Friday, December 31, 2010

Comfort food

Strange thoughts on a train are only natural. They are the perfect complement to each other. Like dal and roti, like curds and rice, like ... And very helpful for passing the time slowly rolling by in the fog covered early morning county-side. And in that moment, surrounded by perfect strangers, whom you are guaranteed never to see again, you can be yourself. Free from having to put up appearances, from having to build just the right impression, free to be just for the sake of your own enjoyment. Whimsical and care-free. Just because you felt like it. And so what if you seemed a bit stupid to others, it was not like their paths and yours were likely to cross again. And even if they did, would they really remember you. First impressions can be built again. Eventually, the rising sun clears away the fog and your misconception along with it. The urge to conform increases as the first warm rays of the sun awaken your fellow passengers. The desire to be whimsical was just as wispy. Easily dispelled by societal conditioning, as the fog in the bright morning sunshine.

With Hazartganj completely dug-up, I suffered my first traffic jam in Lucknow. Previously unheard of. It took a crawling hour from the railway station to meet an old friend of mine, Sudiptho, who studied at the IIM there. I was back in familiar surroundings. And memories weren't far behind. I always found it difficult to explain what exactly about this city called me back again and again. But it filled me with a satisfaction, a satisfaction of visiting a familiar home after a long bout of homesickness, to answer that call. Time and again. A funny thing about this city. Whenever I chose to visit it, I always had a close friend to welcome me. Maybe it was the city sending me a subtle message. After spending a week in a strange land hoping to make it a little more familiar, I was back in a familiar land, hoping to make it a little closer to my heart.

The campus was picture card pretty, to be truly experienced in misty late night walks with just your thoughts to keep you company. A little intoxicant may be of help. And walking down the quiet roads, you come to the realisiation that these are the roads to real life. Behind the glamour, behind the name and fame and just beside the feeling of having arrived against heavy odds, there lies the epiphany that this is just the beginning. A beginning that will make the difference between being a suit in the middle floors of a large corporate edifice and a chance to begin something new. As I returned to the hostels along with Sudiptho, who looked determined to sieze the opportunity offered by the college, I was slightly disturbed by the long slog of a couple of years that lay ahead of him. I guess this is a place only for those prepared to face it head on. Though the late night parties by the bare flagpole out amidst the acedemic buildings might help. A soothing balm, perhaps. In a place where there are precious few.

The longing had been with me for quite some time now. And now that I was in Lucknow, I couldn't leave without having eaten copious food at Dastarkhwan, a little roadside restaurant near Qaiserbagh. All my memories of Lucknow are tied, inexplicably to the tandoori chicken at that place. Eating which I realised that this could perhaps be the best preparation of tandoori chicken ever devised by man. Leaving Lucknow without eating here appeared profane, an act I could not bring myself to commit. On arriving at there, I was confronted by a huge crowd and a significant wait. I decided to roam around the place for some more time and come back a while later. There was a collection of buildings in that area, the Makhbara Imam Zaidi, that I wanted to take pictures of. Camera in hand, at late in the evening, I roamed about the place taking pictures in every angle that I pleased. Satisfied, I decided to rest myself on the lawn where the evening's dew had just begun to settle. Staring at the buildings, I failed to notice the policeman who had appeared behind me. He seemed suspicious. He enquired about my purpose. What was I doing here at this time. Where was I from, and where in Lucknow I stayed. Partially convinced by my answers, he recommended that I leave immediately. This appeared strange. I didn't look like the type to cause trouble, or so I thought. And as I looked around, I saw the shadiness of the characters that had assembled on the lawns. I was the odd man out. Or atleast, I would like to think so, just to feel better. Thus convincing myself, I left for Dastarkhwan, and consumed the most amount of food I ever had in my life.

As Sudiptho immersed himself in his work, I was left with a free run of the place. Having spent a memorable three days in Lucknow, it was time to make up my mind about where to head to from here. Delhi seemed the obvious choice. Old friends waited for me there and so did old memories. From a part in my life in which I had experienced true independence for the first time. It was a memory that I wanted to revisit, and one that I wanted to strengthen. And it was just an overnight train ride away.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Between a lake and the deep sea

The sea played peek-a-boo. It hid behind the thicket of trees just when you wanted to gaze at it. As the bus moved on, and you thought that the sea was never to be seen again, it revealed itself in all its beauty. Golden sands that stretched for ever, the greyish blue water that invited you to dive in on that sultry morning, and sounds of the waves breaking on the beach. A tiny moment to take it all in as the sea, once more, hid behind the trees. As the road passed a bend, paddy fields in all their greenery was a sight to behold. It was not like the fields I had seen before. Irregular patches of young shoots, unlike the orderly squares of elsewhere. Like a lush grassland that naturally grew there untouched by man. And in the middle of the field, a square stone lined pond. A tiny pond fringed by tall coconut trees with little steps leading to the shimmering water. Like a little gem set amid the bright green paddy. A sight to put you at complete peace. And while the bus sped its way along the road to Puri, the picture of the sea coyly hiding behind the trees remained in my mind.

The route to Satapada was set among lush paddy fields punctuated by little villages, where the bus stopped to let off the school kids returning home. It was a warm afternoon, a pleasant kind of warmth, with a gentle breeze that left you craving for more. One could spend whole lives in such afternoons and not desire for more. As we neared Satapada, a little bunch of shrimp farms began to be seen amid the paddy. The farms grew more frequent as the bus headed on. It was difficult to tell where the paddy fields ended and the shrimp farms began. They seemed to blend into each other. As the paddy completely disappeared, I knew we had arrived. At the northern shore of the Chilika lake. Satapada, where the room at the OTDC Panthanivas, opened onto an enormous balcony on the first floor. Where the vast expanse of the water lay in front of my eyes. It was time to feast on some shrimp.

The restaurant below was where I ate every possible prawn dish they prepared. And it was good. When I went to pay, I asked them if there was any place around to swim in. The fellow thought for a second and directed me to talk to the forest range officer whose office happened to be just across the street. The officer was a pleasant fellow, who offered me tea on the lawn outside. It was always a pleasure to welcome people from outside he said. A little chat about the local dolphins and birds later, he asked me how long I intended to stay. I told him I had no plans as such but my booking at the OTDC was for two days, and that I could stay for longer if I liked. He then presented a plan. I could head out to Bharampur island on the Cilika, where there were a few forest lodges with no electricity, stay there for the night and head the next day to Rajhans island, spend the morning there and head back to Satapada. And possibly sight a few dolphins along the way. I was in. I asked him about the ways to get there. He then informed me that one of the department guys was coming up to pick up fuel and that he was heading to Bharampur island. I could go along if I liked. Excellent. Also, there was one officer who was heading to Rajhans island from there the next day morning and I could tag along. From Rajhans island, I could find one of the many private vessels that ply to Satapada. This was turning out to be brilliant. I agreed and was told to expect to leave by eight in the evening. I went back to the room, packed a smaller bag for the day ahead and killed time staring at the sun set slowly over the lake.

Riding a boat in the complete darkness, with only faint and distant lights to tell you that land is not far off, with the rush of the water by the side of the boat being the only sounds, and the cold air chilling you in the warm evening. An experience that will not be soon forgotten. We reached Bharampur at about nine in the evening, and all the light that greeted me was a lonely bulb near the kitchen. Food was being prepared. On the menu was a local fish called a shorda. It tasted very similar to egg whites, and very addictive. When I took one bite, I couldn't stop. Four of those fish were cleaned to the bones before I looked up. What followed was rice and yet more fish. Stuffed to the throat, I decided to roam around the island a bit till I felt too sleepy to move. I would head out to Rajhans island early the next day. I couldn't wait.

We reached Rajhans island at about eight in the morning and I headed immediately to the sea. This island is like a sandbar, very long and very narrow. On its west lay the Chilika lake and on the east lay the expanse of the Bay of Bengal. I was all alone on this vast stretch of shining golden sand for the next four hours. As the sands slowly heated up, it was time to plunge into the inviting waters of the Bay. And return to bake on the sand when the water got too cold. And plunge into the water when the sand got too hot. And so on. I was feeling quite hungry at this point, and since I had no food with me, it was time to head back to Satapada to find something to eat. I headed to the jetty on the lake to spy out some boat willing to go to Satapada. As I was waiting, one of the locals, named Tapanjane, with whom I had become pally with told me that all the boats had been hired by the tourists and I would have to wait till three in the afternoon. My stomach was growling by then, and I had no other choice but to wait. But he came up with a plan. One of his cousins, who owned a boat was coming to Rajhans with some tourists and he would head back to Satapada in an hour taking the tourists with him. I could go along with them if I wished. My stomach stopped growling, and I said I could do that. A wait of an hour later, as the tourist boat was about to leave, Tapanjane talked to the cousin, and sent me on the boat. I had the feeling that the tourists thought I was working with the forest department, and hence did not object to me coming on board. Well, I was nobody to correct them.

At five in the morning the next day, it was time to catch the first bus to Puri. There was a train at ten to Lucknow, and I was headed there. The bus slowly made its way towards Puri giving me plenty of time to take in the green Orissa countryside. It was a sight that makes you return again and again. I'm happy to oblige. This visit to Orissa was brief, and there was much left to see, do and taste. I shall be back I told myself. And as I waited at the platform in the railway station at Puri, it was the last opportunity to eat dahi vada before I jumped into the general compartment for the 20 hour journey that lay ahead. It tasted good.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Strangely comforting paddy fields

Expectations about the weather are rarely correct. Given that it was chilly and drizzling all the three days in Hyderabad, I had expected that brilliant weather to continue in Orissa. It was after all on the same eastern belt and there were rumours of cyclones. But, it was not to be. It was hot and sunny. Very. The sun beat down on my face as I made my way out of the train station in search of a place to stay.

Bhubaneshwar is a clean and well laid out city, atleast the newer parts. It was, however, the older areas of the city I was interested in. And the best way to see it was to walk it. Google Maps in hand, I plotted a course and set off in what was a balmy afternoon, with the determination that I would not return before ten in the night. My first destination was the Bindu Sagar lake in the centre of the old city. And it was all that I expected it to be. The lake surrounded by tiny temples on one side and the really huge Lingaraj temple on the other, with the processions on occasion of Durga Pooja in full swing on its banks, it was a sight to behold. And the street food vendors, selling very delectable dahi vada on its banks, which in my opinion is the best hangover food ever, made it a feast.

As I walked down narrow roads, in which ever direction that pleased me, I noticed the sun had started to dip. It was time to find a way out, and find a nice pub to cool the evening heat. After a couple of hours of walking, I find myself out of the old city and an auto to carry me to newer parts in search of a watering hole. The first place I reached was closed. And no one in sight to tell me whether it would actually open. Very well. I was certain there were other places. I met a similar fate at the next place, but this time there was one whom I could ask about the situation. As it turned out, during Durga Pooja, no alcohol was to be served. But, give up, I couldn't. I just had to persevere to find a place less religiously inclined. After being turned away from five more places, and by then having walked a good five kilometres in the search, I could not head back disappointed. But a moral victory was at hand. So what if I was denied alcohol, no one could deny me a sugar high, and having decided that, I bought five bottles of Sprite and finished them off in one sitting. The result wasn't what I expected.

The next day was a little museum time, where I happened to come upon the most awesome, and I have no other word for this, interpretation of Chamunda in the form of a 13th century sculpture. It so happened that buses to Konark were available right outside the museum, and as I had my bag handy decided to head there. The bus arrived after a small wait, and as was expected, very crowded. I managed to dump my bag in the small pigeon hole in the back and wrestled my way in. The conductor, who noticed that I was obviously not from around there, was very helpful. The journey was was going to be short and the discomfort wasn't very bothersome. Halfway along the route, the bus stopped at a small town called Nimaparha. The stop was for a quite a long time, and both the driver and the conductor got on top to unload the luggage from the roof. In the meanwhile, the bus stated to empty a bit, and quite a few seats became available. I grabbed the one closest to me.

After some time, more people started getting on the bus, and all the empty seats were eventually taken. A few moments before the bus was about to leave, a large group of people got on, and among them was a lady carrying a sleeping two year old kid. As she neared my seat, I looked around frantically to see if any empty seats were present in the bus. There were none. Resigned to my situation, I got up to make way. And in the crowd of people that got on the bus, I was eventually pushed to the back. It was going to be standing all the way to Konark. In the meanwhile, the conductor, who was all this while on the roof loading and unloading luggage got into the bus to issue tickets. He saw me hanging onto the bars at the back of the bus, and shouted above the din, "So many seats became empty and you are still standing?". I was sure a lot of people heard him and turned around to stare at me. And the conductor had this expression on his face that said he thought I was the biggest idiot in the world. I had no desire to shout out my explanation all the way from the back. I smiled and nodded.

With the Sun Temple visited, I heard of a brilliant of a sea food place right on the Chandrabagha beach. This being my birthday, it was something I just couldn't miss. Several plates of various sea fish, all accompanied by rice, and surrounded by the Bay of Bengal. It was a happy birthday to me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

To stop train pull chain

The Secunderabad railway station is a very clean station. Very ordered and quite well maintained. And locating the train I was to be on to Bhubaneshwar was relatively easy. Of course, it also helped that the platform on which the train was standing happened to be next to the entrance. But the place where the reservation charts were put up though was crowded. Getting a peek at the charts proved difficult. It was not an issue. All I had to do was check my ticket status on my phone by going to the Indian Railways website to see which berth I had been given. And that was exactly what I did.

It was "WaitList 8" when I had booked the ticket the previous day. And when I checked 15 minutes before the departure of the train, it was "WaitList 1". There was no berth waiting for me. Very well. I was not to be thwarted. I headed straight to the ticket counter and bought an unreserved ticket to Bhubaneshwar, and jumped into the general compartment. Which was unusually crowded for a starting station. As my luck would have it, this was a special train which had started all the way from Tirupathi. And all I could manage was to find a little place to stand and some space under the seats to dump my bag before the train started. But, it wasn't really that bad. Not as crowded as some general compartments can get. I decided to remain there till some seat emptied in one of the coming stations and I could find a place to sit.

The train, after an uneventful six hours, arrived at Vijayawada at ten in the night. And the people poured in. They poured in through the door which was next to the platform. Through the door on the other side, which could only be accessed by crossing the tracks. And also through the emergency exits. And the emergency windows that were closed were forced open and people poured in through that. Head first. Men and women crawled in. Luggage, quite sizeable ones, and children were passed trough. In the melee, it was hard to tell which was which. And when the train finally managed to leave Vijayawada, the compartment was atleast thrice as full as when it came in. There I was, stuck in the middle, standing on one leg, the other stuck between two heavy bags in an odd position and not one hand hold in reach. And I would see, in the next twelve hours, ten fights breakout in the neighbourhood, eight of them caused by a drunken buffoon just for kicks.

There I stood for the next five hours. I had been standing now for the past ten hours and my feet were getting numb. And my hands were sprained from holding on to imaginative hand holds. I pleaded with one fellow sitting close by whether I could sit in his place for 10 minutes. He very kindly agreed and I had one square foot space to rest and take the strain off my feet. And I passed out. I had never known sleep to take over like that. And the next instant, I suddenly jerked awake. It turned out that I had been asleep for half an hour. When I was about to get up to return the seat, the fellow bade me to sit down. He was to get off at the next station which was not 10 minutes away. Grateful, I went back into a deep sleep.

I was rudely woken up at five in the morning. By a kid not more than 16. And he was demanding my seat. Well, according to him, he was claiming his seat back. I asked him how was this ever his seat. And his explanation to this just drove my sleep away. According to him, this grandmother's sister-in-law was sitting in that place, from where she got up last night to sleep on the floor and which was consequently taken by the fellow who offered me that seat as he was about to leave the train. I refused. At which point, an elderly person who appeared to be his grandfather started shouting at me. I was too sleep deprived to be intimidated. I replied that if he wanted the luxury of a guaranteed seat, he should have taken a reservation. The kid was then instructed to sit next to me and attempt to push me out as I was sitting on the edge. I wouldn't budge. Eventually they gave up and on the last station in Andra Pradesh, they along with the crowd just left. The train was comfortable atlast.

The next 5 hours on the train were shockingly comfortable. And as we travelled though the green Orissa countryside, the early morning sun made the outside view magical. But, I was too sleepy to enjoy that. The train would be arriving in Bhubaneshwar at eleven in the morning and I had a precious three hours left to catch up on some long needed sleep. I drifted off dreaming of the places I wanted to visit and the sites I wanted to see and the food I wanted to taste. I woke up just in time to see the train pull into the railway station at Bhubaneshwar. I disembarked, had cup of tea and headed out. And as I left the station, I noticed a spring in my steps.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A friend in need

The inter-state bus stand in Bangalore, the Kempegowda bus stand, was in the middle of a large construction project. The bus platforms were being renovated, and with some of the bus stand consumed by the up-coming metro station, it was not exactly a restful place. It was after some difficulty that I found the platform from which buses to Hyderabad departed. For it was in Hyderabad where my once flat-mate from Delhi now stayed. It was Venu's place that I now made for. And it was the remembrance all things past that bade me to board that bus.

A bus though, was missing. It was on a drizzly Thursday afternoon that I arrived at the bus stand only to discover that the KSRTC bus to Hyderabad had departed a few hours before and the next one wasn't until that night. But, I also discovered that APSRTC buses might be available. Though when they would be was hard to tell. With that in mind, I waited at the departure gate for any passing APSRTC bus headed in the direction of Hyderabad. A few hours later, after much asking around, I finally found a bus with an available seat going to Hyderabad. I finally reached Hyderabad after an event-less 12 hour journey.

It was a chilly five in the morning, when Venu came to the bus stand in Hyderabad to pick me up. And it was on his shiny new Bullet, which, I want I want I want. And a speedy 30 minutes later we arrive at his apartment near Hi-Tech City. When we enter the house, Venu proceeds to present a crate of beer. Twenty four shiny bottles of chilled beer which we start drinking at six in the morning. By about nine, we, pleasantly drunk, head to the city for a breakfast of roti, kheema and kichchidi. This was a wonderful beginning. Better than any I could have hoped for, for the month that lay ahead.

A fine two days pass amid much drinking, biryani eating, and merry making. It was time to think about where I would head next. Orissa sounded nice. I had never been there and this looked like a brilliant opportunity to fix that. After looking up trains from Hyderabad to Bhubaneshwar, I decide to book a 3AC berth in Tatkal quota on one of the trains. After a heart stopping moment when the IRCTC website failed to respond after the money was transferred, I got my ticket. The booking status read "Waitlist 8", which I was very sure would clear by the next day.

The next day, we were invited by Venu's parents for lunch at his place. The train wasn't till 4pm, which gave us plenty of time for a hearty lunch. We reach his place in the morning and after a light breakfast, proceed to kill time. It was then that I stumbled on a four page pull-out ad in the Deccan Chronicle. This ad touted the wonders of a new apartment complex being completed in Hyderabad. It also touted the wonder of high rise living and the supreme luxury on offer. It all looked very fancy and luxurious. Though I could never bring myself to live there. For the apartment was called "Aliens Space Station" and the builders were apparently the Aliens group. The bottom of the page with the ad featured various satisfied customers saying that they were "grateful for Aliens" for giving them the lifestyle they wanted. It all sounded very much like a cult.

Lunch was soon ready, and we were fed the best comfort food in the whole world. Fried stuff with chutney. After a very filling lunch, it was time to leave. The train would be departing in about an hour. We said our goodbyes and headed out. The train was to depart at four and hence the reservation charts wouldn't be prepared till 3:30. We reached the station at exactly this time. I exchanged goodbyes with Venu and headed towards where the charts were put up to see which my berth was. Orissa awaited.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The beginning that wasn't

It was a chilly September morning that I woke up to. It was the first day of my new found unemployment. And I was loving every moment of it. With two good friends from far off visiting Bangalore then, the week seemed like the onset of spring. In a way it was. It was, for me, a new beginning. A new adventure in a new country, a new job, a new apartment. A new life. And it was a rainy day in July when it all began.

I always liked rainy days. They seem to make me go on long drives and forget about the jobs that needed getting done. Staying inside during a beautiful drizzle seems like such a waste. And it was maybe this heady state of mind that prompted me to quit my job that day. As I gave my two-month notice, I felt strangely at ease. But the gamble was big. Lethargy had prevented me from trying for a new job when employed in this one, and this one was slowly eating me from the inside. I decided that the only way I would go about finding a new job was if the security of the current one did not exist. The rains increased into August and my heady mood along with it.

The beginning of August offered a surprising and tempting offer. A mountaineering trip in Nepal was on the cards. We would head to Makalu base camp and see how high we could go from there. When I heard the plan, there was no way I could say no. I was in with all my excitement. It would be brilliant. And since a new job seemed remote at that point, there was nothing holding me back. And it would be for a month, which seemed like the perfect amount of time. We were to head out in the middle of October and return in the middle of November. To me, it seemed like I had quit the job at the right time. Like it was all falling into place.

On the day of departure, my bag was packed. This was something I had looked forward to for the past month. It was finally happening. I was yet to put on my shoes, but there was still time for it. The train wasn't for another five hours. It was then that I got a call from the other fellow who was also going along with me on this particular trip. And it wasn't pleasant. The agency from Nepal had called. All flights to Tumlingtar in Nepal were being badly affected due to the runway being rebuilt after monsoon damage. Our flight may or may not be affected. He would call us back in an hour and let us know.

An hour passed and so did another. And the fateful phone call arrived. The trip was not to be. All air traffic to Tumlingtar would be affected till further notice. There was no way he could guarantee our flight. At this news, the other fellow backed out and the agency refused to arrange for just one person. And so it was, that at three hours before the departure of our train, the whole thing stood cancelled. And as I sat there, thinking about what to do, my packed bag stared at me in the face. And I just couldn't bring myself to unpack it. It lay there for a day.

It was decided that I just couldn't stay at home thinking about what could have been. That I had to go. Somewhere. Somewhere close enough so that lethargy would not win over. And I would see from there about what to do. I picked up my bag and caught a bus to the inter-city bus stand. I reached the bus stand with nothing but a hint of a destination and a fainter trace of a plan for the month ahead. But I knew it was going to be good.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cynical about cynicism

The buses to Cole's Park, Bangalore were pretty frequent. According to the BMTC website anyway. G10 from Corporation to my destination. So decided, I headed out to the bus stand near my place and caught the next bus heading towards Corporation. I hadn't been to that part of Bangalore in a long time, if ever. And finding the place I was to be was unexpectedly easy. Though I had no clear idea what to expect when I arrived there. All I knew was that there was some sort of exhibition being held there. And that I was invited to come and have a look around.

The hall was modest and the welcome enthusiastic. When I mentioned the fact that I was invited here to the guy sitting in reception, his smile widened dramatically. After viguorously shaking my hand and exclaiming "excellent" several times, he bade me to enter. The hall was abuzz with the sound of excited discussion. A neat arrangement of tables in four rows of three greeted me. On each table was laid out a project to improve the community we lived in. From trash recycling to teaching run-away children. From saving cuddly puppies from the cruel hands of the BBMP enforcers to a fuzzy concept of eco-management that atleast in my belief was a cruel joke played on the eager visitors. From the completely inane to the very surprising, all found representation here.

Speeches were given. Flyers handed out. Ideas were presented and enthusiastically applauded. I had the vague and uneasy feeling of being trapped in an echo chamber. Any idea, however vague or pointless was hailed as the idea that would save humanity. I wish that was an exaggeration. Amid the din, there were two ideas that caught my imagination. One was about getting the attention of kids that had slipped through the cracks and one was about a mobile science lab with simple easy-to-show setups. Maybe it was my bias towards primary education that was at work here. But I honestly believe that those ideas were worth pursuing. Though one thing was very obvious during the whole thing. The least impressive ideas had the most impressive displays. The team that had come up with the fuzzy eco-management idea even had t-shirts printed out with the logo of the project. Yes they had a logo.

At the end of two hours, I had given my e-mail address to a bunch of people with the desperate hope that they would lose that piece of paper. During which I found myself standing in a queue for water next to a huge pile of used plastic glasses while a project about reducing plastic use stood not two metres away, one fellow handing reams and reams of flyers while his neighbour proudly displayed her poster showing easy steps to save our forests. I left amid a gaggle of excited people animatedly discussing the environmental benefits of using bicycles as they got into their cars. But atleast they were talking about it. Atleast their hearts were in the right place. Temporarily.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A comedy of errors

Its a cold four in the morning and its all dark. The lonely beam of the headlights of the car illuminates the way. The road is empty and we are making decent speed. The scenery is still cloaked in darkness and I expect no interruptions. And time passes. A pale pink makes its lazy way over the horizon. The bright green of the paddy fields slowly come into view jarring me out of my drowsiness. And the next moment I bring the car to a screeching halt in the middle of the road.

There is a man walking in front of me. Perhaps in his late middle ages. He is briskly swinging his arms as he ambles forth. From his posture, it appears that this is his morning exercise to stimulate his bowels. Very well. My only wish is that he wouldn't do it in the middle of the road. We pass the man by, who now appears to be searching for a suitable shrub to crouch behind.

Villages pass us by. Its early morning now. The bus-stops by the side of the road are slowly filling with people. A bullock cart or two is visible off the road. So much of the scenery is visible when you are travelling at 10 kph. A very pleasant morning. Keeping company next to us was, it seemed a rather impatient driver in a minibus. The small overloaded tempo blocking his path didn't seem to care. The poor tempo was trying to overtake another small tempo travelling at 9. It was understandable that it took a whole five minutes for that to be successful. And the road was open. Nagarahole awaited us.

The stay was good and the return seemed better. It was late evening on a Sunday. The roads were calm enough and the wind seemed cool enough. Ramanagara was reached in good time. A really good dinner later, we set off behind a long line of lorries. The one behind the others was eager to get ahead and so we stuck behind him. After passing about three lorries, the driver put the indicator to the left. He was assumed to be overtaking from the left and we promptly moved left. But, he had other things in mind. He was simply moving to the left as the rules said he was supposed to. We should have realised this when his indicator actually worked. We were let down by the PB registered lorry. We were in turn passed by about eight cars.

Driving on Mysore road or the SH 17 was done and it was time to head home. Early enough to catch a decent sleep before work tomorrow.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The favour

In 1950s New York, if one were to place a lot of faith in the works of Mario Puzo, a distressed family would now and then approach the local don. They would pay their respects and confide in the great man their earthly troubles. For even the great don could do little about their unearthly ones. The don would then proceed to nod his head sympathetically. He would then express his sincere desire to help them in these times of great distress. It was a sign of his friendship after all to help those close to his heart. A promise to do all that was in his power, here subtly insinuated to be vast and beyond compare, would soon follow. And as the family prepared themselves to leave the company of this august personality, the don would play the trump card, the card of humility. The don after all was a humble human, under the will of God. A day would come when the don too would fall under hard times, at this point a small prayer would escape his lips, and he would need the help of his dearest friends. Would he be any trouble for the family if he were to approach them, approach them he would only when faced with the greatest of distress his eyes seemed to convey, and asked for a small, nothing too big, help. The family, I believe, would be only too glad to oblige. Here was the great don himself with whom the politician ingratiated himself. And it was the decent thing to reciprocate, no matter how unlikely the prospect.

Time passed and the family was happy. One particularly pleasant evening, the don would call upon them for the favour that was owed. Usually the task at hand would be nothing outlandish. But once in a while the family would be screwed. And none too happy.

It had turned out the the don wanted the family to make good the loss he had to take in helping another of his dearest friends. The don was answerable to his family after all. If the amount was too great, the family could just approach the next bigger don and plead for their troubles. The bigger don would then do all in his power, here not-so-subtly insinuated to be ever more vast, to help the dearest of his friends. And so on.

During the final months of 2008 and for much of 2009 and big happy family of the "Masters of the Universe" approached the local don. They were in debt. And were still piling on losses. The money they had lent in good faith, their claim, was lost for ever never to be seen of again. The don waxed eloquent about the obligations of power and responsibility. The need to do the right thing even though nothing about it seemed right. And the need to be repaid for the timely help provided. With interest. The Masters grudgingly accepted. And it was not like they had a choice. And all their worst fears came to life one by one. The don proved to be excruciatingly overbearing, never missing an opportunity and creating several to tell all about the help he had offered in their time of need. Maybe the Masters missed the don's need to satisfy his family.

As the months passed, quite a few of the Masters had dug themselves enough out of the pit to repay the don. With interest. And glad were they to rid themselves that they forgot completely about the return favour. You see, the don had to help out the Big Car Man down the highway. And the Car Man couldn't pay back. The Masters were asked to cough up. Though they complained, there was not much they could do. For there was no bigger don. The banks had approached the ultimate don, the government.