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.