Sunday, August 28, 2005

Paris pranaya (Part I)

We forever split our lives into many places. Each of them is a complete entity - with its own box of scents, smells, incidents, friends, foes, fights, and trips. Each of them have a set of songs we used to listen to, books that we used to read, words that we used to use often, pasttimes we used to enjoy, even the way we used to laugh, and a select collection of occasional million dollar moments when life felt complete.

And often, we tell ourselves that we should go back to visit those places again and pick up some left out memories and pack them into our bags. I rarely get to do it - It's been ages since I went back to the house I grew up in. I tell all my friends that I want to go back to BITS one more time to see the place again - But I know I would rarely get to do it. Probably because we just don't want to smudge a perfect picture inside our heads and want to let those places rest in peace. Or probably it's about the people - Those people who breathed life to the edifices, made moments out of ticking seconds and were the actors who make up memories while the place itself a mere stage. Without the people the charm isn't really there which is probably why this visit to Fontainebleau might be my last visit to the place though there's a faint hope ~C will still be there the next time I come back to Europe.

Fontainebleau is a sleepy little town 65 kms from paris. The town is famous for three things - the teeming forests which served as the favorite hunting grounds for many a french emperors, a beautiful chateau which is on par with the ones in Versailes and Vaux-le-Vicomte, and the INSEAD school of business. Not many know about this town. Some know that it's close to this town called Melun - which is another town everyone knows but no one knows why it's famous. It doesn't even have a chateau, leave alone a business school!

There are very few places in this world where I completely feel at home. Places where I am not a visitor or a tourist; where I don't need people to help me out with directions or the platforms. Feels good when you can be so comfortable with the place. Feels at home. Chennai of course is like that - Anywhere I get down in chennai, I know how to make my way home [Definitely not the case with Bangalore! I am completely at the mercy of the Auto drivers]. And so is Paris. You drop me wherever inside the Paris city, there's a good chance I know where I am and how to make my way to my old-houses in Fonty.

It's funny how little details that you can't recollect normally come back to you that very moment. Like simple pleasantries in a foreign language that you used to speak for sometime, names of the streets, the way to your favorite cafe, the names of the bus stop where you have to get down, the name in the calling bell that you have to ring and silly farting sounds that irritate you!

There's an apartment in the first floor, in Rue de fleury where BITSians have been living for the last 6 years. At the door, you have 5 calling bells with none of the names being Indian. You should remember to press the bell named "Churchill" if you have to save yourself from a lecture in french for waking up a french guy at 8:30 on a saturday morning. The house has an antique gas heating facility and EVERYTIME I enter the house, it makes this farting noise that irritates me. 3 years and 8 months later, it still happens.

~D, I have to tell you, is a perfect host. He just knows what someone would want when he enters the house. Thirty minutes after I enter the house, I have some delicious french breakfast, some bachelor tea (lots of spices, very milky and always an extra spoon of sugar but still Xtremely delicious) and lots of hot gossip. For a whole hour, we gossip about everyone - those who stayed, those who strayed, ones who left, wired geeks, weird geeks ... just about everybody. I don't know ~D too well - we probably have spent about 10 hours in all with each other before this. But I just didn't feel it right from the moment I stepped in.

The leather couch - Rarely have I seen the result of hardwork that my dad always talks about. But that day, I saw what he meant on the leather couch. For three whole years four men with all perseverence, did nothing over the weekends and sat on it as couch potatos watching TV, browsing the internet or just chatting about nothingness of the universe all to make sure their bum impressions are left there forever on the couch. And two years later, I am proud to tell you it's still there. You probably think I am imagining it - but I know the result of the 'hardly-worked' when I see it!

And then the Barbecue happened ....

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

BLOB Awards : Update

Flash news!

We have come up with the preliminary list of categories for the BLOB awards. Do take a look and let me know your esteemed comments!

Thanks a trillion!

[A silent prayer] One more....

Tuesday, 2 August 2005 - Toronto, Canada
309 on board. Everyone survived [Airbus A-340]

Saturday, 6 Auguest 2005 - Sicily, Italy
39 on board, thirteen died [twin-turboprop ATR 72]

Sunday, 14 August 2005 - Greece
121 on board. All of them dead [Boeing 737 ]

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - Venezuela
160 passengers & crew, All of them dead [MD-80 aircraft]

Wednesday, August 24, 2005
- Peru
100 on board, 41 died [
Boeing 737]

A handful of land (revisited)

It all started with an image.

An image I saw of a young man being pulled out of his house; The soldiers who were dragging him were NOT decimating his being (quite unlike the images one is served everyday) even when he was wriggling out their hands and quoting them verses from what looked like a holy book. It was an arresting sight which had so many dimensions to it - One of those images that you want to verbalise and share, an image that you don't dissect and judge but express as a viewer.

A event always has many dimensions and can be viewed through a lot of ways much like a three dimensional object being photographed. The absence of a perspective or a view is not because it was assumed, trivialized, or negated but purely because another perspective was chosen to be showcased. On the same lines, the post on gaza withdrawal did not talk about whether the jews deserved it, or what the palestinians had to go through over the years, or whether palestinians were villains who forced people to leave, or whether what Iraqis suffer is much lesser than what the jews are going through. Each of these topics span posts (or rather books) and are matters that involve a lot of detail and understanding. The post tried to understand what a jewish commoner felt about leaving his home to another land. period. This need to understand is independent of the judgement whether he deserved to do it or not.

To not judge the event was a conscious decision because to make a judgement (or to mention who's to blame) is a responsibility that requires a good understanding of the history that has led to the event. Though I haven't been blind to whatever has happened so far over the years, I am not sure I have the acumen to do so for an international event that has been debated for decades.

However, the important point that I carry from this exchange is - sensitivity factor. Not for a moment did I trivialize the magnitude of the decision or of the dispute that has been raging over the decades. I have utmost respect for the sentiments of both side. However, I realize it's runs much deeper than that. I am not sure how many of us (who commented) are directly related to the events happening there. But such disputes cut deep right through human lives all over the world. Each one takes a personal responsibility towards such problems in his own circle of influence (even if that meant having a strong opinion and keeping himself abreast with updates). So, when someone writes about such issues, it's his responsibility to provide a complete view and weigh events from both sides in the balance of ethics.

I personally still don't judge the youngster who was reading out the holy book to the soldier. I still empathize with his pain. And I will not judge whether what happened was right or wrong. That's me. But glorifying the dream of a promised land and sympathizing with those who leave the land when done in third person implicitly carries a subtext of "Jews being wronged" even when one does not make a ethical judgement about the decision itself. In other words, when I say I sympathize for him, the implicit assumption is I find his stand on the issue justified. And such implicit subtexts in issues as sensitive as this one are louder than the text itself. And that I have realized (do let me know whether my understanding is right).

To reiterate - I usually get my history checked, I feel strongly about the Iraq war, I am DEFINITELY not religiously prejudiced nor do I make emotional judgements when it comes to lives of so many people. This post has been a great learning experience. I hope I have been successful in clarifying what I wanted to convey. I sincerely appreciate all of you who have taken time to let me know what you think.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A handful of land

As long as deep within the heart
The Jewish soul is warm
And toward the edges of the east
An eye to Zion looks
Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years
To be a free people in our own land
In the land of Zion and Jerusalem.
To be a free people in our own land
In the land of Zion and Jerusalem.

(From the
song Ha-Tikvah (The Hope), the anthem of the Zionist movement and the state of Israel)

On that day, God made a covenant with Abram, saying: "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river the Euphrates. The land of the Kenites, Kenizites, Kadmonites; the Chitties, Perizites, Refaim; the Emorites, Canaanites, Gigashites and Yevusites."
(Genesis 15:18-21)
"And I will give to you and to your descend
ants after you, the land of your temporary residence, all the land of Canaan as an eternal possession and I will be a God to them." (Genesis 17:8)

Year after year, generation after generation, mothers in the land of Israel must be telling their children one of the oldest stories humanity knows - about a man named Abraham; An old man who was promised a piece of land by god himself that he was to rule and showcase to the world as a model nation.

And for thousands of years, every jewish child carried this story close to his heart. Even when the nation itself didn't exist, even when there was not even a glimmer of hope that all jews would one day be under one roof, he kept it alive as a hope, as a prayer, and as a dream for a better tomorrow for himself and his children. He lived and died in the hope that he would one day be able to set foot in the land of Israel and escape from the road to perdition.

And through every line of history, they have been damned and bruised. They have been chased out of their homes by the romans, then by the arabs and finally the ottoman empire. One man was crucified on a fateful friday and an entire diaspora bore the cross for centuries forever without redemption. They were killed at the drop of a hat - A jewish captain was caught for passing secrets to Germany during World war I and thousands of jewish names filled mortuary registers. The nation he (is supposed to have) helped lost the war and history carries its aftermath as an irrepairable stain, as an albatross around its neck. And when men were gassed and killed, children experimented upon, not ONE country opened their doors for them citing appeasing immigration laws.

And finally at the end of the war, the destitutes declared the land of Israel as theirs and since then the borders of the nation have been bleeding. But every man there holds to his land as his own, for he knows it's not about the edifice that he's built on top, but about a millenium old dream that's woven as a canvas on which the nation stands.

And so when men and women are asked to evacuate their homes so that people they have been fighting against for centuries to hold on to their handful of land, can come and house themselves there, I have an inkling of an idea of how that might feel. Forget losing your entire eco-system, your home and every dream and memory that you built it with, your neighbours and friends and dispersing as nomads into lands seeking a new destiny. They have been doing it all their lives - from the romans, from the nazis, from the gullitone of fate. This runs deeper than that - this refutes his entire existence for he has a tryst with the land that he belongs to that he will breathe his last there.

I know a thing or a two about losing one's land - for I belong a country that's lost thousands of men on guarding a state and calling it ours. Our scriptures don't call it our promised land, we haven't fought the entire world to make it ours, our destinies aren't woven into its landscapes, but I would HATE to part with even a single speck of it for it has long ceased to be just a piece of land for us. It defines our pride, our collective existence. I know no country man who gives a damn about losing it to anyone else who may call it theirs.

You find them everywhere -
CNN, BBC, Reuters, Rediff - Read them! Each one of them! Read about men who have left everything they have had and dropping into the gaza strip from timbukthu for a cause they believe in, See the soldier who's doused in acid but doesn't hit back at the protesters because he can understand what the other one is going through, Look at the kid who's holding the holy book for the soldiers to read. These men who have to quit their homes, and these soldiers are forcing them to do it, and an entire nation that follows it on TV, I am sure it's not easy on any of them. Yet less than a dozen are killed (Touch wood!) - Men who do lose it and kill fellow men are collectively blamed and I truly respect them for that because in a time when lives are lost for no reason at all, to value it amidst so much loss is TRULY remarkable.

The one question that demands to be answered is WHY?
To part with something that you value as much or probably more than your own existence is extremely painful. But what is worse is doing it for something you don't believe in. Not even one bit. I am not questioning the validity of this move for right to this land is an international issue that has been discussed, compromised upon and finally endorsed by both sides. But why would Ariel Sharon do this? Because he believes this is the right thing to do? Because he finally wants to mark his page in history with one good deed? Or probably because he has finally been forced to compromise on his share of the land. Why?

Centuries of hopelessness has removed any benevolence from our opinion of politics. Politics at best is about representation, leave alone reform. It's about representing the views of a million diverging views that agree on a tiny miniscule point of inactivity where 545 people house themselves and call it a parliament. No one believes a man who wages a war for welfare or for means of warfare.

You can always justify a victory, for it's finally victors who write history? But a loss, a sacrifice - from an erstwhile soldier. Why?
I am probably being cynical and fail to appreciate the goodness in him, in humanity. Do you see any?

A quick question

I need just TWO minutes of your time. Please take a look at this link and let me know what you think.

Thanks SO much!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A silent prayer for ...

Tuesday, 2 August 2005 - Toronto, Canada
309 on board. Everyone survived

Sunday, 14 August 2005 - Greece
121 on board. All of them dead.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - Venezuela
152 passengers, All of them dead.

On the road again ...

Has it ever happened to you that you go to the same place the second time (within a span of an year) and it looks completely different from how it is inside your head and so unlike what you remember it to be. It's not that you have forgotten your previous experience but on the other hand, you remember it vividly - right from the rotten wooden fence that you held and slipped, to the edge that you tiptoed to and took a photo; Vividly enough to spot the difference this time. And just when you become a stranger again in the place, from some corner a memory tumbles down, a moment caught in between the blades of grass and a whole scene unfolds transforming an unknown alley into childhood playground.

After what feels like ages, I hit the roads again in Europe. Went to Salzburg in Austria along with my colleague ~S and his parents, and a Long time friend and co-prankster (appropriately with a capital L. To place things in perspective, we know eachother since the age of four). Back to the world of sprawling landscapes, highway signs, print outs, reruns of the same CDs, stretching exercises in filling stations by the highway side, pain-au-chocalat-breakfasts and the same old travel stories that you dish out everytime you travel about a friend-who-lost-his-way and the accident-that-almost-happened.
Austria is an interesting country. It's extremely beautiful, is surrounded by the Alps, and is not very crowded, except for the filling stations that is. On our way back to Germany, we found this one filling station which had queues right till the exit in the highway. It was only then my colleague explained me that the price of oil is substantially lesser in Austria when compared to Germany. So, Shell on a highway near Munich would sell fuel for 1.36 euros while 85-150 kms away, right at the borders you get it for 1.09 euros. So, every sunday a lot of cars actually travel all the way from Germany to Austria and fill their tanks causing serious traffic jams in the area. And thanks to EU regulations, this is perfectly legal.
Also, fulfilled a long pending dream of sleeping under a tent. It was an immense learning experience I admit. According to Zen, "When sleeping inside a tent, it doesn't help to pile on 3 blankets on yourself to avoid the cold when the mattress you are lying on is as cold as ice". Profound, I must admit and a little numbing too.

Also had a taste of the severe sexual discrimination that is prevalent in the world. Did you know Swarovski is originally from Austria? It is and in a place called Wattens, they have a huge exhibition and a crystal shop. In the women's section, you have jewels, little cute boxes and other interesting things you can see but cannot buy. I was surprised to note that they have a men's section, which among many things showcases crystal Rats and Teddy bears in the size of a spit chewing gum. It is one thing not having a section at all. But to have a section with crystal rats ...
I shall take leave with a Joke on similar lines that I read in Questionable Taktix,

"In Rwanda (I think), the goverment is funding girls who get through college as virgins. Guys who finish college as virgins, of course, get as usual, an Engineering Degree."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Till death does us apart

The mobile in her hand twisted and twirled and finally slipped out of her long slender fingers onto the floor leaving a permanent scar on the display. She cursed, picked it up from the floor and started fidgeting with the keys. Locking, unlocking and locking them again until it suddenly started to ring. She stared at the number for a long second, cut the call, dropped the phone in her hand bag and stared at her fellow passengers in the train - tired men oblivious to her presence making their way home and drowning daily woes in center spreads. She looked away through the window and caught a faint image of herself on the glass pane. Her cheeks were puffed, her eyes red and a lone strand of hair demanded to be ducked behind the ear.

How could she have let it happen? When did things go so far - He had filled her life in every way - touched every corner of her heart, lived through every fantasy in her head. She felt his presence everywhere - in the glistening drops of the shower, in the caressing wind on the way to work, in every accidental touch; She brought him to life in those last few moments before sleep and let him live in the dreams that ensue. Every trivial fact, every amusing gossip, every dog, every cloud, every baby she wished were hers were part of those long evening conversations when she walked holding hands with him. He was her shoulder to cry, wings to fly, excuse for an adventure, standup comedian, knight in the shining armor, her secret fantasy. With him, she could be anything - a kid, an angel, a bird, a dream ...

... And a faithful wife to her husband. A moral obligation that she wakes up next to everyday, watches in the dining table every evening as she waltzes her way home. Felt like ages since she even saw his face clearly or had a proper conversation with him. She was the perfect wife - She cooked his lunch, washed his clothes, walked and waltzed him in weekend parties, held his hands in family photos, sat on saturday evenings and watched movies on TV until both of them got bored and slumped on either side of the bed with the world in between.

A faithful wife who never let another man touch her ... until today. The train entered a tunnel and the clatter of the tracks seemed louder through the enveloping darkness. She closed her eyes and watched herself writhing in his bed, tried hard to erase the image from her mind but realizing more and more that she wanted to hold on it. She wished she could just pluck him out of her dreams, take him out of her life, fall on his arms again, and feel those lips again. She cupped her mouth in horror but found her fingers tracing her lips and touching memories.

She wanted her old life back - her life like it was last night before sun dawned and changed it forever where late at nights, she could love him in her dreams and run her fingers through her husband's hair and convince herself that she is a faithful wife.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


The cold wind on a late november evening can be cruel indeed, forcing families to huddle up near a fire place and recount oft-quoted stories again to recreate themselves. Streets were deserted, even the pubs were empty, and so was the "Sailor's Tower" standing alone, perched on the coastline of Idago with only my presence for company. On a clear, summer day you can stand here and watch the coastline zig zag towards infinity like a ragged line, punctured along the way by docks, and a few steamers. Yet the million dollar sight is to watch the two mountains from the twin islands - Idago and Valago - reach out towards eachother over the seas, parted by a gap that god left man to fill.
Haven't you been there? Facing a problem with an obvious answer everyone else refuses to see. The two islands were as diverse as any two neighbours could be. Idago was an industrial haven - we had the best schools, built the best houses and had a quality of life that was rivalled by everyone around. Valago had the most beautiful waterfalls, lush green forests but children there had to travel miles to find a proper school to study in; Men were jobless and families couldn't afford the basic utilities required to lead a respectable life. It was at the mountains that the two islands came closest towards eachother and from there on, they parted until they were out of eachother's sight. To travel from one island to another, one had to brave the turbulent waters and the rude sailors who set up schedules to suit themselves. And those who agreed to go were more often so drunk that the whole boat sunk into the deep unknown - into a darkness no one could fathom.

Every single day since I was 10, I have spent hours at the sailor's tower listening to the two mountains. I would squint my eyes and watch men walk over my thumb, on my knuckles and finally reach the promised land at the end of my little finger. To build a bridge for me was the obvious thing to do. It was my secret pact with these mountains, my singular reason to live and the waves were my witnesses, the proof of my faith. It defined everything I did - my education, vocation, my choice of books, company and even my dreams.
A deafening silence lasted a second. And it trickled, in ones and twos, and then in dozens until the whole valley was echoing with an applause that refused to stop. The kids, youngsters and the old men, men from the council, the businessmen and the politicians from both the islands under the same roof in a quaint town that was chosen as the middle ground were looking straight into my eyes to see if I meant what I said. And for two hours, I was a voice for a greater truth, for passion that has fuelled my existence since the first day I remember. And when I finished, in that deafening moment of silence I would have collapsed dead for something that was holding me there left my soul and bared me naked before countless peering eyes. And then the claps started ringing - Not everyone believed it will work. Some wanted to give me a chance. Some wanted to see me fail. But the rest wanted to believe me, wanted to be part of something that touches a thousand lives and gives them purpose; hungry souls who would have created me out of ether if I didn't exist. The posters of the proposed bridge adorned the walls; There were captions and slogans; We planned ads in magazines, on TVs. The press was waiting and for a split second, just a split second, it all seemed possible.
"I didn't even know such formalities exist. I have read every single rule book there is and there's not even a mention of such a paper". It felt like I was talking to the walls, like I didn't even exist in that dingy, nauseating room talking to a stout, balding man who had an opened file cover for a face. He didn't bother to answer, but opened the drawers of his table and threw a book at me. The book was printed a week ago. "But the new rules must have come into effect a week ago. How could I have filed this document when our project was sanctioned 6 months before". He looked up from his file and smirked at me. Betel leaves juice from his mouth dripped onto the file he was reading as he slurped it back into his mouth. Callousness was plastered all over his face, on the stain on the file, painted on the walls, written on all the files that were falling out of every shelf in the room, it was slapping me so hard that I was bleeding all over. The buck stopped here, he knew it and he didn't give a damn. "I don't care for these papers, these damned formalities. I am going to build the bridge and let us see what you can do". It was a stupid thing to say. But futility gives you complete freedom to react because nothing you do is ever going to make a difference.
It had started drizzling. I wore the hood of my jacket and covered my numb ears. But his answer was still ringing loud and clear. "You talk like a crusader. But I know you don't give a damn about those islands. Listen to me son, I am not going to move my butt so that a no-namer bastard can get his initials in the annals of history". It hurt - to be able to do nothing to prove him wrong. People like him can always dissect anything - even sacrifice - into personal equations of profit and loss and dismiss them. It is as much an excuse for them to dismiss it as it is a reason for the crusaders to accomplish something.

I was walking through lanes that housed memories of my childhood but have long been forgotten because my daily work didn't lead me there. I didn't want to go to sleep because I had no reason to wake up the next day. I wanted to leave the city, didn't want to carry this loss like an albatross, didn't want my girl to be ridiculed at school as a loser's daughter. Felt like disappearing into the nothingness that was extending till infinity before me. I stopped under a lamp post to check the time. There next to it was an open window framing a part of a well-lit wall. On the wall was the poster of the bridge, my bridge, with a crayon-drawn family of four matchstick men - Parents holding hands of their son and daughter. On top of the family, the caption read, "Happy Family Forever".
I snuggled under the covers, buried my face into her hair and slowly traced my way to the center of the bulge and drew a heart on it, as a whisper to my sleeping daughter. Despite my whole world falling apart, that moment it all felt complete. My life merging with her life and the life within. She instinctively turned around, pecked me in the first spot she could find on my face and asked me sleepily, "Will you build the bridge darling?". I took her lips in mine, traced my way to her ear and whispered, "No baby. But I have left a dream behind" and sealed the truth with a kiss.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Is it a plane ... Is it a bird

.... No it's super ted!

Just when you thought everything in this blog is going on smoothly, Super ted is back with a bang! (If you don't know Super ted, you should go back to the books). Super ted made a superstar entry in this blog but was soon relegated to the sidelines thanks to some philosophical quandaries no one is worried about. And now, Superted's back with a vengeance.

Superted has taken control of an entire blog.
Superted is cool, Superted is a super star (You know the song, sing along!)

You wouldn't see SuperTed here anymore but (in a grim note), if there's ever a problem and you need help, you know who to call - Ted, SuperTed.

Now, hop in while I whisper my secret password.
Hip, hop and hurray! (That sounds awfully familiar to a lot of things that Superted has heard :)

PS: To Summarise, I have updated my travel blog. Please do visit the same :)