The Mountain Man

Si tu veux
If you want

I was recently in Mukteshwar, roughly 2,100m or 7,000ft above see level. Looking at the Himalayas for any period of time takes your breath away. Every meter I rose reminded me how much I love the mountains. Every meter I rose, I felt more and more removed from everything that I considered normal. Every meter I rose, I escaped just a little bit further from what I considered reality.

As we drove up the winding roads on the mountainside, I looked out into the valley below and experienced, not heard, but experienced silence. At night, you could see stars that you didn’t even know existed, the clouds at the heart of the milky way – the very center of our universe. You could feel the wind of the mountains, their whispers to each other – an arcane, peaceful language.

I tried to absorb this silence, to somehow make it my own. And the mountains whispered back,

Si tu veux

the dwelling of a hermit, especially when small and remote
synonyms: retreat, refuge, haven, sanctum, asylum

The preceding weeks had been, for lack of a better word, a kaleidoscope of extremely challenging work situations and exhausting self reflection, a literal re-wiring of the mind while being repeatedly set on fire. The noise was deafening and I found refuge in a cosy one bedroom apartment high up a skyscraper in London. From here you could see above the clouds and into the horizon. There was no street noise and everything was new. This was my Hermitage – where I could hide from all of the perceived violence of my world collapsing around me, or so I thought.

In Hermitage, the noise from the outside world was gone but it was still deafening in my apartment. My shoulders were tight, the anxiety was right there, and my conscious awareness felt so far removed from the skin on my face, from my interface with the world, that it genuinely frightened me. It felt so very easy to fall right into the noise and be lost forever as three words continued to echo,

Si tu veux

In the mountains did the hermit hide.

Back in Mukteshwar, the noise did not stop – the anxiety to check work emails, the desire to continue thinking through and solving impossible problems, and trying to forget unforgettable, judgmental eyes as they looked right into me. The mountain air, now cold, gently coaxed splitting headaches for its amusement.

On the last day, I wanted to find a way to the temple in Mukteshwar – a little white building at the very top of the hill across the valley in front of where we stayed. 7 kilometers of walking and a little motorized assistance later, I was at a temple on a mountaintop in India – Steve Jobs found inspiration in these hills, perhaps I could find some peace.

I took my shoes off. It was quiet, too quiet. I could feel my heart beat and lungs heave at the end of the climb to the top of the hill. There were three white washed buildings there – two small ones on either side of the large temple structure.

As I climbed the steps, I walked towards the head priest as he burned wood reciting incantations in front of a smaller temple structure to the right. His beard was white, his robes were orange, his eyes red from the burning wood. I approached him but said nothing – the last thing I wanted to do was to leave with a curse.

Instead of ignoring me as he had the half dozen or so people ahead of me, he gestured for me to follow him into the small building to the right as he switched from his incantation into something…simpler,

ॐ शान्ति शान्ति शान्ति
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

An invocation for peace.

Inside the room, I once again found silence as he repeated the phrase in front of the various deities. This was the real hermit, and this place was the real hermitage. I was just a pretender sitting on the throne with a wooden crown. The bearded priest in the temple on top of the hill knew what I was really after, he could see it in my face.

He could not help me find it, though, and nothing changed inside me after that experience; it was no magical Eat, Pray, Love moment. It was simply a potent reminder that peace, that silence, they exist. I went up into the larger temple and made a mannat (a wish).

As I was leaving I tried to gesture to the priest, to say thank you – but also to selfishly share in his silence, to experience his peace. His head remained hunched over the fire and passed by him unnoticed,

Si tu veux

On the mountaintop did the hermit die. There is a void inside all of us, something we look to something else to fill. This void inside me had been viciously unplugged and was now screaming inside of me. It screamed with such ferocity that I was blind to everything – the past, the present, and the future. The here and now.

Everything I throw at it to plug it up, every mask I wear, every attempt at running away from it will always be useless. It needs to be filled from within. The silence in those mountains belonged to the mountains, it was their peace. I could participate in it but never have it. The silence in that temple, it belonged to the priest, it was his peace. I could participate in it but never have it.

I have to create it myself.

I left Varun the hermitic mountain man – the one that goes to far off places of unreality to grab and forget a sliver of peace until the next time his restless world crumbles – in those mountains. Let him wander there, let him get lost. Let him trip and fall into the valley and finally become one with the mountains. Let him die.

This Varun needs to go back into the noise and master it, this one needs to stop looking for places to hide and find his place in this batshit, crazy, unpredictable world.

That night I looked at the mountains, at the temple in the town, up into the night sky, and they all whispered back,

Si tu veux.

Season 2: Meditations

Did you think I had forgotten you? As if the passage of time would somehow make it easier to let certain things go?

I’m afraid I don’t function that way.

The last few months have been a melange of tricky work situations, confusing social interactions, a deluge of uncontrolled thoughts powerful enough to make me want to put my head through a window on numerous occasions so as to see it shatter into a million pieces.

The last few months have also been spectacular. So much so that I feel the urge to write, to share once again. However, I wanted to treat every burst of motivation as a special occasion, not something I do every week.

This burst is the second “season” of Iman, if you will. Each chapter is an extended, focused microscope. Six chapters, six…meditations.

I must warn you now, this season will be challenging. It is the result of tearing one’s self apart in order to build up something better. What you find buried deep within the walls you so carefully raised that you now find yourself pulling apart, brick by brick.

With any luck these meditations will be, as all meditations are, poignant.

With any luck they will go beyond individual perspective, they will be imperfect like everyone’s unique humanity, and ultimately…hopeful. At least I hope so.

The chapters are titled:

I: The Mountain Man
II: Masks
III: The Sinner
IV: What Heroes Do
V: Into the Void


Telescope IV: Music and Me

I have been on a hiatus that I can only apologize for – sometimes you need to take some time away. Sometimes you need to disappear. I needed some space to breathe after some rather serious “creative combustion”. Instead of talking about that, though, I thought I would talk about music.

If you see me walk down the street, at my desk at work, or even standing in Hyde Park after my evening run, you will see someone plugged into headphones, in a world other than the one that you and I presently occupy. Likely looking up into the sky – either at the clouds or the moon or planes passing by. I have found a little nook in my mind that music seems to create. I can’t quite describe it. It’s like a space in which a random selection of notes, played in sequence don’t just create a melody, or a harmony, they create something more. They create magic. And that magic creates peace. One way or another, something is created.

Let me walk you through what I have been experiencing. I have been listening to this Punjabi song called Baliye/Laung Gawacha. I do not understand Punjabi and I do not have a clue about what the song means. I don’t want to because I have ascribed emotional meaning to this song and I’d rather keep it that way. You can find it here.

It starts off as a typical quote, unquote Rock song – frolicking in drums, harmonies, riffs, and inconsistent beats as Haroon Shahid sings his lungs out. It is energetic, it is frenetic, it is…desperate. It’s like standing out in the open and seeing that bolt of lightning in the cloudy sky at night when you know, you just know that a thunderstorm is on it’s way. The kind of thunderstorm that causes roads to flood, dirt to wash out, rats to drown. But it’s just lightning and by 3 minutes and 10 seconds into the song, you lose hope – the rain won’t come. As the reverb of the last guitar chord fades into the air, you feel as if the wind will carry the clouds away and with it, the rain.

And then…it begins, as all good things do, in silence. It is a moment that I have come to subconsciously associate with closing my eyes until that gentle thump of a beat. As soon as I feel that thump, my eyes open, as if for the first time. The next minute is magic.

A plucking of some guitar strings – electric and acoustic, some violins pulsing as if blood flowing through veins.

Thunder is born.

You hear a voice, a strong yet gentle voice beginning the classiest megh malhar (a sanskrit raga that was said to make it rain) you will ever hear. Quratulain Baloch plays off of this…thunder. She is you as you look at those clouds that teased you with the lightning. You look at them with every ounce of will that you have as you try to make it rain. But you do not fight it, you are one with it – just like her voice glides on the music rather than cuts against it. She isn’t pleading with the clouds to make it rain, she is merely seducing them. She knows it will rain.

At around 4 minutes and 19 seconds you see the bass guitar player twist and contort his body, slithering like a snake trying to stand as the music, the thunder, takes you over. You feel it in your bones, in the very marrow that makes you human.

And then…the drums. The rhythm quickens as the clouds begin to open up. It’s working. But its a drizzle, not a downpour, not yet. That requires more. The clouds demand more. The instrumentation gets more complex, but you keep going – her voice, your voice now in it’s own element within the frame that is the music. The harmony acting as the wind and carrying your demands, your desire, your voice. You don’t need to sing any more, you just need to be patient.

Finally, after the music, after the clouds themselves are in the position to create your reality,


With the slightest of effort, the most eloquent of tongues, the most languid of glances,

Mera laung gawacha

The music now in full flow, the rain beginning to pour, rain that you have created through your will, through your intent, through your faith, through Iman. She is a part of the music now, they feed off of each other. You are one with what you have created, it isn’t hard, it just is, because you have willed it to be.

Creation is the single most combustive act you can partake in. Creativity requires energy, it requires effort, it requires action. Whether it is to write a blog post, to make music, to self publish a book, whatever it may be – creating is an exothermic expression of love that is fueled by faith.

I took that time away to find what it is that I wanted to create – did I want to write a book? Did I want to make a movie? Did I want I want to make a million dollars in revenue?

None of it.

I wanted to create me – myself, my world, my reality. And I will. I won’t settle for less than exactly what I want. Neither should you. All it takes is love and faith. All it takes is Iman.

Welcome to my world.