air travel

I went to Korea

Travel opens eyes in ways that alarms that go off early mornings can’t figure how. In its range of new stimuli, there is more than ‘attention’ that you give up. You give a piece of yourself for unknown to you, a piece of yourself shifts. Or so it does for me.

Bill Bryson says it like none else.

“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”

Last month, I went to Korea. I guess I have been jumping around and exclaiming to every moving object that whizzes by: “I went to Korea”.  Perhaps laced with a tone of stupendous achievement.  That’s the only explanation I have for the question that some well-meaning friends posed:  ‘North or South?”

For the money of an air ticket and the visa to the South, I also checked out the North. By going up to the border and gazing at the skies of North Korea. That point’s mention has been like a noisy trinket in a solemn conversation. Always attracting attention beyond its worth!

That was the trip. Time spent in walking about the streets of Seoul. Discovery. Conversation and of course, some work! Many GB of photographs and many multiples GBs of memories that were soaked in with a resolve to share. As has been the case with every trip.

Shedding some laziness, thanks to gentle arm twisting of well meaning friends who declare ” I love to read your travel account “,  there will be a few posts here.  Over the next few weeks, hopefully.

For starters, Korea is an awesome country. The seamless mix of modernity and tradition. The distinctness in the culture that taste buds announce with no scope for ambivalence. The exacting polite ways of people. The diligence and the work ethic.  And several such will vie with my default procrastination and an up to the brim calendar to find a way here.

I didn’t go to Korea with a list of places to see. I wanted to go there and figure out what do through conversations and ambling around. It was worth the adventure. Lucky breaks, lovely people, and google helped in hordes. I saw some fantastic palaces, trudged across streets, gazed at mountains and at a time or two was overcome by emotion. It is a place to go to and I hope to do so again.

One last thing about travel. When you travel the world and come home, the home looks different. Nothing has changed at home in itself, but the lenses you wear shifts the horizons of your imagination.  There are new questions of the ‘why not’ variety that emerge.  Base assumptions that are hidden beneath layers of time resurface.  Home is never the same place for the person who travels, at the end of each travel. For that reason, I hope to keep traveling and discovering as much about myself as about the places I travel to.

Bill Bryson said, “I could spend my life arriving each evening in a new city.”  I couldn’t have said it better. Maybe, I would wish that it extends to a few more lifetimes too.

For there is so much to see.

Both outside and inside!


A wish & wisdom by the window

The Tribhuvan International airport in Kathmandu, has some real pretty faces and often presents to your eyes meandering queues of Nepalis packing their bags to work overseas. ‘Demand for Nepali workmen is high’ says a fellow traveler while lifting a bag that could weigh as much as my provisions. For three full years and more perhaps.

Work done in Nepal i am on my way back. A kind colleague who sympathises with my attempts at photography tells me that the view of the peaks ‘is a good thing to get on the lens from the plane. If you are lucky’.

His words firmly in my radar, I specifically ask for a window seat. Smiling one of the most beautiful smiles and after saying ‘ofcourse sir’ and a little later ‘have a wonderful flight sir’, flashing that pretty smile, the lass at the Jet Airways counter gives me hands over the baording card. Which after getting into the aircraft i realise entitles to everything else but a window seat ! An aisle seat with two young nepali boys on the middle and window seats for company. GREAT.

Soon we are airborne, and the peaks show up on the window in such majestic splendour that I let out a gasp of surprise laden pleasure. Hastening to pull out the camera and attempting to get a few snaps. Aiming and dodging my two young row mates on the middle and window and ensuring that their noses or hands don’t form part of the picture of the snow clad peaks is quite a struggle.

They can see it too as I hoover-up as many snaps as possible as they give me a look that I would reserve for corner cockroach. And fiddle with the entertainment panel and watch an Ajay Devgun movie.

For a second, I cant believe this. These young boys could actually trade the beauty and majesticity of the mountains and the snow capped peaks for a Ajay Devgun movie on the entertainment panel! Alas, what has the world come to !

Without much ado and a presumptuous air I dismissed their intellect, intent and everything about them.

Soon the peaks vanished and I retired to my world of books and work. The next couple of hours vanished like a sugar laden sweet disappearing down the oesophagus. Not very later we were all set to land in Mumbai.

An announcement that was accompanied by what best could be described as a mild frenzy of of nepali boys peering through the window in other seats.

Greatly surprised I turned to the window on my row, which is when I noticed my own neighbours had pulled out their simple cameras and shared every bit of the window between themselves, cheek to cheek.

Perhaps they were sure they would see someone like Ajay Devgun outside the window, I thought, and suddenly they yelled ‘samundar’ ( ocean ), describing the waves and boats on the Bay of Bengal, with such energy that perhaps dwarfed my attempts to capture the peaks on the camera lens.

It was my turn to fiddle with entertainment panel and theirs to dismiss my intellect, intellect and everything else about me with presumptuous élan.

At that moment, one of them turns to me, grins a sheepish grin, points to the Bay of Bengal and says, ‘Samundar – me first time’. I broaden the sheepish smiles further and point to myself to say ‘Himalayas – first time’. The sheepishness of both our smiles intensify. He returns to look at the Bay of Bengal. And I to the entertainment panel.

I keep smiling. Realising that in the sheepishness of our smiles lay an acknowledgement of our different pasts, a happiness at the present and a deep wish for each other for the future.

I realise that there cant be better wish on Christmas day ! Merry Christmas people !

Realisations at 30000 feet !

I realise. I realise that the last time i wrote a blog post, was a period in history called ‘long back’. Or perhaps ‘So long ago..’. Giving it a stone age kind of feel. Stones. Deer skin etc ! Now that is stretching it too far. Yes. I realize.

I sit here on this airplane. With such realisations and impressions.

For instance, there is this grand realisation that people can stretch their vision far and wide. The lady sitting next to me has been reading all that i type onto the screen. It feels a little odd, to put it mildly.

I realise that typing that sentence has had no effect on her.

I realise. There are people in this aircraft, that are rude and crude. Like life. In general. As though there was a prize for being so. And there are people that are nice and neat. Like there is a prize for being so.

I realise. That if you don’t get the window seat, the chances of the one that did get it, wanting to get to the loo will be high! Almost as soon as the seat belt sign is switched off. You almost think, that the seat belt was the cause.

I realise. People can think no end of their cleverness! Like the gent who just refused to shut down his phone. ‘This is an important call’ he said. Sure pal. The rest of us are traveling in aid of the airline industry ! I realise that i sometimes rue my not having pursued some martial art technique or the other. Preferably something in the vicinity of ‘Gaze Kill’ !

I realise that nobody pays attention to airline safety demonstrations ! And of course, airline safety demonstrations are so vapid that they give vapid a bad name !

How about something like the air-hostess announcing “as soon as I am done with my demonstration, three random passengers could be asked to do the demo as a surprise test. If you fail, you would travel in the cargo compartment !”

I realise that air-hostesses and their names are getting my interest. With names like ‘Honey’, ‘Ruby’, ‘Pretty’, ‘Sweety’… well, first name basis seems to be one heck of an interesting arena !! When all of them are in the same flight, that could be providence doing a sun dance. Flights of fancy. Of course!

The lady sitting next to me, is getting restless now. So am i. This post has been thoroughly supervised by her ! Not that I am new to supervision per se.

Especially, when I have been married to her for a while.

Ah, that’s one more realisation ! Or perhaps admission ! Heights, you see. heights !

And so you are back.

And so you are back. After many miles of journey. Roads. Hills. Air. Air pockets. Fields. Villages. Malls. And all of that.

You are back to where you live. And you wonder how right they were. When they said ‘time flies’. You feel this time around, time took the expressway !

But then, its still isn’t long off your memory. One look at the 2500 plus snaps clicked over the 15 days, and your mind rejigs and brings to the fore the exact feeling at the moment captured on camera. You realise you itch to tell the world as many stories as there are photographs. And then you choose some in random.

Like this one. When your heart skipped a beat to see a seeming synchronicity in randomly arraigned coconut trees set against a blue backdrop on the banks of a spanking new highway. Made on agricultural land.

Or to see this man pedal his bicycle, with a lady seated behind. And wonder, when last you saw this scene. And then have your taxi driver tell you that these villagers pedal 17 kilometers one way, to reach the nearest hospital. And your eyes auto squint, thinking of life.

Or to see a far away temple set in the middle of banana plantation. And look towards the sky in awe and wonder about this concept of the ‘faith’ ! And think of the tall towers of Meenakshi temple. And then the small precincts of the family temple. And see faith standing on firm foundations.

And then, you saw stern faces stare at you as they traveled in a lorry meant for goods. And think of the stern face & heaps of abuse hurled by the passenger sitting next to you on the flight, because the air hostess didn’t respond ‘in time’

And you think of this boat. By that lake in Berijum. And reaffirm. That nature soothes a lost soul. Like no other.

And as the memory still is fresh and tumble in one after another, you realise. You are back. With new respect. For life. For living. For people. For dreams. For mother Earth. And your own self.

That you saw what others saw. Yet saw what many others didn’t.

And as you type that line, you wonder, if that sounds boastful. And then, you recall conversations with many here. Those stoical faces and ‘ah-there-you-go’ smiles. And you let that line remain.

And you know. You can go on and on. But you realise. You have got to stop somewhere, somehow. You are thankful for many things. And one of them, is for the love of readers of this blog. For that, you realise, you ought to be immensely thankful.

So you quickly end, where it all started. By stating, ‘And so, you are back’.

Going Home.

The plane taxis off the runway & kisses the clouds. From up above, i see the Mumbai skyline. I am far close to the sea than i can imagine.

The plane continues to climb. The low cost airline has not been low cost exactly. But it did take off on time. And it did soar into the sky. There is a pilot with a distinct kerelite accent, asking announcing that we should be landing on time.

I peer through the window. And see the receding skyline of the city that i call home now. In about a hour and a half i will be touching down in Bangalore. A city that i used to call home until a year and a half back. For ten odd years.

The books that i have picked up at the airport lounge invite some browsing. Some habits stick. Most, like this one, make the missus sick. But she isn’t here today with me. So.

I am lost in my own world. Memories come rushing back. I think of the next few days. And i have so many things to do. Discussions to have. And just be present. The sun beats down the other side of the plane. God is kind. I think.

And look at the big mountains that appear far too small. Far beyond. Far below. There are announcements for refreshments. I can hear only parts of it. The other i leave it to conjecture. The handlers from Pakistan did a better job, i think. Of speaking into the phone, that is.

Refreshments are served. And charged too. This is a low cost airline. The middle class me, loaded with the guilt of having bought books, keeps me restrained. In the row, just ahead, a family sits. They order sandwiches and juice. Sandwiches and juice and hand, the air hostess announces, ‘thats Rs. 510/-, sir !’ The plane shakes a bit.

I look through the window. Into the mountains. Into a dried river in the distance. I think of the next few days. There is happiness. Anxiety. Purposefulness. Hope. And resolve. The pilot is back again. Announcing something. I hear parts of it. And don’t hear most of it. The air hostess is having a word with the passenger in front of me. In a distance, i see greenery.

Frankly. Nothing matters. For i am flying home. From the new home of Mumbai. To the old home of Bangalore. And then, home ! Home to Madurai.

Home. To amma and appa. Today, nothing else seems to matter. The sun continues to beat down. The other side of the plane.

One morning at Mahabaleshwar !

The still chill morning air of Mahabaleshwar was inviting. Inviting enough for me to ensure i won a battle with slumber and was out on the road that you see here. Of course with the camera slung across the shoulder and wife in tow !

We marvel at the birds chirping. In the silence of the morning, many new sounds come alive. Like a distant rustle of the undergrowth. The swoosh of the shaking tree, long after a bird left its perch. A dog urinates in a distance with gay abandon.

Today, there is just nobody on this road. Just me. My wife. My camera. And a great passion to soak up that morning spirit and perhaps capture as many images as the camera would allow and perhaps have simple conversation.

We walk. And walk. And walk. I notice we talk less.

I spot a bird sitting right up on a tree. In complete serenity and comfort. I take aim. A few snaps later, i zoom in. Suddenly his head pops up. He looks in all directions and with a great hurry flies off. I wonder why. The camera was silent. So was my I. So was the misssus. Then ?

We continue our walk. I see a unique flower in royal splendour. I try hard to get all of it on the camera. With a focussed mind, arched back, squinted eyes and a mild tremble in the hand.

And then I begin to hear movement. Some rumble. At that moment, up ahead where the road curves, i spot two men jog towards us. I shake my head. ‘Ah. The fitness types.’ I think.

And return to look at the flower by the road, through the lens of the Canon.We hear a dog bark. A loud bark. The beauty of the flower overrides the ferocity of the bark. I continue staying where i was.

Click. Click. Click. As though moving an inch here or there would cause the flower to wilt !

And then i hear engines. A distinct slow yet steady engine. Engines. I look up from the flower, wincing at the noise. I notice that the stick in my craw, happen to be the two gentlemen who are jogging towards me, followed by two monstrous Land Cruisers at a steady trot.

With a sardonic wince at the interruption to a quiet morning, i go back to the beloved yellow flower. Only to be disturbed by louder barks. Boww Boww Boww ! The barks go.

Now i am alarmed. I look away from the flower. And then at the two men running towards us. Followed by those oversized white vehicles on this narrow road. I still am looking for those dogs.

At that instant, one of the two men, a big burly fellow, shouts. ‘Boww’. ‘Oww’. ‘Boww’ ! I am now really alarmed. I pay real atttention to the two men now.

The one running ahead is in a red tracksuit. Goggles. et al. The big burly fellow is in a safari suit. At that instant something strikes my infantile mind. I look at the chap in the red track suit with a lot more intent to identify.

Anil Ambani !

Ah. I think. In a few seconds, he passes us by in brisk pace. Followed by the big burly gent in a safari suit, shouting like a dog. At 6.15 in the morning.

And then, the first big car passes us. And then, the next one does. A few pairs of eyes look at us from within. An egregious air permeates what was pristine, just a few minutes before.

With a vengeance i return to my beloved yellow flower. My mind still with Anil Ambani and his safari clad mimicry artist. “Who does he think he is ? The world is not his. Where is equality ? ” and such other sundry questions race to the forefront.

And then i look in his direction. By now, I can only see the backs of those big cars. And think of his life. How must it be to have a truck load of guns following you when you go for a morning walk, i think.

I pity the man. Not that he has asked for any. And not that he will have any value for it. But this is what i feel. I wince through the lens. The yellow flower is shaping up well.

And then i think, ‘what does he have that i dont?’

Well other than, those mimicry artists, huge cars, billions and a mention every other day in every other news paper worth its name, nothing much. Ofcourse, thats not including a fueding brother and a saddened mother!

Click. Click. I get the yellow flower. It looks pretty good.

I wonder if i would like to trade places with this gent.

Not that his place is on offer. Neither is mine! I vehemently shake my head. Of course not. “mera pass ‘peace of mind hai’ ! ( I have peace of mind) !

Anil Ambani and his entourage must be far away. I dont hear them. And where the road takes another curve, there is a new flower i spot. With a dew drop tethered to it by sheer magic. My sentient camera readies.

I am glad i saw him. For suddenly, i seem to relish the dew drop more.

Delhi Sightings

Just back from a trip to Delhi. Another trip. Delhi awes me with its colour, pomp and clean air. Its one of the cleanest of Indian cities. My phone went to work as usual. Clicking the odd snap. Here are a few of them.

The taxi that we took in the morning was resplendent with colour. I kept wondering why there were pictures of the same God many times over. The Gods, they sure must be crazy !!! The Sardar drove with care. That was surprising.

The Indian Habitat Centre is a wonderful place to be in. I am told the movie Rang De Basanti was shot here. It is a good setting. I am told that the place has a lot of Government offices to it. The art galleries were impressive.

The airports seem to be as crowded as never before. With each chair and available floor space taken, passengers chose to sit on the luggage trolley ! Part of the baggage !

But hey, i am back home. And thats the nicest of feelings

Spaces. Elbow & Others.

From my journal.

The airport is bustling. Business seems to be in everybody’s mind. I sit in a quiet corner. Exhausted. Laptop on my lap. Mind elsewhere. Eyes staring into the ceiling. The suit showing all signs of the hard day that has just gone by.

I take my eyes off the ceiling. And try to focus on animate objects around me. People. They are of all hues. But the business types dominate. Suited. Booted. Laptop. Mobile phone. Attache cases.

The distance in Milli-inches between one person and the other is ZERO ! But perhaps the real distance between them covers the vast expanse of the seas. I look beside me. A salt and pepper gentleman staring into nothingness. What perhaps is he thinking ? It would stay within him.

10 minutes later in a flurry of activity, passengers rush to the entrance. To board the plane. First. Even as i wonder where all the manners, like saying ‘excuse-me’ and ‘sorry’ have gone, i realise that the word ‘queue’ is non-existent in many a vocabulary. Perhaps forgotten after the MBA entrance exam. Perhaps running a different race now.

20 minutes later my elbow and another, try to jostle for space on the common elbow rail. The Economic Times in his hand reaches till my chest as i struggle for some space. Corporate career wars are all about running & jostling for elbow space right ?

Purolite slaps corp spy suit on Thermax screams the front page headline. The gist of the case was this. Some folks who worked for Purolite walked away and joined Thermax. Purolite says they walked away with “..pages of recipes and financial information pertaining to manufacturing…”

Now here is the response from the VP – legal, Thermax which i find intriguing. “what he took with him, the data he downloaded was his own creation, which he has admitted”. That is not on. Or is it ? He is guilty. Isn’t he? To me, when you work for the company, the work that you do belongs to the company. Elbow space.

150 odd minutes later, the plane comes to a halt. And the everybody is up. Running to catch the first shuttle. To first catch hold of the bags. To get some advantage or the the other. Some advantage. Over the other. Perhaps. I am feeling lonely.

The bags seem to take forever to arrive. And everybody waits. All the jostlers are still working on trying to get to be first to pick up their bags. But what order the bags arrive is not in their hands !

Life afterall, is not about momentary elbow spaces. Its about utilising other spaces in heart, mind and soul.

Todays music is by Agnee. Its called Sadho Re. The lost and found feeling that i felt while writing this portion of the journal set the context