Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Curtains

The year's drawing to a close, and it's about time I write my last post of the year. All in all, this wasn't half as bad a year for me as the previous one. The world as whole, though, will share a different story. The story will be well documented by the press, looking back at the year that's gone, so I won't go into it. All in all, I hope (against anything common sense will tell me) that tonight is curtains for loads of things in my life and for the world at large. Some of my cynical friends believe tomorrow's just a day like any other, and I believe they're right. What I don't believe though, is that not pretending like there's going to be someone new in our pajamas tomorrow morning is going to get us anywhere. Therefore, we might as well believe in anglicized humbug if it makes us lead fuller and happier lives. So have fun tonight, watch out for the thullaas, delete those old entries and prepare a list of things to do next year. On a personal note, I was just told that those buggers at Cafe Morrison are imposing couple entry tonight, and I determine that next New Years Eve, that will not be an issue! I don't know what course of action I might take up. As of now, it seems that taking up the cause of single people seems to be the easiest!
Hope there's more sense in the world next year, and we, at the very least can start killing the planet at a slower pace, stop recessing and establish atleast a semblance of peace with our neighbours.

Hippie New Year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Matrix

I was recently watching 'The Matrix' for what must have been the zillionth time, and I happened to notice something that I should have spotted a long time back. I don't know if I'm re-inventing the wheel, or whether this has already been stated, or for that matter (and I'm not talking about Keanu Reeves being the lousiest damn actor alive), but this seems to be an observation I must share.

So then, watching 'The Matrix' for the zillionth time, I spotted the fact that it is, in fact, a techno version of the Torah (the Jewish holy book for the grossly unenlightened, shame on you). "How?", you ask? This is how, I answer:


  1. First up, notice how the last surviving human city is named 'Zion'? Quite obvious that one, I think, unless Wachowski (who is Jewish) thought it was a cool name for the city.
  2. This is what Morpheus says to Neo when he is explaining the Matrix and Neo's special role in society: "There was one person in the beginning who could see the Matrix as it was and change anything he wanted to. He was the one who saved the first of us. After he died, it was prophesized that The One would return and end the war." Anyone heard of The Messiah?

Zionism in the Matrix. Don't know if I was the first one who noticed it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Out of Exile - Part II

When we woke up next morning, we were glad to find that the weather had cleared up. The sun was out. What's better, is the fact that while it rained in Dalhousie, it had snowed in the higher mountains and we were presented with the majestic Pir Panjal in all their snowy, sun-bathed glory.
(Above : From top to bottom: The Pir Panjal, Atop Dainkund(2), Khajjiar)
We headed out to Dainkund, the best view point, at an altitude of about 10,000 feet, some 15 kms outside town, the last four of which must be covered on foot, up the hillside. As one climbs, on the left, lies the small Mata Pauhalani temple set in the background of lofty mountains, and on the right, lies a small air force reconnaissance station. En route the hard trek route up to the temple, we had some great views of the mountains above and the valley below. Even as we puffed and panted our way up the hillside (fitness check, anyone?), Nitin made a very apt complaint about the inaccesibility of very many Hindu shrines. I will paraphrase to avoid feeling of hurt and anguish to either party; "Saale ye mandir in logon ko itna upar hi banana hota hai?!". Also on the way, my friend seem to find a whole array of trees that was rather enamoured with. All said and done, the walk all the way up, is quite worth it when you get there. A few more, stud-boy photographs later, we clambering down the hillside (while loads of middle aged women put us to shame so far as climbing slopes was concerned and one gentleman thought he was a gifted singer and was croaking bhajans on his way up) to go down to Khajjiar at the valley floor, known as the 'Switzerland of Himachal Pradesh' (which is not really saying much, if you compare sizes).
Khajjiar is essentially a meadow in the middle of the coniferous forest of the Kalatope sanctuary. I'm quite spurred to believe that it's origin lies in a meteor crash ages ago. This was my third visit to Khajjiar and I was glad to find that the place, after having thoroughly deteriorated because of tourist activity between the first two times, had shown good improvement between the second and the third. After a good lunch, and a day well spent, we headed back to camp, hoping to catch sunrise next morning.
"Yeah right!", you say again? Wrong, you are. We did manage to drag ourselves out of bed at by around six next morning to go out into the freezing cold to catch the sunrise, and praise the lord, a great sunrise it was. Dodging monkeys and langurs (which the locals seemed to be at peace with) for two hours while trying to photograph the snow clad mountains gaining their color from the sunlight had left us tired. We had left our wallets back at the hotel and headed to the local tea stall (which we had visited quite often) to ask for some credit, when the most remarkable feature about the people of Dalhousie came forth. This incident needs a mention. A very kind taxi driver actually offered to pay for us for our early morning tea! This wasn't the first time we'd been witness to such warmth and hospitality on part of the people of the hills. Thankfully, though, we found just enough money in the inner depths of our pajamas (no, not our souls) to pay off the tea stall, but this gesture will stay with us for a long time. (Right: Sunrise)
After having readied ourselves in a hurry, we began our journey back home. On the way back, the second tragedy struck. I was trying to free space for some additional photographs on the camera (now, the only one left), when accidentally, all the pictures got deleted. Every single one of the most amazing shots captured over the last three days went poof in a matter of seconds. I could've killed myself right there. At this point, I want to thank everyone working in the data recovery industry, whose great efforts helped us recover most of the photographs next morning after we got back.
Having boarded our train to Delhi, we found ourselves in unfortunate position of being in the same coach as the Jammu and Kashmir Under-14 cricket team and their coaches (who didn't behave like they were much older). This lot of fifteen was probably the noisies bunch of teenagers I've ever seen. What's worse is that when you're twelve, your voice always takes the worst pitch possible ("bandar waali awaaz" as I remember one cousin call my voice when I was twelve), and sing, you must not, with this voice. What added to the melie, was this poor Scottish lady, who, for some reason decided to enjoy the 'Indian Experience' in a sleeper coach of the train. She got all the attention she wanted and more from the kids, the uncles, the vendors and the aunties alike, who made regular walks across the cabin, to possibly try and figure out her composition! Anyway, after these(and I borrow from a close friend's vocabulary) unmitigated disasters, we were back home safely on a Monday (I still suffer from date disorientation), and happy with our exile. We were understandably happier next morning after we had recovered most of our pictures.
I draw three conclusions from my exile:
  • There's no one nicer than the people of the mountains.
  • Dalhousie is a great place to visit if you want to get away.
  • Nitin has three favourite questions he must ask every five minutes when he goes to a hill station:

3. "bhaisaab, ye ped kaunsa hai?" - He seems to be enamoured with every new tree he sees.

2. "bhaisaab, kya lagta hai? aaj raat ko baraf giregi??"- This was one regret he carried from the trip, that it didn't snow in Dalhousie.

1. "bhaisaab, yahaan se aur kitna door hai?/ kitna uncha hai?/kitni chadhai hai?" - The award for the Maximum Aversion to Scaling an Acclivity in a Living Being.

Bhaisaab, this was quite an awesome disaster.

Out of Exile - Part I

When I first came to this island

That I called by my own name

I was happy in this fortress

In my exile I remained.


Alright, first things first. My name is not Dalhousie (my parents didn't, and probably don't, hate me so much), but for the sake of poetic pretentions, let us assume for the duration you take to read this post, that my name is, in fact, Dalhousie, which is where I went recently with my childhood friend Nitin. We decided to call it our exile because both of us were tired of our mundane and single-ularly uneventful existences in Delhi and wanted a change. For the sake of completeness, I also wanted to free myself of all the technology that I was dealing with on a day to day basis. So the only piece of electronics I carried on my person were two cameras, one nearly conking off (mine) and one class act (my friend's). I mention this because, as you will find out, these cameras pretty much underlined how it all went.

Right then, so on one Thursday night last week (I'm on a month long vacation, and quite dangerously, have lost track of dates), we moved from Delhi to Pathankot by bus and took another one to Dalhousie upon arrival in Pathankot. With the result, we landed up in Dalhousie at around 10, on what seemed to be a damp and soddy friday morning. Since, in India, we seem to blame everything distruptive on the West, let us also blame this lack of sunshine on my shoulders on the Western disturbance. After having found ourselves a crib to stay in, we decided to explore town and go to this place called Subhash Baouli (apparently Subhash Chandra Bose loved this place). Now, Nitin and I are both fans of the talk, with one critical difference, I love the walk, and he's quite averse to it, if there exists a logical alternative like a taxi. Therefore, to goad him to walk about 4 kms of hillside, he needs great incentive. It is little surprise then, that I was showered with an eclectic mix of abuse when we landed at the old S.B and found that it was nothing but a small gazebo on the hillside with old S.C.B's (apologies to my Bong brothers) bust on it. There was some solace though. Nitin gets quite happy when he sees snow-capped mountains (as do I) and the clouds parted briefly to allow us our first glimpse of the Pir Panjal range. A few pretentious photographs where we pretended to be studs who didn't really care about the pics that were being taken (as self-shots), where we were looking in random directions, and a long walk later, we were back at our hotel room, where it got sinfully cold. Nitin was then taught the finer nuances of Texas-Holdem poker (my corruption to which, has been well documented in my series of posts on my Leh trip).


We'd planned to wake up early on the second day and take a 10km long trek. "yeah right!", you say? Right, you are. We woke up at noon to a rainy afternoon. (Right: Damp morning)Thankfully, the rain stopped by afternoon and we were left with the most majestic scene in front of us. Damp and foggy, yet amazingly beautiful hill-slopes. We decided to walk another 5 kms to a place called Panchpulla, which sounded very inviting on the tourist info booklet we were carrying. But as Nitin's luck would have it, we landed up at a measly martyr memorial. All the water that was supposed to flow under the Paanch Pul (five bridges) had been siphoned off to meet the city's water needs. The walk, however, was quite fantastic with a view of the sun setting behind clouds. Having had enough of the walk, we took a cab back to our hotel room and upon arrival, we realised that one of the cameras(mine) was missing. We spent an extra 200 quid to go back to the same place to hunt for the camera, but it was gone. And that's how I lost my old, conking off, beloved camera, with all of the first day's pics on it. (Right: Walking to Panchpulla)

Thankfully, though, we had the other camera to get us by.

With nothing to do, but to rue the loss of the beloved camera, we piled on loads of good cheap food (of which, you need a lot, to keep the fire running), and retired for the night, hoping for a bright day the next morning.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Primeval Chaos

In most of the religions of the world, forward movement is seen as a move from disorder to order, from the horrors of a world in which everything is stochastic to a more deterministic society. In the religions of Abraham for example, God creates the world, separates light and darkness etc. from a primeval disorder. In early pagan religions, the same event was seen as the victory of Baal over the disorder sea-monster (pagan analog of Leviathan). Surprising as it is, the world doesn't really seem to be moving that way. For one, as far as physics is concerned, the arrow of time points in the direction of increasing disorder. This seems to me to be the more accurate description from what I observed the other day.
I began my day with the sight, I've become so familiar with now. I was coolly driving in my lane, and out of the blue, I saw cars turning around in my own lane, to infiltrate the space otherwise occupied by speedy oncoming traffic. Further inspection confirms one's suspicion of the presence of a long line of vehicles in a jam further up the road. More signs of chaos followed as the day proceeded and I really began to wonder if there exists a communal common sense amongst people. Another thing that really struck a chord with me, is that this city somehow functions, seemingly alright, in the midst of this full blown chaos.
It's either the triumph of human adaptibility, or the defeat of human ignorance that we can survive in the middle of this chaos that seems so endemic to us!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Brain Curry

Last night, I was plagued by a recurrent nightmare that I've been having for the last few months. I'm in the middle of my applications abroad for further study. Needless to say, I'm making a lot of 'aukaat ke baahar' jumps and for the umpteenth time, I had this nightmare again:
The nightmare starts of with me landing up at one world reknowned institute for further study (This time it was MIT, last time it was Stanford University, other times I can't recall). Then I get lost hunting for my room. Lastly, and this by far is the strangest bit, they find my name too complicated to pronounce when taking attendance! Each time, the attendance taker reaches my name and can't pronounce it! Last night I also had the added feature of running away from a terrorist attack right after attendance!

What's in a name, eh?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Purge

When you're as free as I am, your mind has all the time to wander into all the wrong places. This one's one of my 15-minute-compositions that I wrote up recently.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Purge

Slowly, he walks away,
And they lie in his wake.
Those pieces of broken baggage,
Little entries in his book that he can’t purge,
Pages in his life that he can’t tear,
Too much left behind to start afresh.

Slowly, he fades away,
Into the silence ahead,
Voices that once belonged to someone else,
They now quarrel in his head.

They lie in wait,
Wherever they are.
They lie in wait,
He couldn’t have gone too far.
They lie in wait,
For their prey.
They lie in wait,
For that day.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Out of Control

I know not why people behave the way they do, or make the decisions they make.
I know not what reasons lie behind the way they act, actions that make my very foundations shake.
I know not why I'm only one factor in a billion, and the rest beyond my control.
I know not what to do when I look into my head and find myself a gaping hole.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Verbal Diarrhoea

Some of us are restrained, others have a filter missing in their heads. Worse still, is the case when the filter at the mouth is missing. Some like me, however, are in the unfortunate position of having lost that filter, either through slow, continuous erosion, or through sudden and painful dismantling procedures. Everytime something slips through the cracks (what normal people might call a "mouth" in everyday parlance), we're left painfully reminiscent of the time when a committee sat down in the head to review what went through and what didn't. Anyway, so much for filters and their absence thereof. Here's a list of things from personal experience that will leave you banging your head on the wall after you've let your tongue have a field day. Alternatively, it could be the person at the receiving end banging your head on the wall.
Disclaimer: This one's not for some of my more refined and literally inclined readers.
You're still reading? Boy, you do have a taste for scandal don't you? Fine then.
In no particular order,
  • You're with a girl you've hit it off nicely with and have intentions for (cruel or otherwise), and she smiles at you and asks, "So what are you doing after this?". NEVER say "Oh, I think I'm going home to sleep" especially when it's 3 in the afternoon. You'll be left with a few self-inflicted scars on your forehead within minutes of letting this slip through.
  • You see two of your friends fighting. You NEVER walk up and say "ladai judai maaf karo, (if some of you have heard the standard Gandhiji ko yaad karo version and are smirking thinking you know where this is going, you couldn't be more wrong), apni t*#ti saaf karo". Guaranteed to get you some juicy smacks around the torso region.
  • A girl looks to make you her agony aunt, and is cribbing about how distraught she is about a recent turn of events (anyone's guess what these turn of events was). I know as a guy this is a very annoying position to be in, but it still doesn't authorize you to say, "You know, one great economist J. M. Keynes said, "In the long run, we're all dead.", so why bother?". It will save you the trouble of being the agony aunt. In hindsight, the cost-benefit analysis on this one ends in the green.
  • Your long estranged friend tries to patch things up and asks you how it's possible to not make the same mistake again. The best way to jeopardize any chance of recovery is to come up with the legendary Siddharth Krishnamoorthy quote, "He who pukes once, knows not his capacity. He who pukes twice, is an idiot.".

I think I'm going to the workshop to get one of 'em filters right now.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Time Average

In my study of physics over the years, I've come across a certain topic called the ergodic principle several times. In essence, it states that if you wait long enough, a system explores every single possiblity and state it can exist in. So when you wait long enough, neither you, nor the system can tell where it started.
The attack on Mumbai that is still on, has caused millions to react to the scenario. For one thing, I notice that there's suddenly a display of grief online. There are poems, there are dedicated status messages, and there are blog posts expressing grief and ire at what happened. While my heart goes out to all those affected in more direct and tangible terms by this travesty than myself, I do see a certain trend arising out of all this. And the trend is error-free because I have a huge pool of such incidents within this year to observe the pattern.
We're going through this cycle once every fortnight now. Only that each time it gets worse and bolder. Almost all bomb blasts carried out this year in India have been serial blasts. We thought it was really bold of them to have successfully carried of 6-8 coordinated blasts at the same time. Then there was a time they let us discover no less than 28 bombs in a city in the span of 48 hours. Then the number rose further to 16 blasts. This time round, instead of walking into our backyard, they sailed in through our front gate and brought us down to our knees.
What did we do in response everytime? Poems, blog posts, status messages. The standard knee-jerks. "Oh, this is a terrible tragedy". Thats pretty much what even I did. We got up and declared proudly through whatever means of communication we had, "Terrorists, you will not destroy our spirit!". In the next few days, and on the first anniversaries of these tragic incidents, if the number of dead is above a certain cut-off, the news channels reported how everyone has gone back to their business as usual. "The spirit of the city has not been broken". Of course, the polite political condemnation had to make its presence felt. Before we could prosecute the perpetrators of one blast, there were some fifteen more.
My point here is that if we were to note the time axis, there is a peak of such knee jerk reactions everytime such an incident occurs. Slowly, it fades away. Tomorrow, my status message will be something completely different. And it will continue to be different till the next spike arrives. And I'm sure the next spike will arrive. The terrorist does not take note of your status message and your declaration of an indomitable spirit.
Why do people go back to their lives as before? Because they don't have a choice. The 200 dead have left 2 million behind who still have to live. And we say people have gone back to normal, really, on the average. 200 is not a number. 200 is a fraction of the number of lives that have been irreversibly altered by the incident. They will never go back to 'normal'. But because even this number is much smaller than the mass that wasn't affected directly, the blips get lost out in the average.
As time progresses, we would be exposed to every possibility, so no one can tell where we came from, much like the system I talked of.
While I express my heartfelt solidarity to the people of Mumbai, its about time we stopped knee-jerking.
A little less bark, a little more bite.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Anything Goes

I had once written in a song I wrote, "The one thing that I hate about people, is that anything goes". I don't know if what I'm writing right now is a reaction amplified by days of no sleep and a strong sense of irritation. Nonetheless, sleep or no sleep, its quite true about the people of my country and especially my city - ANYTHING GOES.

The thought struck me first this morning, when I was driving to college. Anything goes brings itself out the best on Delhi roads. The feeling just got worse as the day progressed and I began to notice things that irked me more and more.

It's alright that we cross the road at random places, because even in the middle of rush hour traffic, the only thing one has to do to cross the road, is to walk in and stick one's indignant hand towards the oncoming traffic. Because lets face it, the person driving will do everything in his power to prevent himself from running over you (even though thats precisely what he wants to do) because he doesn't want to go to prison.

It's alright that I push my car into the little morsel of space I see in between the two cars ahead, because my time is the only time. All else can take a hike.

It's alright that when I get into a bus, I push the person next to me to get in, because that seat is mine and mine alone.

It's alright that when I see a long traffic jam ahead, I turn back my car and shift lanes headlong into oncoming traffic. And its easy for me to turn a deaf ear to the honking behind me because I'm on the phone anyway.

It's alright that I smoke in a closed elevator, because I'm not the only one suffocating.

It's alright that every two weeks someone walks into my country's backyard and blows up a few people to smithereens. Its not even worth noticing unless its atleast a hundred people. Even if it is, a few hundred in a billion never really mattered anyway. We can always bring in another hundred.

Tomorrow morning, the newspapers will read tall stories of my city's courage and how quickly I can forget it all and go back to my normal life till someone comes two weeks later. I wasn't killed, nobody I know was killed, so I guess the world's filled with sunshine.

Tomorrow morning, the minister will appear and condemn the heinous act and promise to bring the perpetrators to justice, a promise he's learnt to rattle off emotionlessly with all the bi-weekly practice he's got.

It's alright that I suck the last remaining life out of my planet. So what if a few countries sink today, there's two hundred of them. So what if a few can't breathe the air today, I still can.

We've just been brought up to adjust, to compromise. And we pretend its courage.

It's alright. It's evolution.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This Ringing In My Head...

...is this the cure,
Or is it a disease?

Oh wait...its nuclear physics.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seen The...

home inside my head,
All locked doors and unmade beds.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Lazy Years

The idea for this post accidentally popped out of my friend's mouth as we woke up at 6 pm after an afternoon nap today. As he woke up, he said, "There was that show called The Wonder Years, we must produce one called The Lazy Years!". Needless to say, this last weekend that he's graced with his presence, has been the biggest sloth fest. We could probably provide electricity for a whole block for a day with the amount of energy we've 'conserved' over the last three days.

Winter's come to Delhi now (well, almost) and I'm certainly the cold-weather person. I love Delhi's winters except for the fact that this year it's rather smoky and hazy, almost like the Gods above are having a bachelor party in the basement. Winter brings along with the chill, a certain slowness to the normal functioning of one's daily businesses. That sort of explains why I haven't posted for almost 20 days now. Probably also explains why I'm writing this post to delay starting out on the mountain of work thats piling up in the background.
Anyway, here are Siddharth Krishnamoorthy's tips to save the day during this winter:
  1. Have a bath within the first hour of getting up. That saves you from the possibility of sitting every week end at 6.30 in the evening, posting on your blog and wondering if you should just push it off to the next morning. I will...no I won't...I will...maybe not...I will...we'll see.
  2. If you should nap in the afternoon, like I did today (and prospectively on many more days to come), make sure you get up before it turns dark. Its a really tough ask because the old light dies a little too fast for its own good, but do it to avoid time zone confusions when you get up rather disoriented and dazed.
  3. Mind over matter is my best advice for weekday mornings, especially Mondays. Please muster all your faith to prevent you from killing the cause that causes you to wake up early on Mondays.

My point is, around this time, we're already leaning quite heavily in one direction. A small push is all it takes!

Have a lazy winter.

Friday, October 24, 2008

When The Saint Goes Frying

OK, I kind of fooled you into reading this one, because you know as well as anyone else does, that I'm no saint. But the frying bit, I promise, is true.
I'm going to make an admission that my mother would be very happy to hear because she's been trying to extract it out of me for years now.



Here goes:



Cooking is an essential skill to learn in life. It comes in very handy when you're living alone. Its cheaper (maybe at the cost of your own life, depending on how well you can cook).


End admission. (Happy mother)


So, my foray into cooking so far has consisted of fairly elementary stuff. I can make rice in both pressure and electric cookers (yay!) and fairly decent Dal, that's barring cheese toast which doesn't count. If you're good at spotting patterns (or are preparing for the CAT), you'd notice that I'm only good at making stuff that involves two cooking movements: Boil and Mix.

Frying stuff isn't something I've ever handled or am comfortable with. A physics student that I am, I also need to be told everything in exact quantitative values. So terms like "Salt to taste", "a little bit of oil" and "a hint of sugar" don't make sense to me. I must be told exactly in the number of teaspoons (or allied kitchen paraphernalia) of anything that must be added.

Another guiding principle I always follow when cooking : "When in doubt about how much salt or spice to add, add Maggi's Hot and Sweet sauce". Hot and Sweet sauce is my answer to all culinary questions. It has just the right blend of everything and makes all cooking (mine and yours, yes YOU who's thinking "Oh I'm a good cook!") taste great.

Having given you a background into my cooking abilities, let me relate to you what transpired last night. I arrived home from college, and was dismayed to find that my maid hadn't cooked dinner. If there's one thing you don't want to see at the end of a hard day of attending (one) class, its the absence of cooked food. For some reason only my maid could understand, I found a plateful of raw, chopped capsicum and a half peeled potato in my fridge. The possibilities are endless. She could have thought of some way to punish me half way through her work; so to say, had had a "die bastard die!" moment, but I'd like to think otherwise. I'm quite the benign employer. Anyhow, dinner was now upon me. I could have made what I know how to make, the boil and mix stuff; but us Krishnamoorthys of the indomitable spirit fancy a challenge and a half. (notice how subtly I pretend to be P.G. Wodehouse)

Therefore, I decided to venture where probably many a men have ventured and burnt themselves (or their food). I took it upon myself to peel the half peeled potato and help it fulfill the purpose of its being. Some of the capsicum must also martyr itself to this cause (which honestly is better than rotting in my fridge for 5 days). First came the rice and dal, which I managed to make in no time at all. Then came the challenge. For the first time in my life, I added an arbitrary amount of oil to a pan and began to attempt the great frying operation. Stuff began to fly around and soon I realised that I'd quite literally bitten off more than I could chew. Soon enough, however, I gained control of the situation and with a little bit of sampling and error, I was able to rescue my potatoes from getting a permanent tan. Then came the next challenge, the seasoning, the extent of my knowledge of which, I have talked of at length. And here, as it has always done for me, Hot and Sweet sauce came to the rescue yet again. So there it was, a full meal without damage to life, property or environment! Did it taste good? Of course it did.
True story.

Monday, October 13, 2008

For The Inner Cynic

All of us have a little bit of evil, only a few of us can express it in the most amazing ways. Sometimes, the best way to say something is to say nothing. Here's a couple of them...

"Listen now and let me speak

I will be the dog at your feet

And come along when you call

Be the little bird in your straw and sing you a song

I'll be there to take the fall

Though you tread upon me for no reason at all

But just when you think you've left me blind

I will keep you in the corner of my eye

I will never leave your side

Though you call me your number one zero

I'll never mind. I'll be your king, I'll be your pawn,

I will builid a pedestal and put you upon it

But just when you think you've left me blind

I'll be creeping right up behind

Cause if I need to, I will keep you in the corner of my eye."

-Chris Cornell, "#1 Zero"

Here's another one...

"Is something wrong, she said,

Well of course there is, Youre still alive, she said

Oh, and do I deserve to be? Is that the question?

And if so...who answers?"

-Eddie Vedder, "Alive"

Say something, say nothing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

5 Ways To Earn Bad Karma

I've always been a firm believer in the theory of Karma. What goes around comes around; or as Bollywood puts it, "Duniya gol hai aur har paap ka double role hai". Except of course, the odd fluctuations in my faith, i.e. when I see justice not being served (albeit temporarily). The basic point being, one has to be, in most cases (barring the dastardly, again temporarily, if I may reiterate, fortunate ones) of one's P's and Q's. So here's a countdown to the top 5 ways of earning bad Karma:

5) Busting up a lovey dovey couple: Now this one comes around for sure. How many times in your college have you walked in on your not-so-dear friend with his girlfriend in what would have been a nice, intimate moment for them? Worse still, you stood there and stared till felt uncomfortable enough to get up and sheepishly walk away. You haven't? Good for you. Because I have, and a few of my friends have gone on to the second step. And we all wait in dread, for the day someone returns the favour.

4) Created a fictitious girlfriend/boyfriend: Now I'm not sure if this one comes back in the exact same form, simply because once you've carried out this prank, you're immune to it, unless of course you are incredibly stupid, which, excuse my French, I'm NOT. And this is one of the things we're likely to pull off several times on poor, unsuspecting, romantic airheads who believe in the concept of someone dropping into their laps one fine day. The crowning achievement so far as I am concerned in this regard, was this one prank where I, along with an illustrious batch of co-conspirators cooked up a fictitious girlfriend for a guy in class, complete with a 'sexy name', a 'sexy course' and a very airhead-ly romantic pea-brain which we were sure the aforementioned guy would fall for. The prank lasted for a month and a half and culminated in him all dressed up and a box of chocolate in our hands. We had our laughs, he learnt his lesson, the world's a happy place but someday, somehow, this shall bite, and leave its marks.

3) Make a drunk friend do embarrassing things: And not only that, narrated the story to everyone you could find. This is one I have been at the giving and the receiving end of, and therefore I'm sure the record's straight. On the giving end, making a friend march in the middle of the night, complete with a Nazi salute, and then written a blog post with his pic on it, so that even if he forgets it, nobody else will. On the receiving end, getting terribly drunk and being made to do (on cue) what everyone called the 'Cha Cha Cha', then written a blog post about it (without my pic on it).

2) I will murder your sleep: Not 'murder YOU in your sleep', but murder your sleep itself. This one is for those who are in the habit of calling up during peak sleeping hours. You guys better watch out. Your kids will never sleep when you want to sleep. And when they sleep, you'll have work to do. To prevent further damage, stop calling in the middle of the night! (And sometimes, in the middle of the afternoon)

1)You made me waste my Biryani: This one is addressed to a few 'friends' specifically, but also to those who identify with this lot. Friends who have that uncanny nack of delivering bad news and disgusting imagery with unequalled panache and joy, right at the moment before you dig your teeth for the first time into your delectable meal. This happened to me (of many times, most recently) last year at a Durga Puja and those dastardly criminals haven't been brought to justice yet. But justice shall be served. Mark my words.

Start watching your P's, Q's, R's and whatever letter can now save you. For when kingdom come, His will be done!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Jeremy

I'm really in a mood to write tonight, so there's one last thing I want to share.
I like looking up Wikipedia every now and then and read synopses of songs whose lyrics I really like. Pearl Jam's lyrically one of my favourites, as I have mentioned before. I was looking up Pearl Jam's discography and found myself reading the inspiration for one of their really dark songs called Jeremy. Jeremy is about a depressed kid, who thinks life doesn't treat him well and that the people around him don't care. In a bid to change the situation, Jeremy walks into class one day with a Magnum revolver, puts it into his mouth and pulls the trigger in front of his teacher and classmates. This is inspired from a true story that appeared in American newspapers weeks before the song was written.
The video for the song, if I may say so, is understandably morbid and was banned from tv for the longest time because of the scene it seeks to portray. One subtlety that I had missed however, came up while I was reading the Wiki page. The reason for that subtle point as per Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder is also an indicator to the stunningly deep thought process behind the song. When the video starts, a plate shows "61 degrees, cloudy day, 3.30 in the afternoon". The same plate appears at the end of the song after Jeremy has killed himself. Something very inconsequential almost. The motive behind this move isn't. As Vedder puts it, "He tried to change things by killing himself. Nothing changed. The same 61 degrees, the same cloudy day and the same 3.30 in the afternoon. All he did was lose his life and punish himself".

Its amazing how the subtle points of some things that we miss often hold the crucial message that we need to take home. Thats the kind of thought process I'd really want to have some day.
Above all, live life, it won't always be a bitch.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Who Killed Chivalry?

Some of my feminist friends complained the other day that men weren't chivalrous enough anymore. A simple question I asked as an answer, who killed chivalry? While this is not going to be an exercise in crime solving, one would certainly be on the premise that chivalry is not something that can be demanded. The more rudely you tell us to be polite, the harder we'll fight our good intentions.
A simple example that comes to my mind, are Delhi buses. Over the last week, Delhi buses have been the inspiration for a lot of ideas. I was pushed aside while alighting a bus because the bugger next to me thought he was too smart to get in line. I retorted to myself, " The one thing I hate about a lot of people in India is that anything goes", and pop came the last post, bits of it popping in my head as I took the bus ride back home.
The very next day, as I sat on the side of the bus reserved for the ladies (because that was the only seat available), a lady came from behind, tapped me on my shoulder with that pointy, condescending finger and just said, "Haan bhaiya?" rather curtly if I may say so. I understood her intention, and I got up for the seat was rightfully hers. But I didn't do so very willingly. I would've got up if she hadn't been so rude about it. Her condescension only made me want to sit till kingdom come and let her scream. I don't really oppose this idea of reserving seats in the bus for women. It quite rightly follows the idea that not all men our chivalrous. However, I do implore some of these women to take into consideration, the fact that some of us could have had "Crazy, Long Day" stamped all over our faces, when they mirthfully yanked us off our posterior-pleasing thrones and made us hang by the bus railings for that extra half our while the bus driver was simulating the Delhi Grand Prix 2008. And I assure you, I have always relinquished my seat to a lady who was not able bodied, or when the bus was uncomfortably crowded. It boiled my blood on one occasion where a woman in her twenties made an old gentleman get up. Lack of consideration, is what is killing chivalry. If you're able bodied, and the bus is not crowded enough to permit unintentional yet unsolicited physical contact, why make a distinction? And if you must campaign for that distinction, why must you then cringe about not being treated as an equal on these grounds?
I beseech my (able-bodied) (meant in as non-flirtatious a way as possible) female friends to have faith in the institution of chivalry and keep alive its female counterpart, if exists.

The One Thing I Hate

Written recently, after a long sabbatical from song writing...
........................................................................................................

The one thing I hate about music,
Is that it’s almost always noise.
Don't know if it's the effect,
Or the cause that I despise.
The one thing I hate about joking,
Is that the joke’s always on someone else.
The one thing I hate about the big city,
Is my soul that it slowly kills.
The one thing I hate about dreaming,
Is that I must wake up.
The one thing I hate about flying,
Is when I fall and I break up.

The one thing I hate about religion,
Is that it’s the one thing we all must fight over.
The one thing I hate about God,
Is that he just sits and watches us kill one another.

The one thing I hate about animals,
Is the fact that anything goes.
The one thing I hate about people,
Is that they’re animals and it always shows.
The one thing I hate about friends,
Is that I must always pay.
The one thing I hate about life,
Is that someday it’ll be taken away.

The one thing I hate about talking,
Is that I end up screaming.
The one thing I hate about hating,
Is that I hate more than just one thing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Festive Season Cometh

Its that time of the year again. There's a slight nip in the air (or atleast was, till a few days back), everyone's awaiting the arrival of the deluge of festivals thats concomitant with this time of the year and being generally hopeful for the future.
The start to the season however, hasn't been great. First there were more collapses on Wall Street (about which I've written a bit too much I think), then came a stampede yesterday, and then, not to mention, the bomb blasts, 4 in the last 3 weeks to be precise, which have become a part of daily Indian life. It's so common now, I guess the news will stop reporting bomb blasts unless they kill more than a certain (arbitrarily chosen) number of people. Its almost like Diwali's come in a little early, such is the frequency of these bursts of fire.
But, despite all the security fears, and all the gloom that hangs above us, I hope all of us can use the festivals as an excuse if not anything else, to get some much needed cheer back into our lives. Happy festive season everyone! Try and get through this one with as much joy as humanly possible under the circumstances.
On a personal note, I hope to feel very different this year during Durga Puja as compared to last year, when I felt like someone had bludgeoned me at the back of my head with a saucepan...

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Blogger's Apology

This post comes out solely because I'm sitting at home with my laptop, wondering about the great luxury called wireless internet and how it must not be wasted. All this percolates down to me typing out this post.
So what better to exploit the luxury called wireless internet than to write a post about why I think most of us (or some with narcissistic inclinations like myself) continue to write posts every now and then. I borrow the name of this post from a dear teacher of mine, who, in the second year of college, had all of us write a small piece called A Physicist's Apology, defending the subject we supposedly loved so much (I do love it, but I don't think I'll marry it, more of a friends with benefits kind of thing).
Right then, on to the blogger's apology. I arrived very late on the blogging scene, well after the
blogging boom reached its peak. I took to it, thanks to a dear friend and noted blogger whose blog I hold in high esteem. And then on, I've been writing as and when I feel like, whether I have something to write about, like the last few posts, or not, like this one.
Blogging is therapeutic to a great extent. When you've repeated a story to about 200 people, your blog is like the 201st person you can repeat it to. Many a time, you'd find something interesting somewhere, and not find an audience for it, your blog is your best friend.
But above all, a ticking blog counter and a high number of comments is the ultimate food for the inner narcissist! We all would like to think that people like to hear what we have to say, to read what we have to write, even if that may not be entirely true. So day after day, we visit our blogs, we advertise our posts, check for comments and then go to the counter to find that one extra hit, so we can sit back satisfied that someone's reading it. As much as it is food for the self-obsessed self, it is also the cure. There will come a point of time, when you stand convinced of yourself as an interesting person with interesting experiences to share, and then the hits really don't matter.
Before this gets pointed out, every time I say 'we', I mean 'I', I'm just doing what others did 4 years ago!
Long live wireless, whose grace extends upon most of us bloggers with a little too much time on their hands!
Fully aware of what follows...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Obsession

For the longest time now, I've been an ardent fan of the Simpsons. Its been a way of life for me to get home before 6pm (now 6.30 pm) to watch the show every evening. I firmly believe that is one of the best, if not the best, animated shows of all time. One can imagine the amount of creativity required to have a show like this running for 20 years! Over the last few days, a strange obsession has taken over me. I've got on to doodling Homer Simpson. And its not just once or twice, my notebook's littered with Homer's doodles! Just last Saturday, I caught myself drawing on a sheet of paper I was adjudicating a debate on (of course, only after the debate got intensely boring!). Another character that I like to doodle is Homer's centurion boss, Mr. Burns, but Homer continues to be Numero Uno! The man just immortalizes our inner sloths! Vivat Rex Homer!








One for The Simpsons' fans,


Ehhhhhxcellent!




Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Apocalypse Now

No, this will not be a review of the movie. I switched on CNN last night, and I was greeted by horrific images of the damage caused by Hurricane Ike. I changed the channel and looked elsewhere. About a week back, it was Hurricane Hanna that had caused large scale devastation and I'd done essentially the same thing, changed the channel.
This morning I opened the newspaper, and staring me in the face from that colorful front page was the news of the demise of the Lehmann Brothers enterprise. Lehmann Brothers is (or was) one of America's largest financial tycoons. Just late last year, the company had declared record profits and just yesterday, it filed for bankruptcy. It turns out that Lehmann Brothers is only one in a long line of institutions that have drowned or are about to follow suit (AIG for example) as a result of the sub-prime crisis and economic recession in the US and economic slowdown around the world; a deadly cocktail of rising prices and falling income.
Desperate for some better news, I quickly flipped over pages and then again, images of the effects of a devastating typhoon around Taiwan.
All of this transpires in the same week as the Delhi serial blasts and in a year that has seen the following:

1. Record oil prices
2. (An unsolved) Global food crisis
3. Huge number of natural calamities
4. Economic crisis and record inflation figures in most countries. Zimbabwe just recorded inflation of 4000 percent. A meal in that country costs over 10 million Zim Dollars! The central bank in Zimbabwe just issued a 1 billion ZD note and then collapsed seven zeroes from the currency to rescale things back to 'normal'. You could just as well make paper planes of that money and blow it all away.
5. Almost a record number of terror attacks, no less than four serial bomb blasts in India within this year itself.

Looks rather ominous doesn't it? Its almost as if everything we've done over the last hundred years has somehow come around to bite us where it hurts most in the year 2008. All the mistakes have somehow piled up and the day this year dawned, the limit was breached. I don't mean to be a doom prophet here, but we'd better not change the channel or flip over pages anymore.

Save yourself. (And as I write this, I notice a blue button at the bottom of the page that aptly reads, "Save Now")

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Le Voyeur

Let me begin this with a redundant question. Has anyone noticed the meteoric rise of reality tv?? No? Oh well, too bad, but since you came here, you still have hope if you read what follows.
You have to notice this new show called "The Moment of Truth". They call people on the show and administer polygraph tests and if people are honest in public, give them loads of cash. Sounds easy right? Wrong. The questions can get amazingly intrusive, sometimes to the extent of wrecking up people's marriages. For example, last week, a woman was asked the question, "Have you ever slept with another man after your marriage?". A very sheepish "Yes" followed and the look on the family's face pretty much said it. Whats more is that if the polygraph finds you lying even once, you lose all your money. So this woman, after having answered some 15 extremely intimate and embarrassing questions, finally ended up failing the test and losing all the money. So, no money, no family and public humiliation.
Controversial as it may be, the show is amazingly popular and has a big fan following, as do a lot of other controversial reality shows. Leads me to ask to questions,
1) How much can people sacrifice for a chance at easy money?
2)This is more of a conclusion than a question. Human beings have an inbuilt Peeping Tom mechanism.
And this is why reality TV is such a hit, because of this amazing hunger for scandal and details that are not accessible. The more intimate or inaccessible a piece of information is, the more coveted it becomes; an irresistible urge to peep into the innermost depths of other people's lives! The size of this set called "other people", of course, can vary from person to person.

Not passing a moral opinion here, just saying we're all voyeurs!
Another hit from the American think tank!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Froggy Jump!

Just yesterday, I was watching the movie, "An Inconvenient Truth"; Al Gore's documentary on global warming and climate change. I seriously recommend this movie to all those who care about the environment and even more seriously to those who don't; this one's just the kind that will scare your guts into caring. Anyway, this post is not about the environment. It derives from one of the factoids that Al Gore shared about frogs to explain the attitude of a lot of people, especially in the developed nations, towards global climate problems. So Al Gore says that a frog, when it jumps into boiling water, immediately jumps back out to save its life because it receives that painful jolt. But the same frog, if falls into tepid water, and somehow the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will simply continue sitting there, oblivious of the fact that its getting cooked to death, till its either cooked or rescued! Whats the point he's trying to make? That you need that one hard jolt to shake you up into action.
So as I sat down last night to chew on this in the lone time I had (of which, in the absence of suitable human distractions, I have a lot these days) I realised thats true over a really wide range of things. Your exams are on two weeks from now, and you sit here, writing a blog post, knowing fully well that you'll be cooked meat within the next fourteen days! But why do you not do anything about it? Because it moves slowly. One night before the exam, you'd realise that the grand feast is the day after and thats the fearful jolt that would hopefully kick you into action. For some of us, even that doesn't work. We're somehow so amazingly fearless, or unaware (whichever way you put it) that we'd still carry on the way we were going about right until the day the divine boot lands on our derriere and then the otherwise mundane task at hand becomes herculian.
Procrastination is not the only time this "Froggy Jump Syndrome" kicks in. Say you had a bitter fight with a friend today and the two of you decided to never talk again. A flashpoint in life, one would say. So tomorrow on, suddenly, there is one less person to talk to. And that hurts like crazy. The pain will slowly go away, but every time you sit and think of it even 10, 20 or 30 years later (if you were unfortunately never able to patch this up in that time), it'd prick you where it hurts most. Its deliberate. Something you don't want to do but can't do without.
Imagine now, a very close friend of yours from years ago. You were the best of friends, and could never do anything without the other's company. And then, one day, the friend had to move to a different town, or the two of you went your own directions in life, vowing to always keep in touch. Slowly, but steadily, time filled up that vacuum that was created by the others' absence. At first, you'd talk everyday, then once a week, slowly to once in a year. Each of you got busy with your own lives and lost touch to the point that you don't know where the other one is. The final result is the same in both cases. The feeling is extremely different.
What then is the moral of the story? That, in most cases, humans resist abrupt change. It makes us uncomfortable, squeamish and a little too conscious of whats happening around us. If the same change takes place gradually and inconspicuously, we'd find ourselves behaving very differently, or rather, indifferently. I guess this draws from some sort of a survival instinct. Fast is a challenge. Conspicuous and in-your-face is a challenge. Making a deliberate choice on the harder side is a battle that draws out the last possible ounce of strength. And if we let it go, the inbuilt fatalism somehow seems to take care of everything, be it a quarrel (which it may), or the environment (which it does not!).
So the next time you feel like a frog in boiling water (regardless of how fast it got hot), make sure you jump!
Thus ended the recondite rumination.

The Blood Donation Camp

A few days ago, a blood donation camp was organized by the Indian Red Cross Society at IIT Delhi. The following were three of the most amazing excuses a lot of wimps decided to make to get away from donating blood:

1) There's too much blood in the world anyway.
2) I don't have enough blood to donate. (This comes from a muscular fellow who was quite capable of pounding me to pulp if I pressed on further)
3)They'll sell my blood in the black market! On being told that its the reputed Red Cross Society that is conducting the camp: "They're the biggest black marketers!"

Its amazing what some people will do to still maintain a false bravado after not having done something right. They'd rather look stupid than do something noble, or admit that they're scared for that matter. This post goes up so that everyone's aware that these excuses have already been used! Donate blood, its a good thing to do.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Circle of Life: Epilogue

Its been two months since we returned to Delhi and we still talk about it almost every single day. If I had one sentence to describe the trip, it would be "It ain't over till its over". At every step along the way, challenges were thrown in our face and we somehow manage to get past. At little bit of lady luck needs to be given credit as well. Two days after we left, there were massive protests in Jammu and Srinagar regarding the Amarnath land dispute. The valley continues to burn as I write this; I hope peace returns soon. Had we got stuck in the violence, we'd have had more than some trouble in getting back home in one piece.
Life has resumed to normal. Manu has moved on to bigger things and now is working in London. Dhar, Gussu and I continue to be in IIT. All of us have a year left before we too take detours to grander things in life. Dhar and I already have our next adventure planned. Next year we plan to fly down to Leh and cover the surrounding mountains on two week long treks and hopefully this will give me more stories to share.
Its been a pleasure recounting our escapades on the trip. Its taken a while, but been one of the most rewarding activities in the recent past. Hope that I'll get to write more, memories for a lifetime!
To conclude, a quote(apparently from nomadic wisdom) we found written on the door of a travel agency in Leh,
"A traveling fool is better than a sitting wise man"!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Circle of Life: Chapter 8: One Last Gamble on Life (Srinagar-Delhi)

The morning of the 22nd of June brought with it bittersweet emotions. If everything went right (emphasis on IF), we'd be home by this time the next morning. But the most amazing trip of our lives was also at its end.
So we got up early, were checked for identification by the army (as had been done many times), reached the taxi stand, and hurriedly got front seats in a shared cab. This bit was easy. And then came the babbling driver. At first we just thought of him as loquacious prick, but in about ten minutes after we had moved(already too late) we began to smell the alcohol in his breath as the smell of tobacco faded. We were sitting in a cab taking us through the treacherous mountains from Srinagar to Jammu with a drunk driver. We had already paid up, since all passengers are required to pay before the commencement of the journey and were already a fair distance away from the Srinagar bus stand. Dhar and I contemplated on whether we should get off and risk getting stranded or stay on and risk getting killed! And this is where we made this last gamble on life to reach home on time. We decided to stay on, and pray like hell that we didn't wind up as mangled corpses by the end of the day. Dhar switched on his trusty I-pod and closed his eyes. Later he would tell me that this was because he didn't want to know if he was dying! Such was the fear. I, on the other hand dedicated myself to the task of bearing the brunt of the driver's monologue so that atleast he kept talking and didn't doze off on the wheel. Memories of a very recent accident with one of my friends in a very similar fashion didn't make the activity any more pleasant. And in the midst of all his monologues, there was a family sitting in the backseat, chattering away to glory, blissfully unaware of the situation. At one point when I did tune in into what he was babbling about, I heard the words, "I'd driven all through last night to get from Jammu to Srinagar this morning. I've had only half an hour of rest." This was the ultimate alarm bell and I just clenched myself harder. He was saying all this of course, while he was ripping up packets after packets of tobacco, which he seemed to be wired on. Dhar momentarily opened his eyes along the way, probably just to check if he was alive, and on one such instance he nudged me and pointed out that the driver had begun rubbing his eyes! Alarmed, I asked him to stop by some tea shop to get tea so that he would stop feeling sleepy. The reply that came back was even better: "I'm rubbing my eyes not because I'm sleepy but because I have some eye defect!". So here we are, going from Srinagar to Jammu, hilly road, with a driver who's drunk, sleepy and has an eye defect! Now this is a set of lives that even God will find hard to save! The blessing in disguise however, was that we hadn't hit the mountains just yet. Since Kashmir is a valley, the first one-sixth or so of the journey is on plain terrain. Thankfully we stopped by a tea stall soon after and I sent the driver off to drink buckets of tea and do whatever it takes to keep him awake. As luck would have it, even his music system wasn't working, which would have most likely kept him up.

(Above: Guarding the highway)
The ride seemed to get better as my driver began to wake up. He spoke less, slurred less and was driving in a straight line for a change. Dhar finally could bear to open his eyes! And slowly we wound up the hills to the Jawahar Tunnel where we got our final look at the Kashmir Valley. Also quite apparent were the effects of global warming. In 2005, I had seen patches of snow around the tunnel and a lot of snow on the mountaintops in the distance. All of this had now disappeared. As we slowly traversed the 3 km long tunnel, I realised that we were probably much safer now. A few hours drive by the Chenab river went smoothly till we hit the one last of the zillion traffic jams on the trip. The Amarnath Yatra had started and this was the primary route. Everyone was in a hurry and ironically this hurry had caused the jam. It took us almost an hour and a half to slowly inch to freedom! Along the way we also stopped for lunch near the Baglihar Dam, a contentious point between India and Pakistan. There's something funny about this place. There are about 8-10 small restaurants and all serve only one dish: Rajma Rice! So much for variety. On our way to Jammu, the driver took a detour to Katra which is the base camp for the Vaishno Devi Shrine. Here it became disgustingly apparent that religion is big business and I was keen to leave as early as possible. Thankfully, without any further incidents, we had reached Jammu. The heat however, was oppressive and something we weren't used to now. So the first thing we did after booking the night bus was to look for an airconditioned restaurant to have our dinner in! We didn't care how the food was, we wanted the cold air!


(Above: Last look at the Kashmir Valley, Driving through the Jawahar Tunnel, the Baglihar Dam, The Silver Line)
Soon enough, we boarded our Volvo bus to Delhi which had already been delayed by 2 hours. The bus also looked rather dilapidated. The tyres seemed to be worn out, our window was coming loose and the AC wasn't working properly. This wasn't going to end soon. Having no choice, we boarded the bus and almost immediately dozed off. The next thing I remember is waking up in the morning, while the bus was crossing some fields somewhere in Punjab. The AC had stopped working completely and the windows couldn't be opened, making the ride unbearably hot (this was 23rd June, just to give an idea) . We were grossly delayed, which meant that we'd also have to bear the seering afternoon heat. On top of that, the bus' suspension had collapsed, so every time it hit a bump, everyone would be sent flying off their seats and then the bus would literally bounce and gallop like a horse! Somewhere along the line it also developed a leak somewhere so the floor of the bus swelled up everytime the bus accelerated for long and would shrink when the breaks were applied! The mood in the bus was foul, but Dhar and I couldn't help but laugh at our situation. We weren't going to get home easy. Thats how it had been, and thats how it will be!
Finally, around 1 pm(around 5 hours late), as we entered Delhi, and some five kilometers from Dhar's house, the passengers finally lost their cool and let the driver and his helper have it! A very heated argument and scuffle ensued, with the passengers rightfully demanding a refund, for this had been a bus ride from hell. Again, Dhar and I found a message in this. This was barely five kilometers from his house, and the journey would give us moments to remember right till the moment we stepped inside the relative safety of our homes! Thankfully, the other passengers soon realised it was better to reach soon than to argue. I bade Dhar farewell as the bus made its way to the final stop.

(Above: We made it! And in what condition!)
I got off at Delhi's Inter State Bus Terminus and having no energy to go to my own house, I headed straight for Manu's to wait to be picked up and taken to my place.
So this was it. We had made it! The circle had been completed. And boy had it been a tough circle to complete! As I rested in Manu's house and narrated to him the one half of the trip that he had missed, both of us realised that it felt like we'd been away for ages. It had been eleven days. But those eleven days, made us live and love our lives more than any other day that we had ever seen. We carried with us memories for larger Circle of Life.
THE CIRCLE OF LIFE






Fin.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Circle of Life: Chapter 7: Then There Were Two (Leh-Kargil-Srinagar)

I always have a firm faith in one fact: As far as possible, never come down the same way you went up. Taking a different return route always helps to get rid of the depression caused by the approaching end of the trip.
Manu and Gussu left early the next morning for the airport. Having bid them a groggy farewell, Dhar and I decided to abandon the plan to go to Khardung La, the world's highest motorable pass, and catch some of that much needed sleep instead.
It felt weird and somehow depressing that four had turned to two, but we had to get back on time to prove all the naysayers wrong, and thats how Dhar and I approached the next leg of the trip. We spent a very relaxing and quiet day roaming around town and getting our stuff ready. A peaceful lunch at Leh's countless garden cafe's with their lovely clay oven pizzas was just what we needed. Around 3 in the afternoon we boarded our bus to Srinagar, which, if on schedule(we now know that this is NOT a given around these parts) would land us in Srinagar early next morning. Along the way we would cross Lamayuru, Kargil and Dras, some of India's biggest conflict zones nine years back in the Kargil war.
The desert seemed to dominate the scenery as we exited Leh and started our sojourn towards Srinagar(Left,Right: Exiting Leh). Along the way we witnessed the conjunction of the Zanskar and Indus rivers where the mixing of blue and brown waters made for a beautiful spectacle. As we drove along beyond various police check posts, the sun began to set. The sun sets late in the mountains and it was bright even around 8 in the night. The setting sun cast its golden glow on the waters of the Indus, snaking its way through the gorge. Before long, we were crossing Lamayuru which is essentially a monastery town and a quiet place where monks can find their peace.
After Lamayuru it became dark and cold and as I waited for the moon to rise and bathe the mountains in its silver light, Dhar decided to take a nap. After having laboriously crossed Fotu La around ten in the night, we finally arrived at Kargil at around 1 in the morning. As I crossed the main street of Kargil, I could feel the adrenaline pumping as I saw the streets from where reporters would report the scene on the war front in 1999. My copy of Lonely Planet says that Kargil is shelled often from the other side of the Line of Control. That added to the adrenaline rush. At one point we stopped at a tea stall. A river runs right next to the tea stall and a mountain range exists on the other side, the top of which the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. So there we were, at one in the night, four kilometers from the LoC(as the crow flies).(Right:The Zanskar and the Indus meet) I dragged a very sleepy and grumpy Dhar out of the bus to take a photo as a testimony to this event. The feeling of being there quite paralleled the feeling of having walked across the Wahga Border into Pakistan in February last year. After Kargil, I dozed off and missed Dras. The next I opened my eyes, it was nearly sunrise and we were crossing Zoji La pass into the Kashmir valley.
A pass is usually a divide between two regions that are deeply distinct and unconnected. As we crossed Zoji La, we began our transition from the arid, bare mountains of Ladakh to the lush, green mountains of Kashmir. Also began a transition, from relative safety to an unsettling army presence. Down below us on the valley floor was Baltal, one of the camps for the Amarnath Yatra. For as far as the eyes could see, there was a mess of scores of camping tents and cars. A quick call to the worried parents in Delhi from Sonamarg, and we were well on our way to Srinagar. I had visited Srinagar in 2005 from the other side and I was particularly excited about visiting the same places and seeing if they had changed at all.

(Above: Sunset on the Indus, Near Lamayuru, Dhar pointing to the LoC)
It so transpired that we arrived in Srinagar three hours later than the stipulated time, taking the bus journey to about 18 hours. Needless to say, we were exhausted and the hot weather that was new to Srinagar didn't make it very comfortable. This was not the Srinagar I had visited three years ago. We did find a hotel in Lal Chowk (the city centre) which has historically been a very volatile area but has been relatively safe in recent times. However, a trip to the hotel balcony would unnerve even the hardiest. Every nook and corner of the streets below that the eyes could see had an armed personnel guarding it. It felt like a scene from an action movie where everything runs in perfect order but in slow motion just before something goes terribly wrong. This feeling that I couldn't shake off was another thing different from the last time I visited Kashmir.

(Above: Sunrise at Zoji La, The lush Kashmir Valley, Amarnath Camps at Baltal)
We got ready and headed for the grandest meal of our entire trip: the Kashmiri Wazwan. The Wazwan is a 36 course minimum, 60 courses maximum cermonial meal that one can seldom get beyond without bursting from every seam in the body. So was the case this time. We were given seven courses of the Wazwan and by the sixth we were stuffed beyond belief. This is what heaven must feel like! After that sumptuous meal we headed to the Hazratbal Shrine.
Hazratbal is a mosque in old Srinagar which houses a strand of hair from Prophet Mohammad's (PBUH) beard. This ancient relic was the centre of a major controversy in the sixties when it got stolen and threw the valley into a tense state till it was fortunately (albeit mysteriously) discovered a few days later.
A funny incident at Hazratbal is worth recounting. Dhar and I had been on red alert since morning. The unsettling, large army presence was one cause. The parents had also scared us to put us on our guard. As a result we were quite literally on tenter-hooks when the mic at Hazratbal was switched on for the afternoon Azaan. Some electrical disturbance caused the speakers to give off a staccato sound. Dhar and I, already tense, thought a gunfight had started nearby and were almost running for cover when the voice of the muezzin echoed on the speakers! We also realised that the guards hadnt moved an inch! Sheepish and relieved, we finally went into the mosque.


(Above: Hazratbal, Shikara ride to Char Chinar, Destruction of Nishat Bagh, Ice cream saves the day!)
It was my duty of sorts to take Dhar around Srinagar, since I'd been here before. Paucity of both time and money ensured that we could visit only the most important places. After Hazratbal, we took a shikara ride to Char Chinari, which is a small, beautiful island on the Dal Lake with four Chinar trees on the corners. I was quite dismayed to realise that the new, tourist infested Srinagar had also become grotesquely expensive. I was further piqued when we visited the Mughal garden of Nishat. The place was literally teeming with tourists, who couldn't resist the idea of stripping off and jumping into the various fountains in the beautiful garden.
By now, we had pretty much had it with Srinagar. We thought of leaving for Delhi the same night so we could reach Delhi early, but unfortunately or otherwise, there was no bus that could do this. And then we decided to make best of whatever time we had and a nice trip to fantastic Kashmiri bakeries and ice cream parlours near Lal Chowk, seemed to make us forget our chagrin with the place.
At night we had to honour the memory of our departed companions, and hence we played a couple of games of poker(official sport of our trip by now) and then we spent time reminiscing the best moments of our trip before we called it a day.
(Above: Lal Chowk by night)
Tomorrow would be the beginning of the end, the last arc of the circle, the home stretch, but who'd have expected a fight to the finish?

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Circle of Life: Chapter 6: 'Tso'litude (The Pangong Tso)

We woke up on the morning of the 18th of June to what were now the familiar and soothing Buddhist chants with mixed emotions. On one hand, the day had a lot in store for us. We were going to travel nearly 300 kilometers and visit probably one of the best places we'd ever seen and we were really excited. However, our bitter struggle with 'Parental Evacuation' was almost certain to fail. Dhar and I had mutually decided that we'd go on and complete the circle even if the other two left.
We left Leh at around 5.30 that morning, just another day in a series of sleep deprived days. We had to travel far, and the road would get flooded by early afternoon owing to the melting snow. Our minds were still racing to come up with a solution to our existing problem, when Gussu's dad called put his foot down on the issue. There was no way he was coming by road. And with him gone, Manu would also have to leave. So this was it then, there were four who started this and two who'd end it. This then being our last day together, we decided to make the most of it and decided to forget the disappointment that had just been caused and it was for once, easier than we had thought it would be.




(Border Roads Organization sends a small message to the parents!)


Along the way, we noticed a certain peculiarity about the Ladakh region- The color scheme of the valley follows a certain pattern. The river flows at the base of the valley and the surrounding areas are lush green. As one goes away from the river, the yellow-brown, bare starkness of the mountains takes over, till one hits the snow line. So there you have it, green, brown, white followed by the azure sky. (Picture on the right)
En route to Pangong, we crossed Chang La, the third highest pass in the world(Right). On our trip, we'd traverse both numero dos and tres, but numero uno, which is also in the same region, we had no time for. The road from Chang La vindicated our early departure. At many places, our car had to simply wade through water. After about a five hour drive, we finally reached the Pangong Tso.
So, what is the Pangong Tso? 'Tso' is Tibetan for 'Lake'. The Pangong Tso is a saltwater lake at an altitude of 14000 feet. It doesn't support aquatic life and its pure blue water, set with a backdrop of bright, bare mountains offers a view to kill for. The water changes its colour as the angle of the sunlight shifts during the day. The lake itself is 180 kilometers long, two-thirds in Tibet, but visitors are allowed only for the first seven.



(The blue waters of Pangong Tso)


We relaxed for a while by the lake and its freezing cold water before finally returning to Leh. Upon arrival, we indulged in our daily dose of crazy behaviour, and then retired for the night. Tomorrow there would be two.








(Right: Gussu during our daily dose of crazy behaviour)

The Circle of Life: Chapter 5: Spiritual Growth (Leh Days 1 and 2)

It’s quite ironic that I’m listening to the song “Fragile” as I write this. But this was exactly the condition all of us were in that evening we landed in Leh. But we were hardened travelers by now and after a short break we decided to head off to the Shanti Stupa to catch the sunset from the highest point in the city.
As we wound our way through the small town, already beginning to fall in love with it, we found ourselves crossing various picturesque garden cafés with amazing food. One notable thing was that most of the tourists in Leh were not Indian. But the place simply exudes beauty. The buildings are beautiful, the mountains are beautiful, the clouds, the people, their faces and their hearts simply display beauty like its everyday!

Anyway, when we finally wound up at the bottom of flights of what seemed like a zillion steps leading to the stupa, we did give climbing them a second thought. The oxygen was still fairly hard to find, we’d just come off the back of a really hard journey, and most importantly, my three companions had varying levels of vertigo. Dhar dropped off halfway and decided to spend his time on the stairs, while the rest of us proceeded upward, huffing to a halt every ten steps. Adding insult to injury was this excited little local kid who was looking to race us to the top. Needless to say, we lost that undeclared race. After reaching the top in over half an hour, we got a great panoramic sunset view of Leh and the surrounding mountains and decided to hurtle down quickly, so that we could reach the bottom before it was dark. We also counted the stairs on the way down to land up at a figure of 624 which is still disputed with great zest amongst the four of us.

(Above: The Shanti Stupa, Leh and sunset from the Shanti Stupa)
In all, we’d had a great day, but bad news was right around the corner. At night when Manu spoke to his parents, they asked him to fly back to Delhi when we were done with Leh and there was no way they were going to let him enter Kashmir on their way back. It was dangerous, and they would have none of it. Quite obviously, this spelled disaster because it put us on waitlists for our respective families to call and do the same. The families had been spooked because we had stayed out of touch the one day we had got stranded at Kangla Jal. Wasn’t our fault, but they too had a point.
As the next day dawned, any disappointment we had from the previous night got washed away. Manu and I had what was called the “City View” room and was essentially a lone room on the terrace of the hotel. As I walked out onto the terrace early that morning, I could hear the Buddhist chant of “Om Mani Padme Hum” echoing from the city through a loudspeaker. This was just the relaxing start we needed after what we had been through. Having had such a great start to the day we did what had become a rare phenomenon, something civil society calls ‘Breakfast’. Today we’d go in and around Leh, to ancient monasteries and palaces. Somewhere along the way, we’d also have to think up ideas to circumvent what I had begun to call ‘Parental Evacuation’ and save our trip. It wouldn’t be the Circle of Life if it wasn’t a circle, and we’d cover the circle with whatever we had.

(Above: Mantra stones at Thiksey Monastery, Monks announcing prayer time at Thiksey, Buddha statue at Shey, Manu with his newly bought prayer wheel)

With these thoughts in mind we headed to the ancient Thiksey Monastery, where we discovered that today was a very auspicious day. The full moon of the sixth month of the year was when The Buddha was born and also attained enlightenment. Today was that day and today would be a day of celebration and prayer. We were extremely lucky to have witnessed this event, complete with the prayer Ricola’s announcing the beginning of the prayer, and the gathering of all monks in the same room, that was beginning to resonate with the mellow, rhythmic chanting of the ceremonial prayer. Following this we visited the Shey Monastery and the Stok Palace where all of us got a very inspirational lecture on the cycle of life and death from an old monk. Having returned to Leh in the afternoon, we sampled Kashmiri cuisine and headed to the Leh Palace, which was actually the first place on the whole trip that we couldn’t talk about for hours. After having dealt with the Leh Palace, I embarked on a solo foot trip around Leh town. It turns out that Leh is in fact one of those nice little towns one can walk across. On return, I found Stenzing waiting with the other three guys. Stenzing was an acquaintance of Manu’s mother’s and pretty much embodies everything that’s nice and lovely about the people of Leh. Stenzing volunteered to show us around town and took us to the Sindhu Ghat, the banks of the Indus, where the Sindhu Darshan Festival is held every year. The Sindhu Ghat gave us our second consecutive great sunset, this time across the windy and picturesque Indus valley. He then took us to his abode, where we were treated like kings and then on exit we realized what makes the people of any place great-mutual trust and respect. Stenzing had installed in his house, a bolt on the open door that could be opened from outside as well. Upon asking him what would happen if someone else would come and open his house and steal all that was inside, plop came the reply, “That doesn’t happen here sir. Delhi, you’d have your house emptied within minutes, but here, that sort of a thing doesn’t happen.” This is what makes a place great. And unfortunately there are very few such great places left.




(Above: Giant prayer flag at Stok, Leh skyline by evening, Dhar's moon silhouette, With Stenzing at Sindhu Ghat)
We were feeling great on one end, but on the other, Parental Evacuation was beginning to weigh on our minds. And some bad news came in at night. We were to pass through one of the camps of the Amarnath Yatra, which is sometimes marred by terrorist trouble. While were clear that this was probabilistic and we wanted to take our chances, atleast two sets of parents thought otherwise, the other two, being mine and Dhar’s had still not sent in a word. That night Gussu’s dad forbade him from coming back through Kashmir.
He had just received information from someone in the Border Security Force that it was extremely unsafe to go that way. Manu’s mother had just left the decision to him in a fit of exasperation, but it was clear that he’d have to fly back if Gussu flew back. Dhar’s parents were still considering things, and I hadn’t heard from mine. Things didn’t look good, but this was no time to sulk.
For tomorrow morning, we’d visit probably the best place we had ever visited in our short lives- The Pangong Tso.