Venugopal Rao Nallamothu has been a journalist, writer, author, trekker, hiker, cycle traveller, farmer, positive thought practitioner, etc., and is at peace with himself and the world.
A. Radhakrishnan ferrets out his world views.
How would you describe yourself?
I am a learner on the loose. Hailing from a small village in Andhra Pradesh, like every other villager I was also born with the notion that I know nothing. And fortunately, since I really knew nothing, I wanted to learn everything that I came across.
That curiosity took me to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, where I studied for two years only to observe the outside world. Not to pursue any degree. So that is how I didn’t complete my M.A. I didn’t need to. My decent writing skills, and the broadminded thinking imbibed at the University was good enough for me to get a job as a newspaper journalist.
After working for a couple of years in Hyderabad in various capacities as a sub-editor, political reporter and ultimately as the magazine editor, destiny forced me to leave for Pune as part of my wife’s baggage. In Pune, I worked for the Maharashtra Herald and The Times of India before I went on a long bicycle ride and called it quits.
Your opinion on the 10-day Vipassana course in Dhammagiri.
It is a great way to come face-to-face with your spiritual self. Otherwise, who has the time or the inclination to spend ten days without talking? Yogis are a different ball game altogether. But before taking the course, it would be helpful if you could practice meditation at least for a couple of minutes every day. Then you can even write a book like me!
What inspired your book Who Stole My Breath? and How I Survived S.N.Goenkaji’s 10-Day Guerrilla Vipassana Course? What were the learnings?
There is an empty, gnawing feeling in all of us that there is something weird about the way we are leading our lives. It drove me to spirituality pretty early in life and during that time I attended this course.
I learnt that this world is an illusion, and we are desperately trying to give meaning to the insignificant things in our lives, only because we want them to be there.
Any other books in the pipeline?
If You Don’t Know Where You Are Going, Any Road Will Take You There on Kindle, on my 3000 kms bicycle ride is coming up.
I am also completing a book on Zen, not the philosophy, but about how we are like frogs in the well with our tunnel vision thinking, taking a leaf or two from my understanding of it.
Does writing energise or exhaust you?
It takes some time and quoting Sidney Sheldon’s autobiography ‘All good writing is rewriting’, I keep rewriting till I get into the flow, and then my brain cells start dancing with ecstasy. So it is a happy learning process.
What are the ethics of writing? What kind of research do you do, before beginning a book? Do you believe in writer’s block?
Even if you write trash, and you know that you write trash, be true to yourself. I write books based on my experiences, so I don’t need any kind of research to write my books.
Oftentimes, we use writer’s block as an excuse for our laziness. The only way to write is to keep writing nonsense till it makes sense, and rewrite it. Everything will fall in place.
Is negativity self-defeating?
Not exactly. A little bit of negativity is way better than a tonne of positivity. It gives an insight into our limitations; we can see where we are going wrong, correct ourselves accordingly, and move ahead without any false pretensions or expectations.
Positivity, on the other hand, gives us superficial strength. It is like telling ourselves lies all along the way even when we know they are lies.
And that is where all the motivational self-help books have failed to bring about any difference in our lives. Good to read, but there is no such thing as fast-track growth like they promise. Life is a very slow learning process. And the sooner we learn it, the faster we can reach our goal!
How to be grateful when life is hard?
Realise that the hard times teach us valuable lessons that enable us to tide over any crisis. And we face crises at every stage in our journey. So, that hard-times experience is very valuable.
How does one derive happiness?
Happiness is not a byproduct, but an end in itself. The moment you become aware of your every action, you are happy. That is what spirituality and meditation is all about. Know thyself. And you are happy. And you take that happiness into every aspect of your life. It is a lot of struggle. It takes years to reach that ideal. Becoming aware of your every action is just the first step; living it fully is a long-drawn process.
Share your best experience on trekking?
The Alang-Madan-Kulang trek in the Sahyadris that I did a decade ago was most adventurous and involved rappelling and rock climbing. That put me on the adventurous path and I haven’t stopped trekking since.
But the most romantic one was walking on the frozen Zanskar river in Leh in subzero temperatures, an out-of-the-world experience. Similar is the Kashmir Great Lakes trek. A week of circling around the great lakes in the Kashmir Himalayas, walking on the rising and falling meadows amid breathtaking scenery was an otherworldly experience.
The Bhrigu Lake trek in the Kullu Himalayas was another memorable experience. Trekking also introduced me to adventure sports like waterfall rappelling, river rafting, etc.
How important is travel to you?
It is like oxygen to someone like me, exploring his spiritual self. It is like going to the gym, but here you flex your spiritual muscle.
I generally prefer to travel alone because I love to experience different cultures and different people at my own pace. I do travel with a group, but only of my trekking friends who share the same sentiments. The advantage is we tend to explore a wide variety of places. Like for example, I wasn’t a keen wildlife enthusiast. But when I went to Ranathambhor to see the tiger, I was hooked to birdwatching. And I’ve gone to Pench and Nagzira in Madhya Pradesh, Jhalana in Jaipur, and the desert of Rann of Kutch in Gujarat to satiate this thirst.
The same goes for my trip to the Northeast in 2019. I had been there twice in a span of two months – once to explore the sanctuary of the clouds, Meghalaya, and the second time to have a firsthand experience of the cultural extravagance of the Naga tribes that is showcased every year in the name of the Hornbill festival.
From wildlife parks to historical sites to spiritual retreats I’ve had quite a spread on my plate. But for some strange reason, Himachal Pradesh is my favourite.
Talk about your 3,000 km bicycle ride from Pune to McLeodganj. What did you learn?
It was not a physical act, but a spiritual retreat, wanting to be with myself riding across the length and breadth of the country observing my fears, my anxieties, my frustrations, my joys, and my whole life unfolding before my eyes. And cycling is the best way because the physical exertion silences the mind and enables you to retreat into the inner core of your being.
It was in 2002 that I rediscovered the pleasures of cycling and found that it was only when I was in the saddle and pushing the pedals that I experienced life in capitals — yes LIFE.
In 2009, the urge took hold of me to get away from the grip of headlines and deadlines and I set off on a long, long ride to just about anywhere. Not having a plan, following one’s heart, that was a big part of the thrill…
Initially, I was unsure how I would survive, but all my apprehensions vanished once the road began opening out to me, a whole new world, offering a fascinating potpourri of cultures and cuisines, sights and sounds, and people and places.
The first magical spot that I encountered was the Kannad Ghat in the Satmala Hills that separated Khandesh from the Deccan like a rocky curtain. Its perpendicular scarps plunged thousands of feet deep into the bottomless valley and were so breathtakingly beautiful that they blew my mind away.
The extra smooth Golden Quadrilateral, with its eight-lane roads, overpasses, underpasses and service roads, spoke of an India speeding towards globalisation, with all its promises and risks.
The vistas of Parwanoo, as the road rounded the bend in Kalka to reveal the first Himachal town beyond the Haryana border, were a classic story of the transformation of the plains into the hills.
Then there were the box-like Tibetan monasteries housing stunning clay sculptures in Kinnaur and Spiti, and the Kalka-Shimla toy train chugging up dense green valleys cut through by zig-zagging lines, a marvel of engineering – as is the Hindustan -Tibet Road which hugs the mountains in a tight embrace to keep from falling off into the River Sutlej thousands of feet below.
If sights like these enchanted me, the people’s concern touched my heart. At the many eat and tea stops, any number of people were at hand to show interest and concern, and offer advice.
While it had its moments of irony and touches of humour, the ride was no picnic, and definitely not a non-stop party. The moment I got on the road, I felt like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind surrounded by a whole cast of imaginary ghosts egged on by their cheerleaders. I could feel the fear in my throat, in my mouth, in my shaky hands, in my legs, and in everything.
Many a time the headwind pushed me back and forth testing my patience and my perseverance. Saddle sores hurt me so badly that it was like sitting on pins and needles.
The many mountains I had crossed in Kinnaur and Spiti, and the blasts of wind on the highlands were a brutal test of my physical endurance. And I almost died of exhaustion battling the fury of the heat on the outskirts of Ambala.
But I pedalled on. For more than 60 days. And when I stopped, I logged 3,000 kilometres, ending my journey in the Dalai Lama’s abode, McLeodganj, affectionately called Little Lhasa, after having criss-crossed six states — Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh.
I have tried to chronicle my encounters with peoples and cultures with a directness and simplicity which, it is hoped, will engage the interest of the general reader in my book, titled If You Don’t Know Where You Are Going Any Road Will Take You There, written in the diary form and is peppered with accounts of sights and conversations.
What advice do you have for writers and budding authors?
Nothing. I’m a pompous fool, and you don’t learn anything from people who are pompous, and fools don’t have anything to teach!