Monday, February 22, 2010


The other day on a visit to the hospital where one of my relatives was undergoing some minor treatment, I met a couple who had just returned to India a few days earlier after visiting their daughter who lived and worked in Japan. As they related with wonder, tales of the technological marvels that are a part of Japan's everyday life, they had just started talking about the Bullet Train when I rudely interrupted their talk with an abrupt "Shinkansen". Needless to say they were polite enough to be appreciative about my knowledge of Japan, rather than be a little dissed at this unwarranted display of my limited Japanese vocabulary.

Shinkansen is the Japanese name for the superfast and legendary Bullet train that was for a short while in the past the fastest train in the world and still represents in many aspects the high water mark as far as land based public transportation is concerned. I was surprised and mystified myself as to where my knowledge of the word might have come from. We had learnt Japanese for a couple of months during my training at my current employer's but that was more on the "Hello, how do you do" kind of lines. Yet the way I blurted out the word almost unconsciously indicated that this machine and its habitat dominated the landscape of my travel obsessed engineering geek imagination much more strongly than I had realized.

Japan has always seemed such a mixed bag of cultures - of mist covered mountains and of Tokyo's glitzy billboards; of secretive, meditative ninjas and of flying humanoid robots; of hidden away ancient monasteries and of endless steely cityscapes; of gritty, weighty sumo wrestling and of cutesy, funny video games. How can the same country manage to be all of this and more? The only satisfying answer will be found in getting there and walking its streets or past its bubbling jungle streams. Until fate or life offers me such an opportunity, I must wring my hands and wait!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lessons learnt by a bathroom guitarist

It's not easy to be 25 years old and the slowest student in class! Unfortunately, that's a place I find myself in at my weekly guitar class. When a sudden urge to pick up the guitar overcame me at a late age, I did not expect to be a Mark Knopfler within the first few weeks. Yet I hadn't set my aims so low as to find after 3-4 weeks that a jarring octave was all I could muster out of my supposed future passion. Nonetheless, being as thick skinned as a rhino does have its advantages and I struggle on.

This week, in front of my guitar teacher I managed to undo all of my hard practice from the past 7 days. In a freak show of uncoordinated hand movements, I managed to convey an impression of not having practiced for a week or so while the reality was that I had doubled my practice times. Ah, what would life be without bitter days like this! We all need days when we can look back and say "Well, at least I am better off than that day!"

So in the process of getting a verbal roasting from my normally tolerant teacher, as some sort of nonsensical defense I blurted out "But I play way better than this when I sit and play alone at home. All this attention is playing havoc with my practiced notes!" which prompted an even sharper response from my teacher.

Of course, what he said was hard to withstand especially with the sniggers of my more guitar-capable classmates but it was very much the truth. My teacher said something to the effect of "That's the silliest thing I've ever heard in my life. Playing alone? What purpose does that serve? An artist, from the smallest to the greatest must always play/draw/paint/write for an audience. Art is nothing if not shared and appreciated. Only then can you grow and only then can you claim that you love your art form. Learn your art with your heart but only because you want to exhibit it to the world when you are ready. Would Pablo Picasso have been such a great name if he hadn't put his paintings on display or for sale, and just hung them up in his bathroom?"

His scalding advice took me back to the very first post I posted on this blog and a statement/request which I had made without having too much conviction in what I was stating ( This is no secret diary, this is a journal. The world is a cruel judge sometimes really unfair on something you put your heart and soul into, yet all such content must be put out there, to be hoisted to the heavens or to be mowed down into the dirt!


Badminton does not make for a very spectator friendly sport. It is an intense, involving game to play but watching it... let's just say doesn't exactly rouse the passions. We have had a world champion player in the form of Prakash Padukone (Unfortunately for him, nowadays better known as the father of Deepika Padukone) in the past and a few years ago, Pullela Gopichand won the All England Open, one of the most if not the most prestigious badminton championships. P. Gopichand is not a M.S. Dhoni or a Sachin Tendulkar so it is not unexpected that very few stories appeared in the Indian press during his heyday. But one incident does stick on like Feviquik to my memory.

It seems that Pepsi had offered Gopichand a sponsorship provided he did a TV commercial for them during the time when he was at his sporting peak both in terms of popularity and on-court success. Gopichand quietly declined stating that he did not drink any carbonated beverages and as any player would tell you, sportsmen and carbonated drinks do not mix no matter how many beaming smiles of promotion you see on TV ads by your favourite cricketer/footballer. The glory days of sportsmen are very limited and their fall from the limelight is brutal and swift once their playing days are over. This is especially true of lesser watched sports like badminton, hockey etc. In the face of such stark reality, to hold off on something which easily could have ensured a comfortable existence for him in the years to come just because of that old fashioned value called integrity, for a product whose usage he did not want to promote, I have only one word. Respect.

My bike has an appendix!!!

It is becoming quite difficult for me to pass one week without learning a weird new fact about this weird little world of ours. Here's one for this week! My bike was literally breathing fire after a Friday night office party as the spark plug was not only sparking inside the engine but was showing as a cool blue flame outside the engine too. Though I felt that this looked really neat ala a bike modded with nitro for illegal street racing and felt an intense urge not to have it repaired, I finally came to a conclusion that putting my pants on fire on the way to work was not the ideal way to begin what would be a really tough day anyways. Besides, there were some other niggling issues which had been bugging my bike thanks to its 1.5 years of hibernation while I was away in the USA and which were begging to be fixed.

So I handed my bike to the nearest Bajaj service centre on Saturday morning who proceeded to strip my dear Pulsar down to the very basics to my extreme concern, but thankfully managed to put it together and in the same order that they had taken it apart! Now the problems were fixed and I on my bike was back to ripping the roads & being shattered to bits by the occasional sneaky pothole. Then today as I got onto my bike and was feeling around for the fuel valve, I accidentally pulled out a pipe which seemed like it had a purpose in life before I accidentally yanked it open. Infuriated with myself at this unintended dismantling of my bike, I took to my local mechanic as the Bajaj service centres are closed on Sundays.

The guy takes just one look and says something like "Don't worry. This is a pipe which drains water out of the fuel tank if any seeps in there. Not required to fixed at all. Let it hang loose! Drive away without a fear." I was dumbfounded. When my bike went in for repairs, I kidded about it having an open heart surgery. Appears that I wasn't too far off the mark. This pipe, this unnecessary piece of rubber hosing that just chills out within my bike without being of any use is somewhat like what the appendix is to the human body. A vestigial organ from our herbivorous ancestors, the appendix kind of lies around in the intestine without helping anyone and occasionally bursting to cause some unlucky folks really extreme pain. I just found out that it is not God alone who play games with his creations adding a tube here, removing a chunk of flesh there! So do motorcycle design engineers and other like minded human beings! What next? I can't imagine. Do I find out one day that my bike did not start one morning because it was out partying with its buddies for way too long the previous night?