Wednesday, November 14, 2007
If i delve little deeper into the weirdness that lies within, I could probably come up with flaffy psycho-analytical explanations for the railroad theme - like feeling a constant sense of displacement, of always anticipating the next time I will move from where ever I live, and so on. However, I honestly think that is not the case, for then my focus would not have been exclusively restricted to trains (why not flying? or road-trips? or bus journeys??) . It would also not explain my obsession with abandoned railroads. I think there is a much simpler explanation. I like trains and railroads because they represent a very nice period of my life - a time when I thought that being a railway engine driver was the coolest job in the world. Like most other things, the obsession with railroads has to do with memories.
When I was little, there was a show on Indian TV. I think it was called Yatra, but I cannot be sure. It was about the stories of people who made this train ride along the Jammu-Tawi express from Jammu to Kanyakumari. To this day, I believe that it was one of the most awesome TV serials to have ever aired on Doordarshan. In any other country, the premise of basing an entire show on a single train journey would have been laughable - it made perfect sense in India.
I have many memories of trains. There are childhood memories of walks taken on the platform at Bhusaval station on the Bombay-Howrah line with the father, as they changed engines from Diesel to Electric. I remember getting anxious about the train leaving and being assured by Dad that it would not. Or, more closer in time, eating cold vada-pav (with gunpowder) at Igatpuri on a winter morning on the way home for the winter break from college, and watching my breath mist over as it rose in the cool air, and feeling good that I was only three hours away from home. Then there is the odd evening spent in a railway waiting room in Jolarpet, waiting for a connection to Cochin - and having my first full fledged south indian meal (mainly consisting of a heap of rice and lots of sambhar). Bribing cops and ticket collectors ("Bees rupaye se humaaraa kya hoga sahab? Kam se kam pachaas to dene padenge na?") while making a two day journey across the country without a reservation. Memories of being ragged on the way to college, of a girl who sneaked over with me to the upper berth, of an argument amongst friends long since scattered to different parts of the world - an argument that eventually came to blows and was stopped by the railway cops, and of the sikh gentleman (from Patiala, no less) sharing his booze from a water bottle filled with vodka (there - the obligatory reference to a stranger and substance abuse, all at one go).
It's been a while since I traveled on an Indian train. Things were quite busy the last few years I lived in India, and flying was the preferred mode of transport. And honestly speaking, the two day journeys from Bumblefuckpur to B'bay and back had made me sick of the concept of traveling second class. The last few times I did take a train somewhere, it was in the antiseptic environs of an air-conditioned compartment - no vendors, no noise, and only a muffled awareness of the clickety clack of the wheels. In short, no fun.
But I never quite took to flying - I never enjoyed it. Even long distance flights feel too short. Planes are very businesslike, trains much more personable. You make friends on a train, you get to know people, and at the end of the journey you part ways, in all probability never to see them again. Unlike the hurriedly cool professionalism of flying, trains are messy, raucous and interesting. Like life.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
I was awake and in the loo. It roared for about a minute and water poured in through the bathroom window like someone was spraying it in with a hose. The house shook.
A few houses on the street lost their roofs. My roof is intact.
I went back to sleep, only to be woken up by cops and firemen banging on my door as they evacuated the neighborhood.
Since I was fast asleep, they had to bang on the door real hard.
As is apparent, my life is very exciting.
Monday, August 06, 2007
"Something completely useless"
"You know, when I was at Lehigh, we used to say that a drug is something that when injected into a rat, produces a paper"
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
SWITBEI is located, amongst other things, at the site of a former political prison where freedom-fighters were tortured *and* the place where the USAAF XX bomber command (the one that later dropped the Atom Bomb), was headquartered for the better part of the war. There were several airfields within a radius of a few miles, some of them used for staging air-transport operations over the Hump to supply China, and others for air-defence. Three of them are used by the IAF to this day - one as an airbase, the other the site of a large ground control site, and the third as a bombing range. Others lie abandoned - surreal concrete runways standing out amongst fields of paddy and tall grass - the planes, aviators and hangars have long since disappeared. The military has a sizable presence in the area - there is a large Army-EME establishment right next to SWITBEI, and there are Eastern Frontier Rifles have barracks near-by.
Sophomore year was also when I discovered the blessed plant - supply being cheap and plentiful in those parts.
We had decided that Holi would be celebrated in a celebratory haze. Bhang was considered an inefficient way of doing it (takes too long)- we were all about smoking it up. Me and a few other herb lovers set off to find the perfect place to get stoned. The old runway beyond the fields of the agriculture engg department was decided to be one such place.
The runway stands at least a mile away from the nearest road, separated by a huge expanse of tall grass. There are a few high power transmission lines in the distance, and a couple of villages. There is an old dilapidated radar tower, and a couple of watchtowers, but nothing of note for miles around. This being bumblefuck, the villages don't really have electricity. The train lines running to chennai can also be seen far away. You can almost see all the way to the horizon, only to be occasionally interrupted by clumps of trees here and there.
I had been to the runway once before, the night they shut down all the lights on campus so that you could have a clear view of the Leonid meteor showers - I remembered lying on my back on the grass and counted 300 shooting stars in the space of a few hours. So i knew my way around. We crossed the fence and we set out for the mile long slog through knee-high grass. It was a beautiful night - thousands of stars in a crystal clear sky. I had few worries. All was well with the world.
I was the first to get on to the cracked concrete runway. The others followed through. We sat in a circle and started rolling. SD had brought along a portable boom-box, and there was Floyd playing. A couple other first-timers had brought bottles of Old Monk, in case the green stuff wasn't to their liking. Off in the distance, two passenger trains crossed each other window-spotted caterpillar-like - the view uninterrupted such that we could see their entire lengths on both sides.
AB was the first to notice the man walking towards our little gaggle. "Shit, i hope its not a guard". We quickly stubbed our stuff out and hid it. As the man came closer, it was apparent to us that this was not a watchman - but a military officer of some sort, in a khaki uniform. This wasn't entirely surprising, because the EFR barracks were only a couple of miles away. We were clearly in trouble.
"Who are you chaps?", he said.
AB looked at his watch, and said, "Um, students"
"Students? What are you doing here?"
"Enjoying the night, sir"
I had already noticed that the man's accent was rather *english*, and then he said, rather sternly, "You have to clear the runway and come with me. The planes are about to land."
At this point, we looked up, and saw that the sky was overcast. Over pouring rain, we could hear the drone of planes circling overhead. There were hundreds of twin-engined propellor planes lined up in the hardstands along the side. The officer was yelling at us by now, as a plane touched down at the end of the runway, and headed toward us. We got up and scattered. I set out to make my way to the road, and the safety of SWITBEI. I could see the planes landing one by one.
Then a huge blue arc of electricity raced down the high voltage lines and the planes were gone. It was no longer raining. The sky was clear.
I ran the three or so miles to the western gate without a break. So did the others. We reached the institute watchman's shack. He was puzzled to see us drenched.
"Kaise bheeg gaye?"
We were scared to death and tired, and in desperate need for some warmth. So we headed back to the chai-shop next to the dorm, eager to tell our story to the regular crowd there.
I ordered my third double chai. Bangu lit up another chhota, and said, "Either you are making it all up, or all of you hallucinated because of the G"
"It's possible I am making this all up," I said, "It's also possible that all of us hallucinated, difficult as it may have been for all of us to hallucinate about the same thing at the same time. And how do you explain the fact that we are all drenched? In any case, it's up to you to believe me.. I am not going to prove it to you."
"The first one is easy to confirm", V.K. said. "We can go there and see if the ground is wet. If it isn't, they are making it up, since if they got drenched, and the thing really happened, the ground would have to be wet too."
I told them I was too tired for an excursion. So VK and bangu decided to retrace our steps and I went to bed.
I must tell you here that the reason I was drenched was because we'd had a water fight after we had spent a couple of hours getting stoned on the roof of the dorm, that night. The runway was too far, and we were far too lazy.
Sometime late at night, there was a knock on my door.
"(My nickname), you m*%&@, wake up. Something's wrong with bangu!"
I stumbled groggy eyed into the lobby of the dorm. V.K. had rushed to his room and was refusing to speak to anyone. Bangu was sitting on a plastic chair - pale, drenched, chain-smoking and mouthing something about a "Saala C-47's pankhaa" having almost cut his head off. We coaxed him into bed.
The next day I asked him what a C-47 was. "How the f&#* do i know?" he said. I would quiz both him and VK occasionally, but they never really spoke about that night again.
In hindsight, two things stand out in my head. The first is that the sky had been absolutely clear all night, so I don't know how he got drenched. The second is some thing I would get to know years later - that the C-47 was the USAAF designation for a prop-driven transport plane that was widely used during the operations over the hump. Whether bangu knew of it at the time, it is impossible to tell - he claimed he didn't. This having happened before the internets had come in a big way to india, I like to believe him. I also like to believe that on an abandoned airfield in Bumblefuck that Holi night, strange things happened in a way I had imagined they would.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Friday, May 11, 2007
Sunday, May 06, 2007
1. I talk in my sleep. Not just babble, but carry out entire conversations in seemingly logical ways. It's cause for much consternation amongst people who attempt to do it, especially gfs attempting pillow talk.
2. I am mentally playing some beat or the other, and consequently tapping my fingers on something all the time, or tapping them against each other to keep count (in sort of a cigarette tapping motion)
3. Every time a plane lines up at one end of the runway and accelerates to take off, the song "Highway to the danger zone" from Top Gun plays in my head.
4. I am terrified of piled up laundry. As it lies in a corner of my bedroom, I tiptoe around so as to not wake it up.
5. When I am at a cliff edge, I am always tempted to peep over it to see what lies below. This applies to hiking, but also life in general.
6. My fridge still has the bowl of hummus that I made (it didn't turn out well) last summer. It's green and hairy now. These days, it has taken to scurrying to the back when I open the fridge.
7. I can spend days lying back in my chair and listening to music. When I get into that phase, I don't step out of the house and can usually get by with one meal a day.
8. I obsessively count how much sleep I get. The most sleep deprived I have ever been was when I stayed up for 88 hours with 2 hours of sleep. The second most sleep deprived was 83 hours with 3 hours of sleep.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
It happens to me from time to time, you know. It's easy to not watch out and keep track of what you are up to when life gets a tad busy. You think you are all out of it, and you slowly slip back into old ways. The last time was a few months ago - but that was winter, but then I at least have the excuse that winters are depressing. This time around, I didn't even realize.
But there is still hope. There always is. In fact, what surprises me is how easy the remedy is, and how in spite of it, I allow myself to be this way.
An elderly arabic gentleman who lives in my neighborhood and plays the Oud will be my saviour. For today is hair-cut day.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
1. Pick out a scar you have, and explain how you got it
Scar across my chin. Picked up in a fight that involved an argument over the color of a pumpkin. After much debate about whether a kaddu is orange or green, was decided to settle the issue with a fistfight. Tables were overturned, bottles broken - all Amitabh Bachhan and Vinod Khanna in Amar-Akbar-Anthony style.
Oh wait, or was it just the elder brother beating the shit out of me for no reason?
Either ways, stitches and a scar.
2. What is on the walls of your room?
Photographs taken across the world, a couple of pieces of art by a friend, and some tribal art from Central India and Orissa.
3. What does your phone look like?
Black RAZR. Dark like the night, sharp like me. (sheesh)
4. What music do you listen to?
5. What is your current desktop picture?
This little sketch - titled "the awkward crush"
6. What do you want more than anything right now?
I want YOU for the US Army
7. For you believe in gay marriage?
I think gay marriage is for fags...
8. What time were you born?
Musically speaking, about twenty five years too late.
9. Are your parents still together?
yes. holding hands in a giant green field surrounded by sunshine,butterflies, daffodils and fuzzy kittens.
10. What are you listening to?
The moron in the cubicle next to mine yelling at his kid for not doing homework. Personally, I would have shot the kid.
11. Do you get scared of the dark?
Don't you know who i *am*? I'm the *juggernaut*, bitch!
12. The last person to make you cry?
ex-gf who made me cut onions whenever she felt like cooking Indian food for friends she kept inviting over, like, every other day.
13. Favorite perfume?
Burberry Touch for women
14. What kind of hair/eye color do you like in a person of the opposite sex?
Black hair with red highlights. Brown eyes.
15. Do you like pain killers?
16. Are you too shy to ask someone out?
Er.. look at my answer to question 5 above.
17. Favorite pizza topping?
Weed. Seriously. Have you *tried* it??
18. If you could eat anything right now, what would it be?
Shot of jack and a burger to go with it
19. Who was the last person you made mad?
BM, by making her wait as I typed up this post. And man, does she get cranky or what! I don't think you want to find out..
20. Is anyone in love with you?
Tsk, what is this thing called lau?
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
XYZ: When are you posting?
Heh heh: Can’t think of anything. How about a pic?
Heh heh: ok, i'm sending you a pic. please to suggest a suitable caption. And i want it done pronto
i'll try and think up something dirty :)
Heh heh: i doubt you will, once you look at it
XYZ: oh no
is it something deep?
Haven’t we discussed my allergy towards all things deep?
Heh heh: not deep. just nice. you will like.
Heh heh: sent
XYZ: it is a very pretty picture
Ok - i am thinking something about hero heroine walking to sunset
perhaps as a form of foreplay
(anything can be dirty if you try)
Heh heh: you are incorrigible. now think.
XYZ: ...then they walked hand-in-hand into the sunset, enveloped by their unshakable love and armed with trojans- ribbed for her pleasure.
Heh heh: yeah. but ribbed ones are unfair to the guy - lets go with ultra-thins
ultra-thins for enhanced sensation
see that doesn’t work as well as ribbed for her pleasure
Heh heh: it does. for the guy.
and I am incorrigible?
Heh heh: you are the one who brought condoms into a very beautiful picture
XYZ: i know but it is much too much to have a pretty picture with earnest caption
silly is good
Heh heh: yeah. but i feel like being earnest. Now, what do you think?
XYZ: the sky is incredibly blue.
See, this is the sort of nonsense i say when i am trying to be earnest
XYZ: seriously - the plane represents their soaring desires
Heh heh: You are hopeless
Heh heh: will do.
you still haven’t given me a decent caption
XYZ: i can’t do earnest
Heh heh: then do funny
XYZ: i did!
Heh heh: otherwise i'll post that pic and this chat conversation
XYZ: i am not afraid of you
as long as you spell check
this is the crush conversation
i hate you
Heh heh: oh, i'm not cruel
i'll just put the bits about the condoms
and let people know the kind of dirty-minded friends i have
Heh heh: And the post will be titled 'how to ruin a good picture..'
 Photo taken from an unnamed off Netarts, Oregon
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Saturday, March 31, 2007
If you walk down those tracks, you will see them balancing along the rails, arms extended to their sides, with the tips of their fingers almost, but not quite, touching... he a skinny, lanky sort of a guy with long, disheveled hair, wearing a hoodie that has "Metallica" written at the front and "Seek and destroy" at the back. She is in a blue t-shirt and black jeans. The shirt has something written on it. Or maybe not. Her straight hair is tied up in a ponytail that swishes to and fro. He's a novice at this - she, on the other hand, could be a tightrope walker. From time to time he slips, and she laughs at him and goads him on.
They are in no hurry. All that was needed to be done has been done. Their friends are gone, and tomorrow, they will also head on to separate lives thousands of miles away. In fact (and somewhat unfortunately that this is the sole reason) they are walking the railroad together only because there is nobody else left with whom they could hang out, and some company is better than no company - they are only the barest of acquaintances otherwise.
We will skip the next couple of hours of laughter and inane conversation about what lies ahead in their respective lives (it is the last day of college, after all) and go straight to the point where they reach a tiny railroad station - one of the innumerable ones that dot the Indian countryside - one or two trains per day affairs where the station master doubles up as both the signalman and the linesman *and* the booking clerk. Miraculously though, they find a tea-seller, and legs dangling over the side of the low station wall, they have spicy lemon tea of the kind this part of the country is famous for.
This is not a love story. There is no holding of hands, or kissing or hugging here. Our protagonists are going to be careful not to resort to anything that all you harsh readers might call overly sentimental. They will never be in love - although truth be told - as she sits by his side, delicately sipping tea from a glass, he does feel a pang of regret that he never got to know her better. You might call this the story of a distant-could-have-been - not necessarily a unique one, or even one that substantially stands out, for that matter, because the unrealized possibilities of our short lives always vastly outnumber those upon which we act.
The sun sets into an uninterrupted horizon of paddy fields. The station master walks out and chats with them. He doesn't think it is a good idea for them to walk back - it will be dark soon. He has a better idea - a two engine combination is on its way to the steel plants to the west to be deployed on a freight train - it could drop them off. He flags it down, and they make the journey back in the engine driver's cabin - the driver proudly showing off his knowledge of how a diesel locomotive works. She loses interest and nods off to sleep against his shoulder.
It takes a scant half hour. He walks her back to her dorm. He will not be allowed inside, and they don't really know each other enough to promise to stay in touch, so he shakes her hand at the gate. What follows is recorded rather distinctly:
"I don't suppose I will see you again. Good luck."
"Yeah, I don't suppose. Good luck to you too"
A lone tear spills over onto her cheek. She giggles nervously.
The story is not over yet. This could have been a possible ending, but good stories don't end this way, and statements about people never seeing each other again usually turn out to be untrue.
Years later, as he steps out of a bar on the lower east side of New York City to clear his head of alcohol, he will run into her. She will have with her a toddler - her own. They will exchange pleasantries, email addresses and phone numbers. Meanwhile, the little one will make known quite vocally his displeasure at not being the sole focus of her attention. She will give in and and agree to leave soon. The kid will head to the edge of the kerb, and start to walk along - arms outstretched to keep his balance. She will smile, and loudly admonishing the kid for walking along the edge, follow him into the night.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Sometimes they run the risk of being abandoned entirely. When that happens, we put them on the-list-of-endangered-memories, like the name of the girl in this picture (the first love of my naive teenage) - a memory that has been granted protected status for the sole reason that it has been forgotten several times.
Monday, March 19, 2007
On days on which India played a game, Nana would refuse to leave his favorite chair by the T.V.. He had an old black-and-white T.V. set that for many years he refused to upgrade to a color one. I believe it was a BPL. Not that it would have made a difference - he didn't see much at his age.
He had been a cricket player in his day, a strapping, handsome young man - he played university, but never really found the time to devote himself exclusively to it. He was old by the time I grew up - the only time I saw him play was as a kid - at a seniors game when he was well into his sixties, and he could still bowl at a pace that I would not have dared face. His proboscis of a nose, which is shared by all of us on my mum's side, was bent to the right because of a ball hit from a pacer back in the day when helmets were unheard of.
He died during the India-South Africa series in 2000, after a short illness. I wasn't there, but I was later told that one of his last lucid questions was about the score.
To this day, a game of cricket evokes in me a vision of a thin, aged Nana peering into the screen through thick glasses from less than a foot away - his face lit up in equal parts by the glow of phosphor and the thrill of the game - belting out a running commentary and pumping his frail arms when a sixer was hit or an opposition wicket fell.
update: There are newer shinier things to the right. A lot of growing up music, and some new stuff - all videos. Click and Enjoy. :)
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Sunday, March 11, 2007
But today, something felt wrong the moment I picked up my 'package' and left the store. As I unrolled the butter-paper on the way back home, I realised that the bagel was soft. It had merely been warmed up in the microwave, as opposed to having been toasted. And as i, bracing myself for the soft squishiness that is a microwave warmed bagel, dug my teeth into it, I had the shock of my life. The new guy had, instead of using butter, smothered my bagel with a huge blob of *margarine*.
As fas as all things edible go, margarine is an abomination. It is a shitty, greasy, disgustingly squishy gloop that is fit only to make soap - and having worked in a soap-factory once upon a time, I know *exactly how*. An ersatz form of butter invented during one of the wars when the real stuff was in short supply, and food had to be rationed, margarine is one of those sad things (like marmite) that has just refused to go away, collectively hijacking our minds in some weird inanimate version of stockholm syndrome to the point where there are people who actually believe that margarine is good for you. And especially despicable are those forms of margarine (yeah, they go under other names like "vegetable spread"), that claim to be healthier than butter owing to their lower cholesterol/fat content.
If there is a hell, I imagine it is full of stale bagels, bowls of margarine, and only microwave ovens to warm them.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
He has a stubble and a bony head that makes him look ancient. A few tattered rags cover his wispy white hair. Thick dirty glasses dominate the face - their frame held together by some kind of tape - probably the result of long-ago operation to remove cataracts in some rural eye camp around here. I doubt he can see anything but the vaguest of blurs.
As he hungrily shovels food into his mouth, I consider taking a picture. But something about the idea strikes me as sacrilegious, so I put my camera away. He notices me and turns to look up. Hugely magnified eyes crinkle up and, like a burst of fireworks, a giant toothless grin reaches out from ear to ear on his shriveled face.
Friday, February 23, 2007
You know what it is like when you suddenly rediscover something you used to love but had forgotten about? In a recent conversation on music from the nineties, the name Agni came up in the context of indian college rock. Since I used to be a fan, I ended up digging out a copy of Agni's first album "Wind dance with fire" (1994?). As I relaxed in my chair, slightly doped out from cough medicine (I've come down with a minor bout of the 'flu), the music brought back memories of smoke-haze filled rock concerts, of hours spent jamming with extremely drunk mates - of cool college rock band names like Urja (which stood for the names of the four founders) and "An ode to Urja"- and of a quaint little periodical called the "Rock Street Journal" that was published out of (of all the places in the world), Allahabad.
I have always liked Indian rock. Listen to some of the good indian bands - the aforementioned Agni, Orange Street, Krosswindz, Indus Creed (formerly Rock Machine), Pentagram, and of course, Parikrama - There are some really great original compositions there - far far better than some of famous names on the Indie rock scene in the US - and yet, they never have had *any* success outside of India. (For some strange reason, Pakistani rock bands seem to have done better.) I have often wondered how an Aussie band like The Mark of Cain, or for that matter, Jet, make it big in America, while Indian rock is almost never talked about. There are a couple of possible explanations - i don't know whether any or all of them are true.
The first is the curse of the familiar. There are thousands of rock-acts here in the U.S. - most of them never get noticed even if they produce great music - so why should an Indian band be respected. That of course, does not explain the success of Aussie rock. In addition, the concept of "indian" music is so strongly associated with either a sitar-playing ravi shankar, or kitschy bollywood crap in the west, that most of my american friends have a hard time believing that India actually has a thriving college rock scene.
The second is the range of topics covered. While a lot of music here is full of pimply angst, there is a considerable body which cover more pressing political and social issues (not implying pimply angst is trivial, but still.) This is possibly made worse by indian bands, though not always, when they heavily resort to culturally non-transplantable Indian themes - song titles that reference mythological figures and all that. Don't get me wrong - it is highly appreciable artistically speaking, but it does not make for good cross-over material.
But I think there is a third- and more fundamental reason. It has something to with conditioning. Growing up in india, it is hard not to be influenced by Indian Classical music and its bastard child - Hindi Movie music. Indian music tends to be exclusively melody based - attempts at harmony being limited to a tanpura playing a constant drone. The vocalist (and even Indian instrumental music is fundamentally *vocal* music - all indian classical instruments are evaluated on the basis of their ability to emulate the human voice) sets the pace and the rhythm, and the percussionist merely follows on. This influences all of us - musicians and listeners alike. Consequently, a lot of indian rock - even the heaviest stuff - has an emphasis on melody - a certain discipline while ascending and descending the scale, that is not entirely appreciated by a western audience - but appeals to an ear that is conditioned to it. Many of my American buddies, while appreciating Indian fusion music, don't quite get the point of it. Perhaps, something like this is at work in case of Indian rock too.
There should be some kind of cultural award for coming up with insights like these. We could call it the Heh-heh award for gyaan-dispensing, and its first winner would be Heh-heh. Or maybe not. There are loads of desi-bloggers who seem to have taken it up as a full-time profession.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Now, not to disparage the judgment of the jury and all that, but hey, all the other people on that list are heavy-weights like falstaff, Amit Varma, and Manish Vij.
I expect great things to come about because of this.
- Resume value: ("You blog? Oh wow, *just* what we were looking for! When can you join?")
- Bragging to friends at the bar ("Dude, your blog got nominated for the indibloggies. You da man!")
- Impressing girls ("*fluttering eyelashes* I've always had a thing for indibloggies nominees!")
- Making parents proud ("Aaj tumne humaari barson ki iccha poori kar dee! Ab yeh boodhi aanken chain se so sakti hain!" "Aisa mat bolo, maa!" "Bas ab ek acchi si ladki dhoond ke ghar basaa lo" (bollywood dramatization. the real-life heh-heh parents are pretty unexcitable. i would be lucky if i got a blink.))
- Biographies ("In the January of 2007, Heh Heh was nominated for the indibloggies. It was to be a turning point in his life.")
- World peace ("Now that Heh Heh has been nominated for the indibloggies, tensions between Iran and the US should ease")
- Viva la revolución (¡Heh Heh derrota cerdos del capitalismo!)
Anyway, thanks. I'm obviously not going to ask you to vote for me. :)
ps: As you can see, I upgraded my template. It involved losing all the changes made to my earlier template and I have had to start from scratch. It is still work in progress. The look will get better, I promise. The principal change, of course, is the addition on the new widget over to the right, where I'll put up lists of songs I am listening to. Watch out, they might be the one thing that will most frequently be updated.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
So i was at the airport bar, having performed this annual ritual, when i noticed the guy sitting across from me. He seemed familiar but i could not place him. Then i noticed him surreptitiously pour his drink into a plastic bottle (too bad it would probably not clear security now, what with the ban on liquids and all that), I realized i was looking at generic desi uncle.
Generic desi uncle (and we shall start calling him gdu from now on) and I go back a long way. I have been blessed with his company almost every single time i have flown either to or from desh. He has been my personal bane on all long haul flights across the atlantic, even if i was just visiting london. He is my explanation for why the ancient hindus discouraged the practice of travelling across the seas. Sometimes he changes faces, and minor personal details - one time he was a diamond exporter based out of Amsterdam, the other time he had an "import-export" business (you are free to draw your conclusions). Sometimes he runs a body-shopping firm, although of late he has started venturing into the outsourcing business. But for the most part, I could swear it was the same guy.
GDU is wise in the ways of air-travel. Normally, he holds a British or an American passport, but there was this once when he claimed to be a citizen of Kenya, having been born there. Almost invariably though, he has a thick indian accent. He also has a fascinating story or two to tell. It involves either him or his forefathers leaving the motherland and establishing themselves on foreign soil - East Africa, the UK, the Gulf, America - starting off with nothing, making tons of money in some kind of old world venture. His visit to india is almost invariably about "business". You ask him exactly what his business is, and he comes with answers that you again don't understand. What does the diamond business have to do with legal outsourcing, for instance?
GDU has a thing for alcohol. Like all self-respecting desis he *loves* scotch, although of late i have noticed him develop a taste for red-wine. Before the days when security checks made it difficult, he would always have a bottle tucked away into his hand-baggage, which he would promptly retrieve soon as the seat-belts' sign switched off, and proceed to finish. He also loves to harangue the cabin crew when they come around with the drinks. He will *always* demand more alcohol than they are willing to serve. Occasionally he will also argue with them about the fact that his seat is uncomfortable, or that its too cold or that he did not get the special order of food that he had requested ("Jain-veg"). Polite answers like the fact that he should have ordered 72 hours in advance only serve to increase his agitation. More often than not, he will refuse to let the person in the seat ahead of him recline his/her seat-back.
His love for cellphones knows no bounds. The moment a plane touches down, he flips out his cellphone and calls someone, usually to talk about some 'deal'. At take-off, you can find him using the phone over repeated entreaties from the cabin crew to turn it off. Usually he turns it off only when things are beginning to turn nasty.
A brief digression on obnoxiousness. it is funny only as long as its intentional and is being done by a friend. for instance, someone i know went into the exec class of Jet with a fresh green coconut in his hand-baggage and demanded that the cabin crew cut it open (and as testimony to Jet's quality of service, they *actually* tried, but failed for lack of a suitable implement to do it on board). it was superbly obnoxious, but since it was done on a dare, it was funny. (another friend chose to trump that by changing shirts in the middle of the flight, and powdering his armpits - that, perhaps, was *too* obnoxious.) I have myself thrown a tantrum for chocolate once, but that was only to entertain, horrify and embarass a friend.
Obnoxiousness of the GDU kind is hard to deal with. Which is why I have been trying to throw him off my track for an eternity. I have tried changing airlines. I have flown off-season. I have made connections in cities to which I was sure GDU's global business empire did not extend.
And yet, every time i board a plane, he is always there, with his beer-belly and bloodshot eyes.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
my head hurts. this has to be the worst hangover of the century. it might have something to do with the two liters of beer, several shots of tequila, a bottle of red, and several rum and cokes that were consumed, in that order over a period of three hours yesterday.
to those of you who made my evening special, thanks.
you know who you are.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Saturday, February 03, 2007
I was complaining about this to a friend who never updates her blog, and she decided that she must do something about my lack of life. And so I ended up at the Alan Parsons concert, with people I only vaguely knew. The passes were free and I had the pleasure of being picked up from home, which was good.
Sometimes, the realization that you are growing old strikes hard, and in strange ways. At the concert, we decided it wasn't worth the trouble jockeying our way in to the front of the crowd, and stayed at the rear fringes. I caught a distinct whiff of the blessed weed. This in itself was not so surprising. What surprised me was it was coming not from some college kid doping his way through a concert, but from the uncle and aunty standing ahead of me. I remarked about this to my new found friends, who had the courtesy of pointing out that 'uncle and aunty' were probably only a few years older than us.
It turned out that i knew uncle. He was, in my former life, a counterpart on another trading desk.
India is booming, in case you didn't already know. Everybody I know talks about how its a long term thing, and how i should totally come back. A friend who is now a big-shot consultant, having said that he was *not* going to sell me on the India story, ended up gushing like a teenage girl at a bryan adams concert. (see, even my pop-culture refs are dated.) Statements like "we are a lucky generation because we are getting to see millions being lifted out of poverty" were made. Terms like "broad-based growth", "the skills shortage" and "the knowledge premium" are thrown about. In the India of today, it would seem, there are no pessimists.
I mostly agree about their assessment, though. But I also know there will be a correction the moment I decide to move back. My market-timing ability is zero that way.
Sometimes, i think of returning. Then i get stuck in traffic in bandra for an hour and a half, and dream of a log-cabin in the middle of nowhere.
After the concert, we decided to grab dinner at Spice Tree.
As I made my way to the loos, someone called out ">My Name<". As i turned around, i found myself face to face with rant herself, who had coincidentally come to the same place. She yelled at me for not having called.
The other folks were waiting for some friend of theirs to turn up along with his wife of two weeks. He turned out to be a former colleague, and reacted with a "Hey, didn't you work with XYZ?"
His wife turned out to be someone I knew several years ago as a close friend's college sweetheart. She mumbled a quiet "How have you been?", even as the others wondered how we knew each other.
It only lent further credence to my hypothesis that all Indian yuppies know each other.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
The third kitten, meanwhile, has taken a considerable degree of interest in a pot of khichdi cooking on a slow wooden fire. This annoys the scientist turned astrologer mother fanning the flames, seeing as the pot is meant as ritual offering for the gods. She stamps her feet, but this has little effect on the kitten, which proceeds to sniff at the fire out of curiosity. It burns its tiny snout, and retreats to its mother, yowling in pain.
Meanwhile, I step out and sniff the cool morning air.
The sun is just peeking out from behind the clump of peepal trees topping of the ridge that lies to one side of the temple. Behind the rear wall, and across the largish temple water-tank with half its steps missing, is a dilapidated structure with a number of arches. For a moment I imagine it full of tired pilgrims seeking shelter for the night, but the vision quickly passes.
Its only occasional inhabitants these days are the monkeys - hundreds of them populate a large fig tree by the tank. I step closer to photograph the arches bathed in the soft orange glow of the rising sun. The monkeys do not take kindly to this incursion on their sacred grounds, and respond by making a loud hooting and screeching commotion. Chastened, I withdraw.Like the hulking remains of a fort some distance away, this place has its own mythology. Here was the ancient town of Prempur where Shiva, as is his way of dealing with all things evil, slayed a demon called Malla who was tormenting the townsfolk. Here he forged a sword (a khand) and felled the demon with one stroke, and convinced by the villagers to stay on, took up residence at the temple they built for him. The town itself got “swallowed up by the earth” later, presumably because its inhabitants sinned, with the result that this place is now in the middle of nowhere.
I'm not a religious person - I don't believe in God - and even if there is one, I see no reason why he should have anything to do with the lives of insignificant beings such as us. And yet, I find the stories and myths of religion fascinating. Timeless, in a way, they inspire me in a way not unlike mountains or rivers, or the ocean - witnesses to millenia - rising above the mundane. On second thoughts, perhaps I *am* religious.
The grouchy father is having an exchange with the priest on the modalities of a ceremony in which I will apparently be playing a lead role – something called a maharudrabhishek. The priest’s clan have been caretakers here for generations, which means that we possibly share a kinship dating back to the 16th century, which is when my ancestors left, to escape persecution and seek asylum (and opportunity) in the Hindu-friendly Marathi-speaking lands to the north. There is certainly a resemblance between him and the portraits of my ancestors from seven or eight generations ago that used to hang from the walls of the house.
Or I could be mistaken.
As the ceremony commences, I get on top of the platform, shirtless. A dog enters the inner sanctum and lies down on its stomach facing the idol, forepaws extended and crossed under his chin, looking like any other devotee of the god. As I rather ineptly bathe the idol in milk and holy water, the priest chants hymns and the inner sanctum slowly fills up with the first worshipers of the morning. They are careful not to disturb the dog for fear on incurring his wrath.
The nizams and sultans of the deccan tried not to mess too much with the local deities, though. Perhaps, it is fitting, at this point, to tell you the story of the Adilshah of Bijapur who was stung by a swarm of wasps when he desecrated the original Mailar temple by slaughtering a cow on its premises. Needless to say, he repented, and built the much larger temple where I stand. This action of his brought him great success in his campaigns against the mughals. Thereafter, the temple enjoyed royal patronage and is still sacred to the local Muslims. The old temple can be seen in the distance, across a field strewn with ruins.
In these parts, every mound of rubble has a story of its own.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
this trip promises to be one where i get subjected to other people's discoveries - the scientist mother has recently discovered astrology and the grouchy father has recently rediscovered his talents as a hindustani classical vocalist.
there will be visits to the married brother, who has discovered big-screen tvs, and a four-day outing with the extended clan, who have discovered ancestral ruins from the 15th century.
if i get lucky, i might even get some hiking done in the sahyadris.
meanwhile, since one can only have so much of astrology, music, gadgets, and relatives, i would be happy to catch up with some of you - known and unknown (to me) readers alike. drop me a line at geek(dot)fin(at)gmail(dot)com, if you are going to be in bombay over the next two and a half weeks.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
The tao of geek : It features geeks and talks about, amongst other things, grad school, non-replicating artificial intelligences, and unemployment - all of which are to my mind, one and the same. It's along the same lines as Phdcomics, just a lot more twisted.
And while we are still on it, you might want to check out "The doppler effect", based on a story by friend and one time drinking buddy fadereu, who also blogs here . Though a bit dated (it was written around the time of the gujarat riots), it's dark, interesting and thought provoking.
 It might not be apparent, but both my blog and his blog share the same designer.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Who could not love a series with a name like Fleep? Imagine that you wake up in phone booth encased in concrete. You have three unrecognizable coins, some dental floss and what appears to be a dictionary in two languages you do not understand. What do you do? The answer revealed here. Written by geek writer Jason Shiga, also the author of the comic series "Double Happiness", and the choose your own adventure comic "Meanwhile.."( featuring a multi-verse plot), Fleep is a hutke story. Ismey action hai, romance hai, suspense bhi hai.
2. Nine planets without intelligent life
The plot of this series involves the distant future where humans have become extinct. Robots populate the solar system, and as the second episode reveals "see little reason not to continue what [the humans] were doing". Two robots, Chris and Ben discover they are about to become obsolete and set out to travel the solar system, and experience some culture. The series is replete with great quotes ("The weird thing about culture is that you can chase it as fast as you can and it still speeds past you at the same rate.") and warnings for human readers ("Human readers should not feel inadequate if they do not find themselves aroused by the following scene")
3. Toothpaste for dinner
If you like the kind of non-sense doodles i sketch here, you should go check out toothpaste for dinner. It's a hilarious series written by a guy called drew based out of Ohio. Check out Andrew Sullivan as "Not my president". As a bonus you could check out his wife natalie's doodles too for stuff like "Slob Activism: I've had mustard on this t-shirt for three days".
Saturday, January 06, 2007
and so it was that a bunch of us, including A, U, S, Falstaff, and bunch of other folks, turned up at Ahmedabad in the august of 2001, a few months after we had graduated. we were young, starry-eyed, dreamy and we all wanted to get drunk.
the show starts late in the evening and goes on till early morning. there's a prize involved. back in '99 when we were freshies, we put in immense effort to make our thing a success. i banged the drums completely sozzled (it was a conspiracy hatched by seniors from another section to get me drunk), and pappu belted out 'Lut gaye' while A, goddess of the senior year, tried to distract him by dirty dancing a couple of inches away from him. there are three things you should realize from what i just said. you should realize that on T-nite, the demarcation between stage and audience breaks down early on in the alcohol soaked evening. you should also realize that there is a lot of depravity involved. but the most important lesson in there is that it sucks to be the drummer.
so, that night in 2001, the booze flowed in the dorms. early on, i gulped down a concoction of mango juice and contessa rum (there is another story behind that drink), and had a couple of joints. Then I ventured forth to explore the harappan ruins that the IIMA campus always turns into for me whenever i am high.
on the way to the show, i ran into Falstaff, who was already considerably hammered, and was being persuaded by fool-jhadu to down a large coffee mug full of neat Bacardi. i believe i raised my right eyebrow disapprovingly, as is my habit when drunk, and hurried on, because the show had begun.
I recall three significant things that happened that night.
U, a friend who was highly respected for his calm and generally, er, respectable nature got into a fist fight. for those of you who don't know U, this is significant. this is a guy who, by then, had been dating the same girl for five years (he is now married to her), and was so unflappable that B, in a moment of frustration, had described him as a "laash since the day he landed at IIMA". what is even more significant is that U got into a fight because the freshie girls refused to dance for him (well, not *him* in particular, it was more of a "we won't put up a show for these bhediyaas" thing, but still). U, not liking this attitude, stormed the stage in protest and was thrown off it by one of the freshie guys. they came to blows. incapacitated by alcohol, i lay in my seat and found it incredibly funny. i believe statements like "do you know who i am?" and "i'll see you when you come up for placements", were thrown about.
The second thing i remember concerns Falstaff, who took off on an alcohol-fueled flight. If my memory serves me right, he also got violent about something that i am not entirely sure about. i do remember seeing him abusing a few people and then passing out on the floor in front of the stage. at this point, S (who features here) very considerately decided that Falstaff should be removed from the auditorium, lest he be trampled upon. so a few of us got off our drunken asses and dragged him out. the general idea was to lay him down on the grass outside, but once outside, someone came up with the brilliant idea of putting him on top of a table (apparently, sleeping on grass can give you pneumonia or some shit), and so there lay falstaff, on top of a table in the middle of the RJ lawns.
The third thing i remember (but would like to forget), was cozying up to a certain miss L. Although now respectably married, L had at the time the reputation of a trollop (i remember S saying "she's had more sex that you will ever have in your entire life!"). Consequently, passing out in her lap was not exactly reputation-enhancing for me, but that is precisely what happened. Fortunately, i was rescued by SG, a junior who had also been at iit with me, and was taken to the cafeteria where U was sulking and nursing a bruised eye. on the way out, i noticed that falstaff had rolled off his table and was now lying in the grass. it must have been a hard fall.
early the next day morning, we sat on empty palm oil tins at mangalbhai the chai-wallah's little shop. U was still grouchy from his encounter with the freshie's fists. falstaff sat with one of the lenses of his glasses shattered from his encounter with the ground. and i was hungover and being made fun of for my encounter with L. we reminisced for a while about our days as students, and then caught flights to our respective cities. there was work to do, and we were going to be late.
I haven't really been writing journal entries for the last couple of years. It has more to to with the severe lack of any interesting happenings in my life than any thing else, but the old journal is a good record of times that involved the self-coined terms "experience overload" and "instant happiness".
Recently, i was up to some figurative spring -cleaning (look at the weather outside) - backing up my files and so on. So i flipped open the journal (figuratively), and went through it.
They say age brings wisdom and all that, but i think i have gone downhill over the years. Most of my hours these days are spent listening to music that only i care about, figuring out the next meal, and working on bullshit research that nobody ever cares about. But if i were to believe the record, i was a lot more profound several years ago. Check this out, an entry made in Nov. 1998. I have no idea what prompted it, but i seem to have referenced it again three years later when I was going through a personal crisis.
One of the curses of being human is to forever lead a life of paranoia: Just when things are better than they could possibly be, we get the feeling that something is about to go wrong, but we cannot put a finger on exactly what it is. And then life does its usual act of turning things upside down. Many of us get tempted into believing in fate. The cold unforgiving voice in my head, on the other hand, says: its all got to do with the decisions YOU made, things YOU chose.I'm not sure i get what i was saying, or even why i said it. But it sure sounds deep, and to the present-day-me, somewhat comforting.
Life eventually teaches us that the outcomes of our choices are not under our control. Some choices just turn out wrong.
I am not a fatalist, though i do believe in the concept of "luck". Fatalism means that the course of our lives is charted out by a "higher" power that makes our choices meaningless. Luck (as in X is "lucky" and Y is "unlucky"), on the other hand is simply a statement about past experience. It tells you nothing about the future, which continues to be determined by a combination of ability, effort and, to a large extent completely uncontrollable events.
We have to reconcile ourselves with the fact that our lives are not fully determined by us. The lack of determinism is *not* because of divine intervention. It is due to sheer randomness. And hence, faced with setbacks, we must move on.