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Showing posts from 2008

The fizzy and the still

Leaving Birmingham for good was harder than I expected. The city did not offer much apart from the University, visits to Walmart and the Indian food store. Life in the apartment with my roommates was not extraordinary. And yet, I had a hard time fighting back tears as I made my way to the airport.

2008 was a year of travel for me. I was in India in January, the U.S in February, Cambodia in May, India in October and the U.S in December. I've sat waiting for flights at a mind-numbing list of airports in that time; Bombay, Zurich, Hong Kong, Phnom Penh, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, Houston, Cincinnati, Raleigh, New York and Birmingham. Simply reading back on what I've typed just now makes me tired thinking about all that flying and transit time. It's not glamorous in the least, let me assure you.

Stating the obvious here, I like routine. It takes time and a lot of emotional investment to settle somewhere, make friends, get some sort of purpose and order to existen…

Don't hold your breath

Applying and interviewing for a job is hard enough in this day and age of recession, cutbacks and pink slips. Having received an offer letter, I suppose I should have thanked my guardian angel, quietly accepted the terms and got a move on. Heaven knows the geezers made me sweat for an inordinately long time after saying the magical words "We'll let you know".

But no. I chose to figuratively clear my throat at what I thought was an unethical stunt on their part. This latest exchange of pleasantries, by phone last Friday morning IST ended with "I'll let you know by email as soon as possible... by the end of the day, if I can".

The long and short of it ?


P.S: Substitute beanie with word consistent with the scheme of above post.

Song for the moment:Simple man - Lynyrd Skynyrd

Brand new day

Graduation day has dawned & after 2 days of grey skies and relentless rain, today is bright and sunny with the diamond-clear skies seemingly kicking off the celebrations. In this atmosphere, there is a powerful urge to write something charged, something inspirational and soul-stirring. Not that this is a portent or anything...

Today's early morning hustle and bustle brings back memories of childhood and visiting faraway places in South India for weddings and other celebrations. As children, we had very little say in which social occasion we were gracing. Then again, being children, we did not really care as being woken up early was equated with being considered an adult and the resultant puff of pride had us strutting around a little more dandily. I seem to recall my only concern was running around huge halls & labyrinths of rooms with my cousins, playing chaotic games. We had competition from the ladies of the house who would also be moving around, balancing trays of food…

Devil's got a new disguise

I went by the Graduate School today and to be told that I would be graduating this weekend. A smart decision on their part as I certainly had no plans of registering for another semester of somnambulism. Don't get me wrong; there were some classes I liked attending. On the whole though, the charm of academia has faded with a resounding finality.

To ensure no f**kups regarding my exit, I had to endure a pretty torrid first week. All my doing of course. The price of procrastination, let's say. I know not of too many acquaintances who are not devotees of working frantically at the last minute. Right through college (and considering I've been in college, collecting degrees for about 7 years now, I speak from some serious experience) the tendency has been to dawdle everytime something substantial needed to be done. On cue, beer and the meaning of life and everything in between became a lot more fascinating than the work at hand. The end result, at least for me, was to view the s…

Night of the long knives

Readers, there are no doubt a number of incidents in your lives that provoke the sentiment – ‘One day, I’ll look back on this and chuckle’. If you have kept up with the tales told on this blog, you may have noticed a somewhat similar pattern in some of the posts herein. Yes, it is a praiseworthy & pleasant luxury to be able to laugh at yourself if you hark back to various potentially titanic-type incidents.

Still, be it ever so narrow, a line is required somewhere; a marker separating the hilarious-in-hindsight from the why-me ones. So, considering how much I did not want to come back to the U.S, it is fitting that this trip will quite likely rule the latter charts for ages to come. At least, for my health and sanity, you lot should join me in praying that nothing else comes along to top it. Just reading this, you cannot understand how close the camel has come to having his back broken.

Saturday morning, at 7.30 am, in a somnambulistic state, I made my way onto the Cathay Pacific …

To come of age

This post is being written, irritatingly enough, from Hong Kong airport where I seem to be spending half my travel time over the past year. Before I began to type, I looked up the last post written from here and that was on 8th May. Only 6 months ago and yet, it seems like a lifetime of events have washed over me, leaving me reeling & blindly reaching for a fixed point of perspective. Since that last post I have lived... a breath at a time, it almost seems. And yet, I have just been woken up from a delightful dream, to find myself back at this airport.

Living in Cambodia changed me, it's as simple as that. I found out something of who I am but more importantly, what I want. Want - a simple word, attached to so much meaning. It is important to want, but more so to want something with a calming certainty. Like a bite of perfect chocolate mousse at the end of the evening. Having it fits... it completes. And for me, rudderless as I was, plodding through one degree after another, it…

A matter of feeling

My house in under some heavy renovation... the kind guaranteed to bring us, the residents (yes, we are actually still staying in the house) to an anatomical position similar to that of the Thinker. Fervent mutters of "it'll all be worth it, you'll see" do the rounds and maybe it will. But if anyone back in Birmingham says something about me enjoying my holidays, well... never mind.

In the midst of the dust and plaster chunks, I happen to look out the window. It frames grey skies, a gentle drizzle and that soul-enticing smell of moist earth. I pause, purposefully head out to the balcony with my chai and step out of everything for a while. The chai is hot. I stir slowly... the delicate tang of ginger & wisps of steam lazily intertwine with the heady bouquet outside, drifting away. I watch, smell, hear, see... feel, lost to everything else.

I have to run an errand, taking me out of the house. My Kinetic starts almost instantly and we are off, slipstreaming through the…

Running out of days

In a team packed to the gills with personalities to adulate over, he was the one I did. His sporting highs are many, unique and in all probability, will never be bettered. For you see, being bettered implies the presence of a better man, a better player. Which I know there never will be.

It's slightly hilarious that the term Fab 5 has been applied to those five individuals who would relate least to the show-baazi. Each brought something magical to the team, standing tall and in many ways, aloof. But no other five players of the modern game individually and collectively epitomize a dignified agression fuelling their desire to win.

Good luck to Captain Marvel. From the 2nd of November 2008, his eyes cannot search the field for the one individual who will willingly step up, readily and calmly twirl the ball, take a half-step, then 5 strides and...

Step forward Mr. 5-for on debut. If you play with half the ferocity, sportsmanship and even double the taciturnity, you will be a very good b…

Love and Happiness

The year was 1950. Having missed a prestigious Government position in Delhi by the proverbial hair's breath, a 24 year old youth from the south of India began to look for work elsewhere. In this land, destinies were & are made in Bombay. Fate decreed that this boy, called K, had been gallivanting around the backwaters long enough and directed him to the city caressed by the Arabian Sea.

Once he'd begun to work, his family wanted to check off the next thing on the list - a bride. K bluntly told his father that he was not interested in an arranged marriage, practically scandalizing everyone in the vicinity and a few ancestors for good measure. Predictably enough, his wishes were ignored and the hunt for a suitable girl began in earnest, culminating in a small town in Tamil Nadu. K was tersely informed about his upcoming nuptials and although furious, he acquiesced. Which should come as no surprise, really, as young men and women do so even today.

The bride-to-be was 20ish...…

Celebration Day

Inevitably, your statement elicits the question 'why' accompanied by looks ranging from puzzlement to horror. You think about it. Sincerely ponder on the whole gamut; possible reasons, theories, answers, clever retorts...

You seriously consider replying with 'Because', pause (wisely, in this day and age) & then gently shake your head and stay mute, hoping that the zen-like expression on your face will suffice as an answer, explanation or whatever else. If they had to ask, then nothing you could say would ever satisfy. Ergo, you silently thank your guardian angel that no real melodrama ensued.

Kshitij and I left from home at 6:20 am, knowing we had a long ride ahead. There was a hint of anxiety in the air because the most important component of this trip (apart from ourselves) was the motorbike... the TVS Star DLX that had never been further than Lonavala, a distance of about 50 km from Pune. On the 1st of October 2008, the very same bike was going to be ridden roug…

Life is a long song

Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
Old friends,
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears

- Simon and Garfunkel

I cannot say whether I will make 70.
I do not know whether friendships last that long, in this day and age.
But life is for the living and memories, good & bad, will teach us... make us smile at the most inappropriate times and leave us wondering how ancient scars can still hurt sometimes.

To step forward, I look back... and without effort (and thankfully, no grief), this exercise effortlessly conjures up countless images. Heaven help us if our respective folks ever found out how three greenhorns actually made their way on motorcycles from Pune to Panaji... or somewhere in the vicinity. And back, of course.

See, the thing with being a greenhorn is that most knowledge is theoretical and quite a bit of the bravado is churning furiously…

Enough Space

Imagine if you will, a strip of greyish tarmac 34 * 18 yards in dimension. One side of this area is taken up by metal gates. Facing them, on the other side is a large, oft-painted water tank. This being India, time and again the wall of that tank has had a set of three lines scratched or painted onto it. Buildings tower over the remaining two sides of this area. If at any point in your life you have played cricket in Kumar Classics Housing Society, your mind's eye will have conjured up an image of the pitch.

Kumar Classics or KC for short, is one of the older societies in Aundh. At some point of time in the misty past (or about 20 years, give or take), KC was the first set of buildings you would see if you were making your way from Bombay to Pune. Only a blind man could miss it because the buildings were painted in an interesting combination of pink and white. Keeping with the trend of the 80's, the builders did not make any provisions for a club-house, pool or any of the other…

Let it be

After a few days of hanging around at home and in Aundh, I ventured past University Circle (yes, yes, you may not see a circle, but screw your objections) today. I wish I had not.

9 months after leaving, I come back to find more changes in Pune. Now, honestly, I'm okay with change. It's natural and in some cases needed. But the pace here is ruthless, relentless and has claimed some victims that leave me with a dull ache in the vicinity of the old ticker. I could and can do nothing about it so there's no use flailing arms or bitching. At the most, a cursory tsk-tsk.

It's almost as surreal when I visited my school yesterday. In more ways than one, I went back. Nothing like talking to your teachers from Std. 5 to ensure that you feel 12 again. The really odd part is snapping out of the self-induced hypnosis or whathaveyou to realize that you are discussing your future (theoritical) marriage plans... with someone with whom the only previous discussion you can recall concerne…

My one and only love

I honestly never thought this day would come.

I've thought of a 100 ways to start this post. To say just that one sentence. Words will not come and I'll take that as a blessing because there is nothing to say. Not any more.

To those who know me... or if not me, then my obsessive 10-year journey to this day.


Song for the moment:Dream On - Aerosmith

One foot out the door

I've lived away from home for a little over 2 years now. In that time, I've come across in interesting type of non-resident Punekar. Without fail, 99 % of this mob, on discovering our common bond, will switch to Marathi from whatever language they were attempting to slaughter. They will then proceed to badmouth all and sundry in the vicinity. Gradually, the chatter will begin to noticeably lose steam. Enthusiasm will be replaced by uncertainty. Eyes will proceed to narrow at the less-than-satisfactory quality of Marathi being intermittently offered by moi'. Questions concerning heritage will be bandied about and the hiss of indrawn breaths will rent the air when no relation to long-departed Maratha worthies on my side is evinced. The social death knell will most likely be the discovery that I speak Tamil.

Further events will depend on how vindictive I'm feeling at the time. I confess that I do sympatize with this lot. After all, they can hardly be blamed for the fact t…

New kid in town

It was a lovely evening... and standing across the road from the Independence Monument, he wished it had not been.

He had hoped for lousy weather... anything that Nature could and often had thrown at him, from broiling 40 degree heat & sapping humidity to a bone-drenching torrential downpour. Anything except what it was now... late evening sun painting the sky golden and a gentle breeze that wafted in from the Bassac River on the horizon. Unbearable weather would have made leaving bearable, but the Fates were being their usual sadistic self.

Rivulets of cars, motorbikes and cycle-rickshaws made their way past him toward Sisowath Quay and the Riverside. He became hypnotized by their monotonous rhythm, became one with the bikes weaving through the line of Lexus' & Toyotas, barely shaving past them. He'd been here 5 months, a drop in the the ocean, but it felt like a lifetime. His thougths wandered back to a similar evening in April, in another city, on another continent. I…

New way home

Naturally, I'm counting down.

17 days to go.

Then I pack my bags, say my goodbyes to people and places and begin the drudgery of airport-hopping & thumb-twiddling at transit lounges.

Drowsily stare at the orange-yellow glow struggling to make it's presence felt through the smog.

Stretch my legs, yawn & stumble across the downward-sloping gangway.

Imagine it a fraction of a second before I smell it - phenyl.

Feet involuntarily move faster as the babble of languages, none of them English, wash over me.

Pray that I can spot my bags on the conveyor belt.

Brood about the prospect of the corpulent Customs chaps hassling me without reason.

Grin uncontrollably as I step out into the sultry night air of Bombay.

India.

Again.

Song for the moment:Baker Street - Gerry Rafferty

A different kind of blue

It is the easiest thing in the world to slip into a routine. Almost unbeknownst-like, with a cunning only the weird would attribute to it, Time tends to just slip away even when fun is nowhere on the menu.

It had been almost 3 months since I started working in Phnom Penh and it struck me that I had not yet gone on a holiday. Sure, there were rare weekend jaunts around Phnom but when one lives in a city 1/3rd the size of Pune, those jaunts teeter on the verge of becoming extinct. And so, I woke up one Monday morning to the disturbing thought that I'd been at work every day (including the weekends) for over a month. Something drastic was called for. Having alienated myself from all prospective companions quite some time ago, the farther destinations were out of the question. Apart from the fact that travelling alone is not something I care to do, the rural hinterlands of Cambodia are not to be risked even by the zaniest of people. So, I went to visit Angkor Wat.

Siem Reap, the town …

One life's enough

In 1 week's time, the Indian Test team will commence battle in Sri Lanka. I specify 'test' team because the plethora of players in the Indian Cricket merry-go-round forces me to do so. I do not see any point in adding my two-paisa's worth to the debate on changing cricket trends. That literary heap has long surpassed the molehill to mountain route and does not indicate a pause in growth any time soon. Neither does the popularity of 20-20, for that matter. Or the money involved in it. That spectacle and everything associated with it is only being mentioned in passing. The focus here is Test cricket, of which I am a fan.

There are some who maintain that publicly favouring test cricket in this day and age will only result in pointed remarks about Puritanism, being old-fashioned, behind the times or anything else in the thesaurus that is in similar vein. Vulgar verbal brawls concerning which version of cricket is better are tiring and distasteful so I'll avoid anything …

The man who sold the world

All this history.
All this commitment.
All these wonderful personalities.

And now, one has to be subjected to the melodrama surrounding :

Read comments about 'slavery' from a doddering oldhas-been ?

And have this one-season wonder concur ?

Really ?

Do the fans a favour. Stop pottering around, beating around the bush and whatnot. If you want to leave that badly, well...

Even you should have figured out where the exit is by now.


Song for the moment: Disposable Heroes - Metallica

Travelin' light

In the midst of this hermity existence, I have been involved in incidents that have left me bemused and muttering "Only in Cambodia can...". One such act in the drama or rather the chorus in this comedic opera is the process of exchanging traveller's cheques.

In my defence I have to point out that I was hot-footing it to this part of the world for a considerable period of time. A little over 4 months of living (and more importantly, dining) must and does call for a considerable outlay of doubloons. Thankfully, the issue I was facing on the 1st of May (a portent, perhaps ?) involved the transfer of required moolah rather than it's procurement. I did not fancy the prospect of making the journey with thick wads of dollar notes stuffed in my pockets. Apart from the fact that I'd probably look like I was afflicted with some horrible medical condition, this sort of appearance practically begs to be waylaid and robbed. Judicious placement of the money among assorted clot…

Wait and see

The mango tree in the verandah at work has been loaded with fruit for the past 3 months. Nothing diabolical or sinister, if you think about the fact that it is, or rather, was the correct season for such activity anyway.

The reason I drag that fact into this post is because the mangoes that were a brilliant shade of green in May have obstinately remained the same colour till today. Got me thinking about how my time here so far, parallels the mangoes rather nicely. Sure, work goes on every day and when I leave Cambodia, I'll no doubt come up with the right phrases for the curriculum vitae... you know, the kind of spin that will leave the reader in no doubt that I was personal advisor to the UN Secretary-General, or something in the vicinity of that idea.

So far though, I do not feel like I've seen or experienced anything new. Culturally, of course. No matter how much I kid myself, I cannot help but think about how similar this country is to India. It robs me of any culture shock …

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Morning glory

Among friends, acquaintances and dubious well-wishers, I have this reputation for... umm... masochism. I think that's unfair and have denied it vigourously time and again, no no avail. Personally, I think that if there is some sort of divine whathaveyou hovering around the place, he/she/it is out to get me. The number of times I've been left with no recourse but to shrug, direct a few choice phrases toward providence and march on was already teetering on the edge of scandalous but today... today, let's just say that my guardian angel and I have some urgent contract negotations to discuss. I shall elaborate...

I'm in the bath this morning and have just gotten past the soaping stage when the lights go off. Ordinarily, this should not hinder anyone from bathing but the electricity and water here have a delightful relationship - no lights, no water. I don't forsee a problem however, because our building has a generator. So I wait.

45 minutes later, still covered in soap…

Electric blues

You know the scenario... there you are, sauntering along the street, minding your own business and whistling tunelessly. Maybe the sun isn't shining. Birds may not be chirping away in the trees. All may not be joy, jollity and song. But, things are not gloom and doom either. While there isn't a spring in your step, there definitely isn't a droop in your shoulders either. Maybe... err, I suppose you do get it. Anyway, like I said, you are sauntering. Then, it happens. Of course it does. You either walk into a lamp-post or fall down an open manhole.

I contemplated leaving my laptop in Birmingham. It made sense to do so, considering my destination. Apart from the numerous horrible and highly imaginative tragedies that could have befallen it, that laptop is very heavy and I was not looking forward to giving my best Quasimodo impression as I lugged it all over. I discussed the matter with Grandpa. It was one of the days the neurons were firing in that cranium because he eventua…

Dancing in the Dark

A few epiphanies have made their presence felt over the past week. Here goes:
You come prepared to face gale-force winds and sheets of rain and are instead greeted with 38 degree C heat and 91 % humidity. Every day. For 3 weeks, to date !! To say you feel cheated would be an understatement.
You may be open-minded about different cuisines but the dish that makes you genuinely happy is the saada-dosa. Of course, you realize that the fantastic Udupi restaurant you discovered only in week 3 is right next to the Thai place you have been manfully frequenting. Hidden by a cunningly-placed potted plant, mind you.Your colleagues and boss are smokers and you are not. Ergo, your chances of receiving any pertinent information as regards the workplace are dead in the water. And it does not make an iota of difference giving any of them the cold cod eye as they discuss things to death since they can't see a damn thing through the nicotine cloud anyway.
You are anti-social. Quite likely schizoid. Wh…

Another day in paradise

I chose this internship for the work, it's true, but also because the opportunity to travel to a new country and culture was quite irresistible. Friends were envious and family were resigning themselves to another in a long list of whimsies they'd been presented with over the years... by me. So, there was definitely a bit of chagrin in the air when I realized that I'd been in Phnom for 2 weeks and had not seen a single place of interest. Not even a done-to-death tourist spot, and many abound in a country that peddles the name of Angkor so desperately that a local beer has been named after it. And it's not even good beer...

And so, I went to see Tuol Sleng. Most people would have started out with the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda or even Wat Phnom. Knowing that these monuments were not famous for getting up and leaving in the dead of night, I am still in no hurry to see them. But, even before I came to Cambodia, I knew about Tuol Sleng... and am glad it was the first p…

Parallel Universe

Before I came to Cambodia, the thought crossed my mind that this trip would provide an excellent bit of impetus to my blogging. That is, I dreamed of writing posts furiously through the night... posts which had breathtaking detail in every line, startling observations, eye-catching photos, insightful observations and so on and so forth. For a time, as I made my way from Birmingham to Phnom Penh, there were plenty of the above resulting in an update every few days. The wheels came off that literary wagon the day I landed here.

Ironic, I know. However, as I wrote and deleted words, lines and paragraphs time and again over the last 2 weeks, I decided one thing - the next post would not be the typical read comparing different worlds, talking about culture shock and whatnot. What will I be writing about then ? Hmm...

One thing I did notice... it's easier to find and move into a new house the second time around. After having gone through that circus in the U.S, finding an apartment and d…