Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Keeping Mum

Warning: This post contains a picture that might be slightly nauseating to some. I mean it, so read on at your own risk. For you witty wags who insist nothing can be more nauseating than my picture in the sidebar... well, you've been warned!

My mother dropped in on me last weekend. She had the option to come to Delhi on some work, and grabbed the opportunity to check in on her errant son, who does not eat meals regularly and doesn't call home often enough :)

I was, naturally, very happy to have her here. It's nice to catch up with family stories and have awesome home cooked food (that said, my culinary skills have vastly improved as compared to the last time I mentioned them on this blog. Maybe I'll write about that later.) And its good fun to show her my office, take her through my routine and lifestyle, and drive her around Delhi/Gurgaon to show her that drivers here really are as crazy as I make them out to be. And scare her by driving at three times the speed I drive at in Chennai. And of, course, to come home from work to find the house sparkling clean and a week's worth of cooked food in the fridge :)

Having a parent over, however, does put a lot of pressure on one. Especially if one is a bachelor. And especially if one is a bachelor living with two other bachelors, making for one hell of a bachelor-style home.

As information regarding a visit (from a relative or the landlord) filters through to the group, a mild sense of panic sets in owing to the need to clean the house and make it somewhat respectable. And so the manic cleaning starts.

1. Out go the four week old newspapers lying around on the floor, atop the chairs and under the sofa.
2. Ditto for the empty juice cartons and cigarette packs (I don't smoke, but my flatmate does. I would, of course, smoke if I was set on fire but as that is not a regular occurrence, I feel comfortable stating that I do not smoke.)
3. In a bachelor household, "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" is not just a song. It's a real life logistical difficulty, an issue of storage space. For variety, there's whisky lying around as well. All need to be deposited in a safe place.
4. Most of the furniture (and the floor, and the walls, and the electrical appliances...) has a layer of dust thicker than normally considered healthy. None of us has dust allergies, but if one of us was... well, let's just say there'd be a room to spare at home. Out come the dust cloths (yes, we actually have them!)
5. The sour milk/curd in the fridge and the rotting vegetables we passed on in favour of Maggi need to be disposed off.
6. The packets of Maggi and MTR Ready-to-eat meals are discreetly puched to the background, and the spices, pastes, purees, pulses and veggies are emphasized to indicate self-reliance in terms of cooking.
7. It's time to clean the vessels in the kitchen as well. It is at moments like his that one discovers weird string-like microbial growth in a container that once contained something edible but hasn't been touched for weeks on end. I'm serious, I'm not just saying this for effect. See for yourself.

Yes, it is disgusting. I know.

This was not a dish of noodles. Detailed investigations later revealed that this was, at some point in time, a serving of daal, as evidenced by the glimpses of yellow below the stringy stuff in the picture above.

And all this is just the common areas (living room, kitchen, etc) in the house. My room is normally quite an ungodly mess by itself. I tackled the issue quite well, I think. I'm feeling rather proud of myself, actually.

1. Three weeks worth of sweeping done in three minutes
2. Two weeks of dirty (and, in some cases, smelly) clothes dumped into the washing machine and later hung to dry. This also helps spread a nice, clean, detergent-ish smell about the room
3. All potentially objectionable content (I shall not go into details here) disposed off in a retrievable fashion at a secure location
4. Books falling off shelves and strewn on the bed/floor collected and arranged in a neat pile on a table imported into the room for this purpose
5. The extra bed in my room (usually covered with aforementioned clothes and books apart from old newspapers, biscuit wrappers and credit card statements) emptied, wiped clean and covered with a new bedsheet that smells only mildly nauseatingly starchy
6. All dusty items stacked in one corner of the room to give the impression that it is only that corner of the room that I barely touch while the rest of the room is cleaned twice a day with disinfectant
7. The cupboard containing my clothes straightened out to give a sense of being organized
8. Air freshener liberally used and the door to the balcony opened to let in fresh air. (The latter, unfortunately, resulted in a lot of sand being blown in necessitating step 1 above being repeated.)

The end result was surprisingly good. I had no idea my flat and my room could look so nice and welcoming. It just goes to show what one can do if one forces oneself to puts one's mind to it.

And, here's the most important step, the best piece of advice I can give you, one that could come in very handy if you find yourself in a similar situation. Hope you've got a notebook to take this down.

Leave the door to your flatmate's room strategically ajar, so that you can smugly tell your parent(s), "Look, this is how bad my room could be. Now, aren't you proud of how clean I am?"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

This guy cracks me up

In a world full of inane music videos that are so outrageously silly they're funny, this guy takes the cake.

Presenting Ishq Bector, an Indo-Canadian hip hop artist.

After the kinky craziness of the surprisingly successful Aye Hip Hopper came the mindblowing ROFL Dakku Daddy. Interesting videos and corny-fun lyrics... a very catchy mix.


Aye Hip Hopper

Dakku Daddy

Monday, April 07, 2008

It's a good thing I have a brother to continue the family line...

...because my reproductive capabilities might just have been compromised a little.

OK, drastic statement, that. Don't want to scare off any potential brides. Let me put this in context... I'll start by beginning this post from scratch, including a new title.

4 guys. 3 days. One car. 2000 km.

The weekend of Good Friday and Holi was a three day weekend. Having had quite enough of Gurgaon and its environs, four of us decided to pack our bags and set off on a good old fashioned road trip. Our destination: Jaisalmer, in the midst of the Rajasthani desert in the extreme west of the country. We plotted a Delhi -> Jaipur -> Ajmer -> Jodhpur -> Jaisalmer itinerary, a total one-way distance of about 900 kilometres.

Apart from eating some very simple yet amazingly tasty food at a whole lot of random dhabas along the way, we hit some very interesting spots, and had some pretty cool experiences. Here's a brief description of the highlights of the trip; maybe this will be helpful if you plan a trip to these parts someday!

1. Vroom!

I love driving. It's one of the things that gives me the most pleasure in my life as it stands now. And the roads of Rajasthan are be-yoo-tiful. Smooth roads all the way, even in the middle of nowhere en route to tiny hamlets and villages. There's something very uplifting about being able to zoom down a fantastic road at a consistent speed of 140 kmph... It makes the blood rush and makes one feel glad to be alive. The roads were waiting for us, daring us to rip them up... and we were more than happy to take up the challenge. Looooong drives + lovely roads + awesome music + good company = a fantastic experience.

The road ahead...

2. Khwajaji...

Ajmer is synonymous with the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. We visited the holy site, prayed and made the customary offerings of flowers and a shroud for the grave. The early morning, birds twittering all around, cool marble flooring and the soft strains of beautiful Sufi music... heavenly. One could have sat there for hours just watching the throng of fervent devotees and enjoying the soulful renditions of the singers.

A band prepares for a procession outside the dargah

FYI, this is not the Khwajaji in the kickass song from Jodhaa Akbar. If I've got my facts right, that song was for Salim Chisti who Akbar (and AR Rahman) are devotees of.

3. The Royal heritage

The Rajasthani royals of yore ruled their empires from their fortresses, large sprawling complexes built atop hilltops to afford a clear view of invaders. We visited the forts at Jaipur and Jaisalmer.

The Jaipur Fort is maintained by a private trust and not the Government, which explains why it is so much more tourist friendly and well-maintained than most other historical locations. It features a very very extensive museum and gallery showcasing the history of the ruling family and their exploits. It also features an extensive armoury featuring beautiful swords, daggers, guns, shields and spears (of the Rajasthani and not the Britney variety). A very beautiful structure, indeed.

Also worth checking out at Jaipur is the palace of the current Raja, Umaid Bhavan. It's now part tourist attraction, part heritage resort and part marriage/event venue, I think. It's a really magnificent building, but we couldn't give it much time because we had to hit the road.

The Jaisalmer Fort is not so much a fort as a complete living township. It's still very well populated today with shops, restaurants and whatnot all over the place to cater to the considerable number of tourists. I would recommend setting aside atleast 4 hours to explore it... there are several tiny roads and points of interest within the complex that will take time, patience and lots of sunblock to cover completely.

The forts also offer, as expected, fantastic views of their respective cities.

Jodhpur, the Blue City

4. Hello Pakistan!

On a whim, we drove to a small temple town and army outpost called Tanot, 120 km from Jaisalmer and 16 km from India's border with Pakistan. This area was a key battle zone during the war of 1971, and came under heavy shelling. The troops believe the local deity - Maa Tanot Devi, a form of Durga - protected the soldiers then and continues to do so to this day.

We chatted with the jawans and officers posted there and were told that to get army permission to visit the actual border, one had to go all the way back to Jaisalmer or an intermediate mini-town called Ramgarh. Much to our surprise, however, the General in charge of the base allowed us to visit the army post on the border.

So there we were, 16 km later, chatting with the soldiers posted at the border and taking turns looking through their binoculars at the Pakistani outpost on the other side of the no mans' land between the countries. They shared their army experiences (one of them had served at every major border area of the last decade), and told us how life was on a daily basis, looking out for smugglers and soldiers from across the border. They were ecstatic to see us (especially since two of us were from their hometowns), their only grouse being that we hadn't brought any Holi colours for them.

I visited Tawang near the border with China last year, and both these experiences gave me a renewed appreciation of how much these brave men and women have sacrificed in order to ensure our safety and sovereignity. Battling through harsh weather conditions, staying away from home for months on end... it's a difficult life and takes guts, passion and courage to do it... Somehow, a lot of what the rest of us do and crib about in life seems to pale in comparison.

The long, often dangerous international border with Pakistan

5. After the main course, the desert!

One thing every single visitor to Jaisalmer does - and must do - is take a nightime camel safari into the desert. There are innumerable tour operators who can arrange one for you. A typical package would include a couple of hours of camel riding, dinner at a campsite (with Swiss tents that have all amenities you could want) with performances by local gypsy troupes, a bonfire, possibly some drunkenness and a good night's sleep.

For a super experience, however, convince your tour guy to take you into the desert so you can sleep under the open sky in the middle of nowhere. Trust me, it's well worth it. The camel guy takes you out into the desert, cooks you a simple meal for dinner and leaves you to sleep with the stars. In the morning, he makes you tea and breakfast, and leads you back to the real world.

We were there on the night of a full moon, and the scene was breathtakingly beautiful. Rolling sand dunes, billions and billions of stars in a wonderfully clear sky and the gentle desert breeze. Extremely inspiring. (Also extremely romantic, which made things a little depressing because I had no one with me to be romantic with.) The sheer beauty of the landscape, stretching out across the silent desert, made the trip worth it. We were an hour's camel ride way from any road or form of civilization... sheer bliss. To give you a brief (but very inadequate) idea, here's a picture. And the light you see, folks, is the moon.

The beautiful moonlit desert night

Camping in the middle of nowhere...

Most overnight desert packages start about 3pm in the afternoon and will bring you back to your hotel about 11am the next morning. Charges can range from Rs 1500 to Rs 10000 per head depending on how much of a mug you are, how many foreigners are in the group, and how many camels you intend to use. So don't be afraid to bargain hard. If you have the time, shop around among a number of tourist agencies to ensure you get as good a deal as possible. But under no circumstance whatsoever should you miss out on this - this was easily the single most brilliant memory of our road trip.

So that's that... 3 days VERY well spent. When we initially told people about our plans, they were dismissed as being crazy, impractical and pointlessly tiring. Well, we proved the naysayers wrong :)

Next up: a Punjab road trip, up to the Indo-Pak border at Wagah.

I read through the post and realised I had completely forgotten to put my original statement in context. I'll try to put it as plainly as possible. The camel is a nice animal and fun to ride, but ensure you're mounted on it correctly or its lurching motion will hurt you in places you'd rather not be hurt in.