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Life as I'm learning it

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Location: Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, United States

"It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Match'd with an agèd wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me."

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Notes of a Nomad - IV

[This is the concluding part of this four-part travelogue. Here are links to parts one, two and three.]

Monday, August 22, 2005:

The last day of the trip actually never began, because it was already Monday by the time we got back to our room. To make amends for the debacle of Sunday morning (when we were left stranded in the station with no one to pick us up), a cab had been waiting for us since 10 PM!

Our train was still four hours away, so we could have only managed an odd sleep. The foolhardy side of my brain decided that such a sleep wasn't worth missing the train, and so I shifted my attention to the TV. Armageddon on STAR Movies. But I had kinda endured the movie already in a movie hall. So even Liv Tyler's magnetic presence wouldn't fool me into another time. I decided I would watch the English-subtitled Malayalam movie on DD National. Half an hour into the movie, I was bored because it was too melancholic - an old man who feels neglected, and every scene only adds to his insecurity... I might have enjoyed it some other day.

News was the only option left, and I was watching the news anchor on Headlines Today repeat the same sentences every twenty minutes, coughing after reading the same word every time, misreading the same thing again and again... how they manage it is beyond my understanding. Then came this really funny movie about a confused romantic, on STAR. I missed the title, so I didn't know the name, and I mistook the hero for Adam Sandler. The guy happens to be Jason Biggs (you'll agree he is a Sandler look-alike) and the movie is Anything Else.

I woke my friend up at 3, and we packed up and left in the next 25 minutes. Just into the Bhubaneswar railway station, and we learnt that the train was sometime away. At 4:40 AM, the Howrah Mail recommenced its journey, taking me away from a city and an experience I won't be able to forget.

Inside, almost everyone was asleep. I decided to follow suit. The next thing I knew was that it was late in the morning and that everyone in my coupé was eagerly awaiting for me to wake up because I was tucked in the middle berth, and was hindering a comfortable seat for them. It seemed to me that the whole world spoke Bengali and nothing else. The Tamilian's reaction to any language other than his own is filled with cynicism. Malayalam is spoken too fast, Telugu and Kannada have really funny scripts; and Bengali... sounds as if the speaker had a couple of stones in his mouth perennially.

The morning would have been impossible to spend had I not chosen to buy the Deccan Chronicle. Never in my life have I read a newspaper as I did that morning. I went out of my way and even read comic strips, attempted crosswords (and almost completed the grid) and solved my first su do ku. I was so engrossed in the paper that had there been this beautiful girl sitting opposite to me, she would have said, "Gosh, you are trying really, really hard!"

I rejoined my friend over lunch (he being in a different compartment), and over lunch we had a heated discussion on some general universal principles, most of all, what is good, and what is bad (or right and wrong). My friend (I don't know what he was thinking) suggested that it was a sin to eat in a non-vegetarian restaurant, even if you were partaking only vegetarian food. To this day, I am amazed at his statement - surprised and shocked that our understanding of right and wrong is limited by such crude biases. I then embarked on a I-know-everything kinda lecture on what constituted a rightful action and what didn't. Looking back, I find even this ridiculous. Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita said, "sarva dharmān parityajya mām ēkam saranam vraja..." (abandon all notions and judgements about good and bad, and surrender unto me). And here were two people, who considered themselves stud-level experts on His Divine Song, and yet were arguing about good and bad. Īshvaro rakshatu (only God can save us!).

During our discussion, we had crossed Vishakapatnam. The city that I had missed during the onward journey was now under a cloud cover. No sooner did the train leave Vizag than a slight drizzle started. And sometime later, it was raining quite hard. What can be better than such a magical Monday afternoon, spent in the confines of an air-conditioned coach, in a train that was moving through a verdant landscape... add to this the fact that you get an On-Duty leave!

I came back to my coupé, and decided that I would start a conversation with the folks there, the weather being too nice for me to break into a sleep. Ten minutes into the conversation, I learnt that the smart-looking chap and his mom were travelling to Yanam, and that he was the medical officer for that principality... he belonged to the Indian Medical Services! It seemed that I was destined to meet an officer from every one of the services before I reached Chennai. Glimpses of Annavaram and a few other beautiful places ensued. I remembered that Mr. Rajendra Gupta must be informed about the result, so I shot off an SMS to Kolkata. By 4, we had reached Samalkot where the medical officer got down, leaving an entire set of 6 seats to me and a Bangalore-bound Calcuttan.

I hate sleeping in the afternoon, but I had had only 4 hours of sleep in the past two days, so anything would have been fine. I would have slept till dinner... but for a group of ruffians! Though I was deep into dreamland, I could sense some noisy chattering. Suddenly someone woke me up, and I found that the coupé, which I had assumed to be mine till Chennai, was suddenly full, teeming with a bunch of well-built men, all seeming like the typical rowdy you would meet in a Telugu movie.

The guy who roused me from sleep spoke no English. He should have assumed that anyone who was in a train that cut across Andhra should be conversant in Telugu. I only managed to say, telugu teliyadhi (I don't know Telugu). Immediately a tall, mustachioed guy, obviously the leader of the pack, stepped forward and commanded benevolently in a Telugu-accented English, "We are all travelling as a group, so please shift to the next coupé." My neighbour and I had no choice, but I issued a minor protest saying, "Why don't you let us stay here?" Pat came the response: "Actually, we are going to enjoy... eating, cards, smoking, drinking..."

The new coupé wasn't exactly comfortable, partly because of their incessant chatting in the one we were displaced from. Even otherwise I would have gone out to stare at nature. For this was Mother in all her glory. We had just left Rajahmundry, and it was time to behold the beauty and the might of the river Godavari once again. As one stands near the door, one can experience a 5-minute royal orchestra, the main elements of which being the jangling of wheels, the roar of the train and the whish-whoosh of the wind, the serenity of the scene and the smell of the humid air adding to the effect. It was as if we were in God's own country, this monied belt of Andhra Pradesh.

Back into the not-so-likeable interior, it became even more unmanageable because of the smoke and the stench of the liquor. If there is one reason to dissuade anyone from drinking, it should be the provocative smell of liquor. And whenever I looked in their direction, it seemed as if those rogues returned the glance, but with a smile, as if to tell us with pride, What's life without a royal challenge?

At the next station, Giri (that was the name of the guy along with me) and I accosted the TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) and got ourselves shifted to a more placid zone. I protested about the festivities in the area that we were leaving but Mr. TTE himself seemed helpless. "But Sir, someone has to give a complaint and only then can we take any action... who will do it?"

The occupants of this new area seemed nice, and they shared our dislike for uncivil people. Another conversation ensued, this time with a church official from Kolar (a small town famous for goldmines). He gave us some insights into the life and times in that place, and some details about how gold is - rather, used to be (sadly, he informs us, not any longer) - mined. First it was communism, then the services, now the mining process - will my education on this trip ever stop?

At 7:50 PM, I received a call; one glance at the number, and the guess became child's play. Mr. Gupta, the Left-leaning entrepreneur from Kolkata, was overjoyed at the result, but more with my remembering him. A passing comment that I would meet him next in his hometown evoked this passionate respone: If you do that, Sir, I would consider you among my best friends! Oh God, here was someone whom I had not known two days ago, who had the great Shyamal Sen as neighbour, and this comment!

There are nice people in this world, beyond our realm; just that one has to embark on a journey of 2500 kms to get in touch with some of them. Chennai now appeared to be some inconsequential red dot in a corner of a world - a universe - that I had imagined could be studied from the confines of a 12 x 10 ft study. Perspective - that's all there is education. And I am still learning.

An hour later, we were back on the River Krishna. It was dark, but rivers are, by nature, romantic; so are nights; and the combination! Everything now was in rewind mode... the journey was drawing to a close. Three unforgettable days, and miles to go before I sleep...



The essence of living is discovering. These notes are a reflection of the joy of discovery that makes life worth the effort.

More than the content, which wasn't in dearth, it was the title that I spent a lot of time thinking about. Indeed this title isn't new. My first blog, which was born over two years ago (and was alive for less than a month), was christened this way. The rants contained there would be similar. You may access it via this link: Notes of a Nomad

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Notes of a Nomad - III

[This is the third part of this four-part travelogue. Here are the links to parts one, two and four.]

Over lunch, we learnt two things: that the food wasn't as good as we expected it to be, and that the other teams (expletive, expletive, expletive) had all done some part of their journey by air. Some random talk made us get over the food, which was gulped down voraciously for one single reason: it was our lunch, and it was already four.

Congratulations were pouring in from all directions, and it made me wonder what I had done to merit them. Binay arrived just as we getting up (or getting over) from the table, and informed us that Konark - and not Puri - would be our destination, given the limited time we had at our disposal.

Our bias that the Sun was a secondary God made us issue veiled protests; but he was acting in our best interests; Puri, he said, had 108 temples (wow!) and we couldn't see everything in one evening. But suddenly, something came over him and he announced that we would head to Puri. His mother and sister, who were leaving to San Francisco in a week's time would join us too. It should have been 5 PM when we left the Binay household and headed to fulfill our tryst with Jagannatha, the Lord of the Universe.

The road from Bhubaneswar to Puri has something to offer to everyone. The endless fields, a blanket of green and the occassional water-body that would draw an "Ooh!" and an "Aah!" from a person who adores the beauty of nature. Or the dormant Dhauli, the place to which Ashoka - the once blood-thirsty emperor - led his army and slayed a nation beyond mercy, so much that to this day, no one knows who the slain king was or who led that sorry army. Or the Daya river, which even today seems to carry the horror and the sorrow of that age, when it turned red with the blood of the Kalinga warriors. Or Pipili, a small town lined with shops that sell appliques and nothing else. Or Sakhigopal, which according to Binay's mom, is the place where the Lord appeared as a witness to protect one of his devotees. Or countless inconsequential villages where nature is so brimming with life that one could jump off the car, rush into the fields amidst the mild drizzle, kiss the ground and shout "Vande Mataram!" (Salutation to you, Mother Earth!)

From even a good 7 - 8 kilometres away, we can spot the high-rise spire - the gopura - of Puri's main temple. Incidentally, Puri is on the sea; I was told that the beach - though incomparable with Chennai's Marina - is quite a good place for a stroll. We entered Puri by about 6:30 PM, and headed straight into a palatial bungalow. It was inhabited by the Superintendent of Police of the Puri district. He was Binay's uncle, and this man would engage and enthrall us for the next few hours.

Once into the house, our host made us feel at home, though this home should have been more than a 100 years old. Oh what history this house, inhabited by successive civil servants for more than a century, must have seen. We felt even more at ease when we learnt that Mr. Superintendent had graduated from the same college as we had - and they say the world is wide! After a brief stint at one of India's top engineering companies, he had made the shift to the Indian Police Services (IPS), which is second only to the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) in the pecking order.

Predictably, the discussion turned to the Services (short for Civil Services; once India's most respectable profession, it has fallen into bad times for many reasons: corruption, inadequate remuneration, economic liberalisation in India...) "So, why is there widespread corruption?" asked I, eager to get the insider's view. The reply covered more aspects that I would have imagined. He said that the system in India is such that it encourages corruption. Contrary to what is imagined, corruption starts at the ground level. It is small and hence acceptable. But this spreads to each layer above it, and no one at a higher level would take lesser money than a subordinate. Thus corruption increases on a geometric scale making those at the highest level world record holders!

But what I am giving you, he continued, is an excuse. The fact is that you cannot beat corruption in the system, because if it could have been defeated, it would already have been. People who have qualified for the top-notch services have come through by beating the best (which is true, because the UPSC exam is one of the toughest in the world). So, they can be innovative enough and further their own interests. Morality should come from within. The day you start taking money, your respect levels will come down. Even the man on the street will mock at you. But once you establish a reputation of being fair and clean, trust would follow.

He classified corruption into two categories: collusive and coercive. No one complains against collusive corruption - in fact, it is considered okay, because it helps get the work done. For example, a guy woule willingly pay a bribe in excess of Rs. 10,000 to register a land. Coercive corruption is the opposite - money is extracted from a person unwilling to part with it. For example, the selfsame person would crib about dishing out a hundred rupee note to the local police constable to lodge a complaint about his missing motorcycle. Though the money involved in the latter is minuscule compared to the former, the nature of the bribe and the taker change the perception of the giver. This is the reason why the police force should distance itself from corruption.

So why did quite his plum job and join the Services? The reason wasn't that of a cinematic altruist. A career in the Services was rewarding in more ways than just one. The pecuniary benefits might not match those of the new-gen jobs, but the scale of operations and the power one can wield added to the difference one can bring about tilted his reasoning to the Services. Plus, he said, Orissa is a backward state and hence the role of such people assumed more significance. The discussion continued on similar lines for more than an hour, and some other topics which came up were time-bound promotions and the NDTV-induced controversy that IITians and other engineers should not take to the Services (only a super-intelligent mediaperson like Mr. Rajdeep Sardesai can create a ruckus out of a non-issue).

And then we embarked on the last mile of our journey - our tryst with Lord Jagannatha was about to commence. The temple complex is quite huge. Outside the chariots used for the rath yatra - one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar - were being dismantled. Each year new chariiots are constructed for the rath yatra. The temple houses many sannidhis - smaller shrines - dedicated to different deities of the Hindu pantheon. Each has a legend associated with it; for example, the sthala vriksha - the sacred tree - is said to have a direct link with Heaven and that anything one wished while touching this tree would be communicated immediately.

a view of the gopura by day

The sanctum sanctorum houses three deities - Balabhadra (or Balarama), Subhadra and Jagannatha (Krishna). Their form is made of wood, which is quite rare but not unique (the form of Lord Anantha Padhmanabha Swamy of Thiruvananthapuram is made of wood). There are legends aplenty about how the shrine came into being and why the Lord chose this as His abode. One line is that the Lord was worshipped in some remote part of Orissa and that a cunning Brahmin discovered this and clandestinely brought the Lord to Puri. Another is that the king Indradyumna, after a dream, ordered that a temple be established here. Vishwakarma, the divine architect, appeared as an old man and offered to fashion the deities if he was left to himself for 21 days. This was accepted to, but after 14 days, the King learned that no sound came from inside the locked sanctum. In a fit, he ordered the door be broken open, and found to his dismay the half-completed forms of the deities and the architect gone. To this day, the forms are half-completed.

the main deities... Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannatha (with Sudarshan chakra)

To a Southie like me, this seemed an unconventional form. I'm more used to seeing Vishnu in His reclining posture (like in Srirangam) or His standing posture (like in Tirupati), sporting thiruman on His forehead. But this was a learning trip for me, one full of discovery and here I was trying to discover the Protector, our Universal Father. Another striking difference I found was the absence of a queue system. Even the not-so-crowded temples down south have a queue system and you are herded away from the Lord's presence after a short time (which tends to about 5 seconds in Tirupati). Puri was a revelation in that way too. We should have spent almost 45 minutes in His presence, and a good 15 minutes of that in the inner sanctum!

Jagannath, and his brother and sister, are treated like normal human beings in this temple. Hence there is no strict waking-up or going-to-bed time. Our host, who doubled up as a guide, informed us that the day began with the brushing of the Lord's teeth and then a mirror would be shown to Him and He would be asked to see if His dents were proper. (Incidentally, there is a belief that the form of Lord Jagannath contains some of the dental remains of the Buddha; some opine that it might contain the unburnt heart of Krishna.) When we were in the inner sanctum, the Lord was being prepared to be put to sleep, and so chandan was applied on His form. A priest was shouting something as if to inform, "Oh Lord, we are applying chandan on Your divine form..." Ah, what a magical experience!

After paying respects to other deities, most notably Goddess Lakshmi, the divine consort, and partaking of some prasad, and dinner at a local restaurant, we made our way back to Bhubaneswar. This was a day to behold. A million thanks are due to Binay, his mother and sister. In Fish, the author suggests that the best way to help someone is to make their day. Mr. Saumyendra Priyadarsi, of the Indian Police Services, alumnus of CEG, Superintendent of Police of Puri and a very affable man had done just that. The guards at the company gate weren't as affable when we entered the campus. But that was understandable. It was 12 AM. Another day had begun.

[To be concluded...]

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Notes of a Nomad - II

Sunday, August 21, 2005:

I have the habit of sinking into a sound sleep, but this I've found to be untrue in trains. I remember waking up successively at 11:30 PM, 1:40 AM and 2:35 AM (all for not more than 10 seconds each), before finally calling it a day (huh) at 4:40 AM. I had missed a host of stations, most of all, Vishakapatnam. The train was stationary when I woke up, and I was comforted by the fact that we were only at Khurda Road, it being a few kiolmetres away from Bhubaneswar. Little did I know then that I wouldn't catch a minute of sleep in the next 24 hours.

It was dawn and in the faint lights of the will-rise-soon sun, I could see that Orissa had a charming landscape, teeming with grass and fertility. The clouds added to the romanticism of the morning.

05:15 - We reached Bhubaneswar on time. The station was bigger and definitely much cleaner than I expected. I had finally landed in an alien place. This wasn't my country. For the first time in 22 years of existence, I set foot outside South India. No cinematic "That's one small step...", but the spell had been broken anyway.

Alas, those moments of ecstasy were soon to be broken short, because we found no one waiting for us. We were supposed to be picked up by someone, and that someone didn't turn up. I even whipped out my identity card and walked in random directions, but to no avail.

05:25 - We then committed our first sin of the day. We woke up our contact in BBSR. Had someone done that to me, I would have said, "Have you any sense? Do you know what time it is? Remain there and get back to Chennai in the next available train." But she was more caring than that. She sent us another cab.

05:55 - The desperate wait ended with the cabbie identifying us immediately. Anyone could have identified us - two flustered clueless southies!

Bhubaneswar reminded me of Kerala. It should have been a decade, but the drive from Trivandrum airport still lingers in my mind. Rows of trees, lush grass and the unspoilt surroundings... why is Orissa still a backward state? Surely the hordes that land in Kerala can flock BBSR. One thing that struck me was that the roads (besides being okay) were all long and straight.

We reached the company guest house. One of the things my company prides itself about is its predictability. Therefore the room was no different from the one I occupied during training. Same TV, kettles, telephone, bed... even the shower!

07:05 - We committed our second sin of the day: waking up Mr. Binamra Binay, the only person we knew in this beautiful city. "Guess who?" A sleepy voice replied, "Boss, Vijay. Tell me. When did you reach?" "Er... sorry, but did I wake you up?" Not wanting to disappoint me, he replied in the negative. He had promised us to take to Puri, the shrine of the Lord of the Universe. (In fact, a chance to visit Puri tipped the scales in favour of my travel to BBSR. If not, I might not have travelled at all.) He said he would join us by 9.

07:30 - After flipping channels for more than an hour, I finally got the one piece of news I badly wanted to know: United had beaten Villa 1 - 0, van Nistelrooy being the scorer.

08:05 - I'd taken a luxurious bath. It was still cloudy; it rains everywhere except in Chennai.

08:50 - We proceeded to the food court to use our breakfast coupons. On the way, a guy who identified himself as Ankit accosted us. He was representing the Bangalore team and had flown in (yes, flown, as in, by aeroplane) BBSR a good 30 hours before we did. Predictably he had been to every place that was on our list: Puri, Konark, some beaches etc. He sought our company to Nandankanan Zoo, which was just about 7 kilometres from where we were. We replied haughtily that we were Puri-bound; he warned us suggesting that we wouldn't be back on time if we went to Puri.

09:25 - The piping hot aloo parathas dispelled our notion that the food won't be good in this part of the world. (Yeah, we had assumed the worst for just about anything we could think of.)

09:50 - Binay arrived in his Maruti, and immediately confirmed Ankit's warning. He took us around the company for a few minutes and then suggested that we go to ... Nandankanan!

10:15 - It was a fine morning and Nandankanan - that grand communion of nature - should have been among the best places to visit. We spotted quite a few creatures, most notably the white tiger and some rhinos.

11:10 - We exited Nandankanan and headed for the Botanical Garden. We immediately realised why our friend called it Lovers' Park. The place was quite good - we didn't spot many flowers, but enjoyed the drive nevertheless.

11:50 - We were back at the company and reported at the venue of the Quiz finals (which was the actual reason why we were there) before time.

An array of Please wait's made us take our seat outside the hall. Binay left promising to join us by 3. My friend and I indulged in some senseless discussion before the organisers decided that they had heard enough, and let us in. It was 12:45.

13:00 - The quiz started on time, with five teams and a quizmaster whose CV was awe-inspiring, even frightening!

13:20 - We were off to a decent start and at the end of Round 2, that fluke of an answer I gave - REVLON - pushed us to first place. "Way to go Chennai!" said Mr. QM.

13:45 - One more round passed; we drew a blank but were still joint top.

14:05 - We were now third, and the home team, which hadn't opened its account in the first two rounds, had built up a comfortable lead. We knew lots of answers but unfortunately the teams which had them direct knew the answers too.

14:30 - We were now last; REVLON was still our last right answer. Three rounds and an hour since we dozed off. The same "Yuck, I would have answered that!"

14:40 - Another fluke answer, this time the Model T, quashed the rut, but we were still last.

14:50 - A few more answers brought us to fourth place.

15:05 - The penultimate round was over; we were fourth and were tied with another team. But 10 points was all that separated the last four teams. The BBSR team could have gone for an early lunch; their lead was 50.

15:25 - Our main aim in the last round was not to finish last. In fact, we did pretty okay - one more correct answer would have put us level with two other teams for second spot. They were just five points away. Thanfully there was one team which was five points below us. We had finished fourth!

(To be continued...)

Notes of a Nomad - I

[Random thoughts and notes from my trip to Bhubaneswar]

Saturday, August 20, 2005:

07:55 - Left home for Chennai Central

08:30 - Reached Chennai Central. Train on time; friend with tickets not!

09:00 - Coromandel Express starts its journey on the dot. Onward to the City of Joy

~ 10 AM - First signs of Andhra Pradesh - lotsa Telugu banners and hoardings. Fantastic language, very sweet; nice to speak and to listen to, but extremely hard to read. Each character is a round.

Thankful that we are booked into an AC coach; it is quite hot outside

They are fools who read in trains! Journeys like this are to be enjoyed peeping through the window, unless of course there is a more compelling reason, like there is someone worth looking at in the train! (thankfully, there aren't any)

~ 11 AM - Train passes over bridge in Nayudupeta; long bridge, barren land below. Which river failed them, I wonder. At not a great distance is a chain of hills. No vegetation there either. How can anyone live in these parts? Just the right recipe to breed naxalites.

11:15 - Just across the road is SV Arts & Science College; everything in Southern Andhra is named SV

11:20 - Wow, we cross a coconut farm - no, it's not just a farm if there are 1 lakh trees, right? Surely some landed person; maybe a minister? A rare beautiful sight amidst the merciless sun and arid landscape.

11:30 - Do these people have a word equivalent for 'cloud' in their local language? How would they visualise something they would never have seen? We cross what should have been rice fields once upon a time, one can see easily. But no rice now. No rains. No doubt farmers are dying / committing suicide. No use blaming the government. What can a Naidu or a Reddy do?

In the distance however, one can spot tractors ploughing the fields. HOPE is the Indian's capital!

11:45 - Some big town. Lots of houses, tall buildings, cars etc. Seems wealthy. There is a big cineplex - Krishna Kaveri Kalyani... More buildings... it is Nellore - the rice bowl.

At last some water body, is it the Krishna? Wow, so beautiful, we could get down and start writing poems sitting on its banks!

12:15 - Hunger pangs; even the best of mom's idlis can't last for more than 5 hours

12:25 - Ah, my deliverer!

12:30 - The food is quite ... awful

13:05 - Another big bridge, and this hasn't seen water in a long long time.

Fantastic road to the left, reminiscent of our celebrated East Coast Road.

14:15 - Just crossed Chirala - memories of childhood pal Kiran Kumar Sharma came rushing to the mind. The endless hours of cricket, cycling, video games, wrestling... What's he doing now? Reminds me I should care to know more about old friends.

14:40 - Machavaram, a place to behold. Coconut and banana trees vie for attention, to say nothing about acres of fertile lush grass.

14:57 - Tenali, home of Vikatakavi Ramakrishna. Not some inconsequential village one would have imagined. Quite a decent junction, and in the midst of a very fertile belt.

15:20 - Some huge river in the distance. Arise, for the mighty Krishna!

15:25 - Five minutes on, still on the bridge. Krishna is endless.

15:27 - Vijayawada, a blessed city... the river, what to say! A temple on the banks, boats, good God, what a life!!!

(A local informs us that so much water isn't the way it always is. The rains in Maharashtra have caused this joy... I salute India's diversity)

17:58 - Nidadavolu

18:20 - Approaching Rajahmundry. Crossed the Godavari river this time. Similar emotions to the Krishna. Chennai immediately needs a river. Rajahmundry is hometown to my colleague Prasanna. So rang him up. Took me a long time to convince him that I was indeed there. "So what's your town famous for?" "Cashews." "Okeh, I'll buy you some."

18:40 - Out of Rajahmundry. Cashews too expensive that you can buy them only if you are a rajah! Still, got a small packet for our man.

Getting dark. Curtains down.

~ 20:00 - The inevitable political discussions start. Others in the same coupe are headed to Calcutta (or Kolkota), but we learn that they aren't hard-headed communists.

My friend gets bombed from all sides for suggesting that Indian states need the office of the Governor. He is speechless to the various facets of the case - waste of money, lack of respect, a reminder of the days of the Raj etc

Over dinner, the topic deviates to Communism. With much doubts and some fear, I ask "So why is West Bengal embracing Communism?" That unassuming question leads us close to one Kolkota-bound gentleman. He suggests that the Congress in his state are a bunch of bullies, whereas the Left are much more dignified. He is an entrepreneur - yeah you heard that right.

I get lots of insights into the life of this left-siding entrepreneur. In his own way, this man who manufactures garments for children and sells it in distant Chennai, has a well thought-out business plan. That he outsources most of his work in order to prevent union problems. That he employs people from different states so that it will take them quite some time to conspire against him.

He suggests that Calcutta is India's most dignified city (I was always told that it was the dirtiest). So I remark that I'll pay a visit to the old city and experience its charm. The result: he whips out his business card. Long train journeys can be extremely interesting, especially if you can strike a conversation with a person like Mr. Rajendra Gupta.

21:25 - Mr. Gupta wishes me success - more a blessing, I should say. I venture into a sleep.

(To be continued...)

Friday, August 19, 2005

Off to Bhubaneswar...

I am going on an all expenses paid semi-official trip to Bhubaneswar. Will get back in four days.

Some raksha, some bandhan

[An email forward showing the lengths to which women go to win protection from their brothers!]

Among the traditions that are sadly being mocked at because of their misuse, Raksha Bandhan should be the undoubted winner. From the little Hindi / Sanskrit that I know, I decode raksha to be protection and bandhan as relationship - and symbolised by a thread (awfully decorated) tied by a girl on the wrist of a man she considers her brother - someone who would protect and defend her.

RB 2.05, the latest release, is a paradigm shift from the early versions. Nowadays, the urbane types scout for guys whom they perceive to be the most troublesome. That guy's been eyeing me for some weeks, let me tie a rakhi. A rakhi which actually signifies a bonding that is beyond the mundane and the average has now turned into a gross, cavalier tool that is used to win protection from the hand it is tied to.

One reason I'm happy I'm not the girl-chasing types is that I don't need to run and hide on Raksha Bandhan day. But honestly, what is going on is sacrilege; it is a rigmarole and is intolerable. It negates one's belief that civilisation makes us move forward. And if this is civilisation, then I don't want to be a part of it.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A prayer for Clarke

The current Ashes series doesn't cease to amaze. Another brilliant performance from both the teams, but Australia held out, and not even "Freddie" Flintoff could help his team bridge that gap between the cup and the lip.

I thought Michael Clarke, for all that he is going through, proved the fighting spirit that the Aussies are the epitome of. A person with a career-threatening injury, who has been in the hospital for the the past two days... comes out and makes 39, more importantly, he has kept his wicket for more than an hour and a good 63 balls!

We may not like the Aussies - they just keep winning everything. They are bullies; their on-field talk reeks of expletives... But when a player's career might be cut short by injury, our hearts sincerely pray that this fine cricketer be well soon and resume playing. After all, a great fighter like Clarke cannot lose any battle if he is propped up by our prayers.
"More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?"
- La Morte d'Arthur, Alfred Tennyson

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Thank God, we lost

Watching India "surrender meekly" to Sri Lanka last night made me think if we were extending "Aadi" courtesies to the Lankans - a straight 50% discount - 10 wickets for the price of 5.

India should be the only team in the world which fields exactly 5 batsmen, 5 bowlers and a wicket-keeper. If we play one extra batsman, the fifth bowler finds himself carrying water bottles. Even Bangladesh and Kenya must be having one all-rounder worth the name.

Our national cricketers are the best examples of the term "core competence". We do one thing only. (Of course, whether we do that well or not is a debatable issue in itself.) It seems that we consider all-rounders as people who cannot do anything properly. It is surprising that our team is able to perform as well without even one quality all-rounder.

Teams that have performed consistently over the past few years have in their ranks batsman and bowlers who can double up as their other self. Flintoff, Kallis, Pollock, Jayasuriya, Gilchrist, Symonds... The only Indian we can add to that list is Sachin Tendulkar. And his absence was felt badly in Sri Lanka. We had to play with four bowlers and expect Virender Sehwag to score a hundred and pick 4 for 33 in ten overs.

Why is Ganguly not bowling? Why not ask Yuvraj to practise bowling in the nets? Or ask Pathan and Zaheer to firm up their bat-wielding skills?

Some in the media have already started criticising coach Greg Chappell. Which is quite bad because he isn't exactly inheriting a fortune. But Mr. Chappell has an important task at hand - to develop a 11-man team that comprises of 9 batsmen, 7 bowlers, 1 wicket-keeper and 10 good fielders. Instead of saying "It is okay to lose, because we are preparing for the World Cup. So don't expect to win a single game before March 2007..." and get bashed in the media, our man from Australia better started developing more competencies in our players.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Spirit?? What spirit?

A casual perusal of news channels and newspapers over the past couple of days would tempt one to believe that the media was/were actually waiting -- even praying -- that Mumbai be deluged so that they can showcase to the world, the spirit of Mumbaikars. If it was not a Milind Deora, then it was a Zakka Jacob who took turns to bring to the fore the no-adjectives-left spirit and will of the poor inhabitants of the battered city.

Let's face it. Mumbai has been ravaged by rains, and people are suffering without proper access to even the bare necessites. The government machinery has been caught off-guard. No food, no power and lots of water - what can the people do?

But life has to move on. Rains can be a good excuse for not attending school (it never worked with my mom, though). But a large section of the affected populace MUST work to feed themselves and their dependents. No work, no food. What will people do? They will get out, they will work, they will struggle and toil because rain or shine, that is what they are supposed to do. They don't have the luxury of tapping an "I'm not feeling well" into their hand phone and heading off to nearest amusement park.

When Ahmedabad was rocked by the killer earthquake in 2001, the media praised the indomitable Gujarati will. Eight months later, they were glorifying the excelsior spirit of the New Yorker. When the tsunami gobbled up lives, the people of coastal Tamil Nadu were praised for their courage. Recently they shifted focus to the spirit of the Londoners.

I'm sickened because the media cannot (or wishes not to) sense the common thread in all these - it is called survival. "To survive" is not copyright protected by the New Yorker or the Londoner or the Mumbaikar. It is the most basic of all instincts. In a life which is so subtly controlled by things beyond our control, this is what makes us report to work every single day. Volcano, earthquake or tsunami, I have some mouths to feed - at least one. Not some media-devised snob value associated with living in one of the commercial capitals of this world.

After the 7/7 London blasts, I was speaking to a Londoner friend about how life was progressing, especially because NDTV felt that it was its duty to advertise that not a million Osamas can ever hope to strike fear in the heart of the Londoner. I paraphrase what he said,
"Look dude, what are they talking about? You board a bus or the tube, and you dunno if the guy sitting next to you is a human bomb. He looks like an Asian? Sports a beard? Looks furtive? Get the hell out of there ASAP. Isn't that what you'll do too? We aren't any different."
Very true, my friend. If London or Mumbai teach you to break bread with someone who is a terrorist and not be daunted by it, it's time we clarified exactly what "spirit" we are talking about.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

It's raining bulls and bulls

Despite the wealth of available literature and also given the fact that every second person you meet claims to be an expert in this art, financial markets aren't as easy to predict as many would like us to believe.

Consider the BSE Sensex for example. Since May, it has rallied around 1500 points. That's an increase of 500 points every month, or 23 points every trading day! Though doomsayers (who are sometimes called pragmatists) have been predicting a deep correction starting July, the markets haven't shown any sign of a dip in exuberance.

Each day in the past few weeks has seen a clutch of stocks reach their 52-week high - everyday the indices touch all-time highs. Nothing, not even the rains in Mumbai, can stop this bull run, it seems. If some theory can explain all this, I would love to know which.

The higher the indices go, the more cautious one has to become for the impending correction will be as huge. Here too, retail investors are at a terrible disadvantage because they will be the last to catch news of the correction when it comes. The easier route is to book profits by closing all open positions and be at peace. Better safe than sorry be your mantra.