Opinion Op Ed 11 Mar 2017 Shobhaa’s Take ...
Irreverent, provocative, opinionated... Shobhaa De has been challenging status quo for four decades... and is at her best when she punctures inflated egoes. Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com

Shobhaa’s Take: Amid Northern Lights, some UP thoughts

Published Mar 11, 2017, 12:53 am IST
Updated Mar 11, 2017, 6:21 am IST
How many more tests does the PM have to pass?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: PTI)

I swear I wasn’t thinking of Akhilesh Yadav or the outcome of the Uttar Pradesh elections, when we took off for a long-awaited trip to Iceland to chase the Northern Lights. Despite my indifference, I was constantly bombarded with forwards and text messages from self-styled “experts” back home, giving the usual “bakwas” analysis that is as phoney as their accents. I like Dimpilesh as a couple. I am very superficial in such matters — they look good together. Bas! Since we have to see neta-faces in our newspapers day in and day out, let them be good looking ones. I also like Mayawati (Oh heavens! The stories one hears about this one!). She has guts and gumption. And is likely to pay a key role once we know the results. I abhor some of the other notorious characters and top players in what has been billed “the most important election in India”. Why so? Oh say the experts, because it is the most important test for Narendra Modi. How many more tests does the PM have to pass? So... when I packed my raincoat before taking off for Reykjavik, I really wasn’t concerned about Mr Modi’s raincoat remark, nor did I have Manmohan Singh on my radar. I was on a one-point mission: to catch the Northern Lights. Period.

As our flight circled over Keflavik airport, I half-wondered whether this was a moon landing — that’s exactly what Iceland looks like from the air — a desolate, cold, flat snow-covered land mass dotted with volcanoes (some active — very active!). “Iceland — Land of Literature”, read a huge sign at the primitive terminal (Indian superiority complex kicked in immediately!). I turned to my husband and smugly commented, “Even our smallest airports in the remotest cities are better!” I had heard the Indian rupee was stronger than the Icelandic kroner. Yayyyy! I was suddenly feeling rich... and not like an embarrassed and apologetic third-worlder. There were mountains and mountains of powdery white snow everywhere — I spotted several cars buried under snow. The streets had disappeared from view and there wasn’t a human in sight. We were told the city had experienced a 54 cm of snow in four hours — a 120-year-old record. Frankly, anything less would have been a huge disappointment! Then came the question of population: There are probably more people living in my Mumbai Cuffe Parade locality than the entire population of Iceland (approximately 300,000). I didn’t spot a single dog or a child.

 

Maybe it’s just too cold to procreate and keep pets? But then, what about those geothermal sulphur baths, lagoons and hot tubs? Just to keep warm? What a waste! I met two seriously miserable vegetarians during the excursions, who nearly gagged over their turnip soup, when cheerfully informed that local cuisine features the following meats: horse and reindeer, besides the staple lamb. And that the adorable orange-beaked Puffin tastes pretty good, too. Desi superiority was raising its head again. I waxed eloquent about Indian cuisine, Indian textiles, Indian music and dance. Our incredible India… our hallowed place in global politics and... and... and. Even I am not that stupid... I could tell nobody was impressed or interested. Instead, an overbearing American woman from Colorado pointedly turned to a group of Singaporean women professionals and instructed arrogantly, “So... tell me about Singapore. Teach me! Is it like really, really big and crowded?” This time I didn’t bother to roll my eyes. Yawwwwnnnn. Americans!

 

At various tourist spots, it was amusing to notice how groups formed — so instinctively and naturally. Asians gravitated towards other Asians, Americans stuck to one another, boasting loudly about their accomplishments, the Japanese and Chinese focused on their selfie sticks. The first Indians I met turned out to be Bahrain-wallas, originally from Kerala — a mother-daughter team. I nearly hugged them! Like us, they had a single point agenda — to see the Northern Lights in all their glory. Nice! In any case, there is really nothing else to see, once you get over the blinding whiteness of the stark landscape. Once I had oohed and aahed over the first waterfall, geyser and fjord, I was sort of done. Lakes and lagoons generally do it for me — but I need additional props. Gurgling rivers, crystal clear water, black sand beaches, caves and pebbles made great pictures. As did the startling skies by day. But the pièce de résistance remained the first sighting of those magical, magnificent lights. Aaaaah — what lights! The thing about the Northern Lights is their utter unpredictability — will they or won’t they? Show up, I mean. Nobody can say for sure, even if sophisticated satellites do monitor the Earth’s magnetic fields and the Sun’s activity.

 

There are advanced apps that provide readings on a scale of zero to nine. But locals insist these are mere parameters that guarantee nothing. Even a reading of six does not automatically lead to a spectacular light show that night. Well, all I can say is we were unusually lucky three nights in a row — the vivid, neon green, pale violet and bright orange lights danced for us uninhibitedly for hours. Had it not been minus nine degrees, we would have stayed up longer to enjoy the spectacle of a lifetime. The young girl from Kerala summed it up beautifully when with tears streaming down her face she hugged her mother and declared emotionally, “Amma! See... I had told you to say special prayers for the lights to emerge. God listened to your prayers.” Aha — India won again! And yes, our prayers were answered, too.

 

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