Polar Plunge

 We were certified as have done an “act of indubitable courage as well as extraordinary incomparable foolishness” and that we had “temporary loss of common sense…….”.  This was when my wife, Pushpa and me tried to exhibit a brave act.

Our expedition cruise, “50 years of Victory” was anchored at The North Pole. Yes, at 90 degrees North.    The guests were given a crazy offer. They could take a “Polar Plunge”.   The organisers cleared an area of about 15 feet by 15 feet on the icy surface of the ocean. The melted ice formed a pool of polar ice water.  The water was surrounded by thick wall of ice all around.  The temperature was about minus 20-25 degrees centigrade at surface. One could see the water as it was freezing.  Even so, the passengers came out of their cabins to take a plunge.  A different type of adventure.

We were told it could be fatal to be in that water for more than one and half minutes.  To ensure the survival of the people who take the dip, they were tied to a rope before the dive.  The rope would be used to pull a person out, in case they fainted or wasn’t able to come out at the stroke of 90 seconds.   Once the swimmer was out, he was immediately made warm by towels and rum if one desired.  Then you could go to your cabin and have a hot shower and relax for a while, till the blood pressure got back to normal.

I was not confident of taking the plunge.  Not too many from our crew dared had opted for it – only about 10%.  I gave an excuse to myself, “I am from a warm place like Mumbai. We were not exposed to extreme cold.  No… no… no… not safe.”   I told Pushpa too.   But she had different ideas.

l was still considering the matter when Pushpa threw a surprise at me. She said she wanted to go for the plunge.    I thought she was joking.  Nope, she wasn’t.  For such crazy activities, usually I persuade her to join me.  This time she beat me.

It so turns out that before we left for the trip, Pushpa in a casual conversation had mentioned the Polar plunge to our daughter, Meeta.   Meeta suggested, “If you get a chance, do it!  Why do you want to miss it?  Unlikely that you will be going there again.” I wasn’t aware of this conversation.

Pushpa was determined.   And she did it too – without any fuss! To survive she had to return within one and a half minutes.  She was pulled back after a minute or so.  They offered her vodka to keep her warm after the plunge.  But being a teetotaler, she refused to take the drink and survived comfortably.

Pushpa’s plunge inspired me.   After watching her doing the feat so comfortably, I had to do it too! I went to the cabin, changed into swimwear and took the plunge. I’m not sure I’d have taken the plunge if it weren’t for Pushpa.

After the plunge I realised it was one of the most exciting, adventurous and crazy events of my life.


We were given certificates from the organisers for the brave act.  The certificate also stated that we “did an act of indubitable courage, as well as extraordinary, incomparable foolishness… “   It further said that Ship’s Doctor had confirmed that it was an act of absurd heroism and we had “temporary loss of common sense”!

Having the plunge at 90 degrees North was a life time opportunity and achievement.  Having done something that not many would do and being the first Indians to do that, we were extremely happy to have accomplished the feat and fully satisfied with our efforts to go on this expedition.

This incident further confirmed my belief that if in doubt, ask yourself, “If others can do it, why can’t I?”

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa
Edited By : Meeta Kabra

My First Midnight-Sun Venture

 “It must be a fairy tale” I thought, when our Geography teacher in school said “North Pole and South Pole have 6 months day light and are dark for 6 months.  I wanted to experience it before I believed it.

I planned my first overseas vacation with my wife in 1983, when I was in Dubai. First thing which came to mind was to visit the Arctic region in North Pole where the sun shines at midnight.

There was no internet and WWWs at that time.  None of the travel agents, either in Dubai or India, had any clue as to where and how to reach the place.  I decided to plan my trip by myself. I was reasonably sure that the midnight sun could be experienced from one of the locations in the northern part of the Arctic region.

By the time I reached Oslo on 23 July 1983, I was pretty sure that my best shot was from a place called North Cape in Norway.   It was the northern most tip of Norway,  a distance of about 2,000 kms to the North of Oslo.  Out of this, a distance of 1,200 kms up to Narvik was accessible by train.   The rest had to be covered by road.

We hired a car to start our journey from Narvik to North Cape.  I guessed, at the average European highway speed, it would take about 7-8 hours to cover the distance of 800 km.  I was shocked and was not prepared to believe when the rental car agent said it would take us 2-3 days to reach. I was determined to visit North Cape to fulfill my childhood ambition.

The road was very narrow, just about 7-8 feet wide for two way traffic.  If there was even a small car approaching from the opposite side, one of the cars had to back up to a point where overtaking was possible. The winter snow fall made the road rough and worn out.  The drive had to be as slow as 10-20 kms per hour most of the time compared to the average 160 in Europe

There were innumerable large lakes on the way.  Since there were no bridges,  at times, we had to drive around the lake for a long distance of about 20-25 km – a distance which would otherwise have been just half a km if there was an accessible road/bridge.

The drive though had a unique scenic beauty about it.  It ran along the coast of the Norwegian Sea. On one side, just at the edge of the road, the land had suddenly sliced down, at timed as deep as 200ft.  At the bottom of the sliced land, there was frozen seashore and then a vast view of the sea and horizon with a rare view of ice slates at the sea shore.  On the very edge of the top of the sliced land, was the narrow road we were driving on.  On the other side of the road there were a series of high mountains or valleys with unique views at every turn.  A drive of a lifetime, indeed.

To save time, we had pre-packed lunch and dinner in the car itself, instead of taking stops.   A cup of coffee with khakras, chips and similar snacks kept us going.   We had tea/coffee at the gas stations whenever we stopped for gas.

 We finally reached North Cape on the afternoon of 25 July 1983.  That was my life’s longest continuous drive, a non-stop drive of 46 hours without rest or sleep.

We spent watching the sun through the night. The temperature was around freezing point

North Cape was a totally isolated place.  We could see the sun moving from one place to another in a circle, all the time right on our head. It was a slightly hazy day, but we were lucky to have occasional clear sky. It was bright white till the evening.  In the evening it started turning a little yellow.  At midnight, it was bright orange with multi-coloured clouds – a mesmerizing view.

Midnight Sun at North Cape 11 pm to 1 am

Midnight Sun at North Cape 11pm to 1am2015-03-20 11.54.00

At the observation point, there was a post office and 3 telephone booths. We purchased a few post cards from the post office and posted them to the dear ones.  They had a machine which stamped our passport “North Cape – July 26, 1983 00:55”.

We were quite excited and thought of calling dear ones from there. The tariff was very high and there were no cell phones at that time.  We decided to restrict calls to our parents and children to inform them that we have ultimately reached the place where we planned to be.

 We inserted Kroner in the first booth, but the credit failed to appear on the screen.  We realised it was not working.  We tried at the second booth.  This machine also swallowed a Kroner without giving any service.  Unfortunate.

We still tried phone at the third and last of the booths.   As we inserted a Kroner, there was no response.  Disappointed, I banged the box.    Surprise! I saw quite a few Kroners coming out of the machine!  I collected all of them, and dialed our landline in Dubai.  As it was ringing, I inserted a coin, the coin came out but I could here the voice on the other side.  Eureka!

We took complete undue advantage of the free calls.  Hoping for further gain, I banged the first two machines, they were dead.  They did not throw out any coins like the third darling.

Overall, we were richer by a few Kroners by the time we forced ourselves to leave the place! It is true the sun shines at midnight!


Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra



Lessons Learnt From Those Trees

A few months ago, I was in Yosemite Valle, California, USA .   This is a huge forest with 800 miles in hiking trails. The Sequoia family of trees with their huge trunks draw special attention of the visitors.  The tallest tree is 285 feet in height.

As I looked around I felt, each of these trees have meaningful lessons to teach.

Wewona Tree

Wawona Giant Sequoia

One of the trees, Wawona giant sequoia is 210 feet tall, 92 feet in circumference with a diameter of 30 feet.   As you can see in the image, the tree fell down from its roots. This happened in 1969 and it is still lying there as the wood is resistant to decay. It is as good as dead, but so what?  While living, it succeeded in maintaining its world record.  Therefore even after death, it is a darling of everyone  who passes it by.   In fact, the authorities allow visitors to play around and hug this eternally sleeping tree.

These giant sequoia trees understand that to survive, it is very important to share and live together as a society.  They are aware that for survival, every tree needs water and nutrients which is why they grow very close to one another.   They permit the roots of one giant sequoia to fuse with the roots of another. This underground activity enables the giant trees not only to survive in close proximity to each other but live together with equal rights.

In fact there is a set of two trees called “Faithful Couple” who believe to share every thing

Faithful Couple

Faithful Couple

with the partner. They are so  close to each other that one side of their trunks is almost like a common wall of the two trunks.   They respect the presence of the neighbour. They demonstrate their ability to share the components for survival such as water, sunlight and nutrients like a true couple. They believe in togetherness in pleasure and sorrow,  “sukh-dukh mein saath saath

California Tunnel

California Tunnel

There is a tree called California Tunnel, one of the two living trees in the area.  The tree in the dense jungle does not hesitate to permit the people to pass through its tummy.  A large cavity in the huge trunk is wide enough to let a SUV pass through it. Convenience to others is more important to the tree than its own inconvenience.   Similarly there is a tree called Clothspin which has a tunnel in its body as big as 40ft in height.

At one site, there are 3 sequoia trees together named 3 Graces. Their roots are inter-mingled. Research confirms that they survive together and if they were to fall, they would fall together.  Together they live and together they would die.  “jiyenge saath saath, marenge saath saath

Writer  : Badri Baldawa

Editor  : Meeta Kabra

Can We All Be Aarya?


As I was lying down in Natarajasan as a part of my morning Yogasana around 6.15 in the morning, Pushpa got our 10-month old granddaughter Aarya to greet me.  A lovely, fresh Aarya-style broad smile.  The little one came to say hello before she was to leave for a picnic with other family members.

I let my yoga routine be.  As I was getting up, Aarya jumped on me.  She pointed her finger towards my bedroom window and said “yei, yei”, translating to “entertain me near the window”.

My bedroom is on the first floor of our home and looks down on our lush green, house garden.  Shorter plants under tall ashoka trees.  Mornings usually have a continuous flow of flying and chirping birds just 5-10ft away. Occasional, multi-coloured butterflies can be seen enjoying their flights around the greenery.

Aarya had to be taken back quickly as others were almost ready to leave for the picnic.  But to her call of  “yei, yei” and pointed finger at the window, I had to carry her to the window just for a minute or two.  She was happy and I was more than happy; just not for those few moments, but for the next few hours.

It is about 6 hours since she left, and I still have a smile on, as if I am continuing to respond to her lively smile.  She has been on my mind all this time and whatever I did since this morning went well, full of positive results.  I wish everyone is lucky to receive that smile in the morning so that their entire day is peaceful and positive.

As she grows, as she starts to speak, learn, debate and take responsibilities, I wish she continues to speak with me in “yei, yei” language.  I wish she does not get or accept the coating of the layers of ego, pride, complications that we add to our natural and pure soul.

I realise now why a child is considered as a form of God. A child arrives into this world with the purest of pure thoughts, with no bias towards wealth, caste or creed, like God. Only thing they know is “Love Every One”.  I wish Aarya, the noble, remains the same by soul, though would grow in body and mind.

I wish we all could be the same – smile to say “I Love Every One”!

Written: Badri Baldawa on 24.11.2014

Edited : Meeta Kabra

Himalayan Positive Attitude

I was on my Mansarovar-Kailash yatra for the second time. I had arranged to take a group of about 100 persons for pilgrimage.   On 21 July 2010, we started driving from an altitude of 4,300 ft in Nepal to Nyalam located at 12,400 ft in Tibet, China. It was too big a climb for one day.   To ensure that everyone is healthy and fit to travel to higher altitudes in next few days, we had to take a day’s rest for acclimatisation at a village called Nyalam.

During acclimatisation, rest is defined as climbing a couple of mountains and return to the base!  In the evening, when the sun was about to set off, I noticed that a little far away, in one of the mountain kasba, about 30-35 persons were sitting together, in a big circle. Though it was far off, I could here them talking loud and laughing and enjoying their time.   It was like a celebration.

One of the Nepalese Sherpa was with me. I checked with him was it a special occasion or festival that people are enjoying so merrily, as if it was some sort of celebration.   The reply was very interesting.

He said: “This particular tribe in Tibet have their dinner early, at sunset and enjoy talking and laughing all the time during dinner. However, they have another very special tradition. During the time of dinner, even if oneperson speak negative about any one in the village or criticise, they just stop eating and quietly disperse away on that day! Probably that tradition keep them laughing all the time. Everyone in their tribe have developed the sanskar (habit) of talking positive about every other person all the time.“

What a rich tradition! We wish we all could do the same!!

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra

Trust or Written Agreements ?

There were many suppliers of stainless steel glasses from India. In my first deal, since I had taken the samples from Mr. Vishnu Goyal, it was ethical on my part, to buy the products from him.

After executing  my first order of $84,000, I felt that I had scope to expand in this business of stainless steel housewares and was worth a try in this range of product whole-heartedly.   If I made sure of maintaining quality and price, it wouldn’t be difficult to take a lead in the Middle East in this trade.

In my initial deals, I found Vishnuji very trust worthy, honest and sweetly cooperative. When I brought up the idea of making stainless steel housewares products as a regular export range, he consented to be associated with me.

Normally the next step would be to sign a partnership agreement defining the business relationship between us.  But I wanted to try non-conventional method.   In many cases, misunderstandings come up because of interpretation of what was written in documents. These disputes start, extends to legal battles and aggravate to a level where the business cripples down to closure.  But if nothing is written, both the parties had to be reasonable and not greedy. Knowing that nothing has been written down, they figure out a practical solution together.

Yes, doing business without written agreements is dangerous.  The written agreements could be restricted to where there is slightest doubt on trust or if the Law  needs it.

This was one of the experiments I wanted to try in my business. We trusted each other and hence suggested Vishnuji that we would have an understanding and avoid a written agreement.  Both of us agreed willingly. We mutually understood our roles, financial arrangements and the nature of decisions each of us would take independently and those which needed joint decisions.

We were ambitious but not greedy.  Both of us believed “if I am destined to get something, it is bound to come? If it is not destined for me, how will I get at all?”.  It is now over 25 years since that arrangement. There isn’t a single word in writing till today. We have executed many multi crore value orders over the years. Touch wood, there have been no disputes. Of course, there have been differences of opinions very few and far between, for the good health of the organisation. When such differences come up, we have a lot of respect for each other’s opinion.

When friends in business ask me  what is your relation with Vishnuji in business,  I start thinking and I don’t get an answer even to myself.

We were able to maintain peaceful atmosphere between us. If Trust works, Peace prevails. And Peace brings better Prosperity.

Written Agreements can go wrong, but Trust always Cherish!

Experienced and Written: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra

What Next – A Dilemma

On certain occasions in life you are at a dilemma – do I satisfy my desires or take overall responsibilities.  At such points, it is essential to curb our feelings for the larger good. To do what I really want to do would surely give me pleasure. But the pleasure I would get in fulfilling the desires of the entire family would be incomparable.  If I have an opportunity to get ‘incomparable pleasure’, why should I get satisfied with just ‘pleasure’?

In 1965, I appeared for B.Com exams and was contemplating what was best for me to do thereafter.  I had to decide whether to join business or go for a job or pursue further studies. The ground reality was that we were ten brothers and four sisters.  Except one sister who was married, the others were younger to me.  They needed to be educated, married and ultimately settle in their career. There was always a financial crunch at home – even for essential day to day needs.  We desperately needed regular income in the family.

I always wanted to run my own business and I had the confidence that I had acumen for it. It could then be debated – why did I not join dad’s mining business?  The mining business was not giving returns.  To make it profitable, processes needed to be mechanised for which an investment of Rs.15-20 crores was needed.  We did not have adequate sources nor securities to get the large funds to run the mining business.

The maximum financial help I was offered was enough to set up a grocery shop – a very common business occupation at that time. Though business could give better earnings, there was no guarantee of any fixed minimum returns.  A single wrong decision in business could ruin the dreams of the entire family.  It was too big a risk for me to take.  I had to play a safer game.  Therefore to ensure that all the family members are taken care of, I decided against setting up a business.

The other option was to study further which would result in a further financial burden. The family would continue to struggle for at least 3-4 additional years.

Employment gives regular assured income.  It was better to go for assured income by doing a job.  At any later time, as and when I saw the family settling down, I could take the risk of fulfilling my dream of experimenting with my own business. Under the circumstances, I was convinced that doing a job would be the thing to do.  It was a compromise and of course, not a very happy situation to be in. I was still in dilemma

Just then, the results of my final B.Com were declared.  I had secured the top rank in the University.  After getting the results, I went home, took my mother’s blessings and headed to the office room.  I missed my dad.  He was away on one of his trips to the mines. By this time, a few of our family, friends and neighbours who had heard of my results had already collected in the office with a garland to honour me. One common question was,  “Badri, what do you want to do next?”  True, I now had to take a final decision.

I was blessed with a surprise.  My dad had unexpectedly returned from his trip and entered the office, full of well-wishers.  He was not aware of my results.  He heard it from the people already collected there.  I could read his face.  He was a proud father. As if the garland was waiting for my dad.  He picked it up and garlanded me.  What an honour!

The same question was asked again, “what next?” I was still confused.  Before I could answer, dad answered.  “With such bright results, what other option would he prefer other than to take the family responsibility after me.”  I was happy that dad had come to my rescue and took a decision for me.

Dad looked at me and continued “Beta, you study as much as you want.  No limits.  Leave it to me, I will handle the affairs at home. You don’t have to worry about the expenses.   I have energy and strength to take care of all of that. If you study now, you can take care of the family tomorrow!”  I was lucky to have such a dad!

A very sensitive occasion for me.  My dilemma was no more.  I got what I ultimately wanted.  Study further.  I thought for a while, I could continue study now and still earn later with higher status and earnings.  But if I went for a steady income now, it would be very difficult to go for studies later on.

It therefore was decided that I would go for further studies as long as dad had energy.This was the opportunity to show my worth in studies and then take up the challenge of supporting the entire family.  It also reminded me: in business I might earn, but it would be temporary because there can always be losses. But if I acquire knowledge, it would be my permanent asset and I would never lose it. That asset would help me later, whether I go for employment or business.

Vidya Dhanam Sarwa Dhana Pradhanam.

Author: Badri Baldawa

Editor: Meeta Kabra

Define Contentment


A day at Ganges Ghat at Rishikesh in April 2014.

Just as I was about to enter the river for my bath, I saw one of the sadhu pandits (priest) wearing a white handloom dhoti, just finishing his bath.  I knew he was going to chant Hanuman Chalisa (a prayer for Lord Hanuman).  I went to him to say “Please wait for me to complete my bath, we will sing Hanuman Chalisa together”.  He did not speak.  I took my 11 dips and sat next to him.  We recited Hanuman Chalisa together.

He was the same sant (saint) who I saw two days ago at the river side.  That day, I obseved him as he had his bath while chanting all type of Mantras. He then, sat on the steps and chanted the Hanuman Chalisa with a lovely tune.  I was at peace of mind and unknowingly joined him. I thoroughly enjoyed the vibrations. I waited till he completed his jaaps (chants) and was inquisitive to know more about him.

He was about 60 years old and from a village in Bihar.  He lost his parents long ago.  He did not marry and had no relatives, except for a brother and a nephew, who he had no contact with. He stayed in a temple in his village and was the caretaker.  He traveled a lot.  He reached Haridwar by train and expected to stay in Rishikesh for 4-5 days before moving to other places.  He was planning on reaching Badrinath by foot and expected to reach there by mid-May 2014.  On his way, if he feels like it, if he finds it interesting, he’d stay at any place for 4-5 days.

No plans, no itinerary, no reservations for accommodation, no worry about food, no expense budget.  He appeared a fully content soul.  He would stay in any Ashram which wouldn’t mind giving him some space to sleep, even if it means open space in very cold weather.  He’d eat at any of the Ashrams which had complimentary meal arrangements for Sadhus. In case he didn’t get food, he said, he wouldn’t feel hungry; he felt hungry only when he saw food and not otherwise.  He had just a dhoti and a spare langot for clothing, which he would wash every day and use.

We, on the other hand, would not bother making travel plans unless we have confirmed reservations, comfortable place to stay, planned arrangements to eat and a load of warm and fancy clothes.  Here was a soul who had full mental satisfaction even though he did not have any financial for expenses, accommodation, food arrangements or in fact any materialistic possessions!

Now look at this.  Just on the way to Rishikesh, I lost my iphone.  It was pinched by someone at Delhi station when it was kept for charging from right under our nose.  All my information, contact details, data was lost with the phone.  I was very upset.  I felt very sad.  Losing that phone was almost as if I had lost one of my beloved ones. Is such an attachment necessary?  It is bad that we have become so dependant. How did we manage when cell phones did not exist?  We probably had better mental peace and less dependency on an external non-living tool? Just compare that to the Sadhu who wasn’t even dependent on living beings and was still happy and content.

Later, I went for a trek from Rishikesh to the Neelkanth mountain.  This is located in the centre of a valley, surrounded by mountains all around. It was a circuit trek of about 25 km including a steep climb of about 3000 feet over a distance of 12-13 km.

This is said to be the place where Lord Shiva took his salvation after he consumed the poison, during the Samudra Manthan – to save the universe from destruction, Shiva retained the poison and did not allow it to go down his throat.  It created such heat that he had to rest in a cool place.  That place was Neelkanth.

(Neelkanth is the same place where it is whispered that Mrs. Jasodaben, the wife of the BJP nominee Mr. Narendra Modi is presently stationed  in an Ashram.)

This place could be visited by a vehicle.  But we preferred to trek. No doubt it was a hard trek.  Since I lost my cell phone, I carried my wife’s phone.  It was for the loved ones at home to know our whereabouts.  But every time there was a call, it disturbed the peace and trek thrills. When I had such a wonderful time with nature in wonderful company of two daughter-like grand nieces, Archana and Krishna, any call was a disturbance.  We gain a lot from modern gadgets, but we lose a lot too!

I wondered if it was really necessary that I buy a new cell phone to live? Since I lost my phone, was this an opportunity to stay without it?  I am wondering whether I should buy a phone at all?  Can’t I get on without depending on it?  Will I not be happier without a cell phone?  Why not try at least for a few months to see what difference it makes?

Author: Badri Baldawa                                                      Editor: Meeta Kabra