Thursday, November 19, 2009
Minutes before, with frantic waving, I had our driver stop at the atm. He misread my hand movements for a right-turn indication and tried barging into oncoming / onto incoming traffic. Traffic we had been running against and dodging through for the last 150 kms or 3 hours. Slow was the vehicle, led partly by the fact that the driver was sleepier than us. The marriage meal had done wonders to his insomnia. The other reason was the stifling heat on the outside which ensured a warm suffocating breeze got into the car and lulled its passengers, and driver, into an uncomfortable sleep.
The stop at Alleppey town on the way back from Ochira had not helped. Bargaining is an art independent of language or dialect and at Alleppey-on-the-highway we were working on a negotiation for coir mattresses. I had a feeling we won the deal, until the point I saw, in the rear view of my mirror, the owner doing a small stretch of Kathakali on the road. He had my money wad in his hand. If not for Alleppey-on-the-highway, we would have had to take a detour to buy those products. Gauri was adamant on buying them. “Coir products and coconut water” she twisted face. “Convoluted world and face” and I straightened it. She manages the project.
The ritual itself was simple. I’m not sure if KC, a Mumbaikar with Kolkatan roots was aware of the sequence of the ceremony. I vaguely remember bidding him goodbye under the arc lights focused on him while he lunched with the extended in-laws’ family. Between banana payasam and semiya payasam, he had that look, which said he wasn’t sure which part of the ceremony indicated the marriage was solemnized. Tricky business dealing with another culture, let alone marrying someone from it.
Shot from the host's home
Our camera battery worked along with Murphy and right after the first long distance shot of KC in full-attire, it died on us. He made a pretty picture with his wife. A picture matched only by that of the banks of Nedeseri village, across the Pamba river’s backwaters.
A picture of the village
Rowing through those waters, one only wondered if the people on the banks would look up everyday at the river and the backwaters and appreciate its beauty the way Gauri and I did. Serendipity had brought us there. The journey from our hotel to Ochira, where the wedding was, was peppered with conversations. He spoke of every town enroute and of local legends and fanfare. At Chenganeserry before Alleppey, he spoke of his distant uncle (or was it his friend) who lived by the banks. My Malayalam version of ‘maybe not this time’ with the usual waving of the hands, was interpreted as “Uncle, Uncle, please take me to backwaters no!” There he was, the uncle of our driver, waving at us in a way distinctly different from mine. Car parked a few hundred meters away, the last leg to reach Uncle’s house-on-the-banks was by ferry. What a feeling!
The kind uncle who hosted breakfast for us (at a cost)
Boating up to someone’s home is not something I indulge in always. People in Bangalore take offence to such ideas and the roads are not conducive for boating (and riding if I may slip-in). He served us a Kerala breakfast – healthy mix of puttu (rice flour and coconut puddings?), kadala paya (spicy curry made of some cereal I can’t recognize) and milky tea. I had a couple of breakfasts and noticed Gauri slip in 3 puttu-cakes into her travel bag, and that, after having 2 breakfasts herself. We felt like Hobbits packing lembas. And the backwaters, 10 feet of courtyard separating them from our breakfast table, was going to be the river to ride. Uncle’s friend brought home his little boat.
Picking water off the backwaters
At about 20 feet in length and 1.5feet wide it gave us a mild assurance that survival was possible. Once off the banks the “we” changed to “I”. Between the boatman and the two of us passengers, only I could not swim. I could, however, drown with the grace of a heavy stone. The hierarchy of boats, was defined by and defined the status of the families. I wish they realized it still is the same waters they used. Like we land-dwellers use the same roads, pedestrian or Merc-owner.
Gauri on the boat
From being in two minds about going to the wedding alone, to the surprise Gauri sprang on KC by inviting herself to his wedding, was a great change. And I’m glad that, that morning of the wedding, we took the very old Ambassador for our taxi, instead of the bus. The weekend that was… and may never again be. A happy married life to you KC, and thank you for falling in love with a girl from Kerala.
Monday, November 02, 2009
Continuing on my series of interesting people on the project site in Valapad, Kerala. 'Interesting' here may not have the same connotation as Steve Irwin or Mata Hari. But I'm the type to draw a silver line on the window while watching war-clouds outside without any linings (silver or otherwise) of their own.
Staying away from home has never been nicer. And large swathes of those niceties, on this current Kerala trip are thanks to Nanni (prounounced nun-ee). A unique list of all words spoken between her and our team is ‘nanni’, hence the name. It took some trial and a lot of error, to conclude that it was the Malayalam word for ‘Thank you’. Being in a completely new place, I was pretty much thankful for anything given... anything that fell in the list of eats or drinks. And Nanni was the torchbearer of them all. Sugary coffee for the lady and self in the morning hours at office, with its assortment of biscuits, to the collection of cashew nuts and syrupy tea in the second half, Nanni ensures our quota of calories is handled right. We face greater challenges in receiving our quota of data from the client. The replenishment model she has worked out for our eating binges, would rival any manufacturing firm’s. Any better and we might make her an offer to join the team.
It took us some effort to arrive at ‘nanni’ as the appropriate word. A quick reference on social networks for a translation, had me misreading the word as ‘ninne’. For the first few days, my thanking her with what I assumed was the right word, drew stares – uncertain ones initially, awkward ones the second week and towards the end of the ninne’s career as part of my lexicography, angry ones. Those 3 weeks had a phased approach of its own. Serendipity brought home the real meaning of the word – ‘ninne’ meant ‘you’. If I were a heart-warming coffee-cashew bearing person and am greeted with “you!!” twice a day for a job well done, I would have not been happy either. Nanni was no different. It took only one word from the client project manager to her, to take proper care of us, to get her up to speed. The final report shall have her being acknowledged too. Just below the client project manager but well above the chairman.
With a nanni in every project, I would take up any outstation project with little thought. Now, if only my manager would stop accusing me of having other intentions regarding the elderly nanni.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Rakhi Sawant may not be a veteran in the industry. But think of the time when she had made a grand entry into Bollywood and its peripheries. It was a pop number's video she featured in, playing the role of Slutty Secretary - oval glasses, pencil in mouth, less than half meter cloth. Remember? Remember the curves? Take a couple of seconds.. I'll wait in this corner! Yes, that's precisely how curvy the roads of Kerala are. National, State, District, Taluk or Village Highways - they all have about 20 curves to a kilometre. Part of the Highways Policy they said. And when the roads are that narrow and that windy, rationale indicates that one does not drive a car at more than 80 kmph. That's what you and me would think. Sumesh is not you and the last time I checked, certainly not me.
Sumesh is one of the resident chauffeurs of the dedicated fleet of cars that the client owns / runs / recovers_from_mortgage. He's also one of 'em big town boys - "I've worked in Bombay for a few months" he told us one of those days. And along with the Eastern and Western Expressway memories, he's brought to the tiny hamlet of Valapad, his driving skills. It took us (me and the gentle project manager) a hearty 2 weeks to figure out what lies on either side of the road - the one that leads us from our hotel at Moonapeedikam (translation - '3 shops') to Valapad (translation - 'you are screwed for the next 2 months, so try these banana chips'). On my side of the car, with intent gaze, I observed on the first few days a distinct haze of land in green and brown shoot past me. I checked with the lady who sat to my right in the car; the verdict was clear, she saw the same distinct haze of land in green and brown on her side as well. Such was the speed that he drove at.
Schumesh has earned a great amount of respect in the neighborhood. We've seen random strangers driving much more powerful vehicles (including those that come with some strange "Police" signs) respect him and wave back with a smile on the face. 2 weeks of being chaffeured around later, the eyes started to adjust themselves to the window view. Those blurs, when seen with steely gaze, started to materialze into only slightly more concrete faces. Concrete with fear. And with all those metaphors I begun feeling like a civil engineer. Schumesh has single-handedly responsible for converting all other vehicles into off-roaders. They need to get off the road to survive his speed. But for those few moments (and many kilometers), we simply hold our hands together (I hold mine, and the lady holds hers.. efforts to any other effect have been thwarted, I report) and pray that we make it safe just one more time.
Monday, October 26, 2009
I AM THE WALRUS
The first impression one has after an interaction with Walrus, is the impression it leaves on the chair. A rounded body, with a smaller, rounder head atop it. The missing 'link'in the image is the one between the body and the head - the neck. The eyes are well guarded by stocky eyebrows and are placed deep in the socket. At those depths, it is difficult for the listener or viewer to discern the direction in which they see and the object they seek. The Walrus has his favourites amongst the project team - and the writer is surely not in the top 2. That, inspite of the team size being only 2!! Its favourite is the manager who comes in every morning, hiding behind me to prevent being spotted and to avoid all conversations. Little luck.. fat chance! The Walrus is greeted with a a hearty "good morning" by me, but it never acknowledges my presence. The regards are conveyed directly to the lady behind me who also is my manager. Occassionally, it wishes her right through me. I do not exist for the Walrus.
As proof, is given below an anecdote. Anecdote -
The lady and self are provided with transport by the office to ferry us to the restaurant and back during lunch hours. Day 12 of the project found the hospitality lacking. The roads, however, were not lacking in autorickshaws. Three waves of the arm later, came an auto towards us. And with it, brings to us the Walrus. It was lurking at the car nearby. Of concern to it was our travelling by auto instead of the office car. All my suggestions that it is fine to travel by auto for such short distances, were dismissed (along with me) by the Walrus. The lady received all attention and was told in a voice stentorian, that she shall always travel by the office car (even if it meant I walk on my knees to the restaurant) or else he will have to act "strictly" with her. She was sent off with a smile while I was dismissed by a show of the Walrus back.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
We returned to our oasis, proudly called “Chand ‘V’ Regency” at the regulation time of 8 pm. The single quote surrounding the ‘V’ in the hotel’s name is of much intrigue to me. Were they punning on ‘V’? Does it have a deeper meaning that we folks missed out? On the atrium (20 ft X 20 ft) wall is plastered a rather larger-than-life photo of a gentlemanly looking male form of the human species. I presume the hotel’s legacy and balance sheet stems out of him. My suggestion, as is the want of any consultant’s to offer freely, to place the photo in the attic behind shoe boxes and see a 30% increase in revenue was not taken well by the hotel management. My laundry comes back dirtier than the form it is given in, thanks to the free advice.
Today has been a different evening at the hotel, from the usual sleepiness it carries about itself. The hotel is hosting a birthday party! A birthday party of some sorts I would say. I never would imagine that Moonupeedika could rock ‘n’ roll, and how! The sound spreads across the entire atrium and all other confines of the hotel. The occupant of the frame on the wall seems to smugly enjoy the show. Walking along the corridors, the vibrations in the feet told us clearly that the people partying meant business. Asking the colleague / project manager / friend, to come down for dinner had me saying “l.. llll ee ttt’s ggggo pphor dinner”. Vibrations, I tell you!
The dinner hall has its usual customers. None. The staff of 6 that does the cooking and waiting on the customers go about business as usual. The true effect of the party can be felt here. Its just a few inches of concrete and a false ceiling the size of Mt. Kilimanjaro that separates us from the party people. Songs, an eclectic mix, are being belted out of some very loud speakers. Eclectic because they started off with a Michael Jackson number and shifted gears to a few Malayalam numbers. Before we knew, the partying troupe launched an attack on the latest Hindi numbers – Farhan Akhtar’s Don and Kajol’s comeback vehicle (one tyre short) Fanaa. Then came the surprise – Hotel California. The vibrations in the walls came down by one seismic level and we could hear meaningful sing-alongs drowning the music player. My colleague, one who believes only sea food is real food, found her focus on the fish atleast. All other food items are for the fish to consume and become sea food to her, she believes. I don’t argue much. My project-end appraisal will be carried out by her.
Retro was brought back from the past with a press of a button (or a turn of the table; just couldn’t say). As we walked back to our respective rooms, to the tune of Khaike Paan Banaras wala, there was a flash in the corridor. A photographer. It wasn’t him who flashed but the camera – thankfully! Tomorrow, I shall wake up earlier than usual and run down to fetch the morning Moonupeedika Times. My first page 3 photo, anywhere!
Monday, October 19, 2009
I was glad I could get the Diwali weekend at Bangalore. After many a year did I manage to burst a few crackers. Feels just as good stinking up the environment now, as it did then. What's missing is the massive enthusiasm that would build up to a crescendo in the days leading up to the festival. No such enthusiasm. The current approach is a lot more wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am.
A couple of the so called rockets literally back-fired and got into the building we live in. The neighbourhood gave me a couple of dirty glances. I guess they haven't heard of how I can throw "atom bombs" after lighting the wick. They've not heard also, of failing air/space borne missions like Chandraayan.
Returning to Kerala was a little more difficult this time. 2 weeks ago I packed up with gay (i.e. happy) abandon and set off to the airport. This time it was the train station. Meeting up with Sandy, Rolly and Nidhi, Prashanth and Manasi and staying out with them upto 45 mins before the train left was not such a smart idea. Well, it did eventually work out that I made it to the station well within time and caught the train. And here's a photo taken with my cutting-edge technology, hi-def cellphone camera. If you can't see the faces clearly, blame the absence of light in the room and talent in the steward who shot the photo.
Kerala continues to take my breath away. Not much of a sleeper in moving things that I am, I pretty much stayed up all night. Once dawn set in with gusto, the land lit up. Every nook and cranny of Kerala looks fabulous. The train doesn't take you through every nook and cranny though. Loved the architecture of the homes that dot the tracks (some are hardly 4 feet away from the tracks). And nearly all homes seem to have a massive courtyard / garden with a few dozen coconut trees planted in.
Decided, also, to test the local transport system. Inspite of cajoling, attempted convincing and some coercion, I refused to take the auto / cab beyond the bus stand. The bus ride was slightly disappointing since the driver didn't perform any histrionics that my friends mentioned - driving onto pedestrians, over roof-tops, overtaking anything that moves. None of it! A communication problem led me being thrown off the bus about 5kms prior to destination and I had to do the rest by auto. Not bad a trip.
Not really looking forward to this week in office (in Kerala.. definitely) 'coz apparently there's plenty work lined up. I didn't sign up for that.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
We had another 2.5 hours to my flight. The IBM office was in the heart of the city, on the way to Jew Town, conveniently placed for us to check-in our luggage and check-out ourselves. Traffic for a small town like Cochin is still on the high side. Its not like the town has a very high population of vehicles; there must be some Reason lurking around that I couldn’t reason with.
30 minutes or lesser and we were at Jew Town. The “town” as its referred to really is but a few lanes strung together by a spattering of authentic Jews and Jewish shops, a synagogue and plenty of antique shops that sell antiques related to Hindu kings from Kerala and TN largely. Wee bit of a disappointment. When I’m in Jew Town I really would appreciate the Jew Town rap vis-à-vis thappanguchi.
Minor adjustments… we moved on. Plenty of good photographic opportunities, simply due to the Diaspora of colours that congregate at each place. Loading some of them here. We knew pretty much that the prices would all be inflated and a hard bargain is really called for. Reminded me of “The Merchant of Venice” and the biscuit Bassanio got. We did better than him against his clan-mates – no purchases made! ;)
The synagogue has a modest architecture compared to even present-day churches or temples – instructions on the board outside suggest that you stay away from the place if you are dressed indecently. About 90% of urban youth won’t be permitted in methinks. The synagogue’s closed on Fridays they wrote, and we read. With time running short, there wasn’t much justice done to the place, which otherwise can take in the better part of a day for one with the eye for antiques – as opposed to an antique eye. Some quick driving and deft flicking of pedestrians into the narrow gutters hinging the road, by our driver, meant that atleast 2 of us were reaching office in time, and cleanly, if I may add. I risked missing the flight by a comfortable 8 odd to 7 even minutes. Not to be. Murphy was on a break and we made it on time. Apparently Murphy was else where, in the flight that I was waiting for. It eventually took off 2 hours late.
A portal to the past.
Looking forward to writing an introductory piece on the people @ on the client side. Nice blokes all, but come with their idiosyncrasies and I hopefully, will not be tarnishing their reputation too much.
Thursday, October 08, 2009
Sea’ing it from the beaches of Goa and Karwar is one thing, call it A. But b’ing at c, from on a beach that’s not visited at all by tourist or tout, gives a different name to the game. Call it B. B is the more rustic country cousin of A, but when it comes to soul, A can go suck on a mollusc. I would say, let it B.
Things couldn’t have improved any more for us on this trip. The path, as mentioned before, winds through heart-warming narrow-lanes, and at a spot where 3 of them met with and met-up with devotion, was this most amazing temple. Barring one neon light in blue, indicating the name of the temple, the rest of it was lit-up using only oil lamps. An atheist would have remarked “my god…” after a brief thought. A believer would have remarked “my god…” but without the atheist’s thought. The idol was difficult to discern through all that fire-lit brilliance and I’m sure one look at the deity would have thrown so much Awesome at us that we’d have renounced all our worldly possessions (colleague’s SLR). A quick enquiry in chaste Tamil led to an elaborate answer in Malayalam. Summary – it’s the 2nd oldest temple in Kerala; its certainly more than 1000 years old; it closes at 730 pm VST and opens at 530 pm VST; jaggery pongal is standard offering to the residing deity, Vishnu. With a massive banana-leaf helping of this prasad, we were overwhelmed with carmic and calorific thoughts. The latter stayed longer. Looking forward to a few more discoveries like this around.
Tomorrow, we’re taking the first of our fly-backs. I’m off to Hyderabad for a wedding – a friend Priyatham’s. He has promised us a good time with his other endearing friends – John, Bud, Fisher and others. With my flight only at late noon, we are going down to Jew Town in Cochin. More from there. I hope they’ve found themselves. Its been more than 40 years now.
Monday, October 05, 2009
Introductions apart, I pride myself 'coz I have seen a large swathe of our own country, and am sure that there isn't much that the world has to offer than the diversity that we have back home. Dialects changing every 400 km - tough to beat! Nearer home and yet the elusive one in my list was Kerala. And now, thanks to Manappuram Finance, I now have a chance to be in Kerala.
I thought its not such a bad idea to talk about a first-timer's view of God's own country.
For starter's, the sobriquet is inappropriate. Flying into Cochin's airport with a sharp turn, in an aircraft that doesn't give one much confidence (its about the size of a minivan and let's out exhaust like one too), if I were God (pretty close... I'm a consultant), I would remark "That's my own 18 hole Greg Norman designed golf course!". The view is fantastic - trees everywhere... and green the color of the state. Too bad the reds have their strongholds there I thought, after realizing I'm not God.
So the place I'm working at is called Valappad. Thrissur was the name initially suggested and in a quick during-the-flight trick from the project manager, the location was moved about 25 kms (rougly 35 mins of death-defying driving by maniac lungi-toting drivers) from there. Interesting none the less, with a client who promises to not be to aggressive (you meet the ded-loins, no mayter au you do it) and a project manager who promises to be more entertaining with conversations than pressuring. A long walk in the evening to discover the local fanfare led to this - Naaz Bakery, Byju Wine Stores, Another_Naaz Bakery, Another_Byju Wine Stores.... it goes on! There's just one road throughout the town and life pretty much settles around it. What also surprised us (me and project manager referred to earlier) was the continuity in the small towns. There's no no-man's land in between two towns. Seamless Integration at its best.
We finished off with some very pleasant dinner, sea food being the priority on the table thanks to the squid loving manager. Desserts was picked up at one of Naaz' Bakeries - coconut oil based Bombay Halwa. Seamless Integration to National Integrity was an easy jump.
Looking forward to exploring a bit of Kerala for myself, probably ride down the next time I'm on a flyback on the Bullet.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I've realized now that its vastly different to write a couple of pieces about a particular topic and get done with it, vis-a-vis writing on a single topic with multiple characters, spreading it over many pages and hours. But the effort continues to go in and I'm hoping that some day it'll see the light of the day. Atleast, I'll have the satisfaction of having made an effort. If Rome can't be built in a day, throw in a per diem and a few more weeks with sufficient skilled labour, and a decent architecture will be delivered. Good enough for old J.C. to appreciate or Nero to fiddle with, only time will tell. And so will JC.
I've managed with some effort also, to run a little more than 10 kilometers in one single session. I guess I've made a mention of that uncorroborated fact in as many forums as I can. And I still can't get enough. The reasons are two fold - for someone who is on the journey to very high fitness levels, it means a lot and defines a certain milestone on the ardous yet exhilirating journey. The joy of seeing the treadmill indicator turning 10.000 is unexplainable and can lead to one letting out a silent "hurray" from the oral cavity, hands thrust in air vertically and losing balance due to the act. The other reason why it excites me is to do with my confidence levels. Its not a commodity I carry around in excess, very specifically in certain areas like physical fitness. So seeing myself run 10 km (wall-to-wall mirror placed on the left) in an hour and 15 minutes, and knowing that some of my fitter friends have taken about the same time, does wonders to my confidence.
This is my second attempt at long-term fitness, the first being executed when I was in Hyderabad. I have written about the previous experience in earlier posts including sufficient detail about the characters I met there. My current fitness center, though not having as many patrons as the previous one, makes up in the portfolio of patrons. We have 200 pound aunties leaving massive sweat stains the shape of a double-O when they sit down on the stools we use for workout, 80 pound girls assuming that they are size 0 and a host of individuals whose daily fitness-roster form reads "want to make 6 pack" in the "objective" section. (For the record, my "objective" was to "lose 8 - 10 kgs".
Maybe some day, time permitting, I will write about all these characters and my interaction with them. Interaction needn't always be personal and in fitness centers I can vouch that its largely the interaction of sweat molecules.
I'm writing this blog at a whim with no plan in mind. Not that it would make a big difference to the outcome (confidence, was I saying?). By their very nature, blogs have to be either informative or entertaining. This one is neither. Its completely personal and at this instant, the blog is my sounding board on a public forum. Nothing beyond it.
On an off-note, news of MJ's passing away, I gather, has revived a big interest in his music (was it ever gone?). I'm wondering which other artist will be able to make an impact as big as this one, if he were to pass away (not that I want them to). Dylan, I'm guessing. But then again, I'm an ardent follower of his music and hence could be prejudiced. A song from his '63 album, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" follows - Don't Think Twice, Its Alright.
Back to tripping on it...
It ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
An' it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It never do, somehow
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I'll be gone
You're the reason I'm trav'lin' on
Don't think twice, it's all right
It ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An' it ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
I'm on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin' you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin' anyway
So don't think twice, it's all right
It ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
Like you never done before
It ain't no use in callin' out my name, gal
I can't hear you any more
I'm a-thinkin' and a-wond'rin' all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I'm told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don't think twice, it's all right
Lonesome road, babe
Where I'm bound, I can't tell
Goodbye's too good a word, gal
So I'll just say fare thee well
I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right