Friday, December 26, 2008

Goa : a christening

So Nicky made a very wise decision (which is quite usual for her) and decided not to invest in the property boom in Delhi. Even better, she decided to buy a house in Goa.

After pushing the builders to finish the construction on time, she finally got a date to take possession of her “ghosla” .. it was the 8th of December. Amidst several rounds of copious drinking, we realized that much work needs to be done to make that into a livable place. The house is in south Goa, somewhere near Colva beach. The more relaxed part of Goa, away from the “party goa” of Anjuna and Vagator.

Furniture ! That was the big ticket item. As the resident “vela” , I was asked to go furniture shopping. We went to a place in Okhla and looked at some antique (or antique lookalike) furniture. Nicky made a second trip and bought herself a truckload of stuff. Shipping cost to Goa : Rs 10,000. The stuff was due to arrive on the 9th, so we had to be in Goa to receive it. Nicky and I decided to make a trip to do the formalities of the house, and to set up the place.

Ruchi came back from her U.S. trip, and was not very happy that she had not been invited. So she and Waseem decided to tag along too. We decided to be a little prudent, and actually made a list of things we would need to furnish the place (and to survive for the few days without furniture of any kind). For reference, the list is available here.

We flew to Goa on the 6th, with tons of extra baggage. Physical. And some emotional. Oh, BTW… the furniture delivery folks were TOO punctual. They decided to deliver the day before we were supposed to reach. Luckily, Gina (the builder) agreed to put it in storage in another unfinished house.

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We arrived at the house in the afternoon. And were quite taken aback. The floors were all covered in sawdust. Apparently this was so that they would not get spoiled during the finishing coat of paint. And during the installation of the doors. Yes, there were no doors on any room. Luckily, there was a door on the bathroom, but no latch. So we had to sing  (or make appropriate noises) while showering or crapping, as a indicator-of-presence. Luckily, no untoward interruptions were reported !

Gina (let me tell you about Gina later!) got another room cleaned up, and we set up mattresses for the night. I managed to install a fan in one of the rooms (yep .. i can do that .. it was rotating in the right direction, and it has not fallen off yet). Rented scooters, and went for dinner to Martin’s Corner. That was the only meal in Goa I could not really enjoy. The airplane food, and the random sandwiches made sure that my stomach was in no mood to accept a pomfret offering. We made some necessary purchases (read beer and vodka and orange juice) and headed back home to a well deserved odomos-aided sleep.



Next morning we were woken up by the insane sound of a rooster crowing, and christmas carols being blasted at full volume (with jhankar beats. to the uninitiated, that means a remix). To get over the rude awakening (literal), we started on a nutritious breakfast of potato chips and warm orange juice. Mixed with vodka, just to disinfect it. With this uplifted mood, we started on the 30 km drive to Palolem.

The highway is pretty good, and the traffic is light enough not to be a major hazard to life and limb. It took us about an hour and a half to cover the distance. I will not say too much about the beach : it is quiet and less crowded as compared to the northern beaches, and perfect for a little R&R. We parked our butts in a nice shack, and started on a steady diet of mojitos. Food was ok, drinks were strong, and the water was just perfect. I think I got to ingest equal quantities of all three that evening !


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On Monday, we decided to go to a nearby beach to chill out. We explored Benaulim, and Nicky had to leave us in the middle to take care of some formalities for her house. I dont know if that was a good omen, but we asked the waiter at the shack (Hard Rock) for some stuff, and wonder of wonders, we found some ! We had to pay about twice the market price (in MY estimation), but it was excellent stuff. So please excuse me if I am a little hazy on the happenings from that point forward ! I do remember having to triple ride the scooty back to the house, pick up Nicky and come back. I also remember getting absolutely smashed that night.


This is a picture of Nicky’s hands, after the registration of the house. They take fingerprints for positive identification.

The next few days were a combination of chilling out at Colva, Benaulim and Sernabatim. The highlight was the discovery of the excellent “Zebop” on Uttorda beach, quite close to the house. It is an amazing place, with great food. The beach is very chilled out too. The lowlight was the food at a place called “Sinatra’s Chilli”. It was a choice forced upon us by the time of night and the intensity of our appetites. Even that was not enough to offset the crappy food.

We did manage to catch a full moon party (quite lame, i must say) on Benaulim beach, at a place called Hawaii. It was quite an interesting night at that beach, with a movie in one shack and a indian classical performance in another. It was quite interesting to see “Mr Bones”, I cannot believe that such a stupid movie can be conceived  by humans. Was probably used for extracting confessions at Gitmo. Is probably classified as a torture instrument by the UN.

The party had some fire dancers, and the venue was quite trippy, with glow in the dark paintings. I managed to get some nice pics there. It was not happening enough (or we were not high enough) to actually contribute to the dance floor.


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On Nicky’s birthday eve, we decided to go to party in the north. We rented a car and drove down. Well, I drove. There is a place called West End where we ended up at around 11.30 pm. Well, we did turn up there at around 9, and were informed that the party does not start till later. So we went for some food (again, crap) and came back. But at least we were able to avoid entry charges ! Good trance music, the DJ was a woman, quite cute in fact (or maybe the music made her look that way), and even though the place was not packed, there was a good vibe going. Some Dutch people were recruited into singing “Happy Birthday” for Nicky. And we ended up driving back at 2 am.

Oh, BTW, Ruchi, Waseem and I decided to postpone our return by a couple of days. But Nicky was leaving the next day, so we dropped her off at the airport after another fantastic lunch at Zebop. But we still had not bought her a birthday cake. No issues, we would stop by at the Park Hyatt pastry shop. But we did not count on the enhanced security (this was just after the Bombay incident). We managed to bluff our way past one checkpoint, but even Nicky’s magic failed to work at the main gate. In the end, Ruchi managed to beg and plead her way inside, and procured a chocolate cake. But, no knife. So Ruchi produced a credit card (unused, she assured us), and we celebrated Nicky’s 25th.

We only had to return to the airport once. Ah yes, i remember, we were out of beer, and bought a couple of Kingfishers on the way. I think Goa is the only place, where when you buy beer from a car window, the guy asks you if he should open it ! So anyway, we just had to make one return to the airport because Nicky had forgotten to take her laptop from the car. But she safely managed to catch her flight, with time to spare. I think it was possible only because the flight was at 4 in the afternoon.

The house was getting into progressive states of readiness all this time. The furniture was bought in, assembled, and the cupboards were filled. We had latches on the bathroom doors by now (and I could finally crap in peace). Nicky’s favorite orange dining table acquired some use marks. The kitchen tiles were put up. A refrigerator was bought and stocked up with beer and vodka. Final coats of paint were being done. In short, the house was much closer to livability than when we had arrived. And thats the crux, it would not have happened if we had not arrived there and pressured them to finish up. When we landed up, all the workers were amazed when we told them we would be staying in the house !

The 3 remaining peoples did manage 2 more trips to the north. The “Shore Bar” at Anjuna was great, with the sea literally washing the bottom of the steps. One night, walking back from the place, we decided to light up on the way. And it seems that Waseem dropped all our supplies on the beach. We reached Paradiso, and I could not find the pack. I managed to convince the two of them to go back to the beach and look for it. I am sure that if we were even a tad bit more sober, we would not even have tried to do such a thing. Imagine trying to find a cigarette pack sized object on the beach. In the dark. Without a torch (yeah, we had one, but had conveniently left it at home). But we did look for it, and did find it !!! I attribute it to good dog karma. I was the one who had fed the leftovers to the dogs at Shore Bar. They were fish bones, but as Navin had convinced me earlier, indian stray dogs are all cool with that.

We never did go into Paradiso (the music sounded like crap), and West End was also closed, so we ended up just driving back. We came back to West End on Saturday night, where we realized it was a gay night. Lots of local goa boys waiting to be picked up. Maybe two or three cute chicks. Was never comfortable enough to enjoy myself all night. I was just trying to cover my ass.

I am always amazed at how things work out if you dont care too much. We managed to leave the house keys one night, and had to wait for the workers, who just happened to have a duplicate set. We managed to find our way around in the middle of the night, inspite of contradicting road signs and the collective wisdom of a frog between all of us. Such is life.

So, I must say it was a great experience, something like the hostel trips of the past, sleeping on the floor on mattresses, breakfasting on vodka and beer, not caring to shower or be clean (well, that was just me, i guess, Waseem actually showered twice a day. thats why there is a water shortage in india). Managed to see a uniquely indian sight of four people leading a water buffalo into the sea. No, I am not using euphemisms here. It was actually a buffalo. And it seemed to be enjoying the surf.

Have some great pics to show for it too, although Ruchi and Nicky have made threats on my life if I put these on the web without their approval.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Basketball Diaries

Lately I have been playing a lot of basketball. Well, “a lot” is relative. compared to the EVERYDAY of about 7 years ago, today it is 3 days a week. And I can feel it in my legs if I play 3 days consecutively :-)

Mostly its at the IIT courts (lit up at night), and maybe once a week at the French school, courtesy Jeremy.

I have managed to find a group of ex-IIT guys (about 5-8 years junior to me, mind you) who are still passionate about the game, and, more important, have the time to come around every evening. We usually play against the current IIT team, and manage to beat them about 9 times out of 10. At times we also get some of the better Delhi club players, so its always a exciting and challenging game. The feeling of returning home after a tiring game is priceless.

We even managed to get some IIT-D uniforms made for ourselves (the last one i owned was about 10 years ago), with our names.

But I think the hidden reason I go there so regularly is to feel the camaraderie that comes by belonging to a team. I have come to realize that this is what I crave for, this is my favorite high. This is what i enjoyed most at IIT, and at i2 : being around people who are good at what they do.

I have a theory about this. In these kind of teams/institutions/groups, where everyone is competent and can be trusted to do their part, you avoid the petty bickering and politics that plague normal organizational units. Instead of looking for ways to cover your ass in case anything goes wrong, people tend to take calculated risks, leading to innovation, and more importantly, a great working atmosphere.

Okay, enough sociology ! (I did take that as an optional course at some point of time). I have also had some excellent drinking nights with these folks, a crucial element in any male bonding scenario !  Its a great occasional contrast to the slightly more civilized (read cultured) life I have been living for the last few years. And of course, I love the bit of respect and deference I get by the virtue of being older to them. They (sometimes) actually listen to what I say ;-)

And although I am still playing some golf, I feel that I still have some years of basketball left before I take that up seriously.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lap Top Adventure

Yesterday, after some installs (sound driver, music programs, whatnot), I found that the Vista installation on my T60p was kaput ! What is more surprising is that this had not happened for the last 1.5 years that I have owned this laptop. My laptop has gone through more random installs/uninstalls than about 99.9 % of the computers in this world. Call it obsession, but its probably my way of stress relief !

As soon as I booted it up and entered my password, it showed me a blank black screen, with just the mouse showing. I could move the mouse, but pretty much could not do anything else. After paying due respects to the google god for a while, I was no closer to finding a solution. Similar problems had been reported by various users, along with multiple solutions that worked (including remote registry editing), but I was not amongst those about on which the Vista gods were shining. This, coupled with the fact that I had been thinking of switching back to XP at some point of time, led me to the inevitable conclusion that I would have to re-install from scratch, and this time it would be the good old XP instead of the Vista behemoth. Total time spent in these efforts : a good 3-4 hours.

Well, he he he, as another pointer to my little hidden OCD side, I had already done this some time back. About 8 months back, I had managed to create a perfectly working XP installation, but had stopped just before pulling the final trigger. But as prudent as I am, I did save the image as a backup, which I now promptly decided to resuscitate. Of course, before that, I did need to take a backup of all the data on the original partition. I had a backup from some 2 months back (more OCD), but I decided to just completely copy the old Vista partition (sans the windows directory).

Enter the ever faithful UBCD4Win ! Booted it up, and I was all set to copy the data to an external USB drive. Now for the uninitiated, there is a little quirk in the T60p. When you cold boot it with a USB device attached, into either UBCD4Win or the Hiren’s BootCD (basically surrogate operating systems), the device is not recognized immediately (I have not been able to get them to recognize a USB device AFTER the boot up also). The workaround is to start the laptop, press F12 to go into the Boot Device Selection menu (where you will NOT see the USB device initially), go to <Setup> from there, just escape out of the BIOS setup without making any changes, and let the laptop restart on its own. This time when you use the F12 menu, the device will show up, and the surrogate OS will also recognize it. Now all you need to do is boot into the actual CD as you were planning initially.

The copy process is also a little painful. Basically you keep getting errors like "File in use, Access Denied" (Permission errors ?). And this stops the WHOLE copying process, not just for that particular file (This is one of the XP annoyances, and as UBCD4Win is based on XP, it inherits this). So you have to restart the process multiple times, taking care to see where it left off the first time. Total time for this part of the effort : 5 hours (Not a full time commitment, I was able to catch a hindi movie while this was going on, making sure I checked on the process once in a while)

The next step was to restore the saved XP partition image. Quite trivial. Used the Acronis True Image utility, and the restore completed overnight (about 6 hours)

I was woken up early morning by my sister calling to tell me that she would be spending 5 more days in San Francisco, as the change fee for her ticket was only $22. A good enough reason, I must say ! While I was up, I decided to see how the new partition worked out.

I booted the laptop, and I get a message : "missing or corrupt <windows root>\system32\hal.dll". Ahhh .. i see. I remembered having similar issues while copying my Vista partitions from one disk to another (which i solved by using Vista's recovery console, or its equivalent). So I whip out my XP CD, and go into the recovery console. It seems that the recovery console cannot even detect the hard drive. Again, from my previous XP install effort, I remembered that XP has trouble recognizing the SATA hard drive. Googled, found this on the Lenovo website, changed the SATA mode to compatibility, and went into the recovery console again. OK. The drive and the windows installation were detected.

Tried to run fixboot, and fixmbr from the recovery console. Still no success in booting. More googling. Found this on the Microsoft site. Used the "Method 2" described therein to rebuild the boot configuration. And voila .. I had my XP partition back.

And now all day today I have been going through the painful process of updating the antivirus definitions, windows updates, Lenovo updates.. yada yada yada. So while that is happening (downloading about 500 MB of updates overall, I am punching away at this). And wondering what would have happened if I did not have access to another laptop.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Private Gallery

Encouraged by some great family support (mostly my cousin Mona), I decided to get some of my pics printed and framed. My major concern in this undertaking was color management … What looks good on my screen can actually look crap when the prints come out. There were 2 options : read about the whole field (very complicated) and get it 100% right, or stay lazy, ignore the whole thing and just make sure it is somewhere near 90% ok. Guess what I chose !

Got some prints done from the local shop (nothing fancy, just 8x10 s) and tried several different framing places. Found one person in the Hauz Khas market who is pretty good, quality conscious and competitively priced. And one of the prints came out really well …

meet me here !

I did have to crop the 4:3 prints to get to the 8x10 ratio of the standard print size. Each print cost me about Rs 250 .. an excellent bargain.

Then the fun started. My other cousin Sonal, who is a set designer, was in Delhi for a shoot. She saw these ones, looked at some more, and asked me to get a whole series of shots framed for use in her set. She would pay for it. Nepotism at its best ! This was from Berlin, actually taken with Niki’s excellent Panasonic FZ-18.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

One of these was blown up to a 50x28 size. Was a little pixelated, but excellent background material. What i realized is that a print and a frame can really bring out a picture. I don’t consider myself to be a great photographer, but even I kinda like the way they have turned out. And I realized that they make great gifts. So this is what y’all will be getting next time there is an occasion.

Right now, they will be in a private collection, on the walls of my flat in Delhi, and in my parents new flat in Chandigarh ;-)

Hopefully I should be seeing these in the ad sometime soon. Will keep y’all posted.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Photo Dilemma

I am in the process of figuring out how to share my pictures.


For the longest time, I had all my pics on my hard drive (backed up, of course). This was very useful, but only to me. Then I discovered Flickr ! In my mind, this is a serious photography site, and I have tried to post only my best pictures there (i know, i know, its all relative!). These are pics I have chosen, and worked on in lightroom. These are relatively high resolution, and since I am a pro member at Flickr, I can organize them into any number of albums, with no upload limit.

(BTW .. this is a serious plug for Adobe Lightroom. If you are serious about your pictures, there is no better way to manage them)

So where do my casual pics go, pics that are related to a particular occasion, that I want to share with my family. So I started posting them on my picasa web account as public galleries. This account also contains any pictures I add to my blog, but those are in a private gallery. These are primarily meant for viewing on the web, and are not very high rez. If someone needs a print, I advise them to contact me to get a higher rez image. This way I keep a check on the size of the account, as it is limited.

Then I discovered a third category of pictures. These are ones that i need immediate dissemination, and the best way to do that seems to be to post them on facebook.


The one great thing about facebook is the ability to TAG people. A picture from a party can be immediately posted, the appropriate people tagged, and the meme is guaranteed to reach the relevant folks ASAP. An added benefit, these are usually pics that I would not like my parents to peruse at will. Since they are not on facebook (i am assuming here), I seem to be safe.

The best part about facebook : It can very easily display and inform about any pictures you post on either Flickr or Picasa. So friends following me on facebook also get information about any new uploads I do to the other 2 sites. And of course, the ability to upload/tag using my mobile phone.

Seems to be working out ..

Friday, September 26, 2008

To God or not to God

I recently finished reading Richard Dawkins’ controversial “The God Delusion”.


It is quite an interesting read (most of it), but the main thing I dislike about it is the way he almost pushes his opinions onto the reader. He has his reasons for doing it (he is going against a set of people who have done this very thing to us all through history), but as a slightly detached reader with a scientific mindset, I don’t appreciate his tone.

It did however help me peg myself in a standard philosophical hole. It seems that I am a “Pantheist”. What it means is that God for me is a “non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings”.

True in a way. I do believe in a level of consciousness which a person can aspire to, which is in a separate ‘dimension’ than our daily existence. This is a place where all the irresolvable conflicts of our current existence cease to be conflicts at all. They are revealed as mere manifestations/projections of  the ONE onto the plane of our normal perceptions.

A couple of excellent ideas from the book really make sense.

  • God, or religion, is based on “faith”. Which is saying that you as normal people should put a portion of your minds on the backburner, and trust what some wandering bards have written on a piece of paper. No proof is necessary for this.
  • The way we brainwash our children into the idea of “faith” (or religion) is ridiculous. On one hand we encourage them to pursue a scientific education, but on the other had, we encourage them to believe that there is a portion of our existence which is beyond science.

Dawkins seems to say that ANY kind of postulates not based on the scientific method are a kind of trap.

Strangely enough, there is another book I have been reading alongside. Its “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”.


I would not call it a religious piece. It is more about the way we lead our lives, and what we can do to ease our path into death. It seems to say somewhere that science and technology are distractions set up by our “egos”, and ultimately serve to hide out “true” nature from ourselves.

It is written by a Buddhist monk, and stresses meditation as one of the ways to calm your mind, so you can comprehend and finally become one with the “Buddha” nature. Which is very close to my beliefs.

I find myself in a weird place, agreeing with both these philosophies. The logical, educated part of my mind (which had exclusive hold over me for about 30 yrs) tells me that at least a basic proof is required before I can start believing in an “extra” dimension/plane. But I am also close to people who have moved on from these doubts, and are very happy. Maybe not realized yet, but at least happy to be on the path.

So .. the internal debate continues. I do need to start meditating again – maybe this is one of those worldly conflicts which can be resolved not by analysis, but by just “knowing”. 

Or maybe there are these two different paths to knowledge .. one is the scientific way, where we as a human race are possibly coming closer to the truth with the quantum and string theories (which are much more closer to the eastern philosophies than a western scientific mindset).

The other way being to just “know” without any explanations or proofs. Too close to faith, isn’t it !

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Progress Indicators !

A new mall has opened up in Delhi.

How is this different ? Well, this is the first BIG mall to open in the city (all the rest are in Gurgaon, and mostly quite small). It is located in the prime Saket district, previously famous for the PVR cinema complex (Buzz anyone ?)

You cannot really differentiate it from any other mall in any other city in the US. And if you consider the bay area, you may find that the ratio of Indians to White Folk might also be very close ! There are a lot of the same brands (though the prices are probably double what you would pay in the US).  The standard food court. Teenagers wandering around aimlessly, trying to look cool. Fashion conscious middle aged women hoping to score bargains. Curious girls getting free make-up at the cosmetics stores. There is a piano in the central dome, which plays that cheesy automated mall music at all times.

But if you look at the roof, you will spot the imprints of two feet through the translucent plastic. And a plastic hose snaking towards them. This is the menial who is cleaning the roof from the top. And you will also notice the retinue of bag carriers that follows the more prolific shoppers. And the security folks in their peaked caps – trying to portray a sense of authority that vanishes at the first instance of confrontation (you never know – the person they are trying to stop might turn out to be powerful enough to buy the whole mall – and he will let them know about it too !). The trunk  of your car is checked when you enter the parking lot, and the underside is inspected with a mirror. There is a kids corner, where you can literally check-in your brat  (you get a claim ticket) and uniformed ayahs will make sure they don’t kill themselves.

I bet some people have deliberately lost the claim ticket.

They have left a lot of landscaped open space. And well maintained. I bet this will be a popular spot for a afternoon beer in the winters. I will see you there !

(written offline while in Chandigarh, disconnected !)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Anniversary ?

I totally forgot about it ! Its been more than an year since I first started this blog. That means its been more than a year since I moved back to India.

OKOK .. I know .. I have spent more time outside India since then, but its in Delhi that I have spent the most cumulative days.

In this time, I have :

  • started and quit a job (I would count it as a job, though i was not getting paid for it, and was on the executive team). and unwillingly discovered how painful it is to get quality work done in India.
  • changed my country of citizenship (I am a US citizen now)
  • discovered a lot more about my true nature, and discovered that the discovery has just begun!
  • been involved in my FIRST major (relatively) auto accident, where I was at fault (was a little sobering) (figuratively, not literally)
  • traveled to 4 different continents. and about 8 different countries.
  • gotten some of my pictures printed for the first time. and realized that physical copies are much for satisfying than mere electrons.
  • been surprisingly addicted to a social networking site, for the first time in my life. there is something to facebook.
  • re – acquainted myself with a lot of my cousins, and most of them are surprisingly cool. and some extended famliy as well.
  • become more involved with my family than I EVER was (dont know if its good or bad)
  • probably consumed some intoxicant or other on about 90% of the days (definitely bad)
  • consumed inordinate amount of an intoxicant on about 50% of those days (when you do it, go for broke)
  • heard some advice on getting married about a 100,000 times. from unexpected sources. including random strangers i meet for the first time. and most married friends.
  • worked out regularly for about 80% of this period. and eaten healthy (mangoes, sweets and aloo paranthas dont count)
  • realized that the worst thing one can do ion life is to take oneself too seriously
  • came to the conclusion that the quest for perfection, though a noble pursuit, can take too long. good enough is usually good enough. usually !

Wouldn’t have had it any other way !

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Caveman Mode

I have realized that whenever I am faced with prolonged physical adversity, I tend to go into what I call my “caveman mode”.  Now before I hear any smartass comments like “hows that different from your normal life”, and “what about mental adversity”, let me expound on both.

First is medical situations. The latest example is the tooth problems I am having. It has involved one gum incision, one root canal, and a week of antibiotics, which is in essence a no-alcohol period (well, almost). And the fact open cuts in the mouth do not take very kindly to smoke means that I cannot partake of my favorite grand daddy also.

But it also includes situations like camping, trekking, long drives .. any situation in which the body is under more than average stress. (Average in my case has recently been quite low, I must admit)

The first reaction to all such situations is to let my hair grow (ok .. whatever I have). I feel that all the needless energy spent in shaving should go towards recuperation. (Case in point : my bearded facebook profile picture is from when I had my MCL tear).

The second is a greater tolerance of clutter and rubbish around me. For obvious reasons, this is mostly seen in the “roughing out” situations. For example, I would not hesitate to sit down on the road and eat with dirty hands. Or to gladly consume some barbecued chicken that had the misfortune of falling off the grill. The five second rule still applies, and there is nothing that cannot be re-sanitized by a healthy alcohol wash.

It is a somehow liberating feeling to ignore most artifacts of a first world civilized society and let yourself go once in a while. First time I realized this was in Burning Man. Even in the hostile climate, we were following some decorum. One day, I was sitting in a tent, drinking bloody maries, and the water truck came along. Something (well, seeing other people do it is one thing ) prompted me to take of all my clothes and run after it, trying to get cool in the shower. After that, I did not feel the need to wear clothes any more, or to generally be as picky as we usually are.

So anyway, I am in caveman mode now ! If you can smell me from afar, let me know – I might condescend to some deo !

Monday, July 21, 2008

Another train journey

Some time ago, I had posted an account of a journey in the european train system, the ICE and TGV. A couple of weeks back, I had the pleasure of experiencing the darker side of the Indian Railways .. the biggest rail network in the world.

When I normally travel to Chandigarh, I use the Shatabdi trains, which is the premium train category in India. It gets the highest priority in terms of service, routing, and is hardly ever late. It runs from Platform 1, so you never have to go looking for it. On this particular day, the train was sold out, so I decided to take the Jan Shatabdi (literally, people’s Shatabdi), which is a lower class of train. I was traveling with my aunt and uncle, and my illustrious sister. I booked the tickets through the internet (c’mon .. we atleast have that facility in India) in the A/C coach (yes, not all coaches in Indian trains are A/C), and wrote down the coach and seat #s on a piece of paper.

The train was at 3 PM, and we were dropped off at the station at 2.45 by my cousin. I looked at the boards to see what platform our train was departing from, and could not see the name of our train (In India, trains are usually referred to by names, e.g. Chandigarh Jan Shatabdi in this case, rather than their numbers). Surprise ! No train by that name. There was ONE train, leaving at 3.00, from platform 9, but it was named Nangaldam Jan Shatabdi. I had no clue where Nangaldam was, all I could think of was that I had made a mistake. Interestingly, the number of the train was what I had on my paper. “I have booked us on the wrong train !” was my thought.

Ah ! Go to the inquiries counter to find out. A line about 50 people long greeted us. No info for us. Atleast today. Well, lets just walk to Platform 9. But hold on, on Platform 1, right in front of us, is standing a train, the board on which says “Nangal Dam – Chandigarh – New Delhi – Dehradun”. Now I see whats happening ! The train actually goes to this place called Nangal, even beyond Chandigarh. Must be something new, because the train I remembered was only till Chandigarh. No worries, everything is fine, and we go and find our coach. I look at the seating chart attached to the coach, and cannot find our names. “Its an old chart, dont worry”, announces a helpful bystander.

I should have known right there. “Helpful Bystander” is something you have to beware of in India. Every bystander has an opinion, and tries to be helpful by imparting this to you in the form of knowledge. I was in a hurry, ignored this wisdom, and we took our seats comfortably. In about 5 minutes, we are approached by a woman who claims that the seats are hers, and presents her printed ticket as incontrovertible proof of the fact. I have to give it to her. Maybe we are in the wrong coach. I run down to the other coaches to find our names. Nopes.

I come back, open my laptop, look at the PDF containing our ticket details. No mistakes. So of course, I blame the railway reservation system, and decide to take it up with the ticket inspector. Meanwhile, there are plenty of seats, so I am not really worried.

Another woman comes by and asks me an innocent question : “Does this train go to Dehradun ?”. In retrospect, this is the EXACT question which I should have asked in the first place. I confidently laugh at her, and say “No, it goes to Chandigarh.” This seems to upset quite a few of our fellow passengers, and they immediately point out to me the error in my understanding. Suddenly everything is clear. This is the same train, going in the OPPOSITE direction !!

First thing we do is collect our baggage and get off. At least we have avoided going to Dehradun ! Our train was the one we saw on the board in the first place, leaving from Platform 9. As the time by now is 3.15, I am pretty positive that we have missed it, and pull out my phone to call my cousin back to pick us up. Ruchi still wants to give it a shot. OK, we have nothing to lose. We load up with baggage, and climb the stairs for the overbridge to Platform 9. It is really crowded. I amble across, not contributing to the general shoving going on, as I have no hope now. Somehow we reach, and I take a peek at whats there. Lo and behold, our train is still there. And as soon as I take that peek, it starts to move !

Our trains are not the kind that have automatic doors, which close 20 seconds before leaving. I give a shout, calling the troops to rally, and we run ! Luggage first, then my uncle, then my aunt, then Ruchi, and finally even I am on board. This was the first piece of luck for us, we were actually in our designated coach. Elation.

The coach is dark, and hot as an oven. The A/C is not working. The batteries in the coach are not charged. People are standing in doorways to get some air, as the windows are sealed (usual for an A/C coach). Combined with the exertion of the last few minutes, this is enough to have sweat pouring down my back. But we are on our way to Chandigarh at last. This time I do ask :-)

Epitaph: The A/C did start working in 20 mins, and the train did arrive well in time, inspite of starting late.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Introducing ..

I have been keeping my “other” blog as a small side project, and I think i will put it to better use now. I am planning to put down all my “thoughtful” blog posts there, which, going by the track record, are few and far between. This old faithful will be reserved for the “activity” posts.

I have been prompted to do this by some feedback from friends, who have actually liked some of the more philosophical musings posted here.

again, the address is

Friday, June 06, 2008

Paris Je t'aime

I have spent more time in Paris than in any other European city. I have been there 4 times, including one winter in 1998 which was my first ever trip abroad as a young consultant. I have always been pleasantly surprised by the city, and have never felt the rudeness that is attributed to the French.

I booked a train ticket from Augsburg to Paris, and was a little apprehensive about the 5 minute connection time in Stuttgart between the ICE and TGV. (Observation : when the ICE train came to the platform in Augsburg, I saw the driver. He was the poster boy of german efficiency, standing straight, no smile, eyes straight as he bought the train to a stop within 13 seconds of the expected arrival time) . Anyway, i think i should have know, the ICE arrived at the exact time in Stuttgart, and even the coaches were lined up so all i had to do was just step across the platform to the TGV. This was the "TGV Est", the pride of the French railway system, with top speeds going up to 320 km/hr on normal routes (It has been run upto 350 km/hr on tests). So there Dani, it does beat the ICE in some sense !! Traveled through some amazing scenery, which i tried to capture on the camera, with very disappointing results.

IMG_0876 IMG_0880

Reached Delphine's house, which i found is right next to the Moulin Rouge. And the "La Loco", which is a club i went to, the second time i was in paris, in mid 1999. Used to be a really grungy club at that time, with great music. Now, just like any other snooty club. I also found out that the strip club section in Paris is also right there (Got the hint the first time a woman on the street tried to talk to me and pull me in. They are very aggressive in their marketing, the French).

Her place is on what she calls the "food street of Paris", with great cafes and food shops. And has great views, mostly from the staircase !!

IMG_0886 IMG_0921


Some street festival in her "Rue"


Foodwise, i was trying to eat a little healthy, which meant switching from "litres of beer" to "bottles of wine" as the unit of consumption. (Observation : There is so much style associated with smoking in Europe. Which is probably the reason they smoke so much. This was at the sight of a woman sitting at a cafe, holding a Marlene Dietrich like pose with a cigarette in her hand).

Had an excellent french meal on Friday evening with Deplhine, Dorothy and Tibo. In an area which is mostly a student hangout, and as Delphine likes to point out, where she used to go all the time as a student. Had an option to go to Rolland Garros the next day, but nixed it in favor of a relaxing time with the sisters.

On saturday, walked down to the latin quarter (passing the river on the way). Bought back many memories of the 2006 summer that I spent there. Had mint tea at the great mosque, and then went to see "Darjeeling Limited", another one of Wes Anderson's great works. And noticed TP Abid in the credit lines. The first part of the movie, and Jason Shwarzman's dialogue with Natalie Portman, is just priceless.

Delphine had a big dinner planned to that night at her house, so the evening was spent prepping for that. An excellent 5 course meal was had, with about 3 bottles of wine consumed. And as wonders never cease, Delphine actually asked for a second helping of the beer, and then two (yes) glasses of wine. We talked till 3 AM, when I realized that I had a 8.24 am train to catch.

Woke up next morning with the alarm at 7.00. Snoozed will 7.30. Realized that i was supposed to be OUT of the house at 7.30. Managed to leave the house at 8.00. Now I realized that I had NO subway map, very little change, and very little money overall. So taking a taxi was also not an option. But I did manage to dig into the deepest pockets in my bag and discover just enough Euros to pay the 1.50 fare.

Was very very lucky to catch both my subway connections. The right ones too. Reached the station still drunk, but did manage to get on. Will this ever end ? The entire melodrama of trying to catch an early morning train/flight after a long night of drinking ? I hope not !!

And I was off to Zurich.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Images Of Augsburg

Dani Apt Detail
In front of Capitol
Town Square
In front of Capitol

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Ze Deutscheland : part4

The last evening was supposed to be a quick beer and hamburgers. Dani and I started a little earlier, as usual, with vodkas at home. And then comes this dude with the most infectious laugh. Hello Gerhard ! Who might have singe handedly changed my opinion of german humor (or the lack thereof)

You have to laugh at all his jokes. Because he himself will lead the charge, and there is no way you can avoid a hearty guffaw. So the four of us (inc Tobse) continued with some beer on Dani's balcony (now feeling even smaller), and then repaired to the cafe across the street. As our first Kleins came out (i ordered a normal lager for once, having already had 2 weissbeers at the plaza in the afternoon), we noticed this rather strange looking guy park himself on a table next to us. He heard us talking in English, and surmised (quite correctly) that at least one of us was not german. So he started talking to us in broken english, and enthusiastically recommended that I, as a visitor to this land, try the Hefeweizen. I explained that i had already had 2 in the afternoon, but he insisted that he buy another one. I don't know what passed between Tobse and him, but i assumed that he had been informed of this, and it was kinda confirmed as after a while he left the place (without having a drink himself). He looked a little drunk, very much like a san francisco bum.

Then when we ordered our next round, we were quite surprised when the waitress told us that he had bought that round for us. Now things like this simply do not happen in Germany, where people might have to wait for several years before feeling the need to buy someone else a drink ! So i guess we can consider ourselves lucky, our only regret being that we were not even able to thank that dude !

So we had our excellent hamburgers ( i assumed they were, because after 2 vodkas, extra strength, and 2 beers, most all food tastes good ). And we were joined by these 2 folks we had seen in the beergarden the previous evening. They were part of a local band. But only the drummer and keyboard dudes, because we could have used their vocalist. Because by now Gerhard and me had bonded over our common love for singing while drunk. And cheap one liners (me more as a listener)

So Gerhards favorite pickup line : These pants must be space pants, because baby, your ass is out of this world.

more (probably) bavarian sayings from the very same person:

One man : one word. One woman : one dictionary

Hard liquor makes you drunk quicker (when dani ordered a whisky sour instead of beer)

Better sitting in the wet than celebrating in the dry (when it was about to rain) (dry is a euphemism for no alcohol)

There were more, and I have Gerhard for them, but he says that he will another six beers to be able to remember them. I am waiting man. I am assuming your next six beer night should not be far away. Here is a moment that dani was able to capture.

Gerhard and I

So we were talking about this girl who was in Tobse and Gerhard's class, called Mela. And how she never needed to study hard, as she was quite pretty. And who had been around the place, as they say. All four men were exchanging knowing smiles (now pardon me if i got this part wrong, because by now we were all quite drunk, and conversation by now was strongly leaning towards german). Suddenly, the woman herself walks by. With her boyfriend. She did accept our invitation to sit down and have a pint. or 500 ml, as they would have here. The boyfriend did not seem very friendly, and she was also kinda uncomfortable (so it seemed) to have her boyfriend sitting at the same table as her old college buddies.

Anyway, as Dani said, this was a very atypical german evening. But greatly enjoyed by all. Total alcohol consumed by yours truly : 2 vodkas (large), and 5 beers. including 2 free ones. Cant complain !

Next day Dani took the morning off to drop me off at the Hbf. And thus ended the greatly enjoyable german leg of this trip. I will be writing about the first 2 parts later. Promise.

Update : I forgot to mention, that at one point of time, the song "Noorie" (remix by Bally Sagoo) was playing in the bar. Talk about just adding to the weirdness of the evening.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ze Deutscheland : part3

So these posts will be a little weird chronologically .. I am doing the parts that I feel I remember more about. In this case, it will be the Augsburg portion of the Germany trip. Part 1 was Berlin, and part 3 was Munich, which will come later. Yes, I keep promising these "later" posts, but they hardly ever happen. Well, sue me ! I own this blog, and retain the right to be as lazy as I want to be.

Anyway, I took the IC (2nd in rank after ICE, but before RE/RB) train from Munich to Augsburg Hbf (stands for Hauptbahnoff, or main railway station) on Sunday the 25th. What I did not realize was that I had to reserve a seat also .. and had to spend the entire 40 mins journey sitting in the space between the compartments. Not a big deal, but did bring back some memories of Indian Railways journeys in unreserved bogies.

I had had 2 litres (yes) of beer in Munich, and that also made the journey bearable. I was kinda dozing so was glad I could get off at the right place. Train was 5 mins late (causing a majority of the germans on board to grumble about the deteriorating state of their railway systems - or maybe they were just having polite conversations, i could not tell). Dani was a very welcome sight on the platform, and Tobse even more as soon as he informed me that we would be heading to a beergarden for dinner.

This was again turning out to be one of those days where you are surfing .. on a high. Had another litre of beer, along with some great schnitzel (Dani - I am counting on you to correct me in these matters). Caught up with each others lives, and with those of various acquaintances. Gossip, philosophy, lifestyle were all discussed, continuing into the night at Dani's lovely apartment over vodka.

Dani had taken the next day off, so we started the day with a great Bavarian tradition : Weiss beer and white sausages for breakfast (I love Bavaria, reason # 3). We walked down to the town square through these cobbled alleyways, with small canals running alongside. Love these small european towns. After that, just wandered aimlessly (well, the aim was to discover the next drinking place) around town, drinking more beer/coffee. Went into the church where Dani's parents had gotten married. Saw Lia's old apartment. "And we talked about some old times, and drank ourselves some beer, still crazy after all these years" (Paul Simon)

Tobse volunteered to cook some excellent Thai noodles for dinner, which we had (with candlelight, mind you) on the smallest balcony to have ever seated 3 people. Next to the flower beds. On newly laid wooden tiles. Yes, Dani is officially a Spiesig. I did not say it. Its straight from the horse's mouth.

Woke up really late the next day. Puttered around, catching up on email and stuff. Went with Dani to her parents' place in the evening. Was great to see them (and this time was actually able to talk to them, because the last time i was stoned to my gills). Had some excellent bread with sourcream. And of course, more beer. Basti (her brother) (Dani, I hope i have the name right) announced that he was supposed to take part in a radio sponsored contest on Thursday. A sort of walkathon. I have never before met anyone who has participated in any one of these contests. Check one off the list. I think he liked me, as he decided to grace us with his presence at the beergarden (did i mention that tuesday is again beergarden day ? did i say that i like Bavaria ?) that evening. He is the first German i met who speaks english with an american accent.  American media will one day rule the world.

After Tobse came home we walked to the other beergarden. on a hill. with walls where people sit and almost vertical drops. I wonder how many folks have fallen backwards. I guess not enough to be able to threaten the popularity of this serious beer drinking establishment. Julia joined us there (Hi Julia).  It was a Reif family bonding session ! Dani had to go home because of a headache, but Basti, Julia and I decided to continue on. We went to the town center, where Basti pointed out all the cool spots, and seemed to know all the cool folks. A hi to a cute girl here, a flirt with a waitress there. I think he is doing well in the Augsburg social circle. Quite a cool guy actually, told me everything there is to know about the happenings in this town.

Julia bought this very nice looking girl with her called Michelle (pl excuse the american spelling) (and the possible beer goggles). Who I later found out hates Dani. And is quite conservative, and is studying Christian theology. (Another check off on the list : meeting someone studying religion). Did manage to shock her with some of my remarks on gays and lesbians, but in my defense, she started it. The evening ended with the ideal food for the occasion : Doner Kebabs ! Yum !

The last evening deserves a whole post of its own, and this is one i will definitely do. Because I will introduce a very entertaining personality, along with some (apparently) Bavarian aphorisms. Tcheuss for now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


On this wedding, I was being asked to give a toast (goaded on by Navin, as usual). Better sense prevailed, and I did not.

But, here is something that I saw the next day, which could have been hilarious (or we could have been thrown out) (Courtesy XKCD, my favorite web comic)

(Click on the picture for a bigger version)

In Londres !

When Navin and I were in Brazil in Dec 2006 - Jan 2007, we met these 2 british girls in Ilya Grande. They were staying in the same pousada as us.

Of course, Navin fell deeply in love with one of them. Only because falling in love with both of them would have been a little impractical.


We first saw Gemma walking down from the pousada to the beach.

Navin : "Wow ! she is one hot woman !"

Me: "Yeah Dude !"

Navin: "Be careful with where your thoughts wander. She is your future sister-in-law !"


Anyway, we got to know them better, and discovered that they were a riot. Spent 3 days with them ( inc many sessions of "two truths and a lie", fish with passionfruit sauce, and one instance of being chucked out from a karaoke place). And promised to meet them in Bahia again after a week.

Madhu was with us by that time, and we again had a blast there. Except for the time when Navin was developing hives. (the girls were supposed to arrive that evening, and he did not want to be seen in that condition). We went to the Bonfim Church, where you tie ribbons around your wrist and make a wish. You are not supposed to untie it, and when it falls off on its own (rotting away), your wishes are supposed to come true.

Becky asked us all to make a wish on her behalf - that she would find a life partner. We did. I will not comment on who all kept their ribbons as long as possible, but suffice to say that the wish did come true, and we heard that Becky was getting married on the 3rd of May.

(There are many a story from that trip, but I will leave that to some other time)

So, that is how we landed up in London, to attend Becky's wedding.


Back to the Present.

Madhu and I landed on Friday, the 2nd. Me at around 6 PM. Navin had us booked at the Andaz Hotel in Liverpool St (nothing but the best for his buddies !) Religiously following the directions on the hotel website, I took a cab from Paddington, spending an extra 20 pounds and 20 minutes than I needed to. Navin, Noura, Leon and Madhu were already there. We had some beer in the local pub, and started discussing plans for the evening. Navin and Noura volunteered to go get some smokes (wink wink) while the rest of us tried to look for a spot for the evening.

We walked down the street, stopping at many a pub (and patronizing all of them - we are not very discriminating in that sense). Ate at a shawarma place. Basically spent about 2 hrs wandering around. When Navin and Noura came back with the stuff (bless their souls), we decided to go to this one place called "  " (I am blanking out here .. someone please fill me up on this). Bar downstairs, dance floor upstairs. Basically a remodeled old pump factory. We smoked some in one of the shadiest allies around, and basically chilled out till about 3 in the morning. And then back to the hotel, where I had the dubious honor of having to sleep in the middle of the bed between Madhu and Leon. Not a night that I will want to repeat in a hurry. And oh .. BTW .. we realized that the wedding is next morning. In Sussex (which according to Leon was a small town you could walk across in 10 mins. He meant Essex). At around noon. And we have NO clue on how to get there. But thats ok .. we will figure out in the morning.

It was I (yes .. ladies and gentlemen .. believe that) who woke up the earliest next morning. Not being able to sleep between two other people had nothing to do with it - it was a sense of responsibility that made me do it. I coaxed Madhu into taking some action. We found out that Madhu DID have an email detailing the times and places. We were supposed to reach Cowden, Kent at 1.30, not Sussex at 12.00. A big relief. The travel desk told us that there was a train which would get us there in time.

Navin had been making some inquiries on his own. Like trying to hire a car that would take us there and back (for only about 400 of the Queen's dearest sterling). And he had then proceeded to get the train timings also. For Sussex. This was sounding more and more like a scene from "Four weddings and a funeral".

We did manage to get to the station on time. I bought the tickets (OK ... I did ask for tickets to Kent, not knowing that it is a county, not a city, but Madhu quickly came to the rescue). And, dressed in our Sunday finery, we reached Cowden, Kent. We got off from the train (there were only the 4 of us who got off  there), and started walking out to get a cab (surely, there are always cabs outside the station).

For anyone who has not been to these quaint english hamlets, they are indeed so. Including the sleepy little railway station, and no cabs. Was a surprise for us too. All we saw were these 2 matronly ladies in a mini-van. We bid them a fair day, and asked how one might proceed to the local church. Its a nice walk, they said. About half an hour. I think our dropping faces incited one of them to politely offer us a ride, which we promptly accepted. She was a bit taken aback, for I assume that in english countrysides, there is an etiquette about this, which i guess involves a couple of "Please dont bother" and "No bother at all".  We fit in the minivan (which i think was rigged for carrying sheep at that point), and the kind soul dropped us off at the village church.

The actual rendezvous point was a small pub about 5 mins from the church (I was beginning to like the Brits already. What an idea .. get some liquid courage before stepping into the house of God). We ordered some Cider (we had discovered this wonderful drink just the previous night) and proceeded to occupy a table in the amazing weather outside. Met some aunts etc, but were basically looking for some privacy to light up. Which we did at the end, when the rest of the wedding party had been shepherded to the church. So we did enter the church in a state of grace, feeling a bit closer to God.

The ceremony proceeded well (with me trying to sing along to "Amazing Grace" in a nice baritone, and getting evil eyes from the relatives). Whenceforth we proceeded in a coach to Sussex for the reception.

The reception was at Becky's sister's house, which at some point used to be Winston Churchill's residence. Suitably awed, we proceeded to toast the occasion with some champagne, and then some more, and then some Guinness + champagne combo. Chatted with friends and relatives, mingled in good society, stealthily snuck off for a refresher on the smoke in the shadows of Winston Churchill's one time barn.

Dinner was quite nice. Gemma sat on our table, as did some more interesting folks. I held a long conversation with this one couple on marriage, children, freedom of expression, choices in life, and a myriad other topics. I think it went well. Atleast the couple did not stand up and walk away. Till the dinner ended, atleast.

Much wine was drunk. But by this time we were getting a little anxious about making our way back to London. Gemma (what a nice woman !) made the necessary arrangements, and ordered a cab to the station. We went out to the street - No cab. 5 mins pass. Nada. This was one of the lonesome country roads that have been sung about, and nary a vehicle was in sight in any direction. Finally a car came along. We stopped it, and even though it was not our cab, we convinced the driver to drop us off at the station.

He dropped us at the WRONG station. But, no worries, we did catch the train. Made it to London. Went out dancing again with Leon and his chick friends from the Indian YMCA (yes) in London. But that is another story (or not).

(all picture credits go to Noura)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Choices ...

I was really getting inspired to write up my thoughts on the sanctity of life (overhyped, in my mind), the concept of good and evil, and some other very philosophical topics.
But then I came across some downloaded knowledge material on my laptop. Specifically, the documentary called "The Truth About Female Desire". This is BBC documentary about a study conducted by the Kinsey Institute into female sexuality.
This was a point in life where every man has to make a choice. And I made mine. And the blog post will be coming next week. Because right now, I am.

soooorrryyy .. bad Pun !

P.S. : The videos have been taken off from google video, but can be found on many bit-torrent sites. For newbies to this, just download the uTorrent client and install it. Then go to mininova, and click on "Download this torrent". uTorrent should automatically pick it up, and start downloading. Its about 1.6 Gb.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rites of Passage ..

... through the airport customs, in this case.

On my recent trip back to India from SF, I was carrying some stuff for people, including a macbook pro. I had my own laptop, and my camera+lenses. It has been a while since I have had trouble with the legendary Indian Customs folks, but this time I was a little bit apprehensive, as I did have stuff that would be over the legal limit. And sure enough, as I went to pick up my baggage from the belt, I saw the dreaded white chalk marks on both my checked bags.

This is how it works : They x-ray the luggage as it gets on to the belts from the plane, and mark anything they see as "suspicious" in terms of dutiable goods. These are white chalk marks, and savvy travelers are often seen carrying a damp cloth to wipe these off. I have previously had these marks, but have managed to situate my luggage on the trolley in a way that they were not visible to the folks at the customs counter. But there was no escaping this time, the marks were on both bags, and had been done shrewedly enough that there was no way to hide them.

Interestingly, other hangers-on (a multitude of people doing nothing is a common site at any indian govt institution) had also seen the signs, and I started getting offers of "help" ! This basically means that for a small amount of money, this person will make sure that the customs folks dont look too carefully at my bags. I have a slight aversion to these people, and the way they slimily operate, though I am not totally averse to the idea of paying some money to save me some hassle. I know the logic is impeccable .. but dont ask me to explain !

I rejected all these advances, and started walking towards the exit. I was almost through, when this one young fellow quickly spotted the marked bags, and asked me to get them x-rayed again. I followed him, and put my stuff in the machine. My first bag had my camera, and I told him so.

Him : "What kind of camera ?"
Me: "Its a SLR with 2 lenses. I have owned these for a while, and take them with me everywhere"
Him : "Hmmm !"

Then we got to the second bag. I told him that I had a small camera as a gift for someone, and a small pen tablet. I did conveniently forget about the 24" LCD monitor and the macbook pro. Well, I did pack my luggage about a week ago, and had had many a druken revelry since then. I think I had a legitimate excuse !

At this point he thinks he has enough to extract some money out of me.

"How do you want to handle this Sir ? The camera and lenses are worth quite a bit, and we will have to charge duty on them"

I should have left it at that, given him a C note or so, and gone my merry way. But again, I wanted to justify myself.

"How can you charge duty on a camera which I have had for a while, and will take back with me when I go ?"
"Do you have a shipping manifesto for it ?" (or some such crap)"

Not getting the easy money, he now asked me to open the other bag. And stuff started spilling out. As soon as he saw the macbook, his eyes lit up. To be fair, you are allowed to import one laptop. I had my own, which I would take back with me. But this argument would not cut any ice with him. He had seen the light at the end of the silver tunnel, and he was not going to let any logic come between him and salvation.

500 Dollars. Thats how much it would cost me to get my stuff through. Unofficial, of course. I told him I did not have that kind of money, and started opening my walled to show him. He quickly stopped me, and sent me to a shady corner with another dude. I had $175 on me. Dude2 saw it, went to Dude1. Dude1 looked at me, and made a sign saying "No Way !". They left me alone to think about it.

So now I started down a path which I hate taking. I started calling poeple I know. I put in some calls, and stood there waiting while they called people they knew. Now Dudes 1 and 2 got some hint that I was trying to pull one on them, and got a little antsy. So after 5 minutes, Dude2 comes back to me

"Do you have any Indian currency ?"
"No !"
"OK .. lets settle this at $175"
"Hmmm .. lets wait for 5 minutes now. I called someone to help me, and let me tell him its OK now"

Now you could see some desperation creeping into his voice. He could see the moolah slipping out of his hands.

"Well, you can always tell them later. You can give me the money now, and lets get you out of here"
"No. lets wait for 5 minutes"

Now I got a call back from a contact, and he said that he was sending someone to help me. Sure enough, a inner door opened, a senior offiical showed up, and just told me to walk out of there. I did not need to be told twice !!

When I reflect back on this whole episode, I find that it does not bother my conscience at all. Theoretically, I should have paid a duty of about $50 on the stuff I was carrying. My own laptop and camera (that I have owned for a long time) should not have been included in the inventory of dutiable items. If the officer had been honest and logical, I would actually have paid that duty. That was the reason I did not avail of any "help". But the officer saw a potential source of money and made life difficult for me. I would even have paid the $175. But he was greedy. So he ended up with a big fat nada.

Serves him right !

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bollywood Dancing

Niki's cousing Neeta (cousin Neeta from now on) is married to a german fellow, and they are living in Delhi as expats. Lovely woman .. always upbeat, and ready for anything (like clubbing till 5 am). This inspite of having 2 kids. Anyway, one day she invited us to go to a local club on the "commercial night". This is when they play hindi/bollywood songs. She was meeting up with some friends from her Bollywood Dancing class.

I showed up not quite knowing what to expect. There was this set of women, all non-indian, all dancing (quite well, i must say) to the beats of "Beedi" ! One chinese woman, one mongolian, and two others that I forget. It was amazing. On later conversations, I found out that all of them are expats (husbands are diplomats mostly), and they find this a great way to keep fit. I met them all on and off on various night outs, and kinda know them by now.

On Saturday, we celebrated a belated Holi at Delphine's terrace. Bhang and beer were in abundance, as well as "pukka" colors from Dehradun. Cousin Neeta and one of the bollywood dancing girls (Nevis) decided to show us some moves from the class. We were treated to a amazing coordinated dance, exactly as Saroj Khan drew it up for the sets. Poeple were peeping from neighbouring houses. There was a rumor that tickets were being sold to let people watch ! This was no amateur stuff, the moves were highly choreographed steps, befitting professional dancers.

Now I was intrigued. Cousin Neeta asked me and Cousin Gogi (both with nothing to do) to come to this class with them. So we showed up at this house in Vasant Vihar on a tuesday morning. Let me just confess that our motives were not altogether altruistic or curious. The beginners class was just ending, and I met all of the other dancers, some of whom I knew from before. I also met the obviously gay indian youth who was the teacher.

And then the class started. The initial few songs were ones that had already been done, just to warm up. It was amazing to see these dozen or so women, none of them indian, gyrate sensuously to the latest hindi numbers. The dances were all very peppy, and specifically meant for "extras" that dance along with the stars in these videos. There were variations in style (some of the women were dancing more "athletically", some were more "sensuous", and some were very close to the western concept of modern dance), but as a group, they were extremely attractive to watch. The moves in these dances (as i discovered) are not the slightly languid and delicate stuff that goes on when the main actors are serenading each other. These are power moves, with each beat dissected to cram the maximum movement, and the dancers were really sweating after just one number. A great workout, as they pointed out.

The only complaint Cousin Neeta had with the teacher was that the moves were too "manly" !!

Maybe I will join the beginners class. Atleast check out the women there. Can't beat a workout that feels like a night out at the club. But this is a secret. I would never live down the stigma of learning Bollywood Dancing.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Costa Rica .. Uno

(finally catching up on the writing .. this is a backdated post)

15th April

The first impression of Liberia airport is that of a huge hangar, open at both ends, containing the immigration and customs folks. Equally gigantic fans gently stir the moisture laden tropical air. The overall impression is that of arriving at a place where time has slowed down. And I mean that in a good way.

Since I had a 5 hr delay before the next flight (to San Jose), I decided to see if I could check in early at the local airline (Sansa). I did find the counter, but it was completely deserted. Actually, after the humdrum of my flights arrival had died down, the whole airport seemed to go for a siesta. I switched from shoes to flip-flops and began reading my book.

At around 4:45 (1 hr before the flight), I wandered over to the counter once more. This time a woman came out of the small office and told me that the flight would be about 45 mins late. Total baggage allowance at Sansa is 25 lb (inc hand baggage), and I was well over that. But she decided not to charge me extra.

The reason for this largesse was soon revealed. I was supposedly the ONLY passenger on that flight. The plane arrived about 1 hr late, and it was a wonder to behold. Single prop. 12 seater.  No separate cockpit. Basically the pilot gave his pre-flight instructions by turning his head to me and speaking them out loud. The good part was that I was able to peek over his shoulder during the whole landing (which was after dark), and it was really cool to watch the runway, lit up like a christmas tree, coming closer and closer.

Checked in, had a couple of margaritas, and waited for Navin. Went out to the town, got even more drunk, and woke up bright and early the next day. After some distractions, went down to the rental car place. Were given a diesel 4wd, and were sent out with some expert sounding directions which involved two crucial turns. We missed both of them ! Made our way back to the airport, changed our rental vehicle, and got a fresh set of directions. The only problem was that the turns were described, but in answer to our legitimate query about how to identify the turns, the response was that you will just have to know. Excellent.

We finally did manage to get on the highway (not bad at all, BTW). And of course, we missed the turn to Jaco. But that turned out to be OK, as we took a small byway, which was the scenic route. Stopped for a local snack at an idyllic town. Love the attitude towards life that the Ticos have. The town square had a big tent serving beer. Food stalls nearby. A festival like atmosphere. Soccer games in progress.

After enjoying (and endlessly photographing) the sunset in the company of the local dog and sundry alligators, we reached Quepos after nightfall.

Timed it well so that the Germans (who had arrived earlier) would have had ample time to buy supplies and settle down in the villa. Evil. And realized that the warning to only get 4wd vehicles was quite prudent. Managed to drive down the narrow (and extremely steep) driveway without any incident. Cold beer was waiting, and we in turn waited for the arrival of the main party from Liberia. What helped in that vigil was the 12 bottles of wine that the main party was supposed to have.

Party came, party started, and the house was divided up. Navin, Seshan and me, as the resident bachelors, were allotted spaces in the laundry room and the pantry ! Cest La Vie.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Perplexed, maybe regretful, even distraught

I have been closing out so many things recently  .. people, experiences, places ! Judging (and rejecting) from first impressions. Worrying too much about other people judging me ! And I did not even realize I was doing this. Its so easy to get into a defensive shell and start firing pre-emptive salvos at anyone that approaches. The self-deception then comes automatically to cover the fact that you are doing this.

Something happened yesterday that made me suddenly aware of what was happening. I was perplexed .. because I did not realize I was doing it. Regretful .. that I did it to someone, and possibly hurt them. And distraught .. that I am capable of doing the very things that I disapprove of in other people.

I am sure that 2 years ago this would not have happened. I was always able to find a good vibe, and connect with people (maybe just fleetingly). What has changed ? I no longer have a regular job. I am not in a relationship. And I am almost a nomad .. wandering from Delhi to San Francisco .. spending a month or two at each place, with no time to grow roots in either one. Is it the new urgency of trying to take in a place because I know I will soon be away from here ? Or just too much time on my hands, doing nothing creative, the brain atrophying, seeking ephemeral pleasures to distract itself. Or maybe, as the wisdom goes, I just need to get laid more often :-)

Ah! Of Course! Its the tooth pain. Sucking all the life forces, leaving behind a bitter rancor, the pestilence of hate. Yes, I think I will blame the physical for the lapse in the spiritual. So easy to find a scapegoat.

Doing something creative (or being around a creative process) is what I am yearning for right now. This writing exercise is part of it. The two other things I will work on is the music and the pictures. Maybe this will keep me busy for a while.

Again .. this blog is mostly a personal journal. It is meant to give me a snapshot of my historical thoughts and actions, rather than be a voyeuristic window into my soul. And an advertisement for the fact that I can be a good pop-psychologist. Maybe even a cult leader.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Holy matrimony !

Now that my grandmom is no more, my parents are trying to find a new thing to worry about. Yesterday they decided to bring a dead horse back to life. They wanted to know when I would get married, and why I was refusing to entertain them on this aspect. I told them that its as simple as not having any desire towards it. Logically, this usually signifies the last step in an argument : If I dont want to do it, why should I ? But we decided to go further into it. Why did I not desire the blessed state of matrimony ? Was I against the institution ? No, I said. If at some point I meet someone who inspires this desire in me, then so be it.

Now comes the part I really could not comprehend. The argument went like this : If I dont think about getting married, then I will not meet anyone whom I would want to get married to. Whoa ! So that means, I must actively aspire towards getting married, only then can I ever hope to find a person to whom I can get married. I thought this worked the other way round. If you find a person you want to spend the rest of your life with, you get married to that person (bear with me on this, this is still a socially acceptable statement, and i am just using this as a logical stopgap measure. does not mean that i agree with it)

So that implies that a desire to be married is a part of a normal human psyche. Is it ? Actually, looking at most people I know, it seems to be true. An arranged marriage is the most glaring example of this. It is clearly saying that people want to be married, and the parents are just acting as matchmakers. I have not yet seen an arranged "just sex" or "just going out" or "just have fun" match ! (Note to self : can be a good business idea. But that that is the casual encounters section of craigslist. Too late again! ).

My dad tells me that they can start looking, or can put an ad in the papers. They want to just help me meet women, there is no pressure to marry someone they choose. How do I tell them that I am fine with the meeting women part. But can it be just for casual sex ? Or even just hanging out at a bar. Maybe if the sex is fantastic, or the conversation over some booze is exemplary, we can decide to meet again. And maybe (you never know, let me be nice and not dismiss this offhand) this leads to marriage at some point. Now that would be nice .. using your parents to find your next fling !, here i come.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Romance : Chandigarh style

Somehow my hometown has taken it upon itself to be the most "Valentined" city in India. Maybe it is because of its monicker : The City Beautiful. V Day is serious business here. According to an alert investigative journalist from the local newspaper, around 10 tonnes of chocolate was sold in the city on Feb 13th. Quite an acheivment for a city with a population of less than a million.

Around 1500 cops were deployed today on the infamous "gheri route". This is a road passing through sectors 9,10 and 11, where a lot of youngesters congregate. Actually, they mostly go round (gheri means "going round" in Punjabi) on their vehicles, looking at each other. This is what passes for a romantic encounter in India. Chandigarh is the favored educational destination for the younglings of the rich farming community in Punjab, so you encounter a lot of "raw" but well off kids. And they have somehow taken it to heart that proposing to a girl on V Day is a slam dunk. Their version of the wooing game is played like this :
1. Ride in a pimped up jeep with the top off with loud music blasting (any similarity to the gangstas is purely coincidental)
2. Honk at random women passing by
3. If there is no favorable response (which is the usual case), get more aggressive and pass lewd comments
4. If still no favorable response (what is the probability of that after step3), go to step 1
5. If there is a couple, direct aggression towards the boy

Let me relate an incident. When i was in college, a friend of mine in Chandigarh started dating this hot girl. A few days later, he is accosted by five huge sardars. It seems that one of them has earmarked the girl as "his", and my friend is "encroaching". Never mind the fact that this sardar has never spoken a word to the girl (and probably never will). Even if he does, what the girl thinks about it is still irrelevant. This is a typical Chandigarh romantic story.

So, coming back to the cops, they "are again determined that they will let love bloom only under their watchful eyes", and "are all set to have cameras rolling to record any untoward incident and have it as a piece of evidence" (direct quotes from the top cop). And the "gheri route" was declared a no-vehicle zone. See what i mean about the city taking V Day very seriously !!

But when i went out to get some food for take-out, I did notice groups of kids in eating joints, taking their first stumbling steps towards a relationship with the opposite sex, feeling out boundaries, marking territory. That was a trip down nostalgia lane. ( and woe betide the first bugger to comment "so how has that changed for you today ?" )

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dont call it Frisco ..

The smell of weed on the streets. Talking to a crackhead on the 22, explaining why a Scotty Cameron putter is so expensive. Parks crowded with sunbathing locals starved for good weather. Mission hipsters sporting varied facial hair hanging out at Zeitgeist. Mopeds being furiously pedalled up hills that they cannot climb on their own power. Boozy outdoor lunches accompanied by Seshan's poignant pontifications. "Dressed to impress" bridge and tunnel folks lining up in record numbers for a desi sounding club event. A profusion of asian women descending on Navin's apartment for the phinal phreakout. Consuming 75 chicken wings (and onion rings) with 3 other stoned people after a night of dancing at Afrolicious. A lunch of "la cubana" in the
deep hispanic mission. Seshan's dates with destiny. Sushi platters arriving and disappearing at record pace.

These are just some of my SF memories from the last trip. I do believe that SF is a state of mind. Or many stoned minds. It may not have a physical reality at all, because it is so apart from its parent geo-political entity. Its the one city in the US where Superbowl Sunday is a non-event. Where two drink sardars will tease a tiger till it comes out of its cage and eats their friend. Where self-expression is a legitimate excuse for any freak show that you see on the street. Where you will run across a yoga/sex commune which offers a course for restoring male self-confidence (all teachers are women).

On a weekend, you can go into a club/bar, and share a joint. But a cigarette is still taboo. When you do have to go outside, you find that the police station is across the street, but you can chose to ignore them while lighting up your reefer, just as they chose to ignore you.

This is why I love this place. I can be what I am, or whatever I want to be.