About Me

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Moonupeedika Times: News aano 2

Ha! Gotcha on a technicality! Two days, 2 blogs. Minutes either side of 12 00 midnight. So here's the next one already.

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

Moonupeedika Times: News aano 1

3 weeks down and here's a profile of those we interact with on a regular basis. One a day, all of them shall soon be covered. The first one right away..

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

Moonupeedika Times, Page 3

Dinner is a simple affair for us folks on the project site. “Site” here is a euphemistic reference to Moonupeedika, where we are hosted by the client. To the left of the town is a large swathe of nothingness. On the right is an exciting quantum of nothingness. Sandwiched between all this nothingness is our oasis. Moonupeedika, as we were told by an overtly helpful local, translates to “3 shops”. We aren’t sure how old the town is, but there still are only 3 shops in the town. If forethought was of any consequence, the town founders would have named it Noorupeedika perhaps – 100 shops.

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

Two weeks down..

.. and going strong!
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

Jew Town Rap

From Monday afternoon to Friday morning – time shot by before I could say “manaslayo”. Why would I say “manaslayo”? If you knew the first m of Malayalam, you would understand. We stepped in late into the state and decided to step out early, before the weekend said its customary Hullo. The flight to Hyderabad was well into the afternoon and having all the morning to reach Cochin, we made the most out of it. A couple of wayward stops, once to puttu and once to tea, pretty much pushed our limit to the runway.
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.

Ignore Tappanguchi and other related dance forms. Here's the god of dance in Jew town.

Its called a Verpu. If any of you know it, please do educate me about the purpose. Very intersting engravings on the outside of it. This, btw, is the largest in the world.

Nothing to do with Jew Town. This photo felt like it could use some publicity !

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! ;)

Torah pyaar Torah magic... said our king to the visitors. :)

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

Kerala Kronicles

“Let’s go check out the Beach” . Minutes before the end of day, which largely is in the 530 pm to 630 pm zone in Valappad Standard Time, that was the mantra on our lips. The beach isn’t the easiest of accessible places in upcountry Valappad, further-up-country Thrissur, really-up-the-creek-country Cochin. The autodriver – as luck favoured us tourist-kinds we found one – was willing to take us there. Once off the main road and heading into long stretches of winding narrow residential lanes, we wondered if security had been compromised. Having the driver tell us it’s a safe place and nothing happens here, only added to our stance of being compromised. 3 kms was the distance estimated by the hotel manager - from the hotel to the beach. Clearly, he didn’t realize that we don’t fly as the crow does. Come to think of it, we don’t fly at all. The distance was an easy 7 kms. When the beach stared into our face from between isolated homes and coconut trees huddled up, we still took a few seconds, before the sounds, rather than the visuals in the dark, indicated the presence of … The Arabian Sea… at our feet! What a feeling!

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

Thrissur in Thirty Days

My profile on the professional front would not be very different from the rest of them in the "IT Generation". Studied in a good engineering college, scored average marks, made it to one of the Indian IT firms, so on and on cliched continuation... so forth. What sets me apart is the geographic footprint that I've worked out.. or to be more specific... haven't worked out. I have never been outside the country, be it the non-visa countries of Nepal, Bhutan et al or the more exotic ones like the Iceland like some of my friends have.
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.