About Me

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Autodrivers of Bangalore - First half of the Journey

The predicament began in early 2003. Having spent 2 decades in Bangalore and having graduated from here, the grass didn’t really look greener on the other side. Add to it, I had mooed away from many a bovine tendency and grass didn’t mean the same thing to me as it did to the fauna of Serengeti or the sadhus of Varanasi.

What I had looked forward to, after graduation, was a pleasant life centered around Bangalore, run for mayor by the time I’m 30, win by 35 and start making my quick-buck. By then I was sure “Greasing of the palms” would have received a small-scale industry status and being a fledgling industry, atleast legally, would be entitled to a tax break. A couple of wives to go with – belonging to the neighbors, frequent presence in the crime beat of the city and life would be set.

With such long-term plans for a stay in Bangalore made, I decided it was time to head to a better way of traveling within the city. For years it was my legs that served as the mode of transport. And when faced with stray mongrels, they doubled up as a mode of communication too. The rear of many a mongrel did meet my feet. But with the advent of the mid-school-life crisis (8th standard as I refer to it), there was a strong need to match the classmates. Peer pressure came in easy-to-use packages even in those days and were available in all classes, near the canteen, at the playground and in the Monday morning assembly. Convenient! I had to get a cycle. Soon!

One fine day, well ahead of the Christmas holidays I did get my cycle. Folks at home had surprised me with a Hero Ranger – one of those rugged ATB (“Any Time Bxxxx” is what my friends told me) thingies that would ensure looks from St. Francis Xavier’s Girls High (7th standards). From being foot-soldier I had progressed to the next best thing on wheels at that age.

By engineering I had learnt how to flashbus-pass while holding onto dear life on the footboard. Many a bus-stop did I see in those years and many a girl did I observe being picked up by men on bikes. The heart craved for one (A bike I mean, girls weren’t priority then and seem to be out-of-syllabus now). 4 years of journeying by bus and I had decided the first salary would go for the down-payment of a bike. The Little Sisters of Charity would have to wait a little longer.

So far so good! Plans were clear-cut and had there been quick access to a computer I could have even given my reasons to the Little Sisters, in ppt format.

However, the clichéd twist-in-story wasn’t far off. Separation from the city emerged within a couple of months after college. Wanderlust set in on its own accord and there was no stopping him. From Bangalore to Mangalore on the west coast; from the west coast to the east coast to adorn Bhubaneshwar and then the plains of the north at Lucknow. My constant companions through all these cities were the urge for a bike and the inability at remembering if Chhak or Chowk was how they referred to a traffic junction in that city. Visits to Bangalore were getting shorter and when in the city I needed a quicker mode of transport than feet or buses. Averaging out the two-wheel drives I wanted and the four-wheeled vehicles of the more fat-walleted, I arrived at the three-wheeled autorickshaw.

Talk about digressing from a topic. Reminds me of a professor who went onto explain why windows shudder when planes fly-by. If memory serves right, it was debit-credit and a P & L statement that he wanted to talk about.

The intent of this piece is to talk about the auto drivers in Bangalore – my chosen mode of transport in the past few months … and how! Heck, nothing like an overdone introduction. Sometimes the foreplay is more fun than the act I think. On that note, let me stop here… my thoughts about the Autodrivers of Bangalore (“Man-eaters of Kumaon” feeling to it heh?) in the next blog.

Khaindly waiting pliss….

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Conservation of Conversation

It’s one of those things that God didn’t distribute evenly amongst his human creations – an ability to converse. I’m guessing the distribution mechanism involves a random algorithm, developed by IBM and sold for a neat 18% profit to God and his scrooges. Those from my institute would vouch that God’s factory (last heard it was located in Taiwan) ain’t the only place using that random algorithm – remember one particular Quantitative-techniques oriented credit in the third term of the first year! (Lest ‘my institute’ makes me sound like a retard, let me be clear that I’m referring to the one that taught me management @ Lucknow).

So where is all the talk about the ability to converse taking us – Picture this!

************************** PICTURE 1 ******************************

Alexander, the Great, enters, dressed in pink pajamas and a striped toga to go with. Wine in hand; approaches Aristotle

Aristotle seated on a high-seat; one look into his mind tells he’s trying to add up 2 and 3 and arrive at 4; with a few Greek meters separating him and his disciple, he does prove that 2 and 3 add up to 4, but for the proof, assumes the following:

  1. God is a mainframe depreciated using the Straight Line Method and
  2. Archimedes lying nude in the bathtub actually said “Aiyyu... Rekha!”

Aristotle to Alexander: “What’s up Alex… how did the toga party go?”

Alexander looking roofwards: “Screw the party. I am thinking of setting off on a conquest. I’ve got this brave unit of 50 guys who will come along. Their love towards me has inspired them to join me. That and the daily allowance for onsite work. I will start by conquering Syria, head out to Babylon and see what them Babylonians have to say about my toga parties; Persia is pretty rich in camels – will conquer them for their humps, cross the Lut desert and the Hindukush mountain range. Then I shall set sights on that great state of Punjab - Bhangra might come into vogue sooner or later and I want to be in Punjab when it does – nice money in music production. The Oracle spoke of this singer called Dailer Mendi who will emerge to rule the world. Atleast that part of the world comprising of later day Jalandhar and Chandigarh.

From then on I shall be known as Alexander the Greatest and my picture shall be engraved on all stamps from now on”

Aristotle to Alexander: (after a pause) “Awesome. That’s neat dude! Sounds like fun… hmm... so, what else is happening in life?”

************************** END OF PICTURE 1 ************************

************************** PICTURE 2 ******************************

Two thick friends (thick on friendship, not in the head or at the waist) through chance, meet at the airport. The clock shows 10 AM. The flight is scheduled to leave at 10:15 AM. Both having booked tickets on Air Deccan, it means there is 1.5 hours for the flight to arrive. It’s their first meet after more than a year.

F1: “Oh yaar F2, after so many dayss! What’s up with you? Kaise ho aajkal?”

F2: “Thanks to God, everything is ok yaar. Bhabhi and Tinku are also doing well. I had been to USA some 8 months ago. What a strange place I say! Very difficult to get vegetarian food. But girls are very good looking yaar. And all wear very tiny clothes. Economic depression I think. Had gone for rafting in Colorado river yaar. Bahuth sahi thi. I’ll send photos to you. Same mail id no? I met with an accident over there. But was surprised no one robbed me when I was lying down unconscious and ambulance bhi very fast aagaya yaar. Not like hamara Dilli. Just now I’m going to Portugal in 3 weeks. Long term project hai naa. What else is happening in your life?”

F1: “Bas, same hai sab kuch. Tu batha... aur kya chal raha hai?”

************************** END OF PICTURE 2 ************************

It’s that group of people, of which F1 and Aristotle are sample representatives, against which I right. While one group strives to keep a conversation going, the other looks to kills it with the grace of Romesh Powar running 3 runs against a South African field set-up featuring Jonty Rhodes.

Their repertoire extends to “aur batha”, “aur kya” and “then” amongst other phrases. There must be some secret signs they use to recognize each other in public places, so they may avoid each other. The allowed list of phrases for such usage, I’m sure, is agreed upon on a quarterly basis through a laconic meeting. Wonder what the inauguration speech would be like. This is not so much an issue of language, than it is about people. And each language certainly has its trademark. I know that the most used Tamil version is “aprama”. Kind of rhymes with “triskaidekaphobia” but is pronounced A P R A M A!

The conductive effect of this group is wonderful. Even an excellent converser in a Coffee Day (would recommend a Café Mocha to my Mumbai friends, the one at Churchgate specifically) would wish he could dissolve into his Café Latte (one sachet sugar only please) when he faces a premium member of the group.

Premium Member: “Oh is it…. What else?”

Regular Bloke: “ What else??? “WHAT ELSE???” I just read out the brief history of mankind and all you have to say is “what el… glug glug glug…”

Phew! Now that it’s out of my system I can go rest in peace. In the meanwhile, my darling reader, please do write in and tell me what's new in life!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

An Anecdote in 2 parts - Part 2

Readers, khaindly refer to the blog below this one for Part 1..which reminds me of Woody Allen's classic - "Of late, I'm at two with nature". On that note....

The folks at the gurukul lived up to the ancient times’ hospitality levels. The long ride had helped us work out a good appetite and we were fed with salted-barley water for appetizers. A sumptuous breakfast later, signs of fulfillment spread around the camp. The mind asked me to treat it as a one-day get away to a resort and not worry about the tasks ahead. Put munch ahead of the crunch it said. I waved a silent acknowledgement at the wisdom of the mind. So with a heavy stomach and tired hands I stepped onto the field, with another 20 of my elective-mates.

Taking the test along with us were students from the gurukul too. Most of them looked a couple of feet taller than me, with muscles that could have ripped my right hand and stuck it in my nose. And those were just the girls. Grace and Beauty competed to display themselves in these girls. I acknowledged both and passed my visiting card to them. They weren’t the only things that came in two that I appreciated in them. Mind you, I was all-and-all from a boys-only school. Co-education until then meant doing Math and Science homework on the same day. Many of my school mates ogled at the girls with the keenness of an optometrist staring into a cataract eye. If they had taken out copyrights on Beauty we had taken copyrights on Ogling!

Being the only one who had taken the elective with the intention of chasing marks and not due to athletic-endowment, the size difference between me and the rest was obvious. Even Arif who was the only guy as short as me (+3 inches) bowled a mean leg-spin during the inter-school matches and could run like a march-hare in pursuit. On the contrary I would have preferred the role of the rabbit facing head-lamps.

Without going into all the events, let me highlight the 2 that remain strong in memory, like bubble gum under the sole. The first is the 100 m sprint. Being a ground of limited lengths, the sprint had been reduced to 80 m with the time taken being extrapolated to 100 m. Most of the students including the girls from the gurukul had run it down in around 12 seconds. Yours truly trudged up to the yellow mark indicating the start. To the end of the 80m strip was the sports instructor of our rivals’ school and looking at me with trepidation was my own instructor. I checked if there was an exit at the end of the 80m – one that I could run through to never come back. The whistle was blown and I took off with the force of a mighty wind. It was a mighty windy day. I had a mean look in my left eye and a few grains of sand in my right. The damn start! Wild cheers were sent out knowing I was the weakest link – cheers from both camps. One laced with pity and the hope of saving face, the other laced with sarcasm and laughter. The latter, I observed was coming from my school mates. 18 seconds later I had reached the instructor at the other end, completely exhausted. Some grass had already grown in the otherwise barren ground in that time. He had stopped recording my time at the turn of the 15th second. Anything below that meant no marks were awarded. Wasted calories I thought; I even had to contort my face when starting off.

The second of the events involved doing crunches – 30 of them in 60 seconds. Positioned on our toes, for each of us was one of the gurukul’s students. Mine was this very pretty girl of good height and gorgeous eyes. I think her name had a Laetitia or a Moss in it. Let’s call her Laetitia Moss to provide an identity. Her eyes were so loaded with kindness; I thought she would have participated in Mother Teresa look-alike contests if she didn’t become a sports instructor herself in the future. I introduced myself in a way that suggested I was looking for her mercy more than my strength to take me through this ordeal. Vincent to my left had got a guy as burly as he standing on his toes and he didn’t look pleased with whom I got. He would make me pay richly once back in school. I paid not just for my mistakes but for anyone’s in the last few benches of the class. Such was Vincent’s affection to me. The whistle was blown.

In the next 60 seconds I crunched and I puffed; I made sounds not suited to such societies; I swore at everything I could think of in a way Tibetan monks would have gone at Chengiz Khan’s life-size poster. With gravity pulling me on one side and the girl's legs calling out to me in whispers, I oscillated hopelessly. All I could conjure up were 12. Of these, 4 seemed like I only lifted my eyelids to stare at the sun and fall back without moving other body parts. I was at her mercy. Years ago, on one particularly lazy day, I had melted cheese with a single look. It was that same look that had landed on my eyes this time and deep inside I hoped she was born to the same cow as the cheese.

The instructor came up to each of the toe-crushers and asked them for the count.

“26” said Vincent’s guy, to my left. He had done well. Most of the marks were in his kitty. The instructor moved to the tall girl in front of me. My moment of truth was there – the girl and I exchanged glances. She looked from me to the instructor and back; and then back again at him. A soft whisper of the most delectable whiffs of air escaped her lips – “33”. A hard murmur of the most angered tones escaped Vincent’s – “You wait!!” I couldn’t care lesser! She was my saviour for that day and that elective. I wished to repay her. When we exchanged positions, her completing 42 crunches in a minute didn’t give me much of a chance for that repayment. I helped her back to her feet and overdid the thanking for the earlier help. By noon we were done and after a very good lunch were heading back to school. Vincent wanted to sit next to me during the journey; He said there was something personal he had to convey. He conveyed a sharp jab into my ribs. It was going to be a long ride and a longer day once back in school. It didn’t matter. I was in a different world by then. The only thing that mattered at that moment was that I had done 33 crunches in a minute. She had said so herself! I had chosen the right elective, indeed!

An Anecdote in 2 parts - Part 1

Every once in a while, a man has to stare into the business end of a double barrel and say “errr.. there’s rust there” and wink at the proprietor of the gun. I wasn’t really a ‘man’ when it was my chance to stare. Mistake me not dear fellas – a ‘man’ I may not have been, but pretty much had bought a one-way ticket to adulthood and in the meanwhile was going around with another three-lettered title - ‘boy’. The year was 1996 and I was in my 10th standard. And whatever be the three-lettered title I went with, my proficiency with four-lettered words was just as phenomenal then, as it is now. So with much haste let me narrate this anecdote.

Those were the days when students facing the board exams were never put under so much pressure as the current crop is. The primary aim for a lot of us was to focus on the main subjects of Science and Math and become an engineer. A few wanted to become doctors. Tuitions were only then picking up as a trend and the staunchest of self-taught (excluding the backing, biting and training I got from teachers) blokes like me, worked out other means. Electives!

I swore I wouldn’t let others influence me and would think this through a good deal. The electives were (rolling of drums, lolling of tongues) – Computer Science, Accountancy and Commerce and last and certainly the least - Physical Education. Having had a tryst with my fair share of grey cells over the years, the first seemed to be the obvious choice. But the eldest of the Chivukula brothers had another opinion. Advice flew thick and fast like chicken in Hotel Empire (Shivajinagar branch). The process of brain-washing was quickly followed by a spin of that same organ in the washing machine’s drying compartment and another 2 hours of drying in the shade on the terrace. ”Computer Science would be interesting but would need dedication – Physical education is a sitter and you should take that!” Just an elective I thought and went with popular opinion. The neighbourhood cheered. Their first trained-in-theory physical instructor! I believed I had comfortably scored an extra 5% in Math and Science with that choice of electives, what with all the extra time I’d have on hands while my other-elective friends would have to slog it out. Hands clenched, there was a kneading of air between them and a devilish grin on the face for the first few days of school. Everything seemed to be working out smug. I celebrated with a crunchy samosa in the canteen. We Physical Education lot believed in having a good diet.

But then, every cloud worth its nimbus and cumulus had to have its dark lining. There was a small catch in the scheme plotted. You see, though now I am above-average in height and just-below-average in weight (fingers crossed behind back), it wasn’t the same back in ’96. In those days, I was the favourite victim of the class’ most creative bully – Vincent Nelson. We were both in physical education to top it off. Many believed that I got my strength and stamina from the ration shops of those days – in very limited quantities a month and in the black market only. There wasn’t much competition I had to put up with in the Shortest-kid-in-school category during the Annual Sports Day.

What I lacked in height, however, I managed to lack in weight too. On more occasions than one I participated in an 8-a-side football match which already had 16 players and a referee. Vincent Nelson suggested to the boys that I, being his best friend and all, couldn’t be kept out of sports, especially not a football match. He insisted that I get a chance too and in spite of resistance picked me to be the football for those 45 minutes. Nice tradition we had there going. My 15 minutes of fame on the field came, when on one particularly rough day, I was in totem thrown twice each into opposing goal posts by opposing teams and also sprained my right ankle while trying to establish contact with a slow-moving ball. All of a sudden, it occurred to me that Computer Science as an elective was what I was born for, made for and craved for. School rules prevented a change. Bless them I cursed and a tear sought its freedom from the eye.

The year went on pretty satisfactorily otherwise. There wasn’t much of studying to do for this elective – Know the length and breadth of a football field, hockey field, nearby meadows, the closest bus-stop and such statistics and one could pass with flying colors. Only a month to go for the final exams, the announcement came! It chilled my spine to the last vertebrae and further. We were to undergo an ‘exam’ in a residential school on the outskirts of the city. Pen and paper were to be replaced by a ground and tracks. The sports teacher, Mr. Dereck Browne said there would be all kinds of sprints to do apart from standard fitness exercises. 30 crunches in 60 seconds, 30 push-ups in another 60 seconds and so on and so forth. The highest number of push-ups I had done in life was 6. And that too, because Vincent one day started pushing me to the ground and I tried rising. 6 times I rose mimicking the spider in the Robert Bruce story and 6 times I had been punched down to the ground. I gave up after that. I fancied I could have done 10 during that incident. The marks were to be for the board exams. It wasn’t to be my elective after all I thought. The honeymoon was over. I sought a divorce; and was refused.

I was had to face fate… I had to stare into the business end of the double barrel and say “errr… there’s rust there” and wink. The day had come. We entered the gurukul-style school on the outskirts of Bangalore. Dread filled my body like huge pebbles and in those crevices it left were a large supply of tears, waiting to be let out. The exam thus began!

Part 2 in a day or 4