November 27, 2010

Long way round

I'm not really sure what has gotten into me, but I seem to be getting all sorts of strange ideas for blog posts these days. Maybe its the new netbook, maybe its all the weekend travelling, maybe its because of too much time spent alone in my room, or perhaps even the questionable levels of chlorine in Coimbatore's drinking water.

Whatever the reason, a couple of days ago, while taking the customary return bus from Coimbatore to Bangalore, I had a lot of time on my hands and very little on my mind. The one thing, however, that had been on my mind for the previous few weeks, was travel, and, as I looked out the window from the vantage of my upper berth, I thought about it long and hard. And then, it hit me, unexpectedly and unmistakably, like beef in a Brahmin's McVeggie burger.

Since I'm feeling lucky, to demonstrate, I will be seeking help from what lately, seems to have become an appendage of my brain--Google. More specifically, I will be using Google Maps--every unemployed, redundant Geography teacher's worst nightmare, and every clueless traveller's best friend. So here goes. Please also be warned that:
  • Since I'm not used to blogging this frequently, I will occasionally resort to the oldest trick in the amateur blogger's book--pictures and bulleted points, designed to make the post seem longer and more interesting than it actually is.
  • It is expected that the reader has a basic knowledge of addition and multiplication, though extensive knowledge of differential calculus and politics in Pakistan would be an added advantage.
  • The following is just a series of facts, no clever wordplay, no shrewd analogies, and may, at times, seem like a useless office presentation.
  • In the pictures that follow:  
    • "A": my house
    • "B": <insert school/college/office name>
Kindergarten-1st standard
Assumption: 150 school days a year
Duration: 2 years
Distance travelled: 150 days*14.2 kms*2 years=4260 kilometres

2nd-12th Standard
Assumption: 150 school days a year
Duration: 11 years 
Distance travelled: 150 days*13.2 kms*11 years=21780 kilometres

Assumption: 150 working days a year
Duration: 4 years 
Distance travelled: 150 days*34.4 kms*4 years=20640 kilometres

Assumption: 230 working days a year
Duration: 2.5 years 
Distance travelled: 230 days*27.8 kms*2.5 years=15985 kilometres

Grand Total: more than 60,000kms over 19.5 years. Thats 10 times the radius of the earth. 1.5 times it circumference. 3000 times up and down Mt. Everest. 20 times from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. 1500 full marathons.

Maybe even 2 seasons of Long Way Round? Thats the dream.

November 26, 2010

Mini me

So, it comes down to this. My Tata Photon Plus is struggling for bandwidth. I am struggling to find inspiration. The person across the hall is struggling to find his room keys. And the alcoholic caretaker is struggling to find his bearings as he brings me my dinner. I feel around thirteen years older than I actually am as I open the steel dabba and smell the sambhar(this is generally the high point of my day). It is dark and gloomy in Coimbatore and I am about to begin the second month of a short deputation here. Coimbatore, with its aggressive motorists, abounding chai shops, life-size cut outs of politicians and meterless autos, is definitely an acquired taste. The movement of vehicles is more random than a squirrel's bowel movement. The weather is consistently in the you'll-be-sweating-bullets range. Trying to find a waiter who speaks Hindi or English is like trying to break the sound barrier on a Scooty Pep. Luckily for me, my exposure to the elements and to scantily-clad, lungi-brandishing rowdy biker dudes is limited to about 10 minutes every day, which is how long it takes me to sprint for the company bus on an empty stomach.

Some minutes ago, my broadband connection decided to take an eternity to load any site which was of any interest to me, with the result that my arm has been twisted into writing this post. I have had a lot on my mind for the past couple of months, and sometimes, joblessness is just the finest catalyst.

2 weeks ago, my parents insisted I go home for the weekend, since they had "forgotten what I looked like". This initially seemed like a trap to ensure that I would go to church with them that Sunday, but I decided to travel anyway, and thanks to some Swedish engineering and South Indian driving skills, the journey was comfortable. Nevertheless, I put on my best I'm-too-tired-to-go-anywhere look as I got off the bus and headed home. This would prove to work, as the next day, my parents quietly slipped away to church, while I slept like a baby. If you're wondering what all of this has to do with my story, the emphatic answer would be nothing.

Since the consumption of sea-food and/or liquor in Coimbatore has been known to induce partial paralysis in humans and bisexuality in rats, it was satisfying to finally eat some good fried fish and taste some good beer in Bangalore. Good beer generally comes at a Premium, they say. Anyway, 2 days later, well-fed and well-rested I had to drag myself back to Coimbatore. A few hours before the bus left, I realised that the only thing that would make life in Coimbatore bearable, if only slightly, would be constant access to social networking, VoIP and video chat. Since I was looking for something cheap, portable, robust and eye-catching, I almost bought Celina Jaitley picked up a HP Mini. I could tell you the model number and the colour and the configuration and so on, but then, I'm afraid I'd have to spend the rest of my life with the overwhelming knowledge that you might buy the same thing.

Quite honestly though, when it comes to this technology business, unlike some famous tyre manufacturers, I am one revolution behind. Which is why, when someone asks me:
"How much RAM maam?", I am itching to say:
    "I don't care, fool", but I quickly correct myself and say:
        "1GB". He somehow interprets my answer as an insult to his manhood, and with a bewildered  look, he asks me again:

"Is that enough?", to which, I am itching to say:
    "Yes. To play Minesweeper and buffer Youtube videos simultaneously, it is enough", but again, for the sake of political correctness, I rephrase to:
        "It is expandable da". By now, he is analysing the configuration to the extent that my computer no longer feels personal.

"What OS is it running", he asks, with a confidence that would put Bill Gates to shame.
    "Do you have a valid birth certificate?", I am about to retort, but I quickly rearrange my thoughts and answer courteously:
        "Windows 7 Starter, mapley". "Oh, Starter. Then its ok", he says, like a traffic cop approving of mildly-drunken driving.

Next, "Is it a 14-inch?" he asks.
    "Wouldn't that be every girl's dream", I am about to say, but once again, so as not to offend him/women all over the world, I quickly formulate a more cultured answer.
        "No da, its a 10-inch screen", to which, the obvious next question is:

"10-inch?! Doesn't that hurt your eyes?"
    "Not unless its thrown directly at my face". Awkward silence.
(The reader may be interested to know that the above conversation is purely fictional and is a feeble attempt at adding lines to a post for which I ran out of ideas a long time ago.)

So, armed with my new netbook and the sudden realisation that I had a bus to catch, I quickly packed my bags and headed towards the nearest auto-stand, in the hope of finding one honest auto-driver who would take me to the bus stand for a reasonable price. However, as any Bangalorean would tell you, our auto-drivers' definiton of "reasonable price" depends on several mutually exclusive factors, such as the time of day, gender of the traveller, nationality of the traveller, land rates at the destination, land rates at the source, distance to the closest police-station, weight of baggage, size of baggage, number of bags, and sometimes, quite simply, how stupid they think you are. This "reasonable price" is known to oscillate between:
  • "meter"+Rs.20/-(when the weather is sunny and the world is at peace)
  • "meter"*1.5 (when 4 people travel together)
  • "meter is not working sir" (when there is no police-station in sight) 
  • "meter"+ firstborn child (anytime after 11pm)
So, as I walked away, I was surprised(since it was around nine in the night) as one auto-driver drove past me, stopped, and without asking me where I wanted to go, simply turned the meter on and said, "get in, boss". Since research has shown that this sort of gesture from an auto-driver is observed more infrequently than Halley's comet, I got in and told him where I needed to go. He was quite a friendly chap by the name of Pasha, and seemed genuine enough for me to ask him why he was charging me only "meter fare". He said that it was against his principles to charge more than meter fare before 10pm. As I recovered from that answer, he pointed out to a glass-building that we drove past and told me(in fluent English) that he used to work in a call-centre there but had lost his job during the "recession". He told me that since he was an under-graduate, he struggled to find another job, and since he had a family to support, he would borrow this rickshaw from a friend every evening and drive people around, in the hope of making some money. Unaware how to respond to that, I just kept quiet(which is generally a very difficult thing for me to do). "Sab achche ke liye hota hai, sir", he said a couple of times, which, I presume is not the easiest thing for a person in his position to say. We then spoke about other things, dignity of labour, politics in India and the plight of our roads. As we reached the destination, I got out and checked the meter. I gave him sixty rupees and he promptly returned seven rupees, in keeping with his principles. I still had some time before my bus arrived, so I asked him if he would have some chai. Over chai, I took his phone number, and promised to get him a "better job", or whatever the Indian interpretation of that phrase is. 

It has taken me a few weeks since that meeting to write this post, but more notably, it has been many years since I've met someone as genuine.

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