Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Bong' in the middle!

Sorry to disappoint folks.. its not about a 'Bong' in the middle. Its about...
A Punju sitting in a coach full of Bongs** 

Is that even possible ? Apparently, yes! 

After vacationing for 3 wonderful days in Puri, we were to return to Calcutta via the Puri Sealdah Duronto. We had arrived in Puri on the Shalimar-Puri SF Express taken from the 'yes-I-am-there-in-one-corner-of-Calcutta' station named Shalimar. Before that time, I hadn't even heard of this name. Not my fault. It's the same if you tell a non-Delhiite whether they know of Sarai Rohilla station. 

The train was to start at 7:45 PM and we were there by 6:30. With mum and dad around, there was no question about reaching the station late. Now for me, time spent at stations is generally loitering around watching trains go by or get amazed watching the menagerie of people, but this time I was just too tired from roaming in the blistering sun at the Chandrabhaga beach and then walking all the way down from Grand Road till the station. So we chose the confines of the air-conditioned waiting room. A 3 tier AC ticket entitles you to that luxury, although now, over the years of my travels I've managed to understand that 'confidence' and not the numbers on your ticket get you past the entry barrier.

All thanks to my habit of getting things done at the very last minute, one of our berths was in a different coach than the other three. Oh-yes! And wasn't I desperately looking for some time away from the chitter-chatter of the family. With a snicker on the lips, I happily agreed to go occupy the lone berth.

The train chugged its way out of the temple town to get onto its 8 hour journey back to the original capital of the East India Company. 

Seat no. 32. 
30 odd people to the left, 30 odd to the right. Literally in the 'middle'. As I scooted my way up and down the aisle, all I could hear were Bangla syllables thrown around in the familiar high pitched tone. A frequent rail traveler in India would know that Sleeper and 3-tier AC coaches have berths in groups of eight. And I usually prefer the hassle free side upper berth (whose number happens to be in multiples of 8) since less people want to climb up and trespass. The group of seven around seat no. 32 were occupied by two Bengali families who had dropped into Puri for the summer vacation. An elderly couple and a family with 3 generations all tucked into seven berths. 

I had specially packed in a reading material to pass my time during the journey. While the two families ate and chatted away in Bangla, I, nonchalantly, with a book in my hand, tried to make sense out of the on-going conversation. All that I was desperately seeking was, an entry into the banter.

Between soaking up dealer pricing and FMCG distribution models, I would pause for a moment, look up from my papers and admire how pretty bengali girls are. And then get back to hearing something about politics, the weather, how much better train food can get and cricket. All in bangla, of course. The young Bengali lass would meanwhile flit between getting her hair combed by her grandma and joking with her grandpa.

This scene carried well into the night after which I scampered four small stairs to the comfort of my bedding and cursed Indian Railways for having the air conditioner on such high blast that a blanket would be required to survive the night when it was 40 deg humid May weather outside.

Departure came early. 4 AM.
But the Punju was already half Bong by then. Having had my mind interpreting conversations all journey long. Being in the 'middle' had paid off!

**Punju : Punjabi and Bong : Bengali are quirky nicknames given to people of either community same as Gujju (for Gujarati). You can read more about the origins of these words in this nice article here.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

25,000 km of Awesomeness!

August 12 is when my FZ got an year older. 2 years and 25,000 kms! Pheww!

No no! This isn't me getting all emotional. The first 10K might have been about falling in love with biking, getting a hang on routes, convincing people to ride pillion, but the next 15,000... no sir.. its been much more than that!

Its been about reliability and selflessness! About camaraderie born out of tripling from office to the nearby bus-stand. Dropping colleagues off en-route and towing the bike from the middle of a traffic jam to a petrol pump 3 kms away, just because somebody forgot to refill! Oh and Yes.. dragging my ass back home from a 3 am party. The harshest of summers to the coldest of Delhi winters, swerving on potholed and flooded monsoon roads, its seen everything!

Not almost. Where do I go next? 

The mysterious sands of Rajasthan, dew filled mountains of Himachal and Uttarakhand and the aroma of the daal ( lentils ) cooking slowly over the tandoor heat from the dhabas in Punjab seem to be too strong an attraction right now. And whatever India I've seen apart from my destination has mostly been from a train window or peering outside the bus. On the bike, you just feel closer to the road, feel every bump, and can always stop in the middle of nowhere to take a detour into a village on a 'kaccha' road and sit by the side of the canal and bite on sugarcanes! And yes, bask in the smell of fresh jaggery getting prepared.

Ooh. Too much to fit into the next 10,000. Its going to be one helluva ride!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Drives of Digha!

Nowhere in the country have I seen such a vast collection of drives around town!

A small hamlet on the east coast, 200 kms south west of Kolkata is where you will unearth the mystery.
Where do I even start ? Let's take the Biggest-to-Smallest route!

1. Buses! Oddly oval shaped, precariously overloaded and very characteristic of this part of the country. They frequent Digha from all possible nearby towns with regular service to and from Calcutta.

2. Vintage Jeeps. Grown-up men do act like children. Sitting on top of a jeep and cheering howling as the mechanic peered under the hood and tried to kick-start the engine with the battery jack. Every time the engine gave a roar, you would hear a triumphant cheer a kilometer away.

3. The Last Mile Carrier! Both Mahindra and Tata are definitely creating in-roads into this domain with a decent presence of their 'Last-milers' in Tier-3 towns. Very handy rides though!

4. The Tuk-tuki! The crème de la crème of my Digha visit. Had heard so much about this curious little thing on wheels. With passengers sitting on either side of the bar (much like school children headed for their morning classes), and the driver sitting in an equally funny posture trying to toggle a gear shifter which would give the Audi's patented Tronic gear system a run for its money, this crazy 3-wheeler literally steals the show! When the tide is low, you'll often find unsuspecting tourists taking a fun ride up and down the Digha shoreline on the powerful ' Tuk-tuki ' .

5. The make-shift Rickshaw! For 5 bucks a hop, these transporters will get you to the innermost bylanes of both Old and New Digha. Laughter and crazy stories thrown in free! And with all the impetuous showers that keep hitting the eastern coastline, they guarantee you getting to your destination absolutely dry. Pakka promise!

Which ride should I book you on... ? 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Sasuraal in the Society !!

Now that I have your attention...

Don't we all just love chaos ? 

The auto ride to Urwai Gate, the entrance to Gwalior fort.

Ashis Nandy, a sociologist wrote back in 1980 that "in India, the choice could never be between chaos and stability, but between manageable and unmanageable chaos, between humane and inhuman anarchy, and between tolerable and intolerable disorder."

And was he right?  Just explore this great hubris called "Bharat" and you'll bow your head down to this great man.

This post is dedicated to me taking a shot at "Solo travelling".  Thanks to a cousin of mine, Aparajita, did I finally muster the courage to plunge into it. And it was awesome, scary yet liberating! I've always been a sugar and spice kind of a person. Liked a hint of a special something in my drinks. So I decided to experience the thrill of an unplanned journey by going without a return ticket.

Travelling itself is known to elicit very zany emotions. You start noticing the minutest of things and fall in love, every day, every moment that you travel. 

#1. The contrasting reads displayed proudly at the platform book stall at Nizamuddin station. Man, there are more Amish Tripathi's per square foot display area of any book stall than any other author. Other than Chetan Bhagat, of course! That dude is everywhere.

My funny take on the contrasting reads at the book stall

#2. Trains. I am an absolute sucker for train journeys. Standing at the door and seeing the tracks intertwine and then merge into one, among other things. This time there was something more in store for me. The ravines between Dhaulpur and Morena. 

About an hour from Agra, the train crosses the state border of UP for a brief soiree with this town called Dhaulpur which marks the eastern most fringes of the state of Rajasthan. From there starts the 50 km journey where the train chugs into Madhya Pradesh and into the town of Morena. Its a 45 minute journey, and all you see outside for the first 20 minutes are ravines, deep and snake-like, with stark vegetation thrown in here and there. With the sun blazing outside all you will remember will be 'Chambal ke Daaku'. 

#3. Stations. Like I've always said, they're one's first glimpse into things about to come. Each one so different from the other. And they always have a story to tell. Some day, I am going to sit under a tree at a small, unknown station in a desolate part of India and watch trains all day long.

Gwalior Station. 3 PM. Sunday afternoon.
#4. Walking. Public Transportation. Just walk out of any station onto the road. Feel the city talk to you. And you'll know where to get your next ride. Two shared autos and a 2 km walk later I reached my destination. Had I taken a direct auto, I would have reached the same place in 10-15 minutes. But the 30-40 minute walking/public transportation combo made me talk to 5 different people for directions and I ended up remembering the street names for a long time.

#5. Gwalior Fort. Brilliant piece of architecture. Hill forts never fail to disappoint you. The views that you get from the top of the city of Gwalior are breathtaking. The walk from Urvai gate up to the fort is like taking a walk down the annals of history with a backpack. 
The walk from Urvai gate upto the fort.
You have have to strain your neck to get a full view of the exquisite sculptures of Jain Tirthankars cut into the rock on which the fort stands. They are huge, finely cut stone work and a treat to watch even when the 40 deg sun is making you sweat it out. "Just take out your cap and stop cribbing, you baby!" The statues keep you company all the way up to the fort. There the age-old Scindia school stands to give you a welcome.

Rock cut sculptures of Jain Tirthankars

I ran all the way to the top. My mind could afford it, my over-sized belly couldn't. Had to sit down under the shade of the chowkidaar bhaiya's shack and cool my ass off. That is when I saw this lizard roaming aimlessly under the shade of the window in a deserted cabin.

I was talking to the chowkidaar bhaiya and his pals, when I got a call from a friend that he was at the station. Invited him over. 
He was to meet us at Urvai gate. Now I wasn't going to walk all the way down and up again. Crawled into the back of a jeep going down. Chatting with the chowkidaar bhaiya had helped. Yay!

Just as we got down, our friend got off from his auto. And we saw a Mahindra truck going up. Politely asked the gentlemen driving it. He agreed and we climbed into the back. There! We had our ride back to the top. Laziness does pay!

Now we were 3 guys taking in the views at the top. 

Decided to head to the Gurudwara inside the fort compound. Legend has it that the Sikh Guru Har Gobind Singh Ji freed prisoned kings from the Gwalior fort, marking an important event in Sikhism, thus the name, Gurudwara Bandi Chhod.

Gurudwara Bandi Chhod - Gwalior Fort.
Langar Hall at the Gurudwara
The gurudwara itself is a serene place to spend time at. Wanted to jump into the kund. Note to self : Always keep a towel when out hiking.

Yes, we are humans and we do feel hungry. And what better place than the 'langar' at the Gurudwara. I ate 7 rotis. Burrp! The freshly made achaar and channe-wali daal were delicious.

Saw the seva-daar serving water with this ingenious trapping. It was a drum on a trolley and the tap was controlled by a brake-like lever that the boy operated. Result : No water wastage, no hands touching the water. Brilliant.

While we were walking out, we saw this totally amazing couple who appeared Sikhs but were too fair to be Indian. Assuming them to be Indians settled abroad, we broke into a conversation with them, only to find out that they were American citizens who converted to Sikhism and were now running a bakery in Mexico. What amazed me was how they shifted flawlessly from greeting 'Sat Sri Akal' to us and speak Spanish when describing their plans of touring India.

2 bottles of chilled Maaza per person from the MP tourism canteen and 3 water bottles which we kept re-filling were all that we needed to get this tour done on a hot summer day in Gwalior.
Headed straight to the Man Mandir Palace, the main attraction of the fort. One that gets its way into all tourism advertisements. For those of you who don't know, the blue tiles that you see have yellow ducks interspersed in between.
Also the palace has 2 levels of basements. Very spooky. 

Man Mandir Palace - Gwalior Fort
There are a lot of other attractions to see inside the fort complex and a well-kept museum as well. The Saas-Bahu temple is what intrigued us the most with its peculiar name shouting a story. The temple called Sas-Bahu aur Sahastra-Bahu temple was built by one of the Kachhwaha kings depicting Lord Vishnu with a thousand hands for his wife who was an ardent devotee. Now when her daughter-in-law came into the family, she was a devotee of Lord Shiva. So a second temple was built next to the main temple, where Lord Shiva could be worshipped. Hence, the namesake : Saas-Bahu temple. Don't get me wrong, it's an amazing piece of architecture from the inside with beautiful carvings everywhere. Keep your camera handy! (P.S the title of this post is a takeaway from the above few lines.)

Saas-Bahu temple, Gwalior fort
We got out from the fort complex using the other exit called the Alamgiri gate which took us through old Gwalior from where we had to chase a shared Auto heading towards to the station.

#6. The thrill of being unplanned. Now I knew the return part of my journey was going to be entertaining. But to this level? Stood in the rush hour queue at Gwalior station at 6 in the evening to try and buy a ticket only to be told that I had already passed the booking time and all I would get would be a general-unreserved ticket. Dirt cheap it was. Sources had informed me that Bhopal express departing Gwalior at 3 AM was the most reliable train I could take.

Packed in 3 bottles of water and got to the station at 1 in the night. It was already 18 hours since I was awake. Flitted between watching trains and partly dozing off. The only thing waking me up was the crackling voice of the Railway announcement lady informing about a train arriving or departing. 

Gwalior station. 3 AM.
3 AM. No sight of Bhopal express. Briefly heard about some train standing at platform 3 going to Delhi. I went over. Saw the face of the TT. Seemed like a chilled out guy. Got into the sleeper coach. Saw the TT crowded around by some folks. A denomination later, I was on a side lower seat with the cool breeze sweeping on my face. 

Note to Others: Always take a night train when you don't have a confirmed ticket. 

8 AM. Reached Delhi. Read the name of the train when I got off! 

The train in which I travelled from Gwalior to Delhi.

Now to a good bath and then straight to office. To sleep! Yawn!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Sweet Tooth!

Engineers don't have a sweet tooth. They have sweet teeth. All 32 of them, apparently! Or in my case, 30. (having lost the pair to sweetness already!)

Food, guides a lot of my instincts. People who've been around me long enough know that for sure. But, sweets, they just do a little more.

French crepes might sound all fancy, but they are darn simple to make. You dish out a bowl, put in a fistful of flour, add a little milk, 2-3 eggs and stir for about 5 minutes. The essence is in the consistency of the mix. Not too loose, not too tight. A little loose preferably! Add a little vanilla sugar, if you're not too crazy about the egg-y taste.

A non-stick flat pan is what works best to roll these bad babies out. And butter. Definitely butter! Crepes, like all us scheming, love-hungry mammals, enjoy a lot of buttering. That just kinda ends up bringing out the flavors.

All credit to my aunt who thought the Sunday evening tea would be incomplete without this zing to the palate.
Oh and did I tell you that if you spread a little Nutella on top of the hot ones, it melts away and tastes heavenly?

So there you are folks, French Crepes with Nutella! 12 ones rolled out in 15 minutes.

Burn away.. or turn green! (whatever it is that happens to you with jealousy)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The name's Halwa... Gajar ka Halwa!

The Engineer picks up the Karchi again..this time to dish out Gajar ka Halwa !

And all it took was :

  • 2 dozen carrots (finely grated) , 
  • a fistful of sugar (evenly sprinkled) , 
  • desi ghee, 
  • 40 minutes,
  • and a girl waiting to eat it all! 


My mum, of course!

The halwa didn't even last an hour!

That's the short part of it!

The long part is that carrots have to be washed and in this weather the water feels finger-numbing cold. Your paunch is growing, but that is no excuse to feel tired after grating just 1 carrot when there are 13 more left to be done! And grated carrots when combined with ghee and sugar and stirred for some time over a medium flame smell delicious, but that is no reason to whip out the camera and snap a picture of the steaming delicacy.

I am getting better. Period!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Those Kohl-Lined Eyes!

Now, who would've thought that the Navagraha temple complex in Konark would be the scene of such a cheesy post. And for me to be witnessing it at the Sun Temple is cheesier to the next level! (Karna is the mythological son of Surya, the Sun God and I happen to be named after him)
Well, strange things happen all the time, don't they?

Konark is a small town in the Puri district of Odisha, famous for the Sun Temple, carved beautifully out of Black granite. Konark derived from the Sanskrit word 'Kona' meaning angle and Arka' meaning sun was designed as a gigantic chariot of the Sun God ('Surya') on 12 wheels drawn by 7 horses. Built in the reign of Narasimhadeva-1 in the 13th Century, it isn't really a temple in the literal sense of the word, there are no pujas performed there!

While on most journeys in a small rickety bus, jam-packed to its capacity, trotting along the road and taking about an hour and half to cover the 35 km distance from Puri, you are just happy that you reached, fortunately this wasn't the case here.

The NH 203 is pristine in every sense of the word and would easily go into my list of the best highways in India to travel on. I kind of re-lived my DTC bus college days by travelling on the foot-board of the bus. Instead of the hot, polluted air and car-spangled, tar-covered Delhi roads, the National Highway 203 weaves its way along the Bay of Bengal and greets you with tree-lined esplanades, salt-laden winds and the sun's light reflecting off the waters filtering its way through the thick foliage growing in abundance along the coastline. The bus keeps dodding through the Konark-Puri Marine drive when it reaches the Chandrabhaga beach from where it takes a sharp left turn to get to Konark.

You can choose to get-off here at Chandrabhaga. The sea here is untamed at its best, compared to the quiet, docile waters in Puri. And then walk the balance 3 odd kilometres through cashew plantations on one side and a wildlife sanctuary on the other. There is even a sign somewhere which asks you to drive slowly and lookout for crossing animals.

It was the first time I was seeing cashews growing like these. The junta there isn't worried about the cashews getting plucked by touristy folk like us. That's because the cashew fruit has a very intricate method of processing to make it the edible dry-fruit that we guys are so fond of gifting on festivals. And if you try and be all experimental and dig your nails into the squishy fruit, a gooey oil-like liquid oozes out which doesn't wash off with soap and over time ruins your skin. True story! Self-experienced.
The cashew literally has to be smoked out of the fruit and dried.

When you finally get to Konark, you must walk across shacks selling the usual stuff like sea-shells, stones, temple souvenirs and 3-4 different varieties of cashews to get to the world famous monument.
The sun temple is housed in a complex which is adjoining the Navagraha temple. The temple housing the nine planetary deities on a Navagraha slab has a prophylactic effect on the safety of the temple and is housed in many temples in Odisha. Since we were there on a Saturday and it was special puja day, there was a flea market in progress in the complex to cash in on the hordes of people visiting the temple to offer prayers. You could see two worlds out there, a flawless juxtaposition of ice-cream rediwalahs and hawan-samagri toting pandits.

After having exhausted ourselves admiring the temple and me photo-bombing a million snaps being taken by unsuspecting tourists, I remember us sitting under a shady tree and gorging on mangoes and water-melon. And since mum wanted to have some roti-sabzi, we went into one of the Marwari basas just outside the temple complex. These basas are exotic entities I tell you. You are served some very genuine home-cooked food within minutes of you grabbing a seat. Its a 'jaldi khao-jaldi niklo' kinda place. And it doesn't pinch your pocket at all.

As we were getting out of the complex, we found a hand-pump to wash our faces. The constantly humid weather does start getting to all the 'born-and-brought-up-in-a-landlocked-city' guys. I had already washed up and was chatting with an uncle who after seeing me trying really hard to get the cashew fruit oil off my hands, laughed at me and then started telling me tricks to hasten the process. And there she was, a few steps away from him, gulping a golgappa and chatting animatedly with her friend, a dupatta cleverly hiding her face. All I could see were her eyes, those Kohl-lined eyes!

" Those Kohl-Lined eyes... they take your heart away!
Everytime.. everytime you see them. "

Friday, January 3, 2014

From the Engineer's Kitchen!

Ummm.. My hands smell of Metthi. 

Because I just cooked the most awesome Metthi Aloo (Potato cooked with Fenugreek). 

Basic cooking is quite like science. You get the ingredients, follow procedure and its done.
Now, that's exactly what all cookbooks will tell you. What they won't tell you is how hard it is to keep a 2 kg cookbook in your hand while you're tumbling the vegetables upside down in the kadhai (hemispherical container used to cook). And if it is borrowed, then all the tension of dirtying the pages with your oily hands. So much work. Phew!

Cooking expects you to have a basic feel for it, if not anything more. Oh.. cmon..that's just fair.!!

I've been seeing my mother cook for ages now. And my father surprisingly cooks pretty well too. His cooking is more suited to my carnivorous palate. He is good with all kinds of meat.
And I've watched with wide eyes how the Dhaba-walas stir fry their dal makhni and shahi paneer.  They know the proportion of masala that is going to give me the kick and the amount of butter to put to make me lick my fingers. Its all very instinctive. No tablespoons or measures. How the chai wala bhaiya next to my office gate just knows with experience what it takes to make the killer cup of chai with the precise amount of sugar, chai patti (read : tea leaves) and milk. His concoctions come out perfect, everytime. Oh.. and the way they play around with the flame. While the dal is left simmering on a dheeme aanch for a long time for it to get its dreamy taste.. the tadka is usually added on a high flame with a lot of movements of the pan.

So, on a cold wintery evening, 3 days into the new year,  I put all my learnings to test.
Finely chopped some metthi, washed it and put it in the kadhai. I made sure all the water had evaporated before I added oil to stir fry it. In the meantime, peeled off some potatoes, and chopped them into small pieces, not too small, not too big ( as my father pointed out). When the metthi starts sticking to the kadhai and starts developing a slight crust, I scattered the potato pieces into the kadhai, added namak, haldi and some oil and tumbled them upside down. The potatoes started getting the familiar yellowish tinge. Put a lid on the container and let it simmer.

15 minutes later, mum comes to test. And I pass. With flying colours.

The engineer shall enter the kitchen again.

P.S : Yes. I had painted my gas plate that creamish-pinkish tinge.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

10,000 !

Ten Thousand ?

As I crossed the red light from the Outer Ring Road at Nehru Place towards Maa Anandamayee Marg to cover the last leg to get to my Okhla Phase-2 office, the odometer on my bike chucked to 10,000 kms. The meter really didn't put in that much effort. The wheels surely did!

I swerved to the side of the road just as the four figures changed to five, tootling amongst a BMW and a Toyota, the playthings of the rich. The earphones unapologetically blared " Ji Karda ni mera... braka laun nu.. " (-I don't feel like applying the brakes-) , a popular Punjabi track from the movie "Mere Dad ki Maruti" echoing the thoughts running through my head.

So this is what 10,000 felt like! To all the trust I had put into my Yamaha FZ! All the new places I never knew were a part of Delhi. All the folks who rode pillion with me. And finally to my getting a better handle on the routes! Biking, is the best thing I could ever have got into. I remember the first time I biked alone on the Airport-Dwarka road on a cold winter night, the chilly wind breezing past my face, the silence of the night being broken by the roar of the engine. Living, felt so real.

As I get back onto the saddle to drive the last mile to my office, I realize I haven't given my FZ a wash. A spa treatment is due. A lil bit of waxing, a lil bit of oiling and she's good to roar again! She's quite like me! Doesn't really mind not taking a bath every single day!

Eww! Didn't really have to blurt that one out! 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Making Hay!

The Puri-Satapada highway ( NH 203A) gives a whole new meaning to the term "making hay while the sun shines". 

Catch a rickety private bus from the stand on Grand Road near Gundicha mandir. The bus charges you a cool 30 Rs. and takes a behemoth 2.5 hours to cover the 48 km stretch from Puri to Satapada. 'Sata' (meaning 'Seven') and 'Pada' ( meaning 'Village'), together meaning 'a group of seven villages' for the more touristy folk is from where you can access Chilika Lake.While many have written about the wonders of Chilika, known for its Irrawaddy Dolphins, Red crabs found on the Rajhans Beachstrip separating the brackish lake from the Bay of Bengal, and the the hordes of migratory birds that visit it during the winters, it was something completely different that struck me during my journey.

Puri, surprisingly has no State run bus service. There are OTDC buses, but they only run on package tours, apart from private tour operators available for booking at every hotel/lodge. If you are a backpacker, don't make the mistake of taking them. When you are scouting for a a bus near the Grand road, the bus operators try and compete with themselves and the 'Piaggio Ape' Autowallahs, telling you that they are the only ones that leave you closest to the lake. Apparently, all of them leave you at the same spot.

Our bus ride was all about Women power. There were atleast 20 women in the 25 seater bus which managed to stuff in 50. Ladies wanting to get off in an en-route town for work, school teachers, aunties visiting relatives. All of them knew the conductor well enough for him to shake off two men from their slumber just to get seats to the ladies. Pretty girls do have their way everywhere! Seems like, we were the only tourists on the bus. And in the limelight were a village couple romancing amidst all this chaos. The guy apparently telling the girl some funny joke!
The bus makes its way through the outskirts of Puri and halts so many times to pick up or drop off passengers that you start suspecting whether it is even moving. And then it takes a 30 minute halt midway in a town called Brahmagiri, where we hop off to gorge on a local variety of mango, 1-rupee samosas and vadas and a curiously familiar-tasting sweetdish made with curdled milk selling at 25 Rs. for a pao.

One of the passengers had to eventually bad-mouth the conductor to make him get the bus back on the road. As one gets closer to Satapada, Hay, was all there was on the highway. Folks cutting it, sifting it, ladies tying it up in bundles, drying it, men on top of huts using hay stacks to construct the roof. And farms with half cut stock as far as the eye could see.

Finally when you get to Satapada, Chilika presents its windy side to you.
Chilika motor boat association wallahs keep approaching to coax you to go see dolphins for 900 Rs. for an hour and half, or even take you to the Sea mouth for an additional 600 Rs. ( P.S. I put my Sales skills to test here. The rates are highly negotiable).

There are normal boats as well which ply on the lake ferrying people to another village for 15 bucks a hop or Rs. 30 as motorbike freight.

What's more to Chilika, you ask?

Jetty to the West side. Where we had the luck to see young sailors being trained in rowing and then getting punished.
The jetty banks are a peaceful place to sit and relax. Go ahead and taste the water. Its pretty clean, but quite salty. The sun doesn't feel too hot and the salt-laden winds keep trying to push you down. We even slept off in the shade in the jetty structure for quite some time. Plus you get to capture nice clicks like the ones of this old fisherman who was trying to steer his boat against the strong winds.

In the afternoon, we decided to have lunch at the nearby OTDC Yatri Niwas which cooked really nice Egg Masala, but had salty water to drink and to wash your hands with.

For our return journey, the conductor of the bus we were about to board was promoting the LCD in his bus so proudly that both my sister and I ended up putting 'tokris' ( read 'village baskets' ) on our heads and sleeping off during the entire journey when he decided to play the Salman Khan starrer 'Garv'.

Like we hadn't had enough salt rubbed on our entire body already!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Puri Primate!

And, the Puri beach gets me back to my love! 

Yes. Its been quite some time since I wrote. 

But 3 days of backpacking in the bylanes of this quaint little town on the East coast, and I cant happen to contain my thoughts.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Surat Sunrise!

This has got to be a story to tell.

I was back on track! Literally, of course.

To Bombay, again. On the August Kranti Rajdhani. The train is the later Rajdhani to arrive at the Central station, the first one being the Mumbai Rajdhani which gets there about 2 hours earlier. But the August Kranti makes a lot more halts. And that is good, for me!


The train parked itself on the platform at around 6.20 after waiting its turn for about 15 odd minutes before the Surat station. The few minutes were exciting, nonetheless. The Sunrise. And subsequently, lots of insights into the Surat way of life. A factory complex, Dhanraj Sons displayed in big bold letters on the terrace. Surbhi Hospital, multistorey apartments, not Railway ones though, these looked like posh ones with an AC at each window, a Mandir with its distinct trail of bells resounding the morning Aarti ritual, Shyam Optics in a market complex, the sudden appearance of several tracks, the squatting junta relieving themselves, and the final entry to Surat station

Parcels scattered on the station, milk bars, food stalls, people with luggage, people without luggage, some walking vehemently, while others staring sheepishly at railway reservation boards and trying to 'fix' up a seat with the TT in the oncoming train, none sleeping though! The canvas replete with all its colours. Truly a piece of art.

I am in the alleyway next to the exits and blasts of cold air from compartments entwine with wafts of freshly cooked Dhokla at the station. Wait! Did somebody say FOOD ? My eyes scanned the station for the nearest food stall, and there it was! Stacks of Dhokla, perfectly cut to cuboids, mottled and puffy in appearance and interspersed with green chillies. Lots of them.

Dhokla ( Steamed Gram flour) - A famous Gujarati snack

Piping hot Chirwa!

Oooh there were also samosas, kachoris and 3 different variants of pakoras being scooped out of the big kadhai with a 'channi'. And there was something in a plate which I tried to match in my head with every Gujarati snack I had knowledge of. The match returned no results. I deboarded the train, got to the stall and found that the plates were full of piping hot 'chidwa'. My eyes started wandering around. I was at the food stall, after all. I suddenly looked back. The train had started moving. I quickly scampered back.

From the door, I tried to take in my last sightings! A mother was trying to pacify her son who was getting all worked up about buying a chocolate. A last glimpse as the train whistled by and the boy was holding his prize. He had won the argument, it seems. As the train crossed over a bridge, I saw down below, 2 girls riding their ladybirds. Their carefree banter still rings in my ears.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

First Appraisal Jitters!

19 new emails in your inbox.
I scanned the mailbox in a half asleep metastable state, read emails from my leads, blatantly ignored the rest with a conventional line of thought that people from the other part of the world are jobless blokes who love spamming.
It was yet another usual Monday at office with the usual work, the usual conversations and the usual people. As I walked into cafeteria for lunch towards the table that boasted the youngest prisoners of this corporate giant, I couldn't help noticing skewed faces. Curious to know what happened to their otherwise stupid grins, I paced my steps and lent my ears to their frenzied voices.
"I heard a fresher never gets a 5/5."
"Chandra was saying we have to overrate ourselves in technical aptitude and functional knowledge."
"My manager and I are emotionally attached by mutual hatred."
Okay! We are troubled souls but our lunchtime banter was never this depressing. I had to break in - "What's up?"
"You look pretty cool, Ms Star Performer", retorted Sparsh.
"Jeez, I hate that tag."
"But you would showcase that in your appraisal, wouldn't you?"
"Lo dekho! She doesn't even read emails."
With an I-know-more-than-you smirk, I was explained, "There was this mail from Andrew Castro, our vice-president apprising everyone about appraisals. Samjhi, madam?"
Ouch! Turns out that Andrew was not a jobless spammer.
As the deadline of the appraisal form completion approached, tensions soared and faces reddened. Seasoned folks like Somali completed it in 15 minutes while overly anxious new joinees would waste their weekends pondering what answers what. Considering the fact that we were ignorant employees, a training session on Appraisal system was conducted by a HR hottie. However, my unfavorable luck sent me out of town and made me miss the invaluable knowledge imparted. Perfect timing, you see. Had I attended the training, I would have said- HR girls had decimal IQs and were consummate bores. I always have something nice to say.
On the second last day, I opened the much discussed online application. An appraisee would have to self-rate herself in 14 competencies, chalk out goals achieved in that fiscal year, answer 5 basic questions and enlist 3 appraisal participants who would further rate her. At the end, employees would be adjudged by a digit in the range of 1-5, 5 being the highest.
Rating oneself was quite easy; the challenge was justifying your rating. To make things knotty, what was expected from the appraisee was already described at length in front of each competency which left little scope to over-rate. All I could think at that time was creative expletives for the HR team, purveyors of head-ache and restlessness.
Mustering the little energy left at the end of day and with degraded writing skills, I set to complete the task at hand. After three painstaking hours I concocted phrases like ‘Prioritized assigned work as per escalations and severity’, ‘Complied with existing processes and kept abreast with new developments’ , ‘Proved as a fast learner and could apply basic classroom concepts and ramp up at a good pace’ - so on and so forth. In just three hours, I had taken important decisions of my life – the purpose of my career, short term and long term goals, areas to improve on – all answers which were non-existent till that momentous day. Out of the blue, my least satisfying aspect of job changed from cafeteria food to missed learning opportunities. There was an innate sense of beauty in the sheer hollowness and falsity of my statements. That day, I left office with a triumph.
Next day, Sangeeta came running to my seat. Let me introduce you to Sangeeta – a colleague who would call you a friend only in the times of need.
“Hi! That bitch assigned me high priority work… blah blah blah … can you show me your appraisal form?”
“Why? What didn’t you understand?”
“What did you write in this question… … Please, can you show me your form?”
“Okay. Just see it once, don’t copy. At least, change the words.”
In a blink of an eye, she copy pasted my entire template. Wow! Can you beat me in foolishness?
One month later, my manager came all the way from Atlanta just to discuss appraisals with his immediate directs. If only he could cut down on travelling expenses, restricted to economical video conferences and saved team budget for hikes and bonuses. Alas! No one listens to my ideas.
My ex-manager and current manager met over a smoke and I was one of the topics of discussion. “She is a 5/5, critical for my team”, said my manager. How do I know this was said? It is the same way I know which department guy is dating which department girl. Office gossip network never falters!
Thus came my Judgment Day. I sat tensed in front of my appraiser, wondering what was going in his head. Finally, he starts, “You are a very good performer, you have done good work. You like your job very much, don’t you?”
My jaw line broke into a smile and inane words spurted out, “Not very much, sometimes it is monotonous.”
There was a long pause followed by, “So, let us start with goal accomplishment and then go back to competencies.”
“Okay, the way you say. All questions sounded similar to me or maybe I had the same answer.”
Oh yes! I said that. Something was definitely wrong with me. I felt like Jim Carrey in the court-room scene in the movie, Liar Liar.
I decided to shut my big mouth. For fifteen minutes, my manager went on saying things that were already known to me. Towards the end, he got bored and decided to take a fun pop quiz.
“Is there some area I can improve upon?”
“Do you have any special requests?”
And the most lethal of all, “How much would you rate yourself, out of 5?”
After many umms and errs, I said he could talk more often to us, requested a leave for Diwali but couldn’t answer the lethal one. To that, I said it was his job as an appraiser to rate me.
Tell me dear reader, haven’t I done enough by completing that form and sharing it with the Sangeetas of my world!
Another long pause followed. “Okay child, you have exceeded expectations. I would rate you 4/5 and I wish you continued success at work. Keep up the good work.”
With that we were done, my 5/5 crashed to 4/5 and so ended my first appraisal jitters.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Cab in the 'Cab'-inet !

They are the meanest, not quite the leanest !

And if you aren’t used to break neck speeds, screeching halts, and the nastiest maneuvers on the tar, your bowels are in for some shock! Some might call this an epiphany to the Ambassadors in Calcutta. I call it a tribute to the craziest rides Ive ever had.

These yellow soldiers aren't comparable to the speedsters on the F1 circuit in raking pure numbers on the tachometer! But they were built to do things Bernie Ecclestone wouldn't even dare to!
Hindustan Motors built these Ambassadors strong. Calcutta being the largest consumer, they apparently have a factory nearby where you'll find these taxis on the assembly line.

Ive been to Calcutta twice now!

June 2010 and April 2011. The city never ceases to amaze me. The food, the sights, the river, the people, or the laidback attitude. That's the best part actually. I need to learn the I-know-I-am-lazy-but-I-don't-give-a-damn perspective! And don't get me wrong, but they do get their work done almost always.

But one thing that you can never miss are these taxis zipping by! ' Yellow colour + Huge size + Super fast maneuvering '. And they will always go by the meter.

While in the taxi, I've managed to have detailed discussions on the economics of driving a 'stone-age cab in a modern world'
and the drivers have always convinced me that although a little high on maintenance, the 21st century cars don't even last a fraction of the years that these Ambassadors will. And the worst of accidents will just etch a tiny scratch somewhere on the body. These were made with hard-forged, furnace-baked Iron and Steel, not with cheaper, lighter alternatives, fitted by tender, gentile assembly line robots. Plus the super powerful engine, it roars! Make it climb mountains, make it race sedans!

Sad, that in India's capital city, you'll only see these beauties at the Railway station, the Airport or ferrying unsuspecting ministers in and out of the Parliament. They've become the exclusive rides of the neta-log and the babus! They've reached where very few manage to. Into the Cab-inet! I remember having driven my grandad's Fiat Premier Padmini when I was young. It was the time when the Ambassador was in vogue. Those were the days when the cars really had 'muscle'. And the driver needed to have a lot of' muscle' too, to be able to toggle around with the super hard mechanical steering and gear shifters.

But they would always take you to "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe", if you wanted!

The Fiat Premier Padmini