Saturday, December 13, 2008

Of Drinking Tea in Coffee Shops

People watching from Coffee shops is one my new found past times. Been frequenting a few off late in the neighbourhood. I have a taken a particular liking for the one at JP Nagar II Phase near the Raghavendra Mutt. It's big and it's got a view ..nothing phenom, but you can people watch without being accused of being a lech.
I was reading the Ice Candy Man one chilly afternoon and decided I needed a cuppa chai to go with it and headed for the cafe which happens to be right behind where I stay. I settled in to a comfortable couch, in one of the corners inside next to the counter.
A couple of tables to my left, a gang of three.A girl and two guys.were huddled around a chess board. The guys were ruminating, taking their time over what they intended to do next, while the girl looked on with defocussed eyes. Wonder what the equation between them was...Who was the girl rooting for? Were the guys playing coz that's what they'd been doing every weekend of the last few years or was there something more there being played for..
A group of 4 boys, with the first hint of a moustache on a couple of them, were seated right opposite where I was. All of them ordered tall frappes...Cold..In this weather? And they talked a lot over them. Nothing I was the least bit interested in, but I couldnt help catch the occasional segments. I had finished reading all of 3 lines in the book, when they piped in Mehndi on the speakers.
I got up and moved out into the balcony, where they've a few chairs looking out to the road. It was now past approaching 4:30 PM. The shadows of the motorists had lengthened and there was a life like quality to them.They seemed more alive than the motorists themselves. The light was soft, warm a Simon and Garfunkel poem...
The noise ..yes.. the noise.. honking, revving engines, shuddering buses, was there when I sat down. Ayah was being carried away by the Ice candy man and slowly, as the narrative panned out, the white noise in the background was replaced by the Ayah's pleading and by Lenny's silent shrieks ....
A little while later, and well into my second cuppa chai, I was distracted by movement on my peripheral vision. It happened to be a couple who'd just walked in and were looking for a place to sit. The chess players and their companion had not moved. One boy had made short work of his frappe, the other three still hadnt finished theirs.
They settled for a spot in the corner, where the light was just right. They were a new couple...One could just tell. They changed seats all of 4 times before they decided on a couch where they could sit just the right distance from each other..not too close..not too far...
I went back to finishing my book as the sun tipped over. I read the rest of it in one stretch....

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Of Dosas in Gandhi Bazar and New Guitars

Chatting with someone on Gtalk while composing a blog entry makes for a rather demanding weekend chore, but when the person whom you are chatting with happens to be someone who happens to be not just another someone, you do make the effort.
The last month has been rather dreadfully boring and I hope there are not too many of these in the near future. I did turn 26 though. I shall spare you the usual drivel of peepuls suffering from quarter-life blues. I managed to keep my reading progressing at a decent chug .
I had started reading Mao Zedong's biography in Japan in the spring, and was midway thorough it when I packed my backs to return home. It was positively depressing to find that my copy was not to be seen after my luggage porter was through putting my baggage into my hotel room in Thailand.(I was shifting my entire set of worldly possessions to India, so I did look like Fedex had outsourced a sizeable chunk of business to me).
So when I found a copy idling in my friend's bookshelf on a visit to his house in Hebbal, I brought it back home to finish it up. I still am to come to a conclusion about Mao and his life and times. There can only be a couple of em...Either Mao was a brain dead psycho or the authors are pushing some serious anti-Chinese propaganda. It is nonetheless a very interesting read.
Next went on to finish John Gribbin's Schrodinger's Kittens. Written in his usual fluid style, the book makes for a very good after-work read.
Still not able to finish Descartes' Error by Antonio Damasio after I decided to stop reading when I reached midway.
Put away Stephen Clarke's Merde Actually. This guy knows his stuff. A light,fluffy read(and I dont mean it in a kinda girly way) with a very fluid narrative.
My last read was Pankaj Mishra's very insightful Butter Chicken in Ludhiana...It's about life in the small towns of India during the early 90's when the beginnings of the Great Indian Middle Class was taking root. Makes you want to hit the road with a vengeance.
Planning to start Kawabata's Yukiguni (Snow Country) today.

The Bangalore blasts from the last weekend had taken the wind outta the city's sails on Friday. We have the usual political doublespeak clogging the airwaves and this is compounded with the usual insensitive media persons shoving their version of events into the viewers throats (sigh! miss the good old days when Salma Sultan and Komal GB Singh did their thing in DD).
I did register my token protest by eating in the busiest and the most Bangalorean of all eateries in Bangalore.Had been planning to visit there for a couple of weekends and finally did manage to go there this time around. Vidhyarthi Bhavan was not different from the last time I visited the place with my dad a few years ago
We were greeted by a dude just outta his adoloscence blocking the entrance with his left arm and were asked to wait for 10 mins. Two Kanglish speaking dames(the kind you see outside JNC or Christ College) waited for exactly 600 seconds before charging the sentry with perjury in the peoples' court. "Uncle neevu 10 minutes aagutte andree alva. Nodee 10 minutes aithu?" After a few more minutes of silent name calling by the sentry and the patrons, the sentry magnanimously let the throngs rush in but not before specifically ushering in the dames with a "Aunty, wolage hogi eega". The dames were obviously scandalised at being addressed so.
An 80 year old granny was probably crushed to her death on her way out, but such trivailities pale in significance to what the diners need to be up for next.
You need to be at your cunning best to grab a seat in VB without having aged significantly trying to do so. In fact it should be declared an art form by the state government and an award must be instituted for the same. My friend and I strategised a fair bit considering the sizes of dosas and chutney remaining in peepuls' plates, their age ,past history and high school academic records before deciding that a family of three sitting at the far left corner of the hotel were the best candidates to wait upon till they finished washing down their dosa with by-two Filter kaapis. Continents drifted apart, Halleys Comet travelled a third of it's orbit when finally the family rose, to find their way to the hand wash. I had strategically placed myself to ensure no other diner had the same ideas that we had. After demolishing two masala dosas and chugging half a liter of chutney, sharing a table with two middle aged men with a lot to say about the quality of service from Vodafone we walked out with a quiet sense of achievement.

I bought a new guitar(my second one) from Jayanagar 2nd block and I intend to see that is better used than my first one, which is probably gathering dust in a second hand gear shop in Higashimatsuyama,Japan.
The only tune the poor thing belted out was an occasionally correct rendition of Tujhe Dekha to Ye Jaana Sanam. More on my progress on this front in the next blog.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Of Morning Blogs and Fine Weather

A morning blog this one.. being penned at 1000 in the morning. I rarely do that. Most of my blogs get written under the shroud of starlight and moonbeams(OK, the image doesnt sound so romantic, if you factor in a hairy brown skinned guy in his desi chuddies pecking at the keyboard).
Been a long time since I last blogged and there's been an awful lot that's happened since then.
I sometimes wonder how the happening peepuls around blogosphere manage to capture their every waking breath, office argument, heartbreak, toilet break et al in their blogs every single day. If my life were to match up to the blogosphere standards of "happening", I'd be sleeping 30 mins a day, commuting 4 hours a day with a random hot chick who shares my taste for Haruki Murakami's literature, reading Hemingway in office while my boss drones on, run into Sharon Stone in the loo, discuss Einstein's interpretation of religion with the random hot chick on our way back home, make love to her in the neighbours garden and then finally get back home and all excitedly blog about it.
Since February, I've taken a bunch of vacations which involved climbing active volcanoes, staring into volcano craters, camping inside a caldera, hallucinating prime numbers in a wooden cabin in sub zero temperatures, soaking in onsens, memorising train time tables in Japanese font and castle hopping.
A random sampling of the Japanese vacation below.
This was followed up by a rather long vacation in Thailand on my way back to Bangalore..err. .Bengalooru (spelling it that way is supposed to make me empowered and feel like all my problems are solved as the politicos in reams of newsprint have suggested). It involved tagging along with sis to Phuket and Bangkok ,a solo walkathon across Ayutthaya and Kanchanaburi, fotographing monks, tigers and monks with tigers.

Otherwise nothing newsworthy happening at my end unless you would like to know that the corns on my soles have eased up and withered away. I no longer walk like Jack Sparrow.
I have managed to sew up a few reads on the side, which include The Inscrutable Americans(an average read), Dawkin's The God Delusion(high decibel), James Watson's DNA(brilliant stuff) and in the middle of a couple of other books.

Bangalore is definitely having a spell of swell weather off late.The mercury is hovering around the lower twenties, flowers are in bloom, wind speed just right. Good enough to shut up the panche clad uncles in Brahmins Coffee Bar who cant stop saying "Eevagin Saaftwaare Engineergalige yen gotthu? In 1973, naavu May nallu swaatar haakondu waaking maadta idvi Lal Bagh nalli"(What you scoundrel saaftware engineer knows? In 1973, we all wearing sweater even in May for morning walking in Red Garden")

Have taken a decision to volunteer in an NGO on Saturdays for a couple of months. I have decided to follow Calvin's exhortation to lower my expectations to the point where they are already met. Anyway,let's see where that goes in a couple of months time.
Missing my weekend jaunts into Tokyo, and the feeling of elation when I find the right Japanese word to explain my country, body hair ,religious orientation and alleged mathematical genius to 88 year old Japanese on mountain tops..but yeah...already filed in Nostalgia section .
Until the next blaahg.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Of Mountain Mists and Simple Questions

The hills never looked greener in all his sixty two years. He loved being here. The monsoons had swept their way across a month ago and what they left behind overwhelmed his senses. He never regretted the decision he took thirty years ago to leave it all and live here in the quiet of the foothills of the Western Ghats. They cast a million shadows of doubt when he had decided, but he knew what he wanted. The evening mist was just beginning to settle and he could almost smell it.Random unconnected thoughts whirred in his head.

He was pulled out of his reverie by a tug at his little finger. His grandson,all of six and a reflection of his own zest for life was looking at him with a twinkle in his eye. The kind that dissappears with the abrasion of life.

"Dada, whats the meaning of love?"
"Love is like winter snowfall."
"Why is it like snowfall?"
"When it starts snowing and you look outta the window, it is the most beautiful sight in the world. You venture out to play in what you are wearing and after a while, wonder what stupidity forced you to do that. You then wish you hadnt gone out in the first place,or you had more clothes on and wait for the snow to go away. You curse the snow and keep looking outta your window to check if it has gone away.
Then when the sun comes out and you see the last of the winter snow melting away, you almost wish that it didnt".

"Dada,what did you do when it snowed?"
"I listened to a lot of Simon and Garfunkel"
"Simon what?"
"Never mind lets give you ride home on my shoulders"
"Are we going home?"

They walked home ,both wiser than when they left it. His wife was there on the lawn reading her Murakami.

"Dadi, do you know the meaning of love?"
"Oh my!! Lets hear what the meaning is?"
"Its like snowfall!!!",he said excitedly jumping into her lap.
She looked at the man she'd woken upto on the best days of her life and they both half smiled.
"Yes ",she said,"it's like snowfall .......and now you are my snowball"
"Why am I a snowball?"
He sat down to pick his reading glasses and his Kawabata and his thoughts went back to those winter days...

Friday, February 1, 2008

Of Unfinished Blogs,Vagabonding and The First Winter Snow

Winter has set in ,in this part of the world. I've almost lost three toes and four fingers to frostbite, but otherwise I'm doing pretty good.
Been a long time since my last post in November. After many false starts and a bunch of saved drafts, thought I'll push the publish button for a change this time around.

During a welcome break of three weeks in India for the year end, I managed to cover some mileage on the Great Indian Railways traveling to the East coast to my granps' place and then bussed my way through a big chunk of the West coast. Not exactly Jack Kerouac kinda odysseys , but not bad for a nice distraction from the rigours of the life of keyboard pecking and corporate clucking. The Indian Railways never fails to hold me in a spell thats nearly lasted a lifetime. Nothing to beat the aroma of Idlis and chutney(you never get that railway platform chutney anyplace else in the country) wafting through the windows in the dead of the night with the accompanying newly released musical.."Idly, Aaa Idly, Aa Idly, Idly". As kids, moms never let you get a bite of the oily vadas which the blokes peddle, but at 25, life gives you more choices and this is one of them... A plate of Vada in the dead of the night for no particular reason....
I'd spent 4 years of college life in Manipal never really getting the hang of the topography of the neighbouring city of Mangalore and all things Mangalorean. (The topography of the Mangalorean female specimen,of which we did have a glut in our college does not count). Since I had to attend a wedding in the thereabouts, I took off early morn from Udupi where i was based, for a day of pottering around Mangalore.

I got off the bus and took a rick to Sultan Battery ,my first stop for the day. Now, having been the majestic and awesome Bekal Fort in Kanhangad, I was expecting something similar, especially since my guide book, promised "exquisitely baffling architecture". I think this was some seriously twisted deviant, hell bent on ruining people's early morning starts. The Gurpur River is a good back drop for the(well ...almost concrete) structure, but with the number of ciggy packs and garbage around, this wouldnt rank anyplace in my list of to do places.

After a not so good start, things could only get better and they did. I am no fan of religious architecture , but am a sucker for history and there's lots of it in the churches of Mangalore. I went to a couple of em, and each had a little bit of 1500s and 1600s lurking in the Frescoes and the engravings. Could recall a bit from the Bible study class from the fifth grade after staring at em paintings. I visited Aloysius and Rosario Cathedral, even sitting through the Sunday mass in Rosario :) The smiling volunteers in the church, dont make the whole deal too bad either.

The wedding done, I took the roundabout route back to Udupi via Karkala, and stopped at the 1000 pillared Jain Temple, also called Saavira Sthambada Basadi in Moodbidri. It was not crowded when i went in, just a couple of locals and the temple accountant hell bent on extorting a big fee for letting my cam run riot. I keep my lenses and wallet closed . Just an out of the way place, with a nice ambience, but not someplace I'd go back for a second look. Not bad for a day's work eh!
Bangalore was once again the usual ..crappy traffic..honk,honk,honk..
I flew back to Tokyo after a fortnight of leisure. I'd managed to read up a lucidly complex(you'll know what I mean if you read one) Jiddu Krishnamurti book, a book on Hindu Revival by a Belgian,"Decolonising the Hindu Mind" during the time. I am in no mood to read Murakami or Ishiguro or Kawabata at the present moment.

Did read up a couple of Lonely Planet Travelogues and a book on the weirdness and the madness of Tokyo in the last week. In the middle of Kerouac's On the Road and Will Shirers book on the Third Reich.
My last couple of expeditions into Tokyo too were pretty rewarding. I managed to get tickets to a bunch of Sumo bouts and believe me ..It's a must see event in Japan. The ambience and the Shinto rituals make it all the more exotic to the average desi looking for "the real Japan". I've become a pretty big fan and now follow the tournament schedules,leaders and the private lives of the yokozunas with an almost Japanese zest.

It snowed for the first time in a couple of years in this part of Japan. A pic from my neigbourhood below clicked by one of my colleagues at office.

Thats it for now. Was quite and effort typing with the six remaining fingers. Will keep the good work going :)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Of Moments of Truth....

Railway stations had always fascinated him. This one was vaguely similar to an old picture he had filed away someplace . The picture in his head was too clear to be true. He smiled at the thought of how much of our past is imagined and how much is what we want it to be , rather than what it really was.
His train of thought was broken by the footsteps of a dozen dhoti clad passengers running on to the rusty metal over-bridge to go over to the next platform, mouthing a very rural Telugu in between paan tinged breaths.
The evening sun, had just gone below the horizon. A slight chill hung in the air. It was a window between when he could see the mynas silhouetted against a shade of a indigo sky, with a tinge of orange and the time the antiseptic white street lights are switched on.
The mynas were as he as imagined them in his filed away picture.Equidistantly perched over the electric lines with millimetric accuracy.

The crowd thickened steadily and he instinctively tightened his grip on his backpack. He had an hours time to kill and he walked the entire platform searching for a suitable bench to settle on. All of them were full.. With families excited to be going away on a holiday, with daily labourers and their dazed looks, with a newly married couple thrilled to be holding hands and making plans.

After he had walked back and forth a couple of times, he found on bench with a red veil limply across it. It was probably left unoccupied, because of the veil.. It almost told you with a quiet dignity to find another bench..this one is taken.. He pushed it one corner of the bench and settled in for a long wait for his train to arrive. He didnt mind the wait. He could see in the fading light, the wisdom and the quiet fortitude of the elderly, the burden of responsibility,the ebullience of youth, the joy of childhood. He was completely at peace. He liked the fuzzy feeling of the nothingness and disconnected thought. Miles way from the life of constant confusion that he was going back to.

A feeble voice, yet so clearly heard over the din, reached him. It was an elderly man, dressed in clothes that looked like they had been washed many times over and yet looked neat. He held in his hand a leather case ,that had seen better days. The bag was packed completely and the zipper had popped at the seams. The man asked him, if there were any ladies sitting next to him. When he answered in the negative, the old man picked up the veil and with a tired sigh, he moved it aside to make room,taking care not to drop it onto the dusty floor.

Both stared at the mynas until they were imagining them against the pitch darkness on the horizon.

The crowd was by now jostling around with people tracing random traverses to get from one place to another. He nervously asked the man,where the B2 wagon would stop on the platform.
The old man indicted that it would be stopping just about a few metres from their bench. He relaxed.

The old man asked him, where he was going to. He replied that he was going to Bangalore. The old man, throttled half a chuckle.

" Software?"

"No, Electronics"

"Ah, Ok, Software". A quiet,uneasy silence.

"You are going to Bangalore too?"

"No. I am going to a small town called Chittoor. It's close to Tirupati, about 50 km from the Karnataka border.",he said in fairly good Kannada.

"Oh, you speak Kannada!",he exclaimed, decidedly surprised to hear his native tongue,so far from home.

"Yes, I worked in Bellary for some time. I learnt my Kannada there. Are you here on a vacation?"

"Hmm. Had come over to meet my grandparents, who live close to here. What about you?"

"I am on my way back home from Behrampur, travelling in the general compartment"


"Yes, my son works in the Archaelogical Survey of India, as a junior assistant. He has just been posted there and it is the first time, he has been away from home for so long. I went to visit him for a couple of days to make sure he is alright"

"Oh,that's nice"

"I am a school headmaster in a government school in Chittoor" , "just three months way from retirement",he added with a twinge.

"Must have been difficult travelling in the general compartment."

"We are used to this. We have to learn to."

He imagined the headmaster's son, brought up on a dosage of middle class values. middle class resilience, conservative sheltered thought, poring over dig sites, finding stuff that people world over would come to see and could not help comparing it with his own job of pecking away mindlessly at a keyboard. The confusion, which had cleared amidst the throngs of the humanity just moments ago, was slowly seeping back into the crevices of his psyche.

He felt guilty about earning all that money for a little more than breaking a mild mental sweat in a shiny cubicle in an environment where people complained if the AC setting was 2DegC above or below their liking.

More than ever, he resolved to end up doing what he wanted to do. Get back to the classroom,only this time, on the otherside of the desks within the next few years...
His guilt trips were using up more fuel than ever before off late.

He shook his head and said,

"It's such an interesting job, is'nt it? The ASI "

"A job is a job. He found it after a lot of running around. I spent a lot of my savings to get him this job. It doesnt pay much, but he atleast can do something with his life. "

He tried hard to find the right thing to say. He couldnt find anything much to say and smiled meekly.

"Must be hot in Chittoor"

"Much hotter than Bangalore definitely"

Weather. Signs that the conversation was wearing thin.

He left the old man to his thoughts. The old man wiped his glasses.
A mother shouted at her 5 year old. An old woman carefully adjusted her sari before descending into the tracks to cross over to the other platform.

His train was due in a couple of minutes. Already people on the platform were restlessly stirring, counting their baggage and in some cases their children. A kilometre down the line, where the tracks bends into the paddy fields, a strident beam appeared and was soon followed by a strident hoot of the engine's whistle. He got up and stretched.

He looked down to the old man still staring into a private void.
"The train is here"

"I have a small request if you will care to hear"
"I dont have money for a ticket or food. My wallet was stolen on my way here from Behrampur"
"Ok...",he said hesitantly. The engine hooted out a clear and shrill note.
"If you dont mind, can you lend me 200 Rs? Give me your address and I will send you the money. I dont know anyone in this town and you know how the Ticket Checker is"

The train was now almost at the platform, sending people instinctively behind the yellow line which they normally ignore.

His mind was racing. It was not the 200Rs that worried him. He wondered about many things, like trust, fate, belief all at once. The train stopping and all the people rushing in did not help him.

He took out 200Rs and hurriedly wrote down his address on the paper the man had held out to him.
The man thanked him tersely and walked away.

The train stopped here for only two minutes, a punctuation in its journey across the fertile south. He had to get into the train now. He went in and sat at his window seat pushing his cheeks agains t the cold,rusty grills. He saw the man... or was it someone else headed towards the station exit.

Something told him, sitting on the cold rexin of the Indian Railways berth... all the life experience he thought he had earned over the years of travelling and meeting strange people in strange lands, had not helped him when he was getting conned in a place 50km from where he was born.

But somewhere there was a niggling hope that a cheque would be mailed to him. Like in a Reader's Digest story.

Three years hence, recalling the incident and updating a blog post .. it still rankled. The old man needed the 200 more than he did, no question about that.. He spent more getting his hair trimmed.

Still.. the fact that the letter never came dented his faith in more ways that one.

The old man probably came there to the same station every once in a while, fine tuning his act, adding minute details to make his son. his job and his retirement vivid entities with a life of their own...A sharpened pencil and a piece of paper ready in hand.