The Animal Times of India

After a long time, I found interesting news in the front page of The Times of India (Kolkata edition). Readers would note that most of the news involved animals! Here are some (all in the top half of first page of TOI, December 20th, 2007):

  • Elephant goes berserk for mate in city circus. Not surprising at all... what do you expect of an elephant without a girl friend? He was 45 years old though, but we know older human males to act crazier; even use small blue pills!
  • Tigers kill visitor at Guwahati zoo. Now, picture this... the victim put his hand inside the cage to take a photograph of the tigers!
  • Mom fights off leopard in Thane. Now, that was a brave (and natural) thing to do.
  • CRPF officer gets death for hiring goons to kill son. Adult male killing young offspring... I know the Hippos do it, the Lions do it...
  • Finnish woman raped in Mumbai. No comments.

Getting over it

I admire the quality of people to get over anything easily. I know some people, my Ma included, who can get over an argument, a fight within minutes.

I, on the other hand, don't get into confrontations easily, but once I do, it takes me quite some time to recover. I ponder, reflect, retrospect, philosophize, and then finally maybe, forget!

I hope I can learn how to cool off easily!

A league of extra-ordinary cricket-men

I saw a couple of ICL matches this weekend, and I am already hooked. It is nice to see some players like Lance Klusener, Inzamam Ul Haq and Brian Lara back in action. And the fact that some of them are playing together in one team, competitively, for the first time is exciting as well.

The teams are well balanced, as evident from the points table after two matches each: one team winning both matches, four teams winning one and losing one, and one team losing both matches.

The match coverage is good so far, with experts from all over the world commenting, and the commercial advertisements under control. On the other hand, the Doordarshan coverage of the India - Pakistan cricket matches is pathetic. The video follows the English commentators, and the Hindi commentators seem to translate whatever they can. And even in a test match, they would not give up one chance to show an advertisement. Even if the bowler is standing at the top of his run-up, and the batsman is tying his shoe lace, the channel would quickly figure out that there is a 30 second slot to be utilized there and shows one (sometimes half) advertisement. One player gets out, and even before you realize who is out, they cut to the commercials!

The fielding of ICL players is outstanding! Compared to that, the fielding in the India - Pakistan Test match looked like school cricket standard. Does the fact that the ICL teams have been training together for quite some time, and each team training with their own professional trainers, play a part here?

If you like cricket and haven't watched ICL yet, check it out. And in case you are not biased, check out my team, the Kolkata Tigers.

What makes a successful movie series?

As I mentioned earlier, I was reading Harry Potter books recently. And this other day, they were showing all the movies in the Star Wars franchise, back to back. I saw one of them as a nostalgia thing (The Return of the Jedi was the very first movie I went and saw with my friends without my parents). And suddenly I realized there are certain things which are common between the three most successful movie series in recent times. The three movie series I am talking about are Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter series. Of course there are other movie franchisees but they are successful sequels rather than a tight chronological series e.g.- Indiana Jones, James Bond, Die Hard etc.

To start with, all three are set in fictional world and involves a lot of magic / supernatural powers. Then, in all three series, there are groups of good guys fighting the bad guys, and in all three there are good guys turned into bad guys! All three movie series required a huge amount of Special Effects / Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) without which the movies could not have been made.

There are several other common traits in these movies! Guess what the next big movie series' theme will be!

Colors of life

This happened a few years ago. My friends Sri, James, Milind and I decided to go to Goshaini, a remote place in Himachal Pradesh. As I didn’t have any rainproof jacket with me, I did some shopping and bought a cheap green translucent raincoat for myself from a Chinese product store in Lajpat Nagar which sold everything for Rs. 99. As usual, later, the others, looking at the rain-sheet (it takes some imagination to call it a jacket, really!), wanted one each for themselves, and asked me to buy them. As a loyal friend, I went and bought the jackets, but as luck would have it, they were out of the green sheets, so I bought pink translucent ones! Ok, I admit, they were not out of stock on those green jackets, I did it on purpose: I couldn’t resist to dress my portly friends in pink translucent rain-sheets :-P

Cut, to a few weeks later in Goshaini, we all enjoyed our stay there and one day we went for a trek to Jalodi Pass. Now, the way this one day trek happens is… you catch a morning bus to a drop point on Jalodi Pass and then trek to a Mandir besides a lake a few miles away and come back to the same point and catch a bus back to Banjaar. The catch is, there are only two buses in a day. One at noon and the other at 3 p.m. So, we went there, enjoyed the trek to the lake and enjoyed the views, and started our trek back. Now, the twist in the tale: it started drizzling!

Out came the green rain-sheet and the three pink rain-sheets! We draped our tired bodies with fashionable rain gear and re-started our march back. After a few minutes, I somehow gained some distance on the others, and looking back couldn’t see them anymore. The visibility was low anyway, so I stopped for others to join me. I waited for them, my body started to cool down, but there was no sign of my friends! I waited for some more time, I started getting shivers (from the rain, not out of fear, I swear), but still, no James, no Sri, no Milind! Then I started back tracking, and suddenly, as if they were waiting for me to retrace my steps, they appeared out of the white mist! Looking tired, troubled and almost as if they were coming back from Everest summit (I have heard, never been there myself). I asked them about their delay, but they remained silent.


We rushed back to the bus stop and finally caught the bus, but it was so crowded, we didn’t get to talk. Finally, when we reached our guest house, came the truth. On their way back, they faced a big black bull, which blocked their way. I passed the same bull, but the bull never even glanced at me. But with them, the bull made sure, they couldn’t pass. They took a detour, which they claim required some rock climbing, and rejoined the marked trek path! Damn those pink rain coats!

Weak Week

Lets look at some of the breaking news from India this week:

  • There were protests over Nandigram everywhere including the Lok Sabha.
  • A protest over Taslima Nasreen's visa renewal went wrong and its curfew time in Kolkata.
  • Serial bomb blasts in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Tribals clash with locals in Guwahati.

Is there a point in all this? Is there a end to all this? These numb my thought process. I can't watch the news channels on TV anymore. I am avoiding reading the newspaper front page. I start with the last page of the main paper (Sports page: an old habit) and stop somewhere in the fourth or fifth page and move on to the supplements. I have shelved all non-fiction books, and am reading Harry Potter. Its much better reading about the schemes of you-know-who of the wizard world against Harry Potter than you-don't-know-why-things-are-happening in the muggle world.

Mobile Number Portability

Hoorah! Soon there will be no more mass mail / SMS to inform change of number. I hope it also brings better service from service providers for increased customer satisfaction.

In the last three years, I have had to use three mobile phone numbers. No, I don't have a fancy for numbers (someone from Ludhiana recently paid Rs. 15,50,000/- for a VIP number!!!). Nor do I believe in numerology! I had to change my number, because I moved from Delhi to Bangalore, and then from Bangalore to Kolkata. Now, thanks to the new regulations, I don’t have to change my number even if I shift to another city! I hope it is implemented soon.

Us and Them

Us, and them
And after all we're only ordinary men.
Me, and you.
God only knows its not what we would choose to do.
Forward he cried from the rear
And the front rank died.
And the general sat and the lines on the map
Moved from side to side.
Black and blue
And who knows which is which and who is who.
Up and down.
But in the end its only round and round.
Haven't you heard its a battle of words
The poster bearer cried.
Listen son, said the man with the gun
Theres room for you inside.

- Pink Floyd
"Us & Them" from The Dark Side of the Moon


Have you heard of Nandigram? You may not have: it’s only a remote village in a remote corner of West Bengal. I, born and raised in Kolkata, a few hours away from Nandigram, had never heard of it, till last year, when there was a proposal to set up a Chemical hub there. As with most change in West Bengal for various reasons, this one met with protests. The government announced that they will not go on with the project there, earlier this year. Everything there should be normal by now, the end of the year, right?

Wrong! Because while the protests were going on, some of the opposition parties in West Bengal formed a Bhumi Uchhed Protirodh Committee (BUPC), literally: Committee opposing people being uprooted from their land. They clashed with cadres of CPI(M), the largest party of the ruling Left Front in West Bengal. People from both sides were uprooted from their land, and people who were not aligned to any side were the hardest hit. Both sides seized villages and posts. Some people were killed, the area turned into a battlefield. The local police was hopelessly inadequate to control this, so the government called for Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). So, CRPF arrives, takes control of the situation, and bring things back to normal, right?

Wrong again! Because, while the CRPF is on its way, CPI(M) armed cadres formed formidable battalions and took control of most of the area. All in a day. The police were supposedly ordered not to interfere. The Chief Minister, Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s reaction to that? “They have been paid back by their own coin”!

Who are they, Mr. Chief Minister? Aren’t they part of your state? Aren’t you responsible for their welfare? Is anyone who is not part of your us (the left front), they? I am politically non-aligned, am I also they?

More than 30 years of ruling a state is a long time! Perhaps this gives the ruling party and its Chief Minister a sense of invincibility! Perhaps he thinks he is almighty! I say, when a man thinks he can do or say anything and get away with it, those are the sure signs of decadence, hence ultimately downfall. This is not communism, this is not democracy, this is organised ochlocracy! And this simply cannot go on!

It's your life!

My second cousin suffered a heart attack on Sunday and is in the hospital. Fortunately, he is out of danger and stable now. He should be back home after a couple of days of observation. But I am not writing this to let you know about his condition, or about the good job Ramkrishna Mission is doing with their hospital. I am writing this because my cousin's story is eerily similar to many people I know:

He is 33, married (no kids yet), moved in to his new apartment recently, and loves driving his car. Recently he changed his job and joined one of India's biggest banks with a good profile.
He was also obese, went on crash diets, and smoked. He didn't "get time" to eat at regular times, and definitely didn't get time to exercise.

My friends: I can't think of anything more important in this world than one's own body! Please take care of it. I am not asking you to build muscles like Arnold or starve yourself to look like Heidi Klum! All I am asking you to do is find a few minutes to work out, re-look at your eating habits and make corrections to them, and be healthy. If you can't help yourself, take help from professionals. But please, don't neglect your body; act now!

Ten years of Net

I am celebrating ten years of using Internet! Just realized that while talking to my sister about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Phew! That's a long time!

It was all a new, big, confusing thing (and really slow thing) those days. I remember preparing a weekend course on Internet for Aptech students, since it was not part of the course then. We used to explore things like Gopher, PINE, Finger and Archie. And yeah, no e-mail server with 5GB space, so big files were uploaded through FTP protocol. I remember I searched Yahoo! a lot then along with Lycos and Altavista (no Google :)). E-mail meant a client called PINE, and later hotmail and Yahoo mail. No "social networking sites", no photograph sharing (not with that speed!), no online shopping, no tabbed browsing, no blogging...

One question: Does anyone know how to retrieve the date when one opened their hotmail account? I would love to know that - that was my first email account, and its still active :-)

Happy Days!

Someone I know observed that it’s the build-up to the Durga Puja which is more exciting than the actual Puja. The actual Puja days pass so quickly, that often one can’t account for the four days. But then, this is no time to do boring stuff like accounting. This is the time to have fun, meet friends and family, eat food, and be happy. At least for four days of the year, all Bengalis are happy! Even after the end of Puja (Dashami or Dusshera), we go and visit relatives with mandatory sweets. This year though, our extended family made a change to this tradition and arranged a potluck instead. Needless to say, that was awesome fun; and healthy too :-)

Talking about change: A few environment friendly changes to Puja have been implemented in recent times. The tradition of releasing Nilkantha bird has been practically stopped since it is now a endangered specie. The idols (during Bisarjan – marking the end of celebrations) are immersed in the water, but immediately taken off to prevent pollution. These are welcome steps which will also spread awareness about environment.

I was in Kolkata during Pujas this time after a few years, and I had a hell of a time! Subho Bijoya / Happy Dusshera.

This is how we do it

The countdown begins way ahead of the actual event. Buying new cloths, new shoes, comparing the number of new dresses, etc. The Pandals start getting built at least a month ago; in some cases, more. Then the actual Puja days come. Millions of people, dressed in their new dress, will come out and see the Pujas. They will walk from one Pandal to another, watch the idol, say their quick prayers, appreciate the decoration, and walk to the next Pandal. In between there will be a few food and drinks break. The Pandals are so crowded that there are mile long queues to enter! It is impossible to get a table at any half decent restaurant without waiting As the night progresses, there will be a sizeable number of people limping because of blisters from new shoes. Its impossible to cover the whole city in one day, so people plan their circuits: yesterday, if it was South Kolkata, today it will be North Kolkata. Even at midnight, there will be hundreds of thousands of people on the streets.

I was one of them. I used to do circuits of Pandals with friends. I never used to eat food at home during Pujas. I used to come back home at five a.m. Then I was away from Kolkata for the last eight years, and avoided coming to Kolkata during the Pujas. A vacation during Puja would leave me more tired after the vacation than before. This time, I am in Kolkata. It’s time for me to celebrate Durga Puja, the good old style.

Slight problem though: most of the friends are not in Kolkata, I can’t eat so much anymore, and I can’t stand the crowd. But as the saying goes, “If there is will, there is a way”. So I went out with a close friend and his wife, avoided the busiest Pujas, never went inside any Pandal, and ate in 3500 calorie moderation. We also saw a Bangalore based band – Aurko, perform live. Met a few friends and acquaintances.

One thing which is common to every acquaintance I meet is the conversation pattern. After the usual “Hi, hello” and “How are you? It’s been a long time!” comes, “Have you tied the knot?”, “Why don’t you get married?”, with plenty of advice to follow. A friend of mine even asked for my photograph! Sometimes I wish I could just lie and say that I am married with a kid or two, and my wife couldn’t come with me because she is expecting another child soon. I think that would make people happy.

Anyway, let people be happy in whatever makes them happy. This is no time to complain about things - It’s happy time! Come to think of it, this is no time to write blog posts - got to get ready - my Mamaji will be here any moment now and we will all go out Pandal hopping. Happy Durga Puja everyone.

Obituary

With me, since school, you've been
through the thick and also the thin

You stuck to me like lovers should
When I was beat, or feeling good

Other friends, at least a few
suggested that I tell you, adieu

But I always, ignored them
keeping us together, in one frame

Alas, the devil in me grew
finally, today, I murdered you

Maybe in future I'll miss you, even be sad
but so far, so good; doesn't feel bad

For now, Goodbye; Adios, my friend
It's time to move on, it's not the end.

Good things

... that has happened to me after coming to Kolkata:

  • I don't have to shave everyday. It might seem strange that I put it at the top of the list, but from 5/6 days shaving each week to 5/6 days of not-shaving: bliss, absolute bliss!
  • Had some delectable food. I guess this one was obvious.
  • I met a few friends from school after a decade! Thanks to Orkut! It is SO good to remember good old days!
  • I am reading books voraciously. Rediscovering the joys of reading Pujobarshikis (Special edition of Magazines released just before Durga Pujas).
  • I am discovering old roads and lanes of Kolkata during my daily evening walks.
Hope there are more to come in the coming days.

Racism

My friend Prashant’s blogpost about North-South divide and racism prompts me to write this. In a country of so many different races, languages, food habits and religions, it is not un-common to find people complaining about not feeling welcome in a different land. Here are a few observations from my own experiences or my close friends’.


One thing where racism happens most often is language related. There are two aspects to it:

a) Ridicule of your language. People who only know single digit words in Bangla, start talking in Bangla: “Ki khabo? Rosogolla khabe? Jol khabe?”, the last question to ridicule that Bengalis “eat” everything – drinks included. At most times, I ignore this one, but if people persist, which happened one time, I had to point out that in formal Bangla there are four categories of food and eating: chew, suck, lick and drink; and only in modern spoken language, we “eat” (consume) edibles. Of course, my follow up question remains un-answered: “In hindi, you say sutta piyo. How do you drink sutta?” I don't think any language is superior or inferior to any other language, so it's not prudent to ridicule any language, especially when you don't know the language.

b) Ridicule of you speaking other language. Hindi is my third language as it is for many people in non-hindi speaking India. So, if I make a mistake in Hindi, I don’t think it’s a big deal. Of course, when I make a mistake, I expect my friends to correct me positively (and thus encourage), but without ridiculing me (which will surely discourage). Similarly in south, the inability to speak a common language is a problem. In most of Bangalore, I could talk either in Hindi or English, except for some autowallas, who when I boarded the auto knew Hindi / English, but while taking a longer route or asking for extra money, forgot! But, since at other times, I have managed to communicate with people (some of them - so called illiterate) without sharing a common language, I think, it’s the attitude while speaking which determines if the communication is pleasing.


Another thing that I think is wrong is type-casting. This is most evident in mainstream hindi movies. All Bengalis must be rosogolla eating, weak, and coward; all Sardars must be brave but foolish; all “South Indians” must speak in a funny tone wearing a folded lungi, and so on. In real life, I can recount the numerous times I have been branded as “North Indian” in Bangalore, disregarding my protests that I am from Kolkata, which in the official map of India, is rather East than North. Type-casting is most evident in case of North Eastern states. For the rest of India, somehow, all the seven sister states (except Assam?) and Sikkim are same. A Manipuri friend of mine narrated a story to me about this. While searching for a house in Delhi, she was asked if she ate dogs (with a smirk on the landlord's face) before, you guessed it, refusing her. (The fact is, only a very few tribes in North East India - mainly in Nagaland actually eat dogs). Of course, she has more stories to tell about how no one shared lunch with her in school (she studied in Delhi), calling her “Junglee”! And somehow, all “Chinkis” are ‘easy’!


The generalization is ignorance at most times. Take food for example. South Indian food is Dosa and Idly with Sambar! Having sampled various cuisine myself throughout Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Kerala, I can safely contradict this. The food habit of all four states is different, with obvious overlap of some foods. So, we don't need to classify everything to three types of food in India: North Indian, South Indian, and Chinese!


These are just a few examples of racism in our own country against our own country people. I am sure there are incidents like these happening everyday, everywhere. I don’t know what prompts these behavior: it could be ignorance, it could be complex (superiority), it could be lack of sensitivity. But I do believe, the situation can be improved. All we need to do is to be sensitive to others; forget the differences (cultural, physical appearance, language) and see how much is common; and most importantly, respect other cultures, religions and habits. That’s not too difficult, is it?

That is how our flag should fly!

Congratulations to Captain Dhoni and his men for winning the inaugural ICC World Twenty-20 Championship. It is good to see Indians play with their heads high, not intimidated by opposition or situation, smiling even when the chips are down, playing with aggression, and snatching close matches. Thanks guys, you made us proud.

State of Shame

In today's episode of Indian Idol, there was a short interview of Dr. D D Lapang, Chief Minister of Meghalaya. On his desk, there were two flags. (I don't know what it's called, but they cross each other.) Both of them were inverted (Green was on top; saffron at bottom)!

This is the same India, where till a few years ago, the common people were not allowed to display the tri-color, and that only changed in 2002 thanks to Mr. Naveen Jindal.

Remember: this is no common man; this is a Chief Minister of a state and his desk; shown on national television! No one noticed? Not even the editors at Sony?

Tryst with Tata Indicom

6th September 2007: I am in Kolkata for a few days now. I decide to get an Internet connection. I know what type of connection I want: a PCMCIA data card based connection. I call Tata Indicom, Kolkata. They try to suggest an alternate USB based connection; I listen and insist on their v-data card. Within minutes, I receive a call from Prateek’s (a dealer of Tata Indicom) for a house call. Within hours, someone comes to my place, gives me the card, takes the required documents and money, and tells me it takes up to 48 hours to activate this, however, it should be done by tomorrow. So far so good.

8th September 2007: I receive about 10 calls in the last two days asking me if I wanted a Tata Indicom v-data card. I politely tell everyone that I have already taken one in my Ma's name, and the verification has also been done. But the connection is yet to be active, and 48 hours is almost up, so I call Tata Indicom customer care. After confirming thrice that my preferred language is English, I am greeted by a very formal Bengali speaking gentleman. He listens to my complaint, and gives me the docket number: 85114421. The official resolution date is 12th September, but it should be done by Monday, 10th.

10th September 2007: The connection is not activated. “They are looking in to it”.

11th September 2007: I receive a call saying the issue is resolved. I should check it. I couldn’t check as my laptop was given for upgrade, so I request the lady to give me her number. She doesn’t have a number! I request her to call me after 7. In 30 minutes though, the same dealer chap who delivered the v-data card, comes to my place to replace my SIM. I narrate the whole story and send him back. I receive another call within 30 mins: I tell this guy the same story. This is getting exciting.

12th September 2007: I check the connection: not working. I check it on another laptop: not working. Still no call from the lady who said the issue is resolved.

13th September 2007: I call Prateek Sharma (the dealer), who asks me to come to his shop for replacing the SIM. I go there, since I refused to change the SIM two days ago. He gives me the new SIM, talks to someone, and tells me it will be activated in two hours.

15th September 2007: Two hours multiplied by a day = two days pass by. I am still without an Internet connection. I am suggested that the card is active; my laptop is at fault. I mention that I have tried it on another laptop. They give me another docket number: 85938599. I threaten to move Consumer Court. They sympathize by saying "We will re-connect, as soon as possible! You will receive a call soon”.

17th September 2007: I am still waiting for that call! I finally run out of patience, and call Mr. Sharma, and ask for a refund (I must say, this was my ma’s idea; I was getting ready to meet my lawyer friend and go to consumer court). Mr. Sharma asks me to go to his shop and promises to show me that the card is active. I think at this point he thought I am a moron, and must be doing something wrong. I go there; he checks: it doesn’t work. He checks on his laptop, it doesn’t work. He makes a few phone call and talks to at least five different people at Tata Indicom and finally the problem is determined! There is some ESN (or ECN) number which is not attached to my SIM! Mr. Sharma treats me to a second cup of tea, the problem is set right in 15 minutes, the connection works! My boring life is given a twang of excitement by this experience. It also raises a few questions:

Why would I have to go to the dealer twice to get this resolved? When and where was I at fault?

Why or how did the customer service agents determine that the problem was first with the SIM and then with the laptop? Trust me, I know a thing or two about Internet connection and troubleshooting: I used to teach agents how to troubleshoot broadband by satellite connections for three years! In my opinion, the Tata Indicom agents I spoke to knew nothing about troubleshooting, let alone Tata Indicom troubleshooting.

This goes on for 11 days, and I repeatedly complain, but no one at Tata Indicom takes the ownership of this problem! Since at long last the dealer took the ownership and it was finally resolved in less than an hour, there is a clear lack of responsibility by I-don’t-know-who-but-someone-at-Tata-Indicom! Had that person taken it up, this should have been closed a few days ago! Who is this moron?

The big question is: With this kind of service, is Tata Indicom really interested in consumer broadband market?

Kolkata Kronicles

Its the same old city I remember. The same heat. The same humidity. The same incessant rain.

The same passion for sports, and politics. A road football tournament happening right next to my house. People discussing Federation Cup football tournament, where else but here! The same concern, and hence meetings, roadshows and addas for political issues. Ditto for seemingly non-political issues; but, trust our political leaders here to paint a coat of politics on everything. The cornerstone of local politics must be "The centre (rulers in Delhi) and industrialisation cannot be good".

The same old value for money; nowhere in India have I seen such value for money - to the point of everything being cheap nee cost effective (being politically correct). Probably caused by the lack of disposable income of common people here. I had a hard time making my father understand why his medicine which cost Rs. 65 a few years ago, and now costing Rs. 79 (in other cities people would round off and say Rs 80!) is a good thing because it beats inflation - I gave up.

This is the same old Kolkata.

P.S: I am writing this on a public internet cafe. As with other things here, taking a internet connection is taking more time than expected.

Marvelous Munnar!

[ suggested reading before reading this post: Keralafornia]


The five of us woke up early on the morning of 13th August, quickly got ready, and walked down to the KSRTC (Kerala, not Karnataka) bus stand and took the 6:30 “non stop” bus to Munnar. Well, non-stop doesn’t really mean non-stop, but it did reach Munnar in the promised four hours. We had our first “Kerala” style brunch of Egg Curry, Chicken Curry and Kerala Parota and checked in at the office of our Camp providers. As it was off-season, they needed some time before we could set off for our camp.

We took advantage of the spare time and visited the Eravikulam National Park. It prides itself as the home of the endangered Nilgiri Tahrs, the mountain goat, and being the cleanest of all national parks in India. A National Park bus takes you inside the park to a check point from which one can go on a walk ahead on metal road. Walking out of the road is not allowed! I thought the entire charm of being in a National Park was lost, when I spotted about a score of Nilgiri Tahrs roaming on the fields next to the road! They didn’t seem to mind human presence at all, as they ignored a noisy group of people, trying to pose with each other for a photograph rather than photograph the beautiful animals. Anyway, I got away from this group and clicked some photograph. Also chatted with an old guard in sign language, and found out more about the park.

On coming back from the national park, we started for our camp site in a car. It took us past the Mettupatty dam and Kundala dam, both of which are common tourist places. But the spectacle was provided by first a glimpse of a lone elephant in a dense jungle, and later, two adults and a baby elephant lunching right next to the road! We had a lovely time photographing these magnificent animals till a bunch of ‘educated’ people came and started conversing with the elephants in English and Gujrati! The baby immediately hid behind the mother and the elephants started moving away.

Anyway, we stopped the car near a tea garden and started our trek to the camp. As a trek it was not so difficult with the first part being through rolling tea gardens, and only a small section having steep climb. However, our main concern was leeches. There were thousands of them! We had to stop every now and then to clear our shoes from them; and each time we would stop, there would be more climbing on our shoes. And these blood suckers had a special affinity for my Woodlands shoes! We somehow managed to reach the camp site at dusk. Soon a bon fire was started, and all of us gathered round the fire to keep away the chill from the strong wind. Below us, we could see the lights from a town in Tamilnadu, above us we could see probably all the stars of the Milky Way! But soon the wind became unbearable, and we gathered inside for the comforts of the glass house. After a healthy dinner of mostly boiled stuff, we zipped up our tents and our sleeping bags.

The next morning, we woke up greeting the emerging sun, and got out for our morning tea. After tea, we went for a trek to the top of the hill. This was a short trek of 30 mins, but every step was leech infested. Fortunately, the top of the hill didn’t have any leech, but had a very nice view! We scampered back home (nee camp) avoiding the leeches, but still had a couple of them inside my shoe! After a heavy breakfast, we trekked back to the main road. On our way back, we stopped at the Kundala dam lake for some boating. We came back to Munnar city, had lunch (some fish delicacies included), and checked in at a guest house on top of a small hillock overlooking the city centre. We relaxed through the evening, and had a dinner of traditional Kerala style food of Kadala curry and Parota.

We woke up late on the last day of our trip, which also happened to be our Independence Day. Another heavy Kerala style breakfast of idiappams and parotas with curries, and we were all set to return to Kochi. The bus we took was a private “limited stop” bus, which meant it stopped everywhere, and took much longer than required to reach Kochi. We still managed to reach Ernakulam town station, only to find that the train is from Ernakulam South station, not the town station. Fortunately, we managed to reach the station on time and board the train. We reached Bangalore very early in the morning ending a great trip with great sights; old and new friends; tasty food; and loads of memories to remember for a long time.

Keralafornia

When I first came to Bangalore to stay, about two years ago, I had several travel “goals”. One of the top goal was still un-achieved – backwaters of Kerala. As a self respecting traveler, I had to do this before I left South India. The planning started during the Chikmaglur trip. 11th and 12th August 2007 were Saturday and Sunday. 15th August, Wednesday was a holiday. So, leaves on 13th and 14th would mean 5 consecutive days off and a near ideal holiday time window. To top it, 11th August, 2007 was the day when the most famous snake boat race of the year happens. So, a houseboat was booked in advance; train tickets were quickly booked, and itineraries finalized.

The ten of us left Bangalore on 10th August night by the Kanyakumari Express. This train, popularly known as the Island Express reached Ernakulam Town (aka Kochi or Cochin) the next morning at around 10. As per our deal with the houseboat owners, a car came to pick us up from the train station to take us to the houseboat at Alleppey (aka Allapuzha). An hour and a half later, we reached our houseboat. As it was the raceday, we didn’t waste any time and was immediately on our way to view the races. Lunch happened while we were cruising through the channels to reach our view point.

There are various races that happened, including small boats, rowing boats, women’s team special etc, but the biggest attraction of the day was the snake boat race. More than the race itself, the frenzy surrounding the event (read drunken frenzy) was quite an experience. Even the boat crews were all drunk, and it quite nearly marred our first day there. Soon, there was nothing else to do, so we started a singing session. Soon, a boat crew, Sabu joined us in singing and entertained us with his singing and mimicry. A light dinner and a heavy layer of odomos, and we all slept like logs.

The next day, we started for Kumarakom. This was a slow ride, made slower by the fact that we took turns to steer the boat, so a lot of zig zag patterns were created on the hyacinth infested waters. However that gave us enough time to get ready, have breakfast, and then a lot of ideal-Sunday-lazing around. We reached the coconut tree lined, small water channels of Kumarakom at around noon. We waited patiently for a bus to Kochi, but didn’t see one in one hour. Finally we hired a taxi (Qualis) that took us to Kochi. After a late lunch, we split in two groups of five each. One group left for the station to catch the train to Bangalore, since they had to rejoin office on Monday.

The other group (including me) checked in two rooms at YMCA and then took off to do a bit of sight seeing in Kochi. We ended up at the famous Chinese nets and saw the sun set from there.

On our way back to YMCA, we lounged at a happening place called “Loungevity”. Satisfied with our two days in coastal Kerala, we slept, in anticipation of the next three days, which would take us to the hills of Kerala.


Pedestrian Problem

I saw a nice scene today which prompts me to write this. I saw a Traffic Sergeant hold the hand of an old lady and help her cross the road. Nice gesture, I thought. Immediately afterwards though, I began thinking about what the situation would be if the Sergeant was not there. How would the lady otherwise cross the road? Going by the sense of courtesy seen on roads, and adding peak office hour traffic pressure, I am sure no car would have attempted to stop.

This is no ordinary road, by the way. This is the Indiranagar – Koramangala Ring Road, almost like a stretch of highway, probably about 3-4 kms in length, with only one “cut” for cars to take “u-turn”. As you can imagine, cars move at a very fast pace on this road. Next to the road there is a Tech Park, which has hundreds of companies, with thousands of people. Everything is there, but one thing: a pedestrian cross or a foot bridge. Many of us actually cross this road everyday, some with bicycles on their shoulders. This is no mean feat though. Crossing this road takes skills: you need to be a patient opportunist with athletic abilities and total disregard for the concept of safety to do this.

At the end of this road on one side is the Indiranagar flyover, which was completed only last year. It is a complex set of bridges, connecting important roads like the Airport road, ring road and Indiranagar 100 ft road, carrying hundreds of cars every minute. However, again, uno problemo: it doesn’t have any sidewalk. So, people who wants to walk from ring road to say 100 ft road, don’t have any other choice but to walk on the road or the divider.

I enjoy long walks. Sometimes, I walk back home from office. But I literally put my life at risk every time I cross the ring road / flyover. This is a problem which is not specific to this area of Bangalore, or Bangalore itself. Recently when I was in Gurgaon, I faced the same problem. You should see people crossing roads at Kolkata, the city where I grew up: no one seems to care about their life. One bicycle enthusiast friend in Bangalore was also mentioning the lack of banking on roads for her to cycle on: respect for her own life forces her to get off the bike and walk at times. I am sure the same problems are there in every city in India. Old structures, old roads – I understand. But even with new roads, bridges, I really don’t understand. Is that short sightedness of our urban planners or is it short sightedness of our urban planners?

Anyway, will find out more about what can be done later. Got to go packing: going to Kerala tonight. There is no such pedestrian problem in the backwaters, I guess.

Baby bubble

China recently dumped its hard hitting (and in-bad-taste) birth control slogans for more matured slogans. Some banned ones were really bad, like “Less kids, more pigs”, or “One more baby means one more tomb”. Instead, now there will be more subtle messages like “Mother Earth is too tired to sustain more children”. Makes sense! After all, China is the world’s largest country by population and they do need to reduce their population - so there is an effort towards that for the last 28 years, and now they are making minor changes to their approach.

That brings one question to my mind: What exactly are we doing to control India’s population? I don’t see any effort by our government or any other agency towards this. Is it because we don’t perceive this as a problem? After all, we are very proud to proclaim we are the world’s “largest” democracy! It makes me only half proud! I mean, I am glad we have a functioning democracy, quite unlike most of our neighboring countries. But how can a huge population be a thing to be proud of, especially when most of the population is struggling to make a decent living?

Last of the Letter-cans

This was found in a local settlement in a corner of Darjeeling, where a friend of mine and I wandered off to, after a disappointing sunrise trip to the much hyped Tiger hill. I just got it developed, and my first reaction after seeing the photograph was we don't use or even get to see them often anymore!

When I was a kid, I remember receiving letters from my aunt regularly, who lives in Durgapur, a town about three hours away from Kolkata by train. We would be amused by the way my uncle would try to squeeze in a few extra words, utilizing the borders. And of course, the signature signing off – “Aar bishesh ki?” or “What’s special happening?”. I remember buying onion skin paper (extra light) when we had to write to a cousin abroad.


Not that I can boast my letter writing skills. In my family, letters were always a group activity, with a specific order to follow. My mom would invariably start the letter, and use the chunk of writing space, detailing everything I would have ever wanted to say plus some. Then it would be my sisters reinforcing the important points. Then the dreadful time would come when I had to write “a few words”. I would think for minutes, and then come up with something which translates:

Hi XYZ,

Please accept my regards. How are you? We are fine.

Regards

My nickname

I was never scolded for my lack of imagination though. It was always the handwriting! And on special occasions, when I tried to write an extra line or two – the spelling!

Unfortunately, no one sends us letters anymore. My aunt calls local. My cousin exchanges email. More than her, her daughter – my pre-teen niece writes email. Even my mom has her cell phone now. I haven’t been to the post office in ages! The only “letters” that come to me are my credit card statements, insurance premium receipts, bank statements, utility bills, and promotion offers. It seems the art of letter writing is lost, this time for good. Unless…

Chikmagalur chit chats

How was your trip?
Awesome!

What did you do?
Nothing!


That’s a typical conversation between my friends and me after my visit to Chikmagalur.

We started early on Saturday, cheating the Bangalore traffic. The drive was smooth, with only a couple of missed / early turns, both in cities. The weather was cloudy, but fortunately, it didn’t rain. Finding Woodway estate was not difficult, thanks to the precise-to-the-last-meter direction by our hosts at Woodway resort and estate. Let me introduce you to them, because they were a big part of this trip of ours. Shreedev Hulikere and his wife Susmitha runs this resort, along with the huge coffee estate. The Woodway bungalow was till recently the residence of the Hulikere family, and the rooms are still referred as “Parent’s room”, “Shreedev’s room”, etc! Shreedev is actively involved in environment and wildlife protection, and plays an important part in protecting the local ecology. Susmitha looks after the resort operations. Susmitha collectively calls their two kids - Shiva and Vaid - “two little men”.


Now, back to activities, which we did. Immediately after reaching the estate, we chatted for a while with Susmitha over the excellent cup of coffee. Next we strolled around the estate, and met Shreedev, and chatted for some more time. Lunch was simple but tasty, with the Koli Saaru (chicken curry) stealing the show. After the hearty lunch, some of us went for a siesta, while some of us went for a walk. In the evening, we spoke about life in a coffee plantation and local food and drinks, this time Shreedev’s parents sharing their knowledge with us. Coming back to our rooms, we enjoyed a quiet evening by the fireplace (yes, good old fireplace) over drinks and the seemingly endless snacks, provided by the very efficient staff. We enjoyed the outdoors for a while too, but soon, we were back in the comforts of our rooms. The dinner included some delicacies like “Akki roti" and fish curry.

Next morning, we took off for a long walk. Came back, had breakfast, and just when laziness was happening yet again, Shreedev came and shared with us some jungle and coffee plantation experiences. We were so engrossed in the interesting stories; we never realized it was getting late. An almost-evening lunch later, we were ready to leave for Bangalore. Just when we were leaving, we noticed a flat tyre, and that gave us an opportunity to chat for some more time and also to have one more cup of fresh coffee.

The return journey was mostly uneventful, other than the fact that we took a state highway by mistake, but ended saving a few kilometers and time due to that.


“Nothing” is an awesome thing to do!

Wimbledon

I have been following Wimbledon for over 20 years (yeah, I am an old man). Those days Wimbledon used to be one of only a few "live" events. The days when Ivan Lendl was trying to win the only grand slam event that would elude him. Steffi Graf taking over from Martina Navratilova as the "Queen" of Wimbledon. The rivalry between Borris Becker and Stefan Edberg. The Pete Sampras era! The Roger Federer era! One of the most memorable match just happened last night! At least since Goran Ivanisevic became the only unseeded player to win the championship after beating Patrick Rafter in a five setter!

What a match it was last night! Consider this: Roger Federer, the world number one and defending champion, on his way to winning his fifth straight Wimbledon. On his path is Rafael Nadal, the world number two, and challenger to the Federer domination of men's professional tennis. And the match lived up to the expectations. For 3 hour and 45 minute, the match swung in favor of the two warriors. Till 2-2 in the fifth and final set, the match could have gone either way. Then suddenly, a few glimpses of Federer magic, and the championship was Federer's.

My heart goes out to Nadal: the clay specialist, who has overcome all odds to be in the second consecutive Wimbledon final, and lost again! But surely, this is not the end of the rivalry between FedEx and Nadal!

Shivaji - The Boss

I was warned! People said, it is a crazy movie. Blogs said, there is nothing in the movie! Chain email warned about the stampede-causing-hysteria. Friends said the laws of physics were defied! My knowledge of Tamil is limited, although it was recently boosted up by 30% (the three words that I learnt from the Bingo ad: Waango, Pongo, Ukaarongo)!

Still, I went to see "Shivaji - the boss"! Before going, I did some homework. Went through websites about the movie and its stars. Read spoilers to ensure I follow the story. Practised my two finger whistle. Drank a few mugs of beer. All that helped!

Enough has been said about the movie everywhere. I am not going to repeat them. These are my observations:
  • Myth busted: All South Indian actresses must have a slightly rounded figure. Shriya Saran was surprisingly normal!
  • Tamil language is very expressive! Though I did not follow the dialogues, the way they were said, I got the idea.
  • Rajnikant can't dance for nuts! He was very very natural otherwise though - I actually liked his acting.
  • People going to watch the movie hence should be warned about the length of the movie: it's a very long movie - guess that was required so that they could club four and a half plot in to one movie.
  • What dialogues! Want a piece of that? Here goes: "After six, there's seven. After Shivaji, there's heaven". Oh, here's another: "Pigs come in herds, Shivaji comes alone"!
  • Those Rajni stunts! Surprising what he did with a coin, and then his sunglasses. The "Tsook, tsook, tsook" sound is still playing in my head!
  • They must have spent some obscene amount of money for the sets! They were totally over-the-top!
Oh! What a movie! When I woke up this morning, for a moment, I thought, it was a dream!

Wanted!


Ladies and Gentleman: This man is a criminal specializing in stealing T-shirts. Typically, he invites the unsuspecting victim to his place in Delhi. Sometimes (most of the time, really), the victim himself goes to his place without invitation and spends the weekend having a lot of fun. They watch movies together, cook with sometimes (read mostly) disastrous results together, roam around the city, meet old friends and have all night parties, and get drunk.

However, when the victim leaves, he would invariably miss a few T-shirts. This criminal has a special affinity for memento T-shirts – like Singapore t-shirt, or Auroville, Pondicherry t-shirt. Upon query, he simply says, “Oh! That’s your T-shirt? You forgot it here! I am wearing it, it’s nice. Now you will not get it!”

He is also known to harass his victims (at least one victim: me) by registering the victim’s phone number in his ICICI Bank account. Each time Aro adds someone as a payee / beneficiary, I get a notification like “You have added Bholu as a payee…“, and genuinely wonder what’s going on!!! But now I am used to it.

He is also known to torment his neighbors and friends by laughing at over 100 decibels continuously for six / seven minutes. One is advised to remain away from him during those times, as it might cause irreversible damage to the ears.

On my last post, I urged him to return my T-shirts again, and mildly threatened him that I would write about this and make him infamous. His reply, and I quote him over here, was “dude...I like to be known....anyways...u left those t-shirts in my place...it is the price you pay for keeping things....”


Friends, delhiites and fellow countrymen: Should this man return all t-shirts that he has gathered? Please vote by SMSingAro Y” or “Aro N” to my cell phone number. You can also comment in this blog and vote.

Vote for ...

... anything! Guess that’s the trend these days. And these are not the regular votes to elect your MLAs / MPs. There are several ways to exercise your voting rights, these days!

There are several talent shows running on TV, where the results are determined by votes from the general public. Invariably, the shows and the results of these shows are controversial! Remember the incidence where a popular couple vying for the top spot in a dancing competition distributed a few SIM cards to friends to vote for them? Remember how a ‘fame-ous’ singing couple won a competition, though it was clear that the guy didn’t sing one song with all the right notes in the entire competition? Needless to say, these singers / dancers are no longer seen displaying their “talent”!

Next is the opinion poll. Every news channel, every newspaper is now running daily polls for viewers / readers to “voice their opinions”. Let me give you an example from yesterday’s Times of India. The question was “Improvement in civic infrastructure should be our policy maker’s first priority”! The results were even better: 95% said “Yes”; 4% said “No”; and my favorite 1% said “Can’t say”! Wonder what they can't say.

The latest trend is to go global! A for-profit organization has started a global voting for the Seven Wonders of the World. Voters from across the globe can vote for their favorite “wonder” of the world. There were initially 21 entries, but following a protest from Egypt, the pyramids of Giza were given honorary membership! So, now there are 20 finalists to choose from. From India, we have Taj Mahal contesting for this honor. Every public media is urging people of India to vote for Taj Mahal. Now, I am thinking what will happen if Taj doesn’t make it to the top seven. Will it cease to be the ultimate token of eternal love? Will it lose any of the thousands of visitors who come there every day? I don’t think anything will change for these wonderful architectural / engineering feats irrespective of whether they ultimately make it to the top seven. But what is sure to happen is the organization promoting this contest will be making a lot of money from all the voting. In the FAQ section of their website, they have clearly mentioned that they get a share of money from every SMS that voters send, besides the money they make from selling certificates and other souvenirs.

There are better ways of finding talent in our country – let qualified people do the judging. Remember, talents like Sunidhi Chauhan, Kunal Ganjawala and Shreya Ghosal were all found through judges voting. There are better ways of voicing your opinion – write a letter to the editor, e-mail the news channel, write a blog post. There are better ways to honor wonders of our world. There is a huge UNESCO list of heritage sites of the world. Find one of those sites near you or one that you believe in, and do something (however small it may be) worthwhile for it. I mean, find your own way of contributing. But please think before you do anything.

The sound of music

Yesterday, I saw “The sound of music” for the umpteenth time, but after a long time. It brought back memories of my childhood. Our extended families, with all our uncles and aunts and cousins, would meet a few times a year to celebrate something or the other. We used to have an awesome time with a lot of singing, dancing and food. Among other things, a ritual used to be to rent some VHS cassettes (of course no CD / DVD then) and watch them in a packed room. And without fail, we would get “The sound of music”. All of us knew all the songs by heart, and would sing along while the movie played: “The sound of music”, “Confidence”, “Do, re, mi”, “I am sixteen”, “The lonely goatherd”, “Edelweiss” and so on.


The simple flow of the plot; the brilliant performance by Dame Julie Andrews; the evergreen music; the subtle humor; the lovable von Trapp kids and personally, for me, the nostalgia: makes this one of my anytime-watch movies.

Award winning ad!

All of you must have seen the ad where a cool dude from an Indian IT major knows everything and gives loads of funda to the investment banker, who incidentally gives him a lift. I didn’t think much about the ad myself; however, recently this ad got an award and I can’t get over this fact! Award for this ad! What is this world coming to?

Going by this ad, I wouldn’t trust this company with any business (it is another matter that I have no business to offer). They send this guy for an “overseas project” and he leaves with a backpack which cannot carry more than a laptop! And what kind of a guy wears faded jeans with a shirt and tie(!!!) and a cap!

If our smart Alec was going on such an important project, why was he relying on a lift (in the middle of nowhere)? Isn’t that leaving too much on chance? If there was a helicopter for his pick-up in the middle of nowhere, why couldn’t the helicopter pick him up from another point in the middle of nowhere?

Where's Waldo?

Exploring TV channels that he thought never existed! Just realized there are TV channels beyond the usual: NatGeo, Discovery, T&L, ESPN, StarSports, HBO, Star Movies! Well, Indian Idol is on Sony, Voice of India is on Star, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa world war of singers (more like among the 'gurus') is on Zee.

Of course, I am eating and reading a lot too. I did buy some books that we (my mom and me) wanted to buy and read them.

Now its time for me to return to Bangalore; back to normal life!

Change!

Last year, when I went there, it was different. I walked from the famous landmark nearby through the street market to the gates of the complex. The first thing I noticed was the hundreds of pigeon feeding on the empty courtyard. Then once in a while a few kids would try to catch the pigeons; and the pigeons would flutter away for a while. Some kids would go too close to the pond in the middle of the courtyard, and their parents, till now not bothered about their kid's safety, would hurry up and bring their kids closer. Even the guard at the massive gates was friendly. I asked him "Can I take photographs inside?". He answered "Please do, Sir" in a manner which only meant "What's stopping you?". There were a few people heading out after offering their prayers. A cleaner trying to keep the complex clean. Everything was relaxed.

Now, I read, its different at Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad.

Gang talk

Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim, a small state near the corridor to the “seven sister” states of North East India. Sikkim tourism’s tagline is “Small, but beautiful”. After roaming around Sikkim for over a week, couldn’t agree more. This place is all about rivers with white waters, waterfalls and flags!

This is how we covered Sikkim:
We reached Sikkim through the town of Siliguri in West Bengal. The road to Gangtok follows the Teesta and Rani river. We reached Gangtok quite late in the evening, and didn’t venture out.

First day in Sikkim was invested in seeing the eastern region. The Tsomgo (or Changu) lake is known as the frozen lake. The same road goes on to the Indo-Tibetan border pass of Nathula. In terms of height, it may not compete with Khardungla / Changlas of Ladakh. But what it lacks in height, it makes up with its political connection. Walking up the final few hundred metres over snow, you reach the border between India and China. A simple barb wire and a few soldiers keeping a watch is all that keeps one away from going to China. Then you zoom out through your camera view finder, and you see Chinese soldiers keeping a watch as well, with guns in their hands. While coming back to Gangtok, we visited the Baba mandir.

The second day we left for North Sikkim. The road from Gangtok passes through several waterfalls and bridges: the further you go from Gangtok, the waterfalls gets prettier, and the bridges get older and higher. From the town of Chungthang, the road forks out to Lachen and Lachung, both towns offering nightstay options. We took the road to the left to Lachen. After a night halt at Lachen, we moved out to the Gurudongmar lake (the third day). The road became drier and vegetation less as we moved towards the lake. The lake is one of the highest in India at 17,100 ft. Legend has it that the lake is blessed, and even when the surrounding water bodies are frozen under similar conditions, this lake doesn’t freeze completely. Also, the wind here is very erratic. Within a few minutes, the gentle breeze suddenly stopped completely, and then a very strong wind blew. It supposedly blows so strongly that it can blow away people! We couldn’t wait to verify that as the army only allows cars to stay for a limited amount of time. On our way back to Lachen, we stopped the car at Thangu. There was a freak snag with the car, and the driver tried to fix it there. I enjoyed the time there by playing an extended practice session of cricket with local village folks. We came back to Lachen and after a quick lunch, left for Lachung.

Lachung is the preferred resting place for people going to Yumthang – the valley of flowers. We had anticipated a lot of flowers there as per various websites. Unfortunately, there was no flower when we went there (the fourth day). Still, it was very relaxing just to sit by the river, on a fallen tree trunk, a warm sunshine negating the effect of the cold wind. Another quick lunch at Lachung, and we were on our way to Gangtok. Although we stayed at Gangtok for two nights earlier, we hadn’t really seen the Gangtok town. We reached Gangtok early in the evening, and quickly went out to enjoy Gangtok. The M G road is the main shopping mall road of Gangtok, and it was crowded to say the least. However, after eight in the evening, the crowd vanished, and the mall was nice!

Fifth day morning, we left early for Pelling, in the west. The road passes through South and west Sikkim’s pretty hills alongside the mighty Teesta and Rangeet rivers. Pelling, as a town, has nothing much to offer. However, we saw our best view of Mt. Kanchenzunga from here. The various “tourist” spots were generally nothing to write home about. However, the Kanchenzunga water fall was nice: this was the first time I actually went behind a waterfall! The Khechupudi lake was absolutely silent and serene – the only sound coming from the frogs croaking loudly continuously.



The next morning we left for Darjeeling.

Yours truly...

... was very busy at work; so he couldn't write anything. But like a phoenix, rising from the... blah blah blah... here he comes...

I am going on a vacation tomorrow - going home! I will eat, a lot, at home (I am already drooling); will try to meet some old friends; hope to meet some older friends from school (thanks to Orkut!); and also hope to click some photographs.

Got to go now... got to start packing!

Trudging to Tungnath

I happen to be in Delhi on official business. And it happened to be a three day weekend due to Good Friday. And a few friends from Delhi and their friends were going on a trek to Tungnath in Uttarakhand. No prizes for guessing what I chose to do!

Tungnath is the third of five kedars (holi places of worship for hindus) – Kedarnath and Badrinath being the better known. The base for this Mandir (temple) is a small village in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand called Chopta. It is about 510 kms from Delhi.

We started for Chopta at 1 a.m. The route we took was DelhiMeerut – Roorkee – Haridwar – Rishikesh – Rudraprayag – Ukhimath – Chopta. We took two Qualis (for the ten of us) and with a couple of stops, we reached in about 12 hours. The public transport way to reach this place is to take a train / bus to Haridwar. There are regular bus services to Rudraprayag from Haridwar / Rishikesh. From Rudraprayag there is only one cab shuttling (that I could find) to Chopta daily. One might find it difficult to reach Chopta in one day that way though.

Neelkamal hotel was only one hotel open in Chopta. It had several clean rooms with three / four snug beds, and attached toilets. After checking in, we hiked for about an hour up, just to get a feeling of where we were going the next day, and also to get a “higher” view of the sunset. Dinner was an early affair in the small restaurant that operates right in front of the hotel. The menu was simple but nourishing with dal, vegetables, egg bhurji with rotis. The hearty dinner, a tired body and a comfortable bed was the perfect recipe for a great night’s sleep.

The next morning we started at six, for the 3.4 km hike up to Tungnath Mandir. It is a well marked (paved, really) route with elevation angle ranging from mostly gentle to quite steep at places. We also bypassed the road a few times to avoid the snow (yes, you read it right – snow) or sometimes just to avoid the length of the road. For the last kilometer or so, there is no avoiding snow. The only way to reach the Mandir (even in April) is to trudge over the snow, which at times was knee deep. The Mandir site was abandoned: it is supposed to open on 30th April. Till then there are no provisions of staying up there. Once the Mandir is open, there are a couple of guest house facilities which provide shelter for the night. There is a challenging hike up to Chandrashila from Tungnath Mandir, however, we could not find the route due to snow covering any mark of a trail. We were also stuck there for a while because of a blizzard! Ok, I was taking advantage of my limited vocabulary here – it was more like a light drizzle of snow, but the effects were truly amazing, and the temperatures dropped by a few degrees in a matter of minutes. However, very soon, the snowfall stopped and we were on our way back.



We had planned to hike to Deoriyatal, a lake hidden behind a hill near by, after lunch. However, due to various issues, we dropped the idea, and after a big lunch, we left for Delhi. We only took a couple of breaks, including one for dinner at Rishikesh, and reached Delhi in the early hours of the morning.

Entertainment - redefined (comic) awards 2007

Nominee 1: The cast of Indian cricket team. Need I say more?

Nominee 2: Apocalypto - the movie. I felt cheated... the trailer was in English; the movie was in a mixture of ancient Mayan language and blood. Just intrigued me about inspiration: John Rambo and "Jaguar Paw" have very similar jungle survival skills!

Nominee 3: 300 - the movie. All the controversy about the accuracy of portrayal of historical characters got me interested. But... come on! Who analyzes comic books / cartoons? This is just that... it was a scene by scene copy of the comic book of the same name!

And the winner is '300'. It was an inspired movie! The movie Gladiator had a major influence - even the crop fields shot was inspired by it. Then Troy was a major influence too - I think the ships were same (just a doubt). I felt sorry for the poor captain! He was a captain of Achilles troops too! No promotion in all these years! The disfigured characters of the Persian army seemed to come straight after the shooting of "Lord of the Rings" (remember the Trolls?). Another intriguing thought: The Spartans left for Thermopylae with a shield, spear and sword! Did the Spartans always travel like that? Even when I go for a day trek, I take some food and water with me! Then, I am no Spartan! When I was ten, I did not fight a wolf, which, by the way, looked more like Hagrid's (of Harry Potter) pet than a real wolf!

Anyway... doesn't matter... it is just a comic book, now a movie!

Holi hai!

I was kind of frustrated that I couldn’t go to Kerala this weekend as planned - turned out to be a blessing in disguise. This weekend was a good one.

This Friday, I got to meet a friend who is as passionate about travel as me, plus some. We made some initial itinerary planning for a trip. I also got myself a new pair of sunglasses. Late night on Friday, there was the smallest big party at home. Small in size, only three of us; big in spirit, both figuratively and literally!


Saturday was a typical lazy weekend day. Lazed around, read books, watched some football on TV. In the evening, hanged out with Samarth and Sushant at a place called ‘Take 5’. Their Long Island Iced Tea is about the most potent I have ever had! The food is good too! Late at night, Arun’s parents reached Bangalore.


Sunday was Holi-day! Celebrated Holi, in its true spirit, after several years. Several friends came over to celebrate at home, and we took turns to soak everyone! There was hardly a square inch area spared on anyone! The supplies from the kitchen was steady too – the ‘pakodas’ and ‘gujiyas’, all thanks to Aunty (Arun’s mom). Then went with Sushant to his friend’s place for the second round! A nice lunch afterwards and a game of ‘antakshari’ with new friends was just the perfect way to bring the Holi celebrations to an end. The bath lasted for over 30 minutes, and I can still see traces of the colors applied on me! Will take a couple of industrial strength cleaning agent wash to get them off, I guess! I don’t mind… after all the fun I had!

Hope you enjoyed your weekend too. Happy Holi to all of you!

Boys have all the fun!

For the last few days, life has been hectic! At office, had a lot of work. But every evening, somehow, managed to enjoy a lot. Except for one day last week, happened to gather somewhere with friends. Samarth is the main culprit here, leveraging on the facts that he doesn't have much to do at office these days, and also Anu (his wife) has gone home for a few days. Apurvo is the other one to be blamed, while his intentions were not bad - drinking to get rid of his cold! I was just trying to give them company :-P

Anyway, the three of us headed out of Bangalore for Yercaud early on Saturday. Its a small hillstation about 40 kms away from Salem, the steel city in Tamilnadu. Its one smooth (mostly) straight road from Bangalore to Salem through Hosur, Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri. The drive from Salem to Yercaud is especially nice, gaining altitude rapidly (from 350 m to 1500 m) through the steep curvy roads. The main attraction in the town of Yercaud is the lake and the Anna park, both of which we saw from the roads and didn't venture in. Both were thriving on school / college boys / girls! The Pagoda point (4.5 kms away) gives one a nice view of the valley below from the top of the cliff.

I was really impressed by the Shevaroy hotel. The suites and villas were of high standard at a very low price. No wonder they call Yercaud poor man's Ooty! The food was not great there, but anyway, we survived on the 'bhajjis' from the lake side stall. All kind of bhajjis - onion bhajji, potato bhajji, cauliflower bhajji, chilli bhajji, banana bhajji with hot tea... I am still drooling!

I did manage to click some photographs! However, since my numerology guru says I should only 'download' them in units of 36, I am waiting for some more opportunities to click and then 'download'! Hope to complete this achievement next weekend, when I am off to the backwaters of Kerala. This photograph is courtesy Samarth: from left to right: Apurvo, Samarth and me.

Some nice music on the way back, thanks to DJ Apurvo! The trip ended with the resolution of de-tox for the next one week.

Dubya's vocabulary has increased

  • IED (Improvised Explosive Device) is the new WMD (Weapon of Mass Destruction).

  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the new Saddam Hussain.

  • Iran is the new Iraq.
Adding on 16th Feb:

Watch CNN... you will know what I mean by the lines above!

George Dubya Bush is adamant that Iran is sponsoring terrorism. Apparently some explosives that were used against the American soldiers in Iraq are made in Iran! Every question about Iran, he doesn't forget to mention "We do know that the Kudz forces are behind the IEDs; we also do know that the Kudz forces are the part of the Iranian government." and also "I will do everything to ensure the safety of the American soldiers."

Bandh - Full Stop!

A 12 hour Karnataka 'bandh' was called to protest against the Cauvery river water distribution verdict of the Supreme Court of India.

One of the main functions of the Supreme court is to fix disputes between states (like the Cauvery case). Here's how Supreme court's jurisdiction webpage start: "The Supreme Court has original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction. Its exclusive original jurisdiction extends to any dispute between the Government of India and one or more States or between the Government of India and any State or States on one side and one or more States on the other or between two or more States, if and insofar as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or of fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends. (Contd...)"

When a protest against a Supreme Court of India ruling is done, isn't that contempt of court and law? I am sure an appeal process exists. Bandh cannot be a means of appeal!

Supreme Court of India in a ruling in 1997 said: "... There cannot be any doubt that the fundamental rights of the people as a whole cannot be subservient to the claim of fundamental right of an individual or only a section of the people. It is on the basis of this distinction that the High Court has rightly concluded that there cannot be any right to call or enforce a "Bandh" which interferes with the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of other citizens, in addition to causing national loss in may ways. (Contd...)"

So, isn't it illegal for any political party (or any other organisation) to call a bandh? How do the political parties get away with this?

Working on Saturday

The only man who got all his work done by Friday was Robinson Crusoe

"God's own district"

My first visit to “God’s own country” was to the Wayanad district. Wayanad is in the north eastern part of Kerala. The three major towns in the district are Sultan Bathery (where we stayed), Mananthavady, and Kalpetta (the district headquarters).

The journey through Mysore, Nanjangud, Gundulpet, and Bandipur was smooth. The road to Mysore was like a race track, and the picturesque roads through the Bandipur and Muthunga forest ranges were delightful. En route Bandipur, we saw a few elephants. Upon reaching Sultan Bathery, we settled in our rooms, and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

On the second day, we first went to the Edakkal Caves. The Caves themselves must have been nice, although I didn’t really get to enjoy them because there were far too many people there, especially school children. They must have come from at least twenty different schools! One had to jostle for space to even walk the narrow and steep paths. At one point, there seemed to be a real danger of a stampede!


The trek to the Meenmuty Falls was challenging, but rewarding when we finally reached there. The waterfall itself was huge and one can hear its sound from quite a distance! It was a relief that there were not too many people there. This trek takes one through tea plantations on one side and coffee plantation on the other side. You can see Sushant in the pic here trying to measure the vastness of the tea plantation.

Our third day began with a jungle safari at the Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary. There were not too many animals to be seen (just the usual deer, langur and bison), but what I really enjoyed about this safari was the long distance that it covered.

The Kuruva Island was serene. One has the choice to cross the shallow Kabini river by foot (in other words, weave through knee deep water) or by a boat. On our return journey, I rowed the boat. But our ‘boating’ was not yet over. Next, we went to the Banasura Sagar Dam (see pic), whose waters provided an excellent destination for a speed boat ride.

O
f course, any travel experience is incomplete without sampling the local cuisine. Needless to say, the food was delectable. The Malabari Biryani is a spicy version of the Hyderabadi Biriyani, with distinct flavor of Kerala spices. The beef fry and curry with Kerala parota was awesome. Even the buttermilk and pineapple dipped in sauce had their own taste.


Can't wait to see the other parts of Kerala.

Mind your language!

Shilpa Shetty was allegedly called a pig in Big Brother. The world seems to be in great difficulty because of that. It’s front page news! There are 20 odd talk shows discussing the nature of reality shows like Big Brother and its Indian cousin Big Boss, and how racism is still there! Now, I don’t want to discuss the same thing. I think they are over doing it anyway. There is a reason it’s called a “show”. Let it remain that… don’t make a show of that.

My concern, as a keen observer of different culture and English language, is the choice of abusive words in different countries.

Calling someone pig, it seems, has lost its favor among Indians. When I was young, I mean really young, “bloody swine”, used to be an elite english gaali! How refined our language was – no pig, no boar, no hog, but swine! If one doesn’t know the meaning of it, it sounds so sweet, with a swaying tone. Did you notice it rhymes with wine?

Now, however, “dog” is the abusive word of choice. Now, the range of emotions that can be portrayed with the term “Dog”, is unbelievable. Right from describing gluttony (Kutto ki tarah khaya), to talking about someone behind his / her back (Bitching!), it can really be used anywhere. Even when greeting someone. Some of my “Yo” friends, inspired by 20,000 odd rappers (with ludicrous names like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, 50 cents and Ludacris), have started greeting each other with “Wassup dog?”! Bad influence I say.

The other factor in this pig vs dog war, according to me, is film stars. Now we all know how movie stars swear in movies. Take the example of an iconic hindi movie - Sholay! Both the dog and pig are prominent in the dialogues. But, with all due respect to late Mr. Amjad Khan, his “suaar ke bachho” was pale in front of Mr. Dharmendra’s “kutte, kamine…”. More importantly, Mr. Dharmendra has repeated his dialogue often in many movies, and managed to teach Indians their most important gaali. In training, we call this reinforce technique.

There is this other factor, which struck me. There could be a cultural thingy here. Indians, contrary to what Ms. Jade “Goody two shoes” thinks, are very respectful to what they eat. We don’t prefer to use those that we eat as abusive words. Earlier, we never ate pigs. Now that we have started eating (at least in urban India), we stopped using “pig”. In western culture, this appreciation for food seems to lack. They call people “chicken” and “pig”! Of course, even in India, exceptions to this exist (one prominent example is where people of India call Inzamam Ul Haq – “Aloo”). We should treat this as affection though.


Anyway, enough of this stuff. You go back to whatever you were doing; let Ms. Shetty enjoy the Rs. 3,00,00,000/- that she reportedly got for all those “horrible” things that were told to her; let Endemol (the creators of Big Brother) enjoy all the hype and increased viewership; let Ms. Goody enjoy the trip to India proposed by Indian tourism department; let the media find some real story for a change; and finally, let there be peace on earth. Amen!