Thursday, November 23, 2006

Firsts list

How many of you have a first-list - the first job, the first bike, the first house, the first get the drift? Like Dr.Bhalerao says to Roy in Bluffmaster - tumhe kitne din yaad hain?, I have a mental "to-do" list, which I like to "Mark as Done" with a punch in the air, as and when I reach there. Some of my firsts have been highly fulfilling, like my laptop, which left me on cloud nineteen, or my first big splurge - 16k of hard-earned money on a cellphone. I still remember the feeling when I gingerly gave my card for swiping, wondering whether it was worth it.

Some of them were long overdue, like my bike. My bike was not the first vehicle I rode - I had a second-hand Hero Puch before, and an old family Luna before that, and hand-me-down cycles even before. My bike was not the first vehicle I bought - I bought a Scooty for dad before the bike. And so, the joy that MY bike was bought of my own money was overshadowed by a "Oh, you bought a bike? So what?" feeling. Nevertheless, I celebrate every small acquisition in my long list of "must-haves" I have been listing since college days. Some items on the list have been re-prioritised, some new items have gatecrashed and some items have been obfuscated.

And I remember each of these firsts - the offer letter - which was like a million prayers answered, the first big splurge - with the fear of repayment, the first salary (again, technically, the first salary was Rs.880, for a part-time job as a sales canvasser for Deccan Herald, which was joyfully spent on steaming idli-vada-sambar or set dosas for a whole month), the ride from the bike showroom to the office, the wide-eyed stare into the shining blackness of the laptop screen, the awe at the credit-card sized digital camera, which is smaller than my cellphone, the first of those stolen kisses (ever wondered how the sweetest of kisses are those that are stolen), the first of those innumerable whoops of joy at something finally working out, the first (and all) of those reunions of college friends and many many more....

Some time back, I struck one more entry off my list - I bought my first suit. And while I was it, I made it even more memorable by making it two.

Friday, November 10, 2006

bewDon ka woh aDDa

You ask me where I was all these days? I tell you I was at the bar. You gawk?

So I was hopping here and there, bored and yawning, and I came across this cozy bar via Adi.

(This takes our score to 2-1 in his favour. How you ask? Like Adi carries my post on Mysore here - Adi 1 - Viky 0, Like I beat him for the GOLD on this post - 1-1)

I'm lucky to generally have some spare time in office, which I book under "Non-project Activity". Much of this is reading blogs, checking out gadget reviews, drawing up comparison sheets to help friends buy some goods, checking my account balance in the hope that some good samaritan may have transferred some money, reading trivia on sports or film stars on Wikipedia - the stuff. I always enjoy posts of Indian students and professionals living abroad - their life, the kind of things they come across, the slight fear of being alone in a distant, unfamiliar environment, the tingling excitement of explaining your native habits and culture - you know, the works. I keep coming back and read them, often discuss anecdotes of the scores of NRI blogs I read, but none were so captivating that I had to reschedule the other NPAs. After Thought Raker and Waiter Rant, this was one blog which beckoned me to keep coming back.

And I'm left with the same feeling which I had after Waiter Rant. It's like finishing a good book. Like one of my trainers said - I'm sad that you have never read Harry Potter, but I'm also happily jealous, because you can experience the joy of reading them for the first time, while I can't. When you finish lapping up all the archived stuff, you are glad, but there is this hunger for more. Hunger, which will not satiate at one post. Which is why I read the waiter once in four-five weeks, when there is enough on my plate. I thought I'd never find anything which would feed my hunger for short-storyesque prose like ThoughtRaker, but I found Waiter Rant. I thought the same about Waiter Rant, but found Sayeshaz.

Which prompted me to tweak Hariharan's ghazal and put it as my debut comment on her bar - "maikade band karein laakh zamane waale, shehar mein kam nahin blogon se pilane waale".

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


When I have written about buses, can trains be left behind?

I always had a special connection with trains, as can be seen in my comment on this post. I have literally woken up to the loud trumpeting horn of the Mysore-Nanjangud train, waiting for its signal to enter the Ashokapuram station. I clearly remember Thatha taking me up to the roof years ago, to show me the trains. Those were cherished moments - every year, a visit to Mysore would mean looking at the trains from Ajji mane mhaaDi. Later, when I came to stay there, and the house underwent a lot of renovation, I was to take my little cousins up the stairs and show them the trains when they acted cranky.

While in school, we would go to play cricket in a place called the "woodyard". On my way back, I would walk along the tracks, wondering how they could stack the stones in neat oblong mounds.
I would walk along until I reached the station, which had a workshop attached to it. This was enough to fuel my curiosity, and I have seen probably all kinds of engines and bogies there were at that point of time.

Later, as dad kept moving around, I got to travel a lot in trains - long distance trains to Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi. I loved those journeys - the looking up your name on reservation charts, the securing of suitcases under the seats, and wondering who might be in the seat next to you, the removing of shoes and climbing up to the upper berth (I got to see a lot of people who climbed into the upper berth and then put their shoes on top of the fan there. I found it utterly disgusting, but I guess they must have lost more shoes than I have stepped into, so I'll let that be), the slow rocking of the train, the switching off of the lights, and the drifting off to the best sleep ever. I always sleep well on trains. Better than I sleep in buses or aeroplanes, or at home. It must be the rocking, or the heavenly smell of countryside, or maybe, the distinctive smell of the cold metal and rexine.

Sometimes, in late evenings when dinner would be served and wrapped up, and I had finished my book or my batteries, I would go and sit on the footboard. Yes, mom, I know you forbade me to stand there. Which is why I didn't. I just sat. I sat and watched the countryside whizz by. I sat and enjoyed the change of sound as the train went over a bridge. I sat and counted the number of bogies as the train went around a bend. I sat and let the wind mess up my hair, I watched the distant light of a lone house in the dark fields. I watched the headlights of the vehicles lined up to let my train pass, I waved back at the small kids waving me goodbye. I took deep breaths of the night air, and at the first sign of drowsiness, I went back to my berth.

Sometimes, I would wake up early to the first call of "tea-choy", "chaya-chaya" or "ness-coffy sir", and a paper-cup in hand, would watch the dawn break across rural India. Trust me, there is nothing more beautiful or divine than watching the sun rise over the misty horizon, lighting up the hitherto dark countryside. The chill in the air stings your face as you sit on the footboard, sipping the hot tea and feasting your eyes on the emerging greenery. Dawn breaks early in rural areas, or rather, it seems to, and you have to be up really early to catch this. An hour later maybe, all you get is morning squatters on the outside, and people wanting to freshen up on the inside. I always used this time to go back to my berth, recall all the sights and drift back to sleep.

The night is always mysterious and fascinating, you never know how it passes. On a train, it is passing the day that is the more difficult part. Like everyone of us, I always hoped that I would meet (atleast) one interesting person of the opposite sex, who would make the journey interesting - but no !!! It either happens in the movies, or to Chetan Bhagat. My sister got such company once, though, and they ended up talking about a story I had started to write, and made fun of the characters. I sulked and never finished the story.

How could one write about a long distance journey and not mention the eunuchs who came clapping by. First I used to look away - outside the window, or into the newspaper or magazine. Later, a sense of "what the duck" took over, and I used to look them in the eye and ask them to go away. The first time I did this, I was like - Wow, it works!!! Hah!!! It's not that I am against helping or anything, but rather, I subscribe to the view that giving them money would encourage them to do it more. It is like purchasing ivory or leather goods - the more you do it, the more it spreads. The only way of stopping it is to refuse them. The only exception I make is for kids. I can't stand them begging saying they haven't eaten for days. And no, I don't give them money. I make sure that they are fed.

Not just trains, as a kid, I was intrigued by stations as well. The nearest station (the one with the workshop) was in visible distance of our house. As kids, we used to go there often and play hide-and-seek in the bogies there. This catered to just one local line, so there was not much of a station there, in fact. Later, when I began visiting dad, he would explain to me the types of stations - there are stations which make their cities famous - like Wadi, or Guntakal, or Bhusawal - these are crucial junctions for the Railways, and they are, by far, the only claim to fame for these cities. Then there are stations which are famous for the food there - like Agra, for its petha, or Mathura, for its peda. And then there are the cities of the erstwhile Presidencies - Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata - since the railway stations here were among the earliest ones set up by the British, their main platforms are unidirectional, like airports - the train comes onto the platform, then backs out to the loop line, and then goes to the main line before chugging out.

I remember how I would stand in the queue at the reservation counter, with 2-3 reservation forms in hand along with the student concession form, for the most convenient train, book the ticket, and count days for the journeys. Things have since changed and the last time I booked a ticket, all I did was call an agent from my extension and give him the train number, and the tickets were delivered next day. Trust me, it was no fun at all.

Trains. They are not just a medium of transport in India. They are a way of life. Like The Think says, you shouldn't write any other word in the same line you write "train".