Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Time squeeze

Another year wraps up for me and most of the world. For a measly number of 365 days, my year has seen quite a flurry of activities, each one intruding upon the next. However not all of them were value added activities which is my major grouse. In fact, most of the hours were swallowed by subsistence activities like work and sleep induced by working too hard. 

Hours that could have been spent writing, reading a book (criminal neglect on that count), watching a movie (did watch many, but still yearned for more), indulge in my footloose fantasies (again did indulge in so many of them nevertheless thirsted for more) or just laze around without having the sword of an pending highly uninteresting task poised over me. I can never really come to terms with how boring office life really is. The same old problems to be tended to by the same nauseating fixes ad infinitum. I don't say that I need a new kind of situation to crop up every day, but what irks me is the level of apathy with which I look at both the problems and their solution.

As it turns out, I waste a lot many hours daydreaming about travel and writing during my office hours. The end result is that I spend a lot more hours at work than I need to, which gives me less time to daydream and write after office which in turn sets up the daydreamer theme on my mind when I am at work. Talk about an especially vicious 'vicious circle'!

A practical solution to this seems to be squeeze in more time per time: add more seconds per minute, more minutes per hour and more hours per day. That'd put an end to Calvin's problem of "There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want to!" for good. Waste time till I am bored of wasting time and want to get back to the aching monotony of work. Then again borrowing from the mouth of a 6 year old again "It's only work when someone makes you do it."

I can't foretell what 2009 has in store for me but I nurture a tiny hope that it'd be something exciting. Something like the childhood tales of being pushed into a secret garden of wonders with the walls sealing behind me and where the only way is to move forward, all senses tingling, right into the heart of the adventure.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In the garden of Eden

I admit that this post is grossly mistimed. At a time when I should be deep in reflection about the year gone by, it seems a little frivolous to talk about a mere cricket match. 

It was the 13th of May this year, when after a lifetime of watching cricket on the idiot box, did I get to watch my first live cricket match. It was an encounter between the down-and-out Kolkata Knight Riders and the newly resurgent Delhi Daredevils. My friend had arranged for some tickets at the last moment and we raced our motor-bikes like we had never before through thick rush hour traffic to get to our destination. The destination of course being the arena of arenas, the "big enough to require a map of its own" stadium of Eden Gardens. 

Fast as we were, the match was already four balls old by the time we had found our way to our seats. The home team of Kokata was batting first and the expectations ran high. Within the stadium resides a reverbating hum, an animal feeding off the excitement. It's the best quality surround sound you'll ever experience, primarily because you are surrounded in that primal sound. Ancient Rome and gladiatorial contests? Well, at least I knew what it sounded like. The stadium was only filled to 20-30% of its capacity. I couldn't imagine what it must be like when it is fully packed.

The experience of watching a match at the stadium is so unlike watching it on TV. On TV, I'd focus on the game: how the shot was played and how the bowler pitched the ball and all those minute details that the commentators' expert comments and instant replays allow you to luxuriate in. This was different. This asked for a level of involvement far beyond what was required in the confines of my home. Sure, I have jumped on sofas in joy and have given pillows a bloody nose out of frustation during the course of a match but to have a thousand other strangers join in the madness is a tremendously entertaining experience. Then there were the cheerleaders too but our seats in the stadium were ones that were devoid of any sort of entertainment except for the cricket on the field. Therefore my opinion on whether cheerleaders were good for cricket or bad remained unresolved thanks to the lack of first hand experience!

Coming back to the match which I watched, the home team batted disastrously to set a very low target. It seemed like my first match at the Eden Gardens was not destined to end happily. The Delhi Daredevils team were sure to trounce the already demoralised Kolkata team, and it was only a matter of time. Well, someone forgot to tell Shoaib Akhtar.

Under the lights, as the Rawalpindi Express stretched his super strong limbs, the crowds around the stadium took up the chant of "Shoaib!... Shoaib!" Shoaib was returning to cricket after nearly a year of injuries. No one could even remember the last time he had bowled well in a match. There was only blind faith on the part of the Calcutta fans. They nurtured a tremendously immature hope that the zip would come back to his arms all of a sudden, that their voices would be the magic boost to a player who had long lost his fiery reputation.

Before bowling the first ball, Shoaib looked to the crowds and clapped his arms over his head to get the people behind him. Like everyone else in the audience, I joined in the chant even though highly cynical of how big a help our shouts would be. The first delivery as it turned out was a real ripper and within a couple of deliveries Virender Sehwag was sent walking back to the pavilion. We, the crowd were going berserk and Shoaib was recharging himself on our enthusiasm. The balls came deadly and fast. All that was seen of the strong Delhi batting line-up was a procession of scared, fidgety batsmen who seemed to be glad to give up their wickets and get out of the line of fire. The home team pulled it's act together following Shoaib's lead and finished the job with clinical efficiency. A most unexpected victory for Calcutta was the result and so was a sore throat for me and my friends from all the shouting and shrieking. We couldn't have been happier if we had played the match ourselves.

It must feel awesome to know when you take your place in the middle under the lights that millions of people whom you'll never meet in your life are rooting for you. To know that you have the ability to grant that one wish that is on the top of their mind right then,  over and above the pressing needs of daily life. The responsibility that comes tagging along with it may be a cumbersome burden to bear but to be endowed with the capacity of fulfilling such a task has to be an extraordinary feeling. It leaves me with only one silly question for the Almighty: Oh God, why didn't you make me a sports star?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Is it Christmas already?

In the blink of an eye, it's already the 3rd Christmas since I've plunged into the painful business of living off money made by myself. For the last 2 Christmases, both of them spent in Calcutta, I had managed to get myself to a church for midnight mass. I am hardly a religious person, but it just seemed like a fun thing to do - hang around and actually see masses of people on Calcutta streets at 12 in the night, a rare sight. Back in 2006, it was in the cavernous hall of St. James church that I managed to find a seat in. The 180 year old church looked grand in the light of all the candles, the only source of light used for that special night. 2007 Christmas Eve was spent at on the baclony of St. Peter's cathedral which was huge and unfortunately highly impersonal too. The hall was so large that the pastor seemed to speaking from across the sea and the hymns sounded like someone playing overused cassettes from a music system below. I'd make it a point to leave before the rest of the attendees began the whole "Merry Christmas" circus in between them. It seemed to me that this socializing on such an extensive basis puts paid to all the feelings of peace and calm that the service itself might have initiated. 

Ironically this year when I am in a country where Christmas is actually the big thing to celebrate, I am grounded at home. Taunton is a small town so I never had too many expectations about Christmas from it. Still it does have many houses done up prettily with the lights, reindeers and St. Nicks along with the snow from last weekend's storm making for a picturesque white Christmas. New York is where the Christmas glitz really is, they say and that's where I was supposed to be right now! But my plans for New York got nixed at the last moment. I am yet to decide that was due to my bad (read non-existent) planning or just my bad 'karma'.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Honest cop movies

When it comes to movies, I really have a difficult time trying to pick my favourite movie of all time. I find that every movie that I like is in such a different genre that it is highly unfair to compare them to each other. I try not to fall into the "Declared a movie classic therefore a great movie" trap but then there are a lot of movie classics that I do like. I am an unapologetic fan of the big budget Hollywood blockbuster as well and really have no compunctions about admitting that. I love "Jurassic Park" as much I love "Million Dollar Baby", and would easily watch "The Matrix" and "Terminator 2 : Judgement Day" as many times I'd watch "Apocalypse Now". In fact, I'd go to the lengths of saying that I had enjoyed watching "Dumb and Dumber" as much as I had enjoyed "The Godfather 2", though their recipe for entertainment was completely different. Choosing one single name out of the lot is an impossible task for me. 

But if I were to choose just one genre of movies that I've found myself totally hooked to, it'd be the "honest cop versus the corrupt system" movies. Some would joke that it is really entertaining because these are the only stories which are 100% fiction. I find myself extremely involved with the internal as well as external conflicts of the protagonist of any such movie. "Training Day", "LA Confidential", "The Departed", "American Gangster" and all similar cop dramas have their lead actors weather the most cruel twists of fate for standing by their principles. These stories rarely have happy endings, mostly ending in a zone of grey which never preach the importance of honesty, instead tell of the anguish of being men of their word. These are really strong men, I think to myself at the end of every such movie after I've watched it for the 10th time, with a mixture of pity and respect. Strong enough to understand that the path of righteousness is by no means a guarantee to a happy end, and that being conscientious is an end by itself.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bit players

As I explore my options of going to Canada for New Year's Eve, I assume nothing about the country. All I know about the country is that it has a bright red maple leaf on its flag! Canada belongs to an entire group of developed nations like the Scandinavian countries and others in Western Europe which appear to take special pains to stay out of the news. None of them come to mind first when we think of the so-called "first world" countries. All we pay attention is what is happening in the USA, Russia, the UK, China or France and these should be enough if we were to think of the countries of consequence. There are times when I feel that these are probably the good guys who take care of their own development and do not go poking their noses around to spread 'democracy and freedom' and for all such nefarious motives. At other times, I try to comprehend how they manage to keep their wheels of efficiency turning without even causing a ripple in the muddy waters of international politics.

Take Switzerland for example. Swiss banks, Swiss watches and Roger Federer are probably the most famous symbols of this country. Sure, millions of tourists go up the Swiss Alps and marvel at their beauty but this is a country that sat out of two World Wars while the world around them was going to pieces. How can they afford to be so uninvolved? Their neighbour Germany on the other hand tried to take over the world not once but twice, besides doing an awesome job of making the best cars in the world. Now that's a country with presence, Germany: active, prosperous and forever stamped on the world's consciousness for good reasons as well as bad. 

Or take Finland for that matter. Now there's a joke that Finnish boys grow up playing only two games. If they live in towns they take up track racing and if they live in villages, they while their time away by rally racing. We know that they manufacture F1 drivers and World Rally Championship winners on an hourly basis, and that it is the home of India's favourite cell phone company, the super user friendly Nokia. But for a country that once was home to the marauding Viking tribes, they are a tad too quiet now.

So on and forth for a number of countries that we know are going forward in their quiet, super-efficient humming ways. They represent the real unknown to me. For all other countries, there are certain stereotypical images of their lifestyle and people borrowed right out of pop culture which I can summon at an instant's notice. Now pop culture is hardly the most authentic source, but at least it's a starting point. I am sure each of these reticent countries has a vibrant history which is as interesting as their more well known brethren. But the real problem is that these bit players on the world map are doing a very bad job of promoting themselves. Or is it because they have had the better sense not to?

Monday, December 22, 2008


I have had to travel extensively on the massive network of the Indian Railways. Indeed every summer vacation in my school days meant a long haul for my family across the width of India. The soothing rocking of the train was a companion for at least 36 hours. That was if the train reached Calcutta on schedule which it never did. We'd pass numerous signal houses adjacent to the tracks: a couple of them on either side of each of the stations (tiny as well as major) that lay in between. Most of them were insignificant places for our high-and-mighty "express" train which didn't have no time to stop. Even the town of Bharuch where I spent my childhood in did not warrant more than a two minute stop before our train, the only train from our parts to Calcutta, the Ahmedabad-Howrah express rushed on to bigger and more important places.

The smaller stations all had even tinier signal houses where the only signal I had ever seen was green as our train rushed past gathering up her skirts. I often thought that no trains would ever stop there because there never seemed to be anybody on the platforms. And in some places, even the signal houses did not deserve a crew of their own. The station-master would stand on the platform itself, a lonely figure with the green signal in his hands as the train rushed by. It was around these stations that the signal houses lay decrepit, overgrown with weeds and the word "ABANDONED" scrawled across them in paint to avoid the possibility of any mischief mongers guiding the train on their own signals. The exact spelling of abandoned was apparently a challenge for many of these doom-sayer painters, and it would range from "OBANDENED" to "EBANDOND".

Come to think of it, there is no scarier word in the English language than abandoned. The word is pervaded with more futility and despair than any other. Abandoned children, abandoned dreams, abandoned efforts: pair it with anything to suck the life-force out of it. These abandoned cabins all must have a story to tell, very sad ones at that. Of how prosperity gradually turned her back to the town that they once upon a time announced the arrival of or worse still briefly flirted with them before leaving them skeletons of her unkept promises.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A fairytale for grown-ups??

I watched "Pan's Labyrinth" yesterday and felt that it'd serve as a good enough reason for this new label on my blog. I had read it's review which said that this movie was a fairy tale for grown-ups. I was mystified by what such a thing could possibly mean. 

The movie has a level of violence so visceral that it is definitely not for kids. Yet how a movie with fairies and satyrs in it cannot be meant for children beats me. The sets and scenes of the little girl's adventures are so imaginatively constructed, but the creatures that she encounters are equally gruesome in a way that offsets the childishness of the concept. The sadistic step-father of the girl Ofelia only adds to the overall grittiness of the movie as he continues on with his blood curdling ways. The haunting lullaby playing in the background as Ofelia's blood drips into the well of the Labyrinth is a typical example of the conflicting worlds routinely brought together in the movie.

I really liked the movie but I scratch my head in vain to figure out the intent of the story. In some sense, it is about a childish hope that a violent death in this world is only a step into a wonderful new life in another world. But if a story is to be made about hope, why not go the whole hog, instead of wallowing about in a sea of conflicting emotions. It's the director's call at the end of the day, and there is no doubting that he made a great movie.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow stormed!!!

Yesterday, I was praying for it and today it came in all its billowing white glory. Everyone anticipated it to hit at around 11:00 in the morning. Like a true rock star, the storm kept it's audience waiting till the last possible second. Just when it was about to be pronounced a damp squib, at around 2:00 in the afternoon, the snow storm came tearing down.

I was caught in a flurry of my own, of work crying to be completed. The only updates I got were from people out on the road who kept calling me to get the hell out of office. I kept on working well past my normal end of day. Part of the reason was that I really did have enough work to do and part was that I wanted to hitch a cab ride through the peak of the snow storm. By the time I had finished my daily office chores it was already 6:30 in the evening. My seat does not look out on a window so I had missed the inaugaration of the storm. I stepped out of office to find every available surface covered with inches of snow. And the white fluff was still pounding down with the wind making a hoarse sound like it had caught a cold itself. No other colour would be tolerated in this world except snow white. 

My cab came along and I fulfilled my wish of driving/being driven through the white curtains of snow coming down. Snow plows were actively doing their jobs on the road and we drove slowly but safely back to my house. My cab driver was in the process of informing me of his 30 years experience in cab driving and snowy roads when he drove onto someone's snow blanketed lawns. Apparently he had mistaken it for a road (So much for his 'experience') and a sheepish apology later we were back on the right track.

I couldn't possibly let my snowy encounter end at that. Within minutes of dumping my office laptop at home, a friend and I geared up and walked out into the blizzard. A peg of rum just before starting on this mad caper helped a lot as the chilly wind blared into our ears, cars unintentionally slid all around us like Need For Speed racers us and we waded through knee high snow. The destination was another colleague's house a 30 minute walk away. The promise of hot 'pakoras' kept us going and the deserted look of all the snow packed streets were worth the walk. By the time we reached our host's house, both my friend and me were like walking snowmen. But my peculiar wish of punching my way through a major snow storm (not just whiling it away in the comfort of a heated home) was spectacularly fulfilled.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow storm!!

I've seen a snow storm before. When about 11 of us from RECK had set off for Shimla we had no inkling of it but by the time we got there, we were right in the middle of a raging snow storm. The wind howled around us and the flakes fell thick and heavy. Once on the ground they were like powdered velvet to the touch. And that was back in India.

Tomorrow it seems that we are in for a big big snow storm here in Massachusetts. My American pals are planning to head out of office at 11:00 in the morning to avoid this monster and some of them who drive more than an hour to come to office are skipping office altogether! Tomorrow being a Friday is a big bonus. If I were a resident American, I'd also use this grand excuse to curl up inside my home with the heat turned on and a cup of hot chocolate in my hands. Who'd be loony enough to want to make it to office on such a day except us weird foreigners!

And today afternoon, I was party to three seperate conversations in which the central topic of conversation was the storm. There was a buzz in the air just like the day before the Presidential election. Americans I've found are obsessed with weather and most of them carry at least a week's weather forecast in their heads. This snow storm it seems is serious enough to ensure that the Governor of Massachusetts asked his staff to stay put at home tomorrow. Folks in my office discussed it with such gravity that they might as well be discussing someone's impending funeral. "Mountains of snow" is a term that I heard a million times today to my great delight!

Me, I am thrilled to bits. There is a extreme level of expectation from this storm which I've never had for bad weather before. In India, our weathermen are such lousy predictors that they are never able to forewarn us about anything! Thunderstorms come onto us with their overpowering chorus and car wash service like a pleasant or unpleasant surprise depending on whether you are returning from office or heading there. Here the beast of weather is a familiar one. Everyone knows that it is coming and prepares accordingly. It kills the unpredictability that we Indians so prize and also stokes up an unrealistic hope that everything will be buried in snow and people will be stuck in their houses for days. I know Massachusetts is hardly Alaska so I must make do with whatever measly snow we get! But the hype around this storm has got to my mind too much. I am getting out my gloves and woolen cap. It had better live up to all the bad things that are being said about it!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The past

What is about history that makes it so boring in textbooks and so interesting on TV? My mom was my history teacher at my school for quite some time and in all fairness to her, she did manage to breathe life into those black and white images and cold, dry dates to some extent. The history that I read in school still forms the backbone of my understanding of our past. But those facts and figures never caught my fancy like the wonderful documentaries on the Discovery Channel and its knowledge spouting brethren on the tube. 

My hands down favourites were documentaries on South American civilizations. With their forgotten pyramids overgrown by tropical forests, fierce vengeful gods and a penchant for human sacrifice, they were infinitely interesting. Ancient Egypt and it's scheming ruling dynasties came in a close second. World War 2 and the madness of Hitler's plans were an interesting topic too. You never realize that history was dotted with so many colourful personalities until you've watched his/her "Biography" on the History Channel. 

Not that I depend only upon TV to appreciate history. I love the ambience of any old place be it a palace or a name of historical significance. A peaceloving man for most purposes, the only persons I'd really like to line up and shoot dead are the morons who draw their ill fated lover's name with chalk on the aging walls of our great historical monuments. They had better not let me catch them in the act of vandalizing our past if they wanted their love story to have a happy ending. Most of all, when I look at the follies of humans in the past and see a re-run of it scheduled for the future, I wonder when and if we will learn.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The future

What will the future be like? Different stories and movies tell of different fates. Will we have flying cars and teleportation? Or will it be a planet of ruins with fires burning all around and mobs of starving people scrapping for the last bits of oxygen and food? Thought reading machines are as much likely to be a reality in the future and colonies of clones. The possibilities are endless, sometimes terrifying, sometimes tantalising. The human race does not deserve to end on this tiny speck on the vastness of the universe. We are capable of going so much farther, rule the universe one day like we do the earth. But again will we allow ourselves to see that glorious stage when the universe will literally be our playground or will we wipe ourselves out over petty notions of nationality and religion long before it. I am an optimist for today and I get a warm fuzzy feeling if I turn the clock forward to the time to come.

It's an awesome feeling to have just thinking what our future might hold. Floating cities in the sky and on water, that 70% more real estate for us to build our living spaces on. Spaceships heading out to a neighbouring galaxy just like a bus going from Bombay to Pune. The earth could be like a city locality long past its prime where only the unlucky got left behind. Artists and poets of the future would express their nostalgia about the good ol' days when we all lived as one planet little knowing the animosity that we bear for each other today. Buildings, contraptions and robots that defy the sometimes limited imagination capability of a today's human beings would be a dime a dozen. Immersive interactive 3D entertainment and radical new sports like air-boarding would be the trends of the day much like I-Pods and their ilk are today. Food would be likely be a luxury of the rich as an alternative set of nutrition pills would serve the needs of the not so well-to-do people. Pop one in and be all set for the day. No one has seen the future and don't believe any astrologers who claim to have done so. We will continue to be our silly, sentimental selves for as long as we exist as a species so there goes the factor of predictability right out of the window. The only thing certain about the future is that it will be what we make of it, a brave new world so within our combined grasp.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lady Liberty

I boarded a cruise which went around Manhattan island explaining every shape that lined the 3 rivers which enclosed it. The buildings that we came across and the 19 bridges that we sailed under during the tour were all familiar names seen in some movie long ago, read in a faintly remembered story or had some specific presence in pop culture. There was the Queensborough Bridge from the Spiderman movie climax. Then there was the Empire State building of King Kong fame which post 9/11 regained it's tallest status on the island of Manhattan.The boat also took us past the UN Headquarters where the world met to decide what it should really be doing and forgot all about their resolutions as soon as they walked out. But the first sight on our 3 hour cruise was what had brought us on this ride.

A very unique shade of green, the silhouette visible from far standing proud above Ellis Island stood the Statue of Liberty. Her rather stern face and the flame in her hand are the most cliched image of America possible. Even after being 5 months old in America, it was the first time I really felt that reality. For a hundred years, boats spilling over with fresh immigrants made their way into the New York - New Jersey harbour past this stately lady. For them and for many millions after them, America represented the land of opportunity far away from their troubled home-lands. And right in front of them as they cast their first nervous glances on the place that held their future was the perfect embodiment of the big and beautiful dream of America.

Friday, December 12, 2008

From sunrise to sunset : "Rukawat ke liye khayd hai"

My sister's wedding was a  event that was mesmerizing in the way that it involved so many different people in wildly varying lifestyles coming together. I guess you've heard that from here before, because that's the story of every cross-cultural marriage, and we've had many in our family! Everytime I sit down to write something down on the topic, I decide that I will not do justice to the magnitude of the event right then and put it off for next time. I am going to do the same today too but I am tempted to give you the bare outlines. 

A love story sparked off in the elevator of a building in Ahmedabad (If Orkut is to be believed), then a lover pining by the sea near Dwarka while his counterpart did her bit of pining on the shores of Bombay. A full disclosure to both the families resulting in a scheduled end to this torture on the 27th of April. The two halves of this story take place in two very different locations, one the picturesque seaside town of Mithapur and the other the chaotic hustle bustle of Kolkata. The lead characters in this story traverse the width of India as if it were Andheri to Dadar and amongst them is probably the most well traveled dog in India. Our dog went through the 1700 km of India's width thrice within a week with incredible behaviour worthy of a human. Only one bark from her inside the train in her 3 journeys. 

The real problem is that with time comes better perspective of what really happened but it also leads to the little details slipping out of the mind. I may just to make them up for myself. So don't be surprised if the accounts of my sister's marriage to follow read like fiction. But then as everyone knows, truth is stranger than fiction so I shouldn't really have to put too much effort. In the meantime, "Rukawat ke liye khayd hai!"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Two false starts

I've spent two New Year's Eves at Calcutta (the most recent two) and both I am sorry to say have been really nauseating. Luckily I do not harbour the belief that the way a New Year starts, the way it'll continue or I'd be having two rotten years in a row. New Year's Eve of 2007, I was in Calcutta only because my boss didn't approve of my leave to go home to my folks in Gujarat. There was this "training" I was supposed to take as part of my initiation into a project. I was fresh into my first job after college and apparently I needed it. As was expected, the person who was supposed to give me this "training" was on leave a week before and a week after New Year's Eve. So here I was going to an almost empty office with nothing to do till the end of the year, gnashing my teeth in justified frustation. 

On the evening of January 31st, in the company of a college pal of mine and his equally bored colleagues of L & T, I set out for China Town. We found a sufficiently obscure place in Tangra whose name eludes me now, where the alcohol was cheap and there was still some space to enter on New Year's Eve. Most of our battalion was finished off by the onslaught of intoxication early on in the evening and only three of us found ourselves still standing at around 11:00 PM. The drunk bodies were then dumped into taxis to go to their respective homes while we pondered our fate one hour before another year began. I don't recall whose brainwave it was but then next thing I knew the three of us were on Park Street to enjoy the 'ambience'. We blundered into the church next to Loreto House and it was a nice, peaceful place to be in. But peace was not written in our fate that night as we decided to venture onto the main thoroughfare of Park Street.

Park Street looked like a playground for maniacs! I don't know about earlier times but now New Year's on Park Street is a mess that needs to be seen to be believed. Thousands of uncouth youngsters (comprising 99% of frustated males, and 1% of very scared females, mostly foreigners unfortunate enough to misinformed about the BIG party on Park Street) jamming the sidewalks pushing and pulling one and all. The party hats and the plastic trumpets were all there but there was an air of such rustic crudeness in the crowd that it put Calcutta's supposed 'cosmopolitan' image to shame. The scores of police men that stood all around were totally powerless to stop the groping and debauchery happening in front of their eyes, instead picking any random individual and putting him into their vans. We were too drunk to realize it then but we were always within a few inches of being put into custody just by virtue of being there. The hoarse shouts and the honking horns of the cars on the road were supposed to express joy on the occasion of New Year but we felt like being trapped in a horde of orcs right out of the LOTR movies! If this was what was called a party atmosphere, I was so much better off without it. The whole thing was basically so uncool that it hurt, really hurt in retrospect! Right then we were too drunk to really feel anything. So next day, my pal and me vowed to ourselves "Never again!"

And guess what? Exactly one year, on New Year's Eve 2007 going on 2008, we were back there again. This time it was at the insistence of a friend of ours who had come all the way from Jamshedpur to catch New Year's in Calcutta. Being the considerate friends that we were, we took him to the one place that we knew would scare the hell out of him. Park Street was as hellish as last year and this time we weren't even in high spirits. This tour was thankfully even shorter and we wound up walking the quieter lanes of Central Calcutta to welcome the New Year. A little biryani from one of the many Mughlai eateries in my area brought in the next year to us. 

Come to think of it, does January 1 really seem so different from any other day? Much as we would like to deny it, the fact is that nothing really changes apart from waking up really late that day. It's a day symbolic enough to warrant special attention but it is not at all indicative of the year to come. The open road of Park Street is not the best place to start a New Year, I can tell you that. This is personal experience multiplied two-fold speaking. Life has treated me pretty kindly as opposed to what two rough and tumble starts to the New Year at Park Street would seem to indicate. Don't know where I'll be on this New Year's Eve this time, but I take comfort in the fact that even if I start on the wrong foot yet again, it'd really mean nothing. Not to say that a pleasant start to the year would be unwelcome.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The blog is not enough

It's quite unfair. There are just too many things I want to write about and too little time. Whenever I psych myself up to fill in a post in this blog of mine, I am confronted by a dizzying array of choices. Do I rant against fundamentalism (be it Ayn Rand's or Osama's or Mao's) or do I write my long overdue post on my sister's marriage? Do I plead the case for keeping caste based reservations (not increasing it, mind it) or should I record some pleasant childhood memory? Does my frustation at the stagnant nature of office life merit a post or should another college day tale inhabit this corner of cyberspace. Should the footloose globe trotting soul that inhabits me be given an outlet or shall I just fawn over books/movies/personalities that I worship?

It is a gross over-estimation of my writing capabilities that I'd be able to do justice to all of these and more of the sifting thoughts that pause in my mind. Yet that is the only thing I want to do. But paradoxically simply writing about all the experiences of my past doesn't leave me enough time to enjoy the present and plan the future. Memories are dead leaves that are sometimes best blown away. Trap them in a book and you can look upon them for years. But you feel sorry that they aren't where they were supposed to be. My blog is a cage where these memories are trapped, exposed to everyone's critical view and never again worthy of the beauty and sanctity they had inside my head. 

If you are accusing me of being unnecessarily complex about a simple point (i.e the blog is not enough), then I accept the charges! A blog is a limited canvas restricted to a palette of words and pictures. When faced with the daunting task of lending a ear to the chaos of introspection inside me, I feel that a life is not enough, let alone a blog!

Footprints across the world

There is a office colleague who has on the wall next to her seat a huge world map. And on that map, marked by coloured pins are the places that she has been to. The pins are peppered all over the USA, Europe and Vietnam her native country. It's my wish to have something like that too one day. If I set about doing it right now, there wouldn't be much variety. A huge number of pins all over India, one in Frankfurt and then numerous more in the USA : that would unfortunately be enough to cover my footloose activities.

But if I started to mark all the places where people I knew very well at some point of my life are or have been, it's a wonderful feeling. My neighbour from the first year hostel is in Luxembourg, the petite European nation. One of my closest friends now works in the glowing sunshine of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. A bunch of my juniors (My 'technical' sons and daughters) are traipsing all over Europe apparently 'studying' with one of them in a little village in France and one in Germany. The USA has been flooded with an influx of RECKERs (my college mates) and QACers (school mates) with whom I was extremely pally with, East Coast, West Coast, Mid West no bar. My friends from college now are back in their homelands of the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal and the South Pacific island of Fiji! I still am in touch with them and our conversation over chat is as casual as it was when we got together over a glass of whisky back in college.

Even though I am miles away from my intention of visiting everyone, it's a overwhelming feeling. The legends of lands far away, of unknown places seem within touching distance now that some person linked to my life lives there and works there, just like I am doing in a small town in north-east USA. It's one thing just to say pompously that "The world is my oyster" but what's really shocking is that it actually might be true!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

From across the Hudson

It's 1:00 AM on the 30th of November and our group of travellers is standing on the banks of the Hudson just off the Exchange Place station in Jersey City, New Jersey. It's bitterly cold hovering a couple of degrees below zero and standing next to a huge water body is hardly the thing to do. We had a bottle of Corona each in our hands but it isn't doing a very good job of keeping warm at all.

It's the first episode of what will turn out an awesome trip of New York touching upon most of the points that I'd missed out on last time. But that is not the thing on my mind right then. The cliched, seen-to-death NYC Manhattan skyline is all spread out in front of us. Thousands of lit windows glimmer on the bank opposite to us. They might be some lucky people's apartments, some well lit interiors of empty offices or the first glimpse of Christmas decorations being decked out on the buildings. The myriad shapes and lights impart each building a character of its own.  From this side of the Hudson, we can't hear the chaos that inhabits Manhattan: sirens of police cars or ambulances, the taxis honking and the buzz of the people who must still be out on the streets of the city. There is a black stone memorial on our side which is adorned by an image of the Manhattan skyline a few minutes before the first plane struck the WTC buildings on 9/11. The WTC towers were giants amongst the giants but the skyline seems to have assimilated their loss pretty well. It continues to remain an inspiring sight and a curiously peaceful sight too, something not to be expected from what is essentially a club of high rises bunched together and hopelessly overcrowded.

When on the streets of Manhattan, the permanently sunless streets and the teeming crowds do put me off once in a while. But distance gives me enough perspective to appreciate the magnitude of "the city that never sleeps". At this hour of the night, when most places in the world would be as good as dead, a million dreams are still running tirelessly and nourishing themselves on the streets of the Big Apple inside the people who sustain them. "Big city, big lights" never has had a more shining example.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Big Apple once again

Just one more day of office and then it'll be time to plunge into the human currents of NYC once more. My first trip to New York was a very involving experience in itself but it was limited to the streets of midtown Manhattan and some clubs of which I have rather foggy memories. 

It was New Yorker's New York that I had seen on my last trip and now am hoping to cover the touristy part of it. The city should be even more alive with the Thanksgiving holidays on. New York is the epitome of the urban jungle and I am dying to stalk it's streets again.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Games" period

It used to inhabit the first half of a Wednesday morning, a follow up to the robotic exercises that constituted PT period. There was usually a torturous class of regular studies in between set to inflame the need to run out on the grounds even further. The school grounds loomed vast and empty through the windows as we alternated between glancing at the watch and the grounds, waiting for the bell to ring in the freedom. The daily long lunch break always found us in the same ground playing cricket to our fill, but the ability to swing a bat in the midst of full fledged study time carried a special significance. 

We would grudgingly go ahead in orderly lines, always on the verge of bursting over held back only by the fear of the thin cane in Frank sir's hands. The gate into the grounds was the magical marker line beyond which we were free souls. A single step into the grounds and the lines would disperse into a wave running out to the centre of the ground where the pieces for action would be set. The stumps driven into the grounds, teams hurriedly picked by a coin toss and the most intense half an hour of cricket ever played would progress. And then the bell would ring bringing the curtains down on all the grit and emotions on display. Dust caked on our feet and our throats parched, we would return weary but satisfied with our liberty on mortgage for yet another school week, 

Cashing in on misery

The greatest irony is that I hate their music almost as much as I am enthralled by it. Acid rock was never supposed to be bright and inspirational, and indeed if you really crave a peppy song then you should rather buy yourself a pop album. The music of Pink Floyd is perfect for the mood that it set out to create. There is no feeling of insecurity, loss and helplessness that their songs do not probe and bring to the surface. 

Every random sound on their songs is actually a road marker to that eventual goal of making you feel as miserable as possible. They lack the seething anger that other bands display when faced with a intolerable situation. Their cold acceptance of the hard realities of life and the death of dreams are both horrifying and strangely soothing at the same time. They are one band I'd avoid like the plague, were I really depressed! Floyd are the undisputed kings over their self constructed empire of sadness.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Unlike the normal Calcutta bred Bengali, I've not grown up immersed in the infinite world of his poetry, prose and music. The extremely limited Bengali reading skills that I possess are not enough to appreciate the rhythm of his words or their appropriateness. So when on a Saturday afternoon with nothing to do, I set out for a busy part of North Calcutta, I didn't know what to expect. The red brick building that was the Thakurbari lies a short walk from a busy intersection and in fact serves as the campus for a University. This is Jorasanko, the ancestral house of the Thakurs or Tagores whose genius reached a cumulative high with the influence that it had in shaping the life of Rabindranath Tagore.

From what I perceive, Tagore was to Bengali culture what William Shakespeare is to the Brits multiplied manifold. A cultural cornerstone without whom the identity of every Bengali is incomplete. I bought the nominally priced ticket that allowed entry into the main house and climbed into its cool interiors. The walls were lined with quotes and paintings of the great man, the English translations of which were powerful enough. The impact of the original words written in the language closest to his heart must be even more amazing. I came across parents explaining in detail to their kids of the signifcance of each little item on display and every member of the Tagore family tree. I was way past that age when the facts could be drilled into me but I could tell without any doubt that these were facts worth knowing.

To walk in this house was to feel the current of creativity surging through the house. The beautiful verandahs which looked out onto the central garden was just waiting for another set of little feet to play in its shadows, hop out into the patches of sunlight which had blustered their way in and run in among the elders who would indulge their childish exuberance. It was hard not to be a genius when parents, your uncles and your aunts are artists/ philosphers / scholars par excellence. Not to take anything away from the grand old man though. For this is a man who shaped not only the minds of all Bengalis to come but also the spirit of India. It was a honour just to breathe the same air and walk the same ways that had nourished his brilliance.

Nights out on the towns: Sequels to the first adventure

If you've been following my blog in the recent months, I had been describing the enamourment of the senses on my first visit to a night-club, a joint called "Mantra" in downtown Boston. The initial thrill is of course the greatest and the childish levels of excitement are a thing of the past much to my relief. 
Now under the "evil" shadow of my cousin, every weekend trip to Boston culminates in a grand late night entrance into A. "Pearl" an Asian club, or B. "Caprice" where Greek beauties hang around or C. a plain ol' 'Bangdaa' party (as PIOs tend to call it) or some other kind of a temptation laden place like that. The following day has only brought severe hangovers and embarassing stories to relate till date but the obvious lessons to be learnt are faithfully ignored by me. As heartlessly pointed out by one of my readers, "Aristotle goes clubbing" and is still not ashamed of his fish-out-of-water status in there!
And the above was only the Boston chapter of the story. My trip to New York City was supposed to be a grave educational trip to the city with a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by a ferry ride past the Statue of Liberty and a solemn minute of silence observed at where the WTC once stood etc etc. I had paid in advance for a room at a bare-to-bones backpacker's Hostel in the heart of NYC to further this noble cause. 
Instead I was party to my cousin bro's party of party loving party animal friends as they swooped down upon New York from Boston the same weekend that I was there. After meeting them in the neon lit wonderland of Times Square, I remember drinking like a fish at a birthday of a Punjabi girl whom I had met almost 5 minutes ago. That was the hall at the Bryant Park Hotel and after that it seems we went to three more parties. When my bro told me of this fact the next morning I was pooh-poohing him away until I checked my camera and found pictures that I did even remember taking. Point accepted, bro! Thank God he brought me back to the hotel where he was staying, or I surely wouldn't have made it back to my Hostel on the maze of trains that is the NYC subway system.
By evening next day i.e Saturday, my head was still in a buzz and we wandered into this Indian joint called "The Kemia" emerging in grand style from the blue lit interior of a blinged out stretch limousine. It had all the trimmings that you'd expect with champagne on ice, an earth shattering music system and infinite space to bounce around in. We were going to come by a simple NYC cab but this plaything of the rich offered us a good deal which we seized. The latest Bollywood mixes, lots of beer and unrelenting peace-to-the-eyes later, I was back to the same stage I was the day before. Drunk and unable to find my way back to the Hostel. So I ended up paying for two nights in a Hostel where I didn't stay! Needless to say, all my original points of action for a trip to NYC to be remained completely untouched.
The latest in the series of mis-adventures was only last weekend. My cousin's crew and me as a tag-along were at this party at the Park Plaza hotel and we were pretending to be dancing right next to an all girl entourage of six beautiful young blondes eyeing them every second of the evening. 
Lesson no 447 of drinking: Don't swig on your beer too fast in a misinformed attempt to impress female on-lookers because when out of the blue one of them requests you (of all the guys in your group) to take a picture of them, your frazzled senses will make you fumble around desperately for the shutter button. Sure, it'll make all those blondes flash their stunning smiles at you and laugh with you but God knows it'd be for all the wrong reasons.
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fall from grace

My Pulsar is very nearly the coolest thing on wheels. I love its colour, its sound, and its aggressive feel on the road. But it has the same inherent disadvantage of anything on two wheels. It's natural static state is not one of balance. A minor obstacle is more than enough to bring a shabby finale to it's high spirited adventures.

As you'd have guessed I have had my fair share of accidents on two wheels. The first time I was in class 1 or 2 when a Luna ploughed into me while I was crossing the road to get to my school bus. I didn't even know to ride a bicycle back then and my painful history of mishaps with two wheelers had already begun. When I finally did learn to ride a bicycle, it was a couple of weeks before I learnt to use the brakes or trust myself to make a U-turn on my building's terrace. Most of the times I'd just ride on into the wall. A couple of hundred bruises later, I managed to reach the stage of road worthiness only to find myself riding into a barb wire fence in the darkness on one occasion and then once into a ditch where the municipality was laying telephone lines. Besides there was another time when a scooter caught the rear end of my bicycle and the wheel was a twisted mess. 

Then came the turn on my faithful TVS Scooty which was curiously kind to me chucking me to ground only once. I was barrelling up a mildly sand covered road on the wrong side in the middle of the day and she decided that it was time to teach me a lesson. So down I went and so did my pal, Abhishek was unfortunate enough to be my pillion rider that day. Considering that we took a tumble on the opposite side of the road, we emerged pretty much unscathed and so did my Scooty.

My Pulsar has already announced that it would not put up with mishandling and has brought me down to earth twice already. That's one of the reasons that I've learnt to respect its power a lot more. The older I get, the more difficult it is for me to overcome the fear of the next fall not to mention the everlasting blush of embarassment right after the fall. As cool a thing that coasting along on a two wheeler always is, a fall really makes me shaky. It's like I am expecting to take a tumble every second after that. It takes quite some time now before the unnatural fear of being spilled on the road goes away. Back when I was a kid, dusting myself up and getting on the saddle was a breeze. It's so much more difficult now! I guess that's what they call growing up; being afraid of making mistakes, paying too much attention to what the world thinks and consequently becoming just another sheep in the flock. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008


As a family of animal lovers, our choice of pets has been wide and varied. Before I was born, my folks had had a rabbit named Fluffy and an assortment of birds including budgerigars and mynahs. After I arrived into this world, I was a stubborn enough animal to handle so my parents kept their like for the animal world restricted to religiously watching wildlife documentaries on television. It was only when I had reached class 6 or 7 that another family member (non-human though it may be) was added to our house.

And this was a gray-brown mud turtle washed into the house of our domestic help by flood waters and duly delivered to us. To call it anything but ugly would be stretching the truth, but it was a such a entertaining creature by nature that no one cared for its looks. It was hard to tell its gender but I decided that it was a guy and named it Michaelangelo after one of the lead characters on my favourite cartoon show at the time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And the name seemed to have taken possession of him. He would clamber up the walls of the red basket where he was supposed to be confined to with as much ease as the Ninja Turtles scaled the skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan. He was no slouch, this turtle pal of mine and would wobble his way around the walls of our flat chasing geckos who dared to come too close to the ground. The geckos were of course terrified of this exotic creature who prowled the grounds beneath them and would stay as high up on the walls as possible. I'd drop him in a bucket of water for short periods of time so that he could keep this swimming muscles in shape. He'd really difficult to extract out of the water then with his slippery body and scaly arms that he used liberally to scratch anyone who tried to disturb his swim.

As I'd stay awake at night watching TV, Michaelangelo would incessantly tramp around the room pausing only a few seconds to gaze at the screen before rapidly setting out again on his 'parikramas' of the drawing room looking for unwary bugs and intruding geckos. He had a strange call too, a croak that sounded like the air gaps in the water pipe and night-time was the best time for him to exercise his feeble vocal chords and actually hear his own voice. He was a inspirational figure fighting on to be active even with the load of the shell strapped on to his back by Nature. The confidence with which he marched forward waddling on his four flippers was a sight to see. 

Michaelangelo was the centre of attraction for all visitors to our flat. Turtles were not so common a pet back then and this was no ordinary lazy-bones turtle. Mike had grown quite large in the 6 months that he was with us and the bucket for his daily swim was gradually becoming a travesty for his new size. The obvious need to let him go back from where he came from was evident. So one gray evening, my brother and me walked along to the banks of the Narmada, a 15 minute walk from the flats where we stayed. We placed Mike at the edge of the water and watched a wave from the Narmada submerge him. But when the wave receded, Mike was still hanging around to give us a last glimpse of his slow-poke body. With the next wave, he was gone back into the element he was created for, effortlessly paddling his way through the murkiness of the Narmada waters. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Niagara

The spray was like thick smoke obscuring the skyline of Toronto across the border. The sound of the waters was not loud at the height from which I watched them but it was strangely assertive over all the others that were much nearer and louder. The eyes could see the towers of water making the waterfall and the mind couldn't possibly pay attention to anything but this raw display of power. I was at the Niagara Falls and needless to say overawed.

Is it any wonder that the Native Americans worshipped these falls as a God? The spectacle was breath-taking, despite being conscious of the fact that a dam had been built over this river and if required could slow this behemoth down to a trickle. We had full control over this thing of extraordinary beauty but I found myself asking whether we were worthy of it. The thousands of birds drifting in the air at the foot of the falls were distant specks from where I saw them, ghost shapes flitting through the mist. The raging Niagara river plummeted to the base of the falls running along on it's unruly way again unmindful of the nearly a couple of hundred feet in between, blue as it was before it turned into white froth for a brief period. 

Our tour bus took us to Goat Island, down a deep elevator shaft to "The Cave of the Winds" where we were at the base of the Bridal Veil falls. It really was windy and wet down there but such was the allure of the scene with the mist from the American Falls and the Canadian Falls on either side and the Bridal Veil right in front, that all these discomforts were quite minor. 

The day passed within no time in the bubble like peace of the waters and their sound. There were hundreds of people watching the same view at the same time yet it resonated at a deeply personal level for each of them. No one was talking to each other as they stood at the handrails gazing down at the ethereal scene. They waited silently to catch a glimpse of the fleeting rainbows that played hide-and-seek in the clouds of mist. Legend has it that these rainbows are manifestations of the Falls' protective spirit that has saved many a life which accidentally or on purpose took a tumble down the Falls. Although I am mildly sceptical of the existence of a supernatural world, this place was surely a worthy abode of the prettiest guardian angel. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


It was at around 12:00 at night on a summer evening and the power was out for the past 20 minutes or so. I was up on the fourth floor terrace of my house with my I-Pod blaring music into my ears. The night breeze was a welcome relief from the stuffiness of the three floors below and I was doing my rounds on the terrace long before the power cut happened. It was my special thing, this wandering the roof in the moonlight, my way of shaking a feeble fist at what was another meaninglessly tough day spent at the office. My uncle suddenly showed up on my roof-top domain and tells me, "Kutush, there's someone in the house! Didibhai (My cousin sister) thinks she saw someone flit into the second floor"

It took a couple of seconds for the words to register. This was central Calcutta with endless rows of old, old houses: some occupied, some not; punctured by vein like streets. The roofs are therefore all an easy leap from one to the next, not very unlike the roofs of Agrabah ruled by Alladin in his shadier days. Stories of thefts in the neighbourhood I had heard aplenty about why the roof doors around here need to be doubly padlocked but it somehow never seemed to hit home. Now it did and with it the dread of living one of those stories out.

The situation was all the more disturbing because in this case, I was the "man of the house". The only other persons in the house were my uncle (almost 70), my aunt, my sister and my 6 year old nephew. I had found that fact pretty amusing until that moment. Heart in my mouth couldn't have found a more literal expression than that night. But a man has got to do what a man has got to do so down the stairs I went ever so slowly.

The power was still cut off. The flashlight in my cell phone was to date used only to pour light into my sleeping sister's eyes to disturb her but now it was my shield against the unknown. I inched my way across the house looking under every bed and in every cupboard and verandah, every milisecond expecting a shadowy figure to ambush me. The wait for the expected attack was tremendously nerve-straining and that night put paid to any misconceptions that I might have had about me being brave.

As it turned out eventually; there was nobody in my house that night and I had never appreciated it's ample size before I went out on this Hardy Boys investigation. The morning after, we found out that it was probably the elongated shadow of my 6 year old nephew who was scouting around for a glass of water at an ungodly hour (by his standards) that gave my sleepy sister in another bedroom the jitters. But my house didn't ever feel so safe after that and now when I roam the roof, I always keep a watchful eye out on the darkness of the neighbouring roofs. The calming effect of a walk in the moonlight is now permanently replaced by a buzz in the head of being constantly on vigil. Thrill is a poor substitute for peace of mind but it does have its own merits. I felt my heart thump like never before that night but walking the edge with your survival on the line is a great way to appreciate what you really have.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election day

Today is bound to be a very important day. The President of what is by far the most influential country on earth is going to be decided. I personally can't think of an obvious choice. Both the candidates are good and that's just about it. From what I've watched of their speeches and debates, none of them seem to have that killer quality that nails his opponent down for good. 

The US economy is in a very bad way now and whoever comes into power will be the only reason for it retaining its pre-eminence in world affairs like it has since WW2 or for it sliding down the ladder to make way for successors like China and the semi-autocratic Russia. Don't ask me who I am rooting for because thankfully my country is not part of this mess. International politics is a field so gray that it is impossible to take any one side and be on the right side. There are internal issues in India that need to be taken care of first and also that India's unique identity is defined by it's non-participation in the dirtiness of the super-power game. 

A Black man stands a strong chance of becoming the President of the USA in what would be a remarkable achievement. The whole world watches the drama unfold and bites its fingernails in suspense over what the future holds for the USA and the world. If history is an series of unscripted plays then we are defintely heading for the climax of a very important story one way or the other.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Alcatraz through the fog

It wasn't a good day for the cruise. That was not very evident from the sunny pier no. 43 and a 1/2 of San Francisco. So I booked myself the ticket and joined a bunch of Asian tourists on the boat. We started out nicely enough with a grand view of the 'Frisco skyline as we moved away from the pier. Then the fog came in. The Pacific was feeling pretty unhappy that clear morning and decided to steam up a little. So the boat plunged into what was a wall of cold air and lots of zero visibility fog. Most people saw common sense and went back into the boat's cabin to help themselves to the food inside. Naturally I was not among them.

My stubbornness as usual did not yield any results either. I stood braving the cold and we passed under the massive Golden Gate Bridge almost not seeing it. Only the ugly sound of the boat's horn told us that the Bridge was near and when we went under it, we could just barely see the outlines. The narrator explained the origin of the name because for all I could see the bridge was almost orange in colour. The Golden Gate was actually the name of the split in the coastline through which ships came into San Francisco Bay and was especially in use during the Californian Gold Rush. Hence the name of the opening of the Bay and the bridge that spans across it.

Then we moved across to the forbidding Angel Island and the even more infamous Alcatraz. Innocent Chinese immigrants were incarcerated for years without reason on Angel Island after their arrival on the Californian coast and Alcatraz was renowned as the toughest jail for the meanest criminals on earth. They say that every night the prisoners on Alcatraz were given a shower with warm water. This was to amplify the shock caused by the already cold water of the Pacific in case any of the prisoners were ingenious enough to beat the tough security and decided to try their luck in the shark infested waters. The jail has been closed down and served as a tourist attraction since the late 1960s, but the way it looked through the fog that day sent a shiver own my spine. It'd take a lot of effort to get me anywhere near that creepy place. That was the high point of the fog marred trip for me. The fog was instrumental in making Alcatraz look as grim and hostile a place as legend warrants it to be!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Diwali again!!!

It's been a rather quick year. On Diwali last year, I was hunched up in the cyber cafe on my street in Calcutta and a year later I am in a studio apartment in the USA 12500 kilometres away. It's really quiet and dark outside. No lights outside houses or the boom of crackers in this part of the world unless it's Christmas or the 4th of July. Circumstances couldn't have been more different and the only thing in common is that I am trying to muster something up for my blog.

Yeah, I miss home on days like this! A day which is very important as a symbol of hope and a new beginning for us, but just another lonely night for every other country. It's not that I celebrated Diwali with full gusto every year. In fact, haven't done so for a number of years. But here in a land so far away, it's difficult to relate to even the memories. It feels like that it is stories of someone else's past that I am watching on a giant movie screen. That is not too bad a experience though. The stories run like Christmas movies which despite all the travails in between end on a note of incredible cheerfulness.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What's the story, morning glory?

It's a Monday morning, not the most pleasant of times and I really should be thinking of the week of work that lies ahead. But it's fall and the trees are in the brightest of hues. The final flourish of colour before they turn into bare skeletons for the winter. The few evergreen trees around look so ordinary in front of these self-destructive ones for not being adventurous enough to count on spring to come along next here. 

There is a light fog that hangs around early on this cloudy morning. Very soon, the sun will emerge in its full strength chasing away the vestiges of its fleeting beauty. The first lot of office goers are already out on the parking lot cleaning the frost of their cars. None of them look too happy and I can't really think of anyone who could be happy to get back to work on Monday morning! But that's the way it has to be and there is no need to be grim in the acceptance of this fact. Do what you got to do but to expect a smile to light up your face all the while is a bit of an overkill. But office has its moments of insane fun when a few people get together in an unscheduled chat session maybe on sports or the weather or snide criticism of the "higher ups". 

Mornings like these carry a sense of melancholy with them, the final proof that the weekend is finally over. When I will ask anyone in office today about how he/she is doing and the standard answer would be "You know! Monday, Monday..." but not always in a serious manner. It's like always expecting the worst and then when you find that it is not as bad as it could've been, breathing a sign of relief and maybe even feel happy about it.


The world's highest mountains enclose a moonscape of desolate, barren lands with steely blue lakes making their appearances here and there. The winds rush along on their biggest playgrounds. Once past the Himalayas and into the desolate plains of Ladakh, they come into their own. The human being is truly at the mercy of Nature, an insignificant pebble at the mercy of the ocean. The summer months bring the rarest of mountain flowers into bloom and trails of humans who venture out from the comfy confines of the plains further south to get a taste of the wild side of life.

I haven't been there yet, but keep driving my Jeep through the vastness of the dry plains of Ladakh in my mind. The prayer flags flutter on the stone tombs that pepper the landscape of rocks, monasteries and mountains. Yet it's a place that defies my imagination because of its sheer scale and the rare pictures that I see of it don't seem to help my thoughts much. I need to be there in person to take in the entire magnitude of the place and it's cold, merciless beauty.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Boring, boring planning...

Most people I have met in the USA are quite gregarious and enthused with a purpose to their lives. Their permanent state of cheerfulness is a boost to sagging confidence sometimes while it does across as a nauseating ploy to avoid facing the realities of life at other times. Here in the heartland of capitalism, they've got one thing totally wrong.

The folks sincerely believe that planning and hard work are more than enough to get you where you want to be and that there are no other factors in play. No wonder then that the people who do not end up where they had aimed for are the most frustated and depressed people on earth. Coming from a country which is the seat of Eastern philosophy, I find it incomprehensible why these people refuse to believe in fate. Belief in fate is such an important part of our way of thinking and I think it helps us a great deal in coping with the misfortunes doled out to us (and there are many). I am not advocating that one should junk the hard work, flush the planning and flow with the tides of fortune but to deny the existence of such a tide is such an immature way of thinking. "Fortune favours the brave" all right but then the aphorism itself acknowledges the existence of something called fortune, and that it "favours" the brave, not is "ALWAYS" on the side of the brave.

Work your heart out and dream till your eyes hurt, but to say that everything fell into place because you had planned it that way makes such a drag out of what otherwise would be such an exciting life. If your entire life is planned to perfection and the only adjustments you make is to bring your life back on track with this grand plan of yours whenever it deviates from the same makes for a horribly robotic existence. The elements of unpredictability on a normal day are the real high points. How those events either pep you up or punch you in the face is the whole fun behind treating your own life like an unread novel. Who'd want to read a story whose entire content you already know?

Not me. Getting off the beach and running into the waves is more my idea of existence. The waves may splash your back with their refreshing coolness or throw you down on the beach with salt in your mouth. And that's why you run back to catch the next big one that you see forming at the edges of the sea. What in the world in going to happen to you when you challenge the next wave, you never know!

The tamarind tree

Behind one of our favourite terrace cricket grounds, the one at the top of my building stood an old tamarind tree. The tree had it roots just outside our Society's boundary walls but its branches loaded with tantalising, ripe tamarinds or 'imlis' as we called them crossed well into our compound. Beneath the tree lay the tin roofs of the shanties which were just on the opposite side of the boundary walls. To aim for the 'imlis' was a risky venture as it involved the tossing of stones into the tree and making a quick run for it. The run was to ensure that when along with significant amounts of 'imli', the stones came clattering down on the tin roofs, there'd be no one in sight for the irate wives in that house to curse. If you asked us, we'd say that they ought not to complain as half of the 'imli' which was knocked out of the tree fell into our compound and half into theirs. We were only aiming for our half to savour its tangy taste with salt.

There'd be no trouble like that if we could be as agile as the langurs that popped up in the trees frequently. They'd relax regally on the branches having their fill of the 'imli' all the while gnashing their teeth at us. Our games of terrace cricket would continue in minor unease inspite of these highly unfriendly visitors. There was a clear understanding that we'd not climb into their trees (not that we had ever considered that) and they would not tramp around our cricket pitch while we were playing on it (an agreement which they'd break once in a blue moon and send us braveheart cricketers scurrying back to the safety of my flat just a floor below). The tree was also home to dozens of kites that had got their strings entangled in the branches of this tree at some point in history. Some were bare skeletons with the just the bamboo framework and the pale string on the verge of breaking sending them finally to the ground that they were headed for. The wind from the Narmada when strong in the evenings would tug at all these lost souls and play an orchestra of rustling paper and plastic. 

The tree was kind enough to even allow some pigeon to roost on it and it'd look so out of place on its branches. Of all the nature's creations that fly, the pigeon is something that looks more suited to a man made environment of buildings and statues than to a world of forests and flowers. Or maybe it's because this bird has ruined so many afternoon naps for me by entering into our kitchen and generating enough of a racket to stir me awake and cause me to chase it out of the flat in person, that I cannot associate it with anything as peaceful and beautiful as Nature. 

The swarms of mosquitoes that hovered above the tree as soon as darkness began to set in would indicate that the bad light conditions for our game of terrace cricket had been reached. We pals would hang around for 10-15 minutes discussing the important events of the day to come, mostly "Games" period at school or the upcoming challenge match with the slum dwellers who lived on the other side of the huge ground that lay behind our Society. The tree would listen to all of our talk and never join in, except by making the occasional bat fly above our heads with it's silhouette outlined against the moon. No wonder, the 'imlis' of the tree tasted so fine. They were probably full of the tangy sweet memories of those before who like us had discussed the finer points of their lives under its peaceful shadow.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

An evening on the terrace

"And still on a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, 
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
When the road is a gypsy's ribbon looping the purple moor, 
The highwayman comes riding-- 
The highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door. "

I've been doing this all too frequently nowadays. Whenever I run short of ideas to put on my posts, I resort to quoting someone else and fawn over their control over their grip of the language. The above extract is from Alfred Noyes' "The Highwayman" and it is a poem that I'd read 10-12 years ago and still love it exactly as much.

After another especially tough day at the office back in Calcutta, I'd find myself hooking up my disused I-Pod. I love my I-Pod for the funky, sleek thing that it is but earphones in my ears for more than half an hour cause me such an headache that I am not able to utilize this wonderful gift to me to the best extent possible. I'd go up to the 3rd floor terrace, my retreat from the noise and the grime of the city of Calcutta. It is only three floors above the streets, but it is three worlds apart. 

Especially on the days when the moon was like "a ghostly galleon tossed upon the clouds" and a cool but slightly uncomfortable breeze rose from the Hooghly. As Dire Straits, U2 and Pink Floyd performed in crystal clear I-Pod quality into my ears and I stroll around the highest point of my house, I'd look around at all the deserted rooftops of the neighbouring houses. I keep my eyes peeled for any activity in the darkness holding sway on all the other rooftops of course secretly wishing that I'd see nothing that'd disturb my peace of mind. I'd smile whenever I'd walk past the tiny water tank that was on the terrace. Back when we were kids, my cousin sister would tell us (my sister and me) stories of the shark that lived in this tank and we'd be really scared and stay away from it! I'd look out from the parapet to see the narrow lanes in front of my house bathed in a eerie yellow of sodium lights. The rare motorcycle or taxi would lose its way into this maze of palely lit passages and the hum of their engine would shred the peace of the night. I'd keep moving around this meditation ground of mine as long as possible letting the breeze play masseur to my stressed out mind before logic and necessity would dictate that I had better get back to bed if I was to survive another day of torture at the office next day!