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Jet-lagged in my own country!

Travails of traveling through the length and breadth of country can be extremely taxing. I discovered this when I had to do a quick lap across 3 cities, that too within 3 days - a day in each city - something that I hadn't ever done (there's always a first time) and something I was gleefully looking forward to for the sheer material it was bound to present for this blog. The profound impact of Monsoons is prominently telling on the cities I touched, with the exception of Chennai which seems to be reeling under severe heat, or at least what seemed severe to my Bangalore acclimatized self. Here is a humble attempt to sketch what whizzed past me during last three days (or at least what caught my fancy for more than a minute)

Hyderabad: You cannot miss the rocky terrain while driving past Banjara hills. There are rocks and boulders of varying sizes, some of them stacked upon each other, sometimes rocks that are lot bigger, stacked on top of rocks proportionately lot smaller - rocks so small that they could be called stones. Yet, the entire magnificent assembly is rock solid (the pun here is purely accidental), the rocks brave breeze and now rains, but don't budge a centimeter. The strange marriage of profusely disparate rock forms, unnerved by vagaries of nature.

Chennai: The sultry, warm Chennai air frosted my glasses the moment I stepped off the plane. The climatic contrast with the city I had just come from could not be mistaken. Though the drive from air-port to hotel does not have much to offer in terms of picturesque scenery, I usually look forward to it - for I know (how to read) Tamizh, and the billboards and buses running there provide an excellent opportunity to brush my skills. Strange as it may seem, I don't understand a single word of what I read.. I usually try to imbibe the air of the city I am at during the drive - which means that the driver is politely instructed to turn off the air-conditioner, while I roll down the car-window panes. The heat and humidity, ensured that I couldn't get myself to do it.

I was putting up at Le Meridian. The hotel has an enormous lobby which happens to house a grand piano, which was playing when I came in. There was something fishy, my ears told, about those notes - they sounded "tinnish", too synthetic to be creation of a real grand piano, or perhaps it was the hotel lobby for hotel lobbies after all, are architected for esthetics and not for acoustics.

Mumbai: If you need to see the totality to which rain can transform the landscape of a city, you need to be in Mumbai during Monsoons. Right from the skies you encounter while landing - scoops and scoops of chaste clouds, with enough turbulence to make your plane tremble, to the glistening (though sometimes muddy) roads you are driving at. You just need either of sight, sound, smell to tell the difference, but when you have all your senses intact, the playfulness of the weather is hard to ignore. The pilot for some reason, wanted to compliment the rough sea of clouds we had just cruised through with an equally rough landing, as if too eager to ram the plane wheel to runway. "The outside temperature is 27 deg celcius" - never before has this routine announcement sounded like verse to me, on this one occassion it did, perhaps because it reassured that we had landed safely.

The burnished floor at Mumbai airport indicated that it had been just mopped. The thin layer of moisture left by the mop, provided an exquisite canvas for wheels of suitcases, which made the most of the surface, by leaving a fancy pattern of long, crisscrossing lines. A pattern that reminded me of the Jovian moon Europa - whose icy surface is patted with similar pattern, though in deep brown color. Handy artwork of chaos that could rival some of the best artists:

Europa - Jupiter's fascinating moon

The flight back to Bangalore presented another interesting view. It was raining just before I boarded the aircraft, so the window of the aircraft, had cache of water droplets scattered about its surface in no particular order. Once the plane gathered speed for take-off, the droplets were disciplined into several horizontal columns, streaking past the window. It felt as if the droplets had come to life and were competing in their private grand prix.

Bangalore: "Feels so good to be back home again", words from John Denver song that capture the essence of my feelings. In Bangalore if everything goes wrong, the weather doesn't. Thank God for Bangalore!

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posted: 21.6.03 | permalink | 0 comments


are abundant in our lives. We grow up on fables telling us about victory of good over evil (though now I sometimes wonder, who and what decides what constitutes evil) - the most cliched contrast... We experience dawn and dusk, we experience the din and bustle of morning traffic and soothing calm of the night when mankind surrenders itself to sleep after day's travails. These contrasts occur to us quite naturally. There are however contrasts, that need to be sought; contrasts that only reveal themselves to an observant eye. Here is one such contrast that I came across during my walk back home - two new shops - sharing a common wall - contrasted by the merchandise they sell - one a flower shop ("Blossoms - the flower shop") the other selling plumbing ware ("Royal Hardware"), a contrast that forced me to smile..

Darkness and Light make for another fascinating contrast, occasionally manifesting as two sides of the same coin... Like the vacuum and darkness of my room and the foreplay of breeze and moonlight right outside...

There are contrasts that we feel (joy and sorrow). Music (among other things), I have always believed, has power to willfully summon emotions - at times two contrasting emotions at the same time. A belief that was asserted beyond doubt when I recently stumbled upon Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21. I've been an ardent Beethoven fan. There is very little Mozart in my collection. I do have a few CDs, which have an assortment of western classical music, spanning several composers - including Mozart. One of these has Schubert's Unfinished and Beethoven's Fur Elise, and so rest of the tracks are usually skipped to pave way for my favorite pieces. Last night however, I just decided to let the CD play on without interrupting its flow. 10 minutes into the CD, and what I heard jolted me - violins, woodwind and soothing notes of piano, playing in perfect harmony. The composition evoked instant nostalgia, the faint memory of a bygone era, of lands where I've never been. A strange sense of joy, though with measured quantities of sorrow. A strange amalgamation of two contrasting emotions unleashing their sweet torment on my soul - a torment you would intentionally wish for. Music that almost evoked tears, but just when the eyes glistened, a strange inexplicable verve, lightness, elation took over. A quick look on the CD reiterated what my ears told - it was a Mozart piece. One of his last compositions. Piano concerto no. 21 in C Major.

I conclude with a little trivia on this surreal piece of music, part of it gathered from the booklet that accompanied the CD and part of it acquired by toiling on google. Mozart finished his Piano Concerto No. 21 on the 9th of March 1785 and performed it in Vienna the very next day. The slow "andante" movement - which is particularly intoxicating - is known as the "Elvira Madigan". The name comes from a 1967 Swedish movie, a tragic love story, of the same name, which used it copiously (and consummately) as its background score in several places. The fact that a 1785 composition should draw its name from a 1967 movie is sad and amusing at the same time...

Adios my newspaper, adios valley that was never mine

The frenzied activity in Bangalore skies, for some reasons, brought about similar change at work - Suddenly there were perplexing number of chores to attend to, each clamoring for higher priority than other. The toiling did pay off today though my weekend was expunged leaving mind and body with; generous portions of exhaustion and a strange guilt for not having blogged!

I finally decided to change my newspaper. Changing a newspaper - especially one you have been brought up on - is one of the hardest thing to do. During my early school days it was Indian Express for me, but that had to change to Hindustan Times for some reasons. It was, well, a rude awakening! That little things like nuances of writing style, font of the headline, way the columns are organized, make such a significant difference to overall "feel" of the newspaper, occurs to you only once you switch newspapers. My newspaper for last 8 months or so has been Times of India. Now given the emotional trauma one inflicts on oneself by changing newspaper, there has to be a tangible reason for such a decision. In my case there were many. Firstly, the newspaper has been becoming propaganda ("marketing" would be a much milder term to use) machinery for Times group. You get overwhelming quantities of indiatimes, planet m, times music advertisements, at times, masquerading as news. Even reputed international magazines of the caliber of Time are not immune to the temptation of "cross promotion", something that occurred to me, when I saw the Matrix Reloaded story on Time's cover last month. Now as much as I love Matrix (digression: been trying for tickets and they are booked till Sunday :-(), its hard to miss the fact that Warner Bros. have stake in both the magazine and the movie. But the extent to which TOI does it - especially in their tabloid (Bangalore [replace Bangalore with your city] Times) section is a bit irritating. Secondly, there quality of reportage (I think) has been taking a beating. The selection of news has been arbitrary - I see news on front page that (in my humble opinion) should've ideally been confined to say page 3. But what got me ticked is the "Editor's Comment" that they had recently started appending to each story. Opinionated pieces like editorials and letters to the editors have been given respectful space bang in the middle of the paper and I refuse to see them anywhere else. It trivializes the whole story! And the lesser I say about their Sunday supplement the better :-). So there I was standing at my door, politely telling my newspaper wallah *not* to deliver TOI from Monday. Just when I was done, coincidentally, The Fours Seasons concert recording, playing in the background, came to an end and the thunderous applause that followed, seemed to be laden with some kind of hidden congratulatory message - For now I've switched to Asian Age (which to date, has been filling in the void left by TOI's Sunday supplement). Do leave in your recommendations, if possible with good reasons :-).

I am very woozy - mostly due to sleep deprivation, but I must mention the story of the Three Gorges I read last week in Newsweek. (It is also covered in this week's Time though is drowned by post war stories from Iraq). The Three Gorges dam is project in China, of magnitude hitherto unseen... Its basically a massive dam near the series of canyons called the "Three Gorges" the reservoirs of which will start flooding in next few weeks, drowning most of the tranquil land - a lot of it inhabited by civilization. The story, a short photo-feature, had, what perhaps would be the last photographs from the valley of the three gorges. There were photographs of demolished homes, people packing, ghost apartments and the beautiful landscape.. The thought that I could be the one packing in those photographs was upsetting. All of us, in our lives, grow wings, fly away from our homes, but there is that unquestionable hope of returning back. The thought that place where you spent good part of your life would be flooded - leaving you nowhere to return to - is extremely saddening. I'll be sleeping while staring blankly at these haunting pictures, their melancholy enhanced by grim notes of 3rd movement of Beethoven's String Quartet from Opus 132 (its funny how sometimes your senses conspire to amplify a single distinct emotion).

Murphy's Law revisits me with unmistakable clarity

Given the consistency of rains for last few days, I can safely herald the start of "rainy season" in Bangalore. Should've actually started about 30 days earlier, but better late than never, so I am sure no one is lamenting... Stepped out from Koshy's into an auto who was determined to make the most of downpour and true to what is expected of auto drivers in Bangalore, played truant - I had no choice but to relent to his demands. My cellphone battery was almost drained out and so the phone was making its displeasure heard by periodically beeping dark notes in minor scale. Once I was at home, I reached out for the nearest plug point. Now before I could plug the charger in - *poof* darkness, voila! a power cut! The realization that I had run out of matches just this morning made me feel as if Murphy's ghost was plotting an elaborate prank - which was confirmed once I saw that this morning's toil (read laundry) was already resembling drenched poodle. (nothing could go wrong now, all that could, had!) I'd be soon drunk with eerie cocktail of solitude and darkness - but wait - I've got a notebook, the battery should last me at least 3 hours! Nothing makes for a better light source than a blank word document :-)... (which takes care of the darkness, and lets leave solitude alone for a while). Just when "boondon se baten" (from Takshak) was setting mood for rest of the night the power came back - time to feed my cellphone battery its once_in_three_day meal of electrons.

A haircut in Bangalore and predictions of an impending doom - belied yet again

The experience of moving from one state to another, in India, can be (besides being a "moving" experience ;-)) similar to experience of migrating to an alien country. The difference between any two given states in India is so pronounced - more so if you are moving from a part in northern India to a part in south - that it could put variations between two different countries in Europe to shame. To start with, your dialect changes - and no the transformation in not always merely phonetic - its usually lexical calligraphic as well rendering you mostly illiterate (the saving grace here is English, which is spoken by most "educated" population to varying degree of fluency and tonal nuances, and hence was a natural choice for my blog :-)). Then its turn for your staple diet to transmogrify (if nothing else, the changes in cooking style and spices will be pronounced to a noticeable degree). Finally it's the cultural variations - your music, your movies, your regional dance form would all change (again the degree of change varies with the distance you've moved from your native place). The only thing that stays put is the currency you transact in (to revisit my European analogy - its mostly Euro in most European countries) and your core (if I may say "Indian") values. So with this backdrop, its easy to assume that moving to Bangalore (from Delhi) for me was synonymous with change, and it was omnipresent. However I sill did not anticipate that it would touch the mundane experience of getting a hair cut on a lazy Sunday morning. But different it was and for brevity of space (and time) I would focus on conspicuous aspects of it. The radio was not belting out latest hits on vivid bharti, heck there was no radio, we had a TV which was blurting out latest Tamil numbers (Bangalore has a diverse populations of Kannada, Tamil, Telegu, Malyalam and now increasingly Hindi speaking clans). The "tools" of the trade were a little different, let's skip that. And in general, the barber was lot less talkative (may be it was the language barrier, for I communicated the "cut" I wanted in a strange mixture of English and sign-language, but still there was a lot less banter floating around for a barber shop, whatever little there was, I had no means of understanding without aid of babelfish). Oh yes, the haircut here was 10 Rs. too expensive (than my friendly neighborhood barber back home).

While waiting for my hair cut, I stumbled upon one of the latest issues of India Today (digressing a bit here, but again this shop, despite being a small, cramped, neighborhood barber shop, had complete assortment of glossies - from daily newspaper in both Kannada and English (TOI) to Femina, Gladrags, India Today the works - quite a deviation from the shops back home where you'd find the latest Hindi daily and perhaps an English daily). The magazine covered the ongoing water shortage across India - depicted vividly by (what I found disturbing) photographs of people swarming to private water-tankers and backed by quotes like "we now travel 10 km to our sister's place thrice a week for a bath. Never before did a bath seem like such a luxury". The situation being grim across cities and villages alike (even in most urban locations its hard not to have been affected by the shortage in one way or the other). I was merely coming to terms with this one that I was hit by another rather sorry story - the common house sparrow, passer domesticus, has been put on a red list of fast vanishing species! Being an avid bird lover I couldn't believe it! I've grown-up with sparrows, have allowed them to roost in my very own room! Have fought over nests they built in my room with friends and parents alike and have come out victorious to watch the chicks hatch! And they were telling me that the very sparrows - the objects of my childhood curiosity and affection would cease to be very soon! (I couldn't question these facts though, which seemed to add up empirically - since the day I've moved to Bangalore I've rarely seen sparrows, have hardly heard their collective din during dusk).

The articles left little appetite for food which for once seemed like a wasteful formality for survival. Afternoon siesta followed (or rather I slept to escape what seemed a brutal reality - a reality over which I had little control) though with some effort (and that too after Beethoven's Piano Trio No. 2 (opus 1) rendered itself to be my lullaby). My escapist trans trance must've lasted two hours when I was woken by a pleasant smell - it was the unmistakable smell of moist soil after rains. I wasn't dreaming (for I don't remember having ever "smelt" in dreams - I've heard sounds, seen magnificent worlds, but have never smelled anything - ordinary or extravagant - in my dreams, which has led me to the conclusion that the sense of smell is obliterated when you are dreaming). What my sense of smell had just beckoned, my ears confirmed - it was the unambiguous commotion of heavy rain lashing out on tree leaves! I opened my eyes to downpour and a world vastly different from what I had left - entranced, enchanted, transformed by rains! The backdrop of afternoon's article made the rain appear even more sweeter - like a little personal conquest. There was more to follow. The rains called for a celebration - and what better way to celebrate than to savor a book over a cup of coffee. So I was out (to what was now reduced to a fickle drizzle), though still with an umbrella for the view that my wiper-less glasses afford with even few water droplets is a severe aberration of the world as normal humans see) for my dose of caffeine when I came across this tree - not very tall barely 7 feet - somewhat bushy - with hundreds of sparrows stirring the familiar chirpy roar!

Here they were, my two conquests over two predictions of impending doom (or perhaps I am being naive by labeling these fortuities "conquests", naivety I would purposefully welcome over vanity of pessimism which the articles inspired) not a bad climax for a day that I had started with Schubert's unfinished :-)
posted: 3.6.03 | permalink | 0 comments

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