Nahi nahi, abhi nahi, abhi karo intezaar!

As cliche as that sounds I really really don’t want to (yet!) Will somebody listen? With the frequency of the M-word hitting record levels, I can only pretend to be momentarily deaf and continue conversations as though that question never came up. I usually discuss Nolan or Joss Whedon to distract that unsuspecting maami and scare her off permanently! They usually point fingers at me later to their teenage children/grandchildren and mutter “Thats why you should not do a PhD”.
Bah, I know marriage season is peaking now. My facebook is a marriage/engagement album ( no baby pictures yet, whew) and my time on the social networking site is spent usually Ctrl+Ving “Congratulations! Here is wishing you the best life has to offer!” ( If someone noticed, all my congratulatory messages are the same. #extremelaziness). Why is it that once you complete college at a mere 21 you are suddenly thrust into marriage spotlight? I mean is there some day when I’ll get up and be all ready to take on all those responsibilities? How does 25 suddenly make you mature enough to be committed for life? Married? Make you start “saving” for a future or living with someone? What has to change people? For me, nothing has! I still wake up, go to school (really!) and do homework. Okay, I do hang out on Fridays, earn my own buck and buy groceries. I hate the baggage that marriage brings along. Firstly, it is all so serious, entrenched in culture, hundreds of commitments, such a brouhaha about the whole thing. Indian culture is obsessed with shaadis. Now I cringe at the thought of attending one, not because it is not fun, but I fear the home-backlash. Wait, don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-marriage. I believe in it and everything but how do people agree to get married? Is it some pixie dust that falls on you and you are like ‘Okay! I’m all set. Chalo I am all ready to be a husband/wife’ I believe in relationships, in love and that you need someone in life to share your troubles, take you shopping to pacify your anger, clean the dishes, fold half the laundry and yes, most importantly fight. But what if you are not ready to sacrifice what you have right now? Absolute freedom to eat microwaved food, buy concert tickets for half your salary, drink juice directly out of cartons, browse reddit endlessly, wear clothes out of the dryer, play loud music and dance or just sit in a corner and read all day without anyone disturbing and other heavenly pleasures! I am not ready to give up what I have. And hey, do not counter me by arguing that marriage doesn’t change anything. I know it does. I have seen it happen. People are more orderly, hang out with more “couples”, eat dinner at home, save money, thinking a gazillion times before going anywhere,buying anything. I don’t want that now and from my perspective I don’t want that ever. But that second statement, I have hopes that I will retract for sure. (pixie-dust)
Indian society is a scumbag. Going by the insanity that happened in Guwahati most recently, I don’t think we give women any respect. Or the marriage market is all as rigged as the US elections, only this time by the panditjis, wedding-planners, gold-shops and trousseau designers. It might be a sham to make it as economically profitable and ensure no one ever comes out unscathed. Why don’t they allow women to make such life decisions? I am not saying we should embrace the West wholly and invite our parents to our weddings yet, but atleast let the person choose if he/she is ready to make compromises and succumb to the marital status?
Its the first time in 20 odd years that we are actually totally free. No schools or coaching or exams, no pressure of jobs (if you have one already), we can chart out our careers and have the financial freedom to pursue our hobbies, passions, music. We have dreamt about these years when we slogged through those entrance-exams, endless coaching classes, job-interview and its still never truly tension-free.
I know the real truth. The Indian society does not like happy people. At all.

PS: Spare the comments if you claim that you are totally happy and that parents are not on your case yet. You are the few lucky people and I do not want to know who you are. Bah.

Death of blogs

There is so much happening and everything I wanted to write about pretty much never escaped from the thick skull of mine. That explains the long delay between posts. I wont use the ‘busy’ excuse again. I figured that life is always busy. It should ideally be that way. The title of my blog might seem counter-intuitive given the zillions of blogs on the blogosphere today. Like letters were replaced with emails which got replaced further by status messages and 140 characters, blogs are dying a slow death too. It is an inefficient way to communicate your responses, not as visible as a tweet or a status message and overall might seem like an investment of time hardly worth the results. No, I don’t mean all blogs. There are passionate people who continue writing their amazing recipe blogs or adventure blogs or tech blogs (which I find most useful) or blogs of famous people who are paid by media groups who are active. I meant the blog-burst of common-people, friends who used to write about anything and everything, their issues, opinions, experiences which are on the brink of extinction. It is no surprise then that my friends’ blogs tab on google reader has not had any activity for the last several months! This raises two interesting questions – Am I (again) trying to hold on to technology that belongs to the past? or Is everyone reading so much that they don’t want to write anymore?
The internet today is far more entertaining than it has ever been. Reddit, Fark, Huffington,The Daily Beast, Quickmeme are super fun and informative websites that are giant time-eaters on their own. Tumblr memes are so much fun to browse through and they have resurrected the gif format almost entirely based on memes. The facebook like button and timeline pretty much can showcase your entire activity for the last 6 months and it is faster and easy to spread the word. Blogs on the other hand have to be nurtured, maintained,showcased which is so much more effort than just pinning,liking or hashtagging your topic of interest. I often find myself spending hours on weekends on said websites and not knowing how time flew by.
My blog, on the other hand has no theme except it is mine. It is what I write in it that makes it what it is. Its not worth much, I don’t aim to publicize extravagantly by taking hours to edit a blog post or making the language extremely sophisticated or beautiful or posting pictures where I dont need them. But I write because I like writing. I might provide the same information that numerous other websites or authors do about current topics, beautifully too. But that is a part of information. Not an opinion. There was a time back in college that blogging was extreme fun. Mainly because everyone I knew/ was friends with wrote about something they wanted to. It went beyond regular conversations, resulted in great GRE verbal scores and often described situations and issues with such originality and humour, it was a pleasure to read despite the banality of the topic. Today, it is not so. One might primarily underline the issue being the lack of time, but I tend to disagree. The only explanation can be if you are reading and assimilating so much information and you don’t know how to begin and have been putting off writing for years composing that perfect blog post in your head. Everything else is just an excuse. If you claim you have “better things to do” than write, then of course you do not belong to the brethren of writers. Because writing is a passion, either you have it or you don’t. Something like the power to appreciate reality television. Either you have it or you don’t.
Ok, that complaint apart, so much has been going on this summer. Personally, nothing major except I moved out of my last ever room-mate arrangement and am at peace with everything in this world that is non-academic. Its been relatively quiet couple of months with everything on cruise mode. Everything with my life that is. The world on the other hand, is changing by the minute. Here is my short take on everything I can remember:
Federer- All hail the God of Tennis. I did not expect him to win at all, nervously speculated if he’ll last this years’ US open and BOOM! He is No.1 and won the Wimbledon. I must thank that “unknown” who played the game of his life and threw Nadal out of the competition. Weirdly enough, Federer’s acceptance speech had a “in-you-face” tone rather than of genuine happiness. Amazing amazing tournament. I saw all of it, all the important matches and in the enthusiasm even resumed playing tennis. This is what sport and a sporting God/Hero can do to you! Roger that!
Olympics- The only time I follow swimming and gymnastics events with fervor. I have seen Ryan Lochte train in our university pool and Oh.My.God, that was the closest I have ever existed to an olympian and must say they do seem other-worldly. He seemed to be powered by some motor in the water! I am super excited since he got close to Phelps in the training.
French Open- Extreeeemely predictable. I must give immense credit to Nadal for making other players look the way they do during French Open. Ultimate respect, but no, I still love Federer. Class apart!
Movies – Sad story only that is. Nothing matched expectations. Avengers was a little too long, Brave was a let down and The Dark Knight Returns reviews are nothing like the 2008 flick. Television though got super interesting with me finding the DVDs of Sherlock Holmes finally in the library, Firefly ( why was this series shot down again) and Star Trek. I rediscovered the joy of Friends( on DVD again) and had some amazing afternoons lazing on my couch. Oh, I got a new couch, did I tell you that?
That apart, this will be my last post on this page for a while (Notice I said page, not website. Notice those small tabs on different pages near the header of this blog? The current ones are just About and Home. I’ll add another rather soon) . I intend to start another page and you’ll also know why. Big changes coming up! Keep reading people.
Cryptic but I am in no mood to reveal what is coming.
Also, RIP Rajesh Khanna. Weirdly, I never realized he was in Haathi Mere Saathi. Cried buckets for that movie. The elephant dies. Hated the hero. But we are the 90’s generation. The Raj-Simran people. But the stars of that era described what actual filmi-stars were about. Larger than life, crazy, erratic, epitome of human behaviour, uber-cool lifestyle and magnetic personas. Why do bollywood folks now try to lead “normal” lives? Isn’t the craziness a huge chunk of what they signed up for? All you heroes and heroines – give us some gossip na?!

In a land far far away

Most people I introduce my birthplace to pass it off as Jaipur, the more famous city that sounds like it but is nowhere near, aesthetically, geographically or culturally. I was born in Jabalpur, a nondescript little town in Madhya Pradesh located almost perfectly in the center of our country and on the tropic of cancer. I’m always proud of that, having a geographic talisman, that represents nothing but the one place where the sun is overhead on the 21st of June. There, I gave a little old-fashioned geographic gyaan. It is a little place swamped with government factories, army cantonments and its ticket to fame is the famous waterfall dhuandhaar or the marble rocks where Narmada gushes over pristine white marble . But dont panic!This post is not written on behalf of M.P tourism (which has a kickass jingle of its own anyway).
I was born in a little village just outside Jabalpur called Madan Mahal. Actually it is one stop prior to Jabalpur station if you go by train. Apparently the best hospital then was in that place far away from where our house was. Of course, today neither the hospital nor the doctor exists. (The doctor had some licensing issues and her degree was revoked! God! I hate to imagine if she was a quack!). So that tragedy apart, we lived in Khamaria, a small village on the outskirts of the little town. Our estate was luxurious, huge villas constructed by the British complete with elaborate portico’s, long driveways big garages and outhouses,red-tile roofs and giant corridors with wooden floors and fireplaces, enormous gardens, parks and tons of trees. It was a cosmopolitan closed little society, where everyone knew everyone else, where one could ride bikes without the fear of any traffic, where huge empty spaces with little grass were in abundance for kite-flying and little shepherds with their flock of sheep used to invade the estates during the hot summer afternoons. Tales of panthers and cheetahs spotted near tiny little creeks just outside the estate used to prevent us from venturing towards the factory which was mostly in a jungle. We had a little triangular park with lush grass and rabbits and deer and even a toy-train, a musical fountain and a dinosaur with glowing eyes. The little Westland bazaar used to come alive every tuesday and I used to accompany my mom and our domestic help as they filled their bags with fresh organic vegetables and fruits. Something that we pay insane amounts for here. Beautiful gulmohar and eucalyptus trees lined the roads which turned flaming orange in the fall. It was a beautiful place to grow up in then and it was my home.
My mornings were all about going to Moni dairy and picking the cow I wanted milked and getting free ice-cream samples of the newest flavors ;bathing in cold water in summers and scooting off to school on Vishuprasad’s bike and watching the buffaloes wallow in the mud as his cycle rolled down the steep hill into Chandan colony and to my school St.Gabriels. My afternoons were playing hopscotch with my baby-sitter and eating her delicious daal-chawal or waking up Blackie from his afternoon siesta. There were no 1000 channels or flat-screen tv’s. I dont even remember paying any attention to the television unless it was Sunday morning 10 am when we watched Ramayan or Sri Krishna in rapt attention. My idea of fun was running around the garden, sitting on guava trees or mango trees and avoiding the monkeys. I used to accompany my dad to Digambar stores, a tiny little grocery shop and then watching in awe as the mithaiwala in sonali sweets made samosas by the dozen in an instant. Eating hot jalebis and cutlets, reading all signboards in shudh Hindi. I knew not a word in tamil. Club dinners and diwali melas where I used to eat Chhole Bhature and ride on giant wheels and hang out with my sister’s friends. Teej season was one of hearty shrikhand-puris and sooji halwas in every aunty’s house. I used to pluck fresh vegetables from mom’s vegetable patch or play with newborn chicks and goats. Wild hibiscus and genda(marigold) lined our gardens. Spent days watch the langurs take over entire gardens and destroy them and named two-red faced ones Morgan and Torgan. Evenings were for pittu or just some crazy bike-riding. Not Diablo 3’s or Wii’s. The trip to the one bookshop in Sadar Bazaar was filled with extreme delight and hour-long rickshaw rides to chungi or the rickety tempos that took you to “the city” were highly anticipated. It was so magical and innocent. It was not a city, there were no supermarkets, no cell phones, no computers, just us in a small little town with so many friends. Summer vacations to Madras were like going to another country in a train that took 42 hours. Still, nothing felt like going home to Jabalpur.
I realize how different my life is today. Of course, you need to keep up with the times and move with the flow of technology. Everything there has changed as well ( as I realized much to my chagrin in 2005). But my memories remain fresh and clear, almost like a fairy-tale.Except that it was real and in a land far-far away.

Trek to Sinhgad

I had known for a long time now that the Sahyadri mountain ranges are the trekking mecca of this part of the country. Not too high or difficult, it doesn’t need specialized equipment unlike the Himalayan treks. Pune being in the core of this mountain range, has numerous trekking destinations which make enjoyable hikes. I was always interested in going for these one or two day hikes in and around Pune. Then summer came with its killing forty plus temperatures and dry hot wind and roasted away all my plans. Pre-monsoon showers that lasted Thursday and Friday changed all that.

As we sat in my cubicle over a coffee-break , Sonali and I decided that since the weather is now behaving, we can try a trek. What better place to start other than the super-famous Sinhgad? We made enquiries about how to get there and the unanimous answer was “Go on a two-wheeler”. That option being impossible, we chose the other not-so-exciting-or-romantic option of the State Transport Bus. There is a motorable road that takes you directly upto the Fort, just 400 mtrs short of Pune Darwaza or the city-side entrance to the fort. “Don’t try the trek, it is too dangerous, go by car to the fort entrance and enjoy”, many such suggestions came by. Suddenly, everyone was the fort and Sinhgad and trekking expert. We listened to everything patiently and then used the www to make our decision. No, we were trekking. All the way up.

The bus ride was beautiful. The NDA and the huge Khadakwasla lake comes enroute and we began clicking. The last few kilometers had pathetic roads which shook us up out of our laziness and almost was a mini-warm-up. We could not see the fort from below. We captured what we then thought were tall and vertical cliff-like mountains, only it later did turn out to be the fort. The bus stopped at the last stop of Atkarwadi and a small, narrow road started the trek. It was a brown, arid landscape just recovering from the intense heat, not green and cloudy as everyone else told us it would become in monsoons. We were leaving Pune before proper monsoon set in. This was infact the last weekend we had to ourselves. The morning was cool and breezy and a few trekkers were already returning from their hikes at 8:30 am, just as we were about to start!

At first the route seemed pretty easy. First was small rocks set in a pattern making it appear like a stone road. The walk intensified and so did the slope. After nearly one kilometer, the path disappeared and it was just wilderness. There were a couple of people walking ahead of us and they traced a path. As I stood there waiting for Sonali to catch her breath, I could slowly make out the way we’ll trek all the way up. It was vertical rocks at some places, other times it was a meandering path.
Climbing was always easier than coming down. We continued our walk. The sun brightened our path and the hills surrounding us slowly appeared from under the early morning fog. In the distance we could see the Khadakvasla lake and the expanse. The village of Atkarwadi became smaller and smaller and we reached the top of the first mountain. For the first time, I realized where my gymming and running had helped me. I could walk up easily, no tiredness, to leg-aches, my breath for normal and I needed no breaks. But stop I did coz Sonali couldnt take the walk as well as I could.The trek isn’t easy for someone who doesn’t exercise regularly. My own stamina surprised me. I scampered up rocks and my mind was able to formulate patterns to climb spotting crevices for footholds. We climbed on all-fours, ran up other parts and sometimes had to stop to think and decide where to place the foot next. At almost half-way up the next mountain, I could see tiny human figures at the top and strained my eyes to get a glimpse of the fort. I did! It was so beautifully hidden, that the broken ramparts gelled in perfectly with the rocks and was almost invisible unless you look up intently. We could see the fort walls and the Pune darwaza. We now knew our destination. I felt a surge of energy come again as the excitement grew.

The last mountain or the mountain where the fort stood was the toughest to climb. Vertical rock-faces, pathways of loose stones and precarious ravines laced the route. There was a part of the climb which was almost a 90 degree upward walk and we needed to climb a tree and then jump on the other side to climb out of the steep ravine. A loose rock from the people walking upwards hit me on my ankle. That was the only injury during the upward trek. Some parts of the climb were so bad that the person trekking in front actually stopped by to check if we could climb up and if we needed any help. We didn’t. Sonali was now almost cursing the route and I kept encouraging her, luring her with the apparent short distance to the fort walls. Finally, we did it! It took us a good two hours with numerous breaks. Good time for the first time, I’d say!

The fort is now in ruins. We entered via the Pune darwaza which had hawkers lined up selling lemon water, dahi, cucumbers, Taak (chaach) and other refreshing drinks. Stone steps lead up all the way into the fort. The half-standing doorways give the place a mystic touch. There are many huts inside the fort area and stone walkways leading to the various places. First we saw the Kalyan darwaza (another entrance to the fort). The sites did tell us that there are ways to start trekking from other base villages to reach Kalyan darwaza but this route is even more dangerous and not frequented by many. We traced the path from the top and boy! it did seem tough. Then we continued walking to the other ruins and lookouts located at the ends of the fort. We walked along the fort walls, climbed broken stone steps, looked through the chutes used to pour hot-oil on the invaders and basked in the cool wind. It was fierce and blew away our caps and sunglasses regularly. The sweat evaporated in the cool breeze making it even better. The rustling of the tall grass and the sound of the wind among the trees was enchanting. It wasn’t very crowded being a Saturday. Our stomachs growled with hunger.

The food was by far the best part of the trip. The small huts provided authentic Maharashtrian village-fare in the typical style. We sat on straw-mats under the shade of a tree and ordered our lunch. We weren’t eating heavy since our trek downwards beckoned us. We ate hot Bhakris ( jowar rotis), Jhunka ( besan sabji), Thecha ( hot chutney) and I gorged on the fresh matka dahis. We took off our shoes and rested. At 1:30 we began our descent.

The route downward was tougher for the first 45 minutes. There were places were almost sat and walked down on all fours, sitting and scraping through huge boulders. Loose gravel made the walk even more slippery and I fell in the first 10 minutes of our trek. No damage done but further caution was exercised and we walked even more slowly. The rocks were now very hot in the heat and it wasn’t easy to sit or scrape or even hold on to them. One stretch was indeed very bad and scary and it was only later we realized that there was an easier but longer route to descend. The trek downwards after that was faster and we took just one break from the sun. It required immense concentration and we hardly spoke to each other. All the focus was on where to place the next step and choose among the alternatives which route was easier. We reached the Atkarwadi bus stop at 3:00 pm.

We ordered lemon juice at a small shack and washed our faces with cool water. Our hands were dirty from the falling and the scraping and there were salt patches on my clothes where sweat had evaporated. We weren’t hungry just red and black from the trek. Only tomorrow would we know how many shades of skin-colour we had changed. The tan was impressive. There were lines from where the sleeve of the shirt ended and the watch outline was engraved on the arms. We waited for the bus to arrive. It came at 4.

We got off the bus at Shaniwarwada, the last stop, 25kms away from Atkarwadi into the city. An auto-ride later to F.C Road and we were digging into food at Vaishali, perhaps the dirtiest and reddest customers they had at that time. By 6:45 we waited for another bus to take us home. Another 45 minutes and a kilometer walk later, we crashed on the sofas, took off our shoes and cooled off under the fan.

Easily, the most thrilling and adventurous days I’ve had in recent times. This became my second-favourite trek till now. The first and the best one was the walk to Kedarnath in the Himalayas. But this was a different experience. Not something I’m going to forget in a long-long time.

India and the Indian Railway

I believe that the best and quickest way to have a tour of India is to travel in the long-distance trains. I enjoy train travel more than any other mode of travel. Plane rides are comfortable and rather convenient but the shock of the quick travel sometimes gets to you. Like two hours back, you were sleeping in your mom’s lap and BAM! you are sleeping on your cold bed in the hostel room. Trains have an aura around them. The constant chug-chug sound, the cacophony of the bearers walking up and down the aisle, plus the opportunity to glimpse the astounding diversity of our country make the journey all the more pleasant. Never mind the dirt or the lack of opportunities to bathe. It is indeed India at its quickest and best.

A long train journey across the length or width of India gives the best chance to savour food from all parts of the country. The most authentic cuisine of the particular place is served at the railway station. I remember being ever so hungry on the trains almost eating everything that that particular station had to offer as its specialty. The idlis down south, the piping hot biryanis of Andhra with the Gongura chutneys, the Missal-pav and Vada-Pav of Maharashtra, the Bhakri of Madhya Pradesh, the aloo chats, chikkis, doodh pedha, everything you can get to have in its authentic style in just one train journey! Coming to the locales, its like a mini-sightseeing trip. More than the destination, it is the journey that is worth enjoying. You can watch the landscape melt into different forms, from the dense jungles, arid plateaus to the hills, cities and towns. Who can forget the numerous rivers cris-crossing our country. It was always fun to watch the river from the train. People drop coins hoping for good-luck, you can watch the dry river beds, the water meandering through the plains and the tiny boats hoping for a good catch of the day. It is like a movie playing before your eyes.

You meet different people, get to watch them closely traveling with them in such close quarters for such long periods of time, strike conversations, get lucky in love sometimes, enjoy the journey playing board games and cards, chat and gossip and read books uninterrupted. Every platform goes into a frenzy the train stops and it is fun to watch the intense activity suddenly erupt in the otherwise calm station. People filling water bottles, coolies trying to get clients, people hunting for change, hawkers selling all kinds of things, relatives and friends welcoming each other or saying good-byes, grandparents welcoming grandkids for their summer holidays, all of this makes every journey memorable.
Of course, there are certain aspects not that welcoming. The dirty toilets, the unreserved people straying into reserved coaches and occupying floor space, the thefts, the robberies are some of the many things that Indian railways should not be proud of.

I know many will wonder why the sudden post on railways. As I was reading the paper that Mamta Banerjee will mostly be the Railway Minister, my thoughts went to railways and the changes in the pre and post Lalu days. The days when tea was still sold in cups and not Kulhads, the days when railways were not so prompt or clean,when 24 hour delays were commonplace, when accidents hit an all-time high to the recent pasts when railways are once again back in form, maintaining even better time than even the Airlines sometimes, posting huge gains, improving service and speed and becoming the delight they truly once were.

Railways are like a throbbing lifeline of our country. One of the most coveted ministries and the largest government agency, the numbers they transport, employ, earn, serve are simply mind boggling. The number of trains operating, the reservation system are all technological marvels. Sadly, we never seem to look at it in awe. All we mostly do is crib about the cleanliness, the food, the heat or compare it with others like the Euro-rail and boast about the things being better there.

Overall, nothing can beat Indian Railways.
All the best Mamta Banerjee, you have a lot to live upto.