Saturday, July 30, 2005

Travelogue IV (Day out at Paris)

Its rare I get lucky! But it happened. Getting an entire day out at Paris, all that for free, is not just a small luck, its a gift chhappar phaad ke! After landing at the high-tech Paris airport, when I reached the appropriate terminal to get a boarding pass at the Air France counter for my journey back to Mumbai, I was baffled by the reply of the staff - "All seats in this flight are full and you can't travel today. Wait on that side and I would tell you what is to be done." Still unaware of many rules in hawaai yatras, I ranted at her - "How can you give my seat to somebody else? I have a confirmed ticket!" She politely replied - "Sir, do you know what's going on in Mumbai? People are dying in Mumbai!" I thought for a moment, so what's the big deal? People keep on dying in India due to one thing or the other!...but suppressed my urge to say that out aloud. She continued - "There is water all around and our flights are not getting permission to land. Yesterday's flight was cancelled and those passengers are travelling today." Finally, after spending much time on her sleek computer system, she told me that there is no other option and I would have to travel the next day. They arranged for my stay at a nice hotel together with meals and had a free transport available from airport to Ibis Ville.

I only had my hand baggage with me and there was no option of changing my clothes. After having lunch (this was much better than Czech food, atleast the fruits were intact and not spoiled with the application of a ghatiya fruit salad recipe, and on the top of it, there were those familiar french fries!), I decided to set out to have a city visit. With the experiences of a city travel in Prague, I took a map and set out all alone to discover as much of Paris as possible in that single evening I had. Major tourist destinations were marked on the map itself and I covered around 5 of them.

My first stop was, of course, the Eiffel Tower. The familiar picture of the structure embedded in every child's mind in India, courtesy his GK books, was infront of my eyes. You can't really imagine the actual span of this marvellous design unless you see it. I decided not to go on top (partly because I didn't have time, and partly because there was a heavy rush at that 2 Euro elevator and I didn't have enough energy to waste by using the stairs). Paris was expensive, and I was lucky that I had around 5000 Rs in my hand baggage which I got converted at the airport.

From the tower, I decided to walk to my next destination to have a good sightseeing and to enjoy the beautiful Seine river. The river flows centrally through the city and is flanked by huge structures on both sides. It's not very wide, but the approximate 50 to 60 mts. width is enough for the numerous floating restaurants and small tourist boats offering a paradise to the onlooker's eyes. Paris is different from Prague in almost everything - it's modern and high-tech, Prague was a bit ancient and historical.

After a few more site visits until it was around 10 in the night, I decided to move back to my hotel. A sumptuous dinner (again with French fries, French bread, lots of fruits and above all: the red wine) ended my Paris day-out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Travelogue III (Phoren life & Prague)

Its not a very good practice to start off with a pessimistic note, but I am more than tempted to write this off - If you are a vegetarian, think ten times before travelling abroad without an alternative food arrangement (like your wife to cook!) I have been pissed off with what all you get here in the name of food: tell that to somebody back in India and he would exclaim - sirf ghaans khaate the kya? For vegetarians, they proudly announce the salad on one side of the buffet which was filled up with strange dishes of pork and beef (for which I needed a friend for identification) or some ugly vegetables cooked with ... I don't know what. Yesterday in lunch, they even had the pasta which actually sucked! I have been hungry since last three days, surviving only on the bread-butter and yoghurt of the breakfast and moving only by the little power provided with that 32 Crown Coca-Cola Burn energy drink.

The conference is going on great - though a bit hectic. Today was the closing ceremony in fact. It has been great chatting with people from around the world - each one strange in his own ways. The day before yesterday I talked with a guy called Bill from Hungary. He had been to India for 6 months all alone and was sharing some experiences. He had arrived at Mumbai on a Diwali night and was astonished at the sight of crackers all around. It was funny in a way, I could imagine him jumping and running all along to get away! There is a girl called Louann from Trinidad with this typical accent we seldom hear on televisions and this lad named Achala from Sri Lanka who finds the Indian accent strange! Writing about everybody is not what I intend to do in this space.

I bunked a complete session yesterday afternoon and roamed around the city with a fellow Indian Ashish Gupta from XIMB (Yup! Bunking is something which characterises a typical Indian, and is inevitable when you are an engineer!) This guy was experienced - he had been to London and Japan before and knew the ground rules of travelling in an unknown city. I think I would never have been able to cover all these beautiful places in Prague, had he not been there for my rescue. With a map in hand and a good knowledge about the city owing to his huge pre-preparations about the place on the internet before coming, he was a nice company all around. We went to almost all places he told was worth visiting - Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, Wencelas Square, National Museum etc.

There are a few basics to enjoy a foreign city - have an extreme stamina to walk, a great sense of direction and a lot of common sense! We walked for almost 15 Kms on that very day, and I kept myself moving with frequent Coca-Cola Burns. The city is great - and I have read that it has some historical importance related with the USSR times. Christened the Banaras of the West and the most beautiful city of Europe; we roamed quite until it was 11:30 in the night. Its strange of European summers - the sun comes up around 5 in the morning, but sets only around 11 in the night! The night had actually just started to cover up the Prague skyline when we decided to wrap off to catch the last train to Celakovice.

And ask what I had for dinner - a cheese patties bought outside the TESCO Supermarket. After searching in almost every McDonald's and other restaurants and asking for anything vegetarian, I finally got a patties! Ashish was, though, comfortable with his hot-dogs and burgers (which had pork inside.... Erckle!). I had to buy water (available at a hefty 26 Crowns for half a litre - that's around 50 Rupees!) to quench my thirst just because they don't offer it for free even at restaurants! The coke was cheaper than water, though, available at 15 Crowns for a glass and I had sipped it twice.

On returning back, every other guy in my group was astonished how I bunked a session, and I was astonished why at all do they think its such a big deal anyway! Today evening, there was a scheduled city visit and we utilised it only to do some shopping from the stores we had cautiously set aside in our minds yesterday as providing the best prices - again, a typical Indian!

Today was the closing ceremony and it felt bad to part from everybody else. After all, it was a nice share of time which I had enjoyed with them. Tomorrow, I would be leaving this place to ride on plane which would "Fly me home" (The three words symbolising the Deccan airways which I read on a girl's baggage while looking at her at Paris airport!) Better than here, atleast I would get good food to eat and free water to drink!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Travelogue II (First Impressions)

I think I am not yet finished with my Delhi post. After everything was in place by 22nd, I thought of making a trip to my Mausi's place in Behrod, around 130 Km from Delhi, midway on Delhi-Jaipur highway. So, on 23rd morning, around 6 O' clock, I left to Dhaula Kuan from Noida, and caught a comfortable 2/2. (2/2 buses are a luxury in Jharkhand and Bihar considering the heavy rush and abundance of 3/2 seaters). It was nice to find a scarce headcount, both in that DTC I had boarded and in this Haryana State Transport bus.

After spending around 8 hours in home, both Mausiji and Mausaji came to drop me all the way to Indira Gandhi International airport. There was a traffic jam near Gurgaon and the bus took a different way through the Gurgaon city - I was lucky to get the city view and kept on getting amused by the skyscrapers.

We reached the airport around one and a half hours before the scheduled departure and I was sad to know that visitors were not allowed anywhere inside the security area - I had to go inside all alone and they didn't even get a chance to actually see me off. Unknown of the formalities and wandering inside to get an idea of what all is to be done to fetch a boarding pass, I was wondering how bewildered and dumb must I be looking to others! Its always strange, you can easily identify a 'fresher' in any domain by his activities; not always because he does things incorrectly, but just because he asks for it first and then does that with extra care.

Finally, after much embarrassment, I got a boarding pass, and I decided to make a call back home. By this time, I had started feeling a bit nostalgic and, though, its not the best thing to be done at such times, I made a call atleast to inform everybody that I am ready to depart.

The aircraft finally took off, and I found myself cramped in a small chair with seatbelt tied around and some strange sort of pressure inside my ears. The seats were 2-4-2 in one row and I was in the worst of them, the middle one in the 4 series. Stretching my legs was difficult and sleeping impossible. I remembered all rosy paintings of air-travel which are pasted in your mind throughout your growing-up stages in school life, and wondered how amongst many worthless things taught in school life, such falsified images of comforts-which-money-can-buy are firmly erected inside your mind. I was hungry, but something inside my stomach kept prompting me, fill with anything and I am ready to throw it out! The artificial environment was worse and I was wondering whether I would actually survive for entire 10 hours in that condition. A newly wed Indian girl was sitting besides me and just to feel a bit better, I initiated a conversation.

She was going to US via Paris and was travelling with her father-in-law. For the first time, I tasted some French food and this girl helped me out in identifying the vegetarian items. It was strange, and I couldn't eat anything except some French bread and butter, settling everything in place with some orange juice.

The ordeal finally ended and we landed in Paris. The pilot announced the outside temperature to be 17 degrees. I disembarked at terminal 2A and couldn't find that girl anymore. A bus took the passengers of connecting flights to terminal 2C and in the entire way, I kept getting mused at the mesh of concrete flyovers passing one on top of another like the ones in science fiction movies. I had about 2 hours before my next flight to Prague and I roamed around in the cold terminal clicking a few snaps with my camera. The second flight was a bit comfortable with 3-3 seats in a row and I had got a window seat. The food again was strange and I managed again with good old bread-butter.

Coming out of the Prague airport, I felt for the first time, that I was out in broad daylight at some place which is far away from India. The taxi which took me from the airport to the conference venue in Celakovice was a Volkswagon, and the entire 40 minutes drive, I kept looking outside with that childlike innocence of videsh yatra. Being fascinated by the cruising speeds of 160 Kmph, I was wondering what would happen if a pothole appears in the way! The car accelerated and deccelerated most swiftly than ever imagined, and I was preparing a nice lecture in my mind about the Indian economy vs. the West in my mind which I can give to my friends upon returning back - which was never delivered in full, except a few comparisons now and then.

"Where's everybody?" is what any Indian would immediately ask while looking around at this place. Habituated of a country (somebody told me that the entire Europe lives in India!) with heads all around, it seemed strange. The taxi promptly stopped at every red signal - I don't know for whom, there was nobody around - and re-accelerated to its full pace. A few bikes passed-by from behind, with a 'relative velocity' same as the normal speed of cars in India, and I quickly added a figure of around 60 Kmph with our meter reading of 150 to get a rough idea of the speed with which those guys were cruising!

Its afternoon here, and I am heavily jet-lagged. This hotel is comfortable, and truthfully, the most comfortable place I have ever been to. I have decided to take a nice nap before I check out what's all there in-and-around.

P.S. The toilet is difficult to use, it has only papers!!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Travelogue I (Delhi)

Its seldom that I travel far away from home all alone. I have been to Delhi before many a times, but this time, it was different. Travelling 24 hours in a train alone is a difficult task - and the difficulty increases if people like us start travelling in air-conditioned compartments! We middle-class people constituting the majority of Indian population are much more comfortable in the familiar and 'active' environment of sleeper 3-tier coaches with beggars and vendors visiting frequently.

Anyway, I stepped down at New Delhi Railway station and took an auto-rickshaw straight to Noida. I have been here after almost 3 years, so changes in a metropolis are quite natural. But the pace at which Delhi has changed appears remarkable. With flyovers constructed at almost every crossroad, traffic congestion has been substantially reduced, not to mention the extra beauty added to the city. The pollution scenario has been greatly improved as well - thanks to the CNG changeover. The air here is far better than the streets of Dhanbad.

Its been four days since I am here. I met one of my seniors yesterday who is in Noida itself. He passed out from ISM just 3 months back but it seemed like we were meeting after almost an year. Working hard in his software firm, his incessant schedules gave me a fair idea of how hard life is going to get once I am out of this heavenly abode called ISM.

I have been travelling much in this place since last 3 days ('much' is the only term I can use based on my Dhanbad and Jamshedpur reference frames) to get a visa approval. The DTC buses, all crowded at the peak 9 O' Clock time were the only option and I sincerely wished metros should have existed in South Delhi as well. People here are more friendly than one can expect, everybody including the conductor can strike out nice conversations even while standing in the buses and it didn't feel much bad to me being cramped altogether with my file in hand and my tie around my neck - the ready-for-the-interview posture.

If you lack sufficient walking capabilities, you are going to have a difficult time here. I have a nice habit of long walks and it wasn't much difficult when I got the most common reply of 'paas mein hi hai' to anywhere I asked for, be it a place 4 Km away. The longest one became real tiresome, though, a full circle around the Niti Marg searching for the Czech Embassy during the most hot-and-humid climate imaginable. It felt as if I had travelled across the entire globe (I walked past the embassies of almost anywhere) minus my destination - the Czech Republic. I have always suffered from this peculiar problem in these so-called posh areas - you can never get anything which can be qualified as a public transport, and you have to finally rely only upon your feet. This area didn't even have the ubiquitous water-vendors of Delhi to offer me a quench.

After much difficulty with that guy called Mr. Store (the difficulty was three fold - sitting in that ultracool chamber which felt like a corpse house, probably trying to give a feel of the Czech climate; understanding his entirely different accent; and finally convincing him why this conference was important to me) my visa was approved and its now certain that I would finally set foot on a winged carrier which would take me outside the realm of this country on the 24th.

The difficulties didn't end, though. I had been desperately searching for some woolen garments since yesterday and after much wandering to places like Ansal Plaza and Patel Nagar, I finally resorted to good old Atta of Noida to manage a single piece of a Levis jacket in a single store. A sleek 4.1 Mega pixel Sony cybershot digital camera is the latest substraction from my 'to-have' list, which I also bought from this market.

The stage is finally set, for, tomorrow would be the take-off towards my experience of a lifetime.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

They said so

Following are a few excerpts from The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. Each one of them is highly thought-provoking and brilliantly written. No comments from my side:

"...which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating."

"It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do."

"...(she) went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task dear friends--a mammoth task."

"Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them."

The third one is much more special and conveys a lot more than those few words.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Meandering through

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अस्थिर अशांत सा इस बियावान में
लहरों सदृश हिचकोले खाता
बेचैन मन,

घृणा, तृष्णा, अंधकार, हाहाकार...
अब तो इस बीहड़ से
भाग उठने की लिप्सा मात्र है।

धरा पर बिताए इन कुछेक वर्षों में ही
लगता है जैसे -
सत्य की पराकाष्ठा समझ आ गई हो...

संस्कृति एवँ परम्परा का झूठा दम्भ,
मखौल बनते मानवता एवँ निष्ठा
सरीखे किताबी शब्द...

एक दूसरे को ही नोच
खाने को आतुर
गिद्ध की तरह डटे लोग।

निरर्थक से किसी लक्ष्य को
प्राप्त करने की होड़ में
कलपता अंतर्मन...

एक पारदर्शी छवि प्राप्त करने की आकांक्षा
परन्तु फिर भी बाकि है।
कभी तो प्राप्त होगी वह
अलौकिक जान पड़ती दूरस्थ आकृति...

कभी तो मिलेगी वह विचित्र अनुभूति...
इसी पागलपन के मध्य
शायद कुछ वर्ष और व्यतीत कर लूँ!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Friends drifting away with time

Ever noticed how at this stage of life one by one our friends have started drifting away from us - transforming into formal acquaintances from close friends? Some reason or the other, we are getting separated from each other. It troubles me, might be because the adolescent kid inside me has not yet been able to give way to adulthood so as to have enough strength to face these harsh realities. I still find myself immature, troubled with slightest difficulties... In about an year, I would be away from the close ones in my alma-mater. Few of them from my school are even getting married! And it descends upon my heart like a melancholy for no obvious reasons.

Will friends stay close with the passage of time? Its difficult to predict, even more difficult to observe yourself. Sometimes I feel I'm getting too much involved in things, or getting too much social, but what's the problem with that? I wonder if there would be a day when everybody would be busy in their professional lives and would lose meaning of our friendship. I just wish that never happens. I read somewhere - Friends don't drift apart universally with time. It's your own decision to shut off your eyes, so that you don't acknowledge them.

P.S. I don't believe in star tracks, but just after finishing this blog, here's what I found in today's Graphiti -

Virgo (August 21 - September 20) This week Virgoans are on an emotional roller-coaster. Cast aside insecure feelings. Draw comfort from family and friends. You may also feel lonely or unloved, but do not slip into a depressive mode. You just need to ask yourself whether this self-pity is justified. Chin up!

Quoting a line from my own previous post - you start believing in everything when you want to.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

My friend gets married!

This wedding I attended was entirely different from all my previous experiences of such an occasion. Earlier, on all such occasions, I had been with my family, going for a maximum of 3 to 4 hours, rhetorically respecting entire family members gathered and returning back to enjoy a good night's sleep after a tiresome day.

This was different in many aspects - first and the foremost, I was well acquainted with both the bride and the groom. The bride happened to be a close friend from my school, and the groom is my senior. Its a nice feeling when you are in a situation like this, being known on both sides! Next, the meeting with seniors from my college in the evening - I re-experienced the same senior-junior relationship tradition of ISM about which each one of us are proud of. I had never seen or met anyone before, but we sat together, chatted and drank like we had known each other for years.

Then the baraat - for the first time I attended one after consuming a little alcohol! We danced a lot just like any other party at our institute, but there was a difference - there was a camera rolling! It was fun, dancing on band party instruments is much more exciting than even a DJ.

It was different, I saw her in that bride's dress and she was looking beautiful with a handsome match standing besides her. I was happy for my friend, she's stepping in a new life. Congratulations Madhu!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The WET Friday

Myself and Chandra hosted a small party on the occasion of our campus selections. Too late, of course, its been 5 days since we have been through, but the sequence of events during the week didn't allow us an early treat.

Alcohol in all its splendour, people with all their emotions, we drank and spoke our hearts out. A blend of everything - happiness and pain, frustration and exasperation, love and longing - all present in many flavours. I had witnessed the failure of a brilliant mind the entire week, I can see the agony of separation with the seniors, I can feel the terrible time when we would separate from our friends in just an year, I can't stop my tears looking at my frustrated friend....

We danced, we drank, we cried, we celebrated, we encouraged, we separated .... and all this from dusk to dawn. A warm cup of tea at Ramdhani on this Saturday morning marked an end to the wet Friday, but the feeling lingers on.... and it pains in the heart.

Monday, May 09, 2005

And finally a success

The pursuit of success is far more exciting than the success itself.

Today, I landed up with my first job - IBM Global Services.

Friends ask me - you must be feeling in the airs, huh? And I can't explain to them, not at least in words - that I am not feeling in the air, but firm on the ground, firmer than I ever felt. Its an achievement, of course, but it hasn't left me that happy that I would jump around. The pursuit of success - I was enjoying that part. Preparing for the campus selections, going through everything about the company, and finally gearing myself up for those tricky HR questions, it was wonderful! And it was troublesome. Anxiety day and night, mixed with a fear of rejection - I myself did things which appear strange to me; like trying to feel confident even though a part of my mind never was! Analysing yourself, short term and long term goals, strengths and weaknesses.... All those things which are the toughest to think about! Who can think of his own weaknesses? Even if you think of many, babbling those in an interview would lead to nothing but rejection. Analysing myself! One thing which lacks in most of the humans - swaadhyaya as it is put by Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati. The day I learn that, 90% of the troubles would wither away by themselves.

The success itself? A little masti overnight with friends, a little consolation to those talented ones who got rejected, and finally a good night's sleep after days of examination. The end of success celebrations! Who would say I am feeling in the air?

But one strange feeling dawns on me - how a yesterday kid of a small locality is getting transformed into a professional. I imagine myself playing cricket in that nearby ground and attending school classes in that sombre uniform I always disliked - and then here I am - soon to land up in a job like the uncles in the colony do, soon to attend a conference in Europe... and soon to get out of my college as an engineering graduate. Things have changed, and possibly my perspectives as well. There is much more to come in life!