Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Back to Bangalore

We left from Darjeeling after breakfast at 9am, and thoroughly enjoyed the 3 hour drive back to Siliguri, along the curving roads, and the breathtaking views. Had a very light lunch at Siliguri, and took a cab to Baghdogra airport, which we reached at 1 pm itself. Baghdogra airport has only 10-12 flights landing/flying from there everyday, so the ground staff has a lot of time on their hands. So they ensure that your hand baggage doesn't have liquids, or umbrellas, or fake knives, and start security check 2 hours before the flight arrival, and even visit the restaurant insie the terminal to ensure that none of the passengers are hanging around there, instead of doing security check. :)

We spent an hour at the airport, cheking out more tea and souvenir shops, and eating some more so that we could hang out in the AC restaurant (the airport itself was not air-conditioned). My flight from Baghdogra to Kolkatta was on time, and uneventful, lasting only 45 minutes, but my onwards flight from Kolkatta to Bangalore was delayed by 2 hours, so I had 4 hours to kill in Kolkata. Everyone I called warned me about the notorious Kolkatta traffic jams, and asked me not ro risk going into the city itself, so I ended up taking a rickshaw to the nearest market, where I roamed around for 30 minutes, before starting to stop passers-by asking them to recommend a restaurant. The first 2 recommendations were really bad, the kind of place where 2 people could have a meal for 30 Rs, till eventually a lady recommended I take a rick to "Gora road, Debonair restaurant", which ended up being airconditioned, and having a band playing live old hindi music.

After a light dinner of just soup, I wandered the markets, and what struck me was that the language barrier was even worse in Kolkata than in Bangalore. In Bangalore, either people speak Kannada, and you know that they are speaking Kannada, or they speak good Hindi/English, which is easy to understand. On the other hand, while talking to people in Kolkata, I couldn't even understand that they were speaking in Hindi, their accent was really bad. I had difficulty even understanding what was the figure quoted by the rickshaw guy to take me back to the airport, and I had to ask him to repeat it 3 times before realizing that he was talking in Hindi after all. The same thing was true for the waiter in the restaurant, the shopkeeper where I tried to buy some jewellery, and the people on the street.

Eventually, I had spent enough time roaming around, and it was time to go back to the airport, and back to Bangalore at 1:30 am, my present home. The holiday was over, but I hope the memories remain.

Darjeeling

We left from Kurseong to Darjeeling by the 6:00 am toy train, which had a steam engine dragging only 2 coaches, out of which we occupied the whole of the first class coach.

The train covered the 30 km distance in 4 hours, with a speed of 8 kmph - slow enough for a person to jog alongwith the train, and we saw a lot of locals just hop on and off the train while it was still moving. We crossed three small stations on the way, and since the first class coach had been fully reserved for us, the train conductor used to ensure that we were ready to leave before starting the train again :) - at one of the stations, the "whole train" waited while our piping hot samosas and tea was delivered to our coach !! Awesome !

Darjeeling itself looked like any other town, and after the awesome hotel at Kurseong, our hotel at Darjeeling was a disappointment (in spite of being so much more expensive). We freshened up, and left immediately for an early lunch, and then hired a cab to drive us to a tea estate, which was gorgeous. At the tea estate, we were given a tour of the tea factory, by a very friendly guy called Edward. We learnt how tea leaves were softened in cold air for 8 hours, followed by drying in hot air for 4 hours, followed by cleaning, and rolling to release its enzymes, and hot air to dry it further, and give it its color, and finally some sorting is done manually, to remove twigs. Edward had a very cute Nepali accent, which made it very hard to understand what he was saying, and we had to ask him to repeat what he was saying 2-3 times each time :)

After that we roamed around in the tea estate, and fooled around, posing for pics with the typical tea basket on our heads, but then it started to rain, and Edward started getting worried cause his tea basket was not waterproof. We then went to a chai tapari, where we sat down for multiple cups of tea. This tapari was right on the edge of a hill, so we had the most beautiful view of the valley, with the rains, and as we sat and watched, the clouds moved to block our view, and then moved again to unblock it. As I caught glimpses of the greenery, through the soft drizzle, and the hazy white clouds, sitting on a wooden bench, sipping hot tea, I felt at peace, even as I missed everyone who was not there with me.

In the evening, we went shopping, and I bought a lot of tea, but didn't like any of the souvenirs being sold, except for a small pretty pink Japanese fan, which I got for Jisha. We had a "light" dinner of daal, chawal, dahi and curd, and returned back to our hotel to catch some sleep at 11pm, feeling very tired, and a little sad about the end of the last day of this wonderful holiday.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Kurseong

Our train from Katihar reached NJP at 1pm, and we took a cab from there to take the 9 of us to Kurseong, a hill station 30 kms away from Darjeeling. The journey was beautiful, winding roads, with gorgeous views of the plains that we were leaving behind. The sun and shadows made beautiful contrasts on the scenery, highlighting meadows, and tea gardens, making a picture whose beauty just couldn't be captured on camera.

At Kurseong, we stayed at the Cochrane place, which fits my idea of the perfect hotel. It seems to have been built in British times, and is very cozy and pretty, with a teddy bear on the bed, and a fireplace in every room, and a balcony that overlooked the most beautiful view of Kurseong possible. Cocharne place also has a beautiful drawing room, with antique furniture in the middle of a green garden, and an amazing tea bar, with windows shaped like tea pots, serving some 100 varieties of black and milk tea. And they serve a candlelight dinner, with live piano music in the background. Absolutely prefect !

In the evening at Kurseong, we went for a short walk in the mountains - through green shrubs and trees, and pretty views of the valleys. The only sad part was that when we reached back, we realized that all of us had leeches on us, sucking our blood. And after I removed the leeches I found on me, I realized that the blood wouldn't stop flowing thanks to the anticoagulants that the leech would have injected in my blood. Very creepy. And I ended up having my 5th bath in 2 days to make sure that I didn't have any more leeches on me.

After the most amazing day at Kurseong, we slept very late at around 12 am, only to wake up at 4:45 am the next day, for our onward trip to Darjeeling. More coming up very soon :)

Akshat's Wedding

5 of us from IRL flew from Delhi to Baghdogra, which is the military airport of Siliguri. Saw 2 MIGs landing, just after our plane landed, and we also walked by a Pavan Hans helicopter while walking from the plane to the airport.

Akshat had sent a driver to pick us up for the 3.5 hours drive to Purnea, most of which was on NH 31, parts of which are still under construction. So we alternated between nice 4-lane road and dirt road every couple of kilometers. Our driver assured us that in 2010 the whole highway construction will be done, and the whole road will be converted into 6 lanes. But what struck me was that when we were driving on the smoother parts of the roads, we could see that 2 lanes had been taken over by the farmers, to spread corn on the road to let it dry. We are building roads which are serving as drying areas for agricultural products. India rocks !

We reached Purnea at around 6:30 pm, and got a quick tour of Akshat's house - very big, very pretty, complete with a grand circular staircase to the upper floors, a backyard with a vegetable garden and a lush green lawn and a pond with lotus flowers in the front yard. After the tour, we went quickly to the hotel room, got dressed for the Baraat, and reached back to Akshat's place just in time.

We had big plans for dancing in the baraat, but it was soo humid, that within around 20 minutes, we were all wet with sweat, and panting, but even those 20 minutes were a lot of fun !! It has been a really long time since I have been part of a baraat, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Of course, later I felt dehydrated, and had to keep drinking all the varieties of drinks that were being offered, from shikanji, to lassi, to pepsi to grape juice to badam milk, and many others.

The wedding itself was beautiful - the tikka rituals started at 1am, and the actual wedding started only at 3. Akshat had kept us in charge of his 'joote', and of course, Balaji came up with the superb idea to sell the 'joote' to Vimmi's sister, for 50% of the money - the bargaining lasted almost an hour, and was superb fun !
The 'phere' were very cute, with Vimmi walking in the front, and Akshat behind, with his arms around her waist - looked very sweet.

We left the wedding hall at 5 am, when some ritual was still going on, with the priest making designs on Akshat and Vimmi's feet with alta. Went to the hotel room, slept for all of 15 minutes, and left for Katihar station, to catch our train to NJP - New Jalpaiguri.

More about that later.

Delhi Home

I left Bangalore on Wednesday night for Delhi, and went back to my old Delhi home. Met Kudrat, and her new flatmate Seema, who is now living in my room. Seema still has my 2 mattresses, with the bedsheet my grandmom had gifted me still spread on it, and my old pillows are also lying there. The curtains from my grandmom's house are still there, so is the poster I bought, and so are the buckets in the bathroom, and the utensils I didn't take along in the kitchen. Even the pretty candles that I had bought for Diwali were still lying on the fridge where I had left them.

Felt a big deja vu, like I hadn't left Delhi at all, still stayed there, still went to Sardarji ka dhaba for dinner with Akshat, and to Big Chill for comfort food, whenever I felt depressed. Kudrat and I sat on the terrace, with tea in my hand, talking about life, about office, and it felt just the same. We laughed, we cribbed about everything, and discussed her cooking skills, and everything else under the sun.

Slept very late at 3:30 am, got up at 8, hurriedly got dressed, and left for the airport, to go to Purnea, Bihar for Akshat's wedding.

But thats another blog post.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I Blush

I-blush is the new "product" by Ponds, that "helps you get the pink glow of blushing, and smoothened soft cheeks naturally".
Their site asks women to talk about when they blush, and of course, they can mail their "blush moment" to their boyfriend as well.

There are entries like
"When in the middle of a conversation, he suddenyl says i love u"
, and
"when i was hanging with ma frendz, he sudenly came and sat near 2 me, n i realisesed that he is near 2 me after haf an hour"
, and
"when he huged me and kised me like anything"
Of course, there is this review of the site., that commends i-blush for being so "simple", unlike Sunsilk gang-of-Girls*, which has high expectations from us stupid women :

Sunsilk gang of girls had also started beautifully using excellent ads, but where they really lost out was asking girls to shoot videos and put them up online.
How many girls are comfortable with Video cameras or possess handy cams?
How many of them know how to transfer the video from the camera/phone on to the computer?
How many of them understand different formats? 3gp, Mpeg, avi etc?
How many of them will take actually the pains to shoot, transfer, edit and upload a video.
What were they trying to achieve???
Ponds on the other hand have kept it very simple


Yup, we poor women, who don't know anything.

*To clarify, I think Sunsilk's site is as bad, with women talking in the parlor, and stuff, but at least they don't want women to want to look pretty while blushing for their boyfriends.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Weekend

Made some pav bhaji.
Watched some pool-playing.
Tried some bowling, but I still suck at it.
Went to ISKCON, which was disappointing, thanks to its extremely commercial nature.
Had some great chinese at Three Quarter Chinese (I have a "standard order dish" there, thats the only "expensive" restaurant in Bangalore at which I have a standard order!)
Missed hearing the great band at Java City, since the whole place was packed.
Had some to-die-for Bavarian Chocolate Icecream at Baskin and Robbins.
Saw "Before Sunset" - brilliant, brilliant movie.

Some good tea, some good coffee.
Good weekend, as usual. :)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean

2 of the 9 pirate lords are women, and one of them is elected Pirate King, and there is not a single joke about her being called "Pirate Queen" instead. (Woman Pirate King == subtle support for Hillary for President 2008?)

Also, the word fuck is not used even once in the movie. (statistic claimed by Tejaswi)

And, when the Goddess is released, she grows 40 feet high, and her clothes actually grow with her as well, and don't tear off to reveal the glorious naked Goddess body, but instead, the focus remains on her anger, and whatever it was that she was saying, which I couldn't understand thanks to her unobvious accent, and the lack of Dolby Digital Sound in the theatre. The point remains though that she was talking, and we were listening, and there were no torn clothes.

When the pirates go to meet the Singapore Pirate Lord, the "male pirates" are asked to remove all their weapons, but can keep wearing their multiple-layered "fashionably torn" clothes, but Elizabeth (the female pirate) is considered dangerous enough, that she is made to strip to prove she is not hiding any weapons anywhere.

The first movie I have seen with a strong feminine negative role-model, one who can be emulated in fantasy land. Nows where's my Will Turner???

Only In India

Airport Road is one of the bigger roads in Bangalore, connecting the airport, and the many residential areas near the airport to the rest of the city. Its a very well made road, no potholes, good footpath to walk on, and lots and lots of traffic all the time, very urban.

For the past one month, I have been trying to walk from home to office along this road, around twice a week, and have seen many interesting sights on this road :
1. Man peeing on the footpath while traffic goes by. What do I do? Keep walking and risk seeing things I don't want to see, or worse? Walk on the road to avoid the man and his thingie, and risk a rash motorist? Wait on the side while he finishes, and goes away - but then what if he walks towards me.... ??

2. Man waiting in car while his small kid pees on the road. Much much easier to feel less embarrased about.

3. Man with 3 cows standing on the footpath (seen 2 weeks ago)
Man with 3 cows, tied to a post, cows eating hay, and man sitting with friend on footpath,singing songs (seen last week)
Man with 3 cows, man and his friend milking cows, collecting milk in a bucket, me wondering where does the milk go (seen this week)
Man with 3 cows, friend and man milking cows, a line of 10 women(yes, 10 women, I counted), waiting with bottles/mugs in their hands for milk, answering my unanswered questions. (seen yesteday)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Congratulations

http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/city/2007/05/23/580936a4-8341-4e1d-aae7-9d91969207b1.lpf

Jenny Bailey becomes Mayor of Cambridge - the first transgender person to take the office. Jenny was born a boy, but went through a sex change operation to become a woman when she was in her 30s. And her partner, former councillor Jennifer Liddle - who will spend the year by Jenny's side as Mayoress - has also gone through the same process.

Jenny says : When I first joined the Liberal Democrats there was a vetting process and they asked "is there anything in your past that is going to be difficult?" I said I was transgender and they said "no, is there anything that is going to be difficult"?

Is the world becoming more accepting of "individuals" after all?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Saturday Night Fever

An awesome home-cooked bisibelebath lunch, followed by a game of pool, and then a round of darts (without the beer), and some awesome live music at Java City, followed by some really fun bowling, and then some EmGees dinner.

All this in the company of some great friends. What a Saturday !

There is no such thing as Race or Culture

Race

In order to define a ‘race’, it would be necessary to choose a list of genes and then make some decisions. Shall we suggest 10 such markers or, perhaps, 20? Shall we put a person in the box marked ‘the fast feet-waggling race’ if they have 6 out of ten markers (60%), or will we demand all 10? Which of the markers shall we choose? Exactly how ‘black’ must the skin be? Just how fast must they be able to waggle their feet? What if they have the fast foot-waggling gene, but through a life of chip and chocolate eating they weigh 150 kilos? Clearly, these earth-shattering decisions will require well-funded government committees of race technicians just to make sure there are no slip-ups.

Culture

You will see from the above, that similar techniques will be needed in order to define a ‘culture’. A list again will be required such as “does this person speak ‘English’?” Be aware that every person who speaks ‘English’ has a differing concept of the meaning of every word in ‘that’ language. Further, some users of English know a thousand or two thousand words, where others may know ten or twenty thousand words. Is each of these people to be regarded as ‘speaking English’? Will 5 words do? Or 367? Decisions decisions decisions!

Can they play cricket? Do they know the rules? Are they any good at cricket? Must they like cricket? How will you tell? What if they have one leg? Is it a square leg?

Do they like warm beer? Can they hold down 10 pints without throwing up? We must know.

How many items ticked off on the list are enough to qualify as a full-blooded English citizen? How many items are required on the list? Who is going to make the list? What about marginal cases where the aspiring member of the English club can only down 9 pints? Is there an allowance for weight or sex? What about requiring some ‘English’ genes?

From http://www.abelard.org/statistics.htm

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Man Who Knew Infinity

The Man who knew Infinity was Ramanujan of course, and the book is about his life, and how brilliant he was.

One of the chapters discusses Hardy, the famous British Mathematician who got Ramanujan to England. And while trying to analyze his character, it speculates on whether he was a homosexual, in a very matter-of-fact way. But it also discusses what a big deal homosexuality was then, and how Hardy (if he was in fact one) would have spent his life being extremely careful to avoid his preferences being known.

Another chapter discusses how Ramanujan, being Brahmin, couldn't cross the seven seas, else he would have been ostracized from society on his return back to India, and how in spite of his love for mathematics, and his excitement about a great mathematician like Hardy wanting him in England, he was too scared to violate the principles of his religion.

Being homosexual in Britain is no big deal anymore. Neither is a Brahmin guy crossing the sea a big deal in India (in fact, going abroad is a cool thing now, irrespective of caste).

But it was SUCH A BIG DEAL to people just a 100 years ago, even the really smart people.

Makes me wonder what are the things society would just not accept now, which would be matter of fact in another 100 years.