Friday, February 12, 2010

The 10 minute post

It has always been a dream to utilize my time better. At work, a million ideas run circles in my head but by the time I get back home, they are really tired and go sulking in a corner of my mind where my typing hands can't reach. So it is that the corners of my mind are getting a lil' bit too overcrowded and setting time limits on ideas is the best way to get them out of my system.

10 minutes is not too much time but that's all I can really spare at the end of another gruelling day at work. Time enough to venture beyond the headlines, time enough to actually make both sides of the argument and time enough to say something significant it might not be yet a biased opinion makes for much more interesting reading than the boring old middle path. I am not giving up on the middle path yet though. It's just that sometimes in life, you've got to cook something up real quick. It may turn out a little raw or over-spiced, but it still satisfies a very primal hunger. Be it food or thoughts or food for thought, there is some joy to be had out of the quick quenching of desire.

Nightmare of nightmares

Will I ever be able to sleep in peace again? The worst thing that could ever happen to a guy has happened to a colleague of mine. A crime so unspeakably dastardly that it makes my blood boil and freeze at the same instant. My friend parks his 3 month old Pulsar 220 after work right beneath his house in Salt Lake and the next morning finds that his motorcycle is gone! Gone to be dismantled into a thousand pieces, its engine to run a boat in some far off river, its tyres to be reused on some bullock cart. Who even on this sin ridden earth would be desperate enough to destroy a thing of such beauty? Apparently there are such people!

My thoughts turn to one of the few things in my life that I unabashedly take pleasure in owning. On it, I am an uncaged bird, free from all the bindings of a slow moving existence. The magical glinting blue shade of my Bajaj Pulsar 180 and its throaty roar as it plows through the chaos of Calcutta's roads are my daily elixir. It wouldn't be stretching things too far to say that I go to work and come back just because it's an excuse to ride my motorcycle again. Often times in the day, I find myself standing at a distance and gazing on it in rapture. Sometimes it's difficult to believe that such a divine creature is legally and spiritually mine. And the thought of some random opportunistic thief taking it away from me... forever... makes my stomach go queasy and a foul taste well up in my mouth. I think I just discovered what the greatest fear of my life is!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Himalayan mis-adventure

On my recent trip to the Himalayas, I participated in some kind of a human version of the famous car rally, the Raid-de-Himalaya. Two key points to be considered were that my participation was involuntary and that there was no car involved as I literally rode down on the seat of my pants! Here's how the fall from or should I say the long slide from grace was initiated.

We had panted, huffed and puffed our way to a few kilometres above the town of Gulaba to try our hand at skiing. Our guide, a local guy was as agile as a goat as we plainsmen lumbered and laboured to get to a point where the snow was just right and untouched! Skiiing I must tell you from this, my first personal experience is not easy on unfit bodies. By the time I was done with my three-quarters of an hour of stand-up comedy mistakenly identified as skiing, I was discovering pain in joints I never knew I had, just by standing in my skis and being pushed around by my trainer.

When all 3 of our party were done with making fools of themselves hidden away on the snowy slopes of a Himalayan mountain far from the critical gaze of anyone we knew, we decided to call it a day. To make our descent easier, our guide gave us the advice to snow slide our way down to the parking lot. The activity of snow sliding is as evident as it sounds and involves parking our behinds on the snow & then pushing off down the slope screaming and flailing arms in a rather undignified manner while gravity and the steep gradient did their jobs. We were wearing thick rented jumpsuits, this was supposed to be the most enjoyable portion of our ski trip as most of our descent route was snow-covered. As I was to discover very soon, 'most' was it was snow covered, not all of it.

I was brimming with enthusiasm as I tailed the guide in close proximity. At the end of one slope, the guide pulled up abruptly and asked me to brake. I did. But just when I was about to get up on my feet, I slipped and lo behold, I was bouncing down a muddy slope which had absolutely no snow at all. I turned my head for a brief second to witness the look of horror on my guide's face and then looked ahead at my impending doom. The snow had melted on this part of the slope and there was a kind of slush in replacement. The slope was strewn with rocks and the few blades of grass I tried to grasp onto just joined my hands as I slid down the strictly not for "snow sliding" slope.

I was tossed around like a rag doll from that point on and by some miracle always landed on my ample rear quarters instead of say on my head, or my spine or my hands all the way to the bottom of the slope. My guardian angel must have really worked overtime on this assignment as the 20-25 seconds it took me to reach the end of the slope made my life flash before my eyes at least a dozen times over. When my unintentionally rapid descent started, I was positive that even if I survived this I'd be bound in a wheelchair forever after I came to a halt, but all I suffered were severely bruised and bloody right hand knuckles which were the result of my initial hand brake efforts and the pain was nothing that a man couldn't take.

I laughed like a madman when I double checked the damage to myself and found it negligible. It could've ended in a much more tragic way for me, but I nearly tore my stomach in laughter as I imagined a third person view of me bouncing down a muddy slope shouting and clawing for any kind of a grip. Once more I nearly laughed myself to death again when I heard of my guide's answer to Jimmy, who was following behind me until the previous slope and had managed to brake in time and avoid the messy route I had chosen. Unable to see me, Jimmy asked "Saheb kahan gaye?" (Where is the Saheb?). The guide had just shrugged his shoulders and said "Maine kahaa Saheb se rukne ko. Parr woh toh rukey hi nahin!"(I asked him to stop, but he totally ignored me!)


It's so difficult to stay upbeat all the time. Sometimes even when it is someone else's sadness, the feeling hits home. Every time I opened the home page of my company's Intranet site, for the past 2-3 weeks, a pop-up notice reminded me that "A colleague needs your urgent help to save her life. Please see 'Notice' section for further details." I had consistently ignored that plea, but it's been up for so long that I was compelled to check it out yesterday.

The notice informed me about a colleague of mine (whom I had never known) who was suffering from a rare case of brain tumour which had robbed her of 80% eyesight and control over her left side. Tragically she was also the sole earning member of her family as her brother is a student and her father retired. The expensive treatment costs had brought them to financial ruin and they needed support to continue doing little what they could. This was not a bus-stop where appeal leaflets were being handed out and promptly chucked away, suspicious of the authenticity of the appeal. This was for real with someone who worked in the building next to mine.

I will make my own contribution today but the question at the top of my mind is who makes the calls? That this person must suffer, or that person must die early, or that third person must skip through life without nary a care. Things are just so random and chaotic, totally beyond any kind of logic or justification. God's grand design is an alternative theory but it's hardly any comfort to the rational person. Why on earth should I or any one for that matter be part of a plan which I have zero control over? There are moments in this game of life when the whole circus seems pointless, a useless diversion before we meet our pre-determined fate. The really brutal thing is that we must always pick ourselves up and get on with the game. The show (tragedy, comedy, drama irrespective) must go on...

Heavy lies the head

It's a gray, cold day in Kolkata today. Cold as in COLD, not the usual mild West Bengal winter over dramatized by sensitive to the bone Bengalis. Even on this chilly day, a lot of people found warmth and peace. Peace at the end of a chapter coming to a close. A long, long chapter. Cruel as it seemed to me on the day after his death, there was a significant number of people who hated Jyoti Basu, who reviled him like the devil and were not about to give him even this one day of respite. They chatted derisively about the grand show of respect being put up by all the TV channels and political parties ignoring his 'legacy' of cancerous industrial stagnation and militant trade unionism. They forget, it was being discussed, of the brutal violence and horrors that his rivals and their supporters were subjected to by the B-school case-study inspiring brainwashing techniques used on the dreaded CPI-M cadre during all of the 23 years of his rule.

Then there is the other side of the coin: the almost romantic story of the young barrister abandoning the comforts of a cushy career to fight for the dispossessed, the downtrodden of the earth, intoxicated by the doctrine of Karl Marx; of the iron fisted administrator who wouldn't let Congress hoodlums massacre innocent Sikhs post Indira Gandhi's assassination while around the country, genocidal maniacs were given a free pass; the revolutionary land reforms that did indeed free thousands upon thousands of exploited land workers from the clutches of the reprehensible zamindaari system; the man whose mere name would fill up the Brigade grounds long after he had quit the post of Chief Minister because he could still speak with the "voice of the people"; and his erstwhile rivals cutting across party lines recounting their awe of him. This was a rather blinkered view of his contributions but it was definitely one point of view and judging by the number of years he spent in power and the lakhs who are turning up to show him their respect, a quite popular one too. The truth, no matter however long the two sides fight to establish the infallibility of their point of view, must lie somewhere in between.

In the modern world, emperors and dictators are passe, remnants from an age where the starting block mattered. Democracies are where the greatest of leaders are born. Let go for a second of the ridiculous notion that politicians are servants of the people. According to the age-old laws of administration, all rulers were in reality beholden to the people that they ruled. We all know how that servant-master hierarchy worked out so it's immature to expect such a radical change in human nature. Democratic politics is the ultimate test of charm, wits and skill. The power to impact people's lives is tremendous and so must be a bitter battle be fought to gain this position. I can't figure out why all the bright young men and women of this country are running after MBAs or IASes. Why be a servant when you can be king? No degree or qualification will be of any help in this race. It's a game based on the raw power of human-to-human interaction and a person's ability to influence it. Almost everyone who gets to the top does end up using that power for his own needs and benefits, a rather stupid and selfish move when you are being given a golden chance to create history and shape the future of a nation. I guess that is what separates the great leaders from the also-rans. They realize the superiority of their position and use it to the hilt to implement what they perceive to be correct. We under our own free will, appoint them as our leaders. As far as heady feelings go, things can't get headier!