Sunny’s sad sojourn in Switzerland

Geet and I met Sunny for the first time during our four day tour to Switzerland. He was a puny nine year old, wearing thick glasses with a constant expression of sad aloofness. Initially we took his stoicism as lethargy but that did not make any sense. We were visiting the country of the Alps, where Yash Chopra made Bollywood actresses dance in chiffon sarees in negative temperatures. Everyone in the tour bus was excited except for Sunny who had nothing but contempt in his eyes. Maybe he was too young for this tour.

His father Dr. Bhattacharya sat with him on the last seat of the bus, right behind me and Geet. His mother Mrs. Bhattacharya was busy clicking pictures of every cow, tractor and tree on the road as if the world was going to end soon and she was bestowed with the task of passing the relevant proof of the existence of  Homo Sapiens to the next dominant specie. She took rest from the clicking frenzy only to stuff her family with snacks that she had brought in kilos. The tour operator shared the history of Switzerland with us in the background.

A few hours into the bus and we understood the reason why Sunny was so stolid. The initial two days were Alps-less and we toured Zurich, Geneva, Schaffhausen, Lausanne, Lucerne, Interlaken and Bern. As our tour operator poured all his general knowledge on us, we realized that his words were molted lava dripping in Sunny’s ears.

“Sunny!!! Bhaat is the name of that large fountain in Geneva?” Dr. Bhattacharya asked his son.

“Jet something,” he replied.

“Think properly Shona!” Mrs. Bhattacharya said stuffing her son with cashew filled cookies.

“Jet d’Eau,” he said after a while. His parents clapped. Geet and I looked at each other.

“What does Bern means in Swiss?”

“Bear.”

“How many Cantons are there in Switzerland?”

“Twenty-sigh-six.”

“To commemorate whose memory was the carving of the dying lion created in Lucerne?”

“Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. I wish I was with them.”

“Bhaat? Anyways, Chapel Bridge is situated across which river?”

“Reuss.”

And this went on and on. We were horrified at what the poor child was going through during this ultra educational tour. I was sure that when all this would be over, Sunny will be permanently scarred and a slight inclination by his future wife to visit this romantic destination will be answered by shrieks of madness.

I remember talking to Dr. Bhattacharya during the journey where he expressed his shock that he had to wear seat belt in the bus. I argued that it was commendable that Swiss laws valued human life. I do not remember much of what else we talked about, only that Sunny slept peacefully during that one hour. Geet hailed me as a hero.

After our two days journey through the cities, it was time to visit the Alps. As our bus lifted higher and higher above the sea level, the frenzy of walking on snow that had footprints of Bollywood stars imprinted on it reached an unnerving crescendo. The bus snaked through a thousand tunnels and we saw villages on the edge of lakes surrounded by picturesque blanket of greens. People were straining their necks to get a first peek of the peaks and if the suspense would have carried on for another half an hour, we would have ended up with a new mutated specie that would have been a cross between a human and a giraffe.

Mrs. Bhattacharya was holding her camera so close to her bosom that anyone would have thought that she had a third eye there. In addition, she was jumping in the aisle with enough glee to give me a heart attack. I held Geet’s hands and chanted Hanuman Chalisa. Then everything happened very quickly.

“Boooooooootiphool! There there! Alps!!” Mrs. Bhattacharya screamed seconds before the bus entered a tunnel.

“Bhere?” Dr. Bhattacharya screamed back staring disappointingly at the insides of the tunnel. Sunny shut his eyes tightly pretending that he was asleep.

Soon the tunnel ended and the scream repeated itself. I saw a pair of buttocks jumping up and down in my line of sight and quickly realized that my armrest was not in place. I pushed it down in the nick of time and seconds later Mrs. Bhattacharya tumbled on it instead of my lap.

“Sorry,” she chirruped.

“If I would have been one second late, we would have spent the rest of our life searching for sperm donors,” I whispered in Geet’s ear. She looked with disdain at Mrs. Bhattacharya.

“What is she? A horse with crackers tied to its tail?” she squeaked.

“Control your emotions. The Alps are here,” I said, rotating her head to the window.

We stayed at the village of Engelburg, surrounded by snow covered Alps and minutes away from Mount Titlis and an hour’s drive from Jungfrau. We saw sulking Sunny during dinner. One look at his face and you could tell that the educational tour was spreading like slow poison inside him. Thank God the food was Indian.

The next day we had to take a train to the highest railway station in Europe at 11,000 ft. The prospect was endearing and would have left anyone wide-eyed. As the train spiraled up the tunnel, I spotted Sunny through the gap between the seats, sleeping peacefully. His father was frantically trying to wake him up while his mother was talking pictures of the darkness outside. I poked Geet and made her conscious of the sight. And then both of us started laughing. We laughed till tears ran down our eyes, till our faces turned red with the effort to suppress our laughter. Everyone was staring at us. The tour operator gave us uneasy looks. Our unchecked spurts of laughter took a good fifteen minutes to subside.

Later, I felt nothing but pity for the child. In a bid to train their child to become a Superman, Mr. and Mrs. Bhattacharya had ruined his holiday. Wasn’t the kid supposed to enjoy this precious time with his parents? We bid Bhattacharya family goodbye at London airport and that was the last time I saw Sunny. I hope his relationship with his parents does not hit rock bottom, although the chances of this happening are slim.

It has been three years since I visited Switzerland but there are a few moments that are etched forever in my memory –

– Sunny’s lost gaze

– Geet and I laughing hysterically in a tilted train inside a mountain

– Geet and I sitting in the balcony of our room in Engelburg with a blanket draped on both of us, looking at the fog drifting over the mountains.

– Sabotage of Mrs. Bhattacharya’s attempt to cut my family tree.

 

[All the pictures are taken by me]

Do as the Romans do

indianfamily6bike

Going abroad is not a distant dream anymore. In fact, come summers and the Indian streets seem deserted (if you do not consider dogs and beggars) as most of us are ‘holidaying’ abroad. Europe, South East Asia, Amrika – you name the place and you will find Indians sitting in Indian restaurants, sucking a chicken leg with a noise loud enough to shatter the lens of the Hubble.

Indians going abroad is a welcome change when the roads back home seem a bit cleaner in their absence which in turn give some relief to the sweepers. It also gives me some sort of sadistic pleasure. The tourist destinations that boast of their superior infrastructure are tested to their limits. For how long can we curb the urge to throw that stained tissue on the road? For how long can we restrain ourselves from leaving a mark on the country in the form on a single straight stain on a wall that runs down to form a puddle? There are times when we would like to spit on the spotless roads, when we would like to honk the hired convertible to glory. No wonder Indians breathe a spit of relief the moment they land in their beloved motherland and throw the slurped paper plate of Dahi Bhalle on the road with tears in their eyes. They are doing a national service, they are helping the sweepers to retain their jobs and put food into the mouth of their army of kids.

Monalisa DeshpandeWhat I find a bit disturbing is the way nationals of other countries behave in the presence of an Indian dipped in his culture.  Taking an example – We love to put Champakali, Chameli and Coconut oil in our hair. It is a recipe for our lush hair that has been passed through generations. Then why do we see people wrinkle their nose all around us when we go abroad? Don’t they get the exotic aroma rising from our head? Now we already smell of spices because of the kind of heaped-in-spices and swathed-in-oils food we eat since childhood. Add to that a dash of Champakali on our head and we turn into walking aphrodisiacs. Is the wrinkling because of the fact that we at times forget to use deodorants and smell like a dead rat? But how can that be when the oil and spices are so overpowering to make a person lose his consciousness in ecstasy? Beats me.

We Indians are very colorful people. Ask a foreigner who has been to India and the first thing he will tell you is that he thinks the whole country has gone gay (which actually seems to be a very good idea considering our amoeba like growth). We love our colors so much that we carry them unabashedly to foreign lands. Even when foreigners all around us start wearing sunglasses indoors to save their eyes from the razor-sharp colors or when they hide their faces in the beer mugs because of the sight of the momma made jumper we are wearing, we fail to get the subtle hints. And why should we? What is the harm in adding some colors to their boring grey, blue and black life?

To curb our habit of staring is another monumental task while we are abroad. If anything remotely Caucasian walks by, our jaw hangs dangerously. It is difficult to make a foreigner understand that we stare at anything. It is our way of admiring the beauty of nature. We also point fingers and giggle. It is harmless of course.

Patience is the name of the seventh moon of Jupiter. That is why when we are subjected to the word while in queues in foreign lands, we respond with bewilderment. Why can’t they make a separate line for ladies, senior citizens, children, people in orange clothes, people in whites and people with two legs? How can everyone have so much time on their hand? Don’t they have a daily soap to catch, a maid to manage, a child to batter and a match to watch?

Should we do as the Romans do or should we splash our superior culture all over the world and teach them a thing or two? Why not turn the question the other way around? What do we expect from a person visiting our country? Don’t we expect them to litter the roads, spit till they end up with salivary deficiency, eat and drink food sprinkled with fumes from the roadside stalls and bring out taser guns the moment they see four men walking towards them? So if we would like tourists to be a part of our culture and enjoy their stay here, then why can’t we reciprocate in a similar manner? In the same way that we are all proud of our culture where people leave soiled diapers in Taj Mahal, people from other countries will be proud of their shiny roads and non-aphrodisiacal surrounding and would like us to respect that.

We know its their loss that they miss this chance to bask in our refined and better cultural glory during our stay in their country but we can leave them to their miseries. If we can adjust 7 people (dog included) on a motorbike, we can do this. Don’t you think?

[image from 1, 2]

The Kiss of Freedom

This story begins when I was a bachelor. I had just landed in cold Manchester and almost lost my hand to the winters. Thankfully, I had a glove layered with a dead animal’s fur which saved me that day. I reached the row house where I was supposed to dwell and one of my very vivid memories of that first day is of a directionless drizzle of snow and one of my roommates asking me – “Have you ever kissed your wife in a public place?”

I reminded him that I wasn’t married. I thought he was missing his wife who left UK a few days back and these were his hormones that were talking.

“Oh you must! It is a great feeling!” he chirruped.

I rushed to the bathroom before my head could bang itself on the wall.

I had never before seen men and women entwine on roads and exchange the secretions from their salivary glands. I had never seen couples holding hands like two lost kids in a jungle. In India, the man is always walking two steps ahead of his meek wife. In UK, there was an opposite unabashed display of affection. Couples kissed at bus-stations before they departed to work, they kissed inside buses before they went their way, they kissed in the evening when they met on a bus-station, they kissed while shopping, while eating, while roaming, while watching a movie. The only place I was comfortable watching couples kiss was in a cinema hall. After all I had spent an entire movie figuring out the location of a guy’s head while watching a movie in India.

This world was overtly sugary for me. Why do they have to hold hands all the time? A month after landing in UK, I went to Scotland. One of my friends took his pregnant wife with him even after the doctor disapproved because he had already paid for the tickets. Then on top of it, both of them sat at the front seat and had a glorious view of the Highlands as we went in search of the Loch Ness monster. The wife got dizzy and smeared the front of the bus with her lunch. Amidst shocked looks, the tour operator scrubbed the mashed vegetable sandwich from the floor and politely asked the couple to exchange seats with a newly wed Spanish couple sitting 6 seats behind. As the Spanish couple settled in the front seat, their lips locked like two opposite poles of the magnet. I could see their lips from the gap between their seats and it was a very pleasant ride after that. I don’t remember much of the Highlands post the exchange of seats.

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A few months into it and I was now used to the sight. I even smiled at times. During Summer, as hundreds of variety of flowers bloomed all over Manchester and covered the city with a beautiful mesh, the sight of couples holding hands and smiling at each other made me seriously rethink my I-shall-die-a-virgin strategy.

That was the time I started talking to Geet.

After I got married, I remembered those words of wisdom told to me on my first day in Manchester. Now was the time to test the theory. I did not want Geet to slap me in public, so the timing had to be perfect. I took her to Paris on our honeymoon. My plan included Eiffel Tower – the hideous iron structure on top of which it was mandatory for the couples to kiss and vow for eternal love for each other.

“Wow! That is one ugly piece of iron,” Geet said the moment we landed at the tower. That was not a very romantic start.

As we ascended the haphazardly put structure in a lift filled with eager tourists (which included an Indian woman telling her 3 year old son that he was very fortunate to visit the tower at such a tender age), I wondered if this was the correct choice. As we reached the top, I realized that it was taller than what I had anticipated and one shove would have landed me in the tranquil Seine.

The top of the Tower greeted us with bellowing winds. It was as if a twister had hit it. People were holding their heads and running helter-skelter. We managed to walk to the other side where the winds were negligible. The scene was out of a poem. There were couples all around us, some of them dreamily looking into each other’s eyes, some of them kissing. I clasped the iron bar in case Geet decide to fling me over. I looked deep into her eyes and kissed her, thus taking to conclusion our first official kiss in a public place.

It tasted of freedom.

During our stay in Manchester, both of us turned into one of those insufferable couple who indulged in public display of affection, who could not walk without holding hands. She used to wait for me at the bus-station and we used to kiss as I got off the bus before we walked to Tesco. She used to walk with me till the main door of our apartment building and we kissed before she watched me walk away to work. We realized for the first time that expressing yourself in a public place wasn’t abnormal as we were always lead to believe. It wasn’t looked down upon. We weren’t looking around like criminals and making sure that no one was watching us before expressing ourselves. It was rejuvenating.

In India, you will be penetrated by a thousand eyes if you show a bit of an affection towards your partner in public places. It somehow attracts all sort of losers. You might be beaten up. We love creating noise over simple acts of affection. In the past couple of years things have changed. I see a lot more couples holding hands in malls and whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears. It is a good change but of course, it is limited to the cities. A lot of us look down upon public display of affection as if it is a disease. But think about it. Don’t you feel instantly warm and affectionate when everyone around you is feeling the same? The very air you breathe changes. You feel good about the world.

The good times ended when we came back to India. Now Geet and I are confined to holding hands in public. I sometimes miss those days of carelessness, those days of fearless freedom, those days of magic, those days when there were no restrictions and I could kiss my wife on a busy road and no one gave a damn.

p.s. Try the Eiffel Tower at night. It is like Cinderella. The fairy godmother of electricity turns it into a beauty without equals.

[all the photographs are taken by me]

10 Commandments of driving in the country of Uttar Pradesh

crocodileThe prosperous and vibrant country of Uttar Pradesh holds a special place in my heart. I am now officially a resident of this high on testosterone land. In such a short span of time, the Gun Ka Achaar, the poems of Ma Behen, the misty winters of cold shoulders and the daredevils on the pot-holed race tracks have taken my heart away.

The citizens of this country are a class apart. They work tirelessly towards bringing to life what the rest of the Indians consider unachievable. There are times when I have tears of happiness in my eyes while driving as I see everyone following the following 10 commandments of driving in this amazing country with such seriousness.

Thou Shalt driveth as in America

The citizens of this great nation realized long back that the fastest way to develop the country is to flip the way they drive. Driving in the wrong lane is not taboo here. In fact you will be amazed by the vehicles running in the wrong lanes. It gives you an instantaneous feeling that you are in America. It is a sign of progress. In fact any tourist who visits Uttar Pradesh immediately gets comfortable seeing the roads here after jumping from their hotel windows.

day-dream-while-driving-funny-quotesThou shalt smirketh at the followers of the substandard rules

Now smirking and making fun of people who try to apply the rules followed in India is considered a privileged activity in the country of Uttar Pradesh. Outsiders are advised not to take it negatively. You really have to understand the emotion of the citizens behind this act. Try to drive in the wrong lane for a resounding acceptance. In fact, educated and well placed Delhiites who buy posh flats in NCR here end up following the American rules of driving. It is a matter of pride.

Thou shalt honketh for brotherly prodding

The enthusiasm with which the citizens of this great nation drive might drive an outsider crazy. The honking is like a symphony that reaches a rhythmic crescendo especially near traffic signals. Try listening to Beethoven’s 5th symphony while driving here and that might be the closet you will get to achieving nirvana. Honking is nothing more than brotherly prodding. It is a way to tell you that a bullet is always faster than the speed of your car.

Thou shalt achieveth orgasm jumping signals

The adventurous zeal with which the citizens here drive is commendable. It keeps the heart healthy as it keeps pumping at the rate of 150 bpm. It is a fantastic alternative to exercising in our busy lives. So, the next time you see UP-ites stopping at a signal not because it has turned red but because they are going to die otherwise, try to understand the smart logic behind it. Almost everyone (except a few sissies) in this great nation has a habit of jumping signals. Multiple jumps lead to multiple orgasms.

sign board 2Thou shalt haveth no fear of traffic cops

The traffic cops are a non-existent entity in this great country. After living here for a while, it is evident to me that the country really don’t need them. The citizens take great care of each other in all sort of road related issues. There is so much caring and sharing that people have rods, bats, fists, honks and swearwords ready in case of an emergency. On exceptional occasions, even if there is a traffic cop standing next to the lamp-post remotely trying to streamline the traffic, he is royally ignored. He is similar to the lamp-post, only less useful.

Thou shalt enjoyeth pot-holed racing tracks

No matter how badly damaged the road is, the citizens of this great nation never take it to heart. Mostly, the speed of their cars is so high that they fly over the potholes. The act is therapeutic in nature. The constant flights and occasional jolts rejuvenate the body. Also, the mind remains in an alert state when so many cars are racing in the same direction. It is very similar to a computer game where rickshaws, cows and pedestrians are added to attain higher difficulty levels. Sometimes potholes are filled with sand and a few days later you might see a plant sprout out in the middle of the road.

Thou shalt decorateth the roads in red

Where else in the world will you see such ardor in the citizen of a nation where they can achieve the frightening feat of opening the door of a moving vehicle to spit on the road? In fact the citizens are so hell-bent on decorating the roads and give the nation a colorful appearance that at any point of time, you can see multiple doors opening on a road and paan flying out. It is almost like a synchronized performance of children sitting in a stadium with colorful placards.

Sign boardThou shalt useth traffic signboards for personal use

Since the country has such compassionate citizens, it is not surprising that the traffic sign boards are used for the benefit of the common citizens and politicians. So, you can see a ‘BOYS PG’ poster right over a ‘NO PARKING’ sign board. There might be a colorful mega posters of politicians draped on overhead sign-boards on highways. It is heart warming to see people using government resources for the benefit of all.

Thou shalt stopth anywhere you fancy

The citizens of this amazing nation do not believe in parking areas. Outsiders might be surprised by cars parked at unimaginable angles and in no parking zones but it exhibits the adjusting nature of the citizens. There are auto-rikshaws parked at busy intersections while their drivers pull helpless pedestrians inside. They even pull in men watering the walls midway in the act of donation. These acts (the pulling ones) restore my faith in mankind.

Thou shalt be fearless

Of course, despite all the brotherly love the citizens shower at each other, there are terrible accidents almost every day on the roads. It is a very common sight here to see weirdly crushed vehicles. Over the years, the citizens have developed a heart of steel and carry on abiding to the 10 commandments with the zeal of a warrior. They are the true heroes of the nation of Uttar Pradesh.

And in the end, I promise to follow the 10 commandments with all my heart.

I am proud to be a part of the brainless brotherhood.

driving quotes

My other posts on the same topic that might interest you –

A country called Uttar Pradesh

Traffic control gadgets for the ASIRW (Average Stupid Indian Road Warrior)

[Images from 1,2,3,4]

Pigeon mummies of Pisa bouncing on a wall

Spending 4 hours every day sitting in a bus can play havoc with your mind. After your initial despair regarding wastage of four precious hours of your life starts to dwindling, you devise multiple strategies to kill time. After all how much can a human possibly whine?

For a lot of people, those multiple strategies end up in a recycle bin and all they could manage is to get a nice sleep while the bus bobbles its way to their house. I usually end up reading and sleeping alternately. Sometimes I also take interest in cars running along with the bus and count the number of traffic rules broken by various vehicles in 5 minutes. I usually stop at 1000 or when I fall asleep with my mouth open, whichever happens first. Witnessing law breaking does get boring after a while. It’s like watching the same porn movie again and again. I also end up observing the people sitting around me in the bus, their necks moving to various positions as they try to push themselves into their wonderland.

So to kill time one fine day, I made a list of sleeping positions I have seen fellow passengers indulge in and a few interpretations based on that.

a)  The Pigeon: This category of bus-sleepers keep moving their heads back and forth at an alarming rate in the YZ plane as shown in the graph below. They look like pigeons walking on a railing. Mashed Musings believe that the people who sleep like this are bad decision makers as they keep moving to and fro and confuse everyone around them.

The Pigeon moves in the YZ plane

b) Shut up and bounce :  Remember those toys filled with air and no matter how much you punched them, they bounced right back? Some people sleep like that in a bus. They will move their head to the right and smash it on the window. The impact will throw their head towards the left and hit your shoulder. This will repeat in rhythmic oscillations. Even if you remove the window and your shoulder, such sleepers have this amazing capability to bounce off air on both sides of their head. Mashed Musings thinks that such people are selfish leaners and would always use another person for their benefit.

Shutup and bounce in the XY plane

c)  Laser dot on a wall : Remember those times when you are watching a movie in a cinema hall and suddenly a laser dot appears from somewhere and carves a devious, random trajectory on the blouse of the actress? Well, some people sleep like that laser dot. Their head wobbles in so many directions that if you steadily look at them, your eyes will hurt. They are like a mad bull poking anything that comes their way. Mashed Musings wonder how people sleep like a God particle ramming the walls of the Hadron collider. Such people are decision-less and spend the maximum amount of time in Big Bazaar.

Laser Dot moves in any direction in the XYZ plane

d) Leaning towers of Pisa : Such travellers lean on either their left or right and peacefully remain there. They might lean on your shoulder or a windowpane depending on your misfortune. The biggest disadvantage of such co-passengers is that if you try to change their leaning preference by poking their head with a finger and shoving it to the other side, they will fall right back to their original position like a detonated building. So, if they have nested on your shoulder, then your shoulder it will be. Mashed Musings thinks that such people have very strong likes and dislikes and are quiet stubborn. And try to keep a tissue between heads and shoulder otherwise you will be drenched in drool in the morning.

e) The Mummies : You are really blessed if you are sleeping next to a mummy in a bus. Mummies sleep like dead bodies and won’t make a sound. They are dream co-passengers and only a few chosen ones encounter them. It is needless to say that Mashed Musings belongs to this category. Such sleepers are highly focussed and most peaceful creatures and do not lean on anyone.

The saintly Mummy

You might be wondering why there is no category for the Snoring Devils. That is because snoring can be combined with any of the categories mentioned above (except for the Mummies). It is a nightmarish combination, the deadliest one being a ‘Snoring Leaning Tower of Pisa’. And imagine a ‘Snoring laser dot on a wall’. That would be like a short-circuited Darth Vader. Very unpleasant.

So, which category do you belong to? Now don’t be shy. Out with it.

How not giving a bribe lead to a Honeymoon in Paris

I was in Manchester when Geet and I decided to get married. It was an arranged marriage and our parents had given us a month to talk and decide. We liked each other from the first telephone conversation we had. It wasn’t awkward. It was like talking to an old friend. Then a few webcams later, we said yes. Just like that. Without actually meeting. Geet was in India.

I flew back to India for a small ceremony. That was the first time we saw each other in flesh and everything felt warm and happy. It was one of those days when the world seemed beautiful.

Our marriage was four months later and thus telephone conversations and Skype chats sessions started. We were never physically there during our courtship but we never felt the distance. After all we were going to spend our whole life together. There was sweetness in that longing. I sent her chocolates, teddy bears, flowers and romantic songs.

As the D-day approached, I started preparing for our Honeymoon. I was coming to India for three weeks and I booked a room in Leela Kempenski in Kovalam. The hotel was located on a cliff near the ocean and you could see the whole ocean from your room. It was heavenly. I kept it a secret. It was a surprise for Geet.

Indian wedding

Marriage happened with all the riot of colours, dancing, food, loads of relatives and photographs which an Indian wedding happens to provide. Both of us were exhausted and exhilarated by the end of it. We slept like a log for two days. After we woke up, the plan was to get our marriage certificate done, go to Kovalam and then apply for Geet’s Visa on our return. We were relying on the assumption that the marriage certificate will be done in two days. Many of our friends asked us to bribe the clerks in the office so that it was not delayed. We reached the office, filed our application without bribing anyone and waited. Soon the main officer called us and asked for Geet’s residential proof of my house! I told him that we just got married. How was she supposed to have a residential proof so soon? He asked us to open a joint account in a bank and use it as a proof. Basically, we did not bribe the clerks and so they had decided to ruin it for us. After all, people had got their marriage certificates in the same office in two hours. So, we opened a joint account in a bank and submitted it as a proof. We finally got our marriage certificate in three days but there was no time to go to Kovalam. I called up Leela Kempenski and asked them to cancel my booking. The amount was non-refundable. I asked them to take the money. They were taken aback. Finally, they didn’t take the money. I figured someone else might have booked the room after I cancelled.

I was sulking. I was angry. Our honeymoon was ruined. Geet told me that it was ok and we could go somewhere else later. I promised myself that I would not let a loser ruin my happiness. We got Geet’s visa done and came to Manchester. And then I got the perfect idea of a honeymoon. It was a dream and I was scared to touch it. I kicked myself for not thinking about it before. I applied for Schengen and soon our tickets to Paris were booked. Take that for ruining our honeymoon you loser, bribe sucking clerk!

Paris Metro Eiffel Tower

Paris was a different planet. It was utopia. We were like two wide-eyed kids lost in the streets of Paris, sometimes deliberately. We did all the touristy things – kissed on the top of the Eiffel Tower, visited Mickey and Minnie in Disneyland, bought expensive French perfumes, took a Seine boat cruise, ambled in the gardens of Versailles, gawked at Mona Lisa in Louvre, sat in silence in Notre Dame, marvelled at the modern art collection at Georges Pompidou, devoured mushroom and cheese croissants and travelled in Paris Metro but all this was not what defined Paris for us. It was a tune played on an accordion.

accordionIt was our first day in Paris. We got down from the automatic metro which took us from our airport terminal to the one at which we could get an RER train to our hotel. The train soon chugged in and we took a corner seat in one of the almost empty compartments. Two women were chatting in French a few seats away, a drunken beggar was sleeping on another and a man was standing near the door with an accordion in his hand. Soon he started playing a tune and suddenly there were goosebumps all over Geet and me. We looked at each other and smiled and then Geet’s head was on my shoulder, her hand curled in mine. The tune was so unreservedly romantic that somehow the moment stood still. We wanted him to go on forever. The tune dissolved effortlessly with the rhythm of the train. That one moment defined Paris for us, not the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre or French perfumes. For us it was a city where two lovers could hold hands and melt away in the spell while a stranger played an incredibly dreamy tune for them on an accordion.

I gave the stranger a generous tip after he finished. He was surprised and said Merci. I almost asked him to play it again.

And then I did something I had never imagined I would do. I thanked the clerk who delayed my marriage certificate.

(image of accordion from – http://www.music.vt.edu/musicdictionary/texta/accordion.html)

[This post has been written for Indiblogger Incredible stories]

http://www.mahindraxuv500.com/

Cliffs, Ships and Spotlights

Going to Manchester was a high. I had always wanted to smell the soil of another country, take a lung-full of alien air. It was a whole new world. Different. Exciting. Scary. I learnt to say thank you, even to the bus drivers. I saw roads filled with flower petals in autumn. I saw endless rows of green hills during my train journeys to London. I absorbed the beauty of Britain like a sponge.

It was February when I landed there. The cold numbed my hands and I had to wear gloves to warm them back to feelings. It snowed later that day. It was the first time I had seen white cotton falling from the sky. It was overwhelming. Soon, I with my three flat-mates started to plan for a trip to Isle of Wight. No one went there in winters but then in Britain you pretty much don’t go anywhere in bleak winters.

I took upon me to plan the trip. From creating a map of the small island on the southern tip of England on a piece of paper to hiring a car on an online portal to booking a B&B, I did it all. I was like Alice in wonderland, wide eyed and not too sure whether all this was real. So, I pinched myself and planned.

There were no bridges to the Isle. You have to tuck your car in a ferry. We landed in Fishbourne and drove to our B&B. The island was awfully quite. It was off season. We stayed on the island for three days, visiting the deserted beaches like Shanklin, Ryde, Sandown and Yarmouth. We watched sunrise braving unexceptional cold winds. We went to the Needles, late for the sunset and ran into people coming back. They were beautiful three days but there is one incident which stands out. It changed something in me.

We were at the Yaverland beach looking at the seagulls and the waves lapping the shore. I was staring at the white cliff on my left. I was fascinated by it. I wanted to run and reach its top. I asked my friends if we could walk up there and they were horrified. I told them that I was going up and I will meet them for lunch. Excitingly, I started walking up the Culver cliff. The cliff was completely deserted and after walking for fifteen minutes, I could see no signs of humanity. I was walking very close to the edge of the cliff and there were red danger signs all over asking people to stay away as the edges had a tendency to break free. The horizon was receding as I walked up and ships which were hidden earlier started appearing. The sky was dark greyish cloudy but the wind was less wild up here.

The cliff was less broken at the top and there were wooden fences at the edges. I glanced at a few black sheep roaming around and a small house far off from the cliff edge. But that wasn’t something that caught my eye. I was staring at the vast expanse of ocean and ships looking like small toys, lazying around in the calm water. The only sound which I could hear was that of the wind, dancing around in slow rhythms, broken once by a speeding water scooter which looked like a shooting star from where I stood. A man walked by with his dog. He was going down the cliff.

“Beautiful day”, he said.

“Yes. Yes, it is”, I said, still staring at the ocean, inhaling deeply.

And then the clouds parted.

Spotlights started falling on the ships. The ocean was shimmering. It was as if something divine was making an appearance. I knew at that moment that I was looking at something I would never forget my entire life. The sun played hide and seek with the ocean for a long time, hiding behind the black clouds and then appearing somewhere else. It was peaceful. I had never felt such calm. It was like watching a play in a theatre, spotlights falling on artists performing with tranquillity and poise.

The play of nature forced me to reflect. Our life goes through a lot of turmoil as we grow up, wishes to be fulfilled, goals to be achieved. Something similar to the sky with dark clouds hovering over the sea. But then sunshine breaks in once in a while and we are so wound up in the race that we fail to acknowledge it. We fail to absorb the placidity it brings with it.

I called my friends on their mobile and asked them to come up.

“You are missing the sunshine”, I told them. They walked up finally and all of us sat near the edge of the cliff for a while, staring at the ships and spotlights. There was a smile on everyone’s face.

It has been five years since I walked up the Culver Cliff, perhaps for the first and last time, but I still recreate that scene to appease myself whenever I am tense. I close my eyes and imagine myself standing on the cliff, staring at the divine spotlight falling on the ocean. I have always believed that there is so much to see in the world that it is a sin to visit the same place twice. But, then, someday I might walk up that cliff again for old times sake, for the spotlights and the ships.

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[[This is my entry for Indiblogger’s Incredible Stories contest]]

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Taj Mahal and the pats of past

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Although I visited Taj Mahal when I was too young to understand what I was beholding, I was awestruck by the enormity of the tomb. I carried the image of the huge, almost white dome, the intricate designs and the graves of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal with me. I somehow knew at that time that I will go there again someday; go there to absorb the city, to walk alongside the ghosts of the Mughal Emperors.

Almost 15 years later, I was back in Agra, this time with Geet – all romantic and ready to gaze at Taj Mahal turning pale orange while the Sun bow to the night. The first thing that struck me about Agra was how much the city has changed. I remembered it as a disorganized city, sprouting with rickshaws and horse carts, beggars and tour guides, Petha (an Agra delicacy) and souvenir shops. It was less disorganized. Urbanization has touched it.

We checked-in in a hotel which was at a walking distance from the eastern gate of Taj Mahal. In the hotel the water was salty and Dal Makhni was conspicuous by its absence but that is another post. There was an Agra tourism building right next to the hotel from where you could buy tickets for Taj Mahal. It was a clean building with foreign exchange counters, a restaurant/bar and numerous souvenir shops. There were battery operated cars, horse carts, camel carts and rickshaws to take you to the eastern gate. We got a guide from the tourism building and he introduced us to a photographer who was to take our pictures as we circle the white mausoleum.

A tip – It is a good idea to take a photographer with you and the quality of the pictures is great. Make sure you ask him the rate of each photo and then let him know the number of pictures you want him to take. Otherwise you will end up with a big album and a big dent in your pocket.

Needless to say that Taj is a beauty. You will end up staring at the magnificence for a long time. An image of it on television or a postcard can not come close to the experience of seeing it with your own eyes. It’s breathtaking. There is a legend that Shah Jahan wanted to build a black marble replica on the other side of Yamuna with a silver bridge connecting the two. What a sight it would have been.

Fatehpur Sikri was our first stop the next day. It is a city which was built by Akbar and have courts, royal palaces, private quarters etc all carved in red stone. It contains famous structures like Jodha Bai’s palace, Buland Darwaza, Tomb of Salim Chisti, Diwan-i-khas and Panch Mahal. As you move through these structures, you get an incredible feeling of moving back in time. Remind yourself that this was the place where Birbal made everyone laugh with his humor, Tansen sang his spell binding ragas, Jodha Bai and Akbar lived together and Faizi wrote his poems and you will get Goosebumps as you walk through the city.

A tip – Fatehpur Sikri is located around 50 kms from Agra and can be reached by a cab (~1400 Rs for a round trip). Guides, hawkers and small children will run after you all the time but try to avoid them if you know how to read. Learn to say “No” 100 times in 60 seconds.

Agra Fort was our next stop in the evening. The Fort was primarily used by Shah Jahan as his court. He was finally imprisoned and kept there by his son Aurangzeb and died there looking at the Taj Mahal from the southern walls of the fort. There is a sound and light show in the evening which is worth watching. By the time it will be over, you will never forget the bloodline of the Mughal Emperors or the fact that Babur gifted the Kohinoor to Humayun or Noor Jahan invented perfumes.

Next day, we took an autorikshaw from our hotel and reached Sikandra, location of the Tomb of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. It is a beautiful structure and the entrance is carved with beautiful, colorful patterns. On seeing the long, cold tunnel that takes you to the grave, I realized that I have been to this place earlier. It’s strange how I do not remember anything about the beautiful mausoleum but only that I was scared crazy while passing though that dark tunnel into an equally dark dome with a tomb in the center. We roamed on the pathway surrounding the tomb watching herds of deer laze in the gardens and then moved on to our next destination – Itmad-ud-daulah, which is the tomb of Noor Jahan’s father Mirza Ghiyas Beg and is one of the most intricately crafted mausoleums in Agra. With its geometrical decorations on the outside and fruits and flowers encrusted white marble inside, it is a beautifully created building. It might have been peaceful outside the mausoleum earlier, but now it is cramped with shops and blaring music. It’s a shame.

We were back to Taj in the evening, to have a look at it a last time as the sun fades away.

A tip– Try taking an autorikshaw to roam around in Agra if the weather is good. They are cheaper and we found the drivers very polite, even helpful. Day 3 cost us Rs 300 for the whole trip from East gate of Taj Mahal to Sikandra to Itmad-ud-daulah and back.

A recurring pattern which was disturbing was that many mausoleums require some urgent restoration. I really wish they are restored before they end up as irrevocable ruins. There were patched on the domes and walls which were missing. Elaborate craftsmanship lost forever.

The city left us in a flux of emotions. Although there are pockets of Agra which are underdeveloped and poor (You will encounter them while going to Fatehpur Sikri and Sikandra), urbanization and the remains of the Mughal era stand side by side as a reminder of how times have changed. In that way, the city is very similar to Delhi. It was the city of kings and looking at those proud structures made me wonder if we have an equally powerful legacy of our own times to leave behind.

[all the pictures are taken by me]

Traffic control gadgets for the ASIRW (Average Stupid Indian Road Warrior)

India is a tough country. A wise man once said – If you can drive in India, you can drive anywhere in the world. From the unfinished roads in mountain passes to the under river invisible pebbly roads to dirt tracks in villages to the pot holed road-ish structures in every city to the dizzying video game roads in Delhi, India provides a plethora of experiences to the ASIRW. It’s not for the faint hearted. But these natural and man-made creations aren’t the only invincible barriers to become a legendary ASIRW. The real enemy is the one who is your fellow warrior. He is the one you should be afraid of. He is your real test.

Many have died triumphing the impossible. Sometimes by a bullet wound in the head, sometimes by being crushed to pieces, sometimes by knife wounds and sometimes by a rain of maa-behen expletives. Although this does not stop those who are spared alive by a lucky turn of fate to turn around and splash others with what had dragged them into depression in the first place, but then this is what the game is all about. You cannot stop fighting. As Gabbar said – Jo darr gaya samjho mar gaya.

Newbie ASIRW are clumsy at times and hence India amounts to more than 1,00,000 road accident deaths annually. And now the time has arrived to give the ASIRWs a rest. Too many have perished in the fires of their own foolishness. Hence, the Indian government approached our corporation to provide them some radical ideas to control the ASIRW. Here are a few gadgets we have proposed and which are ready to go in mass production to help the ASIRW follow traffic rules which they find too Manmohan-ish to take seriously. Of course, the Indian Traffic police can install a combination of these brilliant machines but if they are happy with the ongoing self population control, they can give it a skip.

1.  The Jolt Inducer wires(codename – Come to Papa)

This device comes in the form if a thin wire that can charge itself by cow dung and dust which are easily available on Indian roads. The wire is installed on a yellow line in the middle of the road which separates the traffic flow and also acts as a divider. The moment a car steps on the wire (many ASIRW tend to do this as they are divider blind) while over-taking or during jams, it discharges an electric current which can travel to the warrior’s body via the tyres of his vehicle. This can make him dizzy to the point of making him throw up. This will stop a majority of ASIRW from jumping in the wrong lanes.

2. The drag and drop Robotic arms(codename – Get the fu*k back in your lane)

Robotic arm

These state of the art robotic arms are installed on cemented dividers in the middle of the road. They are very sleek and don’t take much space. They are fitted with sensors and cameras and move on a single rail track on the divider. As soon as they sense a vehicle which is not in the correct lane or going in the opposite lane, they pick it up and place it back at the end of the current line of vehicles in its appropriate lane. You can also program it to pick up the vehicle and keep it hanging in air for a predefined time before throwing it back in the correct lane. Turning the vehicle upside down while it hangs in the air is optional. It can also be used to pick up cows from the road.

3. The laser cutters (Codename – Red Queen(after the Resident Evil Supercomputer))

laser

Traffic signals can be fitted with these extremely sophisticated laser cutters. A single laser light will appear on the road (approximately 0.5 foot above the ground and behind the pedestrian crossing) the moment light turns red. Any ASIRW trying to cross it will end up with tyres neatly cut in half. This will ensure mayhem for a couple of days but soon the terror will not let anyone jump a signal. You can adjust the height of the laser from the ground but we strictly suggest that it remains below the legs of the ASIRW.

4. Celebrity Signals (codename – Take a Munni break)

Katrina Kaif

Traffic signals will be replaced by images of celebrities asking people to stop and go. This will be achieved by harmless vertical laser show images that will cover the crossing like a big movie screen. For example, A red signal will be replaced by Katrina performing “Chikni Chameli” or Vidya Balan performing “Nakka Mukka” while the green signal will be replaced by Manmohan Singh giving the Independence Day speech. Yellow will be replaced by Meira Kumar’s laser video of her famous “Shaant ho jaiye” monologue in Lok Sabha.

5. Weapon snatcher magnets (codename – Magneto)

We do not expect hardened ASIRW to completely let go of their valour and courage and not use weapons like country made pistols, acid and knives to fight road wars. For such scenarios, we have the weapon magnets which will activate as soon as they sense rage above the critical limit of 200 TMK (Teri Ma Ki) which will be calculated by a secret mathematical formula specially designed for ASIRWs which takes into account components like blood pressure, swear word usage, eye widening capabilities, level of frothing, reddening of face etc. Once the critical limit is reached, the magnets will immediately snatch away any weapon produced by the warrior and teleport it to the nearest junk yard.

6. Begging hover and money collection system (codename – Begging Angels)

VirkamAurBetal

A study has revealed that ASIRWs have a soft corner for beggars and they love to do some charity but beggars do pose a threat to life as they surf the maze at the traffic intersection. Hence they will be provided with the hover system where they will float around the cars like “Betal” and as soon as Manmohan Singh start’s his speech their distance from ground will increase automatically so that the vehicles can move smoothly. To avoid ASIRWs from fumbling to extract change from their pockets, we will be introducing single swipe signature-less credit cards system.

7. Magnetic wheels for manual vehicles (codename – Rickshaws will fly)

Cycles and rickshaws make ASIRWs very angry. To solve this problem, we will be providing magnetic wheels for such vehicles which can be activated by the touch of a button. This will attach the cycle/rickshaw to the nearest vehicle and it can travel with the same speed as that of the vehicle. Detaching it from the high-speed vehicle can again be a one touch operation. This will also reduce honking.

8. Alcohol detection Automatic Car Shutdown Chip (Codename – Dumb ass is Drunk)

A recent study has revealed that Indians Luuuuuve to drink and drive. They love hitting a speed of 120km/hr especially when everything ahead of them is blurred. Enter our automated car shutdown chip. The chip detects alcohol fumes in the car and instantly produces an electric spark the moment car keys are inserted in the slot. This not only gives the drunk jerk a jerk but does not allow him to start the car. We are in discussion with the Indian Government to make this chip mandatory in all the cars. It goes without saying that this will not be applicable to all the government vehicles.

9. Honk Slap (code name – Arnold)

Slap

To reduce noise pollution level on Indian roads, we have designed a microprocessor which includes various permutations and combinations allowed for honking in sensible nations. This microprocessor can be fitted in all cars and will assess the situation under which a driver honks. If no match is found, a robotic hand will appear from the dashboard and slap the driver. So, if you see every driver battered and bruised on the road, don’t be alarmed.

We sincerely hope that the introduction of these various equipments will smooth traffic flow on the roads of India. Of course, we cannot change the mindset of the ASIRWs, but we can always install a sense of terror by using lasers, robotic arms, slaps etc. There are a few problems like potholes, divider-less roads, lack of amenities for pedestrians, salivating for bribes traffic police etc but we have made clear to the Indian government that WE CAN”T FUC*ING SOLVE ALL THEIR PROBLEMS!

Hope you will enjoy driving with our new gadgets

Regards

ASIRWCS ( ASIRW Control Squad)

Lake District

72 hours seemed to be a very long time to stare continuously at my laptop screen so a three day long bank holiday looming at the horizon spanked me into instant action last week. Discussions, Google maps, suggestions from the natives and an exhaustive search on the Internet helped me to create a rough sketch of what I wanted to see in the Lake district. Although I must confess that “Lake District” does not require such detailed Internet surfing but I like to have the details before I start. 😉

Lake District(also known as LakeLand) is an area in North West England famous for is natural beauty and its 20+ lakes and natural reservoirs. It is a very popular tourist destination and has unsurpassed and untouched natural beauty. Its a place where many poems of William Wordsworth were born and where he was finally buried.

We got up early, made some Subway style chicken sandwiches and picked up our car from the Airport and set out to explore the “real” Europe, as SRK famously said in DDLJ. I was sure that our path would keep us on the highway most of the time but we were in for a big surprise.

Our first destination was WastWater, which is the deepest lake in the district and stretches to 4.6 km. We were initially on the highway, but suddenly our path turned towards small two way roads on the hills. For an hour, we were not even sure that we were going in the right direction and blindly followed the GPS. It was thrilling and the weather added to the effect by being misty. Finally, when we reached WastWater after driving through the lush green hills, the first thing which hit us was the “untouched” natural beauty. No human intervention except for the road.

Wast Water

Someone just forgot to commercialize this beautiful lake and I was thankful. The lake was surrounded by high mountains covered in mist(this line is getting repetitive. Isn’t it?? 😐 ) with small streams of water running into it from the mountains. There were hardly any people around and we savored the quietness.

A stone bridge at WastWater, Lake District

We walked around the lake, took deep breaths and some nice shots and moved to our next destination – Grasmere.

While snaking through the hills towards Grasmere, we passed through a few small villages where we couldn’t see a single soul but a lot of animals and through pathways covered with dense trees blooming with flowers which at times swirled down as the car passed through them. Believe me, you would love to get lost in such a place. And yes, just for fun, we terrified a goat sheep too!

Shocked Goat

Grasmere is a village(the most beautiful one you can ever see) which has a lake by the same name. It became famous because of its connection with the Lake Poets and because of William Wordsworth, who lived here for 14 years and was finally buried here at the St Oswald’s Church. By the time we reached Grasmere, we were dead hungry and so after parking the car, we were searching for a place to have our lunch when my eyes fell on a perfect place to eat.

The restaurant where we had our lunch

Ducks and Grasmere

It was a small restaurant with a stream running besides it. On the other side of the stream was THE Church. I found the spot incredibly romantic. 🙂 Here is another shot.

Grasmere, where we had our lunch

We roamed around in the church after having our lunch and saw the graves of the Wordsworth family. I even bought a small handbook of poems by the famous poet.

The graves of William Wordsworth and family

We ambled around the village for sometime and the lake(where I found my dream house)…

Views around Grasmere Lake

…before moving towards our final destination – Windermere, the most commercialized lake in Lake District and England’s longest lake. Frankly speaking, I was not expecting much because I like places when they are untouched. But surprisingly, the place was not that bad. I liked it for exactly the opposite reason for which I liked Wastwater. It was crowded, with people, yachts, lakeside restaurants, ducks and boats all around. It was almost 5.30 when we reached there and there was no boat tour to Ambleside for the day, but there was a lake tour on 6.30. We took that tour and I must say that this lake has the most picturesque surrounding you can ever imagine. Check out the pictures if you don’t believe me!

Looks very romantic

Views around Weindermere - 3

Views around Weindermere - 2

Wishful Thinking

The plants are taking over!

Old fashoined wooden boats

We finally had a quick bite before moving back to Manchester at around 8. The best part is that now a day, there is daylight till 9.30-10.00 pm and you can utilize the whole day. It was a day filled with incredible beauty and all of us loved every second of it.

p.s. I am sorry for armageddon-ing you with so many photos, but I really couldn’t make up my mind about which ones should I remove. 🙂 Oh! There is one more! 😛

Birds Inline

Over and Out!