Friday, June 20

Note to the reader

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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, the "I've been bamboo-ed again" & similar ideas begin to make the rounds. Left with no option but to dry-towel myself, I proceed to do so. I then hot-foot it to the landlady's place (fully clothed, mind you) to politely enquire as to why the &^@#@ generator has not been started yet. The lady smiles, mumbles something about getting to it immediately and I return home. About 10 minutes later, there's tentative knocking on my door. It's the landlady, who, still smiling, tells me "generator no work... sorry, no light. But there water". I grit my teeth and coldly point out that the taps are giving their best 'simoon-area' performance. She says "no water? Okay". And leaves, still smiling.

Act 1, Scene 3: Enter stage left- the shrug, the...

Go on, laugh. I think it's hilarious too.

Song for the moment: Thande, thande paani se nahana chahiye - Mahendra Kapoor & Asha Bhosale (Pati, Patni aur Woh, 1978)

Tuesday, June 17

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 eventually convinced me that it'd come of some use over here. Besides, there was a slight lack of enthusiasm among the crew when it came to shouldering responsibility for my laptop. Just a tad, mind you, but it was there.

It came in use alright. The first day I came to work, I was politely directed to a dusty pile of boxes and wires. On closer inspection, that eye-catching arrangement proved to be the computer assigned to me and a keener ocular inspection confirmed my initial fears. Rather than bore you with details, let me put it succinctly - I would not have been surprised to discover that you needed to use punch cards to feed in data into that antediluvian piece. Pinnacle of technology, it was not. Enter the laptop.

After I was assigned or rather cobbled together a much better PC, the laptop stayed home. Not having the internet back in my excuse for an apartment (trust me, a good-sized Godrej cupboard can compete rather well with the floor space I live in), it was used mainly for music and whatever work I needed to bring home. Like I said before... sauntering along.

Yesterday, it refused to start. It got to the introductory screen cheerily reminding me that it was a Dell product. About 15 minutes later, the same screen was leering at me rather triumphantly. Now I don't claim to be an expert at gizmos, but it is a fact that I'm rather good at repairing them. One of the less dubious talents, you might say. But the laptop defeated me. Short of going at it with a hammer, I tried everything. At about 11:30 pm, finding myself absently pleading with the screen, I had to admit defeat. And then I wondered where in this city I'd find a capable comp-tech chap.

Our office technician, on examining it today for about 20 minutes, turns to me and remarks rather brightly that the system seems stuck. I kid you not. This enlightening bit of 'nollij' was delivered after he'd turned the computer on and off about 7 times, mind you. While I struggled to decide between laughing helplessly and swearing colourfully, he suggested we take it to his office and have another crack at it. About an hour later, another bright bean at the aforementioned techno-temple calmly tells me it's a hardware problem and that they'll let me know the verdict tomorrow. Nature, wanting to get in on the fun, decides to pick that moment to announce itself with thunder and rain-showers. Very umm... poetic.

Unexpectedly, a few hours later, I get a phone call from the very same bright bean who monotonously announces that they have found the problem. The culprit is the cd-rom drive which has become corrupt. Thankfully, it is the one part of the laptop I barely ever use, which now that I think of it, may be the reason for the revolt. In protest, as it were.

Anyway, since it couldn't be repaired, the chaps, thoroughly helpful to the end, removed the cd drive. Leaving the laptop with a gaping hole on the side, covered by cello tape.

It could be worse, I suppose...

Song for the moment: Fixing a hole - The Beatles

Monday, June 9

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. When coupled with the epiphany above, you never really stood a chance of passing off as remotely normal as far as fellow interns are concerned. Making for fascinating observations on office group-dynamics, body language and avoidance. Oh joy!!
  • The amount of work at an internship is inversely proportional to the pay. I work for free.
  • You are going to be working in strange places all your life because 1st world countries do not need help with 'development'. 3rd world countries, on the other hand, do. And convincing yourself that the travel is a bonus only works as long as things are going well.
  • Not everything named Angkor is spectacular. Especially beer.
  • On the subject of beer, Beerlao is recommended. Some morons may think that this is the only item that gets exported from Laos, but that is a fabrication. On the other hand, it may be the only item that ought to be.
  • No matter how hard you try to rationalize it or how many times you hear it, any friend's "oyez, oyez" concerning impending matrimony is regarded with a fine mix of happiness, disbelief and the realization as to how old we are. Or are getting.
Song for the moment: Have you ever seen the rain - CCR

Saturday, June 7

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 place of interest I saw. A slight amount of effort will result in an overwhelming literary bounty about it, each book & website using bigger and more convoluted words than the last... attempting to encapsulate this... well, it. I know it cannot be done. You have to be here and see it for yourself. So, I will not try.

The experience was not depressing and instead confirmed what I've always thought - we, as people, humans, supposedly the pinnacle of evolution... are capable of atrocities beyond the scope of any other species on the planet. It also made some sort of sense that the head of operations at S-21 (as it was known at the time) was Comrade Duch, a teacher of mathematics.

The flagitious events that took place here did so during the Free Love and Beatnik / Hippie years in America. Fittingly enough, more people know about the philosophy of the Woodstock years than they do about S-21.

Fittingly enough and perversely enough.

Song for the moment: So much trouble in the world - Bob Marley