Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Lage Raho Munnabhai: Not a review

I watched Lage Raho Munnabhai last saturday. Now we see that this movie had a huge baggage on two counts

1. The reputation of Munnabhai MBBS
2. The reputation this movie itself had developed with everyone who'd seen it.

So I was going with quite lofty expectations. The movie was scheduled at 2:30 pm. We reached the mall quite early by 1:30 pm. For lunch, we had this amazing hybrid of Dosa and Russian Salad - Salad Dosa Roast or something. There still was a lot of time left. The mall didnt have much to offer. I was roaming around desperately searching for something to do. I found a LAN games parlour. People were playing on computers connected to a network. I got in and saw the kind of games they play these days. Needless to say I was impressed. They were playing some sort of adventure game. The setting is of a busy city and the objective is to reach a predefined point. You go about it using any means possible. You can choose to run. Or you can use any car provided its not locked (yes I mean stealing). You can kick the passing biker and 'borrow' his bike. In fact you can do almost anything. I was watching as one player was driving a car and was being closely pursued by the police. He crashed his car and gets out. The police officer too gets out and is about to arrest him. Amazingly and to my utter amusement, our hero actually kicks the police officer and now 'borrows' the police car instead. There is such beauty in violence!

Before I knew it, it was time for the movie and I had forgotten everything about the baggage it carried. I felt relieved - now it was just the movie - no unnecessary baggage. The movie began with the usual light hearted easy going atmosphere that is reminiscent of Munnabhai MBBS. You may not laugh out loud at each and every other joke. But there is always a smile. The innocence around could'nt be disturbed even by the villainous seeming Lucky Singh (Boman Irani). As everyone seems to be saying, the movie does give a lot to think about without being preachy. But there is a disconnect here. While my heart is going all gaga over how the movie made me feel, my mind points out how the director has exploited some pre-existing thoughts in me to make me like what I see. I like it because I relate to the film and not because it is something exceptional, or some great masterpiece crafted with immense dedication and care. It is rather a simple story of a few people trapped in this dog eat dog world who discover the master solution to all their problems.

As I mule over it again, I get doubts of whether there really is any disconnect. Isnt identifying what I would relate to itself a masterpiece in itself? What are works of art really? Someone creates a piece as an expression of his/her inner feelings. People look/hear/feel/read the piece of art and are able to appreciate those inner feelings. The piece makes them feel certain emotions that may or may not be intended by the artist. What, however is most important is that the people relate to the art in some way or the other. People dont like art per se. People like how that art makes them feel.

In that sense Lage Raho Munnabhai is a grand success. The comedy is not exceptional, the story isnt that great, but somehow the whole package seems to have a sense of completeness in it. I laugh, I cry, I get angry, I hate, I get frustrated, I feel hurt, I ponder, I like and I love. The movie brings each of these feelings out. In the end you are filled with an deep sense of satisfaction and also a feeling of love towards everyone and everything. If there was one word I would need to describe that emotion, it would be "peace".

In the rush while coming out of the hall, a guy stamped my foot. Normally I would get at least a bit annoyed and would look at him with anger. But not that day. Nevertheless he was profuse in his apologies. I actually felt the love for him, gave him a smile and told him not to bother.

Thank you for filling me with positive thoughts at least on that day.

Peace is not glamorous. But I can't help loving it.

Friday, September 15, 2006


What appeals in any song or piece of music? A piece of music has its ups and
downs. This change is essential in any song. A good piece of music is one where
the highs are really appealing, while the lows are not too tiresome. The trick
is to have a good balance of those highs and lows. During the lows, the listener
starts longing for the highs, but the highs don’t come about just then. The low
period continues until the longing is almost unbearable. This is just that right
time to give the listener that high he/she covets to get the desired affect of
pure unbridled pleasure. If the low period is too small in a song, not enough
time is given to build up the longing to its crescendo. Having a very long
period of just building up craving might bore the listener. Different people
have different thresholds for bearing the low period. So it is tough to get that
right mix of highs and lows and that is why balance is important.

This was what I thought for a long time until I heard the music of Strings. Their music has this strange property of captivating me throughout the song. I can mentally take notes of the highs and lows. But my heart seems to like both the highs and lows. ‘The longing’ I so thoroughly described earlier is not during the song, but during the time I am not plugged into the song. When I am listening the song, it’s a high like no other.

A brief introduction is due. This was a band quite popular in Pakistan back about 14 years ago. A particular track “Sar Kiye ye Pahar” was quite famous even outside Pakistan. They were four members then. After completing two albums, Strings and Strings 2, the band disintegrated. I don’t know much of what happened between then and now except that they got married and had kids. Suddenly after an absence of 10 yrs they come back with this new album Duur. It must be the accumulation of their creative juices over the dry years or simply their pure luck, but the music was, to say in modest terms, awesome. After this was an equally popular album, Dhaani. Now I am waiting for heir next release. Meanwhile they’ve done some other songs here and there and some collaborative albums in between.

I’ve seen Strings live in one of the concerts they did in Lucknow. Not only is their music great but I think they are extremely well balanced and intelligent people. I think they’ve learned a lot from the years in hibernation. I was impressed by the maturity and the ability to relate to realms outside music. They talked about Indo-Pak relations and what they thought about it in their own small way. It was genuine and not once did I ever feel it was made up. It was good to know that there was more personality to them than just the music.

The first I ever heard of them was Duur. The soul stirring music of this song is characterized mostly by the way the guitar is handled. Never had any Indian or Pakistani music had ever used the guitar strings so centrally and yet so famously. The song and the album was an instant hit. Their next album Dhaani too was a major hit. Very rarely do we come across albums in which each song has something about it to cherish for.

So why suddenly after having followed them for so long do I feel the need to write about them only now? I listen to my mp3 player everyday in my travel to office, and for a long time now I am not able to find deliverance from these songs of Strings. I am in serious need of help.

Mera Bichra Yaar (Dhaani)
This is not the song for everyone. And it is definitely not the song you will be blown away by, the first time you hear it. But give it time and it grows onto you. It embraces you slowly but with such strong resolve that you cannot possibly turn away. Needless to say, I’m hooked.

Kahani Mohabbat Ki (Dhaani)
The story of love is conveyed beautifully using the most simplest of lyrics. This song refreshes you. The flute, the guitar, the words, the voice of Faisal, the whole composition inspires me to make new beginnings. I don’t know if others listening to the get inspired considering the sad setting it is intended to be in.

Na Jaaney (Dhaani)
This is that song which was selected for the soundtrack of Spiderman 2. Again the setting is sort of sad. I can’t put my finger on what I like in the song. Or rather I would say that this medium of my expression (writing) or any medium of expression for that matter, doesn’t quite convey it. Maybe someone else can but I can’t. Enough said. Go listen to the song and find out yourself.

By the way, their songs are available on their official website.

My other song recommendations for the month:

1. Kya Mujhe Pyar Hai (Movie: Woh Lamhe, Singer: KK)
2. Chal Chale (Movie: Woh Lamhe, Singer: James)
3. Tere Bin (Movie: Bas Ek Pal, Artiste: Atif Aslam (Jal))
4. Bas Ek Pal (Movie: Bas Ek Pal, Singer: KK)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


This post was long overdue. This is an account of a trip to Matheran some time ago.

The Matheran Trek was really hectic. We trekked, got repeatedly drenched, visited multiple “spots” (viewpoints of interest typically included in any organised tour), took many photos and in short had a blast.

In the process we did something which we hadn’t done since a long time – we got really tired. I don’t mean the getting tired from spending long hours on computer either playing games, seeing random movies, reading or typing random stuff. Nor do I mean getting tired by staying late in the night watching TV. I mean many times the kind of tired that I felt when I used to play tennis on late nights in the chill of winter in Lucknow. I mean real hardcore physical strain. I don’t mean the exhaustion of playing cricket in the sun. I mean the kind of tiredness where its not your throat or lungs that give up. It is the kind of exhaustion in which it is the actual moving parts of the body that start groaning, begging you to stop. But you cannot possibly do that. You simply have to move on to see the next “spot” here in Matheran.

When we say “spot”, being such a small word, it gives us an impression of an insignificant little crammed space from where there is some rare view and all tourists in the hill-station would have crowded it with no space to spare. In Matheran, you could not be more wrong. I don’t know how people compare different hill-stations but to me being devoid of things like busy crowds, crammed spaces and everything that a city represents is becoming the sole criteria. Every hill-station will have its share of beautiful spots and so called points to visit. But to me the beauty lies in exploring all that yourself. You don’t need some nagging guide showing you around specific places to see, predefined routes to follow in a well packaged tour. You need freedom and the sense of adventure of being independent in a hill station, discovering new locations all by yourself, and thereby sinking in the full throttled sense of achievement of having discovered a place of beauty. Now if there are hundred other people sharing that same crammed place, that sense of achievement dies even before taking birth. And herein lies the beauty of Matheran. Yes, it does have its share of “spots” or specific points to be seen. But firstly they are not crowded. You would occasionally see a family or two sharing a “spot” with you but you would mostly be alone. Secondly in addition to the regulars there are hundreds other places just waiting for you to explore and are rich with wild natural unexplored beauty.

Sample this. The hill doesn’t rise at a regular 45 degree angle. Mostly there is a steep cliff on its sides. So if you dare to venture into the edges of the hill, it is very likely that you’d catch the breathtaking view of deep valley below and the opposite hill rising with a matching grandeur and steepness of the hill you yourself are on. As we visited the place during the monsoon, we had the fortune of seeing hundreds of these waterfalls all along the route and also on these opposite hills. And that’s just what is near. You could see far and wide the enormous expanse of nature through your vantage point. And Images/photos just don’t give it. You simply have to be there to experience it.

There is so much dynamism all around in spite of the peaceful environs. Being at a high altitude, the clouds were all around us. The windy weather was moving these clouds at will all around the place. It wasn’t raining all the time, but sometimes it would we would be showered with a sudden splatter of water droplets and we’d not know where it had come from. Actually as a cloud passing through us, it would condense spontaneously and we would be showered with a mix of cloud and water droplets. So it was rain in its most pure form which had just condensed. Reaching out and standing on the edges of dangerous cliffs was a thrill in itself. Now imagine a situation. Your eyes are closed. When you open your eyes and see ahead of you, there is a vast expanse of space. Somewhere far ahead you there must be land but you cannot see it as it is blocked by clouds. You turn your head towards the right or left. Again, nothing to be seen but the clouds. You look above to see the sky above to find more clouds. Finally you look down – again only clouds to be seen in all distant space. The whiteness engulfs you. And yet you know that there is nothing but empty space all around you. Could you imagine that? That is what its like to be standing on a cliff. Its really enchanting.

I have vowed to have more of such trips from now on. The next on the agenda are Daman and probably Mahabaleshwar.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mind Games

Bus journeys to and from office in the company bus are one very good way of catching some well deserved sleep. The journey to office is like a continuation of morning sleep but for the short break of morning formalities. In the evenings after a hard day of not working (believe me it is really tiring), sleep is but natural. So I save about 2 hrs of sleep.

But once I get into this sleepy state, the subconscious mind takes over, and I am out of tune with the mundane day to day reality. All this means that I tend to forget things when alighting the bus. This habit of sleeping has cost me dearly - a lost mobile, two lost umbrellas, many incidents of books/documents left behind. So I was very skeptical one day while putting my umbrella on the top luggage compartment. There was no place for the wet umbrella down with me, so I had no choice but to put it up there. As I was wary of loosing it, I thought I'd remind myself about the umbrella before alighting. So I created an alarm to that affect in my mobile. The alarm was set to the approx time I would probably alight on.

“I can safely forget about the umbrella now”, I thought. But now I faced a new problem. Neither could I sleep, not get the damned umbrella out of my head. I tried listening to music. I tried reading. But all my efforts were useless. Actually by putting in conscious effort to create the alarm, I had hardwired the thought of the umbrella in my mind. So the harder I tried, the harder it was for me to forget about it.

Now I started thinking of more advanced ways of forgetting. Since it was my conscious effort to forget that was making it hard to forget, I thought I will now try the reverse logic and try to focus on remembering and not on forgetting. But somehow the subconscious mind got wind of this well thought out plan. I realized that you couldn’t hide something from your own self (can we?).

Finally I got bored of these games. A genuine drowsy feeling took over. I guess by now I didn’t care enough about remembering or forgetting. And that is when it happened. By the time I was nearing my stop, the alarm actually startled me. I had forgotten.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. The subconscious does behave in mysterious ways. Its is completely incomprehensible to the logical left brain. Sometimes it can be like a stubborn little mischievous kid who is hell bent on defying you while other times it just doesn’t bother what you do. While mostly I don’t know the existence of my subconscious, but on the rare occasions that it makes its appearance, it sometimes scares me with its potential and sheer dominating power.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Blogging Style

Your Blogging Type Is Thoughtful and Considerate

You're a well liked, though underrated, blogger.
You have a heart of gold, and are likely to blog for a cause.
You're a peaceful blogger - no drama for you!
A good listener and friend, you tend to leave thoughtful comments for others.

I must say this seems to be very much true, though I'm not sure about the first line of me being well liked and underrated.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Decisions Decisions

Why does it take me ages to finally pick an option? Why is the decision postponed to the last possible moment? Why is there a need for endless deliberation to decide inconsequential things? Why after so much deliberation does my decision not seem right?

I have to come out of this cycle. I have to stop analysing things over and over again. I have to stop looking at all possible angles. I wish I could see just black and white and not the multi-coloured multi dimensional model that I see when I have to decide. I want to be sure for once in my life.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Golmaal and Corporate

I saw two movies this weekend – Golmaal and Corporate.

These are not exactly reviews but just some of my thoughts.

Golmaal - Golmaal was your typical laugh riot hindi movie of the genre of No Entry, Phir Hera Pheri etc. Nothing special or endearing in it and it is true to what it is – a light hearted comedy to be watched once and to be forgotten. Making sense of the script is not called for. It will not make sense, and trying to do so will spoil all the fun. So it is better that I do not analyse the subtleties of the movie and just give my recommendation – watch it once.

Corporate – This is a movie by Madhur Bhandarkar, the same director who gave us the brilliantly sensitive Chandni Bar and the critically acclaimed Page 3.

Chandni Bar was a story of one girl through her eyes about the kind of people she met and how they influenced her life. It was supremely sincere as being just her account of happenings of her life, nothing else. There were few generalisations and the film was more emotional and sensitive than judgemental.

Page 3 was a film carrying forward the theme of a young female protagonist observing the world around her. But this time it was not just the story of her life. It was more a story of the realm she moved around in – the Page 3, the affluent upper class. It was a story of parties, of drugs, of the hypocrisy hiding behind the façade of beautiful faces and seemingly kind hearts. It was a story that made you think about the sad lives of the rich and the powerful. One wondered if it’s really worth becoming richer if that meant moving around in social circles where every smile hides a deep rooted contempt and every act of kindness hides some ulterior motive. The story eventually got perceived as an original among the various genres of comedy, love and action movies in popular Hindi cinema.

Warning: Though I'm not disclosing complete details here, it is advisable to not read further if there are plans of seeing Corporate in the future

With Corporate, Madhur Bhandarkar has continued his tried and tested formula once again. The lead character once again is a girl named Nishi stuck in a new atmosphere. It’s now the big bad corporate world. The competition is intense. Competitors do just about anything to get even a tiny bit of advantage. Nishi is not new to this world and knows all the tricks of the trade. She breaks just about every rule in the book to bring down their biggest rival. But somewhere in between when her boss decides to go all out in the war, she finally sees how this could adversely affect innocent people who are not part of the war. That is the turning point and the beginning of her downfall. Like Page 3, this movie tries to make us think. In the process, the movie does become judgemental. It gives a highly clichéd view of the corporate world. Every businessman is out to make profits without concern for anything else. The dirtier you get, the bigger you grow. Every government employee and politician can be bribed, either through money or/and through sex. It’s a stifling sick world where everyone is selfish, deceitful and money minded.

The movie is well made though. Barring a few exceptions, the story comes out to be quite believable as could happen in any corporate setting. I laughed at the amateurish attempts of recreating board room discussions and the way deals were actually finalised. The most hilarious was the way confidential information was stolen from a high powered executive’s laptop. A movie of this nature of the corporate world of which not enough is known outside it calls for a thorough research. The lack of the same was painfully apparent in some places. But for a hindi movie, I think Madhur has done a commendable job of recreating actual business wars.

Frankly I’ve had enough of the Madhur Bhandarkar formula. While one must appreciate the uniqueness of his plots, one realises that in the end they are all the same. A small change of setting, an innocent seeming female lead, an unnecessarily brutal and one sided portrayal of the outside world and you have a new critically acclaimed flick. What does one take away from the movie anyway? A false sense of smugness that one doesn’t belong to the corporate world or a determination to suddenly clean up all the mess that the corporate world is in? I wonder…

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Tummy Troubles

The past three or four days have been like a roller coaster ride for me. I was suffering from diarrhoea. Now I’ve had my share of loose motions before. My stomach is relatively strong and was easily able to come out of them. There is this medication called Entero Quinol that was very affective. One or two of these were more than enough to get back in shape. But this time I was facing something new. I have not come across such a brutal attack in my entire conscious life. This thing just refused to go away. So much so that on the first day I had to take as many as 7 tablets.

The roller coaster began after this. I was never really sure if it was over. The thing about such diseases is that if you decide to take a leave, you always get this guilty feeling if you are not sick enough. But if you decide to go, there is always this high strung tension on your mind. You never know what could happen. After all with the heavy rains, travel times become notoriously long and the probability of you being in an uncomfortable spot increases that much more. Anyway I decided that it is best to not to go and I was duly supported by the forces of nature.

As I realised that I was encountering a new potent form of the disease, I decided that a simple use of medication wouldn’t help. I needed to change my diet to really get well. Now a new trouble began. I thought I am not really knowledgeable enough in such matters and decided to stay away from cooked food on the first day. I ate bananas and papaya. I next day when I was talking to my neighbours, say N1 about the illness, they said that Papaya was an absolute no go. “It is a warm fruit. It heats the system”. They were also not too sure of the bananas. I panicked and sought their highly informed advice. “malai burfi” (a sweet derived from milk) was the first word that came out. I was surprised. After all this would be one of the toughest things to digest. I was reassured that my apprehensions were uncalled for and malai burfi indeed would bring quick relief. My interest was aroused. I asked for more dietary advice. Cake, bread, oranges, curd etc. were among the few things suggested. “Great! So my diet will not be so uninteresting like the papayas after all”, I thought.

I managed to survive one more day. Now was the turn of another neighbour, say N2 to give advice. I asked him about the bananas as there were still some left and I was not too sure whether I should go ahead and eat them or not. “Bananas cause constipation which is the opposite of what you have. So go ahead.” OK. Fair enough. N1 was not too sure about bananas anyway. So I finished the bananas in breakfast. Soon after I was talking to a close friend, A. “Don’t eat bananas, but papayas are good.” I enquired about the curd. “I guess it should be ok to eat curd, but there is something about curd that I am not able to recall right now. Why take the risk? I suggest you avoid it as of now.” Later that day another friend, B gave this piece of advice, “All milk products should be avoided and that includes curd too”. So if we consolidate the different nuggets of advice I got from all sources, I should and should not eat papaya, I should and should not eat banana, I should and should not eat curd, I should eat malai burfi, cake and bread. Earlier I was just sick. Now I was sick and confused.

I had all of the above food items (yes, even the dangerous seeming malai burfi) and have not found enough reason to either support or negate the claims made by any of the advice givers. So when it comes to the stomach, everyone has an opinion. And it necessarily is not the same. I suspect everyone forms an opinion based on his/her own experiences. I guess everybody has a unique tummy, like a fingerprint, and it behaves in its own unique fashion. Of course it will also depend on the kind of food one has been having through his/her life. One should take advice but it is also helpful to experiment a bit to know what is suitable an what is not. I know this is but common sense but because I didnt face a major fiasco with my tummy till now, I was a bit complacent. I wont be now.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Personal Decision

I was consciously staying away from the reservation debate at least on this blog. In case you haven’t noticed yet, this blog is strictly a personal one dealing with my experiences in life and how I learn from them. The reservations mess that the Indian Government has brought onto itself and my take on it probably doesn’t quite fit in the scheme of things here.

But today I seem to have found a way to fit this thing in this blog. Some specific news items- one is of the Muslim groups demanding their fair share representation in the number of seats, the second one is of Meira Kumar giving details of proposed increased quotas for SC to reflect the increase of their population percentage. I also came to know the people of Buddhist religion are officially recognised as SC. It is also widely known that one can easily obtain false caste certificates if you oil the right hands. Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan is now proposing earmarking as much as 22.5% of the annual budget for Scheduled Castes. Wow! The sheer intelligence of our leaders amazes me. Anyways I do not wish to rant here about the twisted logic of this proposal.

The point I wish to make here is that given my own feelings for all things religious, I can easily convert to a more comfortable religion. So how is the govt going to stop me from getting reservation? Also for people who probably are more particular about being Hindu, they could easily obtain false (oops the certificates are actually genuine in the sense that they are duly signed by the actual issuing authority, so the govt cannot possibly call them as false) caste certificates. So if we leave aside the so called noble intentions of the govt and purely look the impact or try to know about the actual population benefiting by the move, we’ll see that they constitute those who actually are traditionally from so called backward castes, those who convert to Muslim or Buddhism and those who conveniently obtain false caste certificates from touts attached to various corrupt offices. The govt is conveniently forgetting about the huge number of poor people from all castes who are struggling for food and probably don’t even think about education. After all what possible vote bank could they represent?

Given that this reservation policy has almost unanimous support among the politicians, (who would want to dare challenge the united voting might of the backward castes?) there is no way this bill can be stopped. So it is now time for me to take a stand. What am I going to do once this bill is passed? Am I going to get fed up of all this, quit and emigrate to another country that is not governed by the age old divide and rule policy? Am I going to stay back and face the rigours of increasingly reducing portion of seats and jobs that will be left for me and my children to compete for? Am I going to stand up for my principles and not get a false caste certificate? Am I going to stand up for whatever feeble religious beliefs I have and not convert? Only time will tell. But time too is running out. Sooner or later the loophole of changing religion and the one of false caste certificates ought to be discovered. Some fix will definitely follow. Maybe I need to act fast. Hmm lets see…..

Monday, May 22, 2006

The grand old railways website

I regularly visit the Indian railways site to schedule journeys, track waitlisted tickets and do other trains related stuff. There was a time when visiting this site had sort of become my hobby. It started with ‘Trains at a glance’, a book that contains train schedules of all the major trains. As a kid, I used to follow the book keenly trying to create perfect travel plans for the next family vacation. I can’t explain why I liked this; I simply did. That was the time when the site was manageable because of its decent response time & because it didn’t have any ads. My memory is bad, but I guess this was not more than four years ago.

But then the “massacre” started. No, there is no other word to describe the pounding that the huge number of ads gave you when you dared to visit the website. I guess popup blockers were not very popular then. At least I didn’t know of them. I was forced to give up on my hobby. Soon I lost interest and just let it be.

There of course used to be times when I urgently needed to get information, and visiting the website was the only option. And boy, did I dread those times? There was a thorough ritual to be followed before opening the website. I would close all programs, windows etc. that I was working on. I used to open a single browser window that would innocently occupy one corner in my taskbar. No sooner had I entered the address followed by the enter key, the whole place would go ballistic. One after one, the popups would crowd the desktop. The taskbar would have around ten to twenty different buttons with just one of any importance to me. The game would then start. Would the popups appear faster or would I be able to close them faster? My experience in FPS games like Quake and Unreal definitely came handy here. Unfortunately there was a new problem now. If I closed all the popup windows, the parent website, would refuse to process any of my requests. I don’t know how they managed that, but I would get a timeout response if all the popups were mercilessly killed. Soon I learnt how to manage with one or two popups open.

But now I have got good news to share. And nothing could be better. Yesterday I was trying to sneak my way inside without causing the commotion that is usually associated with visiting the website. And the most pleasant thing happened. I did not encounter any popups. Zilch, zero, null, naught, nil, absolutely none! And I was not even using Firefox. Now that is a rare something good happening in this unfortunate atmosphere of reservations, crashing stock markets, and general gloominess.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Gadget Frenzy

I wrote this a while ago. At that time I didnt think it was worth blogging. But now I am posting it anyway.

BN quietly remarked one day, “The net asset value of our house has suddenly increased in the past one week”. He was referring to the number of electronic gadgets that have entered our house within a few days.

It all began when our very own AK lost his ancient Nokia. Before the incident, he had been visiting mobile shops regularly but was hesitating in actually buying a phone. Ostensibly he was doing some “research” or so he wanted us to believe. Anyway, it must be a case of split personalities or of the subconscious taking over control, but just when I thought he had stopped his research and was calling off the mobile purchase, he lost his mobile. How else can you justify that a guy having able to maintain the same mobile for over 4 years, suddenly looses it just after contemplating a new mobile? Nevertheless, it didn’t take him long to buy his new one once the old one was gone. In a matter of hours this new baby was comfortable cuddled in his palms. An outcome of what ought to be Samsung’s efforts in response to the Moto RAZR, this phone features a 1.3 MP camera, a media player with mp3 & video playback, expandable memory, bluetooth and I could go on with this mobile’s unending feature list. All this is done in an enviable form factor with Samsungs now legendary slider function. You can connect it to a TV and watch videos, photos or even open ppt, doc, or pdf files as this phone can open many of the present day document types.

Then there was this Sony mp3 player that I got. This biggest feature going for it is its amazing battery life. The Lithium Ion battery takes about 3 hrs to charge and is rated to last around 50 hrs of playback. I found this claim reasonably close as I get around 42 to 46 hrs of playback time depending on what “power save” setting I put it on. The next best part of the player is the of course the looks and the really cool display. Unlike in other players and electronic gadgets there is no clear demarcation of the display area. The player just has this metallic shining exterior. But when you switch it on, a delicious looking aquamarine OLED display comes on right in the middle of its shining metallic exterior, something you least expect. Then there are the very innovative controls- something that you’ll either love or hate because they are so unique. Fortunately for me, I like them, and by now have sort of internalised them.

We also have my new camera, the Olympus SP 320. There is not much to say about this one but a short summary would include 7 MP, image stabilization, good low light performance, small design, large 2.5” display, and most of all a host of manual controls that I could learn to grow into. The only glitch seems to be its incompatibility with ordinary AA size cells, which I believe would be solved with a firmware upgrade.

Any mention of gadgets is incomplete without the mention of a new member in our home, AL. So when he joined the chaotic environs of the enclosure we call home, suddenly there were a host of new things to be seen all around. I will not be able to describe much, but till date I’ve seen a camera Kodak P 850, a Philishave, a IBM lenovo laptop, his Sony Ericsson K700i. There definitely will be more things hiding in his immense loads of baggage.

Anyway the point is that even though they may not seem much, but all these entered our home within a span of 3 days. The point also is that I guess I have talked a lot about gadgets. I should stop now. Time to go check out some real stuff in Think Geek.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Pity the beggars?

It’s been ages. To be able to write, the mind needs to be able to think. Somehow I was not thinking much about a lot about my life the past few days. The routine life had taken its toll. Sometimes things need to be shaken up.

I am now in Vizag doing nothing. I needed this cooling off after the hectic Mumbai life badly. As always, this time too, I was traveling home by train. Now sleeper class being my preferred class for travel, because it is airy & open and because it is very cheap. It is also always filled to the brim with many experiences - different kinds of people either begging or selling you something.

The journey started off with hijras. In fact, throughout the journey, as many as 8 hijra parties "raided" our compartment. They certainly have grown in number. But I get the feeling that they have lost their old aggression and style. Where is the highly expressive, no holds barred overly feminine nature? Where are the loud claps that sent chills down young boy's spines? Where is the stubborn nature of not accepting anything less than 10 Rs? Now they seem to be satisfied even with 1 Re. They seem to have diminished in their character and style and have dropped to the level of ordinary beggars.

Anyway, when it comes to beggars, there are a very few we can characterize as ordinary. To be able to get money from others, almost every beggar will have some differentiator. For example take the lame beggars of different kind. On this trip I saw some walk with the help of either prosthetic legs or other apparatus. I saw some who would simply crawl who had their legs bent behind their backs. These were polio affected and locking their lifeless legs behind the backs probably made more sense than having them loosely hanging around. I missed the skateboarding lame beggars, the ones who don’t crawl but sit on a locally made skateboards made of plywood and small wheels to move around using the hands.

The next most popular category of disabled beggars ought to be the blind beggars. Again they can be sub classified as plain begging beggars or singing ones. Somehow the concept of singing is very popular in blind beggars. In addition it also adds the entertainment factor giving a boost to the beggar's earnings.

Young boys and girls too use entertainment (singing/dancing) to earn money. Special mention is needed for the rocking sisters. No they were not into rock. They just use these two flat rocks to add rhythm to their singing and dancing on popular bollywood fare. I'm sure almost anyone who has traveled in a train in India knows how two rocks are expertly used to create the crackling sound.

Among people who do something more than just beg, we should not leave behind the sweepers. The first category brings a proper broom along. Members of the second category simply remove their shirts and sweep with them maybe to add to the pity factor. No offense meant. At least they clean the place up before begging for money. When they are done, they simply dust the dirt off and wear it back.

Another very unique form of begging I've seen is the pamphlet alms seeker. A middle-aged woman quietly distributes pamphlets in the compartment. The pamphlet would typically contain some sad story of how a farmer has lost everything, committed suicide and has left behind children who need to be taken care of. When she was done distributing the pamphlets, she would come back to collect the pamphlets and money.

Somehow I don’t pity any beggar. When I see someone whose profession itself is begging, who does this everyday, I am curious and try to find out how they do what they do. Consider this incident I witnessed on the platform of Lonavla station. Two crawling polio affected beggars were talking to each other, a man and a woman. The man had just alighted our train. The woman was looking to get inside our train to start her tour of begging. He advised her not to board this one and shared the dismal experience of his tour of the train. He was of the opinion that she would be better off touring the Kanyakumari Express scheduled to arrive next. Now when I witness such a conversation, I see two professionals earning their living through begging sharing potential opportunities. I don’t see helpless people who have no control on their life. This makes me regard them as equals, maybe not in monetary terms, but just in their competence in what they do - begging. Pity doesn't quite fit in this arrangement.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The time I almost died - Part 2

The time I almost died - Part 1

Soon we reached the hilly area. Hill roads are narrower, are on steep inclines and have very tight u-turns. One needs to be careful when driving on them. On a straight road you see the road clearly in front of you. But on hill roads you don’t know what is in store for you round that blind u-turn, a big boulder, an approaching vehicle. So you’ve got to be extra careful. Dad taught me three cardinal rules for driving on such roads.

Stick to your side: There are no clear demarcation of lanes on the road. So when taking a right turn there is a tendency to go inside, thereby crossing over to other side. Now the person coming from opposite side doesn’t know about this (blind turn) and rightfully stays on his side. Result: A head-on collision. So it is necessary to stay to your side.

A vehicle going uphill has right of way: If a portion of road is too narrow for both coming & going traffic to pass, the vehicle going uphill has right of way. The reason is that the climbing up takes more effort and is more stressful to the car. On very steep inclines it is difficult for the vehicles to start moving once they’ve stopped. But vehicles going downhill can always do that.

Avoid using brakes when going downhill: An amateur driver will use brakes extensively when going downhill as gravity speeds up the vehicle beyond acceptable limits. The result is overheating of brake pads and may result in brake failure which might again lead to catastrophic accidents. The trick is to ride on a lower gear than you normally ride in on level roads. The engine will slow the car down and reduce the affect of gravity.

OK I end the boring stuff now.

So where were we? Yeah we were on the hills, driving towards Borra Caves and Araku Valley.

Before I continue let me give some explanation (not an excuse) for my actions, the description of which will follow. I was driving a tiny car that was packed with 5 other grown boys. This bunch was getting more and more unruly, the music was loud and I had the burden of the above guidelines on my mind. We took the diversion to Borra Caves. This route was steeper and the road was narrower than the normal route to Araku Valley. On a particular stretch of road which was downhill, there was an especially tight turn along a deep cliff. Now normally I should have slowed down and carefully executed the turn. But somehow in the whole confusion in the car and because of things on my mind, I did something else. I actually depressed the accelerator lever instead of the brake. Assuming that I was depressing the brake and confused why the car wasn’t slowing down, I depressed the accelerator further. Now the car was too fast to take the turn and the turn had already come. Too late!

What followed was a whirlwind of actions in a state of abject fear. At stake were our lives as there was no chance we would survive a fall from that cliff. While still accelerating the car, I somehow was able to take the u-turn (required really fast hand movements to turn the steering wheel). The shock was so much that I was not able to stop accelerating until the end of the turn. I stopped on the side of the road contemplating what just happened. All the boys were in shock too and for once in the trip were completely quite.

A decision was then made to not go to Borra Caves at all. We decided that we didn’t have enough fuel in the tank to complete the journey if we went to the caves. Of course that was a lame excuse. The real reason – we were too afraid to continue driving on this road. The rest of the journey was quite uneventful and went as planned.

In my defence, let me add one more point. I was used to driving a much bigger car 'the Ambassador' with brake and accelerator levers well spaced out. I had driven the Maruti earlier but just for a few minutes or so. This was my first long drive on this car. There was almost no gap between the accelerator and the brake. One can easily confuse between the two, esp. if one is used to driving bigger cars.

I however take responsibility for the danger I put my friends and myself in. That was a rash thing to do. I also take some pride in how I skilfully managed the turn. I know many people can’t do that.

What happened on that day happened because I was taking in all the influences at a time (the music, the friends talk, the guidelines) and was less focussed on the main activity at hand – Driving. Years have passed since then. I have matured. I have learnt to concentrate my efforts, to focus and not ingrain every influence I come across. I guess this is good. But in the process of focussing there is also a problem, and this fear is nagging me with each passing day - Am I becoming less perceptive?

Friday, January 27, 2006

The time I almost died - Part 1

I have already posted about one of my car incidents. The time has now come to recall another one of my incident on cars. This was way back in engineering college when I was 19 yrs old.

But before the actual incident, let me write a bit about the scenic beauty around Vizag. Like the Western Ghats along the west cost of India, there are also the Eastern Ghats which are older, more discontinuous & of lesser height than the Western Ghats along the eastern coast. As they are of lesser height, they don’t attract as much attention as their western counterpart. Now Vizag is a city nestled between these Eastern Ghats on one side & the Bay of Bengal on the other. The city however has now expanded beyond the ghats.

Araku Valley is a scenic spot deep inside these hills. It is about 115 km from Vizag. Along the road to Araku, about 85 km from Vizag, there is a diversion leading to an ancient cave formation, the Borra Caves that are 1,400 m above sea level.

I was just learning how to drive cars back then. We had a white Ambassador (Mark 3). The steering wheel was tight, the pedals were heavy, the steering gears were especially difficult to handle. That was the time when driving our car was invariably associated with excessive mental tension. At that time I didn’t realise that driving any other car would be any better. This misconception soon disappeared after I drove a few other cars. Now that I look back, I think I could have easily driven any badly maintained truck too. We now have a Fiat Palio – no worries whatsoever. Nevetheless, an Ambassador is Ambassador – it was spacious, it was big, it was heavy, and most of all, my nostalgic childhood memories are associated with it.

So back then in engineering college, we were hanging out in the hostel (though I was not a hosteller, that was still the hangout place). An elder cousin of a friend ‘S’ had come to Vizag in his Maruti 800 car. Now this person had left the car with S, incidentally for safekeeping, while he attended an important work over the weekend. Little did he know of the kind of experiments we would be doing with the poor puny machine.

We took stock of the situation then. We had a car at our disposal. We had me – the only person who could drive the car through traffic and had a valid licence (yeah I got a licence made when I was 18 without paying a single extra rupee. I am really proud of it). We had six (including me) enthusiastic boys raring to go somewhere. And we had just two days to do whatever we wanted to do. A plan of Borra Caves + Araku Valley was hurriedly finalised. I told my parents about the plan. I just missed one crucial bit – the bit about six of us going by car and most of all “me” driving the car. I convinced them that we were going by bus. And then it began.

We packed the six of us (4 in the back & 2 in front) in the Maruti. The first leg of the journey was getting out the city. Not much adventure here. The traffic kept us subdued.

The next leg was an almost straight road between the city and the hills. We got a bit adventurous here. The traffic was less, the music system was blaring hard and we were moving at around 70 km/h. Somehow we felt the crazy need to touch 100 km/h. Now doing that is fine when you have a bigger car or a jeep and when you are travelling on a highway. But this was the smallest car in India with small wheels on an Indian 20' wide road which had some minor potholes too. We selected a stretch of road which appeared traffic-less and pothole-less and floored the pedal.

The speedometer reading slowly started moving. We reached 80 km/h. The car started vibrating. The speedometer lazily inched beyond 90km/h. The vibrations became more & more violent. We didn’t know who would give up first us (out of fear) or the car (out of sheer exhaustion). Just when we thought the speed would increase no more, somehow, the car managed to cross the 100 km/h mark. Victory at last!

The time I almost died - Part 2

Monday, January 23, 2006


Of late I have noticed a change in myself. Earlier I used to have dreams, but would soon forget them within seconds of waking up. But nowadays I vividly remember all the details even hours & days later. Another change I feel is that earlier the dreams were mostly happy or at least positive. Now the dreams are in all shades, & have a mix of all emotions. I don’t know if this is a sign of something ominous or just a result of my changing sleep patterns.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


My relationship with my dad has been a very turbulent one. As a kid I had a sort of stoic relationship with him. Most of all, I used to fear him. During adolescence that fear changed to anger & rebellion. I used to hate Dad for every small thing he used to do. “Why cannot we spend extravagantly? Why does he always have to right? Who is he to decide what I should be doing?” But there was still some fear & I would generally comply with him. As I started maturing further, I started crystallising my own thoughts. I started realising why Dad did what he did, why he said what he said. There is no fear now. But there is respect. Why this respect? Because Dad has taught me…

....that you conquer your fears by facing them head on
Whenever we kids showed any signs of fear, he would immediately make us do the thing we feared as many times as it took to get rid of the fear. He always used to give example of Tantrics, & how they conquer their fears. He recounted how they lived in graveyards, how they drank from human skulls & how they lived a life that was unimaginable. He maintained that the so called power that they had was not of divine nature but the consequence of them living in those surroundings & just being too used to them to be afraid.

....that a broom has to be given as much importance as a pen
....why a mochi (cobbler) has to be treated with respect

A broom cleans your house. It removes the dirt in other places by dirtying itself. It serves a very important part in your life. Do not disrespect it. A cobbler makes your shoes that protect your feet. He charges money for something that you need. Treat him with respect. Some beliefs or practices of our past look down upon dirty things/people. People who used to be referred to as “Bhangi” or “Chamaar” were the ones who used to do all those essential but messy jobs that we wouldn’t dare do. Yet there was a general aversion to them. Dad taught me why it was important to respect them. I have & I always will respect all the cleaning women, dhobi’s (washer man), mochi’s, waiter’s with as much respect as I would any other person. I refer to them as “aap”. The only people I refer to as “tum” are my friends, my peers & my family who’ll know that the “tum” is the sign of closeness than disrespect.

....if you promised to be there at 8 pm, reach the place at 8 pm
I understand that there is a concept called “Indian Time” according to which it is customary to go from a half an hour to 1 hr late. Dad was always against this thing. This little issue was reason to many a war’s between my parents. He would be up & ready to reach the party in time, while she would start getting ready at the allotted time. I used to side with mother then, but now I realise why reaching when you are called is important. In fact being intentionally late is a form of hypocrisy - the one thing I absolutely detest.

....and many more…

My mother was the one who used to give support in times of distress, who used to give love, who used to be the one I liked. But it was my father who gave me one of the most important aspects of my personality – my value system. He followed his own ideals & was always the one with answers of life when there was indecision. Today I can safely say with no hesitance that I am proud of my father.

Monday, January 02, 2006

A New Year - Some New Hope

The first post of the Year!

I wish myself and anybody reading this an eventful year ahead. Its time to reboot & start with new energy. This is more important to me as in the end of last year I had some misfortunes.

Avoid the rest of the post if you do not want any of my gloominess to rub off on you.

I lost my mobile phone. It was mostly my fault. In a drowsy mood, with lots of thoughts in my mind I easily forgot to take the mobile phone with me when I was alighting a bus. Now somebody else will be enjoying it. 10,000 down the drain. As I am thinking about this, I realise that it is not the money that I lost. The money I lost was anyway gone the day I bought the phone. It was the experience of owning, enjoying its MP3 player, camera and other features that I lost. I’ve spent 5,000 more and bought another phone. Now this one has brought in its own set of experiences. Lets see which experience turns out to be better.

I was down with throat infection from last Sunday. The symptoms are that your throat seems to become very constricted; you get fever & body pains. These are annoying but what is most annoying is the huge amount of phlegm after the infection. My nose, my throat & my lungs are filled with this thick, sticky unnecessary residue which reduces only with time. All I can do about it is clear my nose every hour or so. I still am recovering & hope this thing gets over fast. This bad health also made sure I did not celebrate the New Year as planned. No party, no excessive drinking, no dancing. Just a quite night with some friends & I was home before midnight, watching TV reports of celebrations around India & desperately trying to call up home at a time when networks are invariably busy.

But the New Year should (& I hope I have the conviction to make it) bring better fortune. Let me see what new things I try out from now.