Saturday, July 29, 2006

Yeah right, the rains are back again

I have to confess - I've never really liked the monsoon. Yes, I know, I don't have a clean soul, I can't appreciate the better things of life, yada yada, because almost everybody I know loves the rains. They love the feel of water on their face, the pitter patter of water falling into puddly pools, hot chai, the smell of the earth (that's not so bad)... Somehow I've only noticed mouldy clothes, the grey skies, traffic jams, wading through filthy water, you get the picture.

The only time I've ever enjoyed the rains was when I was in school - in parched Chennai, storm drains would get surprised by the merest whiff of the rains, so any sign of precipitation greater than a drizzle meant an odds-on chance that school would be off. And we watched rainy days with great anticipation - uniforms worn with extreme tardiness, us going to the balcony every few minutes to check if the city was flooded, making calls to friends, hoping that this groundswell of hope would lead to a holiday. And the announcement of the holiday was accompanied by joyous celebrations, more phone calls, feverish plans that would be unmade during the course of the day... much fun.

College days were different. For starters, staying on campus meant there were no off days during the monsoon. And worse followed - water leaked into the rooms through ancient walls that were just as surprised by the rains as the city's storm drains, clothes got mouldy and smelly, classes had to be gone to and sat through in soggy clothes... all in all, not my cup of tea (or rain water). There was more to follow - squirrels liked to make their cosy homes in my room. I came back after a particularly rainy autumn break to find my room smelling of piss and worse, and a litter that had gone through a few shirts and a favorite sweater in making their homes. The next year, they were back - this time, a nest in my drawer.

The Mumbai monsoon is, of course, a different animal. For somebody who waded through 4 hours of waist-deep water on 26/7 like I did, the rains have taken on a different meaning altogether. I still live in the city, one year and 5 days later, telling and re-telling the war stories from that day, and while I joke about it, I can't help but feel a vague fear every time it pours in Mumbai. I hope that one day I'll be able to make my peace with the rains - but we're adversaries just yet.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

God, what a technicality!

The annual Kaavad visit is happening on several stretches of the Delhi-Jaipur road. I’ve seen parts of this on my travels from Delhi to Gurgaon over the last week. The Kaavad pilgrimage pays homage to Lord Shiva by taking water from the river Ganges back to their home towns. If only it was that simple – the catch is that you have to get the water back by foot (or so the faithful believe). It’s quite a test of endurance, especially if your home is closer to Rajasthan and Punjab than to Haridwar.

As my car inched its way along the incessant traffic that’s on the Gurgaon-Jaipur Highway, I saw two kinds of kaavadiyas. The first kind were simple enough – they walked alone or in groups of 2-3. Typically middle-aged and saffron clad, they carried the kaavad (a bamboo contraption for carrying water, specifically used to carry the water of the Ganges over long distances, looks like the kaavadi used in the kaavadiyattam folk dance in Tamil Nadu – the similarity is a subject for another post) in what seemed to be a slow and painful walk. Here’s what the traditional kaavad looks like:

The second kind of kaavadiyas were more interesting. There were a set of tempos, jeeps and bikes all along the road that were filled with saffron clad youngsters, and a banner of their particular kaavad association. These vehicles were moving quite slowly along one lane, with one guy running in front at a slow jog carrying the water. I wondered why, and this is what I learnt - they rotate shifts all through the night, in order to ensure that the water was on the road at any point in time. These guys were never short of energy - this photo was taken post-midnight!

This was a far smarter way to do it, though not exactly the traditional way of doing things – these guys were making good time, and with much lesser effort than their kaavad carrying brethren. And they were getting the water back home on foot! You can trust an Indian to come up with the technicality each time… heh.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Of nutty equipment and random generators

No, really. My fortune on orkut for today reads: You have an unusual equipment for success, use it properly. Hmmm, interesting. I thought I was pretty normal until now. Should I go visit a doc or something? Heck no, he might just correct my "unusual equipment" and there go any chances of success I ever had.

Where do they come up with these quirky ones - from the Fortune-telling Random Generator?! I tried this random fortune cookie generator, and would you believe the result: Man who stand on street corner with hands in pockets, not feeling crazy, feeling nuts. It's just one of those days.

Other posts on fortunes: 1.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An alternative Calvin growing-up theory

I had surmised a few moons ago that possibly Calvin had matured into something else. Apparently, I was being optimistic, and life isn't that good yet. Just found another theory for what's happened to Calvin. Caveat reader, it ain't pretty.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Jo Jeleto!

That's an exclamation from Gujju mom to daughter, passing the new Gelato shop at the old hang-out for the South-but-not-too-far-South Mumbaiite, Phoenix Mills. I'm sure a lot of you know what the damn thing is - I must confess, I had no clue till I had one in Hong Kong a couple of months ago. If you're among the lucky ones who don't know what it is, as always, wikipedia provides the ready answer.

Apparently, it's been in Delhi for quite some time, but I haven't seen it in Mumbai before this (unless you can correct me, educated reader). I tried a couple of flavors - the Caribbean Lime sorbetto (which if you checked the wiki link is pretty much like our own ice gola - water, sugar and flavoring) and an italian dark chocolate gelato, and V tried the strawberry yoghurt (or some such) gelato. Our verdict - Caribbean Lime sorbetto was brilliant (but that could be because we're partial to ice golas), strawberry thingie was nice (V likes strawberries more, so she liked it a lot more) and italian dark chocolate was quite sad - more like frozen cadbury's milk chocolate.

Interesting comparison between this guy's sorbetto and ice gola guy at Shivaji Park, who is no slouch when it comes to providing mean ice treats. I had a kala khatta some time in April, and it was quite awesome. The presentation is nowhere near as sophisticated (obviously!) and the price is on the higher side (25 bucks a pop), but a gola after a walk/run in the park is quite a match for the sorbetto.

On the milky side, the gelato is a lot creamier than the Natural's ice cream just around the corner, so this will be an interesting battle to watch - India's contribution to the food world (as a plaque in the Naturals store in Prabhadevi defines it) vs Italy's contribution to the food world - may the best ice cream win!

Other interesting things happened in the parlor. Perizaad Zoraabian (of the toothy smile) and Rashmi Uday Singh (of the food column) descended on the store and proceeded to photo shoot to kingdom come as V and I sat outside enjoying our gelato/sorbetto. It was quite funny to watch - Perizaad Z feeding store owner (I think) and random phirang (dunno who) some gelato, with a very wide smile. Pretty sight. Here look:

That's PZ behind the counter, photographer atop stool taking photograph and RUS standing watching and choreographing the show.

Anyways, question pops in my head - given the large vegetarian population in Mumbai, will the name 'gelato' be an issue? You've read the wiki on the subject - gelato just means frozen stuff, but the closeness of the name to gelatin will be an interesting problem for the gelato-men to solve, especially if the veggies frown on jeleto-eating. And we know how bad that can be in Mumbai.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What do we do next?

Most people agree that transit systems are soft targets - while we can debate endlessly how we can combat terrorism, we also need to recognise that we definitely need to enhance our own transit system security and understanding of what to do in similar situations. A couple of thoughts post the blasts:

A thought on transit safety. While we could get access to superior technology, the challenge is one of implementation, especially in Mumbai, where getting into a train is a daily adventure. Can one ever get the teeming hordes to form a single file, let alone go through a security screen? The answer lies with easing the pressure off the existing transport system through alternate modes - the Mumbai Metro project, better and wider roads (including the sea link), even using the waterways more efficiently (a la Hong Kong). As long as the current pressures exist, I can't see how we could ever protect our transit systems effectively.
And on handling transit attacks, here's some sane advice. This seems to be very city-specific though - as I watched the news immediately after the incident and now, reading the Mumbai Marauder's first-person account of the blast, I realise we'd need a different list. The only tip I can think of just yet is that given the time that official help takes, everybody else on the train needs to get out of their coaches and start helping immediately! More seriously, we need an idea of transit safety that addresses the uniqueness of the Mumbai rail situation. Any thoughts?

I reign alone

Bwahahaha. After DK2's ego-post, I went to check if it waz true... and it iz. There iz only one invizible man. Az iz but natural, I wonder why I am thiz way - maybe I'm just dyzlexic, and I zee my z'z az s'z, or iz it the other way around? Or am I French by nature and zay eet like eet eez? Or maybe thiz iz my secret code to the Brotherhood of Sion (also known as the Traffic Jam Fraternity of Bombay)?

I don't know the answer and now that the initial euphoria has settled, I feel alone. I need Hobbes. I need a hug. I need another invizible person for company. Hmm, but he/she can't see me. On second thought, that sounds like John Cena. Somehow, I'm not sure I want company any more.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Is the question I've been asking myself for 3 days now. It started with the Shiv Sena creating hell on Sunday for somebody splattering a statue with mud. I still don't understand it - would the next initiative be to kill all the birds in the vicinity, because they have dared to do their business in the air above a statue?! It continued in the wee hours of Monday morning, as Zizou's head butt left me both anguished and curious, as to what could so push a man, a hero even, to that level of anger.

But nothing beats yesterday. I can't imagine a group of people so single-minded in their pursuit of a goal that they could kill 200 innocent people for it. It is one thing to warn people through shows of power, quite another to do the damage. Why? Is anything in this life that important, that somebody could be killed for it?

In some ways, this was a disaster bound to happen sooner than later - there's no more evident target in the whole country than the Mumbai rail system. All I wonder now is there any way to ever prevent it from happening again? There is almost no safeguard against this, given the tremendous strain that the rail infrastructure takes and the sophistication of the damage possible these days.

In hindsight, I feel most unhappy about writing this piece about airport security. It was meant to be a sarcastic piece, more a result of an early Monday morning than anything else, but what just happened has mocked my own cynicism. Damn.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Saving money

Food for thought... I guess this is why I love free Internet connections! :)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A thing of beauty... Zinedine Zidane. Against Brazil. There were snatches of genius in their first match against the Swiss, but little indication of the beauty that we got to see yesterday.

Even if my failing memory will not remember a large part of this World Cup, it'll surely recall Zizou's moves from yesterday - the controlled ball that he coolly lofted over a immobile Ronaldo and collected, the deft right foot to left foot flick-and-pass, the trademark turnaround dancing past a stunned opposition, the vision to see the match-winning pass that lesser mortals would have missed - all moves of unparallelled wizardry. If only he would play a couple of matches more like this one, my World Cup would be made.

And to think that after their first couple of matches, France was almost out of the World Cup... and they've risen from the ashes on the back of one man's effort. As Domenech said after the match yesterday, "He is Zidane. You seem surprised. I'm not surprised at all. I know exactly what he's capable of doing." Amen to that.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

On televised gods

My restless fingers flipped channels as I spent the time between the two World Cup quarters, willing myself awake for the post midnight match. Luckily, there's tennis and cricket, I said to myself - words spoken too soon, as I realised. The cricket was excruciatingly slow, so slow that I thought it had rained in Sabina Park when I saw the score at lunch. And watching Tanasugarn play an unknown 17 year old wasn't good enough reason to watch Wimbledon. So I surfed - eyes vacant, jaw dropped, finger remote-controlling.

And I hit paydirt when I came across one of the Christian channels. A pastor was doing the usual from-the-pulpit stuff, encouraging reluctant man to follow benevolent god. Which was A-ok, till the ad break, where above pastor did a neat ad routine. He quoted the Bible as saying that oil will help man get salvation or some such guff. This was followed by his offer for special vials of oil (that had been anointed at some camp, no less) that could be got by paying anywhere from $10-100! He called it "sowing the seed of faith" - it seemed a pretty rich way of sowing seed. Not as rich, though, as the special seed of faith that 70 select people could sow for $1000 each! Very interesting ways of making money, me thought... and given the competition between 3-4 channels who're doing the same stuff, wow, paydirt, folks!

And this is not exclusive to Christian channels alone. The same channel surfing routine last week led me to the famous "evil-eye amulet". As the host, all wide-eyed and sincere, tells you, this amulet is designed to ward off the evil eye. The ad demonstrates this well through a short clip with animations from Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan - arrows emanating from another person's evil eye diverted by the invisible shield of the amulet-wearer! This is followed up with the usual testimonials - one was particularly hilarious: a scrawny young man with a goatee (an artist, of course) tells us about how he wore the amulet and immediately after, got a private art show - if the paintings behind him were an indication, the amulet must have really worked some magic! All this power is at a price, and usually with a freebie thrown in (some lucky stone, maybe?).

Inspired by this sudden religiousness, I have an offer for all you religious folk out there. I offer you the "PayforPrayer" fund - I will stand on one leg for 3 years (live video feed available for $29.99 per day) and pray that my donors (you religious folk) will get the benefits of god's blessings. Do remember that the prayer length will be dependent on how much you pay, and I've already received nearly $1 million from some donors, so don't be shy, pay for your prayer!

P.S.: Don't get me wrong, this is not a "let's bash the religious" post. I was quite religious during my schooldays, first at a Christian missionary school, and later at an Arya Samaj school. While my early religious spirit has since been tempered by skepticism, I still have respect for true faith. And this is definitely not what faith is about... this is just a religious version of the sauna belts and other exotic products that are on tele-marketing tv... and a televised version of the fakirs and babas roaming our country peddling fake solutions. And it's clearly working, given the number of ads out there. This is the golden age of knowledge, did someone say?