Saturday, 23 January 2010

statustically speaking..

This was prompted by a post by mandakini. It kinda got me thinking about facebook, twitter and the like. For a long time, i wasn't into social networking. the only place on the net for me was StumbleUpon. There was a certain smug satisfaction in being part of stumble, which back then was much smaller. I could tell myself that i wasn't wasting my time on the net, instead i was learning new things every day. or night rather, since there was a phase when entire nights would be spent stumbling, and i would realize the time only when the sun creeped into my hostel lair via the gaps in my window.

But soon, SU turned into a social network on its own, and an addictive one at that. The only difference was that i was networking with random people around the world. So i guess i justified signing up for orkut by telling myself that if i could waste time networking with some random person across the world who happened to be into the same stuff as i am, i could network with people i know too. And orkut had its uses too, it was the ideal tool to connect with that large number of people that fell in the grey area between acquaintances and friends. these were people whom i was likely to fall out of touch with once either of us left the same general geographical location, since keeping in touch for the most part meant the usual hi-hello when we ran into each other occasionally.

Eventually i got out of college (with some difficulty, i might add), and life outside was a different scene altogether. Social networks became a way to kill those spare hours that seemed to hit me between getting off work and going to sleep. In that sense, facebook proved even better, with all the timewasters on it in the form of applications, quizzes and such. I wont describe my position as one against social networking. It has its benefits and detriments, but then what hasn't? Its just that mandu's post got me thinking about some stuff. status messages, to be specific.

I had an interesting discussion regarding this with my housemate nikhil, who is a prolific writer and poster of status messages on facebook. he said, quite frankly, that at one level status messages are about social acceptance. its a sort of reinforcement when people come and 'like' or comment on the message. on facebook, its almost an art, this reinforcement. it makes you feel good at a certain level. i respect his acceptance of that fact, and admit it's pretty much the same for me. different people hunt out this acceptance in different ways, for a lot of them it's sharing with the (online) world the seemingly cool stuff they're doing in life. for me, it's (hopefully) making people smile by posting a line of wit, either mine or by someone wittier than me.

which finally brings me to what i was worrying about. whenever i write, i try and make it funny. often its effortless, but often enough i have to try and make it funny. and recently, i was told that my blog posts were losing out a bit on the funny. i attributed it to my finally growing up, but then later realized that the funny hasn't quite disappeared from other zones in my life. i mean, i still crack the worst jokes possible. after further investigation, i placed the blame on status messages. i guess im happy enough getting a few laughs by writing one line than an entire post. so my question is, am i alone? is there a statistically significant number of aspiring writers out there who are finding satisfaction in the 140 characters of a tweet, or an SMS, or a slightly longer status message? in the years to come, will literature shrink to fit this line-size of instant gratification, and the attention span that goes with it?

purely rhetorical, you may stuff your opinions..

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Lessons in Collaborative Volvo Repair..

So i've just completed the second of my three annual pilgrimages to morjim beach, goa. The trip itself was pretty unremarkable, since we didn't do anything out of the ordinary like we're wont to. In fact, we rented scooters and did the touristy stuff for a change, considering we've never done that before. Usually, these trips go in the order : set some kinda dubious speed record on the way there, spend time lazing at the beach, set another kinda dubious speed record on the way back. This time though, public transport was taken much to my chagrin, and the driving was left to the bus guys.

This brings me to an interesting fact that my friend vijai and i discovered while going over my numerous goa trips. Everytime I have taken a mode of transport other than my bike, there has been trouble. And this time the trouble was a volvo bus of the KSRTC that refused to start. We reached the bus station at Panjim at 6pm to catch this bus scheduled to leave at 7pm, and by about 6 30 it was evident that we weren't gonna leave on time, the engine was in no mood to come to life. so what was to be done? repair the damn bus, obviously. at least, that was the collective mood amongst some of the passengers. the ones who took action immediately were prospective passengers, the ones who didnt have a booking and only wanted to travel short distances anyway. i heard this huge chap telling his friend 'chal gaadi ko dhakka maarne me help karenge, phir to seat dena hi padega'. even though i already had a seat reserved, i joined in the bus pushing squad, because i love pushing large vehicles around. soon, tourists were clicking pics of us while we pushed the volvo up and down the bus stand in an effort to start it. at about seven it was evident that our pushing wasnt lifting the spirits of the bus' battery, which had been identified as the culprit by then.

at this point, the reserved passengers began showing an interest in the proceedings. they were led by a goan auntie who was in her early fifties probably, and she took charge of the situation and directed things for the rest of what would turn out to be a very long night. there was a kannadiga guy about my age, who duties involved interpreting the aunties instructions to the drivers, and then interpreting their responses (a considerably tougher task given finding alternative words for some of the unparliamentary language they tended to use at times, though i wouldnt blame them). there was a techie who spoke only english and kept reminding us that he was chainsmoking through this ordeal (which made me want to tick him off with a smart-aleck remark, but the possibility of borrowing a smoke from him later kept my mouth shut) and a bihari who proved to be our saviour for the night. one of my friends slept off, and another had to catch a train so he fled for margao at the first sign of trouble. so on one side the drivers feverishly tried to figure out the problem by following a checklist barked out at them by a mechanic on the phone from bangalore, while on the other side auntie tried to arrange for a refund. the first glimmer of hope came when the drivers, misguided by the voice on the phone, traced the problem to the fuel filter, and not the battery. after fiddling around with it for a while, the tried starting the engine again. the filter exploded instantly, covering everyone in range with a fine spray of diesel, and that's when all hope was lost. explosions and i are on good terms, so i couldnt help but grin with childish glee at the scene, though this didnt gain me much approval with auntie and her squad.

problems compounded by 8pm, since it was well and truly dark now, and aunties efforts at a refund were properly stonewalled by the higher brass at KSRTC. they did not have a spare bus in goa, the repair depot was miles away and the bus would need to start to get there anyway, every other bus leaving goa for bangalore had either left or was full, and having spent an extended weekend in goa, nithin and i were left with little money for another ticket in any case. so we decided to stick with the bus, and tried to make arrangements for accommodation in case we had to stay the night there in Panjim. the poor drivers were getting nowhere with their repair efforts, and so *drumroll* i decided to pitch in too.

the addition of an LED torch to the cellphone is probably one of the most underrated innovations of the last decade. my cellphone, which happens to have such a torch, has so far been involved in cooking chicken during powercuts, repairing my bike in the middle of nowhere etc, but now it was time to up the ante. it was going to aid in the repair of a volvo bus. a volvo mechanic had been spirited in from 50km away thanks to the efforts of auntie and her squad, and he worked under cellphone light to try and figure a solution. which he did, and it involved travel to some place 30km and back to get a spare filter. while he went to fetch, nithin and i decided to grab some dinner, and in our haste to make it to cafe venite and back, i left my atm card in an atm machine, which ate it up. so now, we were really screwed since nithin had no money, and i was left with no way to access my money until next morning when the bank opened. venite plan was dropped without further discussion, and dinner was had at a cheap restaurant where the cheapest drink was for three bucks. yes, cheap.

the mechanic returned with a spare filter, and proceeded to replace the damaged one. i had no clue how to replace the Volvo 20 853 583 Fuel Filter for the B7R, but seeing him work, i definitely had concrete ideas about how NOT to replace one. the old filter was screwed in tight, so our bright mechanic (who was welcomed with applause when he arrived, applause we later rued) decided to cut it off with a screwdriver. this left a stubborn stub of a filter which resisted attempts from all his tools to gain a grip on it. it took him all of an hour and forty five minutes to get this stub out, which included a gentle reminder that he was twisting it in the wrong direction. he eventually managed to replace the filter, and was greeted with further applause and crossed fingers. another attempt was made to start the bus, and from the not-so-encouraging sounds made by the engine, we figured he hadnt quite fixed it. the battery was still down.

in the midst of all this, i was talking to the drivers. they told me that if this were a tata or ashok leyland bus, they wouldve taken out the filter themselves, jury-rigged one from a jerry can, and got us all to bangalore. but, 'ithu foreign bus sir. volvo. yella computer'. apparently no maintenance training is imparted to them, and the maintenance department guys have specifically asked them not to touch anything if things head south. 'tumhara dimaag mat lagao bola woh log', he said pointing at his head, and then said his dimaag cant understand the bus anyway since everythings in english. when richard hammond of top gear remarked about vehicles that can be repaired with a brick and a piece of string, he was right. but the volvo, with all its new fangled computer jiggery-pokery, still had some bits of rustic technology in it. and the batteries fell in that group. they could be jump-started using batterries from any other bus. all we needed were a pair of jumper cables.. wait, what?

this was at 1 30 am and there was not a soul in the bus stand except us and a security guard who was trying to cheer us up with music from his handheld FM (he cranked up the volume for euphoria's maaeri and delhi 6's dil gira daftan, much to my happiness). aunties squad had pretty much given up by now, since they had pinned all hopes on the volvo mechanic, who quietly kept away from the crowd and declined to help with the batteries. we found one karnataka bus, and pleaded with the driver to bring his bus to ours so we could hook them up, literally. after ten minutes of pleading, he relented and drove his old rusty bus over, and since there was no jumper cable available we were faced with the task of removing batteries from both buses, exchanging them, starting up our bus, and then replacing them. still working under torchlight, we opened up his battery box, only to see that everything was bolted down. i love dismantling things (especially if i dont have to put them back together) and in about ten minutes, the battery box was in pieces thanks to the efforts of the bihari chap and i. then we took out the volvo's battery, switched the batteries around, and let the drivers connect things up. another attempt was made to start the bus, but now it was completely dead. even the screens in the dashboard had gone blank. The bihari, whom i'v already proclaimed to be a life saver, figured that the drivers had connected the negative and positive leads incorrectly and that it was a miracle they didnt short the batteries out. pretty soon, that too was rectified, and finally, this time to deserved applause, the bus roared to life. we had successfully field-repaired a Volvo.

people are helpful only till their needs are met. once the bus was running, all manpower except me, the bihari, and one of the drivers left the spot, leaving us to replace the batteries. the driver of the other bus looked on helplessly as everyone else left the scene to climb into the Volvo which now had its A/C running. The four of us toiled for another half an hour to rebuild the battery box i had successfully dismantled, and when it finally resembled a respectable battery box (thanks to the resourcefulness of the bihari, again) and we had no parts left, we placed the batteries, wired them up and his bus was back alive too. the driver who had earlier made the computer remark likened the old bus to goddess lakshmi, and from the tone of his voice i could make out that he wasnt just saying it because his high tech comfy Volvo had ditched him, he meant it. He would probably have been happier driving that uncomplicated beast of a machine.

i was back in the bus, the last to board while the drivers made final checks before leaving, covered in grease, diesel dirt and crud from the battery. it's not everyday you get a chance to pitch in to repair a bus, and it turns out all you need is a half baked mechanic, a mallu with a torchlight, a resourceful bihari, and a respect-commanding aunty to bark out orders in a militaristic tone. as i sat back in the comfort of the A/C, i pondered over what a day it had been : swimming in the sea all morning, walking miles to a bus stop, a volvo refusing to start, fending off a marriage proposal mom brought (yes, that happened too), losing an atm card, repairing aforementioned volvo.. not bad for an adventure. which brings me back to the point i made initially about the discussion vijai and i had about my goa trips. everytime i went there on the bike, i had no troubles. once i took a train, and since the ticket wasnt confirmed, i spent the night in front of the toilet on an RAC coach. once i went by car, and spent 23.5 hours on a the road thanks to a traffic jam where we moved 10 kilometres in 9 hours (contrast this with the fact that my fastest time on the bike is 10.5 hours total). and this time i took the bus, and all this nonsense happened.

Vijai advised me not to take a flight there, ever. I think i'll stick with the bike.

PS : in an unjustifiable act of vandalism fueled by the frustration caused by the events described above, i helped myself to one of the buses volvo badges. I dont repair buses for free, anyway.