Clouded Views

Drives across the vast freeways of the USA can get you present to ‘size’ in a special way. The cars are large. The roads are wide. The billboards are wider. And if you stop for a bite, the portions can serve you for a lifetime. Or two.

But there is another reason that I like them for: the view of the sky. The Sun stays up and shiny till 8.30 PM. The blue shades of dusk that stretches beyond, like a reluctant goodbye of a loved one at an airport. When you drive into the setting Sun, you get an inviting view of the clouds. It is magical.

On one such trip, the little miss shouted out, “Snow White” pointing to an array of clouds. I looked in her array of clouds and found no “snow white’. At best, it looked like some full grown cauliflower.  I said, “I don’t see any Snow White“.

At first, she withdrew in silence and then, said, “Don’t be silly Appa”. Can you see the head there? And the body and the legs. She is bending over searching for something. I can also see her scarf. Can you not see?”

I looked harder and deeper. A head emerged and I could imagine that it belonged to Snow White. I could not see her bending or the legs or the body. Or the scarf for that matter. “I can see the head”, I said. In all honesty.

“If you can see the head, you can see more Appa. Try”. She said.

The wind was playing a cruel trick and before I could see any further the clouds were rearranging themselves. Snow White was gone even before I could place her fully.

In a bit, there was a new cloud array. A quick dash question came my way. “What do YOU see now, Appa?” It became a super game and kept chipping away from the familiarity induced boredom that the vast roads bring along.

Intermittent to her questions and my answers, I kept thinking of how sure she was about what she saw. And how I just couldn’t see what she saw without some prodding and help from her.

It reminded me of what I needed to do more of.  Perhaps what the world needs to do more of as well.  To try and see what others see even if at first, we cannot do so. To help others see what we see, even when they refuse to do so. That is building perspective! And to understand the clouds will move with the winds and the wind will keep a relentless pace.

Long after it was all over and as I was tucking her in at night, she asked what the clouds were doing just then. “They must be playing their games”.

“Will they be good Appa?”

“I don’t know. But we soon will know”

“Why Appa?”, she asked. With an inquisitive arch of the brow.

“Because”, I said, “it soon will be dawn”.



Speechless in speed

There he was. Unmindful of the sweltering Sun and the svelte women walking by.  Staring into the sky and doing nothing but that. But doing that significantly well. A picture of poise and presence. 

“What will it take for us to do that ?”, I asked. 

“Retirement” she replied. 

I gasped. “Retirement ?!!?”

She was quiet. I figured she was thinking about it.  She added “perhaps in the middle of a long holiday. In  a place where the phones dont work. Not when the holiday starts. Not when its all set to end. But somewhere in the middle”. 

She sighed.  “But you know, long holidays are a privilege of a few”. 

City lifestyles with the comforts of instant coffee, instant photographs, instant ( & incessant) texting, instant delivery, immediate needs, first impressions, instant makeovers all provided by cash spewed from an ‘Any Time Money’ machine or credit cards that work with a swipe, has held sway over us from second to second. One thing to tend to after another! 

Thoughts piled on. 

The universal shortage of empathy, the short shift that kindness and harmony are getting in the spirit of ‘anything goes’ as long as it is ‘super quick’, ‘super fast’, ‘delivered at the door step’ at a ‘decent price’.  

I cleared my throat. Mildly aware that the topic had me started and I was like a heavy monsoon cloud waiting to pour! I

Which is when she said : “I have been thinking of a quick holiday myself”.  The emphasis on the ‘quick’ couldnt be missed.  

The speech which was all set to march like an army on fire, went straight back into the barracks.  

Pretty quickly. I must say.  

Filmy Trees

Up in the mountains. In Kodai.

Tall they are. Nestling against each other. Seeming to stretch to the sky. Standing so close to each other. You wonder how they grew so tall despite how close they are to each other.

But there they are. Close. Tall. In a seemingly endless mosaic of green and brown. And proving to be such a spectacle. To city dwellers who are tourists today. Armed with cameras, ice creams, plastics, chatter & such else.

‘Shooting spot’. says the taxi driver. ‘We had a film crew here yesterday’, says a vendor. And there is more attention from the crowd. Some with gaping mouths, as though with reasonable prompting the trees would recount dialogues or retrace dance steps from yesterdays filming!

They stand in majestic splendour. The new found interest in them, after all the tit-bits about the most recent film crew, do no damage to them. The sun’s rays still struggle to reach earth as the trees, stand their ground!

There however, is a small pathway in between. In between those random arrays of trees. And that pathway tells a story. A story of empty space. Which once belonged to the trees.

What the mighty sun couldnt do, man has been adept at. Of course, for ‘worthwhile reasons’: Felling tree for wood. For paper to write on. For fuel to power our factories and light our homes. For door frames. For swanky chairs and designer tables.

The peace in the fresh air disturbed only by the tourist hurling a stone and an expletive at an adept monkey. Both of which don’t reach the monkey and neither does he care.

The majestic beauty casually appeals for a riveting attention. By the sheer nature of being there. There is wonderment. There is awe. There is peace. You wonder how long man will let these trees be.

And then you overhear. That there is a film shoot coming up next week. ‘The trees are safe’ you tell yourself.

At least until next week !

Fundamentally Speaking !

As the world shakes under the impact of Lehman Brothers & Merril Lynch, i cant but help wonder whats happening. These after all were institutions that were built on layers of credibility over many decades ! To see them sink into a quick sand is not only numbing but also unnerving. Well, this isnt a post about Lehman or Merril ! I am no economist nor am i anyway qualified to write about them !

But this pictue that i clicked sometime back, seems to rest at the forefront of my memory and refuses to go away ! Here i was at a restaurant in Bangalore. Having ordered a take away, I had nothing else to do, but twiddle my thumb and check the cobwebs. Thats when i looked at the main notice board in the restaurant !

The wide array of services befuddle me !

Ranging from giving Punjabi Lassi, to Tandoori Chicken, Aloo Gobi to a real estate business is quite a spectrum.

Add Life Insurance, Medical Insurance, Mutual Funds, Tax Return filing, share brokering, Public Provident Fund through State Bank Of India, ‘all woodwork’ (wardrobe etc)…. under one roof..well, the spectrum becomes SOME spectrum !

Dawning the curiosity coat, i approach the chap manning the counter, and ask him how many people form part of this set up, vaguely pointing to the notice board and the array of services displayed ! He looks up, shouts out ‘two Tandoori’ to his waiters, and says, ‘One’.

And adds with an emphatic ‘ME’ in a ‘dont-you-see-it-dude’ tone !

I look up with a ‘Lassi-to-Unit-Linked-Insurance-Plans-is-a-quite-a- stretch’ look on my face. His eyes look sqaurely into mine, and asks me, what do i want to do : buy shares ? sell shares ? Do you have house to rent out ? Do you need to rent a house ? File tax returns….?

The big burly gent arches his eyebrows, wanting to know what i would prefer ?

An apparition of my commerce professor, with balding head and steady voice appears in front of me ! With no fear of sounding ‘repetitive’, he used to say, ‘stick to fundamentals’ !

‘Err..’ i reply, ‘my rotis and gobi masala’ !

Amble Ramble !

The Lotus Tank. Built before the BJP days.
The Madurai holiday mornings took me on walks. Our home is close to the Race Course Stadium and taking a walk alongside many other ‘walkers’, just as the crimson earth was getting ready to welcome the first rays of the sun, has been a standard feature of all my visits home.

In ways more than one, it has been the easiest way to dip back into the past and look ahead into the future ! For it was in these roads, that i have reflected, tossed ideas, listened to the unseen bird and sang the unheard song. For many years now. And as i walked the familiar road again, the newly layered tar seemed to disappear. Within me.

At 6.00 AM in the morning you have polka dotted lungis compete with adidas shorts, all in the name of the gentlemen who are health conscious. The ladies in the sarees with a coat of turmeric on their faces & bindis on the foreheads, with bright yellow sarees wrapping them seem to have their jogging shoes stand out. But there they are, walking and talking with fervour.

Loud conversations abound. Different groups seem to be discussing different subjects. With careless abandon and with a certain loudness that seems to be competing with a broken microphone ! The loudness sometimes don’t lend themselves well to the subject discussed! The chief minister’s second wife’s preferences is one such subject that catches my ear ! I rest my discussion on loudness there there.

Within minutes two policemen atop horses pass by. They look at my camera and sit straighter. The horses don’t seem to care. The cavalry unit has been around from the time i was at school. I wonder why this catches my eye.

In a quick minute i realise that in all the cities that i have travelled & lived in, i haven’t seen a mounted policeman. A mounted policeman, on a horse that is !

I walk past apartments & new homes, where majestic bungalows once stood. Incidents & scenes from a life and time that appears different and distant ,flood back. The mild rebukes. The hard falls. The simple wins. Obnoxious friends. Great times. Changing seasons. Exam times. Post exam times. Decision times. Harboured hopes. The big let downs. All come knocking, and don’t wait for me to open the door !

In a short while i reach the Race Course stadium. The hard courts for tennis is a new addition. I stand and stare. I remember cycling all the way to the Union Club to swing the racket. Trying hard to get the Boris Becker serve and the Matts Wilander backhand. I enquire and find that ‘one hour of play time every day’ costs Rs. 1,000/- per month. I recall that ‘Unlimited play time’ used to cost us Rs. 175 /-. Inflation has indeed arrived.

The stadium indeed has evolved. Girls learn, hold your breathe, fencing ! I rub my eyes in disbelief ! Fencing @ Madurai!! The only fencing that the city new about in the olden time used to be the ones between homes !

Just outside, the ‘soup sellers’ have mushroomed ! For four rupees you get a plastic cup full of mushroom and such other juices from various grass & other natural elements which don’t fit into the realm of my translation capabilities !

So there ends my ramble on my morning walk. Ramble on amble ! That seems to be a good title!

The Spring of Renewal

Snap clicked somewhere after Dindigul, from the alley way of train no: 6732

So, we are back ! It was one heck of a trip ! A trip that took us to Bangalore, Tirupati, Madurai & Coimbatore & back here. Air. Road. Rail.

Such trips often leave me tired. This one has left my body a trifle tired, but mentally, it has left me rather reflective. Of blessings. Challenges. The past. Present. The days ahead. Parents. Fellow travellers. Friends. And so on.

A rich kaleidoscope of colour and multi hued images have come to reside with me. Faces. Shadows. Silhouettes. Full pictures. Images. Each face has had many stories to tell. Each story has had so many parts and i have been privy to only some facets of them ! In memories we are richer.

The feeling that there is a larger purpose over and beyond everything else seems to be taking a firmer footing. In the feeling of belongingness we are richer.

My riches, i will share here, in the days to come. It may or may not be useful. After all, foreign currency is a another piece of metal in native land ! It sure gives me a good feeling to share though! So, will do.

In the meanwhile, tomorrow, work will dawn along with the rising sun. And i know that as i would wear my shoes to work, there sure will be a spring from somewhere within. The tiredness in the body is worth enduring to get that spring in the step.

Ah. That spring of renewal !

A Vacation Rant

I am on vacation. Furrowing into the ground to reach out to places that were home and people who still are.

I write this from Bangalore ! A 21 degree temperature at the new airport was the welcome note ! First time at the new airport. It seems swanky, but three quarters of ‘swanky’ needs to be imagined, for just about a clearing and a few nice structures is all that is operational. Good beginning !

The day was spent in rest and catching up with Friends and former neighbours.

I see children who have grown taller. New shops that have come up. Same old friends with less /hair and more fab. Sorry infrastructure that has stayed sorry. The apartment with a new coat of paint.

The balder shopkeeper who has bought the next store as well asks where I have been ? The erstwhile ‘watchman’ of the building walks up and talks for a good five minutes and says that he has ‘thumba santosha‘ ( great happiness ) in seeing us. He proceeds to give us some tips on the real estate market and some free advice as well : ‘Dont ever think of selling your flat ‘ ! He himself works at the RTO office !

A child who i used to play with smiles. She asks me, ‘ who i am ‘ ! An old neigbhour passes me by without recognising. I steal a glance at the mirror to check. There are new cars in the parking lot. New notices on the old notice board. The grass looks greener under the new paint scheme.

Memories hold the contrast better. The contrast becomes a story of debate. Both with the people i meet & with myself in the mind. ‘Ah, what happened to his college admission ?’ ‘You have a Nilgiris department store here…? Where were these guys when we were here..’ and such else.

In a years time, many things have remained here. Yet quite a few have changed. And i think thas the way the world is. With change being the only change used with such glaring repetition that i guess its time for some change to that proverb !

Tomorrow, we leave for Tirupati. Will continue writing accessing this page. If you have any special wishes let me know. I will pass them on !

The Road Trip ! Mumbai To Goa

A magical roadtrip would include

Fantastic roads
Green ghats & hill stations
A slight drizzle
Overcast skies
Limited oncoming traffic
Fast car. Clear directions
Good music
Uncrowded & pristine beaches
Portugese architecture & history
Indian minds
Shack food
Great company

That is as magical as it could get. Especially so when its Goa by road !

Thats exactly what we had.

I have come back with about 800 snaps and a million memories. Perhaps more. As much as this was a holiday, it was also some time for intense reflection, juggling of thoughts, discovering of the self through konkan coastline, cuisine and people. We are back in Mumbai with perhaps a lorry load of each.

So much so, that there is realisation that much more needs to be done. Much more ! I am already having a difficulty of excluding the many pictures from being posted here ! But still thats the choice that i have to make ! So, you will find some snaps here and more as we go along !

Overall, it was a great trip.

And my new theory is Goa is great. Especially in the monsoons. So the off season is really the season of seasons !

Here are some snaps ! The details follow !

At Fort Aguada

The Road

Beside the Road

Approaching rain at Calangute Beach

Bambolin Beach

Bright Red. Bright Yellow. All seem to be preferred exterior colours !

The Independence Day Spirit

Caves Up the mountains

A church on the way to Calangute

Social Networking & a road trip !

I read this at Neelakandan’s place. A link to a country wise popularity index of different social networking sites.

India has two finishes in the ‘Top Three Countries’ !

And that is on Linked In & Orkut. Am i hearing you beat your chest and thump your thighs in pride !! Well, it sure must be a natural reaction.

What can these perhaps indicate ?

The Linked In ( chart topper in the comity of nations !) position was a surprise. Do we continue to be a nation in perpetual ‘job seek’ mode ?!? Now, i am aware that Linked In has other benefits too.

But a top position beats the wits end out of me ! Our employment exchanges ( does anyone remember the government body ?) hangover continues i guess. Only now, they have moved on to more sophisticated & elegant platforms with other benefits thrown in too ! It sure is a useful site : ‘To Network’ they say !! Sure we know.

Speaking of Orkut, i thought we merited a higher finish ( a third place finish behind Brazil & Paraguay is a little bit of an odd surprise ! Every high profile crime investigation had a trial by the victim or the accused’s Orkut page ! So..

And i guess other sites including Big Adda etc etc are akin to cricket in India ! Famous. But not Olympic recognised !!

Twittering seems to be a way of life in Japan and the USA ! I don’t think India would have qualified !!!! But am sure we will win hands down, soon. Twitter is a personal preference these days. Its fun & and has instant intrigue woven in !

Ok, How does this tweet sound :

“What does it take to go on a vacation. A short one though ?” This one can get you started thinking about a vacation. At least that’s what it did to me. hat tweet got me started on planning for a short holiday !

Well, for one ( at least this time around ), here’s what it has taken thus far.

a. a day’s leave
b. absence from the Independence Day celebration at the apartment
c. Some planning
d. some enthusiasm to see & learn
e. drawing up energy to go some distance
f. some money ! ( that has the last word )

Well, all of that means, we are off on a road trip. We are supposed to start tomorrow early morning. It is a function of how quickly we are up. But we better be up if we are to cover the distance ! The distance is not much per se, but i haven’t been on the road, for this long (as planned) in a while.

So the trunks are loaded & the bags are packed. The cameras. Sun Glasses. Umbrellas. Snacks. Mobile phones. Maps. Medicines. And the like have been loaded.

Am sure i will post a lorry load on my return or on the way as well. The telephone networks permitting.

The twittering will continue through the day(s) ! Do look up !