Friday, June 29, 2012

Incredible India - Aam Aadmi boards a train!

This is a post that I thought I would write, first thing I reached back after my trip to Goa. But due to various reasons ( read laziness), it got delayed by a week. Better late than never! So here we go.

I was travelling long distance in a train after a span of more than two and half years. Since I joined the bank, I've been putting in six day weeks and I'd little time for travels. This was my first lengthy leave after getting a job. Though the decision to take this sabbatical was planned, the idea to travel to Bengaluru and to Goa from there was taken on an impulse during the last minute.

Since I booked tickets during the last minute, I'd to settle for sleeper class tickets. Not that I'm one of the Babu Log who always travels by A/C. I had my own reasons - One, I'm someone who likes a lot of freedom and privacy when travelling and the uncrowded A/C coaches are always a blessing in this case. Two, as an employee of the bank, I'm entitled to travels by second class a/c and all my official trips are in the air conditioned coaches. Thirdly and most importantly, they are cleaner! I'm not a cleanliness freak who screams at a spot on the floor, but I prefer things clean and definitely, without odours!

The train was Yeshvantpur - Vasco Express and I was travelling the full distance. So, here I was, sitting by the window, staring at the rushing landscapes on an overclouded evening. It had been a couple of hours since I boarded the train. Suddenly, a man comes with a pet bottle filled with a strange coloured liquid and begins to spray it on the floor. The first thing that ran in my mind was "Oh!!! all of us are going to faint and he is going to rob us of our belongings!!!" But then, I began to smell lemon grass. He took a mop that was resting against the next seat and began mopping the floor. Soon enough, the floor was clean. I was fairly impressed. Indian Railways improved, I thought.

The train didn't have a pantry car since it was a short distance one. As the train pulled into Tiptur, I bought a cup of coffee. I took one sip and decided to correct my earlier thought. Even after all these years, the quality of food hadn't changed. If at all it had, it was for worse. I somehow managed to finished the brew. By that time, the train had already left the station. I crushed the Styrofoam cup well (lest they wash it and reuse it! How thoughtful of me!) and moved to the end of the compartment. I had two reasons for that - One, I had to dispose of the used cup. Second, a girl aged 23 was supposed to board the train from Tiptur and she was alone and was travelling all the way to Vasco!!! But to my great disappointment, there was no waste-bin underneath the washbasin unlike a/c coaches. The words waste-bin was clearly written on the panel beneath the sink but it was well nailed to its place.

I found the man who had cleaned the train a while earlier standing in the next compartment. I went there and asked in Hindi why there was no dustbin. He obviously didn't speak much Hindi but from the crushed cup in my hand and the word waste-bin, he clearly understood what I was saying. After all, languages are for the simple purpose of communicating, aren't they?! He replied in Kindi ( that could be summed as a mix of Kannada and Hindi, more of the former) and from what I gathered, he told me that there were no waste-bins in sleeper coaches. That's available only in the a/c coaches. You can throw the cup outside. YES, he definitely told me to throw the cup outside onto the tracks!!! I didn't do it. I walked back to my seat with the cup still in my hand.

Oh and by the way, the girl was obese!!!

As the train stopped at Arsikere Junction half an hour later, I got down and began the hunt for a dustbin on the platform. But I couldn't find one! On a major station, on its platform number two, I couldn't find a goddamn dustbin! In the end, I ended up walking 6 compartments length in the drizzle to find a dustbin and finally revealed myself of the albatross that came as a brownish hot, stale fluid worth five bucks!

Now for the twist in the kahani. A little time afterwards, another man comes with a yellow slip book with him. He paused for a moment near the seat shared by me and three other people, a family from Tamil Nadu. He then made way for himself among the outstretched legs of others and shoved the book and a pen towards me. I took a quick glance at what was written in it. It was a questionnaire on various aspects of the train compartment and the cleaning process. The Railways was definitely trying to get a genuine feedback since the questionnaire required you to fill details like your seat number and the PNR number. No cheating this time unless you rip of the reservation chart and fill up the book by yourself. But I wonder if anyone ever analyses the data so obtained.

Coming back to the yellow questionnaire, I began to read the questions. I was supposed to award points to each on a scale of 5. Some of the questions made me smile. There was one particular one which interested me. It inquired whether separate disposal bags were kept for degradable and plastic waste! After answering the questionnaire and pouring my heart out in the comments section, I asked the seemingly superior officer in charge of the cleanliness of the train about the question regarding waste disposal. He answered politely in broken Hindi that it was for the Babu Log in the a/c coaches! I asked him politely, in return, what I was supposed to do with the waste 'generated' by Aam Aadmis. Throw it outside, pat came the reply. Nothing more to add. I quickly gave back his book and pen and returned my gaze to the view outside.

I couldn't blame him. In a country where a particular queen bee called Didi, who has recently been churning out soap operas that would put Ekta Kapoor to shame, sacked one of her drones because he showed the guts to increase railway ticket prices after many years of the so called populist budgets and a sinking Railways. A man who wanted to save the Indian Railways, the world's biggest organisation and implement measures like Bio-Toilets and safety features in trains was shown his way out by an intolerant, power monger who had no qualms in mixing economics with politics! Now all those Abala Naaris out there, who frequently crib about the male dominance in our society, what do you have to say about this?

FootNote: If Didi sues me for this post or calls me a Maoist, I'm definitely going to turn into one!

ToeNote: I'm thinking of blogging on socially relevant topics once in a while under the title Incredible India. What say?

NailNote: Today is the last day on my sabbatical. It's back to office from Saturday. Sob sob.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Incredible India - A boy called Irfan

It has been quite a while since I wrote anything at all, leave alone a blog post. I've been having all these self apprehensions and complexes about writing. At times, I didn't want to write and  I didn't find a motivation to write. It seemed like whatever creativity was there inside me was fast drying up. Work was taking its toll on me too. It was at this juncture that I finally decided to take the vacation that I had been putting off for two and half years. I didn't have to think much before I packed my bags and left for Goa with a halt at Bangalore on the way. I knew I had to find a story when I returned.

After a couple of days in Bangalore (one and half to be precise), I felt freshened up. Meeting many of my batch mates after years felt good. And as I boarded the Yeshvantpur Vasco Express on 17th, I knew that this trip was going to be something!

21st was my last day in Goa. During the four days I was in Goa, I had roamed about Ponda, Margao and Vasco all alone. The idea of travelling all alone had always intrigued me and I was now experiencing the same. Let me tell you, I found it an awesome experience. If you can manage Hindi, you could go almost anywhere in India I think! I had been putting off the trip to Panjim ( They don't say Panaji over here; it's Panjim!) for the last day. It was there I found my story in form of a little boy called Irfan!!!

Irfan is one of the brightest kid I've ever come across. Not more than ten, he was managing a small shoe stall on his own inside the Panjim Market. In a market full of small makeshift shops selling everything from shoes, clothes to hair pins, each shop manned by seasoned owners who would quote a price of 500 rupees for a sandal they got for 50 bucks, where you have to bargain till your throats are dry and yet you will feel that you didn't get a good price, I had a grin on my face when I saw Irfan manning one of the first shops as your enter the market. I must admit I felt some arrogance and smiled inside as I thought I could get the better of him. Little did I know what he had in store for me!!!

I had been looking for sandals (or rather slippers) for my one and half year old nephew all over the places I've been to but with no success. And here in Panjim, they were having cute little crocs for the kids!

"Oye chottu, bachchon keliye sandals he?" (hey boy, you got sandals for kids?) I asked him.

"Hena sir, crocs hey. Kitne saal ka he?" (Yes sir, we got crocs. How old is the kid?) He replied in fluent Hindi and with a voice that meant business.

Thus began the conversation that will last with me for quite some time. I found a pair of cute little crocs, the most beautiful that I had ever come across. I asked him the price and he gave me a plain answer - 100 rupees. I liked the price tag but decided to bargain since while in Goa (or rather any place in India), nobody quotes the real price the first time. I tried my best with all the possible bargaining chips I had with me starting from off-season in Goa to the the train I had to catch later on but he didn't bat an eyelid!!! He didn't even look at me!!! Here was a kid who could give marketing grads from the best B-Schools of the country a run for the money they spent on their education!!!

I decided to move to the other shops ahead. Other shops were quoting as high as Rs 180/- for the same pair of crocs and even after bargaining, the least price I could find was 110!!! After roaming inside the market for another couple of hours, I finally decided to buy the crocs from the little boy. When I finally returned to the his shop, he welcomed me like a new customer. Maybe he didn't remember me. And if at all he did, he didn't   show it a bit. We started the bargaining process yet again and we were back to square one. Or rather I was. He didn't budge even a little. This time around, there was another boy in the shop. He might have been around 15 but Irfan was clearly the boss here. He was dictating orders to the older boy, in a commanding voice that would have put team leaders to shame!!!

I felt small standing next to this little kid. Here was someone with confidence in his voice. But I wasn't ready to yield yet. I kept saying that I would pay only 90 rupees for the croc. But he conveniently ignored me and moved to another couple who had arrived at his shop. I lingered there itself, gazing at other items in the shop. I saw larger crocs on the display and asked for the price.

"Kaunsa chahiye aapko? 150 ka chahiye toh 150 ka dikhatha hun, 200 ka chahiye toh 200 ka dikhatha hun, 250 ka chahiye toh 250 ka dikhatha hun!!!" (Which one do you want? If you want the one that cost 150, I'll show you that; I can show you one that cost 200 or 250 also!!!)

And he went on explaining the various crocs on the display and why the difference in price. I admit I was awed at this little salesman!!! I felt humbled and was ready to accept defeat. I decided to take the small crocs for 100 bucks. He took the crocs from the display and asked the older boy to hand him a cover. But he seemed to be busy with the couple who had arrived earlier. Our little hero went inside, pushing the other boy aside, took a cover and wrapped my crocs inside it. I paid him with a note of 100 rupees and asked him his name.

"Irfan", he replied.

In a move that took me by surprise, he shoved a folded note of 10 rupees inside my hand!!! Here was a boy of not more than ten, who had just rubbished all the cliched notions of selling and marketing put forward by the business gurus and had just won a customer and his heart!!! 

"Ek photo kheenju?" I asked him.

"Mere?" He inquired.

I nodded. A smile appeared on his face for the first time. He posed for me and looked into the camera with a straight face. When I had clicked his pic, he wanted to see how it had come. I showed him and  his smile broke into a wide grin. I placed my hand on his head and ruffled his hair with affection and walked into the slight drizzle that had started, knowing that I had finally found my story.

FootNote: I had bought crocs of size 19 fearing that they would be too big for my lil boy. But when I reached home, it turned out that they were too small for him!!! Now the pair rests among other items in the shelf, without any use.

ToeNote: A week into my sabbatical, which I had took for the sole purpose of freshening up and reclaiming my life, all I'm doing is sleep and browse. I feel more lazy and tired than when I was putting in 6 days a week!!!

NailNote: I had started the post with all kind of thoughts about what to write and how to write. But it seems I haven't gotten over my writers block yet. The words were hard to come and I still get a feeling in the guts that somehow the post isn't finished and something is amiss!!!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Love Story.....

This is a re-post from my old blog a solitary exodus.

I always wanted to fall in love; not just fall in love, but wanted it to be perfect. After so many crushes, infatuations and relations, I stand here, all alone, wondering what it takes to make love perfect.

Love is a crazy world, all those roller-coaster rides of emotions, the highs and lows, the longingness, the fights. I HATE LOVE!!! It just comes to ur life when u least expect it, changes u over-night, ur world is totally different and when u begin to believe that love is perfect, it just leaves u, all bleeding from ur heart.

To begin with, u have all these expectations about ur better half. The biggest mistake in most relationships, whether love, friendship or any other kind of relationship is that u expect things. Expectations hurt!!! I wanted her to be mature, jovial, understanding, adventurous, flexible... The list was a lil' long.

Then someone, no better than the rest of the people around u, walks pasts u and does something really stupid that changes ur life forever. It could be a smile, a word, a hand, anything really silly, something that hundreds of others had done to u and u had never noticed it! She wouldn't be meeting even half of ur long list of eligibility criteria yet u forget all about ur expectations and goes out full on to woo her. Ur world shrinks to that single person. U don't have time for friends or partying anymore. U look up for all the offers available by every single mobile operator and makes ur messages and calls free 24x7. U spent ur whole day in ur room, cuddled on ur bed, whispering to the fone. U ignore the loud knocks on ur door, shout at ur friends & ask them to just go away, & that u'll have ur dinner later. U listen to songs that u could dedicate to her, write ur own love poems, for someone who never ironed his dress, u start to frantically search for the iron box, u wake up early and stay up late, u watch movies that u would have hated otherwise. The things that love can make us do!

When was the last time u went out with ur friends for a movie? It seems ages ago! But u remember all the times u went out with her, the friends who had come with her, and her friends' friends. And u have time & money to call everyone in her friends circle but then u realise that u had forgot to wish ur friend of many years on his birthday. "FUCK", that would be the automated response. But u still go on thinking that he would understand. U come to luv her perfume, asks her a thousand questions on what she likes about every single topic on this earth, u do all the crazy things u thought u would never do; anything for that one smile, one touch of hers, one kiss. U luv those lil' things she does, like pulling at that lock of hair that always falls to her face, the way she makes a face when she plays with u, the way she dress, walk, talk, laugh, cry and what not!!!

And things seems to be perfect. U go on to talk about ur future, the paint of ur future bedroom, ur honeymoon destination, all those stupid silly things that u would later attribute to immaturity. Then the questions comes:

"How much do u love me jaan?"
Like time, with no beginning and no ending. Or was it, I would stretch my hands and till they meet??

"What will u do if I die?"
My world would be torn apart. I would go mad. Don't say this jaanu, I can't even bear the thought of it.

"What if our parents don't agree?"
We will convince them baby. Is our love that weak that we can't convince our parents? After all, it's our parents na!

Then it happens. It started as a small fight over a silly thing and ends up in the breakup. The name calling starts and accusations flying all around. The usual list of addressing would be selfish, immature, egoistic, pessimist, sadist, jealous, MCP, bastard, bitch, loser.... The list is endless to no end! U go back to ur old friends who were just waiting for u. They had seen this over and over again and always knew that it was bound to happen. They ask u for the reason and u tell them, "It was suffocating. She changed a lot afterwards. We wanted to go on our separate ways. There was something missing in it. We hope being independant would help."
U forget what u saw in that person when u first met her and got together. Regardless of what happened, they are still the same person u met and have a right to their dignity.

Someone acts as the Agony-Aunt or the Agony-Uncle. They tell u, "U were not compatible yaar. It was never meant to be" U nod ur head and take another sip of ur beer and smile weakly. And u walk back to ur hostel, just like the good old days, laughing, signing, playing and suddenly u brush past a girl unknowingly. U turn ur head and say sorry and she smiles back at u.

"OMG!!! Man, she is beautiful."

Does anyone learn from his/her mistakes??? I don't think so. But life still goes on.... Vikram Kapoor had rightly said, "There is only one thing worse than not finding love; that is to find it and lose it. For it marks u for ur life..." I HATE LOVE!!!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

In search of the Muziris...

For the past few days, I’ve been feeling a passion for something I have hated till now – History. Our hatred was well built over the years, starting from the days when Social Studies branched out into History, Geography, Civics and Economics in the school curriculum. For someone who hated mugging up, I was always frustrated with the huge volume of insignificant data it carried - the names of people, kings, the countless important dates and years!!! And it is really strange that I suddenly found it interesting. I don’t know how it happened or why it happened, but for the past few days, I’ve started reading on the ancient history and culture of Central Travancore, especially my hometown Thrissur and its nearby areas.

I was specifically drawn to the history of a long-forgotten-never-found-land, Muziris (Muchiri or Mucciri). Even though I had heard a lot about this particular word, I never knew what it was. I could have never even guessed that it was a place! Until recently, the whereabouts of this sea-port was unknown. Thought to be lying on the upper banks of the River Periyaar, the port-city was later destroyed; by what, is still a mystery.

Muziris is said to be derived from the local name “Mucciripattanam”; mucciri meaning cleft palate while pattanam means port. A few years back, in an idle village called Pattanam, 10 kilometres from Kodungallor in Thrissur, excavations revealed the existence of a port city some 4 metres down in the earth. The discovery included coins from Roman& Chera era, a wharf, a canoe, terracotta, Roman glass, beads and stones etc. But there is no solid proof that these discoveries points to the location of Muziris. Muziris is believed to have been a major commercial hub for the European trade route to India. Also, being very near to Kodungallor, it would have been, by all chances, a gateway to religions like Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

The city of Muziris finds mention in many ancient writings by people like Pliny the Elder, Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (Frankly, I haven’t heard of any of them but it does feel good) and in the ancient Tamilian Sangam literature. This city might have been pivotal in many a wars between the European powers and the local rulers. It might also have been the reason for the setting up of India’s oldest and the world’s second oldest mosque at Kodungallor.

What led to the decline and ultimate fall of this city is not know. Some historians think it would have coincided with the fall of the Roman Empire. The sea route through the Red Sea, passing through Roman Egyptian cities of Berenike and Myos Hormos, was the heart of the trade to this South Indian port. Muziris was believed to be on the mouth of the river Periyaar. But an interesting observation is that, except a “thodu” (a branch of the River Periyaar) called as the Paravur Thodu, there is no existence of the mighty river Periyaar. It is believed that Periyaar branched out into two near Muziris and the Great Floods of 1341 caused this branch to silt up changing the course of the river.

Whatever might have happened to this port city, it surely did ignite a passion in me; a desire for knowing my land, its culture and its rich heritage. A curiosity to know more, explore the unknowns. And I hope to keep the fire burning and set out on a quest satisfy my urge. Oh, and I’m feeling jealous of the historians and the archaeologists!!!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Lost in 2011

A couple of weeks down the lane in the new year, and I look back at the year that was. (Or should I do a Cyrus Broacha on this and ponder on the year that wasn't?) It has been ages since I posted something in my blog and now, on an occassional log-on, I can hear it squeak and skreak as if to remind me that it was rusting among the pile of blogs in Blogger.

Everywhere the focus is on the year ahead. The new year bashes, the never-gonna-happen resolutions, your year ahead in terms of the sun, the moon, the planets, your tarrot, his parrot, the bunny's carrot!!! The only people who think that the gone-by year sells is the Visual Media people who go on bullshitting on the timelines of 2011.

Talking of timelines, even my Facebook account seems to be desperate to join the race and go for TIMELINES. Not only FB, but generally, 2011 was an year for Internet disappointments and disasters. Facebook turned out to be a "besharam" and made me feel as if I was stripping in public! Comments, likes, pokes, whatever I did was instantaneously publicized on everyone's screens!!! Add to that humiliation, everyone was going for Timeline, which, for me, was Hieroglyphics! It looked huge and clumsy. Whenever I asked someone who had undergone the makeover, I just got one reply - :this is more of a treat to the eye. This is in, dude!!" Well, I'm prefer to remain OUT! A surprisingly unexpected blow was from Google. The wanted to switch Gmail to the new look!!! The new look was yet again boring. It took longer to load, especillay on my friend's laptop, which literally pants for breath while booting on Windows 7. Google was kind enough to extend the old look Gmail to me for sometime, but at the same time threatening me that the fling was a mere temporary one and that one day, I'll have to let go of it for the better looking "sautan".

But among all the Internet disappointments, the most far reaching one was by the Official Premier League site; especially since Asianet is engaged in StarWars with ESPN! No wonder how many hits I make to this site, I still fumble to find what I need. Ealier, it was nothing fancy, but it was easy and useful. Now, with Timelines (yeah, you heard it right. Timelines are infectious and spreads through air like Swine Flu) and the new posh look, it takes forever to load. More than that, it would screw up your head before you could read a full commentary by gliding through the slides! Phew!!!

2011 was the year of Spams and Scams. Now, for the ones who are staring at the screen with raised eyebrows, wondering about the possible link between the two, let me explain. Oh no no. It has got nothing to do with Phishing ( why the hell didn't they go for the name Fishing itself, if they wanted it to sound that way!!!) or Vishing, you Smartass!!! I heard that some old guy named Anna was going on fast because some Raja,Kalmadi & Inc had scooped lakhs of crores of ruppess which should have otherwise flowed into our economy to create eight lane highways and lots and lots of KFCs, MCDonalds and CCDs. The thought about the deprived obese middle class dudes & chicks who ate fries with "diet" coke flased through my mind. I read the message in my mobile again - One miss call to this number and show your solidarity to Anna. I was suddenly filled with a sense of patriotism which usually came only while watching Lagaan, Swades or RDB. I didn't have to think twice. Lag diya call. They were courteous enough to auto-disconnect my call and send me an appreciation message for the support for the movement. I beamed with joy as if I had just delivered Independance to India. A few weeks down the lane, I started receiving all kinds of message:" Anna is fasting for you even with a 103 degree fever. Will you simply sit at our home?" it asked me. I stared at my mobile for a second. I knew i had to do it, and I did it. No no, I didn't go out on the streets shouting slogans and holding placards. I simply deleted the message and went back to watching football!!

Nothing was the same after that miss call. I began to receive a lot of spam messages day in and day out. Everyone was selling me spy cams and voice recorders and Viagra and what not! And yes, I won millions of pounds, euro and dollars in lottery. Yahoo and Google chose me as their lucky user to inherit a few millions shares and even RBI wanted me to have a share of the country's money! This, added to the already irritating calls from Airtel Digital TV and MTS made me hate my mobile. Oh yes, I almost forgot; Airtel had some issues (read as only in few selected nos) due to which I began to receive every single message 20-30 times. How sweet of them; lest some important message go unnoticed! And add to that the joy of deleting messages on a touch screen!

Finance. Why didn't my astrologer say to me that my dimes were going down the drain this year? With the Sensex starting on a high note, I didn't waste another minute and pumped all I saved into the market. Now, with the stock market at a low, my portfolio has nearly halved! Oh for all those you silly who are going to lecture me on the global market cues and the inflation, don't be an idiot. It had nothing to do with that. It was because Uranus was blocking my Venus!!!

And for all those who survived reading my blabbering till now, I really don't know how to end this post. Someone once told me the best way to stop a post is with a Full Stop! Ciao. And oh yeah, Happy New Year!!! Better late than never.