Sunday, December 25, 2005

We loves these bookses...

It has been a long time since I actually wrote something out here, and I have this crazy project to blame, I guess. So even after deciding to write about this ex-army doctor I met here in Haridwar and his extreme affinity for all things alcoholic, I had not lifted a finger - or six (I'm a six-finger typist) - to write a post. So I probably can go so far as to say that it's thanks to Shruti here that I am lifting that finger - six, actually - to answer a few questions. Yep, another tag. This one, however, is pretty old, and has been taken up by every Tom, Dick, and Bihari around. So in the trend of keeping up with the Joneses, or in this case, the Georges, I nod my thanks at the lady who sits biting her pencil under the coconut trees, and continue.

All righty. This post, then, is supposed to give you a brief idea about my reading habits (Wodehouse) and probably a few writers (Wodehouse) who have changed the way I look at things (W.). Well, the way I look at books, at least.

If Anurag is reading this blog, this is the point where he would say to himself, "Heh. Let's see what the geek has to say about his reading habits." In fact, he fairly jumps at every chance to label me a geek. For example, the following conversation we once had over beer:

Anurag picked up my mobile and saw that I had Linus - that would be the chap with the blanket on the left side of this page - as the background.

"Hey, this is nice! Do you have Snoopy, too?"

I replied in the affirmative.

"Good, good. MMS it to me."

"Ah. I recently found out that Reliance does not enable MMS by default. Sorry."

"Aw. So how did you get this on your phone?"

I told him about the invention that has come to be known as the data cable.

"Heheh. Geek."

There have been numerous other occasions where he has, without any sort of provocation, proceeded to tar and feather me in public in this manner, and it is still a mystery to me as to why I continue to go and drink with the guy. But I digress, as usual. So, without much further ado, I shall look back at my life, and trying hard not to flinch, will try to locate the book-related memories and put them down on paper.


1) Number of books owned: Sitting out here in Haridwar while my books lie in Pune, this is a bit of a difficult task, but I would put the number at about 250, excluding the auto mags. There are a few shelves of my books lying around in my hometown as well, but those would be books like "Tell me Why/When/How/Whattheheck" and "A gazillion science questions you wanted to ask but were afraid of your science teacher" and the like.

A short note here about my mum - she has an eagle eye for dog-eared books that also have their bindings coming off, and I, in my childhood, have lost many such books to the evil hawker who takes them away and leaves buckets in return. Yes, buckets. Every time I had a bath, I was reminded of all the Indrajal comics/ Tinkles/ Tintins/ Asterixes/ DC comics I could no longer read, and have kicked many a bucket. Oh, hardy-har, yes, strictly literally. The memory still makes me wince. Some of those buckets were made of steel, see?

2) Last Book read: Currently reading "The Van" by Roddy Doyle. The last book I read would be "Carry on, Jeeves", by Wodehouse. For the third time, I think.

3) Last book bought: Oh, yes - this memory is still rather vivid. Back in Pune, I used to spend the weekends working at Barista, and - oh, hang on - not at Barista, I mean I was at Barista, but I was not working for Barista, if you know what I mean. Hammering away at keyboard and all that sort of thing. So there was this very interesting-looking girl working at the attached bookshop, and I sort of took a fancy to her, I believe. Eventually, I fortified myself with a capuccino, and walked across to her in the hope of striking up a conversation.What I was unprepared for was the thick american accent she replied in. I staggered back, grabbing a passing bookshelf for support. The book that came off in my hand happened to be "Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets" by Wodehouse, and I took it as an omen, reminding me of the joys of an unfettered life. Offering a silent prayer of thanks to Mr.Wodehouse, I immediately bought the book, walked out of the shop, out of her life, and into the sunset.

4) 5+ Books that mean a lot to me: Ah. Hm. Let me see. Tough one, this, but I shall attempt.

Pretty much everything written by Wodehouse: To borrow a simile from him, Wodehouse, like the measles, needs to be caught early in life. If caught at a later stage, the effects can be disastrous. Which was pretty much what happened to me. I was introduced to Wodehouse sometime in 2004, at the ripe old age of twenty-five, and the next few months were a blur of grabbing and reading every Wodehouse I could lay my hands on. I love everything about his work - his transferred epithets, his literary allusions (I learned more about Shakespeare from Wodehouse than from Shakespeare himself), and especially the give-and-take between the two Irishmen, Pat and Mike. Sorry, Bertie and Jeeves, I mean. Even today, after a bad day, I just need to pick up a Wodehouse and immediately feel boomps-a-daisy as billy-o.

The entire 'Doctor Who' series: I stumbled into the Blue police telephone booth that was the space-time travelling ship also known as the TARDIS when I was lazing around in the summer holidays after my tenth std., and I was absolutely taken in by the Doctor, his exasperated assistants, his sonic screwdriver, and their Bizarre adventures in space-time. I guess you could label it as juvenile science fiction, but hey, who wants to grow up?

The Lord of the Rings: Tolkien was a genius of epic proportions, pun intended. What-a-book! I desperately wanted to be an elf, and even learned to write my name in the elvish script. To be able to know what the local flora and fauna feel, to be able to see what fell creature flies a few leagues away... sigh.

Rendezvous with Rama: Arthur C. Clarke positively outdid himself with this book. Everything here is so plausible it's scary. And engineering and physics never looked so good as they did here. And whatever you do, do NOT read the sequels. They're sacrilegious.

Jurassic Park: In fact, a lot of Crichton's early works were amazing. I used to be amazed by the way Crichton fused fact with fiction and made it a point to write about a completely different field in every book. Even his introductory essays in each book were complete masterpieces. It broke my heart to read his latest, completely pointless novel centered around global warming. The man has, unfortunately, lost it.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: 42. Marvin, the paraniod android. The willoughmying blanket. Ford prefect. Beeblebrox. The total perspective vortex. This book is absolutely brilliant, and absolutely crazy.

Dragons of Eden: I wish I had Sagan's grasp of science. This book is a brilliant history of the evolution of human intelligence. I know now that my revulsion to lizards is nothing sissy: it's an evolutionary artifact, in gobbledygook.

Apart from these, I absolutely love comics and comic strips, and discovering "Peanuts" has been a life-altering experience. Charles Schulz is the undisputed God of comic strips, and if you are not satisfied with 42, you will definitely find all of life's answers - and a few questions you never thought of asking - in the panes of the thirty-seven thousand-odd comic strips that he drew every day of his life, for fifty-two years.

Ummm... I think I've pretty much covered everything, and if you've read this far, boy, you are patient, and I owe you a drink. No, not you, Anurag. And not you either, Shrik. No, Kakkar, forget it. I mean the others. And in case I've missed any book out here, I shall let you know. Till then, tinkerty-tonk.

Monday, December 12, 2005

At work...

This is one of my favourite photos. Among the ones I have taken, that is. What I like about it is the lighting, the depth of field, the medium, and the way these guys ignored me. Of course, you would soon be ignored, too, if people at work are used to seeing you fiddling around with a camera every day... familiarity breeds good photographs.

The composition leaves a lot to be desired, though. Lots of space at the top empty for no good reason. Sigh.

at work

Camera: Canon EOS66
Lens: Canon 28-80mm
Film: Kodak BW4ooCN

I realize I have not been writing too much of late... and I have much to write about. Time is definitely not on my side...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Contrast

I always like stark pictures. Black and white, I believe, is the best medium for stark, contrasting images, and whenever I get the chance - and can afford the twice-as-expensive black and white film - I try to take some (stark, contrasting) pics which I hope come out the way I like.

The keyword here, though, is hope. They almost never do. This one is about halfway there, but I had to bump up the contrast to get rid of the dull look that I always get when I get my darker images processed. A curse on all film labs.... anyways, I ramble. Do scrutinize this image, and let me know what you think.

rays

Camera: Canon EOS 66
Lens: Canon 100-300mm USM
Aperture: f/4.5
Exposure: 1/10 sec
Film: Kodak BW400CN (aka bloody expensive film)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sir Galahad and the Scooterette

Rescuing ladies is one thing. Rescuing ladies astride scooterettes, however, is a completely different affair, and whoever has underestimated the above task has had at least one opportunity to swallow his pride, stoop down to sweep the shattered fragments of his ego under the carpet, and head for the himalayas. You would thus look more kindly at me, then, if I told you that I hesitated the other night, when a reversing sedan threatened to unceremoniously add a rather pretty lady to the general landscape at the Khadki railway crossing. I was in a position to judge that peril was slowly moving her way, but just when I was about to swoop down and carry her off to safety, I saw something that made me abort the launch: she was on a scooterette.

Those of you men who have never been on a scooterette, this is a good time to look heavenward and thank your favourite deity for sparing you the ordeal. In fact, it would not be too much if you went to the nearest place of worship and distributed food among the needy. Those of you - again, I address the men here - who have, you have my sympathies. Never was a machine so perfectly designed for crushing the male ego. To this day, when I pay a visit to the old hometown, I have often taken ten-minute walks in the mid-day sun when the only other alternative was to take my sister's scooterette.

I first encountered this blasted piece of machinery when walking over to my parked motorcycle at FC Road, about four years ago. I was young, dumb, and brimming with the confidence that so separates the young and the dumb from the rest. Thus, when I spotted a girl struggling to start a teensy - in fact, I remember even thinking of the thing as 'cute' - scooterette, I decided to lend a hand. I had, after all, had practice kick-starting a 156cc engine without the option of a decompression valve. In fact, on one occasion, I had even started a 350cc engine with a decompression valve, though I gave as violent a start as the machine did when it started. Anyway, coming back to the present, or rather, the past, there was this girl trying hard to punch a hole through her starter button, and realizing that this might soon end in her starter motor being handed to her in a casserole, I decided to intervene for the sake of the poor machine.

All right, so the girl was cute, too. But my thoughts, believe it or not, were all for the poor starter motor. So off I went and politely enquired if I could be of assistance. The girl looked at me in an appraising sort of way that seemed to say, "Oh, so you think you can, can you? I'd like to see you try!" and handed me the machine.

Ten minutes and ninety kicks later, I was swearing under my breath - what remained of it, that is, wiping the perspiration off my glasses, and rubbing my sore ankle that had, at every fifth kick, been hit by some part of the undercarriage or the other. Telling myself that if I ever visit one of these scooterette-manufacturing places, I'd make a beeline for the chap who designs the kick-starters in these machines, and let him have it, I turned to the girl, who, incidentally, had been joined by her rather amused-looking, also-cute friend, and asked her one of those vital questions that is born out of the strong line of reasoning we learn at engineering college.

"Are you sure there's enough fuel in the tank?"

The girls seemed to giggle among themselves, and the amused-looking friend asked me to step aside. Continuing to smile sweetly at me, she did a few things to the machine that looked suspiciously to me like witchcraft, and voila - we had lift-off. That is to say, the engine purred. Like those cats that those witches keep around them. To say I was astounded would be putting it mildly - I was positively rocking about the heels.

"Thank you!" came the chorus. I know a sarcastic chorus when I hear one, and this was definitely one. Refusing to be fooled by the sweet smiles, I stiffly waved off the thanks, and I believe added something about carbon in the spark plug, and strode away with as much dignity as a shattered ego and a bruised ankle would allow.

It took me about a week to recover from that one. I kept away from FC road for about a month, and I think I grew a beard for a while, too. The memory is hazy. You know how the mind tends to block out these traumatic episodes.

So you would understand my hesitation when I saw this scooterette-riding girl in a bit of peril. However, my hesitation was only for a moment. I nimbly jumped off my bike, ran up to her, and put my best foot forward.

"Erm... needanyhelp?"

I took care, though, to stay on the leeward side of the machine, away from the kick-starter. You should, too. Unless you're a girl. In which case a muttered 'abracadabra' under the breath would do just fine.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Boxes

Boxes

I admit I did not at first notice these boxes lying around in a corner, until Anurag pointed them out. I'm glad he did.

Camera: Canon EOS 66
Lens: Canon 100-300mm USM
Film: Kodak Max 400

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I have a bike, you can ride it if you like...

I remember watching a movie titled 'BMX Bandits' as a kid, and - I was a kid, mind you, so look at yourself at that age before you sneer at me - all I wanted to do was ride my bicycle down the stairs, up the walls, down banisters, and off cliffs in general, which is what all the characters in the movie seemed to be doing. I don't remember there being a plot, but then, I was too young and too dumb to even care. The bicycles we absolute dream machines - they all seemed to have tyres made of bubble gum - the colour was one thing that made us draw the connection, and the adhesion of the tyres to any surface the protagonsists cared to ride on was the other. And they came in different flavours like banana, cinnamon, and spearmint. Every little boy's dream come true.

This ye olde and unsteady chap I spotted at the flea market brought the memories flooding back. There even was a set of banana-flavoured wheels available as an optional extra. Yum.

BMX

Camera: Canon EOS 66
Lens: Canon 100-300mm USM
Film: Kodak Max 400

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Exploded view

Rust to Rust

...of what, I really cannot say. Any ideas? The mech engineer in me says it's a bevel gear, but there are bevels and bevels of gears...

Camera: Canon EOS 66
Lens: Canon 100-300mm USM
Film: Kodak Max 400

I should be more disciplined and note details like focal length, aperture, and shutter speed. But for now, this is all I have. Any purists out there, kindly adjust.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Street Photography #1

Rusty bike

Juna Bazaar is an old flea market in Pune which opens only on Sundays, and where you get anything from half-a-century-old video cameras to rusty motorcycle parts. I don't know if this bike was on sale, but it definitely looked like parts of it had been sold off.

And I have Anurag to thank for initiating me into street photography. The most fun way to blow away cobwebs, time, and money. Except, you know, we had to wake up early...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Owls, Larks, and Lenses

"Most good photographers stop taking pictures after seven in the morning."

My stomach sank.

Anurag is one of those old-school chaps who think that to live life to the fullest, one should start by the completely pointless activity of waking up early. My father would love him. In fact, one of the earliest arguments I had with my dad was when he insisted that I wake up in the morning, and - of all things - tend to the garden.

Now don't get me wrong - I'm all for the green revolution, planting more trees, and making the world a rainforest, especially since taking photographs in a rainforest would be fun, but I could never pick up the shovel and start digging so I could plant a plant, or tree a tree, or whatever it is that horticulturists do. Even now, in the comfort of - where am I - ah, the coffee shop, when I think of gardening, my mind goes numb, my body aches, and I have horrible flashbacks of the time when a quiet sunday afternoon reading session was rudely interrupted by parents who had finished with the day's gardening and required my assistance to "add finishing touches", which in my family stood for "carry piles of compost out the gate, all the way to the end of the road, and dump it in the dumpster".

Thus, life found my dad and myself in a rather awkward situation - I had a father who considered his garden to be his first-born and his son to be a freak of nature, and my dad had a son who, for some reason he could never understand, preferred to sleep away through the morning when the lark was on the wing and the snail on the thorn. As in all households where the head of the family is an avid early-rising horticulturist and the tail a sensible chap who knew exactly what mornings are for, there was a bit of a strain in the otherwise cheerful and warm atmosphere. often, this strain culminated in in my dad taking potshots at me with scathing remarks like, "this would never have happened to an early riser", as I lay in bed with an toothache. No, we managed to save the tooth. Root canal. Painful. I have never shown my tricuspids to a dentist ever since.

Getting back to the point at hand, Anurag made one of those statements that made my stomach feel like it had hit an iceberg at full steam.

"The best time to take photographs is in the morning, before seven. After that, the light becomes a little too harsh."

That did it. Time to kiss nature and street photography good-bye, I thought. From now on, it's going to be indoors in strictly controlled conditions. Not very exciting, but a man has his limitations.

However, there have been situations in my life where events take a turn so as to render me awake in the morning. Most such events involve working through the night, or watching movies through the night, or working while watching movies through the night. So it happened that when I was stationed in Haridwar for almost a month, I found myself in one such situation. So Kakkar and I decided to do some carpe diem-ing and take off for the ghats in the wee hours of the morning, so we could watch the sunrise at the banks of the ganges. And I remembered Anurag's advice in time, and took my camera along.

swastika


divinitea

And grabbed some tea on the way back. In fact, it was quite an efficient trip, and we even managed to get back to the hotel soon after dawn, which is, undoubtedly, the time of the day when men of reason go to bed.

Unless you want to spoil a perfectly good day by waking up and tending to your garden.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

...and then there was light


Taken at Guchu Pani, Dehra Dun. This place is also known as Robber's Cave, and is home to a rather strange sight - a stream of water goes underground and resurfaces for air a few metres away. However, I had neither the agility nor the stupidity to clamber over slippery rocks to check it out for myself, risking a broken neck, a barked shin, or worse - a broken camera lens. So you would excuse me for not venturing that far. I never could understand these Robber-type personalities. Except for the Beagle Boys.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Sensitive dependence on availability of onions

The butterfly effect. A beautiful term that is a nicer, simpler way of saying “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”. For those not in the know, this term evolved back in the times when a weather forecaster named Lorentz realized, using a primitive computer and a set of equations that he formulated to model the weather, that long-term weather forecasting was a pipe dream. To put it dramatically, a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo today could alter storm systems in New York next week.

I have often thought about the butterfly effect in my own life... what if I had not sat next to that chap during my engineering college counseling? What if I had been allocated a different room in my first year of college? What if my eyesight had been better than it was during the medical test of my first campus interview? What if a professor in Austin had not mixed up my name? What if I had found the bigger onions that Sushim wanted and not the little ones that were eventually available this evening, when we settled down for another communal dinner?

Okay, maybe the last one has not had a tremendous impact on my life... yet. But maybe it would. Maybe I continue to cook sambar, get really good at it, and maybe there is this girl... but wait. As always, I believe I have done it again. Starting off in the middle of a story, I mean. It seems to work for Tarantino, but it would not do me a lot of good to be that presumptuous, would it? So I shall begin, as all by-the-book writers do, at the beginning.

These days, we have been indulging in a lot of communal dinners. By which I mean that Sush and KP do the cooking, while Shrik and I do the eating. Which was an arrangement that suited me so perfectly that I even didn’t mind washing the dishes from time to time.

So as it happened, we were issued a command by Sush to get some Tomatoes and Onions en route to his place. I also got myself a set of AA cells – I was getting tired of switching cells between my TV remote and the remote of the VCD player, though I was getting to be reasonably fast at it. In fact, you could say that if there were a state level competition on the shortest time elapsed between pausing a movie and switching channels on the TV using only the remote controls and one set of AA cells, I would beat the opposition to a standstill. If any of you readers attempt to rival me at this, a word of friendly advice would be – keep the rear covers off, and perfect the technique of ejecting the cells using a single flick of the index finger and the thumb. It’s not easy, but you’ll get there.

There I go again. Now where was I... ah. The onions. So Sush wanted me to get these huge onions, which were nowhere to be found in that particular shop. I hunted around a bit, and found this bunch of the small, teardrop-shaped onions, and since an onion by any other name would be just as pungent, I decided to substitute B for A and hope Sush does not notice.

Now Sush is this bright sort of chap who has made a career in software that makes three-dimensional models, so he immediately noticed the discrepancy in size, and made an astute, penetrating observation.

“These are small onions.”

I explained. Sush, however, was not satisfied.

“But these will take ages to peel.”

Shrik saw that Sush, however good his culinary skills were, had a lot to learn as far as onions were concerned. He intervened.

“No, these are easy. Just peel them and throw them in the cooking-pot. Swish.”

“And they go well with Sambar, too!” I added.

“We’re not making Sambar.”

“I didn’t say we were. I just said they go well with it.”

One thing led to another, and finally Sush rebelled from all cooking activities for the night, leaving Shrik and yours truly in charge of the kitchen. And thanks to the above statement about Sambar, we found ourselves thinking, “not a bad idea, that...”

Except for one small hitch. Neither of us knew how to make Sambar.

Thus I did what all grown, tough men do in the face of a crisis. I called mom.

“Hi ma, we’re making Sambar, and realized that we don’t know how to do it, so can you give us a few pointers?”

“It’s eleven in the night! You’re going to make Sambar NOW?” My mum has always had the constant nagging feeling that somewhere in my upbringing, she has gone horribly wrong.

However, she was up to the task, and gave us instructions, pointers, and useful thumb rules, which, of course, had to be translated for Shrik into engineering-ese: “If the food is liquid in nature, the chillies need to be cut longitudinally. If the food is solid, then the cuts need to be transverse.”

So after much slicing and dicing, leaping away from hot splashes of oil, arguments on whether transferring B to A would be more optimal than transferring A to B, and ‘adjusting’ the proportions of ingredients till we realized that the vessel was too full to accommodate any more adjustments, we were finished. With the Sambar, that is.

Sush, the only culinary expert within a ten-metre radius, peeped into the cooking-pot while we waited for his critique.

“Not bad. This actually smells like Sambar.”

Which was as good as it could get. So, with dinner under my belt (quite literally), I returned home, and sat back, thinking of the butterfly effect and reasoning that if there is this pretty girl out there who is looking for a guy who can make Sambar on impulse, and at the same time dispense with useful cooking thumb rules, then I would definitely have storm clouds gathering on the horizon. And all because the shop did not have large onions. What can a man say when something like that really happens?

I’ll tell you what the grown, tough men say: Thanks, ma.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

What's the railroad to me?

What's the railroad to me?
I never go to see
Where it ends.
It fills a few hollows,
And makes banks for the swallows,
It sets the sand a-blowing,
And the blackberries a-growing.

-- Henry David Thoreau

Railroad


I was once travelling between Haridwar and Rishikesh, when I came upon this railroad. It later struck me as rather odd that this, in the middle of nowhere, was the most beautiful sight I saw in that trip.

So in case you find yourself travelling between H and R by road, and you see a flash of steel among the breaks in the woods that flank the road, I strongly urge you to stop, walk down to the railway tracks, and - as Mr.Davies puts it - stand and stare.

And while you do, try not to catch the train to Dehra-Dun in the small of your back.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

...but why not 42?

The Phone rang. Kakkar received the call. It was Shrik.

"Hey."

"Hey Hey." This is Shrik's customary greeting whenever you greet him with a "Hey."

Kakkar was in an upbeat mood, so he took the conversation further.
"Hey hey hey!"

"Hey hey hey hey!"

"Hey hey hey hey hey hey!"

"That's not right. One 'hey' too many."

"I double-promoted myself in 'Hey's."

...and so on. Which goes to show the kind of weird company I keep.

But that is not the subject of this post. The subject of this post, as the title effectively fails to convey, is the latest tag doing the rounds. Dhammo has thrown the steel-lined gauntlet at my face, challenging me to write a story in fifty-five words or less. So after straightening my nose (which had already suffered recently thanks to a steptococcal infection, which I suspect is latin for "nose swollen so badly the patient could not wear his glasses"), I bent down and picked it up. The gauntlet, I mean.

So I started writing one. Two hundred and forty-nine words later, I realized one thing. I needed a beer. No, sorry, that is just a thought that keeps popping up at the back of my mind every few hours or so. What I really realized was that it was tough, keeping a story short. By this time I had started doing some research for my story, and one thing led to another till finally I found myself looking at the Wikipedia entry on James Tague. I then decided to keep that story for a rainy day, and started with a clean word processor. So, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I present to you the next fifty-three words.

“Is that it?”

“Yep.”

“You’re sure? Only ten?”

“Yep. Admirable, isn’t it? I think I’ve covered everything.”

“I was being sarcastic.”

Thunder.

“Only kidding – keep your hair on. Right, then, I’m off. Thanks.”

“Careful round the last bend. You might get a bit of a shock.”

The rest, as they say, was religion.

-----

Now I throw my gauntlets at Brewtus, Hari, Shruti, M., and Ramya. En garde!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Die, brain cells, die!

"WelcometoMcDonaldssirwhatwouldyouliketohavesir?"

The lad at the counter was smiling, so I assumed he had not abused me anywhere in the sentence he just spoke. However, it did not help. I wondered what he was likely to have been saying. My mental machinery cranked itself into motion, and I had the following insights -

Crink...CRUNK...Kerblonk....sorry, that was the minor cold-start problem I usually have....now where am I...ah, McDonald's...at the counter, to be precise...did I say anything to antagonize the boy? No...and he's smiling, see? Yep, there is that, of course. So what the hell did he say? How does it matter? Just pretend you're the irate customer and just ask him for the burger and fries. He can't argue with that...

The infinite wisdom in the suggestion struck me, and I did precisely that.

"Erm... one Chicken McGrill, with medium fries, please." I smiled back for effect.

"Thankyousirwouldyoulikeyourburgerwithorwithoutcheesesir?"

Once again, I was stumped, but I thought I heard the magic word "cheese" somewhere. Ah, something about cheese. My mental machinery needed oiling, but it did okay that day.

"N-no, no cheese, please." I did not smile this time, so as to not seem predictable. Unpredictability is a good thing. Keeps these counter-types on their toes.

"Wouldyouwantsomecokewiththatsir?"

"No, thank you." As you can see, I was a fast learner in pattern recognition. I did not do four years of engineering for nothing.

After a bit of chitchat, in the course of which all I understood was that the poor chap needed a cash counter to subtract 67 from 70 and give me Rs.3, I grabbed my tray and staggered out, briefly stumbling over the bunch of kids who were involved in a game that looked to me like "knock the tray out of his hands" or something equally endearing.

Replaying the incident later in my mind - I often replay incidents later in my mind, chiefly because incidents are few and far between in my life, and also because I always have the vague feeling that I never grasp the gravity of a situation the first time - I realized that the problem lay with too much protocol. Too many established procedures. Say this to everybody on that side of the counter. Smile. Repeat total. Use cash counter ALL THE TIME.

One can imagine. It numbs the brain. What these chaps need to do is have more fun, instead of throwingpeopleoffguardwithextraordiniarydisplaysofbreathcontrol.

Making a mental note to drop in a suggestion the next time I went there, I left the matter at that.

But this sort of thing is not an isolated case. The other day, Shrik and I decided to go down to the nearest mall to make some 'sensible' purchases. Shrik wanted to buy a steam iron, and I wanted to buy some mattresses. About half an hour or so later, I was at the counter, handing over one of those sports T-shirts that are probably only worn by geeks so they could look sporty (who else would fit into an 'Asian size M' T-shirt?). But that was not why I bought it. I bought it because it was made of some sort of fabric that looked really functional. Really textured and all that, so that when the tag claimed that "this T-shirt absorbs moisture a gazillion times more efficiently than the average T-shirt", you knew, just by looking at the material, that it would absorb anything. Even lava.

So I bought my nth blue T-shirt. The mattresses were important and all, but the mall did not have any, and this T-shirt absorbs moisture a hell of a lot more efficiently!

But that is not my story. I tend to, like I have done in previous posts, digress. So as I was saying, I was standing at the counter, handing over my debit card and the T-shirt, and the chap on the other side flipped my card over, and saw that there was no signature on the reverse of the card.

"Could you please sign on the reverse side of the card, please?"

One thing at a time, I thought. First, thank God they breathe normally. Secondly, what was that again?

"Sign? On the reverse?"

"Yes, sir - it's for your security. If your card is stolen, then the thief will have to duplicate your sign."

I thought I spotted a flaw in this logic. I am not normally very astute, but I have my moments.

"But if I do not sign on the reverse, then whoever steals my card will not know what signature to duplicate."

"No sir, this is for our security."

Not the most dazzling argument I have come across, but I let it pass. We were getting late for a lunch date of sorts, women had invited us, and that does not happen every day. The women inviting us, I mean, not lunch. Actually, lunch does not happen every day either, thanks to my nocturnal life, but that is not the point.

"All right, all right." I resisted the urge to ask him how he knew I was not the thief. A certain vacancy in his eyes told me that I was in danger of being taken seriously.

"Now, can you sign on the slip, too, please?"

I complied.

The chap then picked up my card, the transaction slip, and - I am not making this up - compared the two signatures.

A nod in my direction. Approved.

More clutching at merchandise and staggering out followed. Shrik, who had, incidentally, bought for himself a denim jacket, was visibly shaken, and clutched at his jacket for comfort. It was probably a good thing he did not buy the steam iron... clutching at a steam iron may not have calmed him very much.

"My God. He actually did it. Compared the two signatures. My God. I had only read about such people. I thought it was one of those urban legends. It really happened."

Trying to be cheery, I ventured an explanation based on Calvin and his transmogrifier, but something in his expression told me he didn't quite buy that.

More replaying of incidents followed, much to my depression, and finally, thanks to my excellent grasp of economics, beahavioral dynamics, and the psychology of the individual, I made the following decisions:
- Avoid MacDonald's.
- DO NOT argue with anybody on the other side of mall counters.
- Use hard currency as a medium of exchange.
- Focus. Buy those mattresses.
- Test absorptivity of T-shirt.

Unless, of course, I have to watch a movie at Inox and only have time for a quick burger. In which case, I'll take a deep breath, and rushinandbuyaburgerwithoutcheesemakenoconversationandgetthehelloutofthere.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

...dig that hole, forget the sun...

...and when at last the work is done, don't sit down, it's time to dig another one....

Pink floyd. Cheerful fellows. Always had a song for any occasion in life. Well, maybe not life in general, but my life, yes. And right now, the song in my life is: Breathe.

So you would understand, and hopefully forgive, the lack of posts... but I promise ye, come September and I shall attempt to regale you with stories about Pinnochhio and how I, for a brief interval, found myself channeling his spirit. No, not mentally, but to the great amusement of friends and well-wishers, physically.

In the meantime, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the greatest cartoonist of all time: Charles Schultz.

Writing


p.s. Hint, hint.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Cameraderie

Since I do not feel very chatty, I'm putting up a few more of the pics my shiny new SLR has turned out.

This one is from my bedroom window. My bedroom has a rather large window that faces the east, which is rather unfortunate, as sunlight comes streaming in a few hours after I hit the sack. Thus I sleep in my living room, unless there is something vitally important to be done early in the morning, like saving the earth from mutant Praying Mantes (is that correct grammar - one mantis --> many mantes? Considering the axis --> axes analogy, it probably is), or the neighbourhood from stampeding Emus, or lying in wait to catch the son-of-a-whatnot who keeps stealing my newspaper. Then I shift to the bedroom.

But I digress. As I was saying, this snap is from my bedroom window, taken one such morning. Shrik had very considerately lent me his 100-300mm zoom lens, and would have lent me his tripod as well, but for the fact that when he unwrapped the long-unused structure, it looked "like someone has been using it to hit rocks", as he tells me.

Clouds


The next one is at Pune University. Now this is one of my favourite spots in Pune, especially 'Shanti Tapri', the poor man's Barista, where I've had multiple cups of tea, sitting and talking about life in general with Lavi, or reading a book, or generally just lazing around. Like Koregaon Park, the campus is thick with trees. The last time I went there, armed with clunky camera and all, I ducked through the underbrush in front of the statistics department on a whim, and came upon this interesting specimen.

Gnarled tree


Like I said, I'm not feeling very chatty...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mass defect

I am not one to make excuses to skip my gymming. However, one does not want to go to the dietician after about a month of absence (I was travelling), and show a loss of two kilos. Dieticians are a rather fussy lot, and they take it as a personal insult if you turn up at their doorstep like the prodigal son, only a lot more leaner and - they always miss this part - meaner. Not if you've signed up for a weight gain programme. The last time this happened was over a weekend, when, after a week's hard work, eating four meals a day, drinking soy milk till it oozed out my ears, and lifting weights until I could no longer brush my teeth the next morning, I'd gained one whole kilo, and earned an appreciative nod from my d., only to find that lazing about, skipping meals, and eating popcorn at multiplexes over the weekend had lost me that kilo.

"What! You lost one kilo over a Saturday and Sunday?" Like I said, she was the easily excitable sort.

"Er... yes, strange, isn't it?"

"HOW?"

I sorely wanted explain to her a phenomenon called "mass defect" in atomic nuclei, wherein it is observed that a nucleus is found to weigh slightly less than the weight of the protons and neutrons it is composed of, the difference in mass being converted to binding energy, which keeps all those protons from exploding outwards and ricocheting off the walls of the dietician's room, but decided against it at the last moment. Something in her manner told me that she may not be appreciative of the subtle way I injected education into humour. So I did the next best thing - I shrugged, and resigned myself to the usual sermon.

So you can imagine my apprehension at going to the gym after one whole month of eating random stuff on the go, none of which was on the dietician's pet list of 'healthy' food, which was food that made you gag and want to roll up into a foetal position. I was absolutely not prepared to go and listen to "you have lost two kilos! How?" again.

So I decided upon a brilliant idea - I would eat well for a few weeks, and then go there with a smile on my face and a few extra bananas down the hatch. I re-examined the plan for flaws, found it foolproof, and launched myself into it.

Two weeks later, I was forced to go on a trek by deranged friends, and was subjected to a few embarrassing episodes:

Episode 1: Loveleen suddenly turned to me and asked, "How much do you weigh?".

Now, if you're a guy and you're underweight and in danger of being lighter than the petite girl who asked you this question, you would know how my insides squirmed.

If you're a girl, sorry - I'd have to start with an explanation about how the male ego is structured, and that, milady, is the subject of another post.

Episode 2: Anurag patted me on the back at the foot of the hill, while I was having my chai.

Now this was probably meant to be a gentle sort of gesture, how we guys tell other guys subtly, "buck up and finish that tea, the hill's not going to wait all day for us!", but the man measures about eight feet by three feet, has played football seriously, and I suspect has felled oxen with careless flicks of his wrist during his undergraduate days. Thus the seemingly gentle pat on the back rocked me about my foundations, spilled my tea, gave me a whiplash injury, sent my glasses flying, and so forth.

While I was wiping tea from my face, I heard Loveleen gently chiding Anurag, saying that he was a largish sort (this, I was acutely aware of), and that I was a thin sort (this, too, I was acutely aware of, but did not care to have it mentioned too often), and he should be more careful. All very well-intentioned, but if you're a guy, you would know that this is not the happiest of occasions, definitely not worthy of mention in your diary, except that guys don't maintain diaries, at least not us beer-drinking, mountain-climbing, bike-crashing, arm-wrestling types.

Anyways, this renewed my enthusiasm to get the most out of that weight-gain programme. So I decided that after a week in which I would regain the weight I lost at the trek, I would bite the bullet and step over to the gym, and show the dietician a thing or two.

Ten days later, Ballu walks up to me, picks up my wrist, and said, "Senti, you are really thin."

After I set him right about his manners and explained to him that picking up people's wrists, especially without prior permission, is not a very polite thing to do, I decided to wipe the smirk off his face the civilized way: I challenged him to an arm-wrestling match.

Now, I was sure that I would win, for two reasons:
(i) I had righteous anger working for me, and
(ii) I had watched that Stallone-starrer, Over the top, and he had not. This gave me the edge as far as technique was concerned.

I lost.

Tomorrow, I shall go to the gym, sneak a ten-pound plate out, and throw it at Ballu's grin. And step on the scales while I'm sneaking the plate out. That'll teach the dietician, too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hold on to my book while I climb that hill

Sometime last Thursday, I was once again faced by a Kakkar with a smile on his face, a smile that has often not boded well for me.

"We're going trekking this weekend. Rajmaachi."

Now the last time I went on a trek was well over three years ago. A fort called Torna. Horrible place. Horrible trek. There were at least four different locations en route where I wanted to lie down and die. I staggered up the hill, staggered around at the top with the view swimming in and out of focus, and tumbled back downhill, pausing only to slip and fall into a stream, an unfortunate accident that is still enacted by close freinds and colleagues at parties, get-togethers, and conferences, with more details being added each time.

That was my first trek, and - I had sworn to myself - would be my last.

You will appreciate, then, when I tell you that come Saturday and I was clambering up some hill again, the persuasive powers of the man who informed me of the trek. My emotions that day had ranged from ecstacy at getting my hands on The Half-Blood Prince; dismay, frustration, and anger at finding out at page 90 that the trek was going to happen, after all; alarm when I saw Anurag hauling a backpack that looked like we were going to the Himalayas; confusion when I found out that we were going to Rajgad and not Rajmaachi; and finally, resignation, when we finally got down to the act of climbing those godforsaken slopes.

Twenty-five hours later, back in my apartment, reading page 91 of The Half-Blood Prince, I felt a lot older, more thankful to be alive, and slightly wiser, for having realized the following things:

1. It takes all kinds of people to make the world. Some of these people like climbing up and down hills, for reasons not fully understood.

2. People who made those tracks on those hills had absolutely no idea of the term "as the crow flies", unless that crow was heavily drugged.

3. The Pearly Gates would probably be preceded by a stairway that looks somewhat like this:

Stairway

4. Camping out-of-doors is an amazingly funny, eye-opening, and bizarre experience, if done with the right sort of people. This right sort, oddly, might even include the strange kind of people mentioned above.

4 (a). Wriggling out of a tent in the morning and stretching out to a view that makes you feel you have already brushed your teeth, washed behind your ears, and dunked your head in cold water, is something one needs to experience at least once in life, even if that means climbing up a godforsaken hill.

Camp

5. Flatness of the earth (all right, the slight curvature, if you're one of those purists) is a quality that is oft overlooked, and not appreciated enough.

6. Beer tastes a lot better on top of a hill.

6 (a). Ditto cheese sandwiches.

7. Mordor was grey and black till the movie added the red and spoiled it all.

8. A controlled descent is a hypothetical concept, existing only in theory, and in practice, performed only by those strange people who have been introduced elsewhere in this post.

9. When a girl demands to be mentioned in your blog, you had better comply. As they say, hell hath no fury...

10. I am not going on another trek for the rest of my life.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Rather embarrassing, this...

I can think of a few things worse than going through the process of writing down what is presented in the following lines - like maybe Hara-Kiri, crashing my bike (again), or sitting through a Spice Girls/ Backstreet Boys/ Britney Bpears concert... but I have been - what's that technical term they use again - ah, Tagged... from the most unexpected of quarters, Shruti - a firm believer in the old if-I-suffer-then-so-shall-ye ideology. A good lesson in self-defense - never let that left fist drop from its guard. However, one must try to be the preux chevalier, and thus I shall oblige. So here it is:

A small note to greenhorns - this particular 'Tag' is supposed to make me answer a set of questions that have been carefully designed to embarrass the writer and the writee... er, sorry, the reader. Right, then - Geronimo!

Three Names I Go By:

Senthil - mostly my family and people who've just met me
Senthil Kumaaaaar - My mum, when she needs me to:
(a) Wake up in the morning (shudder),
(b) Go buy groceries,
(c) Own up to some disaster I've caused.
Senti, *&#$@!, etc - Close friends, colleagues, my boss, etc.

Three screen names:
Duh... me very 'net un-savvy...

Three Physical Things I Like About Myself:
My fingernails - a very observant girl once told me they have a manicured look...
My double-jointed thumbs - excellent for thumb-wrestling, and
My uvula - very lively. Very unlike me.

Three physical things I don't like about myself:
My overall aspect ratio
My wrists
The lack of enough lines on my forehead... even when eyebrows are at full deployment.

Three parts of my heritage:
Filter Coffee
Carnatic Music
Indrajal Comics

Three things that scare me:
Suddenly finding myself 'in charge'.
Public Speaking.
A wet patch on the road just at the blind part of a switchback I'm taking at 60 k.m.p.h...

Three things I want in a relationship:
Space. Lots of space.
Lots of tickling, going by the advice of Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, fifth Earl of Ickenham.
No nasty remarks about my bike. Those scratches add character.

Three statements about you which are not all true or all false:
I'm vaguely embarrassed by corny dialogues in movies.
I love the smell of Napalm in the morning.
I can squeeze through four-inch-wide gaps between tables.

Three physical things about the opposite sex that appeals to me:
Sharp features.
Expressive eyes.
Huggability (a vague concept, but translates to - as a friend of mine puts it - a smallish, cute girl).

Three things I want to do badly right now:
Go out and photograph something.
Have masala chai at the station.
Start drawing that cartoon strip I've been thinking about.

Three places I want to go on a vacation:
Yellowstone
The Great Wall - China
Ladakh

Three kids names i like:
Nonu Singh
Abhimanyu
Shweta

Three things to do before I die:
Learn the guitar
Ride my bike all over the country
Rock-climbing

Three essentials in my day-to-day:
My bike
My glasses
Scrambled eggs

Three things I am wearing right now:
Glasses
Jeans
Floaters

There. I hope y'all (especially YOU, lady!) are satisfied. Now, please promise you people will come back to this place in a few days, and I promise I'll put up something interesting. Shcoutsh' honour.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Misty mountain hop

Misty mornings are about the only mornings I can tolerate. Being mostly nocturnal, I am of the firm belief that dawn is the time of the day when men of reason hit the sack. Sounds of people bustling around, radios blaring encouragement to people who want to ruin their lives by running out their doors before lunch, sounds of traffic... no, morning is definitely not my time of the day.

However, a misty morning is different. For instance, it ensures that the sun does not take me by surprise by suddenly jumping out from behind the nearest hill with a "Gotcha!" and a blinding set of rays to boot. Nope, misty mornings are relaxed periods of diffused light, wet grass, quiet birds, and beautiful hillsides.

Now, going over to a beautiful hillside at half past five in the morning, even for a guy like me, is the easy part. Photographing it, however, as I realized when I got my prints, is bloody difficult. I had ended up underexposing almost every picture I shot that morning. All of them ended up looking more or less like this:

Misty Morning

Another thing I am not too thrilled about when I pull the rather prominent-looking camera out in public, is the amount of attention it attracts. I wonder how people deal with it. I feel dashed uncomfortable, and mostly end up taking hasty shots, which, unfortunately for my ego, end up looking a lot better than my carefully set-up ones.

Anyways, so here I was, taking a lot of bad photographs without realizing it, and walking down the road, when I came upon this group of aged chaps who seemed to be engaged in some sort of early morning prayers. Now I am still unclear about the ethics of photography, and wondered for a while on the problem of taking their pics without disturbing them. You see, it would not be nice to take their pics without asking them, and if I were to ask them , it would mean disturbing them from their prayers, and if I wait around till the end of the prayers, then the whole point of the exercise is lost.

So while I was still trying to work this out in my head, while clicking away at passing undulations in the landscape, when I heard something of a "Hoy!". Turning around, I saw that the prayers had ceased and the group was looking at me with a little interest. One of them beckoned at me to come over.

"Which paper do you work for?"

Now this is one question that has surprised me on an earlier occasion, too. I have friends who have bigger and more prominent-looking cameras than I do, but they have gone through their entire lives without anyone asking them this question, while I, within a month of purchasing the camera, have been asked this question twice. The last time, I'd lied through my teeth, telling a bunch of rowdy-looking youths that I was freelance and all that sort of thing, but it's not the sort of thing you do with a group of respectable-looking elders.

"Oh, no, this is more of a hobby."

Apparently this was something they heartily approved of, and they displayed their approval with encouraging cries, stopping short of thumping me on my back.

"So what do you do?" Elderly gent #2 asked, when the uproar had died down.

"I'm an engineer."

More displays of approval. Rather surprising, since these days you can't throw a brick in Pune without hitting an engineer of some sort. However, I refrained from asking them what all the excitement was about.

"Will you take our photograph?"

"Oh, sure!" Nice of them, I thought. Now if only they wouldn't look at the camera.

"Try to relax. As you were. Ignore me..."

Unfortunately, coaxing a subject into relaxing for a photograph is not the easiest of things, and there you are:

Prayers


I should ride down to that place again sometime, and give those nice people this photograph. Some of them had even invited me to their homes for some morning tea. And maybe I'll give the misty morning one more shot. Literally.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

U - turn

"FIFTY KILOMETRES?" I exclaimed.

"This is Bombay, my friend. The big city. Fifty kiliometres by road. But if you take the train, you'll reach the place in forty-five minutes flat!" Bachha (not his real name) waxed eloquent about shortest routes in the city after a year of hopping from train to train, travelling to work and back, going for dinner, going to a movie, going to the loo, and so on. How people lead a life in this city has always been a source of amazement for me. True, I had lived in Bombay as a kid, too, but I had never had to catch a local, my school being a few kilometres' walk from my apartment, and yours truly never being the columbussy type who wonders what lies yonder the great oceans. Nope. School, back, a stack of books, and some coffee was all I had in life, and was quite happy with the pace.

When my dad got transferred from Bombay to Tirunelveli, I had a bit of a problem adjusting to the new lifestyle... to not sitting next to girls in the school, to have the teacher address me as "Baaai!" (boy), to Chemistry and Sanskrit, to speaking in Tamil in school, and so on and so forth. The only thing I liked was the slow life. This continued in college, and out on my first job, I was delighted to find that Pune, too, had the laid-back life of a small town.

But there were small shocks to be faced in life, and this one was when I had to stay in Bombay for a few days on work. Thus, at the beginning of this post, you found me asking Bachha about the most optimized means of commuting from the guest house to the workplace.

"Bachhe, I am NOT going by train. Wild horses won't drag me to those horrible things."

But our man, apparently, had thought this out as well.

"Chill. I've just asked a friend of mine who travels along the same route, and he has a plan for you." Leaning over the kebabs and the biryani, he said conspirationally, "Take a first-class ticket. It costs a bit, but at least it's better in there. Now the train you will take will go from..."
... and he outlined a plan that, briefly explained, goes like this. I needed to go from A to B. But the train was bound to be crowded at A. So, I catch a train going in the opposite direction, to C, C being close to A. The advantage was that since C was the last stop, people would get off, the train would reverse direction and start travelling towards B, and I would get a place to sit.

Now, the idea was a bit sneaky, and wold probably be frowned upon in Pune, but Bombay was Nature, red in Fang and Claw, and these were survival tactics. As the old saying went, "All is fair in love, war, and Bombay", and I found myself warming to the idea.

The next morning, after figuring out where the ticket counter was - each atation here is unique, they have ticket counters hidden away behind false paan shops, and you have to twist a turnstile and punch the fake paanseller in the nose for the secret door to open and reveal the ticket counter - I went over to the platform, astutely figured out where the first-class bogie (not bogey, you gross people - I meant the carriages) would stop, and waited in the manner of a calm commuter with nerves of steel. I looked around at the edgy, jumpy crowd milling around and chuckled to myself. Little did they know how easily one could travel, if one had the right brains for the job.

The train arrived.

I remember once, when we were holidaying in Goa and body-surfing waves, I had just stood up, shaking water from my eyes and ears, trying to collect my breath, when the mother of all waves hit me amidships and knocked me end over end, sprawling onto the coarse sand. I remember a brief feeling of disorientation, and the next thing I knew, I was on the sand, listening to hyenas. Upon shaking more water from the ears, the hyenas took on the more recognizable notes of the chaps who called themselves my friends. Curiously, Bachha was one of them.

What happened on the platform next was quite similar to that experience. I had the feeling of being lifted by a monstrous wave, and was deposited with minimum dignity somewhere in the bogie's bowels, with other bodies piled on top. The train then gave several lurches - one would almost suspect it of laughing - and moved on.

All right, so maybe first class isn't all that classy, but wait till the terminus, and then it's all nice and cosy for you, I told myself, giving the old pep-talk.

The terminus came.

The train stopped.

The train reversed.

We headed towards point B.

The astute reader may observe that there is a crucial event missing in the chronology presented above. That of the passengers disembarking. Not being very obtuse myself, I noticed this right away. This puzzled me for a bit, but it all became clear when the chap who had his elbow planted somewhere between my tenth and eleventh rib told the chap who was using the both of us to rest about 40% of his ample weight, "See? I told you. We should've caught a train headed the other way, got off at point D (a station between points A and B), caught a train coming back, come back here to C, and then we'd be sitting by now, on our way back. Now we have to stand all the way."

If I had had enough space to stagger, I would've staggered. What sneakiness! The snakes in the grass! My God! I exclaimed silently. Everybody in the blasted train was taking a U-turn so they could get a place to sit.

"Ha ha ha ha Hee hee hee!" went Bachha, when I told him about how his plan had turned out and instructed him in detail on what he could do with his plans. "You caught that train at eight! I told you to catch trains before 7:43! No wonder - rush hour, my friend! Ha ha ha!"

I took a taxi back to the guest house that evening. A bit on the horribly expensive side, no doubt, but one would not want to repeat the performace of the morning, while lugging around a laptop that had the tonnage of a small neutron star. Also, I could stretch out and relax in the back seat with a paperback.

I may have found The Poseidon Adventure more exciting a day earlier, but now it seemed a bit tame in comparison. To my own.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Good. Just those.

...because I would be too embarrassed to show you the bad and (shudder) the ugly photographs from the first roll on my shiny new EOS 66. As usual, the pics I took almost impulsively came out better than the ones I painstakingly set up. If I were in my usual chatty mood, I would go on and tell you about how I have always screwed up on stuff that I have taken great pains to prepare for, and how I have been very lucky on stuff I did on impulse, but I have to sit and prepare for some real intimidating stuff I'll have to face in the next three days (and thus screw up, going by history), so here goes...

The one below is at Bandstand, Mumbai. One of my favourite places in the city, and I try to go there every time I visit Mumbai. I underexposed this frame a bit, in the hope that it would look more dramatic, since the sun was not in its setting-mode yet. Now that I look at the pic, I wish I'd had something in the foreground. Something to show that this was Bandstand. For now, this could be any seashore.





The second one is at a Barista in one of the multiplexes in Pune. I was waiting for a few friends there, had time to kill, the place was almost empty, and I have always loved their ambient lighting. Very mellow. I tried to increase the depth of field here, I think my aperture was down to f/11. I had to thus increase my exposure to 2 secs. Unfortunately, I'd left my lens hood on, which is not a good idea in wide-angle shots, as you can see.






Comments, pointers, criticism, please. Right, then - I'm off.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Obscura on the Camera

In an attempt to bring back more....uh...what's that technical term they use... ah, zing into my life, I finally bit the bullet, made that trip to Bombay and purchased the Canon EOS 66, the SLR camera for the poor bloke. Right, then - camera, cpl filter, hood, uv filter (this one was for free), bag (this, too), film loaded - I'm all set. Now all I need is some talent. Not the ancient egyptian currency, ha, ha... I often crack these jokes to myself - not many people, I noticed, appreciate my jokes, and one needs to keep the self happy - and was probably smirking visibly at this one when a fellow passing through the shop looked down at the clunky unit (I'm not being over-critical here, just that I had gone to the place with this chap who bought a camera which looked - and weighed - like the strip of chewing gum I was carrying) and paused.

"Hey, how many MegaPixels?"

This threw me for a bit. It was one of those questions people ask without thinking, and suddenly your whole life flashes before you... sorry, hang on - I was going to use that part in a post about my road accidents. No, your whole life hits the "pause" button, and you suddenly realize that you belong to the previous generation.

Back in my time, when people saw other people buy cameras, they asked intelligent and mechanically-oriented technical questions like, "Why don't you use a camera obscura like everybody else?", or "Hey, are you sure this isn't broken? The lens came right off!", or, for the really technically-minded, "Huh? SLR camera? What be that?" and so on. In fact, back in my childhood, when I was young and dumb and used to read Reader's Digest (okay, it wasn't all that bad then), I once came upon this article on "Doc" Edgerton, who, among other things, drank a lot of coffee, and photographed drops of milk falling on it (the coffee).

No, seriously, this chap was a bit into photography and invented stuff like the strobe light, which apparently caused a lot of scientists to exclaim "Eureka!" and run off naked into their labs. Okay, okay. The strobe light freed up the camera from the mechanical limitations of the shutter by eliminating it altogether. So by using a dark room and illuminating it with flashes of light from these strobes, scientists could find answers to such questions like "Is your aim spoiled by the recoil from the gun you just fired?", "Exactly in what way does a soap bubble collapse?", and "Who has been taking that last tub of ice cream from the back of the freezer?"

But I digress. So as I was saying, I had come upon this article a little early in life, and when I asked this uncle of mine who is a zoologist and an enthusiastic photographer - a combination which all the bats in the temples of Madurai strongly resent - about this strobe light thingie, he looked at me with something close to shock in his eyes. No, sorry, that was the uncle standing next to him, who had just wrestled my last toffee out of my hands, and was in the process of popping it into his mouth. My zoologist uncle, no doubt out of years of observing animals in the wild, instantly saw through my ploy.

"Very nice. Okay, I'll let you hold my camera. But be verrry careful."

And that was that. Hold on. How did I get here? I was talking about the - oh, blast! Sorry, folks, there I go again. So what I was saying was that in my time, people knew about convex lenses. We watched solar eclipses by looking at the image on the wall through a pinhole. We blew soap bubbles. I even tried to make my own soap bubble mix, and caused a minor setback in my mum's laundry routine. In short, we were all children of the earth, with no more sophistication than the summer sessions of "Super Mario", something that strangely baffled my dad for some reason. He had some preposterous idea about going out in the sun and playing. Ha.

And after all that, this young whippersnapper looks up at me and asks, "How many megapixels?"

I drew myself up to my full height. Tact and finesse, I thought to myself. Handle it with your usual tact and finesse. He's just a young kid - he knoweth not what he sayeth and all that sort of thing.

"Er, ah... it's, er... you know... the film SLR... 35mm and all that... "

I thought I heard him snort, I definitely saw him raise an eyebrow, and then he passed out of the shop, into the sun.

We followed, after a brief search for my friend's shiny new tiny digital camera. It was hiding behind its charger.

Friday, May 27, 2005

That thing I did...n't.

"So what is the craziest thing you have ever done?"

I balked at the question. These life-scanning questions have always taken me off guard. Thankfully, I have not been faced with many of them in life, but whenever I have, the whole room seems to do the shimmy, and I feel the urge to grab the table and gasp, "Can you stop the room, please? I'd like to get off."

It's not that I have not done many crazy things in life (well I haven't, but that's a different matter, as you will soon see). In fact, my worst nightmare was when, as a graduate trainee in my first company, I was sent alongwith thirty other trainees to this personality development programme, where I was asked to, among other things, draw a sketch on a newspaper, walk around a room blindfolded, give impromptu speeches, play a guitar minus the guitar and music, and - the painful part - answer questions like "What is the happiest moment you've ever had?", and worse, "What has been your greatest achievement to date?"

The point that I have tried to make - and have completely missed - in the previous paragraph is that I somehow find it a little disturbing to answer questions that require me to scan my life in the space of a minute and pick out local maxima in the curve related to the question asked. Very exhausting. I am amazed that people actually manage to do this in the space of a heartbeat. My mental machinery, when subject to such loads, goes: craziest thing....now let me see... what can that be? Riding a bullock-cart in the middle of the city? No, that wasn't exactly a bullock-cart.. it had leaf springs and stuff. Pulled by a bullock, no doubt, but probably does not qualify. How about that Diwali night when I inadvertently set fire to my uncle's house? Nah, the fire was doused before it actually reached the house... it was the shamiana, and who knows, maybe it would've burned the shamiana off, without harming the house. Nobody waited to find out... my relatives are rather hasty. And it wasn't crazy. Stupid, yes, but not crazy. Nopes, that can't be it. What about the college fest where I played the only Bond girl with a moustache? Hmmm... maybe. But it was a movie spoof - you're expected to play crazy there. And playing crazy when expected to play crazy = not crazy. So there goes that. I knew I should've gone on that stupid trek to Rajmaachi. That would've definitely qualified. Can I just pretend... no, there's Kakkar - he was on that Trek. He even rode his bullet up that track. Maybe I should've bought a bullet, too. Could've joined RoadShakers and died a wonderful death. Bloody heavy machine. Sigh. How about -

By which time the people around the table had gone on to other topics, so that when I came out of my reverie, I believe I may have caused a bit of a jar in the conversation. Kakkar, I think, was saying something about Bob Dylan.

"He may sing it badly, or he may not sing it at all - in fact, he may have just talked the song, but it works for me! I just love the way he sings."

"I once sang 'American Pie' out loud and offkey at Thousand Oaks after the DJ had switched off the music. We were begging him to play it, but he refused, so. The whole song. Halfway through, everyone in the pub was begging for the torture to stop." My moment of glory, and I intended to bask in it.

This caused a slight break in the conversation, but the people I drink with are very good at this sort of thing. The break lasted probably for a few milliseconds.

"Really? Alone?"

Anurag, now, is the bright sort of chap who gets to the nub of the thing faster than quicksilver, and this probing question was from his corner of the ring. Rather unfortunate for me.

"Er... actually, there were four others with me...in fact, Kakkar was there, too. He kept going back to the line where he meets the girl who sang the blues..."

"Janis Joplin." said Gina. How she remembers these things is a mystery. "That was supposed to refer to Janis Joplin. The King was Elvis, the Jester was Dylan - he took the thorny crown from the king, there's Lennon, reading a book on Marx..."

"Really? I thought - " and conversation resumed.

And that was that. Twenty-six years, and not one crazy thing. Should try riding my bike on the divider in front of Inox. Here cometh the weekend.

Heyyy - hang on - there was this night when my roomie (not anymore, though - the chap got married and dislodged himself from the apartment) and I pushed a scooter along the highway all night, right up to the next morning, because his was the 1985 Bajaj super model, the kind that does not have keys (or turn indicators, and his model also lacked a taillight, and soon after we got on the highway, a headlight), and he did not want to leave it around. It did not matter that the scooter seemed un-start-able by any mortal power. Seven hours trudging through the rain. Does that count?


If it doesn't, you can find me on that divider.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Sinister habits

"How much for the bunch?"

"Five rupees."

I held out the money.

"You're an educated boy, right?"

Now this was not a question one would expect from the local jasmine-seller (different from a florist in that this man sells mostly jasmines and other flowers that look suspiciously like jasmines, at least to the layman), but in spite of (a) being in my early-teens and (b) inexperienced in dealing with potentially hostile people like the local jasmine-seller, I was known to maintain my sang-froid in sticky situations.

"Yes," I replied stiffly.

"Don't you know how disrespectful it is to hand over money with your left hand?"

I looked at the offending limb and saw that the man was right. Later, replaying the incident over in my head, I realized that it was the fault of the tailor, who kept the wallet pocket behind the right trouser leg. But, then, trousers hadn't originated in South India, and wherever the damn things had been invented, I am positive that it was not considered a violation of the local etiquette to use the left hand in day-to-day transactions.

Coming back to the present, (or rather, the past, if your frame of reference is today), I mumbled an apology, handed over the fiver, wishing that it had been four-something, so I could've told him to "Keep the change, you filthy animal!", and bicycled home, in time for my mum's evening pooja, for which the flowers were needed.

The problem that I had often faced as a kid was shifting customs. The years spanning my primary education - and some of the secondary, too - were spent in Bombay, which for a kid like me was a city of crammed-together flats, friendly neighbours, slightly strange friends (which kind of happened all my life), and holi! However, being as I was from Tirunelveli, the summer vacations were spent there. Now Tirunelveli at the time was as diametrically opposite a city to Bombay as could be. Roads free from traffic (and tar), hot, dry afternoons, lazy evenings, and the occasional irate jasmine-seller.

So much for the romantic descriptions. I'm all for the works, but I tend to get carried away a bit and the reader is left lost in the ravine. So, I'll get back to the story at hand. Now I was in the ravine, and... wait. No, that's a different story. Erm... ah, yes. Since I was flitting between the two cities, I often had problems with the local etiquette. For example, in Bombay, if a kid were to address anyone on the street, it would be "Uncle" or "Aunty" depending on the apparent age and the apparent gender of the addressee. Now this is all right as a kid, but once you sprout stubble, it is not advisable to call a slightly older-looking chap "Uncle", or worse, call a lady "Aunty". Disastrous effects are almost assured in the latter case. Probably why the Army trains kids within its influence to call anything that moves "sir" or "ma'am" depending on the case.

In contrast, in Tirunelveli, any stranger is "Anna" (elder brother), or "Akka" (elder sister). Which was not too difficult, considering. Also, since the language was also completely different, I could learn, without confusion, politeness in both languages. However, actions speak louder than words... whoops, sorry, I mean, actions are tricky things, lacking a language segregation. A harmless signal for hitching a ride at region (a) can be interpreted as a jeer in region (b), often resulting in injury to the surprised hitchhiker.

Similarly, we South Indians are a little touchy about using the right hand for the right sort of actions. Preserving the decencies of narration, I will refrain from mentioning the origins of the custom. So it was rather unacceptable to hand over stuff with the left hand, pick food with the left hand, write with the left hand, change gears in the scooter with the left hand, etc.

Okay, so I was only pulling your leg about that last point. But you get the hang of it. In fact, this was so engraved on the young and impressionable minds of the region that they were more thorough on this concept than on the concept of right and left. When I was teaching the kid of a family friend to ride the bicycle, I almost dropped both in shock when I said, "Turn left", and the girl paused, brought her right hand up to her mouth a couple of times in a food-eating gesture (accompanied by something that sounded like "num, num", which, I believe, was how she thought she sounded when she ate), nodded her head, said "Ah! Okay!", in the manner that Tycho Brahe may have exclaimed when in the middle of his class, he suddenly realized what was wrong with the concept of platonic solids he was working on, and proceeded to turn left (the kid, not Brahe).

Unfortunately, I was not similarly gifted, and this aspect of my otherwise irreproachable manners was often brought to light at my grandma's dining table, when I reached for an idli from the pile in the bowl with my left hand.

Whack.

"
Ow!" I muttered, rubbing my wrist.

"Never use your left hand to touch food. Don't you know that -" and, depending upon the age and the religious knowledge of the admonisher, I would receive a crash course on the goddess of food, her quirky natures, etc. I would nod numbly, reaching for the idli. My grandmom makes amazing idlis, which sublime in the mouth, making you forget any amount of physical abuse your body has endured, like slaps on the wrist.

Whack.

"Now what?"
I hissed. Idlis or no idlis, there is only so much a boy can take.

"Echhi kai!" - now, there really is no euphemism for the translation, but to put it mildly, the term refers to a hand which has deposits of saliva on it, owing to the fact that when one eats with the fingers, one needs to insert a few fingers into the oral cavity and close the mouth over them, and then withdraw the fingers to prevent the food (especially curd rice) from spilling out. Anyways, though the eating of idlis does not entail the actual insertion of fingers into the oral cavity - at least, it wasn't my style - there are people who are a little finicky about the thing.

"So I can't pick up the idli with my right hand, and I can't pick it up with my left hand. Great."

Now, back home, my mum used to cleverly overcome this minor point by using a large spoon of sorts, which in turn could be held by the left hand, if you're not a purist. However, that turns out to be a rather huge "if".

"What am I here for? If you need an idli, ask me. I'll serve." And an excess of idlis appear on my plate.

The customs are slightly quirky, but I forgave my ancestors. One has to take the rough with the smooth, especially if the "smooth" part includes those idlis. If any of you happen to pass through Tirunelveli, drop in to my Grandma's place, and try them out. And keep that left hand away from the table.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Goodbye to all dieticians

Tomorrow morning, I am supposed to have, as soon as I wake up, some lukewarm water with honey and lemon, a couple of dates, walnuts, almonds, and some sprouts. This is to be followed up after half an hour with three slices of brown bread, some cottage cheese, a whey protein shake, more sprouts, one egg white, and umpteen other things that I would include if I wasn't so dead bored of reading my dietician's sheet.

I had not met a dietician in my life till about two days ago, and the one I met made me wish I'd maintained that status for a much longer time. They are quite a singular category, if they are mostly similar to the one I met. Shrik tells me that dieticians are to be kept at arm's length, and made allusions to a dietician who apparently terrorizes the protagonist in Wodehouse's "The indiscretions of Archie" (which, incidentally, is available online - for FREE!), but even without his advice, there is no way I would talk to a dietician longer than necessary.

To start at the beginning, the Lord said, "Let there be light!" And He saw that the light was good, and... wait, got carried away a bit there. Now where was I... oh, yes, the beginning. It's like this: I have been grossly underweight for the past twenty-five-odd years (apparently I was kind of healthy till my first birthday), and I finally decided to attack the problem head-on. I thus joined a weight-gain programme at a nearby gym... for the fourth time. However, this gym had what all my previous gyms lacked sorely - a dietician.

Feeling pretty much like the guy who has spent the week leading to his appointment with the dentist brushing thrice a day and flossing at traffic lights in the hopes of reducing the effects of three years of dental neglect, I walked into her office, thanking my lucky stars for the recent vacation and the good home-cooked food. Unfortunately, like with the guy meeting the dentist, the effect was microscopic, not to be discerned with the naked eye.

Thankfully, she did not comment, and went straight to the questionnaire, which had questions like "What time do you wake up?" "How many chapatis/slices of bread do you have for lunch?" "What was the average surface area of those chapatis?" and other probing enquiries about my personal life that I have never had the courage to disclose to my closest friends.

Finally, moving to the end of the questionnaire, she asked, "What is your mood when you eat?"

Now this had me stumped. I am used to reading when I eat alone, which is quite often, so I guess it would depend on what book I'm reading at the moment. I tried to explain that my mood had less to do with the food and more to do with the entertainment, unless of course I was having really good south indian food, especially curd rice and -

"Shall I write 'okay'? Your mood is 'okay'?"

My discourse on the subject of mood swings was brought to a grinding halt.

Two days later - today - I was told to pick up my customized diet chart, the gym being all about personal attention given to the customer. I entered her office again.

"Hi!"

"Hi... (consulting chart)... Senthil, get on the weighing machine."

Now this was a little unexpected. I had been weighed in for the records a few days back, and here she was, asking me to kick my shoes off and hop on the scales again. Must be for eliminating errors caused by local seismic disturbances, I thought, kicking off my shoes and hopping on the scales.

"So what's the weight?" She asked.

I told her.

A frown creased her features. "It's reduced. Why has it reduced?"

After recovering from the initial shock of seeing a drop in weight after a week of shoveling in mum's food, I reminded her that she was the dietician and that I had joined the gym to find an answer to that very question, and had already spent extravagant amounts of money on it.

"Where is your diary?" She snapped.

"What diary?"

"The diary I asked you to bring. You're supposed to write details of what you ate in it."

"I was not asked to bring any diary." Accusations are taken better when made in the passive voice.

"I told you - ah, anyway, write down the list of stuff you ate today."

I wrote.

Another frown. "This is not what I mentioned in your diet."

I agreed with her, saying that she was probably right, and asked her to give me my diet sheet so that I could make a comparison myself.

"But I gave you the diet sheet."

The penny dropped, in both places at the same time.

"You probably have me confused-"

"Ah, I got you mixed up-"

"-with someone else!"

"-with someone else!"

"I'm so sorry, it was another guy, and he looked exactly like you, and he, too, had joined the weight gain programme!"

I remarked coldly that if he had looked exactly like me, he had to have joined the weight gain programme.

"Oh, no, I didn't mean that..." embarrassed silence.

But in the end, she has had the last word. Printed. On the diet sheet.

If the diary she's given me had had a 'remarks' section, I'd mention in it today's dietary observation: Whey protein shakes are made from rotten eggs.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

King Bruce's spider

Well, I'm back... decent vacation, that... except for the weather, missed trains, and a few other things I shall post about later, maybe, in a moment of weakness. The important thing is, I am back... with another attempt at rhyming 'moon' with 'spoon'. Whoa - I know, I know, but a man has to try, try, and try, and then give up.

However, to people who still bother coming here, rest assured that my next post will not attempt to be lyrical.

Shells, rigids, and a trailer

Ten metres. The trailer stretches
From end to end, without the cab.
Umpteen sets of engineering sketches
Were all I had; that, and my lab.

Not really a lab, but more or less-
Master FEM, my tool for the job,
"Model the thing now, don't make a mess,"
Was what I was told, with a pat on the nob.

I meshed and I meshed, through night and day
Section create, connect each node.
Chassis, floorboards, panels, all lay
Assembled, at last, I applied the load.

Normal modes and linear statics;
Not too much sweat, myself I told -
But hark! The shadow of dynamics
Loomed overhead, I ceased to be bold.

I curse, I swear, I rant, I rave,
At my computer - it always ignores
The plight I'm in, one foot in the grave,
It cares two hoots - at times, it snores!

Finally, 'tis done, 'tis finished, the worst
Is over now, no errors, says the log...
Now for the report, I tell myself, but first
Things first, it's time for a blog.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Confessions of a failed poet

I've been reading a few poems of late, and as with everything else I've ventured into, I started thinking that it's quite easy, writing poetry. My childhood experiences refute this opinion, but of course, I am smarter now than I was in the past... or so I thought. So I tried, ... and tried... and tried... and this is all I could come up with.

Now, some of my friends seemed to like it, but I am not sure if it was for fear of hurting my feelings. Thus I have to turn to you people - shoot. I'm all eyes. Harsh criticism is invited. I throw myself at the mercy of the jury. Here goes:

Confessions of a failed poet

I wrestle, I wrangle,
To squeeze out an idea,
My fingers entangle
On the keyboard, my dear.
A poem to write - a piece of pâtisserie
Definitely is not, I tell you, mon chérie.

The "inner eye", I sorely lack;
And to moon with spoons, hardly the knack.
The spring in a step, the mildewed rose,
I never could describe, let me go back to prose.

- Senthil Kumaran

Friday, March 25, 2005

Psychobabble

Wishy one moment, washy the next.
Have to work, want to blog.
Want to watch a random movie, have to finish work.
Book tickets, cancel them.
Transient analysis on one computer, optimization on the other.
Walk out to have dinner, come back with a pack of Maggi.
Reading The Gold Bat, choose The hitchhiker's guide for dinnertime.
Want to call this girl I used to like, end up calling an old college friend.
Feel like listening to fresh new songs, can't bear not listening to the old ones.
Hate my laziness, love not having an ambition.
Thirsty, want to eat dry biscuits.
Want to be coherent, break out into nonsense.
Want to blog, have to work.
Washy one moment, wishy the next.