• Eyes on Fire - Blue Foundation
  • Rooster - Alice in Chains
  • Jigsaw Falling into Place - Radiohead
  • Quien Fuera - Silvio Rodriguez
  • La Tortura - Shakira

Monday, June 13, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Check out pictures of the Upanayanam here.

I finally got to go home last Thursday. It was a heady feeling; not so much because of the pent-up emotions but because of a very bumpy flight courtesy Air Deccan. Air Deccan is India's first low-cost carrier and its pretty cool. They actually have a neat in-flight magazine that proudly talks about what they don't provide including (and not limited to) pretty lasses (I sure hope the stewardess do not read that) and food. Bangalore's thunder showers made the ascent a bit more bumpy than it should have been but as I was stiffening up in my seat, the stewardess was calmly serving the passengers. I concluded that this was normal and proceeded to relax.

As we approached Hyderabad, the view from the top revealed the chaotic splendour of Hyderabad's street lines and houses. The addition of numerous flyovers only made it more spectacular. As I came out of the arrivals lounge, my searching eyes first picked up dad's silver crop of hair. It felt very good to see him after such a long time. He didn't change much and in spite of mom's repeated complaints about his laziness, he seemed to be in fairly good shape. The drive back home felt very familiar. It was a road oft traveled - the only change being the density of traffic. However, I found Hyderabad's roads a lot better. I was sad to see some of the calmest, widest and regal roads in the area serving increasingly high volume traffic.

I was back in Hyderabad for my Upanayanam. For the uninitiated, Upanayanam (or Thread Ceremony) heralds a young brahmins entry into his lifelong duty to study the vedas and serve the Lord. It was a bit late as far as I was concerned but not too late. The activities began at 3am on Friday. It starts with the women-folk applying oil to the head and turmeric to the limbs. I felt like the female model in the vicco vajradanti ad that used to air more than a decade ago. My uncle helped me put on a silk dhoti and after securing the folds with a safety-pin, I was ready to start.

The ritual was quite elaborate and involved two changes of clothes. The most difficult part of the ritual was having to sit down cross-legged for long stretches spanning a total of 5.5 hours. I attempted to alleviate the pain by changing my posture several times. In retrospect, thanks to the video recording, it looked quite hilarious. I heard it's a lot longer during a wedding ceremony. God help me and my hamstrings.

Jokes apart, there was an inherent beauty in the arrangements and the chants. While I didn't understand most of what was said, the Brahmam garu (the master of ceremony) took time to explain the purpose and meaning of the whole ceremony.

Towards the end, I went around begging for rice and whatever else my relatives had to offer. In the old days, the brahmin would go around town begging for food as that signifies his entry into an austere life. Ironically, my beggings amounted to a total of Rs. 6000. Not a bad haul. Later that night, I just hung around with relatives recalling days past drowning myself in a solid dose of nostalgia. Can't get enough of that.

On saturday morning, I went running at the Kasu Brahmananda Reddy park. This is an increasingly popular park with lots of trails. Going by how it has shaped up so far, it holds a lot of promise. The longest trail in the park was 4 km loop that I ran thrice completing my longest run yet. It was something else running in the Hyderabad heat. Back in Atlanta, I was able to run 6 miles quite comfortably even in the noon heat. In hyd, the sun at 7:10am was enough to trouble me. I slowed down substantially towards the last 3 km and I could feel the physical drain. I enjoyed the challange and felt glad to complete the run.

The only downside to the run was the near absense of other runners. It felt weirdly satisfying to pass walkers twice or thrice during my run. I really did stick out from the rest of the people there because of my running gear. I anticipated some wise-cracks from the local chokras but none really came forth; atleast I din't hear them. In the company of friends I would've given me some serious taunting had I been there.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The favorable effects of jetlag

I hope I'm not speaking too early but I could not resist. Three continuous days of solid sleep at night and non-drowsy afternoons were too much not to gush about. Restless nights, reluctant awakenings and drowsy post-lunch sessions have been dogging me for far too long.

Somehow, my body-clock seems to love IST. I've been going to bed at 11pm and getting up around 6:30am since Monday. I even exercised yesterday and went running today morning. I feel alert and fresh all day in the office. Gosh, I wonder what it is that I'm doing right. I'd love to replicate that back in Atlanta. One thing is I move about a lot during the day, meet friends and hang around differnt places during the night. I return to the guest house around 11pm, take a shower and immediately hit the bed. No TV, no internet. Maybe I should try that.

BTW, I retract some of the statements made in haste the first day around. I ran about 3 miles near the guest house on reasonably busy streets. I was hoping they wouldn't be as busy at 6:15 in the morning but in any case, the interior roads are OK. There aren't many vehicles going around on these roads, just a lot of people. Shyamoly, it might take you a bit longer to internalize the indian road scene but it looks very encouraging. I had a very good time today.

pix and music

Check out some of the pictures I took in the last few days ..

Three excellent albums have attained 'great album' status on my list. 80% or more of the tracks on these albums are really good.

You Gotta Go There To Come Back - Stereophonics
The Bends - Radiohead
From a Basement on the Hill - Elliot Smith

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Road Etiquette

1) Honk if ..
a) .. you need to turn
b) .. you need to pass
c) .. you are pissed off
d) .. someone cuts in
e) .. you are bored
f) .. the silence bothers you

2) If honking doesn't seem to work with pedestrians (in the case of cows, follow b & c), nudge them (gently if you are in a benevolent mood) with different parts of your vehicle in the following order:
a) the rear-view mirrors: These are pliable on impact so they don't make much of a physical dent. You can always turn them back after your target is no longer obstructing you.
b) the handle: for the more soporific, moony and/or obstinate crowd. Be prepared to shift down and speed away before they have a chance to react.
c) the front wheel: same guidelines as c. The added bonus is you can cause some serious dirt damage to your targets pants.

note: For the record, I've seen a & b in action. I'm hoping to see c too.

3) If you need to cross the road
a) Always make sure the road is reasonably busy and there is no chance for vehicles to speed. It is riskier to cross an empty street with this technique.
b) Always look away from the vehicles approaching you. Never make eye contact with a motorist (or his middle finger .. unless you are in the mood for some good old wrangling) while doing this.
c) Walk confidently, slowly and continuously (or part 2 of previous section might kick in). Do not send out ambiguous signals by stuttering. The motorists usually stop.

note: derived from personal experience developed over several years in Hyderabad. I take no responsibility for non-standard behavior from motorists. They are law-breakers and need to be in jail.

arz hain ..

The ride to work is enlivened by the local radio station broadcasts. There's a two minute funny sher that pops up every 3-4 hours. it's plain hilarious. I seek forgiveness from easily offendible shayri afficionados as I try to piece together what I heard in urdu.

arz hain ..
har kamyaab aadmi ki kamyaabi ke peeche ek aurat hain ..
har kamyaab aadmi ki kamyaabi ke peeche ek aurat hain ghalib ..

isliye kyonki aurten kamyaab aadmi ke heen peeche padte hain ..

wah wah wah wah ..

The on air commercials are quite funny too but there's no way I can convey that in writing. I'll keep an eye out for some that can.

Monday, June 06, 2005

6th June - Day 1 at MA India

I woke up to a call from Mom at 7:15 in the morning. After a nice bread/omelette breakfast and freshly squeezed orange juice ( i must not get used to this), I headed out to the office in the company van. Being driven in the crawling bangalore traffic gave me a chance to observe people. It was an interesting experience - particularly because of my new found interest in photography. People were busy driving, napping, cursing, smoking, adjusting make-up, combing hair, what not. And I found the FM station here quite good. Some of the ads were plain hilarious. I was actually waiting for the on-air commercials instead of the songs. Even the RJ was pretty cool and relaxed. It had a very original feel to it.

Today also happens to be MA India's first day in the new office. Everyone is just about finding their feet and the higher-ups are quite busy. It took me a while to find a power adaptor for my laptop but I'm finally in business. It's like joining a new company again. I got to meet a few classmates and juniors from IIT who are over here. The office looks pretty good - a lot better than the american one.

And a runaway winner, the canteen food is fantastico. Just check out the lunch menu - on the house. Pudeena Pulao, Curd Rice, Sambar, Rasam, Aloo Curry, Fruit Salad, Veggie Salad, Buttermilk, Pongal, Avial and Roti. Unfortunately, there is no gym nearby but I had better find one soon or I'm gonna come back a tonne heavier. Ironically, my friends here said the food was so-so. They have got to come to Atlanta and learn to survive on the subways and quiznos.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Day 1 - Part 2

After being served hot paranthas by mani - my ultra soft-spoken bengali housekeeper - I called up Clint who was to chauffer me for the rest of day. I woke him up at around 7:45 and he promised to get ready in a half-hour and start. He finally ended up arriving after 3 hours. During this time, I was getting terribly restless. I was in India after five years and I wasn't with friends or family. It felt strangely painful. Anyways, Clint arrived and I was pleasantly surprised to see that he hadn't put on any weight and in fact lost some.

We decided to go to MG Road to do some shopping and some other important stuff a new sim-card for my phone and exchanging dollars for rupees. Thus began my first pillion ride in 5 years. Clint did nothing to ease me into the experience as he started off in the opposite direction on a ridiculously busy one way street. Clint, a Yale educated IITian who worked at Oracle, Moutain View for 3 years had adapted fairly well back to Indian roads. I did have fun riding the two-wheeler though. And as many people would say, the pollution never really got to me as much. I could smell the smoke but it did not trigger any breathing difficulties as I would have expected. To me, the traffic is still the only thing that doesn't cease to shock me.

I was able to get my new cell phone set up. It cost me about 1200 Rs and I was ready to go. We got together with Shariq and Shakti for lunch. Shariq hasn't changed a bit - except that his beard got a bit more thicker - and he looked exactly like a hippie. He would have neatly blended with a group of tree huggers. The only diff being - you'd see a $600 piece of equipment pop into his hands when he answers calls to his cell. That looked cool.

Money was disappearing fast - whether I ate, drank, or anything else. I had never previously spent my own money in India. Back at IIT, any meal costing more than Rs30 was exorbitant. Here even really modest restaurants end up costing about 70Rs per head. Luckily, I was able to feel better converting the amount spent back to dollars. Much as I hated to do it, I ended up asking for bottled water wherever I went. I wanted to ease into this and so far I havn't had any tummy trouble. I hope it stays that way. There's too much good food to miss if I fall sick.

Finally, a word about the shopping malls. This place really rocks. The stuff we get back in the States really pales in comparison. There's tremendous variety and better quality available for a fraction of the dollar price we pay there. I really had to hold myself back from picking up bunch of t-shirts and jeans. For now, I just picked up on pair of Pepe jeans that Mom insisted I buy for wearing after the Upanayanam.

My jetlag did not affect me during the day at all. I was able to retire at around 11pm at night after dinner and meeting Mr and Mrs Chatterjee (Deba and wife). I can't seem to get enough of these first encounters with close friends after so many years. A big smile, a roar and a nice tight embrace.

Day 1 begins

So, I get out at 6:15am in the morning hoping to find a PCO nearby so I could call Mom. As I ventured about 1/2 a mile in both directions, the thing that hit me first was a conscious effort on my part *not* to smile at other pedestrians. Then I saw something that I was hoping to see - I heard someone jogging slowly behind me. As he passed me by, a motorist approached from behind moving at about 15km/h and honked - I guess that's an 'on your left' biker equivalent in India. The motorist swerved right because the runner did not react in the few micro-seconds he had, the runner followed suit - also swerving to the right a second or so later - and the motorist came within millimeters of hitting the jogger. The funny thing was, the runner was blissfully unaware of what was ensuing behind - the motorist threw a wasted glare. I had stopped in my tracks watching in horror. All my hopes of running in the morning were shattered immediately. It's going to be a challange finding places to run while I'm here. Also since its raining my adidas runners are going to get royally screwed. I soon realized how unaccustomed I got to hearing honks. It was reasonably calm at around 7am on a sunday so the honks were spaced apart and not as continuous a feature as I soon found out later in the day. I would react each time someone honked. Anyways, I was happy that my hyderabadi road-crossing skills were still pretty good.

After Five Long Years

I'm finally back in India - can't say *home* yet as I'll be going to Hyd only on the 9th - after five long years. I can't stop saying it .. after *five long years* - and I'm loving it. Every minute of it so far. The journey from start to finish couldn't have gone any smoother. No trouble at check-in in Atlanta, transit at Frankfurt or immigration/customs at Bangalore. I was carrying so many electronic items that I was positive I was going to have to put up a fight so I don't have to pay any duty. Surprisingly, the customs officers were pretty cool about the whole business. I landed at 12:30am in Bangalore and I guess they were as eager to call it quits as we
were to get out of the airport.

The bangalore airport in Thom Friedman's words was akin to a Greyhound station and some like in Portland quite comfortably look a *lot* classier. It was raining around the time I landed so the weather was a bit muggy but nothing I couldn't handle as yet. I had MA's driver waiting to pick me up at the airport and I was promptly dropped at the company guesthouse in Koramangala. At the guesthouse I had a small army of the maintenance staff ready to pick up my bags and show me my room. The room was a pretty good one with an a/c unit that was on UPS. Later that night, there was no power - the only reason I knew was because I just couldn't sleep .. i had enough of it on the flights - but the a/c was going strong.

I was pretty restless and I badly wanted to talk to friends in Bangalore but at 2am at night, I decided otherwise. I couldn't call mom because there was no PCO open at that time. Anyways, after going thru a 6th rerun of Radiohead's 'The Bends', I had enough - I was ready to get out and get some bangalore air.