Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hey, 380!

Over the last several years, I have followed the development and launch of the Airbus A-380 (Official site) with great interest. Not from a technical point of view, but from a business/strategic point of view.

I've had a deep interest in the airline industry for several years now, probably stemming from my exposure to it as a child thanks to my father's career. And the A-380 is probably the biggest story in passenger aviation this decade. It's the ultimate superjumbo, with an all-economy configuration of ~850 passengers (most carriers operate it in a configuration allowing ~550). It's primary use is to connect high-traffic global hubs - JFK, LHR, CDG, DXB, SIN, HKG and the like. Several airports had to build infrastructure to accomodate it, and it's probably the coolest 'in' thing every airline is lusting for - they're certainly spending additional millions to have it customised and tailored for maximum customer luxury.

After years of nail-biting delays, it made its first commercial flight in Oct 2007. Singapore Airlines beat Emirates (the first company to put in an order, and the largest customer to date with nearly double the number of orders of the #2) to secure global bragging rights.

But why I am writing about all this now?

Ever since I first read about the A380 about five years ago, I've wanted to travel by one. Just for the heck of it. I doubt I'll ever really be able to afford travelling First Class on one, but even the Economy experience is supposed to be significantly better than in other airlines. After three missed chances on the SIN-SYD sector, I'll finally get my first shot on the SYD-LAX sector early next year. A 13+ hour flight - perfect to test it out.

I'm tremendously excited, almost irrationally and childishly so. Most Economy reviews I've read are positive, and I'm really looking forward to it.

I only hope Qantas doesn't change it at the last minute to a 747 because of low load factors, as they have done in the past. That would be a bummer.

If all goes well, next step: The Boeing Dreamliner, possibly in 2012.

Update (08 Jan 2010): Just found out EK is planning to use the A380 on the DXB-JED sector starting 01 Feb 2010. Interesting move, using the A380 for a journey of only about 1700km - the shortest A380 sector in the world. Possibly due to the low number of slots offered by the Saudi Aviation authorities to international airlines in spite of the large demand/traffic, especially during the Haj?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ah, the Aussie way

Recently, a small incident brought home to me just how interesting the Aussie view of life is.

I was visiting a doctor for a medical exam (required for certain activities I was planning), and we got to chatting about what I was doing in Sydney. I explained to him that I had transferred from India for a while, and was thoroughly enjoying myself. He, in turn, told me his story of how he cam to Australia from Europe in the eighties as a student, and went on to make a life for himself here. He now considers himself fully immersed in the local society, and as Aussie as the next man.

In the course of the examination, we came to the entry on alcohol consumption.

The question read: On average, how many glasses of alcohol do you consume each week?

I had, after brief consideration, put down: 2-3

The doctor looked at the entry, and then looked up at me. His eyes went back to the sheet.

"Two to three glasses of alcohol a week?" he said, his brows furrowing.

"Uh... yes," I replied, worried thoughts running through my mind like particularly fleet-footed gazelles as I wondered if this would disqualify me from my planned activities.

"Three glasses, huh?" he said again, further compounding my worry.

I preemptively wiped a bead of sweat off my forehead.

And then, with a broad smile, he said, "You're an Aussie now, mate. That number should be at least 7 or 8 glasses a week!"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The creeping desensitisation

I like The Amazing Race. It's a great show that combines everything one could possibly want in a TV hour - action, adventure, color, travel, competition, occasional comedy and the triumph of human spirit.

I just watched a rerun of an episode where the teams travelled to Jaipur. I smiled at the teams coping with the frustration of immobile cows, disappearing taxi drivers, frisky monkeys and logjammed traffic (Ah, India. Incredible India, indeed. No place like it.) And then...

As the teams drove towards their destination, they passed through a part of the highway adjoined by slums. Cows, dogs and goats roamed freely, the filth was palpable and children were pottering around naked. At one point, some were shown eating leftovers from a pile of garbage. This caused a couple of contestants to break down somewhat inconsolably, and the tone of the show turned very somber for a bit. As the contestants struggled to check their tears, the whole thing gave me food for thought.

I, and possibly many other Indians like me, have become used to such scenes. We take it at face value, and the sheer horror-revulsion-pity-sorrow that a foreigner might feel might make less of an impact on us. We have internalised, accepted the stark in-your-face poverty that India confronts us with everywhere and maybe it ceases to move us as much now.

OK, I'm probably cloaking myself a bit by use of the term 'we'. I won't presume anything about the emotions and viewpoints of my friends or others at my station in life. It ceases to move me as much. After all these years, the poverty and squalor is just another part of the India I call home, and it doesn't hit me as hard any more. And as I thought about it, I found myself understanding why that was the case, but also deeply and unexpectedly uncomfortable about it.

Every year, reports tracking social indicators call out how important it is for concerted action to lift India and ensure every Indian has a decent, human way of life. As per the 2009 Human Development Index stats released by the UNDP (Source) in October 2009, India ranks 134th (of 182) in the world on the Human Development Index and 88th (of 135) on the Human Poverty Index. There's much chest beating (not thumping) and learned discussions on news channels and electronic notice boards at Indian premier educational institutions. The nation is united in its agreement that something must be done at the absolute earliest... until the next big news story comes along.

I feel I have become (relatively) desensitised. I remember when I first came back to India for good over 12 years ago, my reactions were much stronger. I remember feeling deeply sorry about the state of affairs, and trying to do little bits to help. It wasn't much, and largely extended only so far as to give reasonably generously to beggars. And I remember feeling happy in the thought that I was doing some good, in my own childish way.

Now... I don't know. I don't think about it that much. Signs of poverty register in some recess of my brain, but fail to shock me. Although every such experience gives me a renewed realisation of how lucky I am and how I have been able to move forward in life, it isn't as gut-wrenching as it used to be years ago.

I'm sure we all give to charities, for multiple reasons:
- Some because we genuinely care and want to do anything possible to alleviate the suffering of others
- Some because we can afford it and because it is convenient
- Some simply because we have spare change to meet the tax-exempt INR 100000 limit

I spent some time thinking back to my donations over the years, and realise I fall in the second category. Not only is it convenient in terms of my being able to contribute with a reasonable hope that a fair proportion of the money will be used as intended, but it offers me the option of not putting in physical time. The longer I think about it, though, the more I realise it actually helps me assuage my guilt about not putting in sufficient physical time.

Where is this headed, what comes next, how will I take this forward? I don't know. All I know is that at this point in time I'm feeling a little angry, confused, sad, ashamed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rail Gaadi Chuk Chuk Chuk Chuk

I love train travel. There's a certain... earthiness, for lack of a better word, to it that no other mode of transport can capture (only driving comes close). I remember my trips to Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai with friends, standing at the door as the world rushed past, my head stretched outwards and tongue lolling out like a happy dog.

There's the comfortable rumble of the train beneath one, the always-interesting mix of people and personalities to observe, the excitement and wonder of every station one stops at. The smells, the sounds, the whole damn experience is a lot of fun. In India, that is.

Recently, I took a train to Canberra. While the views of the landscape were beautiful, the train ride itself was a little disappointing because
  1. Like trains in 'developed' countries tend to be, it was all closed in. No windows that could be opened to catch a whiff of the lovely morning smell, no open doors to hang merrily off, not even access to the outside world through the lavatory (as is so readily and efficiently provided by Indian Railways)
  2. The stations were small, sanitised (for lack of a better word) and terribly boring
  3. I slept for about half the journey
But this post isn't about the train ride. It's about what came before that.

1200: I book my tickets. The train is scheduled to depart at 0658 on Saturday morning. Easy, I tell myself. I'll have no trouble waking up and getting to this train. 7am is as civilised a time as it gets. Plus the station is only about 8 minutes' walk from my house.

1900: I head out for a night of the usual drunkenness and wild debauchery sedate tea parties and walks by the moonlit shore.


0130: I return home dead tired but wide, wide awake. I potter around cleaning up the house (Seriously. And yes, I am absolutely sober.)

0200: I play a mixed playlist of Elvis and Sinatra. Humming along, I go through my basic workout regimen in an effort to burn energy and make myself feel sleepy.

0300: I fall asleep on the sofa watching an episode of Boston Legal (one of my favourite shows ever - but more on that later. In life I mean; not in this post.)

0600: Somewhere, in the vast wilderness of my subconscious mind, a little beeping sound is heard. It is promptly silenced - my subconscious doesn't inform me whether this was achieved by sheer force of mind or a violent movement of my hand.

0631: J calls me, and a brief conversation ensues

J: "Hey"
Me: "Bluggh?"
J: "We're just passing by your house on the way to the station."
Me: "Huh?"
J: "It's me, J. Are you at the station already? Or shall we wait downstairs for you?"

Suddenly, I'm wide awake. My eyes snap open. I glance at the clock and leap off my sofa. I have 27 minutes to make the train, and am struck by three immediate realisations
  1. I have, as usual, put the alarm on snooze when it made a futile attempt to wake me
  2. I haven't packed, having earlier scheduled that activity for 0615-0625 hrs
  3. I am reeking of sweat and alcohol
You, dear reader, will appreciate that this was not a time for eloquence. If anything was to be said, it didn't call for Cicero/King/Kamaraj levels of oratory.

With remarkable clarity of thought and economy of vocabulary, I say: #$%^

0632: Rush, rush, rush. I brush my teeth fast but carefully (If there are any children reading this blog - and if there are, I apologize for any scarring I may have inadvertently caused - know this: never compromise on dental hygiene), almost taking my enamel off.

I rush into the shower, scrub vigorously (how the hell did wine get in my hair?) and bound out. Shake myself like a dog, towel hard until my skin begins to smoke. No time to shave, can't afford any further morning activities. Just a quick comb of my unruly wet hair.

0638: Mild panic. I rummage through the clothes thrown about on my bed, applying the two time-honoured bachelors'-code criteria
  1. Does it have any visible stains?
  2. Does it smell weird? If so, is said smell too strong to be masked by copious quantities of deo?
This helps whittle down the selection to 3 shirts and one pair of trousers. I cram them into the nearest bag I find. I also pack my laptop, 'cause I'll have to put in a few hours of work over the weekend.

I spray myself liberally with deo (sorry, ozone layer) and dump the can in the bag. Zip up, zip out.

0643: Cutting it close, very very close. I realise I've rushed out barefoot, and step back in to wear my shoes. Pop a mint into my mouth, and rush back out.

0646: The lift, infuriatingly, stops on three floors on the way down to pick up an assortment of people who all look like they are nursing hangovers and have just been thrown out of their respective partners' homes.

0649: I dash out of my building, laptop bag in one hand and a tote bag in the other.

0650: I call J as I jog towards the station, letting him know I'm on my way and telling him not to worry. To my chagrin, he doesn't sound particularly worried at the thought of my missing the train. This is what happens when you tell too many jokes, I admonish myself while trying to prevent the strap of the laptop case slipping off my shoulders and onto the path of an oncoming taxi that appears to have no intention of slowing down. I realise I am also in the path of said taxi and skittle across the road like a frightened horse.

0652: I reach the station, but realise I've never taken an intercity train and so have no idea if the platform is anywhere near the suburban train platforms I'm used to. Another quick conference with J, and with the aid of some helpful signage, I have line of sight of the trains. But there's still the small matter of getting through the gate.

0654:I don't have an electronic ticket. And the manual gate is blocked by an old lady who I'm sure I would find lovely and endearing at any other point in life except this one. She chats with the railway official about mince pies (what is it with Australians and pies?) while making her way slowly through the gate. I don't want to be impatient or pushy, so I choose not to hustle her aside or tap my feet in an aggravated manner but just see this through. It also gives me time to catch my breath.

0655:I shoot a beseeching look at the railway official and gasp the words, "Canberra. Train. Now. Five. Thanks." The last because he lets me through another gate and I'm on the final leg. As I pass the station clock, I notice it shows 06:55:53. Another quick call to J to identify the coach.

0656:I'm tired and panting but relieved as I sink into my seat. Run a quick mental checklist, and realised I haven't packed any toiletries. In a moment of deep philosphical understanding about life and the big cosmic picture, I say, "Screw it," and settle in as the train eases its way off the platform.

Now, I'm not a guy used to doing 200m sprints early in the morning. But I'm damn proud (and surprised) I made this train packed and clean. I have a history of close calls, most notably a couple of occasions where I have had to run after the departing train and haul myself onto it as it picked up steam. It's always good fun, gives one a great adrenalin rush and helps one starts the journey on a positive note (Ha ha! I made it! I'm the king of the world!).

Unless one doesn't make it, of course. But that's a whole other story altogether.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The good turtle soup, not merely the mock

Of late, I've been listening to a lot of Frank Sinatra. I've had a number of his songs for a while now, but until recently had listened to only a few popular favourites (Strangers in the Night, At Long Last Love, My Way...)

Recently, I decided to expand my Sinatra collection and collect a few more songs. And listen to all of them.

And boy, are they good.

I've been listening to nothing but Sinatra for the last three days (the only exception being the delightful Dean Martin rendition of You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You) and am now firmly a fan. There's something about his voice... it holds me in the same way only a few other voices have held me in the past (Mukesh and Kishore come to mind).

Be it the sad, lovelorn songs, the swinging party pieces or the love ballads, the soaring voice and caressing lyrics envelop me completely every time. I find myself tapping my feet, snapping my fingers or doing a solo slow dance as I listen. Much to the bemusement of my colleagues, of course.

Here are my favourites to date, in alphabetical order:

At Long Last LoveListen
Forget DomaniListen
Fly Me To The MoonListen
Love And MarriageListen
Luck Be A LadyListen
My Kind of TownListen
One For My BabyListen
Saturday Night (is the Loneliest Night)
Strangers in the NightListen
The Girl From IpanemaListen
The Way You Look TonightListen
You Make Me Feel So YoungListen

Apologies for the external links - I'm too lazy to create streaming audio.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It appears all hope is not lost

[Warning: Longish post. Read at your own peril.]

There I was, on a flight from Bombay to Madras. Minding my own business. Energetically nodding off and lolling all over the place. Charmingly abusing the stewardess under my breath as she attempted to interest me in whatever pile of questionable edible matter they were passing off as a 'South Indian meal.' Politely jamming my elbow towards my neighbour to the right to assert my right over the armrest turf. And languidly shoving back the passenger in front of me who had made it his life mission to recline his suspiciously over-reclining seat all the way into my lap. A normal flight in every way.

You will notice I haven't mentioned the neighbour to my left. If you hadn't noticed, I'm sure you have now.

Let's jump back a bit. There's a little known fact about me that I will now throw at you under the assumption that you are at least mildly interested in learning more about me. I am an aisle man. In an airplane sense, not a wedding one. I prefer aisle seats because
  1. They give me room to stretch my legs
  2. They give me room to stretch my hands
  3. They give me easy access to passing trolleys, allowing me to pick up more than my fair share of chocolates, mints, nuts and alcohol
  4. They give me easy access to the stewardesses who, for the most part, are quite pretty (so I can ask for my share of stuff in point 3, of course; don't read this point in conjunction with point 2 above)
So, ordinarily, I would have only one immediate neighbour, given my preference for aisle seats. But that day was no ordinary day, as I was soon to find out. For starters, I was a little late for my flight (not, by itself, an extraordinary happening) and got stuck in a middle seat. I hate middle seats because of the sense of claustrophobia they induce. And all the general space-hogging on multiple fronts that makes you feel like a German in 1945 with the allies closing in on three fronts. Except that I'm the good guy here.

As is my wont, I digress. Let me list out the reasons I was in a less than sunny mood.
  1. I had just had a tiring and busy day of work, and was therefore rather grumpy to begin with.
  2. The middle seat (the only available seating at the time I checked in) did nothing to enhance my mood.
  3. Add to that the fact that the aircraft was miles away (at the International terminal) which meant a tiring and boring 20 minute bus ride to the plane, with two noisy kids jumping around me all the time (not mine, as far as I know).
  4. On the flight, the neighbour to my right was the aforementioned armrest hogger. A big burly man who spilled over the 25 inches or so of seat width that Airbus engineers had budgeted per passenger.
  5. The flight was one whole hour late on the ground, and the air conditioning seemed moody and wilful.
The one thing to be thankful for in all this was the neighbour to my left. Not so much the neighbour herself, but her level of interaction with me. Which was none at all. Perfect.

And, to begin with, she seemed content to keep it that way. We meddled with our respective in-flight entertainment systems. We gagged on our respective meals. We read our respective magazines. We slept in our respective seats. All in complete, blissful silence.

Is there's one lesson I have learned in life (and there are many, which I shall some day bore my grandchildren with a detailed exposition on), it is that good things seldom last. Consider vacations. Consider roadside chaat. Consider relationships. Consider stick-kulfi. Consider the ozone layer.

About 20 minutes from the end, just as I was beginning to hope we would make it through without conversation, she piped up.

"So, you live in Bombay?"

I turned to take a better look at her. She was, in many ways, the epitome of a Madras maami. Almost.
  • Neatly oiled, parted and plaited hair, partly silvered with a few strands beginning to rebel: check
  • Kumkumam and vibhuti in place: check
  • Spectacles and kindly yet shrewd eyes: check
  • Unmistakably maami-type saari: check
  • Welcoming and soft, "Kanna, tell me more about yourself" smile: check
  • Annoying stream of intensely personal questions: surprisingly, no
She seemed, on the whole, a fairly sweet and nice person. It appears all hope is not lost for maamidom.

Wait, that's not the end of the story.

"So, you live in Bombay?" she had asked.

Not particularly in the mood for conversation, I replied in as businesslike a voice as I could muster.

"No, I don't." Straight, simple, to the point. A clear-message-conveying kind of response, one would think.

"Oh, you live in Madras is it?"

"No, actually. I live in Delhi," I offered before she started listing cities.

"Oh, so nice. I also used to live there many years ago. Where do you stay in Delhi?"

"Actually, I stay in Gurgaon."

That stumped her. Delhi and its geography, the disappointed look on her face seemed to indicate, was a topic she was well acquainted with and well qualified to prattle on endlessly about. Gurgaon was a completely different kettle of fish vethai kozhambu altogether. She pressed on gamely.

"Nowadays I live in Madras, I shifted back some years ago. But my daughter is living in Bombay with her husband. He's working in a bank. She just had a baby, so I had gone there to help. My first grandchild! I spent a few months with her, and now am coming back home."

I was rather taken aback by the sudden flow of information.

"Errr... that's very nice. Congratulations." I went back to studiously examining an advertisement for some random product.

She realised I wasn't very forthcoming, and masterfully chose a different tack. And, to ensure that she would gain information, she switched to multiple-choice instead of Yes-No questions.

"So are you here on business or is your family here?"

I sighed, and resigned myself to the inquisition. Over the next ten minutes, I disclosed that I was indeed visiting family, that it had been three months since I last met them and that I lived in T. Nagar ("Oh, that's nice. I live in Saidapet"). Also that I was a consultant, and an MBA.

I could tell she was impressed. She looked me up and down, and her eyebrows rose a couple of millimeters in appreciation. Let me mention here that I was not, as is my customary practice, travelling shirtless to flaunt my sixpack. I was in full business suit, tie and all. I must have seemed to her a dotting figure (even I wouldn't go so far as to consider myself dashing).

And then, the question I had been expecting... and dreading.

"Are you married?"

I groaned inwardly. Her increasing interest in my life, education and work couldn't have had any other conclusion. Almost on cue, the plane landed with a loud bump and a prolonged rattling of all its moving parts.

"No, I'm not," I said. And, to drive the point home, added, "And I don't expect to marry for atleast a few more years."

It takes more than stern statements on disinclination to matrimony to daunt a seasoned maami, however agreeable she is as a person. She was silent for a few minutes as the routine welcome announcements were made. As the planed taxied towards the terminal, she pressed on.

"If you don't mind my asking, how old are you?"

I gritted my teeth. "Twenty five. So some time to go for marriage and all that."

Her face fell visibly. "Oh, you look like you are twenty seven or twenty eight..."

I grunted in a tone that was noncommital, but carried undertones of, "Huh, tough luck!"

The plane came to a halt.

"Actually, I have a niece. My brother's daughter. She lives here in Madras only. Very nice girl, well educated. We're looking for a match for her."

Passengers began to get up, unload their luggage and move towards the doors.

"You know, I was thinking..." she began.

I cut in, in a silky smooth manner. "Well, all the best... very nice to meet you. Bye!" And I strode out into the fresh air, savouring the taste of freedom.

In retrospect, the entire encounter had its moments of frustration, but was sprinkled with a fair bit of dark humour. She was a very nice, sweet lady, but the good old maami-ness just couldn't be held back beyond a point.

Nevertheless, it's comforting to know that unseen and unknown third party forces such as her are working in their mysterious ways towards actualizing my marriage. It appears all hope is not lost for me yet.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Well, I'm Off

With due apologies to John Denver - both for toying with his lyrics and mangling the metre to satisfy the ryhme scheme. (Original lyrics)

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go
My landlord's standing outside my door
I've paid the sweeper, car cleaner and the bai

It's coming on twilight, a new night is born
But the taxi's waitin', he's blowin' his horn
It suddenly seems too soon to say goodbye

Some'll miss me, or cry for me
But those who've heard a million jokes from me
Are probably glad to let me go :)

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
It'll be a year before I'm back again
Oh, I've waited so long to go...

I've grown to love this crazy town
Finally found my feet, achieved some renown
Suddenly, now, these don't mean a thing

Every place I go, I experience anew
Every sight I see, I find fresh too
When I come back, my heart will once more sing

The last kisses, and smiles I see
Hugs and back slaps aplenty
She holds me like she'll never let me go

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
It'll be a year before I'm back again
Oh, Gurgaon doesn't seem so bad anymore...

Now the time has come to leave India
And in spite of all said in the media
I can't wait to begin life in Sydney

I dream about the days to come
LOTS of travelling (and then some!)
And a whole new work culture awaits me

Oh, this confusing duality
This world that'll wait for me
And that one that's a distant land no more

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
It'll be a year before I'm back again
And my spirits swing high and low

And I'm leaving on a jet plane
It'll be a year before I'm back again
Oh, I'm off to foreign shores

Yes I'm leaving on a jet plane
It'll be a year before I'm back again
What the future holds, who knows...

Friday, June 05, 2009

Beautiful. Stirring. Moving.

A friend of mine recently introduced me to a song - Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se, sung by Mahendra Kapoor - and I instantly fell in love with it. It's from a 1963 movie called Gumraah, starring Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha and Ashok Kumar. Before I tell you why I love the song, listen to it below.

The situation in which it appears, from what little I know of the movie, is a very interesting one. One that makes the song all the more poignant and moving. Mala Sinha is in love with Sunil Dutt, and they have big plans for their lives ahead. However, her sister dies suddenly and in keeping with the social expectations of those times, Mala Sinha is forced to marry her brother-in-law, Ashok Kumar, for the sake of his two children. Not very long after the marriage, Sunil Dutt visits their home... and they realise their love for each other has not abated. Yet they both know their love is doomed, and can never be revived...

The lyrics are perfectly pitched and suited to the situation, drawing upon the irony and the pain of the situation, while recognizing the impossibility of any hopes that were held for the future. The words sigh, they scold, they mock, they soar, they hint, they whisper, they caress, they plead... Simple yet stunning lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi who apparently wrote the poem on which this song is based when he came across a ex-lover of his with her husband at a party.

Here are the lyrics:

Chalo ek baar phir se, ajnabi ban jaye hum dono -2
Na main tumse koi ummeed rakhoon dilnavaazi ki
Na tum meri taraf dekho galat andaaz nazaron se
Na mere dil ki dhadkan ladkhadaaye meri baaton mein
Na zaahir ho tumhaari kashmkash ka raaz nazaron se
Chalo ek baar phir se...

Tumhen bhi koi uljhan rokti hai peshkadmi se
Mujhe bhi log kehte hain, ki yeh jalve paraaye hain
Mere hamraah bhi rusvaaiyaan hain mere maazi ki -2
Tumhaare saath bhi guzri hui raaton ke saaye hain
Chalo ek baar phir se...

Ta'arruf rog ho jaaye to usko bhoolnaa behtar
Ta'alluk bojh ban jaaye to usko todnaa achchha
Voh afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin -2
Use ek khoobsoorat mod dekar chhodna achchha
Chalo ek baar phir se...

For those who don't get all the words, here's one Translation [Source]. (IMO, the English translation is nowhere near as beautiful as the Urdu/Hindi original, but still...)

Come, let us be strangers again, you and I.

I shall no longer hope for any favours from you
Nor shall you look upon me with eyes askance.
And my words shall tremble no more with my heartbeat
Nor the secret of your struggle be betrayed in a glance.

Come, let us be strangers again, you and I.

You too have hesitated to give yourself completely
I too wear disguises, or so I am told
The disgraces of my past are my constant companions
And you too are possessed by the nights of old.

When involvement becomes illness it is best forgotten
When a relationship oppresses it is best to break it
When the adventure you are embarked on cannot be completed
One must find a beautiful way out, and take it.

Come, let us be strangers again, you and I.

I find this among the most beautiful songs I've heard in a very very long time. For some reason, it strikes me very deep in an intensely emotional way. It almost moves me to tears every time I hear it. And I don't know why it has that effect on me.

Part of the reason is the sheer beauty of the lyrics - simple yet conveying a very deep message. And the situation in which this song is sung is very touching, as well. You can feel the pain, the desires, the confusion of the characters. Beyond just the context of the song, there's something undescribably sad about the thought and emotion of loving someone/something and losing that love that moves me. It's an emotion that links inextricably, though to varying degrees, to so many others - longing, obsession, loneliness, anger, lust, depression, despair. Emotions that are among those that lay the human soul most bare. Emotions that we often strive to hide from the world, but cannot help being tormented by within the tortured confines of our minds and our hearts.

The first few times I heard the song and went through the lyrics, I interpreted it as it appears on the surface - a song from a man who has to sacrifice his love and pretend it never existed. A song about the irony/helplessness of the situation and doomed love, as well as their need to move on from it. On repeated listening, though, an alternate interpretation struck me - one that's more suggestive. One where the man ackowledges the hopelessness of the situation, but also hints at the possibility of continuing the affair. I felt, in essence, that he was actually suggesting to her that she should leave her husband (or go behind his back) and reignite their love.

For example:
Tumhen bhi koi uljhan rokti hai peshkadmi se
Mujhe bhi log kehte hain, ki yeh jalve paraaye hain
Mere hamraah bhi rusvaaiyaan hain mere maazi ki
Tumhaare saath bhi guzri hui raaton ke saaye hain

I first thought this was in line with the whole let-us-get-over-it theme, but now I feel he's actually makng a case for their affair, talking about how they cannot and should not give it up. The peshkadmi mentioned seems to me a reference not to their (Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha) romance, but Mala Sinha's forced marriage - he says she's unable to give herself completely to that life.

Also, the last stanza:
Ta'arruf rog ho jaaye to usko bhoolnaa behtar
Ta'alluk bojh ban jaaye to usko todnaa achchha
Voh afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin
Use ek khoobsoorat mod dekar chhodna achchha

This too, I earlier interpreted as a reference to their earlier love (the ta'arruf), but I now feel refers to her marriage. The afsaana jiska anjaam nahin hai is her marriage, not their affair. The bojh is her marriage, not their love. And the khoobsurat mod is him offering a way out.

Even the main line - Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabee ban jaye hum dono - seems to indicate not a closing of the door on their past, but refreshing, reigniting, restarting what was there earlier.

Several people I have spoken to - all with significantly greater appreciation of poetry and Hindi music than I have - have disagreed with this interpretation. I realise I'm probably wrong, twisting the words in a way they were meant to be twisted... but some part of me wishes there could be some hope, some possibility of success and mutual happiness in a situation such as this. And so that part of me will continue to believe in this point of view...

Many songs move me, some more significantly than others. Most that do, do so in a happy way, celebrating human emotion and bringing a smile to my face and a song to my lips, getting my feet tapping and fingers clicking. But Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se... it hits me in a wholly different way. And I feel all the richer for it.

[Update: Some lyrics corrected. Thanks, Sid!]

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sometimes, little things can make one happy... watching a couple of really nice videos. Videos that are simple, beautiful, joyous, life-affirming. Here are a couple that have recently made me feel much better about life.


An old(ish) advertisement, one that warmed my heart and lifted my mood when I first watched it. I came across it again on Mercury's blog, and its effect was exactly the same. The catchy tune, the visuals, the sheer energy of the piece seeks to remind one that there is so much beauty in the world, so much to wonder and marvel at...


This one brought an instant smile to my face. For almost the entire duration of the video, I watched, mesmerized, with a goofy grin on my face and thoughts of how beautiful life and happiness can be swirling through my mind. I wish life was filled with moments like these... or at least that I could be part of something so great, even if only as a spectator.

23rd March, 2009 began as a regular day at Antwerp Central Station. Trains came and went, people streamed in and out, and announcements droned on. Suddenly, as an announcement faded away, music began to play over the loudspeakers, taking all the commuters by surprise. Some were confused, some wondrous, some ignored it. And then...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Starter for Ten

I'm reading a really nice book at the moment. (Well, OK, not at the moment, you nitpicking doof. At the moment, I'm typing out this blogpost. But you know what I mean.)

It's Starter for Ten, by David Nicholls. I picked this up at a bargain from a roadside second-hand pushcart, for the sole reason that the story is set around a guy who wants to qualify for University Challenge. I have very fond memories of my times on the show, and hence the book.

I haven't finished reading the book yet, but it's very funny and very well written. It manages to grab the reader and drag him through the tumultuous, chaotic, confused life of the protagonist. All with very sharp wit and crackling humour. Definitely a purchase I'm glad I made.

The reason I'm putting up this post is not really to review the book, but to call out two passages from it that I really liked. 

The first talks about the protagonist's expectations from University life - how he hopes it will help him grow as a person and a man, opening his mind, eyes and soul to a world of new experiences, fresh knowledge and elevated culture. And although this is in a very British context (and in the context of someone completing his A-levels and off do study Literature), it took me back to my thoughts and hopes when I stepped into the world of higher education (particularly IIMA). Here it is:

...on this clear late summer night, looking up at the stars, with my best mates either side of me, it feels as if real life is beginning at last, and that absolutely everything is possible. I want to be able to listen to recordings of piano sonatas and know who's playing. I want to go to classical concerts and know when you're meant to clap. I want to be able to 'get' modern jazz without it sounding like this terrible mistake, and I want to know who the Velvet Underground are exactly. I want to be fully engaged in the World of Ideas, I want to understand complex economics, and what people see in Bob Dylan. I want to possess radical but humane and well-informed political ideals, and I want to hold passionate but reasoned debates round wooden kitchen tables, saying things like 'define your terms!' and 'your premise is patently specious!' and then suddenly to discover that the sun's come up and we've been talking all night. I want to use words like 'eponymous' and 'solipsistic' and 'utilitarian' with confidence. I want to learn to appreciate fine wines, and exotic liqueurs, and fine single malts, and learn how to drink them without turning into a complete div, and to eat strange and exotic foods, plovers' eggs and lobster thermidor, things that sound barely edible, or that I can't pronounce. I want to make love to beautiful, sophisticated, intimidating women, during daylight or with the light on even, and sober, and without fear, and I want to be able to speak many languages fluently, and maybe even a dead language or two, and to carry a small leather-bound notebook in which I jot incisive thoughts and observations, and the occasional line of verse. Most of all I want to read books; books as thick as a brick, leather-bound books with incredibly thin paper and those purple ribbons to mark where you left off; cheap, dusty, second-hand books of collected verse, incredibly expensive, imported books of incomprehensible essays from foreign universities.

At some point, I'd like to have an original idea. And I'd like to be fancied, or maybe loved even, but I'll wait and see. And as for a job, I'm not sure exactly what I want yet, but something I don't despise, and that doesn't make me ill, and that means I don't have to worry about money all the time. And all of these are the things that a university education's going to give me.

The second passage deals with the author's impressions of the participants on University Challenge, when he watched the show as a child with his father. Not all of this is relevant to the Indian seasons of UC (because of the essential Britishness of it all and the timeframe), but there are pieces of it that remind me why I love quizzing, and how I've often been called upon to defend the awesomeness, the thrill, the sheer life-affirming beauty of trivia and arcane knowledge that seems so pointless (and, truth be told, hopelessly geeky) to some but worth so much for us quizzers. Here's a passage (I particularly like the latter half):

The thing that used to strike me most was their hair; great, improbable waves of brittle hair like parched wheat; swooping curtains of silky fringe; Sunday tea-time costume-drama mutton-chop sideburns... if you'd made it on to University Challenge, you'd earned the right to any damned hair-do you wanted. It was almost as if they couldn't help it, as if the crazy hair was just an outlet for all that incredible, uncontrollable excess mental energy. Like a mad scientist, you couldn't be that clever and still expect to have manageable hair, or decent eyesight, or the ability to wash and dress yourself.

And the clothes; the arcane, olde-English tradition of scarlet gowns combined with self-consciously wacky piano-keyboard-ties, the endless home-knitted scarves, the Afghan jerkins. Of course, when you're a kid watching telly, everyone seems old and retrospectively I suppose they must have been young, technically, in earth years, but if they really were twenty, then they were twenty going on sixty-two. Certainly there was nothing in the faces that suggested youth, or vigour, or good health. Instead they were tired, pasty, care-worn, as if struggling with the weight of all that information - the half-life of Tritium, the origins of the phrase 'eminence grise', the first twenty perfect numbers, the rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet - had taken a terrible physical toll.

Of course, Dad and I rarely got any of the answers right, but that wasn't really the point. This wasn't trivia - it wasn't about feeling smug and complacent about all the things you knew, it was about feeling humbled by the whole, vast universe of things about which you had absolutely no idea; the point was to watch in awe, because it really did seem to me and Dad as if these strange creatures knew everything. Ask any question: what's the weight of the sun? Why are we here? Is the universe infinite? What's the secret of true happiness? - and even if they didn't know the answer immediately, they could at least confer, muttering to each other in low, lisping voices, and come up with something that, if not quite correct, still sounded like a fairly good guess.

And it didn't matter that the contestants were clearly social misfits, or a little grubby or spotty, or ageing virgins, or in some cases frankly strange, the point was that somewhere was a place where people actually knew all these things, and loved knowing them, and cared about that knowledge passionately, and thought it was important and worthwhile...

Lovely book, by the way. Do get yourself a copy if you can.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The previously unimagined perils of being male, unattached and in one's mid-twenties

I have recently realised a certain truth about society. Or, at least, the immediate society that I come into contact with and interact with daily. My profile (the three attributes mentioned in the title, in combination) works against me. And here are just three reasons why.

1. People suspect you of being a security threat
In every mall or store I go to, the security guards spend a good extra 5-10 seconds on scanning and checking my car and body. Either they're all gay and think I'm hot, or they have some kind of subconcious profiling in mind. And this happens every time. The happy families, hand-in-hand couples and unattached ladies who are before me in these lines are given a cursory check, while I'm looked askance at and patted down thoroughly.

And, when I protest ("Hey, you let that person through!", "Is this really necessary?", "OK, now that's just an invasion of privacy") I'm met with icy no-nonsense securityman stares or terse denials of being treated unfairly.

These times of high distrust and low belief in the essential goodness of humankind are quite trying.

2. People assume you're a party animal
Colleagues and acquaintances frequently assume that every evening, I'm desperate to leave work early, change into funky clothes (that reveal my many tattoos) and cool hairstyle, get onto my superbike and hit a series of pubs and parties until the wee hours of morning, drinking, dancing, picking up women and expanding my social circle. And particularly so on weekends. In such a scenario, things can get a little awkward and embarassing when I admit I'm working late/weekends or don't really have any party plans but merely intend to head home, cook a simple dinner, read a nice book and turn in by eleven.

I'm not averse to parties, of course. Not in the least. I enjoy a rocking do as much as the next guy. And I do head out for a night of fun every so often. But my lifestyle is nowhere near as happening as people believe it is or wish it to be.

3. Parents are scared to let their daughters near you
This is another thing that happens when I out anywhere... as I pass by, parents instinctively grip their daughters' hands more tightly, or shift sides so they they are between me and their wards. I don't know if it's just me, or if all parents are hyper paranoid. I sincerely hope it's just the latter. Because I really don't want to go through life giving out these kind of 'I-am-going-to-molest-your-daughter-Guahahahahaha-I'm-a-baaaad-man!' vibes. Particularly since a lot of the prettier girls are accompanied by 6'6" wrestler type dudes whose biceps are thicker than my neck.

And this kind of thing has happened so many times, I'm scared to even look at the women around me. Not that I'm really looking, of course. But when some pretty young thing comes across your line of sight - quite by accident, or by the laws of linear motion - you can't help but notice. I mean, us blogger/quizzer types are reasonably observant people, who take a
healthy interest in the world around us. Especially if that world itself is quite healthy and... er... let's not go there.

Bottom line (must...avoid...pun...): I find myself in a position where I studiously avert my eyes when a lady with a chaperone walks into my field of vision. It's weird and disturbing and... well, unnatural. Ladies, trust me. I know I look creepy but I'm a more or less ok sort of guy. Really.

So there you go. Three reasons why being me isn't so hot at this point in my life. I'd give you more situations, but it's high time I got back to work. My models await me.