Tuesday, 16 December 2008

How to kill time with the Great Circle Mapper

So i was having a slow afternoon. Slow enough that i started playing around on the great circle mapper, which for the uninitiated is this cool web based app that plots the route between two airports along the great circle on the surface of the earth that connects them.

Which is boring to almost all of humanity except aviation geeks who have reached level 9.9 and above, so i decided to start my own fictional airline. Of course, sin
ce im dreaming, i decided to add my own twist to it. All my flights would connect only city pairs that lie along a great circle route that connects them via the north pole, which would make my airline's route map a pretty thing to look at. Which led me to some interesting discoveries. Bombay and Montrose in Colorado, USA, pretty much lie on one such route. So my inaugural flight would connect these two overflying the north pole. yaay, i think.

anadyr, one of the easternmost cities in russia, would connect to melilla in spain. i didnt even know these cities existed, but google maps is an invaluable tool. i was attempting to connect petropavlovsk kamtchatskiy (a place i hope to visit someday) to tenerife (another place i hope to visit someday) but then tweaking the route got me anadyr and melilla, and im sorely tempted to add them to my places to visit list just for the heck of it.

other interesting routes included bangalore to rapid city, usa, and nagasaki to godthab(capital of greenland), and bangkok to roanoke(where my brother is currently), and fairbanks (arpt code FAI) to cairo (CAI). of course, my airline would financially dive bomb in a way that would make the Douglas Dauntless proud, but hey, at least i'd have put more thought into my routes than a certain Mr Mallya :D

Here's the Pretty Route Map. I promise i'll try not to be this bored ever again.


Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Mutton Hayabusa..

Those who have had the misfortune of knowing me also know the fact that I love cooking, and that i consider myself a reasonably good, if rather accident prone and messy cook. i'll lay the blame for the cooking bit on my mom, who had the foresight to realize even as i was a kid, that i will someday end up with some girl who won't be able to tell salt from pepper without reading the labels, and that a foodie like her son would end up eating hotel food, canned food and other lesser morsels all his life. so she decided to teach me (and my brother, but thats a different story) how to cook, sorta like an added skill to our survival kit for adult life. She also tried the same approach with washing clothes, and other household chores but that didn't quite meet with the same sort of success as cooking did. so i ended up loving cooking, but utterly loathing the cleaning up after it. either way, the cooking continues to this day.

one of the first things i mastered was what mom and i called the railway roast. it was the dry egg roast that they served with appam on the vanchinad express that we took when visiting grandparents in trivandrum, and in my opinion, its the perfect way to cook eggs. of course, that was just the starting point in a long stint with cookery. what i liked best was the creative side of things. i mean, i cook the way i drive. recipes, like traffic rules, are more suggestions than anything else. so, just like i wont drive in the opposite lane but would jump a red light if no one's looking, u can stick to the basic recipe and still experiment enough to come up with drastically different and interesting culinary results. while you might not be able to duplicate the nuances of a particularly successful experiment a second time round, its still worth the thrill of having made something that probably no one in their senses would have tried.

which led me to my own recipes, eventually. the first of which was vodka chicken and chicken kalyani (named in honor of kalyani black label beer). now, addition of alcohol like wine and vodka is a common enough practise, but i doubt very many chefs would have made a gravy that was held together primarily by the alcohol. which is the sort of experiment that i like... its sorta like playing with old tyres.. y'know, when as a kid you used to run rolling the tyre along by beating it with a stick.. you have to constantly keep balancing it and striking it to keep it moving, and ur happy when it does the simple task of rolling along smoothly while you run beside it. Just the same with these recipes, you start off in a certain direction, and as you wander along you keep adding and subtracting stuff with the aim of making something tasty.. constant mid-course updates to ensure you get it right.

of course, all of this eventually struck me as rather empirical.. i mean, the two successful recipes were the results of situations or accidents, and its a miracle that i can recreate these to some degree of satisfaction. so i decided to try and conceptualize food. y'know, build a recipe out of thin air , inside my head, and then prove it empirically, instead of throwing things around and then making recipes out of them. now, i am also an avid aviation enthusiast, as well as a bike maniac, and it so happens that the hayabusa bike from suzuki was designed in a wind tunnel. which means that they put molten modelling clay on the chassis and left it in a wind tunnel and the wind gave it the form. well, not exactly, but you get the gist. now this train of thought frequently visits the station that is my mind, considering its got wind tunnels and bikes on board, and ive always been fascinated by it. and as i was standing by my bike having a smoke yesterday, i was suddenly hit by the gastronomic enlightenment that i should make a recipe out of it. wind tunnel designed food, if you will..

now, i know this sounds ludicrous, which is why i loved the idea. so i set about thinking what i could make.. it obviously had to have the metaphor of a chassis and the modelling clay. i ruled out chicken right away since it would make for an ugly chassis, and beef would mean too huge a chassis, quail and rabbit would mean too small a chassis, and fish would mean a made-in-bengal chassis which even ratan tata shied away from. so mutton it had to be, by this simple process of elimination. process, thats what it was all about. i may never have followed proper design process in a single project i ever did, but i was neck deep in process here. probably mutton ribs, they would be the perfect size for my chasis.

the next part was the molten clay and the wind tunnel. i tackled the wind tunnel first. it was apparent pretty soon that a blowing with a hair dryer will not cook mutton, so a literal wind tunnel was out of the question. and other conventional methods like a spit roast would be useless too, since the fire would be below and the gravy would flow from top to bottom. so the metaphor was altered a bit, and heat rays became the equivalent of the wind in the tunnel. this now meant i could use anything to heat it as long as it was radiation heated. you might at this point be thinking whether i hadn't taken my analogy a bit too far, and you're right, i did think of that. but then all such doubts soon vanished since i was having waaay too much fun by now. this was almost as much fun as designing doomed-to-fail payload rockets on diwali.

so, on to the clay then. which, of course would be the masala for the meat. now a good chef never reveals the entire contents of his masala mix, so neither will i. but then this is more due to the fact that my mix will consist of whatever i haven't run out of by the time i actually test this thing. but then, the image of the wind forming the melting clay on the chassis was too vivid in my imagination that i decided the masala has to melt on to the chassis. um, meat. for once, since i was inventing my own recipe, i couldnt take things casually, you see. now the list of edible things that also melt is a pretty short list. I can only think of butter mozzarella and the like. i did a short search to see if there were any edible waxes, but gave up on that line sensing that it would mean impending disaster to my blooming career as a cook. chocolate was avoided as well since being a southie, spicy is the norm and if the food doesn't make you shoot flames from the mouth that are at least as long as the chandrayaan rocket exhaust, the food aint worth it. besides, sweet is a bit too gujju, that goat wouldnt pardon me. so lets just say im thinking of cheese, and leave it at that.

and like any proud parent, i had the dilemma of what to name my baby, since i was torn between wind-tunnel gosht, and mutton hayabusa, but eventually settled for the more exotic sounding latter. of course, this post is now coming to an anti-climactic end, but let me just remind anyone who's foolhardy enough to have read this far, that the proof of the mutton, just as with the pudding, is in the eating. which obviously means i need some lab rats. Four unwitting souls are coming for lunch at my place on saturday, i wonder if...

watch this space for the results. :D

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Muffled roar..

More on the bike, avoidable :
i've been listening a lot to the sounds i hear on the road lately, and have come to the conclusion that the sound a bike makes is its most interesting bit, its defining quality. You could build a bike thats so fast its lunacy to ride it, you can make one thats so beautiful that it demands hara kiri if you scratch it, but unless it has a sound that matches it, its all but useless. or so i think. based on some random observations on the road.

take the yamaha r15 for instance. its a good looking bike if you ignore the thin tyres (which you cant, really, since it looks like scwarzenegger with skinny legs) and the puny engine inside (same schwarzenegger with congenital heart defect?) but once you hear its sound.. well thats like old arnie caught a sore throat and has been asked by the doctor to whisper for the next few weeks. this is not to say that i love those bikes(especially smaller two strokes) where the stock silencer has been replaced with a free flow can and you hear their racket from a distance, making all the noise in the world to do a mere seventy kmph. They tick me off even worse. I sorta think that these are like babies farting. I mean, the sound is so disproportionate that you can't quite wrap your head around the fact that something so small can produce something so loud (and foul).

what i'm talking about is the appropriateness of the sound. harleys are so loud they could probably bring down some old buildings as they ride by, but the image of the harley is such that the sound to match it couldn't possibly be any lesser. same with enfields. the enfield, while it does possess a certain charm, wouldn't ever be accused of being a beauty contest winner. but the sound makes it beautiful. you're cruising along, and the thump the bike makes goes perfectly with the image of a heavy old bike being ridden by a content guy.
then again, loud doesnt have to do it. the honda activa is proof of that, i think. that thing takes you around so smoothly and effortlessly, and is such good fun to ride. and the soft hum that it makes seems tailormade for it. or even the mopeds that you usually see near beach resorts.. i used to have one, and it makes this continuous putter that irritates the hell out of everyone. but i loved that sound, cos most people cant admit that mopeds are fun, and some people i know were especially irritated to see me having fun on one. so the irritating putter was more than apt.

which brings me to my current bike, the zma. before i bought it, one of my friends told me that it has a problem with the end can, that it rattles after a few thousand kilometers on the odo, producing a distinctly metallic din as you rode by. and to be fair, apart from the fuel efficiency (im thinking of buying shares in that iran oil pipeline) the only other complaint i had of the bike was the sound. so i added a k&n filter. this is my first ever admission of this fact, but i added the filter mainly to improve the sound. i couldnt care if it gave me added acceleration and lesser fuel efficiency,i needed a better sound. and now it has this muffled roar, which gives a sense of restrained aggression, which is perfect for a sport tourer that takes me on unending roads at more than respectable speeds.
and i'm a pilgrim of that muffled roar :)

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Ninety degrees that wont leave my mind..

im obsessed with a curve. on the road, unfortunately, and not on a girl. i dunno if you relate to this kinda obsession, but sometimes something seemingly inoccuous seizes your imagination in an inexplicable manner, and you just follow it, and dont question why. this curve is like that, sorta. its on my usual office route, a rather dangerously sharp one thats a proper corner, ninety fucking degrees. just barely qualifies to be a curve. but ever since the first time i've ridden it, its been like a yardstick to me. i nearly crashed the first time, since i didn't expect such a sharp curve at the end of what has now become a 120 kmph stretch for me. nearly hit the sidewalk the first time, banking so low over the sand covering the edges of the road that i couldnt utter the standard-issue set of expletives since i was pretty much sure i had my heart in my mouth. and i have been hooked since. it has become the highlight of my daily commute to office, a sort of scale against which i try and self assess my riding ability. the obsession is to master this curve.

its a seemingly simple task, and i could say that i have done it to a good degree of success, but somehow that doesnt do it for this particular curve. it lies there every morning, regardless of everything else around, as an open challenge. and somehow, i kinda think it demands to be taken perfectly. thats the essence of the obsession. i may not become perfect at anything else i do ever in my life, but i have to be perfect when i take this curve. i dunno if you can relate to that kind of a thought, especially since i cant relate to it myself. i mean, its nonsense, if you think of it. i try to dismiss all thoughts about this curve when i start my ride in the morning, but halfway down the ride i'm plotting already. i have my best speeds and lines, yesterday's speeds and line, calculations about what i'll do today, thoughts about traffic, all running through my mind as i approach it. i dump speed as i enter it, bank as low as i dare keeping as much speed as possible and wondering if there's enough traction, open throttle at the apex, make sure my line misses the gravel and then take a quick peek at the speedometer to figure if i've done good, all in the space of a second or less.

and the next few minutes are spent contemplating on where i can improve, what i did wrong, etc. sometimes it goes as far as affecting my day, in a way. i look at it as a horoscope on some random days. if something has changed about the curve, say for instance theres a vehicle parked there restricting my antics, or someone's unloaded gravel or theres shattered glass lying around after an accident, then i kinda think the day might be different too. not your usual black-n-white good-or-bad omen, just a vague inkling. most often it turns out to be nonsense, but for at least half a kilometer after the curve, these are usually the thoughts that hit me.

the funny thing is, i have a suspicion that i would never know when i have done it perfectly. i have a feeling that in the middle of all this, i might not be the best judge of what's perfect and whats not. and judgement obviously isnt easy when your butt is hanging off to the right of the seat, your shoe is scraping the ground, your heart plus some assorted innards are trying to get into your mouth and people are looking at you like you've lost it. and that's what gets to me. i might take this curve perfectly, hell i might already have, and i'll probably never know. Ive tried different criteria, none worked. i initially thought that getting the fastest exit speed would be the key to happiness. i've done seventy and have self-certified myself as a lunatic, but that didnt seem to be it. i could probably get to eighty, and i know it wont do the trick, especially since i used to believe nothing more than sixty five was possible. tried looking at the best, smoothest, sweeping line across it, that didnt work either. i've tried to judge based on braking, acceleration, the sound the bike makes, and each time i think somethings good, something else doesn't fit, and i get mad as hell thinking i'll never know if i've done it right.

either i'm a lousy judge, or maybe perfection is just a compromise.

PS : All antics performed in this piece are done by an effing idiot, kids, please dont try this at home.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

A weird day in the life of...

i woke up dreaming i was being strangled. whenever a dream wakes me up it usually has some correlation with real life. when i dream that my head is being banged against a table, there's usually someone banging on the door, if i dream of flooding, it usually means i left the bathroom tap open last night when there was no water and now that morning brought water its overflowing. strangulation and drowning usually meant i was in the middle of an asthma attack. not that it bothered me much, my canister of instant relief was lying by my bedside. a coupla shots, and im back to superman. except this time i'm wrong, the inhaler is on my office table, amongst the multitude of junk that i've accumulated there, like a magpie's nest. and this usually means i have to go out to the nearest medical store, and get a new one. fair enough, i think, and begin to get up, only i can't get up. whoever was strangling me in the dream had already done a bloody good job. the bike was out of the question, and a hospital enters the equation, much to my dislike.

i pick up my phone, another bedside object, and call the number for a cab which a friend had once kindly given me when i was stuck with a flat tyre in the middle of the night a few weeks ago. i lay around taking deep breaths till the cab comes, recovering enough to walk down. its always like a video game, if i stay still, i get back some of my health points and can move about a bit. only i cant stay still till i recover completely, that would take the bloody day. the cab is here, i put a sweater on, realize i dont need it, but keep it on anyway, and begin moving down the stairs like a seventy year old. and my wheezing would put the nilgiri steam train to shame. three hours of wires, tubes and needles pass by as a blur, and the medics have restored me to full health. i can resume the game again, and the phone is already ringing with my next mission.

its a friend, who was till recently a neighbour. i dont tell her that ive just been patched up, lest she not give me the mission. she is a biker, and had arranged for her bike to be sent to delhi from here, and turns out the courier guy was now untraceable with no news on the whereabouts of the bike that was sent ten days ago. the bike isn't worth all that much monetarily, at least compared to mine, but i understand her plight immediately since she probably values it more than i do mine in terms of sentimental value.

so its back to the house, on to my own faithful steed, and off to office to print out her email with the details of the courier and to go snoop around. what fun, a real life detective story. except of course, its no cakewalk. there's obstacles to be taken care of first. i'm also a juggler on the side, and i have three projects on my act. and one of those, a short week's assignment, ends tomorrow and i havent started on it, and have been evading the boss' call for a discussion the last coupla days. which means that if i don't show him something today, i'm screwed. dont get me mistaken, i dont usually bother to give deadlines too much respect. if i meet them, i meet them, if not, well, too bad.. which probably explains why all the aero engineers that gave anonymous feedback on me as part of our appraisal process said the same thing : he knows enough about airplanes that we can't fool him and make our work easier (and his difficult, conversely), but he needs to manage his time better. as you can see, our attitudes on deadlines didnt really agree. so this short assignment was supposed to be my coup-de-grace, coming up with what was supposed to be insanely good stuff in a week, and in a week only. and i was on the verge of botching it.

so the first thing to do in office, obviously, is to run to the copier machine, grab some A3 sheets, and sketch like it was the end of the world. or the end of design, at least. of course, without any ideas no amount of sketching would come to anything, so i was forced to take time out, drink copious amounts of coffee, super strong, and then put my brain into overdrive to find a few vague notions around which i could make my living. with a sum total of three such notions in hand half an hour later, i start sketching again, all the time realizing that quick sketches were not much more than doodles, and that a paper napkin would do more justice to these than the A3 that i was wasting. either way, i was spinning stories in my mind to sell these, a lot depended on it. the mission of finding the missing bike seemed like it was long ago, though i was itching to help her out.

in the end, the obstacles were cleared. turns out the deadline got extended, and i was never told of the same cos they wanted to keep me on a tight leash. needless to say, they were more than surprised at the work i came up with, but on the flip side there's more to keep me tied down in the days to come. but that's a different story, for a different day. at about six, when i could justifiably say that i had done enough to keep my day's pay as a designer and could now moonlight as a part time private investigator, i stepped out of office. only to find a wall of water. it was raining in a way noah could relate to, and i wasn't noah. i'd shaved my beard a while ago. and i have a love-hate relationship with the rain, which was now tilting significantly in the direction of fanatical hatred. thanks to an errant dry cleaner, my life protecting armor that is a black and yellow jacket had been parted from me for the last one week, and having recently recovered from an asthma attack, i probably shouldnt be anywhere near the cold rain. dejected, i called my friend up and said that i would have to defer the mission by a day, weather permitting. turns out she doesnt know too many other moonlighting investigators in bangalore, especially ones unhindered by rain, so i kept my case.

the rest of the evening was hide and seek with the rain. when the rain finally hid, i hopped on the bike and made a dash for it, straight into the floodwaters on bannerghatta road. having literally drowned on this road once, bike and all, i had quite a time getting to dry ground. the rain hid long enough to lull me into a sense of security. i stopped for dinner on the road, and took my time eating and then having the routine chai. then, just as i got on my bike for the home run, all hell broke loose. the rain came down in bucketfuls, and i was soaked before i could find a bus shelter or shop to take refuge in. so, soaked to my underwear and cold to my bones, i rode on home in a crabby mood. sure enough, there was no power at home which meant that my favourite activity of wasting time on the internet was out of the question, so i got even crabbier, till i finally decided to get some candles from the nearby grocer's. in the candlelight, i noticed a murakami book lying around, one that i had wanted to read but wasn't able to find the time for. in a final effort to make something out of my day, i started reading it by the candlelight. and for the first time in a while, felt really good. i was fighting the urge to sleep and allowed the book to grip me, the candle flickering and dancing and adding to the ambience. it went on for hours. and just as i was enjoying myself for the first time in the day, the power came back, and bathed everything in the antiseptic light from the CFL. the mood was ruined, i got back to believing there was a grand conspiracy against me with even the electricity board involved. even the candle seemed to be mocking me by thwarting the attempts of the now enlivened fan to extinguish it. so i started writing this.

what a brilliant-lousy day.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

In praise of the unscheduled stop..

y'know what i like? waypoints.. not the planned sort, those random ones that you make in the middle of journeys. i've always loved those, i'm a big sucker for an unscheduled stop. there is nothing i love more than a train stopping at a remote station for another train to cross it, or when a long distance bus pulls into a gas station or a restaurant, or when your flight gets diverted to another airport 'cos there was a thunderstorm over your destination. there is something strangely alluring about these places, even though they may not be particularly beautiful or interesting if you look at them from outside the perspective of an unscheduled stop. yet when the train pulls in at a station whose name i'm not sure i can pronounce, i run to the door at the risk of losing my seat, even.
i guess it's sorta like meeting someone you know you're not gonna meet again. like those strangers you strike up conversations with when travelling. you might find them interesting and try to talk more, or even end up talking more yourself knowing there's the safety of anonymity. you're only together for so long. they might lead dead ordinary lives outside of that interlude, but you might think they were the most interesing person you met. its the same with these places.
i step onto empty platforms with nothing but bored and sleepy dogs that are actively ignoring me, and i think i've reached someplace i might want to spend a long time in. i linger on the platform, trying to understand the smells and sounds of the place, and often stand transfixed long after the train has started moving, only to snap out and reluctantly walk, then jog and hop on the footboard of the coach that will take me to the destination. when the bus stops on a highway for passengers to answer nature's call, i get out even if i dont have to go and then play this little game of walking as far away from the bus as possible before i hear the driver honking and then rush back. when my flight to ahmedabad stops at bombay on the way, i walk down to the rear of the aircraft and stand as close to the open door as possible, and i can tell you that's about the only time i wish that i could be in bombay. cos i already know i'm going away.
similar things happen on the bike too. i'm an estimates guy. when i set off on the bike, i've got numbers running in my head. distance, estimated time of arrival, time enroute on various legs, fuel, mileage.. time being the most important. i get disturbed by people who want all the pencils on their desks facing the same direction, but i get pretty cranky if these numbers of mine get disturbed. which usually means the stops are pre-planned, and i zoom past for most of the journey. yet often, something catches my eye about some places. its more often a small rock or water filled ditch than a scenic mountain, but i stop for the couple of mintues allowed by the confidence that i can catch up with my numbers by riding faster and drink it all in.
i guess destinations dont hold that charm for me. i mean, when you get on a vehicle to go somewhere, you're most likely going to reach where its taking you. factor in all the obstacles and possibilities you could possibly think of, but even then the probability is well in the high nineties. and that is what bothers me about thinking of life as a journey, from birth to death. we forget wandering, we look at waypoints as just things to pass through, not to linger and savour. we are often too bothered about saving our seats than going to the door to see new stations waiting.

Monday, 7 July 2008


on the one hand there is hope. bright, promising, air-brushed.. on the other, there is despair. not despair, exactly, more like confusion. i've been building dreams for years now. some were realized, some weren't. some im still fighting for, maybe not enough though. yet there were some cherished dreams, ones where hope made up for an inability to do much about them. but then sometimes life throws a bouncer. from hoping against hope, i'd gone to this stage where i was living the dream in my mind, feeling it may be right around the corner. i approached the metaphorical corner cautiously at first, then throwing caution to the winds, soon at breakneck speed, for all i wanted to do was be there, in the promised land i had constructed in my mind, the one that lay right around the corner.. but the bouncer from fate was a hitchhiker who told me i was deluded. that the land was not to be. vague memories of old hitchhikers like her hit me.. ones who told me the same stories of what lay ahead.. yet hope gave me a certain confidence that blurred everything else, that deleted minor details like hitchhikers and stories, and showed me only what i wanted to see. and i raced ahead. but the last hitchhiker i met was right next to the corner. only a millisecond separates me from the corner, yet the the thought that the hitchiker could have easily looked around the bend and seen whats ahead and thus is right in warning me hits my head so hard that im tempted to hit the brakes. and now i'm frozen in a moment of time, i have the hitchhikers story to warn me, i have the brakes, and my foot is still flooring the gas pedal. i get the feeling that its maybe too late now, that a crash and a broken body, or the barren land and a broken heart are my only two options. i'm still in that millisecond.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

not on my watch

i was on my usual commute to office, made dreary by the fact that i was riding in my friend's car, and my mind began wandering at the traffic stops. almost simultaneously my friend and i spotted a guy riding pillion on a scooter checking his watch for the time. that's when the thought struck me.. where did all the watches go? when did watches stop being cool?

i stopped wearing one two years back, and most people around me arent wearing one, now that i think of it. i relied on other means for the time, i guess. and that meant either the computer i was sitting in front of, or the mobile phone i carried. i guess i must have subconsciously thought that carrying two devices with overlapping purposes was kinda redundant. but i still never imagine a day would come when i'd have nothing on my left wrist, not even the tell-tale tan mark that appears on days your watch has to meet its maker for repairs to its magical innards.
that magic was what attracted me to watches in the first place. i can remember when i was six, i yearned for a watch. one, maybe two guys in class had one. the situation wasn't much different when i turned eight. thats when i got my first watch, and a digital one at that. it was nothing fancy, dad had bought it for 45 bucks on an official trip to chennai, but i was proud of it to the extent that i resented that my brother, younger to me by a year, got one at seven years of age. it had a basic rectangular dial that displayed nothing more than the time, and it had an alarm feature that needed a monkey's fingers to operate, and emitted a squeak so feeble that mice would have called it a noob. but, oh coolest of cool, it had a reflective golden glass all around that dial, and easily won all those contests where we reflected sunlight off the dials and onto the walls to see whose reflections were the best.

my first proper watch was gifted to me by my grandmother. again, my brother got an identical one, but by now i had resigned myself to my fate :D. my grandfather had got the two watches as mementos after attending some united nations function, and in the dial it had a pretty detailed world map. there were no numbers to indicate the hour or minute, just needles over a map. and i thought it was wicked cool, and i remember pretending that it was a compass and that i was navigating with the world map printed on it. but sadly, this watch wasnt built to last on the arm of an eleven year old schoolkid whose mom had (oh horror) considered nicknaming him chanchal since he just couldnt sit still. the watch just fell to bits.

this was also the first watch whose innards i saw. i considered myself pretty smart at that age, in that i understood how an electric motor worked, and i had made a few toys using motors. but the inside of a watch stumped me. it posed the biggest challenge to understand how it worked, and to date im not sure i have it licked. and to add to my misery, all sorts of watches started pouring in.. self winding ones, temperature powered ones, motion powered ones.. it was always easy explaining the digital watch with a sort of ghost-in-the-machine explanation, but the universe of cogwheels inside conventional watches transfixed me for years, now that i think of it..

i also owned an hmt, which was the first proper watch that my dad bought me. i remember going to the watch shop with a budget of one thousand in mind, big money for a 14 year old, and looking at the maze of watches. it was the time when the ugly(in retrospect), outsize g-shock watches had captured our collective imaginations, and everything from timers to databanks were going into a watch. we talked excitedly about the day when you could watch tv on a watch, blissfully unaware of that usurper, the mobile phone. i looked long and hard at a casio digital watch that came for eight hundred, but i settled for the hmt that was for five hundred fifty. dont ask me why. my next watch was a gift from my aunt when i finished my plus two and got admitted to nid. it stayed on and off with me through those years, and now lies discarded in a corner of my room.

the last encounter i had with my watch was when i purchased one for my father. i decided to go in for a reasonably priced citizen watch, not too cheap, not too flashy either. i dont know if he wears it, but the fact of the matter is that he had three gifted watches lying around at that time. i havent bothered to check either.

and the coolest memory i have is of my first watch. it didnt last me more than 45 days, and at roughly 1 rupee per day, it didnt really pay for itself by the standards of those days. but when it died, i swear it did a sort of countdown.. the minute display went from 07 to 00 and then it went blank. that made my day, setting of my imagination in the direction of rocket launches..and the fact that it happened in the sixth period, one of the dreariest in the afternoon, ensured that i remember it to this day.
and no other watch was worth more to me.

so where did my watches go? i have no idea. why did i give up on them? or have i given up on them? i cant come up with any specific thing against watches, nor do i think they are uncool. maybe i just got too caught up in the problems of reality to be able to spare time for the mysterious innards of a timekeeping machine.
i guess these watches were defining certain milestones in my life, though it may sound like an old hmt ad. which got me thinking, whats the next? oh yeah, i havent got a watch for myself, with my own money. that's the one left. one of these days... :)

edit : funnily enough, when i sent this out to friends on gmail, adsense placed ads for russian pilots' watches.. i wonder if its trying to tell me something :P

Saturday, 26 January 2008

on stories..

what does it mean to be able to write? the question was rhetorical, so dont bother. its about telling a tale, i think. i guess i have to explain. i have a friend who spent a bit of time in germany. when he returned to India, i asked him if he felt like returning at all, if felt like he wanted to live there. now, this was not in the usual abroad-is-best mentality us indians have, it was more because he was an aspiring automobile designer, and germany is obviously one of the automotive heavens on earth. but he said no, which surprised me. and his justification surprised me more.
he compared a simple day-to-day activity as it happens in germany with the way it happens in india. in germany, if you wanted to go grocery shopping, you stepped out of your building and onto the quiet street, wait in line for the quiet bus ride to the market, buy what you want, often pay to a machine and not a man, repeat bus ride to return home. even the cars that followed for a while behind the bus would maintain the exact same gap between themselves no matter what the speed. not a sound, not a step out of line. then he said, look at the same activity in india. you get out of your house and onto the street, most likely to realize you stepped on a cow-pie, run after the bus and when it slows to avoid a pedestrian, you jump aboard and get a toehold on the footboard with 20 other people, hanging on for dear life till u nearly get caught in the stampede alighting at the market, only to have a fierce argument short of fisticuffs with the grocer to save half a rupee on the onions, repeat bus ride and reach home, only for a passing car to splash you with mud right at your gate, and you enter your house to figure that the electricity board decided the time was auspicious for a power cut. at the end of the you can sit with a friend or significant other and tell them a story, the story of how you went and got groceries. the story that would be told in india is far more interesting than what could be told in germany, he said, and that at the end of the day, he would rather live with the stories than any amenity the developed world can provide.

that was a sort of moment of clarity for me. i have often discussed with myself as well as a few friends the importance of what you write. am i here to merely report what i see? is that level of objective honesty required? i'm tending to think not. i mean, when i run out of fuel on my bike and have to push it a kilometer, there is a difference between whats happening and what i'm experiencing. in my mind, the goggles of imagination are on, and im living an outrageous adventure that very minute. i mean, who runs out of fuel on a bike with a digital fuel gauge? so i tell the story with all the bells and whistles that i see. its far better than walking in with a dour face and saying 'crap, i ran outta fuel on the bike, pushed it a mile and am all tired out now'. i'd much rather walk in with a sheepish grin and tell the story of how i got stranded, silliness galore.

that does not mean i spin my tales either. while the bells and whistles enhance certain parts and obfuscate others, by no means am i telling a fallacy. there are no absolute facts, there are only interpretations. there is a theory on photons that states that you can only observe either the momentum or the position of the photon at one time (I stumped Lopez, our revered physics teacher with that one, i would know :P). by observing one, you are changing the other. i think a variant of that holds true for everything in life. by observing facts, i may have colored them forever with my interpretation. and that, to me is what writing is all about. we all live in overlapping interpretative universes of our own, and i want mine to be funny and entertaining. Why? i dunno... maybe because it'll liven up those spaces where my universe meets yours.

whoever said that the universe is made up of stories and not atoms, was telling the truth.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008


it was not a trip, really. it was the cross section of a country. i chose to cut india from chennai to goa, and saw the country in a way most people can't. the policeman who hitched a lift in chennai, the dead cows outside the city limits, the hundreds of dead dogs, blotches on the road as martyrs to development, the simple life in the farms of karnataka, that asian chick on a pink enfield bullet.. it cant be seen anywhere else, and i think i can vouch for that with some degree of certainty. i got a chance to go on a roadtrip in america, and the actual trip was the part we dreaded though it was in a car far more comfortable than the bike i used for this 2000 km trip across the deccan. the roads there were arrow-straight, the scenery pretty much the same. nothing dramatic, nothing is thrown at you that you wouldnt expect, except maybe the odd deer crossing the road to become roadkill but then even that is marked by signs. no bullock cart coming opposite you on the fast lane on an expressway, no expressway disappearing into two feet deep potholes that nearly throw you off your ride, in short, nothing that you wouldnt expect, especially if you've been in that country a while.

well it certainly is more interesting here. take for instance, the fact that my pillion and i were cruising along what we though was the expressway to bangalore, only to find ourselves unexpectedly airborne after hitting a bump at 110 kmph. i doubt if you can find another country where there's an unmarked bump across the freeway. i know it couldve killed me, but im not complaining for now. if it were an arrow-straight road to goa, i would probably have taken the bus. which brings me to my point : the whole trip felt good because i took a risk. it was the longest trip i'd done. there were enough people and reasons telling me not to do it. that ranged from my own parents to skeptical friends, the condition of the roads to the endurance of the rider. but that one moment where you think, oh what the hell, im going... thats what biking is about methinks. its a gamble to trust ur fortunes on a machine and a million unknowns, and when your gamble pays off, you feel more alive than ever. the risk, the feeling of having done something out of the ordinary and mundane, that cannot be explained, it can only be experienced. you can sit on an armchair and compare biking to any number of alternative activities, but nothing will come close to even beginning to describe that experience.

it teaches you about what it means to be alive, what life is. your sense of perspective changes in ways you cant imagine. the office commute that i was cribbing about suddenly seems insignificant in comparison. i get impatient when bangalore traffic crawls to a halt, but imagine what i felt when after an hour of cruising at 110 kmph, i get stuck in a traffic jam at a tiny town that has four rickshaws and a bullock cart, all of which were actively engaged in creating the aforementioned traffic jam? i didnt feel angry, i felt humbled, i could say. suddenly, stopping in bangalore after 2 minutes of riding at 40kmph didnt seem so bad. it teaches you to manage your thoughts, especially if you're a compulsive worrier. i'd definitely recommend a bike ride to that kind of people. there are so many new things before you that you are struggling to drink in, that you suddenly stop worrying about punctures, failures, office, relationships, mortgages, secrets... for a few moments at least, its you and the surroundings. you might be sharing the space with a thousand other people, but you feel truly alone and alive amongst the unknown around you. and everything else just fades out...

it teaches you about death as well. there is death on the roads in every direction you look. people, animals, villages, trees, towns, all dying or dead in one way or another. one of the first sights out of chennai was a couple of dead cows. followed by over thirty dead dogs on the way to bangalore. what unsettled me further was the realization that the black blotches i saw on the road wasn't tar melting under the hot tamil nad sun, it was the dried blood of hundreds of dogs, mute vitcms of civilization. in fact, my faith in civilization was all but shaken when what i thought to be a dead cow on the road north of bangalore turned out to be a dead man. some poor homeless man had been hit by a vehicle, and all that people had done was to put stones around him to prevent further collisions, and just stand around seemingly indifferent to him. my faith in myself was badly shaken as well, for i didnt stop either. at that point i was telling myself that the man was probably dead, and that i wouldnt be of any help, but later i questioned myself whether the trouble of attempting to save a homeless man was worth less than the selfish pleasure of a new years party, and i was mute to myself in answer. the scene stayed in my mind the whole trip, as it does today, and tempered my usually headstrong nature. i realized anything could spell death, a bullock cart coming in the opposite direction in the fast lane, or a single stray rod bent in the divider partition. but instead of merely fearing death, i accepted the fact that the road that carried me was running as a dividing line through the lives of so many poor people like that dead man, and that at the intersection where our lives meet, there were bound to be casualties on either side. as i (much)later talked to a friend, i ruminated on how the dead man and i ended up on different sides of the dividing line, and how easily fortunes can push me to the other side as well.

im a big picture guy. i hate to be bothered with details usually. which is where the bike journey changed my perspective again. i learned to respect the smaller stuff. be it a handful of stones on a curve in the road, or a tiny metal valve on my bike, i came to realize these small things could bring my big dreams to a halt. that hit me right in the prime of the trip, on my way from jog falls to honnavara, hurtling through the mountain twisties at extreme speeds in a bid to make it out of the mountains before the sun went down. i took a curve with my best friend riding pillion, and a bus came up around the bend and i braked hard. the rear tyre started washing out due to some gravel i hadnt seen but could now feel, and being on a lower gear i revved up for traction. the tyres bit in, i recovered, and realized what a few tiny stones couldve done to me there. and maybe it was the realization that im powerless in the face of these million small things, but i became superstitious as well. i now have a ritual in the morning where i look the bike over, start it and place a hand on it, feeling the vibrations, listening to it. if im alone i find myself talking to the bike as well. i cant communicate with the machine, nor can i claim to know if its working perfectly by placing my hand on a piece of vibrating metal or plastic, but i can sure as hell tell you that it makes me feel good about the bike, and in my eyes makes the bike more a venerable friend than a heap of japanese engineered metal and plastic that money bought.

the threads that bind me to my daily realities, my web of security, i saw it thin out right before my eyes. you go out of reach of mobile phones and gas stations, on a machine that is not infallible, ridden by two guys who are not invulnerable.. riding through a forest dirt road from goa border to dharwad, i realized how ensconced i was in this web of security. the bike was falling apart on the dirt road which was hardly more that a loose collection of rocks in some places, i was fighting for control and keeping from crashing was taking a toll on me and my pillion, tempers were frayed, we were out of reach of mobile phones and our friends or anyone, for that matter, had any idea where we were. all i could do was keep my wits about me and drive. crisis management? this makes the best management gurus look retarded. all that you hate about everyday life, all the troubles, you suddenly see that all those dont really matter. in that sense biking also clears your view of the big picture. not everyone will take the chance to see the world on two wheels, but there is no other panacea experience i can recommend. you see the threads that bind you stretch really thin, almost to snapping point. you start wishing you could break them, but know you can't, that you will be at work next monday. but you will have felt good pushing a limit.

a journey is also the best way to get to know someone. to know if what you thought of them was right, to see if they're a good friend or merely a good travelling companion. i went with a bunch of guys i've known since we were 3 feet tall. ive only grown two and a half feet since then, but our friendship has grown far more. and amongst all the strain and tribulations of such a tiring journey, i was grateful to see that this friendship could weather everything. there was friction, there was fun, and there was a collective sense of contentment at having accomplished a long journey, but its not the roadtrip im talking about. its a journey that started at 3 feet tall.