Friday, December 25, 2009

One more for the ages

The urge to make resolutions is hard to ignore
Though the past has seen breaches galore,
The age-old sun rises just the same
Still must we play this pointless game.

This day is different, you see, not like the ones before
It's a new calendar, you fool, right down to the core,
Why then is life unchanged, frame for repetitive frame
Is there self-deception, a mass hypnosis to blame?

Seeing past the frenzy, bringing logic to the fore
Hope's house needs refurbishment, rooftop to the floor,
Slaves to routine we are, no matter how we strain
A stop we need, to hop off this slow moving train.

Worries and fears, only deeper will they bore
Joy and laughter, strictly rationed is their store,
The road retains its mystery, the destination stays unknown
Pause we must to ponder, to paint time in a suitable tone.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


As far as improbable connections go, a link between a pizzeria, the Corner Cafe on 500 Mass Ave in Boston and my book-shelf back in Calcutta must be quite high on the list but there is such a connection! "Istanbul", a personal memoir by the Turkish Nobel winning author Orhan Pamuk was one of the first books that I bought with my own money and also one of those books which I have forever wanted to begin and hadn't found the time to begin. It rests like an unopened box of treasures in the small cupboard that I use to keep my books together in Calcutta.

Then four days before I return to Calcutta to pick up this unfinished task of mine, I sell my car to a Turkish guy who is going to use it for pizza deliveries. The pizzeria is run by a Turkish fellow Mehmet, who has two employees both of whom are Turkish again, one of whom bought the car off me. Consequently I spent half a day in company of my Turkish friends answering questions about India and learning about the bridge country between Asia and Europe while we went through the formalities of transferring the car ownership. Though none of them were from Istanbul, the awe with which they described their capital city made the city seem all the more alluring. Maybe someday I'll visit this grand city whose personality is split between wanting to be Asian and wanting to be European. In the meantime, even reading about Istanbul when I get back to Calcutta would have a uniquely personal perspective to it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Salient advice

It's a tough task to distill practical advice from an international spy thriller. They are always filled with guys who can speak 10 languages with ease, be deadly with anything from a pocket knife to a rocket launcher and seem to possess the ability to win over the most exquisite girls by their cold, professional natures. If there are such people in real life, I shall still deny their existence only because then that would be one more thing in life to be frustrated about at not being able to be. Plus little details like a description of the back alleys of Kowloon, or a fictional high level meeting discussing the fate of the world are not something which can be used in casual chit-chat.

Profoundness is something which these thriller writers do not excel at, so when I came across this nugget of priceless advice in one of the Bourne books of Robert Ludlum, I reprimanded myself for not putting faith in authors of his kind. Throughout that particular book as the injured Jason Bourne pieces his memories together while being hunted by enemies he does not remember making, tired and stressed out from all the incredible chases that he has withstood, he is reminding himself "Sleep is an ally..." Wow! What a sincere bit of advice so concisely put. In Bourne's case, it meant taking a couple of hours off his escape run every day to take a nap, and pause before he got back. I on the other hand take special effort to run up sleep figures of at least 3 to 4 times his ration. There is no greater ally than slumber for the hard-working/hard-fighting man and I thank Mr. Ludlum for putting in words what has always been known by my heart!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Fishy history

My track record with pet fishes has been terrible. I have adopted and lost to the toxic tap water of Calcutta a total of 4 goldfishes in the first 2 years that I took up a job there. My last aquarium based pet was a pink gorami who turned out to be quite a sturdy fellow. He was with me for nearly 3 months before I came to the USA and I hope an impossible hope that I will find it hale and hearty with my aunt in Calcutta who graciously offered to take charge of him. That is extreme optimism on my end but losing a pet hurts bad, even if it's a tiny little fish. I never give them names 'coz I never know when I'll find them belly-up in the water when I come back from work. It doesn't help that I only keep 1 or 2 fishes at a time restricted by the size of my fish bowl and I'd rather save myself the discomfort of burying a "Nemo" or a "Flounder". Goldfish 1, Goldfish 2 are a little impersonal but that's what works best for them and me.

Fishes are fairly unsociable as far as pets go. They can't be petted & cuddled and it is impossible to sense any kind of affection from their cold fish eyes. They'll swim right up to the surface when they sense that it is food pellet/worm time but apart from that they have a tendency to ignore their owner as they paddle around their limited little world - an aquarium or a bowl whatever may that be. However their lack of the need of any special attention except for regular supply of food and fresh supply of water is sometimes a boon as anyone (including yours truly) who has had a tiring day at work and a dog going crazy for a walk will testify.

The coolest thing about fishes apart from their flashy colours is the weird feeling that you get if you study them for a little while. They seem like alien creatures in a way only land-locked creatures like us can appreciate. The few deci-litres of water inside their aquarium is a section of deep outer space and their funny shapes are spaceships sleekly gliding through this watery sky. Put in the few customary bubbling divers, faux boat wrecks, moss covered submerged castles and wavy water plants to complement their fantastic world, and you can imagine that you are watching some kind of an extraterrestrial ballet routine. The quick darting, twists and turns, random chases without justification and the grace in the madness make for a great show irrespective of when you take some time to watch it. What is not a recommended course of action is to disturb a sleeping fish or a sick one as it'd lead to a rather rapid demise of the entertainer. They are indeed extraterrestrials in one sense of the word and trapped though they may be in our little glass prisons, I really treat them as honourable guests from another world and enjoy their quirky company.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

India : Take 2

In about a week's time, I'll be back to the one place with which I associate my identity. It's not one place so to speak, but my need for a classification simplifies it to be. I've been all over the country and there is no place I can really claim as my own except the whole giant complicated thing. All of India, the 1% that I have seen, the 10% that I have known and the remaining vast unknown is a tag I wear, on my heart, on my sleeve and on my gut. For the past year and a half in a foreign nation two oceans away, the last drops of unrealized loyalty have crystallized into concrete understanding. I am an Indian even if it is the only thing I am, for better or for worse.

Yet they say, it'll be difficult. The traffic noise is going to get you, the smells are going to make you wrinkle your nose, the 'rudeness' of the people is going to put you off, the 'corruption' in the 'system' is going to drive you insane, even the time it takes to load YouTube videos is going to be a major aggravation in your life - all dire warnings on similar lines after an extended stay in a "first world" country are a dime (or more appropriately 10 paisaa) a dozen. You'll realize it from the moment you step out of the plane, they say. Yes, of course, it has to feel different, I agree with that sentiment to some extent and it should be that way. Isn't that all the more reason to return home? To breath in all the weirdness and the chaos, marvel at it still being functional and feel a sense of achievement in having played a part in it keeping it going. It's too much of a fun thing to be in the most irrational and unpredictable ways. Wouldn't want to swap it for anything in the world.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


One of the games I wasn't too fond of as a kid was "pakkad dao" or as it is called in English, tag. It took me about half a minute to get tagged and become It. The painful process of trying to pass my infection continued till I came to the verge of passing out and some pal of mine with superior athletic ability (that meant everyone else) would take over out of sympathy or just to remind me of my lowly position on the pecking order of physical prowess. No wonder I kept the team cricket bat and ball securely at my flat. No one was going to get me to play tag if I had anything to do about it.

Nowadays I am an unwilling participant in another game of tag, one which I am glad to say is not enjoyed by the other participants too. The drastic fluctuations of temperature at the beginning of winter as the mercury dips low then jumps high within a couple of hours are setting up the right kind of conditions for the flu to spread. Swine flu thankfully is more hype than reality and as it is, the 'normal' strains of flu are bad enough. First to go down was the head honcho of the Inspection Lab where I am doing some training and he was It for a week. Then he tagged my instructor Rob who had his bout of aches and pains, a horribly sore throat and a general aura of 'unwell'. As in the bad old days, it took just one day for Rob to tag me and I found myself clogged nostril downwards to the depths of my lungs. For a couple of days, I decided to bank on my immune system but I soon found out that this bank was already very weak from a number of faulty loans it had given out.

If my past sporting records were any indication, it'd take my hospitalization to continue at this game so I finally displayed some common sense. You could call me a cheat at flu-tag but I went to a doctor (a Gujarati based in the US for the past 29 years) who happily jabbed two injections worth of medicine where it stings the most, a sharp temporary pain for a much greater gain. Sporting endeavours were never my forte anyway. I just couldn't play the damn game anymore.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A fool and his money...

I signed up for a game called Moneybhai on The reasons I haven't pinpointed yet but I suspect it might have something to do with the colleague who shares my cubicle encouraging me to invest in stocks throughout the workday. The good thing about Moneybhai is that the money is all virtual while the fluctuations and availability of a particular company's stock is real, right off the NSE and BSE indexes. So I started off with a corpus of a virtual 25 lakhs, and within my first day am running into a loss of about 80000 rupees on my capital. I just re-confirmed what I already knew. I ain't no Moneybhai!

What is most appalling is that I had bought stocks of companies that I had some sort of trust in. My chosen stocks included my motorcycle manufacturer, my Indian cellphone service provider, the glass company that made the window panes of my Calcutta house, the paint company that coloured it, my present employers etc. Within minutes of purchasing them, all of their values headed southwards and kept going that way. Was I placing my eggs in the wrong baskets or were the baskets getting the negative vibes of my inverse relationship with growing money? Maybe it is a sign for me to leave the nurture of money to those are capable of it. Maybe it is a way of letting me know that some things were never meant to be.

Cold steel

The weirdest right that America provides its citizens with has definitely got to be the right to bear arms. Wrapped in a do-it-yourself culture, it is probably the most extreme manifestation of wanting to take charge of one's own life. In effect, it is about not trusting anyone else with your security but yourself. Keep your own guns to protect yourself and your family from that intruder who may decide to break into your home one fine day! If this doesn't qualify Americans as clinic worthy cases of paranoids then what does? That said, I must confess to being totally fascinated with guns.

I am not a fan of violence and the terrible purposes that a gun has been designed for, but there is something remarkable about a firearm that commands attention and awe, apart from the fact that it can send you really quickly out to the Happy Hunting Grounds beyond this world. I had never held a gun before coming to the USA but after just cradling a few display rifles at a hunting supplies shop, I can appreciate why some people are such gun enthusiasts. The gleaming barrel, the cross hair of the rifle scope as you gaze at a magnified distant object and the power of destruction that emanates from the weapon appeals at a very primeval level. It draws on our animal past when we were hunters and the only way to exert power was total dominance or the ability to silence the opposition on a whim. Not the nicest of sentiments it must be admitted, but very deep rooted in the minds of all men. The power of the gun drives many a weak man to do horrible things as it seems to him as the only way to reclaim the respect which might not have been given to him otherwise and correct life's perceived injustices towards him. The real appeal of a gun, if you call it 'appeal' is not what it is doing but what it is capable of doing and indeed is purpose built to do.

The dirty feeling of power aside, guns are also poster boys of great engineering. Finished to perfection, with intricate mechanisms which had better be fool-proof, and their designs & materials operating at their very limits all add up to one of the best examples (highly debatable, this proclamation) of human ingenuity. The cold fact though is that an efficient design in the case of guns is measured by the ease with which it can dispatch off fellow living creatures, with the most accuracy and the least effort. The inventor/designer of the AK-47, Kalashnikhov recently celebrated his 90th birthday and was given a Russian state honour by the current President. His invention is a legend in the world of guns, as the most reliable automatic rifle around but forever maligned as the weapon of choice amongst most of the major terrorist groups around the world. What a fix poor Mr. Kalashnikhov (Poor he literally is. He has not received a single ruble from the insane volumes of sales that his gun has racked up) must find himself in! Opinion is split right down the middle on whether his creation is despicable or remarkable while all the while he was just a man intent on doing his job... really really well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Not another social networking tool (and another)

I recently received an invite for the 'new' Orkut (Which looks just like 'old' Facebook BTW, but is a lot more uglier if that were possible), followed closely by a request to 'wave' with Google Wave. On both these occasions, I convinced myself that I needed to get in touch with real people in the real world and not pal around with old friends from the past on virtual railway platforms. I did not need to spoil the surprise of meeting a person after 20 years accidentally at an airport by already knowing that he was in town, in fact knowing the last 10 towns/countries he had been to and all the ups and downs of his mundane or hopefully not-so-mundane life through methodically boring updates.

Needless to say, within a very short while I re-convinced myself to overcome my previous convictions about their un-necessariness and signed up for both these opportunities of online tomfoolery. If I hadn't FBed my life away already, I was going to 'new' Orkut it into disaster or drown myself trying to ride the next Google Wave. Borrowing from a popular group activity of Facebook lamenting the lack of enthusiasm/drive in one's life or celebrating an abundance of rotten luck, FML (which for the uninitiated expands to 'Expletive with an F' My Life)!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Come together

Hmm... I just can't seem to get the darned travel forum off my mind. Jeff Greenwald, one more of the travel luminaries at the forum, is another name which I hadn't heard of before Friday morning but within a few hours of hearing him talk, am now a devoted follower of. A journalist cum travel writer he has forayed far and wide into fields ranging from Buddhism to Star Trek and here is an interesting incident from his past.

Assigned to interview Arthur C. Clarke, the legendary science fiction writer, Jeff posed the greatest political problem of all to the author and asked him for what might be a possible solution. "What could bring all this fighting and feuding between fellow human beings to an end and bind us all together as one?" The answer was a very natural one for a science fiction writer but truer words have never been spoken. Arthur's answer "Only an invasion by the Martians."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cave of optimism

I have discovered where the fountain of ever-lasting happiness lies. I like to call it the cave of optimism because it is the only place in the world from where the world always seems like a great place. And that is from the inside of a warm blanket on a winter weekend morning. You can give it a shot if you disbelieve me. Whenever it is that your eyes naturally open, after your body cannot take even a minute more of the excess oversleep that you have gifted it with, and feel a tremble of slothful pleasure run through your spine, start thinking of all that you want in life. In my case, it'd mean hitting upon a master plan which'd lead to a garage packed with exotic cars and bikes; a passport and means to travel anywhere I want to anytime; actual, complete control over my finances and an exercise regime that is the envy of all that see it.

Then there are the niggly, little everyday things like doing the laundry, putting my house in order, getting through the dozens of unread novels bought but ignored since and getting in touch with all the friends that I should have been in touch with, targets which are within the realm of possibility. Nothing is impossible in those first few minutes of wakefulness when your toes are warm and comfortable against the velvety coziness of the blanket. A smile as wide as the Amazon ripples across your face at the thought of this day being the day when you'll finally get your small and big acts together. Of course, the moment you swing out of the blanket, you'll find that you are out of toothpaste, the laundry machines are broken/taken over by women with 25 kids, and you only have the same measly amount of money in your bank account as you had the night before. All these tasers of bitter truth need not be revealed to you right away. They can be delayed for a few more minutes yet. In the snugness of the magic cave formed by your lazy body and one super-capable blanket, the facts reach out with a groping hand and hit the Snooze button.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Another interesting person I came in contact with at the travel forum was the travel author Rolf Potts who has pioneered and promoted the cause of "vagabonding" as he calls it. The term is used to describe long term foreign travel, travel not just for a vacation but travel as an end in itself. He stresses that chucking your day job and spending an extensive amount of time, months maybe years on the road need not be the preserve of the filthy rich and neurotics who are incapable of figuring out what else they can do.

Wanting to leave the rigours of a daily existence for a new place is not to make a mockery of those who lead it but an inner desire which must be fulfilled for certain individuals. It's an itch which must be scratched, for the sake of the individual and for the sake of the society he/she lives in. It is definitely not about cutting yourself off from all the chains of society but more about satisfying your inner curiosity so that you can understand your life and your world better. No 2 week package tour around the world can substitute for being alone in just a single foreign location, looking for work or a way to sustain yourself and the immense feeling of growth and adventure that it provides. It is essential to understand that neither are they fools who choose to live the conventional life they want to and neither are those who don't need that kind of a life. It's not a game of oneupmanship or spiritual superiority but more a case of letting each man go his own way.

This is pretty convincing coming from a man who taught English for 2 years in Korea to support his stay there, walked across Australia and has done a variety of odd jobs across the Middle East on his trek through that region of the world. When I told him that I was from India, he told of his experiences in Diu where people from the 'dry' state of Gujarat sneak into to get their fix of alcohol and assured me that even if there were only one country worth vagabonding through then it'd be India. "It's a continent you have there", he said "You could spend your lifetime there and not see enough of it." Coming from a foreigner from the American heartland of Kansas, that is hardly a surprising statement. Having spent 24 of my 25 years on its soils, I still feel that I've barely scratched its surface. Of all the complaints that impede my life and grandiose plans, not knowing where to start should no longer be an issue.

Favourite place?

Here's another neat anecdote from the life of Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet publications. Someone once asked him that since he had seen most of the places in the world there were to see and probably a number of times over, which of them was his favourite? His answer was quite simple. "The departure lounge!", he said.

Toy safe

We have a grey Godrej steel almirah at home, a robust presence for the past 16 odd years. Inside the almirah, to the left at the centre is a locker with a broken handle. Toys and games were never in shortfall at my house, what with the stream of visiting relatives that we had and the annual birthday parties of my sister and me. Even in this collection, there was the elite core which in my case were the toy cars and action figures. I had a whole bunch of hand-me-downs from my elder brother (in remarkable condition, considering that they were almost 10 years older than me), plus my own collection was nothing to laugh about either.

Whenever dad would go on a business trip for 3-4 days he'd return with one model car/truck to make up for his absence. It was a brilliant deal as far as I was concerned. No threats of disciplinary action would be paid heed to during that period of time of his unavailability and then at the end of it all, a new addition to my stash! The special forces were thus given the honour of living in the locker while the common citizens of the board-game and toy world had to make do with the shelves outside.

Now that I think of it, I must have been a very lucky kid as most of my favourite toys from childhood withstood the brutality I had meted out to them. GI Joe figures were smooth talked into bungee jumping with infinitely long cords and cars were guided like cruise missiles into each other's faces. The wonder of it all is that I still have almost all of them and my locker is a popular hot-spot for all kiddos who come visiting home. Every year I open my locker to find another couple of them missing, victims to some pair of tiny hands not as blessed by fortune as mine but I can't be complaining.

I had a GI Joe figure (a baddie, a Cobra guy actually) ironically called The Ripper whose lower limbs I accidentally ripped off at the groin during one of his more vigorously physical face-offs with another Cobra figure. It was a rather emotionally stirring day for me two weeks later when I managed to put him back together by some miracle of chance and the Ripper could actually walk and fight again. But before life could send me hurtling down on the path to becoming a famous surgeon, a similar accident happened to He-Man, the most powerful man in the Universe. All the powers of Castle Grayskull couldn't put him back together and till today he languishes in the darkness of another smaller locker inside the locker where more traumatized toys like him lie. I couldn't repair them but neither could I find the courage to throw them away. I hope that the newest young enthusiasts for my toy locker will someday do what is next to impossible for me.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Beer mujahideen

To say that today was a life-altering one for me that I'll someday look back upon with extreme joy or utter dismay would be an understatement. Without venturing into the details of the travel forum I attended, let me jump to an anecdote told to the participants by Tony Wheeler, the founder of the Lonely Planet publishing house, one of the anointed travel luminaries at the event. True, I too didn't know his name before this morning but learning of his adventurous life as the pioneer of millions of backpackers who followed in his trail, I am a fan. After all, watching the Lonely Planet TV series hosted by Ian Wright on Discovery was the sole reason I was bitten by the travel bug. Here's one of the many hilariously interesting incidents that he shared.

On a recent trip to Iran, he had a chance to get so sloshed with beer that he woke up with a bad bad hangover. He asked the youngsters who he had shared a drink with about how they managed to sneak the 'haraam' beer into the strictly Islamic republic of Iran. Funnily enough, it seems that the Mujahideen convince the Ayatollah's men that they are importing weapons for the Jehad against the 'kafirs'. Inside the crates of weapons though are bottles and cans of much appreciated Turkish beer which they sell for a neat profit to needy, fun-loving youngsters. Now at long last, here's a kind of corruption I don't have any objection to!

Friday, November 20, 2009


When leisure is short yet idle thoughts are not,
In haste must a solution be sought;
A complicated age, won't fit in a page,
The invincible must still be fought.

The blade of rhyme flashes again, slicing great adversaries,
A pocket size edition it is, of the most exotic menageries;
Of love, of hate, of inexplicable melancholy, a poet must sing,
Cramped for space, choked for time, yet all emotions must ring.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

This is the end

When I first saw her, I was hardly impressed. At that point in my life, I was bruised and sore from the heartbreak I had suffered from the first of her kind in my life. I had decided to settle for the average, embittered by my failure to find my dream candidate. She was green like her predecessor but her design was distinctly ordinary. Yet now that the time to dispose of her has come, there is nothing that causes a deeper sadness.

My little green Toyota Corolla rolled out onto the roads on New York City in 1997, when I was 13 years old and trundled into my life when I reached 25 after going through 3 different owners. 142000 miles old when I got hold of her, she carried her age rather well. The AC worked, the engine purred and the sound system was quite good for something her age. I know that Toyotas run forever but it still is surprising when you come across something that'll run forever. She has been to her hometown of NYC twice since she landed on my driveway, besides innumerable trips to Boston and thereabouts. The first month of being with me saw her trudge up 3000 miles, no ordinary achievement that! Since then, I've been a little easy on her old bones but I am sure she is not the complaining type. Her engine note has a very un-Corolla like aggressive tone to it, a fact that I appreciate every time I put my foot to the pedal.

She's got a major dent on her right rear door, a marker from a bad hair day in her past and I have managed to crack one of her wheel caps in that monstrous daily assignment called parallel parking. Her rear door power windows squeak like crazy at being used and so do her brakes early in the morning. The heater does take its own sweet time to get toasty, bombarding me with ice cold air for a few minutes before that. All her tiny flaws fade away though when I acknowledge her for what she really is, a hassle free commute with no airs about herself. It is too easy not to appreciate the simpler gifts of life and 4 odd months with this car has taught me that valuable lesson. Unfortunately the power of this 'spiritual' lesson must be sacrificed to the cause of dry economics.

Life has brought me in the past and will bring in the future many new friends, mostly people, with their flaws and gifts and for many people it's difficult to place an inanimate object at the same stature. But whether seated in her carpety old cabin negotiating Manhattan's honk-happy, rule bending traffic while a Hindi CD track blared from its sound system or just sprinting through an empty section of Route 44 after a long day at work, I find it impossible not to acknowledge this bond. I will sincerely miss you, my 4 wheeled friend!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Do I have to? Really?

I'll be honest. I hate work and refuse to believe anyone who says otherwise. When some activity takes away at least 10 hours a day from your life for at least 5 days a week, it cannot be fun even if your job is to keep Catherine Zeta Jones company on a deserted tropical island. For those of us who aren't Michael Douglas, we don't even have a task which might seem attractive at least on the surface. As Calvin put it "It's only work when someone makes you do it" and I have a whole planet of someones whose sole objective in their professional life is to make me do work (or so it seems to me).

Yet every weekday morning, I drag myself out of bed, pour myself in yesterday's set of clothes and wearily trudge into work. The reason behind this kind of self-inflicted torture is another fact of life. It's the only kind of work within my capability however dreary it may be for which folks are willing to shell out some kind of money. There are so many things that I love to do like writing, travelling, dozing (Now get me started on that one) but hell, no one's going to loan me a paisa for these passions of mine. Money is all I need to foot my travel bills, to tank up on gas for my car or my motorcycle and to ensure that I have a roof over my head to return to. These may be simple targets to aspire to but they still cost me bucket loads of cash. Of course I could use more money but what I really dread now is having to adjust with less.

What gets my goat is when some optimistic son-of-a-gun insists that I must "love" my job to bring out the "best" in me. I usually do my work with an expression akin to a bulldog afflicted with piles. As far I am concerned, any decree to love my job brings out the worst in me if anything. I am no work-shirker and do my best to fulfill my duties. Isn't it enough that I invest significant portions of what otherwise could've been an eventful life into the larger objective of my employer over which I have little or no control. Now do I have to forgo my right to crib too?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The daily grind

Back to the wall, spikes through the brain
Work's to be done, no crew, no crane;
Deadlines trample by, crushing out life
The little that's left in these grey cubicles of gripe.

Mounds of papers await the train
The train of enthusiasm, of voluntary pain;
The screen goes off at this moment of strife
Just post-lunch trauma and slothful vice.

A walk to the cooler, is hard to restrain
The only possible cure for this mental sprain;
Then on the way a pretty face smiles,
Shoos out the rains, brings back the rhymes.

Monday, October 19, 2009


The rot had set in by the time of my first semester exams in engineering. As gloriously unprepared as my study partners, I'd clamber to their rooms books and xeroxed notes in hand a day before the exam. Then as they pulled up their socks for a fight to the finish, maybe a night-out to ensure a decent figure on their report cards or at least pass marks, I'd feel sleepy... tremendously sleepy as if certain death awaited me if I did not give in to this emergency request from my body. And I'd fall asleep too, oblivious to the terrible fate that was sure to befall me at the examination hall next day. Virtuous friends (the few that I had) tried to instill in me a terror over my assuredly dark future but I was too far gone. This was the beginning of the end of my relationship with formal education. As the semesters came and went, I found the capacity of my brain to absorb new information dwindle down exponentially. When final year came around, everyone had a well defined plan for where their next educational step would be! Everyone that is, except me.

Anyone and everyone that I know within my age group has either wrapped a degree after graduation or is in the process of getting one whereas I dread the possibility of having to do one. It's impossible to conceptualize me doing a whole new degree as even 15 minutes of reading the most interesting novel today makes me killer drowsy, let alone the dry insipid stuff that would be part of any curriculum. The mere thought of having to pick up a course book again makes me all sweaty and sleepy at the same time, however that combination works. I wish I could put it down to laziness alone but I know of lazier people than me who have had the common sense to pursue what is turning to be an essential requirement for any kind of a career nowadays apart from the fact that it also means at least two more years of the fun life as a student. The really aggravating part for me is that they seem to having a great time doing it too. I secretly wish that they'd complain all the time about how tough the curriculum is or how bad the mess food is but all I get to see is glowing happy pictures on Facebook and Orkut as I burn to ashes on the inside. Even a few pointed questions pitched to them on chat sessions do not help and their answers seem to indicate that they have absolutely nothing to be unhappy about! How in the world can that be, I wonder? Classes, labs, subjects, exams - haven't they had enough of that already? Apparently, I am the only true dumbo who has fallen off this wonderful student life bandwagon and now am cursing it from the outside!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Maid of the Mist

The legend of the Maid of the Mist probably is completely baseless junk designed to give the millions of tourists visiting the Niagara Falls something to tell their grandchildren but it is an engaging story nonetheless. Like any other mythological story of note, the central subject of the story is an incredibly beautiful woman, in this case an American Indian one. Disillusioned at being forced to marry an old ugly man, she takes the ultimate step and canoes off into the raging waters of the Falls. She being the heroine of the tale does not perish like any normal being would have but instead is adopted by the king of the powerful Thunder Beings that live beneath the Falls. And they say that whenever you see a rainbow in the spray of the falls, it is her watchful spirit that is keeping an eye out for you.

It's actually really tough NOT to see the beautiful seven coloured apparitions that dance around the falls lending credence to my manufactured-for-tourists'-pleasure hypothesis on the origins of the story. This wild, exotic beauty is supposedly the Maid, the so-called Maid of the Mist - also the name adopted by the boats which venture to the base of the falls to help mortals come within inches of Nature's insane powers. The boat lurches in the wake of the millions of litres of blue water plunging into the Niagara Gorge from high up above and the thunderous sound is overwhelming to the point of being intimidating. A marketing man's tale it all may be, but the first impression of the Great Waters (as the native Iroquai used to call them) is still so gasp inspiring that the line between natural and supernatural goes very blurry for a while. It's a rare case where the final product easily outshines its advertising pitch.

Light ever so bright

Sometimes simplicity works as the best way to get the message across. That's one of the many reasons why I love the Ramayana. The Ramayana has it all laid out in a straightforward way, at least as possible in this complicated world. Rama = Good guy, Ravana = Bad guy and there are minimal shades of gray in this great epic unlike the infinitely more complicated Mahabharata which is peppered with flexible morals and opportunistic strikes from both sides which do not leave the best taste in the mouth. Above everything else, it gives us an excuse to celebrate what in my opinion is the most lively Indian festival of them all, a time when the night comes alive.

The sweets, the shopping hordes, the typical burnt odour of exhausted fireworks, the whistling rockets, the echoes from the 'sutli' bombs going off in the city's farthest neighbourhoods, the flashing multi-coloured bulbs and the diyas and the millions of shreds of paper strewn across the central courtyard next morning where firecrackers had once been - are essential to the Diwali experience and memory lane sees a major traffic jam on days like this. Even 7500 miles away, there is a bubbly kind of optimism on this day, as though something good is bound to happen. It is not a feeling shared by the majority of the people surrounding us here because for Americans it is just another day. It is actually snowing in Boston today, just a day after Diwali. Its impossible to imagine how much more different the scenario could be from back home. Yet calls and wishes circulate around the Indian junta to whom this day is of significance. It's a day for seeking hope, strength and joy in the knowledge that it takes only a little flame to chase away the most ominous darkness.

On the road

So this is the good life. On state highway 324 (co-incidentally my roll number from engineering) in the town of Tonawanda in upstate New York, there is a Super 8 motel. It's always quiet at night time except when the trains rumble through on the train track adjacent sending the entire building into convulsions. The hotel is sparsely occupied as winter approaches. The only guests it gets are folks headed for the Niagara Falls (about 15 miles north of here) and end of October is not the most popular time to give the Falls a dekko. The room that me and my parents have taken is in a quieter part of the hotel too where the sounds from the always-on TV at the front desk do not invade.

Here I am blogging away from the comfort of my bed after two stupendous days of checking out the sights and sounds of the Thundering Waters (as the Iroquai called them). The speckled green, orange, red and yellow brilliance of fall only add to the surreal atmosphere. I continue to remain awestruck by its majesty though this is my second visit to the Niagara. What the future holds is too difficult for me to predict but I fervently hope that it is more on these lines. A wonderful new place in the world to explore in the day, a secluded place to rest at night and restless dreams of the next magical day to come on this life on the road.

Monday, October 12, 2009

And it rained...

My workplace here at my client's facilities is significantly different from my office back home. There are no glistening steel and glass towers with central Air Conditioning and row upon row of sleek computers catering to the widest variety of information technology projects possible. Here it seems that the office and its Dilbert grey cubicles are built around whatever space there remained after the primary purpose of manufacturing medical implants had been served. The Air Conditioning has a mind of its own and if you are seated under a vent, you'd better have an extra layer of warm clothing to ward off the sniffles. The stretches of cubicles are often rudely interrupted by big generator rooms and testing labs, reminders that the real stuff was being built right below us; not just in a factory far far away. And it is also an isolated environment where it is impossible to tell what kind of a day it is outside. In India, one peek through the glass that made up 100% of our outer walls would tell us the story of rain or shine outside. Even within the controlled environment of the office, you were free to imagine how you would feel outside. Here the only meteorological activity you can ever detect within its insulated environment is the rain. The water clattering down on the roof overhead and the occasional rumble of thunder is the only din that gives a clue to the events going on on the other side of shelter.

It's been a rainy summer and fall this year in New England. The trend was maintained this Thursday too as the rain started making good on its promises of the dark gloomy morning just after I entered office. With it were washed away any nobly feeble intentions of focusing on the tasks I had at hand. Rain puts me in that mood all too frequently. Occasions for great learning and detailed career plans have been regularly dissolved in the soft pitter-patter of raindrops or soaked beyond recovery in the rage of a tropical storm.

The tear drops from heaven sometimes gloom inducing, mostly glee spawning represent the coming together of some of the most vivid of memories for me. Tracing back to kindergarten and primary school, the rains would be excuses for floating paper boats down make-shift streams that the downpour had created and the funny squelching noises shoes would make once subjected to underwater testing in the deepest splashable puddles around. By middle school, expectations were upped a little bit as heartfelt prayers were uttered to make the approaching thunder storm severe enough for the school to be called off. A day off would naturally imply community video gaming and that glorious combination of all of God's gifts called roof-top cricket in the rain with all friends who lived within shouting distance.

High school meant that classes were too important to be put aside no matter what. Yet as teenagers condemned to listen to the teachers' instructions with the windows closed and the tube-lights on, when nature's intoxicating play of beauty and power was on display past the shutters there were two storms. One that raged outside and the other that churned inside our hormone fuelled rebellious hearts. Engineering college added a sheen of patience to this rebellion of youth as the walk from class to the hotel necessitated a thorough drenching in the pouring rain to be offset by the pleasures of a shared smoke and a cup of tea under the fast food shanties that were our primary place of congregation. As a working guy, a cloudy day and a faint drizzle in Calcutta made my daily motorcycle commute to and from work an exquisite pleasure, an uncertainty fraught adventure on Calcutta's treacherous roads.

All those thoughts bubbling up through to my consciousness and folks expect me to work? For the sake of propriety, work I did last Thursday even as I could hear the rain beating down overhead, but am I to blame if a significant part of me was out there where the rest of me also wanted to be.

Duck tales

Today was a day set aside for one of the cheesier touristy things to be done around Boston. Normally you'd have to kill me and put a "smile on my face" ala the Joker before I'd participate in those done-to-death visitor activities in the nature of clicking pictures of lifting the Taj Mahal by the tip of its spire. But with my parents around, I had to give them the famous Duck Tour of Boston. Our con'duck'tor (Yeah yeah really really witty pun) was a guy plucked out of the jazzy 70s with an Afro hairdo, flashy white suit, mega sized shades and zebra striped shoes who had christened himself Danny Disco. Whenever he'd give the command "Let's hear it for Danny Disco" over his frequently used microphone, the 36 odd tourists he was carrying went "Quack! Quack!" in unison. Corny as it sounds, it caught on even amongst cynics like me like a viral infection.

Ducks for the uninitiated are a nickname for DUKWs, amphibious vehicles of World War 2 vintage which had seen their glory days carrying American troops onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and in various other campaigns that ultimately led to an Allied victory. These days they are driven by costumed comics who ferry bemused tourists around the rude but proud city of Boston (Even NYC has borrowed the idea now). The idea is to run around the city in this weird contraption garnering the maximum possible attention before plunging into the Charles and miraculously stay afloat as it chugs noisily in between the sleek speedboats and classy sailboats that strut their stuff on the Charles normally. I even got a chance to drive this boat on wheels once we were on the water for about 10 minutes. Apparently you don't even need a license to drive a boat in Massachusetts just as long as the boat itself is registered with the state. This meant that I was all smiles at this unique prospect but it also meant that I steered clear of all other boats on the river by at least 50 feet. Licensed drivers in Boston are bad enough, who knows what kind of demolition derby fanatics were at the wheels of the boats that were all around me!

All things considered, Danny Disco did manage to keep us entertained throughout the 80 minute duration of our trip and that this Sunday was a bright and sunny one helped matters a lot. Boston is a city with a soul and always a joy to amble about in. The "quacking" orders had been taken to heart and the old lady sitting behind me kept quacking in defiance as we drove through posh Newbury street past classic Porsches and Roll Royces. There was an official gag on the Duck driver to initiate quacks on the super exclusive Newbury street, a shopping area lined with designer boutiques for the most well heeled denizens of Boston but his passengers had no such restriction. They exercised their "quacking" rights fully in a re-affirmation of the freedom of speech. There were a few smiles from the street below and some frowns but the Duck riders couldn't care less. The Allied forces may have sold out their faithful armoury to commercial interests but the "Old Gloria" (That was our Duck's name) was now engaged in a new kind of battle.

Friday, September 25, 2009

25 too soon

I'll be 25 in a day's time and what should really be scary is how irresponsible I feel about the path my life is taking. Even more moronic is the glee I feel at this lack of an aim, the twig like tendency to float in the tides of fate! Do I feel extremely thrilled at where I am at this point of my life? Hardly. Do I feel the need to turn back the clock and start over again? Over my dead body, no frigging way!

I definitely cannot continue in the line of work that I am in, the boredom would choke me yet I am horrified by the thought of entering another educational institution for the purpose of actual education and have not even dipped my pinky into the wide ocean of offbeat jobs that are out there. I do not wish to win a lottery or tons of easy money either. That's really something that'd really really suck. What's the thrill in that? I do occasionally dream of being a globe trotting author but even that illusion is not strong enough to make me go all out with that aim in mind. I want to go skydiving every afternoon but then I also wouldn't forgo the evening cigarette break with my colleagues cursing the supposed "inefficiencies" of the powers-that-be in our behemoth of our company for anything. I wish to meet new people in new situations everyday yet am terribly nostalgic about familiar friends and familiar conversations.

Folks tell me that its been long enough sitting around making time crawl, now's my time and age to seize opportunity by the scruff of its slippery neck. Most people do by this point in life have a fair idea of where they are headed. I on the other hand do not know and am not enthused enough to find out.

When Pink Floyd sings:
"And then one day you find... 10 years have gone behind!
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun!"
I say screw Floyd and their paranoid, depression soaked songs of perennial gloom. Get a life! Must be the terrible British weather playing on their minds or something!

There is that indefinable something that I am on the lookout for yet not being able to identify it does not bug me at all. Many people actively search for their mission in life. I must be one of the really lazy happy-go-lucky buggers who are praying for their mission to find them. Life is holding her cards really close to her heart and I ain't even putting in the effort to stretch and peek.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Is it natural to break into "She moves... IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS... It's all right it's all right, alll rightt" at 10:30 AM at your workplace? Or go humming into "You've got to get yourself together, you got stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it" when the usual afternoon sleep attack strikes? Last year around this time (October 4th to be precise) I went skydiving and was then very sure that nothing on earth could have a longer lasting impact on my life than that. I figure out that I might have been wrong.

60000 people turned up in Gillette Stadium this Sunday to watch Bono, the Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton do their stuff on stage and every one is sure to have been afflicted by the U2 virus as much as I have. What a night, what a stage and what a show! In a true re-iteration of their rockstar credentials, not a single member of the audience sat down for the entire duration of their 2 and a half hour stint. There were seats for the taking but who on earth would want to sit when there was a such a spectacular display of concert lighting and infectious music being played. The stage itself was a creature from outer space with psychedelic mutations that need to be seen to be believed. The colours, the images and the effects complemented very ably the powerful music. How crazy must it feel to be part of such a legendary rock band? The fans, the adulation, the money, the freedom to explore only what you enjoy in life - all definitely beyond the pale of the daily office worker, their core fan base.

Going to the concert really sucked out a lot of energy from my innards. I was pooped but still pleased. For a change, this was a music hangover and I almost am wishing for it to stay forever - that silly kind of lazy haze that I currently find myself frolicking about in.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Build up

"With or without you"
"Angel of Harlem"
"I still haven't found what I am looking for"
"All I want is you"
"Where the streets have no name"
"Walk on"
"Mysterious ways"

And so on goes my playlist right now, randomly looping and repeating itself till every guitar stroke is an expected guest. It is so difficult to grasp onto the reality that I am about see U2 perform live! After a bad day at school, after a term paper sure to be flunked, when the really kickin' kicks of a hostel party binge raged through heads - their music has been a constant solace and inspiration. Tonight at the Gillette Stadium, 70000 voices will all be swelling into the songs everyone of them knows by heart, all tied together by their awe and worship of the 4 guys on stage & their unique ability of tapping into the melody of their lives sometimes gray, sometimes green but always in tune, always in sync.

Opening U2's act will be a Scottish/Irish band Snow Patrol whose song "Chasing cars" is a beautiful shade of melancholy. When I first heard the song on a Wednesday night in Someplace Else being performed by a Calcutta band Span, I was instantly sucked into it. "What is this incredibly awesome song?", was my first thought. In fact, it was the first original MP3 song that I had ever purchased. Completing the circle, I shall hear them today... this time live!

To catch U2 live in the Irish heartland of Boston is a rare privilege. In the build-up to this landmark event in my life I am getting really nervy. There's just one word to describe how I feel right now... blessed!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Turtle hunter

I had a part in saving a turtle's life this past weekend but like the crocodiles that the late Steve "Croc Hunter" Irwin had committed himself to saving, it didn't seem too pleased about my timely intervention. It is so tough to gain appreciation these days; be it from man or animal. It may have something to do with the fact that we put it back to the same side of the road from which it was plodding its way across to the other side. But there was no definite way of telling of whether it was headed from the wetlands on the right of the road to the waters of Lake Nippenicket on the road's left or vice versa and we had to make a judgement call. What was for sure though was that if it stayed in the middle of the road where it was when I saw it, it was going to be meat paste very soon.

The sun had peeked out for the first time in the weekend on Sunday afternoon and we had seized this opportunity to kill time outside of home than inside it. Route 104 is a scenic drive thanks to the little ponds that occasionally pop alongside apart from the fanatically up-kept houses basking in the fall afternoon light. When we arrived at Lake Nippenicket, a grandmom and her toddler granddaughter were already standing hand over hips with a large turtle chilling out in the middle of the road. The creature did not seem inclined to respond to the grandmom's gentle prods with her umbrella. And this thing was huge!

It was time for the men to step in. I grabbed one of those foldable chairs wrapped in a round bundle and gave my hard shelled friend a shove with its tip. I was to find out that turtles turn around real quick and hiss real loud when they snap at perceived aggressors. Thankfully I was just out of range of its reputedly finger snapping teeth. The vibes of my good intentions were apparently not strong enough. A very short-lived idea of lifting it by its shell crossed my mind before I saw the razor sharp claws that it had on its flippered feet. I had clear memories of how abrasive the claws of our tiny little pet turtles felt like when I had to move them around. With a turtle at least 10 times their size I wasn't taking any chances. The "men" decided to hang back putting bravado aside. A crowd of couch potato animal lovers had gathered around the creature by this time, each as indecisive about the future course of action as the other.

A senior citizen in his early 70s appeared out of thin air, shovel in hand, scooped up our armoured soldier in one smooth motion and poured him over on the side of the road away from the lake. He was positive that it was the wetlands that the turtle was headed to not the lake, how I cannot tell. But when the turtle did not show up on the road again for a couple of minutes (after such brusque handling, not surprising at all), we had to assume that experience does count when reading the mind of a giant lazy turtle. Everyone else just patted themselves on the back for the moral support provided in this rescue mission and carried on. The Discovery Channel it seemed could only teach you so much.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Clear cut

Today seems like a good day to make this argument. 36 years old and as superhuman as ever, the little genius from Bombay worked his magic again in the most artistic and epic sport that human beings have ever thought up. The blade twirled, the boundary boards got smacked and one man did his job of playing exhilirating cricket with a casual air only a few blessed cricketers of his level can. It was the turn of the Sri Lankans to feel the heat this time but they ought to feel special at being chosen for this particular extempore. That is the primary basis of my claim that India is better than the US. It's just two reasons and they are reason enough for me.

Number one is that the US does not appreciate cricket and number two is that it is unaware of who Sachin Tendulkar is! Even in the world of ignorance, this is the most unforgivable of crimes. What kind of a country worships the Tom Bradys and Kobe Bryants while living a life bereft of the most engaging sport in the world (especially when India is winning) and of the marvels of nature that play this game with such fluid authority. Maybe the US will catch up eventually but right now it sure has a long way to go!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pulsar song

Deep in an Calcutta alley, lies the den of the beast,
Blue is its hue and darkness brings its feast,
Empty roads, desolate bridges
All so neglected, all easy meat.

The timid world has felt itself choke,
On the snarling engine and through the glowering smoke,
Pass as it must, by gently sleeping homes,
Never a trace of peace where the creature roams.

Tram tracks glint in the yellow sodium light,
Potholes await in vain to trap the surging might
The wind is an adversary persistent and curt
The road is a ribbon waiting for the spurt.

A motorcycle but it is to the eyes of the world,
Yet are jealous looks cast, and swear words hurled
What if anything could provoke such animosity?
It's because on a motorbike, you ride away from reality.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


3:30 AM on Monday morning and the fire alarm in my apartment complex goes off. The red lights flashing and the intentionally ear-wrenching alarm are enough to make a dead body stuffed in a closet come running out of the building let alone me, an overworked-underpaid employee who is in a state of light sleep in expectation of another tough week at work to begin. Work as of now is nowhere on my mind. Being burned to death is not my preferred way of getting off all the tough bits that life has yet to throw at me.

I jump up in my shorts and T condition, scramble to grab my glasses in the dark and tumble down the stairs, my personal laptop (The office laptop can burn in hell for all I care) in one hand and my digi-cam in the other, apparently the only precious items that my sleep addled mind could think of in the half minute of time that it had. I was glad just to step outside the confines of my wooden death-trap of a building.

It is evident from the time that I enter the parking lot that this is a false alarm as I am the only person who has made the effort to come out of the building. About 15 seconds later, the Gujarati guy who lives upstairs comes out looking like he had to leap out of a 10th floor window to escape the 'fire'. About 2-3 minutes later, Parker the beagle comes ambling out with his master in tow and that's about it. This is sometime in early October and autumn nights in New England can get chilly. I become aware of this weather update as I watch the firemen enter the building, come out wearing relieved smiles and shut off the alarm.

I on the other hand am far from smiling. I've never seen the look of a serial killer outside of a movie screen but I dare say the firemen are seeing it on my face right now. A couple of them stop smiling. In 3 hours time, I must suit up for work and I feel the need for atleast 6 more hours of sleep after being so cruelly jolted out of my disturbed slumber.

Though I cannot force a smile on my face at the way the situation eventually turns out, I am definitely appreciative of what all this boils down to. In a moment of a really real crisis, all that matters is that you are alive and good to see the next day. These are the basics that cannot be done without. Everything else is of secondary concern. It helps a lot to gain some perspective on what's really important once in a while.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


It is a very creepy thought to pick up and I wonder why I am writing this at all. I was reading about this Swiss organization called Dignitas which has a very specific market in mind (Though it is required by Swiss law to be a 'non-profit' organization). It is a group which specializes in assisted suicide. The Swiss government believes that amongst all the other freedoms that a person possesses, there should also be the freedom to pull the plug on one's own life if one chose to and so it went ahead & gave it to them. Aged men and women from around Europe come to Dignitas to face death with dignity, their bodies tortured by terminal diseases or pain beyond the capabilities of modern medicine.

In a way it is an act of extreme mercy on a person from whose existence the light of joy has faded out and will never return but it still qualifies as murder. Old age must be such a difficult and lonely place to be in. The life you had built for yourself was now a relic of the past, torn down and built over by subsequent generations whom you had helped raise to competence. Now you are most likely the beneficiary of a polite tolerance more hammed than natural. With the overutilized body acting up in every possible way, it's a place nobody wants to be but has to end up going. It's a tough life but that's the way it is.

What if everyone of a certain age were given that option? Wouldn't so many of them end up taking that option, abandoned as some of them are by their own progeny or worser still, feel like some kind of a leech on their offspring's family and happiness? I have met a lot of old people who are brimming over with a zest for life even more so than me, and an equal number of them whose every morning groan is a precursor to yet another day of incurable aches and unrevivable hopes. Life is a gift indeed but how much it feels like one when you are 90 and bed-ridden is highly debatable. Yet it is so horrifying to see someone being given that choice and choosing not to walk on, choosing to stop and melt into a sleep of peace.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I have been sick for a very long time. In fact since I was in class 3. Thanks to my early start in the world of myopia, I am next to blind without my glasses on but my frames feel as much a part of my body now, as say my arms. There is no existence for me without them and extreme short-sightedness is a way of life for me.

The only time it comes to feel like a handicap is when I am forced to make the occasional visit to the optometrist's clinic. Today was one such day. It doesn't really help when the doctor in charge is one of the prettiest girls I've come across in recent times. Talk about a made-for-each-other couple! Nearly blind guy meets optometrist sweetheart on a hot summer afternoon! Naturally the intoxication of beauty lasts only until she instructs me to take off my glasses. Then she is a haze, a frequently smiling and giggling haze but a haze all the same. Such is the double edged sword of this disease that it brought us together but I couldn't really see her when she was closest to me. Ah well, such is the way of the world!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


My friend from engineering school is in Colombia right now! He found a friend from Colombia in his graduate school in Ohio and now has flown straight into Medellin in his new friend's home country. Colombia of drug cartel, Valderamma and Shakira fame, very symbolic of the roguish charm and exotic nature of South America being trekked across by the same guy whom I borrowed notes from and shared a common anxiety with over what the future held for us as we crammed and mugged to become engineers in the little town of Kurukshetra. Since then we have met in Calcutta on New Year's Eve, in a nondescript town in Maryland where his car had caught fire and roamed the streets of Washington DC together with his crew. Talk about the currents of fate and they sure seem to choose strange places for us to run into each other.

Life is infinitely unpredictable. As friends who partnered in carrom, or slouched next to each other as any random action movie classic played on HBO under the exhilirating coolness of the common room coolers, was there any way in which we could've told how our lives would proceed. Or could have any of the others who'd shared the same lifestyle with us, one of intense inactivity in Kurukshetra? So much can change over just a couple of years! As my pal roams the late Pablo Escobar's sprawling fortified mansion in Medellin, now a museum to the extravagant lifestyle of the most powerful drug lord of all time, with his personal army and supposedly 7th on the Forbes list of billionaires at one point of time, he must be puzzling over the same question that often intrigues me, "This feels great but how the hell did I get here?"

Monday, August 17, 2009

Beer fueled optimism

It was the weekend before the weekend of the 15th of August. It was late on Friday evening and we had driven down from Boston to Jersey City, NJ right across the Hudson from the brilliant glowing night skyline of Manhattan. The good stuff and the coolers were in place in the gazebo at Avalon Cove where some lucky friends had an apartment overlooking the water as seven of us guys found ourselves taking in the view of the million odd building lights from the island on the other side cold beers in hand. The city that never sleeps shone crazy bright that night as if only to keep us awake and talking as Friday slipped into Saturday.

The truth must be spoken and like all conversations in a guys only gathering, the start point was definitely not out of the ordinary. A vigorous and somewhat healthy discussion on the artistic merits of "" [Guys, it's worth the visit and girls, PLEASE DON'T GO there as it's not worthy of your type of curiosity] and of free speech ensued. Somewhere between the first beer and the second, the conversation took an abrupt turn. It's hard to remember what caused the sudden change in the frame of reference but we were plunged into a world of Gandhism, and why it'd or it'd not work; whether India's historical passivity as a nation was an indicator of its wisdom or its cowardliness; the wretchedly desperate lives that a majority of our countrymen are condemned to live; Naxals, Maoists, Sangh Parivar maniacs, Islamic extremists, corruption, inefficiencies and their cures if any: all of this came spontaneously tumbling out in fountains of passionate debate. The fires of the argument raged into the morning long after even they turned off the technicolour lights on the Empire State Building.

Exactly a week after was India's Independence Day. It's easy to laugh away all of our bluster as the usual tall talk fueled by alcohol. But I thought it was a really note-worthy fact. Here we were a bunch of young yuppies, half a world away on the banks of a foreign river in a foreign land with no apparent cause for discussing such a head intensive topic. Yet we were completely immersed in it, cocooned by a variety of our concerns and solutions which we saw as the most appropriate for a land that tied us together despite all that distance. In chai wallah stands across the country, in railway stations and bus stops, in offices and pubs, on cricket grounds and wherever else the youth of my country gather I imagine such topics being simultaneously broached. Whatever may be our limited suggestions, that we are ready to talk and invest our passions into at least thinking of a way out is a major first step. After all, we very well could have stuck to more appealing topics like Savita Bhabhi for what our time was worth. There's a buzz in the air whenever the word "India" escapes a pair of lips and there's no way to deny that fact.

Not all of us are going to go ahead and act on those brave words of ours but even if 1 in 10000 takes that next step, India's got it made. All those concerned voices booming in chorus is sure to make the earth shake and make that handful of people stand up and take notice. Naysayers, smirk away as you look on the impossible odds stacked against us, but deep inside you do know that India's time is coming!

Monday morning flew

I trust there is some major issue with my mental make-up. Of all the work-day mornings, Monday morning happens to be my favourite. It's the only morning when my shirt and trousers are ironed and my shoes are shined to a dull black (My shoes never really managed to get that reflective glint seen in Cherry Blossom ads). There is a mad hope permeating this much maligned day that it was the beginning of that week when everything was finally going to come together. I was going to complete all the tasks which I had putting off for months at work and which had now come to a critical status of "must do" because I shouldn't have shelved them away in the first place. I was going to make this week, the week of iron discipline where I'd focus on only work at work and then give vent to my creative urges too by churning out a little post everyday for my blog. After all, it was always possible to give half an hour a day for the rare thing that is precious to me in life, right? Domestic chores like the laundry, cleaning up and re-organization of my corner of the house were pesky little creatures which were going to go down during the course of this landmark week. A smile on my face blazes like Sherlock Holmes when he sees through his cases. It's a pity that this kinmanship with the superior spirit of the Great Detective is so short lived and lasts only that one glorious day of the week.

Soon it's "Things are not going to plan" Tuesday, and then it's time for "Things are definitely not going to plan" Wednesday. Before I can say "Next", "We are pretty much where we were on Monday" Thursday is here and the week is wound up by "Already worked hard enough this week, will see this off on Monday" Friday. Weekends are of course beyond the flailing arms and outstretched fingers of guilt. It's a weekly joke, a very rapid deconstruction of a myth which tends to gather force everytime another Monday approaches gradually fizzling out by the end of the week. Monday mornings are good times, when the ridiculousness of my plans and strategies is flowing underneath mountains of optimism and goodwill for all of mankind. The rest of the week is engulfed by a slow and painful process called a "reality check".

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fair play

Every sport of note is out there to reward anyone or any team who lives up to the "spirit" of the game whatever indecipherable or undefinable quantity that is. Cheating during a game euphemestically called "gamesmanship" is so popular a tool nowadays that players actually have to be rewarded for not cheating. The Cristiano Ronaldos and the Michael Clarkes of the world thrive on this "gamesmanship" or "Win by hook or by crook" philosophy of modern sport. Second place is not worth a penny these days. The "Fair Play" award is apparently for losers who haven't got enough drive to win.

This in my opinion really sucks! Sports is the only arena where one can be blindly partisan to a club or a player without needing a flimsy basis for being so. It's also the arena where the natural competitiveness of humans as a species can be expended in a positive direction and bears witness to breathtaking David versus Goliath encounters. The whole charm of the face-off would wear thin if David were on steroids or if he launched a sneak attack on the sleeping Goliath in contradiction to the rules of fair combat. Rules are what make the playing and watching of sport such an intense and involving experience. It's human nature to try to sneak past a rule or two when no one is watching but it only means that the authorities need to keep a sharper eye out for misdemeanours and definitely coaching in "gamesmanship" as is common nowadays should be a no-no. There is nothing better on earth to watch than the grit and fierce passions on a playing field but everyone should tip their hats to the rules. I mean, what's next? Roughing up a key player in the opposing team pre-match or even hiring a hitman to take out a rival team's star - if all is fair in chasing victory where do we draw the line?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Necessary evil

During the course of my current obsession with the "Mafia Wars" game on Facebook, I came to a sad realization. We need evil, no matter whatever wishes we might express of living in an utopian peace loving world. Without organized crime, or bloody wars sparked off by childish opponents how bland and colourless our stories would be. If politicians started turning honest and laws actually started applying equally to us all, where would all our inspirational tales of fighting the system and its odds be? Can you imagine how boring an honest cop movie would be if the only thing he was up against were the bad guys outside the police force? A mystery movie without murder and illicit passion in it is a thing unimaginable. For the sake of worthwhile art, evil has to linger on a little while longer. Once my time on earth is done, folks can get back to this cleansing the earth of all evil business of theirs again.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Time warp

By the standards of what they show on TV on the likes of Discovery and NGC, this ranks somewhere in the danger region of a walk in the park. 17 miles of the Saco river in Maine were canoed in an highly inefficient S-shaped path by my novice oar. We could hear the traffic buzz by on occasions that the highway got close to the water's edge. True it was a forest, but it was a largely bear free zone of Maine and hopes of seeing a moose remained exactly that: hopes. Given the hard time that the fidayeen squads of mosquitoes gave us, we didn't have any time to take stock of any more wildlife anyways.

However there is something to be appreciated about leaving your wallet behind because all your plastic is useless and junking your cell-phone inside the dashboard because there is no signal on the river. The reality was that we were within 15 minutes distance of ready help in case something went awry yet it was very much an adventure for my delicate, urbanized soft bones. The bobbing canoe demanded attention to balance not normally necessitated on my ergonomic office chair. The cool dark green waters that my tipsy transport glided through were a welcome change from the gray carpeting that runs in between the gray cubicle walls where I normally wander and conduct my daily business. Without the benefit of a wrist watch, every minute of the day in the canoe is accounted for: minutes spent in the sometimes searing sometimes soothing sun, minutes relished in the rare shadows of riverside foliage, minutes invested in fighting off mosquitoes once they discovered new victims stumbling into their shadowy domains and minutes expended in never-ending hope that we had finally reached the end point of our self inflicted physical exertions. It's a way of life, this tendency to tangle with nature which has been with us since time eternal, since the day we as a species started exploring the world beyond the domains of familiarity and comfort. Yet we have become so isolated in our cocoons that even a little slit filtering light into our protected little world is blinding and an invitation to take that first shaky step out into the big bright world waiting to be discovered. I hope I have taken mine.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Though I never watched it on a regular basis, I've always loved the show "Overhaulin'" on Discovery Travel & Living. Folks walk into their garage to find their ramshackle old ride missing and a week later are greeted with the slickest machine possible, their old friend in a shiny new avatar. The guys at the Overhaulin' workshop do an incredible job of sprucing up the old pieces of junk, painstakingly reviewing designs, colours and configurations. It's almost theraueptic watching the guys go about their job welding beautifully sculpted body panels into place, bolt in spanking new interiors and re-paint the car in ravishing shades making a drop-dead gorgeous ride out of the nearly discarded wreck. No wonder the owner is so thrilled when his re-furbished car is returned to him at the end of the show. The surprise unlike on other reality shows does not need to be faked.

One thing which strikes me as odd is that when an inanimate object like a car is given a second chance at life, a return to its glory days, the act seems so noble. Yet when transferring the same kind of overhaulin' to a human being, the act reeks of desperation and the failure to accept reality. Going under the plastic surgeon's knife to maintain youthful features more often than causes the subject to attain a plasticized beauty that is so evident that it is almost grotesque. The inherent dignity in growing old and acknowledging it gracefully is lost in this quest for perfection. So mid-life crisis hit people should refrain from drinking of the fountain of youth as it detracts from their poise but their cars are always welcome to do so. I wonder how that logic works? Is human beauty beauty only because it is temporary?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Violent red

Someone in Chattisgarh is real angry - angry enough to kill 30 policemen and an IPS officer by ambushing them in the middle of the forest. They are not fighting for any religion or on behalf of any country. They are fighting the system which they believe to be against their development, against every symbol of the government - its officers, its infrastructure and its rules. Who are these people? Are they insane or do they have reasons to be that desperate? Hundreds of policemen and government functionaries are being murdered in this futile pursuit of an alternate 'people's' rule. It would have been almost funny had it not been for so many deaths, how thousands of uneducated, irredeemably poor people around the nation have fallen prey to this madness called the Naxalite movement who dream of giving birth to a new nation. Driven by the inefficiency and corruption of the government machinery that was put into place to help these people out of their misery, for many of them a revolution brought by the barrel of a gun offers them that only slim chance that their lives will take a turn for the better.

We may always not think of it that way but it is we the privileged educated urbanites who are the focus of their hatred - the spoilt "haves" to their barely surviving "have nots". Even our most basic necessities would seem like the most unnecessary luxuries to these people who have no idea where their next meal might be coming from, if at all. Is there nothing we can do to understand and mitigate the tremendous gap between our lifestyle and theirs? Is there no way to reduce the bitterness that has pervaded the lives of so many of our countrymen. It seems obvious that we are not in any way responsible for their plight, correspondingly it is not our duty to relieve them from it. But can anyone in his right mind ever claim to be that innocent and free of blame? There is a fire raging in our backyard. Can we stay home, pull down the shades and watch TV?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tuesday hazards

Tuesday is the weekly trash collection day for our neighbourhood and residents leave the orange Taunton city council 'approved' trash bags on the street in front of their houses. It wouldn't have meant too much to me if I wasn't prompted by rather cruel comments on social networking sites about the insignificant kilos I have put on to take up running. On Tuesday mornings, I find myself the focus of unwanted attention from all the residents of the 'hood who are really protective of what is the gold and diamonds of their household - the pet dogs and their trash.

Initially it was only the tiny Skye terrier next door who voiced his disapproval of my trying to steal his trash even though I tried to explain to him to the best of my ability that I had no such intention. But he remains thoroughly convinced otherwise and comes tumbling down the stairs of his house to stand guard next to his precious pile of vegetable cuttings and milk containers and chase me as far as his little legs could keep up. As the weeks go by, I discover new security agents. A Dobermann here, a pit bull there, a furry white ball of undistinguishable breed in the house at the end of the street - all bay, woof or growl their warnings as I huff and pant by.

I am really very fond of dogs but I find it rather discomforting when one of them suddenly pelts out of the house compound and escorts me till I am out of the visible range of their home steads. Every Tuesday I begin my run with a prayer that these are dogs whose bark is worse than their bite. Haven't ever been bitten by a dog yet, and I hope that in this case the adage "There is always a first time" doesn't hold true. If it does hold true though I'd prefer the furry white thing over the Dobermann anyday.

Poor little piggy

On the Reuters website, there is an Oddly Enough section reserved for off-beat news stories and for want of more interesting stories they've been running this story for nearly 2 weeks now. It may not dictate the future of world politics but it sure is amusing.

Kabul Zoo has a single pig on exhibit, a gift from China it seems. "Khanzir" is his name, Pashto for pig. A pig is a rare sight in Muslim countries as consumption of pig meat is forbidden in Islam. According to Islam, a pig is the most dirtiest of God's creatures and even though the poor fellow is imprisoned for public viewing, visitors to the zoo turn their faces away from the enclosure of this most 'haraam' of animals. To top all of this, the zoo authorities put the creature away into a small cell for 2 months as protection for visitors against swine flu before someone finally told the authorities that it was a human-to-human transmitted disease and not in any way to be contracted from a pig! And the pig being a pig survived all this mistreatment and oinked his way back to his cage when he was released as if those past couple of months were nothing at all. His return was via an enthusiastic run through a crowd of unsuspecting zoo visitors who didn't take too kindly to being ambushed by a homesick pig. Whether folks wanted to look at him or not, Khanzir was back in his domain grunting and groaning his way through mud and slush, living life piggy style.

Monday, July 13, 2009


It was the 4th of July weekend and as expected DC was spilling over with people - curious tourists like me and the patriotic types bursting into the "Star spangled banner" at the drop of a hat. Every museum on the Mall had huge lines leading into it and it was nothing to seperate one from the other as far as the entry times were concerned. I set my sights on the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and joined the impatient hundreds waiting to get in. It took me about 20 minutes to get in but it was worth the effort with the displays of planes like the SR-71 Blackbird, an exhibit on the early history of human flight and the wonderfully weird equipment for space travel. I didn't really have too much time on my hands with other museums to be seen so I did something of a crash course run through the museum before heading for the exits.

Like the rest of Washington DC, the museum itself was packed with every exhibit being swarmed by human bees and noise levels that would shatter the peace of outer space. Kids, parents, old military types jostled for the few feet of space required to move through the milling crowds. Approaching the exits I saw right in front of me a very young Asian kid maybe 2-3 years old, so obviously lost in the mayhem and the maze of feet walking around him. He walked little baby steps, mouth open in shock bereft of the hands that had brought him into this place looking about in every direction for a familiar face. What was a fun trip into a world of planes and astronauts was turning out to be his worst nightmare. Before I could help him out, a security guard spotted him and gathered him up in her arms, comforting him and telling him that they would find his mom soon. The kid was like a mannequin, silent and static still coming to terms with what this situation could possibly lead to.

Within a few moments, his harried parents came running through the doors worry writ large over their faces searching desperately for their little son. On seeing their son in the security guard's arms, a wave of joy splashed across their faces. Their son on the other hand leaped off the security woman's arms straight into his mom's and let her have a dose of all his pent-up emotions. He screamed and bawled, crying his soul out in a collective feeling of anger at being left behind and relief at being found. I hope that when the kid grows up he will still remember how helpless & lost he felt those few moments in the Museum and how very central were his parents to his existence as indeed they are to most of us during those tender early years of our life. That it is possible to be lost even in the midst of a thousand people without the support of those people who really care for us most.

Sore loser

As far as losers go, I am at the top of the heap. All the comfort mantras that are intended to soothe the pain of defeat like "At least I tried", "There is always a next time", "Will this matter 5 years from now?", "Win as if you are used to it, lose as if you tried it for a change" etc - they form the core of my philosophy of existence. However there is one activity in which my defeat is almost always guaranteed and it never fails to rile me up every single time, that being defeat at chess.

On the face of it, it's just another board game with 16 pieces pitted against each other on a 64 square battlefield and calls for extraordinary presence of mind and common sense (qualities that the powers-that-be have been stingy about while doling out my share). Defeat ordinarily means that the vanquished leaves the table and lets someone better take over. I wonder then why for me every loss feels like someone has sharply kicked me you-know-where. Maybe it's because there is nothing I can attribute my loss to except for a basic lack of intelligence on my part. There is no physical prowess involved here neither is any secret move which cannot be predicted. Every knight being slaughtered, every rook being mowed down, the queen's death - all assume levels of personal tragedies for me. And victory, ah victory, I can't even begin to describe the extreme happiness.

Things have gotten so bad that the only person I would play against was my 7 year old nephew (who was unfortunate enough to come to me one day chess set in hand and request me "Kutush Mama, teach me how to play!") in Calcutta and even overcoming his challenge gave me a thrill. He was getting sharper by the day though, and I am glad that I skipped across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans before the inevitable day when he would say "Checkmate". I am sure in the past one year, he has sharpened his skills and is waiting for his "Shakuni mama" to return so that he can get his vengeance.

My laptop has chess in it but I have played it only once on the lowest level of AI and defeated the computer. Since then, I haven't touched it again for fear of spoiling my perfect win-loss record against my faithful laptop. If someone were graphing my happiness over the past 25 years, a peak point would be in my 3rd year of engineering during a winter evening. I was up against Raveesh and was getting thrashed every single time for maybe 5 games in a row. On the last game before dinner, I was once again left with nothing but my king and Raveesh's troops were moving in for the kill. Then I discovered that I was in a 'stalemate' position where any movement of my lone king would have moved him into a check position thereby earning me a draw. Oh, the joy of not losing that game being in that helpless a position and the smoke coming out of Raveesh's ears as I laughed myself to death - what an incomparable feeling of success. Need I mention that I never challenged Raveesh to a game of chess again!