl all the way. She wants long hair "all the way up to my knees" and throws a fit even if you so much as mention a trim. Elsa was her favorite Disney character until she was five and now it is DC Comic’s Wonder Woman. The pink flowery frocks have given way to shorts and jumpsuits. She still wants "pretend makeup" (whatever that is) for her 8th birthday, but the little warrior in her rises to the fore at the best (and worst) of times. The churlish little boy who tries to push his way down the slide is roundly told off to "stand in line and wait." The little kid with the tube wrapped around her waist at the pool gets unwanted advice: "how will you learn to swim with that? Do fishes use tubes?" Until recently she was the only little girl in her Kung fu class and is always made to spar with boys two inches taller and three years older. Often, she beats them off the mat and thinks that's perfectly natural. No conflict in her head at all.
A Warrior, Not A Fighter Be
How do you teach your little girl not to turn the other cheek anymore and yet not encourage violence? How do I get her not to trust strangers and yet be friendly with everyone she meets? How do we teach her to stand up for herself, not take everything and everyone at face value and yet "respect your elders?" For any parent, it's a complex world now. What we learnt from our parents no longer holds good - what we impart to our daughters is often in conflict with how we were raised. But our little girls seem totally comfortable with the dichotomy of it all. They're fine being both - a warrior and a lady. Perhaps that's our cue. Perhaps it's time for us to unlearn what we were taught when we were little girls and turn to them for guidance on how to bring them up!
I never did understand why they called it the bunny slopes...
...until I saw the kids scamper up and down with ease. I stood on top and looked down at this "ski slope for beginners", my heart skipping a beat. "Come on!" yelled Akshay - my husband and instructor. He was standing at the bottom madly waiving his arms urging me to come down. I could barely hear him, the wind and the chatter of the kids (or was that my teeth?) making it hard to hear what was, I hoped, his words of encouragement.
I stood on top, literally frozen in the snow. There was no freakin' way I was reaching down there in a single piece. While I stood there imagining broken limbs and an injured ego, a little three feet nothing runt whizzed past me yelling "Cluck! Cluck! Cluck! Mama is a chicken!" She waved her elbows up a down imitating a mother hen and reached the end of the slope before I could get a word in. My loving daughter. She began skiing at three-and-half and was already two years ahead of my non-existent experience.
I had little choice. It was now or never. Like a puttering motorbike that's got dirt in its carburetor, I stumbled my way down, until the slope decided to do its job and slid me down at a pace I didn't appreciate. I landed in an ungainly heap at the bottom, the pride more hurt than any part of my body. "Brilliant !" beamed the husband, "now let's get you on the ski lift."
My nemesis - the darn ski lift
The ski lift was my nemesis. It's basically a constantly moving bar that you need to hold on to while it takes you gliding up the slope. Only with me, I never glided up anywhere. I fell within the first three seconds. I had been falling for the last five years. I would fall 50 - 60 times in a day, the left side of my body bruised blue, but I still never managed to master the bar lift.
"No!" I shuddered, "can't do that." "Can't mama?" squeaked the runt, "you said there's no word like can't." She was right. There wasn't. And so I picked myself up, stood in the lift line for the thousandth time, ready to take another beating. "Just make sure your shins touch your ski boots at all times and don't sit on the bar!" Last minute instructions I had heard 999 times. I grabbed the bar, mumbling under my breath "shins to boots...shins to boots...shins to boots. Sai help me do this."
I guess He heard me. I didn't fall. I was up on top of the slope within 30 seconds. It was a miracle!
You can do it
And that's how I learnt to ski. I was 50 and my daughter was 5. Today, I ski down Phase 1 of the Kongdori station at Gulmarg and manage the Blue and Red runs in the Italian Dolomites.
And my adventures again taught me some lessons. It's never too late to do something for the first time. It's never too late to learn a new skill. And it's definitely never too late to achieve the impossible!
The Everest Base Camp Trek Was a Dream I had Lived With For 11 Years
I did this trek back in May 2014, almost exactly two years after surviving cancer and going through three major surgeries - the last one, just eight weeks before my trek was to start. So what you read here, is me at my unfit worst. Three years later, I did this trek again - in fact it's tougher cousin EBC-Gokyo Lakes, in May 2017. And my experience was quite different. Firstly, it wasn't as physically hard as I expected, and secondly, since I was the trekking leader, it was I pushing, urging, egging people along! The tables had turned - in just three years!
Everest Base Camp is still about 45 minutes away at my trekking pace, and I have this strong urge to simply turn back. I am so tired, I don't think I can make that 45 minute walk across the ridge and the downhill trudge - the altitude isn't making it any easier. "Eleven years, Dilshad" I tell myself, "I've waited for this for 11 years!"
Everest Base Camp (EBC) was always my dream, ever since I came up with this crazy docu-reality show when I was with National Geographic Channel which sent five ordinary Indians to EBC with the Indian Army.
"Come on!" I yell aloud to the winds. "I've survived cancer, radiotherapy and three major surgeries in the last two years, I can bloody do this!" Khudam Bir, my guide, suspects my desperation, turns around to look at me, and says: "Just 15 minutes, come on!" "15 Nepali minutes," I mumble under my breath. It takes us mere mortals three times as much!
In February 2012, cancer found me. Knowing my family history, I should have known the search wouldn’t be too hard, but we all live in this ridiculous bubble where we believe we’re immortal. I wasn’t any different. I sat at the hospital in a daze, the pathology report on my lap while I rapidly Googled the words on my cell phone: "Desmoplastic stroma", "neoplasm", "lobular hyperplasia"...nothing seemed to make sense. There must be some mistake, I thought. Maybe they mixed up the reports. "Conclusion: Invasive Tubular Carcinoma" - that, I understood. The rest of the report was all gobbledygook, but the word carcinoma, yes, that was one word I understood. My first surgery at one of Delhi's most over-rated hospitals, done by an incompetent and over-rated surgeon, led me to the doorsteps of Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. The surgeon stared at my case history for a while, looked up and said with the slightest trace of humour: "so, which part of 'family history' did you not get?" I loved him instantly. If he could deal with this dreaded disease and still make his patients smile, I was finally in the right place! "I'm sorry," he said, "your surgery is incomplete, we'll have to go in there again." Within three weeks of the first surgery, I was back on the operating table.
Two major surgeries and 30 sessions of radiotherapy later, I was sapped of all my energies. I didn’t just lose eight kilos, I lost the perpetual silver lining I always see in every dark cloud that gathers overhead. The “eternal optimist” is what my friends call me, a moniker I really didn’t deserve any longer. I felt like I was caught in a big giant wave, just trying to stick my nose out so I could breathe. My 9-month old baby and a loving husband were my oars in the Grade 5 rapid I found myself in. They pulled me out before I got caught in that big dark whirlpool that would have sucked me right in.
A year later, not only was I back on my feet, I was all set to achieve my dream. Eleven years was way too long and I wasn’t waiting any longer. Life was too short. That I had learnt already. I put a plan together to take a team of people to Everest Base Camp in May 2014 and began training for it in earnest. I was still on medications and injections to stave off any nasty cancer cells that were still floating around, medicines that caused insomnia, joint pain, and the worst of all, a 0.2% probability of getting another form of cancer. That was a chance I wasn’t willing to take. And so, just eight weeks before the trek was to start, I went in for another major surgery. The only promise I extracted from my surgeon – that she would get me back on my feet within six weeks. She kept her word, bless her. Two weeks before the trek, I started walking again, trying to build up my stamina for a trek I knew would be grueling for me.
“Can I do it?” I asked my father-in-law, Col. ‘Bull’ Kumar, India’s most decorated mountain climber and soldier. “Will I be able to make it there?” I will never forget his words: “At some point, my dear, your body will give way. And then, you will continue on with your mind. Eventually, that is what will get you there.” Prophetic words indeed.
It's just 2.5 KM back, I tell myself. How hard can it be? Very. Bloody. Hard. After a long tiring nine hour day at high altitude, this return journey is a bummer. The cold winds are picking up now. I dig my hands deep into my wind breaker, keep my eyes glued to my boots and start to walk...climb, trudge, scramble, slip. I really can't remember how I make it back. All I know is, I stumble into the little tea-lodge and collapse into my friend’s lap and start to howl.
All these years, every time I passed an Adidas billboard that read “Impossible is Nothing”, the words would whirl in my head. I’d try to create a complete sentence, I’d look at those words and create a mind map – trying to fit them into something more concrete. I always thought that was an ingeniously worded campaign, but somehow, their true meaning deserted me. Until now. I learnt how much my mind was capable of doing, when the body packs up.
My Everest Base Camp trek taught me that impossible really was nothing.
This article first appeared on the MHE Stories blog and was re-published on my LinkedIn page.
Dilshad is an inspirational speaker and is invited by corporates and institutions to speaks on topics closest to her heart. Being a cancer survivor, her talks focus on doing what you always thought was "impossible" and turning that into "I'm possible" (with due credit to the great Audrey Hepburn!)