He looked into the mirror in the rest room as he tucked in his shirt. He saw in his reflection, the typical mid-thirties “bhadrolok”. A fading hairline, an once angular face rendered into a blob by second and third chins, the un-stylish spectacles, the black circles, the paunch (that reminded him of the salad he just had for lunch), and the trousers sitting uncomfortably below the paunch looked back at him.
He could easily make out the conversations from the class room outside; about leadership qualities in the college fest, team-work in the magazine, summer research project at IISc and more such activities to garner those elusive “resume-bullets”. He stood just a little longer at the mirror, and reflected back 15 years, when he was the student.
They were standing outside the departure terminal of the Mumbai airport. Sharing the silk-cut with his friend (more an acquaintance, now that he had the benefit of hindsight), the both of them were reading the faces at the airport. Among eager but scared students (full of dreams), the folks returning back after an India visit ( I should not have gotten the ticket to New york, Chicago is so much more comfortable), the sobbing brides (still parading their recent wedding with hands full of bangles and an exaggerated sindoor), they spotted this business travler. He got off his fancy car, peeked back in, said a quick bye to his wife, picked up his small suitcase from the back seat and walked into the airport, while his wife drove off. Amidst the elaborate rituals of sending people off, this one lasted all of thirty seconds. He immediately told his friend (acquaintance), that is the life he desires; how cool is his success (although all he saw then was probably one sign of success) that he must be probably going on a foreign trip once a month. That is why, he concluded that the MBA, was the right degree for him. The rest of the evening passed off discussing this and that, and his friend (acquaintance) walked in to board his plane to the US.
He snapped back from his memories, looked at his watch, and practiced his opening lines again : “Students, the next six months are going to be the most critical in your career. A good score in CAT can make or break your dreams. While I have no doubt that you will all work hard, it is our responsibility here at this teaching center, to keep pointing you in the right direction, so that your hard work pays off”.
He hated the days in which he had to do the introductory class to the new batch.
This brilliant blog, reminded me that I had one too. Neglected for a long time.
It was either just a few days after I had finished engineering, or a year before that. Anyway, I had just come back to Chennai from Bangalore. Shriram was in Chennai too, probably looking for a job. We were sitting in the hot room, staring into the computer, listening to Nutshell on the loop, when Shriram suggested that we take the afternoon Lalbagh to Bangalore.
Why, I asked. What about reservations? Arrey, we can go in the unreserved compartment. Chal let’s go. Shriram is impulsive like that. And he is a bloody good convincer. Anyway, the purpose behind the trip was to meet Tulsi, the mysterious (then) chat friend that he had (They are since happily married, but the story of their wedding is a tale to be told some time later). I was to be his wingman for the trip.
Amma did not really have much of a chance stopping us, and thus, we found ourselves, taking the suburban train from Mambalam to Central, and then into the long serpentine queue for the unreserved ticket for Lalbagh.
A little while later, we were in the train, and found ourselves a place to sit as well. Opposite us, sat this girl, who we later learnt was an engineering student in Vellore. I don’t remember much about her now, but still, who would have thought that after dreaming of getting a F20 in your coupe when you travel, that an F20 would be sitting next to you, in an overcrowded unreserved compartment, on an impromptu trip.
You never know how frozen you can become when stuff of dreams materialize in life.
Shriram, though, all confident, winked, nudged and poked at me, egging me on to start talking with the F20. I am sure, I sat there wooden, like Bobby Deol in most of his movies, on the uncomfortable wooden seat, slightly embarrassed by the over-the-top gestures that Shriram is prone to make.
But conversation with the F20 did happen. And the three of us spoke over the two hours that it took for the train to get to Katpadi. As the VIT campus sped past us, she started to gather her belongings, and I found some courage to ask for her email address.
I do not share my email address with strangers, came her reply as the train pulled into Katpadi.
Shriram and I had a good laugh as the train pulled out of Katpadi. We were meeting after nearly 4 years, and the rest of the trip was a blur of us retelling college stories, of late night cram sessions, of trips to Goa, Tirupati, Mysore, of daroo parties, of crushes and broken love…
The train reached Bangalore at around 10 in the night, and as we hopped buses in trying to get to somewhere beyond C.V.RamanNagar, Shriram regaled me with the story from his college, so outrageous, that the scene is etched forever in my memory.
We went to meet Tulsi the next day. She had gotten her friend to tag along as well, and the four of us, after some brain-storming on what to do, found ourselves in Amoeba. Shriram and I tried our hand at every game possible, while Tulsi and her friend stood in a corner and chatted. At-least that is what I remember of the day.
One of the reasons I never get tired of reading Calvin is that, it always gets my neurons firing into deep recesses of my memories and almost always finds some connection.
Last week, I saw the comic strip shown above, and instantly, I recalled my summer vacations spent in Mylapore.
The Chennai heat will definitely get to you. And in the early-mid 90s, without cable television (or 24 hour TV), without AC’s (or 24 hour power), the afternoon nap was the best way to escape the heat. So it would be that, after lunch, all the elders would retire to sleep, while the kids, unaffected by the heat, would continue to play on in the sun.
Thus, it would happen that a little after noon (in Chennai, lunch is at 10, afternoon siesta is from 11 to 2. I still find it weird), my cousin Vivek, his friends Bhuvana (some how related to the land-lady; she would also be visiting Mylapore for the summer vacations) and Murali Krishna, along with my sister and me, would find ourselves in the living room of the land-lady, after tiring ourselves of whatever outdoor game we played.
The house that Vivek lived in, was actually a relic in the modern times. Built a long time ago, the floor was the deep red of the oxide flooring and wooden beams supported the ceiling. As if to fit in with the architecture, the land-ladies living room was characterized by the things that it did not have. The huge room had one large swing, common in the houses of the south, hanging from an antique hook in the middle of the room, a dilapidated show-case, stuffed with old papers and books unread for years, on top of which sat a TV, and, since the swing had taken the middle hook, a creaky old fan hung off center in the room.
Most adventures in life are imagined. I will not go climbing Mt Everest or catch a murderer, and that is part of the reason why the adventure TV shows and movies become popular. We get to live the adventure by proxy. As kids, the adventures itself were of a much simpler variety, coming mostly of Amar Chitra Katha’s and Tinkles and Gokulams and Champaks. However, Vidya and I, actually lived through an adventure for us kids at that time – The train journey from Calcutta to Chennai (Don’t all adventures in Tinkle happen during a journey).
And what better place to relive the “adventure” and introduce new people to the awesome world of long distance train travel by reliving it on the swing!
Thus, would start a game of swinging back-an-forth, pretending we are on the Coromandel Express. We used to start slowly, like a train leaving a station, and then gather speed, till we came precariously close to the TV. Stations would breeze by as we shout “Chai-Coffee-Chai” to emulate the hawkers and pretended to nap, eat, read. Oh, yes, we never missed making the “tiduk-tadak”, our onomatopeia of the train speeding. Vishakapatnam would soon come, and we would turn around and sit, as the train reversed directions at Vishakapatnam (it being a terminus).
By the time, we would have hauled us in to Howrah, it would be 1 or 1.30, time at which, Patti, bound by her strict diabetic routine, would walk into the kitchen to make herself coffee and tiffin. We would crowd around her for a while, eat bits of her tiffin before heading off to sleep. Carefree.
As a 1st year engineering student, and a freshly minted (legal) adult, I have always considered 28 to be a really monumental birthday. And 3 hours away from the 28th birthday, I am still a student, still confused about what I want from life; still single and still searching for excuses.
Just today, I was playing Tennis with a friend, who is much better than me, and to justify losing, and to make him feel guilty, I complained about his “over competitiveness”, about bad bounce, about back pain and everything. It an epiphanous moment, as I went into the agressive in complaining so that I could make him feel guilty; I realized that over the past couple of years, I have been indulging in a lot of complaining. I have been doing a lot of giving-up and I have been letting things drift.
So, here is the big resolution for this 28th year: To be more proactive in everything.
I almost missed the Alaska trip. I had booked two separate itineraries from Buffalo to Chicago and Chicago to Anchorage on two separate carriers to save around $200. Without the benefit of hindsight, I had assumed that a 41/2 hour layover in Chicago would be more than buffer enough for minor delays.
And a delay there was; the beginning of a harrowing experience, which ended with me running for 20 minutes between terminals in a crowded O’Hare. Initially, they said the flight had been delayed by an hour, making my layover in Chicago 31/2 hours. The United schedule was such that an airplane would come from Chicago to Buffalo, and immediately turn back to Chicago with us on board. A little after announcing the 1 hour delay, the ground staff, happily announced to us that the airplane is on the runway waiting for clearance to take off at O’Hare and the delay will be no more than an hour and a half. Half an hour later, the flight was still at O’Hare and the delay was 3 hours.
The perception of time is weird. Now that my layover in Chicago was a ‘mere’ 90 minutes, I began to worry. In my quest to find the cheapest ticket to Anchorage, I had booked United to Chicago and American to Anchorage. This meant that I will have to switch terminals in O’Hare, which, in my estimate, at a sprint, I would take 20-25 minutes. Mentally, I calculated that if they delayed the flight by more than 3.5 hours, I will miss the connection.
The United staff read my mind. Just as I finished double-checking my calculations, they announced that the airplane was being taken back to the terminal, as while waiting to get permission to fly, it developed a technical snag. The delay was indefinite (the flight was still officially not canceled). No surprises, that I panicked. I ran up and down the Buffalo terminal looking for flights that will reach Chicago in time. There was one, which would get me with 1/2 hour to make the terminal change, but it being the long weekend, they were full. I sent a mail to the others making the trip asking them to enjoy on my behalf, and resigned to the fact that I will not make it. However, I hung on in the terminal (with nothing better to do). At 4 PM, a flight arrived, and the ground crew excitedly announced that the flight to Chicago will leave at 4.30 PM (a delay of 4 hours). My quick calculation told me that I will have 10 minutes between flights. I called a friend in Chicago asking him to pick me up from the airport as I boarded the flight, hoping that the Anchorage flight gets delayed by 20 minutes and that I can run like the hare across O’Hare.
We boarded the flight at 4PM, ETA at Chicago was 5.15PM. The flight to Alaska was at 5.30 PM.
I falsely pride myself in being an agnostic; but as I entered the plane, I was a believer, beseeching, arguing, bribing, blackmailing, emotionally blackmailing (What have I asked of you God? Grant me this one thing), taunting God into granting me a wish.
By 4.10; the air hostess asked us to switch of our electronic devices. The dynamics of time suddenly changed. Time came to a screeching halt. I was staring outside the window, as the flight waited on the tarmac; waiting for a couple of flights to land before it can take-off. As every second felt like a minute, and every minute on land made my heart beat faster; my mind worked through million possibilities right from reaching O’Hare too late to; to my friends valiantly attempting to stop the flight for 10 minutes or so. They succeed but I reach the gate just as the ground staff closes the gate (too much TV you would say), to making alternate plans for the weekend in Chicago. The transfer of hope to God was complete, when I stopped thinking about possibilities and started contemplating about the wonders of the brain. Just a few hours ago, waiting for the airplane to reach Buffalo, time was flowing along; racing along towards that mental deadline that I had set for myself (depart by 3.30 PM), and now, as the plane awaited take-off clearance, time slowed to a stop, and I kept honking at it like an agitated driver at Panagal Park.
Finally though, God, it would seem was listening. My flight touched down 10 minutes earlier at 5.05. The flight to Anchorage got delayed by 10 minutes, and I sprinted through O’Hare to my gate, reaching there 5 minutes ahead of time.
All this drama, I thought later.
The midnight Sun is strange. Although, Anchorage itself does not have the midnight Sun, daylight savings has ensured that the Sun sets at 11.45 PM. Twilight and dusk mean that it stays bright enough to play harmless tennis ball cricket till around a little after 1 AM. It takes getting used to. We landed at Anchorage at 9.30 PM and made our way to the hotel by 10PM. A little later, we walked over to a Walmart, and then to a pizzeria, which was just about closing. That is when, despite having knowledge of the time, we realized it was “late” in the evening.
As a kid, my standard response when asked to draw a scenery was to draw a river flowing beside a mountain. A lonely boat plying on the river. That scenery has kind of become my holy-grail when it comes to scenic places. We spent 2nd evening at Seagard, AK. Boats in the harbor with the snow-capped mountains looking over it, while we enjoyed a lazy walk to the restaurant, followed by a brisk one back to another (when the first one had an hour waiting time) was just heavenly.
I am not going to attempt to write about Alaska. My vocabulary of synonyms for “oohs” and “aahs” is very limited.
Sometimes I think, I did not get wasted enough, but then where is the edge between pulling it back again and losing it altogether?
Sunday mornings are meant to be lazy. I used to wake up at around 8; take a hot cup of tea from Amma, and head to the verandah and sit down with the Sunday supplementary papers, browsing through them, while waiting for Appa to leisurely finish the main Sunday paper. Without needing to get to office, Appa, over his second cup of coffee, would read the paper for hours (especially the ads, which he loves). It being a no office day, there would be no breakfast, except for yesterdays rice mixed with curd.
After breakfast, my sister and I would make ourselves comfortable in front of the television, completely immersed in the world of Mowgli and Uncle Scrooge (strangely, unlike the other kids, we never watched Chandrakanta). Appa would don his favourite blue checkered lungi and his dirty baniyan, mount a broom on a stick, and begin his weekly sunday chore of cleaning the upper reaches of the house, the corners with cobwebs, the fan blades etc. Often he would order us to clean our tables and book shelves, but Sunday was not supposed to be wasted cleaning. For me and my sister; doing anything was a waste of precious waste of Sunday time. Appa’s sunday cleaning ritual earned him the nickname: “Kuppayo Saamio”. The cleaning ritual would end with Appa dusting off everything in sight, disturbing our TV viewing with his cleaning of the TV, VCP etc.
Meanwhile, Amma would make her busy in the kitchen, and fill the house with the delightful aroma of the sunday afternoon special lunch. Often, it would be Vengaaya Sambhar (which is locked in a close fight with murungakka sambhar for the title of “King of Sambhars”) with aloo-deep fry and parappu-usli, accompanied by rasam and papaddam. Another sunday favourite would be Keerai Molakootal (the eternal queen of molakootals) or Avail. The light breakfast was the best appetizer for the delicious sunday lunch. As if the aroma was not appetizing enough, Amma would give me and my sister the awesomest tel-malish for the sunday head bath, making us more hungrier for the delicious food.
Delicious lunch would follow an siesta and an old Sivaji movie on the VCP (rented from Balaji rentals, whose collection of Sivaji movies, Appa would have exhausted, twice over) or a Rajesh Khanna movie on DD, with bhajji or bonda or some similar dish. Sunday evenings were always a little sad. I would be jealous of the whole day that went by and angry at the school week that I had to wake up to.
I completely waste Sunday’s in Madison, by staying awake till the wee hours on Saturday night. Winters are even more depressing, because by the time I wake up at 3 in the afternoon, the sun is getting ready to sink back in. So, basically, I just wake up into the sad Sunday evening, cribbing about a non-existant Sunday and the horrible work-week ahead.
Today was surprisingly different. Despite sleeping late, I woke up at 9 AM (actually 8AM, thanks to daylight saving). On any other given Sunday, I would have forced myself to go to sleep, but fortunately, today, I decided to wake up. And, I woke up to a beautiful day, the sun shining brightly, the snow melting slowly. Made myself a piping hot cup of strong chai and settled down to continue reading the refreshingly funny novel : “Chinaman” by Shenan Karunatilaka, which is about a dying drunk journalist, trying to make his mark on the world by making a documentary on the best player that never played for Sri Lanka, Pradeep Matthew, a mysterious left-arm spinner. A little later, I decided to finish the long overdue laundry (I had to, I had run out of socks anyway), which slowly sucked me into a cleaning frenzy, which in-turn brought back memories of Appa’s cleaning on Sundays. After frenetic vacuum-ing, I had to cook. Eating out would have spoiled the sunday that I was re-living. While the vetha-kozambu and cabbage curry was busy cooking, I helped myself to an awesome tel-maalish and shower, and finished the afternoon with a piping hot lunch of vetha-kozambu sadam, in an lazy sunday afternoon set up by Rafi and Kishore (music from this site; highly recommended).
Appa does not drink. If he, he would know how perfect the beer I just finished was!.
I am off to the Grand Canyon for four days. The first time, I will be spending spring break doing something, instead of being miserable with myself. Yay!