Thursday, November 29, 2007

Of Phone Calls, Chats And More

One of the many benefits my dad was entitled to, being a PSU employee, was the free telephone we had. Max, as it was called, meant endless phone calls to my friends which would make my parents go crazy.

"Abe kya khel raha hai yaar Sachin....." 30 mins
"achcha ye vala integration kaise hoga..." 1 hour

And there were so many of these everyday. There was no email or chat. Face to face and the phone conversations were the only ways of expressing myself. I was never very good at spoken English. I could express myself decently and carry out a conversation without any major hitches. But I was, and still am, most comfortable with Hindi, with the occasional English sentence or word thrown in. When it came to writing though, the going got a little easier. I never had (still don't have) the gift of vocabulary but for as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed writing in English. Add to it the fact that I grew up reading primarily Bengali literature and you can get a picture of a boy who was most comfortable reading in Bengali, writing in English and talking in Hindi.

Let me ask you a question now. If you are reading this, chances are that your methods of communication include chat and emails in addition to the other two I have already talked about.
So, do you think that chatting is different from talking on the phone or talking face to face. Are there conversations which you would rather have from behind a screen than talk over the phone or talk face to face. Are you a little different when you are using any one of these ways. Do you think I am, any different.

Ok, I meant more than a question !

I have 24 hour access to the net. Which essentially means that my primary way of keeping in touch with people is through chats and emails. I'm very comfortable with that. More than talking over the phone at times. It helps that its a passive activity. You don't Have to reply immediately. You can think, you can let some things go unnoticed. You can run away typing a "gtg....ttyl" and just sit there. It, sort of gives you more option of controlling the conversation, its flow. You'll say its hard to get someone over the net. It's tough to connect. What if the other person is sad and makes a ':)'. Well, I can tell. At least with some. Guess I'm just too good at this thing!

I've been told that there's a difference between the me who talks over the phone and the me who chats. Possible. Could be because of the writing /speaking preference. Could just be a case of which one I am more used to as of now. Frankly, though, there are times and occasions when I'm more comfortable writing down what I want to say than saying it. Makes it easier for me.

When you are meeting someone and talking face to face, it's quite different in the sense that you would most probably also be doing something. Going somewhere, eating, having coffee, watching a movie. So it's not just talking that you are doing. It allows you to talk about the food you are eating or the traffic you are stuck in. Yes, you can just sit down and talk too and you can smile and nod your head. Oh! you know it's different, right!

I find it a little disturbing at times that there is not one language I am absolutely fluent in. But I'm mostly happy with what I have. English has replaced Bengali as my preferred language for reading. The rest, more or less remains the same. I would also like to believe that people who know me, who get me, would always know what I'm saying, what I mean, even without my saying. At the same time I feel there is a difference among them and each one comes with its own set of advantages and handicaps. The way you can laugh together face to face, can never be replicated in a chat. The way your voice over the phone can give away your feelings is never possible through an email. At the same time, you do need that email to say sorry when you ego is too strong for spoken words. You need that "hi.. u thr" to start talking again. I have had conversations lasting for hours on chat, on the phone and face to face. Everyone has. Talking nonsense, laughing like lunatics, discussing other people, talking about life, and sometimes, just being silent. At the end of the day, I think it's just a matter of convenience. If you are in my town, I would prefer meeting you. If you have a net connection at home, guess I'll mostly catch you online. If you don't fulfill any of the above criteria and are still close to me, I'll call you up sometime.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Diwali Bike Trip - 2/2

The morning found us at the Chennakesava temple in Belur. Our feet were a little sore with all the walking of the last day. The main temple is housed at the center of complex which to some extent reminded me of Hampi's Vitthal Temple Complex. We walked about lazily. The morning sun felt quite pleasant. Within an hour or so, we checked out of the hotel and were on the road to Chikmagalur, some 40 Kms from there. The road, was straight out of some painting. Hills in the background, clear blue skies, coconut trees swaying slowly in the breeze, paddy fields, a few houses here and there, a pond and the road winding its way through all of it. If the start was some sort of precursor of things to come, we had reason enough to be excited. Soon we were at Chikmagalur, where we had breakfast, and after asking for directions, headed towards Mullaingiri, which, at around 6200 feet, is the highest peak in Karnataka.

It was the first time I was riding my bike on a hilly road. And it was thrilling. Everything, was just perfect. The smiles wouldn't just leave our faces from then on. The road became pretty bad soon but with height, the view kept getting better and greener. Since we had come just after the monsoons, it was very green everywhere. The rounded hills seemed carpeted at places as we got to see all possible shades of green that possibly exist. Unlike the Himalayas, there were no pine or fir trees and instead eucalyptus and tropical trees took their place. The beauty of these hills lay not in their height or raggedness but in their richness and variety of views. At one bend you could encounter a fluorescent, striking, green slope and the other would lead you through a muddy road lined with eucalyptus trees.

"You guys from North India", inquired the father of the cute daughter, as Naman spoke to someone in Hindi from the peak at Mullaingiri. The daughter had just expressed amazement upon hearing Naman's phone ring and had asked me "Which network?".

Dont know why but I say, "Ya, he's from the north and I'm from Bokaro, Jharkhand (I add)."

"Oh Dhoni's place..... he's put Jharkhand on the international map....You must have many places like this there, right?"

I try and act a little intelligent as I havent been around the state.
"It's more a plateau. Not so many hills. Not of this height at least ..."
(I'm not bluffing, in case you are wondering. Look up Chota nagpur plateau in Google!)

As is with me in such occasions, instead of the daughter, the almost six feet brother starts talking to us telling us about ways to reach Kemmanagundi and how we should visit this place during the monsoons when its all misty and driving is very thrilling and risky. By this time we are descending the 200 odd steps that would take us to where we had parked our bikes.

"You must be Software guys, right" says the father.

I look at Naman. "Software guys" is like euphemism for Loser !

We have a quiet descent thereafter.

By the time we reach Kemmanagundi, we are saturated with happiness, if that's possible! Naman remarked somewhere in the middle that in all probability we have not been this happy (more like, this kind of happy) since childhood. I agree with him. There's so much beauty around you and everything appears so pure that you are in a zone. Far removed from the life that you know. It's something special and something rare. We have lunch at the Horticulture Department Canteen which is hostel like in its quality and decide on getting back to the plains before nightfall, instead of staying the guest house. That way we would save time the next day and get back to Bangalore before noon. So we do the 30 minute trek to Z-Point and get awed all over again by the sheer beauty of the hills. The time of the day, with the sun about to set and the peaks casting huge shadows over the plains below, adds to the charm.

The ride down the hilly road is undertaken hastily. We decide to halt at Birur, some 240 Kms from Bangalore, as night driving on a two wheeler on a single lane Highway with no divider is not the safest of things.

Morning at NH208 is as beautiful as I have seen with the light streaming in through the branches and the leaves of the Banyan trees that line it. The traffic is almost nonexistent and the weather is gorgeous. We reach Tumkur by 12 noon after which the 4 lane section of the NH4 makes me race my bike to 110 kmph before sanity prevails. By 1:45 we are home.

56 hours and 660 Kms. It was a great trip. Contrary to expectations, there was no back pain or fatigue but Monday seemed all the more painful.

The network, by the way, was Airtel.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Diwali Bike Trip - 1/2

We had planned on a 6:00 A.M departure. By the time I put my bike on first gear and set the trip meter to 0, it was 6:10. 7:00, and we were on the outskirts of Bangalore and I could see the sun being reflected on the rear view mirror of my bike as we headed north west towards Neelamangala to hit NH48. Just after crossing Neelamangala, we were greeted with dense fog which reduced visibility to about ten meters. The sun was nowhere to be seen as suddenly the plains of Karnataka became more like some foggy hill station in North India. Drops of water were accumulating on the helmet visor and the hand brake. We dropped our speed to 20 kmph and put on the headlight. Half an hour of driving in the fog and mist, and we were at Kunigal. The sun had finally triumphed, dissipating the fog which had slowed down our progress. A couple of idlis and a cup of coffee later, we were on our way to Shravanabelagola with the sun on our back. The helmets went off soon enough.

I had expected Shravanabelagola to be just this huge monolithic statue which would hardly take half an hour of our time. It turned out to be much much more. It is in fact a set of Jain temples set atop two hills, Chandragiri and Vindyagiri. We climbed up the flight of 650 steps. I was gasping for breath at the end of it but the view from the top more than made up for it. The weather, needless to say, was lovely. This particular part of a conversation caught my attention as I heard a guide talking to a foreign tourist explaining the concept of tirthankaras in Jainism.
"The British taught us to preserve our monuments. They also taught us this language. And so we can earn a living now. I'm very thankful to them."

After spending a couple of hours there, we left for Halebid via Hassan. It was hot. All that walking on the rocks and climbing up the stairs, and that too barefoot, had left us a little tired. But the road can do wonders. The moment we started from Shravanabelagola, the wind hitting our face, everything was alright.

Have you ever experienced moments when everything feels ok. When there is no past or future to worry about. Nothing to look forward to or look back at. There are no ties that bind you to anybody or anything. It's just you and that instant. Try to hold on to it and it vanishes. You are just happy to live that moment. Nothing more, nothing less. There were a few more of those on the trip but this was the first one.

Riding on the very scenic NH48, with fields of paddy, sugarcane and other crops on either sides and the occasional coconut grove, we reached the relatively large town of Hassan late in the afternoon. Halebid took another hour or so to reach as the road snaked through small hills and jungles. The 11th century Hoysaleshwara temple, the pinnacle of Hoysala architecture, was spectacular in its detail. A treasure trove for anyone interested in Indian history, iconography, mythology or just the art of sculpture making, the Hoysaleshwara temple managed to amaze us and hold our attention for more than an hour. Be it the identification of a familiar sculpture of Brahma or one of the avatars, the intricacy of a piece of jewelery adorned by the human figures and figurines, the uniqueness of the hundreds of elephant sculptures that formed the lowermost panel of the temple (not one was completely similar to another!) or the mere thought of how it must have been a thousand years earlier, in its full glory and might, it was an unforgettable experience in any way you look at it.

At around 5 o' clock we headed for Belur, a 16 km ride from Halebid. And then, we saw the sunset. The second magic moment of the trip. Seeing the whole day roll by in front of your eyes from dawn till dusk is a rarity for me. Sitting in my office cubicle, I can hardly differentiate between day and night, let alone the periods of the day. From the first rays of the sun as we left Bangalore, to the foggy ride. From the heat and dust of the afternoon to the calm and cool of the twilight, this day had turned out to be very special.

By the time we entered the Chennakesava Temple in Belur, it was already evening. We went inside the temple complex which is open till 8 (it being a live temple where puja is still done) and just sat there on one of the platforms. Inside, the bells would ring once in a while and the sound of a lady chanting some mantras floated in from a nearby loudspeaker. The atmosphere was surreal. As per our plans, we checked in a hotel, took a much needed bath, had dinner and went out to take a walk in the town. The way people in this small town in Karnataka were celebrating Diwali, warmed our hearts. Especially this set of firecrackers which sent off an array of over 200 crackers up in the air one by one in a spectacular display of light. The day had been special. The night, it seemed wasn't going to be left far behind.

Next day we were to head for the hills, Mullaingiri and Kemmanagundi.

P.S. If you dont like some of the pictures, its probably because I have taken them! If you love them, its Naman, my friend and partner on this trip.

Monday, November 05, 2007


St. Mary's Island, a few minutes boat ride from Malpe, near Udipi, proved to be the perfect place to laze around after Saturday's arduous trek. We climbed atop the hexagonal pillared rock formations, bathed in the Arabian Sea and after a couple of hours were back on our way towards our hotel. Picturesque as it is, with its coconut trees swaying in the wind and waves crashing on the rocks, St. Mary's Island would have to be in the 'also visited' category as far as this trip is concerned. For the trek to Kudremukh, was something out of the world.

It was around 10:30 when the ten of us stuffed ourselves in the jeep which would take us to the starting point of the trek. That the jeep could take all of us, plus the guide and the driver, up the muddy incline which was frighteningly steep at times, is something that has to be experienced to be believed. Some guys were talking of torque and angular velocity but take my word, I still dont know how it got us through!

No camping is allowed inside the Kudremukh National Park. It simply meant that we had to be out by 6 in the evening. Having started the ascent at around 11, with a total distance of 24 kms to go if we were to reach the peak and come back, most of us were just content to be finally trekking.

Reality struck when instead of 'grasslands' we were greeted with a rather uneasy rocky climb in the initial stages of the trek. The sun was beating down hard but the beauty of the scenery that was unfolding before our eyes kept us going. A stream and a stretch of jungle followed and soon we were surrounded by lush green rounded hills on all sides as the walk became easy. As we gained height, the view became more and more expansive and breathtaking. Valleys opened up in front of us. The clouds went floating by casting shadows on the ground below. It was straight out of some calender page. After some time, having run out of adjectives, we decided not to say anything to each other and instead just smiled as yet another valley or a hillock opened up in front of us at the next turn. And it was not only the view which was changing. One moment we were in a jungle with the sound of a million crickets and the smell of leaves rotting and in the next step we would find ourselves in open space with a stream gurgling by somewhere close and the scent of fresh air. Trekking, couldn't get any better.

We had to reach the peak and that meant going really fast and not taking any leisurely breaks. So we trudged along, fighting leeches which would cling to our feet and even get inside the socks. Thankfully we had some salt with us to get rid of them. Our shoes were wet because of crossing the streams, hands were muddy due to walking on all four at places where the climb became really steep, cramps set in occasionally and the leaches wouldn't just let go. And above all was the danger of getting late while descending and the chance of rain and nightfall before we could get out of the park. But we had to reach the peak.

It was 2:45 when we finally found ourselves on the peak. The sun decided to take a rest at the exact same moment. We were engulfed by clouds flying past us. It was suddenly very chilly. We spent about fifteen minutes there, taking a well deserved break before starting the descent.

The trek back was largely uneventful but had a sense of urgency to it. We somehow split into two groups. I was along with three other guys and we were ahead of the rest, who also had the guide with them. I'll have to accept that the last couple of hours were tedious. Fighting cramps, leaches, fatigue and above all, a slight boredom, we somehow managed to reach the Jeep just as night was about to fall and to our surprise (of a happy kind!), the other group came in a few minutes later. That we had to wait for about an hour or so as our Jeep had some problems could be regarded as a minor hitch.

We reached the small village from where we had taken the Jeep, freed ourselves of the leeches, washed our hands and feet and had dinner. The hot sambar and rice tasted heavenly! We were too tired to take the ride back to Bangalore so decided on going to Udipi instead which was around 100 Kms from there. We reached Udipi at 1 in the night and checked into a hotel. I took a long cold shower and was asleep before I knew it.

The knee joints were still aching as we started on our way to Bangalore from Udipi. The feet were still sore after all the walking. Climbing 6000 feet one day and bathing in the sea the other. It felt refreshing to get out of the comfort zone. It felt great to meet eight new people.

Monday morning around 7 o' clock. Im headed back home with my flatmate. The sun is shining bright and there's a chill in the air. Even Bangalore seems so much better.