Sunday, 22 December 2013

Traffic Signal, Transitory Perception.

The light turns red. The timer starts its countdown from 49. I am going to miss the 8.46 train. Will be late for the meeting. Work frustration has begun rather early today. The colleague calls in unwell. The one who gives me a lift everyday. I have to cajole my dad to take a break from his morning tea and paper and drive me to the station. I guess I have ruined his morning.

Hello. Hello sir. Good morning. 

Someone bellows. An old man has pulled up next to us. Wearing a dirty cream colour, full sleeve shirt, checks, buttoned till the collar. On his head rests a cap with the logo of a public sector company. New year freebie. One of those having cheap sponge filling and a hard plastic visor that breaks when you try to bend it. He is riding one of those auto gear scooters which are targeted for girls. At good morning I have pretty much decided - the poor old man is senile. I glance at my dad and he has this look on his face. One that I decipher into - How the hell has this mad man got hold of a bike?

Good morning sir. 

He shouts. Indian roads are noisy and loud. But by the way he shouts, I have pretty much decided that he is as deaf as he is senile. The other people waiting alongside him seem to have come to the same conclusion. My dad still has the 'he has escaped from an asylum' look fixed on his face.

Good morning sir. I just wanted to wish you a lovely day. In Europe people wish each other all the time and I want to wish you today. When you go to sleep today you will remember me wishing you at the beginning of the day at this traffic signal and smile. 

Ok. Maybe he isn't so senile after all.

And what is more, today happens to be my star birthday. Today also happens to be my wife's birthday. So I am wishing you on my birthday and my wife's birthday. I hope you have a wonderful day.

My dad has this huge grin on his face and he smiles an acknowledgement. The light turns green and the old man scoots off. In less than a minute, an insane man has become a kind, gentle soul with a great disposition towards life. 

He was wrong about one thing though. I didn't remember him when I went to sleep that day. A month later I find myself writing this post.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

On the Trivandrum Mail in September

The proud father waves goodbye to his tearing daughter. The train pulls slowly but surely out of Chennai Central. It could be the first time she isn’t spending Onam at home. The father doesn’t seem sad. Guess he is happy to leave the sweltering sauna behind and return home to the last big drops of monsoon.

He is heading to Kollam (Quilon). So I shall be seeing his rather innocent grin for 10/12th of my journey. I reduce it to 5/6th just when the rather big lady in the coupe next to mine lets off a shriek and climbs on to her seat. That was pretty quick for someone so big. The reason for her excitement -  a small mouse the size of my palm innocently nibbling on some tidbit - only adds to the humour of the situation. The lady’s husband seems rather indifferent to it all. Nothing, not the screams of his wife or the hungry mouse, seems to distract him from the film magazine with the voluptuous scantily clad actress on the cover.

After a long enough glance of the cover I decide to spend the rest of the night looking out the window. In a couple of hours the black night seems to have settled down across the vast stretch and the lights of civilization are few and far between. Sleep soon gets the better of me and I climb up to my blue leather bed with a nice even coat of dust for a mattress and enter a deep state of slumber.

This isn't the first time I have taken this journey. This is the first time in the month of September though. Nostalgia is filled with memories of summer and I wake up to a view that is not familiar. The rains have painted the trees green and the ground brown and the sky grey. The painting of a landscape without any still life. The backwaters are a darker reflection of the sky above. I look out from my side lower berth window wondering if my mom has ever washed this one. She had to come around to washing the window sills on trains when she realised her two sons did not inherit her paranoia for germs and spittle and all the other bad things that seemed to live on the window sills of Indian trains.

The side lower berth window provides a nice frame to the pretty picture. The dark grey backwater. The lime green lorry riding along the brown sandbar between rows of green coconut trees. The light grey sea beyond the sand bar stretching out to the horizon. The yellow boards listing out the names of familiar stations - Trichur, Angamaly, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Tiruvalla, Mavelikara, Kayankulam, Kollam and the father wears a black leather cap and bids me farewell, Varkala, Trivandrum. This journey ends.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Of boilers and samovars.

Kyani & Co., Dhobi Talao, Mumbai

The peeling white paint, the high ceiling with the long fans, the glass pane cupboards. You climb up the steps and enter over 100 years of history. Leaving Mumbai and entering Bombay.

On this particular day of my history, we settle for a plate of Kheema Pav, Akhuri on toast and two cups of tea. We wait for the waiter, who seems to have forgotten to take his weekly bath yesterday, to go around and bring us our 'cutting'. Lamenting on how few of these Irani tea shops can be seen these days.

A caricature climbs up the steps. Holding on to the rope that is left hanging to aid his ilk. A Parsi whose childhood must have coincided with the glory days of Kyani. Whose old age brings with it a slow shuffle of a walk, thick spectacles and a permanent smile. Dentures? Maybe not.

The old man ended the solitude of the table next to us. It isn't surprising when he gets his tea along with ours. The old regulars should be allowed to have some clout, if nothing else. The tea is carefully poured on to the saucer and brought to his lips using both his trembling hands.

I wonder if he has noticed my appreciative gaze for he looks up and asks me what time it is. 4.20. What? 4.20 sir. Young man, you must be careful when you tell time like that. 420 is the local term for a criminal. Taken from the Indian Penal Code Section 420 dealing with crimes of cheating and dishonesty. And you may get slapped. His laugh is loud and friendly. I wonder if he knew that 420 also is a reference to Marijuana in the US. I ask him how long he has been coming here.

Forever. I used to stay here. In Fort. And used to come here almost everyday when I was your age. But these days I am not so regular. Only come in once a week. Ever since my wife was killed I have had to live with my son and he stays far. She was killed in the Gujarati riots. But the Gujarat government was kind enough to send back the body to Mumbai. It came in a nice coffin with a letter from them. A letter expressing sadness for my loss and also mentioning that the Octroi tax had been wavered for the shipment. Can you believe that? My wife's body didn't need Octroi. The loud and friendly laughter caught us by surprise and as soon as it died down the routine with the tea and saucer recommenced.

Lê Lê Street Kitchen, Vesterbrogade, Copenhagen

This place doesn't look too Vietnamese does it. It looks more like a juice shop. The tables outside look nice though. I don't want to sit outside. It's too sunny. Why don't we take that table with the tall stools overlooking the road. You should be happy, they seem to have some vegetarian stuff. I will have the same thing she is having but with the chicken.

It says here that this is the new place that this Vietnamese aunty has opened up. The original Vietnamese place called Le Le Nha Hang is somewhere down the road.

I don't like what I have got. It's just the same stuff that you have but I have a few pieces of chicken on top. The rice noodle are nice but most of the bowl seems to be leaves from the back garden. I hope the lemongrass tea is better. The rice noodles are nice though.

Its nice and sunny outside. The old ladies seem to be liking the sun. If they were in India they would be running from it after a day. Never thought I would be seeing guys wearing business suits riding bicycles. What? Ya, that statement doesn't seem right. It seems like they are in the middle of a circus act. Guys dressed in business suits can be seen riding bicycles. There you happy with that?

I quite liked the waitress. She seemed very warm, blonde hair and grey eyes. No. No. I wasn't checking her out. I was just appreciating beauty like one appreciates art. Just preparing for the trip to Louisiana Museum. 

Hopefully she will bring the tea  and I could confirm if they were grey or green.

I wouldn't have believed that the red light district is the parallel road if I hadn't seen it last night. Walking up Istedgade with 2 suitcases at 2.30 AM and with the 10 day old bride for company. Nice beginning to Copenhagen. Google should have more description included in their maps. Funny how two South Indians ended up getting directions in Hindi from a Pakistani storekeeper in the middle of the night. There is something reassuring hearing a language from your part of the world in another part of the world.

Where has the tea gone? I think they have forgotten it. I can't seem to find the waitress either. Hey, that waiter seems to have nicer hair than you. Let me go remind him about my tea. Just as I suspected. They forgot the tea.

Damn. That's a big kettle. Alright, it's a pretty kettle too. You want a photo of it? For what joy? Cool. Why don't you take one? Don't take it with the food. Your plate looks disgusting. Just take the kettle alone. Here let me place it to overlook the window. Hot. Hot. The kettle is hot.

Elma's, Hauz Khas Village, Delhi

The William Dalrymple book, City of Djinns, is great company when you are roaming the streets of Delhi. But the Hauz Khas monuments aren't mentioned in the book. To be honest, they aren't really the most mention worthy monuments in Delhi but, this book I thought would have a word or two about it. 

A friend recommended Elma's at Hauz Khas Village for their pastries. Is it the weather? The January winter chill mingling with the warmth inside Elma's. Is it the pastel shade of light green or blue on the walls? Is it the sheer number of foreigners sitting in those wooden chairs and drinking tea from porcelain? Not sure what exactly gave the place a rather English feel. Maybe all of the above.

And there was this girl. Even the most ordinary place become memorable when there is such a girl around. But Elma's is far from ordinary. 

Lithe and full of life. In a low neck red sweater and jeans. Black hair band keeps the bob in place. In two minutes the monuments are all but forgotten. Request for a table for one and there is a table smack in the middle of the melee. The apple pie on the counter looks tempting but when she comes to take the order a recommendation is sought. Carrot cake. Oh hell. Bit of a letdown due to a visceral opinion against the presence of vegetables in cakes. A pot of Darjeeling Tea is promptly ordered to help with the cake.

She walks around. Waiting tables. Picking up the tab. Air kissing guests. The whole scene seems carefully orchestrated. Right up to the part where she walks up and asks if her recommendation was fine. The cake was quiet good actually in spite of its orange colour. And the tea? 

The tea is fantastic!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Of the first night on holiday in Gokarna

Sunset brings a long shadow across the beach. The 2 hillocks on either side provides Kudle with a feeling of seclusion and in this seclusion a crowd has built up. They seem to be waiting for some show to start. A bunch of foreigners, mostly Israelis, have congregated. Guitars, bongo drums and ganja. Smoke.

Stay off the smoke I am told so A. and I head to find liquid instead. "Guardian published an article a few years back about Kudle being one of the cheapest tourist places on Earth and ever since then only cheap foreigners come here and they don't buy or pay for anything!" He is not selling the UBs we seek but The Spanish Place shack's owner seems to be in the mood to lament. Christmas is the season of joy sir and if you were selling some joy of the liquid kind I am sure you would get more expensive tourists.

We find the ubees elsewhere. The stars are bright. Bonfire has been lit. The smoke smells nice and familiar. Memories of a shopping trip to a pot-pourri shop come rushing but the nostalgia is snapped by this guy  singing a song in the most unfamiliar way. The language is new. The music is new. But the back in front of me finds them all familiar and she moves. She moves in the most alluring way. Her skin glistens from a recent dip in the sea. Shining in the crackling of the bonfire and the light from the stars and the big big moon. The back is so close. The smooth skin entices and for the briefest moment the heart contemplates a touch but the mind instead orders that I tighten hold on the UB bottle for now. The music and the glorious back are one in movement. Not sure who takes the lead. Is it the hip sway or the guitar twang. No first or second here. They are one and with this recognition comes fear. The fear of the back turning around and the fear that music will stop. The former doesn't happen, the beauty of the back remains and its romanticism is not killed by the unraveling of the mystery of the face to whom it belongs to. But the music stops and the back stops its sensual seduction and we are left with the moonlight and the rhythm of the waves.

The lights of the shacks bob in the wind and although Kudle is a smaller beach, I get reminded of a magical night spent walking in Palolem. We start walking and thinking out loud on what tomorrow holds. Christmas eve in a Hindu temple town finds us planning a trip to the local temple and a nice lunch mess selling cheap, honest and tasty fish meals. One by one the lights take turns to bid us good night. The shacks are closing up and in one of them rests the back that made this night worthy.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Of the first day on holiday in Gokarna

A.'s having his moment. The last 20 odd hours saw him go through 3 bus journeys and one moonlit auto ride and now he is all alone with darkness as company. And dogs. Dogs are howling. Dark night. Dogs have sight at night and A. has fright. He calls me and abuses. We are still waiting for the bus some 14 hours away from A.'s plight. Only aural solace can be provided. A torch light in the distance puts A. at ease and he is shown the way to Paradise where he spends the rest of the night in the company of Englishmen, beer and mosquitoes.

14 hours or so later, Gokarna bus stop has been reached. Auto to Kudle goes through narrow streets leading to the narrowest street which leads to a hill top. The right side is all of a sudden filled with a horizon. The Arabian sea in all its morning glory. A new age hippie has set up shop in front of a yoga 'resort'. Lighters, cards and some nick nacks... knick knacks. Walk down the path leading to Kudle wondering what A.would have made out in the night without light and dog fright. But A. had come another route. Which meant that he didn't know where the beach was. We on the other hand descend at one end of one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in India. Ladies from lands far away stretch out and unfold their yoga mats. Dogs walk around. Shacks open up lazily to the sounds of morning waves. 

A. is giving us directions to come from the forest and all we can see is sand. A foreign couple turn up out of nowhere to enquire about the mobile connection. The answer seems to make no difference. I wonder if A. is in another beach or another state. But he is just a few hundred steps away from the beach and we find him brushing next to a couple of huts which will serve us well over the next couple of days. Welcome to Paradise. Brush. Sunscreen. Swim trunks. Om beach beckons.

Stones, stoners, dholaks. A neatly marked out path leads to a rickshaw stand next to Om beach. Enter Om through a park or garden and then the Namaste is seen next to a shop that on this day makes 3 idiots successfully purchase white colour hats. Clint Eastwood cowboy wearing bright fire engine red swim shorts fantasy done with. The water is cold but Om in the afternoon isn't quite what Kudle was earlier in the day. Swimming is done with and the cow is shooed away from the clothes bag. Omelette and toast at the Namaste beckons. Couple of UBs appear out of nowhere  to quench thirst and kick start the vacation.

Kudle feels home. Kudle feels better. Kudle it is. Evening comes and with it blooms romance. Ms. Bikini and Mr. Lucky So-and-so hold hands and enter the sea and provide the picture postcard couple moment. A. isn't sure of his footing. V.,S.& I walk into the sea after a rather unnecessary water scooter ride. We choose to be envious of Mr. So-and-so and nothing more. The sunset provides the beach a golden glow, the waves rhythmically bob me up and down. From the corner of my gaze the couple become one and I become one with Kudle.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Of Conversation with Mansion House in Peninsula

Nice Place. Quiet. No loud music. No Noise. Peninsula.What you having? Premium? Lets go with premium. What is available? Napolean, Exshaw, Mansion House. Mansion House with a bottle of Coke and Water! Can you also get some of those wheel chips please?

How was the trip? It was super da. Clockwork. Bali is a super place. Chilled out. Cultured. There is no manic anxiety that comes with the flesh trade of Bangkok. Fried duck, beef, pork. Pork is the cheapest. But the costs are inflated. There are temples, white water rafting, beaches, island resorts, dormant volcanoes, extinct volcanoes, Ramayana. You should go there. Were there any Indians? There were a few. None in the island we went to for the 2nd half of our trip. But at Bali there were a few Indians. The tour kinds. Wake up at 8.30 board a bus at 9.30 after eating the complimentary buffet and then let the bus take you wherever they think you should definitely go to. The unfortunate thing is that we end up standing out in a crowd. Not by the colour of our skin or by the accent but by not standing in queues and by being rude and impolite and littering. Ha ha ha. Hey Potato Bajji. On the house. Not bad. Nice Place. Can you also please bring those wheel crisps sir. Thanks. 

But the prices were inflated da. Even though the rupee is higher than the rupiah the prices are so high that you don't feel like eating half the things. I was also noticing that those 'firangs' really watch what they spend. There is no unnecessary spending. I am not sure they even eat 3 times a day. They tend to maximise on the perks and the experiences that come for free. The beach swims and the sun bathing and the reading under the shade of the trees et al. They also blend in with the whole culture. Is this like the hippy crowds in Goa/Gokarna? No no. No hippies. Just tourists. They only seem to spend money in experiences. They seem to avoid spending much on food and on travel etc. Even on drinks. I saw them buying one pint and spending 3 hours sipping on that.

Its funny you say that. I had gone to Gokarna during the Christmas weekend. Met this shack owner in Kudle Beach. Shack called Spanish Place. He claimed to be the earliest shack on Kudle along with Ganga Cafe and he mentioned how The Guardian had once written an article which mentioned that Kudle is one of the cheapest places to party. Hence his take is that the kind of foreigners who come here are cheap and don't spend on anything. One of my friends over heard some Israeli complaining about how fish fry costs Rs. 250/- over a video chat to her parents from an internet cafe.

I am not sure if it's because they are cheap or it is a case of saving up to make the most of their holiday. Most of the tourists I met in Bali were not doing a short 5-6 day trip. They were on holiday for a month or longer. I guess you are right. But did you notice how they all seem to be social and civil. There is always a greeting of a Hi or at the very least a smile. You have a point da. This colleague has recently joined our office from Chicago and he was mentioning how the train stations all have citizen clubs who are in charge of the cleanliness and maintenance of stations. His theory was that in India people like to pass the buck. To blame the government, the politicians, the police, the power cuts, the education system and what not. A regressive civic society.

Hmmm. Last month I had the chance to travel in a passenger train from Tirunelveli to Tenkasi. Had this romantic notion of going past multiple small town stations. Each with a single platform and a large banyan tree and a fat little station master in white uniform waving a large green flag. For some reason I imagined passing through the trains in daylight when in reality my train was a late evening train and I didn't see jack shit. What I did do was get into a conversation with my co-passengers. As soon as they realised I was from Chennai they were ticked off by the fact that we had only 2 hour power cuts while they suffered with 15-16 hours of energy sapping heat and darkness. After having blamed the Government for the power situation they moved on to blame the state government for not fighting for the release of water from Karnataka. As the farmers were facing a very tough time. None of them in the train were farmers. But the interesting part for me anyways was when one guy mentioned how Kerala would prefer water flowing into the sea than giving it to Tamil Nadu. They obviously didn't know I was a fraud Mallu. But Mallu or not, I just couldn't get the logic but I am so familiar with his line of thinking as that is how a lot of people we meet, work with etc, behave every day of their lives. I don't care if I don't succeed but you shouldn't either type mentality. And even worse. I am happy when you don't succeed. Schadenfreude. 

I think the majority of us find meaning in suffering and blaming others for it. Viktor Frankl couldn't understand why his fellow Jew inmates in the concentration camp didn't commit suicide. Viktor who? Oh this book da. He wrote this book. Man's search for meaning. He was this Jewish psychiatrist who wound up in a Nazi concentration camp and ended up surviving to tell the tale. The book is not the most literary but I really like this one line gist. A man does whatever he does to find meaning in life. There is this small watch repair shop in Thiruvanmiyur. The man who owns the shop travels 2 hours daily from Vellore to Chennai Central and another 1 hour to the shop everyday in the morning and then returns in the night. Its a really small shop which may not even make 200 bucks in a day. But this man does the same old routine everyday. It probably makes his life easier to lead. It provides him with a meaning to his life.

Can we have a repeat please? What? No. I don't want fish. Hmmm. Shall we have some egg dish? No sir. Not chicken. Egg! Egg pepper fry and a repeat of the Mansion House.That waiter always tries to upsell. When you ask for peanuts, he will push for the veg spring roll. When you ask for the veg spring roll he pushes for the egg. What meaning in life da? I don't there is any meaning anymore. I think the social state in our country is in a down slide to degradation. All this talk on TV about the Delhi Rape. Everywhere in the media, press, internet all sorts of misbehaviour towards women suddenly get prominence. Every other woman is getting groped. But the Delhi incident can not be clubbed with sexual harassment. It was a brutal act. They had beat her up. Brutalised her with a rod and what not. There is no way that can be an act of sex. It was just violence of a perverse kind. What meaning did they find in their life through that?

All forms of rape are perverse machan. Be it violent or non-violent. I can't understand how it is sex when the girl is screaming out in pain and anguish. That's why I can't understand why would people think castration is a just punishment cos these guys will then kill. Whether its a knife or a dick its still violence. Excuse me while I go to the restroom.

I have asked for another repeat da. So you think those rapists should just be served life imprisonment or death instead. I don't know. I am not sure to be honest. I definitely think whatever punishment they get should be something that lasts for their entire life. Just as long as the trauma and stigma of the victim  But then if they are put in jails for life then it will mean that the taxpayer's money goes in feeding them. I don't want my money to go to the upkeep of rapists. Death then? Not sure man. I dunno if one man has the moral authority or right to decide on another man's life. I am not able to reach a conclusion on this. But whatever the punishment it should be dealt swiftly. Not after 10 years.

Sir. Excuse me. What is Peninsula Special Chicken? Its a fried chicken dish. Ok. Shall we have one of that. Pls bring one Peninsula Chicken. The sad bit is in March the IPL will start and the media will move on to match fixing and the commercialisation of cricket and then till the next rape crime life will go on as usual. The politicians will go on to their next scam and the economy will go up and down and inflation will go up and down. 

Sorry. What? No Peninsula Special Chicken. Ok. What do you suggest? Fish Fingers. Ok. Please bring one plate of Fish Fingers. Thanks. I am telling you even the kind of scams our politicians get into are only over money. I thought such scams would have died in the 1st-2nd century. You don't see any noise about the money that was laundered by some US President do you? There is no 30 billion pound corruption scam around Margaret Thatcher. The only scam that I can remember is Bill Clinton trying to make work in the Oval Office interesting. Our guys are still doing their utmost to get more money into their coffers. They don't even do justice to their citizens by evolving in their scams.

What is this butter like thing they have given da? I think its leftover Tartar sauce from New Year's eve da. Some crazy shit. You know what, I am not sure what hope our farmers have when prime farm land in the Yamuna Basin get turned into a Formula One track. Land prices get inflated and every one makes a large buck. The farmers who have got some compensation, terribly meagre and inadequate though, for their land find themselves with a large amount of cash all of a sudden and feel rich. They don't know what to do any more. The kids spend money. Buy cars. Kill toll booth operators over a 21 Rupee toll fee. Rape girls. Does anyone even care?

No thanks. We are done. Can we have the bill please? How can anyone care when we can't even understand each other da. We don't know what the other guy speaks. Can you think of any other country where the neighbouring states write and speak different languages. And these languages differ so much. India the country with 18 different scripts and some 1000 different dialects. Forget the tribal languages. Small tribes in Africa also have their own tongue. But these tribes are like the Jarawas. They live in isolation and are secluded. But that can't be said about the states and the cities. The next guy I meet who gives me that India is a unity in diversity drivel will get this leftover tartar butter stuck up his unity I tell you. Ha ha ha. I met this German lady who had come to Gokarna with her English husband. She could speak Tamil as she had lived in Chennai for 5 years during the '90s. The irony is I would have been as lost as her, a person who lives halfway across the world, if some shop keeper had spoken to me in Kannada. You are right. Its quite crazy.

Sometimes I feel the biggest act of patriotism we do is to stay in this country. Apart from supporting our cricket team and hockey team while they play against Pakistan. Just staying in this country is an act of patriotism. How much tip do you want to leave? I want to get a cigarette. Then I will come and get a sweet beeda.