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”.



Picking on memory

Books have a way of growing on you. Sometimes when you read an old book again, you see new things. It is but obvious that the book is the same but you are new. Some books evoke memories like most others don’t far they embed themselves deep into the mind. Here is one: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I remember them from school. My school life resurfaces every time I chance upon someone with a name Tom or with a chance reference to anything remotely connected to the fascinating novel. A white fence is one of them.

The incident about the white fence goes something like this. Tom skips school and is meted out a punishment: paint a fence white. He goes about enlisting a bunch of friends to partake some of their prized possessions to be allowed the privilege of the fence. It is a fascinating read and over the years ‘Paint Fence White’ has stood in for several things as I moved roles, managers and teams:).

What is exciting to one is a chore to another. With skill and some luck, you can make what is exciting look like a chore. And with some imagination and a sense of play, it can indeed be so!

We went Strawberry picking in somewhere close to the Bay Area. The little miss had a giant whale of a time. Yes.
Giant. Whale. Of. A. Time.

The set up is simple.
You drive to the farm.
You pick boxes.
You pick the produce.
You put the produce in the box.
You bring it back. ( You eat a few as well)
You weigh the produce.
You do the math of how much you need to pay.
You swipe your card.
You pack your stuff.
You leave in joy.
And then, when you come home, you ask for more.

I mean, isn’t this awesome.

Sure, strawberry picking is not something that you do daily and it is one of those things that you do once in a while. To seek different experiences and tell stories to ourselves ( and to the world) about those experiences make our lives. Or so I think.

And as the Pacific Ocean’s blustery moods rearranged the clouds above us in a hurry, kids punctuated the moves with shrieks of joy. Strawberries were the bright red trophies to take home along with a fresh coat of pride on tired parents.

Speaking of parents, I remember running about amongst paddy and sugarcane fields with my dad just letting me and my brother be. We didn’t have anything to pick those days except a fight or two between us. I recall the sweltering heat and the odd steady rain. We were free to do as we liked. Even as I wonder why we did precious little, I realise, we grew up.

Or so I think.

Zoning in !

“You can never zone out” here, she shrieked.

While in the US, it was a treat to be on the road. Almost everybody observed traffic signals. Their economy may be growing at 2-4% but the traffic signals work. In true American style the minimum gap between vehicles in the USA, would seem like the distance between Sun and Saturn for the average Mumbai motorist.

Although I was there in American soil for only a few weeks, I can hold court like a well entrenched native with impunity, especially if the topic was a comparative narrative on the difference between driving in Mumbai and driving over there.

So, this friend from the USA, sat next to me as I drove, on roads that sported less than normal traffic on that particular day. Within five minutes of her first ride on Indian roads, I saw her hands shiver. In the seventh minute beads of sweat began to appear. In the eight minute, from the corner of my eye, I saw her hold on to the inside of the door handle. In eight and a half, her face was buried in her palms.

It was obvious it was about the road. For my hands were firmly on the wheel and I hadn’t spoken a word, other than professional conversation. My mind was racing at a faster speed than the motorbike that held an aunty, uncle and two kids that hung out of the bike rather precariously, and were looking into the window.

Obviously a ‘phoren’ woman, face buried in her hands with a chap that sported furtive looks can be fertile feeding ground even for the dull variety. All four of them were peering into the car, waiting for action.

In a brief while, it was but obvious, that every eye atop any moving object on Western Express Highway was trained on our car. Not wanting to run the risk of being featured on some news starved news channel with a silly ‘breaking news’, I pulled over. And hesitatingly asked my friend if everything was ok?!?

‘The cars are coming too close here’. She said. In some sense, I was relieved that she didn’t get to see the aunty+Uncle + one kid + another kid precariously hanging, all peering into the car. I was certain she wouldn’t have seen a circus act of that order!

We struck a deal. I would keep the car to the extreme left, that would come close to eliminate the possibility of a Ferrari hopeful overtaking on the left. Where she was sitting. After all of this, she offered “I’ll keep my eyes closed”. An offer, that was readily and graciously accepted.

Peace returned. She turned blind. I steered through what was ‘sub-normal’ traffic. Until we came across, a case of a ‘mild’ traffic jam. She opened her eyes, squirmed in her seat, but was far more comfortable than before.

After some agnonising moments, we discovered the root cause. A broken down truck, laden with steel rods. Sprouting a few twigs amidst all the steel. The twigs, any average Indian motorist would know, is a sign that warns other motorists of a broken down vehicle!

She went from ‘awe’ to ‘open-mouthed awe’ to ‘insanely open mouthed awe’ to ‘shaking heads in disbelief insanely open mouthed awe’.

Where in the world did we think of tying up a twig and a clutch of leaves onto a vehicle that had a breakdown ! Whatever happened to ‘hazard lights’ and the ‘hazard triangle’ to warn other motorist. Questions fired in quick succession.

I replied calmly. It was simple. Common sensical. Isnt it. I wouldn’t expect twigs to sprout from a lorry loaded with steel rods. That is abnormal. An obvious implication that something is amiss here and therefore the vehicle is stationary.

So, the minute your car breaks down, you don’t run you battery down with hazard lights and such else. You just reach for the nearest twig or a clutch of leaves and append it to some part of your car that is visible to others.

Which left her in a state of mild sedation, occasionally mumbling about Indian innovation and such else. I presume its going to take her a while to recover.

Until then, ofcourse, if you are travelling to India, a vehicle sprouting twigs is not a symbolic protest about global warming or something. This is a different kind of a breakdown. Ok ?

on the run..

Today, I chanced upon this snap in the archives.

There we were, in Pebble Beach. California. Or thereabouts. Driving through a Californian summer. Now and then, stopping to soak in lung fulls of the Pacific air and indulge in uninhibited visual gluttony, soaking up the scenery and the sights.

I did what other tourists normally do. Click pictures. Eat like a pig. Click more pictures. Make funny noises. Click more pictures. And generally gape.

Which is when, the eye caught the old man running. He was doing a steady pace. Not that I hadn’t seen an old man run. I run with several who, with their enthusiasm and effort, drive shame into me with seemingly no effort at all. But then, it was 2.00 PM in the afternoon and this old man was running. No other runner on the road.

By Mumbai standards, well that is a step higher than ‘weird’! For one, the heat will vaporize you. Another reason could be, no actually, that vapourise threat is reason enough.

But this was California. Here was this man. Running a steady doddering run, with an adorable spirit and a certain incalculable antiquity.

Memories came sprinting back, as I looked at this picture today. Especially so because laziness has been coursing my veins for a while now.

Well, well, it’s a long story. I have formed part of the problem.

Several readers know that I enjoy a good run. These pages have seen how it all started with an innocuous ‘come see what we do’ invitation from a friend who was into running. It took about the time it took for your eyes to come down to reading this line from the line above. That’s all. That’s the time it took for me to commence running. I was running and enjoying it!

This year the problem compounded.

In a fit of demented bluster, I registered to run a full marathon to be run in January. That is 42 kilometers for the uninitiated. To those that have only seen the Kenyans run on TV and make it seem as easy as turning in your bed, I can only say, that running the full marathon, for bloated blokes with a sweet tooth and sorry food cycles, is like aiming for the moon with a Diwali pistol.

But then, like other good things with grand intentions, the registration was made in right earnest. As soon as the registration was done, investments were made. A new watch was bought. A watch that displays kilometers run. Speed at which the running is happening, calories burnt etc etc ! By the way, as a bonus and almost as an afterthought, it also shows the time.

So I have all these details on my wrist. These days its not the tail that wags the dog. Details wag the dog! Somewhere, between all the calculations and math, the joy of running slipped. Damn, Numbers !

To exponentially compound matters, I realize that I have dutifully informed anyone who lingered in my company for more than two minutes that I am into running and the marathon will be attempted this year.

Typical responses have followed. Always preceded by a sympathetic look and a shake of a head, that seem to indicate the unspoken words of ‘oh, what has befallen you’.

‘It will be ok’. They say. Accompanied by an arch of an eyebrow and with as much energy that a scintillating bureaucrat puts in his face while dealing with a cyclone victim.

My runs have taken a nosedive over the last couple of months with an elegance of a Olympic diver. Slowly and steadily, lethargy has pitched a tent. Inches in the waist have grown like wild grass at the first sight of rain. These days, I feel the weight of a large earth moving equipment juggle in me, every time I run !

But you see, I haven’t been sitting idle. Ofcourse, I have been busy. Weekends have flown by like aircrafts doing practice sorties. Some have also crashed.

But all that is in the past. Today, this man woke me up. This old man that I caught half a glimpse of on a bright and sunny afternoon in another part of the world, has shaken me up.

There is one goal now. As far as the running, that is! To complete the marathon in January. Whatever time it takes. To run with no ‘time’ in mind. Running for fun. Running to just enjoy the course and see how far two legs can take me. That suddenly seems doable.

For all those, that have a sudden outpouring of love and want to gift me with sweets, payasam and such else, hold on, till January. If you are insistent, well, I will have one bite. Only one. Ok ?

In the mean time, wish me luck and watch this space.

Time graduates !

While I was there, I attended a graduation. Attended one. The brother in law was getting an MBA with some kick-ass project scores and some serious study.

Well, ceremony in itself was nothing short of splendid. It started on the dot and ending on another dot. The speakers, the pageantry and pomp gave order a new coat of glitz. The commencement speaker spoke with some purpose, perhaps taking her role rather seriously. That translates to “it was a rather long speech”.

People with knowledge of Six Sigma or stuff of that order perhaps facilitated the arranging of chairs. Students were at the best of behavior that had me wonder if they had been told that they better be at the best of behavior ‘or else’.

Three and a half pats, was all that I could give myself later. Beyond which it became a trifle laborious. For my hunch was right after all. Wikipedia says : “At the high school level, this allows academic administrators to withhold diplomas from students who are unruly during the ceremony”.

I know. I know. You are the ‘bullet train quick’ type who is quick to spot “but this is for high school”. Well, allow for some exaggeration. Will you ? Please adjust.

An overbearing black sea of gowns with borders of red / blue / yellow, well complimented by hoods, painting a rich tapestry of straight angles above the head. Ofcourse, you couldn’t miss the lovely garlands that adorned necks that seemed to have stuck out quite a bit to get this far !

Something that will definitely not miss the ear is the hoots and cheers from families. Families that seemed to have turned out in droves to cheer the graduating student, sometimes mirroring a mini product launch campaign, as names of individual students were called out. Much to my baffling, which you will empathise with, as you read on.

Overall, this was one heck of a ceremony. Something to remember.

Flip a page.

There are graduations. And there are graduations.

The only graduation that I attended was at the end of the MBA. Once. Just once in life. That was many years back. If you are expecting a deluge of memories to inundate this post, well, no. Sometimes you are spared.

The strongest memory, however, of that ceremony was the distinct smell that rented robe brought along. My family was represented by one person : me. I don’t recall of any of my classmates turning up. They had already immersed themselves in newly found jobs in an emerging economy. Better ( or worse) still, no one bothered to find how the ceremony went.

I have no recollections of the speech. Goes even further, don’t even know who was the speaker. I have racked my brains and re-jigged my memory with no results to show, except perhaps five and a half strands of hair that the floor bears as evidence.

Ofcourse, those were days where a facebook update to let the world know that you have just had a glass of water, wasn’t exactly possible. So no trail remains. Digital or otherwise. Net net, nothing remains as evidence, which is disproportionately epochal to what the degree has brought me in life!

Looking back, it occurs that that those were the ages when you just wanted to get on with it. There was no celebration of ceremony. We had a future to make. A life to live and a livelihood to create.

Modern day urban Indian schools are now towing the US line. Ah, I forget. In the US, graduations galore. Everything from swimming classes to kindergarten have graduations. Unfortunately, I never could make it to any of those, but yet, have heard truck loads of stories of them.

Back here in India, many a school has graduation ceremonies. With robes and all that. When parents invite me and the missus, to a party to celebrate their son or daughter graduating from Kindergarten, we turn out in our best. The moment in time, when the kid graduates from mellifluous ‘child blabber’ to saying in impeccable English : “This school sucks”, is indeed a moment to savour.

While I am quite neutral on the graduation for kids. But then forcing them to wearing academic gowns and caps and such else doesn’t get better than the league of fancy dress. Both for me and the kids. But it is a wonderful revenue stream for the school and perhaps a good photo op for the parents.

I am reasonably sure that your suspicions of me being one heck of an old world twit have been proven beyond doubt. Perhaps. But then, I am someone, for whom the only meaningful recollections of a graduation are of a postman.

Yes. A postman, who brought a Post Card, during the height of every summer. The only word printed there : ‘Promoted’. That announced graduation to the next class.

Even as the card was entering the safe confines of a steel almirah, courtesy my dotting mother, I would be gone. To face the sun, and try to beat down the beads of sweat on the forehead. Cricket. Tennis. Or simply, attempting to stone the next odd shaped tamarind fruit. No robe. No gown. No ceremony.

Times. They change.

Perhaps, Time graduates !

Bringing up children..

We were at the Grand Canyon. It was almost end of day. Tired and exhausted. The muscles cried for some rest after hours of battling the sun, the heat and the height. Perhaps for the first time, the camera was whining too, with the batteries draining.

Attempting to take one last shot of the ‘depth’ of the Canyon, I ventured as far as daring would get me to and the missus would allow. It was a sheer drop beyond the point I was attempting to walk upto.

Earlier in the day, the bus driver had joked, ‘If you want to get to the bottom of the canyon faster than the bus, I recommend that you keep walking off that ledge. Beyond a point, it would take you all of 6 minutes”. And then he indulged himself into a shoulder-jerking-in-fits–of-laughter !

His words ringing in my ear, I took each step of the descent to the ledge, with great care. When I was about 5 feet away from what seemed like the end of the world, two important occurrences took place. One gradually receding and another getting more and more pronounced.

One, courage was steadily evaporating. Slowly but steadily. Leaving behind traces of the big sized occupant that it once was. For, from where I was, I could see the end of the stretch of land I was standing on, and the beginning of a sheer drop.

Two, from a distance, the missus was howling me to stop right there. Howling to the point of embarrassment. Anyone could have mistaken me for one of those greedy bigamists who was just running away with her jewels! There perhaps were two elements that powered her thought : One, she had heard the driver. Two, she knew me well !

Anyway, the combination of those two factors got me to stop moving, at the speed of light. Perhaps faster. I stopped. Waved back to her. Indicating that I am not moving an inch further, and she stood right there, in a distance, crossing arms.

In that moment, there was transformation. Of the howling scare on her face, transforming into a solid stare, perhaps indicating what would happen if I did. These of course are moments of silence and depth in our marital life!

As a consolation, I pulled out my camera, and started clicking.

Which is when this young mother walked past me with her kid in one hand and the camera in the other. I was aghast. She walked right past me, straight to the ledge. Got her kid to sit down, she sat down too. Two steps to her back or one step to the left would mean she would go down thousands of feet ! A concealed squeal escaped my lips.

She pulled out her camera and started taking pictures ! I stared in awe. I turned to gesture to the missus to see whats happening only to see that she her face was buried in her palms, not wanting to see what was going on.

That is end of the story. Obviously the lady, after clicking few pictures, stood up, looked around and walked away. Impervious to all the hyper pumping that she caused in at least two hearts.

What we didn’t know was that this scene was to take several avatars and play itself out many times over during our trip. The settings were different but the theme was the same. Parents that seemed inclined to expose kids to what could be called, a certain ‘spirit of adventure’.

Which took me back to how kids are brought up in the households of neighbours / friends / relatives and colleagues back home here. For instance, would anybody let their kids go that close to a ledge? Am not so sure. ( You would notice that I am conveniently side stepping the angle of ‘Would anyone go close to a ledge’).

Which is when the mind darted to a comment that an auto rickshaw driver made some time back, while discussing seat belts. The sum and substance of what he said was this : Daily life in itself was such a challenge, adventurous and risk-prone.

He spoke of his kids who were about in their pre-teens years old, who carry the satchels, cross the highway, take a public bus, at peak hour just to reach school. Everyday. For the past several years.

Now, quite obviously, crossing a highway will not be at a zebra crossing but just looking at and dodging traffic and rushing through. The public bus perhaps has all of four inches of feet space available. Of potholes, the less said the better.

With an arid tongue and matter of fact tone, he said, ‘This safety & risk business is for soft people like you who live in high rises. Beyond a point, nothing matters’. The rest of the journey was populated with such conversation laced with moments of silence.

Quite often, I wonder how kids are brought up here. Forget risk. Do kids in modern day metro go out and catch fresh air, throw themselves at nature, run with gay abandon…? Like we used to ? I am not sure.

Ofcourse, I wonder what you think..

Mission Peak memories

Mission Peak is a peak that is Fremont, California. Well, I scaled it. This post is about that. That’s about it. This post holds no intrigue or a labyrinthine weave of how a chief minister can be such a stickler for the chair, or how an MP can be so brazen about claiming dementia. And if you want to take it International you could well tune to a circus show over debit and credit in the US of A !

As said, this post wont scale those heights. Mission Peak is a 2500 odd feet ‘peak’. If that ‘I scaled it’ in the first line of this post, makes you imagine a Tom Cruise kind of mission, well, that’s the as farther than Pluto if Earth was about truth !

‘Mission Peak’ has a long winding trail that takes you all the up. Forever on an incline mode. Steadily. Gradually. For what seemed like an eternity. One early Sunday morning, prompted by an infectious enthusiasm that friends put on display; the ‘climb’ was attempted.

For someone used to running the ‘hills’ in Powai, this wasn’t exactly tough. But it wasn’t a walk in the park either. It seemed as though it was going to take forever. Occasionally, when the head turned to take a look at the distance covered, the long winding road with people, ant like in size and movement all making their way up was indeed a sight.

There was chatter. Endless chatter. Wafting in the air was Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Telugu, Malayalam. And of course, English. Of course there were other languages that was gibberish to me. Well, that’s besides the point. The point is, that was my convoluted attempt at letting readers know that there were a lot of people !

Watching people as they climb turned out to be an exercise that I highly recommend that everyone should indulge in, if you want to get to the REAL story. Well that’s another convoluted attempt to let you know that people who overtook us in the initial parts of the climb had such sophisticated accents that the TOEFL test examiners would be proud of. Only to lose their accents and being reduced to ‘amma’, ‘meri ma’, and other forms of calling out their mothers / other relatives in their native tongue.

There were the others, with dogs. Some of which, could have passed for cows, save their bark. There were a few who were cycling all the way up. Yet others, running. Young. Old. Men. Women. Straight. Gay. Bisexual. (well, the last two, are assumptions. Just in case you were wondering). All of that, in all shapes and sizes.

Right at the top is this pole with multiple openings protruding at different ends. Looking patently odd and misplaced. Even as I was standing there, drinking in lung fulls of fresh air and blue sky, one ‘dude’ was explaining this to another.

Panting, yet talking. Producing funny sounds, further complicated by a phoney accent. From whatever I could gather, this was a ‘preset view finder’ of sorts. You could look at Fremont through one of them. Milipitas from another. And so on.

Boring I thought.

You climb all the way up to catch up the sky and air. Not to look at specific parts of the city. Which was when one of them exclaimed, ‘They don’t have a zoom facility’ he said. I instantly recognized that voice. It was the one whose accent slipped as the climb heightened. Perhaps he had left some food in the microwave to warm up and he wanted to zoom in and find out how they were cooking !

The place itself was pristine. The sun came out bright and early. It isn’t often that one gets to stand above the clouds. If nothing else, paving the way for a few snaps and loads of memories.

The energy & enthusiasm that the group I went with, brought along, was so infectious that if enthusiasm was a disease, we would have had an epidemic of sorts. We discussed myriad topics so much so, if we assumed the role of an Indian MP, we could have actually got a few laws passed!

So the next time, if you belong to the tribe, that shakes its head upon reading what I write and mutter ‘this is heights’, may I suggest you try ‘Mission Peak’ ?

Cops !

You cant miss their impressive height nor their majestic gait.

If at all you missed the height or the gait, the impressive turnout will get your attention. With clothes that fit to the T and muscles that show their contours although firmly behind those impressive uniforms

If you miss all of that, you sure must be fully blind to miss the half dozen accompaniments that hang from his sides. I mean, from the big leather belt. A gun, which perhaps could be a taser but could kill by the looks. A baton . Half a dozen pouches, with God knows what in them. A wireless microphone or a walkie talkie. A torch that perhaps can double up as a hammer. On top of all this, sometimes, a tie !

With all that on display, it is but natural that cars slow down, almost as an auto response when a cop car shows up in the rear view mirror. Wouldn’t it be an insult if the slowing down to all the ‘costume’ if the slowing down didn’t happen ?

I spoke to an officer once. No, no. No hanky panky. Just asking for directions. The response was to the point, respectful yet with a firmness that flowed !

You cant help but contrast the policemen that patrol Indian roads. Out of shape and out of favour of public opinion. Definitely not an inspiring presence!

On bikes and cycles. A faded khaki and heavy boots that adorn feet more worn out by providing ‘bandobust’ duty as some sundry cavalcade is supposed to whiz by ! Equipped with the most potent weapon in the world : a lathi !

Sure, the cops in the US were impressive. By how they talked, looked what they travelled in, and what they carried along. Am sure they are brave men, who inspire confidence in a society and are faced with innumerable challenges.

Yet, it is men like Tukaram Omble that stand tall. In the mind, that is. An unmentionable salary, unthinkable equipment, yet blessed with an undeniably indomitable attitude. An attitude that causes holding on to an assault rifle’s barrel that was pointed at him, even as a terrorist was spraying bullets! And just not letting go, thereby giving India the lone captured terrorist in the Mumbai attack of 2008

Such men’s stature has nothing to do with their real height. Making them taller than the tallest of them all. Often forgotten. Many other times, ignored. Yet, rolling up the sleeve and tapping the lathi on the floor to enforce order.

And sometimes, holding on to a barrel of a gun and falling, just so that a country can stand.

Loss Vegas anyone ?

It was many days after I had safely reached Indian shores. With a distinct south Indian twang sparkling he asked, “You went to USA aah ?“ The ‘aah’ intonation at the end singularly transforming a simple statement to a deep question.

Before any word was uttered, came the next question like a spirited response from a casino slot machine, “So did you go to Loss Vegaas ?”

A chuckle could barely stay within the throat. Just about barely. The chuckle had nothing to do with the pronunciation of LOSS VEGAAS, for in many ways he was right. It was indeed ‘Loss’ Vegas, Of course, the loss is just monetary! But then, relating to the USA through one city, and THIS city, was indeed a unique world view which firmly registered in the mind.

“So did you have dinner with Obama ?”

“ East Coast or the West Coast ?”

“White House ?”

“Dude, did you do Hollywood ?”

Those were the most asked questions. Yes, most asked. Some asked with a tinge of sarcasm, yet others soaked in curiosity and the rest as ‘time-pass’ conversation leads. Several of them usually were a conversation starter but this “LOSS VEGAAS “ thing was quite unmatched in getting a smile on the lips many hours after the question was asked and done.

Taxi that could fit a dozen auto rickshaws. Perhaps more!

Vegas is the biggest of mirages in a desert. Its amazing how a city of glitz, pomp, show, tons of bulbs and electricity ( which can be easily expected to light up an entire civilization), gets an aura that many hundred years of history, war, science and such else are (sometimes) dwarfed.

Swarms of people mill around the soul of Las Vegas : the Strip. It a about a 7Km long stretch, which houses a host of casinos and accompanying avenues for a spectrum of vice that can stretch from the harmless to the horrid ! ‘Fun’ is euphemistic representation!

From air, the city sports an incongruous array of buildings that juts out into the day sky with an absent elegance that seems typical of an absent minded planner who thought up of shapes and structures half in delusion and the rest between bouts of amnesia.

The strip

Come night, the picture is different. The bulbs get their glow presumably from wires that carry electricity. The amount of electricity that Las Vegas uses up in one night is what the city of Dhaka requires for a three three years, two months, three weeks and four days. Ofcourse, that’s not corroborated. But it wont be too much of a surprise if Las Vegas beats that number hands down.

A city of show, pomp, pageantry and an atmosphere that could fit the description of a “continuous carnival” donning an air festivity !

If you have a coconut tree in your backyard that’s world famous, the chances that Las Vegas will have an imitation of it are very high. There are re-creations galore. From the pyramids to the Statue of Liberty to Eiffel Tower to the waterways of Venice, all of them glow with pumped up lights.

Indoor Venice

laser on the roof

yet another casino / hotel

Each of them light up the night sky and shine through, sucking up their share of electricity. Which I suspect must grow in trees or something.

Of course, every single one of them housing Casinos !

Now there are far better traveled people. But there is a doubt that lurks, if any from the most well traveled will be able to spell a city in which the world comes together with such focus and seriousness. Americans, Indians, Japanese, Oriental folks, Australian, Pakistani etc etc, all with singular intention of LOSING money!

The casions are indistinguishable from each other with carpets that seem jaded and an air that has a distinct swirl of alcohol and other vice. Sorry,’fun’. The casinos are large, stretching from one street to another and its easy to physically get lost in just trying to get to the bathroom!

Every casino has slot machines which would seem to extend till as far as your eyes can wince and see. Like someone standing at a beach and wincing to see beyond the horizon !

Of course absolutely normal people with such keen intent, sit in front of those slot machines, intently gazing at the screen and trying their luck at fortune. Be it 2.00 AM or 8.34 AM or 2.46 PM or 5.57 PM or 10.32 PM! 24 hours is small change for an outside possibility of fortune. Electronic ringers and the occasional sounds of ringing coins populate the thick dark air.

And an endless choice of casinos that you could enter, and go through practically the same experience. Water fountains, street performers, elevators at street corners that add to the glitter that crowds & electricity bring to the strip!

After having a good soaking in of the night life at the McCarran Airport welcomes the dulled eye with a bright look. After the customary security checks ( on which a separate blogpost is due ), the comfortable chairs just before boarding could seem empty. Which is when the eyes will notice the slot machines.

Gambling ! In the Airport. After security check. Of course, reams of passengers dutifully pulling the handle at the slot machine. A fortune before the flight takes off, perhaps is an allure with only heavy hand luggage as a deterrent!

laser ads on buildings

After hearing out all of this, he asks, “You make some money in the gambling or no?” The ‘or no’ uttered with dead seriousness. Every word oozing sarcasm. It was the quintessential Mark Anthony moment which was seized upon to deliver a short spiel on gambling, the waste of money, human greed and such else.

A loud facepalm ( which perhaps could have been heard in Las Vegas ) was followed by his quiet exit. Left unsaid was perhaps a a cryptic comment like “you go to Las Vegas for bubbling around. Not for a Bhajan session”.

Which is true. Of course !

Names & Numerals

Truth be told, my math (amongst many other things that can go without mention) isn’t top notch. Well, let me put it mildly that way, and leave it there. But whatever little understanding that I have had around math was ably aided by scanning number plates and their three / four digit numbers on licnece plates.

As a kid, vehicle license plates and their three/ four numbers that Indian number plates had, held sway over my attention. Permutations, combinations, additions, multiplications on were best matched by a keen interest in automobiles!

That fancy for number plates, I discovered has remained ever so dormant. That discovery happened because the dormancy was disturbed, in the US !

While most plates were of the regular alpha numeric variety, there were some else that that arched the eyebrow, evinced a laugh or even evoked sympathy in human condition. When none of that happened, it plain popped the eye out !

Thus scanning of number plates of vehicles that were passing wasn’t just another passing interest but quickly ascending ( the missus calls it ‘ descending’) into a profound obsession that I could have easily passed for a car jacker or an insurance surveyor or a cop!

Some elementary macro dissection of the number plate. The full name of the state is present in a particular font. You are allowed to have symbols, alphabets and letters. The plate could get a different hue depending on a ‘theme’ ( for want of a better word ). ” A memorial ‘theme’ ” could get you a different background on your plate than what a “Olympic training center’theme’ ” could get. Or even ones that are ‘themed’ after a college / university that you went to.

A portion of the fee thats collected goes to that college / Olympic training center etc ( the list is long and myriad ). In case it interests you more than this, the list is here. And in the larger scheme of things, $ 75 per anum, well, seems ok !

Every spotting of a car with a fancy plate got the heart to beat a trifle faster. Sometimes evoking a strain on the neck to see the full plate or look at the driver to reconfirm deepest suspicions or just about see if the driver was for real !

On another note, these license plates while giving me new vocabulary, haven’t quite helped my math much. The closest that I came to math computation was spotting and counting ‘5Punjab’ ‘6Punjab’ ‘7Punjab’ ! That was elementary, even by my own towering mathematical standards ! Nevertheless, Name plates that beamed from BMWs and tangoed from the Toyotas stood out on Californian roads. !

Which brings me to another subject. The Hindustan Times speaks of number plates in Delhi that is going for as high as Rs.5 lakhs ( $ 11,200 )! All for a string of numbers. Imagine what creativity can be unleashed , if the US style is adopted. And of course, imagine the money spinner that it can become!

Sporting stylish license will become a super cool thing. Ad gurus will start specializing in it. Artists will thrive. Mainstream media will have a program going for it. And like all other sundry programs including the weather report, millions will stream to watch it.

Occasionally, or rather, frequently, some Sam in a whimsical mood to impress his wife or make up with her, could have his name plate bearing “SamYAni”. That could get the moral police up in arms for “public display of affection” or some such convoluted interpretation of a some archaic rule that caught a Britishers fancy many eons ago.

Of course, there would be protests and prime time national coverage with four blokes having a shouting match and the winner being the one with highest decibel levels!

I mean, just imagine, how many salaries can this number plate rule pay. It can bring about a change in the economy, I say !

Ah, but I digress. As usual. The number plate I so strained to capture on camera but with very little success was of this lady on a Harley Davidson, as she whooshed pass us. Her plate just said : ‘O Not Hiz’