Growing up, Mahabaleshwar was like New York or Paris for me. The company where my father worked gave him incentives in the form of holiday vouchers for the hill-station in Maharashtra. And we used them every chance we got! In school, my sister and I had three vacations through the year, and sometimes, we’d visit Mahabaleshwar during every one of them! It’s safe to say that I’ve been to Mahabaleshwar at least a dozen times in my childhood. And the funny thing is, I never tired of it. In fact, I came to love it more and more with every visit. And perhaps that’s not just because of the hill station’s allure (beautiful though it certainly is). It’s because of the fond memories I associate with those trips – the carefreeness of childhood, the warm cocoon of a loving family, and the limitless possibilities of the future. Those were the days when my ten-year old self was drunk on unblemished optimism. And while adulthood has dimmed that idealism somewhat, I only have to think back to those times to reclaim the feeling of undiluted joy. Let’s take a walk down my memory lane, shall we? In retrospect, here are a few life lessons that Mahabaleshwar imparted to me:
Don’t let fear fool you.
I had an abject fear of dogs and as luck would have it, foreigners often visited our hotel in Mahabaleshwar with huge pet dogs! On one occasion, I was enjoying a walk on the lawns when I spotted a particularly large member of the canine family bounding towards me! I decided to flee, and what a mistake that turned out to be. With the dog in hot pursuit, I flew across the hotel grounds and banged right into a fellow guest. They were foreigners enjoying a picnic outside their cottage, and appeared to be most amused by my predicament. “If you want him to stop following you, just stop running! He thinks it’s all a game,” one of them send kindly. I didn’t really believe him, but I tried it anyway. To my huge surprise, the dog lost interest, and went away. It actually worked! Fear is just a shadow with no real power over us. It’s only there as long as we persist in running. Once you stop to face fear in its tracks, it vanishes like a figment of imagination that never existed in the first place.
Enjoy both the highs and the lows.
I was wary of swings as well. Yeah, I was a bit of a scaredy-cat! I enjoyed swinging but when it went too high, I’d feel dizzy and want to get off. My sister and I would swing together on a twin set of swings, and she taught me a handy trick – simply look at the sky when you go high, and the ground when you swing low. That way, you’re in tandem with the direction of the swing, and so, there’s nothing to fear. In life too, it’s easier to enjoy things when you go with the flow. Don’t sign up for a ride if you don’t want to. But once you do, if there’s no looking back, enjoy both the highs and the lows.
Food is a great joy; never feel guilty about loving it.
No one enjoys food as greatly as children. They don’t think about the weighing scales or the nutritive value of what’s on their plates. They simply lose themselves in the pure pleasure of tastes and textures. My favourite part of our Mahabaleshwar vacations were the meals – even simple dishes like creamy dal and buttery soup pleased me with their warm perfection. We’d eat until we could barely stand, and we’d all laugh about it afterwards. It’s good to practice mindful eating, but don’t ever punish yourself for having your favourite foods. Life is too short for that sort of guilt trip.
All places are wonderful when visited with the right people.
The way I talk about Mahabaleshwar, you’d think it’s paradise on earth. And it was, because every trip was with three people I loved purely, and who loved me back with equal intensity – my father, mother, and sister. Always travel with someone you really adore, even if that someone is just you. Don’t make the mistake of going on trips with folks who won’t enhance the place for you, because it’ll take away from the experience.
Enjoy the journey.
We lived in Mumbai, and always went to Mahalabeshwar by car. I’d be brimming with excitement as we woke up in the wee hours of the morning for the six-hour drive ahead. Riding in the front seat, I’d have my nose glued to window for the sights of villages and mountain ghats passing by – all those people, all those lives and stories laid out like real-life television. As the day matured, we’d pull down the windows and let the warm breeze in. I never cared if my hair got rough and ruffled by the wind or the dust carpeted my skin. And the return journey was like a bonus – six more hours of being on the road before we were back home (with school looming in the near future!). In between, we’d stop for watermelons and I’d be glad for the luscious treat awaiting me at home. Anyway, the takeaway from this is that the cliché about journeys being the destination is actually true. The road is our biggest teacher and our most loyal friend.
On our rides back home, with the evening lights turning the city into a starry web, I’d be utterly sure of being famous someday. I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I imagined penning a novel that would offer a brand new paradigm for readers. I was never religious but I was (and am) deeply spiritual, and there were moments when I felt a divine force flow through my pen. As a child, I’d write on matters I knew so little of. And I was sure, it wasn’t really me – just my hand. Dream big always, and aim for the whole universe. You deserve it. And if you really want something, you’ll make yourself worthy of attaining it.
New experiences are wonderful, but sometimes joy is in repeating the best ones.
There are so many hotels in Mahabaleshwar but we went to the same one every year, because it had become like a second home for us. There’s no reason to be ashamed of finding comfort in familiarity. And travelling, like everything else in life, isn’t a competition. It’s not about how many countries you visit, but about the joy you find in each trip. As someone said, it’s not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years.
True happiness is always found in nature.
One of the things that made me extremely sad while transitioning to adulthood was the disappearance of trees in my vicinity. Mumbai is a concrete jungle and yet, I found pleasure in spotting exotic birds and pretty cats from my window with my mother. In my childhood, trees were still more plentiful than they are today. It appalls me that the Indian government seems to have so little regard for nature, because it is the lifeblood of our souls. But I am glad that places like Mahabaleshwar still teem with serene woods and greenery. We came from the forests, and to the forests our spirits will return when we drop these earthly shackles.
If life seems too bleak, look at the big picture. You’ll always find beauty.
Life isn’t perfect; nor is it always all roses and sunshine. But here’s the thing: not everything matters as much as we think it does. And in the long run, you will realize that life is the most beautiful gift we’ve all been bestowed with. Mahalabeshwar is home to numerous ‘points’ where you get stunning views of the Sahyadris, including gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. From that vantage point, the world always seemed like such an incredible place. And perhaps, from where God sits, earth does seem like a dream come true rather than the wretchedness that wars and crimes would have us believe.
Every phase of life has its own charm.
It is human nature to constantly evaluate the present, and compare it against past experiences and an imagined future. But there is wisdom in understanding that every stage is a mixed bundle of things we may or may not appreciate. We visited Mahabaleshwar at different times of the year: Diwali holidays, when the hill station would be green and lovely in the aftermath of the monsoon, summer holidays, when it would be pleasant but not really like being in a mountainous area, and in the Christmas vacations, when the winter chill would force us to get up to pee several times in the night! Looking back, every season presented a different side of the town to us, and none was without its own unique charm.
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