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Kochi Chronicles: A Sequel
I have a love hate relationship with my job – more specifically with the rigorous, almost haphazard travel regime that it bestows. Most of my tours materialize suddenly – at times at such a short notice that one barely has enough time to pack. My other lament about these unpredictable sojourns is the brevity of their duration. Most trips are of the morning-in-night-out variety and if for some reason (usually excessive work or poor connection to Bangalore) I do end up staying overnight, the next day usually ends up getting choked with business meetings; arranged to fill in the void till next evening flight.

Still there are reasons that make the entire grind worthwhile. I get to visit states, cities, towns, that I’ve never visited before. And there are odd instances when I get sufficient slack in my schedule to experience the cultures and cuisines of places playing host to me. My recent Kochi visit was one such fortuity. I was visiting Kochi for the second time ever - my last trip to the city had been just a year or so ago.

My itinerary last time had left me little time to do anything but observe the city landscape as the plane landed and to pass pithy remarks on the ungainly hoardings that dotted the road from airport to the city. While I got ample opportunity to indulge in both these activities this time around as well, I could squeeze in a lot more (thanks to friends) on the first night and second day of my stay.

My landing at Kochi airport was a rough one, as if the plan had suddenly stumbled upon the concrete runway amidst the sea of coconut trees. The wait at the airport was again annoyingly long. As I impatiently stared at my watch for the nth time, the conveyor belt gave a squeak and started moving, carrying forth my suitcase. The duo of my car-driver (holding a sheet of paper with my name printed on it in English) and the clammy tropical afternoon breeze, greeted me together. In no time I was racing towards the hotel. While I had intended to brave the weather, my driver wasn’t so keen on the idea and before I could even roll the car windows down, he had turned the air-conditioning on. He then proceeded to regale me with music that suited neither my taste nor the occasion (run of the mill Bollywood stuff) but spared me any greater agony by staying away from the remixes.

Kochi landscape had changed little since my last visit, save for an occasional building or two being constructed by the road side. The hoarding landscape however showed a marked change. The hand painted jewelry adverts are being replaced with adverts of telecom/cellular providers proclaiming affordability of their latest tariffs. Most other hoardings ranged from the trite to outright disgusting. Of these, I must mention at least two: an advert for a software company showed a computer with a spanking new LCD screen lying on a desk. Nothing wrong with it except that to add a touch of surrealism, there was a hand dangling by the wrist from the monitor with its index finger tapping at the keyboard. The ad’s intention – purported or otherwise – continues to flummox me.

The second hoarding was split into two frames. The frame on the left showed a lady tied in a contest of arm-wrestling with a ruffianly looking swarthy man; his back facing you revealing a ghastly tattoo on his left shoulder. The second frame was given entirely to our grinning damsel who held a cup of hot tea close to her chin. Apparently the contents of that concoction had caused her to beat the villainous bloke. A good brew can indeed pull of wondrous feats.

The movie hoardings were largely dominated by Mohan Lal and Mamooty though this time I saw a new crop of young talent get their fair share - and banner for at least one of the movies was very tastefully done.

The remainder of my journey was spent tackling interpretation of the few new Malayalam characters I had learned from graffiti, road-signs and posters.

My hotel room for a change was warm and welcoming – a pleasant deviation from the routine. The floor instead of being carpeted with neglected, smelly rugs was covered with tasteful wooden tiles. The room faced south and was bathed in light of the afternoon sun. The view outside was brilliant – the horizon rank with files of countless coconut trees – and a little backwater stream in front with an occasional boat trudging through it. I couldn’t help contrasting the backdrop with the dreary, hazy skyline that I had seen from my hotel room in Mumbai a few days ago:

I freshened up and headed to the latest elevator. The doors of the small elevator opened to reveal the most diverse cross section of crowd you can ever get in a setting like this – a police inspector, a padre dressed in bright red robes and a few other people though of relatively common occupations. I reluctantly lent myself to the diverse population 5 and the entire entourage descended to the lobby at one of the most leisurely paced elevator rides that I’ve experienced recently. The remaining day had nothing leisurely about it and by the time I stepped out of the last meeting the sun had already set. The drive back to the hotel at was pleasantly cool due to the evening showers.

At night I met two friends at the hotel lobby who not only took me out for dinner but were also generous in giving me a tour of the city. I learned many things about Kochi and how it was evolving from several loosely connected towns. For the first time I saw a real ship docked at a wharf. You see ships in the movies or read about them in books but the overwhelming enormity of a ship only registers when you see it for real. We then drove around the Kochi port which was surprisingly devoid of any traffic – vehicular or human. An entire stretch which I thought should have been swarming with tourists and couples sauntering after dinner, resembled an eerie ghost town – with an occasional boat with its distant lights tottering along aimlessly in the backwaters. After a quick round up of the city and Wellington Island (which was reclaimed from sea years ago!) we headed back. The coffee we all had had after dinner, kept us awake and chatty till midnight. We finally exchanged good-byes and I went to sleep.

The meetings next day kept me thoroughly occupied. However, even after my last meeting I had some 3 hours to spare. I thus decided to indulge in a touristy escapade. On the way to Kochi airport you will spot a cylindrical, domed building – a museum dedicated to the history of Kerala. They host an hour long sound and light show thrice a day. The last show begins at 4:00 but this being a working day I was the only person at the ticket counter. I purchased the 8 Re ticket and sauntered in the museum’s small but very well maintained garden. Since photography inside the museum was prohibited, I made the most of the moments outside:

The curator beckoned me in sharp at 4:00 and the show began. It was remarkably cool inside despite lack of air-conditioning and dark too. Never before in my life have I been the sole soul inside a museum! This made the entire experience a little spooky. I kept thinking of my plight if the life-sized mannequins were to come to life – the power-cut which intervened just before the first half of the show ended, did little to make me comfortable. The show provided a concise but interesting insight into the history of Kerala and I would recommend it highly to anyone visiting Kochi.

As I resumed the drive back to the airport, the sun was setting again. This being September, Kerala is now witnessing “retreating” monsoons. The sky even though it looked dark and threatening didn’t pour but provided a fantastic milieu for my little photography session before sunset:

When I reached airport, there were still two hours to my flight. The airport was completely deserted and for a moment I wondered if I had come to a wrong building. Only minutes before the flight was there any activity near the check-in counters and I was eventually issued my boarding pass. As I stepped out of the airport terminal to board the plane, a queer chill rand down my spine. Mine was the only plane standing outside. Except for a circle of arc-lights suspended from a three storey high pole, there was no light for miles and miles ahead. The entire setting made me feel extremely small. I looked up and saw no moon in the overcast sky, instead my eyes caught a couple of mosquitoes glowing in the dark as they hovered high above the plane. Ten minutes later, the plane soared above the clouds and struggled through the rough weather to Bangalore.
posted: 28.9.04 | permalink | 3 comments

Happy BonVoyage (sic)
On my visit to Hyderabad last week, I was greeted at the airport there, by three resplendent, bejeweled ladies attired in their colorful saris:

Never before have I seen a traffic-police barricade as opulent as this; not to mention the somewhat redundant “happy” in the “happy bonvoyage” (hey you are traveling far away from home, why take a chance ;-)).
posted: 26.9.04 | permalink | 2 comments

A for Apiary
Each time I lock my apartment for a week or more, I come back to discover traces of unhindered continuance of life in my absence. The craft that I recovered on my return recently was result of an aborted attempt at a honeycomb by a bee. I think it realized rather soon that the surface chosen by it – a laundry clip – was inadequate for its endeavors and so it left its grand creation at all of 4 cells:


The clip is shaped like an A – A for Apiary – can bees read?

This is the third reason why Roald Dahl’s collections of short stories spooked me (see “Royal Jelly” here).
posted: 20.9.04 | permalink | 1 comments

The changing face of Bangalore
Sigh! Another victim goes to the gallows. The oasis waits to be devoured by the concrete desert.

posted: 17.9.04 | permalink | 5 comments

The best of Roald Dahl: A short critique and other curious observations
I’ve just finished reading “The best of Roald Dahl” – a collection of short stories spanning the author’s lifetime. As is the case with most short story books, this one too was a mixed bag – a mélange of tales – amusing, bewildering, disturbing and unfortunately a few disgusting ones too. Although short stories are not usually meant to be related to each other in any way (more so if they span across such a diverse and elaborate oeuvre), yet I did find a few common shades in a lot of characters.

The portrayal of men for instance, is more or less negative – if a man is not portrayed as outright lascivious, you’ll still find him one dimensionally negative – overbearing, domineering as a husband, nonchalant as a father and just plain selfish otherwise. And before the feminists give a shriek of joy, I’ll draw their attention to the fact that women (whenever they are given a significant part in the story) are not treated very kindly either. In fact they too are portrayed in a somewhat disparaging light – meek and submissive at first but cunning and sadistically cruel as the story progresses.

Being an ardent animal lover, I found the last few stories (under the title ‘Claude’s Dog’) outright revolting – especially graphic, encyclopedic details on dog races, rat catching and bird poaching (you get the general idea :-)).

But more the anything else, I found at least three tales spooky! I realized that some of the stories that I was reading touched upon subjects which were similar to or had allusions to what I had blogged about just recently (there is even reference to an entry which I had written on my notebook but am yet to type it out!):

“Edward The Conquerer” deals with reincarnation of a Lizt as a cat. In the story one of our protagonists even plays Chopin to appease the cat! It reminded me of the post here.

“Galloping Foxley” starts with musings of a happy, contended commuter thus reminding me of the post I made about joys of commuting in Bangalore.

But the story that takes the cake and even shows shades of clairvoyance is “Royal Jelly” - It deals with a man who has an almost unnatural affinity for honey bees and therefore starts an apiary. Uncanny because I am about to post something on a similar subject shortly - I’ve been avoiding posting the rough draft written some two weeks ago (days before I encountered the story!) for want of time. Then there is obviously an unmistakable allusion to the picture I posted last month. Perhaps these are portents that I should make haste (besides engaging in apiculture).
posted: 16.9.04 | permalink | 1 comments

Season Sonnet
Sometimes the most ordinary of sightings can evoke pensive thoughts. The invention of this sonnet was result of one such innocuous observation – it was a flower with its petals curled inwards in a curious manner; making it look wistful – as if the spring had went past without bestowing upon it the opportunity to blossom…

Season Sonnet

The spring came with clear moonlit nights,
Cool morning breeze and warm sunny noon
Yet birds sung elegies in chirp laden with spite
Flowers slumbered on; alas they didn’t bloom

The summer rode atop hot dusty dry winds
The searing sun mounted its relentless attack
The birds now tended to their scorched wings
Flowers parched, leaves shriveled, vines drew back

The autumn weakened the wrath of cruel sun
Draughts of wind tainted earth in yellow-rusty hue
Birds flocked for sojourns to warmer lands that beckon
All alone, the flowers shed tears, cold as morning dew

The sky, somber, wintery, wore a dirty grey cloak
Dotard sun now hides all day and noon is full of drear
No birds are left behind to lament winter’s cruel joke
Through thorny carcass of vines, icy winds now tear

Like dawns follow dark dusks, winters too caved in to spring
The flowers learned to bloom again, as birds returned to sing

As I walked back home after finishing this verse, I came across weedy cacti by the roadside – and every single one of them sported a splendid yellow flower – a perfect retort for harboring dark thoughts:

posted: 10.9.04 | permalink | 11 comments

On a rainy day
The rains in Bangalore have lived up to the mythological legend of it having poured heavily at the night of lord Kirshna’s birth. After a long gap I’ve again had to concern myself with trivial but nagging matters such as finding a place for drying my laundry. The downpour which had started last evening and kept pounding all night, brought with it this morning some unexpected guests to my bedroom’s balcony – a tiny flock of timorous, shivering crows – all soaked to their bones. They devoured the left over chapatti from yesterday’s dinner with a rapt keenness that one only reserves for a dainty. The squirrel (which inhabits my bedroom’s window and makes occasional forays to the balcony) was given almonds which it accepted gladly and vanished into the branches of a tree that brushes the balcony.

Its past 3:00 in the noon and the clouds still seem reluctant to part; though their vexations are lot reduced, and the intensity of the drizzle is such that you feel lazy about opening your umbrella. This is certainly not a dog’s day – most of the dogs I saw were wet, confounded and visibly sleepy. By now some of them had managed to locate a small private dry patch for their afternoon siesta – even if they had to tone down their territorial instincts a bit:

black and white

Written on Monday, 6 September, 3:30 PM
posted: 7.9.04 | permalink | 4 comments

How not to sell a piano
A dream, which is too personal to be mentioned on a public blog, finally prompted me to take up the piano. I’ve been straddling for last two years or so – either my attempts at finding a teacher had been half-hearted or I hadn’t been sure about being able to pursue piano with due diligence – given the rigorous, at times unpredictable, travel regime at work. That one dream strengthened my resolve and everything else followed – almost magically. I was introduced to my teacher at a concert and was taking classes within a month of our first rendezvous.

My next problem was finding a piano. A real piano was (and still is) way past my fiscal reach - it could cost anything from 80,000 to 300,000 Rupees. I also had to ensure that this was not just another passing fad (I’ve had more than my fair share of ephemeral whims), before doling out such a considerable sum of money (which I am sure would not have been without the aid of a bank loan). So I made a little compromise and settled for a touch sensitive, five octave Casio synthesizer that came at just little over 10% the cost of the real thing.

I’ve been at it for 3 months now and though I am years away from playing anything respectable (say a Beethoven sonata), I am at peace with myself. The elation I experience while working out those simple (at times puerile) rhymes from my piano verse book, cannot be expressed in words. Few authors, particularly Milind Kundera, sometimes introduce a bar or two of a famous musical composition in the course of their main story to convey their point more effectively. To be able to flip back to those well read pages to play those bars out on the keyboard, brings you closer than ever - to the author, to the text’s essence and to the composer of the work.

I am now reasonably certain (and confident) that the piano will be my constant companion for years to come, and that certitude has caused me to be on the lookout for a real piano once again, albeit passively. I take my lessons on a real upright pianoforte. The rich tonality of its sound and the range of expression that you can introduce even when playing a trivial piece cannot be reproduced on a synthesizer. My neighborhood has a small shop that deals in antiques of all shapes, sizes and types. I’ve seen that shop sell everything from tattered chairs to old paintings to broken guitars. A recent arrival at that shop had been a black upright piano – and it was obvious to me, from the very day I noticed it, that the proprietor of the shop had little clue about what he was dealing with. Not only would the piano be moved in and out of the shop daily (in this rainy Bangalore weather!), it would also be, as if to add insult to injury, used as a glorified mantelpiece for displaying sodden, garish, old lampshades.

At last today, out of curiosity and concern, I decided to enquire about this much neglected antique:

“Is this paino for sale?”
“Yes”, “It is 80 years old”, the shopkeeper added as an afterthought
“How much?”
“80,000 Rs”
(In the mind of an antique dealer the mathematics was simple; each decade would cost me 10,000 Rs.)
“Hmmm.. would you mind if I take a closer look?”
“Please…one minute”, he fetched a key and opened the keyboard’s lid.

I leaned over the wooden keys and struck a few random notes. What I heard made me flee! Not only were some of the strings inside the piano broken, the hammers too were badly worn out, making it sound like an out of tune harpsichord. And while I am not sure of the instrument’s purported age – I am certain that the shopkeeper knew little about musical instruments. While the age of bowed instruments (violin et. al) is an asset, a piano’s age is its liability, its bane! A piano is a complicated instrument with complex arrangement of tens of strings, hammers, levers and keys. It goes out of tune with very little neglect and the unthinkable tortures meted out at this shop were bound to do what years probably could not. Unlike age of antiques, the age of a piano therefore, is like age of a lady – it is a fact meant to be concealed or speculated and should not be exaggerated or uttered proudly.

I am sure that the smart black ebony case would fetch its owner a handsome price but I am skeptical of that elephantine contraption’s utility as a musical instrument, unless it is resurrected at the hands of a skilled piano tuner.
posted: 6.9.04 | permalink | 1 comments

Commute (yet again!)
It is extremely unlikely that on a visit to your home town you would miss your commute to office of all the things and yet this is precisely what I dearly craved for during my recent sojourn at Delhi. The soothing cool breeze, that little stopover at local food joint for a quick 10 minute breakfast and coffee, the little pockets of soil by the streets rank with growth of weeds of various forms and colors and those quiet stretches where traffic noise is nothing but a muted, distant echo. The walk to office during mornings prepares me to brace for a hard day at work and my promenade back home in the evening, under watchful eyes of somber pale moon, dissolves traces of day’s toil curing the mind of all its weariness:

At times a sudden gust of wind causes trees to rustle and boughs to shed a flower or leaf that traces down a path of its own - twisting, turning to the tune of aerodynamics, and eventually settles down on the scraggy concrete road.

I have done it time and again – my commute to office is such a high point in my day that I cannot help but romanticize it!
posted: 4.9.04 | permalink | 4 comments

The Lord Of The Rings
On my birthday this year, a friend gifted me the entire The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Just a few months ago, fantasy was a genre I would stay miles away from. I was softened up to fantasy by Harry Potter (the first two installments of which were incidentally also a birthday gift). Though this time I was unsure if I would be able to tackle the sheer volume of the work (1000+ pages!). My last attempt at reading something as voluminous was a miserable failure – I couldn’t get myself to turn past the 400th page – the work in question being Vikram Seth’s debut novel of epic proportions – A Suitable Boy.

Once I had exhausted my preferred list of books, I casually picked up The Fellowship Of The Ring one fine evening. From that very moment, I was hooked!

Reading LOTR is like losing yourself to this wonderful imaginary world conjured by Tolkien. The characters are so well defined that you feel as if these are not characters in a book but real people you’ve known for years. The depth of Tolkien's powerful imagination can be fathomed by the fact that he spent years researching his worlds – inventing their histories, their kings and their progenies, their cultures and their languages complete to their calligraphic details. I cannot recommend a worthier read!

It would be unfair to indulge in a comparison between Harry Potter and LOTR – yet them being the only two brands of fantasy that I’ve read, I am tempted to. By no means do I intend to discredit Rowling of her exceptional literary abilities and yet I cannot help remarking that she had a considerable head-start -- thanks to LOTR. It is hard to think of Dumbledore without being reminded of Gandalf, or to mention Dementors without allowing your thoughts to wander towards the Nazguls or for that matter discussing Voldemort without evoking thoughts of Saruon.

Now to a topic which is matter of much debate – books and their movies. As far as LOTR is concerned, I feel like a person who arrives at an evening party the very next morning. Yet I am trying to salvage all I can and so I picked up The Fellowship Of The Ring DVD.

Once again, the movie disappoints. Here are some of my prominent jeremiads: Some characters are outright miscasts, most notably, Gimli the dwarf and Elrond the king of Rivendell (who is incidentally played by the same guy that we know as “Agent Smith” from Matrix; I had a nagging feeling that he would break into harangues of “Mr. Anderson” any moment). The movie also commits the unpardonable folly of altering the story line perfunctorily. For instance, after Frodo is stabbed by the Nazgul he is rescued by Glorfindel in the book (rather by his horse - if I exercise laser sharp precision) while in the movie its lady Arwen who comes to Frodo’s rescue. While in the book, both Frodo and Sam are invited to peek into the mirror of Galadriel, in the movie, Sam is shown as blissfully asleep. I could go on forever but I would cut to the biggest disappointment – the exclusion of enigmatic Tom Bombadil altogether! And yes both the Dark Riders and the Eye of the Dark Lord failed to kindle even slightest trace of horror (though the latter did elicit my ridicule).
posted: 1.9.04 | permalink | 2 comments

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